Page images
PDF
EPUB

extracted by Mrs. Stowe from the Wilmington Journal of

" Dec. 13. 1850:

• Whereas complaint has been made before us by Guilford Horn, that his slave Harry hath absented himself from his master's service, and is supposed to be lurking about in this county. We do hereby, by virtue of the Act of Assembly in such cases made and provided, declare that if the said slave Harry doth not return home immediately, any person or persons may kill and destroy the said slave by such means as he or they may think fit, without impeachment of any offence for so doing. • Given under our hands and seals this 29th June, 1850.

'J. T. MILLER, J. P.

• W. C. BETTENCOURT, J. P.'* We can understand, too, the motive for the supplementary law of that State, which enacts that when a runaway slave has been killed, in obedience to such a proclamation, his value shall be assessed by a jury, and two-thirds of that value paid out of the public treasury to the master—a law which accounts for the following advertisement, published by the aforesaid Guilford Horn:

• One hundred and twenty-five dollars will be paid for the delivery of the said Harry to me at Tosnott Depôt, Edgecombe County ; or one hundred as

fifty dollars will be given for his head. He has a free Mulatto wife, lately removed to Wilmington, with whom he will likely be lurking. Masters of vessels are cautioned against harbouring him, as the full penalty of the law will be exacted.'

Harry's head represented two-thirds of the value which a jury might assess for his whole person. Harry, alive, would probably have again run away to his wife. It was worth Mr. Horn's while to offer a bribe of twenty-five dollars additional to Harry's captors, if they would have the kindness to kill him, instead of bringing him to Tosnott Depôt.

All this legislation has an intelligible object, and pursues it by intelligible means. But there are other slave laws which, perhaps from our ignorance of the circumstances which render them necessary, look, to European eyes, like wanton cruelty. The Americans probably think themselves more civilised than the most barbarous of the inhabitants of Europe, the Russians. The great mitigation of the slavery of Russia is the permission given by the master to his serf to work, to trade, and to acquire property for himself, paying to his master a rent, called an obroc. It is an arrangement eminently useful to

a

a

* Key, p. 200.

VOL, CI. NO. CCVI.

%

both parties and also to the country. There are considerable merchants, bankers, and tradesmen who are slaves, whose services are valuable to the public, and whose obroc forins the greater part of their masters' income. Such contracts under the laws of the Slave States are not merely void, they are offences — for which the master is fined, the slave punished, and what he calls his property is confiscated.

Thus the law of Mississippi imposes a fine on a master convicted of permitting his slave to cultivate cotton for his own use, or of permitting him to keep stock of any description, or of licensing him to go at large and trade as a freeman. . In North Carolina the offence is committed by merely allowing the slave to go at large as a freeman, allowing him to trade is not essential. The allowing him to hire himself out for his own benefit is punished in Georgia by a fine on the master of thirty dollars a week. Of course the slave convicted of having been allowed to grow cotton, or of having been allowed to keep stock, or having been allowed to go at large, or of having been allowed to hire himself out, is punished separately.

One of the safest modes of extinguishing slavery is gradual emancipation. It was thus that it disappeared in England. It is also the best palliative of existing slavery. It holds out a reward for good conduct, the only permanent reward that can be held out to a slave. It substitutes hope for fear. But in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, it is an offence. It can indeed be effected, as every thing can be effected, by an Act of the Legislature, that is to say, by a law passed for the purpose of emancipating a given slave—but every attempt to do it privately, by the mere will of the master, is punished, as respects the emancipator by a heavy fine, as respects the slave by his being sold by auction for the benefit of the State.

The working of the law may be brought practically before the reader by the following case. A man named Elisha Brazaelle, a planter in Jefferson County, Mississippi, was nursed during a long illness by a young coloured slave girl. Feeling that he owed to her his life, he rewarded her by taking her to Ohio, a Free State, and educating her there. She grew up an intelligent accomplished woman, and he married her, having previously executed a deed for her emancipation, which was recorded in the States both of Ohio and of Mississippi. He had by her a son, named James Monroe Brazaelle, who, from his parentage, must have been nearly white. The family lived for many years in Mississippi, and Elisha Brazaelle died there, having by his will, which recited and confirmed the deed of emancipation, provided for his widow, and devised all the rest of his property to his son.

Some poor and distant relations in North Carolina heard of the death, and filed a bill in the Court of Equity in Mississippi, claiming the property, and, as part of the property, claiming also the widow and son of the testator. The case is reported in Howard's Mississippi Reports, vol. ii. P.

837. We copy from Mrs. Stowe, an extract from the judgment of the Chief Justice, one Sharkey.

* To give validity,' says the Judge, to the deed of emancipation would be a violation of the declared policy, and contrary to a positive law of the State.

• The policy of a State is indicated by the general course of legislation on a given subject; and we find that free negroes are deemed offensive, because they are not permitted to emigrate to, or remain in, the State. They are allowed few privileges, and subject to heavy penalties for offences. They are required to leave the State within thirty days after notice, and in the meantime to give security for good behaviour; and those of them who can lawfully remain must register and carry with them their certificates, or they may be committed to jail. It would also violate a positive law, passed by the Legislature, expressly to maintain this settled policy, and to prevent emancipation. No owner can emancipate his slave, but by deed or will properly attested, or acknowledged in Court, and proof to the Legislature that such slave has performed some meritorious act for the benefit of the master, or some distinguished service for the State ; and the deed or will can have no validity until ratified by a special Act of the Legislature. It is believed that this law and policy are too essentially important to the interests of our citizens to permit them to be evaded.

