|Slavery not only violates the Laws of Nature, and of civil Society, it also wounds the best Forms of Government: in a Democracy, where all Men are equal, Slavery is contrary to the Spirit of the Constitution.
Note by the Publishers of
the Present  Edition
|[The deep interest that is now felt in all parts of the United States on the subject of slavery, to which this essay is especially devoted; the importance of the views entertained therein, coming as they do from a distinguished writer of Virginia, and one, too, who was a professor in her ancient University, as well as one of her judges, has led to its republication without note or comment.
In laying this very rare pamphlet before the public, it is not intended to favor the schemes of any of the present political parties of the country, but simply to show what were the opinions of a distinguished professor and jurist of the Old Dominion, sixty-five years ago.]
General Assembly of Virginia,
|To whom it belongs to decide upon the expediency and practicability of a plan for the gradual abolition of Slavery in this commonwealth,
The following pages are most respectfully submitted and inscribed,
BY THE AUTHOR.
Virginia, May 20, 1796.
To The Reader
The following pages form a part of a course of Lectures on Law and Police, delivered in the University of William and Mary, in this Commonwealth.
The Author considering the Abolition of Slavery in this State, as an object of the first importance, not only to our moral character and domestic peace, but even to our political salvation; and being persuaded that the accomplishment of so momentous and desirable an undertaking will in great measure depend upon the early adoption of some plan for that purpose, with diffidence submits to the consideration of his countrymen his ideas on a subject of such consequence.
He flatters himself that the plan he ventures to suggest, is liable to fewer objections than most others that have been submitted to the consideration of the public, as it will be attended with a gradual change of condition in the blacks, and cannot possibly affect the interest either of creditors or any other description of persons of the present generation: and posterity he makes no doubt will feel themselves relieved from a perilous and grievous burden by the timely adoption of a plan, whose operation may be felt by them, before they are borne down by a weight which threatens destruction to our happiness both public and private.
STATE OF SLAVERY
IN the preceding Enquiry (a) into the absolute rights of the citizens of united America, we must not be understood as if those rights were equally and universally the privilege of all the inhabitants of the United States, or even of all those, who may challenge this land of freedom as their native country.
Among the blessings which the Almighty hath showered down on these states, there is a large portion of the bitterest draught that ever flowed from the cup of affliction.
Whilst America hath been the land of promise to Europeans, and their descendants, it hath been the vale of death to millions of the wretched sons of Africa. The genial light of liberty, which hath here shone with unrivalled lustre on the former, hath yielded no comfort to the latter, but to them hath proved a pillar of darkness, whiIst it hath
(a) The subject of a preceding Lecture, with which the present was immediately connected, was, An Enquiry into the Rights of Persons, as Citizens of the United States of America.
conducted the former to the most enviable state of human existence.
Whilst we were offering up vows at the shrine of Liberty, and sacrificing hecatombs upon her altars; wbilst we swore irreconcilable hostility to her enemies, and hurled defiance in their faces; whilst we adjured the God of Hosts to witness our resolution to live free, or die, and imprecated ourses on their heads who refused to unite with us in establishing the empire of freedom; we were imposing upon our fellow man, who differ in complexion from us, a slavery, ten thousand times more cruel than the utmost extremity of those grievances and oppressions, of which we complained.
Such are the inconsistencies of human nature; such the blindness of those who pluck not the beam out of tbeir own eyes, wbilst they can espy a moat, in the eyes of their brother [Matt. 7:3-5; Luke 6:41-42]; such that partial systern of morality which confines rights and injuries, to particular complexions; such the effect of that self-love wbich justifies, or condemns, not according to principle, but to the agent.
Had we turned our eyes inwardly when we supplicated the Father of Mercies to aid the injured and oppressed; when we invoked the Author of Righteousness to attest the purity of our motives, and the
justice of our cause; (b) and implored the God of battles to aid our exertions in its defence, should we not have stood more self convicted than the contrite publican [Luke 18:10-13]?
Should we not have left our gift upon the altar, that we might be first reconciled to our brethren whom we held in bondage [Matt. 5:23-24]?
Should we not have loosod their chains, and broken their fetters [Isaiah 58:6]?
Or if the [alleged] difficulties and dangers of such an experiment prohibited the attempt during the convulsions of a revolution, is it not our duty to embrace the first moment of constitutional health and vigor, to effectuate so desirable an object, and to removo from us a stigma, with which our enemies will never fail to upbraid us, nor our consciences to reproach us?
[Purpose of Lectures]
To form a just estimate of this obligation, to demonstrate the incompatibility of a state of slavery with the principles of our government, and of that revolution upon which it is founded, and to elucidate the practicability of its total, though gradual, abolition, it will be proper to consider the nature of slavery, its properties, attendants, and consequences in general; its rise, progress, and present
(b) The American standard [flag], at the commencement of those hostilities which terminated in the revolution, had these words upon it—AN APPEAL TO HEAVEN!
state not only in this commonwealth, but in such of our sister states as have either perfected, or commenced the great work of its extirpation; with the means they have adopted to effect it, and those which the circumstances and situation of our country may render it most expedient for us to pursue, for the attainment of the same noble and important end. (c)
According to Justinian [527 C.E. - 565 C.E.],* the first general division of persons, in respect to their rights, is into freemen and slaves. It is equally the glory and the happiness of that country [England] from which the [then] citizens of the United States derive their origin, that the traces of slavery, such as at present exists in several of the United States, are there utterly extinguished.
It is not my design to enter into a minute enquiry whether it ever had existence there, nor to compare the situation of villeins, during the existtence of pure villenage, with that of modern domestic slaves. The records of those times, at least such as have reached this
(c) The Author here takes the liberty of making his acknowledgments to the reverend Jeremiah Belknap, D.D. of Boston, and to Zephaniah Swift, Esq. representative in congress from Connecticut, for their obliging communications; he hath occasionally made use of them in several parts of this Lecture, where he may have omitted referring to them.
* Lib. 1. Tit. 2.
quarter of the globe, are too few to throw a satisfactory light on the subject.
Suffice it that our ancestors migrating hither brought not with them any prototype of that slavery which hath been established among us.
The first introduction of it [slavery] into Virginia was by the arrival of a Dutch ship from the coast of Africa having twenty Negroes on board, who were sold here in the year 1620.*
In the year 1638 we find them [slaves] in Massachusetts. (d)
They were introduced into Connecticut soon after the settlement of that colony; that is to say, about the same period. (e)
Thus early had our forefathers sown the seeds of an evil, which, like a leprosy, hath descended upon their posterity with accumulated rancour, visiting the sins of the fathers upon succeeding generations [Exodus 20:5].—
The climate of the northern states less favourable to the constitution of the natives of Africa,† than the southern, proved alike unfavourable to their propagation, and to the increase of their numbers by importations.
As the southern colonies advanced in population, not only importations increased there, but Nature herself, under a climate more congenial to the African constitution,
* Stith 182.
(d) Dr. Belknap's answers to St. G. T.'s queries.
(e) Letter from Zephaniah Swift, to St. G. T.
† Dr. Belknap. Zephan. Swift.
assisted in multiplying the blacks in those parts, no less than in diminishing their numbers in the more rigorous climates of the north; this influence of climate, moreover, contributed extremely to increase or diminish the value of the slave to the purchaser, in the different colonies.
White laborers, whose constitutions were better adapted to the severe winters of the New England colonies, were there found to be preferable to the Negroes,* who, accustomed to the influence of an ardent sun, became almost torpid in those countries, not less adapted to give vigour to their laborious exercises, than unfavorable to the multiplication of their species; in those colonies where the winters were not only milder, and of shorter duration, but succeeded by an intense summer heat, as invigorating to the African, as debilitating to the European constitution, the Negroes were not barely more capable of performing labour than the Europeans, or their descendants, but the multiplication of the species was at least equal; and, where they met with humane treatment, perhaps greater than among the whites.
