THE controversy on SLAVERY, in the United States, has been one of an exciting and complicated character. The power to emancipate existing, in fact, in the States separately and not in the general government, the efforts to abolish it, by appeals to public opinion, have been fruitless except when confined to single States. In Great Britain the question was simple. The power to abolish slavery in her West Indian colonies was vested in Parliament. To agitate the people of England, and call out a full expression of sentiment, was to control Parliament and secure its abolition. The success of the English abolitionists, in the employment of moral force, had a powerful influence in modifying the policy of American anti-slavery men. Failing to discern the difference in the condition of the two countries, they attempted to create a public sentiment throughout the United States adverse to slavery, in the confident expectation of speedily overthrowing the institution. The issue taken, that slavery is malum in se—a sin in itself—was prosecuted with all the zeal and eloquence they could command. Churches adopting the sin per se doctrine, inquired of their converts, not whether they supported slavery by the use of its products, but whether they believed the institution itself sinful. Could public sentiment be brought to assume the proper ground; could the slaveholder be convinced that the world denounced him as equally criminal with the robber and murderer; then, it was believed, he would abandon the system. Political parties, subsequently organized, taught, that to vote for a slave-holder, or a pro-slavery man, was sinful, and could not be done without violence to conscience; while, at the same time, they made no scruples of using the products of slave labor—the exorbitant demand for which was the great bulwark of the institution. This was a radical error. It laid who adopted it open to the charge of practical inconsistency, and left them without any moral power over the consciences of others. As long as all used their products, so long the slaveholders found the per se doctrine working them no harm; as long as no provision was made for supplying the demand for tropical products by free labor, so long there was no risk in extending the field of operations. Thus, the very things necessary to the overthrow of American slavery, were left undone, while those essential to its prosperity, were continued in the most active operation; so that, now, after more than a thirty years’ war, we may say, emphatically, COTTEN IS KING, and his enemies are vanquished.
~ David Christy (1860)
Should the immediate Abolitionists ever succeed, in bringing about such an awful result, let them beware lest they themselves, and not the slave-holder, may be offered up first as burnt offering, to the Genius of Fanatacism. Their true object is now palpable, like Erostratus of old, who fired the temple of Diana, to immortalize his name, so would they, build up their fame, upon their destruction of every thing, at present, noble and glorious in our great Republic.
It is true that the almost unanimous voice of our white population now deprecates the conduct of such unprincipled incendiaries, but the public voice cannot prevent the natural and rapid increase of the blacks, nor the secret efforts of the bigots, (whatever these efforts may be.)
~ Richard H. Colfax (1833)
The total abolitionists appear to consider the political expediency of liberating the slaves as a secondary or minor consideration, and contend principally for the abstract justice of such a measure. We are willing to concede to them that all of GOD’S creatures have a natural right to liberty, and that the natural inferiority of the negro which we expect to prove, (but what our oponents do not admit,) does not justify the white man in an assumption of unjust power. But when it is shown that the negro and his master, together with the noisy bigots of the north, are all benefited by the present condition of the slaves, then it is undeniably expedient in every view of the case;—ergo, it is Just.
~ Richard H. Colfax (1833)
Without inquiring whether it [Slavery] be evil, as most insist, or good, as some contend, unquestionably it is a vast, stupendous, and vital American reality. In the Middle States, the temperate zone of American republican continental union, holding together the slave-holding southwest and slave-hating northeast, there should and must be considerate and patriotic Americans enough, independent of all foreign influences, neither owning slaves, nor hating those who do, even if regretting slavery, willing to accept historical, political, and philosophical ascertainment that, whether slavery be evil or not, modern external abolition is a much greater evil. Vouched by irrefutable English and American authority, negro slavery in America may be so vindicated that no American need shrink from its communion. Its abrupt, forcible, or extrinsic removal would be a tremendous catastrophe. Dismembering the United States and destroying the American republic would tend not to abolish, but perpetuate slavery. Few in this meridian have any practical knowledge of much abused slavery. Its English denunciation, adopted by New England, is merely remote and theoretical philanthropy, national or sectional prejudice. Such of us as live in Pennsylvania, where for a long time there have been no slaves, can be moved by no natural impulse to defend their ownership. If descended from New England, the bias must be otherwise. But every lover of his country should desire to vindicate its institutions, of which this is one, from foreign detraction and its American adoption.
~ Charles J. Ingersoll (1856)
The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the world.
~ George Fitzhugh (1857)
Can you imagine someone saying this today? Sure, I can believe someone might utter this nonsense, but I cannot imagine many folks who would nod their heads in agreement. Interestingly, unlike today, in 1857 there were lots of people who agreed with George Fitzhugh. Remember, in 1857 slavery was not only legal but also supported by a wide variety of people.
So, what changed between then and now? Well, one thing for sure changed, that is the hearts and minds of the masses. That’s why most of us are repulsed by the idea of enslaving another human being. But how did this change come about? Might I suggest that the underlying factor to this change was people standing up for the rights of others not to be thought of as mere commodities—things—that could be used to death. People who, in some cases, gave their lives to the cause of eventual emancipation.
Slavery is the great test question of our age and nation. It, above all others, enables us to draw the line between the precious and the vile, whether in individuals, creeds, sects, or parties.
~ Frederick Douglass (1859)
We hear of the “Rights of Man.” I wish we heard more of them than we do—and could see them observed as well as talked of. But who ever thought of an animal’s rights—the rights of a brute. We hear it spoken of as a man’s duty to be kind to the brutes—but never of the brute’s right to just treatment. But why has not a brute rights, as well as men? What is the foundation of human rights, that is not foundation, for animal rights also? A man has rights—and they are important to him because their observance is necessary to his happiness, and their violation hurts him. He has a right to personal liberty. It is pleasant to him—permanently pleasant and good. It is therefore his right. And every creature—or I will call it, rather, every existence, (for whether created or not, they certainly exist, they are) every existence, that is capable of enjoying or suffering, has rights, and just mankind will regard them. And regard them as rights. The horse has rights. The dog. The cat, and the rat even. Real rights. And these rights are sacred[.] They are not to be invaded. Mankind are to study the happiness of all beings, so far as they are connected with them. How far it is to be carried, depends upon how far the most perfect good will can carry it. Farther then it can go—it is under no obligation to go. Does anybody seriously think it right, to trifle with animal happiness and animal suffering? They do trifle with them, and talk about dominion over them being given to man. If this dominion involve ill treatment—it was a bad gift, whoever gave it—in my opinion. They talk of dominion—and found upon it the right of capricious treatment. But that any body thinks it right to injure the brute, I doubt. Whoever will do it—is liable to extend the like injury to mankind. “Dominion” is claimed over portion of mankind as well as brute-kind, and by “divine right” too.
~ Nathaniel P. Rogers (October 31, 1845)