Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Experiment of Emancipation

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Experiment of Emancipation

By Robert Walsh (1784–1859)

[Born in Baltimore, Md., 1784. Died in Paris, France, 1859. An Appeal from the Judgments of Great Britain respecting the United States of America. 1819.]

THE DOCTRINE so long popular and pursued in England, and maintained openly by some of her most distinguished statesmen, that the laboring classes should not be enlightened, lest they might become unwilling to perform the necessary drudgery of their station in life, and prone to rise against the monarchical scheme of social order, was not, perhaps, in her case, altogether without foundation as to the latter topic of apprehension. Now, though the very reverse is the soundest policy for us, with our institutions, as respects the whites, that doctrine, if the right of the southern American to consult his own safety and the ultimate happiness of his slaves, be admitted, is unquestionably just in relation to the body of the southern negroes. You could not attempt to improve and fashion their minds upon a general system, so far as to make them capable of freedom in the mass and apart, without exposing yourself, even in the process, or in proportion as they began to understand and value their rights, to feel the abjection of their position and employment, calculate their strength, and be fit for intelligent concert—to formidable combinations among them, for extricating themselves from their grovelling and severe labors at once, and for gaining, not merely an equality in the state, but an ascendancy in all respects. The difference of race and color would render such aspirations in them much more certain, prompt, and active, than in the case of a body of villeins of the same color and blood with yourselves, whom you might undertake to prepare for self-government. The Duke of Wellington, in the late debate on Catholic emancipation in the British House of Peers, expressed his belief that the Catholics of Ireland, if relieved from their disabilities, would endeavor to put down the reformed religion, and this because of the feelings which must accompany the recollection, that that religion had been established in their country by the sword. What consequences, then, might we not expect in the case of our slaves, from the sense of recent suffering and degradation, and from the feelings incident to the estrangement and insulation growing out of the indelible distinctions of nature?

I know of but one mode of correcting those feelings and preventing alienation, hostility, and civil war; of making the experiment of general instruction and emancipation with any degree of safety. We must assure the blacks of a perfect equality in all points with ourselves; we must labor to incorporate them with us, so that we shall become of one flesh and blood, and of one political family! It is doubtful even whether we could succeed in this point, so gregarious are they in their habits, and so strong in their national sympathy. No sublime philanthropist of Europe has, however, as yet, in his reveries of the impiety of political distinctions founded upon the color of the body, or in his lamentations over our injustice to the blacks, exacted from us openly this hopeful amalgamation. It would, no doubt, suit admirably the views of our friends in England, who would then have full scope for pleasant comparisons between the American and English intellect, and the American and English complexion.

I could suggest another consideration, alone sufficient to have deterred our southern states from hazarding, since our revolution, the measure of a general abolition of negro slavery, accompanied with the continuance of the negroes within their limits. It would have put those states especially, and this federal union, at the mercy of Great Britain. The facility of tampering with the blacks, and of exciting them to insurrection, would have been increased for her, incalculably, in their new condition, in time of war. Let her conduct on this head during the revolutionary struggle, and in our late contest, in relation both to the Indians and negroes, determine the point whether she would not have availed herself of the opportunity.