It is thought by some, the Captain was not serious in thus advocating the cause of slavery. Be that as it may, he omitted some serious arguments, that naturally present themselves on that side on which he reasoned: For instance, it strikes me at first blush, that there can be no moral wrong in catching a young African, and bringing him away from his own happiness to pursue ours. For if there were, is it to be supposed, that humane and just persons, would promote and support the evil, by purchasing such negro, and retaining him, and his off-spring, when purchased? For, on the principle that the receiver is the thief, or to speak more strictly, a thief, the purchaser of the African takes the guilt along with the possession; and in the language of the law, every act of retainer is a new trespass. For the evil of the original act, if there be evil in it, cannot be rendered pure by the filtration of purchase, and retaining. So that the holder of the negro, in the tenth transmission, is an aider, or abettor, of the original act of taking; if I may use the word aider, or abettor, in a case of trespass; where, by the definition of the law, all who any way concur in the act, and further it, are principals. The holder of a negro must, therefore, look back to that act which first made him, or an ancestor, a slave; and if he cannot justify the retaining him in servitude:--What a consequence must this be! There is no man that pretends to humanity, much less to religion, would be safe in being the possessor of a slave. The only way therefore to get rid of the difficulty is to justify, ab origine, traffic in all such property.
That it is justifiable I have no doubt. Is ther any religious denomination, except the fanatical people called Quakers, that have made it a term of communion not to hold a slave? In admitting to church privileges, I have never heard of the question asked, Have you any negroes, and do you keep slaves? If it was a matter of conscience, would not conscientious persons themselves make it.
The assemblies of synods of the Presbyterian church, or conventions of the Episcopal, in America, have said nothing on this subject. Is an omission of this kind reconcilable with the idea, that it is a natural evil, or a moral wrong?
In the phrenzy of the day, some weak minded powers in Europe, begin to consider what is called the African trade as a moral wrong, and to provide for a gradual abolition of it. If they will abolish it, I approve of its being done gradually; because, numbers being embarked in this trade, it must ruin them all at once, to desist from it. On this principle, I have always thought it a defect in the criminal codes of most nations, not giving licence to the perpetrators of offences, to proceed, for a limited time, in larcenies, burglaries, &c. until they get their hands out of use to these pursuits, and in use to others. For it must be greatly inconvenient to thieves and cut-throats, who have engaged in this way of life, and run great risks in acquiring skill in their employment, to be obliged all at once to withdraw their hands, and lay aside picking locks, and apply themselves to industry in other ways, for a livelihood.
The law of Pennsylvania on this principle, has provided for the gradual abolition of the slavery of negroes; for those who have got them could not do without them, no more than a robber could do without the money that he takes, being pressed by some great necessity to make use of that expedient to recruit his purse. All those therefore who have been originally taken from the coast of Africa, and deprived of liberty, or descended from such, and inheriting slavery, when recorded agreeably to the act in question, continue slaves, and for life, and their offspring to a certain period. But were we to entramel the case with political or moral doubts respecting the original right of caption, and subjugation, the difficulty would exist of reconciling it with natural right to hold a slave for a moment even whether the law sanctioned it or not; in which case we should find it necessary to go as far as the fanatics in religion, and set our slaves free altogether.
It is from not duly attending to this circumstance, that abstract reasoners talk of abolition; a doctrine which, however absurd, is becoming the whim of the day; and the phrenzy seems to gain such ground, that I would not wonder if they would next assert that it is unlawful to use the servitude of horses, or other beasts of burden, as having a natural right to live in the fields, and be as free as mankind. The best way to avoid extremes, is to check the principle; I hold the right of absolute subjugation, of whites, blacks, and browns of all nations, against gradual abolition, or any abolition whatsoever. This being the only consistent principle, short of an absolute emancipation, made instantly; for in no mean is there reason, or a rest for conscience.
That it is of importance to settle the consciences of sober minded persons in Pennsylvania, clergymen, and members of the Presbyterian church especially, who have negroes, must be well known from that tenderness of conscience, for which such are remarkable. Some, indeed, carry their ideas of the extent of duties so far, as not to admit grace atmeats, or the formal worship of prayer, reading chapters, and singing psalms, on the set occasions, on any consideration whatsoever; what is more, would not shave a beard, on the Sabbath day, for a cow. Now, should they, by any means, come once to think of the wickedness of enslaving men, there would be no getting them to keep a negro. For those of this denomination; and indeed, most, or all others of the Christian, hold that the Africans, though of a sable race, is of their own species; being descended from Adam. --This being the case, a slight matter, the bare directing their attention to the subject, would alarm pious people, and lead them to the favourite maxim of the gospel--"Do unto others, as you would have others to do to you.
As opposed to the enfranchisement of negroes, generally, and in Pennsylvania in particular, I have been under apprehensions, that some of our young lawyers in the courts, might plead the constitution of the state, by which it is established that all men are born equally free and independent. Now admitting that a negro is a man how shall any master retain him as a slave? On a habeas corpus, he must be set at liberty. At least I cannot conceive how the judge could remand him to his drudgery. The constitution is the law paramount, and framed by a convention of the people, recognizing the original right of freedom in a negro, allowing him to be a man; and carries us above the act of the legislature for the gradual abolition, &c. which by implication seems to suppose that negroes may be slaves:-- An implication inconsistent with the power exercised by the law. For if negroes were slaves, and so the property of those who claimed them, could the legislature affect that propery, without indemnification to the masters?
I shall say no more on this head, lest I should furnish hints to pettifoggers, who may make an ill use of their information.
The fact is, that this chapter, or something else, gave rise to a habeas corpus in the case of a negro: and which came to trial in the Supreme Court of the state. The argument occupied a whole week; but it was determined that slavery by law did exist in Pennslvania: maugre the constitution; which did not respect those in a state of slavery at the time of forming the constitution; and who were not parties to the compact; that it is a claim of property founded in wrong; but tolerated, until it can be consentient with general safety, and the happiness of slave and master to abolish it altogether.