Browsing "New England’s Slave Trade"

Angela Grimke's Cornerstone of the Republic

Poor Alexander H. Stephens!

The Vice President of the American Confederacy’s informal speech to a Savannah audience in March 1861 is used to verify that the defense of slavery is all the new experiment in American government was about — and despite the fact that Stephen’s remarks were simply imperfect reporter’s notes and we are not even sure if he uttered those exact words.

If Stephen’s indeed mentioned “cornerstone and African slavery” in the same sentence in Savannah, he most likely was referring to Charleston abolitionist Angelina Grimke’ who some 25 years before said this about the United States.

Angelina’s speech in 1836 was entitled “An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South” and its topic anti-slavery. Both she and her sister were born into wealth in Charleston, SC — and later moved to the former center of the transatlantic slave trade, New England, to become Quakers and join William Lloyd Garrison’s abolition movement. There the Grimke’ sisters perhaps not only engaged in serious abolitionist discourse but also discovered that the slavery they abhorred was a mostly New England enterprise, and supported by its notorious rum trade with Africa.

Grimke stated in her appeal that “The interests of the North . . . are very closely combined with those of the South. The Northern merchants and manufacturers are making their fortunes out of the produce of slave labor . . . [and] the North is most dreadfully afraid of Amalgamation. She is alarmed at the very idea of a thing so monstrous, as she thinks. And lest this consequence might flow from emancipation, she is determined to resist all efforts at emancipation without expatriation. It is not because she [the North] approves of slavery, or believes it to be “the cornerstone of our republic,” for she is as much anti-slavery as we are; but amalgamation is too horrible to think of.” (see “Against Slavery, An Abolitionist Reader,” Angelina & Sarah Moore Grimke’, Penguin Books, 2000).

Stephen’s wrote in his Recollection’s that he spoke extemporaneously in his Savannah speech, and the reporter’s notes he reviewed afterward “were imperfect” contained “glaring errors.” He goes on to explain the contents of his speech with “The relation of the black to the white race, or the proper status of the colored population amongst us, was a question now of vastly more importance than when the Constitution was formed. The order of subordination is nature’s great law; philosophy taught that order as the normal condition of the African amongst European races. Upon this recognized principle of a proper subordination, let it be called slavery or what not, our State institutions were formed and rested. The principle of the subordination of the inferior to the superior was the “cornerstone” on which it was formed. I used this metaphor merely to illustrate the firm convictions of the framers of the new Constitution that this relation of the black to the white race, which existed in 1787 . . . The status of the African race in the new Constitution was left just where it was in the old; I affirmed and meant to affirm nothing else in this Savannah speech” (Recollections of  Alexander H. Stephens, 1910/1998, LSU Press).

Thus Stephens viewed African slavery in the same way as the abolitionists who sought secession from the United States by New England, to separate themselves from what they saw as the evil cornerstone of the United States. And the Confederacy incorporated nothing more than what the United States already had recognized as a domestic institution of the States, to be accepted or eradicated in time by each State.  This raises the obvious question: If the abolitionists were opposed to slavery, why did they not advance a peaceful and practical emancipation proposal as did England in the 1840s with compensated emancipation?

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

An Infernal Traffice Originating in Avarice

Virginia had fully one-third of the entire slave population of the Union within her borders in 1787, enabled by the British crown and New England slave traders – and despite her protests to cease importation. Georgia originally banned slaves under James Oglethorpe but British avarice eventually overcame his vision of a free colony. No flags of the American Confederacy were observed flying over those slave ships.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

An Infernal Traffic Originating in Avarice

“The supreme opportunity for suppressing the importation of slaves and thus hastening the day of emancipation came with the adoption of the Federal Constitution. [With] every increase in the number of slaves [imported] the difficulties and dangers of emancipation were multiplied. The hope of emancipation rested in stopping their further importation and dispersing throughout the land those who had already found a home in our midst.

To put an end to “this pernicious traffic” was therefore the supreme duty of the hour, but despite Virginia’s protests and appeals the foreign slave trade was legalized by the Federal Constitution for an additional period of twenty years.

The nation knew not the day of its visitation – with blinded eye and reckless hand it sowed the dragon’s teeth from which have sprung the conditions and problems which even to-day tax the thought and conscience of the American people.

The action of the [constitutional] convention is declared by Mr. Fiske, to have been “a bargain between New England and the far South.”

