The African Slave Trade/Chapter 5

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Jeremiah xxxiv, 17. Therefore, thus saith the Lord, Te have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbor : behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.

It is a melancholy and startling fact, that the slave trade is not abolished, but continues, with all its attendant barbarities and unmitigated horrors. Cuba, Brazil, Porto Rico, and the United States, still furnish markets for men whose trade has been pronounced piracy, and whose crimes render them deserving of death. There is more cruelty, and a greater waste of life, than formerly, owing to the smallness of the vessels employed, the scanty provisions furnished, and the haste with which the captives must be taken, in order that the pirates may escape seizure by the armed vessels in pursuit of them.

Mr. Buxton, who is good authority on this point, says:
"It has been proved, by documents which can not be controverted, that for every cargo of slaves shipped towards the end of the last century, two cargoes, or twice the numbers in one cargo, wedged together in a mass of living corruption, are now borne on the waves of the Atlantic; and that the cruelties and horrors of the traffic have been increased and aggravated by the very efforts we have made for its abolition. Each individual has more to endure; aggravated suffering reaches multiplied numbers. At the time I am writing, there are at least twenty thousand human beings on the Atlantic, exposed to every variety of wretchedness which belongs to the middle passage. . . . I am driven to the sorrowful conviction, that the year from September, 1837, to September, 1838, is distinguished beyond all preceding years for the extent of the trade, for the intensity of its miseries, and for the unusual havoc it makes of human life."

Judge Joseph Story, in his charge to the grand jury of the United States Circuit Court, in Portsmouth, N. H., May term, 1820, after reviewing the laws which have been enacted for the suppression of the slave trade, remarked:

"Under such circumstances, it might well be supposed that the slave trade would, in practice, be extinguished, — that virtuous men would, by their abhorrence, stay its polluted march, and wicked men would be overawed by its potent punishment. But, unfortunately, the case is far otherwise. We have but too many melancholy proofs, from unquestionable sources, that it is still carried on with all the implacable ferocity and insatiable rapacity of former times. Avarice has grown more subtle in its evasion; and watches and seizes its prey with an appetite quickened, rather than suppressed, by its guilty vigils. American citizens are steeped up to their very mouths, (I scarcely use too bold a figure,) in this stream of iniquity. They throng the coasts of Africa, under the stained flags of Spain and Portugal, sometimes selling abroad 'their cargoes of despair,' and sometimes bringing them into some of our southern ports, and there, under the forms of the law, defeating the purposes of the law itself, and legalizing their inhuman but profitable adventures. I wish I could say that New England, and New England men, were free from this deep pollution. But there is some reason to believe that they who drive a loathsome traffic, 'and buy the muscles and the bones of men,' are to be found here also. It is to be hoped the number is small; but our cheeks may well burn with shame while a solitary case is permitted to go unpunished.

"And, gentlemen, how can we justify ourselves, or apologize for an indifference to this subject? Our constitutions of government have declared that all men are born free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are the right of enjoying their lives, liberties, and property, and of seeking and obtaining their own safety and happiness. May not the miserable African ask, 'Am I not a man, and a brother?' We boast of our noble struggle against the encroachments of tyranny, but do we forget that it assumed the mildest form in which authority ever assailed the rights of its subjects, and yet that there are men among us who think it no wrong to condemn the shivering negro to perpetual slavery?

"We believe in the Christian religion. It commands us to have good will to all men; to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to do unto all men as we would they should do unto us. It declares our accountability to the Supreme God for all our actions, and holds out to us a state of future rewards and punishments, as the sanction by which our conduct is to be regulated. And yet there are men calling themselves Christians, who degrade the negro by ignorance to a level with the brutes, and deprive him of all the consolations of religion. He alone, of all the rational creation, they seem to think, is to be at once accountable for his actions, and yet his actions are not to be at his own disposal, but his mind, his body, and his feelings, are to be sold to perpetual bondage. To me it appears perfectly clear, that the slave trade is equally repugnant to the dictates of reason and religion, and is an offense equally against the laws of God and man.

We shall not undertake the arduous task of fixing the precise amount of guilt that belongs to our nation, for the failure of the efforts to destroy this traffic. The amount of that guilt can not be estimated, — can not be put into language. The indifference that has been manifested towards the evils of the traffic; the toleration of the domestic slave trade, by which the public conscience has been rendered callous; the extension of slave territory, in spite of the solemn remonstrances of the enlightened and patriotic portion of the people; and the refusal of the government to coöperate with the nations of Europe in their humane efforts, have tended to sustain the traffic, and place us in an anomalous position before the world.

