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at liberty? I am sure you will not answer in the affirmative; and by answering in the negative, as I know you must, you will entirely remove the reason you have now offered for hold. ing the blacks in this slavery, till you can show why the latter should be treated so very diffierently from the former, which I am confident you will not attempt.
A state of slavery has a mighty tendency to sink and contract the minds of men, and prevent their making improvements in useful knowledge of every kind. It sinks the mind down in darkness and despair; it takes off encouragements to activity and to make improvements, and naturally tends to lead the enslaved to abandon themselves to a stupid carelessness and to vices of all kinds. No wonder then the blacks among us are, many of them, so destitute of prudence and sagacity to act for themselves, and some are given to vice. It is rather a' wonder there are so many instances of virtue, pru. dence, knowledge, and industry among them. And shall we, because we have reduced them to this abject, helpless, miserable state by our oppression of them, make this an argument for continuing them and their children in this wretched condition? God forbid! This ought rather to excite our pity, and arouse us to take some effectual method without delay to deliver them and their children from this most unhappy state. If your own children were in this situation, would you offer this as a good reason why they and their posterity should be made slaves forever? Were some of your children unable to provide for themselves through infirmity of body or want of mental capacity, and others of them were very vicious, would you have them sold into a state of slavery for this ? or would you make slaves of them yourself? Would you not be willing to take the best care of them in your power,
and give them all possible encouragement to behave well, and direct and assist them in proper methods to get a living? I know you would. And why will you not go and do likewise to your slaves ? Why will you not take off the galling yoke from their necks, and restore them to that liberty to which they have as good a claim as you yourself and your children, and which has been violently taken from them and unjustly withheld by you to this day? If any of them are disposed to behave ill and make a bad use of their freedom, let them have all the motives to behave well that can be laid before them. Let them be subject to the same restraints and laws with other freemen, and have the same care taken of them by the public. And be as ready to direct and assist those who want discretion and assistance to get a living as if they were your own children, and as willing to support the helpless, infirm, and aged. And give all proper encouragement and assistance to those who have served you well, and are like to get a good living, if not put under peculiar disadvantages, as freed negroes most commonly are, by giving them reasonable wages for their labor if they still continue with you, or liberally furnishing them with what is necessary in order to their living comfortably, and being in a way to provide for themselves. This was the divine command to the people of Israel, and does it not appear at least equally reasonable in the case before us? When one of their brethren had served them the number of years that were specified, they were commanded to let him go out free; and then the following injunction is added : “ And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty; thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy wine press; of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee, thou shalt give unto him.” (Deut. xv. 13, 14.)
If all who have slaves would act such a just, wise, and benevolent part towards them, and treat them in any measure as they would desire their own children and near relations should be treated, our slaves might all be set free without any detriment to themselves or the public, and their masters would be so far from losing by it that they would be abundantly rewarded for all their benevolence to these injured poor. And if our legislators would lend their helping hand, and form such laws and regulations as shall be properly suited to protect and assist those that are freed, and so as in the best man. ner to deter and restrain them from vicious courses, and encourage their industry and good behavior, this would be an additional security to the public against any imagined evil consequence of a general manumission of our slaves, and but a piece of justice to these poor, dependent creatures, whom we have made so by our own unrighteousness and oppression. This would encourage masters to free their slaves, and leave the objection we are now considering without the least shadow of foundation.
A. You are doubtless sensible, sir, that the legislatures in these colonies are so far from giving this encouragement to manumit our slaves, that the laws are rather a clog or hinderance to any thing of this kind, as they require the master to give security for the maintenance of his slaves if they should ever want any assistance, before he is allowed to make them free.
B. I ain sorry to say there is too much truth in this. I hope our legislatures will soon attend with proper concern to this affair, and in their justice, wisdom, and goodness, enter upon measures which shall encourage and effect a general emancipation of our slaves.
But if this should not be, I think it appears, from the course of this conversation, that this will not excuse those who have slaves from setting them at liberty, even though they should be obliged to maintain them all their days. If any slaveholder can lay his hand on his breast and sincerely say, if his children were slaves at Algiers he would not desire their master to free them unless he could do it without any risk of their ever being a charge to him, then let him still hold his slaves in bondage with a quiet conscience. Otherwise I see not how he can do it.
A. If it were granted that our slaves ought to be freed, if times and the public state of the American colonies would admit, yet in our present peculiar, calamitous, distressing state, it may be very imprudent and wrong and tend to great evil to adopt this measure. Most of the slaves in populous seaport places have now little or no business to do, and are supported by their masters, while they earn little or nothing. And if they should be dismissed by their masters, they could not maintain themselves, and must suffer. And the attention and exertion of the public is so necessarily turned to the defence of ourselves, and this civil war introduces such calamity and confusion, that it cannot be expected, yea, it is quite impossible that there should be any proper care of the public, so as to make the provision and regulations which would be absolutely necessary in this case. Though I suggested this in the beginning of our conversation, yet I think you have paid little or no attention to it. I wish this might be well considered.
