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Published at the Office of the Rebellion Record. 




June, ITQS. 


I RISE, Sir, in support of the motion now be- 
fore you. But my reverence for this body, the 
novelty of my present situation, the great im- 
portance and difficulty of the subject, and the 
thought of being opposed by gentlemen of the 
greatest abilities, has too sensible an impression 
on my mind. But, Sir, I know so much of my 
natural timidity, which increases with my years, 
that I foresaw this would be the case ; I there- 
fore prepared a speech for the occasion. 

Sir, I have lived free, and in many respects 
happy, for near sixty years ; but my happiness 
has been greatly diminished, for much of the 
time, by hearing a great part of the human spe- 
cies groaning under the galling yoke of bondage. 
In this time I lost a venerable father, a tender 
mother, two affectionate sisters, and a beloved 
first born son ; but all these together have not 
cost me half the anxiety as has been occasioned 
by this wretched situation of my fellow-men, 
whom, without a blush, I call my brethren. 
When I consider their deplorable state, and who 
are the cause of their misery, the load of misery 
that lies on them, and the load of guilt on us for 
imposing it on them ; it fills my soul with 
anguish. I view their distresses, I read the 
anger of Heaven, I believe that if I should not 
exert myself, when, and as far, as in my power, 
in order to relieve them, I should be partaker of 
the guilt. 

Sir, the question is, "Whether slavery is con- 
sistent with justice and good policy ? But be- 
fore this is answered, it may be necessary to in- 
quire, what a slave is ? 

A slave is a human creature made by law the 
property of another human creature, and reduced 
by mere power to an absolute unconditional sub- 
jection to his will. 

This definition will be allowed to be just, with 
only this one exception, that the law does not 
leave the life and the limbs of the slave entirely 
in the master's power : and from it may be in 
ferred several melancholy truths, which will in 
elude a sufficient answer to the main question. 

In order to a right view of this subject, I 
would observe, that there are some cases, where 
a man may justly be made a slave bylaw. By 
vicious conduct, he may forfeit his freedom ; he 
may forfeit his life. Where this is the case, and 
the safety of the public may be secured by re- 
ducing the ofiender to a state of slavery, it will 
be right ; it may be an act of kindness. In no 
other case, if my conceptions are just, can it be 
vindicated on principles of justice or humanity. 

As creatures of God we are, with respect to 
liberty, all equal. If one has a right to live 
among his fellow creatures, and enjoj^ his free- 
dom, so has another ; if one has a right to enjoy 
that property he acquires by an honest industry, 
so has another. If I, by force, take that irom 
another, which he has a just right to, according 
to the law of nature, (which is a divine law) 
which he has never forfeited, and to which he 
has never relinquished his claim, I am certainly 
guilty of injustice and robbery ; and when the 
thing taken is the man's liberty, when it is him- 
self, it is the greatest injustice. I injure him 
much more, than if I robbed him of his property 
on the high-way. In this case, it does not be- 

• This Speech was delivered in the Convention for the formation of the Constitution of the State of Kentucky, assembled at 
Danville, in April, 1792. Mr. Rice's remarks had especial reference to the Ninth Article, relating to the rights of slaveholders, etc. 
See MarshaWa Jlistory of Kentitcky. 


long to him to prove a negative, but to me to 
prove that such forfeiture has been made, be- 
cause, if it has not, he is certainly still the pro- 
prietor. All he has to do is to shew the insuf- 
ficiency of my proofs. 

A slave claims his freedom, he pleads that he 
is a man, that he was by nature free, that he has 
not forfeited his freedom, nor relinquished it. 
Now unless his master can prove that he is not 
a man, that he was not born free, or that he has 
forfeited or relinquished his freedom, he must be 
judged free ; the justice of his claim most be ac- 
knowledged. His being long deprived of this 
right, by force or fraud, does not annihilate it, it 
remains ; it is still his right. When 1 rob a man 
of his property, I leave him his liberty, and a 
capacity of acquiring and possessing more pro- 
perty ; but when I deprive him of his liberty, I 
also deprive him of this capacity ; therefore I do 
him greater injury, when I deprive him of his 
liberty, than when I rob him of his property. It 
is in vain for me to plead that I have the sanc- 
tion of law; for this makes the injury the 
greater, it arms the community against him, and 
makes his case desperate. 

If my definition of a slave is true, he is a 
rational creature reduced by the power of legis- 
lation to the state of a brute, and thereby de- 
prived of every privilege of humanity, except as 
above, that he maf minister to the ease, luxury, 
lust, pride, or avarice of another, no better than 

We only want a law enacted that no owner of 
a brute, nor other person, should kill or dismem- 
ber it, and then in law the case of a slave and a 
brute is in most respects parallel ; and where 
they differ, the state of a brute is to be preferred. 
The brute may steal or rob, to supply his, hun- 
ger ; the law does not condemn him to die for his 
offence, it only permits his death ; but the slave, 
though in the most starving condition, dare not 
do either, on penalty of death or some severe 

Is there any need of arguments to prove, that 
it is in a high degree unjust and cruel, to reduce 
one human creature to such an abject wretched 
state as this, that he may minister to the ease, 
luxury, or avarice of another? Has not that 
other the same right to have him reduced to this 
state, that he may minister to his interest or 
pleasure? On what is this right founded? 
Whence was it derived? Did it come from 
heaven, from earth, or from hell ? Has the great 

King of heaven, the absolute sovereign disposer 
of all men, given this extraordinary right to 
white men over black men ? Where is the 
charter ? In whose hands is it lodged ? Let it 
be produced and read, that we may know our 

Thus reducing men is an indignity, a degrada- 
tion to our own nature. Had we not lost a true 
sense of its worth and dignity, we should blush 
to see it converted into brutes. We should 
blush to see our houses filled, or surrounded 
with cattle in our own shapes. We should look 
upon it to be a fouler, a blacker stain, than that 
with which the vertical suns have tinged the 
blood of Africa. When we plead for slavery, we 
plead for the disgrace and ruin of our own 
nature. If we are capable of it we may ever 
after claim kindred with the brutes, and re- 
nounce our own superior dignity. 

