Mr. Speaker, I rise to express the strong hope, which I entertain that the resolution submitted by the gentleman from Mecklenburg William O. Goode may not be adopted, and to urge some considerations in favor of its rejection. I understand that upon this motion, the whole question as to the abolition of slavery in this Commonwealth comes properly into discussion; and I regret very much that it does so, for several reasons, but principally because my attention has been so exclusively devoted to other subjects of important referred to your Special Committee ever since it was formed that I have not had an opportunity of bestowing so much reflection upon the great question of emancipation as will enable me to lay my views before the House in an acceptable manner. If I were not apprehensive that no other opportunity may be afforded me of expressing my sentiments upon this subject, I should not now trouble the House with any remarks upon it. But, entertaining some fears that such might happen to be the case, should the resolution now under discussion be adopted, I have determined to throw myself upon the intelligence of the House with a hope that all proper allowance will be made for my want of the necessary preparation to discuss so important a question. I shall feel every disposition in discussing this resolution, to respect the feelings, the rights, and even the prejudices of not only the members of this House, but of the people of every portion of this Commonwealth. But the duty I owe to my constituents and to myself, and the lasting influence which our determination of this question may have upon the future prosperity of my country, leave me no other alternative, but to express my sentiments, openly, unequivocally, and decidedly upon it. If it should be my misfortune to use any expressions offensive to any gentleman present in the course of the observations I shall make, I trust he will impute it, not to any desire to offend, but to a determination to do what I conscientiously believe to be right.
Let me beseech the members of this House to reflect well what they are called upon to do by this resolution, and in what attitude they will stand before the public should it be adopted. At an early period of the present session, a number of memorials were presented to this Assembly, from various parts of the Commonwealth, recommending the adoption of a system for the gradual emancipation of all slaves in the State. The reference ofwas warmly opposed; the proposition it contained was fully discussed; and after full and mature deliberation, this House determined to refer it to a Select Committee, which had been raised to take into consideration a number of petitions concerning free negroes and slaves, which had been previously presented. And the votes of the members of this House, now stand recorded upon that question of reference. And, Sir, what happened since that time to make it proper to recall that memorial from the consideration of your committee? What has happened since then, which should induce us to retrace our steps? Why, Sir, we are told that the Editors of certain newspapers have expressed opinions, which may mislead the people of the State as to the views of this Assembly concerning our slave population. Not, Sir, that they have undertaken to predict what this Assembly will do, but merely to declare their own opinions as to what ought to be done, for I do not understand that any of them have gone farther than this. And is this a sufficient reason for the adoption of the resolution now before us? I have often heard it asserted that Mr. [Thomas] Ritchie [of the Richmond Enquirer], the Editor principally alluded to, exercised too much influence over the politicians of this State, and I have been strongly inclined to believe that the fact was so.
But, Sir, it had never occurred to me until now, that the bare expression of an opinion by him, or any other individual, however distinguished, would be sufficient to disturb the whole Commonwealth—I had not conceived it possible that she could ever sink to so degrading a state of dependence on the opinions of any man as to make it important to the General Assembly, what he might say or do. I hope the time has not yet come when we are prepared to acknowledge the existence of such state of things, by voting for the gentleman’s resolution for such a reason. It may not be improper in me to make this occasion to remark that although I have always had a high personal regard for Mr. Ritchie, I have almost invariably differed with him upon all political questions, and that I have never hesitated to censure freely his political course. It is but just that I should add that I regard the bold, manly, and independent manner in which he has ventured to declare his opinions upon the subject of slavery, as worthy of the highest approbation and admiration. He has done an act sufficient to cover a multitude of sins; and I am almost disposed to assert that, had he been guilty of more faults than are recorded in Heaven against any man, living or dead, I should be prepared to forgive and forget them all, in consideration of the noble stand which he seems to have taken in the cause of humanity. The only other reason assigned in favor of adopting this resolution is that much excitement has risen in the country from an apprehension that we are about to interfere with the rights of private property. I should regret at all times the existence of any unnecessary excitement in the country upon any subject; but, Sir, I confess I see no reason to lament that which may have arisen on the present occasion. It is often necessary that there should be some excitement among the people to induce them to turn their attention to questions deeply affecting their interests, and the welfare of the Commonwealth; and there never can arise any subject more worthy of their attention than that of the abolition of slavery.
