Slavery in the United States
Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel slavery that existed in the United States of America in the 18th and 19th centuries after it gained independence and before the end of the American Civil War. Slavery had been introduced and practiced by the British in North America from early colonial days, and was practiced in all the Thirteen Colonies at the time of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776. After the U.S. gained its independence, states in the northern part of the country, motivated by the ideals of the revolution, outlawed the practice of slavery, whereas states in the southern part of the country continued it. As a result, the existence of slavery grew to become a major political issue in the United States throughout its practice, being contested by those who desired to end it, such as abolitionists and the Republicans, and those who desired to maintain it, such as the Democrats. In 1860, an anti-slavery president was elected, and several slave-holding states, unwilling to live under an anti-slavery leader, declared that they were leaving the U.S. as a result. The U.S. refused to recognize their claims and civil war erupted, after four years of which, the rebelling slave states surrendered and the institution was outlawed.
- Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States...
- I shudder when I think of the calamities which slavery is likely to produce in this country. You would think me mad if I were to describe my anticipations...
- Slavery in this country, I have seen hanging over it like a black cloud for half a century...
- Slavery must have differed in details in one country from that in another, but after all, it was shameful in Brazil, shameful in the United States, just as it is shameful at any other spot underneath the blue sky.
- I did more for the Russian serf in giving him land as well as personal liberty, than America did for the negro slave set free by the proclamation of President Lincoln. I am at a loss to understand how you Americans could have been so blind as to leave the negro slave without tools to work out his salvation. In giving him personal liberty, you have him an obligation to perform to the state which he must be unable to fulfill. Without property of any kind he cannot educate himself and his children. I believe the time must come when many will question the manner of American emancipation of the negro slaves in 1863. The vote, in the hands of an ignorant man, without either property or self respect, will be used to the damage of the people at large; for the rich man, without honor or any kind of patriotism, will purchase it, and with it swamp the rights of a free people.
- Alexander II, emperor of Russia, conversation with Wharton Barker, Pavlovski Palace (17 August 1879); reported in Barker, "The Secret of Russia's Friendship", The Independent (March 24, 1904), p. 647.
- So the reason there were so few slave rebellions in the United States wasn't because African slaves were actually content, as racist whites contended, or even because of brutal repression. It had to do with human nature and effective management technique. Another reason why there were so few slave rebellions was that until the 1800s, there wasn't even a context to frame a slave uprising. Until then, a slave insurrection was seen as an act of random evil or sheer insanity by the ruling class. So if the insurrection failed, it would have no resonance, politically, culturally, or otherwise. Slave uprisings weren't framed by the ruling whites as an inevitable consequence of slavery, but rather as random acts of violence by sick, ungrateful Africans. Until the 1800s, it was difficult, if not impossible, for Americans to even imagine why a slave would rebel. As historian Louis Filler wrote in The Crusade Against Slavery, "Throughout the colonial period and after the American Revolution, slavery was accepted by most Americans as a normal and inevitable aspect of their affairs." They knew and feared that slaves might rebel, but they couldn't understand why, except that there was something inherently barbarous (and ungrateful) in the Africans' nature- there were a few bad apples out there. The effective propaganda of the time said that the white man was dong a great humanitarian deed for his African slaves: civilizing them, giving them clothes and comforts that they would be denied in Africa, and teaching them the word of Christ, thereby saving their souls and giving them a chance to win a spot in Heaven. What crazy fool could argue with that logic? What kind of madman would take up arms against this?
- Mark Ames, Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (2005), p. 41-42
- Today, the inherent injustice of slavery is obvious to everyone, but this was not the case when the Declaration of Independence was composed. More devastating was the fact that radical abolitionism, which today we accept as the only sane view on slavery, was at the time ignored and pushed into the "wacko" margins along with all the other crank ideas of the time. This is how it always works with new and dangerous truths that confront injustice... The point is that real-time injustice, even of the most epic sort, is often simply not recognized as such at the time, no matter how obvious the injustice later appears. Man is hard wired to submit (adapt) to any condition and then consider it normal. Our acceptance of injustice is reinforced by the going ideology. With African slaves in America, it was Christianity that helped convince them and the white population that slavery was God's work. Well-funded, sophisticated, and multidimensional PR campaigns have always been employed to sway the general public to accept even the most counterintuitive policies, convincing people that such policies work in their own interests, and are inevitable and morally good.
- Mark Ames, Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (2005), p. 43
- A plot by slaves to march on Richmond, Virginia, in 1800, the so-called Gabriel Uprising named after its lead slave, was described by then-governor James Monroe as "strange" and blamed on the French Revolution and the Hispaniola slave uprising from a few years earlier. In other words, the future president and creator of the Monroe Doctrine, which vowed to fight against outsiders trying to meddle in our hemisphere, suddenly found these outsiders useful to explain slave unrest in his own state. Blaming the French Revolution and the slave rebellion in Hispaniola is Monroe's version of blaming Marilyn Manson and violent video games. The Gabriel Uprising was finally "put down" when twenty-seven slaves were publicly hanged. The awful truth about the Gabriel Uprising is that no one even knows if a real plot existed. In fact, it probably didn't. But fear of an uprising was real, particularly among a population that refused to face the real cause. Indeed, the intense fear of insurrection seems to match the intensity of the collective denial about its cause. This is reminiscent of the countless school shooting plots "uncovered" over the past few years.
