« ZurückWeiter »
SLAVERY IN THE UNITED STATES.
The institution of Slavery forms a curious and important chapter in our history. Four months before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, slaves had been landed in Virginia. A Dutch captain commanded the Mayflower. The Pilgrims engaged bim to take them to the shores of Hudson's River. But the Dutch, fearing thus to lose that territory, bribed him to take them a safe distance to the northward. It was a Dutch captain, too, who first brought slaves to Virginia. Thus, the Dutch were the carriers of the institution, and of the race which subverted it. Slavery is among the oldest of human institutions. No record of human government so old but that slavery is yet older. The Christian religion, after centuries of struggle, becomes its final conqueror. The conquest would not have been so long delayed but for the struggle between the followers of Christ and of Mahomet. The Christian religion teaches the equality of all. “ God is no respecter of persons. “ As ye would that men should do to you, do ye even also to them likewise.” The Mahometan religion teaches that all true believers are equal in the eye of God and his Prophet; that all others are infidels and enemies, fit for death or captivity. Hence to hold the Christian in slavery was a pious duty. The Christian felt forced to retaliate, and when the follower of the Crescent became his captive, he also became his slave. He thus punished the enemy of the Cross and enjoyed the spoil of Christian conquest.
The Mahometan Moor of the western empire was not slow to suggest to his Christian conqueror that he would ransom himself from captivity by substituting the blackamoor, the pagan negro, in bis stead. The Christian thought it better to
have a faithful slave than a treacherous one. Thus, the blackamoor became the coin in which the Mahometan Moor redeemed himself from Christian captivity. And the negro, who knew naught of either faith, was sacrificed by the votaries of one to appease the greed and vengeance of the other.
But Christian merchants soon found that they could capture negroes as well as make exchanges for them. The ignorance and helplessness of the negroes made them the spoil of mankind. If there had been no struggle between the Cross and the Crescent, it is possible there would have been no slaves in America.
Be this as it may, the framers of the Constitution found the institution in existence, recognized by law, and tolerated, if not sanctioned, by the people of the several states. Its introduction was in violation of the English law; not as it was then understood, but plainly so, as it was afterwards ascertained. In 1771, a slave named Somerset was taken by his master from Virginia to England. The slave refused to serve his master there. A writ of habeas corpus was issued by Chief Justice Mansfield, and the question whether Somerset was free or slave was brought before the full court. The court declared bim free, and held that slavery was contrary to the laws of England, because positive law was necessary to establish a condition of slavery, and England had made no such law. This decision inspired Cowper's lines :
“Slaves cannot breathe in England ; if their lungs
They touch our country and their shackles fall." By the common law, by the laws of England which the colonists inherited, by the limitations of their charters which forbade them to make any laws repugnant to the laws of Eng. land, the colonists neither had nor could rightfully make any laws sanctioning slavery. But before the force of the decision in the Somerset case could be fully perceived, or effect given to it, the colonies threw off their allegiance to England and became sovereign states. Sovereign states could legalize slavery.
That positive law was necessary to authorize slavery was recognized by the clause in the fourth article of our Constitu
INTRODUCTION OF SLAVERY.
tion, “No person held to service or labor in one state under the laws thereof." Slavery was first established in this country in opposition to any valid law; certainly in opposition to that natural law which affirms the equality of right to personal liberty. The English, Dutch, and Spanish were slave-traders at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Africa was the
. breeding-ground of slaves; and the English, French, and Spanish kings entered into treaties to assure to themselves the monopoly of this traffic. In these treaties negroes were spoken of as measurable by weight; thus, a ton of negroes, as we would say a ton of iron or coal. Spanish colonization preceded the English upon this continent, and slavery was already established in the Spanish settlements when the English colonization began. It is said that slaves were first introduced into the English colonies from Barbadoes. In August, 1619, a Dutch man-of-war touched at a settlement in Virginia, and exchanged twenty slaves for provisions. With kings making treaties to further the slave-trade, with slaves in the neighboring Spanish provinces, and with the desire to obtain cheap labor, it probably did not occur to the colonists that it was a violation either of law or of morals to purchase these savage heathen, and compel them to submit to the domination of Christian masters. The Levitical law declared : “ Both thy bondmen and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids." The further introduction of slaves seemed to follow as the result of lawful trade. Thus, slavery was at first permitted, probably, by the indifference of feeble communities, afterwards tolerated by custom, and finally sanctioned by colonial law. In our treaty with Great Britain by which our independence was acknowledged, the phrase occurs, “negroes, or other property."