The purchaser therefore calculated not upon the value of the labour of his slave only, but, if a female, he regarded her
* Dr. Belknap. Zephan. Swift.
as "the fruitful mother of an hundred more:" and many of these unfortunate people have there been in this state, whose descendants even in the compass of two or three generations have gone near to realize the calculation.—The great increase of slavery in the southern, in proportion to the northern states in the union, is therefore not attributable, solely, to the effect of sentiment but to natural causes; as well as those considerations of profit, which have, perhaps, an equal influence over the conduct of mankind in general, in whatever country, or under whatever climate their destiny hath placed them.
What eise but considerations of this nature could have influencod the merchants of the freest nation, at that time in the worid, to embark in so nefarious a traffic, as that of the human race, attended, as the African slave trade has boen, with the most atrocious aggravations of cruelty, perfidy, and intrigues, the objects of which have been the perpetual fomentation of predatory and intestine wars?
What, but similar considerations, could prevail on the government of the same country, even in these days, to patronize a commerce so diametrically opposite to the generally received maxims of that
government. It is to the operation of these considerations in the parent country, not less than to their influence in the colonies, that the rise, increase, and continuance of slavery in those British colonies which now constitute united America, are to be attributed, as I shall endeavour to shew in the course of the present enquiry [lectures].
[Nature of Slavery]
It is now time to enquire into the nature of slavery, in general, and take a view of its consequences, and attendants in this commonwealth, in particular.
Slavery, says a well informed writer* on the subject, bas been attended with circumstances so various in different countries, as to render it difficult to give a general definition of it.
Justinian [527 C.E. - 565 C.E.] calls it a constitution of the law of nations, by which one man is made subject to another, contrary to nature.†
[Hugo] Grotius [1583-1645] describes it to be an obligation to serve another for life, in consideration of diet, and other common necessaries.‡
Dr. [Thomas] Rutherforth [1712-1771], rejecting this definition, informs us, that perfect slavery is an obligation to be directed by another in all one's actions.§
Baron [Charles de] Montesquieu [1689-1755] defines it to be the establishment of a right, which gives one man such a power over another, as renders him absolute master over his life and
* Hargrave's case of Negroe Somerset [p 25].
†Lib. 1. Tit. 3. Sect. 2.
‡ Lib. 2. c. 5, Sect. 27.
§ Lib. c. 20. pa. 474.
These definitions appear not to embrace the subject fully, since they respect the condition, of the slave, in regard to his master only, and not in regard to the state, as well as the master.
The author last mentioned observes, that the constitution of a state may be free, and the subject not so. The subject free and not the constitution of the state.†
Pursuing this idea, instead of attempting a general definition of slavery, I shall, by considering it under a threefold aspect, endeavour to give a just idea of its nature.
I. When a nation is, from any external cause, deprived of the right of being governed by its own laws, only, such a nation may be considered as in a state of political slavery. Such is the state of conquered countries, and generally, of colonies, and other dependent governments.
Such was the state of united America before the  revolution. In this case, the personal rights of the subject may be so far secured by wholesome laws, as that the individual may be esteemed frce, whiist the state is subject to a higher power: this subjection of one nation or people, to the will of another, constitutes the first species of slavery, which, in order to distinguish
* Lib. 15. c. 1.
† Lib. 12. c. 1.
it from tbe other two, I have called political; inasmuch as it exists only in respect to the governments, and not to the individuals of the two countries. Of this, it is not our business to speak, at present.
II. Civil liberty being no other than natural liberty, so far restrained by human law, and no farther, as is necessary and expedient for the general advantage of the public,* whenever that liberty is, by the laws of the state, further restrained than is necessary and expedient for the general advantage, a state of civil slavery commences immediately: this may affect the whole society, and every description of persons in it, and yet the constitution of the state be perfectly free.
And this happens whenever the laws of a state respect the form, or energy of the government, more than the happiness of the citizen; as in Venice, where the most oppressive species of civil slavery exists, extending to every individual in the state, from the poorest gondolier to the members of the senate, and the doge himself.
This species of slavery also exists whenever there is an inequality of rights, or privileges, between the subjects or citizens of the same state, except such as necessarily resuit from the exercise of a pub-
* Blackstone's Com. c. 125.
lic office; for the pre-eminence of one class of men must be founded and erected upon the depression of another; and the measure of exaltation in the former, is that of the slavery of the latter.
In all governments, however constituted, or by what description soever denominated, wherever the distinction of rank prevails, or is admitted by the constitution, this species of slavery exists.
It existed in every nation, and in every government in Europe before the French revolution .
It existed in the American colonies before they became independent states; and
nothwithstanding the maxims of equality which have heen adopted in their several constitutions, it exists in most, if not all, of them, at this day, in the persons of our free Negroes and mulattoes; whose civil incapacities are almost as numerous as the civil rights of our free citizens.
A brief enumeration of them, may not be improper before we proceed to the third head.
Free Negroes and mulattoes are, by our constitution, excluded from the right of suffrage, (f) and by consequence, I appre-
(f) The Constitution of Virginia, art 7. declares, that the right of suffrage shall remain as then exercised, the act of 1723, c. 4 (edit. 1733,) sect. 23, declared, that no Negroe, mulattoe, or Indian, shall have any
hend, from office too: they were formerly incapable of serving in the militia, except as drummers or pioneers, but now I presume they are enrolled in the lists of those that bear arms, though formerly punishable for presuming to appear at a muster-field.*
During the [1776-1783] revolution war many of them were enlisted as soldiers in the regular army. Even slaves were not rejected from military service at that period, and such as served faithfully during the period of their enlistment, were emancipatod by an act passed after the conclusion of the war.† An act of justice to which they were entitled upon every principle.
All but housekeepers, and persons residing upon the frontiers are [unconstitutionally] prohibited from keeping or carrying any gun, powder, shot, club, or other weapon offensive or defensive:‡
Resistance to a wbite person, in any case, was, formerly, and now, in any case, except a wanton assault on the Negroe or mulattoe, is punishable by whipping.§
No Negroe or mulattoe can be a witness
vote at the election of burgesses [House of Representatives], or any other election whatsoever.—This act, it is presumed, was in force at tbe adoption of the constitution.—The act of 1785, c. 55 (edit of 1794, c. 17,), also expressly excludes them from the right of suffrage.
* 1723. c. 2.
† Oct. 1783. c. 3.
‡ 1748. c. 31. Edit. 1794.
§ Ib. c. 103.
in any prosecution, or civil suit in which a white person is a party.*
Free Negroes, together with slaves, were formerly denied the benefit of clergy in cases where it was allowed to white persons; but they are now upon an equal footing as to the allowance of clergy, though not as to the consequence of that allowance, inasmuch as the court may superadd other corporal punishrmnts to the burning in the hand usually inflicted upon white persons, in the like cases.†
Emancipated Negroes may be sold to pay the debts of their former master contracted before their emancipation; and they may be hired out to satisfy their taxes where no sufficient distress cnn be had.
Their children are to be bound out apprentices by the overseer of thé poor. Free Negroes have all the advantnges in capital cases, which white men are entitled to, except a trial by a jury of their own complexion: and a slave sueing for his freedom shall have the same privilege.
Free Negroes residing, or employed to labour in any town must be registered; the same thing is required of such as go at large in any county. The penalty in both cases is a fine upon the person employing, or harbouring them, and imprisonment of the
* 1794. c. 141.
† 1794. c. 103.
The migration of free Negroes or mulattoes to this state is also prohibited; and those who do migrate hither may be sent back to the place from whence they came.†
Any person, not being a Negroe, having one-fourth or more Negroe blood in him is deemed a mulattoe. The law makes no other distinction between Negroes and mulattoes, whether slaves or freemen.
These incapacities and disabilities are evidently the fruit of the third species of slavery, of which it remains to speak; or, rather, they are scions from the same common stock: which is,
III. That condition in which one man is subject to be directed by another in all his actions; and this constitutes a state of domestic slavery; to which state all the incapacities and disabilities of civil slavery are incident, with the weight of other numerous calamities superadded thereto.
[Refuting Basis of Slavery]
And here it may be proper to make a short enquiry into the [pagan] origin and foundation of domestic slavery in other countries, previous to its fatal introduction into this.
