|The Gathering Storm Threat of Civil War Over Abolitionist Petitions, March 16, 1790|
Threat of Civil War Over Abolitionist Petitions, March 16, 1790
In the Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, (Gales & Seaton’s History), 1st Congress, 2nd Session, March 16, 1790, pages 1500 to 1524, is an early Congressional debate in response to the same two petitions previously elsewhere mentioned on this website and commented on by Tucker. The following is a response by Smith, one of five Representatives from South Carolina.
What is of interest is a lengthy defense of slavery by a House Representative William Smith, on pages 1503 to 1514. It also mentions that Smith, “read some extracts from Mr. Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia were by nature an inferior race of beings; and that whites would always feel a repugnance at mixing their blood with that of the blacks.” However, I think the following extract shows that the threat of violent resistance to preserve slavery is present from the beginning of our nation’s history.
May 17, 1790, pages 1503 to 14, Gales & Seaton’s History of Debates in Congress, Annals of Congress, 1st Congress, 2nd session.
Mr. Smith (OF S.C.) said he lamented much that this subject had been brought before the House; that he had deprecated it from the beginning, because he foresaw that it would produce a very unpleasant discussion; that it was a subject of a nature to excite the alarms of the Southern members, who could not view, without anxiety, any interference in it on the part of Congress. He remarked, that as they were resolved into a Committee of the whole on the powers of Congress respecting slavery and the slave trade, in consequence of certain memorials from the people called Quakers and the Pennsylvania Society for the abolition of slavery, the whole subject, as well as the contents of these memorials, was under consideration. He should therefore enter into the business at large, and offer some comments on the contents of the memorials.
The memorials from Quakers contained, in his opinion, a very indecent attack on the character of those States which possesses slaves. It reprobates slavery as bringing down reproach on the Southern States, and expatiated on the detestation due to the licentious wickedness of the African trade, and the inhuman tyranny and blood guiltiness inseparable from it. He could not but consider it as calculated to fix a stigma of the blackest nature on the State he had the honor to represent, and to hold it citizens up to public view as men divested of every principle of honor and humanity. Considering it in that light, he felt it incumbent on him not only to refute those atrocious calumnies, but to resent the improper language made use of by the memorialists. Before he entered into the discussion, he begged to observe, that when any class of men deviated from their own religious principles, and officiously came forward in a business with which they had no concern, and attempted to dictate to Congress, he could not ascribe their conduct to any other cause but to an intolerant spirit of persecution. This application came with the worst grace possible from the Quakers, who professed never to intermeddle in politics, but to submit quietly to the laws of the country.
He had met with a publication which came out in the year 1775, (at a period when the affairs of America were in a very desponding situation,) entitled “The ancient Testimony and Principles of the Quakers.” It set forth that their religious principles restrained them from having any hand or connivance in setting up and putting down Kings and Governments; that this was God’s peculiar prerogative for causes best known to himself; that it was not their business to be busy-bodies above their stations, but only to pray for the King and safety of their nation, that they might live a quiet and peaceable life, under the Government which God was pleased to set over them. If these were really their sentiments, why did not they abide by them? Why did not they leave that which they call God’s work, to be managed by himself? Those principles should instruct them to wait with patience and humility for the event of all public measures, and to receive that event as the Divine Will. Their conduct on this occasion proved that they did not believe what they professed, or that they had not virtue enough to practice what they believed. Did they mean to rob the Almighty of the what they call his prerogative? And were they not partial ministers of their own acknowledged principles? It was difficult to credit their pretended scruples; because, while they were exclaiming against the Mammon of this world, they were hunting after it with a step steady as time, and an appetite keen as the grave.
