Page:The Writings of Thomas Paine (1894), vol. 1.djvu/16

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

2

The Writings of Thomas Paine

[1774–

and Her Colonies, etc.” (Philadelphia), in which the English denunciations of the Slave Trade were quoted. In 1772 the eminent Dr. Benjamin Rush published two brief pamphlets inveighing against the Slave Trade, and the cruelties of some masters. Although Dr. Rush recognized the injustice of Slavery he made no suggestion for its abolition. In the preface to his “Essays, literary, moral, and philosophical” (Philadelphia, 1798), Dr. Rush says: “The author has omitted in this Collection two pamphlets which he published in the year 1772 upon the Slavery of the Negroes, because he conceived the object of them had been in part accomplished, and because the Citizens of the United States have since that time been furnished from Great Britain and other countries with numerous tracts upon that subject more calculated to complete the effect intended by the author, than his early publications.” When this was written Slavery was more powerful than in 1772, and the only object “in part accomplished” was the approaching end of the Slave Trade (1808). It will be seen therefore that the few antislavery protests in America preceding Paine’s essay by no means anticipated it. Their aim was to excite horror of the traffic in Africans abroad, but they did not propose to restrict the home traffic, much less to emancipate the slaves. So far as I can discover, to Thomas Paine belongs the honor of being the first American abolitionist. Unnoted as this fact has been from that period to the present, the blow seems to have had far-reaching effects. “This,” says Dr. Rush, “excited my desire to be better acquainted with him. We met soon afterwards in Mr. Aitkin’s bookstore, where I did homage to his principles and pen upon the subject of the enslaved Africans.” Those who know anything of the high position and influence of Dr. Rush can hardly doubt that the “essay with which [he] was much pleased” must have produced some agitation in the small circle of persons interested in the subject, among whom Rush was supreme. Soon after the appearance of Paine’s antislavery essay the first American Anti-slavery Society was organized. It was founded at Philadelphia, in the Sun Tavern, Second