B. I think the facts you have now alleged as reasons against freeing our slaves at present, will, if duly considered, afford arguments for the very thing you are opposing. The slaves who are become unprofitable to their masters by the present calamitous state of our country, will be with the less reluctance set at liberty, it is hoped; and if no public provision be made for them that they may be transported to Africa, where they might probably live better than in any other country, or be removed into those places in this land where they may have profitable business and are wanted, now so many are called from their farms to defend our country ; I say, if this be not done, the masters, by freeing them, would lose nothing by it, even though they continue to support them, till some way
open for them to help themselves. I must here again desire every owner of slaves to make their case his own, and consider, if he or his children were unjustly in a state of slavery, whether he should think such an objection against
their being set at liberty of any weight. Would he not rather think it reasonable that the masters who had held them in bondage against all right and reason would consider their being, by an extraordinary providence, rendered unprofitable to them, as an admonition to break off their sins by righteousness and their iniquity by showing mercy to these poor, and that it ought to be a greater satisfaction to them thus to do justice without delay and relieve these oppressed poor, than to possess all the riches, honors, and pleasures of this world? And if these masters should disregard such an admonition and neg, lect this opportunity to set them at liberty, putting it off to a more convenient season, would it not be very grievous to him and overwhelm him in despair of their ever doing it? Is it not very certain that they who make this objection against freeing their slaves without delay, would not free them if the times should change and they again become profitable? If they must maintain them, can they not do it as well when they are free as while they are slaves, and ought they not to do it with much more satisfaction ?
And as to the public, all necessary regulations and provision might easily and very soon be made, even in our present distressing circumstances, effectually to emancipate all our slaves, were the minds of men in general properly impressed with their misery, and they sufficiently engaged to do justice and show mercy.*
This objection might be urged with much greater show of reason by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, against freeing their servants when they were not only in a state of war, but shut up, and closely besieged in that city; yet we find it was their duty to free them immediately, as the only way to escape threatened destruction; and as soon as they had done this they had respite, and would have obtained 'final deliverance
God is so ordering it in his providence, that it seems absolutely necessary something should speedily be done with respect to the slaves among us in order to our safety and to prevent their turning against us in our present struggle, in order to get their liberty. Our oppressors have planned to gain the blacks, and induce then to take up arms against us, by promising them liberty on this condition; and this plan they are prosecuting to the utmost of their power, by which means they have persuaded numbers to join them; and should we attempt to restrain thein by force and severity, keeping a strict guard over them, and punishing them severely who shall be detected in attempting to join our opposers, this will only be making bad worse, and serve to render our inconsistence, oppression, and cruelty more criminal, perspicuous, and shocking, and bring down the righteous vengeance of Heaven on our heads. The only way pointed out to prevent this threatening evil, is to set the blacks at liberty ourselves by some public acts and laws, and then give them proper encouragement to labor, or take arms in the defence of the American cause, as they shall choose. This would at once be doing them some degree of justice, and defeating our enemies in the scheme that they are prosecuting.
had they not returned to their old oppression and again brought their freed servants into bondage.
This leads me to observe, that our distresses are come upon us in such a way, and the occasion of the present war is such, as in the most clear and striking manner to point out the sin of holding our blacks in slavery, and admonish us to reform, and render us shockingly inconsistent with ourselves, and amazingly guilty if we refuse. God has raised up men to attempt to deprive us of liberty, and the evil we are threatened with is slavery. This, with our vigorous attempts to avoid it, is the ground of all our distresses, and the general voice is, “ We will die in the attempt, rather than submit to slavery." But are we at the same time making slaves of many thousands of our brethren, who have as good a right to liberty as ourselves, and to whom it is as sweet as it is to us, and the contrary as dreadful? Are we holding them in the most abject, miserable state of slavery, without the least compassionate feeling towards them or their posterity, utterly refusing to take off the oppressive, galling yoke? O, the shocking, the intolerable inconsistence! And this gross, barefaced inconsistence is an open, practical condemnation of holding these our brethren in slavery; and in these circumstances the crime of persisting in it becomes unspeakably greater and more provoking in God's sight, so that all the former unrighteousness and cruelty exercised in this practice is innocence compared with the awful guilt that is now contracted. And in allusion to the words of our Savior, it may with great truth and propriety be said, “ If he had not thus come in his providence, and spoken unto us, (comparatively speaking, we had not had sin in making bondslaves of our brethren; but now, we have no cloak for our sin."
And if we continue in this evil practice and refuse to let the oppressed go free, under all this light and admonition suited to convince and reform us, and while God is evidently correcting us for it as well as for other sins, have we any reason to expect deliverance from the calamities we are under ? May we not rather look for slavery and destruction like that which came upon the obstinate, unreformed Jews? In this light I think it ought to be considered by us; and viewed thus, it affords a most forcible, formidable argument not to put off liberating our slaves to a more convenient time, but to arise, all as one man, and do it with all our might, without delay, since delaying in this case is awfully dangerous as well as unspeakably criminal. This was hinted in the beginning of our conversation, you may remember, and I am glad of an opportunity to consider it more particularly.