The memorial from the Pennsylvania Society applied, in express terms, for an emancipation of slaves, and the report of the committee appeared to hold out the idea that Congress might exercise the power of emancipating after the year 1808; for it said that Congress could not emancipate slaves prior to that period. He remarked, that either the power of manumission still remained with the several States, or it was exclusively vested in Congress; for no one would contend that such a power would be concurrent in the several States and the United States. He then showed that the State Governments clearly retained all the rights of sovereignty which they had before the establishment of the Constitution, unless they were exclusively delegated to the United States; and this could only exist where the Constitution granted, in express terms, an exclusive authority to the Union, or where it granted in one instance an authority to the Union, and in another prohibited the States from exercising the like authority, or where it granted an authority to the Union, to which a similar authority in the States would be repugnant.
He applied these principles to the case in question; and asked, whether the Constitution had, in expressed terms, vested the Congress with the power of manumission? Or whether it restrained the States from exercising that power? Or whether there was any authority given to the Union, with which the exercise of this right by any State would be inconsistent? If these questions were answered in the negative, it followed that Congress had not an exclusive right to the power of manumission. Had it a concurrent right with the States? No gentleman would assert it, because the absurdity was obvious. For a State regulation on the subject might differ from a Federal regulation; in which case one or the other must give way. As the laws of the United States were paramount to the individual States, the Federal regulation would abrogate those of the States, consequently the States would thus be divested of a power which it was evident they now had, and might exercise whenever they thought proper. But admitting that Congress, had authority to manumit the slaves in America, and were disposed to exercise it, would the Southern States acquiesce in such a measure without a struggle? Would the citizens of that country tamely suffer their property to be torn from them? Would even the citizens of the other states, which did not possess this property, desire to have all the slaves let loose upon them? Would not such a step be injurious even to the slaves themselves? It was well known that they were an indolent people, improvident, averse to labor: when emancipated, they would either starve or plunder. Nothing was a stronger proof of the absurdity of emancipation than the fanciful schemes which the friends to the measure had suggested, one was to ship them out of the country, and colonize them in some foreign region. This plan admitted that it would be dangerous to retain them within the United States after they were manumitted: but surely it would be inconsistent with humanity to banish these people to a remote country, and to expel them from their native soil and from places to which they had a local attachment. It would be no less repugnant to the principles of freedom, not to allow them to remain here, if they desired it. How could they be called freemen, not to allow them to remain here, if they desired it. How could be called freemen, if they were, against their consent, to be expelled the country? Thus did the advocates for emancipation acknowledge that the blacks, when liberated, ought not to remain here to stain the blood of the whites by a mixture of the races.
Another plan was to liberate all those who should be born after a certain limited period. Such a scheme would produce this very extraordinary phenomenon, that the mother would be a slave and her child would be free. These young emancipated negroes, by associating with their enslaved parents, would participate in all the debasement which slavery is said to occasion. But allowing that a practicable scheme of general emancipation could be devised, there can be no doubt that the two races would still remain distinct. It is known, from experience, that the whites had such an idea of their superiority over the blacks, that they never even associated with them; even the warmest friends to the blacks kept them at a distance, and rejected all intercourse with them. Could any instance be quoted of their intermarrying; the Quakers asserted that nature had made all men equal, and that the difference of color should not place negroes on a worse footing in society than the whites; but had any of them ever married a negro, or would any of them suffer their children to mix their blood with that of a black? They would view with abhorrence such an alliance.
Mr. S. then read some extracts from Mr. Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia, proving that negroes were by nature an inferior race of beings; and that the whites would always feel a repugnance at mixing their blood with that of the blacks. Thus, he proceeded, that respectable author, who was desirous of countenancing emancipation, was, on consideration of the subject, induced candidly to allow that the difficulties appeared insurmountable. The friends to manumission had said, that by prohibiting the further importation of slaves, and by liberating those born after a certain period, a gradual emancipation might take place, and that in the process of time the very color would be extinct, and there would be none but whites. He was at a loss to learn how that consequence would result. If the blacks did not intermarry with the whites, they would remain black to the end of time; for it was not contended that liberating them would whitewash them; if they would intermarry with the whites, then the white race would be extinct, and the American people would be all the mulatto breed. In whatever light, therefore, the subject was viewed, the folly of emancipation was manifest. He trusted these considerations would prevent any further application to Congress on this point, and would so far have weight with the committee as to reject the clause altogether, or at least to declare, in plain terms, that Congress has no right whatever to manumit the slaves of this country.
