Home » Human Rights » Slavery and ‘the Founding Fathers’

Slavery and ‘the Founding Fathers’

I was looking up some information on the founding fathers of the US, when I stumbled upon this speech, recorded from around 1687, that addressed the petition of a religious sect who were calling for the abolition of slavery. I found it fascinating:

“Have these people considered the consequences of granting their petition? If we cease our cruises, how shall we be furnished with the commodities their countries produce, and which are so necessary for us? If we forbear to make slaves of their people, who are to cultivate our lands? Who are to perform the common labours of our city, and in our families? Must we not then be our own slaves? And is there not more campassion and more favour due to us, than to these dogs? We have now above 50,000 slaves. This number, if not kept up by fresh supplies, will soon diminish, and be gradually annihilated. If then we cease taking and making slaves of them, our lands will become of no value for want of cultivation; the rents of houses in the city will sink one half? and the revenues of government arising from its share of prizes must be totally destroyed. And for what? to gratify the whim of a whimsical sect! who would have us not only forbear making more slaves, but even to manumit those we have. But who is to indemnify their masters for the loss? Will the state do it? Is our treasury sufficient? Will this sect do it? Can they do it? Or would they, to do what they think justice to the slaves, do a greater injustice to the owners? And if we set our slaves free, what is to be done with them? Few of them will return to their countries, they know too well the greater hardships they must there be subject to: they will not embrace our holy religion: they will not adopt our manners: our people will not pollute themselves by intermarying with them: must we maintain them as beggars in our streets; or suffer our properties to be the prey of their pillage; for men accostomed to slavery, will not work for a livelihood when not compelled. And what is there so pitiable in their present condition? Were they not slaves in their own countries? Are they not all governed by despots, who hold all their subjects in slavery, without exception? Is their condition then made worse by their falling into our hands? No, they have only exchanged one slavery for another: and I may say a better: for here they are brought into a land where the sun of our religion gives forth its light, and shines in full splendor, and they have an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the true doctrine, and thereby saving their immortal souls. Those who remain at home have not that happiness. Sending the slaves home then, would be sending them out of light into darkness. I repeat the question, what is to be done with them? I have heard it suggested, that they may be planted in the wilderness, where there is plenty of land for them to subsist on, and where they may flourish as a free state; but they are, I doubt, too little disposed to labour without compulsion, as well as too ignorant to establish a good government, and the wild natives would soon molest and destroy or again enslave them. While serving us, we take care to provide them with every thing; and they are treated with humanity. The labourers in their own countries, are, as I am well informed, worse fed, lodged and cloathed. The condition of most of them is therefore already mended, and requires no farther improvement. Here their lives are in safety. They are not liable to be impressed for soldiers, and forced to cut one another’s pagan throats, as in the wars of their own countries. If some of the religious mad bigots who now teaze us with their silly petitions, have in a fit of blind zeal freed their slaves, it was not generosity, it was not humanity that moved them to the action; it was from the conscious burthen of a load of sins, and hope from the supposed merits of so good a work to be excused from damnation. How grosly are they mistaken in imagining slavery to be disallowed by the Holy Book! Are not the two precepts, to quote no more, Masters treat your slaves with kindness: Slaves serve your masters with cheerfulness and fidelity, clear proofs to the contrary? Nor can the plundering of infidels be in that sacred book forbidden, since it is well known from it, that God has given the world and all that it contains to his faithful, who are to enjoy it of right as fast as they can conquer it. Let us then hear no more of this detestable proposition, the adoption of which would, by depreciating our lands and houses, and thereby depriving so many good citizens of their properties, create universal discontent, and provoke insurrections, to the endangering of government, and producing general confusion. I have therefore no doubt, but this wise Council will prefer the comfort and happiness of a whole nation of true believers, to the whim of a few, and dismiss their petition.”

Such was the religious attitude at that time to the differences between the ‘civilised’ believers and the ‘heathen’ slaves. But I confess, I have doctored just a few words and omitted a couple of sentences that would have given away the truth; that this was written by an African Muslim from the Barbary coast (present day Morocco) where there had been pirating of European ships and enslaving of European Christians! It was included in an unpublished letter from Benjamin Franklin to the Federal Gazette on the topic of abolition. The full letter is here: http://franklinpapers.org.

The sect discussed here was a sect of Islam called the Erika or Purists, who opposed piracy and slavery. If you read the speech again, or maybe better, the unaltered version in the link above, there are surely many things that must spring to your mind… about us, our faith, our culture, our history…? I shall make no further comments myself.

Forgive me if this appears to be deceptive, but my device had a purpose, I hope!

Grace be with you.

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