Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

African Slavery in America by Thomas Paine


February is Black History Month.




Here's an essay by Thomas Paine published in March 1775 in the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser.  Paine was a founding member of the first anti-slavery society in America, which was formed in Philadelphia in April of 1775.

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.

 Our Traders in MEN (an unnatural commodity!) must know the wickedness of the SLAVE-TRADE, if they attend to reasoning, or the dictates of their own hearts: and such as shun and stiffle all these, wilfully sacrifice Conscience, and the character of integrity to that golden idol.

 The Managers the Trade themselves, and others testify, that many of these African nations inhabit fertile countries, are industrious farmers, enjoy plenty, and lived quietly, averse to war, before the Europeans debauched them with liquors, and bribing them against one another; and that these inoffensive people are brought into slavery, by stealing them, tempting Kings to sell subjects, which they can have no right to do, and hiring one tribe to war against another, in order to catch prisoners. By such wicked and inhuman ways the English are said to enslave towards one hundred thousand yearly; of which thirty thousand are supposed to die by barbarous treatment in the first year; besides all that are slain in the unnatural ways excited to take them. So much innocent blood have the managers and supporters of this inhuman trade to answer for to the common Lord of all!


Many of these were not prisoners of war, and redeemed from savage conquerors, as some plead; and they who were such prisoners, the English, who promote the war for that very end, are the guilty authors of their being so; and if they were redeemed, as is alleged, they would owe nothing to the redeemer but what he paid for them. 

They show as little reason as conscience who put the matter by with saying — "Men, in some cases, are lawfully made slaves, and why may not these?" So men, in some cases, are lawfully put to death, deprived of their goods, without their consent; may any man, therefore, be treated so, without any conviction of desert? Nor is this plea mended by adding — "They are set forth to us as slaves, and we buy them without farther inquiry, let the sellers see to it." Such man may as well join with a known band of robbers, buy their ill-got goods, and help on the trade; ignorance is no more pleadable in one case than the other; the sellers plainly own how they obtain them. But none can lawfully buy without evidence that they are not concurring with Men-Stealers; and as the true owner has a right to reclaim his goods that were stolen, and sold; so the slave, who is proper owner of his freedom, has a right to reclaim it, however often sold. 

 Most shocking of all is alleging the sacred scriptures to favour this wicked practice. One would have thought none but infidel cavillers would endeavour to make them appear contrary to the plain dictates of natural light, and the conscience, in a matter of common Justice and Humanity; which they cannot be. Such worthy men, as referred to before, judged otherways; Mr. Baxter declared, the Slave-Traders should be called Devils, rather than Christians; and that it is a heinous crime to buy them. But some say, "the practice was permitted to the Jews." To which may be replied, 

1. The example of the Jews, in many things, may not be imitated by us; they had not only orders to cut off several nations altogether, but if they were obliged to war with others, and conquered them, to cut off every male; they were suffered to use polygamy and divorces, and other things utterly unlawful to us under clearer light. 

 2. The plea is, in a great measure, false; they had no permission to catch and enslave people who never injured them. 

 3. Such arguments ill become us, since the time of reformation came, under Gospel light. All distinctions of nations and privileges of one above others, are ceased; Christians are taught to account all men their neighbours; and love their neighbours as themselves; and do to all men as they would be done by; to do good to all men; and Man-stealing is ranked with enormous crimes. Is the barbarous enslaving our inoffensive neighbours, and treating them like wild beasts subdued by force, reconcilable with the Divine precepts! Is this doing to them as we would desire they should do to us? If they could carry off and enslave some thousands of us, would we think it just? — One would almost wish they could for once; it might convince more than reason, or the Bible.

MORE HERE

h/t 3 Quarks Daily

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

The black man is now equal with the white man. No need to have special laws to give the black man an advantage in opportunities.

Shaw Kenawe said...

I don't see what that comment has to do with the subject of the post.

BB-Idaho said...

Having read a bit of Thomas Paine, I get the impression he was a 21st century man stuck in the 18th century.

skudrunner said...