Various objections, said he, had at different times been alleged against the abominable practice, as it had been called, of one man exercising dominion over another; but slavery was no new thing in the world. The Romans, the Greeks, and other nations of antiquity, held slaves at the time Christianity first dawned on society, and the professors of its mild doctrines never preached against it. [Here Mr. S. read a quotation from the Roman and Grecian History, and from some accounts of the Government and manners of the people of Africa, before they had any knowledge of the African traders, from which it appeared that slavery was not disapproved of by the Apostles when they went about diffusing the principles of Christianity; and that it was not owing to the African trade, as had been alleged, that the people of Africa made war on each other.]
[Another objection against slavery was, that the number of slaves in the Southern States weakened that part of the Union, and incase of invasion would require a greater force to protect it. Negroes, it was said, would not fight; but he would ask whether it was owing to their being black or to their being slaves; if to their being black, then unquestionably emancipating them would not remedy the evil, for they would still remain black; if it was owing to their being slaves, he denied the position; for it was an undeniable truth, that in many countries slaves made excellent soldiers. In Russia, Hungary, Poland, peasants were slaves, and yet were brave troops. In Scotland, not many years ago, the Highland peasants were absolute slaves to their lairds, and they were renowned for their bravery. The Turks were as much enslaved as the negroes ― their property and lives were at the absolute disposal of the Sultan, yet they fought with undaunted courage. Many other instances might be quoted, but those would suffice to refute the fact. Had experience proved that negroes would not make good soldiers? He did not assert that they would, but they had never been tried; discipline was every thing; white militia made but indifferent soldiers before they were disciplined. It was well known that according to the present art of war, a soldier was a mere machine, and he did not see why a black machine was not as good as a white one; in one respect the black troops would have the advantage in appearing more horrible in the eyes of the enemy. But admitting that they would not fight, to what would the argument lead? Undoubtedly to show that the Quakers, Moravians, and all the non-resisting and non-fighting sects, constitute the weakness of the country. Did they contribute to strengthen the country against invasion by staying at home and joining the invader as soon as he was successful? But they furnished money, he should be told, and paid substitutes; and did not the slaves, by increasing the agriculture of the country, add to its wealth, and thereby increase its strength? Did they not moreover perform many laborious services in the camp and in the field, assist in transporting baggage, conveying artillery, throwing up fortifications, and thus increase the numbers in the ranks by supplying their places in these services? Nor was it necessary that every part of the empire should furnish fighting men; one part supplied men, another money; one part was strong in population, another in valuable exports, which added to the opulence of the whole. Great Britain obtained no soldiers from her East and West India settlements, were they therefore useless? She was obliged to send troops to protect them, but their valuable trade furnished here with means of paying those troops.
Another objection was, that the public opinion was against slavery. How did that appear? Were there any petitions on the subject excepting that from the Pennsylvania Society and a few Quakers? ―And were they to judge for the whole Continent? Were the citizens of the Northern and Eastern States to dictate to congress on a measure in which the Southern States, and they were the only proper judges of what was for their interest. The toleration of slavery in the several states was a matter of internal regulation and policy, in which each State had a right to do as she pleased, and no other state had any right to intermeddle with her policy or laws. If the citizens of the Northern states were displeased with the toleration of slavery in the southern states, the latter were equally disgusted with some things tolerated in the former. He had mentioned on a former occasion the dangerous tenets and pernicious practices of the sect of Shaking Quakers, who preached against matrimony, and whose doctrine and example, if they prevailed, would either depopulate the United States, or people it with a spurious race. However the people of South Carolina reprobated the gross and immoral conduct of these Shakers, they had not petitioned Congress to expel them from the Continent, though they thought such a measure would be serviceable to the United States. The Legislature of South Carolina had prohibited theatrical representations, deeming them improper; but they did not trouble Congress with an application to abolish them in New York and Philadelphia. ― The Southern citizens might also consider the toleration of Quakers as an injury to the community, because in time of war they would not defend their country from the enemy, and in time of peace they were interfering in the concerns of others, and doing every thing in their power to excite the slaves in the Southern States to insurrection; not withstanding which, the people of those States had not required the assistance of Congress to exterminate the Quakers.
