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The Slave Struggle in America/Lecture 3



(George III. to Abraham Lincoln.)



The American Colonisation Society, while it pretended to exist solely in the interest of the slave, was bitterly hostile to abolition and abolitionists. Garrison, like everyone else, was at first favorably inclined towards the society; but having examined its claims to confidence, said he found in its publications "little else than sinful palliations, fatal concessions, vain expectations, exaggerated statements, unfriendly representations, glaring contradictions, naked terrors, deceptive assurances, unrelenting prejudices, and unchristian denunciations. These discoveries affected my mind so deeply I could not rest, . . . . it was evident to me that the great mass of its supporters in the north did not realise its dangerous tendency." Perceiving its fatal effects, he was "urged by an irresistible impulse to attempt its removal." What, then, was the Colonisation Scheme?

Long before the establishment of the Society, Dr. Hopkins and others had proposed plans for taking all colored people from America to Africa and settling them there, and this was supported by those who were against emancipation and yet wished to get rid of the free negroes. In 1806, Virginia decreed that emancipated slaves should leave the state within a year, or be again reduced to slavery. Prominent men, like Henry Clay, said the colonisationists, were working in a noble cause, they would "rid our country of a useless and pernicious, if not a dangerous portion of the population." John Randolph said the scheme "must materially tend to secure the property of every master in the United States in his slaves." It was asked: "What right have the children of Africa to a home in the white man's country?" The free colored people held meetings everywhere, protesting against what they justly called the cruelty of the scheme; they would never voluntarily separate themselves from the slave population of the country.

In 1818 the Missouri territory—part of which is now known as Arkansas—sought admission as a State into the Union. In the following year the House considered a Bill authorising it to form a constitution and enter the Union. An amendment was proposed, providing that all persons born after the admission of Missouri should be free, and also for the gradual emancipation of those who were then slaves. The House sustained the amendment by seventy-nine votes to sixty-seven. This rendered the Southerners excited and violent. The representative from Virginia accused Mr. Livermore (of New Hampshire), who had made a most eloquent speech in support of the amendment, of attempting to excite a servile war. As usual, dissolution of the Union was threatened; and the representative from Georgia declared that the Abolitionists were kindling a fire which "could be extinguished only in blood." The clause forbidding the introduction of slavery, and a modified clause providing that children born after the admission of the State should be set free at the age of thirty-five, was passed by the House. The Senate, by large majorities, struck these clauses out of the Bill. The House, by a very narrow majority, refused to concur. Neither would yield, and the Bill for the admission of Missouri was lost.

In the following December, territorial government was asked for the southern part of the Missouri Territory, to be called the Arkansas Territory. The prohibition of slavery was moved, and Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House, accused the supporters of this motion with being under the influence of what he was pleased to call "Negrophobia." An angry debate upon this motion ended in the Bill passing the House without any restriction on slavery. In the Senate a motion of the Pennsylvania senator to prohibit slavery was lost, and Arkansas was delivered into the hands of the slaveholders.

Once more the Missouri Bill came on for discussion, and again the House and the Senate disagreed. Heated discussions in the two Chambers resulted in a most disastrous compromise. The Senate wanted Maine included in the Missouri Bill, but consented to yield this point if the House would strike out the prohibition of slavery, and insert its inhibition in the territories ceded by France north 36° 30′ parallel. By this not only the Territory of Arkansas, but the State of Missouri were abandoned to the demoralising influence of the slaveholder.

So great was the agitation caused by these long and acrimonious debates, so triumphant was the South at the result, that Jefferson himself was alarmed and shrank back, declaring, as Henry Wilson says, that the fury of the strife fell on his ear "like the fire-bell at midnight." The whole of the North was greatly excited. Public meetings were held and memorials and petitions sent in to Congress. The legislature of Pennsylvania unanimously supported the prohibition of slavery in Missouri; they said that bringing Missouri into the Union as a slaveholding state was a measure which would "spread the crimes and cruelties of slavery from the banks of the Mississipi to the shores of the Pacific." This Missouri struggle opened the eyes of many hitherto blind to the evils of slavery, and urged those already mindful of its iniquities to harder and more determined work. At the same time the South, elated and encouraged by its success, became even more persistent and united in extending and consolidating the slave power. Missouri, in due course, formed her Constitution, which not only established slavery, but provided that laws should be passed preventing free negroes, or mulattoes, on any pretext whatever, from coming into or settling in the State. When the Constitution came to be debated in the Senate, it was moved that it should not be construed that the assent of Congress was given to anything in the Constitution which might contravene the clause in the United States Constitution "that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of the several States." This very proper motion was lost, and the Senate agreed to the admission of Missouri.

