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Full text of "An historical research respecting the opinions of the founders of the republic on negroes as slaves, as citizens and as soldiers : read before the Massachusetts Historical Society, August 14, 1862"

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AUGUST 14, 1862. 









A stated monthly meeting was held this day, Thursday, August 
14th. In the absence of the President (the Hon. ROBERT C. 
WIXTIIROP), Colonel THOMAS ASPIXYTALL, one of the Vice-Presi 
dents, took the chair. 

Mr. LIVERMORE communicated a paper (portions of which he 
had read at the July meeting) " On the Opinions of the Founders 
of the Republic respecting Negroes as Slaves, as Citizens, and as 

Mr. NORTON moved, That the thanks of the Society be presented 
to Mr. Livermore, and that a special Committee be appointed to 
print the paper at the expense of the Society. 

Before this motion was put, Mr. LIVERMORE remarked, that he 
began his research as an individual effort, intending to print a few 
copies only, for private distribution. He had brought the subject 
before the Society at the July meeting, that he might receive aid 
or suggestions from members who were present. At the request of 
many members of the Society he had extended his investigations ; 
and, as they desired, had now offered the results of his researches. 
He hoped he might be permitted to carry out his original purpose 
of printing the paper, at his own expense, for gratuitous distribu 
tion. He should, if such was the pleasure of the meeting, print it 
as a paper read before the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

Mr. EVERETT expressed the gratification with which he had lis 
tened to a paper containing so much valuable information, and 


hoped that it might be printed in the manner most agreeable to 
Mr. Livermore. lie suggested that the motion of Mr. Norton be 
so modified as to obviate the objections raised by Mr. Livermore. 
He hoped, if consistent with his plan, that Mr. Livermore would 
extend his researches so as to include the services of colored sea 
men in the American Navy. Mr. Everett related an anecdote of 
an aged slave, the last of his class, showing the mildness of slavery 
in Massachusetts before its final extinction. 

Mr. "WATERSTON, Secretary pro tempore of the July meeting, 
said he had made known the proceedings of that meeting to 
the venerable senior member of the Society, the Hon. Josiah 
Quincy, who, though unable at present to attend the meetings, 
retains a deep interest in all the Society s transactions. He had 
just received from him a letter, Avhich he begged leave to present 
to the Society : 

" QUINCY, Aug. 9, 1862. 

" DEAR SIR, Your letter of this date communicates to me the 
purpose of Mr. Livermore to collect and publish documents on the 
subject of Slavery and Negro Soldiers, originating from the great 
men who were guides of public affairs at the time of the American 
Revolution. I should regard such a publication as useful and 
desirable, and I heartily wish Mr. Livermore success ; and I shall be 
happy, according to my means, in aiding him in his purpose. 

" In respect to the general subject of slavery, I apprehend he will 
find very little favorable to the institution among the relics of the 
great men of that period. 

" Disgust at it was so general, as to be little less than universal. 
Among slaveholders, the language and hope of putting an end 
to the evil as soon as possible was on all their tongues ; but, alas ! 
it was far from being in all their hearts. Some of the leaders saw 
the advantages derived from it by the unity and identity of action 
and motive to which it tended, and its effect in making five States 
move in phalanx over the Free States. They clung to the insti 
tution for the sake of power over the other States of the Union ; 
and, while they were open in decrying it, they were assiduous in 
promoting its interests and extending its influence. 


"By constantly declaring a detestation of slavery, they threw 
dust into the eyes of the people of the Free States ; while they never 
ceased to seize every opportunity to embarrass the measures which 
would advance the interests of the Free States, and at the same 
time to strengthen and extend the interests of the Slave States. 
We can trace their policy in history. We now realize the result. 

" With all their pretensions, the leading slaveholders never 
lost sight, for one moment, of perpetuating its existence and its 


" Truly and respectfully yours, 


Mr. WASHBURN spoke with interest of the letter which had 
just been read, remarkable as coming from a gentleman of such 
experience, and at so advanced a period of life. He then gave 
several historical facts which had come to his knowledge when 
writing his " History of Leicester," corroborating the statement of 
Mr. Livermore respecting the common practice of using negroes 
as soldiers during the Avar of the American Revolution. 

The vote thanking Mr. Livermore for his paper, and commit 
ting the manuscript to him, to be printed in the manner most 
agreeable to him, was unanimously adopted. 


Secretary pro tern. 

N O T E. 

IN the reading of the following paper before the 
Massachusetts Historical Society, many of the docu 
ments now printed were necessarily omitted, or but 
briefly alluded to. In order to make room for these 
without unduly increasing the size of this pamphlet, 
some of the remarks in the original paper have been 
left out. Though the special object of this research 
was to ascertain the views of the Founders of our 
Republic, it has been thought pertinent, in relation, 
to the employment of negroes as soldiers, to present 
also some evidence of the opinions and practice of 
contemporary British officers in America. Many ap 
propriate documents, equally illustrative of the whole 
subject, have been passed by ; but it is believed that 
what are given will suffice to show impartially the 
general state of public sentiment at the time when 
our Government was established. 

G. L. 

BOSTON, October, 1862. 





TION 3-18 

Views of Mr. Jefferson Davis 4 5 

Differing views of Mr. Alexander H. Stephens 56 

Chief-Justice Taney s assertions 7 8 

Mr. Justice McLean s reply to them 9-10 

Ground maintained by Mr. Justice Curtis 10-12 

Judge Gaston of North Carolina cited by him .... 11-12 
Mr. George Bancroft s comments on Chief- Justice Taney s 

assertions 13-15 

Mr. Edward Everett s strictures on the views of Mr. Jefferson 

Davis . 15-18 


Contemporary opinion on slavery, as shown from the history of 
the Declaration of Independence, 19-28. 

Mr. Jefferson, 21-24. Mr. Adams, 24. Lord Mahon s error 
as to the Southern Colonies, proved by Mr. Force from the history 
of the Continental Association of 1774, 25-28. 

Doctrine of the Declaration of Independence re-affirmed in the 
Constitutions, and acted upon in the Courts, of several of the States 
before the adoption of the Federal Constitution, 28-32. 




Free negroes regarded in them as citizens, 33. Representation 
by New Jersey to Congress on the subject, 34. 


Opinions on slavery with which some of the framers of the Consti 
tution came to their work, 36-61. Opinion of Washington before 
as well as after the Convention, 36-39 ; he sympathizes with Lafayette 
in his views of slavery, 40-42 ; his last will, 42-44. Opinion of 
Franklin, 44-54. Opinion of John Adams, 54. Mr. Jefferson s 
opinion, 55-60. Mr. Gadsden s opinion, 60. Mr. Henry Laurens s 
opinion, 61. 

Opinions of the framers of the Constitution expressed in debate in 
the Federal Convention, 62-78. Mr. Pinckney of South Carolina, 
64. Mr. Sherman, 64. Mr. Ellsworth, 65. Mr. Gouverneur 
Morris, 66-68. Mr. Rufus King, 68, 69. Mr. Sherman, 69. 
Mr. Luther Martin, 69. Mr. John Rutledge, 70. Mr. Ellsworth, 
70. Mr. Charles Pinckney, 70. Mr. Sherman, 70, 71. Colonel 
George Mason, 71, 72. Mr. Ellsworth, 72. Mr. Charles Pinck 
ney, 72. General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, 72, 73. Mr. 
Abraham Baldwin, 73. Mr. James Wilson, 73, 74. Mr. Gerry, 74. 

Mr. Dickinson, 74. Mr. Williamson, 74. Mr. King, 74, 75. 
Mr. Langdon, 75. General Pinckney, 75. Mr. Rutledge, 75. 
Mr. Gouverneur Morris, 75. Mr. Butler, 75. Mr. Sherman, 75. 

Mr. Read, Mr. Sherman, Mr. Randolph, General Pinckney, Mr. 
Gorham, Mr. Madison, 76. Messrs. Morris, Mason, Sherman, 
Clymer, Williamson, Morris, Dickinson, 77. 


Debates in the Massachusetts Convention, 78-86. New-Hamp 
shire Convention, 86-88. Pennsylvania Convention, 88, 89. 
Maryland Legislature, 90-94. Virginia Convention, 94-100. 
North-Carolina Convention, 100-104. South-Carolina Legislature, 

Two letters concerning the Constitution, written in 1788 : one by 
Dr. Ramsay of Charleston, S.C. ; and the other by the Rev. Dr. 
Hopkins of Newport, R.I., 106-108. 

Opinion of Dr. Paley, in 1785, on slavery, and the probable effect 
upon it of "the great Revolution which had taken place in the 
Western World," 110. 




The practical importance of this branch of the subject at the 
present time, 113, 114. 

In Massachusetts, in the earlier stages of the Revolution, negroes 
appear as acting with white citizens against the British, 114, 132. 
The "Boston Massacre" and Crispus Attucks, 115-118. Peter 
Salem fights at the battle of Bunker Hill, and is commemorated by 
the artist, the historian, and the orator, 118-121. Petition of Colo 
nel Prescott and other officers to the General Court of Massachusetts 
for a reward to another " negro man," Salem Poor, as " a brave and 
gallant soldier," who " behaved like an experienced officer" at Bun 
ker Hill, 121, 122. Major Lawrence commands " a company, whose 
rank and file are all negroes," and who " fight with the most deter 
mined bravery," 122-124. Free negroes, and sometimes slaves, 
took their place in the ranks with white men ; afterwards, slaves must 
be manumitted before becoming soldiers, 124, 125. 

Opinion of the Rev. Dr. Hopkins in 1776, on the employment of 
negroes as soldiers, 125, 126. 

South Carolina, in 1775, enrols slaves in her militia as "pioneers 
and laborers," 126. Belief, in South Carolina and Georgia, that the 
negroes would join the British regular troops, 128. General Gates 
forbids the recruiting of negroes, 129. Southern delegates to Con 
gress move in vain the discharge of negroes from the army, 129, 130. 

The Committee of Conference determine to reject them in the new 
enlistment, 130. Washington afterwards decides to license the en 
listment of the free negroes who had served faithfully, 131. His 
decision approved by Congress, 131. General Thomas s praise of 
the negro soldiers in the Massachusetts regiments, 132. 

Account of Lord Dunmore s celebrated Proclamation in Virginia 
in 1775, and its effect, 132-140. Public appeal to the negroes to 
stand by their masters, 136-138. The Virginia Convention answer 
the Proclamation, and declare pardon to slaves who had taken up 
arms, 138, 139. 

(1776.) The British form a negro regiment at Staten Island, 141. 

The Massachusetts Legislature forbid the sale of negroes taken 
prisoners from the British, 142. 


(1777.) Testimony of a Hessian officer, that there was "no 
regiment to be seen in which there were not negroes in abundance," 
142, 143. Capture of the British Major-General Prescott by Colonel 
Barton, with the help of the negro man Prince, 143, 144. Dr. 
Thacher s account of it, 144, 145. 

(1777.) Account of the employment of negro soldiers by the 
State of Connecticut, 145-150. 

(1778.) Account of their employment by the State of Rhode 
Island, 150-159. Act for raising a negro regiment, 152-154. 
Distinguished services rendered by Colonel Greene s black regiment 
in the battle of Rhode Island, 158. Chastellux s account of this 
regiment in 1781, 159. Its subsequent heroic defence of Colonel 
Greene, 159. 

(1778.) Action of the State of Massachusetts on the subject, 
159-162. Precedent in her early legislation, negroes having been 
obliged to train in the militia with white men in 1652, 159. Propo 
sal of Thomas Kench to raise a separate corps of negroes in the 
spring of 1778, 160-162. Referred to a joint committee of the 
General Court, together with a copy of the Rhode-Island act, 162. 
Their report favorable, embodying the draught of a law, 162. The 
subject of a separate corps allowed to subside, and the usage conti 
nued of having negroes " intermixed with white men," 162. 

Action of the State of Maryland on the subject, 163. 
Action of the State of New York, 163. 

(1779.) The employment of negroes as soldiers almost everywhere 
prevailed, except in the States of Georgia and South Carolina, 164. 
Why they were exceptions, 164-167. A vigorous effort in Congress 
to secure the enrolment of black troops in those States, 167. The 
measure advocated by Colonel John Laurens, and by his father, Henry 
Laurens, 167. Henry Laurens s letter to Washington, 167, 168. 
Washington, in reply, suggests doubts as to the policy of arming the 
slaves at the South, unless the enemy set the example ; but says he 
has never given much thought to the subject, 168. 

(1779.) Alexander Hamilton heartily supports the measure, 168. 
His strong letter to John Jay, President of Congress, 169, 170. 
Congress refers the matter to a special committee ; afterwards passes 
resolutions, recommending to South Carolina and Georgia to raise a 
force of " three thousand able-bodied negroes ; " and commissions 
Colonel Laurens to repair to the South on this business, 170-173. 
He writes to Washington that General Prevost, at Savannah, is 
"re-enforced by a corps of blacks," 174. 


(1779.) Sir Henry Clinton s Proclamation in consequence of 
" the enemy s having adopted the practice of enrolling negroes among 
their troops," 175. 

Lord Cormvallis issues a proclamation, encouraging slaves to 
join the British army, 175. Mr. Jefferson s account of Cornwallis s 
cruelty to those who joined his army, 175, 176. 

(1780.) General Lincoln seconds Colonel Laurens in urging the 
government of South Carolina to raise black troops, 177. Mr. 
Madison advocates the policy of " liberating and making soldiers at 
once of the blacks themselves," instead of " making them instru 
ments for enlisting white soldiers," 178. 

(1781.) General Greene writes to Washington, that in South Caro 
lina " the enemy have ordered two regiments of negroes to be imme 
diately embodied," 178. 

(1782.) Colonel Laurens, on his return from France, renews his 
efforts to induce South Carolina and Georgia to raise black troops, 
178-181. His letters to Washington on the subject, and Washing 
ton s reply, 179-181. 

(1782.) Colonel Humphreys continued to the end of the war to 
be the nominal captain of a company of colored infantry, raised in 
Connecticut by his influence before he became aid-de-camp to Wash 
ington, 181. 

(1782.) Letter to Lord Dunmore from Mr. Cruden, proposing a 
plan for raising ten thousand black troops, 182-186. Letter .of 
Lord Dunmore to Sir Henry Clinton, approving the scheme, vouch 
ing for the excellence of such troops, and declaring his perfect 
willingness " to hazard his reputation and person in the execution of 
the plan," 187-189. 

(1782.) Lord Dunmore writes to England, that the raising of a 
brigade of negroes was negatived by a few voices in the Assembly of 
South Carolina, and would probably be carried at a future day, 
189, 190. 

(1782.) General Greene proposes to the Governor of South 
Carolina a plan for raising black regiments, 190, 191. Judge John 
son s remarks on this plan, and on negroes as soldiers, 192, 193. 
Importance of the mature opinions of the preceding British and 
American military authorities, 193. 

(1783.) Washington s scrupulous regard for the rights of his 
negro soldiers on their leaving the service, 194. 



(1783.) The State of Virginia passes an act securing the freedom 
of all slaves who had served in the army, 195, 196. 

(1786.) Virginia passes a special act to pay for and emancipate a 
slave who had " faithfully executed important commissions intrusted 
to him by the Marquis Lafayette," 197. 

Later testimonies to the competency of negroes to become good 
soldiers, 197-199. Dr. Eustis, a surgeon throughout the war of the 
Revolution, 198, 199. Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, 199. 

Concluding remarks, 200. 


(A.) Negroes in the Navy 203 

(B.) Flag of a Negro Military Company in Boston 206 

(C.) Negro Regiments in the State of New York 207 

(D.) General Jackson s Proclamation to the Negroes 210 

(E.) Negro Soldiers under Monarchical Governments 213 



" We cannot put the negro out. This remark serves as a complete stopper to all 
the crimination and recrimination so freely indulged in between parties on the sol 
emn point, which of the two first brought the negro in. Let them rest quiet here 
after on this topic. The negro was in before they began to talk about him at all. 
He will stay in, whether they choose to talk about him or not. He will grow in 
more and more, even while they are sleeping. To deprecate the misfortune is as 
idle as to complain of the force of the waters of Niagara. The subject is before us ; 
and it is our duty to face the consideration of its proportions like statesmen, and 
not to imagine, that, if we will only shut our eyes to it, it is not there; still less to 
suppose that either lamentation or anger, agitation or silence, will in any respect 
materially change the nature of the great problem which North America is inevi 
tably doomed to solve. From the decree of Divine Providence there is no appeal." 
Speech of the lion. Charles Francis Adams, May 31, 1860, in the U. S. House of Rep 


IN this time of our country s trial, when its Consti 
tution, and even its continued national existence, is 
in peril, and the people are beginning to be aroused 
to the magnitude of the work to be done, all other 
subjects dwindle into comparative insignificance. 
Loyal men, of every calling in life, are laying aside 
their chosen and accustomed private pursuits, and 
devoting themselves, heart and hand, to the common 
cause. As true patriots, then, we, members of the 
thing more than comply, as good citizens, with all 
the requirements of the Constitution and the laws: 
we must study, in the light of history, and by the 
traditions of those who originally founded and at 
first administered the Government, the fundamental 
principles on which it was based, and the paramount 
objects for which it was established. Having done 
this, it may not be amiss for us to offer the results of 
our historical researches to others not having the 


leisure or the opportunity to investigate for them 
selves. All partisan and personal prejudice should 


now be abjured, and all sectional sentiments and 
views should yield to the broad and patriotic purpose 
of ascertaining, asserting, and doing our whole duty 
as citizens of the United States, desirous of restoring 
the Union to its original completeness for its true 

This will not be the first time that our Society 
has endeavored, from the records of the past, to 
throw light on the path of the Government in the 
legislative and military action of the present. We 
were not long since called together specially to 
contribute, from an historical point of view, our aid 
in guiding public opinion ; and the publication of 
the " Report on the Exchange of Prisoners during 
the American Revolution," read at that meeting, 
was warmly welcomed, as a timely and serviceable 

Although there is a wide difference of opinion as 
to the cause of the rebellion, or rather as to the 
persons on whom rests the responsibility of having 
brought on this terrible civil war, yet all are agreed, 
that, if negro slavery had not existed in this country, 
we should now be in a condition of peace and pros 

I have thought that I could not, at this time, 
perform a more useful duty, as a member of the 
Society, than by preparing a documentary paper of 
carefully edited authorities, relating to NEGROES as 
slaves, as citizens, and as soldiers, in order to show 
what were the principles and the practice of the Foun- 


tiers of the Republic, and thus to ascertain who have 
been unfaithful to the " compromises of the Consti 
tution," and to the principles upon which the Union 
was based, and for which the Government w r as esta 

In doing this, I shall endeavor to act simply as an 
historical inquirer, without any attempt to enforce 
sentiments or theories of my own. It is my purpose 
to present the simple records of the opinion and ac 
tion of persons who have acknowledged claims to be 
considered as authorities. 

As an appropriate introduction to the task I have 
proposed to myself, of producing some of the re 
corded opinions of those who were eminently the 
Founders of the Republic, I proceed to set forth, 
by authentic citations, the modern doctrine which has 
given occasion for this research, and also the most 
important refutations of that doctrine which have yet 
appeared. These, taken together, will exhibit the 
present state of the great question as to its first two 
branches ; namely, the opinions held in relation to 
negroes as slaves and as citizens before, during, and 
some time after, the formation of the Government of 
the United States. 

It is a noticeable fact, that, while the Southern 
leaders of the rebellion uniformly denounce the North 
for having denied to them their guarantied rights 
under the Constitution, they are widely at variance 
when they come to specify their grievances. 


Mr. Jefferson Davis, on the 29th of April, 1861, in 
his Message, says : 

Jeflerson " When the several States delegated certain powers to 
the United-States Congress, a large portion of the laboring 
population were imported into the colonies by the mother- 
country. In twelve out of the fifteen States, negro slavery 
existed ; and the right of property existing in slaves Avas 
protected by law. This property was recognized in the 
Constitution ; and provision was made against its loss by 
the escape of the slave. 

" The increase in the number of slaves by foreign 
importation from Africa was also secured, by a clause for 
bidding Congress to prohibit the slave-trade anterior to a 
certain date ; and in no clause can there be found any 
delegation of power to the Congress to authorize it in any 
manner to legislate to the prejudice, detriment, or discour 
agement of the owners of that species of property, or ex 
cluding it from the protection of the Government. 

" The climate and soil of the Northern States soon proved 
unpropitious to the continuance of slave-labor ; while the 
reverse being the case at the South, made unrestricted free 
intercourse between the two sections unfriendly. 

" The Northern States consulted their own interests, by 
selling their slaves to the South, and prohibiting slavery 
between their limits. The South were willing purchasers 
of property suitable to their wants ; and paid the price of 
the acquisition, without harboring a suspicion that their 
quiet possession was to be disturbed by those who were not 
only in want of constitutional authority, but by good faith 
as vendors, from disquieting a title emanating from them 

" As soon, however, as the Northern States that prohi 
bited African slavery within their limits had reached a 
number sufficient to give their representation a controlling 
vote in the Congress, a persistent and organized system of 


hostile measures against the rights of the owners of slaves Jefferson 
in the Southern States was inaugurated, and gradually 
extended. A series of measures was devised and prose 
cuted for the purpose of rendering insecure the tenure of 
property in slaves. 

"With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imper 
illed, the people of the Southern States were driven by 
the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of 
action to avoid the dangers with which they were openly 
menaced. With this view, the Legislatures of the several 
States invited the people to select delegates to conventions 
to be held for the purpose of determining for themselves 
what measures were best to be adopted to meet so alarm 
ing a crisis in their history." Moore s Rebellion Record, 
vol. i. ; Documents, pp. 1G8, 169. 

It is not necessary for us to go out of the so-called 
Southern Confederacy, nor far from the presence of 
its pretended President, to refute this accusation of 
change in principle or in policy on the part of the 

The associate of Mr. Davis, Mr. Alexander H. 
Stephens (Vice-President, as he is called,) thus frankly 
avows his sentiments in a speech, delivered at Savan 
nah, on the 21st of March, 1861 : 

" The new Constitution has put at rest for ever all the Alex. IT. 
agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions, 
African slavery as it exists among us, the proper status of 
the negro in our form of civilization. This ivas the imme 
diate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. JEF 
FERSON, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the rock 
upon which the old Union would split. He was right. 


Alex. ii. What was conjecture with him is now a realized fact. But 
whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which 
that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing 
ideas entertained by him, and most of the leading statesmen 
at the time of the formation of the old Constitution, were, that 
the enslavement of the African ivas in violation of the laws of 
nature ; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and 
politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal 
with ; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, 
that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the 
institution would be evanescent, and pass away. This idea, 
though not incorporated in the Constitution, was the pre 
vailing idea at the time. The Constitution, it is true, 
secured every essential guarantee to the institution while 
it should last ; and hence no argument can be justly used 
against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because 
of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, how 
ever, icere fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the 
assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. 
It was a sandy foundation ; and the idea of a government 
built upon it, when the storm came and the wind blew, 
it felV 

" Our new government is founded upon exactly the oppo 
site ideas : its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, 
upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white 
man ; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his 
natural and moral [normal?] condition. [Applause.] This, 
our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, 
lased upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. 
This truth has been slow in the process of its development, 
like all other truths in the various departments of science. 
It is so, even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, 
can recollect well that this truth was not generally admitted, 
even within their day. 7 Moore s Rebellion Record, vol. i. ; 
Documents, p. 45. 


This ought to be sufficient to put at rest for ever the 
accusation of change of opinion, and of unfaithful 
ness to the original compromises of the Constitution 
and to the spirit of the founders of our Government. 
But it is a lamentable fact, that there are not wanting 
amongst us men, claiming to be friends of the Union 
and the Constitution, who yet, through ignorance or 
recklessness, continue to violate the truth of history 
on this subject. 

Without referring more particularly to political 
writers and speakers of this class, I would call atten 
tion to the well-known words of the Chief-Justice of 
the United-States Supreme Court, in the celebrated 
case of Dred Scott, at the December Term, 1856. 

Judge Taney s language is as follows : 

" Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this ticeVau *~ 
country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the politi 
cal community formed and brought into existence by the 
Constitution of the United States, and as such become 
entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities 
guarantied by that instrument to the citizen ? One of which 
rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United 
States in the cases specified in the Constitution. 

" The question before us is, whether the class of persons 
described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of 
this people, and are constituent members of this sovereign 
ty ? We think they are not, and that they are not included, 
and were not intended to be included, under the word 
citizens in the Constitution, and can therefore claim 
none of the rights and privileges which that instrument 



Chief-Jus- provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. 

tice Tanev. , .1 , ,1 , -11 

On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a 
subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been sub 
jugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated 
or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no 
rights or privileges but such as those who held the power 
and the Government might choose to grant them. 

" They had for more than a century before been re 
garded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit 
to associate with the white race, either in social or political 
relations ; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which 
the white man was bound to respect ; and that the negro 
might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his 
benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordi 
nary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit 
could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed 
and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It 
was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, 
which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open 
to dispute ; and men, in every grade and position in society, 
daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, 
as well as in matters of public concern, without doubting 
for a moment the correctness of this opinion." Hoivard s 
Reports, vol. xix. pp. 403-405, 407. 

This remarkable assertion is in direct violation 
of historic truth. It shocked the moral sentiment of 
our own community, and excited the indignant rebuke 

J * 

of some of the most eminent Jurists and Statesmen of 
Europe, who declared the sentiments to be " so ex 
ecrable as to be almost incredible." It was promptly 
met and answered by Judge McLean of Ohio, and 
Judge Curtis of Massachusetts, Associate Justices of 
the United-States Supreme Court. 


Mr. Justice McLean, in his elaborate opinion, 
says : 

" Slavery is emphatically a State institution. In the Judge 
ninth section of the first article of the Constitution, it is 
provided that the migration or importation of such per 
sons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to 
admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the 
year 1808 ; but a tax, or duty, may be imposed on such 
importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person. 

" In the Convention, it was proposed by a committee of 
eleven to limit the importation of slaves to the year 1800, 
when Mr. Pinckney moved to extend the time to the year 
1808. This motion was carried, New Hampshire, Mas 
sachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, South 
Carolina, and Georgia voting in the affirmative ; and New 
Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, in the negative. In 
opposition to the motion, Mr. Madison said : Twenty years 
will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from 
the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more 
dishonorable to the American character than to say nothing 
about it in the Constitution. (Madison Papers.) 

" We need not refer to the mercenary spirit which in 
troduced the infamous traffic in slaves, to show the degra 
dation of negro slavery in our country. This system was 
imposed upon our colonial settlements by the mother- 
country <$ and it is due to truth to say, that the commercial 
colonies and States were chiefly engaged in the traffic. 
But we know as a historical fact, that James Madison, that 
great and good man, a leading member in the Federal Con 
vention, was solicitous to guard the language of that 
instrument so as not to convey the idea that there could be 
property in man. 

" I prefer the lights of Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, as a 
means of construing the Constitution in all its bearings, 



Judge rather than to look behind that period into a traffic which 
is now declared to be piracy, and punished with death by 
Christian nations. I do not like to draw the sources of our 
domestic relations from so dark a ground. Our independ 
ence was a great epoch in the history of freedom ; and 
while I admit the Government was not made especially for 
the colored race, yet many of them were citizens of the 
New-England States, and exercised the rights of suffrage, 
when the Constitution was adopted ; and it was not doubted 
by any intelligent person that its tendencies would greatly 
ameliorate their condition. 

" Many of the States, on the adoption of the Constitu 
tion, or shortly afterward, took measures to abolish slavery 
within their respective jurisdictions ; and it is a well-known 
fact, that a belief was cherished by the leading men, SoutK! 
as well as North, that the institution of slavery would grad 
ually decline, until it would become extinct. The in j 
creased value of slave labor, in the culture of cotton and 
sugar, prevented the realization of this expectation. Like 
all other communities and States, the South were influenced 
by what they considered to be their own interests. 

" But, if we are to turn our attention to the dark ages of 
the world, why confine our view to colored slavery ? On 
the same principles, white men were made slaves. All 
slavery has its origin in power, and is against right." 
Howard s Reports, vol. xix. pp. 536-538. 

The following is a part of the conclusive dissenting 
opinion of Mr. Justice Curtis : 

" To determine whether any free persons, descended from 
Africans held in slavery, were citizens of the United States 
under the Confederation, and consequently at the time of 
the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, it is 
only necessary to know whether any such persons were 
citizens of either of the States under the Confederation, at 
the time of the adoption of the Constitution. 


" Of this there can be no doubt. At the time of the rati- Judge 
fication of the Articles of Confederation, all free native-born 
inhabitants of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, 
New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina, though de 
scended from African slaves, were not only citizens of 
those States, but such of them as had the other necessary 
qualifications possessed the franchise of electors, on equal 
terms with other citizens. 

" The Supreme Court of North Carolina, in the case of 
the State vs. Manuel (4 Dev. and Bat., 20), has declared 
the law of that State on this subject, in terms which I be 
lieve to be as sound law in the other States I have enume 
rated, as it was in North Carolina. 

" According to the laws of this State/ says Judge G-as- Judge 
ton, in delivering the opinion of the court, all human cited?" 
beings within it, who are not slaves, fall within one of two 
classes. Whatever distinctions may have existed in the 
Roman laws between citizens and free inhabitants, they are 
unknown to our institutions. Before our Revolution, all 
free persons born within the dominions of the King of 
Great Britain, whatever their color or complexion, were 
native-born British subjects, those born out of his alle 
giance were aliens. Slavery did not exist in England, but 
it did in the British colonies. Slaves were not in legal 
parlance persons, but property. The moment the incapa 
city, the disqualification of slavery, was removed, they 
became persons ; and were then either British subjects, or 
not British subjects, according as they were or were not 
born within the allegiance of the British King. Upon the 
Revolution, no other change took place in the laws of 
North Carolina than was consequent on the transition from 
a colony dependent on a European King, to a free and 
sovereign State. Slaves remained slaves. British subjects 
in North Carolina became North Carolina freemen. For 
eigners, until made members of the State, remained aliens. 
Slaves, manumitted here, became freemen ; and therefore, 


Judge jf born within North Carolina, are citizens of North Caro 
lina ; and all free persons born within the State are born 
citizens of the State. The Constitution extended the 
elective franchise to every freeman who had arrived at 
the age of twenty-one, and paid a public tax ; and it is a 
matter of universal notoriety, that, under it, free persons, 
without regard to color, claimed and exercised the fran 
chise, until it was taken from free men of color a few years 
since by our amended Constitution. 

" It has been often asserted, that the Constitution was 
made exclusively by and for the white race. It has already 
been shown, that, in five of the thirteen original States, 
colored persons then possessed the elective franchise, and 
were among those by whom the Constitution was ordained 
and established. If so, it is not true, in point of fact, that 
the Constitution was made exclusively by the white race. 
And that it was made exclusively for the white race is, in 
my opinion, not only an assumption not warranted by any 
thing in the Constitution, but contradicted by its opening 
declaration, that it was ordained and established by the 
people of the United States, for themselves and their pos 
terity. And, as free colored persons were then citizens of 
at least five States, and so in every sense part of the peo 
ple of the United States, they were among those for whom 
and whose posterity the Constitution was ordained and es 
tablished."- Howard s Reports, vol. xix. pp. 572, 573, 582. 

The Hon. George Bancroft, in his " Oration before 
the Mayor, Common Council, and Citizens of New 
York, on the 22d of February, 1862," alluding to the 
opinion of Judge Taney, notwithstanding his affini 
ties with the political, party through which the Chief- 
Justice was raised to his high station, thus speaks : 


" During all those convulsions, the United States stood George 
unchanged, admitting none but the slightest modifications 
in its charter, and proving itself the most stable govern 
ment of the civilized world. But at last we have fallen 
on evil days. The propitious smiles of Heaven, such 
are the words of Washington, can never be expected on 
a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and 
right. During eleven years of perverse government, those 
rules were disregarded ; and it came to pass that men who 
should firmly avow the sentiments of Washington, and Jef 
ferson, and Franklin, and Chancellor Livingston, were 
disfranchised for the public service ; that the spotless Chief- 
Justice whom Washington placed at the head of our Su 
preme Court could by no possibility have been nominated 
for that office, or confirmed. Nay, the corrupt influence 
invaded even the very home of justice. The final decree 
of the Supreme Court, in its decision on a particular case, 
must be respected and obeyed : the present Chief- Justice 
has, on one memorable appeal, accompanied his decision 
with an impassioned declamation, wherein, with profound 
immorality, which no one has as yet fully laid bare, treat 
ing the people of the United States as a shrew to be tamed 
by an open scorn of the facts of history, with a dreary 
industry collecting cases where justice may have slum 
bered or weakness been oppressed, compensating for want 
of evidence by confidence of assertion, with a partiality 
that would have disgraced an advocate neglecting hu 
mane decisions of colonial courts and the enduring me 
morials of colonial statute-books, in his party zeal to prove 
that the fathers of our country held the negro to have no 
rights which the white man was bound to respect, he has 
not only denied the rights of man and the liberties of man 
kind, but has not left a foothold for the liberty of the white 
man to rest upon. 

" That ill-starred disquisition is the starting-point of this * 
rebellion, which, for a quarter of a century, had been 


George vainly preparing to raise its head. When courts of jus- 
Bancroft. , rrn 11 J f m 

tice fail, war begins. Ihe so-called opinion ot laney, 
who, I trust, did not intend to hang out the flag of dis 
union, that rash offence to the conscious memory of the 
millions, upheaved our country with the excitement which 
swept over those of us who vainly hoped to preserve a 
strong and sufficient though narrow isthmus that might 
stand between the conflicting floods. No nation can adopt 
that judgment as its rule, and live : the judgment has in it 
no element of political vitality. I will not say it is an invo 
cation of the dead past : there never was a past that 
accepted such opinions. If we want the opinions received 
in the days when our Constitution was framed, we will not 
take them second-hand from our Chief-Justice : we will let 
the men of that day speak for themselves. How will our 
American magistrate sink, when arraigned, as he will be, 
before the tribunal of humanity ! How terrible will be the 
verdict against him, when he is put in comparison with 
Washington s political teacher, the great Montesquieu, 
the enlightened magistrate of France, in what are es 
teemed the worst days of her monarchy ! The argu 
ment from the difference of race which Taney thrusts 
forward with passionate confidence, as a proof of complete 
disqualification, is brought forward by Montesquieu as a 
scathing satire on all the brood of despots who were 
supposed to uphold slavery as tolerable in itself. The 
rights of MANKIND that precious word which had no equiv 
alent in the language of Hindostan, or Judas a, or Greece, 
or Rome, or any ante-Christian tongue found their sup 
porter in Washington and Hamilton, in Franklin and 
Livingston, in Otis, George Mason, and Gadsden ; in all 
the greatest men of our early history. The one rule from 
which the makers of our first Confederacy, and then of our 
national Constitution, never swerved, is this : to fix no 
constitutional disability on any one. Whatever might 
stand in the way of any man, from opinion, ancestry, weak- 


ness of mind, inferiority or inconvenience of any kind, was George 
itself not formed into a permanent disfranchisement. The 
Constitution of the United States was made under the 
recognized influence of the eternal rule of order and 
right ; so that, as far as its jurisdiction extends, it raised at 
once the numerous class who had been chattels into the 
condition of persons : it neither originates nor perpetuates 
inequality." Pulpit and Rostrum, 1862, pp. 104-107. 

In refutation of the common charge, that the 
North has changed its position on the subject of 
slavery, I cannot forbear adding an extract from the 
" Address of the Hon. Edward Everett, delivered in 
New York, on the 4th of July, 1861." In his own 
matchless manner, Mr. Everett thus disposes of the 
whole matter : 

" The Southern theory assumes, that, at the time of the K/iwnrd 
adoption of the Constitution, the same antagonism prevailed 
as now between the North and South, on the general sub 
ject of slavery ; that although it existed, to some extent, in 
all the States but one of the Union, it was a feeble and - 
declining interest at the North, and mainly seated at the 
South ; that the soil and climate of the North were soon 
found to be unpropitious to slave labor, while the reverse 
was the case at the South ; that the Northern States, in 
consequence, having from interested motives abolished sla 
very, sold their slaves to the South ; and that then, although 
the existence of slavery was recognized, and its protection 
guarantied, by the Constitution, as soon as the Northern 
States had acquired a controlling voice in Congress, a per 
sistent and organized system of hostile measures against 
the rights of the owners of slaves in the Southern States 
was inaugurated, and gradually extended, in violation of the 
compromises of the Constitution, as well as of the honor 


Edward and good faith tacitly pledged to the South by the manner 
iu which the North disposed of her slaves. 

" Such, in substance, is the statement of Mr. Davis, in 
his late message ; and he then proceeds, seemingly as if 
rehearsing the acts of this Northern majority in Congress, 
to refer to the anti-slavery measures of the State Legisla 
tures, to the resolutions of abolition societies, to the passion 
ate appeals of the party press, and to the acts of lawless 
individuals, during the progress of this unhappy agita 

" Now, this entire view of the subject, with whatever 
boldness it is affirmed, and with whatever persistency it is 
repeated, is destitute of foundation. It is demonstrably 
at war with the truth of history, and is contradicted by 
facts known to those now on the stage, or which are mat 
ters of recent record. At the time of the adoption of the 
Constitution, and long afterwards, there was, generally 
speaking, no sectional difference of opinion between North 
and South, on the subject of slavery. It was in both parts 
of the country regarded, in the established formula of the 
day, as a social, polftical, and moral evil. The general 
feeling in favor of universal liberty and the rights of man, 
wrought into fervor in the progress of the Eevolution, nat 
urally strengthened the anti-slavery sentiment throughout 
the Union. It is the South which has since changed, not the 
North. The theory of a change in the Northern mind, 
growing out of a discovery made soon after 1789, that our 
soil and climate were trapropitious to slavery (as if the 
soil and climate then were different from what they had 
always been), and a consequent sale to the South of the 
slaves of the North, is purely mythical, as groundless in 
fact as it is absurd in statement. I have often asked for 
the evidence of this last allegation, and I have never found 
an individual who attempted even to prove it. But how 
ever this may be, the South at that time regarded slavery 
as an evil, though a necessary one, and habitually spoke of 


it in that liffht. Its continued existence was supposed to Edward 


depend on keeping up the African slave-trade ; and South 
as well as North, Virginia as well as Massachusetts, passed 
laws to prohibit that traffic : they were, however, before 
the Revolution, vetoed by the Royal Governors. One of 
the first acts of the Continental Congress, unanimously 
subscribed by its members, was an agreement neither to 
import, nor purchase any slave imported, after the first of 
December, 1774. In the Declaration of Independence, as 
originally draughted by Mr. Jefferson, both slavery and the 
slave-trade were denounced in the most uncompromising 
language. In 1777, the traffic was forbidden in Virginia, 
by State law, no longer subject to the veto of Royal Gover 
nors. In 1784, an ordinance was reported by Mr. Jeffer 
son to the old Congress, providing that after 1800 there 
should be no slavery in any Territory ceded or to be ceded 
to the United States. The ordinance failed at that time to 
be enacted ; but the same prohibition formed a part, by 
general consent, of the ordinance of 1787 for the organiza 
tion of the North-western Territory. In his Notes on Vir 
ginia, published in that year, Mr. Jefferson depicted the 
evils of slavery in terms of fearful import. In the same 
year, the Constitution was framed. It recognized the ex 
istence of slavery ; but the word was carefully excluded 
from the instrument, and Congress was authorized to abol 
ish the traffic in twenty years. In 1796, Mr. St. George 
Tucker, law-professor in William and Mary College, in 
Virginia, published a treatise entitled A Dissertation on 
Slavery, with a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of it in 
the State of Virginia. In the preface to the essay, he 
speaks of the abolition of slavery in this State as an ob 
ject of the first importance, not only to our moral character 
and domestic peace, but even to our political salvation. 
In 1797, Mr. Pinkney, in the Legislature of Maryland, 
maintained, that, by the eternal principles of justice, no 
man in the State has a right to hold his slave a single 



Edward hour. In 1803, Mr. John Randolph, from a committee on 
Everett. ^ su bjcct, reported that the prohibition of slavery by the 
ordinance of 1787 was a measure wisely calculated to 
promote the happiness and prosperity of the North-western 
States, and to give strength and security to that extensive 
frontier. Under Mr. Jefferson, the importation of slaves 
into the territories of Mississippi and Louisiana was pro 
hibited in advance of the time limited by the Constitution 
for the interdiction of the slave-trade. When the Missouri 
restriction was enacted, all the members of Mr. Monroe s 
Cabinet Mr. Crawford of Georgia, Mr. Calhoun of South 
Carolina, and Mr. Wirt of Virginia concurred with Mr. 
Monroe in affirming its constitutionality. In 1832, after 
the Southampton massacre, the evils of slavery were ex 
posed in the Legislature of Virginia, and the expediency 
of its gradual abolition maintained, in terms as decided as 
were ever employed by the most uncompromising agitator. 
A bill for that object was introduced into the Assembly by 
the grandson of Mr. Jefferson, and warmly supported by 
distinguished politicians now on the stage. Nay, we have 
the recent admission of the Vice-President of the seceding 
Confederacy, that what he calls the errors of the past 
generation, meaning the anti-slavery sentiments enter 
tained by Southern statesmen, still clung to many as late 
as twenty years ago. " -pp. 31-33. 

