Notes on the State of Virginia (1802)/Query 18

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THE particular cuſtoms and manners that may happen to be received in that ſtate?

It is difficult to determine on the ſtandard by which the manners of a nation may be tried, whether catholic, or particular. It is more difficult for a native to bring to that ſtandard the manners of his own nation, familiarized to him by habit. There muſt doubtleſs be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the exiſtence of ſlavery among us. The whole commerce between maſter and ſlave is a perpetual exerciſe of the moſt boiſterous paſſions, the moſt unremitting deſpotiſm on the one part, and degrading ſubmiſſions on the other. Our children ſee this, and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he ſees others do. If a parent could find no motive either in his philanthropy or his ſelf-love, for reſtraining the intemperance of paſſion towards his ſlave, it ſhould always be a ſufficient one that his child is preſent. But generally it is not ſufficient. The parent ſtorms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the ſame airs in the circle of ſmaller ſlaves, gives a looſe to his word paſſions, and thus nurſed, educated, and daily exerciſed in tyranny, cannot but be ſtamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man muſt be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by ſuch circumſtances. And with, what execution ſhould the ſtateſman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of other, transforms thoſe into deſpots, and theſe into enemies, deſtroyeds the morals of the one part, and the amor patriæ of the other. For if a ſlave can have a country in this world, it muſt be any other in preference to that in which he is born to live and labor for another: in which he muſt look up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as depends on his individual endeavors to the evaniſhment of the human race, or entail his own miſerable condition on the endleſs generations proceeding from him. With the morals of the people, their induſtry alſo is deſtroyed. For in a warm climate, no man will labor for himſelf who can make another labor for him. This is ſo true, that of the proprietors of ſlaves a very ſmall proportion indeed are ever ſeen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be thought ſecure when we have removed their only firm baſis, a conviction in the minds of the people that theſe liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is juſt; that his juſtice cannot ſleep for ever: that conſidering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of ſituation is among poſſible events: that it may become probable by ſupernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take ſide with us in ſuch a conteſt.—But it is impoſſible to be temperate and to purſue this ſubject through the various conſiderations of policy, of morals, of hiſtory natural and civil. We muſt be contented to hope they will force their way into every one's mind. I think a change already preceptible, ſince the origin of the preſent revolution. The ſpirit of the maſter is abating, that of the ſlave is riſing from the duſt, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auſpices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is diſpoſed, in the order of events, to be with the conſent of the maſters, rather than by their extirpation.