But he could not help observing, that this squeamishness was very extraordinary at this time. The Northern States knew that the Southern States had slaves before they confederated with them. If they had such an abhorrence for slavery, why, said Mr. S., did they not cast us off and reject our alliance? The truth was, that the best informed part of the citizens of the Northern States knew that slavery was so ingrafted into the policy of the Southern States, that it could not be eradicated without tearing up by the roots their happiness, tranquility, and prosperity; that if it were an evil, it was one for which there was no remedy, and, therefore, like wise men, they acquiesced in it. We, on the other hand, knew that the Quaker doctrines had taken such deep root in some of the States, that all resistance to them must be useless: we therefore made a compromise on both sides, we took each other with our mutual bad habits and respective evils, for better or worse, the Northern States adopted use with our slaves, and we adopted them with their Quakers. There was then an implied compact between the Northern and Southern people, that no step should be taken to injure the property of the latter, or to disturb their tranquility. It was therefore with great pain he had viewed the anxiety of some of the members to pay such uncommon respect to the memorialists, as even to set aside the common rules of proceeding and attempt to commit the memorials the very day they were presented, though the Southern members had solicited one day’s delay. Such proceedings had justly raised an alarm in the minds of himself and his Southern colleagues; and feeling that alarm, they would have acted a dishonorable part to their constituents had they not expressed themselves with that warmth and solicitude which some gentlemen had disapproved.
A proper consideration of this business must convince every candid mind, that emancipation would be attended with one or other of these consequences; either that a mixture of the races would degenerate the whites, without improving the blacks, or that it would create two separate classes of people in the community involved in inveterate hostility, which would terminate in the massacre and extirpation of one or the other, as the Moors were expelled from Spain and the Danes from England. The negroes would not be benefited by it; free negroes never improve in talents, never grow rich, and continue to associate with the people of their own color. This is owing either to the natural aversion the whites entertain towards them, and an opinion of the superiority of their race, or to the natural attachment the blacks have to those of their own color; in either case it proves, that they will; after manumission continue a distinct people, and have separate interests. The author already quoted has provided that they are an inferior race even to the Indians.
After the last war, a number of negroes which had been stolen from the Southern States, and carried to England, either quitted the persons who had carried them there, or were abandoned by them. Unable to provide for themselves, and rejected from the society of the common people of England, they were begging about the streets of London in great numbers; they supplicated captains of vessels to carry them back to their owners in America, preferring slavery there to freedom in England. Many of them were shipped to Africa by the humanity of the English, and were either butchered or made slaves by their savage countrymen, or reshipped for sale to the plantations.
But some persons have been of the opinion, that if the further importation of slaves could be prohibited, there would be a gradual extinction of the species. Having show the absurdity of liberating the postnati without extending it to all the slaves old and young, and the great absurdity and even impracticability of extending it to all, I shall say a few words with regard to the extinction. That would be impossible, because they increase; to occasion an extinction, Congress must prohibit all intercourse between the sexes; this would be an act of humanity they would not thank us for, nor would they be persuaded that it was for their own good, or Congress must, like Herod, order all the children to be put to death as soon as born. If, then, nothing but evil would result from emancipation, under the existing circumstances of the country, why should Congress stir at all in the business, or give an countenance to such dangerous applications? We have been told that the Government ought to manifest a disposition inimical to this practice which the people reprobate. If some citizens, from misinformation and ignorance, have imbibed prejudices against the Southern States, if ill-intentioned authors have related false facts, and gross misrepresentations tending to traduce the character of a whole State, and to mislead the citizens of other States, is that a sufficient reason why a large territory is to be depopulated, merely to gratify the wish of some misinformed individuals? But what have the citizens of the other States to do with our slaves? Have they any right to interfere with our internal policy?