, We should be unjust if we judged the conduct of the early colonists by the moral standards of the nineteenth century. The slave, as he was brought here from his native land, seemed to present small claims to be considered as the equal in right of the white man. He had the form of a man, but not his intelligence. He was obedient and docile, and was supposed to rest under the curse denounced against Canaan : “A servant
of servants shall he be unto his brethren." His contact with civilization disclosed his latent intelligence, and his emotional nature readily yielded to the teachings and influence of the Christian religion. When the slave professed Christianity, the argument which condemned the heathen to bondage was gone ; and when the white man became the parent of the Christian mulatto, the argument lost half its support. But selfishness obviated the legal, if not the moral difficulty, by procuring the enactment of laws that once a slave always a slave, and that the condition of the negro child, whether free or slave, should follow that of its mother, and not, as with the white child at the common law, the condition of its father. Thus the succeeding generations of colonists were constrained to tolerate an institution which developed injustice and cruelty, not foreseen by their ancestors. Their morality took its tone from the conditions they inherited. Whatever may be the ideal standard of morals, the practical one must be largely formed by the conditions of its time and place. The nineteenth century closes with a different standard from the one with which it opened. The century began with slavery in nineteen English colonies, in those of France, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden, and in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of South America. It will end with slavery abolished in most of them, if not in all. Brazil was the last American nation to abolish slavery. This was done in 1888. There is probably now more slavery in Africa than upon all the other continents. The colony of Rhode Island prohibited slavery as early as 1652, but the prohibition was long practically disregarded. The Quakers in Pennsylvania protested against it in 1688. The Swedes at first prohibited it in Delaware, but the Dutch admitted it. The Duke of York's charter for New York, in 1665, prohibited the slavery of Christians, and thus by implication favored that of heathens.
Long before the Declaration of Independence, many lamented the existence of slavery as both a wrong and a disaster. Montesquieu, in the early part of the eighteenth century, eloquently attacked the institution. I have already remarked the high estimation in which his precepts of political science were held by our statesmen. Jefferson was his pupil, but he
CONSTITUTIONALITY OF SLAVERY.
was also convinced by his own observation that slavery ought to be abolished, and he made no concealment of his convictions. In the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the following charge against George the Third and against slavery:
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, capturing and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur a miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce.”
This paragraph was stricken out by the committee before the document was submitted to Congress. It would have been impolitic for the convention which framed the Constitution to attempt to transfer from the states to the United States the control of the institution of slavery. It was regarded as a domestic institution, to be regulated or prohibited by every state in the exercise of its own reserved sovereignty. Its regulation or control was not one of the objects for which the Constitutional Convention was thought to be necessary. Enough, however, was said in the convention by many northern delegates to show that they strongly condemned the institution. They were successful in keeping the word “slave” out of the instrument, but the practical effect of what was put in it was to strengthen the institution. Mr. Chief Justice Taney, speaking for the majority of the United States Supreme Court, in 1856, in his opinion in the celebrated Dred Scott case,' said:
" The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution. The right to traffic in it like an ordivary article of merchandise and property was guaranteed to the citizens of the United States, in every state that might desire it, for twenty years. And the government, in express terms, is pledged to protect it in all future time if the slave escapes from the master. And no word can be found in the Constitution which gives Congress
1 19 How. 393.