CHAPTER 15 | Document 55

James Sullivan to Jeremy Belknap

30 July 1795MHS Collections, 5th ser., 3:412--15

I have read, with great pleasure, the letter you were so obliging as to put into my hands from your very valuable correspondent, Mr. Tucker. I admire the goodness of his heart, and the elegance and patriotism of his sentiments; but he, like other good men, has to enjoy by anticipation that which can never be accomplished in his day. The subject which is so near his heart, and appears to employ so great a part of his public contemplations, is not new to me. I have had Governor Jefferson's ideas upon it some years ago, and gave him my opinion, which I will presently give to you, in one word. The objections stated by Mr. Tucker to three measures proposed for emancipating the black people of United America are all well maintained by his unanswerable arguments; while the pain he evidently feels to find a fourth, to which no insurmountable objection could be made, does great honour to his character as a man, and in some degree attones for the violation of human rights which his fellow-citizens have been guilty of. The freedom of the blacks, without allowing them to participate of civil privileges, appears to me the most eligible of the three measures which he has contemplated. But I am clearly of opinion that this would be nothing more than to throw 300,000 of the human race, idle, profligate, and miserable, on the bosom of the earth. These, urged by extreme hunger, and encouraged by combinations of aggravated complaints, supported by an idea of justice from their former sufferings, would take by force what the white people should procure by agriculture; and thus, unless overpowered and destroyed by military coercion, would spread famine and pestilence through the country. An idea that they would, on such an emancipation, or on one of any other kind, become industrious and regular, will, in my opinion, prove clearly fallacious. Besides this, if they should be inclined to labour, where would they be supplied with lands? or who would furnish them with the means for beginning their new mode of life? To let them have the full liberty of free citizens would be worse still; for the necessity of civil government proves that mankind are corrupt and wicked, and we should find these people holding their suffrages at auction, without holding property worthy of their attention, or a sense of civil liberty worthy of one moment's anxiety. This measure would involve the Southern States in calamity and distress, if not in ruin. The scheme of colonizing them has all the objections that your learned and ingenious correspondent has stated. The expence of carrying them to their new plantation, and furnishing them there with as much support as is generally claimed by the most industrious white people who go into a new country, is more than the Treasury of the United States could possibly bear, even if there were no other expences of government.

Should the 300,000 blacks of Virginia emigrate, under an idea of colonizing, those of the three Southern States would of course be united with them: this would exhibit a multitude of half a million of people, at the least. On their way to their new world, and while they were beginning their settlements, some kind of civil government would be necessary. We have in history but one picture of such an enterprize; and there we see it was necessary, not only to open the sea, by a miracle, for them to pass, but more necessary to close it again, in order to prevent their return. Promises of the most luxuriant kind, assured by a constant and obvious chain of miracles, could hardly restrain them from rebellions and insurrections. Even then, though a spontaneous supply of bread from Heaven supported the camp, and every measure was adopted which could affect the human heart with a proper sense of a necessity for a good and regular government, yet so incapable were the men, who had been bred in a state of slavery, either to submit to or maintain a system of state policy, that it was necessary to waste them all in the wilderness. Should half a million of people, who had been bred in a state of slavery, find themselves in a country where they were free from a legal restraint, excepting what they should provide for themselves, they could never reduce their individual members to a state of civil society. The emigrants from Europe to America had been always under a government where civil liberty was much contemplated, and as fully enjoyed as it could be in a monarchy; but there never was, or ever can be, a migration of a multitude of slaves to a country of freedom.

The negroes, if they were to colonize, would at once, in separate and independent bodies, commit depredations on their neighbours, and bring the other States into a necessity of reducing them by the sword. From the difficulties suggested by Mr. Tucker, it would seem as if the case was without remedy, and that a state of slavery is entailed for ever on some part of the inhabitants of free America. But there is, in my mind, this resource; and I am obliged to think that it is the only one in the case, and that a very slow one. As there is no way to eradicate the prejudice which education has fixed in the minds of the white against the black people, otherwise than by raising the blacks, by means of mental improvements, nearly to the same grade with the whites, the emancipation of the slaves in United America must be slow in its progress, and ages must be employed in the business. The time necessary to effect this purpose must be as extensive, at least, as that in which slavery has been endured here. The children of the slaves must, at the public expence, be educated in the same manner as the children of their masters; being at the same schools, &c., with the rising generation, that prejudice, which has been so long and inveterate against them on account of their situation and colour, will be lessened within thirty or forty years. There is an objection to this, which embraces all my feelings; that is, that it will tend to a mixture of blood, which I now abhor; but yet, as I feel, I fear that I am not a pure Republican, delighting in the equal rights of all the human race. This mode of education will fit the rising progeny of the black people either to participate with the whites in a free government, or to colonize, and have one of their own. The negroes born after a certain future day may be considered as free at 40 years, those after another at 30, and those after another at 21 years of age. This will, in the course of time, emancipate all the slaves. To induce them to be industrious members of the community, a certain portion of property ought to be considered as necessary to their holding civil offices, or enjoying civil privileges, in common with other citizens. This process, I know, is too slow for the warm and philanthropic feelings of your elegant correspondent; and carries with it the idea of a curse being entailed in the Southern States from the fathers to the children, to the third and fourth generation. Be that as it may, I think the best way is to make haste slowly, and to bear for a time an evil with patience, rather than to aggravate its miseries, and render future attempts discouraging. There have been few instances indeed, in history, where a man educated as a slave has been capable of enjoying freedom. In the most despotic governments, there have appeared champions for liberty; but the event has generally evinced to the world that the greater part of these had acted only from a spirit of ambitious heroism, because they have generally been tyrants as soon as they had established their own power to rule.

There is no doubt a great disparity in the natural abilities of mankind, and we have great reason to believe that the organization of the Affricans is such as prevents their receiving the more fine and sublime impressions equally with the white people; and yet we do not know but that, giving them the same prospects, placing them under the force of the same motives, and conferring upon them the same advantages for the space of time in which 3 or 4 generations shall rise and fall, will so mend the race, and so increase their powers of perception, and so strengthen their faculty for comparing ideas, and understanding the nature and connexion of the external things with which man is surrounded on this globe, as that they may exceed the white people.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 15, Document 55
The University of Chicago Press

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