In the House of Representatives there was much debate upon the resolution of admission, and it was ultimately rejected. The Senate resolution was referred to a committee of thirteen, who reported in favor of a compromise amendment. The House at first accepted the report and then rejected it on its third reading; afterwards reconsidered it and again threw it out. Henry Clay, always notable for his support of slavery, moved for a joint special committee of the two Chambers, to consider and report what action should be agreed upon. The committee reported a compromise resolution, the Bill passed the House by a majority of six, and the Senate by two to one. The Missouri struggle, enduring more than two years, ended in the complete triumph of the slave power.

Then came the question, Shall Illinois be slave? While the Missouri problem was agitating the length and breadth of the United States, Illinois had been fighting her own battle. Should she—in spite of the ordinance of 1787—add her name to the increasing list of Slave States?

Illinois had been largely settled by Southerners, and when it became a Territory it affirmed the inhuman black laws already existing. These laws provided that slaves brought into the Territory could be compelled to make contracts to serve the masters for any number of years, even exceeding the probable term of their natural life, or could be sent back to perpetual servitude. Children under fifteen years of age, and those born after entering the Territory, were also constrained to serve for a period of years. Many negroes were held in bondage as severe as if they had been in the South, and this was surely a direct violation of the ordinance of 1787. Illinois formed a constitution in which the introduction of slavery was forbidden and contracts for a longer period than one year prohibited. But directly Illinois was admitted into the Union she framed a code of black laws similar to those of Virginia and Kentucky. Persons bringing free negroes into the State were liable to fine, and negroes found without a certificate of freedom might be sold into slavery for one year. Free negroes had to give sureties, and when convicted of any petty offence were punished with the lash.

When Missouri was admitted, Illinois landowners grew jealous at the number of wealthy men who passed through Illinois with their "droves" of negroes to settle in the new State, and they then turned their energies to making Illinois into a Slave State also. They attempted to call a Convention for the purpose of amending the constitution. This required the votes of two-thirds of both branches of the Legislature, ratified by the vote of the people. Slavery carried the day in the Senate, but wanted a vote in the House. Now the slavery advocates had two immediate objects, one, to call a Convention; two, to send a pro-slavery man to the United States Senate. As it happened there was a vacant seat in the House, for which there were two candidates; one in favor of a pro-slavery Senator and against the Convention, the other in favor of the Convention, and against the pro-slavery man. It is not easy to imagine the trickery resorted to by the slaveholders to meet this dilemma. First, the candidate in favor of the pro-slavery Senator was admitted, and after he had given his vote expelled to make way for the second candidate, who would vote for the Convention. But the slavery advocates counted without their host if they thought their cause so easily won. The governor of Illinois was Edward Coles, a man of high honor and culture. He had emancipated his own slaves and given them lands to settle upon in Illinois. He was the steadfast enemy of this infamous slave power, which was getting deeper and firmer hold of the States, and threatening to crush their vitality. Governor Coles called upon the people not to ratify this Act of the Legislature. For fifteen months the contest lasted, insult and threat, fraud and brutal violence were the weapons of the would-be slaveholders. After much passionate and bitter feeling on both sides, the advocates of liberty were successful amongst the people, and the Convention was rejected by a majority of over 2,000. Mr. Wilson says: "The victory was complete and final. The friends of liberty throughout the country, dejected by the result of the Missouri struggle, found some compensation in the thought that Illinois had been saved to freedom."

In the year 1837 the anti-slavery cause received what has been called its "baptism of blood." Elijah P. Lovejoy gave his life for his fellow-men. All causes have their martyrs, and that the anti-slavery cause should have hers is not wonderful; her adversaries were necessarily brutal and demoralised.