From our definition, it will appear, that a slave 
is a creature made after the image of God, and . 
accountable to him for the maintenance of inno- 
cence and purity ; but by law reduced to a 
liableness to be debauched by men, without any 
prospect or hope of redress. 

That a slave is made after the image of God, 
no Christian will deny ; that a slave is absolutely 
subjected to be debauched by men, is so appar- 
ent from the nature of slavery that it needs no 
proof This is evidently the unhappy case of 
female slaves ; a nuniber of whom have been re- 
markable for their chastity and modesty. If 
their master attempts their chastity, they dare 
neither resist nor complain. If another man 
should make the attempt, though resistance may 
not be so dangerous, complaints are equally vain. 
They cannot be heard in their own defence; 
their testimony cannot be admitted. The in- 
jurious person has a right to be heard, may ac- 
cuse the innocent sufferer of malicious slander, 
and have her severely chastised. 

A virtuous woman, (and virtuous Africans no 
doubt there are) esteems her chastity above every 
other thing ; some have preferred it even to _\ 
their lives : then, forcibly to deprive her of this, is 
treating her with the greatest injustice. There- 
fore, since law leaves the chastity of a female 
slave entirely in the power of her master ; and 
greatly in the power of others, it permits this in- 
justice ; it provides no remedy, it refuses to re- 
dress this insufferable grievance ; it denies even ♦ 
the small privilege of complaining. 
I From our definition, it will follow, that a slave 


is a free moral agent legally deprived of free 
agency, and obliged to act according to the will 
of another free agent of the same species : and 
--i-yet, he is accountable to his Creator for the use 
he makes of his own free agency. 

When a man, though he can exist independent 
of another, cannot act independent of him, his 
agency must depend upon the will of that other ; 
and therefore, he is deprived of his own free 
agency ; and yet, as a free agent he is accounta- 
ble to his Maker for all the deeds done in the 
body. This comes to pass through a great omis- 
sion and inconsistency in the legislature. Thej^ 
ought farther to have enacted, in order to have 
been consistent, that the slave should not have 
been accountable for any of his actions ; but that 
his master should have answered for him in all 
things, here and hereafter. 

That a slave has the capacities of a free moral 
agent, will be allowed by all. That he is, in 
many instances, deprived by law of the exercise 
of these powers, evidently appears from his situ- 
ation. That he is accountable to his Maker for 
his conduct, will be allowed by those, who do 
not believe that human legislatures are omnipo- 
tent, and can free men from this allegiance and 
subjection to the King of heaven. 

The principles of conjugal love and fidelity in 
the breast of a virtuous pair, of natural affection 
in parents, and a sense of duty in childi-en, are 
inscribed there by the finger of God ; they are 
the laws of Heaven: but an inslaving law di- 
rectly opposes them, and virtually forbids obe- 
dience. The relation of husband and wife, of 
parent and child, arc formed by divine authority, 
-^nd founded on the laws of nature. But it is in 
the power of a cruel master, and often of a^ needy 
creditor, to break these tender connexions, and 
for ever to separate these dearest relatives. This 
is ever done, in feet, at the call of interest or 
humour. The poor sufferers may expostulate; 
they may plead ; may plead with tears ; their 
hearts may break ; but all in vain. The laws of 
nature are violated, the tender ties arc dissolved, 
a final separation takes place, and the duties of 
these relations can no longer be performed, nor 
their comforts enjoyed. Would these slaves per- 
form the duties of husbands and wives, parents 
and children ; the law disables them, it puts it 
altogether out of their power. 
"- In these cases, it is evident that the laws of 
nature, or the laws of man, are ^^Tong ; and 
which, none will be at a loss to judge. The di- 

vine law says. Whom God hath joined together, 
let no man put asunder ; the law of man says, to 
the master of the slave. Though the divine law 
has joined them together, you may put them 
asunder when you please. The divine law says, 
Train up your child in the way he should go ; the 
law of man says, You shall not train up your 
child, but as your master thinks proper. The 
divine law says. Honour your father and mother, 
and obey them in all things ; but the law of man 
says. Honour and obey your master in all things, 
and your parents just as far as he shall direct 

Should a master command his slave to steal or 
rob, and he should presume to disobey, he is 
liable to suffer every extremity of punishment 
short of death or amputation, from the hand of 
his master, at the same time he is liable to a 
punishment equally severe, if not death' itself, 
should he obey. 

He is bound by law, if his master pleases, to 
do that, for which the law condemns him to 

Another consequence of our definition is, That 
a slave, being a free moral agent, an account- 
able creature, is a capable subject of religion and 
morality ; but deprived by law of the means of 
instruction in the doctrines and duties of morality, 
any further than his master pleases. 