Slaves, says Justinian [533 C.E.], are either born such, or become so.‡ They are born slaves when they are children of bond women; and they become slaves, either
* 1794. c. 163.
† 1794. c. 164.
‡ Inst. lib. 1. tit. 1.
by the laws of nations, that is, by captivity; for it is the practice of our [pagan] generals to sell their captives, being accustomed to preserve, and not to destroy them: or by the civil law, which happens when a free person, above the age of twenty, suffers himself to be sold [hired] for the sake of sharing the price [wages] given [paid] for him.
The author [Sir William Blackstone] of the Commentaries on the Laws of England thus combats the reasonableness of all these grounds:*
|"The conqueror," says he, "according to the civilians, had a right to the life of his captives; and having spared that, has a right to deal with him as he pleases.
"But it is an untrue position, when taken generally, that by the law of nature or nations, a man may kill his enemy: he has a right to kill him only in particular cases; in cases of absolute necessity for self-defence; and it is plain that this absolute necessity did not subsist, since the victor did not actually kill him, but made him prisoner.
"War itself, is justifiable only on principles of self-preservation, and therefore it gives no other right over prisoners but merely to disable them from doing harm to us, by confining their persons: much less can it give a right to kill,|
* 1. b. c. 423.
|torture, abuse, plunder, or even to enslave an enemy, when the war is over. Since therefore the right of making slaves by captivity, depends on a supposed right of slaughter, that foundation failing, the consequence drawn from it must fail likewise.
"But, secondly, it is said slavery may begin jure civili ; when one man sells himself to another. This, if only meant of contracts to serve, or work for another, is very just: but when applied to strict slavery, in the sense of the laws of old Rome or modern Barbary, is also impossible.
"Every sale implies a price, a quid pro quo, an equivalent given to the seller, in lieu of what he transfers to the buyer; but what equivalent can be given for life and liberty, both of which, in absolute slavery, are held to be in the master's disposal? His property, also, the very price he seems to receive, devolves, ipso facto to his master, the instant he becomes a slave. In this case, therefore, the buyer gives nothing, and the seller receives nothing: of what validity, then, can a sale be, which destroys the very principles upon which all sales are founded?
"Lastly we are told, that
|Ed. Note: The same analysis, no equivalent, was made in the case of Somerset v Stewart, p 5 and 29; and by Rev. John G. Fee, in Anti-Slavery Manual (1851), pp 14, 16, 22, 28, 35, 61, 66, 100, 112, and 119.|
Thus, by the most clear, manly, and convincing reasoning, does this excellent author refute every claim upon which the practice of slavery is founded, or by which it has been supposed [alleged] to be justified, at least, in modern times. (g)
[Fraud Began Slavery]
But were we even to admit, that a captive taken in a just war, might by his conqueror be reduced to a state of slavery, this could not justify the claim of Europeans to reduce the natives of Africa to that state: it is a melancholy, though well-known fact, that in order to furnish supplies of these unhappy people for the purposes of the slave trade, the Europeans have constantly, by the most insidious (I had almost said infernal) arts, fomented
|besides these two ways by which slaves are acquired, they may also be hereditary; "servi nascuntur;" the children of acquired slaves are, "jure naturœ," by a negative kind of birthright, slaves also.—But this, being built on the two former [non-existent] rights, must fall together with them.
"If neither captivity, nor the sale of one's self, can by the law of nature and reason reduce the parent to slavery, much less can they reduce the offspring."|
(g) These arguments are, in fact, borrowed from the Spirit of Laws [by Montesquieu (1689-1755)].
a kind of perpetual warfare among the ignorant and miserable people of Africa; and instances have not been wanting [lacking], where, by the most shameful breach of faith, they have trepanned [deceived] and made slaves of the sellers as well as the sold. (h)
(h)"About the same time (the reign of queen Elizabeth [1558-1603]) a traffic in the human species, called Negroes, was introduced into England, which is one of the most odious and unnatural branches of trade the sordid and avaricious mind of mortals ever invented.—
"It had been carried on before this period by Genoese traders, who bought a patent from Charles the fifth, containing an exclusive right of carrying Negroes from the Portuguese settlements in Africa, to America and the West Indies; but the English nation had not yet engaged in the iniquitous traffic.—
"One William Hawkins, an expert English seaman, having made several voyages to the coast of Guinea, and from thence to Brazil and the West Indies, had acquired considerable knowledge of the countries.
"At his death he left his journals with his son, John Hawkins [1532-1595] , in which he described the lands of America and the West Indiea as exceedingly rich and fertile, but utterly neglected for want [lack] of hands to improve them.
"He represented the natives of Europe as unequal to the task in such a scorching climate; but those of Africa as well adapted to undergo the labours requisite. Upon which John Hawkins immediately formed a design of transporting Africans into the western world; and having drawn a plan for the execution of it, he laid it before some of his opulent neighbours for encouragement and approbation. To them it ap-
That such horrid practices have been sanctioned by a civilized nation; that a
peared promising and advantageous. A subscription [funds collection] was opened and speedily filled up, by Sir Lionel Ducket, Sir Thomas Lodge, Sir William Winter, and others, who plainly perceived the vast profits that would result from such a trade.
"Accordingly three ships were fitted out, and manned by an hundred select sailors, whom Hawkins encouraged to go with him by promises of good treatment and great pay. In the year 1562 he set sail for Africa, and in a few weeks arrived at the country called Sierra Leona, where he began his commerce with the Negroes.
"While he trafficked with them, he found the means of giving them a charming description of the country to which he was bound [going]; the unsuspicious Africans listened to him with apparent joy and satisfaction, and seemed remarkably fond of his European trinkets, food, and clothes.
"He pointed out to them the barreness of the country, and their naked and wretched condition, and promised if any of them were weary of their miserable circumstances, and would go along with him, he would carry them to a plentiful land, where they should live happy, and receive an abundant recompense for their labours.
"He told them the country was inhabited by such men as himself and his jovial companions, and assured them of kind usage and great friendship.
"In short, the Negroes were overcome by his flattering promises, and three hundred stout fellows accepted his offer, and consented to embark along with him. Every thing being settled on the most amicable terms between them, Hawkins made
|Ed. Note: William Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery (1852), elaborates, pp 6, 15-16, and 572.|
nation ardent in the cause of liberty, and enjoying its blessings in the fullest extent,
Hawkins having returned to England, soon after, made preparations for a second voyage.
preparations for his voyage.
"But in the night before his departure, his Negroes were attacked by a large body from a different quarter; Hawkins, being alarmed with the shrieks and cries of dying persons, ordered his men to the assistance of his slaves, and having surrounded the assailants, carried a number of them on board as prisoners of war.
"The next day he set sail for Hispaniola with his cargo of human creatures; but during the passage, he treated the prisoners of war in a different manner from his volunteers.
"Upon his arrival he disposed of his cargo to great advantage; and endeavoured to inculcate on the Spaniards who bought the negroes the same distinction to be observed: but they having purchased all at the same rate, considered them as slaves of the same condition, and consequently treated all alike."|
|"In his passage he fell in with the Minion man of war [navy warship], which accompanied him to the Coast of Africa.
"After his arrival he began as formerly to traffic with the Negroes, endeavouring by persuasions and prospects of reward, to induce them to to go along with him; but now they were more reserved and jealous of his designs, and as none of their neighbours had returned, they were apprehensive he had killed and eat them.
"The crew of the man of war observing the Africans backward and suspicious, began to laugh at his gentle and dilatory methods of proceeding, and proposed having immediate recourse to force and compulsion; but Hawkins considered it as cruel and unjust, and tried by persuasions, pro-
can continue to vindicate a right established upon such a foundation; that a peo-
|mises and threats,
to prevail on them to desist from a purpose so unwarrantable and barbarous. In vain did he urge his authority and instructions from the Queen [Elizabeth]: the bold and headstrong sailors would hear of no restraints. Drunkenness and avarice are deaf to the voice of humanity.
"They pursued their violent design, and, after several unsuccessful attacks, in which many of them lost their lives, the cargo was at Iength completed by barbarity and force.
