Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
SLAVERY is the right of property of one man in another man, in his family, in his posterity, and in the products of his labor.
—There is no injustice more revolting than slavery, and yet there is no fact so widespread in history. Hence slavery is as old as war, in which it had its origin. Both slavery and war are inexplicable in the eyes of philosophy, if we do not admit, with Christianity, an immemorial perturbation among the members of the human family.
—In antiquity the system of labor was everywhere slavery. It was found in Rome, in Greece, in Egypt, in Assyria, in Gaul, among the Germans, and, it is said, even among the Scythians; it was recruited by war, by voluntary sale, by captivity for debt, and then by inheritance. It was not everywhere cruel, and in patriarchal life it was scarcely distinguishable from domestic service; in some countries, however, it approached the service of beasts of burden; the brutal insensibility with which Aristotle and Varro spoke of slaves is revolting; and the manner in which they were treated by the laws is even more so. These men, who were of the same race, who had the same intellect, and the same color as their owners, were declared incapable of holding property, of appealing to the law, of defending themselves; in a word, of demeaning themselves like men in any of the circumstances of life. Only the law of the Hebrew people tempered servitude by humanity. Doubtless, we might quote certain words of Euripides or of Terence, of Epictetus or of Seneca, colored with a more tender pity and evincing some heart; we find also both in Greek and Roman laws, on the monuments, and in the inscriptions and epitaphs which our contemporaries have so carefully studied; we find, I say, in these the proof that the granting of freedom to slaves, in individual cases, was frequent, and that it was inspired, especially at the moment of death, by religious motives. But the brutal fact of slavery is incontestable. The evil outweighed the good in an enormous measure; servitude remained from century to century, from country to country, during all antiquity, the universal fact, and the legitimateness of servitude the universal doctrine.
—To the rare and barren protests of a few noble souls, Christianity finally added the power of its mighty voice. The brotherhood of men, the dignity of labor, the absolute duty of perfection: with these three principles, clothed with the authority of God himself, the human race entered a new phase, commenced the great battle of good against evil, and, little by little, forced back the scourges which, in the past, had reigned with undivided supremacy. Servitude was destined to be among the vanquished, but it was not without a long and grievous combat, which, at the present time, is not entirely terminated.
—The learned labors of M. Edouard Biot and M. Janoski warrant the affirmation that servitude had almost entirely disappeared in Christian Europe from the tenth to the thirteenth century; but it is only too well known that after the discovery of the new world, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed the re-establishment of this odious institution in all the colonial possessions of the nations of Europe. What do I say? The most Christian kings of France, Spain and England did not blush to place their signature at the bottom of treaties intended to assure to them the monopoly of the sale and transportation of millions of human beings. An entire continent, Africa, became like a mine to be worked, charged with furnishing the other continents with the living merchandise, called in diplomatic acts a ton of negroes, just as we say a ton of charcoal.
—To the nineteenth century belongs the honor of waging against servitude a war which is not yet ended, but which has been distinguished, however, by remarkable victories. The revolution is complete as far as ideas are concerned. Morality spoke first, and all the sciences, little by little, came to agree with it. Philosophy gives to all slaves a soul equal to our own, which Aristotle, perhaps, refused to them. Physiology declares blacks and whites, despite important differences, to be members of the same family. History no longer discovers between slave owners and slaves the trace of any legitimate conquest. The law does not recognize any validity of a pretended contract which has no title, the object of which is illicit, and one of the parties to which is not a free agent, and the other party to which is without good faith. Ethnology lifts to the dignity of a beautiful law the radical difference which places in the first rank the races which labor, like the European, and in the last rank the races who make others work for them, like the Turks. Political economy affirms the superiority of free labor to forced labor, and it condemns everything which deprives man of the family. Politics and charity, from different points of view, accept the same conclusion: charity, more tender, detests slavery because it oppresses the inferior race; politics, more lofty, condemns it, above all, because it corrupts the superior race. Thus the revolution above referred to, complete in the order of ideas, is far from being complete in the order of facts.
