To redress wrongs or become “accomplices to the crime”

Posted on July 15, 2015 by


And, continuing from the post from a couple of days ago

Oh, and please feel free to take advantage of the hyperlinks I’ve provided below… you might be interested in additional information.

What follows is not necessarily original to the American Colonization Society. In fact, I recall an episode of American Experience in which Thomas Jefferson was quoted as having said, basically the same as this:

1st. We say it is expedient to colonize the free people of colour. In Greece and Rome, emancipated slaves became useful citizens, because nature had branded them with no characteristic difference of complexion. But “can the Ethiopian change his skin?”

And, yes, I know… I’m well aware of the complications with slavery when it comes to Jefferson. No time for that distraction at this moment…

Next, the next portion may sound strikingly familiar to something said by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, some thirty-seven years after this pamphlet. That African-Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” The difference is, however, Taney was a staunch supporter of slavery, and the American Colonization Society (as we can see from several statements made up to this point) was not. From the Frederick County pamphlet:

A manumitted slave remains a negro still, and must ever continue in a state of political bondage; and it is obvious that he who is deprived of the inherent rights of a citizen can never become a loyal subject. Who would submit to a negro president or a negro chief justice? The very idea inspires indignation and contempt. Thus degraded in the scale of existence, the emancipated negro must be habitually prone to infamy and rebellion.

Deep stuff, no?

The next part gets a little tricky, and I think the ACS started to explain themselves, in this regard, earlier in the pamphlet:

Again. The free negroes corrupt our slaves by urging them to plunder the community and affording a receptacle to the fruits of their depredations; by also inculcating ideas of freedom and independence, which must terminate insurrection. Some individuals of this class, we readily admit, by their honesty and industry have surrounded themselves with many of the comforts of life; but unfortunately, their example is not less dangerous than that of an emancipated vagabond. By witnessing the situation of his affluent brother, the slaves contrasts it with his own, pants for liberty, becomes discontented and disobedient, and in order to move in the same sphere with the fraternity of freed-men, at the expense of his integrity mimics the dress and manners of fashionable life. From what has been urged, the expediency of removing this nuisance from the community is clearly inferable, both in relation to their interest and ours; and this end can only be attained by means of the colonizing Society.

I think this initially comes across as something less than pleasing. Free blacks were, indeed, not a favorable influence on slaves. I think we can understand the reasoning as to why they said this in their own time… in fact, they explain why. I’ve read a few things that seem to say, “A-ha! See, they just wanted to uproot the free blacks so they could have better control of the slaves!” Eh, not exactly.

2d. It is expedient to establish a colony as a depository of manumitted slaves, and for the encouragement of emancipation. That slavery is an evil no one can deny. All must desire to cure the disease or mitigate its ravages. If the evil be of fearful magnitude now, what will it be fifty years hence? And how much would the danger be aggravated by letting loose a horde of emancipated outlaws in the heart of our country! Such A procedure would be repugnant to the laws of Virginia, and to the best dictates of reason and patriotism. The mischief, then, can only be averted by providing a colonial settlement; for that case, as soon as slaves shall be emancipated, they will become proper subjects of colonization, and under the existing law will be compelled to resort to our Society for liberty and happiness.

I think this last paragraph even gives just a little window into the fear whites had of more emancipated slaves remaining in the country (of course, there are complications with this as well, in the laws of the Commonwealth, though they were not enforced the same as everywhere… at least from what I’ve seen). That said, however, I’m also aware of at least one of the key members of the Frederick County Society (Bishop Meade), who had emancipated slaves, allowed them to remain, and found that it proved disastrous to them. Before emancipation (again), there were genuine concerns as to how those emancipated would fare.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I read this next part more as a sales pitch to specific interests (after all, this entire pamphlet, I believe, was a sales pitch to recruit financial support)… than as something firmly held true by members of the Society. I don’t know… maybe I’m wrong, but…

By thus gradually removing this class of our population, we should not only be liberated from the apprehension of a servile war, at which humanity shudders, but would moreover greatly improve the moral worts of the community. “The while commerce between master and slave,” says Mr. Jefferson, “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. The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the linaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves; gives loose to the worst passions; and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities.” Who then would aid in realizing this dark picture of human depravity, by opposing the benevolent intentions of our society?

Then, there’s also this suggested promise of improvement:

This gradual abolition of slavery is also essential to the improvement of agriculture and the increase of national wealth. That agricultural improvement would result from the proposition here advocated, is evidenced by the example of our sister states, whose soil is cultivated by freemen. “It appears,” says Adam Smith, “from the experience of all ages and nations, I believe that the word done by freemen comes cheaper in the end than that performed by slaves. It is found to do so even at Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, where the wages of common labour are so very high.” [sourced to Wealth of Nations, Vol. 1, page 70]. The superior advantages of the labour of freemen over that of slaves, is also strikingly illustrated in a letter of Robert G. Harper, Esq. published in the first annual report of the American Colonization Society. “What the slave consumes is for himself; what he produces is for his master.” Nor can we doubt the truth of the proposition when we survey the large estates of Virginia reduced to a wretched cultivation by the labour of a host of slaves, who consume the scanty products of their toil for their own miserable subsistence, only leaving to their indigent master the unreal consolation of swaying his scepter over hundreds of human beings.