It is in the power of the master to deprive him 
of all the means of religious and moral instruc- 
tion, either in private or in public. Some mas- 
ters have actually exercised this power, and 
restrained their slaves from the means of in- 
struction, by the terror of the lash. Slaves have 
not opportunity at their own disposal for instruct- 
ing conversation ; it is put out of their power to 
learn to read, and their masters may restrain 
them from other means of information. Masters 
designedly keep their slaves in ignorance, lest they 
should become too knowing to answer their self- 
ish purposes ; and too wise to rest eas}^ in their 
degraded situation. In this case, the law operates 
so as to answer an end directly opposed to the 
proper end of all law. It is pointed against every 
thing dear to them ; against the principal end of 
their existence. It supports in a land of religious 
liberty, the severest persecutions ; and may ope- 
rate so as totally to rob multitudes of their re- 
ligious privileges, and the right of conscience. 

The master is the enemy of the slave ; he has 
made open war against him, and is daily carrj'-- 
ing it on in unremitted efforts. Can any one then 



imagine that the slave is indebted to his master, 
and bound to serve him ? Whence can the obH- 
gation arise ? What is it founded upon ? What 
is my duty to an enemy that is carrying on war 
against me ? I do not deny but, in some circum- 
stances, it is the duty of the slave to serve ; but 
it is a duty he owes himself, and not his master. 
The master may, and often does, inflict upon him 
all the severity of punishment the human body is 
capable of bearing ; and the law supports him in 
it ; if he does but spare his life and his limbs, he 
dare not complain ; none can hear and relieve 
him ; he has no redress under heaven. 

When we duly consider all these things, it 
must appear unjust to the last degree to force a 
fellow-creature, who has never forfeited his free- 
dom, into this wretched situation ; and confine 
him and his posterity in this bottomless gulph of 
wretchedness for ever. Where is the sympathy, 
the tender feelings of humanity ? Where is the 
heart that does not melt at this scene of wo ? Or 
that is not fired with indignation to see such in- 
justice and cruelty countenanced by civilized 
nations, and supported by the sanction of the 

If slavery is not consistent with justice, it must 
be inconsistent with good policy. For M'ho 
would venture to assert that it would be good 
policy for us to eject a public monument of our 
injustice, and that injustice is necessary for our 
prosperity and happiness ? That old proverb, 
A that honesty is the best policy, ought not to be 
despised for its age. 

But the inconsistency of slavery with good 
policy will fully appear, if we consider another 
consequence of our definition, viz. 

A slave is a member of civil society, bound to 
obey the laws of the land ; to which laws he never 
consented ; which partially and feebly protect his 
person ; which allow him no property ; from 
which he can receive no advantage ; and which 
chiefly, as they relate to him, were made to pun- 
ish him. He is therefore bound to submit to a 
government, to which he owes no allegiance; 
from which he receives great injury; and to 
which he is under no obligations ; and to per- 
form services to a society, to which he owes noth- 
ing, and in whose prosperity he has no interest. 
That he is under this government, and forced to 
submit to it, appears from his suffering the 
penalty of its laws. That he receives no bene- 
fit by the laws and government he is under, is 
evident, from their depriving him of his liberty, 

and the means of happiness. Though they pro- 
tect his life and his limbs, they confine him in 
misery, they will not suffer him to fly from it; 
the greatest favours they afford him chiefly serve 
to perpetuate his wretchedness. 

He is then a member of society, who is, pro- 
perly speaking, in a state of war with his master, 
his civil rulers, and every member of that society. 
They are all his declared enemies, having in him 
made war upon almost every thing dear to a 
human creature. It is a perpetual war, with an 
avowed purpose of never making peace. This 
war, as it is unprovoked, is, on the part of the 
slave, properly defensive. The injury done him 
is much greater than what is generally esteemed 
a just ground of war between different nations ; 
it is much greater than was the cause of war be- 
tween us and Britain. 

It cannot be consistent with the principles of 
good policy to keep a numerous, a growing body 
of people among us, who add no strength to us 
in time of war ; who are under the strongest 
temptations to join an enemy, as it is scarce 
possible they can lose, and may be great gainers, 
by the event ; who will count so many against 
us in an hour of danger and distress. A people 
whose interest it will be, whenever in their power, 
to subvert the government, and throw all into 
confusion. Can it be safe ? Can it be good poli- 
cy ? Can it be our interest or the interest of 
posterity, to nourish within our own bowels such 
an injured inveterate foe; a foe with whom we 
must be in a state of eternal war ? What havock 
would a handful of savages, in conjunction with 
this domestic enemy, make in our country! 
Especially at a period when the main body of 
the inhabitants were softened by luxury and 
ease, and quite unfitted for the hardships and 
dangers of war. Let us turn our eyes to the 
West-Indies ; and there learn the melancholy 
effects of this wretched policy. We. may there 
read them written with the blood of thousands, 
There you may see the sable, let me say, the 
brave sons of Africa engaged in a noble con- 
flict with their inveterate foes. There you may 
sec thousands fired with a generous resentment 
of the greatest injuries, and bravely sacrificing 
their lives on the altar of liberty. 