- Mark Ames, Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (2005), p. 46
- Much like today's mainstream rush to blame Hollywood, the NRA, or other fuzzy outsiders for causing rage massacres that occur in offices and schoolyards, Americans, particularly Southerners right up to the late 1850s, blamed any slave unrest or rebellion on "outside agitators," whether on Northern abolitionist unrest or alien Jacobins. And they sincerely believed it. They couldn't even imagine that domestic conditions, that the very institution of slavery, caused slaves to rebel. It didn't make sense to them and those who suggested such a thing simply "didn't understand." To suggest that slavery as an institution and the South's culture caused black insurrection and violence was dangerous lunacy; an abolitionist was as shunned and marginalized as today's Earth Liberation Front activists. Indeed, as Harding notes, white Northern abolitionists, as late as the 1830s, were a "despised minority... [marked by] deep divisions among themselves. That's Northern abolitionists, not Southern abolitionists.
- Mark Ames, Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (2005), p. 46
- Anything, no matter how bizarre, was cited as the cause for slave rebellions except for the most obvious source: slavery.
- Mark Ames, Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (2005), p. 50
- This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And, looking upon African slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble framers of our constitution, I, for one, have ever considered if one of the greatest blessings, both for themselves and us, that God has ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness, heretofore, our wealth and power; witness their elevation and enlightenment above their race elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life, and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet, Heaven knows, no one would be willing to do more for the negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition. But Lincoln's policy is only preparing the way for their total annihilation. The South are not, nor have they been, fighting for the continuance of slavery. The first battle of Bull Run did away with that idea. Their causes since for war have been as noble and greater far than those that urged our fathers on Even should we allow they were wrong at the beginning of this contest, cruelty and injustice have made the wrong become the right, and they stand now before the wonder and admiration of the world as a noble band of patriotic heroes. Hereafter, reading of their deeds, Thermopylae will be forgotten.
- Slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than the most barbarous, unprovoked and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens against another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude, or absolute extermination, in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence.
- I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood. I had as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed, it might be done.
- John Brown, as quoted in a note that he had at his execution (2 December 1859), most sources say it was handed to the guard, but some dispute that and claim it was handed to a reporter accompaning him; as quoted in John Brown and his Men (1894) by Richard Josiah Hinton.
- This is a beautiful country.
- Many in the south once believed that slavery was a moral and political evil. That folly and delusion are gone. We see it now in its true light, and regard it as the most safe and stable basis for free institutions in the world.
- John C. Calhoun, regarding slavery (1838), as quoted in Time-Life Books The Civil War, vol. 1 (Brother Against Brother), Time Inc, New York (1983).
- This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free.
- George Carlin, as quoted in What Am I Doing in New Jersey? (1988).
- The prevailing Notion now is to Continue the most abject State of Slavery in this Common-Wealth...
- This increasing unification has well-nigh obliterated State lines so far as concerns many relations of life. Yet, in a country of such enormous expanse, there must always be certain regional differences in social outlook and economic thought. The most familiar illustration of this is found in the history of slavery. The Constitution did not interfere with slavery, except to fix a time when the foreign slave trade should be abolished. Yet within a generation the country was confronting a sharp sectional division on this issue. Changing economic conditions made slavery profitable in the south, but left it unprofitable in the north. The resulting war might have been avoided if the south had adopted a policy of ultimate abolition. But as this method was not pursued the differences grew sharper until they brought on the great conflict.
- There was not in all the colonial legislation of America one single law which recognized the rightfulness of slavery in the abstract; that in 1774 Virginia stigmatized the slave-trade as 'wicked, cruel, and unnatural'; that in the same year Congress protested against it 'under the sacred ties of virtue, honor, and love of country'; that in 1775 the same Congress denied that God intended one man to own another as a slave; that the new Discipline of the Methodist Church, in 1784, and the Pastoral Letter of the Presbyterian Church, in 1788, denounced slavery; that abolition societies existed in slave States, and that it was hardly the interest even of the cotton-growing States, where it took a slave a day to clean a pound of cotton, to uphold the system... Jefferson, in his address to the Virginia Legislature of 1774, says that 'the abolition of domestic slavery is the greatest object of desire in these colonies, where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state'; and while he constantly remembers to remind us that the Jeffersonian prohibition of slavery in the territories was lost in 1784, he forgets to add that it was lost, not by a majority of votes — for there were sixteen in its favor to seven against it — but because the sixteen votes did not represent two thirds of the States; and he also incessantly forgets to tell us that this Jeffersonian prohibition was restored by the Congress of 1785, and erected into the famous Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which was re-enacted by the first Congress of the United States and approved by the first President.
