EXTRACTS FROM AN ADDRESS BY THE HON. JAMES P HOLCOMBE, DELIVERED BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY, AT ITS SEVENTH ANNUAL MEETING, NOVEMBER 4, 1858.
Personal and political liberty are both requisite to develop the highest style of man. They furnish the amplest opportunities for the exercise of that self-control which is the germ and essence of every virtue, and for that expansive and ameliorating culture by which our whole nature is exalted in the scale of being, and clothed with the grace, dignity and authority, becoming the lords of creation. Whenever the population of a State is homogeneous, although slavery may perform some important functions in quickening the otherwise tardy processes of civilization, it ought to be regarded as a temporary and provisional relation. If there are no radical differences of physical organization or moral character, the barriers between classes are not insurmountable. The discipline of education and liberal institutions, may raise the serf to the level of the baron. Against any artificial circumscription seeking to arrest that tendency to freedom which is the normal state of every society of equals, human nature would constantly rise in rebellion. But where two distinct races are collected upon the same territory, incapable from any cause of fusion or severance, the one being as much superior to the other in strength and intelligence as the man to the child, there the rightful relation between them is that of authority upon the one side, and subordination in some form, upon the other. Equality, personal and political, could not be established without inflicting the climax of injustice upon the superior, and of cruelty on the inferior race: for if it were possible to preserve such an arrangement, it would wrest the sceptre of dominion from the wisdom and strength of society, and surrender it to its weakness and folly. "Of all rights of man," says Carlyle, "the right of the ignorant man to be guided by the wiser, to be gently and firmly held in the true course, is the indispensablest. Nature has ordained it from the first. Society struggles towards perfection by conforming to and accomplishing it, more and more. If freedom have any meaning, it means enjoyment of this right, in which all other rights are enjoyed. It is a divine right and duty on both sides, and the sum of all social duties between the two." Under the circumstances I have supposed, no intelligent man could hesitate, except as to the form of subordination: nor has entire equality been ever allowed in society where the inferior race constituted an element of any magnitude. * * * *
But when we are settling the law of a society embracing in its bosom distinct and unequal races, the problem is complicated by elements which create the gravest doubt whether personal liberty will prove a blessing or a curse. It may become a question between the slavery, and the extinction or further deterioration of the inferior race. Thus, if it is difficult to procure the means of subsistence from density of population or other cause, and if the inferior race is incapable of sustaining a competition with the superior in the industrial pursuits of life, a condition of freedom which would involve such competition, must either terminate in its destruction, or consign it to hopeless degradation. If, under these circumstances, a system of personal servitude gave reasonable assurance of preserving the inferior race, and gradually imparting to it the amelioration of a higher civilization, no Christian statesman could mistake the path of duty. Natural law, illuminated in its decision by History, Philosophy, and Religion, would not only clothe the relation with the sanction of justice, but lend to it the lustre of mercy. It will not, I apprehend, be difficult to show that all these conditions apply to African slavery in the United States. Look at the races which have been brought face to face in unmanageable masses, upon this continent, and it is impossible to mistake their relative position. The one still filling that humble and subordinate place, which, as the pictured monuments of Egypt attest, it has occupied since the dawn of history; a race which during the long-revolving cycles of intervening time has founded no empire, built no towered city, invented no art, discovered no truth, bequeathed no everlasting possession to the future, through law-giver, hero, bard, or benefactor of mankind: a race which though lifted immeasurably above its native barbarism by the refining influence of Christian servitude has yet given no signs of living and self-sustaining culture. The other, a great composite race which has incorporated into its bosom all the vital elements of human progress; which, crowned with the traditions of history and bearing in its hands the most precious trophies of civilization, still rejoices in the overflowing energy, the abounding strength, the unconquerable will, which have made it "the heir of all the ages;" and which, with aspirations unsatisfied by centuries of toil and achievement, still vexes sea and land with its busy industry, binds coy nature faster in its chains, embellishes life more prodigally with its arts, kindles a wider inspiration from the fountain rights of freedom, follows knowledge, like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought. * * * *
The whole reasoning of modern philanthropy upon this subject has been vitiated, by its overlooking those fundamental moral differences between the races; which constitute a far more important element in the political arrangements of society, than relative intellectual power. It is immaterial how these differences have been created. Their existence is certain; and if capable of removal at all, they are yet likely to endure for such an indefinite period, that in the consideration of any practical problem, we must regard them as permanent. The collective superiority of a race can no more exempt it from the obligations of justice and mercy, than the personal superiority of an individual; but where unequal races are compelled to live together, a sober and intelligent estimate of their several aptitudes and capacities must form the basis of their social and political organization. The intellectual weakness of the black man is not so characteristic, as the moral