"Hence arose that horrid and inhuman practice of dragging Africans into slavery, which has since been so pursued, in defiance of every principle of justice and religion.
"Had Negroes been brought from the flames, to which in some countries they were devoted on their falling prisoners of war, and in others, sacrificed at the funeral obsequies of the great and powerful among themselves; in short had they by this traffic been delivered from torture or death, European merchants might have some excuse to plead in its vindication.
"But according to the common mode in which it has been conducted, we must confess it a difficult matter to conceive a single argument in its defence. And though policy bas given countenance and sanction to the trade, yet every candid and impartial man must confess, that it is atrocious and unjustifiable in every light in which it can be viewed, and turns merchants into a band of robbers, and trade into atrocious acts of fraud and violence." Historical Account of South Carolina and Georgia. Anonymous. London printed in 1779—page 20, &c.
"The number of Negroe slaves bartered for in one year (viz. 1768), on thé Coast of Africa, from Cape
|Ed. Note: NOT! Victims are to be rescued, not sold!—Good Samaritan Parable, Luke 10:30-37.
Moral people would have taught, as missionar-ies, don't do the abuses, not participate in them!
World War II refugees were rescued, not sold!
Slavery was not a bettered condition, but worse.
ple who have declared, "That all men are by nature equally * free and independdent, and have made this declaration the first article in the foundation of their government, should, in defiance of so sacred a truth, recognized by themselves in so solemn a manner, and on so important an occasion, tolerate a practice incompatible therewitb, is sucb an evidence of the weakness and inconsistency of human nature, as every man who hath a spark of patriotic fire in his bosom must wish to see removed from his own country.
If ever there was a cause, if ever an occasion, in which all hearts should be united, every nerve strained, and every power exerted, surely the restoration of human nature to its inalienable right is such: Whatever obstacles, therefore, may hitherto have retarded the attempt, he that can appreciate the honour and happiness of his country, will think it time that we should attempt to surmount tbem.
But how loudly soever reason, justice,
* Bill of Rights, art. 1.
|Blanco, to Rio Congo, amounted to 104,000 souls, whereof more than half (viz. 53,000) were shipped on account of British merchants, and 6,300 on the account of British Americans." The Law of Retribution by Granville Sharpe, Esq. page 147. note.|
and (may I not add) religion, (i) condemn the practice of slavery, it is acknowledged to have been very ancient, and almost universal. The Greeks, the Romans, and the ancient Germans also practiced it, as well as the more ancient Jews and Egyptians.
By the Germans it was transmitted to the various kingdoms which arose in Europe out of the ruins of the Roman empire.
In England, it subsisted for some ages under the name of
In Asia, it seems to have
|Ed. Note: NOT by the Jews. They were rescued from Egypt in the Exodus, and had laws banning slavery, says Alvan Stewart, Anti-Slavery Speech (1845), pp 31-34.
See also Edward Rogers, Slavery Illegality (1855), refuting slavery legitimacy among the Greeks (pp 5-14), Romans (pp 15-23), and Ancient Germans (p 26).
(i) See the various tracts on this subject, by Granville Sharpe, Esq. [1735-1813] of London.
(k) The condition of a villein had most of the incidents I have before described in giving the idea of slavery in general. His services were uncertain and indeterminate, such as his lord thought fit to require; or as some of our ancient writers express it, he knew not in the evening what he was to do in the morning, he was bound to do whatever he was commanded.
He was liable to beating, imprisonment, and every other chastisement his lord could devise, except killing and maiming. He was incapable of acquiring property for his own benefit, hc was himself the subject of property; as such, saleable and transmissible.
If he was a villein regardant, he passed with the land to which he was annexed, but might be severed at the will of his lord; if he was a villein in gross, he was an hereditament, or a chattel real, according to his lord's interest; being descendible to the heir, where the lord was absolute owner, and transmissible to the
Ed. Note: Examples of Writings by Grenville Sharpe:
1. A Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery or of Admitting the Least Claim of Private Property in the Persons of Men, in England (London: Benj. White and Robert Horsfield, 1769)
2. Some Historical Account of Guinea: Its Situation, Produce, and the General Disposition of its Inhabitants: With an Inquiry into the Rise and Progress of the Slave-Trade, its Nature and Lamentable Effects (Philadelphia: J. Crukshank, 1771)
3. An Appendix to the Representation, (printed in 1769,) of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery, or of Admitting the Least Claim of Private Property in the Persons of Men in England (London: B. White and R. Horsefield, 1772)
4. An Essay on Slavery Proving from Scripture its Inconsistency with Humanity and Religion: in Answer to a Late Publication, Entitled, "The African trade for Negro Slaves Shewn to be Consistent with Principles of Humanity, and with the Laws of Revealed Religion" (Burlington [NJ]: Isaac Collins, 1773)
5. The Law of Liberty, or, Royal Law, by Which All Mankind Will Certainly Be Judged! Earnestly Recommended to the Serious Consideration of All Slave Holders and Slave Dealers (London, White and Dilly, 1776)
6. The Just Limitation of Slavery in the Laws of God Compared with the Unbounded Claims of the African Traders and British American Slaveholders; with a Copious Appendix, Containing,
an Answer to the Rev. Mr. Thompson's Tract in Favor of the African Slave Trade;
Letters Concerning the Lineal Descent of the Negroes from the Sons of Ham;
the Spanish Regulations for the Gradual Enfranchisement of Slaves;
A Proposal on the Same Principles for the Gradual Enfranchisement of Slaves in America;
Reports of Determinations in the Several Courts of Law against slavery, &c.
(London: B. White, and E. and C. Dilly, 1776)
7. The Law of Passive Obedience; or, Christian Submission to Personal Injuries: Wherein is Shewn, That the Several Texts of Scripture, Which Command the Entire Submission of Servants or Slaves to Their Masters, Cannot Authorize the Latter to Exact an Involuntary Servitude, Nor, in the Least Degree, Justify the Claims of Modern Slave Holders (London: B. White and E. and C. Dilly, 1776)
8. The Law of Retribution, or, A Serious Warning to Great Britain and her Colonies Founded on Unquestionable Examples of God's Temporal Vengeance Against Tyrants, Slave-holders, and Oppressors: The Examples are Selected from Predictions in the Old Testament, of National Judgements, Which (Being Compared with their Actual Accomplishment) Demonstrate "the sure word of prophecy," as well as the Immediate Interposition of Divine Providence, to Recompence Impenitent Nations According to Their Works (London: W. Richardson, 1776)
9. A Letter to Granville Sharp, Esq. on the Proposed Abolition of the Slave Trade (London: J. Debrett, 1788)
10. At a Committee of the Society Instituted for the Purpose of Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade: London, April 26th, 1791. Corp Author: Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade (London: 1791)
11. Letter from Granville Sharp, Esq., of London: to the Maryland Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and the Relief of Free Negroes and Others, Unlawfully Held in Bondage (Baltimore: D. Graham, L. Yundt, and W. Patton, 1793)
been general, and in Africa, universal, and so remains to this day.
In Europe, it hath long since declined; its first declension there, is said to have been in Spain,
|Ed. Note: the real truth is, "in different nations very different systems have been called by the general name of slavery."—Harriet B. Stowe, Key (1853), p 115. Southern slavery was extremely different than African. Southern slavery was vile, even demonized.|
executor where the lord had only a term of years in him.
Lastly, the slavery extended to the issue, if the father was a villein, our law deriving the condition of the child from that of the father, contrary to the Roman law, in which the rule was, partus, sequitur, ventum. Hargrave's Case of Negroe Somerset, page 26 and 27.
The same writer refers the origin of vassalage in England, principally to the wars between the British, Saxon, Danish, and Norman nations, contending for the sovereignty of that country, in opposition to the opinion of judge Fitzherbert, who supposes villeinage to have commenced at the conquest. Ib. 27. 28. And this he proves from Spelman and other antiquaries. Ib.
The writ de nativo habendo, by which the lord was enabled to recover his villein that had absconded from him, creates a presumption that all the natives of England were at some period reduced to a state of villeinage, the word nativus, which signified a villein, most clearly designating the person meant thereby to be a native: this eytmon is obvious as well from the import of the word nativus, as from the history of the more remote ages of Britain.