In America, a slave is a standing monument 
of the tyranny and inconsistency of human gov- 

He is declared by the united voice of America, 
to be by nature free, and intitled to the privilege 


of acquiring and enjoying property ; and yet by 
laws passed and enforced in these States, retain- 
ed in slavery, and dispossessed of all property 
and capacity of acquiring any. They have fur- 
nished a striking instance of a people carrying on 
a war in defence of principles, which they are 
actually and avowedly destroying by legal force ; 
using one measure for themselves and another 
for their neighbours. 

Every state, iii order to gain credit abroad, and 
confidence at home, and to give proper energy to 
government, should study to be consistent ; their 
conduct should not disagree with their avowed 
principles, nor be inconsistent in its several parts. 
Consistent justice is the solid basis on which the 
fabric government will rest securely, take this 
away, and the building totters, and is liable to 
fall before every blast. It is, I presume, the 
avowed principles of each of us, that all men are 
by nature free, and are still entitled to freedom, 
unless they have forfeited it. Now, after this is 
seen and acknowledged, to enact that men should 
be slaves, against whom we have no evidence that 
they have forfeited their right ; what would it be 
but evidently to fly into our own face : to contra- 
dict ourselves ; to proclaim before the world our 
own inconsistency ; and warn all men to repose 
no confidence in us ? After this, what credit can 
we ever expect ? "What confidence can we repose 
in each other ? If we generally concur in this 
nefarious deed, we destroy mutual confidence, 
and break every link of the chain that should 
bind us together. 

Are we rulers ? How can the people confide 
in us, after we have thus openly declared that we 
are void of truth and sincerity ; and that we are 
capable of enslaving mankind in direct contradic- 
tion to our own principles ? "What confidence in 
legislators, who are capable of declaring their 
constituents all free men in one breath ; and in 
the next, enacting them all slaves ? In one 
breath, declaring that they have a right to ac- 
quire and possess property; and, in the next, 
that they shall neither acquire nor possess it 
during their existence here ? Can I trust my life, 
my liberty, my property in such hands as these ? 
"Will the colour of my skin prove a sufficient de- 
fence against their injustice and cruelty ? "Will 
the particular circumstance of my ancestors be- 
ing born in Europe and not in Africa defend me ? 
Will straight hair defend me from the blow that 
falls so heavy on the woolly head ? 

If I am a dishonest man, if gain is my God, 

and this may be acquired by such an unrighteous 
law, I may rejoice to find it enacted ; but I never 
can believe that the legislature were honest men ; 
or repose the least confidence in them, when 
their own interest would lead them to betray it. 
I never can trust the integrity of that judge who 
can sit upon the seat of justice, and pass an un- 
righteous judgment, because it is agreeable to 
law ; when that law itself is contrary to the light 
and law of nature. 

"Where no confidence can be put in men of 
public trust, the exercise of government must be 
very uneasy, and the condition of the people ex- 
tremely wretched. We may conclude, with the 
utmost certainty, that it would be bad policy to 
reduce matters to this unhappy situation. 

Slavery naturally tends to sap the foundations 
of moral, and consequently of political virtue; 
and virtue is absolutely necessarj^ for the happi- 
ness and prosperity of a free people. Slavery 
produces idleness ; and idleness is the nurse of 
vice. A vicious commonwealth is a building 
erected on quicksand, the inhabitants of which 
can never abide in safety. 

The prosperity of a country depends upon the 
industry of its inhabitants ; idleness will produce 
poverty ; and when slavery becomes common, 
industry sinks into disgrace. To labour, is to 
slave ; to work, is to work Wke a Negro : and 
this is disgraceful ; it levels us with the meanest 
of the species ; it sits hard upon the mind ; it 
cannot be patiently borne. Youth are hereby 
tempted to idleness, and drawn into other vices ; 
they see no other way to keep their credit, and 
acquire some little importance. This renders 
them like those they ape, nuisances of society. 
It frequently tempts them to gaming, theft, rob- 
bery, or forgery ; for which they often end their 
days in disgrace on the gallows. Since every 
state must be supported by industry, it is exceed- 
ingly unwise to admit what will inevitably sink '^ 
it into disgrace : and that this is the tendency of 
slavery is known for matter of fact. 

Slavery naturally tends to destroy all sense of 
justice and equity. It puffs up the mind with 
pride; teaches youth a habit of looking down 
upon their fellow creatures with contempt, es- 
teeming them as dogs or devils, and imagining 
themselves beings of superior dignity and im- 
portance, to whom all are indebted. This ban- 
ishes the idea, and unqualifies the mind for the 
practice of common justice. If I have, all my 
days, been accustomed to live at the expense of a 



black man, without making him any compensa- 
tion, or considering myself at all in his debt, I 
cannot think it any great crime to live at the ex- 
pense of a white man. If I rob a black man with- 
out guilt, I shall contract no great guilt by rob- 
bing a white man. If I have been long accus- 
tomed to think a black man w^as made for me, I 
may easily take it into my head to think so of a 
white man. If I have no sense of obligation to 
do justice to a black man, I can have little to do 
justice to a white man. In this case, the tinge 
of our skins, or the place of our nativity, can 
make but little difference. If I am in principle a 
friend to slavery, I cannot, to be consistent, think 
it any crime to rob my country of its property, 
and freedom, whenever my interest calls, and I 
find it in my power. If I make any difference 
here, it must be owing to a vicious education, the 
force of a prejudice, or pride of heart. If in prin- 
ciple, a friend to slavery, I cannot feel myself 
obliged to pay the debt due to my neighbour. If 
I can wrong him of all his possessions, and avoid 
the law, all is well. 