This is not an object of general concern, for I have already proved that it does not weaken the Union; but admit that it did, will the abolition of slavery strengthen South Carolina? It can only be cultivated by slaves; the climate, the nature of the soil, ancient habits, forbid the whites from performing the labor. Experience convinces of the truth of this. Great Britain made every attempt to settle Georgia by whites alone and failed, and was compelled at length to introduce slaves; after which, that State increased very rapidly in opulence and importance. If the slaves are emancipated, they will not remain in the country ― remove the cultivators of the soil, and the whole of the low country, al the fertile rice and indigo swamps will be deserted, and become a wilderness. What, then, becomes of its strength? Will such a scheme increase it? Instead of increasing the population of the whites, there will be no whites at all. If the low country is deserted, where will be the commerce, the valuable exports of that country, the large revenue raised from its imports and from the consumption of the rich planters? In a short time, the Northern and Eastern States will supply us with their manufactures; if you depopulate the rich low country of South Carolina and Georgia, you will give us a blow which will immediately recoil on ourselves. Suppose that one hundred and forty thousand slaves in those States, which require annually five yards of cloth each, making seven hundred thousand yards at a half dollar a yard, this makes three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, besides the articles of linen, flannel, Osnaburgh, blankets, molasses, sugar, and rum, for use of the negroes; now, either the Eastern and Middle States will supply us with all these articles, or they will receive the benefit of the impost on them if they were imported from foreign countries. Without the rice swamps of Carolina, Charleston would decay, so would the commerce of that city: this would injure the back country. If you injure the Southern States, the injury would reach our Northern and Eastern brethren; for the States are links of one chain: if we break one, the whole must fall to pieces. Thus it is manifest, that in proportion to the increase of our agriculture will our wealth be increased; the increase of which will augment that of our sister States, which will either supply us with their commodities, or raise a large revenue upon us, or be the carriers of our produce to foreign markets.
It has been said that the toleration of slavery brings down reproach on America. It only brings reproach on those who tolerate it, and we are ready to bear our share. We know that non but prejudiced and uncandid persons, who have hastily considered the subject and are ignorant of the real situation of the Southern States, throw out these insinuations. We found slavery ingrafted in the very policy of the country when we were born, and we are persuaded of the impolicy of removing it; it if be a moral evil, it is like many others which exist in all civilized countries, and which the world quietly submit to. Humanity has been a topic of declamation on this subject: that sentiment has different operations on different individuals, and he had it in his power to show, that humanity first gave origin to the transportation of slaves from Africa into America. Bartholomew de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa, a Spaniard renowned for his humanity and virtues, in order to save the Indians in South America from slavery, prevailed on his Monarch to substitute Africans, which were accordinly purchased on the coast of Africa, and shipped to the Spanish Colonies to work in the mines: this appears in Robertson’s History of America, which Mr. S. quoted. At this day the Spaniards give considerable encouragement to the transportation of slaves into their islands. Mr. S. read the edict for that purpose.