Sir Edward Coke's Etymology, "quia plerumque nascuntur servi, is one of those puerile conceits, which so frequently occur in his works, and are unworthy of so great a man.
Barrington in his observations upon magna carta, c. 4. observes, that the villeins who held by servile tenures were considered as so many negroes on a sugar plantation; the words "liber homo," in magna carta,
so early as the eighth century; and it is alleged to have been general ahout the middle of the fourteenth, and was near expiring in the sixteenth, when the discovery of the American continent, and the eastern and western coasts of Africa gave rise to the introduction of a new [viler] species of slavery.
It took its origin from the Portugese, who, in order to supply the Spaniards with persons able to sustain the fatigue of cultivating their new possossions in America, particularly the islands, opened a trade betwccn Africa and America for the sale of Negroes, about the year 1508. The expedient of having slaves for
c. 14. with all deference to Sir Edward Coke [(1551-1633), Chief Justice of the King's Bench (1606-1616)], who says they mean a free-holder, I understand as meaning a free man, (l) as contradistinguished from a villain: for in the very next sentence the words "et villanus alterius quam noster," occur. Villeins must certainly have been numerous at that day, to have obtained a place in the Great Charter. It is no less an evidence that their condition was in a state of melioration.
In Poland, at this day, the peasants seem to be in an absolute state of slavery, or at Ieast of villeinage, to the nobility, who are the land-holders.
(l) Liber homo, &c. the title of freeman was formerly confined to the nobility and gentry, who were descended of free ancestors.—Burgh's Political Disquisitions, vol. iii. p. 400, who cites Spelman's Glossary, voc. Liber homo.
labour was not long peculiar to the Spaniards, being afterwards adopted by other European colonies:* and though some attempts have been made to stop its progress in most of the United States, and several of them have the fairest prospects of success in attempting the extirpation of it, yet in others, it hath taken such deep root, as to require the most strenuous exertions to eradicate it.
[Early Virginia Laws on Slavery]
The first introduction of Negroes into Virginia happened, as we have already mentioned, in the year 1620; from that period to the year 1662, there is no compilation of our laws, in print, now to be met with.
In the revision made in that year , we find an act declaring that no Englishman, trader, or other, who shall bring in any Indians as servants and assign them over to any other, shall sell them for slaves, nor for any other time than English of like age should serve by act of assembly.†
The succeeding session, all children born in this country were declared to be bond, or free, according to the condition of the mother.‡
In 1667 it was declared,
This [pro-rape law by perverted legislators, to allow free sex by slavers, had a pretended basis, i.e., that it] was
|"That the conferring of baptism doth not alter the condition of the person baptized, as to his bondage or freedom."§|
* Hargrave, ib.
† 1662 c. 136.
‡ 1662. Sess. d. c. 2.
§ 1667. c. 2.
done [enacted so],
It would have been happy for this unfortunate race of men, if the same tender regard for their bodies had always manifested itself in our laws, as is shown for their souls in this act.
But this was not the case; for two years after, we meet with an Act, declaring,
|"that divers masters freed from this doubt may more carefully endeavour the propagating of Christianity, by permitting their slaves to be baptized."|
This cruel and tyrannical
|"That if any slave resist his master, or others, by his master's orders correcting him, and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, such death should not be accounted felony: but the master or other person appointed by his master to punish him, be acquit from molestation [criminal charge]: since it could not be presumed that prepensive malice which alone makes murder, felony, should induce any man to destroy his own estate." (l)|
(l) Among the Israelites, according to the Mosaical law, "If a man smote his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he dicd under his hand, he should surely be punished—notwithstanding if he continue a day or two, he should not be punished:" [Exod. c. 21.] for, saith the text, he is his money. Our legislators appear to have adopted the reason of the latter clause, without the humanity of tbe former part of the law.
|Ed. Note: See Rev. John G. Fee, Anti-Slavery Manual (1851), opposing this abuse of the Bible law, pp 55-59; and Harriet B. Stowe, Key (1853), pp 115-120, on slavers disregarding context.
act, was, at three different periods*
reenacted, with very little alteration; and was not finally repealed till the year 1788†—above a century after it had first disgraced our code.
In 1668, we meet with the first traces of emancipation, in an act which subjects Negroe women set free to the tax on titheables.‡
Two years after,§ an act passed prohibiting Indians or Negroes, manumitted, or otherwise set free, though baptized, from purchasing Christian servants.|| From this act it is evident that Indians had before that time been made slaves, as well as Negroes, though we have no traces of the original act by which they were [unconstitutionally] reduced to tbat condition.
An act of the same session recites that disputes had arisen whether Indians taken in war by any other nation, and by that nation sold to the English, are servants for life, or for a term of years; and declaring that all servants, not being Cbristians, imported into this country by shipping, shall be slaves for their life-time; but that what shall come by land, shall serve, if boys and girls, until thirty years of age; if men and women, twelve years, and no longer.
On a rupture with the Indians in the year 1679, it was, for the better encouragement
* 1705. c. 49. 1723. c. 4. 1748. c. 31
† 1788. c. 23.
‡ 1668. c. 7.
§ 1670. c. 5.
|| 1670. c. 12.
of soldiers, declared that what Indian prisoners should be taken in war should be free purchase to the soldier taking them.*
Three years after, it was [unconstitutionally] declared that all servants brought into this country, by sea or land, not being Christians, whether Negroes, Moors, mulattocs or Indians, except Turks and Moors in amity with Great Britain, and all Indians which should thereafter be sold by neighbouring Indians, or any others trafficking with us, as slaves, should be slaves to all intents and purposes.†
This act was re-enacted in the year 1705, and afterwards in 1753,‡ nearly in the same terms.
In 1705 an act was made, authorizing a free and open trade for all persons, at all times, and at all places, with all Indians whatsoever.§ On the authority of this act, the general court, in April term 1787, decided that no Indians brought into Virginia since the passing thereof, nor their descendants, can be slaves in this commonwealth. (m)
* 1679. c. 1.
† 1682. c. 1.
‡ 1705. c. 49. 1753. c. 2.
§ 1705. c. 52.
(m) Hannah and other Indians, against Davis.— Since this adjudication, I have met with a manuscript act of assembly made in 1691. c. 9. entitled, "An Act for a free Trade with Indians," the enacting clause of which is in the very words of the act of 1705. c. 52. A similar title to an act of that session occurs in the edition of 1735. p. 94. and the chapter is numbered as in the manuscript. If this manuscript be authentic
In October 1778 the general assembly passed the first act which occurs in our code for prohibiting the importation of slaves;* thereby declaring that no slave should thereafter be brought into this commonwealth, by land or by water; and that every slave imported contrary thereto, should upon such importation be free: with an exception as to such as might belong to persons migrating from the other states, or be claimed by descent, devise, or marriage, or be at that time the actual property of any citizen of this commonwealth, residing in any other of the United States, or belonging to travellers making a transient stay, and carrying their slaves away with them.—
In 1785 this act unfortunately underwent some alteration, by declaring that slaves thereafter brought into this commonwealth, and kept therein one whole year together, or so long at different times as shall amount to a year, shall be free. By
(which tbere is some reason to presume, it being copied in some blank leaves at tbe end of Purvis's edition, and apparently written about the time of the passage of tbe act,) it would seem that no Indians brought into Virginia for more than a century, nor any of their descendante, can be retained in slavery in this commonwealth.
* 1778. c. 1.
this means the difficulty of proving the right to freedom will not be a little augmented: for the fact of the first importation, where the right to freedom immediately ensued, might have been always proved without difficulty; but where a slave is subject to removal from place to place, and his right to freedom is postponed for so long a time as a whole year, or perhaps several years, the provisions in favour of liberty may be too easily evaded.
