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It is impossible to deny that the law of Moses tolerated domestic slavery, that it tolerated the separation of families, and that it punished beating a slave to death only if he or she died under the infliction, or within a day or two after it.
Defoe was a man of eminent piety. He carries his hero, Colonel Jack, to Virginia, and leads him through all the gradations of colonial life from the state of a servant to that of an owner of slaves and plantations. He dwells on the wickedness of ill-treating slaves, but does not seem to have suspected that there could be anything wrong in buying, or keeping, or selling
One hundred and fifty years of peace and good government humanised and enlightened the stern bigoted Puritans and Catholics of our Western empire. The children of its aristocracy came to England for education; they came to a country which boasted that its air could be breathed only by freemen. When they travelled on the Continent, they found slavery confined to its semi-barbarous districts, to its Sclavonic and Asiatic populations, to Russia, Poland, and Turkey. They were told everywhere, and they must have felt it to be true, that the relation of master and slave was mischievous to both parties, hardening the heart, worrying the temper, and weakening the self-control of the one, and degrading the other into a brute, with all the vices of a man, and few virtues except the abject submission and unreasoning attachment of a dog.
The opinion grew that such an institution, though it might be Judaic, could scarcely be Christian, and by the time that the American colonies had achieved their independence, nearly all their great men had become earnest abolitionists. When, on the 14th of May, 1787, the Federal Convention met in Philadelphia to form a Constitution, the State of Massachusetts had already abolished slavery, and New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island had provided for its gradual extinction by giving freedom to all future-born persons. Washington, though a slave-holder, declared that his suffrage in favour of the abolition of slavery should not be wanted. Franklin was president of an Abolition Society. Jefferson proposed, that by the Constitution slavery should be excluded from any territory to be subsequently acquired by the Union; a proposal which, if it had been carried, as it was within a single vote, would probably by this time have extinguished it: and Madison succeeded in excluding from the Constitution the word 'slave,' lest it should be supposed that the idea of property in man was sanctioned by the American nation.
Two interests, however, united in favour of slavery. The
agriculturists of the South threatened to secede from the Union if they were deprived of the population which afforded them the only means of cultivating their rice and indigo. The maritime towns of New England believed that their prosperity depended on their retaining the American slave trade and the American carrying trade. A coalition between the South and a part of the North was formed, with slavery, slave trade, and a navigation law on its banner, which the delegates from the remaining States thought it dangerous to resist.
But it was supposed that the evil, though it must be submitted to for a time, might be rendered temporary. It was believed, at that time, that slavery depended on the slave trade. The laws which regulate the increase of mankind were then little understood: the fear of depopulation was general, and it was plausibly maintained that a race transplanted from another hemisphere and a different soil and climate, engaged in unhealthy occupations, and subjected to the depressing influence of slavery, would gradually die out, if it received no reinforcements. A clause was introduced into the Constitution, forbidding Congress to abolish the slave trade within twenty years, and thereby impliedly giving it power to do so at the end of that period. This satisfied the Northern capitalists, to whom twenty years seemed an eternity. It pleased the South, as it enabled them to extend their cultivation and increase their gangs of negroes for nearly a quarter of a century, at the end of which time, if the slave trade were abolished, their estates and their slaves would enjoy a monopoly, since no fresh negroes could be introduced, and therefore, as they believed, no additional lands reclaimed.
The abolitionists felt that they were prolonging a national disgrace and a national crime; but they were convinced (as every one else was convinced) that at the end of the twenty years the slave trade must cease, and that slavery would not long survive it.
We have said that Madison succeeded in excluding from the Constitution the word 'slavery;' but it was thought necessary, with respect to three matters, to notice the thing. Two of these subjects were connected. They were, direct taxation and representation in the House of Representatives. It was agreed that these should both depend on population-that is to say, that each State should be taxed and represented according to its population.
The South maintained that, for the purpose of taxation, slaves should be unnoticed-being not persons but chattels; but that for the purpose of representation they should be counted,
As a compromise, it
being, though chattels, chattels human. was decided that, for both purposes, three slaves should be equivalent to two freemen. A compromise which now gives to the owners of three millions of slaves a representation equal to that to which two millions of freemen would have been entitled. The third matter respected fugitive slaves. Every person," says the Constitution, held to service or labour in one State by the laws thereof' (the euphemism for a slave), 'escaping to 'another, shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom 'such service is due.'
It does not appear that either this enactment, or an Act of Congress passed in the year 1793, which attempted to define the procedure by which it was to be enforced, produced much effect. The surrender was to be made through the instrumentality of the State in which the fugitive was found. Such a duty is a disgusting one. It is difficult to obtain its performance even as respects criminals. Though several years ago England engaged, by a solemn treaty, to deliver up to the French authorities Frenchmen accused of serious crimes, the French have not been able up to this time to obtain from us, in a single instance, the performance of the engagement. Every one admits that the stipulations of the treaty are wise, indeed necessary; but the case for the time being before the Court is never within them. Some States declined to pay any expenses incurred by their officers in the execution of the law. In others, the magistrates neglected to put it in force. A judge of the Supreme Court of Vermont refused to admit any evidence of ownership, 'unless the master could show a bill of sale from the Al'mighty.'