“New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut,” he adds, “consented to the prolonging of the foreign slave trade for twenty years, or until 1808; and in return South Carolina and Georgia consented to the clause empowering Congress to pass Navigation Acts and otherwise regulate commerce by a simple majority of votes.”

Continuing, Mr. Fiske says, “This compromise was carried against the sturdy opposition o Virginia.” George Mason spoke the sentiments of the Mother-Commonwealth when in a speech against this provision of the constitution, which reads like prophecy and judgment, he said:

“This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British Government constantly checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerns, not the importing States alone, but the whole Union . . . Maryland and Virginia, he said, had already prohibited the importation of slaves expressly. North Carolina had done the same in substance. All this would be in vain if South Carolina and Georgia were at liberty to import.

The Western people are already calling out for slaves for their new lands; and will fill that country with slaves if they can be got through South Carolina and Georgia.

Slavery discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They prevent the emigration of whites, who really enrich and strengthen a country. They produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of Heaven on a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of cause and events, Providence punishes National sins by National calamities.

He lamented that some of our Eastern [New England] brethren had, from a lust of gain, embarked in this nefarious traffic.”

“But these prophetic words of George Mason,” adds Mr. Fiske, “were powerless against the combination of New England and the far South. Governor Randolph and Mr. Madison earnestly supported their colleague . . . and the latter asserting: “Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the American character than to say nothing about it in the constitution.

Thus it was by the votes of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and against the votes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia, that the slave trade was legalized by the National Government for the period from 1787 to 1808.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, Beverly B. Mumford, L.H. Jenkins, 1909, pp. 29-31)

From Eli Whitney to Southern Nationalism

Prior to Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin of the mid-1790s, cotton cultivation was a labor-intensive and unprofitable operation. The gin led to New England’s cotton mills which needed slave-produced cotton and Manhattan banks offering low-interest loans to planters for expansion into the new territories. This perpetuated slavery in the South, and kept employed the African brought to America in the holds of New England slavers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

From Eli Whitney to Southern Nationalism

“Except in the rice districts, Southern opinion by 1795 was turning very definitely against slavery and the antagonism was based, not on humanitarian, but on economic grounds. The overwhelming majority of the 2,000,000 Southern people [were] agricultural, and Charleston and Baltimore were the only towns of more than 10,000 population.

But slave labor could be profitably employed only in the production of staples, and of the two staples in the South, rice was restricted to a very narrow area. Tobacco could be grown as far south as the Piedmont of Georgia and South Carolina, but by 1795 its cultivation was unprofitable in the tidewater on account of soil exhaustion and in the back county because of lack of transportation facilities.

Unless the South could find a new staple slavery would be doomed, or else the South would be forced into an extensive program of soil fertilization and internal improvements to aid the tobacco grower.

What happened was that the South obtained a new staple through the invention of the cotton gin. Cotton quickly took its place as a staple complementary to tobacco, not competitive, for the two crops were radically different in their soil and climatic requirements.

The first conquests of “King Cotton” were the upland regions of South Carolina and Georgia, the inhabitants of which had hitherto eked out an unsatisfactory existence by cattle-raising, by a production of food crops, and by a desultory cultivation of tobacco. This was followed by a demand for new lands which resulted in cotton extending its area of cultivation to the Mississippi as tobacco had already done.

It is evident from the number of slaves that Mississippi Territory was a planting community from the beginning. Cotton, in fact, had been cultivated by the Indians even before the Revolution, and the United States had in 1801 established a gin for them on the upper Tombigee at a place which thereafter was called Cotton Gin Port.

Two new States of the cotton kingdom adopted constitutions differing in many respects from those of the eastern States from which their people were drawn. Neither Alabama or Mississippi had a property qualification for voting, both elected their governors as well as their legislatures by popular vote, and both apportioned their legislatures on the basis of free white inhabitants. In all, the cotton kingdom had a population of 1,000,000 of which nearly one-half was slave.

Prior to 1820 South was an indefinite term which could only be defined, if defined at all, as the region inhabited by Southerners. Southerner could only be defined as meaning one descended from the colonial settlers below [Mason and Dixon’s] line. But the controversy over the admission of Missouri gave new meaning to these terms. It reduced the South to the limits of slavery and intensified within those limits the sentiment of unity among the people.