- The Democratic Party then, as now, was in open alliance with slavery, in a conspiracy against the Constitution and the peace of the country.
- If Washington or Jefferson or Madison should utter upon his native soil today the opinions he entertained and expressed upon this question, he would be denounced as a fanatical abolitionist. To declare the right of all men to liberty is sectional, because slavery is afraid of liberty and strikes the mouth that speaks the word. To preach slavery is not sectional — no: because freedom respects itself and believes in itself enough to give an enemy fair play. Thus Boston asked Senator Toombs to come and say what he could for slavery. I think Boston did a good thing, but I think Senator Toombs is not a wise man, for he went. He went all the way from Georgia to show Massachusetts how slavery looks, and to let it learn what it has to say. When will Georgia ask Wendell Phillips or Charles Sumner to come down and show her how liberty looks and speaks?
- I confess I secretly suspect the Republicanism of an orator who is more anxious to show his hearers that he respects what he calls the rights of slavery than that he loves the rights of man. If God be just and the human instinct true, slavery has no rights at all. It has only a legalized toleration. Have I a right to catch a weaker man than I, and appropriate him, his industry, and his family, forever, against his will, to my service? Because if I have, any man stronger than I has the same right over me. But if I have not, what possible right is represented by the two thousand million dollars of property in human beings in this country? It is the right of Captain Kidd on the sea, of Dick Turpin on the land. I certainly do not say that every slave-holder is a bad man, because I know the contrary. The complicity of many with the system is inherited, and often unwilling. But to rob a man of his liberty, to make him so far as possible a brute and a thing, is not less a crime against human nature because it is organized into a hereditary system of frightful proportions. A wrong does not become a right by being vested.
- As to the doctrine of slavery and the right of Christians to hold Africans in perpetual servitude, and sell and treat them as we do our horses and cattle, that, it is true, has been heretofore countenanced by the Province Laws formerly, but nowhere is it expressly enacted or established. It has been a usage, a usage which took its origin from the practice of some of the European nations, and the regulations of British government respecting the then-colonies, for the benefit of trade and wealth. But whatever sentiments have formerly prevailed in this particular or slid in upon us by the example of others, a different idea has taken place with the people of America, more favorable to the natural rights of mankind, and to that natural, innate desire of liberty, with which Heaven, without regard to color, complexion, or shape of noses-features, has inspired all the human race. And upon this ground our constitution of government, by which the people of this Commonwealth have solemnly bound themselves, sets out with declaring that all men are born free and equal, and that every subject is entitled to liberty, and to have it guarded by the laws, as well as life and property, and in short is totally repugnant to the idea of being born slaves. This being the case, I think the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and constitution; and there can be no such thing as perpetual servitude of a rational creature, unless his liberty is forfeited by some criminal conduct or given up by personal consent or contract.
- Resolved, That we reiterate with renewed energy of purpose the well considered declarations of former Conventions upon the sectional issue of Domestic slavery, and concerning the reserved rights of the States. 1. That Congress has no power under the Constitution, to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several States, and that such States are the sole and proper judges of everything appertaining to their own affairs, not prohibited by the Constitution; that all efforts of the abolitionists, or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences; and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people and endanger the stability and permanency of the Union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend of our political institutions. 2. That the foregoing proposition covers, and was intended to embrace the whole subject of slavery agitation in Congress; and therefore, the Democratic party of the Union, standing on this national platform, will abide by and adhere to a faithful execution of the acts known as the compromise measures, settled by the Congress of 1850; "the act for reclaiming fugitives from service or labor," included; which act being designed to carry out an express provision of the Constitution, cannot, with fidelity thereto, be repealed, or so changed as to destroy or impair its efficiency. 3. That the Democratic party will resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made. 4. That the Democratic party will faithfully abide by and uphold, the principles laid down in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798, and in the report of Mr. Madison to the Virginia Legislature in 1799; that it adopts those principles as constituting one of the main foundations of its political creed, and is resolved to carry them out in their obvious meaning and import. And that we may more distinctly meet the issue on which a sectional party, subsisting exclusively on slavery agitation, now relies to test the fidelity of the people, North and South, to the Constitution and the Union—
- In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky — her grand old woods — her fertile fields — her beautiful rivers — her mighty lakes, and star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked, my joy is soon turned to mourning. When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slaveholding, robbery and wrong, — when I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean, disregarded and forgotten, and that her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood of my outraged sisters, I am filled with unutterable loathing.
- The way to abolish slavery in America is to vote such men into power as well use their powers for the abolition of slavery.
- Frederick Douglass, The Constitution of the United States: Is It Pro-Slavery or Anti-Slavery? (26 March 1860), by F. Douglass. Glasgow, United Kingdom.
