The foregoing had been the reflections of the Captain during the exhibition of the farce. But the play being ended, and having come home, the next day he began to put his resolution in practice; and to think how he could supply himself with another servant. It struck him to purchase a negro; and mentioning this to the company, at breakfast, at the Indian Queen, one of the people called Quakers, who was present, and overheard the conversation, made an apology for the liberty he took in making some objections. Friend, said he, thee appears to be a discreet man from they behaviour, and conversation; and it thee will not be offended, I would ask if thee canst reconcile it with thy principles, to keep a slave? As to that, said the Captain, I have thought upon the subject, and do not see any great harm in the matter. If we look to inanimate nature, we shall find, that the great law is Force. The Cartesians call it pressure and suction: The Newtonians call it attraction and gravitation. The sun, the largest body in the universe, endeavours to draw all towards it; while the lesser globes struggle to fly off at a tangent. The denser, that is, denser air takes place of the rare; and the heavier particles of water cause the lighter to recede. The tall oak overshades the underwood. There is a predominancy, and subordination in all things. In the animal creation, the weaker is always subject to the strong; who even devour them, when the flesh suits their appetite: and the very teeth and jaw-bone of carnivorous animals, show the intention of nature, that they should make a prey of living creatures. Do you blame yourselves, when you subjugate elephants, or horses, or oxen of the plough, to your use? What right have you to invade the liberty of a playful young colt, more than of an African inhabitant? Or have you not as good a right to take up a negro, and put him to your work, as you have to cut a calf, and manufacture him for the draft?
In this case, there is a difference, said the Quaker: for a negro is a human creature, and possesses all the natural rights of man.
That may be, said the Captain. But what are the natural rights of men? Are they not finally resolvable, as in the inanimate world, into power on the one hand, and weakness on the other?
Who is it that abstains from dominion, when he has it in his power to assert it? Power is the great law of nature; and nothing but the pacts or conventions of society can contravene it. I should think myself justifiable in making any man a slave to answer my purposes, provided I treated him well while he was such. This I take to be the only condition which the law of reason annexes to the enjoyment of such property. I may be warranted in taking, and managing an animal of the horse kind; but it is my indisputable duty not to abuse him by causing him to suffer famine, or endure too much toil. The same with any other animal that I enslave; there is a tacit condition annexed to the grant which the law of nature gives, viz. That the service be exacted with moderation; and proper nourishment be provided. I admit also, that humanity would dictate that the happiness of the slave ought to be consulted as much as is consistent with my own convenience. For instance: If I had the Grand Turk in my power, as he has been accustomed to a soft and effeminate way of living, it would be hard to put him all at once to maul rails, or clearing out meadow ground; or if it should fall in my way to have Catharine of Russia in that capacity, as she is a woman of an elevated mind, it would be inhuman to put her to the lowest drudgery, such as scrubing out rooms, and carrying water from the pump; but rather indulge her if I could afford it, with a more easy employment, especially as she is an old woman, of knitting stockings and carding wool. There is no man would be more disposed to treat a slave with tenderness than myself; but to deny me of my right altogether, of making one, or of trafficking for one when made, is carrying the matter too far.
So much for the right of enslaving. But if we put it on the principle of what will conduce to the aggregate happiness of mankind, we shall find it to be, that there should be master and servant, or in other words owner and slave. The economy of nature illustrates this, in the subserviency of one thing to another: But independent of any illustration, it must be known on reflection, and is felt in experience, that all are not competent to all things; and in the case of temporary servants, much time is taken up in contracting with them for their remanence; and it is a considerable time before they get into the habit of our service; and, having it in their power to retire from us when inclination may direct, there is an insecurity in the attachment. But as the slave has the master always to provide for him; so the master has the slave always to subserve him: and thus by a conjoint interest, the felicity of both is promoted, and the sum of human happiness increased. Hence it is, that most nations have made use of slaves. The patriarch Abraham, had three score and ten servants born in his house. What were these but slaves? The Jews, his descendants, had bond-men and bond-women: Were not these slaves? The Roman slaves were more in number than the citizens; and amongst the Greeks, the most virtuous of them, viz. the Spartans, kept in their service the most depressed of all slaves, the Helotes; who, when we consider the black broth, the food, and severe life of the masters must have lived on poor fare, and in a laborious service indeed.
But it may be said, that example of wrong never constitutes right. Grant it: but if you examine the capacties, and even inclinations of men, will you not find that some are qualified only to be slaves. They have not understanding to act for themselves. Nor do all love freedom, even when they have it. --Do not many surrender it; and prefer kissing a great mans posteriors to being independent? It is not always, even from the views of advantage, that men are sycophants; but from an abstract pleasure in being drawn into the vortex of others. There is a pleasure in slavery, more than unenslaved men know. Why is it, that even after the convulsion of a revolution in government, in favour of liberty, there is a natural tendency to slavery; and it finally terminates in this point? The fact is, a state of liberty is an unnatural state. Like a bone out of place, the mind, in an individual, or political capacity, seeks the condition of a master or servant; avoiding, as the particular propensity may be, the one or the other. There cannot be a greater proof that this is founded in nature, than the common moral observation, that the greatest tyrants, that is, the worst masters, make the most abject slaves, and vice versa, that the most subservient of mankind, when you give them power, make the worst use of it: All this because, in these cases the persons are misplaced, and not in their proper stations. Julius Caesar made a humane generous master; but he would have made a very intriguing, troublesome valet de chambre. It would have been impossible to have got any good of him. On the other hand, Tiberius would have made an excellent hostler, and taken a beating, with as much resignation as a house beagle, who is used to it. So that it evidently is the provision of nature, that there are materials of slavery; and the fault of those whom she intends for master, if they do not make slaves. But as it is difficult to determine, a priori, who are intended for slavery or freedom, so as to make a judicious distribution, things must take their course; and the rule be, catch, who catch can; and every man have a servant when he can get one. It is in vain to be squeamish, and stick at colour. It is true, I would rather have a white person, if such could be got; as I prefer white to black, especially in the summer season, as being a more light and airy colour.
Thy reasoning, said the Quaker, is more rhetorical than logical; and thy analogies of nature, and historical proofs, cannot so far oppress the light within, as to make me think, that it is given to thee, or me, to make slaves of our species.
As to that, said the Captain, I am not clear that a negro is of our species. You may claim kindred with him if you please; but I shall not.
I shall not dispute that with thee, said the Quaker: for I perceive thee does not give credit to what the book says of the first man, and his descendants. But will thee not grant me, that the African, though not of the same stock, is, at least a man; that is, of the human genus, though the species of the white and the black may not be the same; if so, hast thou more right to enslave him, than he thee?
Grant it, said the Captain; for my reasoning tends to that, and resolves the right into the power.
If so, said the Quaker, thee may be the slave in thy turn. Doubtless, said the Captain; and it is not of so much consequence who is slave, as that there be one. It is better that the foot be foot, and the head be head; but if there is a conversion, nevertheless, let there be head and foot. It is necessary that there be domination and subjection, in order to produce a compound improvement and advantage.
You could see by the Quakers countenance, that he thought the reasoning sophistical; but as he did not know very well what he could say more, he was silent.