Another objection is, that slavery vitiates and debases the mind of the owner of this sort of property. Where, he asked, is the proof of this allegation? Do the citizens of the Southern States exhibit more ferociousness in their manners, more barbarity in their dispositions, than those of the other States? Are crimes more frequently committed there? A proof of the absurdity of this charge may be found in the writings of those who wish to disseminate this mischievous idea, and yet, in their relations of facts, they themselves contradict it. They lay down general principles, which they take upon credit from others, or which they publish with sinister views, and when they enter into a detail of the history of those States, they overset their own doctrines. Thus, one writer tells us, that the Southern citizens who is educated in principles of superiority to the slaves which surround him, has no idea of government, obedience, and good order, till he mingles with the hardy and free spirited yeomanry of the North, and that after mixing with them, he will return home with his mind more enlarged, his views more liberalized, and his affections rectified, and becomes a more generous friend to the rights of human nature. But hear what the Eastern traveler is to learn by visiting the enslaved regions of the South. He will see, says the same writer immediately after, industry crowned with affluence, independence, hospitality, liberality of manners; and notwithstanding the prevalence of domestic slavery, he will find the noblest sentiments of freedom and independence to predominate; he will extol their enterprise, art, and ingenuity, and will reflect that nature is wise, and that Providence in the distribution of its favors is not capricious. Take another striking instance of this contradiction from Morse’s Geography. He says, that there are more slaves than free persons in South Carolina, and mentions the mischievous influence of slavery on their manners, which he observes, by exempting them form the necessity of labor, leads to luxury, dissipation, and extravagance, and savors too much of a haughty, supercilious behavior; that the inhabitants want that enterprise and perserverance which are necessary for the attainment of the Arts and Sciences; that they have few motives to enterprise, and too generally rest contented with barely knowledge enough to transact the common affairs of life. Now, for the author’s proofs: they are contained in these words;
“Many of the inhabitants spare no pain nor expense in giving the highest polish of education to their children: literature has begun to flourish since the peace; several flourishing academies and colleges have been established; the ladies have an engaging softness and delicacy in their manners; theatrical exhibitions have been prohibited by law; gaming of all kinds is more discountenanced than in any of the Southern States; all denominations of religion are on an equal footing; commerce is flourishing; economy is become more fashionable, and science begins to spread her salutary influence among the citizens.” But was South Carolina, at the commencement of the war, with all her slaves, backward in her resistance to Great Britain? View the conduct of her citizens, their zeal and ardor in the cause of liberty; their labor at Fort Sullivan. Are crimes more frequent in that country than in the other States? Are there more executions? I believe there have been as few as in any part of the Continent, and those which have taken place have been generally of emigrant convicts or fugitive wheel barrow-men; he would be bold to assert that in no state on the Continent is there a more order, sobriety, and obedience to good government; more industry and frugality; nor is there any trace of the influence of slavery on the character of her citizens.
The French, so fare from curbing and cramping the African trade with needless regulations, give large premiums upon every negro landed on their islands; in some instances as musch as two hundred livres per head. Is that nation more debased than others? Are they not a polished people, sensible of the rights of mankind, and actuated by the proper sentiments of humanity? The Spaniards encourage slavery; they are people of the nicest honor, proverbially so. The Romans and Greeks had slaves, and are not their glorious achievements held up as excitements to great and magnanimous actions? Sparta teemed with slaves at the time of her greatest fame as a valiant Republic. The absolute power of the Lacedemonians over the Helots is frequently spoken of by the ancient writers; they were not only the slaves of the Commonwealth, but of every individual, they could not be set at liberty, neither could they be sold; hence arose a saying, that a free man at Sparta was most a free man, and a slave most a slave.
