[Volume 1, Page 559]

CHAPTER 15 | Document 53

John Adams to Jeremy Belknap

21 Mar. 1795MHS Collections, 5th ser., 3:401--2

I have read the queries concerning the rise and progress of slavery; but, as it is a subject to which I have never given any very particular attention, I may not be able to give you so much information as many others. I was concerned in several causes in which negroes sued for their freedom, before the Revolution. The arguments in favour of their liberty were much the same as have been urged since in pamphlets and newspapers, in debates in Parliament, &c., arising from the rights of mankind, which was the fashionable word at that time. Since that time, they have dropped the "kind."

Argument might have some weight in the abolition of slavery in the Massachusetts, but the real cause was the multiplication of labouring white people, who would no longer suffer the rich to employ these sable rivals so much to their injury. This principle has kept negro slavery out of France, England, and other parts of Europe. The common people would not suffer the labour, by which alone they could obtain a subsistence, to be done by slaves. If the gentlemen had been permitted by law to hold slaves, the common white people would have put the negroes to death, and their masters too, perhaps.

I never knew a jury, by a verdict, to determine a negro to be a slave. They always found them free. As I was not in the General Court in 1773, I have no particular remembrance of the petition for the liberation of all the blacks, and know not how it was supported or treated.

The common white people, or rather the labouring people, were the cause of rendering negroes unprofitable servants. Their scoffs and insults, their continual insinuations, filled the negroes with discontent, made them lazy, idle, proud, vicious, and at length wholly useless to their masters, to such a degree that the abolition of slavery became a measure of oeconomy.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 15, Document 53
The University of Chicago Press

Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.