As nothing has occurred since the reference of the memorials on the subject of emancipation to your Committee, which in my opinion ought to induce us to recall them, we must enquire into the original propriety of that reference. The memorials referred were from various parts of the State, signed by great numbers of our most respectable citizens, many of them deeply interested in that species of property which is to be affected by the adoption of a system of emancipation, and all of them entitled to a respectful hearing from this Assembly, upon any and on every subject. To have rejected their memorials without a reference would have been an insult to them, and tantamount to a denial of the rights of the citizens of this Commonwealth, to be heard upon questions in which they are most deeply interested. It was known too, that a vast majority of the people of this Commonwealth looked to this present General Assembly, to make some effort to derive the means of removing the colored population from among us. It was evident to all that although in times past (owing to the apathy of the human mind, to every danger but that which is present and palpable), the evils and the dangers arising from the continued existence of slavery among us had escaped the observation of all, but those who had devoted their attention to that subject; yet recent events had opened the eyes of the whole people to the magnitude of these evils, and to the imminence of the danger that is impending over them. And in my estimation, to have attempted under the circumstances, to shrink from the investigation of this important subject would have been to disregard dictates of wisdom and of prudence. It is utterly impossible, Sir, for us to avoid the consideration of this subject, which forces itself upon our view in such a manner that we cannot avoid it. As well might the Apostle have attempted to close the eyes against the light which shone upon him from heaven, or to have turned a deaf ear to the voice which reached him from on high, as for this Assembly to try to stifle the spirit of enquiry which is abroad in this land, as to the best means of freeing the State from the curse of slavery. The monstrous consequences that arise from the existence of slavery, have become exposed to open day, the dangers arising from it, stare us in the face, and it becomes us as men, as freemen, and the representatives of freemen, to meet and overcome rather than to attempt to escape by evading them.
Permit me now, Sir, to direct your attention to some of the evil consequences of slavery, by way of argument, in favor of our maturely deliberating on the whole subject, and adopting some efficient measures to remove the cause from which those evils spring. In the first place, I shall confine my remarks to such those evils as affect white population exclusively. And even in that point of view, I think that slavery as it exists among us may be regarded as the heaviest calamity that has ever befallen any portion of the human race. If we look back through the long course of time, which has elapsed from the creation to the present moment, we shall scarcely be able to point out a people whose situation was not in many respects preferable to our own, and that of the other states in which negro slavery exists. True, Sir, we shall see nations which have groaned under the yoke of despotism for hundreds and thousands of years; but the individuals composing those nations have enjoyed a degree of happiness, peace, and freedom from apprehension, which the holders of slaves in this country can never know. True it is that slavery has existed almost from the time of the deluge, in some form or other in different parts of the world, but always and everywhere, under less disadvantageous circumstances than in this country. The Greeks and Romans had many slaves, but fortunately for them, there was no difference in complexion that placed an impassable barrier between the freeman and slave, and prevented them from liberating the latter, and raising him to an equality with the former. They exercised an unlimited power over even the lives of their slaves, and being under but little restraint from principles of humanity, they could guard against danger by putting a part of their slaves to death. We appear to be destined to see the evil constantly increasing upon us, whilst we are restrained upon the one hand, from raising them to the condition of freemen, by unconquerable prejudices against their complexion, and on the other from destroying them, by feelings of humanity, which, thank God are equally invincible. But, Sir, I must proceed top point out some of the most prominent evils arising from the existence of slavery among us. And among these, the first I shall mention is the irresistible tendency that it has to undermine and destroy everything like virtue and morality in the community. I think I may safely assert that ignorance is the inseparable companion of slavery, and that the desire of freedom is the inevitable consequence of implanting in the human mind any useful degree of intelligence; it is therefore the policy of the mater, that the ignorance of his slaves shall be as profound as possible. And such a state of ignorance is wholly incompatible with the existence of any moral exalted feeling in the breast of the slave. it renders him incapable of deciding between right and wrong, of judging of the enormity of crime, or of estimating the high satisfaction which the performance of an honorable act affords to more intelligent beings. He is never actuated by those noble and inspiring motives which prompt the free to the performance of creditable and praiseworthy deeds; on the contrary his early habits, pursuits and associations, are such as to bring into action all his most vicious propensities. He is habituated from his infancy to sacrifice truth, without remorse, as the only means of escaping punishment, which is too apt to be inflicted