qualities which distinguish him from his white brother. The warmest friends of emancipation, amongst others the late Dr. Channing, have acknowledged that the civilization of the African must present a different type from that of the Caucasian, and resemble more the development of the East than the West. His nature is made up of the gentler elements, docile, affectionate, light-hearted, facile to impression, reverential, he is disposed to look without for strength and direction. In the courage that rises with danger, in the energy that would prove a consuming fire to its possessor, if it found no object upon which to spend its strength, in the proud aspiring temper which would render slavery intolerable, he is far inferior to other races. Hence, subordination is as congenial to his moral, as a warm latitude is to his physical nature. Freedom is not "chartered on his manly brow," as on that of the native Indian. Unkindness awakens resentment, but servitude alone carries no sense of degradation fatal to self-respect. * * * *
The mutual good will of distinct classes has, in all ages, been dependent upon a well defined subordination. This opinion is confirmed by the testimony of one of the most eloquent writers of New England, in reference to the workings of its social system as they fell under his personal observation. "The appeal," says Dana, in his Essay on Law as suited to Man, "to those who remember the state of our domestic relations, when the old Scriptural terms of master and servant were in use. I do not fear contradiction when I say there was more of mutual good will then than now; more of trust on the one side and fidelity on the other; more of protection and kind care, and more of gratitude and affectionate respect in return; and because each understood well his place, actually more of a certain freedom, tempered by gentleness and by deference. From the very fact that the distinction of classes was more marked, the bond between the individuals constituting these two, was closer. As a general truth, I verily believe that, with the exception of near-blood relationships, and here and there peculiar friendships, the attachment of master and servant was closer and more enduring than that of almost any other connection in life. The young of this day, under a change of fortune, will hardly live to see the eye of an old, faithful servant fill at their fall; nor will the old domestic be longer housed and warmed by the fireside of his master's child, or be followed by him to the grave. The blessed sun of those good old days has gone down, it may be for ever, and it is very cold." It is through the operation of these kindly sentiments, which it awakens on both sides, that African slavery reconciles the antagonism of classes that has elsewhere reduced the highest statesmanship to the verge of despair, and becomes the great Peace-maker of our society, converting inequalities, which are sources of danger and discord in other lands, into pledges of reciprocal service, and bonds of mutual and intimate friendship. * * *
If I have at all comprehended the elements which should enter into the determination of this momentous problem of social welfare and public authority, the existence of African Slavery amongst us, furnishes no just occasion for self-reproach; much less for the presumptuous rebuke of our fellow man. As individuals, we have cause to humble ourselves before God, for the imperfect discharge of our duties in this. and in every other relation of life: but for its justice and morality as an element of our social polity, we may confidently appeal to those future ages, which, when the bedimming mists of passion and prejudice have vanished, will examine it in the pure light Of truth, and pronounce the final sentence of impartial History. Beyond our own borders there has been no sober and intelligent estimate of its distinctive features; no just apprehension of the nature, extent, and permanence of the disparities between the races, or of the fatal consequences to the slave, of a freedom which would expose him to the unchecked selfishness of a superior civilization; no conception approaching to the reality of the power which has been exerted by a public sentiment, springing from Christian principle, and sustained by the universal instincts of self-interest, in tempering the severity of its restraints, and impressing upon it the mild character of a patriarchal relation; no rational anticipation of the improvement of which the negro would be capable under our form of servitude, if those who now nurse the wild and mischievous dream of peaceful emancipation, should lend all their energies to the maintenance of the only social system under which his progressive amelioration appears possible. African slavery is no relic of barbarism to which we cling from the ascendency of semi-civilized tastes, habits, and principles; but an adjustment of the social and political relations of the races, consistent with the purest justice, commended by the highest expediency, and sanctioned by a comprehensive and enlightened humanity. It has no doubt been sometimes abused by the base and wicked passions of our fallen nature to purposes of cruelty and wrong; but where is the school of civilization from which the stern and wholesome discipline of suffering has been banished? or the human landscape not saddened by a dark flowing stream of sorrow? Its history, when fairly written, will be its ample vindication. It has weaned a race of savages from superstition and idolatry, imparted to them a general knowledge of the precepts of the true religion, implanted in their bosom sentiments of humanity and principles of virtue, developed a taste for the arts and enjoyments of civilized life, given an unknown dignity and elevation to their type of physical, moral and intellectual man, and for two centuries during which this humanizing process has taken place, made for their subsistence and comfort, a more bountiful provision, than was ever before enjoyed in any age or country of the world by a laboring class. If tried by the test which we apply to other institutions, the whole sum of its results, there is no agency of civilization which has accomplished so much in the same time, for the happiness and advancement of mankind.
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