These extracts from the recorded opinions of the 
learned associates of the Chief- Justice, the eminent 
Historian, and the illustrious Statesman and Orator, 
would seem to furnish a complete refutation of the 
charges brought against the North of having changed 
its policy or action, and violated some expressed or 
implied agreement respecting the supposed sacred 
and paramount rights of slavery. 


But, as historical inquirers, we should not impli 
citly receive the opinions or assertions of any author, 
however eminent in position or however impartial in 
judgment and truthful in statement he may be re 
garded, without referring to the original records, and 
comparing the contemporary authorities. It is my 
purpose to do this, to some extent, at the present 

The primal American Magna Charta, by which the Declara 
tion of 

Founders of the Republic asserted the right of the 
people to form a constitution and government of 
their own, was proclaimed on the 4th of July, 1776. 
Its language is clear and explicit. The authors were 
men of sense and of learning. They knew the mean 
ing of the words they used. Was it for " glittering 
generalities " that they pledged their lives, their for 
tunes, and their sacred honor, or did they regard the 
sentiments of that immortal document as solemn veri 
ties ? In those times which tried men s souls, were 
they guilty of attempting to amuse the fancy by a 
rhetorical flourish, or, what is worse, to delude their 
fellow-citizens by the merest cant, or did they in 
tend deliberately and reverently to publish to the 
world their Political Confession of Faith, and to en 
deavor to show that faith by their works ? 

Happily for us and for the fair fame of those patri 
ots, they have left, in the record of their actions and 
in their published correspondence, the clearest and 
most comprehensive commentary on the instrument 
they signed. 


fi rs f. ar ticlc in the National Creed is so broad 

tion Ot 

elice! >oud ~ an( l universal in its sentiments, that attempts have 
often been made to narrow its meaning, and limit its 
application : 

" We hold these truths to be self-evident : that all men 
are created equal ; that they are endowed by their Creator 
with certain unalienable Rights ; that among these are Life, 
Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness ; that, to secure these 
rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving 
their just powers from the consent of the governed." 

It has been truly said by Mr. Bancroft, " The heart 
of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Con 
gress in adopting it, beat for all humanity : the asser 
tion of right was made for all mankind and all coming 
generations, without any exception whatever ; for 
the proposition which admits of exceptions can never 
be self-evident." 

The author, it is said, could never have intended 
to have this language received in its literal signifi 
cance, for then it w r ould have included in the Decla 
ration persons of African descent ; while, at the time of 
the writing of this document, negro slavery existed 
in the Colonies, and the author of the paper was him 
self a slave-holder. Did Mr. Jefferson intend to con 
demn his own conduct, and that of his associates, by 
announcing doctrines at variance with their lives ? 

In Christian morals, the first step towards reforma 
tion is a conviction of sin ; and the second is con 
fession, and promise of amendment. The patriots 
and sages who framed our form of government, in 


declaring their principles as political philosophers, 
acted in like manner. They did not ignore the 
fact, that colored men were held in bondage. They 
did not attempt to conceal, much less to justify, the 
offence. As, in the popular religious creed of their 
day, all men, through Adam, had fallen from inno 
cence, and were guilty ; so they felt, that, by the act 
of their ancestors, they were themselves then acting in 
violation of the natural and immutable laws of politi 
cal justice. 

It should be borne in mind, that the Declaration of 
Independence is not an ethnological essay, or a dis 
quisition on the physical or intellectual capacity of 
the various races of men, but a grave announcement 
of Human Rights. 

Mr. Jefferson, in his " Notes on Virginia," has given 
very fully his views of the physical, moral, and mental 
capacities of negroes. 

" The opinion that they are inferior in the faculties of Thoma 

... IT- Jeffers 

reason and imagination must be hazarded with great diffi 
dence. To justify a general conclusion, requires many ob 
servations, even where the subject may be submitted to 
the anatomical knife, to optical glasses, to analysis by fire 
or by solvents. How much more, then, where it is a 
faculty, not a substance, we are examining ; where it eludes 
the research of all the senses ; where the conditions of its 
existence are various, and variously combined ; where the 
efTects of those which are present or absent bid defiance 
to calculation ; let me add, too, as a circumstance of great 
tenderness, where our conclusion would degrade a whole 
race of men from the rank in the scale of beings which 


Thomas their Creator may perhaps have given them ! To our re 
proach it must be said, that, though for a century and a half 
we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red 
men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of 
natural history. UL advance it, therefore, as a suspicion 
only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, 
or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to 

^ ""7 

the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.^/ 
Jefferson s Works, vol. viii. p. 386. 

Alluding to these opinions several years after 
wards, the author, in a letter addressed to " M. Gre- 
goire, Eveque et Senateur," says, 

" My doubts were the result of personal observation on 
the limited sphere of my own State, where the opportuni 
ties for the development of their genius were not favorable, 
and those of exercising it still less so. I expressed them, 
therefore, with great hesitation ; but, whatever be their de- 
gree of talent, it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir 
Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he 
was not, therefore, lord of the person or property of others. 
On this subject they are gaining daily in the opinions 
of nations, and hopeful advances are making towards 
their re-establishment on an equal footing with the other 
colors of the human family. I pray you, therefore, to ac- 
/ cept my thanks for the many instances you have enabled 
me to observe of respectable intelligence in that race of 
men, which cannot fail to have effect in hastening the day 
of their relief." Jefferson s Works, vol. v. p. 429. 

How slavery was regarded at the time is clearly 
stated in the instructions prepared by Mr. Jefferson 
for the first delegation of Virginia to Congress, in 
August, 1774, and printed in a pamphlet form, under 


the title of " A Summary \ 7 icw of the Rights of Thomas 
British America." I have Italicized a few lines as 
worthy of particular attention : 

" For the most trifling reasons, and sometimes for no con 
ceivable reason at all, his Majesty has rejected laws of the 
most salutary tendency. The abolition of domestic slavery 
is the great object of desire in those Colonies, where it ivas, 
unhappily, introduced in their infant state. But, previous 
to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have, it is neces 
sary to exclude all further importations from Africa. Yet 
our repeated attempts to effect this by prohibitions, and 
by imposing ditties which might amount to a prohibition, 
have been hitherto defeated by his Majesty s negative ; 
thus preferring the immediate advantages of a few British 
corsairs to the lasting interests of the American States, 
and to the rights of human nature, deeply wounded by this 
infamous practice."- Jefferson s Works, vol. i. p. 135. 

It is well known that some passages in the original 
draught of the Declaration of Independence were 
omitted when the paper was finally adopted by Con 
gress. One of these passages shows so strikingly the 
feelings of the author on this subject, that it may 
well be cited here : 

" lie has waged cruel war against human nature itself, p-issnic 
violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the fictile 
persons of a distant people who never offended him ; capti- 
vating and carrying them into slavery in another hemi- 

. . . , . . 

sphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation 
thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of Infidel 
powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Brit 
ain. Determined to keep open a market where men should 
be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for 


Papsnjre suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to re- 
from the strain this execrable commerce. And, that this assemblage 
tion of 1 " of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is 
imiepemi- now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, 
and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived 
them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtrud 
ed them ; thus paying off former crimes committed against 
the liberties of one people with crimes which ho urges 
them to commit against the lives of another." Jefferson s 
Works, vol. i. pp. 23, 24. 

John Adams, who was associated with Jefferson 
on the sub-committee for framing the Declaration, 
thus expresses his feelings on seeing Mr. Jefferson s 
first draught : " I was delighted with its high tone, and 
the flights of oratory with which it abounded, espe 
cially that concerning negro slavery ; which, though 
I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to 
pass in Congress, I certainly would never oppose." 
Works, ii. 514. 

The foresight of Mr. Adams, concerning the re 
jection of the passage relating to slavery, was not 
founded on a belief that the sentiments contained in 
it were at variance with the general views of the 
people both at the South and at the North (for the 
history of the times is full of evidence to the contrary), 
but from his knowledge that a few bold and persever 
ing pro-slavery men would be able then as they have 
been ever since to induce timid and time-serving, 
and even honest but less strong-willed, public ser 
vants, to concede to them, for the sake of peace and 
harmony, all they demanded. 


Lord Mahoii asserts that the rejected clause, " it was ^ or , (1 

* Muhon s 

found, would displease the Southern Colonies, who crror - 
had never sought to prohibit the importation of slaves, 
but, on the contrary, desired to continue it." 

Our worthy Corresponding Member, the Hon. Peter 
Force, of Washington, (in two communications to 
the "National Intelligencer," January 16 and 18, 1855, 
republished in London in the form of a pamphlet,) 
has completely refuted this error ; and has produced 
abundant evidence that the " Southern Colonies, 
jointly with all the others, and separately each for 
itself, did agree to prohibit the importation of slaves, 
voluntarily and in good faith." He calls attention 
to the Continental Association, adopted and signed by 
all the members of the Congress on the 20th of Oc 
tober, 1774. 

" The second Article of the Association is in these 
words : 

" That we will neither import nor purchase any slave Continental 
imported after the first day of December next ; after which tion. 
we will wholly discontinue the slave-trade, and will neither 
be concerned in it ourselves, nor will we hire our vessels 
nor sell our commodities or manufactures to those who are 
concerned in it. 7 

" This was signed by all the Delegates of the 
twelve Colonies represented in it. ... 

"As Georgia was not represented in the Congress 
of 1774, the Association could have no signatures 
from that Colony. But the people of Georgia, as 
soon as they could speak by their Representatives, 


expressed themselves as distinctly on this point as 
any of their brethren of the Southern Colonies. The 
following are among the resolutions adopted by the 
Provincial Congress of Georgia, on Thursday, July 6, 
1775 : 

1 " L Resolved, That this Congress will adopt, and cany 
of Georgia. j n to execution, all and singular the measures and recom 
mendations of the late Continental Congress. 

" 4, JKesolved, That we will neither import or purchase 
any slave imported from Africa or elsewhere after this 

" The Continental Association was also adopted by 
the Maryland Convention on the 8th of December, 
1774; by the South-Carolina Provincial Congress on 
the llth of January, 1775 ; by the Virginia Conven 
tion on the 22d of March, 1775 ; and by the North- 
Carolina Provincial Congress on the 23d of August, 
1775. The Assembly of Delaware, on the 25th of 
March, 1775, passed a bill to prohibit the importation 
of slaves into that Government ; but this was returned 
by the governor, John Penn, who refused to give it 
his assent. 

" Thus the Southern Colonies, as far as was possi 
ble, besides giving their assent to the Association of 
the Congress by the signatures of their delegates to 
that compact, each, in their several Congresses and 
Conventions, separately expressed their approval of 
it, and their determination to support it." 

The articles of the Continental Association were not 
allowed to remain a dead letter. The enforcement of 


the rules was intrusted to committees in the several 
Colonies. The action of one of these committees, in 
the case of the violation of the second article by Mr. 
John Brown, a merchant of Norfolk, in Virginia, is 
seen in the following address : 


" Trusting to your sure resentment against the enemies Asso 
of your country, we, the committee, elected by ballot for tion - 
the Borough of Norfolk, hold up for your just indignation 
Mr. John Brown, merchant of this place. 

" On Thursday, the 2d of March, this committee were 
informed of the arrival of the brig Fanny, Capt. Watson, 
with a number of slaves for Mr. Brown ; and, upon inquiry, 
it appeared they were shipped from Jamaica as his prop 
erty, and on his account ; that he had taken great pains to 
conceal their arrival from the knowledge of the committee ; 
and that the shipper of the slaves, Mr. Brown s correspond 
ent, and the captain of the vessel, were all fully apprised 
of the Continental prohibition against that article. 

" From the whole of this transaction, therefore, we, the 
committee for Norfolk Borough, do give it as our unani 
mous opinion, that the said John Brown has wilfully and 
perversely violated the Continental Association, to which 
he had with his own hand subscribed obedience ; and that, 
agreeable to the eleventh article, we are bound forthwith 
to publish the truth of the case, to the end that all such 
foes to the rights of British America may be publicly 
known and universally contemned as the enemies of Ameri 
can liberty, and that every person may henceforth break 
off all dealings with him. 

" This decision of the Norfolk Committee," con 
tinues Mr. Force, " on the importation of the slaves by 


^ r> Brown, in violation of the Continental Association, 
told the whole story as to who were, and who were 
not, in favor of continuing it. The importers of the 
negroes were the supporters of the Crown ; the im 
portation was opposed by the friends of the Colo 
nies." Notes on Lord Mahon s History of the Ameri 
can Declaration of Independence, pp. 43-46. 

Lord Mahon s error arose from applying to " the 
Southern Colonies " in general the remarks of Mr. 
Jefferson ("Writings," vol. i. p. 19) relating to the 
delegates from South Carolina and Georgia. In the 
same passage in which these Colonies are mentioned 
with discredit, the pro-slavery men at the North, 
whose mercenary spirit was to be met, are equally 
censured. Still, there cannot be any doubt that the 
prevailing sentiment of the people at the South, as 
well as at the North, was decidedly opposed to slavery. 
The evil was almost universally regarded as tempo 
rary, and no one openly advocated its perpetuation. 

Before passing from the consideration of the Decla 
ration of Independence, let us look, for a moment, at 
the practical interpretation of its language, as fur 
nished by the early legislation of some of the States. 

The declaration that all men are born equal, and 
that they possess the unalienable right of liberty, was 
re-affirmed by several of the States, and adopted as a 
part of their Constitutions. The action of our own 
Commonwealth, in this respect, was clearly shown by 
the Itev. Dr. Bclknap, the founder of our Society, in 
his " Answers to Queries respecting Slavery," pro- 


posed to him by the Hon. Judge Tucker of Virginia, 
January 24th, 1795. 

" The present Constitution of Massachusetts was esta- KCV. Dr. 
hlished in 1780. The first article of the Declaration of 1! 
Eights asserts that all men are horn free and equal. This 
was inserted not merely as a moral or political truth, hut 
with a particular view to establish the liberation of the 
negroes on a general principle ; and so it was understood 
by the people at large ; but some doubted whether this 
were sufficient. 

" Many of the blacks, taking advantage of the public 
opinion and of this general assertion in the Bill of Rights, 
asked their freedom, and obtained it. Others took it with 
out leave. Some of the aged and infirm thought it most 
prudent to continue in the families where they had always 
been well used, and experience has proved that they acted 

" In 1781, at the Court in Worcester County, an indictment 
was found against a white man for assaulting, beating, and 
imprisoning a black. He was tried at the Supreme Judi 
cial Court in 1783. His defence was, that the black was 
his slave ; and that the beating, <tc. was the necessary 
restraint and correction of the master. This was answered 
by citing the aforesaid clause in the Declaration of Rights. 
The judges and jury were of opinion, that he had no right 
to beat or imprison the negro. He was found guilty, and 
fined forty shillings. This decision was a mortal wound to 
slavery in Massachusetts." Mass. Hist. Coll., First Series, 
vol. iv. p. 203. 

The Hon. Emory Washburn, in his admirable pa 
per on the " Extinction of Slavery in Massachusetts," 
communicated to our Society at the regular meeting 
in May, 1857, and published in the Proceedings for 
that year, gives a pretty full account of this trial. 


r >f The brief used by Mr. Lincoln, the counsel for the 

of Mr. 

Lincoln. 11C g rOj was placed in the hands of Mr. Washburn by 
the son of the eminent counsellor, our venerable and 
respected associate, the Hon. Levi Lincoln of Wor 
cester, for many years Governor of this Common 
wealth. Every word of it, and of the whole paper 
of Mr. Washburn, ought to be carefully read and 
pondered at the present time. A few extracts will 
give some idea of the character of the arguments so 
effectively used at that period, when the authors of the 
declaration of Independence and the founders of 
the Republic were still struggling to establish our 
Government on the firm basis of equal and eternal 
justice. A solemn appeal to the " higher law " was 
not, in those days, denounced as moral or political 

" When a fellow-subject is restrained of his liberty, it is 
an attack upon every other subject ; and every one has a 
right to aid him in regaining his liberty. 

" What, in this respect, are to be the consequences of 
your verdict? Will it not be tidings of great joy to this 
community ? It is virtually opening the prison-doors, and 
letting the oppressed go free ! 

" Could they expect to triumph in their struggle with 
Great Britain, and become free themselves, until they let 
those go free who were under them ? Were they not act 
ing like Pharaoh and the Egyptians, if they refused to set 
these free ? 

" But the plaintiff insists that it is not true, as stated in 
the Constitution, that all men are born free ; for children 
are born and placed under the power and control of their 


" This may be. But they are not born as slaves : they Bricf 
are under the power of their parents, to be nursed and Lincoln. 
nurtured and educated for their good. 

" And the black child is born as much a free child in this 
sense as if it were white. 

" In making out that negroes are the property of their 
masters, the counsel for the plaintiff speak of lineage, and 
contend that the children of slaves must be slaves in the 
same way that, because our first parents fell, we all fell 
with them. 

" But are not all mankind born in the same way ? Are 
not their bodies clothed with the same kind of flesh ? Was 
not the same breath of life breathed into all? We are 
under the same gospel dispensation, have one common Sa 
viour, inhabit the same globe, die in the same manner; and 
though the white man may have his body wrapped in fine 
linen, and his attire may be a little more decorated, there 
all distinction of man s making ends. We all sleep on the 
same level in the dust. We shall all be raised by the sound 
of one common trump, calling unto all that are in their 
graves, without distinction, to arise ; shall be arraigned at 
one common bar ; shall have one common Judge, and be 
tried by one common jury, and condemned or acquitted by 
one common law, by the gospel, the perfect law of li 

" This cause will then be tried again, and your verdict 
will there be tried. Therefore, gentlemen of the jury, let 
me conjure you to give such a verdict now as will stand 
this test, and be approved by your own minds in the last 
moments of your existence, and by your Judge at the 
last day. 

" It will then be tried by the laws of reason and revela 

" Is it not a law of nature, that all men arc equal and 


Brief " Is n O t the law of nature the law of God ? 

Lincoln. " Is not the law of God, then, against slavery ? 

" If there is no law of man establishing it, there is no 
difficulty. If there is, then the great difficulty is to deter 
mine which law you ought to obey ; and, if you shall have 
the same ideas as I have of present and future things, you 
will obey the former. 

" The worst that can happen to you for disobeying the 
former is the destruction of the body ; for the last, that of 
your souls." Proceedings of the Mass. Hist. Soc., 1855-58, 
pp. 198-201. 

Other contemporary documents might be cited to 
show how such language as that used in the Declara 
tion of Independence was interpreted by the legisla 
tive and legal action of the day. I will only give the 
first article in the Constitution of Vermont : 

" All men are born equally free and independent, and 
Vermont, have certain natural, inherent, and inalienable rights ; 
among which are the enjoying and defending life and lib 
erty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; and 
pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety : therefore no 
male person, born in this country or brought from over sea, 
ought to be liolden by law to serve any person as a servant, 
slave, or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty- 
one years ; nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to 
the age of eighteen years ; unless they are bound by their 
own consent after they arrive to such age, or bound by 
the law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or 
the like." 

The Articles of Confederation which constituted 
the Law of the Land from the time of their passage 
in 1778 to the adoption of the Federal Constitution 
recognized and granted to free negroes the same 


privileges of citizenship which belonged to white in 
habitants. The fourth article is as follows : 

" ART. 4. The better to secure and perpetuate mutual Free 


friendship and intercourse among the people of the differ- regarded as 
ent States in this Union, the free inhabitants of each of 
these States paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from 
justice excepted shall be entitled to all privileges and 
immunities of free citizens in the several States ; and the 
people of each State shall have free ingress and regress to 
and from any other State, and shall enjoy therein all the 
privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same 
duties, impositions, and restrictions as the inhabitants there 
of, respectively ; provided that such restrictions shall not 
extend so far as to prevent the removal of property im 
ported into any State from any other State, of which the 
owner is an inhabitant ; provided, also, that no imposition, 
duty, or restriction, shall be laid by any State on the pro 
perty of the United States, or either of them." Elliot s 
Delates, vol. i. p. 79. 

It was not by accident or oversight that negroes 
were included in the phrase " free inhabitants " ; 
for, when this article was under consideration, the 
delegates from South Carolina moved to amend, by 
inserting between the words "free" and "inhabit 
ants " the word " white." The proposed amendment 
was lost ; only two States voting in the affirmative. 

In the ninth article, the word "white" was re 
tained. The State of New Jersey, although a slave- 
holding State, objected to this, and made a repre 
sentation to Congress on the subject ; an extract from 
which is pertinent here : 



New Jersey 
objects to 
the omis 
sion of 

" The ninth article also provides that the requisition 
for the land forces, to be furnished by the several States, 
shall be proportioned to the number of white inhabitants in 
each. In the act of Independence, we find the following 
declaration : We hold these truths to be self-evident : that 
all men are created equal ; that they are endued by their 
Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are 
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of this doctrine 
it is not a very remote consequence, that all the inhabitants 
of every society, be the color of their complexion what it 
may, are bound to promote the interest thereof, according 
to their respective abilities. They ought, therefore, to be 
brought into the account, on this occasion. But admitting 
necessity or expediency to justify the refusal of liberty, in 
certain circumstances, to persons of a particular color, we 
think it unequal to reckon upon such in this case. Should 
it be improper, for special local reasons, to admit them in 
arms for the defence of the nation, yet we conceive the 
proportion of forces to be embodied ought to be fixed ac 
cording to the whole number of inhabitants in the State, 
from whatever class they may be raised. If the whole 
number of inhabitants in a State, whose inhabitants are all 
whites, both those who are called into the field and those 
who remain to till the ground and labor in mechanical arts 
and otherwise, are reckoned in the estimate for striking 
the proportion of forces to be furnished by that State, ought 
even a part of the latter description to be left out in an 
other? As it is of indispensable necessity, in every war, 
that a part of the inhabitants be employed for the uses of 
husbandry and otherwise at home, while others are called 
into the field, there must be the same propriety that own 
ers of a different color, who are employed for this purpose 
in one State, while whites are employed for the same pur 
pose in another, be reckoned in the account of the inhabit 
ants in the present instance." Elliot s Debates, vol. i. 
p. 89. 


The opinions of the founders of the Republic re- opinions 
specting the slavery and the citizenship of negroes, ^"^l 
as expressed in some of the most important of their P ubllc - 
public acts, from the commencement to the close of 
their struggle for National Independence, and during 
the period of the Confederation, may be gathered 
from the documents already cited. They had pro 
claimed to the world the Universal Magna Charta 
which the Creator and Governor of men had granted 
to his subjects. This charter of natural and unalien- 
able rights had been timidly read and faintly spoken, 
by now and then a friend of liberty, in earlier times. 
Our patriot Fathers were the first boldly to publish 
it to " mankind " ; to adopt these " self-evident truths " 
as their National Creed ; and, " appealing to the Su 
preme Judge of the universe for the rectitude of their 
intentions," to announce their solemn purpose of es 
tablishing a Government, with these principles for 
its chief corner-stone. 

With such principles and motives to stimulate their 
patriotism and nerve their courage, they could not 
fail. The mighty power of the mother-country was 
impotent when wielded against the cause of Liberty. 
The Independence of the United States was acknowl 
edged by Great Britain, and we took our place 
among the nations of the earth. 

The Articles of Confederation served their purpose 
during the war, but were found inadequate to the 
growing wants of the Government. A Convention 
was accordingly called, to meet in Philadelphia on 


the second Monday in May in 1787, to frame a Con 

Before considering particularly the language of the 
Constitution, "the palladium of our liberties," let us 
look for a moment at some of the men to whom was 
intrusted this important work, and see with what 
minds they came to the performance of the duty 
assigned them. 

Among the delegates, we find the names of George 
Washington of Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin of 
Pennsylvania. The former was unanimously elected 
President of the Convention. Dr. Franklin was the 
only man who could have been thought of as a com 
petitor for the place. He was to have made the 
nomination of Washington : but, owing to the state 
of the weather and of his health, he was confined to 
his house ; and his colleague, Robert Morris, in be 
half of the delegation from Pennsylvania, proposed 
" George Washington, Esq., late Commander-in-chief," 
for President of the Convention. 

The character and position of these two pre-eminent 
patriots, from different States, one a slave-holder and 
the other not, give the greatest weight to their opin 
ions. They have both left distinct records of their 
views on the subject of slavery. 

Though, by inheritance and other circumstances 
entirely beyond his control, Washington found himself 
a slave-holder, yet he never defended the institution 
of slavery, or desired its perpetuity. On the contrary, 
we find, that, before he had drawn his sword in defence 


of the independence of his country, he had uttered 
his testimony against slavery in the fullest manner ; 
and, through his whole life, his desire to clear himself 
and his country from the foul blot was sincere and 

It had become quite common, during the year pre- Fairfax 

J County Re 

ceding the commencement of hostilities between the solves - 

colonists and the mother-country, for the people to 
meet in their respective counties or towns, to express, 
through addresses and resolutions, their sentiments 
and views respecting the condition of affairs. Such 
a meeting was held on the 18th of July, 1774, at 
the Fairfax County Court House, in Virginia ; and a 
series of twenty-four resolutions, prepared by a Com 
mittee of which Washington was chairman, was 

Three of these resolves are here given : 

" 17. Resolved, That it is the opinion of this meeting, that, 
during our present difficulties and distress, no slaves ought to be 
imported into any of the British colonies on this continent ; and 
we take this opportunity of declaring our most earnest wishes to 
see an entire stop for ever put to such a wicked, cruel, and un 
natural trade. 

"21. Resolved, That it is the opinion of this meeting, that 
this and the other associating colonies should break off all trade, 
intercourse, and dealings with that colony, province, or town, 
which shall decline, or refuse to agree to, the plan which shall be 
adopted by the General Congress. 

"24. Resolved, That George Washington and Charles Broad- 
water, lately elected our representatives to serve in the General 
Assembly, be appointed to attend the Convention at Williamsburg 
on the first day of August next, and present these resolves, as the 


Fairfnx sense of the people of this county upon the measures proper 
Resolve?, to be taken in the present alarming and dangerous situation of 

llespecting these resolutions, Mr. Sparks observes: 

" The draught, from which the resolves are printed, 
I find among Washington s papers, in the handwriting 
of George Mason, by whom they were probably drawn up ; 
yet, as they were adopted by the Committee of which 
Washington was chairman, and reported by him as modera 
tor of the meeting, they may be presumed to express his 
opinions, formed on a perfect knowledge of the subject, and 
after cool deliberation. This may indeed be inferred from 
his letter to Mr. Bryan Fairfax, in which he intimates a 
doubt only as to the article favoring the idea of a further 
petition to the king. He was opposed to such a step, 
believing enough had been done in this way already ; but 
he yielded the point in tenderness to the more wavering 
resolution of his associates. 

" These resolves are framed with much care and ability, 
and exhibit the question then at issue, and the state of 
public feeling, in a manner so clear and forcible as to give 
them a special claim to a place in the present work, in 
addition to the circumstance of their being the matured 
views of Washington at the outset of the great Revolution 
ary struggle, in which he was to act so conspicuous a 

" Such were the opinions of Washington, and his asso 
ciates in Virginia, at the beginning of the Revolutionary 
contest. The seventeenth resolve merits attention, from 
the pointed manner in which it condemns the slave-trade." 
- Sparks s Washington, vol. ii. pp. 488, 494, 495. 

Washington not only condemned the slave-trade, 
but expressed in the most decided terms his disap 
probation of domestic slavery. He discountenanced 


the interference of non-slaveholders in attempting to 
liberate slaves without the consent of their masters ; 
but at the same time, in a letter on the subject to 
Robert Morris, 12th April, 1786, he was careful to 

" I hope it will not be conceived from these observations 
that it is my wish to hold the unhappy people, who are the 
subject of this letter, in slavery. I can only say, that there 
is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to 
see some plan adopted for the abolition of it : but there is 
only one proper and effectual mode by which this can be 
accomplished, and that is by legislative authority ; and this, 
as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting." 
Sparks s Washington, vol. ix. p. 159. 

On the 9th of September of this same year, Washing 
ton wrote to Mr. John F. Mercer, of Maryland : 

" I never mean, unless some particular circumstance 
should compel me to it, to possess another slave by pur 
chase ; it being among my first wishes to see some plan 
adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished 
by law." Ibid. 

That Washington believed his wishes with regard 
to the abolition of slavery would at no distant day be 
realized, is evident from a letter to Sir John Sin 
clair, llth December, 179C : 

" The present prices of lands in Pennsylvania are higher 
than they are in Maryland and Virginia, although they 
are not of superior quality ; [among other reasons] because 
there are laws here for the gradual abolition of slavery, 
which neither of the two States above mentioned have 
at present, but which nothing is more certain than they 
must have, and at a period not remote." -- Sparks s Wash 
ington, vol. xii. p. 326. 


Lafayette, the bosom friend, who shared so fully 
the confidence and sympathy of Washington, was in 
frequent correspondence with him on the subject of 

No sooner had hostilities ceased, than he set about 
devising some practical plan for ridding the country, 
which his valor had helped to free from the yoke of 
British oppression, of an evil which he declared to be 
" a crime much blacker than any African face." 

The 5th of February, 1783, Lafayette writes: 

Lafayette. " Now, my dear General, that you are going to enjoy 
some ease and quiet, permit me to propose a plan to you, 
which might become greatly beneficial to the black part of 
mankind. Let us unite in purchasing a small estate, where 
we may try the experiment to free the negroes, and use 
them only as tenants. Such an example as yours might 
render it a general practice ; and, if we succeed in America, 
I will cheerfully devote a part of my time to render the 
method fashionable in the West Indies. If it be a wild 
scheme, I had rather be mad in this way, than to be thought 
wise in the other task." Correspondence of the American 
Revolution, vol. iii. pp. 547. 

To this letter, Washington replies, April 5th, 

Washing- The scheme, my dear Marquis, which you propose as a 
precedent to encourage the emancipation of the black 
people in this country from that state of bondage in which 
they are held, is a striking evidence of the benevolence of 
your heart. I shall be happy to join you in so laudable a 
work, but will defer going into a detail of the business till 
I have the pleasure of seeing you." - Sparks ^ Washington, 
vol. viii. pp. 414, 415. 


Three years later, and after Lafayette had put his 
plan into practice, Washington wrote to him in a tone 
of mingled approval of what he had done, and 
despondency as to any immediate action on the sub 
ject in this country : 

"MOUNT VERNON, 10th May, 1786. 

" The benevolence of your heart, my dear Marquis, is Washmg- 

n IT i t0 "- 

so conspicuous upon all occasions, that I never wonder 

at any fresh proofs of it; but your late purchase of an 
estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emanci 
pating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of 
your humanity. Would to God a like spirit might diffuse 
itself generally into the minds of the people of this coun 
try ! But I despair of seeing it. Some petitions were 
presented to the Assembly, at its last session, for the aboli 
tion of slavery ; but they could scarcely obtain a reading. 
To set the slaves afloat at once, would, I really believe, bo 
productive of much inconvenience and mischief; but by 
degrees it certainly might, and assuredly ought to bo 
effected, and that, too, by legislative authority." Sparlcs s 
Washington, vol. ix. pp. 1G3, 1G4. 

The following note on this subject is added by Mr. 
kS parks : 

" In a remarkable and very interesting letter, written Lafayette. 
by Lafayette in the prison of Magdeburg [March 15, 
1793, to the Princess d Hcnin], he said, I know 
not what disposition has been made of my plantation at 
Cayenne ; but I hope Madame de Lafayette will take care 
that the negroes, who cultivate it, shall preserve their 
liberty. " 

To John Adams, also, Lafayette wrote from Paris 
in 1786:- 





ton s Will. 

" In the cause of my black brethren, I feel myself warmly 
interested, and most decidedly side, so far as respects them, 
against the white part of mankind. Whatever be the com 
plexion of the enslaved, it does not, in my opinion, alter the 
complexion of the crime which the enslaver commits, a 
crime much blacker than any African face. It is to me a 
matter of great anxiety and concern, to find that this trade 
is sometimes perpetrated under the flag of liberty, our dear 
and noble stripes, to which virtue and glory have been 
constant standard-bearers." Life and Works of John 
Adams, vol. viii. p. 376. 

The opinions with regard to slavery which Wash 
ington held before the adoption of the Federal Con 
stitution were never relinquished. Only two years 
before he died (as we learn from Mr. Irving, who had 
the original letter before him), he said, writing to his 
nephew, Lawrence Lewis, " I wish from my soul 
that the Legislature of this State could see the policy 
of a gradual abolition of slavery. It might prevent 
much future mischief." 

" On opening the will which he had handed to Mrs. 
Washington shortly before his death, it was found to have 
been carefully drawn up by himself in the preceding July ; 
and, by an act in conformity with his whole career, one of 
its first provisions directed the emancipation of his slaves 
on the decease of his wife. It had long been his earnest 
wish, that the slaves held by him in his own right should 
receive their freedom during his life ; but he had found 
that it would be attended w T ith insuperable difficulties, on 
account of their intermixture by marriage with the dower 
negroes, whom it was not in his power to manumit under 
the tenure by which they were held. 

" With provident benignity, he also made provision in 


his will for such as were to receive their freedom under Washing- 
tins devise, but who, from age, bodily infirmities, or infancy, 
might be unable to support themselves; and he expressly 
forbade, under any pretence whatsoever, the sale or trans 
portation out of Virginia, of any slave of whom he might 
die possessed. Though born and educated a slave-holder, 
this was all in consonance with feelings, sentiments, and 
principles which he had long entertained." Irvimfs Wash 
ington, vol. v. pp. 316, 317. 

The second item of that long will, coming imme 
diately after the bequest to his " dearly beloved wife," 
is here given : 

"Item. Upon the decease of my wife, it is my will and 
desire that all the slaves whom I hold in my oivn rigid shall 
receive their freedom. To emancipate them during her 
life, would, though earnestly wished by me, be attended 
with such insuperable difficulties, on account of their in 
termixture by marriage with the dower negroes, as to 
excite the most painful sensations, if not disagreeable con 
sequences to the latter, while both descriptions are in the 
occupancy of the same proprietor ; it not being in my 
power, under the tenure by which the dower negroes are 
held, to manumit them. And whereas, among those who 
will receive freedom according to this devise, there may 
be some, who, from old age or bodily infirmities, and others, 
who, on account of their infancy, will be unable to support 
themselves, it is my will and desire, that all who come 
under the first and second description shall be comfortably 
clothed and fed by my heirs while they live ; and that such 
of the latter description as have no parents living, or, if 
living, are unable or unwilling to provide for them, shall 
be bound by the court until they shall arrive at the age of 
twenty-five years ; and in cases where no record can be 
produced, whereby their ages can be ascertained, the judg- 


Washing- ment of the court, upon its own view of the subject, shall 
be adequate and final. The negroes thus bound, are (by 
their masters or mistresses) to be taught to read and write, 
and to be brought up to some useful occupation, agreeably 
to the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia providing 
for the support of orphan and other poor children. And I 
do hereby expressly forbid the sale or transportation out of 
the said Commonwealth, of any slave I may die possessed 
of, under any pretence whatsoever. And I do, moreover, 
most pointedly and most solemnly enjoin it upon my execu 
tors hereafter named, or the survivors of them, to see that 
this clause respecting slaves, and every part thereof, be 
religiously fulfilled at the epoch at which it is directed to 
take place, without evasion, neglect, or delay, after the 
crops which may then be on the ground are harvested, 
particularly as it respects the aged and infirm ; seeing that 
a regular and permanent fund be established for their sup 
port, as long as there are subjects requiring it ; not trusting 
to the uncertain provision to be made by individuals. And 
to my mulatto man, William, calling himself William Lee, I 
give immediate freedom ; or, if he should prefer it (on ac 
count of the accidents which have befallen him, and which 
have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active 
employment), to remain in the situation he now is, it shall 
be optional in him to do so : in either case, however, I 
allow him an annuity of thirty dollars, during his natural 
life, which shall be independent of the victuals and clothes 
he has been accustomed to receive, if he chooses the last 
alternative ; but in full with his freedom, if he prefers the 
first. And this I give him as a testimony of my sense of 
his attachment to mo, and for his faithful services during 
the revolutionary war." Sparks 8 Washington, vol. xii. 
pp. 5G9-570. 

Franklin Although slavery was tolerated in the Colony 
where he was born, and also where he afterwards 


became a resident, Franklin never owned a slave. Franklin. 
His opinions on the subject agreed substantially with 
those entertained by Washington ; and, like " the 
Father of his Country," this great philosopher, pa 
triot, and statesman not only denounced negro slavery 
when struggling for national liberty, but left, among 
his last legacies to his countrymen, the most emphatic 
testimony against the institution. 

In a letter to John Wright of London, he gives an 
account of the early endeavors of the Friends in this 
country to abolish slavery ; and, at the same time, 
expresses incidentally his own views on the sub 

" I wish success to your endeavors for obtaining an F.:u-iy 
abolition of the slave-trade. The epistle from your Yearly against 
Meeting, for the year 1758, was not the first solving of the 
good seed you mention ; for I find, by an old pamphlet in 
my possession, that George Keith, near a hundred years 
since, wrote a paper against the practice, said to be given 
forth by the appointment of the meeting held by him at 
Philip James s house, in the city of Philadelphia, about the 
year 1693 ; wherein a strict charge was given to Friends, 
that they should set their negroes at liberty, after some 
reasonable time of service, &c. <fcc. And, about the year 
1728 or 1729, I myself printed a book for Ralph Sandy- 
ford, another of your Friends in this city, against keeping 
negroes in slavery; two editions of which he distributed 
gratis. And, about the year 1736, I printed another book 
on the same subject, for Benjamin Lay, who also professed 
being one of your Friends ; and he distributed the books 
chiefly among them. By these instances, it appears that 
the seed was indeed sown in the good ground of your 
profession, though much earlier than the time you mention ; 


Franklin. an( i jt s springing up to effect at last, though so late, is 
some confirmation of Lord Bacon s observation, that a good 
motion never dies; and it may encourage us in making such, 
though hopeless of their taking immediate effect." 
Sjjarks s Franklin, vol. x. p. 403. 

In a letter to Dean Woodward, dated London, 
April 10, 1773, Dr. Franklin says, 

..." I have since had the satisfaction to learn that a 
disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America ; 
that many of the Pcnnsylvanians have set their slaves at 
liberty ; and that even the Virginia Assembly have peti 
tioned the king for permission to make a law for preventing 
the importation of more into that Colony. This request, 
however, will probably not be granted, as their former 
laws of that kind have always been repealed, and as the 
interest of a few merchants here has more weight with 
Government than that of thousands at a distance." - 
Sparks s Franklin, vol. viii. p. 42. 

In 1789 was issued an address to the public, bear 
ing the signature of this venerable man, then in his 
eighty-fourth year, the last of his life. This address 
is here reprinted entire : 


" From (he Pennsylvania Society for I rotnoting ilia Abolition of 
ftlnccry, and the Eelief of Free Ncyrocs unlawfully held -tn 

" It is with peculiar satisfaction we assure the friends 
of humanity, that, in prosecuting the design of our asso 
ciation, our endeavors have proved successful, far beyond 
our most sanguine expectations. 

" Encouraged by this success, and by the daily progress 


of that luminous and benign^irrfc_oJ.ibert):, which is Franklin. 
diffusing itself throughout the world, and humbly hoping 
for the continuance of the divine blessing on our labors, 
we have ventured to make an important addition to our 
original plan ; and do therefore earnestly solicit the support 
and assistance of all who can feel the tender emotions of 
sympathy and compassion, or relish the exalted pleasure 
of beneficence. 

" Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human / 
nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with-* 
solicitous care, may sometimes open a source of serious 

" The unhappy man, who has long been treated as a 
brute animal, too frequently sinks beneath the common 
standard of the human species. The galling chains that 
bind his body do also fetter his intellectual faculties, and 
impair the social affections of his heart. Accustomed to 
move like a mere machine, by the will of a master, reflection 
is suspended ; he has not the power of choice ; and reason 
and conscience have but little influence over his conduct, 
because he is chiefly governed by the passion of fear. He 
is poor and friendless ; perhaps worn out by extreme labor, 
age, and disease. 

u Under such circumstances, freedom may often prove 
a misfortune to himself, and prejudicial to society. 

"Attention to emancipated black people, it is therefore 
to be hoped, will become a branch of our national police ; 
but, as far as we contribute to promote this emancipation, 
so far that attention is evidently a serious duty incumbent 
on us, and which we mean to discharge to the best of our 
judgment and abilities. 

To instruct, to advise, to qualify those who have been 
restored to freedom, for the exercise and enjoyment of civil ^ 
liberty ; to promote in them habits of industry ; to furnish 
them with employments suited to their age, sex, talents, 
and other circumstances ; and to procure their children an 



education calculated for their future situation in life, these 
are the great outlines of the annexed plan, which we have 
adopted, and which we conceive will essentially promote 
the public good, and the happiness of these our hitherto 
too much neglected fellow-creatures. 

" A plan so extensive cannot be carried into execution 
without considerable pecuniary resources, beyond the 
present ordinary funds of the Society. We hope much 
from the generosity of enlightened and benevolent free 
men, and will gratefully receive any donations or sub 
scriptions for this purpose which may be made to our 
Treasurer, James Starr, or to James Pemberton, Chairman 
of our Committee of Correspondence. 

" Signed by order of the Society, 

11 B. FRANKLIN, President. 
" PHILADELPHIA, 9th of November, 1789." 

The last public act of Dr. Franklin was the signing, 
as President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, 
of the following memorial to Congress : 

Memorial " The memorial respectfully showeth, 

to Con 
gress, 1790. " That, from a regard for the happiness of mankind, an 

association was formed several years since in this State, 
by a number of her citizens, of various religious denomi- 
i nations, for promoting the abolition of slavery, and for the 
relief of those unlawfully held in bondage. A just and 
a-cute conception of the true principles of liberty, as it 
spread through the land, produced accessions to their num 
bers, many friends to their cause, and a legislative co-opera 
tion with their views, which, by the blessing of Divine 
Providence, have been successfully directed to the relieving 
from bondage a large number of their fellow-creatures of 
the African race. They have also the satisfaction to ob 
serve, that, in consequence of that spirit of philanthropy 
and genuine liberty which is generally diffusing its bone- 

MEMORIAL TO CONGRESS. influence, similar institutions are forming at home Memorial 

. to Con- 

ana abroad. gross, 1700. 

"That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty 
Being, alike objects of his care, and equally designed for 
the enjoyment of happiness, the Christian religion teaches 
us to believe, and the political creed of Americans fully 
coincides with the position. 3^oj^_jnemm jjtl i s tg , particu 
larly engaged in attending to the distresses arising from 
slavery, believe it their indispensable duty to present this 
subject to your notice. They have observed, with real 
satisfaction, that many important and salutary powers are 
vested in you for promoting the welfare and securing the 
blessings of liberty to the people of the United States ; 
and as they conceive that these blessings ought rightfully 
to be administered, without distinction of color, to all 
descriptions of people, so they indulge themselves in the 
pleasing expectation, that nothing which can be done for 
the relief of the unhappy objects of their care, will be 
either omitted or delayed. 

" From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally 
the portion, and is still the birth-right, of all men ; and 
influenced by the strong ties of humanity, and the prin 
ciples of their institution, your memorialists conceive them- 
selves bound to use all justifiable endeavors to loosen the 
bands of slavery, and promote a general enjoyment of the 
blessings of freedom. Under these impressions, they earn 
estly entreat your serious attention to the subject of 
slavery ; that you will be pleased to countenance the resto 
ration of liberty to those unhappy men, who alone, in this 
land of freedom, are degraded into perpetual bondage, and 
who, amidst the general joy of surrounding freemen, are 
groaning in servile subjection ; that you will devise means 
for removing this inconsistency from the character of the 
American people ; that you will promote mercy and justice 
towards this distressed race ; and that you will step to 
the very verge of the power vested in you for discoura- 


Franklin, ging every species of traffic in the persons of our fellow- 

" BENJ. FRANKLIN, President. 

" I liiLADELriilA, February 3, 1790." 

(Annals of Congress, vol. ii. p. 1197.) 

The memorial occasioned a debate, in which some 
of the members attempted to justify slavery. This 
gave rise to a characteristic paper, communicated by 
Dr. Franklin to the " Federal Gazette " of March 25, 
1790, and dated only twenty-four days before his 
death. By way of parody, he exposes the absurdity 
of the reasoning adopted by those who opposed the 
memorial : 

" To the Editor of the Federal Gazette: 

" MARCH 23, 1790. 

" SIR, Reading last night in your excellent paper the 
speech of Mr. Jackson in Congress against their meddling 
with the affair of slavery, or attempting to mend the con 
dition of the slaves, it put me in mind of a similar one, 
made about one hundred years since, by Sidi Mehemet 
Ibrahim, a member of the Divan of Algiers, which may be 
seen in Martin s Account of his Consulship, anno 1687. It 
was against granting the petition of the sect called Erika, 
or Purists, who prayed for the abolition of piracy and 
slavery as being unjust. Mr. Jackson does not quote it : 
perhaps he has not seen it. If, therefore, some of its rea 
sonings are to be found in his eloquent speech, it may only 
show that men s interests and intellects operate, and are 
operated on, with surprising similarity in all countries and 
climates, whenever they are under similar circumstances. 
The African s speech, as translated, is as follows : 


" Allah Bismillali, &c. God is great, and Mahomet is Jiis Prophet. 

11 Have these Erika considered the consequences of Franklin s 

. . . . parody on 

granting their petition : It we cease our cruises against a pro-" 
the Christians, how shall we be furnished with the commod- 
ities their countries produce, and which are so necessary 
for us ? If we forbear to make slaves of their people, who, 
in this hot climate, are to cultivate our lands? Who are to 
perform the common labors of our city, and in our families? 
Must we not then be our own slaves ? And is there not 
more compassion and more favor due to us as Mussulmen 
than to these Christian dogs? We have now above fifty 
thousand slaves in and near Algiers. This number, if not 
kept up by fresh supplies, will soon diminish, and be gra 
dually annihilated. If we, then, cease taking and plunder 
ing the infidel ships, making slaves of the seamen and 
passengers, our lands will become of no value for want of 
cultivation ; the rents of houses in the city will sink one- 
half; and the revenue of government, arising from its share 
of prizes, be totally destroyed. And for what ? To gratify 
the whims of a whimsical sect, who would have us not only 
forbear making more slaves, but even manumit those wo 

" But who is to indemnify their masters for the loss ? 
Will the State do it? Is our treasury sufficient? Will the 
Erika 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 coun 
tries ; they know too well the greater hardships they must 
there be subject to ; they will not embrace our holy reli 
gion ; they will not adopt our manners ; our people will 
not pollute themselves by intermarrying with them. Must 
we maintain them as beggars in our streets, or suffer our 
properties to be the prey of their pillage? For men accus 
tomed to slavery will not work for a livelihood when not 


Franklin s compelled. And what is there so pitiable in their present 
parody on . _ ... 

a pro- condition : Were they not slaves in their own countries ! 

" Are not Spain, Portugal, France, and the Italian States, 
governed by despots, who hold all their subjects in slavery, 
without exception? Even England treats its sailors as 
slaves : for they are, whenever the government pleases, 
seized, and confined in ships of war ; condemned not only 
to work, but to fight, for small wages, or a mere subsist 
ence, not better than our slaves are allowed by us. 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 Islamism 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 

" 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 sub 
sist on, and where they may nourish as a free State ; but 
they are, I doubt, too little disposed to labor without com 
pulsion, as well as too ignorant to establish a good govern 
ment, and the wild Arabs 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 laborers in their own country are, as I am 
well informed, worse fed, lodged, and clothed. 

" The condition of most of them is, therefore, already 
mended, and requires no further improvement. Here their 
lives are in safety. They are not liable to be impressed for 
soldiers, and forced to cut one another s Christian throats, 
as in the wars of their own countries. If some of the reli 
gious mad bigots, who now tease us with their silly peti- 

tions, have, in a fit of blind zeal, freed their slaves, it was Franklin s 

, , parody on 

not generosity, it was not humanity, that moved them to n pro-" 
the action : it was from the conscious burthen of a load of speech. 
sins, and a hope, from the supposed merits of so good a 
work, to be excused from damnation. 

" How grossly are they mistaken to suppose slavery to 
be disallowed by the Alcoran ! Are not the two precepts, 
to quote no more, Masters, treat your slaves with kindness ; 
slaves, serve your masters with cheerfulness and fidelity, 1 
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 Mussulmen, who are to enjoy it of 
right as fast as they conquer it. Let us, then, hear no more 
of this detestable proposition, the manumission of Chris 
tian slaves ; 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 govern 
ment, 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 Erika, and dismiss their petition. 

" The result was, as Martin tells us, that the Divan came 
to this resolution : The doctrine that plundering and 
enslaving the Christians is unjust, is, at best, problematical; 
but that it is the interest of this State to continue the prac 
tice, is clear : therefore let the petition be rejected. 

" And it was rejected accordingly. 

" And since like motives are apt to produce in the minds 
of men like opinions and resolutions, may we not, Mr. 
Brown, venture to predict, from this account, that the peti 
tions to the Parliament of England for abolishing the slave- 
trade, to say nothing of other Legislatures, and the debates 


upon them, will have a similar conclusion? I am, sir, your 
constant reader and humble servant, HISTORICUS." 

(Sparks s Franklin, vol. ii. pp. 517-521.) 

It is not necessary now to produce the opinions of 
other members of the Convention : some of them 
expressed their views fully during the debates, and 
specimens of their speeches will presently be given. 
But it is not out of place here to inquire whether the 
leading statesmen of the country at that time, who 
were not members of the Convention, held opinions 
substantially the same as those of Washington and 

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson among the 
foremost men in founding the Republic were, at 
the time the Convention was held, serving their 
country abroad ; the former as ambassador to Eng 
land ; the latter, to France. The opinions of Mr. 
Adams on slavery may be briefly given in an extract 
from a letter written only a few years before his 
death : 

John " I have, through my whole life, held the practice of 

slavery in such abhorrence, that I have never owned a 
negro or any other slave : though I have lived for many 
years in times \vhen the practice was not disgraceful ; 
when the best men in my vicinity thought it not incon 
sistent with their character; and when it has cost me 
thousands of dollars for the labor and subsistence of free 
men, which I might have saved by the purchase of negroes 
at times when they were very cheap." Works of John 
Adams, vol. x. p. 380. 


Mr. Jefferson s sentiments before and at the time of Juiierson. 
the Declaration of Independence have already been 
given. They were still more strongly expressed in 
his "Notes on Virginia," in 1782: 

" The whole commerce between master and slave is a Notes on 
perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions ; the most 
unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading sub 
missions on the other. Our children see this, and learn 
to imitate it ; for man is an imitative animal. This quality 
is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to 
his grave, he is learning to do what he sees others do. If 
a parent could find no motive, either in his philanthropy 
or his self-love, for restraining the intemperance of passion 
towards his slave, it should always be a sufficient one that 
his child is present. But generally it is not sufficient. 
The parent storms; the child looks on, catches the linea- > 
ments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller 
slaves, gives a loose to the worst of passions ; and thus 
nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot 
but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man 
must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals 
undepraved by such circumstances. And with what exe 
cration should the statesman be loaded, who, permitting , 
one-half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the 
other, tranforms those into despots, and these into enemies ; 
destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriot 
of the other ! For, if a slave can have a country in this 
world, it must be any other in preference to that in which 
he is born to live and labor for another ; in which he must 
lock up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as 
depends on his individual endeavors to the evanishment 
of the human race, or entail his own miserable condition 
on the endless generations proceeding from him. With - /U| 
the morals of the people, their industry also is destroyed. 
For, in a warm climate, no man will labor for himself who 


Jefferson, can make another labor for him. This is so true, that, of 
the proprietors of slaves^ a very small proportion indeed 
are ever seen to labor. [And can the liberties of a nation 
/ be thought secure when we have removed their only firm 
basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these 
liberties are of the gift of Godff that they are not to be vio 
lated but with his wrath ? ^Indeed I tremble for my coun 
try, when I reflect that God is just ; that his justice cannot 
sleep for everj^that considering numbers, nature, and na 
tural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an 
exchange of situation, is among possible events ; that it 
may become probable by supernatural interference. The 
Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in 
such a contest. But it is impossible to be temperate, and 
to pursue this subject through the various considerations 
of policy, of morals, of history natural and civil. We must 
be contented to hope they will force their way into every 
one s mind. I think a change already perceptible, since 
the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the 
master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust ; 
his condition mollifying; the way, I hope, preparing, under 
the auspices of Heaven, for a total emancipation ; and that 
this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the con 
sent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation." - 
Jcffersoii s Writings, vol. viii. pp. 403, 40-4. 

In a letter to Dr. Price, dated at London on the 
7th of August, 1785, Mr. Jefferson thus tells him 
what will be the probable effect of his late pamphlet, 
in which the abolition of slavery is strenuously 
urged : 

" From the mouth to the head of the Chesapeake, the 
bulk of the people will approve it in theory, and it will find 
a respectable minority ready to adopt it in practice ; a 
minority, which, for weight and worth of character, prepon- 


derates against the greater number, who have not the Jefferson, 
courage to divest their families of a property, which, how 
ever, keeps their conscience unquiet. Northward of the 
Chesapeake, you may find here and there an opponent to 
your doctrine, as you may find here and there a robber 
and murderer ; but in no greater number. In that part of 
America, there being but few slaves, they can easily disen 
cumber themselves of them ; and emancipation is put into 
such a train, that in a few years there will be no slaves 
northward of Maryland. In Maryland, I do not find such a 
disposition to begin the redress of this enormity, as in Vir 
ginia. This is the next State to which we may turn our 
eyes for the interesting spectacle of justice in conflict with 
avarice and oppression ; a conflict wherein the sacred side 
is gaining daily recruits, from the influx into office of 
young men grown, and growing up. These have sucked 
in the principles of liberty, as it were, with their mothers 
milk ; and it is to them I look with anxiety to turn the fate 
of this question. Be not therefore discouraged. What 
you have written will do a great deal of good ; and, could 
you still trouble yourself with our welfare, no man is more 
able to give aid to the laboring side." Jefferson s Writ 
ings, vol. i. p. 377. 

While Mr. Jefferson was in France, in 1786, he 
furnished M. Uemeunier with many materials for his 
copious article on the United States, about to appear 
in the great " Encyclopedic Methodique " ; and he 
revised the manuscript of the whole article with great 
care. The following is part of a note to the author, 
most of which he translated into French, and incor 
porated in his own work, where it stands as a 
perpetual record of Mr. Jefferson s sentiments at 
that time : 



Jefferson. " M. do Meusnier, where he mentions that the slave-law 
has been passed in Virginia without the clause of eman 
cipation, is pleased to mention, that neither Mr. Wythe 
nor Mr. Jefferson was present to make the proposition 
they had meditated : from which, people, who do not give 
themselves the trouble to reflect or inquire, might conclude 
hastily, that their absence was the cause why the proposition 
was not made ; and, of course, that there were not, in the 
Assembly, persons of virtue and firmness enough to propose 
the clause for emancipation. This supposition would not 
be true. There were persons there, who wanted neither 
the virtue to propose nor talents to enforce the proposi 
tion, had they seen that the disposition of the Legislature 
was ripe for it. These worthy characters would feel 
themselves wounded, degraded, and discouraged by this 
idea. Mr. Jefferson would therefore be obliged to M. de 
Meusnier to mention it in some such manner as this : 
Of the two commissioners, who had concerted the amen 
datory clause for the gradual emancipation of slaves, Mr. 
Wythe could not be present, he being a member of the 
judiciary department ; and Mr. Jefferson was absent on the 
legation to France. But there were not wanting, in that 
Assembly, men of virtue enough to propose, and talents to 
vindicate, this clause. But they saw that the moment of 
doing it with success was not yet arrived, and that an 
unsuccessful effort, as too often happens, would only rivet 
still closer the chains of bondage, and retard the moment 
of delivery to this oppressed description of men. What 
a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man, 
who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment, and 
death itself, in vindication of his own liberty, and, the 
next moment, be deaf to all those motives whose power 
supported him through his trial, and inflict on his fellow- 
men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with 
more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion 
to oppose ! But we must await with patience the workings 


of an overruling Providence, and hope that that is pro- Jefferson. 
paring the deliverance of these our suffering brethren. 
When the measure of their tears shall be full; when their 
groans shall have involved heaven itself in darkness, 
doubtless a God of justice will awaken to their distress, 
and, by diffusing light and liberality among their oppress 
ors, or, at length, by his exterminating thunder, manifest 
his attention to the things of this world, and that they are 
not left to the guidance of a blind fatality. " Jefferson s 
Writings, vol. ix. pp. 278, 279. 

In his " Autobiography," written only a few years 
before his death, alluding to the above-mentioned 
slave-law, he says, 

" The bill on the subject of slaves was a mere digest of 
the existing laws respecting them, without any intimation 
of a plan for a future and general emancipation. It was 
thought better that this should be kept back, and attempted 
only by way of amendment, whenever the bill should be 
brought on. The principles of the amendment, however, 
were agreed on ; that is to say, the freedom of all born 
after a certain day, and deportation at a proper age. But 
it was found that the public mind would not yet bear the 
proposition, nor will it bear it even at this day. Yet 
the day is not distant when it must bear and adopt it, or 
worse will follow. Nothing is more certainly written in 
the book of fate, than that these people are to be free ; nor 
is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot 
live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion, have 
drawn indelible lines of distinction between them. It is 
still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and 
deportation peaceably, and in such slow degree as that the 
evil will wear off insensibly, and their place be, part passu, 
filled up by free white laborers. If, on the contrary, it is 
left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the 


prospect held up. We should in vain look for an example 
in the Spanish deportation or deletion of the Moors. This 
precedent would fall far short of our case." Jefferson s 
Writings, vol. i. pp. 48 , 49. 

The eminent South-Carolina patriots, Christopher 
Gadsden and Henry Laurens, have left their testimony 
on this subject in no ambiguous terms. 

Mr. Gadsden was one of the most prominent public 
servants of the South, both in the Continental and 
Colonial Legislatures. In a letter to Fr. S. Johnson, 
in Connecticut, dated at Charleston, S. C., 16th April, 
1766, he says, 

Christo- " We are a very weak province, a rich growing one, and 
Gadsden. of as much importance to Great Britain as any upon the 
continent ; and great part of our weakness (though at the 
same time tis part of our riches) consists in having such 
a number of slaves amongst us ; and we find in our case, 
according to the general perceptible workings of Provi 
dence, where the crime most commonly though slowly, yet 
surely, draws a similar and suitable punishment, that sla 
very begets slavery. Jamaica and our West India Islands 
demonstrate this observation, which I hope will not be our 
case now, whatever might have been the consequences 
had the fatal attempts been delayed a few years longer, 
when we had drank deeper of the Circean draught, and the 
measure of our iniquities were filled up." MS. Letter 
(printed in the Hist. Mag., Sept. 1861, p. 261) in posses 
sion of the Hon. George Bancroft. 

Mr. Laurens was for two years President of the 
Continental Congress, and afterwards appointed minis 
ter to Holland. He was a commissioner, with Frank 
lin and Jay, for negotiating a peace with Great 


Mr. Laurens wrote to his son, from Charleston, 

S.C., Uth August, 1776: 

" You know, my dear son. I abhor slavery. I was born j Teiir y 

* ... Laurens 

in a country where slavery had been established by British 
kings and parliaments, as well as by the laws of that coun 
try, ages before my existence. I found the Christian reli 
gion and slavery growing under the same authority and 
cultivation. I nevertheless disliked it. In former days, 
there was no combating the prejudices of men supported 
by interest : the day, I hope, is approaching, when, from 
principles of gratitude as well as justice, every man will 
strive to be foremost in showing his readiness to comply 
with the golden rule. Not less than twenty thousand 
pounds sterling would all my negroes produce, if sold at 
public auction to-morrow. I am not the man who enslaved 
them ; they are indebted to Englishmen for that favor : 
nevertheless, I am devising means for manumitting many 
of them, and for cutting off the entail of slavery. Great 
powers oppose me, the laws and customs of my country, 
my own and the avarice of my countrymen. What will 
my children say if I deprive them of so much estate? 
These are difficulties, but not insuperable. I will do as 
much as I can in my time, and leave the rest to a better hand. 
" I am not one of those who arrogate the peculiar care 
of Providence in each fortunate event ; nor one of those 
who dare trust in Providence for defence and security of 
their own liberty, while they enslave, and wish to continue 
in slavery, thousands who are as well entitled to freedom 
as themselves. I perceive the work before me is great. 
I shall appear to many as a promoter, not only of strange, 
but of dangerous doctrines : it Avill therefore be necessary 
to proceed with caution. You are apparently deeply in 
terested in this affair ; but, as I have no doubts concerning 
your concurrence and approbation, I most sincerely wish 
for your advice and assistance, and hope to receive both 
in good time."- - Collection of the Zenger Club, pp. 20, 21. 


Such were the prevailing principles of the people, 
tls ex P resse d by their leading representatives, when 
the Convention for framing the Federal Constitution 
assembled in Philadelphia, in May, 1787. It is highly 
proper that a constant regard should be had to these 
principles in interpreting the language of the Con 

The position and purpose of the Convention were 
unprecedented. It was the first time in the history of 
the world that an assemblage of men had been called 
together, with delegated power from the people, to 
prepare an instrument which was to establish a Go 
vernment, and to be the source and test of all their 

Some of the delegates to this Convention had been 
members of the Continental Congress of 1776; and, 
as was said by John Quincy Adams at the Jubilee of 
the Constitution in New York, " this act was the 
complement to the Declaration of Independence ; 
founded upon the same principles, carrying them 
out into practical execution, and forming with it one 
entire system of national government." 

The Articles of Confederation proved an unsuccess 
ful experiment. When the exigencies of the war were 
over, and the Government fully assumed the functions 
of an independent nation, it was seen that an error had 
been committed in " the substitution of State sove 
reignty, instead of the constituent sovereignty of the 
people, as the foundation of the Revolution and of the 
Union." It is a significant fact, that, in the Preamble 
to the Constitution, this departure from the principles 


of the Declaration of Independence is tacitly reco^- Tlie Cf) - 


nized, and is rectified by a recurrence to the truth, that " <l tllc 


to secure tlie rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit i! ,! , 1 ,. , , ._ 
of happiness, governments are instituted among men, 
denying their just powers from the consent of the 

This preamble, of only a single sentence, is the 
key to the Constitution. Without considering and 
comprehending it, no one should attempt to interpret 
any of the separate articles of that instrument. 


The Constitution is, and was intended to be, the 
PEOPLE S document, the palladium of their liberty. 
It was to defend and to bless the negro as well as the 
white man : for negroes had fought side by side with 
our W 7 hite soldiers in the common struggle for liberty ; 
and, in several of the States, they, as citizens, had 
voted for the delegates to the Convention, and after 
wards on the adoption of the Constitution. 

It was established for the purpose of securing 
liberty ; and nothing can be clearer to a careful stu 
dent of the history of that period, than that tlie 
authors of the Declaration of Independence and of 
the Constitution of the United States, " parts of one 
consistent whole, founded on one and the same theory 
of government," believed and intended, that, under 


The Con- their influence and operation, slavery would soon be 


ami sia- abolished. 

It had been declared by Lord Mansfield, in the 
Court of King s Bench, in England, that slavery was 
" so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support 
it but positive law." At the time the Federal Consti 
tution was adopted, there was not, in the State 
Constitutions, any thing to warrant or justify slavery. 
Every thing of that kind has come by later amend 
ments. As in the preparation of the Declaration of 
Independence, so in the formation of the Constitution, 
the authors did not ignore the existence of slavery. 
It was an evil that had been forced upon them by 
Great Britain, against their consent ; and was one of 
the moving causes for the separation from the mother- 
country. They had, in the most emphatic manner, 
by resolutions and otherwise, expressed their abhor 
rence of slavery, and their determination to emanci 
pate the negroes without unnecessary delay. All 
that the slaveholders asked of the Convention was a 
temporary protection for what they regarded, in one 
sense, their property, until they could, in their own 
time and in their own way, bring about this desirable 

Mr. Pinckney declared, " If the Southern States 
were let alone, they will probably of themselves stop 
importations. He would himself, as a citizen of 
South Carolina, vote for it." 

Mr. Sherman observed that " the abolition of sla 
very seemed to be going on in the United States, and 


that the good sense of the several States would proba 
bly by degrees complete it." Mr. Ellsworth added, 
and no one expressed dissent from this opinion, 
" Slavery, in time, will not be a speck in our country." 

It was an eminent Virginian, Mr. Madison, who 
declared that " he thought it wrong to admit in the 
Constitution the idea of property in men." That idea 
was accordingly everywhere scrupulously avoided. 

But still, in three separate clauses, the Constitution 
recognizes the existence of slavery, although it does 
not permit the word " slave " anywhere to tarnish its 

"ART. I. SECT. 2 Representatives and 

direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States 
which may be included within this Union, according to 
their respective numbers ; which shall be determined by 
adding to the whole number of free persons, including 
those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding 
Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons. . . . 

" ART. I. SECT. 9. The migration or importation of 
such persons as any of the States now existing shall think 
proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress 
prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight ; 
but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, 
not exceeding ten dollars for each person 

" ART. IV. SECT. 2 No person held to 

service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escap 
ing into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regula 
tion therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but 
shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such 
service or labor may be due." 


In considering these articles in the Convention, the 
whole subject of slavery was thoroughly discussed. 
No language of radical reformers in recent times 
surpasses in severity the honest utterances of the 
patriots and statesmen who were then assembled. 
No friendly voice was raised to defend this barbarous 
crime against humanity. Let us look at some of the 

Mr. Gouverneur Morris, of Pennsylvania, was the 
member to whom was finally committed the Constitu 
tion, to give finish to the style and arrangement of 
that instrument. He may properly be regarded as 
the author of its text. In the debate on the 8th of 
August, 1787, he uses the following language : 

Gouver- u jj c ncv er would concur in upholding domestic slaverv. 


Morris. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of Heaven on 
the States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions 
of the Middle States, where a rich and noble cultivation 
marks the prosperity and happiness of the people, with the 
misery and poverty which overspread the barren wastes of 
Virginia, Maryland, and the other States having slaves. 
Travel through the whole continent, and you behold the 
prospect continually varying with the appearance and dis 
appearance of slavery. The moment you leave the Eastern 
States, and enter New York, the effects of the institution 
become visible. Passing through the Jerseys, and enter 
ing Pennsylvania, every criterion of superior improvement 
witnesses the change. Proceed southwardly, and every 
step you take through the great regions of slaves presents 
a desert, increasing with the increasing proportion of these 
wretched beings. Upon what principle is it that the slaves 
shall be computed in the representation ? Are they men ? 


Then make them citizens*, and let them vote. Are they Gouver- 

10 netir 

property? Why, then, is no other property included? Morris. 
The houses in this city (Philadelphia) are worth more 
than all the wretched slaves who cover the rice-swamps of 
South Carolina. The admission of slaves into the repre 
sentation, when fairly explained, conies to this, that the 
inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina, who goes to the 
coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of 
humanity, tears away his fellow-creatures from their dear 
est connections, and damns them to the most cruel bondage, 
shall have more votes in a government instituted for the 
protection of the rights of mankind than the citizen of 
Pennsylvania or New Jersey, who views with a laudable 
horror so nefarious a practice. He would add, that do 
mestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aris 
tocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The 
vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring 
of aristocracy. And what is the proposed compensation 
to the Northern States for a sacrifice of every principle 
of right, of every impulse of humanity? They are to bind 
themselves to march their militia for the defence of the 
Southern States, for their defence against those very 
slaves of whom they complain. They must supply vessels 
and seamen in case of foreign attack. The Legislature 
will have indefinite power to tax them by excises and 
duties on imports, both of which will fall heavier on them 
than on the Southern inhabitants ; for the bohea tea used 
by a Northern freeman will pay more tax than the whole 
consumption of the miserable slave, which consists of 
nothing more than his physical subsistence and the rag 
that covers his nakedness. On the other side, the Southern 
States are not to be restrained from importing fresh sup 
plies of wretched Africans, at once to increase the danger 
of attack and the difficulty of defence : nay, they are to be 
encouraged to it by an assurance of having their votes in 
the National Government increased in proportion ; and are, 


Gouver- at the same time, to have their exports and their slaves 
Morris, exempt from all contributions for the public service. Let 
it not be said that direct taxation is to be proportioned to 
representation. It is idle to suppose that the General 
Government can stretch its hand directly into the pockets 
of the people scattered over so vast a country. They can 
only do it through the medium of exports, imports, and 
excises. For what, then, are all the sacrifices to be made ? 
He would sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all 
the negroes in the United States than saddle posterity 
with such a Constitution."- Madison Papers, Elliot, vol. v. 
pp. 392, 393. 

Mr. Rufus King, of Massachusetts, in the same 
debate, said : 

Rufus " The admission of slaves w r as a most grating circum 

stance to his mind, and he believed would be so to a great 
part of the people of America. He had not made a strenu 
ous opposition to it heretofore, because he had hoped that 
this concession would have produced a readiness, which 
had not been manifested, to strengthen the General Go 
vernment, and to mark a full confidence in it. The report 
under consideration had, by the tenor of it, put an end to 
all those hopes. In two great points, the hands of the 
Legislature were absolutely tied. The importation of 
slaves could not be prohibited. Exports could not be 
taxed. Is this reasonable ? What are the great objects of 
the general system? First, defence against foreign inva 
sion ; secondly, against internal sedition. Shall all the 
States, then, be bound to defend each ? and shall each be at 
liberty to introduce a weakness which will render defence 
more difficult ? Shall one part of the United States be 
bound to defend another part, and that other part be at 
liberty, not only to increase its own danger, but to with 
hold the compensation for the burden ? If slaves are to 


be imported, shall not the exports produced by their labor Rnfus 
supply a revenue, the better to enable the General Govern 
ment to defend their masters ? There was so much in 
equality and unreasonableness in all this, that the people 
of the Northern States could never be reconciled to it. 
No candid man could undertake to justify it to them. He 
had hoped that some accommodation would have taken 
place on this subject; that, at least, a time would have 
been limited for the importation of slaves. He never could 
agree to let them be imported without limitation, and then 
be represented in the National Legislature. Indeed, he 
could so little persuade himself of the rectitude of such a 
practice, that he was not sure he could assent to it under 
any circumstances. At all events, either slaves should not 
be represented, or exports should be taxable." 

Mr. Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, 

" Regarded the slave-trade as iniquitous : but, the Roger 
point of representation having been settled after much 
difficulty and deliberation, he did not think himself bound 
to make opposition ; especially as the present article, 
as amended, did not preclude any arrangement whatever 
on that point, in another place of the report." Madison 
Papers, Elliot, vol. v. 391, 392. 

Mr. Luther Martin, of Maryland, in the debate, 
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 

" Proposed to vary Art. 7, Sect. 4, so as to allow a Lnthor 
prohibition or tax on the importation of slaves. In the 
first place, as five slaves are to be counted as three free 
men in the apportionment of representatives, such a clause 
would leave an encouragement to this traffic. In the 
second place, slaves weakened one part of the Union, which 
the other parts were bound to protect : the privilege of 
importing them was therefore unreasonable. And, in the 


Debate in third place, it was inconsistent with the principles of the 
vention." Revolution, and dishonorable to the American character, 

to have such a feature in the Constitution. 
T"i>n " Mr. RUTLEDGE did not see how the importation of 

Kutledge. . . 

slaves could be encouraged by this section. He was not 
apprehensive of insurrections, and would readily exempt 
the other States from the obligation to protect the Southern 
against them. Religion and humanity had nothing to do 
with this question : interest alone is the governing princi 
ple with nations. The true question at present is, whether 
the Southern States shall or shall not be parties to the 
Union. If the Northern States consult their interest, they 
will not oppose the increase of slaves, which will increase 
the commodities of which they will become the carriers. 

!vor " Mr. ELLSWORTH was for leaving the clause as it stands. 

Let every State import what it pleases. The morality or 
wisdom of slavery are considerations belonging to the 
States themselves. What enriches a part enriches the 
whole, and the States are the best judges of their particu 
lar interest. The old Confederation had not meddled with 
this point ; and he did not see any greater necessity for 
bringing it within the policy of the new one. 

Charios " Mr. PIXCKXEY. South Carolina can never receive the 

rinckney. . 

plan it it prohibits the slave-trade. In every proposed 
extension of the powers of Congress, that State has ex 
pressly and watchfully excepted that of meddling with the 
importation of negroes. If the States be all left at liberty 
on this subject, South Carolina may perhaps, by degrees, do 
of herself what is wished, as Virginia and Maryland already 
have done. 

" Adjourned. 

" WEDNESDAY, Aug. 22. 

" In Convention, Art, 7, Sect. 4, was resumed. 

" Mr. SHERMAN was for leaving the clause as it stands. 

oilCl 1 il;l 11. 

Jle disapproved of the slave-trade ; yet, as the States were 
now possessed of the right to import slaves, as the public 


good did not require it to be taken from them, and as it i}"?cr 
Avas expedient to have as feAv objections as possible to the 
proposed scheme of government, he thought it best to leave 
the matter as we find it. He observed, that the abolition of 
slavery seemed to be going on in the United States, and that 
the good sense of the several States would probably by degrees 
complete it. He urged on the Convention the necessity of 
despatching its business. 

" Col. MASON. This infernal traffic originated in the 
avarice of British merchants. The British Government 
constantly checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop 
to it. The present question concerns, not the importing 
States alone, but the whole Union. The evil of having 
slaves was experienced during the late Avar. Had slaves 
been treated as they might ha\ T e been by the enemy, they 
Avould have proved dangerous instruments in their hands. 
But their folly dealt by the slaves as it did by the Tories. 
lie mentioned the dangerous insurrections of the slaves in 
Greece and Sicily, and the instructions giA en by Crom- 
Avell to the commissioners sent to Virginia, to arm the 
servants and slaves, in case other means of obtaining its 
submission should fail. Maryland and Virginia, he said, 
had already prohibited the importation of slaves expressly. 
North Carolina had done the same in substance. All 
this Avould be in vain, if South Carolina and Georgia be 
at liberty to import. The "Western people are already 
calling out for slaA r es for their neAv lands ; and Avill fill 
that country Avith slaves, if they can be got through 
South Carolina and Georgia. Slavery discourages arts and 
manufactures. The poor despise labor Avhen performed 
by slaves. They prevent the emigration of Avhites, Avho 
really enrich and strengthen a country. They produce the 
most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves 
is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of Heaven 
on a country. As nations cannot be reivardcd or pun is/ted 
in the next ivoiid, they must be in this. By an inevitable 


Debate in chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national 
lint?on!" sins l>y national calamities. He lamented that some of our 
Eastern brethren had, from a lust of gain, embarked in this 
nefarious traffic. As to the States being in possession of 
the right to import, this was the case with many other 
rights, now to be properly given up. He held it essential, 
in every point of view, that the General Government should 
have power to prevent the increase of slavery. 

Oliver " Mr. ELLSWORTH, as he had never owned a slave, could 

not judge of the effects of slavery on character. He said, 
however, that, if it was to be considered in a moral light, 
we ought to go further, and free those already in the 
country. As slaves also multiply so fast in Virginia and 
Maryland, that it is cheaper to raise than import them, 
whilst in the sickly rice-swamps foreign supplies are 
necessary, if we go no further than is urged, we shall be 
unjust towards South Carolina and Georgia. Let us not 
intermeddle. As population increases, poor laborers will 
be so plenty as to render slaves useless. Slavery, in time, 
will not l>e a speck in our country. Provision is already 
made in Connecticut for abolishing it ; and the abolition 
has already taken place in Massachusetts. As to the 
danger of insurrections from foreign influence, that will 
become a motive to kind treatment of the slaves. 
Charles " Mr. PixcKNEY. If slavery be wrong, it is justified by 

the example of all the world. He cited the case of Greece, 
Home, and other ancient States ; the sanction given by 
France, England, Holland, and other modern States. In 
all ages, one-half of mankind have been slaves. If the 
Southern States were let alone, they ivill probably of them 
selves stop importations. He would himself, as a citizen of 
South Carolina, vote for it. An attempt to take away 
the right, as proposed, will produce serious objections 
to the Constitution, which he wished to see adopted. 
Charles " Gen. PiNCKNEY declared it to be his firm opinion, that 

I inckiicy. if himself and all his colleagues were to sign the Constitu- 


tion. and use their personal influence, it would be of no Charles 

. . . Cotesworth 

avail towards obtaining the assent 01 their constituents. Pinckney. 
South Carolina and Georgia cannot do without slaves. 
As to Virginia, she will gain by stopping the importations. 
Her slaves will rise in value, and she has more than she 
wants. It would be unequal to require South Carolina 
and Georgia to confederate on such unequal terms. He 
said, the royal assent, before the Revolution, had never 
been refused to South Carolina as to Virginia. He con 
tended, that the importation of slaves would be for the 
interest of the whole Union. The more slaves, the more 
produce to employ the carrying-trade ; the more consump 
tion also ; and, the more of this, the more revenue for the 
common treasury. He admitted it to be reasonable, that 
slaves should be dutied like other imports ; but should 
consider a rejection of the clause as an exclusion of South 
Carolina from the Union. 

" Mr. BALDWIN had conceived national objects alone to Abraham 
be before the Convention ; not such as, like the present, 
were of a local nature. Georgia was decided on this point. 
That State has always hitherto supposed a General Gov 
ernment to be the pursuit of the Central States, who 
wished to have a vortex for every thing ; that her distance 
would preclude her from equal advantage ; and that she 
could not prudently purchase it by yielding national pow 
ers. From this it might be understood in what light she 
would view an attempt to abridge one of her favorite 
prerogatives. If left to herself, she may probably put a stop 
to ihe evil. As one ground for this conjecture, he took 
notice of the sect of - , which, he said, was a respecta 
ble class of people, who carried their ethics beyond the 
mere equality of men, extending their humanity to the 
claims of the whole animal creation. 

" Mr. WILSON observed, that if South Carolina and James 


Georgia ivere themselves disposed to get rid of the importation 
of slaves in a short time, as had been suggested, thctj would 



Debate in never refuse to unite because the importation mi<jld be pro- 
vention." hibited. As the section now stands, all articles imported 
are to be taxed. Slaves alone are exempt, This is, in 
fact, a bounty on that article. 

" Mr. GERRY thought we had nothing to do with the 
conduct of the States as to slaves, but ought to be careful 
not to give any sanction to it. 

" Mr. DICKINSON considered it as inadmissible, on every 
principle of honor and safety, that the importation of slaves 
should be authorized to the States by the Constitution. 
The true question was, whether the national happiness 
would be promoted or impeded by the importation ; and 
this question ought to be left to the National Government, 
not to the States particularly interested. If England and 
France permit slavery, slaves are, at the same time, ex 
cluded from both those kingdoms. Greece and Rome were 
made unhappy by their slaves. He could not believe that 
the Southern States would refuse to confederate on the 
account apprehended ; especially as the power was not 
likely to be immediately exercised by the General Govern 

" Mr. WILLIAMSON stated the law of North Carolina on 
the subject ; to wit, that it did not directly prohibit the 
importation of slaves. It imposed a duty of 5 on each 
slave imported from Africa, =10 on each from elsewhere, 
and 50 on each from a State licensing manumission. He 
thought the Southern States could not be members of the 
Union, if the clause should be rejected ; and it was wrong 
to force any thing down not absolutely necessary, and which 
any State must disagree to. 