The same act declares that no persons shall thenceforth be slaves in this commonwealth, except such as were so on the first day of that session (Oct. 17th, 1786), and the descendants of the females of them. This act was re-enactcd in the revival made in 1792.*
In 1793, an additional act passed, authorizing and requiring any justice of the peace having notice of the importation of any slaves, directly or indirectly, from any part of Africa or the West Indies, to cause such slave to be immediately apprehended and transported out of the commonwealth.†
Such is the rise, progress, and present foundation of slavery in Virginia, so far as I have been able to trace it. The present number of slaves in Virginia, is immense, as appears by the census taken in 1791, amounting
* See acts of 1794. c. 103.
† Edit. of 1794. c. 164.
to no less than 292,427 souls: nearly two-fifths of the whole population of the commonwealth. (n)
We may console ourselves with the hope that this proportion [ratio]
(n) Although it be true that the number of slaves in the whole state bears the proportion of 292,427, to 7_7,810 [sic], the whole number of souls in the state, that is, nearly as two to five; yet this proportion [ratio] is, by no means uniform throughout the state.
In the forty-four counties lying upon the Bay, and the great rivers of the state, and comprehended by a line including Brunswick, Cumberland, Goochland, Hanover, Spottsylvania, Stafford, Prince William and Fairfax, and the counties eastward thereof, the number of slaves is 196,542, and the number of free persons, including free Negroes and mulattoes, 198,371 only. So that the blacks in that populous and extensive district of country are more numerous than the whites.
In the second class, comprehending nineteen counties, and extending from the last mentioned line to the Blue Ridge, and including the populous counties of Frederick and Berkely, beyond the Blue Ridge, there are 82,206 slaves, and 136,251 free persons; the number of free persons in tbat class not being two to one, to the slaves.
In the third class, the proportion is considerably increased; the eleven counties of which it consists contains only 11,218 slaves, and 76,281 free persons. This class reaches to the Allegany ridge of mountains:
the fourth and last class, comprehending fourteen counties westward of the third class, contains only 2,381 slaves, and 42,288 free persons.
It is obvious from this statement that almost all the dangers and inconveniences which may be apprehended from a state of slavery on the one hand, or an attempt to
will not increase,—the further importation of slaves being prohibited, whilst the free migrations of white people hither is encouraged.
But this hope affords no other relief from the evil of slavery, than a diminution of those apprehensions which are naturally excited by the detention of so large a number of oppressed individuals among us, and the possibility that they may one day be roused to an attempt to shake off their chains.
[Early Effort to Limit Slavery]
Whatever inclination the first [1620-era] inhabitants of Virginia might have [had] to encourage slavery, a disposition to check its progress and increase, manifested itself in the legislature even before the close of the last century. So long ago as the year 1669 we find the title of an act,* laying an imposition upon servants, and slaves, imported into this country; which was either continued, revised, or increased, by a variety of temporary acts, passed between that period and the revolution in 1776.(o)
—One of these acts passed in 1723, by a marginal note, appears to have been repealed by proclamation, Oct 24,
abolish it, on the other, will be confined to the people eastward of the blue ridge of mountains.
* Edit. of 1733. c. 12.
(o) The following is a list of the acts, or titles of
acts, imposing duties on slaves imported, which occur
|Ed. Note: This split in Virginia became evident during the 1861 secession. The western side, now West Virginia, with different views than the eastern side, refused to secede, and became West Virginia.|
1724. In 1732 a duty of five per cent, was laid on slaves imported, to be paid by the buyers; a measure calculated to
in the various compilations of our laws, or in the Sessions Acts, or journals.
From this period I have not been able to refer to the Sessions Acts.
|1699 c. 12. title only retained. Edit. of 1733. p.||113
|1701, c. 5. the same,||116
|1704, c. 4. the same,||122
|1705, c. 1. the same,||126
|1710, c. 1. the same,||239
|1712, c. 3. the same,||282
|1723, c. 1. repealed by proclamation,||333
|1727, c. l. enacted with a suspending clause,||
|and the royal assent refused,||376
|1732, c. 3. printed at large,||469
|1734, c. 3. printed at large in Sessions Acts.||
|1736, c. 1. the same.||
|1738, c. 6. the same.||
|1740, c. 2. the same.||
|1742, c. 2. the same.||
|1752, c. 1. printed at large in the edit. of 1769,||281
|1754, c. 1. the same||319
|1755, c. 2. Sessions Acts. Ten per. cent. in ad-||
|dition to all former duties.||
|1759, c. 1. printed at large, edition of 1769,||366
|1766, c. 3, 4. printed at large, edit of 1769, 461,||462
|c. 15. additional duty, the title only is||
|printed, being repealed by the crown, Ib.||473
|1769, c. 7, 8, and 12, title only printed, edition||
|of 1785,||6, 7
|1772, c. 15. title only printed, Ibidem|| 24
render it as little obnoxious as possible to the English merchants trading to Africa, and not improbably suggested by them, to the privy council in England.
The preamble to this act is in these remarkable words,
This act was only for the short period of four years, but seems to have been continued from time to time till the year 1751, when the duty expired, but was revived the next year.
In the year 1740, an additional duty of five per cent. was imposed for four years, for the purpose ofan expedition against the Spaniards, &c. to be likewise paid by the buyers: and in 1742 the whole duty was continued till July 1, 1747.—
The act of 1752, by which these duties were revived
|"We, your majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, &c. taking into our serious consideration the exigencies of your government here, and that the duty laid upon liquors will not be sufficient to defray the necessary expenses thereof, do humbly represent to your majesty, that no other duty can be laid upon our import or export, without oppressing your subjects, than a duty upon slaves imported, to be paid by the buyers, agreeable to your majesty's instructions to your lieutenant governor."|
and continued, (as well as several former acts), takes notice that the duty had been found no ways burdensome to the traders in slaves.
In 1754, an additional duty of five per cent. was imposed for the term of three years, by an act for encouraging and protecting the settlers on the Mississippi; this duty, like all the former, was to be paid by the buyers.
In 1759, a duty of 20 per cent. was imposed upon all slaves imported into Virginia from Maryland, North Carolina, or other places in America, to continue for seven years.
In 1769, the same duty was further continued.
In the same  session, the duty of five per cent. was continued for three years, and an additional duty of ten per cent. to be likewise paid by the buyers, was imposed for seven years; and a further duty of five per cent. was, by a separate act of the same session, imposed for the better support of the contingent charges of government, to be paid by the buyers.
In 1772, all these duties were further continued for the term of five years from the expiration of the acts then in force: the assembly at the same time petitioned the throne [King George III], (p)
(p)The following extract from a petition to the throne [King George III], presented from the house of burgesses of Virginia, April 1, 1772, will shew the sense of the
to remove all those restraints which inhibited his majesty's governors assenting to such
laws as might check so very pernicious a commerce, as that of slavery.
people of Virginia on the subject of slavery at that period.
This petition produced no effect, as appears from
"The many instances of your majesty's benevolent intentions and most gracions dispositinn to promote the prosperity and happiness of your subjects in the colonies, encourages us to look up to the throne, and implore your majesty's paternal assistance in averting a calamity of a most alarming nature."
"The importation of slaves into the colonies from the coast of Africa hath long becn considered as a trade of great inhumanity, and under its present encouragement, we have too much reason to fear will endanger the very existence of your majesty's American dominions."
"We are sensible that some of your majesty's subjects of Great Britain may reap emoluments from this sort of traffic, but when we consider that it greatly retards the settlement of thc colonies with more useful inhabitants, and may, in time, have the most destructive influence, we presume to hope that the interest of a few will be disregarded whcn placed in competition with the security and happiness of such numbers of your majesty's dutiful and loyal subjects."
"Deeply impressed with these sentiments, we most humbly beseech your majesty to remove all those restraints on your majesty's governors of this colony, whivh inhibit their assenting to such laws as might check so very pernicious a commerce." Journals of the House of Burgesses, page 131.|
In the course of this enquiry it is easy to trace the desire of the legislature to put a stop to the further importation of slaves; and had not this desire been uniformly opposed on the part of the crown, it is highiy probable that event would have taken effect at a much earlier period than it did.
A duty of five per cent. to be paid by the buyers, at first, with difficulty obtained the royal assent. Requisitions from the crown for aids, on particular occasions, afforded a pretext from time te time for increasing the duty from five, to ten, and finally to twenty per cent. with which the buyer was uniformly made chargeable.
