“The Declaration of Independence,” John Trumbull
“But all, whose feelings and reason have not been perverted, must be shocked at the treatment which the unhappy Africans and their descendants still almost universally experience in the western world.” — Letter to the Editor, Gazette of the United-States, April 21, 1792
Tomorrow has never felt more uncertain. Fascist anti-American sentiment is a growing and grave threat to our fragile democracy. The Right is openly attempting to amass enough power to steal the next election by perverting our law to satisfy their will, utterly indifferent to the people's will.
It's an exhausting fight that so often feels frivolous. Insurmountable. No one knows the future, and you should be leery of those who proclaim they do—they're charlatans. It's not easy to give up, to throw in the towel on something so important, but the fight for our democracy can grind us all down where the only smart choice—for our mental health, relationships, safety—is to walk away.
We all do—and we often come back.
At those trying times, a look back into our history gives me the hope to keep fighting. A reminder that there have always been Americans struggling to make America a more perfect union, ensuring this country lives up to its vaulted promises while never forgetting the brutal fight to get where we are today. But these people are often forgotten to history, ostracized and tossed aside for the fantastically simplified myths designed to satiate the perverted patriotism of America's most cowardly—those people proclaiming they’re scared of our history, frightened by children’s books.
Our history is filled with countless stories of people trying to do the right thing and change this country for the better. This is an effort to highlight some of those enlightened Americans who knew better—and who tried to do something about it.
Here's the first, hopefully, in a series. It’s a 1792 Letter to the Editor signed by Socrates.
For The Gazette Of The United Sates
Many of the enlightened and humane have for some time indulged a pleasing hope that the slave-trade, and perhaps slavery itself, will at length be abolished. What events of this kind time may produce, cannot be ascertained at present.
But all, whose feelings and reason have not been perverted, must be shocked at the treatment which the unhappy Africans and their descendants still almost universally experience in the western world.
Accustomed indeed continually, and perhaps from infancy, to treat their slaves with contempt and inhumanity, slave holders seem frequently insensible of the cruelty of their conduct. Ask most of the West-India gentlemen whether the Blacks are cruelly treated in the islands?
"Not in general with any unnecessary severity," they will reply, and talk of their various privileges—privileges which are themselves the most unequivocal proofs that almost every thing is denied them which can render life agreeable, and every thing inflicted which a tyrant's caprice and passion may dictate.
In the view of the West-Indian, neither nakedness, hunger, excessive labor, nor mangling stripes, are unnecessary severities to negroes. It is asserted that the Africans are, in the Islands, used "with kindness and humanity"—and at the same time acknowledged, that thousands are annually imported.
How amiably mild must that treatment be which destroys the human species so much more rapidly than they propagate!—"Sparta teemed with slaves at the time of her highest fame as a valiant republic."
Let it be added, that it was customary for this republic to send out her citizens at proper intervals to massacre coolly the stoutest of the Helotes, lest they should revolt.
In the Weft-Indies, the slaves perish by millions in a slower and more horrible way. But let us turn from this disagreeable prospect—let us next ask an inhabitant of any of the Southern States, whether slaves are there barbarously treated? “Not at all (says he) the invectives on that head are mere calumny and falsehood."
Enquire more particularly as to their food, clothing, habitations, discipline, &c, and you will find that their peck of Indian corn is regularly measured out to then, a pittance just sufficient to prevent their starving—that they have the privilege of exhibiting to gentlemen and (surprizing favor!) even to young ladies, a great proportion if not the whole of their glossy black bodies—that their hovels, when they are not entirely destitute of shelter, are perhaps superior to hog flyes—and finally, that salt is sometimes kindly applied to the furrow which the lash has made in their flesh.
The inhabitants of the middle and Northern States will severely censure the West-Indian and Southern slave-holders. The humane European, and unprejudiced American citizen, will in their turn justly account these very censurers, or rather some of them, guilty to a greater or less degree of the same barbarity.
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Who that has resided in any even of the last mentioned States, where there is a considerable number of slaves, has not seen many a poor black destitute of clothing necessary to keep out the wintry blast, or even to cover their nakedness from the eye?—Who has not heard the well attested relations concerning many a slave who has experienced the continually the pang of hunger, whom not sickness itself could excuse from an excessive and perhaps unhealthy talk?—in whose ears have not, at one time or another, the cries of drifters and anguish resounded—cries for mercy answering the unrestrained strokes of the lash, which leave their marks for life?—while such treatment of slaves proceeds from persons dead to every emotion but those of pride, avarice and passion, reformation from them is scarcely to be expected.
We can but lament that the fate of men should be decided by such brutes. It is, however, a fact too well known to be denied, that slaves often experience such treatment from persons who profess continually to obey the mild and equitable precepts of Christianity—from persons who pride themselves in their sensibility of foul—from persons who look on freedom as an invaluable right—from men otherwise the most respectable and the women most accomplished. But surely in this view, feelings, delicacy, softness of manners, humanity, love of liberty and religion, are all deserted for that which is despicable, cruel, and vicious.
Gazette of the United-States, April 21, 1792
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