whether merited or not. The candid avowal of a fault, which a kind parent is disposed to regard in his child as the evidence of merit, is sure to be considered by the master as insolence in a slave, and to furnish additional reason for inflicting punishment upon him. The slave perceived that he can never attain to the least distinction in society, however fair and unexceptionable his conduct may be, or even to an equality with the lowest class of free men; and that, however innocent he may be, he is often liable to the severest punishment at the will of the hireling overseers without even the form of a trial. The impulses of passion are never restrained in him by that dread of infamy and disgrace, which operates so powerfully, in deterring freemen from the commission of acts, criminal or dishonorable; and he is ever ready to indulge with avidity, in the most beastly intemperance, conscious that nothing can degrade him in the estimation of the world. His reason, beclouded as it is, tells him that to hold him in slavery is a violation of his natural rights; and considering himself as entitled to full remuneration for his labor, he does not regard it as a fault to appropriate any part of the whole white population as participating in the wrongs he endures, and never scruples to revenge himself by injuring their property; and he is never deterred from the commission of theft, except by fear of the punishment consequent on detection. The demoralizing influence of the indiscriminate intercourse of the sexes among our slave population need only to be hinted at to be fully understood. Can it be expected, Sir, or will it be contended, that where so large a mass of the population of the country is corrupt that the other classes can entirely escape the contagion? Sir, it is impossible! And the dissolute habits of a large number of our citizens, especially of the very poorest class is too notorious to be denied, and the cause of it is too obvious to be disputed. Far be it from me, Mr. Speaker, to assert that virtue and morality cannot at all exist among the free, where slavery is allowed, or that there are not many high-minded, honorable, virtuous, and patriotic individuals even in those parts of the State where the slaves are most numerous. I know there are many such. I only contend that it is impossible in the nature of things that slaves can be virtuous and moral, and that their vices must have, to some extent, an injudicious influence upon the morals of the free.
There is another, and perhaps a less questionable evil, growing out of the existence of slavery in this country, which cannot have escaped the observation, or failed to have elicited the profound regrets of every patriotic and reflecting individual in the Assembly. I allude, Sir, to the prevalent and almost universal indisposition of the free population, to engage in the cultivation of the soil—that species of labor, upon which the prosperity of every country chiefly depends: that being the species of labor in which slaves are usually employed, it is very generally regarded as a mark of servitude, and consequently as degrading and disreputable. It follows, of course, that the entire population of the State must be supported by the labor of that half which is in slavery, and it will hardly be denied that it is to this circumstance principally, if not solely, that we are to ascribe the astonishing contrast between the prosperity of the non-slave-holding and slaveholding States of this Union. How many cases do we see around us, of men in moderate circumstances, who, too proud to till the earth with their own hands, are gradually wasting away their small patrimonial estates, and raising their families in habits of idleness and extravagance? How many young men (who were it not for the prevailing prejudices of the country, might gain an honorable and honest subsistence by cultivating the soil) do we see, attempting to force themselves into professions already crowded in excess, in order to obtain a precarious subsistence? And how many of these do we see resort to intemperance to drown reflection, when want of success has driven them to despair? We learn from those who have had sample means of deciding that the situation of the yeomanry of the middle and northern States, is, in every respect, different from that of the same class of people in the slave-holding States. There the farmer cultivates his land with his own hands, which produce all the necessaries and many of the comforts of life, in abundance. He rears up his children in habits of industry, unexposed to the allurements of vice, and instead of being a burden, they assist him in his labors. If, Sir, we compare the face of the country in Virginia with that of the Northern States, we shall find the result greatly to the advantage of the former. We shall see the, though blessed by nature with all the advantages of a mild climate, a fruitful and fine navigable bays and rivers, gradually declining in all that constitutes national wealth. In that part of the State below tide-water, the whole face of the country wears an appearance of almost utter desolation, distressing to the beholder. Tall and thick forests of pines are everywhere to be seen encroaching upon the once cultivated fields and casting a deep gloom over the land, which looks as if nature mourned over the misfortunes of man. The very spot on which , a little more than two hundred years ago, appears to be on the even of again becoming the haunt of wild animals. No man can doubt, Sir, but that the deterioration in the appearance of the country, is owning mainly to the careless manner in which the soil is cultivated by slaves, and the indolence of the white population; nor can we hesitate to ascribe the flourishing condition of the non-slave-holding States, which are everywhere covered with highly cultivated farms, thriving villages, and an industrious white population, to the absence of slavery.