—At the beginning of the present century England possessed nearly 800,000 slaves, scattered among nineteen colonies, to wit: more than 300,000 in Jamaica, 80,000 in the Barbadoes, 80,000 in Guiana, more than 60,000 in Mauritius, and the rest in the little colonies of Trinidad, Grenada, Antigua, St. Vincent, etc. France, in her colonies of the Antilles, Bourbon, Guiana and Senegal, had 250,000 slaves. There were 27,000 in the little colonies of Denmark, and about 600 in the island of St. Bartholomew, belonging to Sweden. Holland, which knew how to avoid servile labor in Java, preserved more than 50,000 slaves at Surinam and Curaçoa. But these figures are trifling, compared to the number of the enslaved population of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, which amounted to at least 600,000 slaves; of Brazil, which is more than 2,000,000; and of the United States, which, before the American civil war, had 4,000,000 slaves.
—France was the first to give the signal for the liberation of slaves, a liberation which unfortunately was sudden, violent, and did not last. In 1790-91 the constituent assembly, after much hesitation, admitted free people of color in the colonies to the rights of citizenship. The whites resisted, and when the convention tried to have the decree executed, the conflict between the blacks and whites led to the massacres which have been so falsely attributed to the emancipation of the slaves, proclaimed only at the end of 1793, and confirmed by the decree of Feb. 4, 1794, by which the convention decreed with enthusiasm the abolition of slavery in all French colonies. The result of the maritime wars was, to the colonies, disorder or conquest. At the same time, in the mother country, a reaction, aided by glory, carried men beyond the necessities of order. The year 1802, which witnessed the concordat, the life consulate, the peace of Amiens, the legion of honor, and the university, witnessed also the restoration of slavery and even the slave trade by the law of the 30th floreal, year X.
—Commenced with more wisdom, and conducted with more perseverance, the movement of emancipation in England naturally triumphed more promptly than in France. In 1102 a council held in the city of London, under the presidency of St. Anselm, forbade the slave trade. In 1763 an odious treaty assured to England, on the other hand, the monopoly of this traffic. In 1773 a generous Christian, William Wilberforce, first wrote against this public scandal. In 1780 Thos. Clarkson proposed its abolition to parliament, and in 1787 Wilberforce renewed the proposition, which, after having been seven times presented and seven times rejected, finally triumphed in 1806, and became, at the congress of Vienna, a solemn engagement of all the European powers (Declaration of Feb 4, 1815), which was followed by laws promulgated by each of these nations. May 15, 1823, Mr. Buxton proposed the abolition of slavery in all the English colonies. After long hesitation, the act of abolition presented in 1833, in the name of the government, by Lord Stanley, was promulgated Aug. 28, 1833. This memorable law, which devoted £500,000,000 to the ransom of 800,000 men, did not, however, accord them liberty until after an apprenticeship, which was to last from Aug. 1, 1834, to Aug. 1, 1840; but this uncertain system could not be maintained. Lord Brougham proposed its abolition in 1838, and the colonial legislatures spontaneously decreed complete emancipation in the years 1838 and 1839.
—At the same time, 1838, M. Passy proposed to the French chambers a bill with the same end in view, and in 1840 a commission was charged, under the presidency of the duke de Broglie, to prepare the way for the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. At the same time, also, 1839, Pope Gregory XVI. published a bull, condemning slavery and the slave trade. The report of M. de Broglie is celebrated; we may call it a judgment by a court of last resort, which, for the most elevated, decisive and practical reasons, condemned slavery forever. However, the sentence was not executed on account of the hesitation of the government and the resistance of the colonies. Slavery was not abolished in the colonies of France until after the revolution of February, by the decree of March 4, 1848, which M. Schoelcher had the honor of proposing.
—The result of emancipation in the French colonies was the liberation of the slaves in the Danish colonies, proclaimed July 3, 1848. Sweden had set the example of liberation as early as 1846.