The system of the Roman policy with regards to slavery was still more severe. Slaves were not even under the protection of the laws; they were considered as things, inter res. A master, merely from caprice, might torture, dismember, and even murder his slave. If a slave did any damage exceeding his value, he was delivered to the person injured, who did with him what he pleased. Yet these slaves were of the same color as their masters, and equal to them in mental faculties; many of them were men of great learning, philosophers, poets, & C. Much had been said of the cruel treatment of slaves in the West Indies and the Southern States; with respect to the latter, he denied the fact from experience, and accurate information, and believed in his conscience that the slaves in South Carolina were a happier people than the lower order of whites in many countries he had visited. With regards to the West Indies, Lord Rodney and Admiral Barrington had both declared, that they had spent some time in the West Indies, and that they had never heard of a negro being cruelly treated; that they had often spoken of their happiness in high terms, declaring that they should rejoice exceedingly if the English day-laborer was half as happy. Some have said, that slavery is unnecessary: so far from it, that several essential manufacturers depended on it. Indigo, cochineal, and various other dying materials, which are the produce of the West Indies, could only be raised by slaves: the great staple commodities of the South would be annihilated without the labor of slaves. It is well known, that when the African slaves were brought to the cost for sale, it was customary to put to death all those who were not sold; the abolition of the slave trade would therefore cause the massacre of the people.
The cruel mode of transportation was another motive to this abolition; but it was to be presumed, that the merchants would so far attend to their own interests as to preserve the lives and the health of the slaves on the passage. All voyages must be attended with inconveniencies, and those from Africa to America not more than others. As to their confinement on board, it was no more than was necessary; as to the smallness of the space allotted them, it was more than was allotted to soldiers in a camp, was in favor of the former as thirty to seventeen; it was full as much as was allotted in ships of war to seamen, who, by the laws of England, were frequently, on their return their families, after a long and dangerous voyage, seized by violence, hurried away by a press-gang, and forced on another voyage more tedious and perilous than the first, to a hot and sickly climate, where several hundred of them were stowed away in the hold of a vessel. In cases of disobedience, the Captain had a right, for slight offences, to inflict on them corporal punishment without the intervention of a court-martial, and in other cases they are punishable by very serve laws, executed by martial courts, established for that purpose. The same may be observed of the soldiers, who were frequently flogged severely for trifling offense; instances have been known of their being put under the care of a surgeon, after receiving a small part of the intended flagellation, to refit them for the residue.
The cruel mode of transportation was another motive to this abolition; but it was to be presumed, that merchants would so far attend to their own interests as to preserve the lives and the health of the slaves on the passage. All voyages must be attended with inconveniences, and those from Africa to American not more than others. As to their confinement on board, it was no more than was necessary; as to the smallness of the space allotted to them, it was more than was allotted to soldiers in camp; for the measurement of cubical air breathed by the Africans, compared with that of soldiers in a camp, was in favor of the former as thirty to seventeen; it was full as much as was allotted in ships of war to seamen, who, by the laws of England, were frequently, on their return to their families, after a long and dangerous voyage, seized by violence, hurried away by a press-gang, and forced on another voyage more tedious and perilous than the first, to a hot and sickly climate, where several hundreds of them were stowed away in the hold of a vessel. In cases of disobedience, the Captain had a right, for slight offences, to inflict on them corporal punishment without the intervention of a court-martial, and in other cases they are punishable by very serve laws, executed by martial courts, established for that purpose. The same may be observed of the soldiers, who were frequently flogged severely for trifling offences; instances have been known of their being put under the care of a surgeon, after receiving a small part of the intended flagellation, to refit them for the residue.
Having thus removed the force of the observations which have been advanced against the toleration of slavery, by a misguided and misinformed humanity, I shall only add, that I disapprove of the whole of the report; because it either states some power sufficiently expressed in the Constitution which is unnecessary, or it sets for the some power which I am clear Congress do not possess. The concluding paragraph is an extraordinary one. In what mode are the memorialists to be informed of our humane dispositions? Are we to send a special committee to inform them? Or is the Speaker to write them a letter, or the Sergeant-at-Arms with the mace to wait on them? In short, Mr. CHAIRMAN, the whole of this business has been wrong from beginning to end, and as one false step generally leads to others, so has the hasty commitment of these memorials involved us in all this confusion and embarrassment. I hope, therefore, if any kind of report is agreed to, it will be something like that proposed by my colleague.
Reference : Confederate Truths: Documents of the Confederate & Neo-Confederate Tradition from 1787 to the Present.