This next part… I don’t know… but I think I hear some of Wilberforce shining through, especially in the portion on which I placed emphasis…

3rd. The establishment of a colony will contribute to the abolition of the slave trade; and if it will produce this result, who can doubt its expediency. To dwell on the horrors of this inhumane traffic would fill a volume and exhaust your patience. Suffice it to say that all civilized nations abhor the crime and are striving to arrest its detestable career. But all the navies of Europe and America have accomplished less in this charitable work than the small colony of Sierra Leone, containing only twelve thousand souls. The slave trade is cherished and supported by the barbarism and intestine commotions of the African tribes, whom the dealers in human flesh have excluded from the light of knowledge to be derived from an amicable intercourse with foreign nations, and corrupted by introducing among them the immoderate use of ardent spirits, and exciting them to sell and destroy each other. By means of religious instruction and a well digested system of education, the colony of Sierra Leone has struck at the root of the malady and effectually checked the slave trade among the adjacent nations. At the different schools in that colony are now educating no less than two thousand African children. And if so slender a population, originally formed of a heterogeneous mass of unlettered captives, has effected so much, what may not be expected from our colony, composed of skillful artists and enlightened christians?

I’m going to let most of the rest ride on its own… and see what you think (by all means, please comment regarding your thoughts).

In their report of the 18th of April 1818, the committee of the House of Representatives consider the prospect of civilizing Africa and thereby terminating the odious traffic in slaves, through the intervention of the colonizing society, as “calculated to elevate the hopes of the philanthropist.” It is evident that the slave trade must cease when civilization shall commence. In [James Hingston] Tuckey’s expedition it is remarked, that “if we mean to accelerate the progress of civilization, it can only be done by colonization.” In [Philip] Beaver’s African Memoranda, colonization is said to be “the safest and surest way of abolishing slavery of the Africans, of usefully exploring the interior of their country, and of introducing among the people, religion, letters, and civilization.” These authorities and arguments are sufficient, we trust, to establish our position.

Sorry… couldn’t help put place emphasis on a sentence here…

4th. It is expedient to found a colony as an act of retributive justice to African and her descendants. Although we were originally guiltless of her wrongs, yet by refusing to redress them, when we have the power, we become accomplices in the crime.

Get this next part. I think it says something significant…

The illustrious patriots who signed our declaration of independence, were well acquainted with the principles of natural and revealed law, when they declared before an admiring world – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal – that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights – that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Even the Heathens, aided only by the light of nature, knew how to appreciate the dignity of their species –

Prona que cum spectent Animalia coetera terram,
Is homini sublime dedit, coelum que tueri
Jessit et erectos ad sidera toilere vuitus.

Ah, and here we have a discussion that wasn’t so new, at this time… that African-Americans were “sons of Ham“, and therefore bore the “Curse of Canaan“.

It is said by a Woman philosopher that man has a moral resemblance and relationship to the Deity. And we are
told in the book of Genesis that “God created man in his own image and gave him dominion over all other animals.” And in the new Testament we are informed, that “God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the earth.” Accordingly we find that Africa was peopled by the sons of Ham, and the Ethiopians, or negroes, are descended from Cush, and in scripture are often called Cushites. It is generally agreed that Ham was worshiped as the principal Deity of the Egyptians, under the title of Jupiter Ammon.

Then too, we have discussion of evolution, with which the Society disagrees…

Yet it is impiously maintained by some, that the poor, unfortunate negroes, are lower than ourselves in the scale of being, and nearly allied to the apes and monkies! Jacob Oson, a negro of New York, in defending his countrymen from this charge of inferiority, sagaciously remarks: “It is no place to judge of the strength or agility of the tiger in his cage. Furthermore, the majestic state of the lion may be debased by bondage. Let his majesty the lion be unbound, and he will resume his former prerogative. So let us be emancipated from our incumbrances, and then, where ignorance and darkness reign, religion and true science would abound. As a garden uncultivated soon grows to weeds, so is the state of our nation, being enslaved in America for about three hundred years, trodden under foot, and considered as the offscouring of the earth.” These are the words of a negro, and they have been cited to prove that negroes can feel and think like human beings, though deprived of the power of action.

As I said in one of my previous posts, I’m familiar with the material, but am by no means a specialist in this area. I’m merely transcribing this and offering thoughts that come up, as I go along. If you see something of value that I did not point out, please feel free to comment.

One other thing… keep in mind, these words come from people from this particular “chapter” (in the lower Shenandoah Valley) of the American Colonization Society. They were not those who we typically see in the Valley as anti-slavery (meaning… not Quaker, Brethren, or Mennonite).

More in the next post.