" Mr. KING thought the subject should be considered in 
a political light only. If two States will not agree to the 
Constitution, as stated on one side, he could affirm with 
equal belief, on the other, that great and equal opposition 
would be experienced from the other States. He remarked 
on the exemption of slaves from duty, whilst every other 


import was subjected to it, as an inequality that could not Debute in 
fail to strike the commercial sagacity of the Northern and veution. 
Middle States. 

" Mr. LANGDON was strenuous for giving the power to 
the General Government. He could not, with a good con 
science, leave it with the States, who could then go on 
with the traffic, without being restrained by the opinions 
here given, that they will themselves cease to import slaves. 

" Gen. PINCKNEY thought himself bound to declare can 
didly, that he did not think South Carolina would stop her 
importations of slaves in any short time ; but only stop 
them occasionally, as she now does. He moved to commit 
the clause, that slaves might be made liable to an equal 
tax with other imports ; which he thought right, and which 
would remove one difficulty that had been started. 

" Mr. RUTLEDGE. If the Convention thinks that North 
Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia will ever agree to 
the plan, unless their right to import slaves be untouched, 
the expectation is vain. The people of those States will 
never be such fools as to give up so important an interest. 
He was strenuous against striking out the section, and 
seconded the motion of Gen. Pinckney for a commitment. 

" Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS wished the whole subject to 
be committed, including the clauses relating to taxes 
on exports and to a navigation act. These things may 
form a bargain among the Northern and Southern States. 

" Mr. BUTLER declared, that he never would agree to 
the power of taxing exports. 

" Mr. SHERMAN said it Avas better to let the Southern 
States import slaves than to part with them, if they made 
that a sine qua non. He was opposed to a tax on slaves 
imported, as making the matter worse, because it implied 
they were property. He acknowledged, that, if the power 
of prohibiting the importation should be given to the 
General Government, it would be exercised. He thought 
it would be its duty to exercise the power. 


Debate in " Mr. READ was for the commitment, provided the clause 
concerning taxes on exports should also be committed. 

" Mr. SHERMAN observed, that that clause had been 
agreed to, and therefore could not be committed. 

" Mr. RANDOLPH was for committing, in order that some 
middle ground might, if possible, be found. He could 
never agree to the clause as it stands. He would sooner 
risk the Constitution. He dwelt on the dilemma to which 
the Convention was exposed. By agreeing to the clause, 
it would revolt the Quakers, the Methodists, and many 
others in the States having no slaves. On the other hand, 
two States might be lost to the Union. Let us then, he 
said, try the chance of a commitment." Madison Papers, 
Elliot, vol. v. pp. 457-461. 

Three days later (Saturday, Aug. 25th), the debate 
on this subject was resumed, and the Report of the 
Committee of Eleven was taken up. It was in the 
following words : 

" Strike out so much of the fourth section as was re 
ferred to the Committee, and insert The migration or 
importation of such persons as the several States, now 
existing, think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by 
the Legislature prior to the year 1800 ; but a tax or duty 
may be imposed on such migration or importation, at a rate 
not exceeding the average of the duties laid on imports. : 

" Gen. PINCKNEY moved to strike out the words the 
year eighteen hundred as the year limiting the importa 
tion of slaves, and to insert the words the year eighteen 
hundred and eight. 

" Mr. GORHAM seconded the motion. 

" Mr. MADISON. Twenty years will produce all the mis 
chief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import 
slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the 


American character than to say nothing about it in the Debate in 

the Con- 
Constitution, veution. 

" On the motion, which passed in the affirmative, 

" New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, 
North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, ay, 7 ; New Jersey, 
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, no, -4. 

" Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS was for making the clause 
read at once, 

" The importation of slaves into North Carolina, South Caro 
lina, and Georgia, shall not be prohibited, &c. 

This, he said, would be most fair, and would avoid the 
ambiguity by which, under the power with regard to natu 
ralization, the liberty reserved to the States might be 
defeated. He wished it to be known, also, that this part 
of the Constitution was a compliance with those States. 
If the change of language, however, should be objected 
to by the members from those States, he should not 
urge it. 

" Col. MASON was not against using the term slaves/ 
but against naming North Carolina, South Carolina, and 
Georgia, lest it should give offence to the people of those 

" Mr. SHERMAN liked a description better than the terms 
proposed, which had been declined by the old Congress^ 
and were not pleasing to some people. 

" Mr. CLYMER concurred with Mr. Sherman. 

" Mr. WILLIAMSON said, that, both in opinion and prac 
tice, he was against slavery ; but thought it more in favor 
of humanity, from a view of all circumstances, to let in 
South Carolina and Georgia on those terms, than to exclude 
them from the Union. 

" Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS withdrew his motion. 

"Mr. DICKINSON wished the clause to be confined to the 
States which had not themselves prohibited the importa- 


Delate in tion of slaves ; and, for that purpose, moved to amend the 

the Con 
vention, clause so as to read, 

" The importation of slaves into such of the States as shall 
permit the same shall not be prohibited by the Legislature of the 
United States until the year 1808 ; - 

which was disagreed to, nem. con. 

li The first part of the Report was then agreed to, 
amended as follows : 

" The migration or importation of such persons as the several 
States now existing shall think proper to admit shall not be prohib 
ited by the Legislature prior to the year 1808. 

" Xew Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, 
North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, ay, 7; Xew Jersey, 
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, no, 4." Madison Papers, 
Elliot, vol. v. pp. 477, 478. 

These specimens of the debates are sufficient to 
show the various shades of opinion as expressed by 
members of the Convention from different States. 
The Constitution, with the articles on slavery, as 
amended and finally adopted by the Federal Conven 
tion, was submitted to the people, to be ratified by 
them through State Conventions of delegates elected 
for that special purpose. In these State Conven 
tions, the various articles were again thoroughly 

In Massachusetts, the delegates assembled in Bos 
ton, Jan. 9, 1788. It is hardly too much to say, that 
the fate of the Federal Constitution was to be de 
cided by the action of this State Convention. By the 
final vote of three hundred and fifty-five members, a 
majority of only nineteen votes was obtained in its 


favor ; one hundred and eighty-seven beinGr in the conven 

> tion to 

affirmative, and one hundred and sixty-eight in the ne- ^i^ 
gative. Had the vote been taken without discussion l 
on the first meeting of the members, there can be no 
doubt that the Constitution would have been rejected 
by a considerable majority. 

Elbridge Gerry, one of our delegates to the Fede 
ral Convention, had declined to sign the Constitution, 
and addressed a letter to the State Legislature, giving 
his reasons for so doing. He was invited to take a 
seat with the delegates in the State Convention. 
John Hancock and Samuel Adams, the two most 
eminent members of the State Convention, were both 
opposed to the adoption of the Constitution. Mr. 
Hancock, on account of his position and from mo 
tives of policy, was elected President ; but he excused 
himself from attending until towards the close of the 
session, on account of illness. The circumstances 
connected with the change of purpose on the part of 
the President are related by Professor Parsons in the 
admirable " Memoir " of his father, Chief-Justice The- 
ophilus Parsons. Amongst the many reasons assigned 
by the opponents of the Federal Constitution for 
their desire to defeat its adoption, the articles on the 
subject of slavery were brought forward. The discus 
sion on this subject deserves our notice. 

In the second week of the Convention, Jan. 17, 
the subject of taxation and representation being 
under debate, " Mr. Wedgery asked, if a boy of six 
years of age was to be considered as a free person." 


conven- The Hon. Rufus King, in answer, said, 

tion to 

Constitu- " All persons born free were to be considered as free 
men ; and, to make the idea of taxation by numbers more 
Rufus intelligible, said that five negro children of South Carolina 
King are to pay as much tax as the three governors of New 
Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut." 

On the same occasion, Judge Dana spoke : 

Francis " In reply to the remark of some gentlemen, that the 

Southern States were favored in this mode of apportion 
ment, by having five of their negroes set against three 
persons in the Eastern, the honorable Judge observed, that 
the negroes of the Southern States work no longer than 
when the eye of the driver is on them. Can, asked he, 
1 that land flourish like this, which is cultivated by the hands 
of freemen ? And are not three of these independent 
freemen of more real advantage to a State than five of 
those poor slaves ? 7 As a friend to equal taxation, he re 
joiced that an opportunity was presented in this Constitu 
tion to change this unjust mode of apportionment. Indeed/ 
concluded he, from a survey of every part of the Consti 
tution, I think it the best that the wisdom of man could 
suggest. " 

The discussion was continued ; and, on the next 
day, Thomas Dawes, Esq., expressed his views on 
the subject: 

Thomas ^{ r> JJ AWES ga,^ ne wag sorry to hear so many objec 

tions raised against the paragraph under consideration. 
He thought them wholly unfounded ; that the black 
inhabitants of the Southern States must be considered 
either as slaves, and as so much property, or in the char 
acter of so many free men. If the former, why should 
they not be wholly represented ? Our own State laws and 
Constitution would lead us to consider those blacks as free 


men ; and so, indeed, would our own ideas of natural ins- Thomas 

. Dawes. 

tice. If, then, they are freemen, they might form an equal 

basis for representation, as though they were all white 
inhabitants. In either view, therefore, he could not see 
that the Northern States would suffer, but directly to the 
contrary. lie thought, however, that gentlemen would do 
well to connect the passage in dispute with another article 
in the Constitution, that permits Congress, in the year 
1808, wholly to prohibit the importation of slaves, and, in 
the mean time, to impose a duty of ten dollars a head on 
such blacks as should be imported before that period. Be 
sides, by the new Constitution, every particular State is 
left to its own option totally to prohibit the introduction of 
slaves into its own territories. What could the Convention 
do more ? The members of the Southern States, like our 
selves, have their prejudices. It would not do to abolish 
slavery by an act of Congress in a moment, and so destroy 
what our Southern brethren consider as property ; but 
ice may say, that although slavery is not smitten by an apo 
plexy, yet it has received a mortal wound, and will die of a 
consumption." Debates and Proceedings, pp. 135-139. 

From the minutes of the debates, kept by Chief- 
Justice Parsons, and printed with the last edition of 
the " Debates and Proceedings," we learn that George 
Cabot on this occasion remarked : " The Southern 
States have the slave-trade, and are sovereign States. 
This Constitution is the best way to get rid of it" 

During the next week (Friday, Jan. 25), the clause 
relating to " the migration or importation of such 
persons as any of the States now existing shall think 
proper to admit " was under consideration ; when 

" Mr. NEAL (from Kittery) went over the ground of Jnmes 
objection to this section, on the idea that the slave-trade 



Convention W as allowed to bo continued for twenty years. His pro- 
the Consti- fession, lie said, obliged him to bear witness against any 
thing that should favor the making merchandise of the 
bodies of men : and, unless his objection was removed, he 
could not put his hand to the Constitution. Other gentle 
men said, in addition to this idea, that there was not even 
a provision that the negroes ever shall be free ; and 
General " Gen. THOMPSON exclaimed : Mr. President, Shall it be 

said, that, after we have established our own independ 
ence and freedom, we make slaves of others ? Washing 
ton ! What a name has he had ! How he has immortalized 
himself! But he holds those in slavery who have as good 
right to be free as he has. He is still for self; and ; in my 
opinion, his character has sunk fifty per cent. 

" On the other side, gentlemen said, that the step taken 
in this article towards the abolition of slavery was one of 
the beauties of the Constitution. They observed, that, in 
the Confederation, there was no provision whatever for its 
ever being abolished : but this Constitution provides that 
Congress may, after twenty years, totally annihilate the 
slave-trade ; and that, as all the States, except two, have 
passed laws to this effect, it might reasonably be expected 
that it would then be done. In the interim, all the States 
were at liberty to prohibit it. 

"SATURDAY, Jan. 26, 1788. 

"The debate on the ninth section still continued desul 
tory, and consisted of similar objections and answers thereto 
as had before been used. Both sides deprecated the slave- 
trade in the most pointed terms. On one side, it was pathet 
ically lamented by Mr. Nasson, Major Lusk, Mr. Neal, and 
others, that this Constitution provided for the continuation 
of the slave-trade for twenty years ; on the other, the Hon. 
Judge Dana, Mr. Adams, and others, rejoiced that a door 
was now to be opened for the annihilation of this odious, 
abhorrent practice, in a certain time." Debates and Pro 
ceedings, pp. 208, 209. 


On Wednesday, Jan. 30, General Heath, who had 
been detained by indisposition from attending many 
of the meetings, was present, and participated in the 
debate. A part of his remarks were as follows : 

" The paragraph respecting the migration or importa- General 
tion of such persons as any of the States now existing 
shall think proper to admit, &c., is one of those considered 
during my absence ; and I have heard nothing on the sub 
ject, save what has been mentioned this morning. But I 
think the gentlemen who have spoken have carried the 
matter rather too far on both sides. 

" I apprehend that it is not in our power to do any thing 
for or against those who are in slavery in the Southern 
States. No gentleman within these walls detests every 
idea of slavery more than I do. It is generally detested 
by the people of this Commonwealth ; and I ardently hope 
that the time will soon come, when our brethren in the 
Southern States will view it as we do, and put a stop to it : 
but to this we have no right to compel them. Two ques 
tions naturally arise : If we ratify the Constitution, shall 
we do any thing by our act to hold the blacks in slavery ? or 
shall we become partakers of other men s sins? I think, nei 
ther of them. Each State is sovereign and independent to 
a certain degree ; and they have a right, and will regulate 
their own internal affairs as to themselves appears proper. 
And shall we refuse to eat or to drink or to be united with 
those who do not think or act just as we do ? Surely not. 
We are not, in this case, partakers of other men s sins ; for 
in nothing do we voluntarily encourage the slavery of our 
fellow-men. A restriction is laid on the Federal Govern 
ment, which could not be avoided and a union take place. 
The Federal Convention went as far as they could. The 
migration, or importation, &c., is confined to the States 
now existing only : new States cannot claim it. Congress, 


Convention by their ordinance for erecting new States, some time since 
the ra consti- declared that the new States shall be republican, and that 
there shall be no slavery in them ; but, whether those in 
slavery in the Southern States will be emancipated after 
the year 1808, I do not pretend to determine: I rather 
doubt it." Debates and Proceedings, pp. 216-217. 

One of the longest speeches in the Convention, on 
the subject of slavery, was made by the Rev. Isaac 
Backus of Middleborough, on the 4th of February, 
just before the debates were finally closed. A part of 
this speech will show its character : 

If a " c " Much. Sir, hath been said about the importation of 

Backns. . . x 

slaves into this country. I believe, that, according to my 
capacity, no man abhors that wicked practice more than I 
do, and would gladly make use of all lawful means toward 
the abolishing of slavery in all parts of the land. But let 
us consider where we are, and what we are doing. In 
the Articles of Confederation, no provision was made to hin 
der the importation of slaves into any of these States ; but a 
door is now opened hereafter to do it, and each State is at 
liberty now to abolish slavery as soon as they please. And 
let us remember our former connection with Great Britain, 
from whom many in our land think we ought not to have 
revolted. How did they carry on the slave-trade ? I know 
that the Bishop of Gloucester, in an annual sermon in Lon 
don in February, 17GG, endeavored to justify their tyran 
nical claims of power over us by casting the reproach of 
the slave-trade upon the Americans ; but, at the close of the 
war, the Bishop of Chester, in an annual sermon in Febru 
ary, 1783, ingenuously owned that their nation is the most 
deeply involved in the guilt of that trade of any nation in 
the world, and also that they have treated their slaves 
in the West Indies worse than the French or Spaniards have 
done theirs. Thus slavery grows more and more odious 


through the world ; and, as an honorable gentleman said Debate in 
some days ago, i Though we cannot say that slavery is struck vention. 
with an apoplexy, yet we may hope it ivill die with a consump 

" The American Revolution was built upon the principle, 
that all men are born with an equal right to liberty and 
property, and that officers have no right to any power but 
what is fairly given them by the consent of the people. 
And, in the Constitution now proposed to us, a power is 
reserved to the people constitutionally to reduce every 
officer again to a private station ; and what a guard is this 
against their invasion of others rights, or abusing of their 
power ! Such a door is now opened for the establishing of 
righteous government, and for securing equal liberty, as 
never was before opened to any people on earth."- De 
bates and Proceedings, pp. 251, 253. 

The final vote on the ratification of the Constitu- Rejoicing 

on the 

tion was taken on the Gth of February, 1788; and nation of 

J the Consti- 

resulted, as has been already stated, in the affirmative, tution - 
by the small majority of nineteen votes. Notwith 
standing the strong opposition to it which was mani 
fested whilst the subject was under discussion, there 
was a general acquiescence in the result. The joy of 
the people was expressed by enthusiastic public de 
monstrations. An extract from one of the newspa 
pers of the day will give a good idea of the popular 
sentiment at the time : 

" The citizens of Boston have ever shown themselves 
advocates for freedom : therefore, when a motion had 
obtained, one of the greatest objects of which is to secure 
the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity/ 


Ceiebra- tliev could not resist the strong impulse they must have 
Boston. had, publicly to testify their gratitude for the pleasing 
event. Nor have they. On the decision being declared, 
the bells in the several public buildings communicated the 
happy intelligence to every part of the town by a peal, 
which continued for several hours ; and which has been 
continued, with short intervals, ever since. The discharge 
of cannon, and other demonstrations of joy, took place on 
Wednesday and Thursday ; but it was left to yesterday to 
produce an exhibition, to which America has never before 
witnessed an equal, and which has exceeded any thing of 
the kind Europe can boast of." Columbian Centinel, 
Feb. 9 1788. 

published account of the Convention in New 
tion. %t " Hampshire is very brief and imperfect. The only 
speech known to have been preserved is here printed 

The Hon. Joshua Atherton, from Amhcrst, spoke 
as follows : 

j os i mn , " Mr. President, I cannot be of the opinion of the ho- 

Atherton. n0 rable gentlemen who last spoke, that this paragraph is 
either so useful or so inoffensive as they seem to imagine, 
or that the objections to it arc so totally void of foundation. 
The idea that strikes those, who are opposed to this clause, 
so disagreeably and so forcibly, is, hereby it is conceived 
(if we ratify the Constitution) that we become consentcrs 
to, and partakers in, the sin and guilt of this abominable 
traffic, at least for a certain period, without any positive 
stipulation that it should even then be brought to an end. 
We do not behold in it that valuable acquisition so much 
boasted of by the honorable member from Portsmouth, 
thai an end is then to be put to slavery. Congress may be 
as much or more puzzled to put a stop to it then than we 
are now. The clause has not secured its abolition. 


" Wo do not think ourselves under any obligation to Joshua 
perform works of supererogation in the reformation of man 
kind ; we do not esteem ourselves under any necessity to 
go to Spain or Italy to suppress the Inquisition of those 
countries, or of making a journey to the Carolinas to 
abolish the detestable custom of enslaving the Africans : 
but, Sir, we will not lend the aid of our ratification to this 
cruel and inhuman merchandise, not even for a day. There 
is a great distinction in not taking a part in the most bar 
barous violation of the sacred laws of God and humanity, 
and our becoming guaranties for its exercise for a term of 
years. Yes, Sir, it is our full purpose to wash our hands 
clear of it ; and however unconcerned spectators we may 
remain of such predatory infractions of the laws of our 
nature, however unfeelingly we may subscribe to the ratifi 
cation of man-stealing, with all its baneful consequences, 
yet I cannot but believe, in justice to human nature, that 
if we reserve the consideration, and bring this claimed 
power somewhat nearer to our own doors, we shall form a 
more equitable opinion of its claim to this ratification. Let 
us figure to ourselves a company of these man-stealers, 
well equipped for the enterprise, arriving on our coast. 
They seize and carry off the whole or a part of the in 
habitants of the town of I^xcter. Parents are taken, and 
children left; or possibly they may be so fortunate as to 
have a whole family taken and carried off together by these 
relentless robbers. What must lie their feelings in the 
hands of their new and arbitrary masters ? Dragged at 
once from every thing they held dear to them ; stripped 
of every comfort of life, like beasts of prey, they are 
hurried on a loathsome and distressing voyage to the coast 
of Africa, or some other quarter of the globe, where the 
greatest price may await them ; and here, if any thing can 
be added to their miseries, comes on the heart-breaking 
scene. A parent is sold to one, a son to another, and a 
daughter to a third ! Brother is cleft from brother, sister 


Joshua from sister, and parents from their darling offspring! 
Broken with every distress that human nature can feel, 
and bedewed with tears of anguish, they are dragged into 
the last stage of depression and slavery, never, never to 
behold the faces of one another again ! The scene is too 
affecting. I have not fortitude to pursue the subject." 
Elliot s Debates, vol. ii. pp. 203, 204. 

Pennsylvania was the second State to adopt the 
Constitution. The remarks of James Wilson, in the 
Ratification Convention, must not be omitted. Mr. 
Wilson was one of the signers of the Declaration of 
Independence, and was for several years a member 
of Congress. He was not only an eloquent orator and 
ready debater, but may be regarded as one of the first 
jurists in the country. Washington appointed him a 
Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States the 
year after the adoption of the Constitution ; and he 
held the office until his death, which occurred in 
1798. The opinions of such a man are entitled to 
great consideration. 

.Limes " With respect to the clause restricting Congress from 

\\ilsun. . . . ( . 

prohibiting the migration or importation of such persons as 
any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit 
prior to the year 1808, the honorable gentleman says that 
this clause is not only dark, but intended to grant to 
Congress, for that time, the power to admit the importa 
tion of slaves. Xo such thing was intended. But I will 
tell you what was done, and it gives me high pleasure that 
so much was done. Under the present Confederation, the 
States may admit the importation of slaves as long as they 
please; but by tin s article, after the year 1808, the Con 
gress will have power to prohibit such importation, notwith 
standing the disposition of any State to the contrary. / 


consider this as laying the foundation for banishing slavery James 
out of this country ; and though the period is more distant 
than I could ivish, yet it will produce the same kind, gradual 
change which was pursued in Pennsylvania. It is with 
much satisfaction I view this power in the General Gov 
ernment, whereby they may lay an interdiction on this 
reproachful trade. But an immediate advantage is also 
obtained : for a tax or duty may be imposed on such impor 
tation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person ; and this, 
Sir, operates as a partial prohibition. It was all that could 
be obtained. I am sorry it was no more ; but from this I 
think there is reason to hope, that yet a few years, and 
it will be prohibited altogether ; and, in the mean time, tho 
new States which are to be formed will be under the control 
of Congress in this particular, and slaves will never be in 
troduced amongst them. 

" I recollect, on a former day, the honorable gentleman 
from Westmoreland (Mr. Findley), and the honorable gen 
tleman from Cumberland (Mr. Whitehill), took exceptions 
against the 1st clause of the 9th sect., art. 1, arguing, very 
unfairly, that, because Congress might impose a tax or 
duty of ten dollars on the importation of slaves within 
any of the United States, Congress might therefore permit 
slaves to be imported within this State, contrary to its 
laws. I confess, I little thought that this part of the 
system would be excepted to. 

" I am sorry that it could be extended no farther ; but, 
so far as it operates, it presents us with the pleasing pros 
pect, that the rights of mankind will bo acknowledged and 
established throughout the Union. 

" If there was no other lovely feature in the Constitu 
tion but this one, it would diffuse a beauty over its whole 
countenance. Yet the lapse of a few years, and Congress 
will have power to exterminate slavery from within our 
borders." Elliot s Debates, vol. ii. pp. 452, 484. 




tion rati 
fied by 


Maryland adopted the Constitution in opposition 
to the strong remonstrance of Luther Martin. The 
address which he made to the State Legislature has 
been published, and fills between forty and fifty closely 
printed pages. The part pertinent to this paper is 
here copied entire : 

" By the ninth section of this article, the importation of 
such persons as any of the States now existing shall think 
proper to admit shall not be prohibited prior to the year 
one thousand eight hundred and eight ; but a duty may be 
imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars each 

" The design of this clause is to prevent the General 
Government from prohibiting the importation of slaves; but 
the same reasons which caused them to strike out the word 
national, and not admit the word stamps/ influenced 
them here to guard against the word slaves. They anx 
iously sought to avoid the admission of expressions which 
might be odious in the ears of Americans, although they 
were willing to admit into their system those things which 
the expressions signified : and hence it is that the clause 
is so worded as really to authorize the General Government 
to impose a duty of ten dollars on every foreigner who 
comes into a State to become a citizen, whether he comes 
absolutely free, or qualifiedly so as a servant ; although 
this is contrary to the design of the framers, and the duty 
was only meant to extend to the importation of slaves. 

" This clause was the subject of a great diversity of sen 
timent in the Convention. As the system was reported by 
the committee of detail, the provision was general, that 
such importation should not be prohibited, without confin 
ing it to any particular period. This was rejected by eight 
States ; Georgia, South Carolina, and, I think, North Caro 
lina, voting for it. 


" Wo were then told by the delegates of the two first J; lltlicr 
J Martin. 

of those States, that their States would never agree to a 
system which put it in the power of the General Govern 
ment to prevent the importation of slaves ; and that they, 
as delegates from those States, must withhold their assent 
from such a system. 

" A committee of one member from each State was 
chosen by ballot to take this part of the system under 
their consideration, and to endeavor to agree upon some 
report which should reconcile those States. To this com 
mittee also was referred the following proposition, which 
had been reported by the committee of detail ; viz., No 
navigation act shall be passed without the assent of two- 
thirds of the members present in each house/ a pro 
position which the staple and commercial States were 
solicitous to retain, lest their commerce should be placed 
too much under the power of the Eastern States, but 
which these last States were as anxious to reject. This 
committee, of which also I had the honor to be a member, 
met, and took under their consideration the subjects com 
mitted to them. I found the Eastern States, notwithstand 
ing their aversion to slavery, were very willing to indulge 
the Southern States at least with a temporary liberty to 
prosecute the slave-trade, provided the Southern States 
would, in their turn, gratify them by laying no restriction 
on navigation acts ; and, after a very little time, the com 
mittee, by a great majority, agreed on a report, by which 
the General Government was to be prohibited from pre 
venting the importation of slaves for a limited time, and 
the restrictive clause relative to navigation acts was to be 

" This report was adopted by a majority of the Conven 
tion, but not without considerable opposition. It was said 
that we had just assumed a place among independent 
nations, in consequence of our opposition to the attempts 
of Great Britain to enslave us ; that this opposition was 


Luther grounded upon the preservation of those rights to which 
God and nature had entitled us, not in particular, but in 
common with the rest of all mankind ; that we had appealed 
to the Supreme Being for his assistance, as the God of 
freedom, who could not but approve our efforts to preserve 
the rights which he had thus imparted to his creatures ; 
that now, when we scarcely had risen from our knees, from 
supplicating his aid and protection in forming our govern 
ment over a free people, a government formed pretend- 
edly on the principles of liberty, and for its preservation, 
in that government to have a provision not only putting 
it out of its power to restrain and prevent the slave-trade, 
but even encouraging that most infamous traffic by giving 
the States power and influence in the Union in proportion 
as they cruelly and wantonly sport with the rights of their 
fellow-creatures, ought to be considered as a solemn mock 
ery of, and insult to, that God whose protection we had 
then implored ; and could not fail to hold us up in detesta 
tion, and render us contemptible to every true friend of 
liberty in the w r orld. It was said, it ought to be consid 
ered that national crimes can only be, and frequently are, 
punished in this world by national punishments ; and that 
the continuance of the slave-trade, and thus giving it a 
national sanction and encouragement, ought to be consid 
ered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and ven 
geance of Him who is equally Lord of all, and who views 
with equal eye the poor African slave and his American 

" It was urged, that, by this system, we were giving the 
General Government full and absolute power to regulate 
commerce ; under which general power it would have a 
right to restrain, or totally prohibit, the slave-trade. It 
must therefore appear to the world absurd and disgraceful, 
to the last degree, that we should except from the exercise 
of that power the only branch of commerce which is un 
justifiable in its nature, and contrary to the rights of 


mankind; that, on the contrary, we ought rather to prohib- Luther 
it expressly, in our Constitution, the further importation 
of slaves, and to authorize the General Government, from 
time to time, to make such regulations as should be thought 
most advantageous for the gradual abolition of slavery, and 
the emancipation of the slaves which are already in the 
States ; that slavery is inconsistent with the genius of re 
publicanism, and has a tendency to destroy those principles 
on which it is supported, as it lessens the sense of the 
equal rights of mankind, and habituates us to tyranny and 
oppression. It was further urged, that, by this system of 
government, every State is to be protected both from for 
eign invasion and from domestic insurrections ; that, from 
this consideration, it was of the utmost importance it 
should have a power to restrain the importation of slaves, 
since, in proportion as the number of slaves was increased 
in any State, in the same proportion the State is weakened, 
and exposed to foreign invasion or domestic insurrection, 
and by so much less will it be able to protect itself against 
either ; and therefore will, by so much the more, want aid 
from, and be a burden to, the Union. It was further said, 
that as, in this system, we were giving the General Gov 
ernment a power, under the idea of national character or 
national interest, to regulate even our weights and meas 
ures, and have prohibited all possibility of emitting paper 
money, and passing insolvent laws, <fcc., it must appear still 
more extraordinary that we should prohibit the govern 
ment from interfering with the slave-trade, than which 
nothing could so materially affect both our national honor 
and interest. These reasons influenced me, both on the 
Committee and in Convention, most decidedly to oppose 
and vote against the clause, as it now makes a part of the 

" You will perceive, Sir, not only that the General Gov 
ernment is prohibited from interfering in the slave-trade 
before the year eighteen hundred and eight, but that there 


Luther is no provision in the Constitution that it shall afterwards 
be prohibited, nor any security that such prohibition will 
ever take place; and I think there is great reason to be 
lieve, that, if the importation of slaves is permitted until 
the year eighteen hundred and eight, it will not be prohib 
ited afterwards. At this time, wo do not generally hold 
this commerce in so great abhorrence as we have done. 
When our liberties were at stake, we warmly felt for the 
common rights of men. The danger being thought to be 
past which threatened ourselves, we are daily growing 
more insensible to those rights. In those States which 
have restrained or prohibited the importation of slaves, it 
is only done by legislative acts which may be repealed. 
When those States find that they must, in their national 
character and connection, suffer in the disgrace, and share 
in the inconveniences, attendant upon that detestable and 
iniquitous traffic, they may be desirous also to share in the 
benefits arising from it ; and the odium attending it will be 
greatly effaced by the sanction which is given to it in the 
General Government." - Elliot s Debates, vol. i. pp. 372- 

TiieConsti- Virginia was the tenth State to ratify the Constitu- 

tiition ruti- J 

y j pr i^ia tion. Nowhere were the debates more able and 
thorough than there. It was not till June that the 
Convention was held. The proceedings occupy the 
whole of the third volume of Elliot s " Debates." 
George Mason, Patrick Henry, and James Madison 
were among the most important speakers. Let us 
look at their speeches. 

"TUESDAY, June 15, 1788. 

" Mr. GEORGE MASON. Mr. Chairman, this is a fatal sec 
tion, which has created more dangers than any other. The 
first clause allows the importation of slaves for twenty 


years. Under the lloyal Government, this evil was looked George 
upon as a great oppression, and many attempts were made 
to prevent it; but the interest of the African merchants 
prevented its prohibition. No sooner did the Revolution 
take place than it was thought of. It was one of the great 
causes of our separation from Great Britain. Its exclusion 
has been a principal object of this State, and most of the 
States in the Union. The augmentation of slaves weakens 
the States ; and such a trade is diabolical in itself, and dis 
graceful to mankind : yet, by this Constitution, it is contin 
ued for twenty years. As much as I value a union of all 
the States, J would not admit the Southern States into the 
Union, unless they agree to the discontinuance of this dis 
graceful trade, because it icould bring iceakncss, and not 
strength, to the Union. And, though this infamous traffic be 
continued, we have no security for the property of that 
kind which we have already. There is no clause in this 
Constitution to secure it ; for they may lay such a tax as 
will amount to manumission. And should the Government 
be amended, still this detestable kind of commerce can 
not be discontinued till after the expiration of twenty years ; 
for the fifth article, which provides for amendments, ex 
pressly excepts this clause. I have ever looked upon this as 
a most disgraceful thing to America. I cannot express my 
detestation of it. Yet they have not secured us the pro 
perty of the slaves we have already : so that they have 
done what they ought not to have done, and have left 
undone what they ought to have done. 

" Mr. MADISON. Mr. Chairman, I should conceive this Jnmcs 
clause to be impolitic, if it were one of those tilings which 
could be excluded without encountering greater evils. The 
Southern States would not have entered into the Union of 
America, without the temporary permission of that trade ; 
and, if they were excluded from the Union, the conse 
quences might be dreadful to them and to us. We are not 
in a worse situation than before. That traffic is prohibited 


James by our laws, and we may continue the prohibition. The 
Union in general is not in a worse situation. Under the 
Articles of Confederation, it might be continued for ever ; 
but, by this clause, an end may be put to it after twenty 
years. There is, therefore, an amelioration of our circum 
stances. A tax may be laid in the mean time : but it is 
limited ; otherwise Congress might lay such a tax as would 
amount to a prohibition. From the mode of representation 
and taxation, Congress cannot lay such a tax on slaves as 
will amount to manumission. Another clause secures us 
that property which we now possess. At present, if any 
slave elopes to any of those States where slaves are free, 
he becomes emancipated by their laws; for the laws of the 
States are uncharitable to one another in this respect. But, 
in this Constitution, no person held to service or labor in 
one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, 
shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be 
discharged from such service or labor ; but shall be deliv 
ered up on claim of the party to whom such service or 
labor shall be due. This clause was expressly inserted to 
enable owners of slaves to reclaim them. 

" This is a better security than any that now exists. No 
power is given to the General Government to interpose 
with respect to the property in slaves now held by the 
States. The taxation of this State being equal only to its 
representation, such a tax cannot be laid as he supposes. 
They cannot prevent the importation of slaves for twenty 
years; but, after that period, they can. The gentlemen 
from South Carolina and Georgia argued in this manner : 
We have now liberty to import this species of property ; 
and much of the property now possessed had been pur 
chased, or otherwise acquired, in contemplation of improv 
ing it by the assistance of imported slaves. What would 
be the consequence of hindering us from it? The slaves 
of Virginia would rise in value, and we should be obliged 
to go to your markets. I need not expatiate on this sub- 


jcct. Great as the evil is, a dismemberment of the Union -Tames 
would be worse. If those States should disunite from the 
other States for not indulging them in the temporary con 
tinuance of this traffic, they might solicit and obtain aid 
from foreign powers. 

" Mr. TYLER warmly enlarged on the impolicy, iniquity, John 
and digracefulness of this wicked traffic. He thought the } 
reasons urged by gentlemen in defence of it were incon 
clusive and ill-founded. It was one cause of the complaints 
against British tyranny, that this trade was permitted. The 
Revolution had put a period to it; but now it was to be 
revived. He thought nothing could justify it. This tem 
porary restriction on Congress militated, in his opinion, 
against the arguments of gentlemen on the other side, that 
what was not given up was retained by the States ; for 
that, if this restriction had not been inserted, Congress 
could have prohibited the African trade. The power of 
prohibiting it was not expressly delegated to them ; yet 
they would have had it by implication, if this restraint had 
not been provided. This seemed to him to demonstrate 
most clearly the necessity of restraining them, by a Bill of 
Rights, from infringing our unalienable rights. It was im 
material whether the Bill of Rights was by itself, or included 
in the Constitution. But he contended for it one way or 
the other. It would be justified by our own example and 
that of England. His earnest desire was, that ife should be 
handed down to posterity that he had opposed this wicked 
clause." Elliot s Debates, vol. iii. pp. 452-454. 

Patrick Henry was the most distinguished opponent 
of the Federal Constitution in the whole country. 
He had been appointed a delegate to the Convention 
at Philadelphia, but declined to attend. In the Vir 
ginia State Convention he persistently endeavored to 
defeat its adoption. When he found his efforts 



unsuccessful, like a true patriot, he ceased his oppo 
sition. Although he detested slavery, he was un 
willing to grant to the United-States Congress the 
power of abolishing it without the consent of the 
States. This power he thought he saw in the Con 
stitution, though not directly expressed in its lan- 

Patrick it Among ten thousand implied powers which they may 
assume, they may, if we be engaged in Avar, liberate every 
one of your slaves, if they please ; and this must and will 
be done by men, a majority of whom have not a common 
interest with you. They will, therefore, have no feeling 
of your interests. It has been repeatedly said here, that 
the great object of a National Government was national 
defence. That power which is said to be intended for 
security and safety may be rendered detestable and op 
pressive. If they give power to the General Government 
to provide for the general defence, the means must be com 
mensurate to the end. All the means in the possession of 
the people must be given to the Government which is in 
trusted with the public defence. In this State, there are 
23G,000 blacks, and there are many in several other States : 
but there are few or none in the Northern States ; and yet, 
if the Northern States shall be of opinion that our slaves 
are numberless, they may call forth every national resource. 
May Congress not say that every black man must jigld? 
Did we not see a little of this last war ? We were not 
so hard pushed as to make emancipation general ; but acts 
of Assembly passed, that every slave who would go to 
the army should be free. Another thing will contribute 
to bring this event about: slavery is detested; we feel its 
fatal effects ; we deplore it with all the pity of humanity. 
Let all these considerations, at some future period, press 
with full force on the minds of Congress, let that ur- 


banity, which I trust will distinguish America, and the Patrick 
necessity of national defence, let all these things operate 
on their minds : they will search that paper, and see if they 
have power of manumission. And have they not, Sir? 
Have they not power to provide for the general defence 
and welfare? May they not think that these call for the 
abolition of slavery? May they not pronounce all slaves 
free ? and will they not be warranted by that power? This 
is no ambiguous implication or logical deduction. The 
paper speaks to the point. They have the power, in clear, 
unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise 
it. As much as I deplore slavery, I see that prudence for 
bids its abolition. .1 deny that the General Government 
ought to set them free, because a decided majority of the 
States have not the ties of sympathy and fellow-feeling for 
those whose interest would be affected by their emancipa 
tion. The majority of Congress is to the North, and the 
slaves are to the South."- Elliot s Debates, vol. iii. pp. 
589, 590. 

Governor Randolph had been a member of the 
Federal Convention ; but he had refused to sign the 
Constitution, wishing to be left free to oppose or to 
advocate its adoption when it came before his State 
for consideration. He afterwards, however, saw, that 
on the ratification of the Constitution hung all hopes 
of preserving the Union, and he now gave it his hearty 
support. He thus replied to Mr. Henry : 

" That honorable gentleman, and some others, have in- Edmund 
sisted that the abolition of slavery will result from it, and Kandol P h - 
at the same time have complained that it encourages its 
continuation. The inconsistency proves, in some degree, 
the futility of their arguments. But, if it be not conclu 
sive to satisfy the committee that there is no danger of 


Kdmund enfranchisement taking place, I beg leave to refer them 
to the paper itself. I hope that there is none here, who, 
considering the subject in the calm light of philosophy, 
will advance an objection dishonorable to Virginia, that, 
at the moment they are securing the rights of their citizens, 
an objection is started that there is a spark of hope that those 
unfortunate men now held in bondage may, l>y the operation 
of the General Government, be made free. But, if any gen 
tleman be terrified by this apprehension, let him read the 
system. I ask, and I will ask again and again, till I be 
answered (not by declamation), Where is the part that has 
a tendency to the abolition of slavery ? Is it the clause 
which says that the migration or importation of such 
persons as any of the States now existing shall think 
proper to admit shall not be prohibited by Congress prior 
to the year 1808 ? This is an exception from the power 
of regulating commerce, and the restriction is only to con 
tinue till 1808. Then Congress can, by the exercise of 
that power, prevent future importations. But docs it 
ailect the existing state of slavery ? Were it right here 
to mention what passed in convention on the occasion, I 
might tell you that the Southern States, even South Carolina 
herself, conceived this property to be secure by these words. 
I believe, whatever we may think here, that there was not 
a member of the Virginia delegation who had the smallest 
suspicion of the abolition of slavery. Go to their meaning. 
Point out the clause where this formidable power of eman 
cipation is inserted." Elliot s Debates, vol. iii. pp. 598, 

In Xorth Carolina, a Convention, " for the purpose 
of deliberating and determining on the proposed 
Constitution," was called by the Legislature. It as 
sembled in Hillsborough on the 21st of July, 1788 ; 
and continued its session till Aug. 2d, when it adjourned 
without either adopting or rejecting the Constitution. 