Elijah P. Lovejoy was a native of Maine, who, in 1832, established a religious paper in St. Louis, in which he published such strictures on slavery as to raise a perfect outcry against him. In answer alike to entreaties and menaces he asserted his right to discuss the slave problem. "We have slaves, it is true," he said, "but I am not one." He affirmed the liberty of the press and refused to submit to dictation. The proprietors were frightened, and requested him to resign his editorship. The Observer, as the paper was called, fell into other hands as payment for a debt, and the new owner gave it to Mr. Lovejoy. Four years later a mulatto was in jail for fatally stabbing one man and wounding another who had arrested him. An infuriated mob broke into the prison, and, seizing the mulatto, carried him beyond the city, where they chained him to a tree and burned him. Judge Lawless, in charging the grand jury, said that if a mob were carried away by "mysterious, metaphysical, and almost electric frenzy" to deeds of violence and blood, the participators are absolved from guilt and not proper subjects for punishment. Lovejoy was not slow to comment on the judge's jesuitical justification of this atrocious deed. An angry crowd entered and destroyed Lovejoy's office. He removed his press to Alton, but it was seized on the banks of the river and broken into fragments. A number of citizens met and agreed to reimburse Lovejoy for his loss. He told them that it was a religious, and not an abolition, press that he wished to establish. Although an enemy to slavery, he was no Abolitionist; he was opposed to immediate emancipation. He would, however, hold himself at liberty to write and speak what he pleased on any subject.

St. Louis threatened Illinois with loss of the trade of the Slave States unless she could find some means of staying Lovejoy's pen. His office and press were again destroyed. Another press was purchased, this too was seized by a furious mob, and thrown in fragments into the Mississippi. Lovejoy was mobbed and insulted. To quote his own words, he was "hunted up and down like a partridge on a mountain." He was "threatened with the tar-barrel," "waylaid every day." His life was "in jeopardy every hour." It was demanded that he should leave Alton. To this, after a moving allusion to his sick wife kept in "continued alarm and excitement," and, "driven night after night from her sick-bed into the garret to save her life from brickbats and the violence of the mob," he replied: "I know you can tar and feather me, hang me up, or put me in the Mississippi. But what then? Where shall I go? I have been made to feel that if I am not safe in Alton I am not safe anywhere." No, he would not leave. "If I die I am determined to make my grave in Alton." The city was intensely excited—vile epithets, fierce invective, and abuse of all kinds were freely indulged in, and the arrival of another press was a signal for turning violent words into violent deeds. The press, on its arrival, was safely stored, and about twelve friends remained with it to protect it. Before long the building was attacked, stones were thrown, windows broken, and shots fired. Cries of "Burn them out," "Fire the building, and shoot every cursed Abolitionist," were heard, and ladders being brought the roof of the building was fired. Five of the defenders came out, and, firing on the crowd, dispersed them. Later, Mr. Lovejoy and two friends came out. They were fired upon, one friend was wounded, and Mr. Lovejoy received five balls—three in his breast—and expired instantly. The rest immediately offered to surrender but were refused, and one of the little band, trying to come to terms with the rioters, was badly wounded. The mob seized the press, and, breaking it into fragments as before, cast it into the Mississippi. The next day Elijah Lovejoy's body was taken to his house "amid the heartless rejoicing and scoffings of those who had destroyed his property and taken his life."

It was not unnatural that slaveholders should desire to keep colored people in the darkest ignorance, and should permit as few as possible to learn to read. They could not always destroy printing presses, and occasionally it was not altogether convenient to murder men determined to expose the evils of slavery. Consequently there were but few colored schools, and in 1831 the free colored people held a convention in Philadelphia, to which delegates were sent from the several States. It was resolved to try to establish a collegiate school at New Haven in Connecticut. Connecticut was justly celebrated for its educational institutions, but the proposal to add another jewel to its crown of honor, by the establishment of an institution for the education and higher culture of colored youth, met with the most determined opposition. A meeting, summoned by the Mayor of New Haven, resolved to "resist the establishment of the proposed college in this place by any lawful means." Only one person had the courage to oppose this resolution. The colored people being thus frustrated in their attempts to educate their youth in Connecticut, the trustees of the Noyes Academy, Canaan, in the neighboring State of New Hampshire, opened their doors to colored students, who gladly seized the opportunity, but, alas, were not left long to enjoy it. In 1835 the New Hampshire Patriot, related how a committee appointed for that purpose at a town's meeting, aided by three hundred persons, including the most respectable and wealthy farmers in the neighborhood, and 100 yoke of oxen, took the building away.