—We here give a résumé of the economic and moral results of emancipation in the colonies of England and in those of France. Before emancipation, the colonies of the West Indies produced 3,640,000 quintals of sugar. These figures had sunk during the apprenticeship to 3,480,000 quintals, and after the liberation to 2,600,000. In 1848 the production was 3,795,311 quintals; in 1852, 3,376,000; and in 1858, 3,499,171. The emancipation of the slaves was followed by a diminution in production and an increase in prices, but also in wages; the result of commercial freedom was an increase in production and a diminution in prices, but also in wages. Twenty years after these two great trials the old figures were reached, the net cost was diminished, and if certain isolated colonies suffer still while others prosper, there is no one in England who could have foreseen that two such radical experiments would not be followed by more disastrous and more prolonged consequences.
—Let us dwell a little further on the colonies of France. Despite a triple trial, the emancipation of the slaves, competition in the mother country and a radical revolution, the general movement of affairs of the French colonies was not lowered beyond one-half, while it was lowered more than a quarter so far as all the business transactions of France during the first period of five years were concerned; after another five years, the figures prior to emancipation were very slightly surpassed at Guadaloupe, nearly half at Guiana, more than a quarter at Martinique, and more than a half at Réunion.
—If we look only at production, after 1854, the figures prior to 1848 were surpassed, even for sugar, excepting at Guiana, which was transformed into a colony of consumption. The increase is in slow progress at Guadaloupe, important at Martinique, and extraordinary at Réunion. Wages are very little higher, the price of sale and renting of lands has increased, credit is more easy, thanks to the banks; new resources of credit and laws which permit the importation of cereals, rice, and also of machinery, arrive opportunely with the reduction of the customs duties; the price of sale is higher, the movement of ships has increased one-third, at the same time that the material and methods of manufacture have been changed. To the honor of liberty and that of the colonists, be it said, that, since emancipation, they have courageously made up their minds what to do; they have ceased to sigh, and begun to act. At Réunion tools have been changed, methods of processes improved, and the revenue from colonist settlements doubled; there is no hesitation in hiring a laborer for five years at double the price received at London for the importation of 6,000 coolies; those who bought with colonist settlements in 1848 have realized enormous fortunes, progress has followed wealth, and the general exposition of agriculture in 1862 showed sugar from Reunion which did not need to be refined. In the Antilles people are no longer contented with cursing the indigenous sugar refineries; they imitate them; central refineries have been established where, in 1874, the produce from sugar cane rose from 5 to 18 per cent., and there is hope of still further improvement; machinery and manuring were introduced, drainage has been tried, patents are taken out, landed credit is demanded, agricultural credit is used, free trade is called for; in a word, those routine and ruinous traditions which are the sad accompaniments of slavery are being departed from; and an endeavor is being made to realize these first four conditions of all economic progress: the perfecting of processes, abundance of hands, facility for credit, and the widening of the market.
—As far as the moral order is concerned, all the results of the English experiment may be summed up in the words of Lord Stanley, in 1842, which were substantially as follows: There has been progress in industrious habits, improvement in the social and religious system, and development in individuals of those qualities of heart and mind which are more necessary to happiness than the material goods of life. The negroes are happy and contented, they devote themselves to labor, they have bettered their way of living, increased their well-being, and, while crime has diminished, moral habits have become better. The number of marriages has increased. Under the influence of the ministers of religion, education has become more widespread. In short, the result of the great experiment of emancipation tried upon the whole of the population of the West Indies has surpassed the most ardent hopes.
—In the French colonies, 40,000 marriages, 20,000 legitimate children, 30,000 acknowledged children, the population resuming a regular course and increase, the churches filled, the schools attended; at Guadaloupe and Martinique, 20,000 adults at the night schools; at Réunion, 23 societies of mutual aid among the freedmen, crimes against the person diminished (at least until the arrival of immigrants), justice and the clergy improved, peace maintained with garrisons less strong than before 1848: such are the gifts presented to French colonial society by the emancipation of its slaves.
