As a people, we, of New-England, are lamentably ignorant of the subject of slavery, but even our ignorance is exceeded by our apathy. When we hear of the cruel conduct of the slaveholders, we often kindle into a flame, and our judgments tell us that they are without excuse. We can hardly believe that such beings exist in our land. This is a righteous indignation; these feelings of abhorrence are credible to our humanity. But what if it should appear, on a candid examination, that we are as guilty as the slave owners? that we uphold and protect a system which is full of cruelty and blood? that the chains which bind the limbs of the slaves have been rivetted by us? Let us see whether we are indeed implicated in this bloody business.
In its origin, slavery was a common crime; it is equally so in its continuance, as well as a common curse; in its removal, we are all bound to assist. The foundation of the system was laid in Massachusetts and Virginia. Other colonies immediately began to build thereon; and if the free states have since overturned the wings of the superstructure, they have also assisted in furnishing materials to enlarge the main edifice. For thirty-two years after the Declaration of Independence, the ships of New England were actively engaged in stealing victims on the coast of Africa, by the desire and authority of the nation; and even at the present day many of their vessels, manned with American officers and seamen, but under foreign colors, are undoubtedly engaged in the horrid traffic. Moreover, the transportation of domestic slaves (a trade equally atrocious with the foreign) is almost exclusively effected in eastern vessels. It is proverbial at the south, that the Yankees who became residents among them, are generally the most eager to acquire slaves, the most unmerciful in their treatment, and the last to engage in the work of emancipation. All proverbs are not true; but Solomon never uttered a truer, perhaps, than the one related. How, then, shall we boast of our innocence in this matter?
Every reader will recollect the beautiful panegyric upon England by Cowper:
Slaves cannot breathe in England: if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are free;
They touch our country, and their shackles fall.
But who exonerates her from blame in permitting slavery to exist in her West India Colonies? She is answerable to God and the world for that pernicious toleration. The foul stain, black and broad as an eclipse of the sun, covers her whole island, and the blood of slaves rests upon all her people. The consciousness of this universality of guilt immediately calls forth the interrogation of the amiable poet:
We have no slaves at home, then why abroad?
How much more criminal in America, who retains the evil in her own bosom!
We are involved in the crime of slavery by the delicate ties of consanguinity. We are constantly marrying and giving in marriage with the south; and the more slaves we can get, as a wedding dowry, the more fervent and abiding is our love. There may be—I do not know, I hope the case is otherwise—there may be those in this city, who have jumped into a black fortune in this manner, or whose brother or sister, or father or mother, or uncle or aunt,—no matter which,—has made such a jump, and who boast of that wealth or of that relation. This is what may be called marriageable guilt; and a great many come to the wedding.
It is in vain that we profess to be opposed to the continuance of slavery, while our insincerity is so manifest. Look at the District of Columbia, over which we have ample control! There is a black monument of American tyranny, towering up into the sky; and more workmen are engaged in its completion, than were employed upon the tower of Babel—ten millions at the lowest calculation. The Bunker Hill Monument gets up very slowly, because the patriotism of the world is very liable to shocks of paralysis; but self-interest—or what is mistaken for self-interest—is immortal, and defies disease.
There is no sophistry or device which can give us absolution in this disreputable business. We have a right, and it is our duty, to lift up our voices against the existence of slavery in that District. Why may not the present sessions of Congress demolish it at a blow? It has certainly a legitimate right so to do; and is only waiting to receive a national impulse.
Why is it—if we are really hostile to oppression—why is it, that so few petitions go into Congress on this subject? The population of the free states now amounts to more than seven millions. Do we average five petitions, annually, to one million of inhabitants? It really seems as if we are enamored, instead of being disgusted with slavery.
So long as we continue one body—a union—a nation—the compact involves us in the guilt and danger of slavery. If the slaves, goaded to desperation by their cruel masters, should rise en masse to obtain redress, do the citizens of New-England reflect that they are constitutionally bound to assist the southern taskmasters in subduing or exterminating the blacks, and are liable to be drafted at a moment’s warning? Perhaps we imagine, that there is little danger of a general insurrection among the slaves—(the recent events at the south to the contrary notwithstanding)—but does this circumstance remove the responsibility from our shoulders? No mater what is the probability in this case. The question is, whether we are not solemnly pledged to put down a black rebellion in the south? At the present moment, indeed, appearances seem to indicate a double rebellion in that section of the Union; a rebellion against the Government by the whites, and a rebellion against the whites by the blacks; so that the
tug of war may be nearer than the people of the free states imagine. What protects the south from instant destruction?
Our physical force. Break the chain which binds her to the Union, and the scenes of St. Domingo would be witnessed throughout her borders. She may affect to laugh at this prophecy; but she knows that her security lies in northern bayonets. Nay, she has repeatedly taunted the free states with being pledged to protect her: tyrannise long and cruelly as she may, they are bound to save her life, and, if necessary, to slaughter her slaves. How, then, do we make the inquiry, with affected astonishment,
what have we to do with the guilt of slavery? Is this a novel view of the subject? Must we now begin to inquire, for the first time, what are our duties and responsibilities as American citizens?
Perhaps we internally resolve never to march against the blacks—never to bear arms south of the Potomac. But such a decision would be full of treachery to the people of the south. Lt us give them fair warning when we intend to leave them to their fate; and let us not practise studied cruelty and deceit. Hear the language of a Representative from Massachusetts (Mr. Dwight) in the Congressional session of 1827:
In an internal commotion in Georgia, where should its white population seek a shelter? Not, certainly, in the little fort of Savannah. In such an event, (and he hoped the day was far distant,) they would not look to the forts erected for maritime defence, but to the stout hearts and sympathetic feelings of their northern brethren; and he did not hazard too much in aying, that in such a case the north will pour out its blood like water to assist the south!
Are these indeed our sentiments? Can we cover ourselves with laurels in a war of oppression? What! ready to pour out our blood like water, in order that a large portion of our fellow countrymen may be kept in servile bondage!
It is awful to reflect, that it is solely by the authority of the free states slavery is tolerated in our land. The south is only our agent. We form a powerful combination which cannot be resisted, and give her a broad license to kidnap, plunder and oppress; promising our united aid, in case she is in personal danger! Yet we complacently wipe our mouths, and say,
We commit no evil—the south is the victim to be sacrificed. This is certainly an improvement upon the Holy Alliance. We are guilty—all guilty—horribly guilty.