- My argument against the dissolution of the American Union is this. It would place the slave system more exclusively under the control of the slave-holding states, and withdraw it from the power in the northern states which is opposed to slavery. Slavery is essentially barbarous in its character. It, above all things else, dreads the presence of an advanced civilization. It flourishes best where it meets no reproving frowns, and hears no condemning voices. While in the Union it will meet with both. Its hope of life, in the last resort, is to get out of the Union. I am, therefore, for drawing the bond of the Union more completely under the power of the free states. What they most dread, that I most desire.
- Frederick Douglass, The Constitution of the United States: Is It Pro-Slavery or Anti-Slavery? (26 March 1860), by F. Douglass. Glasgow, United Kingdom.
- Southern gentlemen who led in the late rebellion have not parted with their convictions at this point, any more than at any other. They want to be independent of the negro. They believed in slavery and they believe in it still. They believed in an aristocratic class, and they believe in it still. Though they have lost slavery, one element essential to such a class, they still have two important conditions to the reconstruction of that class. They have intelligence, and they have land. Of these, the land is the more important. They cling to it with all the tenacity of a cherished superstition. They will neither sell to the negro, nor let the carpet-bagger have it in peace, but are determined to hold it for themselves and their children forever. They have not yet learned that when a principle is gone, the incident must go also; that what was wise and proper under slavery is foolish and mischievous in a state of general liberty; that the old bottles are worthless when the new wine has come; but they have found that land is a doubtful benefit, where there're no hands to till it.
- Slavery was the wickedest thing in the world, the greatest curse the earth had ever felt... The sin of slavery is so clearly written out, and so much talked against, that if any one says he don't know, and has not heard, he must, I think, be a liar.
- Slavery is not the only story about black people. It's only a small story! Don't they know if tomorrow a slave ship arrived at Elmina to carry us to America, so many Ghanaians would climb on board that this ship would sink to the bed of the ocean from our weight?
- Elolo, as quoted in Searching for Zion, The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora (2013), by Emily Raboteau, Atlantic Monthly Press, p. 223.
- We warn the North, that every one of the leading Abolitionists is agitating the negro slavery question merely as a means to attain ulterior ends ... [they are] committed to Socialism and Communism, ... to no private property, no church, no law, no government, --- to free love, free lands, free women and free churches.
- George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! or, Slaves Without Masters (A. Morris, Richmond, Virginia, 1857) page 368
- The sin of slavery is one of which it may be said that without the shedding of blood there is no remission.
- James A. Garfield, diary entry (8 June 1881).
- The will of the nation, speaking with the voice of battle and through the amended Constitution, has fulfilled the great promise of 1776 by proclaiming 'liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.' The elevation of the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787. NO thoughtful man can fail to appreciate its beneficent effect upon our institutions and people. It has freed us from the perpetual danger of war and dissolution. It has added immensely to the moral and industrial forces of our people. It has liberated the master as well as the slave from a relation which wronged and enfeebled both. It has surrendered to their own guardianship the manhood of more than 5,000,000 people, and has opened to each one of them a career of freedom and usefulness... No doubt this great change has caused serious disturbance to our Southern communities. This is to be deplored, though it was perhaps unavoidable. But those who resisted the change should remember that under our institutions there was no middle ground for the negro race between slavery and equal citizenship. There can be no permanent disfranchised peasantry in the United States. Freedom can never yield its fullness of blessings so long as the law or its administration places the smallest obstacle in the pathway of any virtuous citizen... The emancipated race has already made remarkable progress. With unquestioning devotion to the Union, with a patience and gentleness not born of fear, they have "followed the light as God gave them to see the light." They are rapidly laying the material foundations of self-support, widening their circle of intelligence, and beginning to enjoy the blessings that gather around the homes of the industrious poor. They deserve the generous encouragement of all good men. So far as my authority can lawfully extend they shall enjoy the full and equal protection of the Constitution and the laws.
- I will say, finally, that I despair of the republic while slavery exists therein. If I look up to God for success, no smile of mercy or forgiveness dispels the gloom of futurity; if to our own resources, they are daily diminishing; if to all history, our destruction is not only possible, but almost certain. Why should we slumber at this momentous crisis? If our hearts were dead to every throb of humanity; if it were lawful to oppress, where power is ample; still, if we had any regard for our safety and happiness, we should strive to crush the Vampire which is feeding upon our life-blood. All the selfishness of our nature cries aloud for a better security. Our own vices are too strong for us, and keep us in perpetual alarm; how, in addition to these, shall we be able to contend successfully with millions of armed and desperate men, as we must eventually, if slavery do not cease?
- For the present, and so long as there are living witnesses of the great war of sections, there will be people who will not be consoled for the loss of a cause which they believed to be holy. As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.
- I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.
- Slaves, though held by the laws of men, are free by the laws of God.
- That men should pray and fight for their own freedom, and yet keep others in slavery, is certainly acting a very inconsistent, as well as unjust and, perhaps, impious part, but the history of mankind is filled with instances of human improprieties.