A few extracts from the debates will show how 
slavery was regarded in its connection with the Fede 
ral Constitution. 

" Mr. DAVIE. . . . The gentleman does not wish to wniiam R 
be represented with negroes. This, Sir, is an unhappy 
species of population ; but we cannot at present alter their 
situation. The Eastern States had great jealousies on this 
subject. They insisted that their cows and horses were 
equally entitled to representation ; that the one was prop 
erty as well as the other. It became our duty, on the 
other hand, to acquire as much weight as possible in the 
legislation of the Union ; and, as the Northern States were 
more populous in whites, this only could be done by insist 
ing that a certain proportion of our slaves should make a 
part of the computed population. It was attempted to 
form a rule of representation from a compound ratio of 
wealth and population : but, on consideration, it was found 
impracticable to determine the comparative value of lands 
and other property, in so extensive a territory, with any 
degree of accuracy ; and population alone was adopted as 
the only practicable rule or criterion of representation. 
It was urged by the deputies of the Eastern States, that a 
representation of two-fifths would be of little utility, and 
that their entire representation would be unequal and bur 
densome ; that, in a time of war, slaves rendered a coun 
try more vulnerable, while its defence devolved upon its 
free inhabitants. On the other hand, we insisted, that, in 
time of peace, they contributed, by their labor, to the gene 
ral wealth, as well as other members of the community ; 
that, as rational beings, they had a right of representation, 
and, in some instances, might be highly useful in war. On 
these principles, the Eastern States gave the matter up, and 
consented to the regulation as it has been read. I hope 
these reasons will appear satisfactory." Elliot s Debates, 
vol. iv. p. 30, 31. 


When the ninth section was under discussion, Mr. 
M Do wall wished to hear the reasons of the restric 
tion on Congress in regard to prohibiting the impor 
tation of slaves before the year 1808. 

D. " Mr. SPAIGHT answered, that there was a contest between 
the Northern and Southern States; that the Southern States, 
whose principal support depended on the labor of slaves, 
would not consent to the desire of the Northern States to 
exclude the importation of slaves absolutely ; that South 
Carolina and Georgia insisted on this clause, as they were 
now in want of hands to cultivate their lands ; that, in the 
course of twenty years, they would be fully supplied ; that 
the trade would be abolished then ; and that, in the mean 
time, some tax or duty might be laid on. 

Joseph " Mr. M DowALL replied, that the explanation -\vas just 

such as he expected, and by no means satisfactory to him ; 
arid that he looked upon it as a very objectionable part of 
the system. 

James " Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, I rise to express senti 

ments similar to those of the gentleman from Craven. For 
my part, were it practicable to put an end to the importa 
tion of slaves immediately, it would give me the greatest 
pleasure ; for it certainly is a trade utterly inconsistent 
with the rights of humanity, and under which great cruel 
ties have been exercised. When the entire abolition of 
slavery takes place, it will be an event which must be 
pleasing to every generous mind and every friend of human 
nature ; but we often wish for things which are not 
attainable. It ivas the ivisli of a great majority of the 
Convention to put an end to the trade immediately ; but 
the States of South Carolina and Georgia would not agree 
to it. Consider, then, what would be the difference between 
our present situation in this respect, if we do not agree to 
the Constitution, and what it will be if we do agree to it. 
If we do not agree to it, do we remedy the evil ? No, Sir : 


we do not : for. if the Constitution be not adopted, it will 

. ,. Iredell. 

be in the power of every State to continue it tor ever. 
They may or may not abolish it at their discretion. But, 
if we adopt the Constitution, the trade must cease after 
twenty years, if Congress declare so, whether particular 
States please so or not : surely, then, we can gain by it. 
This was the the utmost that could be obtained. I heartily 
wish more could have been done ; but, as it is, this Gov 
ernment is nobly distinguished above others by that very 
provision. Where is there another country in which such 
a restriction prevails ? We therefore, Sir, set an example 
of humanity, by providing for the abolition of this inhuman 
traffic, though at a distant period. I hope, therefore, that 
this part of the Constitution will not be condemned because 
it has not stipulated for what was impracticable to ob 

" Mr. GALLOWAY. Mr. Chairman, the explanation given James 
to this clause does not satisfy my mind. I wish to see this 
abominable trade put an end to. But in case it be thought 
proper to continue this abominable traffic for twenty years, 
yet I do not wish to see the tax on the importation extend 
ed to all persons whatsoever. Our situation is different 
from the people to the North. We want citizens : they do 
not. Instead of laying a tax, we ought to give a bounty 
to encourage foreigners to come among us. With respect 
to the abolition of slavery, it requires the utmost consider 
ation. The property of the Southern States consists 
principally of slaves. If they mean to do away slavery 
altogether, this property will be destroyed. I apprehend 
it means to bring forward manumission. If we must manu 
mit our slaves, what country shall we send them to ? It 
is impossible for us to be happy, if, after manumission, 
they are to stay among us. 

" Mr. IREDELL There is another circumstance James 

to be observed. There is no authority vested in Congress 


to restrain the States, in the interval of twenty years, from 
doing what they please. If they wish to prohibit such 
importation, they may do so. 7 Elliot s Debates, vol. iv. 
pp. 100-102. 

In South Carolina, the Constitution was discussed 
in the Legislature before the Convention was called. 
Two or three extracts from the speeches made before 
that body will end these specimens of the Debates. 

Riiwiins " Mr. LOWXDES remarked, that we had a law prohibit 

ing the importation of negroes for three years, a law he 
greatly approved of; but there was no reason offered why 
the Southern States might not find it necessary to alter 
their conduct, and open their ports. Without negroes, this 
State would degenerate into one, of the most contemptible in the 
Union; and he cited an expression that fell from General 
Pinckney on a former debate, that, whilst there remained 
one acre of swamp-land in South Carolina, he should raise 
his voice against restricting the importation of negroes. 
Even in granting the importation for twenty years, care 
had been taken to make us pay for this indulgence ; each 
negro being liable, on importation, to pay a duty not ex 
ceeding ten dollars ; and, in addition to this, they were 
liable to a capitation tax. Negroes were our wealth, our 
only natural resource ; yet behold how our kind friends in 
the North were determined soon to tie up our hands, and 
drain us of what we had ! The Eastern States drew their 
means of subsistence, in a great measure, from their ship 
ping ; and, on that head, they had been particularly careful 
not to allow of any burdens. They were not to pay tonnage 
or duties ; no, not even the form of clearing out : all ports 
were free and open to them ! Why, then, call this a recip 
rocal bargain, which took all from one party, to bestow it 
on the other?" -Elliot s Debates, vol. iv. pp. 272, 273. 


General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney had been a 
member of the Federal Convention, and was an ear 
nest and able supporter of the rights of the State he 
represented. He was undoubtedly sincere in his 
belief that he had made for his constituents pretty 
good terms in regard to their special interests, and 
that they ought to be satisfied with the Constitution, 
and vote for its adoption. 

" You have so frequently heard my sentiments on this Gen. c. c. 
subject, that I need not now repeat them. It was alleged 
by some of the members who opposed an unlimited impor 
tation, that slaves increased the weakness of any State who 
admitted them ; that they were a dangerous species of 
property, which an invading enemy could easily turn 
against ourselves and the neighboring States ; and that, as 
we were allowed a representation for them in the House of 
Representatives, our influence in government would be 
increased in proportion as we were less able to defend our 
selves. Show some period/ said the members from the 
Eastern States, when it may be in our power to put a stop, 
if we please, to the importation of this weakness, and wo 
will endeavor, for your convenience, to restrain the reli 
gious and political prejudices of our people on this subject. 
The Middle States and Virginia made us no such proposi 
tion : they were for an immediate and total prohibition. 
We endeavored to obviate the objections that were made, 
in the best manner we could, and assigned reasons for our 
insisting on the importation; which there is no occasion to 
repeat, as they must occur to every gentleman in the 
house. A Committee of the States was appointed, in order 
to accommodate this matter; and, after a great deal of 
difficulty, it was settled on the footing recited in the Con 

" By this settlement, we have secured an unlimited im- 




Gen. C. C. 


portation of negroes for twenty years. Nor is it declared 
that the importation shall be then stopped: it may be 
continued. We have a security that the General Govern 
ment can never emancipate them ; for no such authority is 
granted : and it is admitted, on all hands, that the General 
Government has no powers but what are expressly grant 
ed by the Constitution, and that all rights not expressed 
were reserved by the several States. We have obtained a 
ri ht to recover our slaves in whatever part of America 
they may take refuge ; which is a right we had not before. 
In short, considering all circumstances, we have made the 
best terms for the security of this species of property it 
was in our power to make. We would have made better, 
if we could ; but, on the whole, I do not think them 
bad." Elliot s Debates, vol. iv. pp. 285, 28G. 

Outside, also, of the State Conventions, opinions in 
regard to the effect of the Federal Constitution on 
slavery were divided. Two letters, written on the same 
day, in different parts of the country, by persons of 
high character and great influence in their respective 
States, will exhibit these differing views. 

Dr. Ramsay, the historian of South Carolina, in a 
letter to General Lincoln, dated Charleston, Jan. 29, 
1788, says, 

" Our Assembly is now sitting, and have unanimously 
agreed to hold a convention. By common consent, the 
merits of the Federal Constitution were freely discussed 
on that occasion, for the sake of enlightening our citizens. 
Mr. [Rawlins] Lowndes was the only man who made direct, 
formal opposition to it. His objections were local, and 
proceeded from an illiberal jealousy of New-England men. 
He urged that you would raise freights on us, and, in 
short, that you were too cunning for our honest people : 


that your end of the Continent would rule the other ; and Doctor 
that the sun of our glory would set when the new Consti 
tution operated. He has not one Federal idea in his Lead. 
He is said to be honest, and free from debt : but he was 
an enemy to independence ; and, though our President in 
1778, he was a British subject in 1780. His taking pro 
tection was rather the passive act of an old man than 
otherwise. He never aided or abetted the British Govern 
ment directly ; but his example was mischievous. His op 
position has poisoned the minds of some. 

" I fear the numerous class of debtors more than any 
other. On the whole, I have no doubt the Constitution 
will be accepted by a very great majority in this State. 
The sentiments of our leading men are, of late, much more 
Federal than formerly. This honest sentiment was avowed 
by the first characters : l New England has lost, and we 
have gained, by the war ; and her suffering citizens ought 
to be our carriers, though a dearer freight should be the 
consequence. Your delegates never did a more politic 
thing than in standing by those of South Carolina about 
negroes. Virginia deserted them, and was for an imme 
diate stoppage of further importation. .The [Old] Do 
minion has lost much popularity by the conduct of her 
delegates on this head. The language now is, The East 
ern States can soonest help us in case of invasion; and it is 
more our interest to encourage them and their shipping 
than to join with or look up to Virginia. 

" In short, Sir, a revolution highly favorable to union 
has taken place : Federalism, and liberality of sentiment, 
have gained great ground. Mr. Lowndes still thinks you 
are a set of sharpers, and does not wonder that you are for 
the new Constitution ; as, in his opinion, you will have all 
the advantage. He thinks you begrudge us our negroes. 
But he is almost alone." - Bowen s Life of Gen. Lincoln, 
(Sharks s Amer. Uiotjr., 2d Series, vol. xiii.,) pp. 410-412. 


In a letter to Dr. Hart of Preston, dated 29th Jan 
uary, 1788, the Rev. Dr. Hopkins of Newport, 11. 1., 
writes thus : 

Rev. Dr. " The new Constitution, you observe, guarantees this 
trade for twenty years. I fear, if it be adopted, this will 
prove an Achan in our camp. How does it appear in the 
sight of Heaven and of all good men, well informed, that 
these States, who have been fighting for liberty, and consi 
der themselves as the highest and most noble example of 
zeal for it, cannot agree in any political Constitution, unless 
it indulge and authorize them to enslave their fellow-men ! 
I think if this Constitution be not adopted as it is, without 
any alteration, we shall have none, and shall be in a state 
of anarchy, and probably of civil war. Therefore I wish 
to have it adopted ; but still, as I said, 1 fear. And per 
haps civil war will not be avoided, if it be adopted. Ah ! 
these unclean spirits, like frogs, they, like the Furies of 
the poets, are spreading discord, and exciting men to con 
tention and war, wherever they go ; and they can spoil the 
best Constitution that can be formed. When Congress 
shall be formed on the new plan, these frogs will be there ; 
for they go forth to the kings of the earth, in the first place. 
They will turn the members of that august body into devils, 
so far as they are permitted to influence them. Have they 
not already got possession of most of the men who will or 
can be chosen and appointed to a place in that assembly ? 
I suppose that even good Christians are not out of the reach 
of influence from these frogs. Blessed is he that watcheth 
and keepeth his garments. " - Park s Memoir of Hopkins, 
pp. 158, 159. 

I have thus attempted to give a fair representation 
of the different shades of opinion on the Constitution 
in its relations to slavery, as expressed by the leading 
statesmen at the North and at the South. In the ample 


extracts from the Debates which have been presented, 
an apparent lack of harmony may be discovered 
among the arguments used in various parts of the 
country, whether in urging its adoption or its rejec 
tion. With an earnest zeal to secure for their country 
so great a boon as a firmly established Constitutional 
Government, its advocates may have pressed a little 
too strongly the arguments in favor of the views most 
acceptable to the particular State which at the time 
had the matter under consideration. On the other 
hand, the opponents of the Constitution undoubtedly 
exaggerated the evils which, it was supposed, it would 
entail upon the States, and perhaps unconsciously 
misrepresented the effects of the different clauses 
referring to slavery. 

One thing is certain, that whilst the delegates from 
Georgia and South Carolina asked only a temporary 
toleration of the slave-trade, and non-interference with 
their local arrangements respecting domestic slavery, 
(declaring that, if let alone, they might themselves, 
as soon as it was practicable, stop the importation 
of slaves,) the common sentiment, in the Convention 
and throughout the country, was, that the letter and 
the spirit of the Constitution, fairly interpreted and 
faithfully applied, afforded a full guaranty of uni 
versal freedom throughout the Union at no distant 
day. The purpose of the Constitution was put into 
the preamble in no equivocal language, and for no 
doubtful purpose. It was " TO SECURE LIBERTY," and 
not to protect slavery : for liberty had been declared 


to be a natural, national, and unalienable right ; while 
slavery was known to be an unnatural, sectional, tem 
porary evil. It was intended, that, under the Con 
stitution, slavery should, and it was expected that it 
would, at no distant day, be abolished. 

The distinguished English moralist, Dr. Palcy, 
published his " Moral and Political Philosophy " two 
years after our National Independence had been 
acknowledged. In his chapter on Slavery, he placed 
permanently on record his view of the effect of the 
principles promulgated by the American patriots, in 
these words : " The great Revolution which has taken 
place in the Western World may probably conduce 
(and who knows but that it was designed ?) to accele 
rate the fall of this abominable tyranny." 

Half a century later, in the Senate of the United 
States, Daniel Webster, the great defender of the 
Constitution, re-affirmed the principles of the Found 
ers of the Republic in an immortal sentence, which 
it would be well for his countrymen now to heed. 
It is applicable in a broader sense than its author on 
that occasion intended : " LIBERTY AND UNION, NOW 






A QUESTION of much importance is presented to 
our National Government at this time, respecting 
the employment of negroes as soldiers. Those on 
whom devolves the responsibility of suppressing 
this monstrous Rebellion, must ultimately, and at no 
distant day, decide the matter. In their decision, they 
will undoubtedly be influenced by a regard to the 
usage and experience, in this respect, of those who 
directed our military affairs in the war of Independ 
ence, as well as by a consideration of the probable 
effect of their action on our loyal soldiers, and on the 
armed traitors who are arrayed against them. 

It is not strange that the President, on whom, more 
than on all others, rests the responsibility of taking 
the final step in this direction, should pause a while 
to consider the subject in all its bearings, and to allow 
public opinion to shape itself more distinctly, that his 
decision, when made, shall have from the Nation a 
cordial and general support. 



Public opinion heretofore has been divided on this 
question. In one direction, whenever the subject of 
negro soldiers is mentioned, there is an outcry, as if an 
atrocious and unheard-of policy were now about to be 
inaugurated, something at variance with the prac 
tice of our Revolutionary leaders, and abhorrent to 
the moral sentiment and the established usage of 
civilized and Christian warriors. 

On the other hand, the gallant Governor of Rhode 
Island, a conservative of the first degree, but con 
vinced that there is something more worthy of conser 
vation than treacherous timidity or popular prejudice, 
calls upon the colored people of his own patriotic 
State to follow the example of their fathers in the 
war of Seventy-six, and form themselves into a regi 
ment, which he proposes, at the proper time, to lead 
to the field in person : 

" For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 
Shall be my brother: be he ne er so vile, 
This day shall gentle his condition." 

To throw some light from the history of the past, 
I propose, by a reference to the annals of the 
American Revolution and a citation of competent 
authorities, to exhibit the opinions of the patriot 
statesmen and soldiers of that period, and their action 
in regard to negroes as soldiers, as well as the result 
of their experiment. 

Two or three incidents in the earliest conflicts with 
the British troops will show how little prejudice 
there was against negroes at the commencement of 


the war, and how ready the citizens generally were, 
not only to secure their services as fellow-soldiers, 
but to honor them for their patriotism and valor, be 
fore there had been any specific legislation or any 
particular policy on the subject proposed. 

In the " Boston Gazette, or Weekly Journal," of 
Tuesday, Oct. 2, 1750, there was published the fol 
lowing advertisement : 

" T) AX-away from his Master William Brown of Framingham, 
*-^ on the 30th of Sept. lust, a Molatto Fellow, about 27 Years 
of Age, named Crispas, 6 Feet 2 Inches high, short cuii d 
Hair, his Knees nearer together than common ; had on a light 
colour d Bearskin Coat, plain brown Fustian Jacket, or brown all- 
Wool one, new Buckskin Breeches, blue Yarn Stockings, and a 
checked woolen Shirt. 

" Whoever shall take up said Run-away, and convey him to his 
abovesaid Master, shall have ten Pounds, old Tenor Reward, 
and all necessary Charges paid. And all Masters of Vessels and 
others, are hereby cautioned against concealing or carrying off 
said Servant on Penalty of the Law. Boston, October 2, 1750." 

The " Molatto Fellow," it seems, did not speedily 
return to his master, notwithstanding the reward 
which was offered; for, on the 13th and 20th of No 
vember, another advertisement, similar to the above, 
was published in the same Journal. 

The next time that his name appeared in a Boston 
newspaper, twenty years later, it was under very dif 
ferent circumstances. He was no longer a fugitive 
slave, but a hero and a martyr. 

The Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770, may be osto " 


regarded as the first act in the drama of the Amcri- ^ O dl 5) 


Boston can Revolution. " From that moment," said Daniel 


March o, ^Yebstcr, "we may date the severance of the British 
Empire." The presence of the British soldiers in 
King Street excited the patriotic indignation of the 
people. The whole community was stirred, and sage 
counsellors were deliberating and writing and talk 
ing about the public grievances. But it was not 
for " the wise and prudent " to be the first to act 
against the encroachments of arbitrary power. " A 
motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and mulat- 
tocs, Irish Teagucs, and outlandish Jack tars," (as 
John Adams described them in his plea in defence 
of the soldiers,) could not restrain their emotion, or 
stop to inquire if what they must do was according 
to the letter of any law. Led by Crispus Attucks, 
the mulatto slave, and shouting, " The way to get 
rid of these soldiers is to attack the main guard ; 
strike at the root; this is the nest," with more valor 
than discretion they rushed to King Street, and were 
fired upon by Captain Preston s Company. Crispus 
Attucks was the first to fall : he and Samuel Gray 
and Jonas Caldwell were killed on the spot. Samuel 
Maverick and Patrick Carr were mortally wounded. 

The excitement which followed was intense. The 
bells of the town W 7 ere rung. An impromptu town- 
meeting was held, and an immense assembly was 


of the 

Three days after, on the 8th, a public funeral of 
" 1;llt - vis - the martyrs took place. The shops in Boston were 
closed ; and all the bells of Boston and the neighbor- 


ing towns were rung. It is said that a greater JJ 1 ^ 1 
number of persons assembled on this occasion than mart J TS - 
were ever before gathered on this continent for a 
similar purpose. The body of Crispus Attucks, the 
mulatto slave, had been placed in Faneuil Hall, with 
that of Caldwell ; both being strangers in the city. 
Maverick was buried from his mother s house in 
Union Street ; and Gray, from his brother s in Royal 
Exchange Lane. The four hearses formed a junction 
in King Street ; and there the procession marched in 
columns six deep, with a long file of coaches belong 
ing to the most distinguished citizens, to the Middle 
Burying-ground, where the four victims were deposited 
in one grave ; over which a stone was placed with 
this inscription : 

" Long as in Freedom s cause the wise contend, 
Dear to your country shall your fame extend ; 
While to the world the lettered stone shall tell 
Where Caldwell, Attucks, Gray, and Maverick fell." 

The anniversary of this event was publicly com 
memorated in Boston by an oration and other exer 
cises every year until after our national Independence 
was achieved, when the Fourth of July was substituted 
for the Fifth of March as the more proper day for a 
general celebration. Not only was the event com 
memorated, but the martyrs wiio then gave up their 
lives were remembered and honored. Dr. Joseph 
Warren, in his Oration in March, 1775, only two 
months before he showed the sincerity of his senti 
ments by sealing them with his own precious blood, 





17th June. 
Battle of 


gave utterance to the following bold and timely 
words : 

" That personal freedom is the natural right of every 
man, and that property, or an exclusive right to dispose of 
what he has honestly acquired by his own labor, necessarily 
arises therefrom, are truths which common sense has placed 
beyond the reach of contradiction. And no man, or body of 
men, can, without being guilty of flagrant injustice, claim a 
right to dispose of the persons or acquisitions of any other 
man, or body of men, unless it can be proved that such a 
right has arisen from some compact between the parties, 
in which it has been explicitly and freely granted." Ora 
tion, p. 5. 

At the battle of Bunker Hill, on the memorable 
17^ o f j une 1775 negro soldiers stood side by side. 


and fought bravely, with their white brethren. If 
on the monument which commemorates that event 
were inscribed the names of those most worthy of 
honor for their heroic deeds on that day, high up on 
the shaft, with the names of Warren and Prescott, 
we should find that of PETER SALEM, a negro soldier, 
once a slave. 

Major Pitcairn, of the British Marines, it is w r cll 
known, fell just as he mounted the redoubt, shout 
ing " The day is ours ! " The shot which laid him 
low was fired by Peter Salem. 

Although the shaft does not bear his name, the 
pencil of the artist has portrayed the scene, the pen 
of the impartial historian has recorded his achieve 
ment, and the voice of the eloquent orator has re 
sounded his valor. 


Colonel Trumbull, in his celebrated historic picture Colonel 


of this battle, introduces conspicuously the colored picture. 
patriot. At the time of the battle, the artist, then act 
ing as adjutant,, was stationed with his regiment in 
lloxbury, and saw the action from that point. The 
picture was painted in 1786, when the event was 
fresh in his mind. It is a significant historical fact, 
pertinent to our present research, that, among the 
limited number of figures introduced on the canvas, 
more than one negro soldier can be distinctly seen. 

And here I may venture to publish an extract from 
a letter written to me recently by Aaron White, Esq., 
of Thompson, in Connecticut, in answer to an in 
quiry on this subject: 

" "With regard to the black hero of Bunker Hill, I never Aaron 
knew him personally, nor did I ever hear from his lips the account 
story of his achievements ; but I have better authority. 
About the year 1807, I heard a soldier of the Revolution, 
who was present at the Bunker-Hill battle, relate to my 
father the story of the death of Major Pitcairn. He said 
the Major had passed the storm of our fire without, and 
had mounted the redoubt, when, waving his sword, he 
commanded, in a loud voice, the rebels to surrender. His 
sudden appearance and his commanding air at first startled 
the men immediately before him. They neither answered 
nor fired ; probably not being exactly certain what was 
next to be done. At this critical moment, a negro soldier 
stepped forward, and, aiming his musket directly at the 
major s bosom, blew him through. My informant declared 
that he was so near, that he distinctly saw the act. The 
story made quite an impression on my mind. I have fre 
quently heard my father relate the story, and have no doubt 
of its truth. My father, on the day of the battle, was a 



Account mere child, and witnessed the battle and the burning of 
Salem? Charlcstown from Roxbury Hill, sitting on the shoulders 
of the Rev. Mr. Jackson, who said to him as he replaced 
him on the ground, Now, boy, do you remember this. 
Consequently, after such an injunction, he would necessa 
rily pay particular attention to anecdotes concerning the 
first and only battle he ever witnessed." 

The Rev. William Barry in his excellent " History 
of Framingham," and the Hon. Emory Washburn in 
his valuable " History of Leicester," give pretty full 
accounts of the colored patriot, who acted so impor 
tant a part on that memorable occasion. Mr. Wash- 
burn says, 


" That shot was undoubtedly fired by Peter ; and the 
death of Major Pitcairn, with its accompanying circum 
stances, formed one of the most touching incidents of this 

eventful day After the war, he came to 

Leicester, and continued to reside there till a short time 
before his death. The history of the town would be in 
complete without giving him a place He 

was born in Framingham, and was held as a slave, probably 
until he joined the army ; whereby, if not before, he be 
came free. This was the case with many of the slaves in 
Massachusetts, as no slave could be mustered into the 
army. If the master suffered this to be done, it worked a 
practical emancipation. Peter served faithfully as a soldier, 
during the war, in Col. Nixon s regiment. A part of the 
time, he was the servant of Col. Nixon, and always spoke 
of him in terms of admiration." History of Leicester, 
pp. 266, 267, 308. 

When the statue of General Joseph Warren was 
inaugurated on the 17th of June, 1857, the Honorable 


Edward Everett, in his Address, did not forget to 
mention the colored patriot, and thus to secure for 
his act perpetual record. Such an honor far ex 
ceeds that of any sculptured stone. Pointing to the 
obelisk, Mr. Everett said : 

"It commemorates no individual man or State. It Edward 
stands, indeed, on the soil of Massachusetts, where the honorable 
battle was fought ; but there it stands equally for Con- |Jf e peter 
necticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, and the Salem - 
younger sisters of the New-England family, Vermont 
and Maine, whose troops shared with ours the dangers and 
honors of the day. It stands for Prescott and Warren, 
but not less for Putnam and Stark and Greene. No name 
adorns the shaft; but ages hence, though our alphabets 
may become as obscure as those which cover the monu 
ments of Nineveh and Babylon, its uninscribed surface (on 
which monarchs might be proud to engrave their titles) 
will perpetuate the memory of the 17th of June. It is the 
monument of the day of the event of the battle of Bunker 
Hill ; of all the brave men who shared its perils, alike of 
Prescott and Putnam and Warren, the chiefs of the day, 
and the colored man, Salem, who is reported to have shot 
the gallant Pitcairn, as he mounted the parapet. Cold as 
the clods on which it rests, still as the silent heavens to 
which it soars, it is yet vocal, eloquent, in their undivided 
praise." Orations and Speeches, vol. iii. p. 529. 

Another colored soldier, who participated in the 
battle of Bunker Hill, is favorably noticed in a peti 
tion to the General Court, signed by some of the 
principal officers, less than six months after the event. 
It is printed from the original manuscript in our State 



" To the Honorable General Court of the Massachusetts Bay. 

" The subscribers beg leave to report to your Honora 
ble House (which we do in justice to the character of so 
brave a man), that, under our own observation, we declare 
that a negro man called Salem Poor, of Col. Frye s regi 
ment, Capt. Ames company, in the late battle at Charles- 
town, behaved like an experienced officer, as well as an 
excellent soldier. To set forth particulars of his conduct 
would be tedious. We would only beg leave to say, in the 
person of this said negro centres a brave and gallant 
soldier. The reward due to so great and distinguished a 
character, we submit to the Congress. 

A\ r M. PRESCOTT, Cop- 
Em 51 - COREY, Lieut. 
JOSHUA Row, Lieut. 

EBENR. VARNUM, 2d Lieut. 
JOHN MORTON, Sergt. [?] 

" CAMBHIDGE, Dec. 5, 1775. 

" In Council, Dec. 21, 1775. Read, and sent down. 

" PEREZ MORTON, Dep j y Sec y." 
(Massachusetts Archives, vol. clxxx. p. 241.) 

Here I cannot forbear calling attention to the 
opinion of one who was a brave soldier, not only in 
this battle, bnt from the commencement to the close 
of the Revolution ; and whose name continues to be 
honored in his children and his children s children in 
our own city. 

M Oor " Samuel Lawrence was born in Groton. April 24, 1754; 

Lawrence. , , . -,-,-, -r, 

and was, therefore, in his early manhood when our Revo 
lutionary struggle commenced. In common with all the 
hardy, intelligent, liberty-loving yeomanr}^ of New England, 
he espoused the cause of the Colonies, and devoted himself 


to it with a courage that never failed, a constancy that Mnjor 
never faltered, till his country had passed from impending 
servitude to acknowledged independence. At work in the 
field, ploughing his paternal acres, when the news of 
the attack upon Concord reached Groton, he immediately 
unloosed a horse from his team, and, mounting, rode rapidly 
through Groton and some of the adjoining towns, spreading 
the alarm, and summoning the militia to assemble. He 
returned in season to join his own company at the church 
at Groton, at twelve o clock ; where, after prayer offered by 
the pastor of the town, they started for Concord, helped to 
swell that impetuous tide of resistance which drove back 
the invaders, and slept that night on Cambridge Common, 
after a forced march of thirty miles, and hot skirmishes 
with the retreating foe. From that time to the peace of 
1783, he was a soldier of the Revolution 7 ; and, with the 
exception of one or two brief visits to his family and friends 
at Groton, he was in actual service throughout the whole 
w r ar. lie rose to the rank of major, and for a considerable 
period was attached to Gen. Sullivan s staff as adjutant ; 
an office for which his powerful lungs and sonorous voice, 
which could be heard throughout a long line of troops, 
peculiarly fitted him. He was in many of the severest 
battles of the Revolution. 

" At Bunker Hill, where he was slightly wounded, his 
coat and hat were pierced with the balls of the enemy, and 
were preserved in the family for many years. At one 
time he commanded a company whose rank and file were 
all negroes, of whose courage, military discipline, and 
fidelity, he always spoke with respect. On one occasion, 
being out reconnoitring with this company, he got so far 
in advance of his command, that he was surrounded, and 
on the point of being made prisoner by the enemy. The 
men, soon discovering his peril, rushed to his rescue, and 
fought with the most determined bravery till that rescue 
was effectually secured. He never forgot this circum- 


stance, and ever after took especial pains to show kind 
ness and hospitality to any individual of the colored race 
who came near his dwelling." - Memoir of William Law 
rence, ~by Bcv. S. K. Lothrop, D.D., pp. 8, 9. 

A single passage from Mr. Bancroft s History will 
cive a succinct and clear account of the condition of 


the army, in respect to colored soldiers, at the time 
of the battle of Bunker Hill : 

George " Nor should history forget to record, that as in the 

army at Cambridge, so also in this gallant band, the free 
negroes of the Colony had their representatives. For the 
right of free negroes to bear arms in the public defence 
was, at that day, as little disputed in New England as their 
other rights. They took their place, not in a separate 
corps, but in the ranks with the white man ; and their 
names may be read on the pension-rolls of the country, side 
by side with those of other soldiers of the Re volution. "- 
Bancroft s Hist, of the U. 8., vol. vii. p. 421. 

At the commencement of the war, it appears to 
have been customary for the free negroes to be 
enrolled with white citizens in the militia. In many 
instances, slaves also stood in the ranks with freemen. 
The inconsistency, however, in using as soldiers, in 
an army raised for establishing National Liberty, 
those w r ho were held in bondage, w r as too gross for 
the practice long to continue. This was virtually 
acknowledged in a Resolution which was adopted 
before the first great battle had been fought. 

On the 20th of May, the Committee of Safety 

" Itcsolvcd, That it is the opinion of this Committee, as 
the contest now between Great Britain and the Colonies 


respects the liberties and privileges of the latter, which Committee 

... of Safety. 

the Colonies are determined to maintain, that the admission 
of any persons, as Soldiers, into the Army now raising, but 
only such as are Freemen, will be inconsistent with the 
principles that are to be supported, and reflect dishonor on 
this Colony; and that no Slaves be admitted into this army 
upon any consideration whatever." Force s American 
Archives, Fourth Series, vol. ii. p. 762. 

The celebrated divine, the Rev. Dr. Hopkins of 
Newport, R. I., soon after the commencement of hos 
tilities, published a "Dialogue concerning the Slavery 
of the Africans," which he dedicated to " The Honor 
able Continental Congress." As this tract was re 
issued in New York by the Manumission Society, of 
which Robert R. Livingston, Alexander Hamilton, and 
John Jay were active members, and a copy of it sent, 
by their direction, to each member of Congress, the 
views it contains are quite important as illustrating 
the sentiment of some of the ablest men of that 
time. The following extract is from a note to the 
" Dialogue : " 

" God is so ordering it in his providence, that it seems Rev. Dr. 

.. 111 iMii Hopkins. 

absolutely necessary something should speedily be done 
with respect to the slaves among us, in order to our safety, 
and to prevent their turning against us in our present 
struggle, in order to get their liberty. Our oppressors 
have planned to gain the blacks, and induce them to take 
up arms against us, by promising them liberty on this con 
dition ; and this plan they are prosecuting to the utmost of 
their power, by which means they have persuaded numbers 
to join them. And should we attempt to restrain them by 
force and severity, keeping a strict guard over them, and 


KPV. i)r. punishing them severely who shall be detected in attempt 
ing to join our opposers, this will only be making bad 
worse, and serve to render our inconsistence, oppression, 
and cruelty more criminal, perspicuous, and shocking, and 
bring down the righteous vengeance of Heaven on our 
heads. The only way pointed out to prevent this threaten 
ing evil is to set the blacks at liberty ourselves by some 
public acts and laws, and then give them proper encourage 
ment to labor, or take arms in the defence of the American 
cause, as they shall choose. This would at once be doing 
them some degree of justice, and defeating our enemies in 
the scheme that they are prosecuting." - Hopldns s Works, 
vol. ii. p. 584. 

Many slaves were manumitted that they might be 
come soldiers. They served faithfully to the close of 
the war. Their skill and bravery were never called 
in question, but, on the contrary, were frequently com 
mended. There does not, however, appear to have 
been, at that time, any special legislation sanctioning 
the employment of Negroes as soldiers. Authority 
was given by the Provincial Congress of South Caro 
lina, Nov. 20, 1775, for military officers to use slaves 
for certain purposes, as will be seen by the following 
resolution : 

Srmth " On motion, Resolved. That the colonels of the several 

Carolina . 

Provincial regiments of militia throughout the Colony have leave to 
enroll such a number of able male slaves, to be employed 
as pioneers and laborers, as public exigencies may require ; 
and that a daily pay of seven shillings and sixpence be 
allowed for the service of each such slave while actually 
employed." --American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. iv. 
]>. (51. 


This resolution must not be regarded as a general 


sanction, on the part of South Carolina, of the employ- [^jS 
mcnt of slaves as soldiers. Such was far from being s 
the case. Although some of her ablest statesmen and 
bravest soldiers on several occasions advocated strong 
ly in the Continental Congress, and in the Provincial 
Legislature, such a use of Xegroes, there was a 
strong, successful, and disastrous opposition to the 

The first general order issued by Ward, the com 
manding officer, required a return of the "complex 
ion " of the soldiers. It would be interesting, and 
not very difficult for any one who has access to the 
early rolls of the army, and leisure to examine them, 
to ascertain the number of negroes who became sol 
diers. It would also be interesting, and perhaps not 
wholly unprofitable, to trace the progress of opinion 
on this subject, from the time when the opposition to 
negro soldiers first commenced, until it was so far 
overcome, that nearly every State, by legislative act 
or by practice, sanctioned their employment. The 
most that I can do, in this paper, is to produce some 
specimens of the opinions, laws, and action of that 
period. It may be well to observe, that what has 
caused so much complaint in the management of the 
present civil war the apparently vacillating action 
and unsettled policy of the administration and the 
army with regard to the use of negroes as soldiers 
is not without a precedent, " an historic parallel," in 
the annals of the Revolutionary War. 


Although slavery existed throughout the country, 
it is a significant fact, that the principal opposition to 
negro soldiers came from the States where there was 


the least hearty and efficient support of the principles 
of Republican Government, and the least ability or 
disposition to furnish an equal or fair quota of white 

South Carolina and Georgia contained so many 
Tories, at one time, that it was supposed the British 
officers, who elsewhere would, by proclamation, free 
all negroes joining the lloyal Army, might hesitate to 
meddle with them in these Colonies, lest " the king s 
friends " should suffer thereby. 

John Adams, in his " Diary," under the date of 
28th of September, 1775, gives an account of an inter 
view with Mr. Bullock and Mr. Houston, of Georgia ; 
in which the following statement occurs : 

Goor^ia " The question was, whether all America was not in a 

Carolina, state of war, and whether we ought to confine ourselves to 
act upon the defensive only ? lie was for acting offen 
sively next spring or this fall, if the petition was rejected 
or neglected. If it was not answered, and favorably 
answered, he would be for acting against Britain and 
Britons, as, in open war, against French and Frenchmen; 
fit privateers, and take their ships anywhere. These 
gentlemen give a melancholy account of the state of 
Georgia and South Carolina. They say, that if one thou 
sand regular troops should land in Georgia, and their 
commander be provided with arms and clothes enough, 
and proclaim freedom to all the negroes who would join 
his camp, twenty thousand negroes would join it from 
the two Provinces in a fortnight. The negroes have a 



wonderful art of communicating intelligence among them 
selves : it will run several hundreds of miles in a week or 
fortnight. They say their only security is this : that all 
the king s friends, and tools of government, have largo 
plantations, and property in negroes ; so that the slaves of 
the Tories would be lost, as well as those of the Whigs." 
Works of John Adams, vol. ii. p. 428. 

On the 10th of July, 1775, there was issued at 
Cambridge, by General Gates, an order determining 
what persons were to be excluded by the recruiting 
officers, who were immediately to go upon that ser 

" You are not to enlist any deserter from the Ministerial Order 


Army, nor any stroller, negro, or vagabond, or person sus- 
pected of being an enemy to the liberty of America, nor r 
any under eighteen years of age. 

" As the cause is the best that can engage men of 
courage and principle to take up arms, so it is expected 
that none but such will be accepted by the recruiting- 
officer. The pay, provision, <fcc., being so ample, it is nut 
doubted but that the officers sent upon this service will, 
without delay, complete their respective corps, and march 
the men forthwith to camp. 

" You are not to enlist any person who is not an Ameri 
can born, unless such person has a wife and family, and is 
a settled resident in this country. The persons you enlist 
must be provided with good and complete arms." 
From Games s Mercury, July 24, (in Frank Moore s Diary 
of the American devolution, vol. i. p. 110.) 

On the 26th of September following, according to 
Mr. Bancroft, " Edward Rutledge, of South Carolina, 
moved the discharge of all the negroes in the army, 
and he was strongly supported by many of the 



Orders to Southern delegates ; but the opposition was so power- 
negroes. f u j an( j so determined, that he lost his point. " 

On the 18th of October, a Committee of Conference, 
consisting of Dr. Franklin, Benjamin Harrison, and 
Thomas Lynch, met at Cambridge, with the Depu 
ty-Governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island, a 
Committee of the Council of Massachusetts Bay, and 
General Washington, to consider the condition of the 
army, and to devise means for its improvement. On 
the 23d October, the subject of negro soldiers came 
before them for action, and was thus decided : 

" Ought not negroes to be excluded from the new en 
listment, especially such as are slaves ? All were thought 
improper by the council of officers. 

"Agreed, That they be rejected altogether." Force s 
American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. iii. p. 1161. 

The following extract from the Orderly Book, 
under the date of Nov. 12th, indicates the spirit that 
prevailed in enlisting the new army : 

" The officers are to be careful not to enlist any person 
suspected of being unfriendly to the liberties of America, 
or any abandoned vagabond, to whom all causes and coun 
tries are equal and alike indifferent. The rights of man 
kind and the freedom of America will have numbers 
sufficient to support them, without resorting to such 
wretched assistance. Let those who wish to put shackles 
upon freemen fill their ranks with such miscreants, and 
place tlieir confidence in them. Neither negroes, boys 
unable to bear arms, nor old men unfit to endure the fa 
tigues of the campaign, are to be enlisted." Sparks s 
Washington, vol. iii. p. 155. 