Thé wishes of the people of this colony, were not sufficient to counterbalnnce the interest of the English merchants, trading to Africa, and it is probable, that however disposed to put a stop to so infamous a traffic by law, we should never have been able to effect it, so long as we might have continued dependent on the British government: an object sufficient of itself to justify a
the first clause of our CONSTITUTION, where among other acts of misrule, "the inhuman use of the royal negative" in refusing us permission to exclude slaves from among us by law, is enumerated, among the reasons for separating from Great Britain.
revolution. That the legislature of Virginia were sincerely disposed to put a stop to it, cannot be doubted; for even during the tumult and confusion of the [1776-1783] revolution, wo have seen that they availed themselves of the earliest opportunity, to crush for ever so pernicious and infamous a commerce, by an act pnssed in October 1778, the penalties of which, though apparently Iessened by the act of 1792, are still equal to the value of the slave; being two hundred dollars upon the importer, and one hundred dollars upon every person buying or selling an imported slave.
A system uniformly persisted in for nearly a whole century, and finally carried into effect, so soon as the legislature was unrestrained by "the inhuman exercise of the royal négative," evinces the sincerity of that disposition which the legislature had shewn during so long a period, to put a check to the growing evil.
From the time that the duty was raised above five per cent. it is probable that the importation of slaves into this colony decreased. The demand for them in the more southern colonies probably contributed also to lesson the numbers imported into this: for some years immediately preceding the revolution, the importation of
slaves into Virginia might almost be considered as at an end; and probably would have been entirely so, if the ingenuity of the merchant had not found out the means of evading the heavy duty, by pretended sales at which the slaves were bought in by some friend, at a quarter of their real value.
Tedious and unentertaining as this detail may appear to all others, a citizen of Virginia will feel some satisfaction at reading so clear a vindication of his country, from the opprobrium, but too lavishly bestowed upon her, of fostering slavery in her bosom, whilst she [hypocritically] boasts a sacred regard to the liberty of her citizens, and of mankind in general.
The acrimony of such censures must abate, at least in the breasts of the candid, upon an impartial review of the subject here brought before them; and if, in addition to what we have already advanced, they consider the difficulties attendant on any plan for the abolition of slavery, in a country where so large a proportion of the inhabitants are slaves; and where a still larger proportion of the cultivators of the earth are of that description of men, they will probably feel emotions of sympathy and compassion, both for the slave and for
his master, succeed to those hasty prejudices, which even the best dispositions are not exempt from contracting, upon subjects where there is a deficiency of information [or pretended to be so].
[Condition of Slaves in Virginia]
We are next to consider the condition of slaves in Virginia, or the [unconstitutional] legal consequences attendant on a state of slavery in this commonwealth; and here it is not my intention to notice those laws, which consider slaves, merely as property, and have from time to time been [unconstitutionally] enacted to regulate the disposition of them, as such; for these will be more properly considered elsewhere: my intention at present is therefore to take a view of such laws, only, as regard slaves, as a distinct class of persons, whose rights, if indeed they possess any, are [unconstitutionally] reduced to a much narrower compass, than those, of which we have been speaking before.
Civil rights, we may remember, are reducible to three primary heads;
the right of personal security;
the right of personal liberty; and
the right of private property.
In a state of slavery, the two last are wholly abolished, the person of the slave being at the absolute disposal of his master; and property, what he îs incapable, in that state, either of acquiring,
or holding, in his own use. Hence it will appear how perfectly irreconcilable a state of slavery is to the principles of a democracy, which form the basis and foundation of our government. For our bill of rights declares,
This is indeed no more than a recognition of the first principles of the law of nature, which teaches us this equality, and enjoins every man, whatever advantages he may possess over another, as to the various qualities or endowments of body or mind, to practice the precepts of the law of nature to those who are in these respects his inferiors, no less than it enjoins his inferiors to practice them towards him. Since he has no more right to insuit them, than they have to injure him.
Nor does the bare unkindness of nature or of fortune conderan a man to a worse condition than others, as to the enjoyment of common privileges.*
It would be hard to reconcile reducing the Negroes to a state of slavery to these principles, unless we first
|"that all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain rights of which they cannot deprive or divest their posterity, namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property."|
* Spavan's Puff. vol. 1. c. 17.
degrade them below the rank of human beings, not only politially, but also physically and morally. The Roman lawyers look upon those only properly as persons who are free,—putting slaves into the rank of goods and chattels; and the policy of our legislature, as well as the practice of slave-holders in America in general seems conformable to that idea: but surely it is time we should admit the evidence of moral truth, and learn to regard them as our fellow men, and equals, except in those particulars where accident, or perhaps nature, may have given us some advantage; a recompense for which they perhaps enjoy in other respects.
Slavery, says Hargrave [p 26], always imports an obligation of perpetual service, which only the consent of the master can dissolve: it also generally gives to the master an arbitrary power of administering every sort of correction, however inhuman, not immediately affecting life or limb, and even these in some countries, as formerly in Rome, and at this day among the Asiatics and Africans, are left exposed to the arbitrary will of a master, or protected only by fines or other slight punishments. The property of the slave
also is absolutely the property of his master, the slave himself being the subject of property, and as such saleable, or transmissible at the will of his master.—A slavery, so malignant as that described, does not leave to its wretched victims the least vestige of any civil right, and even divests them of all their natural rights.
It does not, however, appear, that the rigours of slavery in this country were ever as great, as those above described: yet it must be confessed, that, at times, they have fallen very little short of them.
The first severe law respecting slaves, now to be met with in our code, is that of 1669, already mentioned, which declared that the death of a slave resisting his master, or other person correcting him by his order, happening by extremity of the correction [beating to death], should not be accounted [a] felony [crime].
The alterations which this law underwent in three successive acts,* wereby no means calculated effectually to mitigate its severity; it seems rather to heve been augmented by the act of 1723, which declared that a person indicted for the murder of a slave, and found guilty of manslaughter, should not incur any punishment for the same. (q)
* 1705. c. 49. 1723. c. 4. 1748. c. 31.
(q) In December term, 1788, one John Huston
All these acts were at length repealed in 1788.* So that homicide of a slave stands now upon the same footing, as in the case of any other person.
In 1672 it was declared lawful for any person pursuing any runaway Negroe, mulattoe, Indian slave, or servant for life, by virtue of an hue and cry, to kill them in case of resistance, without being questioned [criminally charged] for the same.†
A few years afterwards this act was extended to persons employed to apprehend runaways.‡
In 1705, these acts underwent some small alteration; two justices being anthorized by proclamation to outlaw runaways, who might thereafter be killed and destroyed by any person whatsoever, by such ways and means as he may think fit, without accusation or impeachment of any crime for so doing:§
And if any such slave were apprehended, he might be punished at the discretion of the county court, either by dismembering, or in any other manner not touching life.
|Ed. Note: See Harriet B. Stowe, Key (1853), starting at p 79, for rebuttal data.|
was tried in the general court for the murder of a slave; the jury found him guilty of manslaughter, and the court, upon a motion in arrest of judgment, discharged him without any punishmenent. The general assembly [legislature] being then sitting [in session], some of the nembers of the court mentioned the facts to some Ieading characters in the legislature, and the act was at the same session repealed.
* 1788. 2. 23.
† 1672. c. 8.
‡ 1680. c. 10.
§ 1705. c. 49.
The inhuman rigour of this  act was afterwards* extended to the venial offence of going abroad by night, if the slave was notoriously guilty of it.—Such are the cruelties to which a state of slavery gives birth; such the horrors to which the human mind is capable of being reconciled, by its adoption.
The dawn of humanity at length appeared in the year 1769, when the power of dismembering, even under the authority of a county court, was restricted to the single ofFence of attempting to ravish a white woman,† in which case perhaps the punishment is perhaps not more than commensurate to the crime.
In 1772 some restraints were laid upon the practice of outlawing slaves, requiring that it should appear to the satisfaction of the justices that the slaves were outlying, and doing mischief.‡
These loose [unconstitutionally vague] expressions of the act, left too much in the discretion of men, not much addicted to weighing their import.—
In 1792, every thing relative to the outlawry of slaves was expunged from our code,§ and I trust will never again find a place in it.