The destruction of chastity has a natural ten- 
dency to introduce a number of vices, that are 
very pernicious to the interest of a common- 
wealth ; and slavery much conduces to destroj^ 
chastity, as it puts so great a number of females 
entirely in the power of the other sex ; against 
whom they dare not complain, on peril of the 
lash ; and many of whom they dare not resist. 
This vice, this bane of society, has already be- 
come so common, that it is scarcely esteemed a 
disgrace, in the one sex, and that the one that is 
generally the most criminal. Let it become as 
little disgraceful in the other, and there is an end 
to domestic tranquillity, an end to the public 

Put all the above considerations together, and 
it evidently appears, that slavery is neither con- 
sistent with justice nor good policy. These are 
considerations, one would think, sufScient to 
silence every objection ; but I foresee, notwith- 
standing, that a number will be made, some of 
which have a formidable appearance. 

It will be said, Negroes were made slaves by 
law ; they were convei'ted into propcrtj'^ by an act 
of the legislature ; and under the sanction of that 
law I purchased them ; they therefore become 
my property, I have a legal claim to them. To 
repeal this law, to annihilate slavery; would be 
violently to destroy what I legally purchased 
with my money, or inherit from my father. It 

would be equally unjust with dispossessing me 
of my horses, cattle, or any other species of prop- 
erty. To dispossess me of their offspring, would 
be injustice equal to dispossessing me of the an- 
nual profits of my estate. This is an important 
objection, and it calls for a serious answer. 

The matter seems to stand thus : many years 
ago, men, being deprived of their natural right to 
freedom, and made slaves, were by law converted 
into property. This law, it is true, was wrong, 
it established iniquity ; it was against the law of 
humanity, common sense, reason, and conscience. 
It was, however, a law ; and under the sanction 
of it, a number of men, regardless of its iniquity, 
purchased these slaves, and made their fellow- 
men their property. 

The question is concerning the liberty of a 
man. The man himself claims it as his own 
property. He pleads, that it was originally his 
own ; that he has never forfeited, nor alienated 
it ; and therefore, by the common laws of justice 
and humanity, it is still his own. The purchas- 
er of the slave claims the same property. He 
pleads, that he purchased it under the sanction 
of a law, enacted by the legislature ; and there- 
fore it became his. Now, the question is, who 
has the best claim ? Did the property in ques- 
tion belong to the legislature ? Was it vested in 
them ? If legislatures are possessed of such 
property as this, may another never exist ! No 
individual of their constituents could claim it as 
his own inherent right ; it was not in them col- 
lectively ; and therefore they could not convey it 
to their representatives. Was it ever known, 
that a people chose representatives to create and 
transfer this kind of property ? The legislature 
were not, they could not be possessed of it ; and 
therefore could not transfer it to another ; they 
could not give what they themselves had not. 
Now, does the property belong to him, who re- 
ceived it from a legislature that had it not to 
give, and by a law they had no right to enact ; 
or to the original owner, who has never forfeited, 
nor alienated his right ? If a law should pass 
for selling an innocent man's head, and I should 
purchase it ; have I, in consequence of this law 
and this purchase, a better claim to this man's 
head than he has himself ? 

To call our fellow-men, who have not forfeited, 
nor voluntarily resigned their liberty, our prop- 
erty, is a gross absurdity, a contradiction to 
common sense, and an indignity to human na- 
ture. The owners of such slaves then are the 


licensed robbers, and not the just proprietors, of 
what they claim ; freeing them is not depriving 
them of property, but restoring it to the right 
owner ; it is suffering the imlawful captive to 
escape. It is not wronging the master, but 
doing justice to the slave, restoring him to him- 
self. The master, it is true, is wronged : he 
may suffer and that greatly : but this is his own 
fault, and the fault of the enslaving law; and 
not of the law that does justice to the oppressed. 

You say, a law of emancipation would be un- 
just, because it would deprive men of their prop- 
erty ; but is there no injustice on the other side ? 
Is nobody intitled to justice, but slave-holders ? 
Let us consider the injustice on both sides ; and 
weigh them in an even balance. On the one 
hand, we see a man deprived of all property, of 
all capacity to possess property, of his own free 
agency, of the means of instruction, of his wife, 
of his children, of almost every thing dear to 
him ; on the other, a man deprived of eighty or 
an hundred pounds. Shall we hesitate a moment 
to determine, who is the greatest sufferer, and 
who is treated with the greatest injustice ? The 
matter appears quite glaring, when we consider, 
that neither this man, nor his parents had sin- 
ned, that he was born to these sufferings : but 
the other suffers altogether for his own sin, and 
that of his predecessors. Such a law would only 
take away property, that is its own property, 
and not ours : property that has the same right 
to possess us, as its property, as we have to pos- 
sess it : property that has the same right to con- 
vert our children into dogs, and calves, and colts, 
as we have to convert theirs into these beasts : 
property that may transfer our children to strang- 
ers, by the same right that we transfer theirs. 