A third consequence of slavery is that it detracts from the ability of a country to defend itself against foreign aggression. Every slave occupies the place of a freeman, and if we regard them merely as neutrals, they impair the force of the State in full proportion to their numbers. But we cannot rationally regard them as neutrals, for the desire for freedom is so deeply implanted in the human breast that no time or treatment can entirely eradicate it, and they will always be disposed to avail themselves of a favorable opportunity of asserting their natural rights. It will consequently be necessary to employ a certain proportion of the efficient force of the whites to keep them in subjection. What that proportion will be, I will not undertake exactly to determine; but it may be safely assumed that wherever the slaves are as numerous as the whites, it will require one half of the effective force of the whites to keep them quiet, and such is the fact as to the whole of Eastern Virginia. And in those counties, such as Amelia, Nottoway, Greensville, Charles City, King William, and some others, in which slaves are more than double as numerous as whites, the force of the latter as to defense against an invading army, may be considered wholly inefficient. And, for the same reason, the counties of Brunswick, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, and many others in which the slaves are nearly twice as numerous as the whites, could spare no part of their forces to contend against an invasion of the State. I hope, Sir, that my mentioning the counties I have enumerated, and the proportions of their different kinds of inhabitants, will not be attributed to any disposition in me to show the slightest disrespect either to the people of those counties or their representatives on this floor.
I am contending that, when the proportion of slaves to the freeman is as great as it is in those counties, and as I can satisfactorily show it will be throughout the State, in less than thirty years, unless we do something to get clear of the former, that it willy incapacitates a country for defense against a foreign enemy, and I mention those counties by way of illustrating my argument. And, Mr. Speaker, I think it can hardly be contended that I have estimated the force necessary for keeping the slaves in subjection too high, when it is recollected that they are intimately acquainted with all the secret passes, strong holds, and fastnesses of the country, and being restrained by no moral or patriotic considerations, will ever be ready to act as guides to an invading foe, and to flock to his standard whenever he may be disposed to tempt them to it, by holding out the strongest temptation which can never be presented to the human mind—namely, the possession of liberty. It must be remembered, too, that we may often have enemies who will not be too magnanimous to avail themselves of advantages, which cost them nothing. If our enemies should be of that description of men, who are but little disposed to perform their engagements in good faith, they will be tempted to seduce our slaves from our possession, not only for the purpose of injuring us, and adding to their own strength, but for the more criminal object of making a profitable speculation, by disposing of them in the West India market. The conduct of the British armies and their commanders, during the last war and the, proves that the latter motive, disgraceful as it is, has not failed to have its full operation.