By the act of 1680, a Negroe, a mulattoe, or Indian, bond or free, presuming to lift his hand in opposition to any Christian, should receive thirty lashes on his bare
|Ed. Note: NOT. Again note the "Bible-belt" type ignoring Bible guidance, e.g., Deuteronomy 22:22-29.|
* 1723. c. 4. 1748. c. 31.1.
† 1769. c. 19.
‡ 1772. c. 9.
§ Edit. 1794. c. 103
back for every offence.*
The same act [unconstitutionally] prohibited slaves from carrying any club, staff, gun, sword, or other weapon, offensive or defensive. This was afterwards extended to all Negroes, mulattoes and Indians whatsoever, with a few exceptions in favour of housekeepers, residents on a frontier plantation, and such as were enlisted in the militia.†
Slaves, by these and other acts,‡ are prohibited from going abroad without leave in writing from their masters, and if they do, may be whipped: any person suffering a slave to remain on his plantation for four hours together, or dealing with him without leave in writing from his master, is subject to a fine.
A runaway slave may be apprehended and committed to jail, and if not claimed within three months (being first advertisod) he shall be hired out, having an iron collar first put about his neck: and if not claimed within a year, shall be sold.§
These provisions were in general re-enacted in 1792,|| but the punishment to be inflicted on a Negroe or mulattoe, for lifting his hand against a white person, is restricted to those cases, where the former is not wantonly assaulted. In this act the word Indian appears to have been designedly omitted: the
* 1680. c. 10. 1705. c.
† 1723. c. 4.
‡ 1705. c. 49. 1723. c. 4. 1748. c. 31. 1753. c. 2. 1785. c. 77.
§ 1753. c. 2.
|| Edit. of 1794. c. 103. 131.
small number of these people, or their descendants rcmaining among us, concurring with a more liberal way of thinking, probably gave occasion to this circumstance.
The act of 1748, c. 31, made it felony, without benefit of clergy, for a slave to prepare, exhibit, or administer any medicine whatever, without the order or consent of the master; but allowed clergy if it appeared that the modicine was not administered with an ill intent; the act of 1792, with more justice, directs that in such case he shall be acquitted.*
To consult, advise, or conspire, to rebel, or to plot, or conspire the death of any person whatsoever, is still felony, without benefit of clergy, in a slave.†
Riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, trespasses and seditious speeches by slaves, are punishable with stripes, at the discrétion of a justice of the peace.‡—
The master of a slave permitting him to go at large and trade as a freeman, is subjcct to a fine;§ and if he suffers the slave to hire himself out, the latter may be sold, and twenty-five per cent of the price be applied to the use of the county.—
Negroes and mulattoes, whether slaves or not, are incapable of being witnesses, but against, or between Negroes and mulattoes; they are not per-
* Edit. 1794. c. 103.
† 1738. c. 31. 1794. c. 103.
‡ 1785. c. 77. 1794. c. 103.
§ 1769. c. 19. May 1782. c. 32. 1794. ib.
mitted to intermarry with any white person; yet no punishment is annexed to the offence in the slave; nor is the marriage void; but the white pwrson contracting the marriage, and the clergyman by whom it is celebrated are liable to fine and imprisonment; and this is probably the only instance in which our laws will be found more favorable to a Negroe than a white person.
These provisions though introduced into our code at different periods, were all [unconstitutionally] re-enacted in 1792.*
From this melancholy review, it will appear that not only the right of property, and the right of personal liberty, but even the right of personal security, has been, at times, either wholly annihilated, or reduced to a shadow: and even in these days the protection of the latter seems to be confined to very few cases.
Many actions, indifferent in themselves, being permitted by the law of nature to all mankind, and by tho laws of society to ail free persons, are either rendered highly criminal in a slave, or subject him to some kind of punishment or restraint.
it in this respect only, that his condition is rendered thus deplorable by law. The measure of punishment for the same offence, is often, and the manner of trial
* Edit. of 1794. c. 103.
and conviction is always, different in the case of a slave, and a free-man.
If the latter be accused of any crime, he is entitled to an examination before the court of the county where the offence is alleged to have been committed; whose decision, if in his favor, is held to be a legal and final acquittal, but it is not final if against him; for after this, both a grand jury, and a petit jury of the county, must successively pronounce him guilty, the former by the concurrent voices of twelve at least, of their body, and the latter, by tbeir unanimous verdict upon oath.
He may take exception to the proceedings against him, by a motion in arrest of judgment; and in this case, or if there be a special verdict, the same unanimity between his judges, as between his jurors, is necessary to his condemnation.
Lastly, though the punishment which the law pronounces for his offence amount to death itself, he shall in many cases have the benefit of clergy, unless he has before received it.
But in the case of a slave, the mode was formerly, and still remains essentially different How early this distinction was adopted I have not been able to discover. The title of an act occurs, which passed in the year 1705* for the
* 1705. c. 11.
speedy and easy prosecution of slaves committing capital crimes.
In 1723* the governor was authorized, whenever any slave was committed for any capital offence, to issue a special commission of oyer and terminer, to such persons as he should think fit, the number being left to his discretion, who should thereupon proceed to the trial of such slave, taking for evidence the confession of the defendant, the oath of one or more credible witnesses, or such testimony of Negroes, mulattoes, or Indians, bond or free, with pregnant circumstances, as to them should seem convincing, without the solemnity of a jury.
No exception, formerly, could be taken to the proceedings, on the trial of a slave,† but that proviso is omitted in the act of 1792, and the justices moreover seem bound to allow him counsel for his defence, whose fee shall be paid by his master.‡
In case of conviction, execution of the sentence was probably very speedily performed, since the act of 1748, provides that, thereafter, it should not be performed in less than ten days, except in case of insurrection or rebellion; and further, that if the court be divided in opinion the accused should be acquitted.
In 1764, an act passed, authorizing general,
* 1705. c. 11.
† 1748. c. 31.
‡ Edit. 1794. c. 103.
instead of special, commissioners of oyer and terminer,* constituting all the justices of any county, judges for the trial of slaves, committing capital offences, within their respective counties; any four of whom, one being of the quorum, should constitute a court for that purpose.
In 1772 one step further was made in favour of humanity, by an act declaring that no slave should thereafter be condemned to die unless four of the court should concur in opinion of his guilt.†
The act of 1786, c. 58, confirmed by that of 1792,
constitutes the justices of every county and corporation justices of oyer and terminer for the trial of slaves;‡
requires five justices, at least, to constitute a court, and unanimity in the court for his condemnation;
allows him counsel for his defence, to be paid by his owner, and, I apprehend, admits him to object to the proceedings against him; and finally
enlarges the time of execution to thirty days, instead of ten (except in cases of conspiracy, insurrection, or rebellion), and extends the benefit of clergy to him in all cases, where any other person should have the benefit thereof, except in the cases before mentioned.
To an attentive observer these gradual,
* 1764. c. 9.
† 1772. c. 9.
‡ Edit. 1794. c. 103.
and almost imperceptible amendments in our jurisprudence respecting slaves, will be found, upon the whole, of infinite importance to that unhappy race.
The mode of trial in criminal cases, especially, is rendered infinitely more beneficial to them than formerly, though perhaps still liable to exception for want of the aid of a jury: the solemnity of an oath administered the moment the trial commences, may be considered as operating more forcibly on the mind, than a general oath of office, taken, perhaps, twenty years before.
Unanimity may also be more readily expected to take place among five men, than among twelve.
These objections to the want [lack] of a jury are not without weight: on the other hand it may be observed, that if the number of triers be not equal to a full jury, they may yet be considered as more select; a circumstance of infinitely greater importance to the slave. The unanimity requisite in the court in order to conviction, is a more happy acquisition to the accused, than may at first appear; the opinions of the court must be delivered openly, immediately, and seriatim, beginning with the youngest judge. A single voice in favour of the accused, is an acquittal; for unanimity is not ne-