- Prior to the late revolution, the great majority, or rather the great body of our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves, that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it. Some liberal and conscientious men had indeed, by their conduct and writings, drawn the lawfulness of slavery into question, and they made converts to that opinion.... It gives us pleasure to inform you, that a disposition favorable to our views and wishes prevails more and more, and that it has already had an influence on our laws.
- For the most triﬂing reasons, and sometimes for no conceivable 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 was unhappily introduced in their infant state. But previous to the infranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa. Yet our repeated attempts to effect this by prohibitions, and by imposing duties 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.
- I congratulate you, my dear friend, on the law of your state for suspending the importation of slaves, and for the glory you have justly acquired by endeavoring to prevent it forever. This abomination must have an end, and there is a superior bench reserved in heaven for those who hasten it.
- What many people don't know, and I point this out in my essay, is that one of the reasons we even decide to become a nation in the first place is over the issue of slavery and had we not had slavery we might be Canada. That one of the reasons that the founders wanted to break off from Britain is they were afraid that Britain was going to begin regulating slavery and maybe even moving towards abolishment. And we were making so much money off of slavery that the founders wanted to be able to continue it.
- It's not incidental that 10 of the first 12 presidents of the United States were slaveowners. This is where, at that time, this kind of very burgeoning nation was getting so much of its wealth and its power. It's what allows this kind of ragged group of colonists to believe that they could defeat the most powerful empire in the world at that time. And it went everywhere. It was north and south. We talk about the industrial revolution — where do Americans believe that the cotton that was being spun in those textile mills was coming from, was coming from enslaved people who are growing that cotton in the south. The rum industry, which was really the currency of the slave trade, that rum was being processed and sold in the United States. The banking industry that rises in New York City is rising largely to provide the mortgages and insurance policies and to finance the slave trade. The shipbuilders are northern shipbuilders. The people who are sending voyages to Africa to bring enslaved people here are all in the north. So this is a truly national enterprise but we prefer to think that it was just some backward Southerners, because that is the way that we can kind of deal with our fundamental paradox that at our beginning that we were a nation built on both the inalienable rights of man and also a nation built on bondage.
- Nikole Hannah-Jones, “The 1619 Project details the legacy of slavery in America”, PBS News Hour, (Aug 18, 2019).
- Who cares if it's legal? I don't care if it's legal. Slavery was legal once too, and not just in America, but just about every other country in the world. The powerful have always legalized their subjugation of the less powerful.
- Slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.
- Abraham Lincoln, Speech at Peoria, Illinois (1854), Online text Speech at Peoria, Illinois, in Reply to Senator Douglas (16 October 1854); published in The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (1894) Vol. 2
- When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government — that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that "all men are created equal," and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of another.
- Abraham Lincoln, Speech at Peoria, Illinois (1854), Online text Speech at Peoria, Illinois, in Reply to Senator Douglas (16 October 1854); published in The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (1894) Vol. 2
- Slaves are human beings. Men, not property. That some of the things, at least, stated about men in the Declaration of Independence apply to them as well as to us. I say, we think, most of us, that this charter of freedom applies to the slave as well as to ourselves, that the class of arguments put forward to batter down that idea, are also calculated to break down the very idea of a free government, even for white men, and to undermine the very foundations of free society. We think slavery a great moral wrong, and while we do not claim the right to touch it where it exists, we wish to treat it as a wrong in the territories, where our votes will reach it. We think that a respect for ourselves, a regard for future generations and for the God that made us, require that we put down this wrong where our votes will properly reach it. We think that species of labor an injury to free white men. In short, we think slavery a great moral, social, and political evil, tolerable only because, and so far as its actual existence makes it necessary to tolerate it, and that beyond that, it ought to be treated as a wrong.
- Slavery is wrong.
- One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865
- I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place and work for me–and I think He has–I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right because I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God. I have told them that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and Christ and reason say the same; and they will find it so. Douglas doesn't care whether slavery is voted up or voted down, but God cares, and humanity cares, and I care; and with God’s help I shall not fail. I may not see the end; but it will come and I shall be vindicated; and these men will find that they have not read their Bibles aright.
- Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes.
- Another of my wishes is to depend as little as possible on the labor of slaves.
- Where slavery exists, the republican theory becomes still more fallacious.
- James Madison, Vices of the Political System of the United States (April 1787), Papers 9:350-51.
- We have seen the mere distinction of color made, in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.
- 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 National character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution.
- It might prove a great encouragement to manumission in the southern parts of the U.S. and even afford the best hope yet presented of putting an end to the slavery, in which not less than 600,000 unhappy Negroes are now involved...
- The United States, having been the first to abolish within the extent of their authority the transportation of the natives of Africa into slavery, by prohibiting the introduction of slaves and by punishing their citizens participating in the traffic, cannot but be gratified at the progress made by concurrent efforts of other nations toward a general suppression of so great an evil.