Human legislatures should remember, that 
they act in subordination to the great Ruler of 
the universe ; have no right to take the govern- 
ment out of his hand ; nor to enact laws contrary 
to his ; that if they should presume to attempt 
it, they cannot make that right, which he has 
made wrong : they cannot dissolve the allegiance 
of his subjects, and transfer it to themselves, and 
thereby free the people from their obligations to 
obey the laws of nature. The people should 
know, that legislatures have not this power ; and 
that a thousand laws can never make that inno- 
cent, which the divine law has made criminal ; 
or give them a right to that, which the divine 
law forbids them to claim. But to the above 
reply it may be farther objected, that neither we 

nor the legislature, enslaved the Africans; but 
they enslaved one another, and we only purchas- 
ed those, whom they had made prisoners of war, 
and reduced to slavery. 

Making prisoners of war slaves, though prac- 
tised by the Romans and other ancient nations, 
and though still practised by some barbarous 
tribes, can by nO means be justified ; it is unrea- 
sonable and cruel. Whatever may be said of the 
chief authors and promoters of an unjust war, 
the common soldier, who is under command and 
obliged to obey, and, as is often the case, depriv- 
ed of the means of information as to the grounds 
of the war, certainly cannot be thought guilty of 
a crime so heinous, that for it himself and pos- 
terity deserve the dreadful punishment of per- 
petual servitude. It is a cruelty that the present 
practice of all civilized nations bears testimony 
against. Allow then the matter objected to be 
true, and it will not justify our practice of enslav- 
ing the Africans. But the matter contained in 
the objection, is only true in part. The history 
of the slave-trade is too tragical to be read with- 
out a bleeding heart and weeping eyes. 

A few of these unhappy Africans, and compa- 
ratively very few, are criminals, whose servitude 
is inflicted as a punishment for their crimes. The 
main body are innocent, unsuspecting creatures ; 
free, living in peace, doing nothing to forfeit the 
common privileges of men. They are stolen, or 
violently borne away by armed force, from their 
country, their parents, and all their tender con- 
nections ; treated with an indignity and inde- 
cency shameful to mention, and a cruelty shock- 
ing to all the tender feelings of humanity ; and 
they and their posterity forced into a state of 
servitude and wretchedness for ever. It is true, 
they are commonly taken prisoners by Africans ; 
but it is the encouragement given by Europeans 
that tempts the Africans to carry on these unpro- 
voked wars. They furnish them with the means, 
and hold out to them a reward for their plunder. 
If the Africans are thieves, the Europeans stand 
ready to receive the stolen goods ; if the former 
are robbers, the latter furnish them with arms, 
and purchase the spoil. In this case, who is the 
most criminal, the civilized European, or the 
untutored African ? The European mci'chants 
know, that they themselves are the great encour- 
agers of these wars, as they are the principal 
gainers by the event. They furnish the sinews, 
add the strength, and receive the gain. They 
know that they purchase these slaves of those 



who have no just pretence to claim them as theirs. 
The African can give the European no better claim 
than he himself has ; the European merchant can 
give us no better claim than is vested in him ; 
and that is one founded only in violence or fraud. 
In confirmation of this account might be pro- 
duced many substantial vouchers, and some who 
had spent much time in this nefai-ious traffic. 
But such as are accustomed to listen to the mel- 
ancholy tales of these unfortunate Africans, can 
not want sufficient evidence. Those who have 
seen multitudes of poor innocent children driven 
to market, and sold like beasts, have it demon- 
strated before their eyes. 

Another objection to my doctrine, and that es- 
teemed by some the most formidable, still lies 
before me ; an objection taken from the sacred 
scriptures. There will be produced on the occa- 
sion, the example of faithful Abraham, recorded 
Gen. xvii and the law of Moses, recorded in Lev. 
XXV. The injunctions laid upon servants, in the 
gospel, particularly by the Apostle Paul, will also 
be introduced here. These will all be directed, 
as formidable artillery, against me, and in defence 
of absolute slavery. 

From the passage in Genesis, it is argued, by 
the advocates for perpetual slavery, that since 
Abraham had servants born in his house and 
bought with money, they must have had servants 
for life, like our negroes : and hence they con- 
clude that it is lawful for us to purchase heathen 
servants, and if they have children born in our 
houses, to make them servants also. From the 
law of Moses it is argued, that the Israelites were 
authorized to leave the children of their servants, 
as an inheritance to their own children for ever : 
and hence it is inferred, that we may leave the 
children of our slaves as an inheritance to our 
children for ever. If this was immoral in itself, 
a just God would never have given it the sanc- 
tion of his authority ; and, if lawful in itself, we 
may safely follow the example of Abraham, or 
act according to the law of Moses. 

None, I hope, will make this objection, but 
those who believe these writings to be of divine 
authority : for if they are not so, it is little to the 
purpose to introduce them here. If you grant 
them to be of divine authority, you will also 
grant, that they are consistent wiTli themselves, 
and that one passage may help to explain anoth- 
er. Grant me this ; and then I reply to the ob- 
In the 12th verse of the 17th of Genesis, we 

find that Abraham was commanded to circumcise 
all that were born in his house, or bought with 
money. We find in the sequel of the chapter, 
that he obeyed the command without delay ; and 
actually circumcised every male in his family, 
who came under this description. This law of 
circumcision continued in force ; it was not re- 
pealed, but confirmed by the law of Moses. 