I will now briefly advert to another consequence of slavery, which is highly detrimental to the Commonwealth, which is, that it retards and prevents the increase of the population of the State. As proof of this, I may direct your attention to the simple face, that, in the whole district of country lying on the east of the Blue Ridge, the white population has increased but 61,332 in forty years, much less than either of the cities of New York and Philadelphia have increased in the same length of time. The great effect of slavery retarding the growth of population will be made manifest by comparing the number of inhabitants in Virginia with the number in New York at different periods. In 1790, the population of Virginia was at least from two to three times as great as that of New York. In 1830, the whole population of Virginia was 1,186,299; that of New York was 1,934,109. From which, it appears, that the inhabitants of New York have increased at least five or six times as rapidly as the inhabitants of Virginia; and the former has one-third more inhabitants than the latter, at this time, notwithstanding the territorial extend of the former is one-third less than that of the latter. If we compare the population of the other slave-holding with that of the not-slave-holding States, we shall find similar results, arising from the same cause; and if we institute the same sort of comparison between some of our oldest and thickest settled counties and some of the counties in the Eastern States, we shall find, that the inhabitants of the former never exceeded thirty-nine, whilst those of the latter amount to one to two hundred to the square mile. These facts are within the knowledge, or reach, of every member of this House, and those who have attended to the facts I have stated, as to the carelessness of the slaves in cultivating the soil, and the indolence of the whites in all slave-holding countries, can readily account for the difference which exists as to the population, between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States.
Having now, Sir (in a most imperfect manner, I admit) attempted to depict some of the many evils of slavery which we already experience, let us inquire what must be the ultimate consequence of retaining them among us. To my mind, the answer to this inquiry must be both obvious and appalling. It is, Sir, that the time will come, and at no distant day, when we shall be involved in all the horrors of servile war that will not end until both sides have suffered much; until the land shall everywhere be red with human blood, and until the slaves or the whites shall be totally exterminated. Shall I be told, Sir, that these are unfounded apprehensions? That they are nothing but exaggerations of a heated imagination? Such a reply will not convince me that I am in error, or satisfy that numerous class of our fellow-citizens who concur in the opinions I have expressed. Let not gentlemen “put the flattering unction to their souls,” that is the voice of fear, and not of reason, which is calling on them, from every quarter of this Commonwealth, to remove from the land the heavy curse of slavery. If, Sir, gentlemen will listen to the remarks I am about to make on this branch of the subject, I humbly hope that I shall succeed in satisfying them. If there be any truth in history, and if the time has not arrived when causes have ceased to produce their legitimate results that the dreadful catastrophe in which I have predicted our slave system must result, if persisted in, is as inevitable as any event which has not already transpired.
I lay it down as a maxim not to be disputed, that our slaves, like all the rest of the human race, are now and will ever continue to be, actuated by the desire of liberty—and it is equally certain that whenever the proportion of slaves in this State, to our white population, shall have become so great as to inspire them with the hope of being able to throw off the yoke, that then an effort will be made by them to effect that object. What the proportion between the slaves and the freemen must be which will embolden the former to make such an attempt, it is not material for me to enquire; for if it be admitted that an disproportion however great will have that effect, it is susceptible of the clearest demonstration, that it must be made within a period so short, that many of us may expect to witness it. And I need not go into an enquiry whether or not such an attempt can, at any time, or under any circumstances, be attended with success; for it is certain that whenever it is made, it will be the beginning of the servile war; and from what we know of human nature generally, and from what we hear of the spirit manifested by both parties in the late Southampton Rebellion, it is very evident that such a war must be one of extermination happen when it will.
Taking it for granted that the positions I have taken cannot be shaken or controverted, I proceed to make a statement of facts, and to submit a table I have made out, containing several calculations, showing the relative increase of the white and colored population in Eastern Virginia and in the counties of Brunswick and Halifax in the last forty years, to the consideration of the House; and from which I expect to be able to prove very satisfactorily. First, that the colored population are readily gaining on the whites. Secondly, that the gain must be much more rapid in time to come than it has been in times past. And, thirdly, that in a short period the proportion of the slaves to the whites, must become so great that the consequences which I have predicted, and which are so much to be deprecated must ensue.