So what does this post have to do with anything that is current. Is it meant to criticize religion or make the Europeans regret their actions. Maybe point fingers at the tribes for selling off their people.

If this was about female sex trafficking it would be relevant to today situation.

Please post an article on how the northern whites treated the American Indians.

We still have slavery in this country, it is just underground.

Curt Fouts said...

Thomas Paine was a true radical in the best sense of the word. He is also America's proto-libertarian, grounded in Lockean thought as he was.

Shaw Kenawe said...

skudrunner: "So what does this post have to do with anything that is current."

If you can't figure it out, skudrunner, don't expect me to walk you through it. It's not my place to instruct people who haven't the ability to understand history.



skudrunner: "Please post an article on how the northern whites treated the American Indians."

You're joking, right? Or just dumb. ALL whites, northern and southern, and especially southern abused our Native Americans--ever hear of the Trail of Tears? Know who the president was and where he was from and what he did in violation of the Supreme Court decision? Every white person in this country who believed in white supremacy and manifest destiny did all they could to wipe out the Native Americans and their culture.

This post is not about that. It is about the history of slavery and Thomas Paine's essay on it.

No one dragged you here to read it.

You want a different post?

I have an idea. Start your own blog and write it.

You've added nothing, again, except whiney complaints.

skudrunner said...

"If you can't figure it out, skudrunner, don't expect me to walk you through it. It's not my place to instruct people who haven't the ability to understand history."

So that explanation is lets bring up history with no current relevance.
Or better yet, lets divert attention away from the incompetent incumbent. I guess this is the typical post from a limousine liberal. ZDon't answer, just attack..

Shaw Kenawe said...

skudrunner: "So that explanation is lets bring up history with no current relevance."

February is Black History month.

Please stop coming here and writing comments that show you don't know how to read and comprehend. And please stop telling me how to run my blog.

You appear to be an angry, unhappy person who can't deal with reality.

FreeThinke said...

"You appear to be an angry, unhappy person who can't deal with reality."

If so -- and I don't necessarily agree -- he's certainly not alone, is he? ;-)

Of one thing we may be sure: There's no shortage of petulance, impatience, acrimony and ill humor in the blogosphere now.

As for Tom Paine I think he was first and foremost a HUMANITARIAN. His ideas may have been radical for the time (There's no doubt about it, really.), but I can't see him in league with either the Marxists or the Fabians or any variants thereof, because of advocacy for an ever tightening grip Centralized Power -- the absolute ANTITHESIS of Liberty.

Without in any way condoning or attempting to justify slavery we should remember too that not all slave owners and slave masters resembled Simon Legree or the monstrous characters conjured up by Kyle Onstott and Frank Yerby, just as we should remember that not all Roman Catholic priests are child molesters, not all lawyers are shysters, and not all savages are noble.

Tom Paine's characterization of a benign, bucolic, peacefully self-sustaining Africa that went bad only after contact wit The Evil White Man smacks of caricature, grotesque exaggeration and well-meaning polemical fantasy at their worst.

HOWEVER, history has proven beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt that "the sins of the fathers" really are "visited upon the sons" -- and millions of perfectly innocent bystanders for countless generations.

The concept of "sin," may seem to be outmoded, but if we don't revive it pretty soon, we're going to lose our Civilization altogether.

No matter what we do there will always be a PRICE that "someone" will have to pay for it.

Whenever I think of the price our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to have to pay for OUR ignorance, stupidity and abject wickedness I shudder inwardly.

JFK said some of the truest words ever spoken at his Inaugural:

"LIFE is NOT FAIR."

Only an imbecile would try to counter that with an argument.



Shaw Kenawe said...

"Without in any way condoning or attempting to justify slavery we should remember too that not all slave owners and slave masters resembled Simon Legree or the monstrous characters conjured up by Kyle Onstott and Frank Yerby..."

The very fact that one group of human beings, even "kind" ones, OWNED another group of adults and children makes the institution of slavery a hideous profanation on mankind.