—It would be too long to show in detail, year by year, the economic and moral results of emancipation, since they became complicated by reason of the effect of political events and attempts at commercial liberty in France. Let it suffice to affirm that civilization has gained much, that wealth has lost little, that its losses have been repaired and more than repaired, at least in all the colonies in which the new régime has been accepted in good faith; finally, that the call of a million men to liberty, in distant lands, did not cause the tenth part of the trouble occasioned in the more civilized nations of Europe by the least important political question.
—European nations quickly understood that the slave trade would never be completely abolished unless slavery itself was suppressed. Unfortunately, the United States of America did not understand this as quickly. The illustrious founders of the Union, fearing a dissolution of it at the very moment of its formation, and hoping, that to suppress the evil it would be sufficient to dry up its source, limited themselves to inserting in the constitution that the slave trade should be prohibited, beginning with the year 1808. As far as slavery was concerned, they had the weakness not even to mention its name, leaving to each state the task of ridding itself of the institution of slavery, which, at that period, was very little developed. In Washington's time, there were scarcely 700,000 slaves within the whole extent of the United States. Washington freed his own slaves by will, and we know from his correspondence with Lafayette that he busied himself with plans of emancipation. Many of the northern states successively freed their slaves; but the progress of the cultivation of cotton, the cession of Louisiana, the purchase of Florida and the conquest of Texas had not been foreseen. Sixty years after Washington's time, the American republic had advanced with giant steps, slavery had grown with it, and the southern states contained 4,000,000 of enslaved blacks. A fact so enormous, so abnormal, produced in the bosom of the Union a profound perturbation. Not only did honor and morality suffer therefrom, but a terrible division took place between the north, which controlled the commerce, the shipping and the tariff of the Union, and the south, which, previous to the American civil war, controlled politics, the congress, and the laws of the Union. Without relating the long and lamentable history of this conflict, without speaking of the fugitive slave law, of the territorial question, of the debates on the right of search, of the projects for an invasion of Cuba, finally of all the electoral struggles for the presidency, let us recall that the question of slavery had become in 1856, and again in 1860, the sole stumbling block of the general elections. In 1856 the south triumphed for the last time in the person of Mr. Buchanan; in 1860 the north bore away the victory in the person of Abraham Lincoln, and the southern states immediately revolted, and declared war. This formidable war had the character of a war of independence; the north fought for the constitution, the south to obtain its autonomy. But for what purpose did the south thus wish to separate itself from a glorious nation? In order to perpetuate, maintain and extend slavery, and to have no more uneasiness as to the fate of that institution which its publicists dared to call the best system of labor. The north was led by circumstances to strike at the very root of the war, by attacking slavery. In its session of 1862, congress successively adopted: 1st, emancipation in the District of Columbia; 2d, the recognition of the republics of Hayti and Liberia; 3d, the measures proposed by the president for gradual emancipation in the states and immediate emancipation in the rebel states, beginning Jan. 1, 1863. We know that the defeat of the south assured the definitive abolition of slavery in the United States. Slavery having disappeared in North America, its foundations were necessarily shaken in South America. The republics separated from Spain have abolished it. Holland delivered its American colonies from slavery by a law of Aug. 8, 1862, and a law of December, 1871, paved the way for its suppression in Brazil.
—This rapid review is confined to Christian countries. In Mohammedan and pagan countries, slavery exists almost everywhere; here more patriarchal, there more barbarous; maintained in the bosom of Africa by perpetual wars and a pitiless traffic. A Mohammedan sovereign, the bey of Tunis, however, abolished slavery in his states, even before France, in 1847; but the scourge of slavery will evidently never disappear from pagan nations, except from contact with, and the example of, Christian nations. We may hope that the nineteenth century will see servitude disappear; this would be its principal glory. The condition precedent to the disappearance of slavery is the persevering accord of all opinions, of all creeds, of all nations, that it should be abolished, and this accord is now an accomplished fact. (See
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