This new intensified feeling of unity deserves to be called [Southern] nationalism rather than sectionalism inasmuch as it was based on sentiment rather than interest. After 1820 there existed among the people of the South a “consciousness of kind” and a feeling of aloofness from the people of the North. They felt, and continue to feel, themselves a separate people: the other people of the United States they consider as aliens.

That the Missouri controversy resulted in the creation of Southern nationalism is clear . . . If northern unanimity [against slavery then] was due to a devotion to principle, it must be conceded that the devotion was of sudden growth for there is no indication of any deep-seated anti-slavery feeling in the North prior to this time.

The Northern States, to be sure, had either outlawed slavery or “put it in the course of ultimate extinction,” but their action had been the result of economic realism rather than of moral indignation. The attack on slavery was perhaps designed for the purpose of forcing Southern congressmen to give up Texas. The northeast wished to surrender Texas, not because Texas was Southern, but because it was Western; the jealousy of the East toward the West was the result of conflicting interests and had often been displayed in our early history.

(The Old South, R.S. Cotterill, Arthur H. Clark Company, 1939, pp. 108-109; 117; 125-126; 142-145)

Northernizing the South

Arguably the first shots of the War Between the States were fired by Reverend Beecher’s guns in mid-1850s Kansas; John Brown’s armed attack on Virginia in 1859 was a logical result of abolitionist fanaticism. Unwilling to work toward a practical and peaceful solution to the riddle of African slavery in the United States, they plunged the country into revolution and war costing nearly a million lives.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Northernizing the South

“By the fall of 1856, some members of the Massachusetts aid committee, concluding that private support for the Kansas free-State settlers was not sufficient to protect them from proslavery advocates there, were urging northern State governments to intervene in the territory. [Amos Lawrence] consulted with some of his conservative friends about the idea and was told the State of Massachusetts had no constitutional authority to act in Kansas affairs.

Lawrence admitted that such an action could then only be justified upon “higher law” ground. The concept of higher law was one abolitionists were fond of invoking, and Lawrence confessed that it was a concept “which I never believed tenable, except for extreme cases, which come up once in a lifetime.”

[Lawrence] told Samuel Gridley Howe that he deemed the denial of honest elections in Kansas to be “a sufficient cause for revolution.” Lawrence hoped to avoid civil war in the territory, but if it came to that, he predicted, “it will be a contest between liberty and slavery, and it cannot last long for the slaves will not wait for its termination.” Instead, they would revolt and the uprising would spread into neighboring Missouri, toppling slavery there.

The leaders of the [New England Emigrant Aid] company made every effort to divorce themselve’s from the abolitionist camp. Rather than emphasize the evils of slavery for the slave, most of the men active in the [company] stressed the threat of slavery to northern values and institutions . . . New Englanders believed that the very future of republican government was at stake in Kansas and, furthermore, the nation.

Thus for them, Kansas became battleground between New England and Southern ways of life.   Eli Thayer, who founded the company, shared in this New England sense of mission. He hoped to keep the Emigrant Aid Company alive and to use it to promote free-labor colonies north and south of Kansas. By 1858, he was even proposing to “New Englandize” Central America . . . “we [will] send steam engines sir, which are the greatest apostles of liberty that this country has ever seen.”

[At] . . . the company’s annual meeting in 1856 he raised the possibility of colonizing Virginia . . . and in 1857 settled some northerners in western Virginia, near the Ohio River. By such means, Thayer proposed to “Northernize the South.”   [Lawrence]. . . preferred to secure the western territories for freedom and let the superiority of the northern economic system eventually transform the South. Until then, the Southerners should be left alone to bear responsibility for owning slaves; “it is not for us who imported their ancestors to complain.”

(Cotton and Capital, Boston Businessmen and Anti-Slavery Reform, Richard H. Abbott, UMass Press, 1991, pp. 42-47)

 

Enticing Substitute Soldiers for New England

The use of slaves as substitute soldiers for New England’s white citizens in the Revolution was duplicated during the War Between the States. As Northern governors feared election disaster should a federal draft be imposed, they gathered captured slaves in the South to be enlisted and counted against State troop quotas demanded by Lincoln. Like the Connecticut bill below, the Confederate Congress passed a bill providing for black soldiers in early 1865, but only after the owners themselves emancipated them.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Enticing Substitute Soldiers for New England

“The exigencies of war had moved both Connecticut and Rhode Island in the direction of emancipation, and both States considered enlisting slaves in order to relieve wartime troop shortages. In Connecticut, although an actual enlistment bill presented in the spring of 1777 failed to be enacted, the legislature passed a bill that fall allowing slave owners to free healthy slaves and indemnifying from financial responsibility.