Just because some masters may have been nice to their human property does not mitigate what must have been unimaginable suffering and pain for those in bondage.


Why it took this country so long to rid itself of this scourge is still our everlasting shame.

Rational Nation USA said...

Thomas Paine was indeed a radical for his times. In some sense he is still a radical for our time. Particularly in the sense of social justice, security, and health care.

I don't think I'm missing anything am I Shaw?

Curt Fouts said...

@ FT: Tom Paine's characterization of a benign, bucolic, peacefully self-sustaining Africa that went bad only after contact wit The Evil White Man smacks of caricature, grotesque exaggeration and well-meaning polemical fantasy at their worst.

In Paine's defense, he was making a basic, libertarian argument, and perhaps he dressed it up a bit, as those who blithely refer to "noble savages" without regard to whether they eat one another or not.

Good argumentation rests upon a three-legged stool of grammar, logic and rhetoric. Can we really begrudge the good man a layer of pathos over his quite cogent and articulate argument?

The basic foundation of libertarian thought is man in his natural state: Free and sovereign over his own life. Where Paine stretches a bit is adding the bucolic patina. Life indeed is often nasty, brutish and short for many, if not most.

That applies equally to those in Africa at the time or our own Native Americans, and also the pioneers who pushed the frontiers westward.

But the subjective quality of one's life is not what matters. That each person is free to pursue his or her own version of happiness is what matters.

We've lost that idea in our grotesquely homogenized society that is aggressively babysat by Big Nanny State and her scolding Greek Chorus in the press and popular culture.

FreeThinke said...

Dear, Mr. Fouts, aka "Conan,"

I cannot see any basis for disagreement between us.

Thank you for your erudite commentary.

Would it be correct to interpret your support of basic libertarian argument as implied disapproval of the work performed by Christian Missionaries?

It's a question I've often asked myself in recent years.

If indigenous populations indulge in practices we in the formerly-Christianized West find abhorrent, do we in fact have any right or "duty" at all to interfere and attempt to "improve" their ways?

Savages are rarely-if-ever "noble," but who are "we" to take it upon ourselves to "improve" them?

Conquest and Exploitation, however distasteful to modern "liberal" sympathies, have been the way of the world since our days as ape-like animals loosely organized into warring tribes.

We have improved greatly over millennia, but still have a long way to go.

Submission to tyranny is not going to aid in our quest for advancement.

Ms Shaw's objection to "kindness" on the part of slave owners strikes me as particularly ironic, because the kind of governance she seems to espouse is exactly that.

What is the modern Hegelian-Marxian-Fabian-Socialist-Liberal-Progressive-Statist movement BUT a determined effort to seize ownership of each individual's life by systematically eliminating Freedom of Choice and blocking through Government Edict every avenue that might lead to independence, and the possibility of self-determination?

We might have eliminated the physical capture, imprisonment, involuntary transport and sale on the auction block of fellow human beings in these United States, but we haven't begun to TOUCH the "mind-forged manacles" that keep all but the tiniest minority in bondage as bad -- or worse -- than the African Slave Trade.

This is what liberals refuse to understand:

Exchanging one set of chains for another should never be mistaken for "Progress"-- especially when the new methods of keeping men in bondage are dressed up by sophistry, self-deception, cunning and guile to appear "kinder" than the old ways.

Shaw Kenawe said...

"We might have eliminated the physical capture, imprisonment, involuntary transport and sale on the auction block of fellow human beings in these United States, but we haven't begun to TOUCH the "mind-forged manacles" that keep all but the tiniest minority in bondage as bad -- or worse -- than the African Slave Trade.

This is what liberals refuse to understand:"

No slave was able to free himself from physical or mental bondage because they could not vote their masters out of their masterhood. To say we are in situations as bad "or worse" than the African slave trade is wrong.

None of my children were ever in danger of being torn from my arms and sold to some factory owner. Is there anything right now in the American family that is even close to that horror? It was against the law to teach slaves how to read. Does anything close to that exist today?