- The great evil under which the nation labors.
- I have long thought that our vacant territory was the resource which, in some mode or other, was most applicable and adequate as a gradual cure for the portentous evil.
- States are much at variance in the civic character giving to free persons of colour; those of most of the States, not excepting such as have abolished slavery, imposing various disqualifications, which degrade them from the rank and rights of white persons. All these perplexities develop more and more the dreadful fruitfulness of the original sin of the African trade.
- I do not mean to discuss the question how far slavery and farming are incompatible. Our opinions agree as to the evil, moral, political, and economical, of the former.
- Slavery is, as you justly complain, a sad blot on our free country.
- If I take the wages of everyone here, individually it means nothing, but collectively all of the earning power or wages that you earned in one week would make me wealthy. And if I could collect it for a year, I'd be rich beyond dreams. Now, when you see this, and then you stop and consider the wages that were kept back from millions of Black people, not for one year but for 310 years, you'll see how this country got so rich so fast. And what made the economy as strong as it is today. And all that slave labor that was amassed in unpaid wages, is due someone today. And you're not giving us anything when we say that it's time to collect.
- Malcolm X, "Twenty million black people in prison," in Malcolm X: The Last Speeches, p. 51.
- The slavery controversy in the United States presents a case of the most violent antagonism of interests and opinions. No persuaions, no entreaties or appeals, can allay the fierce contention between the two mutually repulsive elements of our system.
- Mississippi Free Trader (28 August 1857).
- Far from there being a consensus on the acceptance of slavery, sectional differences between the north and the south about the practice of it existed, and were subject of political contentions, from the beginning of the American nation!
- To Americans, that some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of Justice and Humanity, and even good policy, by a succession of eminent men, and several late publications.
- In America, the Democratic Party thinks slavery is 'indispensable to good government', and is 'the normal condition of one seventh part of the people'.
- Theodore Parker, "The relation of slavery to a Republican form of government" (26 May 1858), New England Anti-Slavery Convention.
- If Americans should now turn back, submit again to slavery, it would be a betrayal so base the human race might better perish.
- Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine (1943), p. 292.
- Slavery isn't a uniquely American sin, but rather one of mankind throughout the course of history.
- I have never been in favor of the abolition of slavery until since this war has determined me in the conviction that it is a greater sin than our Government is able to stand... It is opposed to the Spirit of the age – and in my opinion this Rebellion is but the death struggle of the overgrown monster.
- Eli K. Pickett, U.S. sergeant, in a letter to his wife (27 March 1863).
- Twenty years have passed since that event; it is almost too new in history to make a great impression, but the time will come when it will loom up as one of the greatest of man's achievements, and the name of Abraham Lincoln — who of his own will struck the shackles from the limbs of four millions of people — will be honored thousands of years from now as man's name was never honored before.
- Resolved, That as slavery was the cause, and now constitutes the strength of this Rebellion, and as it must be, always and everywhere, hostile to the principles of Republican Government, justice and the National safety demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic; and that, while we uphold and maintain the acts and proclamations by which the Government, in its own defense, has aimed a deathblow at this gigantic evil, we are in favor, furthermore, of such an amendment to the Constitution, to be made by the people in conformity with its provisions, as shall terminate and forever prohibit the existence of Slavery within the limits of the jurisdiction of the United States.
- If the Negroes, numbering one-eighth of the population of these United States, would only cast their votes in the interest of the Democratic Party, all open measures against them would be immediately suspended and their rights as American citizens recognized. But as to the real results of such a state of affairs, and speaking in behalf of those with whom I am conversant, I can only say that we love freedom more, vastly more, than slavery. Consequently, we hope to keep clear of the Democrats! I say to the entire membership of the Democratic Party, that upon your hands rests the blood of the loyal men of the south. Disclaim it as you will; the stain is there to prove your criminality before God and the world in the day of retribution.
- Even though the state had slaves, the Founders proclaimed all men had equal rights.
- Slaves shall be deemed, taken, reputed, and adjudged to be chattels personal in the hands of their masters, and possessions to all intents and purposes whatsoever.
- America has gone further than any other society in establishing equality of rights. There is nothing distinctively American about slavery or bigotry. Slavery has existed in virtually every culture, and xenophobia, prejudice and discrimination are worldwide phenomena... No country expended more treasure and blood to get rid of slavery than the United States. While racism remains a problem, this country has made strenuous efforts to eradicate discrimination, even to the extent of enacting policies that give legal preference in university admissions, jobs, and government contracts to members of minority groups. Such policies remain controversial, but the point is that it is extremely unlikely that a racist society would have permitted such policies in the first place. And surely African Americans like Jesse Jackson are vastly better off living in America than they would be if they were to live in, say, Ethiopia or Somalia.
- Dinesh D'Souza, "10 things to celebrate: Why I'm an anti-anti-American" (29 June 2003), SFGate.