On the 31st of December, 1775, Washington wrote 

be enlisted. 

from Cambridge to the President of Congress in re 
gard to the army, in which he thus alludes to negro 
soldiers : 

" It has been represented to me, that the free negroes 
who have served in this army are very much dissatisfied at 
being discarded. As it is to be apprehended that they 
may seek employ in the Ministerial Army, I have presumed 
to depart from the resolution respecting them, and have 
given license for their being enlisted. If this is disap 
proved of by Congress, I will put a stop to it." - Sparks s 
Washington, vol. iii. p. 218, 219. 

Mr. Sparks appends to this letter the following 
note : 

" At a meeting of the general officers, previously to the 
arrival of the committee from Congress in camp, it was 
unanimously resolved, that it was not expedient to enlist 
slaves in the new army ; and, by a large majority, ne 
groes of every description were excluded from enlistment. 
When the subject was referred to the committee in con 
ference, this decision was confirmed. In regard to free 
negroes, however, the resolve was not adhered to, and 
probably for the reason here mentioned by General Wash 
ington. Many black soldiers were in the service during 
all stages of the war." - Sparks s Washington, vol. iii. 
pp. 218, 219. 

On the 16th of January, 1776, Congress thus de 
cided the question submitted by Washington : 

" That the free negroes, who have served faithfully in 
the army at Cambridge, may be re-enlisted therein, but no 
others."- Journals of Congress, vol. ii. p. 26. 


Account of An extract from a letter of General Thomas to 

tlie iiriny 

iu 1775. John Adams gives a true picture 01 the army by one 
fully competent to describe it : 

" I am sorry to hear that any prejudices should take 
place in any Southern colony, with respect to the troops 
raised in this. I ain certain the insinuations you mention 
are injurious, if we consider with what precipitation we 
were obliged to collect an army. In the regiments at Rox- 
bitry, the privates are equal to any that I served with in 
the last war ; very few old men, and in the ranks very few 
boys. Our fifers are many of them boys. We have some 
negroes ; but I look on them, in general, equally service 
able with other men for fatigue ; and, in action, many of 
them have proved themselves brave. 

" I would avoid all reflection, or any thing that may tend 
to give umbrage ; but there is in this army from the south 
ward a number called riflemen, who are as indifferent men 
as I ever served with. These privates are mutinous, and 
often deserting to the enemy ; unwilling for duty of any 
kind ; exceedingly vicious ; and, I think, the army here 
would be as well without as with them. But to do justice 
to their officers, they are, some of them, likely men." 
MS. Letter, dated 2Wt October, 1775. 

While the question of employing negroes as sol- 

Dunmore s 1 J o 

diers was producing a troublesome controversy in 
the Army and in Congress, our enemies boldly met the 
matter in a practical manner. Lord Dunmore, the 
lloyal Governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation 
in November, 1775, promising freedom to all slaves 
who would join the army of the British. In a recent 
"History of England," this act is thus described: 

" In letters which had been laid before the English Par 
liament, and published to the whole world, lie had repre- 

Dunmore s 



scnted the planters as ambitious, selfish men, pursuing- their English 
own interests and advancement at the expense of their of Lord 
poorer countrymen, and as being ready to make every 
sacrifice of honesty and principle ; and he had said more 
privately, that, since they were so anxious for liberty, 
for more freedom than was consistent with the free institu 
tions of the mother-country and the charter of the Colony, 
that since they were so eager to abolish a fanciful slavery 
in a dependence on Great Britain, he would try how they 
liked an abolition of real slavery by setting free all their 
negroes and indentured servants, who were, in fact, little 
better than white slaves. This, to the Virginians, was like 
passing a rasp over a gangrened place : it was probing a 
wound that was incurable, or which has not yet been 
healed. Later in the year, when the battle of Bunker s 
Hill had been fought, when our forts on Lake Champlain 
had been taken from us, and when Montgomery and Arnold 
were pressing on our possessions in Canada, Lord Dunmore 
carried his threat into execution. Having established his 
head-quarters at Norfolk, he proclaimed freedom to all the 
slaves who would repair to his standard and bear arms for 
the king. The summons was readily obeyed by most of the 
negroes who had the means of escaping to him. He, at 
the same time, issued a proclamation, declaring martial 
law throughout the Colony of Virginia; and he collected a 
number of armed vessels, which cut off the coasting-trade, 
made many prizes, and greatly distressed an important part 
of that Province. If he could have opened a road to the 
slaves in the interior of the Province, his measures would 
have been very fatal to the planters. In order to stop the 
alarming desertion of the negroes, and to arrest his Lord 
ship in his career, the Provincial Assembly detached against 
him a strong force of more than a thousand men, who ar 
rived in the neighborhood of Norfolk in the month of 
December. Having made a circuit, they came to a village 
called Great Bridge, where the river Elizabeth was trav- 


Lord crscd by a bridge ; but, before their arrival, the bridge 

Dunmore s J fo . j -, j 

Prociama- had been made impassable, and some works, defended 
chiefly by negroes, had been thrown up." Pictorial His 
tory of England, George III., vol. i. pp. 224, 225. 

The Proclamation of Lord Dunmore was as fol 
lows : 

" By Ids Excellency the Eight Honorable JOHN, Earl of DUNMORE, 
his Majesty s Lieutenant and Governor-General of the Colony 
and Dominion of Virginia, and Vice-Admiral of the same, 


" As I have ever entertained hopes that an accommoda 
tion might have taken place between Great Britain and this 
Colony, without being compelled by my duty to this most 
disagreeable but now absolutely necessary step, rendered 
so by a body of armed men, unlawfully assembled, firing on 
his Majesty s tenders ; and the formation of an army, and 
that army now on their march to attack his Majesty s troops, 
and destroy the well-disposed subjects of this Colony, to 
defeat such treasonable purposes, and that all such traitors 
and their abettors may be brought to justice, and that the 
peace and good order of this Colony may be again restored, 
which the ordinary course of the civil law is unable to 
effect, I have thought fit to issue this my Proclamation ; 
hereby declaring, that, until the aforesaid good purposes 
can be obtained, I do, in virtue of the power and authority 
to me given by his Majesty, determine to execute martial 
law, and cause the same to be executed, throughout this 
Colony. And, to the end that peace and good order may 
the sooner be restored, I do require every person capable 
of bearing arms to resort to his Majesty s standard, or be 
looked upon as traitors to his Majesty s Crown and Govern 
ment, and thereby become liable to the penalty the law 
inflicts upon such offences, such as forfeiture of life, con- 


fiscation of lands, &c., &c. And I do hereby further declare 
all indented servants, negroes, or others, (appertaining to 
rebels,) free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they 
joining his Majesty s troops, as soon as may be, for the 
more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper sense of 
their duty to his Majesty s crown and dignity. I do further 
order and require all his Majesty s liege subjects to retain 
their quit-rents, or any other taxes due, or that may become 
due, in their own custody, till such time as peace may 
be again restored to this at present most unhappy country, 
or demanded of them, for their former salutary purposes, 
by officers properly authorized to receive the same. 

" Given under my hand, on board the ship William, 
off Norfolk, the seventh day of November, in the sixteenth 
year of his Majesty s reign. " DUNMORE. 

" God save the King ! " 
(Force s "American Archives," Fourth Series, vol. iii. p. 1385.) 

This Proclamation created great consternation in 
Virginia. It will be seen by the following extract 
from a letter written Nov. 27th, 1775, by Edmund 
Pendleton to Richard Henry Lee, that many slaves 
flocked to the British standard. 

" The Governor, hearing of this, marched out with three Letter from 
hundred and fifty soldiers, Tories and slaves, to Kemp s Pendleton 
Landing ; and after setting up his standard, and issuing Henry Lee, 
his proclamation, declaring all persons rebels who took up *l 7 ^ 27 
arms for the country, and inviting all slaves, servants, and 
apprentices to come to him and receive arms, he proceeded 
to intercept Hutchings and his party, upon whom he came 
by surprise, but received, it seems, so warm a fire, that the 
ragamuffins gave way. They were, however, rallied on 
discovering that two companies of our militia gave way ; 
and left Hutchings and Dr. Reid with a volunteer company, 
who maintained their ground bravely till they were over- 


Edmund come by numbers, and took shelter in a swamp. The 
slaves were sent in pursuit of them ; and one of Col. Hutch- 
ings s own, with another, found him. On their approach, 
lie discharged his pistol at his slave, but missed him ; and 
was taken by them, after receiving a wound in his face 
with a sword. The numbers taken or killed, on either side, 
is not ascertained. It is said the Governor went to Dr. 
Reid s shop, and, after taking the medicines and dressings 
necessary for his wounded men, broke all the others to 
pieces. Letters mention that slaves flock to him in abun 
dance ; but I hope it is magnified." Force s American 
Archives, Fourth Series, vol. iv. p. 202. 

In a paper published in Williamsburgh, Virginia, on 
the 23d of November, the Proclamation is severely 
commented on ; and an urgent appeal is made to the 
negroes to stand by their masters, their true friends, 
who would, " were it in their power, restore free 
dom to such as have unhappily lost it." 

Caution " The second class of people for whose sake a few rc- 

to the . , L 

negroes. marks upon this proclamation seem necessary is the negroes. 
.They have been flattered with their freedom, if they bo 
able to bear arms, and will speedily join Lord Dunmore s 
troops. To none, then, is freedom promised, but to such as 
are able to do Lord Dunmore service. The aged, the in 
firm, the women and children, are still to remain the prop 
erty of their masters, of masters who will be provoked 
to severity, should part of their slaves desert them. Lord 
Dunmore s declaration, therefore, is a cruel declaration to 
the negroes. lie does not pretend to make it out of any 
tenderness to them, but solely upon his own account ; and, 
should it meet with success, it leaves by iar the greater 
number at the mercy of an enraged and injured people. 
But should there be any amongst the negroes weak enough 


to believe that Lord Dunmore intends to do them a kind- Appeal to 
ness, and wicked enough to provoke the fury of the Amen- by ttie?r 
cans against their defenceless fathers and mothers, their 
wives, their women and children, let them only consider 
the difficulty of effecting their escape, and what they must 
expect to suffer if they fall into the hands of the Ameri 
cans. Let them further consider what must be their fate 
should the English prove conquerors. If we can judge of 
the future from the past, it will not be much mended. Long- 
have the Americans, moved by compassion and actuated by 
sound policy, endeavored to stop the progress of slavery. 
Our Assemblies have repeatedly passed acts, laying heavy 
duties upon imported negroes ; by which they meant alto 
gether to prevent the horrid traffic. But their humane 
intentions have been as often frustrated by the cruelty and 
covetousness of a set of English merchants, who prevailed 
upon the King to repeal our kind and merciful acts, little, 
indeed, to the credit of his humanity. Can it, then, be 
supposed that the negroes will be better used by the Eng 
lish, who have always encouraged and upheld this slavery, 
than by their present masters, who pity their condition ; 
who wish, in general, to make it as easy and comfortable 
as possible ; and ivho would, were it in their power, or were 
they permitted, not only prevent any more negroes from losing 
their freedom, but restore it to such as have already unhappily 
lost it ? No : the ends of Lord Dunmore and his party 
being answered, they will either give up the offending ne 
groes to the rigor of the laws they have broken, or sell 
them in the West Indies, where every year they sell many 
thousands of their miserable brethren, to perish either by 
the inclemency of weather or the cruelty of barbarous 
masters. Be not then, ye negroes, tempted by this pro 
clamation to ruin yourselves. I have given you a faithful 
view of what you are to expect; and declare before find, 
in doing it, I have considered your welfare, as well as that 
of the country. Whether you will profit by my advice, I 



cannot tell ; but this I know, that, whether we suffer or 
not, if you desert us, you most certainly will."- .Force s 
American Archives, Fourth Series, vol iii. p. 1387. 

Answer The Virginia Convention appointed a Committee to 

to Lord 

Dunmore s prepare a Declaration in answer to Lord Dunmore s 

Proclama- - 1 * 

Proclamation. This was adopted on the 13th of De 
cember, when the same Committee was instructed to 
report another Declaration, " offering pardon to such 
slaves as shall return to their duty within ten days 
after the publication thereof." This also was adopted 
the next day, in the following terms : 

" By the Eeprcscntatives of the People of the Colony and Dominion 
of Virginia, assembled in General Convention, 


Declaration " Whereas Lord Dunmorc, by his Proclamation dated on 

of pardon 

to slaves, board the ship William, off Norfolk, the seventh day of 
November, 1775, hath offered freedom to such able-bodied 
slaves as arc willing to join him, and take up arms against 
the good people of this Colony, giving thereby encourage 
ment to a general insurrection, which may induce a neces 
sity of inflicting the severest punishments upon those 
unhappy people, already deluded by his base and insidious 
arts ; and whereas, by an act of the General Assembly now 
in force in this Colony, it is enacted, that all negro or other 
slaves, conspiring to rebel or make insurrection, shall suf 
fer death, and be excluded all benefit of clergy ; we think 
it proper to declare, that all slaves who have been or shall 
be seduced, by his Lordship s Proclamation, or other arts, 
to desert their masters service, and take up arms against 
the inhabitants of this Colony, shall be liable to such pun 
ishment as shall hereafter be directed by the General Con 
vention. And to the end that all such who have taken this 
unlawful and wicked step may return in safety to their 


duty, and escape the punishment due to their crimes, we Declaration 
hereby promise pardon to them, they surrendering them- to slaves. 
selves to Colonel William Woodford or any other commander 
of our troops, and not appearing in arms after the publica 
tion hereof. And we do further earnestly recommend it to 
all humane and benevolent persons in this Colony to explain 
and make known this our offer of mercy to those unfortu 
nate people." - American Archives, Fourth Series, vol. iv. 
pp. 84, 85. 

Washington saw what an element of strength Lord 
Dunmore had called to his aid, and the importance 
of acting promptly and with energy against him. 
On the 15th of December, lie thus wrote to Joseph 
Reed : 

" If the Virginians are wise, that arch-traitor to the Lord Dun- 
rights of humanity, Lord Dunmore, should be instantly crushed, 
crushed, if it takes the force of the whole army to do it; 
otherwise, like a snow-ball in rolling, his army will get 
size, some through fear, some through promises, and some 
through inclination, joining his standard : but that which 
renders the measure indispensably necessary is the ne 
groes ; for, if he gets formidable, numbers of them will be 
tempted to join who will be afraid to do it without." 
Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, vol. i. 135. 

Although many of the slaves responded to the pro 
clamation by joining the army of the enemy, the 
greater part of them were too shrewd to be caught 
by such wily arts. They were unwilling to trust 
their freedom to the officers of a government which 
had persistently encouraged the slave-trade against 
the remonstrances of their masters, who had not only 


declared that traffic to be a wrong against humanity, 

Dunmure. _ J 

but had expressed their desire to abolish domestic 
slavery as soon as it was practicable for them to do so. 
The inconsistency and atrocity of Lord Dunmore s 
conduct justly met with very general indignation. 
Subsequent events proved that the distrust and fears, 
felt by the slaves, were well founded. 

It will be seen by letters written several months 
after the Proclamation was issued, that his Lordship 
attributed the limited success which attended it to 
another than the true cause. 

" Lord Dunmore to the Secretary of State. 


30th March, 1776. 

" Your Lordship will observe by my letter, No. 34, that I 
have been endeavoring to raise two regiments here, one 
of white people, the other of black. The former goes on 
very slowly ; but the latter very well, and would have been 
in great forwardness, had not a fever crept in amongst 
them, which carried off a great many very fine fellows." 


June 26, 1776. 

" I am extremely sorry to inform your Lordship, that that 
fever, of which I informed you in my letter No. 1, has 
proved a very malignant one, and has carried off an incred 
ible number of our people, especially the blacks. Had it 
not been for this horrid disorder, I am satisfied I should 
have had two thousand blacks ; with whom I should have 
had no doubt of penetrating into the heart of this Col 

(Force s " American Archives," Fifth Series, vol. ii. pp. 160, 162.) 


During the years 1776 and 1777, not much was 

J Soldiers. 

done by way of legislation towards settling a general 
policy with regard to the employment of negroes as 
soldiers. They continued, in fact, to be admitted into 
the line of the army without much objection. 

A letter from General Greene to Washington shows 
that it was then contemplated to form the negroes at 
Staten Island into an independent regiment. 


July 21, 1776, two o clock. 

" SIR, Colonel Hand reports seven large ships are 
coining up from the Hook to the Narrows. 

" A negro belonging to one Strickler, at Gravesend, was 
taken prisoner (as he says) last Sunday at Coney Island. 
Yesterday lie made his escape, and was taken prisoner by 
the rifle-guard. He reports eight hundred negroes col 
lected on Staten Island, this day to be formed into a regi 

" I am your Excellency s most obedient, humble ser 
vant, " N. GREENE. 
" To his Excellency Gen. WASHINGTON, Head-quarters, New York." 
(Force s " American Archives," Fifth Series, vol. i. p. 486.) 

A Kesolve of the Massachusetts Legislature, in Sep- 
tember, 1776, is worthy of special notice. Referring 
to it, a writer in the " Historical Magazine " for Sep 
tember, 1861, says, " The course of the authorities of 
the Southern States, now in arms against the Govern 
ment, in selling as slaves all negroes taken prisoners, 
is the last relic of a barbarous custom. . . . The 
first condemnation of the course seems to be that 
contained in a Massachusetts Resolve, of the 14th of 



Negroes to 
be treated 
like other 
of war. 

September, 1776, forbidding the sale, as slaves, of 
two negroes taken on the sloop Hannibal. " The 
Resolve is as follows : 

" Whereas this Court is credibly informed, that two 
negro men lately taken on the high seas, on board the 
sloop Hannibal, and brought into this State as prisoners, 
are advertised to be sold at Salem the 17th instant, by 
public auction : 

"Resolved, That all persons concerned with the said 
negroes be, and they hereby are, forbidden to sell them, or 
in any manner to treat them otherwise than is already 
ordered for the treatment of prisoners taken in like man 
ner ; and, if any sale of the said negroes shall be made, it 
is hereby declared null and void. And that whenever it 
shall appear that any negroes are taken on the high seas, 
and brought as prisoners into this State, they shall not be 
allowed to be sold, nor treated any otherwise than as pris 
oners are ordered to be treated who are taken in like 
manner." Resolves, September, 1776, p. 14. 

I am indebted to my friend Mr. William J. Davis, 
of New York, for the following extract from the 
Journal of a Hessian officer who was with Burgoyne 
at the time of his surrender. It is a literal translation 
from a German work which is rare in this country. 
This testimony of a foreign officer, as to the common 
use of negroes in the American Army, is quite impor 
tant. It is dated 23d October, 1777. 


oilicer s 

" From here to Springfield, there are few habitations 
testimony, which have not a negro family dwelling in a small house 
near by. The negroes are here as fruitful as other cattle. 
The young ones are well foddered, especially while they 
arc still calves. Slavery is, moreover, very gainful. The 


negro is to be considered just as the bond-servant of a Hessian 
peasant. The negress does all the coarse work of the house, testimony, 
and the little black young ones wait on the little white young 
ones. The negro can take the field, instead of his master ; 
and therefore no regiment is to be seen in which there are 
not negroes in abundance : and among them there are able- 
bodied, strong, and brave felloivs. Here, too, there are 
many families of free negroes, who live in good houses, 
have property, and live just like the rest of the inhabi 
tants." - Schloezers Brief wechsel, vol. iv. p. 3G5. 

The capture of ^Major-General Prescott, of the Bri- Capture of 

J the British 

tish army, on the 9th of July, 1777, was an occasion General 

i rcscott* 

of great joy throughout the country. Prince, the 
valiant negro who seized that officer, ought always 
to be remembered with honor for his important ser 
vice. The exploit was much commended at the 
time, as its results were highly important ; and 
Colonel Barton, very properly, received from Con 
gress the compliment of a sword for his ingenuity 
and bravery. It seems, however, that it took more 
than one head to plan and to execute the under 

" They landed about five miles from Newport, and three- 
quarters of a mile from the house, which they approached 
cautiously, avoiding the main guard, which was at some 
distance. The Colonel went foremost, ivith a stout, active 
negro close behind him, and another at a small distance : the 
rest followed so as to be near, but not seen. 

" A single sentinel at the door saw and hailed the 
Colonel : he answered by exclaiming against, and inquiring 
for, rebel prisoners, but kept slowly advancing. The 
sentinel again challenged him, and required the counter 
sign. He said he had not the countersign; but amused 


Capture of the sentry by talking about rebel prisoners, and still 
General 8 advancing till lie came within reach of the bayonet, which, 
Prescott. j ie p rcsen ting, the colonel suddenly struck aside, and seized 
him. He was immediately secured, and ordered to be 
silent, on pain of instant death. Meanwhile, the rest of 
the men surrounding the house, the negro, with his head, 
at the second stroke, forced a passage into it, and then into the 
landlord s apartment. The landlord at first refused to give 
the necessary intelligence ; but, on the prospect of present 
death, he pointed to the General s chamber, which being 
instantly opened by the negro s head, the Colonel, calling the 
General by name, told him lie was a prisoner" - Pennsyl 
vania Evening Post, Aug. 7, 1777 ; (in Frank Moore s Diary 
of the American Revolution, vol. i. p. 4G8.) 

The event was thus noticed by a contemporary 
(Dr. Thacher), who was a surgeon in the American 
army : 

"Albany, Aug. 3, 1777. The pleasing information is 
received here that Lieut.-Col. Barton, of the Rhode-Island 
militia, planned a bold exploit for the purpose of surpris 
ing and taking Major-Gen. Prescott, the commanding officer 
of the royal army at Newport. Taking with him, in the 
night, about forty men, in two boats, with oars muffled, he 
had the address to elude the vigilance of the ships-of-war 
and guard-boats : and, having arrived undiscovered at the 
quarters of Gen. Prescott, they were taken for the sen 
tinels ; and the general was not alarmed till his captors 
were at the door of his lodging-chamber, which was fast 
closed. A negro man, named Prince, instantly thrust his 
beetle head through the panel door, and seized his victim 
while in bed. . . . This event is extremely honorable to 
the enterprising spirit of Col. Barton, and is considered 
as ample retaliation for the capture of Gen. Lee by Col. 
Harcourt. The event occasions great joy and exulta- 


tion, as it puts in our possession an officer of equal rank Doctor 

, . Thacher a 

with Gen. Lee, by which means an exchange may be account, 
obtained. Congress resolved that an elegant sword should 
be presented to Col. Barton for his brave exploit." 

It was perhaps " Prince " to whom Dr. Thacher 
alludes in the following characteristic anecdote : 

"When the Count D Estaing s fleet appeared near the 
British batteries, in the harbor of Rhode Island, a severe 
cannonade was commenced; and several shot passed through 
the houses in town, and occasioned great consternation 
among the inhabitants. A shot passed through the door of 
Mrs. Mason s house, just above the floor. The family were 
alarmed, not knowing where to flee for safety. A negro 
man ran and sat himself down very composedly, with his 
back against the shot-hole in the door ; and, being asked by 
young Mr. Mason why he chose that situation, he replied, 
Massa, you never know two bullet go in one place. " 
Thaclier s Military Journal, pp. 87, 175. 

The subject of the employment of Negro soldiers 
came before the Connecticut General Assembly in 
1777, in connection with the subject of slavery and 

By the courtesy of J. Hammond Trumbull, Esquire, 
Editor of " The Public Records of the Colony of 
Connecticut," and Secretary of State, I am enabled to 
give, in his own words, the following interesting 
account of the action of that State : 

"In May, 1777, the General Assembly of Connecticut Action of 
appointed a Committee to take into consideration the nccticut 
state and condition of the negro and mulatto slaves in this 
State, and what may be done for their emancipation. 
This Committee, in a report presented at the same session 



Legislation (signed by the chairman, the Hon. Matthew Griswold of 

in Connect- I. . , , 

icut. Lyme), recommended 

u t 

That the effective negro and mulatto slaves be allowed 
to enlist with the Continental battalions now raising in this 
State, under the following regulations and restrictions : 
viz., that all such negro and mulatto slaves as can procure, 
either by bounty, hire, or in any other way, such a sum to 
be paid to their masters as such negro or mulatto shall be 
judged to be reasonably worth by the selectmen of the 
town where such negro or mulatto belongs, shall be allowed 
to enlist into either of said battalions, and shall thereupon 
be, de facto, free and emancipated; and that the master of 
such negro or mulatto shall be exempted from the support 
and maintenance of such negro or mulatto, in case such 
negro or mulatto shall hereafter become unable to support 
and maintain himself. 

" And that, in case any such negro or mulatto slave shall 
be disposed to enlist into either of said battalions during 
the [war], he shall be allowed so .to do: and such negro or 
mulatto shall be appraised by the selectmen of the town to 
which he belongs ; and his master shall be allowed to receive 
the bounty to which such slave may be entitled, and also 
one-half of the annual wages of such slave during the time 
he shall continue in said service ; provided, however, that 
said master shall not be allowed to receive such part of 
said wages after he shall have received so much as amounts, 
together with the bounty, to the sum at which he was 
appraised. " 

This report, in the Lower House, was ordered to 
be continued to the next session of the Assembly. In 
the Upper House it was rejected. 

Mr. Trumbull writes : 

"You will see by the Report of Committee, May, 1777, 
that General Varnum s plan for the enlistment of slaves 


had boon anticipated in Connecticut ; with this difference, legislation 
that Rhode Island adopted it, while Connecticut did not. icut. 

" The two States reached nearly the same results by 
different methods. The unanimous declaration of the offi 
cers at Cambridge, in the winter of 1775, against the 
enlistment of slaves, confirmed by the Committee of 
Congress, had some weight, I think, with the Connecti 
cut Assembly, so far as the formal enactment of a law 
authorizmcj such enlistments was in question. At the same 
time, Washington s license to continue the enlistment of 
negroes was regarded as a rule of action, both by the 
selectmen in making up, and by the State Government in 
accepting, the quota of the towns. The process of draught 
ing, in Connecticut, was briefly this : The able-bodied men, 
in each town, were divided into * classes ; and each class 
was required to furnish one or more men, as the town s 
quota required, to answer a draught. Now, the Assembly, 
at the same session at which the proposition for enlisting 
slaves was rejected (May, 1777), passed an act providing that 
any tivo men belonging to this State, who should procure 
an able-bodied soldier or recruit to enlist into either of the 
Continental battalions to be raised from this State, should 
themselves be exempted from draught during the continu 
ance of such enlistment. Of recruits or draughted men thus 
furnished, neither the selectmen nor commanding officers 
questioned the color or the civil status: white and black, bond 
and free, if able-bodied, went on the roll together, ac 
cepted as the representatives of their class, or as sub 
stitutes for their employers. At the next session (October, 
1777), an act was passed which gave more direct encourage 
ment to the enlistment of slaves. By the existing law, the 
master who emancipated a slave was not released from 
the liability to provide for his support. This law was now 
so amended, as to authorize the selectmen of any town, on 
the application of the master, after inquiry into the 
age, abilities, circumstances, and character of the servant 


Legislation or slave, and being satisfied that it was likely to be con- 
icut. ni " sistent with his real advantage, and that it was probable 
that he would be able to support himself/ to grant liberty 
for his emancipation, and to discharge the master from 
any charge or cost which may be occasioned by maintain 
ing or supporting the servant or slave made free as afore 
said. This enactment enabled the selectmen to offer an 
additional inducement to enlistment, for making up the 
quota of the town. The slave (or servant for term of 
years) might receive his freedom : the master might secure 
exemption from draught, and a discharge from future lia 
bilities, to which he must otherwise have been subjected. 
In point of fact, some hundreds of blacks slaves and 
freemen were enlisted, from time to time, in the regi 
ments of State troops and of the Connecticut line. How 
many, it is impossible to tell ; for, from first to last, the 
company or regimental rolls indicate no distinctions of 
color. The name is the only guide : and, in turning over 
the rolls of the Connecticut line, the frequent recurrence 
of names which were exclusively appropriated to negroes 
and slaves, shows how considerable was their proportion of 
the material of the Connecticut army; white such sur 
names as Liberty, Freeman, Freedom, &c., by scores, 
indicate with what anticipations, and under what induce 
ments, they entered the service. 

" As to the efficiency of the service they rendered, I 
can say nothing from the records, except what is to be 
gleaned from scattered files, such as one of the petitions I 
send you. So far as my acquaintance extends, almost 
every family has its traditions of the good and faithful ser 
vice of a black servant or slave, who was killed in 
battle, or served through the war, and came home to tell 
stories of hard fighting, and draw his pension. In my own 
native town, not a large one, I remember five such 
pensioners, three of whom, I believe, had been slaves, and, 
in fact, lucre slaves to the day of their death; for (and 


this explains the uniform action of the General Assembly on Legislation 
petitions for emancipation) neither the towns nor the State ic ut . om 
were inclined to exonerate the master, at a time when sla 
very was becoming unprofitable, from the obligation to 
provide for the old age of his slave. 

" Col. William Browne of Salem (a mandamus counsel 
lor ), who went with the enemy from Boston in 177G, 
owned large tracts of land in New London and Hartford 
counties in Connecticut, entailed by his grandfather, Col. 
Samuel Browne. The General Court cut off the entail, 
and confiscated the land. A farm in Lyme of twelve thou 
sand four hundred and thirty-six acres, valued, in 1779, at 
a hundred and sixty-nine thousand pounds (Continental), 
had been leased for a term of years, with nine slaves. The 
administrator on confiscated estates, Benjamin Huntington, 
Esq., when returning the inventory of Mr. Browne s pro 
perty, stated to the General Assembly that there were a 
number of slaves appraised, who beg for their liberty ; 
and that the lessee of the farm would assent to their being 
liberated, without requiring a diminution of his rent. 

" Accompanying the inventory is the following petition, 
in Mr. Hunting-ton s hand-writing : 

" To the Hon. General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, noiv 
sitting in Hartford. 

" The memorial of Great Prince, Little Prince, Luke, Petition 
Caesar, and Prue and her three children, all friends to slaves. 
America, but slaves (lately belonging to Col. William 
Browne, now forfeited to this State,) humbly sheweth, 
that their late master was a Tory, and fled from his native 
country to 7iis master, King George ; where he now lives 
like a poor slave. 

" That your memorialists, though they have flat noses, 
crooked shins, and other queerness of make, peculiar to 
Africans, arc yet of the human race, free-born in our own 


Petition country, taken from thence by man-stealers, and sold in 
slaves! 11 this country as cattle in the market, without the least act 
of our own to forfeit liberty ; but we hope our good 
mistress, the free State of Connecticut, engaged in a war 
with tyranny, will not sell good honest Whigs and friends 
of the freedom and independence of America, as we are, to 
raise cash to support the war : because the Whigs ought 
to be free ; and the Tories should be sold. 

" Wherefore your memorialists pray your Honors to 
consider their case, and grant them their freedom upon 
their getting security to indemnify the State from any ex 
pense for their support in case of want, or, in some other 
way, release them from slavery. 

" And your poor negroes, as in duty bound, shall ever 
pray. " GREAT PRINCE. 

LUKE, <fec. 

" Dated in LYME, Election-day, 1779. 

" The Lower House granted, but the Upper House nega 
tived, the prayer of the memorial. A committee of con 
ference was appointed; but each House adhered to its 
original vote." 

Rhode Nowhere in the country was the question of negro 

soldiers more carefully considered, or the practice of 
employing them more generally adopted, than in 
llliode Island. Not only were the names of colored 
men entered with those of white citizens on the rolls 
of the militia, but a distinct regiment of this class of 
persons was formed. The character and conduct 
of that regiment have an important place in the his 
tory of the Revolutionary War. 

My valued friend, John llussell Bartlett, Esquire, 


Editor of the " Records of the Colony of Rhode 
Island and Providence Plantations in New England," 
and Secretary of State, has copied for me, from the 
manuscripts in the State Archives, the correspondence 
and legislation relating to the subject. These docu 
ments are here presented entire, and give a full 
history of the whole matter. 


"HEAD QUARTERS, 2d January, 1778. 

" SIR, Enclosed you will receive a copy of a letter 
from General Yarnum to me, upon the means which might 
be adopted for completing the Rhode-Island troops to their 
full proportion in the Continental Army. I have nothing 
to say, in addition to what I wrote on the 29th of last 
month, on this important subject, but to desire that you 
will give the officers employed in this business all the 
assistance in your power. 

" I am, with great respect, Sir, your most obedient 
servant, " GEO. WASHINGTON. 

" His Excellency NICHOLAS COOKE, Esq., 
Governor of Rhode Island." 


"CAMP, Jan. 2, 1778. 

" SIR, The two battalions from the State of Rhode Is 
land being small, and there being a necessity of the State s 
furnishing an additional number to make up their propor 
tion in the Continental Army, the field-officers have repre 
sented to me the propriety of making one temporary 
battalion from the two ; so that one entire corps of officers 
may repair to Rhode Island, in order to receive and pre 
pare the recruits for the field. It is imagined that a 
battalion of negroes can be easily raised there. Should 
that measure be adopted, or recruits obtained upon any 


Negro other principle, the service will be advanced. The field- 

Khode 8 officers who go upon this command are Colonel Greene, 

Lieut.-Colonel Olney, and Major Ward; seven captains, 

twelve lieutenants, six ensigns, one paymaster, one surgeon 

and mate, one adjutant, and one chaplain. 

" I am your Excellency s most obedient servant, 

" His Excellency Gen. WASHINGTON." 

These letters were laid before the General Assem 
bly at the February Session ; and, after due delibera 
tion, the following act was passed, not without some 
opposition : 

" State of Rhode Inland and Providence Plantations, in General 
Assembly. February Session, 1778. 

" Whereas, for the preservation of the rights and liberties 
of the United States, it is necessary that the whole powers of 
Government should be exerted in recruiting the Continen 
tal battalions ; and whereas His Excellency, Gen. Wash 
ington, hath inclosed to this State a proposal made to him 
by Brigadier-General Varnum, to enlist into the two bat 
talions, raising by this State, such slaves as should be 
willing to enter into the service : and whereas history af- 
. fords us frequent Precedents of the ivisest, the freest, and 
bravest nations having liberated their Slaves, and inlisted 
them as Soldiers to fight in Defence of their Country ; and 
also, whereas, the Enemy, with a great force, have taken 
Possession of the Capital and of a great Part of this State ; 
and this State is obliged to raise a very considerable Num 
ber of Troops for its own immediate Defence, whereby it 
is in a Manner rendered impossible for this State to furnish 
Recruits for the said two Battalions without adopting the 
said Measure so recommended : 

" It is Voted and Resolved, That every able-bodied negro, 


mulatto, or Indian man slave, in this State, may inlist 
into either of the said two battalions to serve during the 
continuance of the present war with Great Britain : that 
every slave so inlisting shall be entitled to and receive all 
the bounties, wages, and encouragements allowed by the 
Continental Congress to any soldier inlisting into their ser 

" It is further Voted and Resolved, That every slave so in- 
listing shall, upon his passing muster before Col. Christopher 
Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his 
master or mistress, and be absolutely FREE, as though lie 
had never been incumbered with any kind of servitude or 
slavery. And in case such slave shall, by sickness or 
otherwise, be rendered unable to maintain himself, he shall 
not be chargeable to his master or mistress, but shall be 
supported at the expense of the State. 

"And Avhereas slaves have been by the laws deemed the 
property of their owners ; and therefore compensation ought 
to be made to the owners for the loss of their service, 

"It is further Voted and Resolved, That there be allowed, 
and paid by this State to the owner, for every such slave 
so inlisting, a sum according to his worth ; at a price not 
exceeding one hundred and twenty pounds for the most 
valuable slave, and in proportion for a slave of less value : 
Provided the owner of said slave shall deliver up to the 
officer who shall inlist him the clothes of the said slave ; or 
otherwise he shall not be entitled to said sum. 

" And for settling and ascertaining the value of such 

"It is further Voted and Resolved, That a committee of 
five be appointed, to wit : one from each county ; any 
three of whom to be a quorum, to examine the slaves who 
shall be so inlisted, after they shall have passed muster, 
and to set a price upon each slave, according to his value, 
as aforesaid. 

"Jt is further Voted and Resolved, That upon any able- 



bodied negro, mulatto, or Indian slave, inlisting as aforesaid, 
the officer who shall so inlist him, after ho has passed mus 
ter as aforesaid, shall deliver a certificate thereof to the 
master or mistress of said negro, mulatto, or Indian slave ; 
which shall discharge him from the service of said master 
or mistress as aforesaid. 

"It is further Voted and Resolved, That the committee 
who shall estimate the value of any slave as aforesaid, shall 
give a certificate of the sum at which he may be valued, to 
the owner of said slave : and the General Treasurer of this 
State is hereby empowered and directed to give unto the 
owner of said slave his promissory note, as Treasurer, as 
aforesaid, for the sum of money at which he shall be valued 
as aforesaid, payable on demand, with interest, at the rate 
of six per cent, per annum ; and that said notes which shall 
be so given, shall be paid with the money which is due this 
State, and is expected from Congress, the money which 
has been borrowed out of the General Treasury by this 
Assembly being first replaced." 

The members of the General Assembly opposed to 
the passage of this Act embodied their objections 
to it in a Protest. The difficulties which they appre 
hended were not found to exist to such an extent as 
to defeat the project. 

" Protest against enlisting Slaves to serve in the Army. 

" We, the subscribers, beg leave to dissent from the 
vote of the Lower House ordering a regiment of negroes 
to be raised for the Continental service, for the following 
reasons ; viz. 

" 1st, Because, in our opinion, there is not a sufficient 
number of negroes in the State who would have an in 
clination to inlist, and would pass muster, to constitute a 
regiment ; and raising several companies of blacks would 


not answer the purposes intended : and therefore the at 
tempt to constitute said regiment would prove abortive, 
and be a fruitless expense to the State. 

" 2d, The raising such a regiment upon the footing 
proposed would suggest an idea, and produce an opinion 
in the world, that the State had purchased a band of slaves 
to be employed in the defence of the rights and liberties of 
our country : which is wholly inconsistent with those prin 
ciples of liberty and constitutional government for which 
we are so ardently contending ; and would be looked upon 
by the neighboring States in a contemptible point of view, 
and not equal to their troops ; and they would, therefore, 
be unwilling that we should have credit for them as for an 
equal number of white troops ; and would also give occa 
sion to our enemies to suspect that we are not able to 
procure our own people to oppose them in the field, and 
to retort upon us the same kind of ridicule w r e so liberally 
bestowed upon them on account of Dunmore s regiment 
of blacks ; or possibly might suggest to them the idea of 
employing black regiments against us. 

" 3d, The expense of purchasing and inlisting said 
regiment, in the manner proposed, will vastly exceed the 
expenses of raising an equal number of white men ; and, 
at the same time, will not have the like good effect. 

" 4th, Great difficulties and uneasiness will arise in 
purchasing the negroes from their masters ; and many 
of the masters will not be satisfied with any prices al 





"PROVIDENCE, Feb. 23, 1778. 

" SIR, I have been favored with your Excellency s 
letter of the third instant [2d ultimo?], enclosing a pro- 


posal made to you by General Varmim for recruiting the 
two Continental battalions raised by this State. 

" I laid the letter before the General Assembly at their 
session, on the second Monday in this month ; who, con 
sidering the pressing necessity of filling up the Continental 
Army, and the peculiarly difficult circumstances of this 
State, which rendered it, in a manner, impossible to 
recruit our battalions in any other way, adopted the 

" Liberty is given to every effective slave to enter the 
service during the war ; and, upon his passing muster, he 
is absolutely made free, and entitled to all the wages, boun 
ties, and encouragements given by Congress to any soldier 
enlisting into their service. The masters are allowed at 
the rate of 120 for the most valuable slave, and in pro 
portion to those of less value. 

" The number of slaves in this State is not great ; but 
it is generally thought that three hundred and upwards 
will be enlisted. 

" I am, with great respect, Sir, your Excellency s most 
obedient, humble servant, " NICHOLAS COOKE. 