Your attempt to find a parallel between what slaves endured and our current political system is, IMHO, bosh and demeans the real horrors of what the slaves suffered.



Curt Fouts said...

I think we are in agreement, FreeThinke.

I see nothing wrong with evangelizing people, so long as it is not done at the point of a sword. As you point out, more often than not, Western Christendom did it without the approval of the indigenous, so it violates a fundamental libertarian principle.

Rational Nation USA said...

Shaw, I understand perfectly well what FT means, a majoriry desire total security and in their desire either forget or ignore the price they may very well be asked (or) forced to pay for said security. I refer you to Ben Franklin.

Having said the above I understand and agree with you in regard to the slave trade.

Shaw Kenawe said...

"...these vermin Communists such as "Ms Shaw".

Mr. Free Thinke, if you visit again, I found this over at your blog.

I appreciate all your efforts to keep your blog lively and full of debate while at the same time, maintaining standards--YOUR standards.

The person who wrote that about me doesn't understand anything about this country's 1st Amendment, and chided you for deleting some of his other vile comments [I assume they were vile, and I also assume "it" is a "he."

Your blog, and my blog for that matter, is subject to any sort of censorship WE choose it to be. It is the government that is prohibited from abrogating our right to freedom of speech. The commenter who got all hot and bothered over your deletions is apparently not aware of that simple fact.

It is the usual uninformed nitwits like that who are always puffed up with indignation whenever people exercise their freedom to not be annoyed by their stupidity.

Again, I salute you for your integrity in running your blog as you wish it to be run and not allowing your other commenters to be slandered.

Anonymous said...

Black history month is no time to cite where the black man is today?
I guess you prefer to see the black man as the second class citizen he was 250 years ago, not the reality of today. Nice try at a slant that is not today's reality, but then honesty is not this sites concern.

FreeThinke said...

Thank you, Ma'am. I do honesty believe that, even though we -- and others --, may differ in many of our convictions, we need to maintain standards of basic decency in the way we address one another.

We also have an obligation to TRY to make sense at the very least. The business of mindless insult and roaring castigation is tedious at best and harmful to mental health at worst.

Public figures, however, remain fair game at my place. Anyone who seeks high office -- or Star Status in the Entertainment World for that matter -- is begging for abuse on bended knee.

Though you and I may get peeved at one another more often than either of us would like, Ms Shaw, I would never want to mistake our disagreement for dislike.

I don't like name-calling any more than you do.

By the way, I was disturbed to discover this morning that of the 47 comments left at yesterday's post by the time I went to bed last night only FOUR remained. I was able to rescue some from the SPAM folder, but more than half of the original 47 remain lost and gone forever.

I am puzzled and disturbed, because I can't imagine how this could have happened. I can't help but wonder if it had anything to do with the acrimony over my "censorship" of gratuitous garbage?

Could any tech-minded person offer an explanation?

Always On Watch said...

Thomas Paine was a man ahead of his time.

I have come to the sad conclusion that there is no end to the ability of human beings to "justify" whatever they do or say. History is filled with examples of such "justifications" -- and so are our personal lives, particularly with regard to interpersonal relations

The older I get, the more disillusioned I am becoming.

FT said:

Savages are rarely-if-ever "noble," but who are "we" to take it upon ourselves to "improve" them?

I agree with that statement. There are utopianists of all ilks, IMO.

Leslie Parsley said...

Wow, if I ever read this, I'd forgotten it. What an appropriate moment to remind us of what a humanitarian and visionary Thomas Paine was.

BB-Idaho writes "... I get the impression he was a 21st century man stuck in the 18th century." Yeah, unlike the current crop of Republicans who are 18th century men stuck in the 21st century.

And then there's skudrunner and his ilk -- all victims of the Dunning Kruger effect of which I wrote about recently.

Shaw Kenawe said...

And your post on the Dunning Kruger effect is well worth reading.

Here it is.

dmarks said...

Shaw. You might want to read this older post in another great blog:

http://booksinnorthport.blogspot.com/2012/02/christianity-and-cruelty.html

And no it is as far from off topic as can be.