The Negroes in the United States of America
June 13, 1862 — International Congress of Charities, Correction and Philanthropy, Hall of Meeting, Burlington House, London, England
Amid the din of civil war, and the various and antagonistic interests arising from the internal dissensions now going on in the United States of North America, the negroes and their descendants, whether enslaved or free, desire and need the moral support of Great Britain, in this most important but hopeful hour of their history. They, of all others, have the most at stake; not only material prosperity, but “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Almost simultaneously with the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620, a slave-ship, a Dutch vessel, with twenty negroes stolen from Africa, entered Chesapeake Bay, and sailed on to Jamestown. Here the twenty negroes were landed, and chattel slavery established in the New World; a sad, sad hour for the African race. These twenty human souls were landed most opportunely. The infant colony was then in a perilous condition; many of the colonists had died from exposure and hardships; many others from incompetency to grapple with their fate. Those who survived had become almost disheartened, when the arrival of the negroes gave new vitality to the enfeebled colony at Virginia, and revived the sinking colonists. The negroes were received as a farmer receives a useful and profitable animal; although, at that time, their services were invaluable. In return for their services, they and their posterity have been doomed to a life of slavery. Then took root chattel slavery, which has produced such physical, mental, and moral degradation upon an unprotected and unoffending race. It has always been exceedingly difficult to ascertain the exact number of slaves in the Southern states; the usual estimate is about four and a half millions. These human chattels are but property in the estimation of slave-holders, and receive by public opinion, established custom, and law, only the protection which is generally given to animals. From the son of a southern slaveholder, Mr. H. R. Helper of North Carolina, we have the number of slaves in the Southern states: —
Alabama ………… 342,844
Arkansas ………… 47,100
Delaware ………… 2,290
Georgia ………….. 381,622
Kentucky ……….. 210,981
Tennessee …….. 239,459
Texas ……………… 58,161
Louisiana ………. 244,809
Maryland …………. .90,368
Mississippi ……… 309,873
Missouri …………… 87,422
N. Carolina ……… 288,548
S. Carolina ……….384,984
Virginia ………….. 472,528
Total …………….. 3,200,304
Carried Up ………… 1,321,767
Brought Up ………… 1,321,767
Colored Population, South ………… 288,138
Colored Population, North …………. 196,116
These human chattels, the property of three hundred and forty-seven thousand slave-owners, constitute the basis of the working class of the entire south; in fact, they are the bone and sinew of all that makes the south prosperous, the producers of a large proportion of the material wealth, and of some of the most important articles of consumption produced by any working class in the world. The New Orleans Delta gives the following: “The cotton plantations in the south are about eighty thousand, and the aggregate value of their annual product, at the present prices of cotton (before the civil war), is fully one hundred and twenty-five millions of dollars. There are over fifteen thousand tobacco plantations, and their annual products may be valued at fourteen millions of dollars. There are two thousand six hundred sugar plantations, the products of which average annually more than twelve millions of dollars.” Add to this the domestic labour of the slaves as household servants, &c., and you have some conception of the material wealth produced by the men and women termed chattels. The bulk of this money goes to the support of the slaveholders and their families; therefore the dependence of slaveholders upon their chattels is complete. Slave labour was first applied to the cultivation of tobacco, and afterwards to that of rice; but rice is produced only in a very limited locality; cotton is the great staple and source of prosperity and wealth, the nucleus around which gathers immense interests. Thousands among the commercial, manufacturing, and working classes, on both sides of the Atlantic, are dependent upon cotton for all material prosperity; but the slaves who have produced two-thirds of the cotton do not own themselves; their nominal wives and their children may at any moment be sold. I call them nominal wives, because there is no such thing as legal marriage permitted either by custom or law. The free operatives of Britain are, in reality, brought into almost personal relations with slaves during their daily toil. They manufacture the material which the slaves have produced, and although three thousand miles of ocean roll between the producer and the manufacturer and the operatives, they should call to mind the fact, that the cause of all the present internal struggle, now going on between the northern states and the south, the civil war and its attendant evils, have resulted from the attempt to perpetuate negro slavery. In a country like England — where the manufacturer pays in wages alone £11,000,000, and the return from the cotton trade is about £80,000,000 annually — where four millions of the population are almost directly interested — where starvation threatens thousands, it is well that the only remedy which can produce desirable and lasting prosperity should receive the moral support of every class — emancipation.
Let no diplomacy of statesmen, no intimidation of slaveholders, no scarcity of cotton, no fear of slave insurrections, prevent the people of Great Britain from maintaining their position as the friend of the oppressed negro, which they deservedly occupied previous to the disastrous civil war. The negro, and the nominally free coloured men and women, north and south, of the States, in every hour of their adversity, have ever relied upon the hope that the moral support of Britain would always be with the oppressed. The friends of the negro should recognize the fact, that the process of degradation upon this deeply injured race has been slow and constant, but effective. The real capacities of the negro race have never been thoroughly tested; and until they are placed in a position to be influenced by the civilizing influences which surround freemen, it is really unjust to apply to them the same test, or to expect them to attain the same standard of excellence, as if a fair opportunity had been given to develop their faculties. With all the demoralizing influences by which they are surrounded, they still retain far more of that which is humanizing than their masters. No such acts of cruelty have ever emanated from the victims of slavery in the Southern states as have been again and again practised by their masters.
Source: Journal of Negro History 27, no. 2 (April 1942): pp. 216-218.
Also: Congrès International de Beinfaisance de Londres: Session de 1862, Tome II, Partie Anglaise, Mémoires, Notices et Documents, (London: Trübner et Co), 1863, pp. 222-224.