Effecting a Change of Masters
The examples of Jamaica and Haiti were clear to most in the antebellum period, though the abolitionists seemed unconcerned with the predictable result of emancipation in America. With the result of Lincoln’s revolution, the African slave had only changed masters as he became the chattel and ward of the now all-powerful federal government at Washington. The Republican party now needed the freedmen’s vote to ensure their victory at the polls, and worked ruthlessly through its Union League to keep Republican ballots in black hands.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Effecting a Change of Masters
“It is scarcely in the power of human language to describe the enthusiastic delight with which the abolitionists, both in England and in America, were inspired by the spectacle of West India Emancipation. We might easily adduce a hundred illustrations of the almost frantic joy with which it intoxicated their brains [but we might also illustrate] how indignant [the abolitionist] became that others were not equally disposed to part with their sober senses.
In one day, probably seven hundred thousand of human beings were rescued from bondage to full, unqualified freedom. The crowning glory of this day was the fact that the work of emancipation was wholly due to the principles of Christianity. The West Indies were freed, not boy force, or human policy, but by the reverence of a great people for justice and humanity.
[The good people of the free States] did not go into raptures over so fearful an experiment before they had some little time to see how it would work. They did, no doubt, most truly and profoundly love liberty. But then they had some reason to suspect, perhaps, that liberty may be one thing, and abolitionism quite another. Liberty, they knew, was a thing of light and love; but as for abolitionism, it was, for all they knew, a demon of destruction.
We shall begin with Jamaica. The very first year after the complete emancipation of the slaves of this island, its prosperity began to manifest symptoms of decay. The abolitionist not only closed his eyes on every appearance of decline in the prosperity of the West Indies, he also seized with avidity every indication of the successful operation of his [emancipation] scheme, and magnified it to both himself and to the world.
[But] “Shipping has deserted her ports; her magnificent plantations of sugar and coffee are running to weeds; her private dwellings are falling to decay . . .”It is impossible [to not arrive] at the conclusion that the freedom granted to the negro has had little effect except that of enabling him to live at the expense of the planter so long as anything remained. Sixteen years of freedom did not appear to its author to have “advanced the dignity of labor or of the laboring classes one particle,” while it had ruined the land, and this great damage had been done to the one class without benefit of any kind to the other.”
In relation to Jamaica, another witness says: “The marks of decay abound . . . People who have nothing, and can no longer keep up their domestic establishments, take refuge in the abodes of others, where some means of subsistence are still left;. . . the lives of crowded thousands appear to be preserved from day to day by a species of miracle.
We might fill volumes with extracts to the same effect. We might in like manner point to other regions, especially to Guatemala, to the British colony on the southern coast of Africa, and to the island of Hayti, in all of which emancipation was followed by precisely similar events. By the act of emancipation, Great Britain paralyzed the right arm of her colonial industry. The laborer would not work except occasionally, and the planter was ruined. The morals of the Negro disappeared with his industry, and he speedily retraced his steps toward his original barbarism. All this had been clearly foretold.
Precisely the same thing had been foretold by the Calhoun’s and Clays of this country. The calmest, the profoundest, the wisest statesman of Great Britain likewise forewarned the agitators of the desolation and the woes they were about to bring upon the West Indies. But the madness of the day would confide in no wisdom except its own, and listen to no testimony except the clamor of fanatics. Hence the frightful experiment was made . . .
But what is meant by freedom of the emancipated slaves, on which so many exalted eulogies have been pronounced? Its first element, it is plain, is a freedom from labor – freedom from the very first law of nature. In one word, its sum and substance is a power on the part of the freed black to act pretty much as he pleases.”
The magnificent colony of St. Domingo did not quite perish . . . the entire white population soon melted, like successive snowflakes of snow, in a furnace of that freedom that Robespierre had kindled. The atrocities of this awful massacre have had, as the historian has said, no parallel in the annals of human crime. “The Negroes,” says Alison, “marched with spiked infants on their spears instead of colors; they sawed asunder the [white] male prisoners, and violated the females on the dead bodies of their husbands.”
The work of death, thus completed with such outbursts of unutterable brutality, constituted and closed the first act in the grand drama of Haytian freedom. In this frightful chaos, the ambitious mulattoes, whose insatiable desire for equality had first disturbed the peace of the island, perished miserably beneath the vengeance of the very slaves whom they had themselves roused from subjection and elevated into irresistible power. Thus ended the second act of the horrible drama.
[In the new independent Negro state, the lands] were divided out among the officers of the army, while the privates were compelled to cultivate the soil under their former military commanders . . . No better could have been expected except by fools or fanatics. The blacks might preach equality, it is true, but yet, like the more enlightened ruffians of Paris, they would of course take good care not to practice what they had preached.
Hence, by all the horrors of their bloody revolution, they had only effected a change of masters. The white man had disappeared, and the black man, one of their own race and color, had assumed his place and his authority.”
(Liberty and Slavery, Albert Taylor Bledsoe, J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1856, pp. 229-278; reprinted 2000 by www.confederatereprint.com)