- Slavery existed all over the world. The Egyptians had slaves. The Chinese had slaves. The Africans did. American Indians had slaves long before Columbus, and tragically, slavery continues today in many countries. What's uniquely western is the abolition of slavery, and what's uniquely American is the fighting of a great war to end it.
- Did America owe something to the slaves whose labor had been stolen? ... That debt... is best discharged through memory, because the slaves are dead and their descendants... are better off as a consequence of their ancestors being hauled from Africa to America.
- Dinesh D'Souza, America: Imagine a World without Her (2014), Ch. 8.
- In the early 1970s Muhammad Ali fought for the heavyweight title against George Foreman. The fight was held in the African nation of Zaire; it was insensitively called the "rumble in the jungle." Ali won the fight, and upon returning to the United States, he was asked by a reporter, "Champ, what did you think of Africa?" Ali replied, "Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat!" There is a characteristic mischievous pungency to Ali's remark, yet it also expresses a widely held sentiment. Ali recognizes that for all the horror of slavery, it was the transmission belt that brought Africans into the orbit of Western freedom. The slaves were not better off—the boat Ali refers to brought the slaves through a horrific Middle Passage to a life of painful servitude—yet their descendants today, even if they won't admit it, are better off. Ali was honest enough to admit it.
- Dinesh D'Souza, America: Imagine a World without Her (2014), Ch. 8.
- The quote that Dinesh D'Souza attributes to Muhammad Ali appears to have no valid origin, almost all other references are others referencing Dinesh D'Souza.
- What was special about America was not that it had slavery, which existed all over the world, but that Americans were among the very few peoples who began to question the morality of holding human beings in bondage. That was not yet a majority view among Americans in the 18th century, but it was not even a serious minority view.
- Prior to the Civil War Southern slavery was America's most profound and vexatious social problem. More than any other problem, slavery nagged at the public conscience; offering no easy solution, it demanded statesmanship of uncommon vision, wisdom, and boldness. This institution deserves close study if only because its impact upon the whole country was so disastrous. But, in addition, such a study has a particular urgency, because American Negroes still await the full fruition of their emancipation—still strive to break what remains of the caste barriers first imposed upon them in slavery days. With the historian it is an article of faith that knowledge of the past is a key to understanding the present. In this instance I firmly believe that one must know what slavery meant to the Negro and how he reacted to it before one can comprehend his more recent tribulations.
- There is also a second, tragic side to the story of how labor scarcity influenced governance in North America, and this too began in 1619. The same environmental conditions that pushed colonial governments to offer political rights to whites created incentives to establish a system of slavery for Africans. Whether you enjoyed political rights or were enslaved depended on the quality of what economists would call your “outside option.” Apart from those who were taken involuntarily, and we will see that these cases existed, British migrants faced a choice of not coming to the New World in the first place. Africans arriving in the New World did not have this option. Once in the New World, British migrants unhappy with the conditions on offer could often manage to move elsewhere, but African slaves attempting to escape could hardly expect to meld into the general population, and we know that as early as the Elizabethan period, Africans were seen and portrayed negatively by the English. Political rights for whites and slavery for Africans derived from the same underlying environmental condition of labor scarcity. It would take three hundred and fifty years after 1619 before African Americans would durably enjoy the same voting rights as others. That African Americans did finally secure the vote points to another feature of modern democracy: precisely because it is based on the idea of broad participation, those excluded have a particularly powerful argument for demanding the vote.
- David Stasavage, The Decline and Rise of Democracy: A Global History from Antiquity to Today (2020), pp. 19-20
- Let us, then, bestow a few thoughts upon what the 'Abolition of Slavery' means. In the first place, it means the annihilation and end of all negro labor, agricultural especially, over the whole South. It means a loss to the planters of the South of, at least, FOUR BILLION dollars, by having this labor taken from them; and a loss, in addition, of FIVE BILLION dollars more, in lands, mills, machinery, and other great interests, which will be rendered valueless by the want of slave labor to cultivate the lands, and the loss of the crops which give to those interests life and prosperity. It means, again, the turning loose upon the turning loose upon society, without the salutary restraints to which they are now accustomed, more than four millions of a very poor and ignorant population, to ramble in idleness over the country until their wants should drive most of them, first to petty thefts, and afterwards to the bolder crimes of robbery and murder... But the abolition of slavery means, further, that the negro is not only to be made free, but equal also to his former master, in political and civil rights; and , as far as it can be done, in social privileges. The planter and his family are not only to be reduced to poverty and want, by the robbery of his property, but to complete the refinement of the indignity, they are to be degraded to the level of an inferior race, be jostled by them in their paths, and intruded upon, and insulted over by rude and vulgar upstarts. Who can describe the loathsomeness of such an intercourse;—the constrained intercourse between refinement reduced to poverty, and swaggering vulgarity suddenly elevated to a position which it is not prepared for? It has hereto fore resulted in a war between the races, and the extermination of one or the other; or it has become so intolerable, that expatriation has been preferred as an evil more easily to be borne... It will be to the non-slaveholder, equally with the largest slaveholder, the obliteration of caste and the deprivation of important privileges... The color of the white man is now, in the South, a title of nobility in his relations as to the negro... In the Southern slaveholding States, where menial and degrading offices are turned over to be per formed exclusively by the Negro slave, the status and color of the black race becomes the badge of inferiority, and the poorest non-slaveholder may rejoice with the richest of his brethren of the white race, in the distinction of his color. He may be poor, it is true; but there is no point upon which he is so justly proud and sensitive as his privilege of caste; and there is nothing which he would resent with more fierce indignation than the attempt of the Abolitionist to emancipate the slaves and elevate the Negroes to an equality with himself and his family.