• The state of the case shows conclusively that the emancipation had its origin in an offence against morality, pernicious and detestable as an example. But above all, it seems to have been planned and executed with a fixed design to evade the rigour of the laws of this State. The acts of the party in going to Ohio with the slave, and there executing the deed, and his immediate return to this State, point, with unerring certainty, to his purpose and object. The laws of this State cannot be thus defrauded of their operation by one of our own citizens. If we could have any doubts about the principle, the case reported in 1 Randolph, 15. would remove them.

• As we think the validity of the deed must depend upon the laws of this State, it becomes unnecessary to inquire whether it could have any force by the laws of Ohio. "If it were even valid there, it can have no force here. The consequence is, that the negroes, John Monroe Brazaelle and his mother, are still slaves, and a part of the estate of Elisha Brazaelle. They have not acquired a right to their freedom under the will; for, even if the clause in the will were sufficient for that purpose, their emancipation has not been consummated by an Act of the Legislature.

• John Monroe Brazaelle, being a slave, cannot take the property as devisee ; and I apprehend it is equally clear that it cannot be held in trust for him. Independent of the principles laid down in adjudicated cases, our statute law prohibits slaves from owning certain kinds of property; and it may be inferred that the Legislature supposed they were extending the Act as far as it could be necessary to exclude them from owning any property, as the prohibition includes that kind of property which they would most likely be permitted to own without interruption, to wit, hogs, horses, cattle, &c. &c. They cannot be prohibited from holding such property, in consequence of its being of a dangerous or offensive character, but because it was deemed impolitic for them to hold property of any description. It follows, therefore, that Elisha Brazaelle's heirs are entitled to the property.'

The property being, the estate, the slaves, and, among the slaves, the widow and son and devisee of the testator, educated in affluence, freedom and refinement, and now slaves for ever.

When we look back at this frightful code we feel the force of Mrs. Stowe's remark, that it is not by insulated attempts to better the condition of the slaves on any given plantation, but by repealing the local legislation of the Slave States, that permanent or general improvement is to be effected. While the laws remain unaltered nothing can be done. Let us suppose the case of a Georgian, who succeeds, when he comes of age, to a property consisting of 2000 acres of land, with the necessary buildings and live and dead stock, including in the live stock 500 slaves. Let him be convinced of the wickedness of slave holding, and of the still greater wickedness of slave trading, and resolved at least to free his own soul from the crime. The obvious course is to do as George Shelby does in Uncle Tom,' to emancipate his slaves, and retain them as free labourers on wages. This is illegal: in the words of Chief Justice Sharkey, “it is an offence against morality, pernicious and detestable as • an example.' The master who is guilty of emancipating is fined 1000 dollars. The slave who is convicted of having been emancipated is to be sold by public outcry for the benefit of the State. If he cannot emancipate his slaves in Georgia, he may take them to a Free State and set them free there. To do so of course is utter ruin, the land without the slaves is valueless; but he prefers ruin to self-reproach. But not one of them can read or write— they can do nothing but grow cotton and pick it. Five hundred such helpless beings cast adrift in a Free State, in which a negro is an object of contempt and disgust,

* Key, p. 275.

a

would starve. He must attempt to educate and prepare them for freedom, and begins by having them taught to read. It is illegal —it subjects him to a fine of thirty dollars for each offence; that is to say, for each time that each slave is instructed, and subjects his coloured teachers, male and female, to imprisonment and thirty-nine lashes.

He submits then to retain them on his estate, but resolves that at least none shall be sold off. He is forced to be a slave holder, but thanks God that he cannot be forced to be a slave trader. But the laws of population pursue their irresistible course. In a state of society in which the expense of a child falls not on the parents, but on their master, there can be no preventive check. In a plantation in which the negroes are not overworked or underfed, there can be no physical check. Nothing but the most grinding oppression, or the disproportion between the sexes incident to a country that imports slaves, can prevent a slave population from doubling every twenty-five years. In fact, notwithstanding much oppression, the slave population of the United States does double in a less period than every twenty-five years. In a few years, therefore, the 500 slaves with whom our planter begun have increased to 750-in a few years more they will be 1000—the 2000 acres cannot employ them : they soon will not be able to feed them. He attempts to relieve himself by letting those who think that they can shift for themselves go at large. It is illegal - as before, he is fined and the slave is punished. He thinks that he may be able to turn to account some of the outlying portions of his estate, and to diminish the burden of its excessive population, by letting his slaves cultivate it for their own benefit, and support themselves by keeping stock on it. It is illegalhe is fined, the slave is punished, and the stock is confiscated and sold for the benefit of the State and of the informer. By the time he is between sixty and seventy, his slaves have increased from 500 to 1500. His whole land is devoted to their support and is insufficient. He must either starve them or sell them. And these are the laws of a country that calls itself free.

We have said that such oppression is not to be found in Naples, in Turkey, or in Russia. We do not believe that such oppression is to be found in any other part of the world, civilised or uncivilised. We do not believe that such oppression ever existed before. The slavery of Greece, as well as that of Rome, was atrocious. We have no doubt that it was far more cruelusing the word cruel to signify the infliction of torture or death, - than that of America. It was characterised by the indif

« PreviousContinue »