Why Slavery is Still Rampant
in the Land
September 17, 1859 — The Manchester Athenaeum, Manchester, England
[Miss Remond, having stated the subject of her lecture, remarked that she appeared as the agent of no society — speaking simply on her own responsibility, of her own knowledge and experience; but that in feeling and in principle she was identified with the Ultra-abolitionists of America]
Although the anti-slavery enterprise was begun some thirty years ago, the evil is still rampant in the land. As there are some young people present — and I am glad to see them here for, it is important that they shall understand this subject — I shall briefly explain that there are thirty-two states, sixteen of which are free and sixteen slave-states. The free states are in the north. The political feeling in the north and the south are essentially different. So is the social life. In the north, democracy — not what the Americans call democracy but the true principal of equal rights, prevails — I speak of the white population, mind — wealth is abundant. The country, in every material sense, flourishes. In the south, aristocratic feelings prevail. Labor is dishonorable and five milliions of of poor whites live in the most degrading ignorance and destitution. I might dwell long on the miserable condition of these poor whites, the indirect victims of slavery. But I must go on to speak of the four millions of slaves.
The slaves are essentially things, with no rights, political, social, domestic or religious: the absolute victims of all but irresponsible power. For the slave there is no home, no love, no hope, no help; and what is life without hope? No writer can describe the slave’s life; it cannot be told; the fullest description ever given to the world does but skim over the surface of this subject. You may infer something of the state of society in the southern States when I tell you that there are eight hundred thousand mulattoes, nine-tenths of whom are the children of white fathers, and these are constantly sold by their parents, for the slave follows the conditions of the mother. Hence we see every shade of complexion among the slaves, from the blackest African hue to that of women and men in whose cheeks the lily and the rose vie for predominance.
To describe to you the miserable poor whites of the south, I need only quote the words of Mr. Helper, a southerner, in his most important work on slavery, and the testimony also of a Virginian gentleman of my acquaintance. The five millions of poor whites are all most of them in as gross a state of ignorance as Mrs. Stowe’s Topsy, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The free coloured people of the northern States are, for no crime but merely the fact of complexion, deprived of all political and social rights. Whatever wealth or eminence in intellect or refinement they may attain to, they are treated as outcasts; and white men and women who identify themselves with them are sure to be insulted in the grossest manner. I do not ask your political interference in any way. This is a moral question. Even in America the Abolitionists generally disclaim every other ground but the moral and religious one on which this matter is based. You send missionaries to the heathen. I tell you of professing Christians practicing what is worse than any heathenism on record. How is it that we have come to this state of things, you ask? I reply, the whole power of the country is in the hands of the slaveholders. For more than thirty years we have had a slaveholding President, and the slave power has been dominant. The consequence has been a series of encroachments, until now at last the slave trade is re-opened and all but legitimised in America. It was a sad backward step when England last year fell into the trap laid by America, and surrendered the right of search. Now slavers ply on the seas which were previously guarded by your ships. We have, besides, an international slave trade. We have states where, I am ashamed to say, men and women are reared like cattle, for the market. When I walk through the streets of Manchester, and meet load after load of cotton, I think of those eighty thousand cotton plantations on which was grown the one hundred and twenty-five millions of dollars’ worth of cotton which supply your market, and I remember that not one cent of that money has ever reached the hands of the labourers. Here is an incident of slave life for you — an incident of common occurrence in the south. In March 1859, a slave auction took place in the city of Savannah. Three hundred and forty-three slaves, the property of Pierce Butler, the husband of your own Fanny Kemble, were sold, regardless of every tie of flesh and blood, old men and maidens, young men and babes of fifteen months. There was but one question about them, and that was decided at the auction block. Pierce Butler, the owner, resides in Philadelphia and is a highly respected citizen and a member of a church. He was reputed a kind master who rarely separated the families of his slaves. The financial crisis took place, and I have given you the result to his human property But Mr. Butler has in no wise lost face among his friends. He still moves among the most respectable in society, and his influence at church is so great that with other members he has removed from the pulpit of the Reverend Dudley Tyne, who had uttered a testimony against slavery. And in that pulpit, the man who now preaches, Mr. Prentiss by name, is the owner of a hundred slaves.
Such is the state of public opinion in America, and you find the poison running through everything. With the exception of the Abolitionists, you will find people of all classes thus contaminated. The whole army and of the United States are pledged to pursue and shoot down the poor fugitives, who, panting for liberty, fly to Canada, to seek the security of the British flag. All dominations of professing Christians are guilty of sustaining or defending slavery. Even the Quakers must be included in this rule. Now I ask for your sympathy and your influence. And whoever asked English men and women in vain? Give us the power of your public opinion — it has great weight in America. Words spoken here and read there are as no words written in America are read. Lord Brougham’s testimony on the first of August resounded through America; your Clarkson and your Wilberforce are names of strength to us. I ask you, raise the moral public opinion until its voice reaches the American shores. Aid us thus until the shackles of the American slave melt like dew before the morning sun. I ask especial help from the women of England. Women are the worst victims of the slave power. I am met on every hand by the cry, “Cotton! Cotton!” I cannot stop to speak of cotton while women and men are being brutalised. But there is an answer for the cotton cry too, and the argument is an unanswerable one.
Before concluding, I shall give you a few passages from the laws of the slave states. By some of these laws, free coloured people may be arrested in the discharge of their lawful business; and, if no papers attesting their freedom be found on them, they are committed to gaoll; and if not claimed within a limited time, they may be sold to pay the gaol fees. By another law any person who speaks at the bar, bench, on the stage, or in private, to the slaves, so as to excite insurrection, or brings any paper or pamphlet of such nature into the state, shall be imprisoned for not less than three nor more than twenty-one years, or shall suffer death as the judge decides. I could read such laws for hours, but I shall only add that in Maryland there is at present a gentleman in prison, condemned for ten years, because a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was found in his possession. The laws are equally severe against teaching a slave to read — against teaching even the name of the good God.
[In conclusion, Miss Remond made another appeal for sympathy and help.]
Source: Remond, Sarah Parker, “Miss Remond in Manchester.” The Anti-Slavery Advocate 34.2 (1 October 1859), pp. 274-275.
Also: Manchester Weekly Times, September 17, 1859.
Also published in We Must Be Up and Doing”: A Reader in Early African American Feminisms, ed. Teresa C. Zackodnik (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press), pp. 69-71.