After the refusal of the United States, in 1833, to join with England and France for the suppression of the traffic, what encouragement has there been for those governments to renew their applications for coöperation? This shameful refusal is thus referred to in the 128th number of the Edinburgh Review:

"We have, however, to record one instance of positive refusal to our request of accession to these conventions, and that, we grieve to say, comes from the United States of America, the first nation that, by its statute law, branded the slave trade with the name of piracy. The conduct, moreover, of the President does not appear to have been perfectly candid and ingenuous. There appears to have been delay in returning any answer, and when returned, it seems to have been of an evasive character. In the month of August, 1833, the English and French ministers jointly sent in copies of the recent conventions, and requested the accession of the United States. At the end of March following, seven months afterwards, an answer is returned, which, though certainly not of a favorable character in other respects, yet brings so prominently into view, as the insuperable objection, that the mutual right of search of suspected vessels was to be extended to the shores of the United States, (though we permitted it to American cruisers off the coast of our West Indian colonies,) that Lord Palmerston was naturally led to suppose that the other objections were superable. He, therefore, though aware how much the whole efficiency of the agreement will be impaired, consents to waive that part of it, in accordance with the wishes of the President, and in the earnest hope that he will, in return, make some concessions of feeling or opinion to the wishes of England and France, and to the necessities of a great and holy cause. The final answer, however, is, that under no condition, in no form, and with no restrictions, will the United States enter into any convention or treaty, or make combined efforts of any sort or kind, with other nations, for the suppression of the trade. We much mistake the state of public opinion in the United States, if its government will not find itself under the necessity of changing this resolution. The slave trade will, henceforth, we have little doubt, be carried on under that flag of freedom; but as in no country, after our own, have such persevering efforts for its suppression been made, by men the most distinguished for goodness, wisdom, and eloquence, as in the United States, we can not believe that their flag will long be prostituted to such vile purposes; and either they must combine with other nations, or they must increase the number and efficiency of their naval forces on the coast of Africa and elsewhere, and do their work single-handed. We say this the more, because the motives which have actuated the government of the United States in this refusal, clearly have reference to the words right of search.' They will not choose to see that this is a mutual restricted right, effected by convention, strictly guarded by stipulations for one definite object, and confined in its operations within narrow geographical limits; a right, moreover, which England and France have accorded to each other, without derogating from the national honor of either. If we are right in our conjecture of the motive, and there is evidence to support us, we must consider that the President and his ministers have been, in this instance, actuated by a narrow provincial jealousy, and totally unworthy of a great and independent nation.

The New York Journal of Commerce, of September, 1835, thus refers to the article under the head of

"The 128th number of the Edinburgh Review contains an article on this subject, of more than ordinary interest. In 1831, a convention was concluded between the governments of England and France, for the more effectual suppression of the slave trade; in furtherance of which object, the two contracting parties agreed to the mutual right of search within certain geographical limits. They moreover covemanted to use their best endeavors, and mutually to aid each other, to induce all the maritime powers to agree to the terms of their convention. The fact that such overtures had been made to some nations has occasionally been hinted at, but the results we have now for the first time learned."

After noticing the reception of the proposition by the other European powers, the Journal of Commerce adds:

"We come now to our own country, the United States. And what shall we say? What must we say? What does the truth compel us to say? Why, that of all the countries appealed to by Great Britain and France on this momentous subject, the United States is the only one which has returned a decided negative. We neither do anything ourselves to put down the accursed traffic, nor afford any facilities to enable others to put it down. Nay, rather, stand between the slave and his deliverer. We are a drawback, a dead weight on the cause of bleeding humanity. How long shall this shameful apathy continue? How long shall we, who call ourselves the champions of freedom, close our ears to the groans, and our eyes to the tears and blood, and our hearts to the untold anguish of thousands and tens of thousands who are every year torn from home and friends, and bosom companions, and sold into hopeless bondage, or perish amid the horrors of the middle passage?' From the shores of bleeding Africa, and from the channels of the deep, from Brazil and from Cuba, echo answers, 'How long? Through the valleys, and over the plains of this widely extended country, through the streets of every village, town, and city in the Union; through the churches of America, the halls of legislature, the courts of justice, and the mansions of executive others, we would reiterate the cry, "How long?"