At the session of the General Assembly in which 
the Act was passed, 

" It is voted and resolved, That Messrs. Thomas Eumreil, 
Christopher Lippitt, Samuel Babcock, Thomas Tillinghast, 
and Josiah Humphrey, be, and they are hereby, appointed 
a committee to estimate the value of the slaves who may 
enlist into the Continental battalions, agreeably to a re 
solve of this Assembly." 

A short time after the act was passed, March the 

" It is voted and resolved, That the masters of all negro 


slaves, who are bound out as apprentices, that already 
have inlisted or shall inlist into the Continental service, 
shall be entitled to receive out of the General Treasury 
the annual interest of the sum the said slaves shall be 
appraised at, until the expiration of their apprenticeships ; 
and that the money remain in the treasury until the expi 
ration of the said apprenticeships, and then be paid to 
the owner without interest." 

As it was not desirable to extend indefinitely the 
offer of freedom to slaves enlisting imder this act, 
the General Assembly, at their May Session, adopted 
the following preamble and resolution : 

" "Whereas, by an act of this Assembly, negro, mulatto, 
and Indian slaves, belonging to the inhabitants of this 
State, are permitted to inlist into the Continental batta 
lions ordered to be raised by this State, and are thereupon 
for ever manumitted and discharged from the service of 
their masters ; and whereas it is necessary, for answering 
the purposes intended by the said act, that the same shall 
be temporary, 

" It is therefore voted and resolved, that no negro, mu 
latto, or Indian slave, be permitted to inlist into said 
battalions from and after the tenth day of June next ; and 
that the said act then expire, and be no longer in force, 
any thing therein to the contrary notwithstanding." 

At the October Session, 1778, 

" It is voted and resolved, That the General Treasurer 
pay unto the owners of slaves who have enlisted as afore 
said, and who have not received notes for the estimated 
value of the same, the sums of money at which they were 
appraised, upon their producing certificates thereof from 
the committee appointed to give the same ; and that the 
said owners be permitted to receive the whole or any part 


of the value of their slaves in Continental loan-office cer 

There is abundant evidence of the fidelity and 
bravery of the colored patriots of Rhode Island dur 
ing the whole war. Before they had been formed 
into a separate regiment, they had fought valiantly 
with the white soldiers at Red Bank and elsewhere. 
Their conduct at the " Battle of Rhode Island," on 
the 29th of August, 1778, entitles them to perpetual 
honor. That battle has been pronounced by military 
authorities to have been one of the best fought battles 
of the Revolutionary War. Its success was owing, in 
a great degree, to the good fighting of the Negro sol 
diers. Mr. Arnold, in his " History of Rhode Island, 1 
thus closes his account of it : 

Colonel " A third time the enemy, with desperate courage and 

Black increased strength, attempted to assail the redoubt, and 
would have carried it, but for the timely aid of two Con 
tinental battalions despatched by Sullivan to support his 
almost exhausted troops. It was in repelling these furi 
ous onsets, that the newly raised black regiment, under 
Col. Greene, distinguished itself by deeds of desperate 
valor. Posted behind a thicket in the valley, they three 
times drove back the Hessians, who charged repeatedly 
down the hill to dislodge them ; and so determined were 
the enemy in these successive charges, that, the day after 
the battle, the Hessian colonel, upon whom this duty had 
devolved, applied to exchange his command, and go to 
New York, because he dared not lead his regiment again 
to battle, lest his men should shoot him for having caused 
them so much loss." Arnold s History of Rhode Island, 
vol. ii. pp. 427, 428. 


Three years later, these soldiers are thus men 
tioned by the Marquis de Chastellux : 

" The 5th [of January, 1781] I did not set out till eleven, 
although I had thirty miles journey to Lebanon. At the 
passage to the ferry, I met with a detachment of the Rhode- 
Island regiment, the same corps we had with us all the 
last summer ; but they have since been recruited and 
clothed. The greatest part of them are negroes or mulat- 
toes : but they are strong, robust men ; and those I have 
seen had a very good appearance." CliasteUux 1 Travels, 
vol. i. p. 454; London, 1789. 

When Colonel Greene was surprised and murdered, 
near Points Bridge, New York, on the 14th of May, 
1781, his colored soldiers heroically defended him till 
they were cut to pieces, and the enemy reached him 
over the dead bodies of his faithful negroes. 


In the spring of 1778, the General Court of Mas- 
sachusetts, also, was invoked to sanction the enrolling 
of nc^ro soldiers. This would not have been without 


a precedent in her earlier legislation; for, in 1652, 
"negroes and Scotchmen" (the indented captives of 
Cromwell, who had encountered his army at the 
battle of Dunbar) were alike, by law, obliged to train 
in the militia : and, whatever reason afterwards led 
to a change of the law, it docs not seem to have been 
a question of color or of military aptitude ; for the 
white veterans and the negroes were treated in this 
matter without distinction. 

On the 3d and the 7th of April, 1778, just before 
the doings of the Rhode-Island General Assembly 
were communicated to the Legislature of Massachu- 


setts, Thomas Kench, belonging to a regiment of 
artillery then at Castle Island, addressed to the Ge 
neral Court the following letters, which speak for 
themselves : 

" To the Honorable Council, and House of Representatives, Boston, 
or at Roxbury. 

" HONORED GENTLEMEN, At the opening of this cam 
paign, our forces should be all ready, well equipped with 
arms and ammunition, with clothing sufficient to stand them 
through the campaign, their wages to be paid monthly, so 
as not to give the soldiery so much reason of complaint as 
it is the general cry from the soldiery amongst whom I am 

" We have accounts of large re-enforcements a-coming 
over this spring against us ; and we are not so strong this 
spring, I think, as we were last. Great numbers have 
deserted; numbers have died, besides what is sick, and 
incapable of duty, or bearing arms in the field. 

" I think it is highly necessary that some new augmen 
tation should be added to the army this summer, all the 
re-enforcements that can possibly be obtained. For now 
is the time to exert ourselves or never ; for, if the enemy 
can get no further hold this campaign than they now 
possess, we [have] no need to fear much from them here 

" A re-enforcement can quick be raised of two or three 
hundred men. Will your honors grant the liberty, and 
give me the command of the party ? And what I refer to is 
negroes. We have divers of them in our service, mixed 
with white men. But I think it would be more proper to 
raise a body by themselves, than to have them intermixed 
with the white men ; and their ambition would entirely be 
to outdo the white men in every measure that the fortune 
of war calls a soldier to endure. And I could rely with 
dependence upon them in the field of battle, or to any 
post that I was sent to defend with them ; and they would 


think themselves happy could they gain their freedom by Thomas 

f I A *1 4- T Kcilcll S 

bearing a part 01 subduing the enemy that is invading our letter. 
land, and clear a peaceful inheritance for their masters, and 
posterity yet to come, that they are now slaves to. 

" The method that I would point out to your Honors in 
raising a detachment of negroes ; that a company should 
consist of a hundred, including commissioned officers ; and 
that the commissioned officers should be white, and consist 
of one captain, one captain-lieutenant, two second lieuten 
ants ; the orderly sergeant white ; and that there should 
be three sergeants black, four corporals black, two drums 
and two fifes black, and eighty-four rank and file. These 
should engage to serve till the end of the war, and then bo 
free men. And I doubt not, that no gentleman that is a 
friend to his country will disapprove of this plan, or be 
against his negroes enlisting into the service to maintain 
the cause of freedom, and suppress the worse than savage 
enemies of our land. 

" I beg your Honors to grant me the liberty of raising 
one company, if no more. It will be far better than to fill 
up our battalions with runaways and deserters from Gen. 
Burgoyne s army, who, after receiving clothing and the 
bounty, in general make it their business to desert from us. 
In the lieu thereof, if they are [of] a mind to serve in 
America, let them supply the families of those gentlemen 
where those negroes belong that should engage. 

" I rest, relying on your Honors wisdom in this matter, 
as it will be a quick way of having a re-enforcement to 
join the grand army, or to act in any other place that occa 
sion shall require ; and I will give my faith and assurance 
that I will act upon honor and fidelity, should I take the 
command of such a party as I have been describing. 

" So I rest till your Honors shall call me ; and am your 
very humble and obedient servant, 


" In Col. Craft s Regiment of Artillery, now on Castle Island. 

" CASTLE ISLAND, April 3, 1778." 



" To (he Honorable Council in Boston. 
Thomas a f] ie letter I wrote before I heard of the disturbance 

Kench s 

second with Col. Scares, Mr. Spear, and a number of other gentle 
men, concerning the freedom of negroes in Congress 
Street. It is a pity that riots should be committed on the 
occasion, as it is justifiable that negroes should have their 
freedom, and none amongst us be held as slaves, as free 
dom and liberty is the grand controversy that we are 
contending for ; and I trust, under the smiles of Divine 
Providence, we shall obtain it, if all our minds can but be 
united ; and putting the negroes into the service will pre 
vent much uneasiness, and give more satisfaction to those 
that are offended at the thoughts of their servants being- 

" I will not enlarge, for fear I should give offence ; but 
subscribe myself, Your faithful servant, 


"CASTLE ISLAND, April 7, 1778." 

(Archives of Massachusetts, vol. cxcix. pp. 80, 84.) 

On the llth of April, the former of the above 
letters was duly referred to a joint committee, " to 
consider the same, and report." On the 17th, " a re 
solution of the General Assembly of Rhode Island for 
enlisting negroes in the public service " was referred 
to the same committee. On the 28th, they reported 
the draught of a law, differing little from the Rhode- 
Island Resolution : but a separate organization of ne 
gro companies, by Kench, does not appear to have been 
deemed advisable at that time ; and the usage was con 
tinued, of "having," in the words of Kcnch, " negroes 
in our service, intermixed with the white men." 

Many other specimens of legislative action on the 
subject in the Northern and Middle States might be 


produced ; but enough have already been given to 
show the general current of public sentiment in this 
part of the country. An extract from a letter to 
Washington, written by John Cadwalader at Anna 
polis, Md., June 5, 1781, relates to the doings of 
that State : 

" We have resolved to raise, immediately, seven hundred Maryland. 
and fifty negroes, to be incorporated with the other troops ; 
and a bill is now almost completed." Sparks 1 s Correspond 
ence of the American Revolution, vol. iii. p. 331. 

In an act passed by the Legislature of New York, 
March 20, 1781, for the purpose of raising two regi 
ments upon the inducement of " bounty lands unap 
propriated," is to be found the following section : 

" SECT. 6. And be it further enacted by the authority New York, 
aforesaid, that any person who shall deliver one or more 
of his or her able-bodied male slaves to any warrant 
officer, as aforesaid, to serve in either of the said regi 
ments or independent corps, and produce a certificate 
thereof, signed by any person authorized to muster and 
receive the men to be raised by virtue of this act, and pro 
duce such certificate to the Surveyor-General, shall, for 
every male slave so entered and mustered as aforesaid, be 
entitled to the location and grant of one right, in manner 
as in and by this act is directed ; and shall be, and hereby 
is, discharged from any future maintenance of such slave, 
any law to the contrary notwithstanding : And such slave 
so entered as aforesaid, who shall serve for the term of 
three years or until regularly discharged, shall, immediately 
after such service or discharge, be, and is hereby declared 
to be, a free man of this State." Laws of the State of 
New York, Chap. 32 ; (March 20, 1781, Fourth Session.) 


Tacitly or by positive law, the policy of arming 
the negroes and employing them as soldiers, either 
in separate companies or mingled in the ranks with 
white citizens, almost everywhere prevailed. In. 
Georgia and South Carolina, however, where there 
was the most urgent call for more troops, and where 
the slave-holders were backward in enlisting, the 
case was different. These States, it will be remem 
bered, contained so many Tories, whose sympathies 
were with the enemy, that it was impossible to obtain 
from them enough soldiers for a " home-guard." 

It may not be amiss for Massachusetts men to re 
fresh their memories by referring to the history of 
their Commonwealth in regard to supplying soldiers 
during the Revolution ; and it may be well for all to 
notice, that, where there was the greatest opposition 
to the arming and employing of negroes as soldiers, 
there was the least disposition to furnish a fair supply 
of white soldiers. The following items of Revolu 
tionary history were published several years since by 
our associate, the Hon. Lorenzo Sabine, in the histo 
rical essay prefixed to his excellent history of the 
American Loyalists : " 

Where the " The whole number of regulars enlisted for the Conti- 
came from, nental service, from the beginning to the close of the 
struggle, was 231,959. Of these, I have once remarked, 
G7,907 were from Massachusetts ; and I may now add, that 
every State south of Pennsylvania provided but 59,493, or 
8,414 less than this single State ; and that New England 
now, I grieve to say, contemned and reproached equipped 
and maintained 118,350, or above half of the number placed 


at the service of Congress during the war. I would not Where the 
press these facts to the injury of the Whigs of the South, came from. 
The war, after the evacuation of Boston, I am aware, was 
transferred from New England to the Middle and Southern 
States; and these States accordingly required bodies of 
troops to be kept at home to protect themselves. But as it 
is to be presumed that most of such bodies composed a part 
of the regular force employed by Congress, and were, 
therefore, included in the Continental establishment and 
pay, the argument is in no essential particular weakened 
by the admission, that the Whigs of the South were, of 
necessity, employed in the defence of their own firesides ; 
for, were this the truth of the case, the numbers in this 
service, as well as in other, would still appear, in making 
up the aggregate force enlisted from time to time in each 
State. The exact question is, then, not ivhere were the 
battle-grounds of the Revolution, but what was the propor 
tion of men which each of the thirteen States supplied for 
the contest. 

" In considering the political condition of Virginia and 
North Carolina, it was admitted that these States w r ere not 
able to provide troops according to their population, as 
compared with the States destitute of a peculiar institu 
tion. The same admission is now made in behalf of South 
Carolina. Yet did 6,GGO Whig soldiers exhaust her re 
sources of men ? Could she furnish only 752 more than 
Rhode Island, the smallest State in the Confederacy ; only 
one-fifth of the number of Connecticut ; only one-half as 
many as New Hampshire, then almost an unbroken wilder 
ness? She did not: she could not defend herself against 
her own Tories ; and it is hardly an exaggeration to add, 
that more Whigs of New England were sent to her aid, and 
now lie buried in her soil, than she sent from it to every scene 
of strife from Lexington to Yorktown. 

" South Carolina, with a Northern army to assist her, 
could not or would not even preserve her own capital. 


Where the When news reached Connecticut that Gage had sent a 
camcTfrom. force into the country, and that blood had been shed, Put 
nam was at work in his field. Leaving his plough in the 
furrow, he started for Cambridge, without changing his 
garments. When Stark heard the same tidings, he was 
sawing pine-logs, and without a coat: shutting down the 
gate of his mill, he commenced his journey to Boston in 
his shirt-sleeves. The same spirit animated the Whigs far 
and near ; and the capital of New England was invested 
with fifteen thousand armed men. 

" How was it at Charleston ? That city was the great 
mart of the South, and, what Boston still is, the centre of 
the export and import trade of a large population. In 
grandeur, in splendor of buildings, in decorations, in equi 
pages, in shipping and commerce, Charleston was equal to 
any city in America. But its citizens did not rally to save 
it ; and Gen. Lincoln was compelled to accept of terms of 
capitulation. He was much censured for the act. Yet 
whoever calmly examines the circumstances Avill be satis 
fied, I think, that the measure was unavoidable ; and that 
the inhabitants, as a body, preferred to return to their alle 
giance to the British Crown. The people, on whom Con 
gress and Gen. Lincoln depended to complete his force, 
refused to enlist under the Whig banner ; but, after the 
surrender of the city, they flocked to the royal standard by 
hundreds. In a word, so general was the defection, that 
persons who had enjoyed Lincoln s confidence joined the 
royal side ; and men who had participated in his councils 
bowed their necks anew to the yoke of Colonial vassalage. 
Sir Henry Clinton considered his triumph complete, and 
communicated to the ministry the intelligence that the 
whole State had yielded submission to the royal arms, and 
had become again a part of the empire. To the women of 
South Carolina, and to Marion, Sumpter, and Pickens, the 
celebrated partisan chiefs, who kept the field without 
the promise of men, money, or supplies, it was owing that 


Sir Henry s declaration did not prove entirely true for a 
time, and that the name and the spirit of liberty did not 
become utterly extinct." - The American Loyalists, pp. 

This statement was not allowed to pass without 
contradiction, and the author of it w r as fiercely re 
proached. His facts and figures were called in ques 
tion ; but they were not proved to be incorrect. From 
a recent careful examination of the statistics as con 
tained in the official report of General Knox, the 
Secretary of War, made to Congress in 1790, I am 
satisfied that Mr. Sabine, in this case, has not depart 
ed from his general practice of stating with scrupulous 
accuracy and impartiality the simple facts relating to 
his subject. 

The difficulty of obtaining a sufficient number of 
white soldiers in the Southern States to defend them 
from the invasion of the enemy, and the fact that the 
employment of negroes, where the practice had pre 
vailed, had proved entirely successful, led to a vigor 
ous effort in Congress and elsewhere to secure the 
services of this class of persons for increasing the 
army, particularly in Georgia and South Carolina. 
Colonel John Laurens, of South Carolina, was one 
of the most earnest advocates of the measure. His 
father, the Hon. Henry Laurens, on the 16th of 
March, 1779, wrote to Washington: 

" Our affairs in the Southern department are more fa- Henry 
vorable than we had considered them a few days ago ; to Wash- 
nevertheless, the country is greatly distressed, and will be lu s ton - 


more so unless further reinforcements are sent to its relief. 
Had we arms for three thousand such black men as I could 
select in Carolina, I should have no doubt of success in 
driving the British out of Georgia, and subduing East 
Florida, before the end of July." - - /Sparks s Washington, 
vol. vi. p. 204, note. 

In his reply to Mr. Laurens, on the 20th of the 
same month, Washington, with his characteristic 
caution and modesty, suggests his doubts, but adds 
that they are " only the first crude ideas " that struck 

Washing- The policy of our arming slaves, is, in my opinion, a 
Henry moot point, unless the enemy set the example. For, should 
we begin to form battalions of them, I have not the smallest 
doubt, if the war is to be prosecuted, of their following us 
in it, and justifying the measure upon our own ground. 
The contest then must be, who can arm fastest. And where 
are our arms ? Besides, I am not clear that a discrimina 
tion will not render slavery more irksome to those who 
remain in it. Most of the good and evil things in this life 
are judged of by comparison ; and I fear a comparison in 
this case will be productive of much discontent in those 
who are held in servitude. But, as this is a subject that 
has never employed much of my thoughts, these are no 
more than the first crude ideas that have struck me upon 
the occasion." - - Sparks s Washington, vol. vi. p. 204. 

Alexander Hamilton, who had thought much on 
the subject, and had considered it in its various rela 
tions, gave his unqualified and hearty support to the 
measure. In a letter to Mr. Jay, which has been 
preserved and published, he states his views with 
great clearness : 


" HEADQUARTERS, March 14, 1779. 

" DEAR SIR, Col. Laurens, who will have the honor of Alexander 

7 . . Hamilton 

delivering you this letter, is on his way to South Carolina, on ne^i-o 
on a project which I think, in the present situation of 
affairs there, is a very good one, and deserves every kind 
of support and encouragement. This is, to raise two, 
three, or four battalions of negroes, with the assistance of 
the government of that State, by contributions from the 
owners, in proportion to the number they possess. If you 
should think proper to enter upon the subject with him, he 
will give you a detail of his plan. He wishes to have it 
recommended by Congress to the State ; and, as an induce 
ment, that they should engage to take those battalions into 
Continental pay. 

" It appears to me, that an expedient of this kind, in the 
present state of Southern affairs, is the most rational that 
can be adopted, and promises very important advantages. 
Indeed, I hardly see how a sufficient force can be collected 
in that" quarter without it ; and the enemy s operations 
there are growing infinitely more serious and formidable. 
I have not the least doubt that the negroes will make very 
excellent soldiers with proper management ; and I will 
venture to pronounce, that they cannot be put into better 
hands than those of Mr. Laurens. He has all the zeal, 
intelligence, enterprise, and every other qualification, neces 
sary to succeed in such an undertaking. It is a maxim 
with some great military judges, that, with sensible officers, 
soldiers can hardly be too stupid ; and, on this principle, it 
is thought that the Russians would make the best troops in 
the world, if they were under other officers than their own. 
The King of Prussia is among the number who maintain 
this doctrine ; and has a very emphatic saying on the occa 
sion, which I do not exactly recollect. I mention this 
because I hear it frequently objected to the scheme of em 
bodying negroes, that they are too stupid to make soldiers. 


This is so far from appearing to me a valid objection, that I 
think their want of cultivation (for their natural faculties 
are probably as good as ours), joined to that habit of subor 
dination which they acquire from a life of servitude, will 
make them sooner become soldiers than our white inhabi 
tants. Let officers be men of sense and sentiment; and 
the nearer the soldiers approach to machines, perhaps the 

" I foresee that this project will have to combat much 
opposition from prejudice and self-interest. The contempt 
we have been taught to entertain for the blacks makes us 
fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor 
experience ; and an unwillingness to part with property of 
so valuable a kind will furnish a thousand arguments to 
show the impracticability or pernicious tendency of a scheme 
which requires such a sacrifice. But it should be consid 
ered, that, if we do not make use of them in this way, the 
enemy probably will ; and that the best way to counteract 
the temptations they will hold out will be to oifer them 
ourselves. An essential part of the plan is to give them their 
freedom with their muskets. This will secure their fidel 
ity, animate their courage, and, I believe, will have a good 
influence upon those who remain, by opening a door to 
their emancipation. This circumstance, I confess, has no 
small weight in inducing me to wish the success of the pro 
ject ; for the dictates of humanity, and true policy, equally 
interest me in favor of this unfortunate class of men. 

" With the truest respect and esteem, 

" I am, Sir, your most obedient servant, 


(Life of John Jay, by William Jay, vol. ii. pp. 31, 32.) 

Congress, although it had no power to control the 
action of the individual States in this matter, consid 
ered the subject so important, that it was referred to 


a special committee, who prepared a report, that led 
to the adoption of a series of resolutions, recommend 
ing to " the States of South Carolina and Georgia, if 
they shall think the same expedient, to take measures 
immediately for raising three thousand able-bodied 

"!N CONGRESS, March 29, 1779. 

" The Committee, consisting of Mr. Burke, Mr. Laurens, 
Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Wilson, and Mr. Dyer, appointed to 
take into consideration the circumstances of the Southern 
States, and the ways and means for their safety and de 
fence, report, 

" That the State of South Carolina, as represented by 
the delegates of the said State and by Mr. Huger, who has 
come hither, at the request of the Governor of the said 
State, on purpose to explain the particular circumstances 
thereof, is unable to make any effectual efforts with militia, 
by reason of the great proportion of citizens necessary to 
remain at home to prevent insurrections among the ne 
groes, and to prevent the desertion of them to the enemy. 

" That the state of the country, and the great numbers 
of those people among them, expose the inhabitants to 
great danger from the endeavors of the enemy to excite 
them either to revolt or desert. 

" That it is suggested by the delegates of the said State 
and by Mr. Huger, that a force might be raised in the said 
State from among the negroes, which would not only be 
formidable to the enemy from their numbers, and the disci 
pline of which they would very readily admit, but would 
also lessen the danger from revolts and desertions, by de 
taching the most vigorous and enterprising from among the 

" That, as this measure may involve inconveniences pecu- 


liarly affecting the States of South Carolina and Georgia, 
the Committee are of opinion that the same should be sub 
mitted to the governing powers of the said States ; and, if 
the said powers shall judge it expedient to raise such a 
force, that the United States ought to defray the expense 
thereof: whereupon, 

" Resolved, That it be recommended to the States of 
South Carolina and Georgia, if they shall think the same 
expedient, to take measures immediately for raising three 
thousand able-bodied negroes. 

" That the said negroes be formed into separate corps, 
as battalions, according to the arrangements adopted for 
the main army, to be commanded by white commissioned 
and non-commissioned officers. 

" That the commissioned officers be appointed by the 
said States. 

" That the non-commissioned officers may, if the said 
States respectively shall think proper, be taken from among 
the non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Conti 
nental battalions of the said States respectively. 

" That the Governors of the said States, together with the 
commanding officer of the Southern army, be empowered 
to incorporate the several Continental battalions of their 
States with each other respectively, agreeably to the 
arrangement of the army, as established by the resolutions 
of May 27, 1778 ; and to appoint such of the supernumerary 
officers to command the said negroes as shall choose to 
go into that service. 

" Resolved, That Congress will make provision for paying 
the proprietors of such negroes as shall be enlisted for the 
service of the United States during the war a full com 
pensation for the property, at a rate not exceeding one 
thousand dollars for each active, able-bodied negro man of 
standard size, not exceeding thirty-five years of age, who 
shall be so enlisted and pass muster. 

" That no pay or bounty be allowed to the said negroes ; 


but that they be clothed and subsisted at the expense of 
the United States. 

" That every negro who shall well and faithfully serve 
as a soldier to the end of the present war, and shall then 
return his arms, be emancipated, and receive the sum of 
fifty dollars." Secret Journals of Congress, vol. i. pp. 

On the same day that the report in favor of rais 
ing negro troops was made, Congress passed the 
following resolution : 

" Whereas John Laurens, Esq., who has heretofore acted 
as aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief, is desirous of 
repairing to South Carolina, with a design to assist in de 
fence of the Southern States ; 

"Resolved, That a commission of lieutenant-colonel be 
granted to the said John Laurens, Esq." Journals of Con 
gress, vol. v. p. 123. 

Col. John Laurens was the son of the Hon. Henry 
Laurens, the distinguished member of Congress, and 
at one time President of that body. He was one of 
the most patriotic and brave of the Southern officers, 
and has not improperly been called the "Chevalier 
Bayard of America." He was the intimate friend of 
Washington and Hamilton. Having been in active 
service in Rhode Island and elsewhere, and having 
had the best opportunities of witnessing the use 
fulness of the colored soldiers, he entered into the 
spirit of the undertaking with his whole heart, and 
used his best efforts to promote its success. For this 
purpose, he went to his native State, and used his 
personal influence to induce the Legislature to take 


the necessary steps for raising black troops. In a 
letter to Hamilton, he says, 

Colonel " Ternant will relate to you how many violent struggles 

I have had between duty and inclination, how much my 
heart was witli you, while I appeared to be most actively 
employed here. But it appears to me, that I should be in 
excusable in the light of a citizen, if I did not continue my 
utmost efforts for carrying the plan of the black levies into 
execution, while there remain the smallest hopes of suc 
cess." - - Works of Hamilton, vol. i. pp. 114, 115. 

On the 14th of February, 1780, Col. Laurens 
wrote to Washington from Charleston : 

Colonel " Private accounts say that General Prevost is left to 

command at Savannah ; that his troops consist of the Hes 
sians and Loyalists that were there before, re-enforced by 
a corps of blacks and a detachment of savages. It is 
generally reported that Sir Henry Clinton commands the 
present expedition." Sparlcs s Correspondence of the 
American Revolution, vol. ii. p. 402. 

It should be borne in mind that Sir Henry Clinton 
had several months previously issued a proclamation, 
calling upon negroes to join his army, either as sol 
diers, or with full security to follow any occupation 
within his lines which they thought proper. This 
proclamation was first printed in New York, in Bl- 
vington s "Royal Gazette," on the 3d of July, 1779. 
It is here reprinted from that journal. The words in 
Italics were added in the issue of August 25th, 
with a note stating that they had, " through the 
mistake of the printers, been hitherto omitted." 


"By his Excellency Sir HENHY CLINTON, K. B. General and 
Commander-in-chief of all his Majesty s Forces within the 
Colonies laying on the Atlantic Ocean, from Nova Scotia to 
West-Florida, inclusive, &c., &c., &c. 


" "Whereas the enemy have adopted a practice of enrol 
ling NEGROES among their Troops, I do hereby give notice 
That all NEGROES taken in arms, or upon any military Duty, 
shall be purchased for the public service at a stated Price ; 
the money to be paid to the Captors. 

" But I do most strictly forbid any Person to sell or claim 
Right over any NEGROE, the property of a Rebel, who may 
take Refuge with any part of this Army : And I do promise 
to every NEGROE who shall desert the Rebel Standard, full 
security to follow within these Lines, any Occupation which 
he shall think proper. 

" Given under my Hand, at Head-Quarters, PHILIPS- 
BURGH, the 30th day of June, 1779. 


" By his Excellency s command, 

" JOHN SMITH, Secretary." 

Lord Cornwallis also issued a proclamation en 
couraging the slaves to join the British Army; but 
it is well known that no regard for their welfare 
prompted his action, and but little kindness was 
shown by him to the slaves who deserted their 
masters, or who were compelled to leave them. A 
letter from Mr. Jefferson to Dr. Gordon, written 
several years after the war was closed, contains a 
passage which shows how that statesman regarded 
the treatment of his own negroes. 


Thomas " Lord Comwallis destroyed all my growing crops of corn 

to Doctor and tobacco ; he burned all my barns, containing the same 
lon articles of the last year, having first taken what corn he 
wanted ; he used, as was to be expected, all my stock of 
cattle, sheep, and hogs, for the sustenance of his army, and 
carried off all the horses capable of service ; of those too 
young for service he cut the throats ; and he burned all 
the fences on the plantation, so as to leave it an abso 
lute waste. He carried off also about thirty slaves. Had 
this been to give them freedom, he would have done right ; 
but it was to consign them to inevitable death from the 
small-pox and putrid fever, then raging in his camp. This 
I knew afterwards to be the fate of twenty-seven of them. I 
never had news of the remaining three, but presume they 
shared the same fate. When I say that Lord Cornwallis 
did all this, I do not mean that he carried about the torch 
in his own hands, but that it was all done under his eye ; 
the situation of the house, in which he was, commanding 
a view of every part of the plantation, so that he must have 
seen every fire. I relate these things on my own know 
ledge, in a great degree, as I was on the ground soon after 
he left it. He treated the rest of the neighborhood some 
what in the same style, but not with that spirit of total 
extermination with which he seemed to rage over my 
possessions. Wherever he went, the dwelling-houses were 
plundered of every thing which could be carried off. Lord 
Cornwallis s character in England would forbid the belief 
that he shared in the plunder ; but that his table was served 
with the plate thus pillaged from private houses, can be 
proved by many hundred eye-witnesses. From an estimate 
I made at that time, on the best information I could collect, I 
supposed the State of Virginia lost, under Lord Cornwallis s 
hand, that year, about thirty thousand slaves ; and that, of 
these, twenty-seven thousand died of the small-pox and camp- 
fever ; and the rest were partly sent to the West Indies, and ex 
changed for rum, sugar, coffee, and fruit ; and partly sent to 


New York, from whence they went, at the peace, either to Nova 
Scotia or to England. From this last place, I believe, they 
have been lately sent to dfrica. History will never relate 
the horrors committed by the British Army in the Southern 
States of America."- Jefferson 1 s Works, vol. ii. p. 426. 

It is very evident from this statement, that the dis 
trust and fears on the part of the negroes, in regard to 
the promises of the British officers, Dunmorc, Clinton, 
and Cornwallis, were well founded. In striking 
contrast to their treatment of the slaves is the noble 
sentiment of Jefferson, himself a severe sufferer from 
the conduct of Cornwallis : " Had this been to give 
them freedom, he would have done right" 

In the autumn of the year 1780, Colonel Laurens 
was sent on an important mission to France. The 
policy which he so warmly advocated in his own 
State and in Georgia was not, however, neglected 
during his absence. 

General Lincoln repeatedly and earnestly implored 
that the army in the South might be strengthened in 
this, which seemed to be the only practicable way. 
In a letter to Governor Rut-ledge, dated Charleston, 
March 13, 1780, he says: 

" Give me leave to add once more, that I think the meas- General 

f- j.i i i i ,i , T Lincoln, 

raising the black corps a necessary one ; that I 

have great reason to believe, if permission is given for it, 
that many men would soon be obtained. I have repeatedly 
urged this matter, not only because Congress have recom 
mended it, and because it thereby becomes my duty to 
attempt to have it executed, but because my own mind 
suggests the utility and importance of the measure, as the 



safety of the town makes it necessary." Manuscript 

Mr. Madison, in a letter to Joseph Jones, dated 
Nov. 20, 1780, thus advocated the policy of freeing 
and arming the negroes : 

Madisor " Yours of the 18 tli came yesterday. I am glad to find 

the Legislature persist in their resolution to recruit their line 
of the army for the war; though, without deciding on the 
expediency of the mode under their consideration, would 
it not be as well to liberate and make soldiers at once 
of the blacks themselves, as to make them instruments 
for enlisting white soldiers? It would certainly be more 
consonant with the principles of liberty, which ought never 
to be lost sight of in a contest for liberty : and, with white 
officers and a majority of white soldiers, no imaginable 
danger could be feared from themselves, as there certainly 
could be none from the effect of the example on those who 
should remain in bondage ; experience having shown that 
a freedman immediately loses all attachment and sympathy 
with his former fellow-slaves." Madison Papers, p. 68. 

On the 28th of February, 1781, General Greene, 
who was then in North Carolina, wrote to Wash 
ington : 
General " The enemy have ordered two regiments of negroes to 

Greene. , . ,. / .. , , 

be immediately embodied, and are drafting a great propor 
tion of the young men of that State [South Carolina], to 
serve during the war." Sparks s Correspondence of the 
American Revolution, vol. iii. p. 246. 

Colonel Laurens, some time after his return from 
France, resumed his efforts to induce the slaveholders 
of South Carolina and Georgia to allow their negroes 
to enlist as soldiers in the Continental Army ; and, 


although lie found that " truth and philosophy had 
gained some ground," he was compelled to say that 
"the single voice of reason was drowned by the howl- 
ings of a triple-headed monster, in which prejudice, 
avarice, and pusillanimity were united." Two letters, 
written by him only a few months before he laid down 
his life for his country in battle, contain further evi 
dence of his faithful efforts, and a sad account of the 
manner in which his purposes were defeated. Both 
of these letters were addressed to Washington. The 
first was dated May 19, 1782. 

" The plan which brought me to this country was urged Colonel 
with all the zeal which the subject inspired, both in our washing- 
Privy Council and Assembly ; but the single voice of reason ton> 
was drowned by the bowlings of a triple-headed monster, 
in which prejudice, avarice, and pusillanimity were united. 
It was some degree of consolation to me, however, to per 
ceive that truth and philosophy had gained some ground; 
the suffrages in favor of the measure being twice as 
numerous as on a former occasion. Some hopes have been 
lately given me from Georgia ; but I fear, when the ques 
tion is put, we shall be outvoted there with as much dispar 
ity as we have been in this country. 

" I earnestly desire to be where any active plans are 
likely to be executed, and to be near your Excellency on 
all occasions in which my services can be acceptable. The 
pursuit of an object which, I confess, is a favorite one with 
me, because I always regarded the interests of this country 
and those of the Union as intimately connected with it, has 
detached me more than once from your family ; but those 
sentiments of veneration and attachment with which your 
Excellency has inspired me, keep me always near you, 


with the sincerest and most zealous wishes for a contin 
uance of your happiness and glory." Sparks s Correspond 
ence of the American Revolution, vol. iii. p. 506. 

The last letter was dated June 12, 1782 ; and from 
it we learn that his hope of accomplishing something 
in this way clung to him to the last. 

" The approaching session of the Georgia Legislature, 
and the encouragement given me by Governor Howley, 
who has a decisive influence in the counsels of that coun 
try, induce me to remain in this quarter for the purpose of 
taking new measures on the subject of our black levies. 
The arrival of Colonel Baylor, whose seniority entitles him 
to the command of the light troops, affords me ample leisure 
for pursuing the business in person ; and I shall do it with 
all the tenacity of a man making a last effort on so interest 
ing an occasion." Sparks s Correspondence of the American 
Revolution, vol. iii. p. 515. 

Washington, however, seems to have lost all faith 
in the patriotism of the men who continued to refuse 
aid to their suffering country in the only practicable 
way which had been suggested. lie has seldom said 
any thing so severe as the following words, in his 
reply to the first of the above letters : 

17S2. "I must confess that I am not at all astonished at the 

toifto"" failure of your plan. That spirit of freedom, which, at 
Laurens. ^ 1G commencement of this contest, would have gladly sac 
rificed every thing to the attainment of its object, has long 
since subsided, and every selfish passion has taken its place. 
It is not the public but private interest which influences 
the generality of mankind ; nor can the Americans any 
longer boast an exception. Under these circumstances, it 
would rather have been surprising if you had succeeded ; 


nor will you, I fear, have better success in Georgia." 
Spares Washington, vol. viii. pp. 322, 323. 

The friend and associate of Colonel Laurens, as a coion 

member of Washington s family, and a fellow-soldier piirey 

in more than one battle, Coionci David Humphreys, 
gave the sanction of his name and the influence of 
his popularity to the raising of colored troops in Con 

" In November, 1782, he was, by resolution of Congress, 
commissioned as a Lieutenant-Colonel, with order that his 
commission should bear date from the 23d of June, 1780, 
when he received his appointment as aid-de-camp to the 
Commander-in-chief. He had, when in active service, 
given the sanction of his name and influence in the estab 
lishment of a company of colored infantry, attached to 
Meigs , afterwards Butler s, regiment, in the Connecticut 
line. He continued to be the nominal captain of that 
company until the establishment of peace."- Biographical 
Sketch in " The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished 

Lord Dunmore s efforts to secure the services of 
negroes, at the commencement of the Revolutionary 
War, are well known ; his proclamation, and the 
action of the Virginia Convention upon it, having 
been published at the time, and the matter having oc 
casioned much comment since. By the courtesy of 
Mr. Bancroft, who has kindly put into my hands the 
unpublished original manuscript of the following letter 
and " sketch," and also a copy of Lord Dunmore s 
private letter to Sir Henry Clinton enclosing them, I 
am now enabled to present the views of his Lordship 


on the subject seven years later, and just before the 
close of hostilities. 


" CHARLES TOWN, 5th January, 1782. 

Proposal ]\J Y LORD, Since I had the honor of seeing; your Lord- 
to Lord IT- . 

Dunmore. ship, I have revolved in my mind the subject-matter of our 
conversation ; and the more I think, the more I am con 
vinced of the magnitude and national importance of the 
object. It is long since I beheld the scheme in the most 
favorable point of view, and often have I strenuously 
recommended it. There were, at the time the thought first 
seriously made an impression on my mind, some very power 
ful and uncontrovertible reasons ; namely, the impossibility, 
that I foresaw, of maintaining and supporting troops from 
Europe, in the low parts of this country, during the sickly 
season. The fall months have caused such mortality in 
1780 at the outposts, that no country on earth, at such a 
distance, could support the loss of men. Another reason 
that operated on my mind, added to the eagerness I 
observed in the generality of the people under my direc 
tion to have arms put into their hands on the incursions of 
the enemy, even while we had troops at Camden, prevent 
ing the negroes from being of any service to Government 
in planting and cultivating the land ; what, with the proofs 
they have given, on various occasions, of spirit and enter 
prise, left me no room to doubt that they might be employed 
to the utmost advantage. While there was a ray of hope 
left for believing that Lord Cornwallis had made his escape 
with a small part of his army, I was easy and happy, con 
vinced that he would not have hesitated a moment in giving 
freedom to men of all complexions that would faithfully 
serve the King, and assist in crushing a most infernal 
rebellion. And I cannot help thinking, my Lord, that there 
is something peculiarly fortunate in your Lordship s arrival 
here at this very critical moment ; for next to Lord Corn- 


wall is, who has the advantage of military rank in the Proposal to 

. , ,. , Lord Dun- 

empire, there is none so able to iorra and execute so great more. 

a design, nor in whom the King s friends have equal confi 
dence as in your Lordship. Unless some vigorous step is 
taken, I humbly think it is more than probable that the 
nation at large will insist on this American War being 
relinquished. What can Administration say, what can they 
promise themselves or the nation, by a prosecution of the 
war in such hands? Nothing but ultimate ruin. 