In 1790, the population of Eastern Virginia was,
In 1830 it was
Increase in 40 years
If both kinds of population continue to increase in the same ratios for the next 40 years, the population of E. Virginia, will be, in 1870,
The population of Brunswick County, was, in 1790,
In 1830, it was,
Should the Whites decrease and the colored increase, for 40 years to come, in the same ratios, the population will then stand thus,
The Colored being at that time, more than three times as numerous as the Whites, In 1790, Halifax had,
Increase, in 40 years,
If both increase in the same ratios, to the year 1870, the population will stand thus,
or two colored to one White.
A part of the table I have just read, Mr. Speaker, isreferred to your Select Committee from the County of Hanover. I have already stated that there are several counties in the States, in which the slaves are twice as numerous as the whites; and it would be very easy to show that if the two kinds of population increase in the same ratio for the next, that they have done for the last forty years, the slaves will, at the end of that time, be from there to five times numerous as the whites in those counties.
But, Sir, having said enough to satisfy any reasonable man that the slaves are rapidly gaining on the whites, I shall now endeavor to show beyond controversy that they must gain upon them more rapidly in time to come, than they have done in the past. The population of every country must, of necessity, be limited to the means of subsistence which it affords, and of course there can be no increase of population in countries in which the inhabitants are so numerous, as to consume all the means of subsistence which it can be made to produce; the population of China, has long been stationary, not being greater now than it was a thousand or two thousand years ago. In other old settled countries, such as Holland, France, and many parts of Germany and Italy, the increase of population is scarcely perceptible. In new countries, in which provisions are abundant, like the States of Ohio, Indiana, and some others, population doubles itself in from ten to twelve years; and in the whole United States, it doubles itself in about twenty-five or thirty years as has been ascertained from actual enumerations, independent of emigration from abroad. The means of substance in every country consist almost exclusively of the products of the soil, and the quantity of these products depends very much upon the manner in which the soil is cultivated. England, for example, sustains double as great a population as one in which slavery exists. In attempting, then, to ascertain what number of inhabitants to the square mile, in countries in which agriculture is carried to the highest perfection, but by the amount of the necessaries of life which can be drawn from the soil by our mode of cultivation. Estimating the population, which Virginia, or rather that part of it lying East of the Blue Ridge, will support, upon that principle, it is perfectly apparent it can never sustain more than one-third in addition to its present population. The whole number of inhabitants in Eastern Virginia, according to the census of 1830, is 832,868; by adding one-third to this number, I ascertain the whole number of inhabitants, which Eastern Virginia can support, to be 1,110,499. That this estimate is sufficiently high is proved by the fact that there are seventeen counties in that part of the State, which have a smaller population now than they had forty years ago, that there are many others which have scarcely increased at all in that period, and probably many more which have decreased in the last ten or twenty years. And the additional fact furnished by the statement made out by the Auditor for the Convention, that in the two great Eastern divisions of the State from the Blue Ridge to the Ocean, the ration of increase has been but a very small fraction of one percent, per annum for many years past. Again, Sir, it has been ascertained with a great certainty that the whole slave population in the United Sates increases at a rate of two and a half percent a year, and doubles itself in about twenty-eight years. Supposing the whole colored population of Eastern Virginia doubled itself in that period, it will in the year 1858 amount to 914,026k, or more than the entire population of that part of the State at present, and within 196,174 of as many as it can ever contain; consequently, there will then be but one white to every five colored inhabitants in that portion of the Commonwealth.
