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African Observer



(Continued from page 330.)

and the stability of governments, than the general prevalence of good morals.

For forms of government let fools contestWhatever is best administered is best.

The next inquiry which this subject suggests is, what are the consequences, moral and political, which must necessarily result from the practice of holding the people of colour in perpetual and hereditary slavery?

This inquiry might furnish matter for a volume. The consequences are so awful, and weave themselves into so many of the relations of society, that their full development would require much ampler space than the columns of a periodical journal can possibly afford. History, philosophy, and political economy might be successfully invoked for their contributions to this momentous work. The author of these essays must, however, be content to glean his observations from life's common field. And even within this field, a large part of the ground has been pre-occupied by the translations from Sismondi, published in the preceding numbers..

Nothing can more powerfully contribute to the happiness of a nation,

Vol.I. -46

Without adopting the sentiment of the poet to its fullest extent, we may very safely admit, that the form is of little importance, except as it tends to secuțe a just and salutary administration. The checks of government, however prudently adjusted, are unavoidably weakened by a relaxed or dissolute state of public morals. And the greater the freedom guaranteed by the government to its individual members, the greater is the importance of general morality. The strong arm of despotism may often suppress the disorders originating in the unbridled passions of a ruthless populace, though the same disorders would present a formidable front to the ministers of mild and well defined laws. Indeed, political freedom is scarcely compatible with the general dissolution of

morals. Foreign aggression may be support and exalt the standard of morepelled by military force; but domes rality, and preserve from corruption tic tranquillity can be secured only the less considerate portion of the by the freezing influence of despotic community.t power, or the commanding energy of That evils of any description, when public opinion.

once admitted into the practice of inFree governments, without national dividuals or the institutions of society, virtue, naturally run into anarchy; and naturally pave the way for the admisanarchy as naturally ends in despot sion of others of a deeper shade, is a ism. The people, harassed with the truth too well attested by experience disorders of anarchy, or which is nearly to require demonstration. The hedge if not entirely the same thing, the domi of virtue being any where broken, the nation of factions, naturally seek repose intrusion of a solitary vice is not to be in the unbridled authority of a single

expected. ruler.* The people of Israel, when If, then, slavery is admitted to be they requested a king to reign over radically unjust, the inference, upon them, manifested, not only by the re general principles, would be, that its quest, but by the disorders which led presence must be adverse to the mainto it, their own deep-seated depravity. tenance of morality and virtue. A sysThe prophet was commanded to grant tem originally founded on violence and their request, at the time that he ex wrong, cannot be interwoven with the postulated with them on its impiety. national institutions, without endanThis apparent inconsistency is easily || gering, to a greater or less extent, the explained by considering the transac national morals. The inference can tion as an evidence that the people be but partially averted by the reflecwere too much depraved to maintain tion, that the slavery of our time was a more liberal government. The loss not the work of the present generaof liberty among the Greeks and Ro tion. An institution which could not mans is to be attributed less to the be formed without the blackest guilt, ambition of their leaders, than to the can hardly be maintaiped with perfect vices of the people.

innocence. If those individuals who National morality can scarcely be were originally seized on the African preserved in the total absence of gene shore, and consigned to slavery in the ral religion. Morality is supported by public opinion. It has no fixed basis

† Whatever may be conceded to the of its own; nor any permanent stand influence of refined education on minds ard by which it is to be estimated. of peculiar structure, reason and expe

rience both forbid us to expect, that Religion is the true and original basis

national morality can prevail in excluof morals: As genuine religion ad sion of religious principles. vances or recedes, the standard of mo It is substantially true, that virtue rality must rise or fall. In every age

or morality is a necessary spring of and nation, the substantially pious are

popular government. The rule, indeed,

extends with more or less force to every the salt of the earth. They give a tone species of free government. Who that and direction to public opinion; they

is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake

the foundation of the fabric?-Wash* Washington's Farewell Address. ington's Farewell Address.

western world, and the immediate au. thors of their captivity were now alive, and the authority thus obtained had never been transferred, there would be little doubt whether justice would permit the continuance of the unnatural relation. Any repentance on the part of the original aggressors for the injury inflicted, would obtain but little credit while the prize was retained. “Can one be pardoned and retain the offence?” The degree of criminality is doubtless very different in the case of successors; yet the nature of the aggression cannot be completely changed, except by a change of the resulting relation.

Far be it from me to assert, that every person who holds slaves is on that account a criminal. No man can be accountable for evils, in the production of which he has had no agency, and over which he has no control. The system has been the growth of ages, and must probably require ages for its utter extinction. But it is of serious importance that we remember, that if we allow the unjust deeds of our fathers, we partake of their guilt. Probably few instances can be found which more forcibly illustrate the declaration that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children to the third and fourth generation, the case before us. A heavy load has been entailed on the present generation, and the path of virtue rendered more difficult by the habits and institutions with which we are surrounded. What unsophisticated justice demands, our habits and prejudices sternly oppose.

If the slavery of a part of our species cannot be defended upon general principles, but in its first establishment was an obvious violation of natural law; if every man is justly entitled to

his freedom until he forfeits it by his crimes; if an unjust and oppressive institution cannot be innocently maintained; it is difficult to avert the conclusion, that our duty requires the extinction of slavery as speedily as the circumstances of the community can possibly admit. If the system has degraded its victims, and enervated its supporters to such an extent as to forbid a sudden change of the existing relation, we cannot innocently neglect the proper means of preparation for a safe and salutary change. To plead the degradation of the slaves as a reason for their detention in servitude, and at the same time to oppose their improvement, is to plead one crime in extenuation of another; to deny to the coloured race the common rights of humanity, because they are not more than human, Human beings are, in great measure, moulded by the circumstances in which they are placed, and rise or fall in the scale of moral and intellectual refinement, according as their condition in life is favourable or adverse to improvement.