Is the conscience of the nation absolutely dead? Is there no heart to feel, no eye to see the horrors of the traffic, no tongue to speak for the agonized sufferers in the "middle passage?" Shall we go to France and England, to Denmark, Sardinia, and Mexico[1] to learn humanity? Every apology that has been made in this country for slavery; every argument used in its favor; every instance of apostasy from the ranks of freedom by influential statesmen; every attempt to drag the Bible to the support of the system; and especially every square mile of new territory opened for the introduction of slaves, has contributed to the failure of the efforts to abolish the foreign traffic. The system of slavery, as existing and supported in this

Be it known: That in the year 1829, being desirous of signalizing the anniversary of our independence by an act of national justice and beneficence, which may contribute to the strength and support of such inestimable welfare,as to secure more and more the public tranquillity, and reinstate an unfortunate portion of our inhabitants in the sacred rights granted them by nature, and may be protected by the nation, under wise and just laws, according to the provision in article thirty of the Constitutive act; availing myself of the extraordinary faculties granted me, I have thought proper to decree:
1. That slavery be exterminated in the republic.
2. Consequently those are free, who, up to this day, have been looked upon as slaves.
3. Whenever the circumstances of the public treasury will allow it, the owners of slaves shall be indemnified, in the manner which the laws shall provide.


Mexico, 15th Sept., 1829, A. D.

[Translation of part of the law of April 6th, 1830, prohibiting the migration of citizens of the United States to Texas.]

Art. 9. On the northern frontier, the entrance of foreigners shall be prohibited, under all pretexts whatever, unless they be furnished with passports, signed by the agents of the republic, at the places whence they proceed.

Art. 10. There shall be no variation with regard to the colonies already established, nor with regard to the slaves that may be in them; but the general government, or the particular state government, shall take care, under the strictest responsibility, that the colonization laws be obeyed, and that NO MORE SLAVES BE INTRODUCED.
country, is vitally and indissolubly connected with the African slave trade. The two are essentially one. Each inevitably fosters the other. If any great wickedness is tolerated, it is impossible to control the shape which that wickedness shall, in all time, It is natural for it to break out in forms, and to grow in strength and power.

The doctrine has been maintained by eminent divines, that we have nothing to do with slavery in those States where it is an established institution. Supposing this to be proved, will not slavery have something to do with us? Can these teachers of the people and creators of public opinion imagine for a moment that the master will lie down in perfect quietness within the limits formerly assigned to him, and have no desire to roam over new territory? Can his instincts be gratified, and his fierceness soothed, at the same time?

The extension of slavery and the encouragement of the slave trade are the natural growth of the institution of slavery among us. This is abundantly shown in the annexation of Texas, which is but one act of several examples that might be adduced. The determination to secure this country, which plunged us into a war with Mexico, sprang from a desire to extend slavery, although at the time, great efforts were made to blind the eyes of the people to this fact.

An accurate writer who labored zealously to enlighten and arouse the public mind on this point, said, in speaking of the war in Texas:

"It is susceptible of the clearest demonstration, that the immediate cause, and the leading object of this contest, originated in a settled design among the slaveholders of this country, (with land speculators and slave traders,) to wrest the large and valuable territory of Texas from the Mexican republic, in order to reestablish the system of slavery; to open a vast and profitable slave market therein; and, ultimately, to annex it to the United States. And, further, it is evident, — nay, it is very generally acknowledged, — that the insurrectionists are principally citizens of the United States, who have proceeded thither for the purpose of revolutionizing the country; and that they are dependent upon this nation for both the physical and pecuniary means to carry the design into effect. We have a still more important view of the subject. The slaveholding interest is now paramount in the executive branch of our national government; and its influence operates, indirectly, yet powerfully, through that medium, in favor of this grand scheme of oppression and tyrannical usurpation.


"Such are the motives for action, — such the combination of interests, — such the organization, sources of influence, and foundation of authority, upon which the present Texas insurrection rests. The resident colonists compose but a small fraction of the party concerned in it. The standard of revolt was raised as soon as it was clearly ascertained that slavery could not be perpetuated, nor the illegal speculations in land continued, under the government of the Mexican republic. The Mexican authorities were charged with acts of oppression, while the true causes of the revolt, — the motives and designs of the insurgents,-were studiously concealed from the public view. Influential slaveholders are contributing money, equipping troops, and marching to the scene of conflict. The land speculators are fitting out expeditions from New York and New Orleans, with men, munitions of war, provisions, &c., to promote the object. The independence of Texas is declared, and the system of slavery, as well as the slave trade, (with the United States,) is fully recognized by the government they have set up. Commissioners are sent from the colonies, and agents are appointed here, to make formal application, enlist the sympathies of our citizens, and solicit aid in every way that it can be furnished."