But, I may be asked why I assume that the colored population is to continue to increase as heretofore, and that the white will decrease as the colored advances. To such a question, I should reply, because the checks upon the increase of population growing out of the want of means of subsistence operate exclusively upon the white people. One of the immediate effects of the want of means of subsistence in all thickly settled counties is that it so limits the number of marriage that the number of children born scarcely ever exceeds the number of deaths in any given period. How far this cause operates in Eastern Virginia, we may judge from the fact that notwithstanding the entire white population of that part of the State, was greater by 96,000 in 1820, than that of Western Virginia, yet the number of whites under five years old, was two thousand greater in 1830, in Western, than in Eastern Virginia. I will mention another fact, which proves conclusively, that this cause does not at all retard the growth of our colored population, and will show its effects as to both kinds of population in a very striking point of view. It is, that according to the census of 1830, the whole number of the colored population in Eastern Virginia, under ten years of age, was upwards of one hundred and fifty-five thousand, whilst the number of whites of a corresponding age was but a little over one hundred and ten thousand, making a difference in favor of the former of nearly forty five thousand. Another of the immediate checks upon the increase of population, in densely inhabited countries, arising from the want of means of subsistence, is the number of poor persons, who perish in times of great scarcity, from hunger. If there every be any of the inhabitants of this State, who perish from want, they must belong to the poorer class of white people, who have no personable to relive them interested in preserving their lives. The slave is always secure from this danger—the master being always prompted by motives of interest to sell, if not able to support him. Another, and the principal check upon the increase of the population of this State, is the immense emigration from it. This check has hitherto operated pretty equally upon all classes of our inhabitants, and the gain of the blacks has not been greater than can readily be accounted for upon other principles, which I have mentioned already. But, Sir, the time has come when the emigration must be continued almost exclusively to the white population. All the States of this Union will continue upon to such of our white people as may choose to enter them. On the other hand, many of these States have been long closed against our colored population; and even the Southern States, to which, in times past, so many thousands of slaves have been carried, have at length become alarmed at the immense number of slaves among them, and are taking decisive measures for excluding any more of them being carried there in future. The Legislature of Louisiana has recently passed an act to exclude slaves from that State, under very severe penalties. The gentleman from Mecklenburg (Mr. Goode) attributed the passage of that act to the action of this Assembly at its present session, upon the subject of slaves; but unfortunately for that idea, the act of the Legislature of Louisiana was passed a short time before the Legislature convened. I also learn from newspapers that the Legislatures of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and the rest of the slave-holding States, are about to adopt the same policy with Louisiana. The market for slaves may be considered, then, as closed forever, and the inevitable consequence will be that the blacks will continue to increase without any check whatever. The slaveholders will be compelled in order to find them employment to drive off their poor white tenants from their lands. The small slave-holders will be compelled to sell out and remove, until in the course of some twenty or thirty years, the disproportion between the blacks and whites, will become so great, that the slaves will attempt to recover their liberty; and then, the consequences that I have predicted, and which is so much to be deprecated, will inevitably ensue.
I have so far, Mr. Speaker, confined my attention to the injurious and dangerous consequences of slavery as they affect the white population exclusively. I must now take a short view of slavery as it affects the slaves themselves: “That all men are by nature free and equal” is a truth held sacred by every American, and by every Republican, throughout the world. And I presume it cannot be denied in this Hall, as a general principle, that it is an act of injustice, tyranny, and oppression to hold any part of the human race in bondage against their consent. That circumstances may exist which put it out of the power of the owners for a time to grant the slaves liberty, I admit to be possible; and if they do exist in any case, it may excuse, but not justify, the owner in holding them. The right to the enjoyment of liberty is one of those perfect, inherent, and inalienable rights, which pertain to the whole human race, and of which they can never be divested, except by an act of gross injustice. I may be told, Sir, as an argument in favor of retaining our slaves, that their condition is preferable to that of the laboring class of people in Europe. And, Sir, it will afford me the most heart-felt satisfaction to declare my belief that such is the fact; at all events, it is certain that slavery exists in a milder form that it has done in any other portion of the world. But at the same time, it must be remembered that slavery is at best but an intolerable evil, and can never be submitted to, except from stern necessity. It must be confessed that although the treatment of our slaves is in general as mild and humane as it can be, that it must always happen, that there will be found hundreds of individuals, who, owing either to the natural ferocity of their dispositions, or to the effects of intemperance, will be guilty of cruelty and barbarity towards their slaves, which is almost intolerable, and at which humanity revolts. But even if slavery was not injurious to ourselves, and the condition of the slave was ten times as happy as it is, it is enough for us to know that we have no right to hold them against their consent, to induce us to make a vigorous effort to send the from among us. Liberty is too dear to the heart of man ever to be given up for any earthly consideration. One of thethat this country ever produced said at a time of imminent peril, “give me liberty or give me death;” and I cannot believe there is one member of this House who would not rather meet death, “will his sins full blown upon his head,” and with the liveliest anticipations of those ills which lie beyond the grace, than to submit to slavery, even in its mildest form. No consideration then, arising out of humanity with which slaves are treated in this country can have any weight for me; for palliate it and soften it as you will, it is a monster, on which freedom cannot look without abhorrence.