Now to the circumcised were committed the 
oracles of God ; and circumcision was a token of 
that covenant by which, among other things, the 
land of Canaan, and their various privileges in it, 
were promised to Abraham and his seed ; to all 
that were included in that covenant. All were 
included, to whom circumcision, which was the 
token of the covenant, was administered agree- 
ably to God's command. By divine appointment, 
not only Abraham and his natural seed, but he 
that was bought with money of any stranger that 
was not of his seed, was circumcised. Since the 
seed of the stranger received the token of this 
covenant, we must believe, that he was included, 
and interested in it ; that the benefits promised 
were to be conferred on him. These persons 
bought with money were no longer looked upon 
as uncircumcised and unclean, as aliens and stran- 
gers ; but were incorporated with the church and 
nation of the Israelites ; and became one people 
with them; became God's covenant people. 
Whence it appears, that suitable provision was 
made by the divine law that they should be prop- 
erly educated, made free, and enjoy all the com- 
mon privileges of citizens. It was by the divine 
law enjoined upon the Israelites, thus to circum- 
cise all the males born in their houses ; then if 
the purchased servants in question had any child- 
ren, their masters were bound by law to incor- 
porate them into their church and nation. These 
children then were the servants of the Lord, in • 
the same sense, as the natural descendants of 
Abraham were ; and therefore, according to the 
law. Lev. xxv. 42, 55, they could not be made 
slaves. The passages of scripture under consid- 
eration were so far from authorizing the Israelites 
to make slaves of their servants' children, that 
they evidently forbid it ; and therefore are so far 
from proving the lawfulness of our enslaving the 
children of the Africans, that they clearly con- 
demn the practice as criminal. 

These passages of sacred ^vrit have been wick- 
edly pressed into the service of Mammon, perhaps 
more frequently than any others ; but does it not 
now appear, that these weighty pieces of artillery 



may be fairly wrested from the enemy, and turn- 
ed upon the hosts of the Mammonites, with very 
good effect ? 

The advocates for slavery should have observ- 
ed, that in the law of Moses referred to, there is 
not the least mention made of the children of 
these servants ; it is not said that they should be 
servants, or any thing about them. No doubt, 
some of them had children, but it was unneces- 
sary to mention them ; because they were al- 
ready provided for by the law of circumcision. 

To extend the law of Moses to the children of 
these servants, is arbitrary and presumptuous ; it 
is making them include much more than is ex- 
pressed or necessarily implied in the text. It 
cannot be necessarily impUed in the expression, 
They shall ie your iond men forever ; because 
the word forever is evidently limited by the na- 
ture of the subject; and nothing appears, by 
which it can be more properly limited, than the 
life of the servants purchased. The sense then 
is simply this, they shall serve you and your 
children as long as they live. 

We cannot certainly determine how these per- 
sons were made servants at first ; nor is it ne- 
cessary we should. Whether they were persons 
who had forfeited their liberty by capital crimes ; 
or whether they had involved themselves in debt 
by folly or extravagance, and submitted to serve 
during their lives, in order to avoid a greater ca- 
lamity ; or whether they were driven to that ne- 
cessity in their younger days, for want of friends 
to take care of them, we cannot tell. This, how. 
ever, we may be sure of, that the Israelites were 
not sent by a divine law to nations three thou- 
sand miles distant, who were neither doing, nor 
meditating any thing against them, and with 
whom they had nothing to do ; in order to capti- 
vate them by fraud or force, tear them away from 
their country and all their tender connexions, bind 
them in chains, crowd them into ships, and there 
murder them by thousands, with the want of air 
and exercise ; and then condemn the survivors 
and their posterity to slavery for ever. 

But it is further objected, that the apostle ad- 
vises servants to be contented with their state of 
servitude, and obedient to their masters ; and 
though he charges their masters to use them 
well, he no where commands them to set them 

In order rightly to understand the matter, we 
should recollect the situation of Christians at that 
time. They were under the Roman yoke, the 

government of the heathen ; who were watching 
every opportunity of charging them with designs 
against their government, in order to justify their 
bloody persecutions. In such circumstances, for 
the Apostle to have proclaimed liberty to the 
slaves, would probably have exposed many of 
them to certain destruction, brought ruin on the 
Christian cause, and that without the prospect 
of freeing one single man; which would have 
been the height of madness and cruelty. It was 
wise, it was humane in him not to drop a single 
hint on this subject, farther than saying. If thou 
mayest he made free, use it rather. 

Though the Apostle acted with this prudent 
reserve, the unreasonableness of perpetual uncon- 
ditional slavery may easily be inferred from the 
righteous and benevolent doctrines and duties 
taught in the New Testament. It is quite evi- 
dent that slavery is contrary to the spirit and 
genius of the Christian religion. It is contrary 
to that excellent precept laid down by the Divine 
Author of the Christian institution, viz. What- 
soever ye loould that men should do to you do ye 
even so to them. A precept so finely calculated 
to teach the duties of justice, to inforce their ob- 
ligation, and induce the mind to obedience, that 
nothing can excel it. No man, when he views 
the hardships, the suflferings, the excessive la- 
bours, the unreasonable chastisements, the sep- 
arations between loving husbands and wives, 
between affectionate parents and children, can 
say, were I in their place, I should be content- 
ed ; I so far approve this usage, as to believe 
the law that subjects me to it, to be perfectly 
right ; that I and my posterity should be denied 
the protection of law, and by it be exposed to 
suffer all these calamities ; though I never for- 
feited my freedom, nor merited such treatment, 
more than others. No ; there is an honest some- 
thing in our breasts, that bears testimony against 
this, as unreasonable and wicked. I found it in 
my own breast near forty years ago, and through 
all the changes of time, the influence of custom, 
the arts of sophistry, and the fascinations of in- 
terest, remains here still. I beheve, it is a law of 
my nature ; a law of more ancient date than any 
act of parliament ; and which no human legisla- 
ture can ever repeal. It is a law inscribed on 
every human heart ; and may there be seen in 
legible characters, unless it is blotted by vice, or 
the eye of the mind blotted by interest. Should 
I do any thing to countenance this evil, I should 
fight against my own heart ; should I not use my 



influence to annihilate it, my own conscience 
would condemn me. 

