Patrick Henry letter to Robert Pleasants
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the receipt of Anthony Benezet's book against the Slave Trade. I thank you for it. It is not a little surprising that Christianity, whose chief excellency consists in softening the human heart, in cherishing and improving its finer feelings, should encourage a practice so totally repugnant to the first impressions of right and wrong; what adds to the wonder is, that this abominable practice has been introduced in the most enlightened ages, times that seem to have pretensions to boast of high improvements in arts, sciences and refined morality, have brought into general use and guarded by many laws, a species of violence and tyranny, which our more rude and barbarous, but more honest ancestors, detested. Is it not amazing, that at a time when the rights of humanity are defined and understood with precision, in a country above all others fond of liberty, that in such an age and such a country we find men professing a religion the most humane, mild, meek, gentle and generous, adopting a principle as repugnant to humanity, as it is inconsistent with the Bible and destructive to liberty?
Every thinking honest man rejects it in speculation, how few in practice, from conscientious motives. The world in general has denied your people a share of its honors, but the wise will ascribe to you a just tribute of virtuous praise for the practice of a train of virtues among which your disagreement to Slavery will be principally ranked. I cannot but wish well to a people whose system imitates the example of Him whose life was perfect, and believe me I shall honor the Quakers for their noble effort to abolish Slavery. It is equally calculated to promote moral and political good.
Would any one believe that I am master of slaves of my own purchase? I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not, I cannot justify it. However culpable my conduct, I will so far pay my devoir to virtue as to own the excellence and rectitude of her precepts, and to lament my want of conformity to them.
I believe a time will come, when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil; every thing we can do is to improve it if it happens in our day, if not, let us transmit to our descendants together with our slave a pity for their unhappy lot and an abhorrence for slavery. If we cannot reduce this wished for reformation to practice let us treat the unhappy victims with lenity; it is the farthest advance we can make towards justice; it is a debt we owe to the purity of our religion to show that it is at variance with that law which warrants slavery. Here is an instance of silent Meetings, (the scoff of Reverend Doctors,) have done that which learned and elaborate preaching could not effect, so much preferable are the genuine dictates of conscience and a steady attention to its feelings, above the teachings of those men who pretend to have found a better guide.
I exhort you to persevere in so worthy a resolution. Some of your people disagree or at least and luke-warm in the abolition of Slavery. Many treat the resolution of your meeting with ridicule, and among those who throw contempt on it are Clergyman, whose surest guard against both ridicule and contempt is a certain Act of Assembly.
I know not where to stop. I could say many things on this subject, a serious review of which gives a gloomy perspective to future times. Excuse this scrawl, and believe me with esteem,
Your Ob’t Serv't.
PATRICK HENRY, Jr.