Slave owners used the provisions of this bill to entice their slaves to serve as substitutes for them in the Continental Army in exchange for their freedom, and several hundred took advantage of the opportunity. In 1778 Rhode Island actually implemented an enlistment act that offered State-financed compensated emancipation: slaves were offered manumission and soldiers’ benefits in exchange for their enlistment, and slave owners were compensated by the State up to 120 [Pounds] for each enlisted slave.

There was considerable opposition to this law; in fact, with fewer than a hundred slaves actually emancipated under its provisions . . . In 1779 and again in 1780, bills for gradual emancipation failed to pass the Connecticut legislature. In 1779, Rhode Island did ban the sale of Rhode Island slaves out of State, but no further efforts to engage the slavery issue were made during the war.

In 1783 a fresh campaign to end slavery and the slave trade was mounted in Rhode Island by Moses Brown, Quaker convert and exasperated brother of wealthy slave traders Nicholas and John Brown. He produced countless anti-slavery articles and pamphlets . . . But with the American slave trade centered in Rhode Island and slavers forming the nucleus of Newport society, in February 1784 the legislature defeated this abolition bill; it passed another that stood silent on the issue of the slave trade but did provide for gradual emancipation.”

(Disowning Slavery, Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England, 1780-1860, Joanne Pope Melish, Cornell University Press, 1998, pp. 67-68)

British Interference with New England Commerce

The American Revolution can be said to have its origins in New England’s evasion of the Britain’s Navigation Acts which were aimed at controlling the former’s illicit sea commerce. By 1750, Providence, Rhode Island had become the slaving capital of North America, and surpassing Liverpool for this dubious distinction, and New England rum was preferred by African tribes for the purchase of their slaves.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

British Interference with New England Commerce

“For the West Indies trade alone proved so logical, so sound for the ambitious Yankee traders that in spite of revival of trade with England it ranked in importance with the thriving coastwise and budding transatlantic commerce. Linked inseparably with the venture south to the Indies was [New England’s] brisk trade in rum . . . For the Indies trade was a three-cornered affair hinging on rum, slaves and molasses.

The British decided that one way to increase revenues [to maintain the North American colonies] would be to put a stop to [New England’s] open evasion of the Navigation Acts. It is hardly surprising, then, that among the first real troublemaker of all the British efforts to raise money was a new Molasses Act, for it was molasses brought in from the French West Indies from which New England’s rum was made.

There had been similar acts on the books as long before as 1733, but the duty of sixpence a gallon was such a prohibitive price for the rum distillers to pay that its only practical effect was to create the first of a caste that was to throw a long shadow indeed—the bootlegger.

To the colonists (especially in New England) it must have seemed that there were more acts than ships at this time, and they were in no mood to abide by any of them. American shipbuilding had reached a point where the Massachusetts colony, in a burst of civic pride that would challenge the lustiest chamber of commerce today, laid dubious claim to enough vessels to float every man, woman and child in its domain. It can be said with truth, however, that there were more sailors than farmers in New England.

In years past there had been frequent cases of corrupt officials of the Crown . . . as exemplified by New York’s governor, Lord Bellamont, and his equally-shady successor, Colonel Benjamin Fletcher, who had been in the habit of wining and dining such notorious pirates of their era as Captain Tew.

But Governor Fletcher was admittedly a political pirate in his own right and was ultimately recalled to London to answer graft charges. Now, however, there was a new generation of more upright gentlemen whose profits gained brazenly through bootlegging and illegal activities were overshadowed . . . by their courageous defiance of the ever-increasing strictures on their commerce.

In fact nine-tenths of the colonial  merchants and skippers had become smugglers as the break with England neared. Such men as John Hancock, a prince of contraband traders, on the eve of Paul Revere’s ride had for counsel before the Admiralty Court in Boston none other than John Adams answering for him a half-million dollar suit in penalties as a smuggler.”

