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utmost exertions to extricate ourselves from present evils, or avoid greater, unless the slave trade, and all the attendants of it, be condemned and suppressed. If we persist in thus transgressing the laws of Heaven, and obstinately refuse to do unto these our brethren as we would all men should do unto us, we cannot prosper. It has been, with justice, publicly lamented that Congress has not power to redeem those of our brethren who have fallen into the hands of the Algerines, and are reduced to slavery by them, and as an intolerable evil to have them neglected and left in wretched circumstances for so long a time. But why do we “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel"? Why should we be so stupid and partial as to turn all our attention to these few sufferers, and wholly overlook the sufferings of so many thousands among us, and of the thousands who are brought from their dear native country and all their relations, and fixed in perpetual slavery, by a set of pirates and banditti from among ourselves, as hardened against the groans and sufferings of their fellow-men, as unjust and cruel, as the most abandoned among the Algerines? In the name of reason and true benevolence, it is asked why the latter, which is before our eyes, and an evil incomparably greater than the former, is wholly overlooked as not worthy of any regard, and the former fixed upon as a most affecting, intolerable instance of suffering, - which, at the same time, may be considered as a small degree of retaliation for our enslaving the Africans, and is suited to remind us of it, and to open our eyes to see, and make us feel our unrighteousness and cruelty towards them, and our gross inconsistency and self-contradiction in condemning these Algerines, the inhabitants of Africa, - and at the same time not condemning ourselves, who are infinitely more criminal, but by our conduct are really justifying them? Had we any supreme legislature in these states, could they not easily restrain all the subjects from being concerned in the slave trade? And would they not bring the guilt of it on themselves should they not do it? And why have not the several legislatures in these United States done it? Why do they tolerate and connive at it while it is carried on, at least in some states, in their sight? Is it because it is thought to be the most profitable trade of any now carried on, and they are unwilling to prevent the introduction of the money which is brought into some of these states by this means ? Some have suspected this to be the truth; but we will not admit it. Is it, then, because they do not attend sufficiently to the matter, and are not sensible of the unrighteousness and cruelty of the trade ? or is it because they judge it not in their power, and that they have no right and authority to interpose in this affair ? This has been asserted by some, whether with reason or not it may be worth while seriously to consider. The Quakers, who have done more than any others to acquit themselves of the guilt of the slave trade, and have discovered more humanity and regard to the laws of Christ, in this instance, than any other denomination of Christians, (to the praise of the former and the shame of the latter it must be spoken,) they have, among their many other exertions in opposition to this trade, lately applied to the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island, praying them to devise some way to put a stop to the slave trade which is carried on by a number of persons in that state, which petition is now under consideration; and it is said they determine to petition all the legislatures in these United States to do the same. It is hoped they will not refuse to do any thing they have a right and power to do utterly to abolish this iniquity in these states, but they should fasten the guilt of it more than ever on themselves and on their constituents. It is said by some that this trade does not properly come under the cognizance of any legislature in these states, as they cannot make laws to bind their subjects when out of the limits of their jurisdiction, or punish them for what they do in Africa or the West Indies, especially as the slave trade is there tolerated and protected by law, custom, and general consent. This, perhaps, is the only objection that has been, or can be, offered against the legislatures of these states interposing to suppress this trade. It therefore deserves a particular examination.
It is granted by all, that common pirates may be punished by the laws of any state, when apprehended, wherever or in whatever part of the world their crimes were committed. There is good reason for this, it will be said, because these men are guilty of intolerable crimes, which are reprobated by all nations, and have really turned enemies to mankind, and, therefore, ought to be punished wherever they can be apprehended. To this it may be replied, that the slave trader who buys and sells his fellow-men, by which traffic he is the means of the death of many, and of reducing others to the most miserable bondage during life, is as really an enemy to mankind as the pirate, and violates common law, which is, or ought to be, the law of all nations, and is guilty of crimes of greater magnitude, exercises more inhumanity and cruelty, sheds more blood, and plunders more, and commits greater outrages against his fellow-men than most of those who are called pirates. In short, if any men deserve the name of pirates, these ought to be considered in the first and highest class of them; and if there be no law against this commerce of the human species in Africa, or in Britain and in the West India islands, and this trade is tolerated in all these places, and elsewhere, does this make the practice less evil in itself, or more tolerable? Is this any reason why it should be tolerated by the legislatures in America ? If it was the custom of those who carry on the slave trade to put to death one half of the men who sail in their ships when they arrive at the coast of Africa, and sell the other half of them, and this were tolerated there, and these traders found means to entice great numbers of our mea to sail with them to Africa every year, by which thousands of our people were murdered or enslaved, would it be thought our legislatures had no right to restrain them, and at least banish every sea captain who was guilty of this, because the crime is not committed where they have jurisdiction, and where such cruelty and murder are tolerated, and not considered as crimes ? For, in such an instance, the crime would not consist in shipping men on board their vessels, but in their treatment of them after they arrived at Africa. Could there be found a man, not interested in such a business, who would make this objection, or a legislature who would think it of the least weight? Surely no. But it would be of as much weight in the case proposed as in that under consideration. The Algerines have taken a number of Americans, and sold them into slavery. Have we not a right, ought we not, had we power, to oblige them to deliver them up, and set them at liberty, and lay such restraints upon them as to put it beyond their power to perpetuate such crimes in future? Would the plea of their being out of the limits of our jurisdiction be a good reason to suffer them to go on in their injuries without restraint? These American states ought to vindicate the rights of mankind, and promote their liberty and happiness, to the utmost of their power. Every state ought to pity the ignorance, weakness, and wickedness of the Africans, and afford them all the relief, protection, and assistance in their power, and do their utmost to restrain those of their subjects from hurting them who otherwise would take advantage of their distance from us, and of their ignorance and weakness. How, then, can they sit still, and suffer their subjects to carry on this horrible commerce, big with so much cruelty and murder, and be guiltless ? On the whole, will it not appear to every impartial, benevolent man, who well attends to the matter, that if our legislatures resuse to interpose in this case, and will not at least outlaw those who are concerned in this trade and persist in it, it must be owing either to their not attending to and realizing the magnitude of the crime and the evil involved in this commerce, or to some less excusable cause, if such there may be?
But if the legislature should neglect to do any thing which it is thought they might and ought to do, will this excuse the people at large? Might they not, if they were alarmed and engaged as they ought to be, if the above representation be in any measure just, do that which would effectually suppress among us this hideous, threatening evil ? When our contention with Britain was coming on, the man who openly appeared active on their side was abandoned as unworthy the rights and privileges of society, and in many instances his neighbors withdrew all connection and commerce with him; and this was justified as a proper and important measure. And are not these men, who are carrying on this trade and enslaving and destroying their fellow-men, without any provocation from them, and hereby bringing guilt on these states and the awful judgment of Heaven, - are they not unworthy the privileges of freemen? Ought they not to be considered as enemies to mankind, and murderers of their brethren for the sake of gold, and real pests and plagues to society? And would not treating them as such effectually reform them, or banish them from
among It has been observed, that when the war with Britain was coming on, we resolved not only that we would wholly discontinue the slave trade ourselves, but that we would not " hire our vessels, nor sell our commodities or manufactures, to those who are concerned in it.” If this resolution was reasonable and important then, it is as much, and more so, now; and this, fully put into practice, would put an effectual stop to it.
Shall we not, then, by this neglect, bring the guilt of this trade and the blood of the Africans on our own heads and on our children? And how dreadful will be the consequence, who can tell ? The warning is given, and that is all that can be done by
October 13th, 1787.