" If, my Lord, this scheme is adopted, arranged, and ready 
for being put in execution, the moment the troops pene 
trate into the country after the arrival of the promised 
re-enforcements, America is to be conquered with its own 
force (I mean the Provincial troops and the black troops 
to be raised), and the British and Hessian army could be 
spared to attack the French where they are most vulnera 
ble. The nation would, by that means, be relieved from an 
amazing burthen, that of supporting the army at New 
York, what has been a sink of treasure, and a bed of 
voluptuousness and dissipation. I say, my lord, if the 
British and Hessian troops were ordered to leave the 
country, only sending force sufficient to garrison Rhode 
Island, that your Lordship and my friend Gov. Martin, 
with the Provincial troops, the King s friends, and the new 
levies, would soon possess the three Southern provinces, 
in spite of all the force the rebels could assemble. T is 
notorious that more than two-thirds of North Carolina have 
expressed an eager desire for the re-establishment of 
British government. They have given striking proofs 
of zeal, spirit, and enterprise ; and under the direction of 
those they love, and who would reward their merit, rebel 
lion would soon cease to exist on the south side of James 
River. Pardon me, my Lord, for this tedious digression. 
Such a variety of new matter crowds upon me, that I could 
not help giving my thoughts a place. 

" It may, and I dare say will, be said by Opposition, 


clothe those Black Troops from the estates of the enemy ; 
and I will also engage to pay the interest of the receipts 
granted to our friends, at the rate of eight per cent. And, 
to convince the world that we never adopt any measure at 
the expense of individuals, let three or more gentlemen 
of the country men of honor and probity be appointed 
to value the negroes that belong to our friends, and at the 
rate they would have sold for in 1773, and Government 
war, paying interest at the customary rate, so long as 
to be accountable for the amount at the expiration of the 
the parties concerned maintained their allegiance. 

" That, for all negroes, the property of the enemy, the 
adjutant-general to grant receipts to the commissioner of 
sequestered estates, and returns made to him when they 
are killed, or lost to the service, that others may be fur 
nished to supply their place. 

" It is impossible to conceive or think what the effects 
of such a measure would be. Striking at the root of all 
property, and making the wealth and riches of the enemy 
the means of bringing them to obedience, must bring the 
most violent to their senses. Such a wonderful change 
may it work, that I would not be suprised, that those now 
most violent against us would be foremost in an application 
for peace on our own terms. 

" Property, all the world over, is dear to mankind ; and 
in this country they are as much wedded to it as in any 
other ; and, in the Southern Provinces, men are great in 
proportion to the number of their slaves. 

" I should think that one major-general, two brigadier- 
generals, six lieutenant-colonels commandant, twelve ma 
jors and twelve adjutants, ninety-six captains, one hundred 
and ninety-two lieutenants, with quartermasters, &c., &c , 
<fec., would be equal to discipline and command ten thousand 




"CHARLES TOWN, Feb. 2, 1782. Lord Dun- 

T mor e to Sir 

" g IRj I W as in hopes of having tlio pleasure of deli- Henry 
vering the enclosed letters in person, but the fleet in which 
I came out not proceeding to New York, being advised, 
and thinking it unsafe to hazard a further voyage to the 
northward, at this season of the year, with so large a 

" I should have sent you these letters by the Rotter 
dam, had I known she meant to go to New York, as I do 
not know but they may be of importance. By one of them, 
your Excellency will see that his Majesty wished I would 
return to this country ; we then thinking that we should 
have found our affairs in Virginia in a very different state 
from what they really are ; and for which, in my humble 
opinion, there is now no remedy left, without adopting the 
following plan, or something similar to it, which I humbly 
submit to your serious consideration. 

" I arrived here the 21st of December; and, having no 
employment, I made it my business to converse with every 
one that I thought capable of giving me any good informa 
tion of the real situation of this country : and every one 
that I have conversed with think, and, I must own, my own 
sentiments perfectly coincide with theirs, that the most 
efficacious, expeditious, cheapest, and certain means of 
reducing this country to a proper sense of their duty is in 
employing the blacks, who are, in my opinion, not only better 
fitted for service in this warm climate than white men, but 
they are also better guides, may be got on much easier 
terms, and are perfectly attached to our sovereign. And, 
by employing them, you cannot devise a means more effec 
tual to distress your foes, not only by depriving them of 
their property, but by depriving them of their labor. You 
in reality deprive them of their existence ; for, without 


their labor, they cannot subsist : and, from my own know 
ledge of them, I am sure they are as soon disciplined as 
any set of raw men that I know of. 

" From my perfect belief of the above facts, I do most 
earnestly wish your Excellency would adopt the measure 
on some such footing as is here enclosed ; and, as the 
strongest proof of my good opinion of the measure, I am 
most willing, provided you approve, and have no other 
person you may think better qualified to put it in execu 
tion, to hazard my reputation and person in the execution 
of it. 

" What I would further propose is, that the officers of 
the Provincials, who are swarming in the streets here, 
perfectly idle, should be employed to command these men, 
with the rank they now have. 

" I would also propose, at first, to raise only ten thou 
sand Blacks, to give them white officers and non-commis 
sioned officers, but to fill up the vacancies of the non 
commissioned officers now and then with black people, as 
their services should entitle them to it. 

"In order to induce the negroes to enlist, I would pro 
pose to give each black man one guinea and a crown, with 
a promise of freedom to all that should serve during the 
continuance of the war ; and, that they may be fully satis 
fied that this promise will be held inviolate, it must be 
given by the officer appointed to command them, he being 
empowered so to do, in the most ample manner, by your 
Excellency. As there will no doubt be a great many men 
come in that will be unfit for military service, I would pro 
pose employing them, with the women and children, under 
proper managers, to cultivate any lands in our possession ; 
and I doubt not, with proper management, to raise sufficient 
food for the maintenance of the black troops at least, and 
perhaps enough to dispose of that would both pay and 
clothe the whole. But should this plan fail, contrary to 
my most sanguine wish and real opinion, the expense will 


be so trifling in trying the experiment, that it can never be 
thought an object of the smallest consideration. 

" In order to obviate the only objection that I see to this 
plan (namely, that of employing slaves, the property of a 
few friends that are with us here), I would propose that 
they should be valued by three gentlemen of known skill 
and probity, and that a receipt should be given them for 
the value of such slaves ; paying them six per cent, interest 
upon it till the expiration of the war, or so long as the 
holders allegiance lasted : and, if that continues to the ex 
piration of the war, pay them the principal. And, indeed, I 
would propose that no money should in future be given for 
any thing taken from the inhabitants for the use of the 
troops, but receipts granted on the same terms. 

! Should this plan in general meet with your Excellen 
cy s approbation, there are many more ideas relative to it 
that I will take another opportunity of communicating to 

" I have wrote fully to Lord George Germain on this 
subject, and have sent him a copy of this letter ; but I 
hope, before we can hear from home, you will have had the 
credit of adopting the plan." 


" CHARLES TOWN, S. C., Feb. 5, 1782. 

" Enclosed I send your Lordship a copy of 

a letter I have wrote to Sir Henry Clinton, for employing 
Negroes in this country." 


" CHARLES TOWN, S. C., March 30, 1782. 

" Since writing to your Lordship of the 5th of February, 
there has been a motion made in the Rebel Assembly of 
this Province for raising a brigade of negroes, which was 


only negatived by a very few voices, and it s supposed will 
be re-assumed and carried on a future day ; and we, by 
neglecting to make a proper use of those people who are 
much attached to us, shall have them, in a short time, em 
ployed against us. They are now carrying them up the 
country as fast as they can find them. 

" As soon as this is closed, I shall set off for New York 
in the Carysfort. " 

One of the ablest, most experienced, and most suc 
cessful of the American generals, second only, in the 
estimation of many, to the Commander-in-chief, 
General Nathaniel Greene, in a letter to Washing 
ton, dated on the 24th of January, 1782, says: 

" I have recommended to this State to raise some black 
regiments. To fill up the regiments with whites is imprac 
ticable, and to get re-enforcements from the northwards 
precarious, and at least difficult, from the prejudices respect 
ing the climate. Some are for it ; but the far greater part 
of the people are opposed to it." Sparks s Correspondence 
of the American Revolution, vol. iii. p. 467. 

The letter of General Greene to Governor Rut- 
ledge, of South Carolina, is printed below. The 
opinion of such an officer, formed after the experi 
ment of employing Negro soldiers at the North had 
been fully tried, and after a residence in the Southern 
States had enabled him to consider the subject with 
the advantage of an " acquaintance with the habits, 
character, and feelings of that class of people," is of 
the highest importance. 

" The natural strength of the country, in point of num 
bers, appears to me to consist much more in the blacks 


than in the whites. Could they be incorporated, and em 
ployed for its defence, it would afford you double security. 
That they would make good soldiers, I have not the least 
doubt ; and I am persuaded the State has it not in its power 
to give sufficient re-enforcements, without incorporating 
them, either to secure the country, if the enemy mean to 
act vigorously upon an offensive plan, or furnish a force 
sufficient to dispossess them of Charleston, should it be de 

" The number of whites in this State is too small, and 
the state of your finances too low, to attempt to raise a 
force in any other way. Should the measure be adopted, 
it may prove a good means of preventing the enemy from 
further attempts upon this country, when they find they 
have not only the whites, but the blacks also, to contend 
with. And I believe it is generally agreed, that, if the 
natural strength of this country could have been employed 
in its defence, the enemy would have found it little less 
than impracticable to have got footing here, much more to 
have overrun the country, by which the inhabitants have 
suffered infinitely greater loss than would have been suffi 
cient to have given you perfect security ; and, I am per 
suaded, the incorporation of a part of the negroes would 
rather tend to secure the fidelity of others, than excite dis 
content, mutiny, and desertion among them. The force I 
would ask for this purpose, in addition to what we have, 
and what may probably join us from the Northward or from 
the militia of this State, would be four regiments, two 
upon the Continental, and two upon the State, establish 
ment ; a corps of pioneers and a corps of artificers, each to 
consist of about eighty men. The two last may be either 
on a temporary or permanent establishment, as may be 
most agreeable to the State. The others should have their 
freedom, and be clothed and treated, in all respects, as other 
soldiers ; without which they will be unfit for the duties 
expected from them." Johnson s Life of Greene, vol. ii. 
p. 274. 


The author of " Sketches of the Life and Cor 
respondence of Gen. Greene," himself a Southerner 
and a resident of Charleston, thus comments on the 
proposal to employ the negroes as soldiers : 

" Those who can enter into the feelings and opinions of 
the citizens of those States which tolerate slavery will be 
not a little startled at the proposition submitted to the 
Governor and Council in this letter. A strong, deep-seated 
feeling, nurtured from earliest infancy, decides, with in 
stinctive promptness, against a measure of so threatening 
an aspect, and so offensive to that republican pride, which 
disdains to commit the defence of the country to servile 
hands, or share with a color to which the idea of inferiority 
is inseparably connected the profession of arms, and that 
approximation of condition which must exist between the 
regular soldier and the militia-man. 

" But the Governor and Council viewed the subject 
under the influence of less feeling. It seems the proposi 
tion had formerly been under consideration in the State 
Legislature ; and, as the meeting of that board was now at 
hand, it was resolved to submit it to their decision. 

" There is a sovereign, who, at this time, draws his sol 
diery from the same class of people ; and finds a facility in 
forming and disciplining an army, which no other power 
enjoys. Nor does his immense military force, formed from 
that class of his subjects, excite the least apprehensions ; 
for the soldier s will is subdued to that of his officer, and 
his improved condition takes away the habit of identifying 
himself with the class from which he has been separated. 
Military men know what mere machines men become under 
discipline, and believe that any men, who may be made 
obedient, may be made soldiers ; and that increasing their 
numbers increases the means of their own subjection and 


" It is now probable that the idea of forming a military 


force by a draught from the slaves had been suggested to on negro 
Gen. Greene by a recent acquaintance with the habits, 
character, and feelings of that class of people. It could 
not escape his eye, that there was no sense of hostility 
existing between the master and slave, but rather some 
thing of the clannish, or patriarchal, feelings known to 
exist between the inhabitants of a village and their chief. 
He had remarked the joy expressed by the slaves on their 
deliverance from the tyranny of the enemy, and the return 
of a protector in the person of their master ; and it was 
obvious, that if the State could give a slave for the services 
of a man as a soldier for ten months, as had been the case 
in raising some of its troops, it would be great gain to con 
vert the same slave into a soldier for the war, to be paid 
only by his freedom, after having served with fidelity. 
But the Legislature, when it met, thought the experiment 
a dangerous one ; and the project was relinquished. They 
adopted, however, the alternative of raising soldiers on the 
black population by giving a slave for a soldier. Parties 
were sent to collect slaves from the plantations of the loy 
alists, and rendezvous established in vain in various places 
in the interior country." Johnson s Life of Greene, vol. ii. 
pp. 274, 275. 

Propositions for peace were introduced in the Brit 
ish Parliament, and preliminary steps were taken 
towards the cessation of hostilities, before the letters 
from Lord Dunmore reached the Secretary, Lord 
George Germain. But these letters, and those writ 
ten by Colonel Laurens and General Greene in the 
last months of the Revolutionary War, are of histori 
cal importance. They contain the mature opinions 
and the deliberate decision of the highest British 



and American military authorities, in unequivocal 
support of the policy of arming the negro slaves, and 
employing them as soldiers. 

The following letter, addressed to Brigadier-Gen 
eral Rufus Putnam, and afterwards printed, from his 
papers, at Marietta, Ohio, shows the tender care 
which the Commander-in-chief had for the rights of 
the negro soldiers in the army : 

" HEAD QUARTERS, Feb. 2, 1783. 

" SIR, Mr. Hobby having claimed as his property a 
negro man now serving in the Massachusetts Regiment, 
you will please to order a court of inquiry, consisting of 
five as respectable officers as can be found in your brigade, 
to examine the validity of the claim, the manner in which 
the person in question came into service, and the propriety 
of his being discharged or retained in service. Having 
inquired into the matter, with all the attending circum 
stances, they will report to you their opinion thereon ; 
which you will report to me as soon as conveniently 
may be. 

I am, Sir, with great respect, 

" Your most obedient servant, 


" P.S. All concerned should be notified to attend. 
" Brig.-Gen. PUTNAM." 

Luther Martin, it will be remembered, in his ad 
dress to the Legislature of Maryland on the Federal 
Constitution, deplored the growing laxity of public 
sentiment on the subject of slavery. " When our 
liberties were at stake," he said, " we warmly felt for 
the common rights of men. The danger being thought 
to be past which threatened ourselves, we are daily 


growing more insensible to those rights." A sad 
illustration of the truth of this declaration was found 
in the conduct of some of the slaveholders, who, hav 
ing sent their negroes to the army with the promise 
of personal liberty, at the close of the war attempted 
to re-enslave them. 

To the honor of Virginia, who could then claim 
Washington and Jefferson and Madison among her 
living patriots, this wrong to the negro soldiers 
was not overlooked, nor permitted to continue. The 
General Assembly of that State, in 1783, enacted the 
following law: 

lt An Act directing the Emancipation of certain Slaves who have served 
as Soldiers in this State, and for the Emancipation of the Slave 

" I. Whereas it hath been represented to the present 
General Assembly, that, during the course of the war, many 
persons in this State had caused their slaves to enlist in pated 
certain regiments or corps raised within the same, having 
tendered such slaves to the officers appointed to recruit 
forces within the State, as substitutes for free persons 
whose lot or duty it was to serve in such regiments or 
corps, at the same time representing to such recruiting 
officers that the slaves, so enlisted by their direction and 
concurrence, were freemen ; and it appearing further to 
this Assembly, that on the expiration of the term of enlist 
ment of such slaves, that the former owners have attempted 
again to force them to return to a state of servitude, con 
trary to the principles of justice, and to their own solemn 
promise ; 

" II. And whereas it appears just and reasonable, that 
all persons enlisted as aforesaid, who have faithfully served 
agreeable to the terms of their enlistment, and have thereby 


Negro of eourse contributed towards the establishment of Ameri- 
emaifc?- can liberty and independence, should enjoy the blessings 
pated. o ^ f reef ] om a8 a reward for their toils and labors ; 

"Be it therefore enacted, That each and every slave who, 
by t!ie appointment and direction of his owner, hath enlist 
ed in any regiment or corps raised within this State, either 
on Continental or State establishment, and hath been re 
ceived as a substitute for any free person whose duty or 
lot it was to serve in such regiment or corps, and hath 
served faithfully during the term of such enlistment, or 
hath been discharged from such service by some officer 
duly authorized to grant such discharge, shall, from and 
after the passing of this act, be fully and completely eman 
cipated, and shall be held and deemed free, in as full and 
ample a manner as if each and every of them were spe 
cially named in this act ; and the Attorney-general for the 
Commonwealth is hereby required to commence an action, 
in forma pauperis, in behalf of any of the persons above 
described who shall, after the passing of this act, be de 
tained in servitude by any person whatsoever ; and if, upon 
such prosecution, it shall appear that the pauper is entitled 
to his freedom in consequence of this act, a jury shall be 
empanelled to assess the damages for his detention. 

" III. And whereas it has been represented to this Gen 
eral Assembly, that Aberdeen, a negro man slave, hath 
labored a number of years in the public service at the lead 
mines, and for his meritorious services is entitled to freedom; 
Be it therefore enacted, That the said slave Aberdeen shall 
be, and he is hereby, emancipated and declared free in as 
full and ample a manner as if he had been born free." 
Hening s Statutes at Large of Virginia, vol. xi. pp. 308, 309. 

Three years after the close of the war, in October, 
1786, the following special act was passed, by the 
General Assembly of Virginia, for the liberation of 
a faithful slave who had rendered valuable service 
to General Lafayette : 


"An Act to emancipate JAMES, a Negro Slave, the property of 
William Armistead, Gentleman. 

" I. Whereas it is represented that James, a negro A sl1 

services to 

slave, the property of William Armistead, gentleman, of the 
countv of New Kent, did, with the permission of his master, edged by 

T-i Virginia. 

in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-one, 
enter into the service of the Marquis la Fayette, and at the 
peril of his life found means to frequent the British camp, 
and thereby faithfully executed important commissions en 
trusted to him by the Marquis; and the said James hath 
made application to this Assembly to set him free, and 
to make his said master adequate compensation for his 
value, which it is judged reasonable and right to do ; 

" II. Be it therefore enacted, That the said James 
shall, from and after the passing of this act, enjoy as full 
freedom as if he had been born free ; any law to the contrary 
thereof notwithstanding. 

" III. And be it further enacted, That the Executive 
shall, as soon as may be, appoint a proper person, and the 
said William Armistead another, who shall ascertain and 
fix the value of the said James, and to certify such valuation 
to the Auditor of Accounts, who shall issue his warrant 
to the Treasurer for the same, to be paid out of the general 
fund." Hening s Statutes at Large of Virginia, vol. xii. 
pp. 380, 381. 

With two or three later authoritative testimonies, 
showing that it was a general practice among the 
Founders of the Republic to employ negroes, both 
slaves and freemen, as soldiers regularly enrolled in 
the army, I bring to a close this paper, which has 
already much exceeded the limits of my original 

The Hon. William Eustis, who served throughout 


the war of the Revolution as a surgeon, and was 
afterwards Governor of Massachusetts, in a speech 
in the United-States House of Representatives, De 
cember 12, 1820, said: 

William " At the commencement of the Revolutionary War, there 
were found, in the Middle and Northern States, many 
blacks, and other people of color, capable of bearing arms ; 
a part of them free, the greater part slaves. The freemen 
entered our ranks with the whites. The time of those who 
were slaves was purchased by the States ; and they were 
induced to enter the service in consequence of a law, by 
which, on condition of their serving in the ranks during 
the war, they were made freemen. In Rhode Island, where 
their numbers were more considerable, they were formed, 
under the same considerations, into a regiment commanded 
by white officers; and it is required, injustice to them, to 
add, that they discharged their duty with zeal and fidelity. 
The gallant defence of Red Bank, in which this black regi 
ment bore a part, is among the proofs of their valor. 

" Among the traits which distinguished this regiment 
was their devotion to their officers : when their brave Col. 
Greene was afterwards cut down and mortally wounded, 
the sabres of the enemy reached his body only through the 
limbs of his faithful guard of blacks, who hovered over 
him and protected him, every one of whom was killed, and 
whom he was not ashamed to call his children. The ser 
vices of this description of men in the navy are also well 
known. I should not have mentioned either, but for the 
information of the gentleman from Delaware, whom I 
understood to say that he did not know that they had 
served in any considerable numbers. 

" The war over, and peace restored, these men returned 
to their respective States ; and who could have said to 
them, on their return to civil life, after having shed their 
blood in common with the whites in the defence of the 


liberties of the country, You are not to participate in the 
rights secured by the struggle, or in the liberty for which 
you have been fighting ? Certainly no white man in Mas 
sachusetts." Annals of Congress. Sixteenth Congress, 
Second Session, p. 636. 

The Hon. Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, 
in a previous part of the same debate, said : 

..." It is a most remarkable fact, that notwithstanding, Charles 


in the course of the Revolution, the Southern States were 
continually overrun by the British, and that every negro in 
them had an opportunity of leaving their owners, few did ; 
proving thereby not only a most remarkable attachment to 
their owners, but the mildness of the treatment, from whence 
their affection sprang. They then were, as they still are, 
as valuable a part of our population to the Union as any 
other equal number of inhabitants. They were in numer 
ous instances the pioneers, and, in all, the laborers, of your 
armies. To their hands were owing the erection of the 
greatest part of the fortifications raised for the protection 
of our country ; some of which, particularly Fort Moultrie, 
gave, at that early period of the inexperience and untried 
valor of our citizens, immortality to American arms : and, 
in the Northern States, numerous bodies of them were 
enrolled into and fought, by the sides of the whites, the 
battles of the Revolution." Annals of Congress. Sixteenth 
Congress, First Session, p. 1312. 

That large numbers of negroes were enrolled in 
the army, and served faithfully as soldiers during the 
whole period of the War of the Revolution, may be 
regarded as a well-established historical fact. And it 
should be borne in mind, that the enlistment was not 
confined, by any means, to those who had before 


enjoyed the privileges of free citizens. Very many 
slaves were offered to, and received by, the army, on 
the condition that they were to be emancipated, either 
at the time of enlisting, or when they had served 
out the term of their enlistment. The inconsistency 
of keeping in slavery any person who had taken up 
arms for the defence of our national liberty, had led 
to the passing of an order, forbidding "slaves," as 
such, to be received as soldiers. 

The documents which I have cited will give a 
general idea of the opinions and the practice of the 
leading patriots in the civil and military service of 
the country, at the time of the Revolution, on the 
employment of negroes as soldiers. Much more doc 
umentary evidence, of a similar character, might be 
adduced from the mass of materials which I have 
gathered in pursuing this inquiry ; but I have, I 
trust, selected enough to fairly illustrate the subject. 
If what I have done, or what I have left undone, 
shall stimulate others to a more thorough investiga 
tion, my labor will not have been lost. 





THE suggestion made by Mr. Everett at the meeting of 
the Massachusetts Historical Society when this paper 
was read, in regard to the history of the employment 
of negroes in our navy, is worthy of a more careful 
consideration than the limits of this paper would 
allow. But I am happy to be able to present the 
testimony, on this subject, of one of our Honorary 
Members, Usher Parsons, M.D., whose character and 
experience give authority to his statements. 

" PROVIDENCE, October 18, 1862. 

" MY DEAR SIR, In reply to your inquiries about the 
employing of blacks in our navy in the war of 1812, and 
particularly in the battle of Lake Erie, I refer you to docu 
ments in Mackenzie s Life of Commodore Perry, vol. i. 
pp. 16G and 187. 

" In 1814, our fleet sailed to the Upper Lakes to co-ope 
rate with Colonel Croghan at Mackinac. About one in ten 
or twelve of the crews were blacks. 

"In 1816, I was surgeon of the Java/ under Commo 
dore Perry. The white and colored seamen messed 
together. About one in six or eight were colored. 


" In 1819, I was surgeon of the Guerriere, under Com 
modore Macdonough ; and the proportion of blacks was 
about the same in her crew. There seemed to be an entire 
absence of prejudice against the blacks as messmates 
among the crew. What I have said applies to the crews 
of the other ships that sailed in squadrons. 
" Yours very respectfully, 


The documents referred to by Dr. Parsons are two 
letters, the first written to Commodore Chauncey, in 
the summer of 1813, by Captain (afterwards Commo 
dore) Perry, expressing dissatisfaction with the ap 
pearance of the men who had been sent to him for his 
squadron on Lake Erie before his famous battle. 

" SIR, I have this moment received, by express, the 
enclosed letter from General Harrison. If I had officers 
and men, and I have no doubt you will send them, I 
could fight the enemy, and proceed up the lake ; but, hav 
ing no one to command the Niagara, and only one com 
missioned lieutenant and two acting lieutenants, whatever 
my wishes may be, going out is out of the question. The 
men that came by Mr. Champlin are a motley set, 
blacks, soldiers, and boys. I cannot think you saw them 
after they were selected. I am, however, pleased to see 
any thing in the shape of a man." Mackenzie s Life of 
Perry, vol. i. pp. 165, 1G6. 

This letter called forth from Commodore Chauncey 
the following sharp reply : 

" SIR, I have been duly honored with your letters of 
the twenty-third and twenty-sixth ultimo, and notice your 
anxiety for men and officers. I am equally anxious to fur- 


nish you ; and no time shall be lost in sending officers and 
men to you as soon as the public service will allow me to 
send them from this lake. I regret that you are not pleased 
with the men sent you by Messrs. Champlin and Forrest ; 
for, to my knowledge, a part of them arc not surpassed by 
any seamen we have in the fleet : and I have yet to learn 
that the color of the skin, or the cut and trimmings of the 
coat, can affect a man s qualifications or usefulness. I have 
nearly fifty blacks on board of this ship, and many of them 
are among my best men ; and those people you call soldiers 
have been to sea from two to seventeen years ; and I 
presume that you will find them as good and useful as any 
men on board of your vessel ; at least, if I can judge by 
comparison ; for those which we have on board of this ship 
are attentive and obedient, and, as far as I can judge, 
many of them excellent seamen : at any rate, the men sent 
to Lake Erie have been selected with a view of sending a 
fair proportion of petty officers and seamen ; and I pre 
sume, upon examination, it will be found that they are 
equal to those upon this lake." Mackenzie s Life of Perry, 
vol. i. pp. 186, 187. 

Perry found the negroes to be indeed all that Com 
modore Chauncey had represented them ; and he did 
not hesitate afterwards to speak favorably of their 
services : 

" Perry speaks highly of the bravery and good conduct 
of the negroes, who formed a considerable part of his crew. 
They seemed to be absolutely insensible to danger. When 
Captain Barclay came on board the Niagara, and beheld 
the sickly and party-colored beings around him, an expres 
sion of chagrin escaped him at having been conquered by 
such men. The fresh-water service had very much im 
paired the health of the sailors, and crowded the sick list 
with patients." Analedic Mayazine, vol. iii. p. 255. 


To the same effect is the testimony of the following 

"Extract of a Letter from Nathaniel Shaler, Commander of the 
private-armed Schooner Gov. Tompkins, to his Agent in New York, 


"Ax SEA, Jan. 1, 1813. 

" Before I could get our light sails in, and almost before 
I could turn round, I was under the guns, not of a trans 
port, but of a large frigate! and not more than a quarter of 

a mile from her Her first broadside killed 

two men, and wounded six others My offi 
cers conducted themselves in a way that would have done 

honor to a more permanent service The 

name of one of my poor fellows who was killed ought 
to be registered in the book of fame, and remembered 
with reverence as long as bravery is considered a virtue. 
He was a black man, by the name of John Johnson. A 
twenty-four-pound shot struck him in the hip, and took 
away all the lower part of his body. In this state, the poor 
brave fellow lay on the deck, and several times exclaimed 
to his shipmates, Fire aivay, my l)oy : no haul a color down. 
The other was also a black man, by the name of John Davis, 
and was struck in much the same way. He fell near me, 
and several times requested to be thrown overboard, saying 
he was only in the way of others. 

" When America has such tars, she has little to fear from 
the tyrants of the ocean." Niles s Weekly Register, Satur 
day, Feb. 26, 1814. 


At the August meeting of the Massachusetts His 
torical Society, an interesting memorial of the last 
century was displayed. It was a silk flag, bearing the 
device of a Pine-tree and a Buck, with the initials 


" J. H." and " G. W." over a scroll, on which ap 
pear the words, " The Bucks of America." This 
relic had been carefully preserved as the flag pre 
sented by Governor Hancock to a company of colored 
soldiers bearing that name. It now belongs to 
Mr. William C. Nell, of Boston. Mr. Nell is the 
author of a volume entitled " The Colored Patriots 
of the American Revolution, with Sketches of several 
Distinguished Colored Persons ; " a book that contains 
a great number of interesting anecdotes on the sub 
ject. It was published in 1855, and is now out of 
print; but a new edition, considerably enlarged, is, 
I am happy to hear, soon to be issued. 



That the services of negroes, as soldiers, were 
solicited and welcomed by the civil and military au 
thorities in various parts of the United States, during 
the war of 1812 with Great Britain, is too well known 
to need any illustration. It may not, however, be out 
of place here to reprint an act of the Legislature of 
the State of New York. 

11 An Act to authorize the raising of Two Regiments of Men of Color ; 
passed Oct. 24, 1814. 

" SECT. 1. Be it enacted by the people of the State of 
New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, That the 


Governor of the State be, and he is hereby, authorized to 
raise, by voluntary enlistment, two regiments of free men 
of color, for the defence of the State for three years, un 
less sooner discharged. 

" SECT. 2. And be it further enacted, That each of the 
said regiments shall consist of one thousand and eighty 
able-bodied men ; and the said regiments shall be formed 
into a brigade, or be organized in such manner, and shall 
bo employed in such service, as the Governor of the State 
of New York shall deem best adapted to defend the said 

" SECT. 3. And be it further enacted, That all the com 
missioned officers of the said regiments and brigade shall 
be white men ; and the Governor of the State of New 
York shall be, and he is hereby, authorized to commission, 
by brevet, all the officers of the said regiments and brigade, 
who shall hold their respective commissions until the 
council of appointment shall have appointed the officers of 
the said regiments and brigade, in pursuance of the Consti 
tution and laws of the said State. 

" SECT. 4. And be it further enacted, That the commis 
sioned officers of the said regiments and brigade shall 
receive the same pay, rations, forage, and allowances, as 
officers of the same grade in the army of the United States ; 
and the non-commissioned officers, musicians, and privates 
of the said regiments shall receive the same pay, rations, 
clothing, and allowances, as the non-commissioned officers, 
musicians, and privates of the army of the United States ; 
and the sum of twenty-five dollars shall be paid to each of 
the said non-commissioned officers, musicians, and pri 
vates, at the time of enlistment, in lieu of all other 

" SECT. 5. And be it further enacted, That the troops to 
be raised as aforesaid may be transferred into the service 
of the United States, if the Government of the United 
States shall agree to pay and subsist them, and to refund 


to this State the moneys expended by this State in clothing 
and arming them ; and, until such transfer shall be made, 
may be ordered into the service of the United States in 
lieu of an equal number of militia, whenever the militia of 
the State of New York shall be ordered into the service 
of the United States. 

" SECT. 6. And be it further enacted, That it shall be 
lawful for any able-bodied slave, with the written assent of 
his master or mistress, to enlist into the said corps ; and 
the master or mistress of such slave shall be entitled to the 
pay and bounty allowed him for his service : and, further, 
that the said slave, at the time of receiving his discharge, 
shall be deemed and adjudged to have been legally manu 
mitted from that time, and his said master or mistress shall 
not thenceforward be liable for his maintenance. 

" SECT. 7. And be it further enacted, that every such 
enrolled person, who shall have become free by manumis 
sion or otherwise, if he shall thereafter become indigent, 
shall be deemed to be settled in the town in which the 
person who manumitted him was settled at the time of 
such manumission, or in such other town where he shall 
have gained a settlement subsequent to his discharge from 
the said service ; and the former owner or owners of such 
manumitted person, and his legal representatives, shall be 
exonerated from his maintenance, any law to the contrary 
hereof notwithstanding. 

" SECT. 8. And be it further enacted, That, when the 
troops to be raised as aforesaid shall be in the service of 
the United States, they shall be subject to the rules and 
articles which have been or may be hereafter established 
by the By-laws of the United States for the government of 
the army of the United States ; that, when the said troops 
shall be in the service of the State of New York, they 
shall be subject to the same rules and regulations : And 
the Governor of the said State shall be, and he is hereby, t 
authorized and directed to exercise all the power and au- 



thority which, by the said rules and articles, are required 
to be exercised by the President of the United States." 
Laws of the State of New York, passed at the Thirty-eighth 
Session of the Legislature, chap, xviii. 



MOBILE, September 21, 1814. 

To the Free Colored Inhabitants of Louisiana. 

Through a mistaken policy, you have heretofore been 
deprived of a participation in the glorious struggle for na 
tional rights in which our country is engaged. This no 
longer shall exist. 

As sons of freedom, you are now called upon to defend 
our most inestimable blessing. As Americans, your country 
looks with confidence to her adopted children for a valorous 
support, as a faithful return for the advantages enjoyed 
under her mild and equitable government. As fathers, 
husbands, and brothers, you are summoned to rally around 
the standard of the Eagle, to defend all which is dear in 

Your country, although calling for your exertions, does 
not wish you to engage in her cause without amply remuner 
ating you for the services rendered. Your intelligent minds 
are not to be led away by false representations. Your love 
of honor would cause you to despise the man who should 
attempt to deceive you. In the sincerity of a soldier and 
the language of truth I address you. 

To every noble-hearted, generous freeman of color volun 
teering to serve during the present contest with Great 
Britain, and no longer, there will be paid the same bounty, 


in money and lands, now received by the white soldiers of 
the United States, viz. one hundred and twenty-four dollars 
in money, and one hundred and sixty acres of land. The 
non-commissioned officers and privates will also be entitled 
to the same monthly pay, and daily rations, and clothes, 
furnished to any American soldier. 

On enrolling yourselves in companies, the Major-General 
Commanding will select officers for your government from 
your white fellow-citizens. Your non-commissioned officers 
will be appointed from among yourselves. 

Due regard will be paid to the feelings of freemen and 
soldiers. You will not, by being associated with white men 
in the same corps, be exposed to improper comparisons or 
unjust sarcasm. As a distinct, independent battalion or 
regiment, pursuing the path of glory, you will, undivided, 
receive the applause and gratitude of your countrymen. 

To assure you of the sincerity of my intentions, and my 
anxiety to engage your invaluable services to our country, 
I have communicated my wishes to the Governor of Lou 
isiana, who is fully informed as to the manner of enrolment, 
and will give you every necessary information on the subject 

of this address. 

ANDREW JACKSON, Major-General Commanding. 
(Niles s Register, vol. vii. p. 205.) 

Three months after his proclamation was issued, on 
Sunday, the 18th of December, 1814, General Jack 
son reviewed the troops, white and colored, in New 
Orleans. "At the close of the review, Edward Living 
ston [one of his aids] advanced from the group that 
surrounded the General, and read in fine, sonorous 
tones, and with an energy and emphasis worthy of the 
impassioned words he spoke, that famous address to 
the troops which contributed so powerfully to enhance 
their enthusiasm, and of which the survivors to this 


hour have the most vivid recollection. This address, 
like that previously quoted, was Jackson s spirit in 
Livingston s language." Parton s Life of Jackson, 
vol. ii. pp. 63, 64. 

The following is a portion of the address : 

" To THE EMBODIED MILITIA. Fellow Citizens and Sol 
diers : The General commanding in chief would not do 
justice to the noble ardor that has animated you in the 
hour of danger, he would not do justice to his own feeling, 
if he suffered the example you have shown to pass with 
out public notice. 

" Fellow -citizens, of every description, remember for 
what and against whom you contend. For all that can 
render life desirable for a country blessed with every 
gift of nature for property, for life for those dearer 
than either, your wives and children and for liberty, 
without which, country, life, property, are no longer worth 
possessing ; as even the embraces of wives and children 
become a reproach to the wretch who could deprive them 
by his cowardice of those invaluable blessings. 

" To THE MEN OF COLOE. Soldiers ! From the shores 
of Mobile I collected you to arms, I invited you to share 
in the perils and to divide the glory of your white country 
men. I expected much from you ; for I was not uninformed 
of those qualities which must render you so formidable to 
an invading foe. I knew that you could endure hunger 
and thirst, and all the hardships of war. I knew that you 
loved the land of your nativity, and that, like ourselves, 
you had to defend all that is most dear to man. But you 
surpass my hopes. I have found in you, united to these 
qualities, that noble enthusiasm which impels to great 


" Soldiers ! The President of the United States shall be 
informed of your conduct on the present occasion; and the 
voice of the Representatives of the American nation shall 
applaud your valor, as your General now praises your 
ardor. The enemy is near. His sails cover the lakes. 
But the brave are united ; and, if he finds us contending 
among ourselves, it will be for the prize of valor, and fame 
its noblest reward." Niles s Register, vol. vii. pp. 345, 346. 


The Hon. Charles B. Sedgwick, a member of Con 
gress from the State of New York, read in the 
House of Representatives, during the last session, 
the following paper on the use of negro soldiers 
in other countries. It is understood to have been 
prepared by one of the librarians of the State Library 
at Albany. 


" The monarchical governments of Europe and America, 
those that tolerate slavery and those that do not, alike 
agree in employing negroes armed for the public defence. 
They find that the burdens of war, and the sacrifice of life 
it occasions, are too great to be borne by the white race 
alone. They call upon the colored races, therefore, to 
share in the burden, and to encounter, in common with the 
whites, the risks of loss of life. 

" Thus we find, that in the Spanish colony of Cuba, with 
a population one-half slaves and one-sixth colored, a militia 
of free blacks and mulattoes was directed by Gen. Pezuela 
(Governor-General) to be organized in 1854 throughout 



the island; and it was put upon an equal footing, with 
regard to privilege, with the regular army. This measure 
was not rescinded by Governor-General Concha in 1855 ; 
but the black and mulatto troops have been made a perma 
nent corps of the Spanish army. (Condensed in the very 
phrases of Thrasher s preface to his edition of Humboldt s 

" In the Portuguese colonies on the coast of Africa, the 
regiments are chiefly composed of black men. At Prince s 
Island, the garrison consists of a company of regular artil 
lery of eighty, and a regiment of black militia of ten 
hundred and fifty-eight, rank and file, of which the colonel 
is a white man. At St. Thomas s, there are two regiments 
of black militia. In Loando, the Portuguese can, on an 
emergency of war with the natives, bring into the field 
twenty-five thousand partially civilized blacks, armed with 
muskets. Successful expeditions have actually been made 
with five thousand of them, accompanied with three or four 
hundred white soldiers. (From Valdez s Six Years on the 
West Coast of Africa. London: 1861. Two vols. 8vo.) 

" In the Dutch colony of the Gold Coast of Africa, with 
a population of one hundred thousand, the garrison of the 
fortress consists of two hundred soldiers (whites, mulattoes, 
and blacks), under a Dutch colonel. 

" In the capital of the French colony of Senegal, on the 
same coast, at St. Louis, the defence of the place is in 
the hands of eight hundred white and three hundred black 
soldiers. (The preceding facts are also from Valdez.) 

" In the Danish island of St. Croix, in the West Indies, 
for more than twenty-five years past, there have been 
employed two corps of colored soldiers, in the presence of 
slaves. (From Tuckerman s Santa Cruz.) 

" In Brazil, notwithstanding its three million slaves, its 
monarchical government employs all colors and races in the 
military service, either by enlistment or forcible seizure. 
The police of the city of Rio de Janeiro is a military 


organization, composed mostly of colored men, drilled and 
commanded by army officers. The navy is principally 
manned by civilized aborigines. (Hidder: Ewbank.) 

"The course pursued by the British Government in 
Jamaica, Sierra Leone, and Hindostan, is so notorious, as 
simply to need to be mentioned. 

" In Turkey, no distinction of color or race is made in 
the ranks of the regular army. Distinction is made, how 
ever, on the ground of difference of faith. The army is 
composed of Mahomedans. Christians and Jews are never 
recruited. The result is one which the government of 
Turkey to-day contemplates with alarm. For the last two 
hundred years, having been frequently engaged in war, 
her Mahomedan population has been greatly reduced there 
by; while her Christian population, at one time greatly 
inferior in numbers, has now, by peace, so extraordinarily 
increased, as to bid fair soon to divide the empire. And she 
dare not now, in her strength, arm them as her soldiers as 
conscripts, notwithstanding her desire to do it." 






ject to immediate recall. 


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