(Yankee Ships: An Informal History of the American Merchant Marine, Reese Wolfe, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1953, pp. 43-50)

 

Connecticut and the Slave Trade

In colonial Fairfield, Connecticut, free and slave Africans worked the ships that delivered New England rum and Yankee notions to Africa — traded to African slave traders for more slaves. Towns like Fairfield grew affluent producing goods, barrel staves, foodstuffs and trinkets for the West Indies, where the majority of the slaves acquired would end up. As a young man Frederick Douglass worked the Baltimore shipyards helping to build fast slavers for New England merchants for the same purpose.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Connecticut and the Slave Trade

“Connecticut conducted another census in 1774. With a population of 4863, Fairfield was the eleventh largest town in Connecticut in 1774. The 4863 persons included 4544 whites and 319 blacks, giving Fairfield the highest percentage of black population in the colony. Fairfield’s growing trade encouraged the growth of its black population. Approximately three out of every four blacks in Fairfield in the 1770’s were slaves. Most of them were men who worked as laborers or household servants; a smaller number of women were household servants; and even a smaller number were children.

Most slaves were denied the pleasure of residing, with or without the benefit of marriage, with a member of the opposite sex. Captain David Judson owned a married couple and their child, but more typical was Hezekiah Gold, who owned four men, “a wench,” a young man, and two boys. Slavery was a luxury that Fairfield came to afford as it became more affluent.  Most free blacks in Fairfield worked as laborers, either on the docks or on board ship.”

(Fairfield, The Biography of a Community, Thomas J. Farnham, Fairfield Historical Society, 1988, pp. 71-72)

 

 

Emerson the Northern Secessionist

Wanting to depart Boston should New England ever “surrender to the slave trade,” the idealistic abolitionist Ralph Waldo Emerson must have forgotten that Massachusetts was the linchpin in the transatlantic slave trade and that Lowell Mills was amassing a fortune processing slave-produced raw cotton. Emerson was ready for the secession of New England from the Union if Buchanan won election in 1856 instead of Fremont.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Emerson the Northern Secessionist              

“The events of the fifties confirmed Emerson’s fears of Southern political power. It was “the ascendancy of Southern manners” that drew public men into the support of the South. At the same time, his attitude toward the North grew more sentimental and less critical. He drew more sharply the line between the slave states and the free states. Expressions such as “party of darkness” versus “party of light,” “aristocracy” versus “plebian strength” began to appear in his journals and addresses. Like his fellow-abolitionists, he assumed that the goodness of the individual was simply lost in the badness of the slavery system.

Emerson maintained that no slaveholder could be free. He fell into the abolitionist assumption that nobility and sincerity were inevitable concomitants to the Negro’s ignorance and simplicity. Those who ran away were fleeing from plantation whips and hiding from hounds.

Those who cooperated with the South were stigmatized. Any judge who obeyed the Fugitive Slave Law by returning a runaway slave to the South made of his bench an extension of the planter’s whipping post. Emerson’s anger over [Preston] Brooks assault on [Charles] Sumner led him to exaggerate uncritically his account of both Northern and Southern values:

“Life has not parity of value in the free state and in the slave state. In one, it is adorned with education, with skillful labor, with arts, with long prospective interests, with sacred family ties, with honor and justice. In the other, life is a fever; man is an animal, given to pleasure, frivolous, irritable, spending his days in hunting and practicing with deadly weapons to defend himself against his slaves and against his companions brought up in the same idle and dangerous way. Such people live for the moment, they have properly no future, and readily risk on every passion a life which is of small value to themselves or others.”

Emerson’s letter to his brother William in June of 1856 revealed the extent of his pessimism. He stated that he was looking at the map to find a place to go with his children when Boston and Massachusetts should surrender to the slave trade. “If the Free States do not obtain the government next fall, which our experience does not entitle us to hope, nothing seems left, but to form a Northern Union, & break the old.”

(The South in Northern Eyes, 1831-1861, Howard R. Floan, McGraw-Hill, 1958, pp. 57-59)

 

Christianizing the Victims of New England Slavers

Reverend Dr. Charles Colcock Jones (1804-1863) was the son of a Georgia merchant and planter, born at Liberty Hall in Liberty County. While studying for the ministry in Pennsylvania, he agonized over the Africans brought to these shores by New England slavers and dedicated his life to caring for the slaves spiritual welfare.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Christianizing the Victims of New England Slavers

“In the county of Liberty, in Georgia, a Presbyterian minister has been for many years employed exclusively in laboring for the moral enlightenment of the slaves, being engaged and paid for this especial duty by their owners. From this circumstance, almost unparalleled as it is, it may be inferred that the planters of the county are as a body remarkably intelligent, liberal, and thoughtful for the moral welfare of the childlike wards Providence has placed in their care and tutorship.