It may be further objected, this slavery, it is 
true, is a great evil ; but still greater evils would 
follow their emancipation. Men who have laid 
out their money in purchase of slaves, and now 
have little other property, would certainly be 
great sufferers ; the slaves themselves are unac- 
quainted with the arts of life, being used to act 
only under the direction of others ; they have 
never acquired the habits of industry ; have not 
the sense of propriety and spirit of emulation 
necessary to make them useful citizens. Many 
have been so long accustomed to the meaner 
vices, habituated to lying, pilfering and stealing, 
that when pinched with want, they would com- 
mit these crimes, become pests to society, or end 
their days on the gallows. Here are evils on 
both hands, and of two evils, we should take the 

This is a good rule, when applied to natural 
evils ; but with moral evils it has nothing to do ; 
for of these we must choose neither. Of two 
evils, the one natural the other moral, we must 
always choose the natural evil ; for moral evil, 
which is the same thing as sin, can never be a 
proper object of choice. Enslaving our fellow 
creatures is a moral evil ; some of its effects are 
moral, and some natural. There is no way so 
proper to avoid the moral effects as by avoiding 
the cause. The natural evil effects of emancipa- 
tion can never be a balance for the moral evils of 
slavery, or a reason why we should prefer the 
latter to the former. 

Here we should consider on whom these evils 
are to be charged ; and we shall find they lie at 
our own doors, they are chargeable on us. We 
have brought one generation into this wretched 
state ; and shall we therefore doom all the gen- 
erations of their posterity to it ? Do we find by 
experience, that this state of slavery corrupts and 
ruins human nature ? And shall we persist in 
corrupting and ruining it in order to avoid the 
natural evils we have ah'eady produced ? Do we 
find, as the ancient poet said, that the day we 
deprive a man of freedom, we take away half his 
soul ? and shall we continue to maim souls, be- 
cause a maimed soul is unfit for society ? Strange 
reasoning indeed ! An astonishing consequence ! 
I should have looked for a conclusion quite oppo- 
site to this, viz. that we should be sensible of 
the evil of our conduct, and persist in it no longer. 
To me this appears a very powerful argument 

against slavery, and a convincing proof of its 
iniquity. It is ruining God's creatures whom he 
has made free moral agents, and accountable be- 
ings ; creatures who still belong to him, and are 
not left to us to ruin at our pleasure. 

However, the objection is weighty, and the dif- 
ficulty suggested great. But I do not think, that 
it is such as ought to deter us from our duty, or 
tempt us to continue a practice so inconsistent 
with justice and sound policy ; therefore I give it 
as my opinion, that the first thing to be done is 


properly belongs to the convention ; which they 
can easily effect, by working the principle into 
the constitution they are to frame. 

If there is not in government some fixed prin- 
ciple superior to all law, and above the power of 
legislators, there can be no stability, or consist- 
ency in it ; it will be continually fluctuating with 
the opinions, humours, passions, prejudices, or 
interests, of different legislative bodies. Liberty 
is an inherent right of man, of every man ; the 
existence of which ought not to depend upon the 
mutability of legislation ; but should be wrought 
into the very constitution of our government, and 
be made essential to it. 

Though I doubt not but some men of narrow 
minds under the influence of prejudice or covet- 
ousness, might be made uneasy and disposed to 
clamour ; yet I apprehend but little danger of 
any ill effects. The measure would be so agree- 
able to the honest dictates of conscience, the grow- 
ing sentiments of the country, and of many even 
of the slave-holders themselves, that any opposi- 
tion they might make would not be supported ; 
and they would be too wise to hazard the hasten- 
ing an event they so much dread. 

If the growing opinion of the unlawfulness of 
slavery should continue to grow, holding men in 
that state will soon be impracticable ; there will 
be no cause existing sufficient to produce the ef- 
fect ; when this shall happen, a certain event may 
suddenly take place, the consequence of which 
may be very disagreeable. This I take to be the 
proper time to prevent this evil. We may now 
do it in a peaceable manner, without going a step 
out of the way of our duty, and without hazard- 
ing what might be attended with ten-fold more 
confusion and danger. 

The slavery of the negroes began in iniquily ; 
a curse has attended it, and a curse will follow it 
National vices will be punished with national ca- 



latnities. Let us avoid these vices, that we may 
avoid the punishment which they deserve ; and 
endeavour so to to act, as to secure the approba- 
tion and smiles of Heaven. 

Holding men in slavery is the national vice of 
Virginia ; and, while a part of that state, we were 
partakers of the guilt. As a separate state, we 
are just now come to the birth ; and it depends 

upon our free choice whether we shall be born in 
this sin, or innocent of it. We now have it in 
our power to adopt it as our national crime ; or to 
bear a national testimony against it. I hope the 
latter will be our choice ; that we shall wash our 
hands of this guilt ; and not leave it in the power 
of a future legislature, ever more to stain our 
reputation or our conscience with it. 



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