In the mean time the slave trade was abolished. Indigo and rice, the great staples of the slave States, were produced more cheaply in India; and it seemed probable that the Southern States would follow the example of their northern brethren, and emancipate their slaves, and thus fulfil the prophecy that the extinction of slavery would follow that of the slave trade.
Whitney, an obscure mechanic of Massachusetts, falsified these expectations, by inventing, in 1793, the saw-gin.
The long-fibred, or, in commercial language, long-staple cotton, of which the Sea Island is the best known variety, is cultivated with difficulty, and only on comparatively few soils. Much more than nine-tenths of the whole annual crop consists of the short-staple varieties. In these varieties the seed adheres so closely to the wool that, if they were to be separated by the hand, a man could not clean more than a pound a day. And even with the assistance of the rollers and the bow, which are now
used for this purpose in India, and, until Whitney's invention, were employed in America, the expense is so great that scarcely any - we believe, indeed, none of this cotton was exported from America while that process was necessary. The whole export
in 1793 was only 187,000 lbs., probably consisting exclusively of long-staple cotton. The saw-gin was introduced, and in 1794, the very next year, the export was about decupled-it rose to 1,601,760 lbs. The next year it advanced to 6,276,300 lbs. ; in 1800, it was 17,789,803 lbs. ; in 1810, it was 93,261,462 lbs. ; and in 1852, the last year for which we have the returns before us, the export of the short-staple variety alone exceeded one thousand one hundred millions of pounds.
The cotton plant flourishes best in alluvial lands in the neighbourhood of the sea, and cannot endure a mean summer temperature lower than 77° Fahrenheit, or a mean annual temperature lower than 60°. On the Atlantic coast of America, the 35th parallel, and towards the western coast, the 39th, are the most northern latitudes in which it can be cultivated. But no climate is too hot for it. The south-west of Texas, where the mean summer heat is 85°, suits it well. It belongs, therefore, to climates and to soils unfavourable to the constitutions of men of northern descent, if out-door work be required from them. In such climates field labour is disagreeable to all men, and dangerous to whites.
If the Anglo-Americans had been in the situation of an European community, surrounded by powerful nations, and subject to the restraints of international law and of international morality, South Carolina and Georgia, the only cotton-producing districts of the original Confederation, would soon have been fully peopled. Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Delaware, in all of which the white man can work, would have followed the example of the Northern States, and have gradually emancipated their slaves. Slavery would have been confined to the two Southern States, and would have existed in the mitigated form in which it was seen in our West Indian islands; the cause, of course, of occasional cruelty and of constant oppression and degradation, but free from the worst of all the abominations of modern American slavery, the breeding and exporting system, the system under which the principal use made of men and women is to produce and bring up children, to be torn from them as soon as they attain the age of sale, and never to be seen or heard of again.
But the neighbours of the United States were dependencies of distant empires or semi-barbarous or barbarous republics. France sold to them all her subjects and all her territories in
Louisiana. Spain sold to them Florida. The vast territories which now form Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida were in the possession of their aborigines, Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles, to whom they had for the most part been guaranteed by treaty. But what is the value of a treaty between the weak and the strong, in a country in which the very name of international morality is unknown? The Indians were removed to the north, and a district three times as large as the British Islands was added to the Southern States. Texas was a portion of the defenceless incoherent Mexican republic. American speculators swarmed into it, and got up a rebellion against the central authority. The American Government acknowledged the rebels as an independent nation, and immediately accepted from them a cession of the country. Mexico remonstrated, and was punished for her insolent want of submission by war, defeat, and mutilation.
The United States were thus more than doubled in extent, and, what was more important as respects slavery, the greater part of the newly-acquired territory was so nearly tropical as to be better suited to the coloured races than to the white. Their first acquisition, Louisiana, was already a slave country; so was Florida, but the Mexican Government had abolished slavery in all its dominions, and, except in a few instances among the Cherokees, a negro slave never had existed in the Indian country. As soon, therefore, as the Union was to be increased by the introduction of new States, the question arose whether slaves should be excluded from a soil which, so far as it was peopled, was peopled by freemen. It was first tried in the case of Missouri. The contest began in 1818, and lasted for three years. Twice the House of Representatives voted the exclusion of slaves from the new State. Twice the Senate, which assumes to be the Conservative portion of the American Legislature, and, like its brethren in Europe, is the patron of every old prejudice and abuse, voted their admission. At length the anti-slavery party were deluded into accepting what was called the Missouri compromise, by which Missouri was received as a slave State, but the existing Congress affected to bind their successors by enacting that in future slavery should not be established to the north of latitude 36° 30'.
To understand this contest, we must remember that, in 1808, the African slave trade had ceased. Up to the time it had been vigorously prosecuted. Between 1790 and 1810 the number of slaves increased from 697,897 to 1,191,364, notwithstanding the emancipation of about 120,000 negroes in the Northern States, and notwithstanding the preponderance of