Miss Prudence Crandall—a Quaker lady with a high reputation as a teacher—established a school in Canterbury for the higher education of girls. Shortly after starting her school she admitted a colored girl named Sarah Harris, who was very desirous of getting "a little more learning—enough to teach colored children." The parents of the white "young ladies" objected to their daughters going "to school with a nigger," and gave Miss Crandall the alternative of dismissing the colored girl or losing her white pupils. In answer to this, Miss Crandall, at the commencement of the following term, advertised that her school would be open to young ladies, little misses of color, and others who might wish to attend. Miss Crandall's next-door neighbor was one Andrew Judson, afterwards member of Congress and judge of the District Court of the United States, and this gentleman was much shocked on finding that negro girls were to be educated so near to his dwelling. He led a cowardly persecution against Miss Crandall and her pupils, and openly declared his purpose of frustrating her noble aim. Notwithstanding, the school was opened with fifteen or twenty colored pupils. Miss Crandall was "Boycotted," her house assailed, and she and her pupils insulted in every way. It was sought to show that the negro girls came under the Vagrant Act, and were thus liable to summary imprisonment; but Dr. Samuel J. May and others gave bonds for 10,000 dols., and consequently this plan to drive away poor girls, whose only fault was the color of their skin, broke down. Judson and the town authorities then secured the passage of a law through the legislature, prohibiting the establishment of schools for the education of colored persons not inhabitants of the State, without the permission of the select men of the town—a permission then, of course, impossible to obtain. The inhabitants of Canterbury were so overjoyed at the passing of this truly generous measure that cannon were fired, bells rung, and there was a general rejoicing as at a great victory. Miss Crandall was arrested, committed for trial and placed in a cell, only lately occupied by a murderer who had left it for the scaffold. Miss Crandall was bailed out the following morning, but the persecution was carried on with unabated vigor. The physicians refused to visit the sick members of her family; the trustees of the church forbade her attendance at church. The next year Miss Crandall's case came on for trial, with Judson the persecutor as prosecutor. The Judge held the new law to be constitutional, but the jury refused to convict. It is said that seven were for conviction and five for acquittal. The persecutors obtained a new trial, and this time the jury convicted. Miss Crandall's friends appealed to the highest tribunal, who quashed the case upon a technical objection, but refused to give any decision as to the constitutionality of the law. Despite persecution, insult, and imprisonment, brave Miss Crandall again tried her educational work; but her house was assailed in the middle of the night, and rendered almost uninhabitable. At last this estimable woman—who had carried on so brave a fight in this noble cause—felt compelled to yield, and, acting under the advice of her friends, broke up her school.

In 1833 the American Anti-slavery Society was organised, and the "declaration of sentiments" was drawn up by Garrison and adopted with but slight alterations. Arthur Tappan was chosen President; Elizur Wright, William Lloyd Garrison, and Dr. Cox, secretaries. Dr. Samuel J. May was one of the Vice-presidents, and on the Board of Managers we find the names of John G. Whittier and Benjamin Lundy.

Lloyd Garrison found many women willing to aid him in his advocacy of immediate emancipation. Among the more familiar names to us are Mrs. Lydia Maria Child, Miss Abby Kelley, and Mrs. Ernestine L. Rose. In 1837, two Quaker ladies, named Sarah and Angelina Grimké, produced some stir in the United States. They had been South Carolina slaveholders, but had liberated their slaves and come North to work in the cause of emancipation. Many Abolitionists disapproved of women publicly advocating abolition, and a still larger number seemed to object to women holding any official position in the society. In consequence of this and other causes of dissension a great number of members left the original society and formed a new one, called the Foreign and American Anti-Slavery Society. Among those who had been connected with the old society from the beginning, and who now left it, we find the honored name of John G. Whittier.


London: Printed by Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh,

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