Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Predicting the Consequences of Abolition
By Albert Taylor Bledsoe (18091877)
[Born in Frankfort, Ky., 1809. Died at Alexandria, Va., 1877. Liberty and Slavery.From Cotton is King, by David Christy, and Pro-Slavery Arguments. Third and Revised Edition, edited by E. N. Elliott. 1860.]
NOR do we wish to see the experiment, which has brought down such widespread ruin on all the great interests of St. Domingo and the British colonies, tried in this prosperous and now beautiful land of ours. It requires no prophet to foresee the awful consequences of such an experiment on the lives, the liberties, the fortunes, and the morals of the people of the Southern States. Let us briefly notice some of these consequences.
Consider, in the first place, the vast amount of property which would be destroyed by the madness of such an experiment. According to the estimate of Mr. Clay, the total value of the slave property in the United States is twelve hundred millions of dollars, all of which the people of the South are expected to sacrifice on the altar of abolitionism. It only moves the indignation of the abolitionist that we should for one moment hesitate. I see, he exclaims, in the immenseness of the value of the slaves, the enormous amount of robbery committed on them. I see twelve hundred millions of dollars seized, extorted by unrighteous force. But, unfortunately, his passions are so furious that his mind no sooner comes into contact with any branch of the subject of slavery than instantly, as if by a flash of lightning, his opinion is formed, and he begins to declaim and denounce as if reason should have nothing to do with the question. He does not even allow himself time for a single moments serious reflection. Nay, resenting the opinion of the most sagacious of our statesmen as an insult to his understanding, he deems it beneath his dignity even to make an attempt to look beneath the surface of the great problem on which he condescends to pour the illumination of his genius. Ere we accept his oracles as inspired, we beg leave to think a little, and consider their intrinsic value.
Twelve hundred millions of dollars extorted by unrighteous force! What enormous robbery! Now, let it be borne in mind that this is the language of a man who, as we have seen, hasin one of his lucid intervalsadmitted that it is right to apply force to compel those to work who will not labor from rational motives. Such is precisely the application of the force which now moves his righteous indignation.
This force, so justly applied, has created this enormous value of twelve hundred millions of dollars. It has neither seized nor extorted this vast amount from others; it has simply created it out of that which, but for such force, would have been utterly valueless. And if experience teaches anything, then, no sooner shall this force be withdrawn than the great value in question will disappear. It will not be restored; it will be annihilated. The slavesnow worth so many hundred millions of dollarswould become worthless to themselves and nuisances to society. No free State in the Union would be willing to receive themor a considerable portion of theminto her dominions. They would be regarded as pests, and, if possible, everywhere expelled from the empires of freemen.
Our lands, like those of the British West Indies, would become almost valueless for the want of laborers to cultivate them. The most beautiful garden-spots of the sunny South would, in the course of a few years, be turned into a jungle, with only here and there a forlorn plantation. Poverty and distress, bankruptcy and ruin, would everywhere be seen. In one word, the condition of the Southern States would, in all material respects, be like that of the once flourishing British colonies in which the fatal experiment of emancipation has been tried.
Such are some of the fearful consequences of emancipation. But these are not all. The ties that would be severed, and the sympathies crushed, by emancipation, are not at all understood by abolitionists. They are, indeed, utter strangers to the moral power which these ties and sympathies now exert for the good of the inferior race .
Let the slaves be emancipated, then, and, in one or two generations, the white people of the South would care as little for the freed blacks among us as the same class of persons are now cared for by the white people of the North. The prejudice of race would be restored with unmitigated violence. The blacks are contented in servitude, so long as they find themselves excluded from none of the privileges of the condition to which they belong; but let them be delivered from the authority of their masters, and they will feel their rigid exclusion from the society of the whites and all participation in their government. They would become clamorous for their inalienable rights. Three millions of freed blacks, thus circumstanced, would furnish the elements of the most horrible civil war the world has ever witnessed.
These elements would soon burst in fury on the land. There was no civil war in Jamaica, it is true, after the slaves were emancipated; but this was because the power of Great Britain was over the two parties, and held them in subjection. It would be far otherwise here. For here there would be no power to checkwhile there would be infernal agencies at work to promotecivil discord and strife. As Robespierre caused it to be proclaimed to the free blacks of St. Domingo that they were naturally entitled to all the rights and privileges of citizens; as Mr. Seward proclaimed the same doctrine to the free blacks of New York; so there would be kind benefactors enough to propagate the same sentiments among our colored population. They would be instigated, in every possible way, to claim their natural equality with the whites; and, by every diabolical art, their bad passions would be inflamed. If the object of such agitators were merely to stir up scenes of strife and blood, it might be easily attained; but if it were to force the blacks into a social and political equality with the whites, it would most certainly and forever fail. For the government of these Southern States was, by our fathers, founded on the virtue and intelligence of the people, and there we intend it shall stand. The African has neither part nor lot in the matter.
We cannot suppose, for a moment, that abolitionists would be in the slightest degree moved by the awful consequences of emancipation. Poverty, ruin, death, are very small items with these sublime philanthropists. They scarcely enter into their calculations. The dangers of a civil warthough the most fearful the world has ever seenlie quite beneath the range of their humanity.
Indeed, we should expect our argument from the consequences of emancipation to be met by a thoroughgoing abolitionist with the words, Perish the Southern States rather than sacrifice one iota of our principles! We ask them not to sacrifice their principles to us; nor do we intend that they shall sacrifice us to their principles. For if perish we must, it shall be as a sacrifice to our own principles, and not to theirs.