The African Slave Trade/Chapter 5
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:
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:
"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
After noticing the reception of the proposition by the other European powers, the Journal of Commerce adds:
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 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
JOSE MARIA de BOCANEGRA.
[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.
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:
******"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:
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.
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.
- 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 —