- John Townsend, The Doom of Slavery in the Union: It's Safety Out of It (29 October 1860), as quoted in "Why Non-Slaveholding Southeners Fought" (25 January 2011), by Gordon Rhea, Civil War Trust.
- Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery. Throughout the United States and around the world, human trafficking tears apart communities, fuels criminal activity, and threatens the national security of the United States. It is estimated that millions of individuals are trafficked around the world each year — including into and within the United States. As the United States continues to lead the global fight against human trafficking, we must remain relentless in resolving to eradicate it in our cities, suburbs, rural communities, tribal lands, and on our transportation networks. Human trafficking in the United States takes many forms and can involve exploitation of both adults and children for labor and sex.
- Civil rights, as we may remember, are reducible to three primary heads; the right of personal security; the right of personal liberty; and the right of private property. In a state of slavery, the two last are wholly abolished, the person of the slave being at the absolute disposal of his master; and property, what he is incapable, in that state, either of acquiring, or holding, in his own use. Hence, it will appear how perfectly irreconcilable a state of slavery is to the principles of a democracy, which form the basis and foundation of our government.
- Whoever, being a citizen or resident of the United States and a member of the crew or ship's company of any foreign vessel engaged in the slave trade, or whoever, being of the crew or ship's company of any vessel owned in whole or in part, or navigated for, or in behalf of, any citizen of the United States, lands from such vessel, and on any foreign shore seizes any person with intent to make that person a slave, or decoys, or forcibly brings, carries, receives, confines, detains or transports any person as a slave on board such vessel, or, on board such vessel, offers or attempts to sell any such person as a slave, or on the high seas or anywhere on tide water, transfers or delivers to any other vessel any such person with intent to make such person a slave, or lands or delivers on shore from such vessel any person with intent to sell, or having previously sold, such person as a slave, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned...
- There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery.
- Not only do I pray for it, on the score of human dignity, but I can clearly forsee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union, by consolidating it in a common bond of principle.
- Attributed to George Washington, John Bernard, Retrospections of America, 1797–1811, p. 91 (1887). This is from Bernard's account of a conversation he had with Washington in 1798. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
- All the leading Founders affirmed on many occasions that blacks are created equal to whites and that slavery is wrong... The whole Revolution was an antislavery movement, for the colonists. The political logic of the Revolution pointed inexorably to the eventually abolition of slavery for the blacks as well... Americans did come to understand the meaning of their principles more fully as the Revolution proceeded. But with respect to slavery, they knew by the end of the founding era exactly what their principles meant. The more they based their arguments on the natural rights of all men, and not just the rights of Englishmen, the more the Americans noticed, by the same logic, that enslavement of blacks was also unjust... Slaves themselves appealed to the natural rights argument. In our time, the principles of the Revolution have been denounced as 'white' or 'Eurocentric'. It is true that a tiny minority of European philosophers, who opposed the convictions of most whites of their day, first published those principles to the world. But whoever may have discovered them, American whites and blacks alike came to believe that the natural rights of mankind, like the laws of gravity discovered by Newton, were not some ethnocentric ideology but God's own truth.
- In the short term, slavery was bound to continue, with the constitution or without it. If liberty for anyone was to have a future in America, the indispensable first step was a stronger national government on a democratic basis. Even the anti-federalist opponents of the constitution admitted this much. Abolition would have to wait.
- When it became clear that slavery was not going away by itself, Americans faced a choice. They could keep their slaves and reject their founding principles. Or they could affirm their principles and limit the growth of slavery, placing it, in Lincoln's words, 'in the course of ultimate extinction'.
- The founders believed that their compromises with slavery would be corrected in the course of American history after the union was formed. Their belief turned out to be true, although the new birth of freedom proved to be less inevitable and more costly than they had anticipated. The civil war fulfilled the antislavery promise of the American founding. Lincoln was right, and today's consensus is wrong. America really was 'conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal'. Under the principles of the declaration and the law of the constitution, blacks won their liberty, became equal citizens, gained the right to vote, and eventually had their life, liberty, and property equally protected by the law. But today the founding, which made all this possible is denounced as unjust and anti-black. Surely that uncharitable verdict deserves to be reversed.