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American Slavery
and its Influence on Great Britain

August 14-21, 1861 — Annual Meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, Dublin, Ireland


The Influence of nation upon nation can scarcely be over-estimated since steam has brought the inhabitants of distant countries into more intimate relations with each other. No two countries separated by the same distance have been more closely connected through many channels than the States of North America and Great Britain, and the influence of national character becomes a matter of serious importance. Chattel slavery as it exists in the Southern States of North America is the colossal evil, the prolific source which has corrupted the public opinion throughout the Republic, North as well as South. By the laws of the slaveholding States four millions of men, women and children have no more rights than an ox or sheep. This complete annihilation of the manhood and womanhood of human beings is supported and sustained by the compromises of the constitution.

From 1620 until 1787 slavery had no legal protection except in the most limited sense. In 1788, when the constitution was drafted and the present government formed, the complete sacrifice of the African was the price which purchased that result, and certain provisions of the Federal Constitution pledged the States, North and South, to maintain slavery.

First, by allowing the continuation of the foreign Slave Trade until 1808, although after that date by law it was declared to be piracy; yet in reality it has never been discontinued, as slaves have from time to time been sent from Cuba into the slave states. Slavers have been fitted out from New Orleans, New York, Boston, and other American cities, and many Africans landed, direct from Africa, in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana; and negroes who cannot speak the English language are at work on the plantations of the South. Great Britain has spent forty millions, and is still willing to assist in suppressing the foreign slave trade. The American Government has been unwilling to make any effectual treaty to bring about this desirable result and Cuba imports annually about forty to fifty thousand slaves. When Lord John Russell stated that: “Spain was not the only power committed to the slave trade, and that the American flag covered it to a large extent, and that the absence of the right of search increased the difficulty of dealing with slaves on the open sea,” his Lordship placed the Government of the United States in the true position which it occupies in this abominable traffic.

Secondly, by the three-fifth representation — allowing five slaves to count as three votes — which, so long as the slaveholders deny to every slave any rights, is in reality the same as if five oxen should be allowed to represent three votes in the British House of Commons, thus giving additional power to the owners of slaves.

Thirdly, by the Fugitive Slave Act.

Fourthly, for the suppression of any insurrectionary movement on the part of the slave population.

These four important provisions in the constitution reveal the basis on which the slave system rests; and although many other causes have given new vitality to the evil, the constitutional provisions have been, and still are, the Gibraltar of the slaveholders and their northern allies.

The infamous Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which denies its wretched victims trial by jury, and under which many free persons of colour have been doomed to a life of slavery, declares, Section 7, “Any person obstructing the arrest of a fugitive, or attempting his or her escape, or harbouring and concealing a fugitive knowing him to be such, shall be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and to be imprisoned not exceeding six months; and shall also forfeit and pay the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive lost.” This is only one of the provisions of a law which is a disgrace to civilization.

Then followed the Dred Scott decision declaring that “black men and women have no rights which white men are bound to respect.” The evil principle, embedded in the constitution at that early period of the history of the nation, has resulted in a series of evil and unjust laws, which fall with overwhelming weight upon the oppressed African and his descendants, which have perverted the moral vision of the American people.

This corrupt public opinion operates in many ways upon Great Britain, but most decidedly in the attempt to transplant to the dominions of Queen Victoria the pernicious prejudice against the colour of the African, whether he be a slave or nominally free, which is one of the many sad results of slavery in the States. In some of the Canadian towns the children of some of Her Majesty’s most loyal subjects, have been placed in separate schools, only because they have a dark complexion. In other instances they have been placed in a corner of the regular Government schools, and British subjects have been obliged to submit to these indignities. In other instances the children of the coloured citizens have been obliged to walk not infrequently a long distance to one of these separate Government schools, while the child of the white citizen could attend the school in the locality to which the coloured child by right should be allowed access. In one of the churches at Vancouver’s Island separate pews have been provided for coloured persons, in imitation of the American custom, this insulting an already deeply-injured race.

[Miss Remond made an earnest appeal to the public opinion of Great Britain, to declare itself more emphatically against American slavery.]



Source: Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, 1861, ed. George W. Hastings (London: John W. Parker, Son, 1862), pp. 689-691.