If the claim of every human being to the common privileges of the race, until they have been clearly forfeited by crimes against the community, is undeniable; and if the forfeiture of those privileges by the slaves in our country cannot be proved; and if the reasons for continuing the system are founded on a timid and questionable policy ; it follows, that even the temporary maintenance of this system is at best of very doubtful morality.

We should conclude, from the nature of the case, without looking into the world for facts, and without attempting a comparison between slave-holding and non slave-holding coinmunitics, that the former would be generally

lens attentive to the duties of religion are equally inimic to the virtue of than the latter, and that the general both. It is true, these general results standard of morals would suffer a cor are occasionally modified by particular respondent depression.

causes. Humanity on the one hand, Adverting then to the acknowledged and fidelity on the other, may produce effect of religion and morals upon the sincere aitachments between the masstability of governments, a people so ter and slave. But these are only exjealous of their liberty and so proud of ceptions to the general law, and not a their political fabric as the inhabitants part of it. Instances of fidelity and of the United States, might well view attachment have occurred in persons of the system of negro slavery with ex-servile condition, which the nobler class treme suspicion. They might very might be proud to emulate. If the justly fear that the fabric of our go instances of tender attachment have vernment would be weakened and been mostly on the side of the slave, eventually overthrown by a system so it merely proves that a humble station adverse to the growth of those princi is more congenial than an exalted one ples upon which our republican insti to the growth of the milder virtues. tutions must essentially depend. They no more disprove the unfavour

If we examine the specific operation able tendency of these degrading disof slavery, we still find ample reason tinctions, than the cases of generosity to deplore its existence. The first effect and gratitude which are sometimes of this system is to establish an invidi found to spring up amidst the strife of ous and degrading distinction between spears, between the aggressors and the the different classes of the community. aggrieved, disprove the excitement of However complete the equality be the malignant passions by a state of tween the individual members of either class may be, the free, compared with That such is in reality the effect of the bond, constitute a privileged order. slavery on the two classes who breathe A patrician and a plebeian rank are its atmosphere, may be inferred from formed: This powerfully tends to de the general character of the laws in stroy or suppress a sense of the natural slave-holding districts. In popular goequality of man. Adventitious circum vernments, the laws are the index of stances, instead of virtue and wisdom, public opinion,—an index, it must be become the basis of honour. A mem acknowledged, which is sometimes raber of the privileged order, how low ther behind its moving power. The soever he may sink in the moral scale, general character of the laws in relation has his pride sustained by the convic to slaves, both in our own country and tion that a numerous class is still below in the British West Indies, has been him. The member of the inferior or already shown. It appears impossible der finds the energies of his nature to account for many of the existing cramped by his servile condition. No statutes, without admitting the conexertion of his physical or intellectual tempt for the servile class which has powers can place him on a level with been attributed to the superior grade. his more favoured compatriots. Hence Nor can we readily acquit the pride and contempt on the one side, lators of wanton cruelty, unless we and envy and aversion on the other, suppose that the malignant passions


predominant among the slaves, indicate tocracy. It gives to the master a the necessity of energetic restraints. power without the proper checks, and The impression produced by a perusal

feeds all the passions which spring of those laws would be, that the mas from unbridled authority. The porters and slaves are in a state of per trait of slavery drawn by an eminent petual hostility, and that subordination writer, who was himself a slave-holder, must be preserved by military rather though often cited, lies too directly in than civil authority. To suppose, as

my road to be overlooked. “There we are sometimes invited to do, that must be an unhappy influence on the the slaves are a happy people, content manners of the people, produced by with their condition, and sincerely at

the existence of slavery among us. tached to their masters, would be to

The whole commerce between masimagine that the masters had framed ter and slave is a perpetual exercise and continued to support, a system of of the most boisterous passions; the opprobrious laws to grind down a most unremitting despotism on the one peaceful and unoffending race; would part, and degrading submissions on the be to attribute to the slave-holding other. Our children see this and learn legislatures a degree of wanton cruelty, to imitate it. The parent storms, the which ought not to be charged upon child looks on, catches the lineaments them without the clearest evidence, of wrath, puts on the same airs in the and for which it is believed no adequate circles of smaller slaves, gives loose to testimony can be produced. On the the worst of passions, and thus nursed, other hand, to suppose the laws for the educated, and daily exercised in tyrangovernment of slaves all dictated by a ny, cannot but be stamped by it with just and liberal policy, would be to odious peculiarities. The man must suppose that the slaves were almost be a prodigy who can retain his morals perpetually plotting the destruction of undepraved by such circumstances."* their masters. The truth unquestion Admitting this picture to be even ably lies between these extremes. This partially correct, we must be convinced medium appears to be, that the moral that such an education must be highly qualities of both classes are deteriorated injurious to the youth belonging to the by slavery.

magisterial class; and that this state As virtue is essential to the mainte of abject dependence, and servile subnance of a republican government, so

mission, is scarcely compatible with on the other hand, the equality of re the growth of independent virtue. publicanism is favourable to virtue. Whether our political freedom can be When men move among their equals, || long preserved within the sphere of the malignant passions are held under such a system, is a question for polihabitual restraint, and the milder vir ticians to answer. It is certainly of tues are cultivated from necessity as vital importance, that the principles, well as choice. But power without as well as the form, should be preaccountability is prone to corrupt the served, if we expect the fabric to stand. possessor. Few persons are possessed || Slavery cannot be wrought into the of virtue sufficiently firm to be safely trusted with it. Slavery, under every * Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, p. form of government, supports an aris 241.

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