I must, before I take my seat, be permitted to view this subject of slavery to yet another aspect. Let me enquire, Sir, what must be the estimation to which we shall be held by foreign nations, if we fail even to make an effort to send our slaves to some country where they may enjoy the blessings of liberty? Is it not due, Sir, to our character, as a moral, a just, a sincere, and a magnanimous people, that we should yield obedience to these principles contained in our Bill of Rights, and which we have solemnly declared to be applicable to, and obligatory on, all mankind? Can we be justified in the eyes of man, or of Heaven, in withholding from our negroes, rights which we have declared to be the common property of all the human race? And that, too, in violation of the fundamental principles of our own Government? What must be thought of the zeal, which we profess to feel in behalf of those nations, which have been struggling for freedom across the ocean? Will not the admiration we expressed at the heroic exertions of the Parisians, in their recent struggle for liberty, and the sympathy we professed to feel for the suffering Polanders, be regarded as mere hypocrisy and dissimulation by those who know we do not practice the doctrines which we preach? It matters not, Sir, whether oppression be exercised over a few individuals, or over many millions; it is as much tyranny in the one case as the other; and in a moral point of view the Autocrat of Russia is not more deserving the same of a tyrant, for having sent his hordes of barbarians to plant the blood-stained banner of despotism upon the walls of Warsaw, amid the ruins of all that was dear to freemen, than the petty tyrant in any other quarter of the globe, who is equally regardless of the acknowledged rights of man. It is due, not only to our character, but to the reputation of our ancestors, that we should make a determined effort to free our country from the odium of slavery. On the 29th day of June, 1776, our ancestors, in order to escape the odium which would attach to them in the estimation of foreigners, as the owners of slaves, solemnly declared in the preamble to the Constitution which they then adopted, that the King against whom they were then in rebellion had prevented them from excluding negroes from among them by law, by an inhuman use of his negative; and assigned that as one of the grounds on which they justified their rebellion. Should we now refuse even to consider of the means of sending from among us those very slaves whom our ancestors expressed so much anxiety to have excluded from the State, every intelligent foreigner will conclude, either that our forefathers grossly calumniated the King of England, or that we are the degenerate offspring of more worthy ancestors.
In conclusion, permit me again to express the hope that this House will not consent to discharge the Committee from the further consideration of the memorials referred to them until they have enquired into the practicability of removing the great and insupportable evil of slavery from our beloved country. It may be that they will advise the adoption by this House of the scheme of emancipation, presented in Committee some time ago by the gentleman from Berkeley (Mr.) or the scheme now presented by the gentleman from Albemarle (Mr. [Thomas Jefferson] Randolph) or some other scheme by which it may be provided, that all slaves after a certain period, shall, if not emancipated or removed before they attain a certain age, be seized and sold by the officers of the Commonwealth at public auction, to be carried out of the State, and the proceeds paid over to the former owner. Other schemes may be presented, and we should not despair as long as any hope remains, that any practicable plan for the removal of the slaves can be offered for our adoption.
One word, Sir, they be as intelligent as the gentleman supposed them to be, every precaution to conceal from them the extent of their natural rights in vain! And it is useless to cut short the discussion on a subject upon, which, according to his ideas, they are nearly as well informed as we are. The gentleman ascribes much of the noise, which has been made upon this subject of slavery to fanaticism. Whether he is right in that opinion or not is a matter of no importance, for whether the zeal in favor of emancipation be [sic] fanaticism or not, certain it is that it is a feeling, or motive, by which thousands in our country will be actuated as long as there is a slavery in the country. I beg pardon, Mr. Speaker, for having trespassed so long on the patience of this House.