When this iniquity has so far ripened that the national government of the "great republic of liberty" were ready to plunge into a war with Mexico, to reëstablish slavery upon soil from which the curse had been removed, and were searching for pretexts for the war, the Hon. John Quincy Adams, in his speech in the House of Representatives, in May, 1836, said:

"But, sir, it has struck me, as no inconsiderable evidence of the spirit which is spurring us into this war of aggression, of conquest, and of slave-making, that all the fires of ancient, hereditary national hatred are to be kindled, to familiarize us with the ferocious spirit of rejoicing at the massacre of prisoners in cold blood. Sir, is there not yet hatred enough between the races which compose your southern population and the population of Mexico, their next neighbor, but you must go back eight hundred or a thousand years, and to another hemisphere, for the fountains of bitterness between you and them? What is the temper of feeling between the component parts of your own southern population, between your Anglo-Saxon, Norman-French, and Moorish-Spanish inhabitants of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri? between them all and the Indian savage, the original possessor of the land from which you are scourging him already back to the foot of the Rocky Mountains? What between them all and the American negro, of African origin, whom they are holding in cruel bondage? Are these elements of harmony, concord, and patriotism between the component parts of a nation starting upon a crusade of conquest? And what are the feelings of all the motley compound, equally heterogeneous of the Mexican population? Do not you, an Anglo-Saxon, slaveholding exterminator of Indians, from the bottom of your soul, hate the Mexican-Spaniard-Indian emancipator of slaves, and abolisher of slavery? And do you think that your hatred is not with equal cordiality returned? Go to the city of Mexico, — ask any one of your fellow-citizens who have been there for the last three or four years, whether they scarcely dare show their faces, as Anglo-Americans, in the streets. Be assured, sir, that however heartily, you detest the Mexican, his bosom burns with an equally deep-seated detestation of you. "And this is the nation with which, at the instigation of your executive government, you are now rushing into war, -into a war of conquest,-commenced by aggression on your part, and for the reëstablishment of slavery, where it has been abolished, throughout the Mexican republic. 66 And again I ask, what will be your cause in such a war? Aggression, conquest, and the reëstablishment of slavery, where it has been abolished. In that war, sir, the banners of freedom will be the banners of Mexico; and your banners I blush to speak the word, will be the banners of slavery."

The feeling excited in England at the time, by this movement, was very great. The friends of humanity there felt that it would not only embarrass the efforts which were in progress for the suppression of the slave trade, but would actually contribute to the revival of the traffic. And this result we are beginning to experience. The following is taken from the London Times.

"Mr. T. F. Buxton expressed his belief that if the Americans should obtain possession of Texas, which had been truly described as forming one of the fairest harbors in the world, a greater impulse would be given to the slave trade than had been experienced for many years. If the British government did not interfere to prevent the Texan territory from falling into the hands of the American slaveholders, in all probability a greater traffic in slaves would be carried on during the next fifty years, than had ever before existed. The war at present being waged in Texas, differed from any war which had ever been heard of. "It was not a war for the extension of territory, — it was not a war of aggression, — it was not one undertaken for the advancement of national glory; it was a war which had for its sole object the obtaining of a market for slaves — [Hear, hear.] He would not say that the American government connived at the proceedings which had taken place; but it was notorious that the Texans had been supplied with munitions of war of all sorts, by the slaveholders of the United States — [Hear, hear.] Without meaning to cast any censure upon the government, he thought that the House had a right to demand that the Secretary for Foreign Affairs adopt strong measures to prevent the establishment of a new and more extensive market for the slave trade than had ever before existed."

Before the tribunal of Heaven, before the court of civilization, our nation must stand condemned of the guilt of placing obstacles in the way of the abolition of the slave trade. The nation, of all others, which the world had a right to expect would do her duty upon this question, has been false to the first principles of justice, false to the common dictates of humanity. The great free republic has stretched out her arm to prevent Europe from breaking off the fetters from the enslaved children of Africa. What a chapter in the history of America for the historian to write two centuries hence! But a darker chapter is just now opening. Another harvest from the seeds of iniquity that have been scattered broadcast over the land, is beginning to ripen.

  1. Even, unfortunate (!) Mexico, whose condition we so much commiserate, can give us lessons in justice, magnanimity, and humanity. Shall we not send some of our politicians to school there? It will be an economical arrangement, provided they stay long enough.

    The following decrees and ordinances are translated from an official compilation, published by authority of the Mexican government.

    Decree of July 13, 1824.

    Prohibition of the Commerce and Traffic in Slaves.

    The Sovereign General Constituent Congress of the United Mexican States has held it right to decree the following:

    1. The commerce and traffic in slaves, proceeding from whatever power, and under whatever flag, is for ever prohibited within the territories of the United Mexican States.

    2. The slaves who may be introduced, contrary to the tenor of the preceding article, shall remain free in consequence of treading the Mexican soil.

    3. Every vessel, whether national or foreign, in which slaves may be transported and introduced into the Mexican territories, shall be confiscated, with the rest of its cargo, — and the owner, purchaser, captain, master, and pilot, shall suffer the punishment of ten years' confinement.

    Decree of President Guerrero.

    Abolition of Slavery.

    The President of the United Mexican States, to the inhabitants of the Republic —