Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Slaves after the Revolution

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 Slaves after the Revolution

By John Randolph (1773–1833)

[Born at Cawsons, Chesterfield Co., Va., 1773. Died in Philadelphia, Penn., 1833. From a Speech on the Militia Bill. U. S. H. of R., 10 December, 1811.]

PERMIT me now, sir, to call your attention to the subject of our black population. I will touch this subject as tenderly as possible. It is with reluctance that I touch it at all; but in cases of great emergency, the State physician must not be deterred by a sickly, hysterical humanity, from probing the wound of his patient; he must not be withheld by a fastidious and mistaken delicacy from representing his true situation to his friends, or even to the sick man himself, when the occasion calls for it. What is the situation of the slave-holding States? During the war of the Revolution, so fixed were their habits of subordination, that while the whole country was overrun by the enemy, who invited them to desert, no fear was ever entertained of an insurrection of the slaves. During a war of seven years, with our country in possession of the enemy, no such danger was ever apprehended. But should we, therefore, be unobservant spectators of the progress of society within the last twenty years; of the silent but powerful change wrought, by time and chance, upon its composition and temper? When the fountains of the great deep of abomination were broken up, even the poor slaves did not escape the general deluge. The French Revolution has polluted even them….

Men, dead to the operation of moral causes, have taken away from the poor slave his habit of loyalty and obedience to his master, which lightened his servitude by a double operation; beguiling his own cares and disarming his master’s suspicions and severity; and now, like true empirics in politics, you are called upon to trust to the mere physical strength of the fetter which holds him in bondage. You have deprived him of all moral restraint; you have tempted him to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, just enough to perfect him in wickedness; you have opened his eyes to his nakedness; you have armed his nature against the hand that has fed, that has clothed him, that has cherished him in sickness; that hand which before he became a pupil of your school, he had been accustomed to press with respectful affection. You have done all this—and then show him the gibbet and the wheel, as incentives to a sullen, repugnant obedience. God forbid, sir, that the Southern States should ever see an enemy on their shores, with these infernal principles of French fraternity in the van. While talking of taking Canada, some of us are shuddering for our own safety at home. I speak from facts, when I say, that the night-bell never tolls for fire in Richmond, that the mother does not hug her infant more closely to her bosom. I have been a witness of some of the alarms in the capital of Virginia.