I have heard them referred to with admiration of their reputation in this particular even as far away as Virginia and Kentucky.     I believe that in no other district has there been displayed as general and long-continued an interest in the spiritual well-being of the Negroes. It must be supposed that nowhere else are their circumstances more happy and favorable to Christian nurture.”

In promoting the spiritual welfare of the Negro population of Liberty County and throughout the South no man was more active or zealous than the Rev. Dr. Charles Colcock Jones, “Apostle to the Blacks,” a lifelong member of Midway Church, who now lies buried in the historic graveyard directly across the way. This extraordinary man . . . was a rich planter, a gentleman of liberal education, and a Presbyterian clergyman of radiant Christian character, aptly described by his son in law as “one of the noblest men God ever made.”

In May 1831 he was called to the First Presbyterian Church of Savannah, where he labored earnestly and successfully for eighteen months. But the cry of the Negroes of his native county was too urgent for him to resist; to their needy spiritual state he had been drawn while a student at Princeton, and he now felt constrained to devote himself to their evangelization as well as to their moral and social uplift.

His brother in law, the Rev. John Jones, later recalled his missionary efforts in some detail . . . :

“As a good brother, in allusion to his work among the colored people, once said, he seems to be the apostle to that portion of the gentiles. And he succeeded to a remarkable extent in awakening an interest in this neglected people . . . and annual reports of his labors he under God did more than any other man in arousing the whole church of this country to a new interest in the spiritual welfare of the Africans in our midst.

And the general results of his labors were seen in other communities and regions beyond;a decided attention to the physical as well as the moral condition of the race; the erection of neighborhood and plantation chapels; the multiplying of family and plantation schools in which Jones’s catechism was taught; a greater devotion of time to the Negroes by pastors and churches; and an emphatic awakening throughout the South to the duty of systematic religious instruction to the blacks.”

(The Children of Pride, A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, Robert Manson Myers, Yale University Press, 1972, pp. 11-16)

Britain's Inhumane Slave Trade

The transatlantic slave trade which populated the America’s with Africans was chartered and encouraged by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of York oversaw the Royal African Company, a slave trading concern. These British slavers were only surpassed in efficiency by the slavers of New England; Providence, Rhode Island became the slaving capital of North America by 1750.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Britain’s Inhumane Slave Trade:

“On the 1st of April, 1772 the [Virginia] House of Burgesses addressed a hot petition to the crown, “imploring his Majesty’s paternal assistance in averting a calamity of a most alarming nature.” It proceeds: “The importation of slaves into the colonies from the coast of Africa hath long been considered as a trade of inhumanity, and under its present encouragement we have too much reason to fear will endanger the very existence of your Majesty’s American dominions. We are sensible that some of your Majesty’s subjects may reap emoluments from this sort of traffic…we most humbly beseech your Majesty to remove all those restraints on your Majesty’s governors of the colony which inhibit their assenting to such House of Burgesses] laws as might check so very pernicious a traffic.

When the vote was taken in the Federal Congress on the resolution to postpone the prohibition of the [slave] trade to the year 1808, Virginia used all her influence to defeat the postponement, and it was carried by New Hampshire, Massachusetts, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The final prohibition of the slave trade by act of Congress was brought about through the influence of President Jefferson and by the active efforts of Virginians.

And greatly to the labors of the representatives from Virginia was due the final extinction of the vile traffic [of England and New England] through the act of Congress declaring it to be piracy, five years before Great Britain took similar action with regard to her subjects. Such is the actual record of the much-vilified South relating to the African slave trade, taken from official records.

The gradual system of emancipation adopted at the North had undoubtedly led to many of the slaves being shipped off to the South and sold. When, therefore, after this “abolition,” the movement, from being confined to the comparatively small band of liberators who were actuated by pure principle, extended to those who had been their persecutors, it aroused suspicion at the South which blinded it to a just judgment of the case.

The statutory laws relating to slavery at the South are held up as proof of the brutality with which they were treated even under the law. But these laws were not more cruel than the laws of England at the period they were enacted…and, at least, Southerners never tolerated wholesale burning at the stake as a legal punishment, as was done in New York as late as 1741, when fourteen Negroes were burnt at the stake on the flimsy testimony of a half-crazed servant girl; and as was done in Massachusetts as late as 1755, when a Negro was burnt for murder.”

(The Old South, Essays Social and Political, Thomas Nelson Page, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1896, pp. 29-32)

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