Jacksonian Miscellanies is a biweekly email
newsletter presenting roughly chapter length documents from the United
States' Jacksonian Era.
It is free: send a message with
The letter by Abdy ranges over several topics.
It will be most gratefully recollected by some who were Abolitionists in the early days of the cause in the United States, that they were cheered and strengthened at a very difficult and distressing period by the ready sympathy, clear sight, and sound judgement of the gentleman whose name stands at the head of this article. Mr. May in particular had the happiness to know much of him, and found him to be a highly educated and accomplished gentleman, not only in the English sense of the word, which means a member of some so-called "good family," but in the universal sense in which it signifies the highest style of man.
To the early abolitionists, Mr. Abdy needs no introduction, and that ceremony ought to have been superfluous to any American; for, in addition to his noble testimony to right and truth while in this country, he gave the public on his return to his own, a work of very great value to the Christian, the philosopher and the philanthropist; remarkable alike for its depth of thought, kindness of feeling, and keenness and accuracy of observation, as well as for a true simplicity of style, which makes the English tongue seem not inferior to the Latin in finish, force, and brevity.
The literary excellence alone would have secured it an immediate republication, had it not been condemned by its other excellencies at the bar of the booksellers. The Harpers, after having announced its appearance, were bullied by the South into a withdrawal, and this was all that the Abolitionists in general ever knew of the work. Two or three copies only reached the United States.
It is my purpose to select from time to time for the columns of the Standard, some of the striking passages of this valuable work.
Very few were the travellers who have dared to walk erect through the United States, saying the same things while in the country that they mean to say after their return. Very few persons have any just sense of their duties as citizens of the world. Travellers from Great Britain come hither to receive the adulation which the "land without a literature" is ever ready to give to the literati of other lands; -- or to strengthen the bonds of sect at the expense of the ties of humanity; -- or to find confirmation for their preconceived opinions; -- or to cite the evil consequences, of our inconsistencies as the natural fruit of our institutions; or to collect funds for one good object at the sacrifice of another. But Mr. Abdy is none of these. He is equally removed from the Cox and Holey, and the Read and Matherson school, and the school of the Fiddlers and Fetherstonhaughs. He is not of the genus Dickens, nor the genus J.J.Gurney and Joseph Sturge; nor yet of the genus Burns and Cunningham. He is, indeed, almost sui generis in his fidelity to humanity.
The extracts on the forth page, exhibit an order of mind to which every philanthropic reader who possesses sense in proportion to his sensibility, will yield involuntary respect. This, will such a one say as he reads, is not mere literature -- it is life.
The writings of such a man, one who, enjoying a high social position in his own country, was ready to forego every flattering attention in ours, which the sacrifice of right to vulgar expedience would have ensured him; --one so highly qualified by nature, and education, and situation, to observe with accuracy, and record with impartiality, are no less valuable with regard to events in England than in America; and it is to be hoped that the readers of the Standard may hear often from Mr. Abdy in future.
A very interesting letter just received from him, the reader will find
below. It well exposes pretence and sycophancy, both in Americans
and English men, and will not fail to receive an extensive and careful
My work on America was sent to Garrison, with the copyright; but, as I never heard from him, I concluded that neither had reached him. Another copy was sent to Mrs. Child; and, if I mistake not, her husband told me he had read it. I met him at Paris, and gave him a copy of an answer I had published in a Paris paper, to a defence of his countrymen, from the charge of slaveholding, by Mr. Baird, or Mr. Beard. Whether Mr. Child procured its insertion in any of your Abolition papers I know not. Mr. B. or some of his friends threatened a rejoinder -- but if I mistake not, further controversy was avoided. With respect to the republication of my "Journal," Harper advertised, but withdraw his resolution of paying it that honor, fearful of offending the Southerners, who had written to him on the subject. His answer to one of them, appeared at the time. Perhaps you could procure it for me, as some one may have preserved it as a specimen of the freedom which characterises the American press. A few words in the Liberator might bring it out of its present obscurity. Mr. Julius informed me, some years ago, that he had seen a copy of my work at the Boston Athenaeum. The Doctor, you are probably aware, was commissioned, about ten years back, to inspect your prisons. On his return to Germany, he published a very elaborate work on the moral and social condition of the United States. As the author is very severe in his remarks on the treatment the blacks receive from the majority of your fellow-citizens. I take it for granted that no translation has ever made its appearance among them. It is written with great minuteness and impartiality; and, though the style is heavy, and the matter somewhat too diffuse, its contents will be found extremely valuable to the historian and the philosopher. Von Raumer is, I believe, taking notes among you at this moment. It would be as well if some of your friends would guard him against the misrepresentations which will certainly be practised by those who dread exposure. I was anxious that this should be done in the case of Dickens, and suggested in vain several times, that a note to that effect should be inserted in the Anti-Slavery Reporter. At last a few lines, with my initials, were honored with admission. I might have spared myself so much trouble: for Mr. Scoble, I found by mere accident, had taken the hint and written privately to Joshua Leavitt.
You should know that we have a sort of censorship here, and whatever displeases its directors is mutilated or suppressed. George Thomson alluded to this when he spoke in Exeter Hall on the sugar duties, all discussion upon which was refused by those who are paid by the Abolition Society to elicit those truths which nothing but discussion can impress on the minds of men totally ignorant of the principles on which a sound conclusion is to be arrived at. The same specimen of liberality in this tribunal has forever determined me to risk no repitition of the humiliation. A few communications to the Reporter some time ago, from Germany were duly "licenses" --an exception, however, was made in the case of an extract I had translated from a letter by a German to the Allgemeine Zeitung, in reference to a meeting he had been present at, of the Malta Anti-Slavery Society. He had been not a little astonished on hearing on of its members declare that emancipation was obligatory upon Christians, but not upon Mohametans, as their prophet had permitted, and their religion enjoined Slavery. The writer had in vain protested against this distinction. I though it right that publicity should be given to a circumstance so highly discreditable to the narrator or to the Society --that an opportunity should be afforded of refusing or of proving the accusation, and that misplaced confidence should be withdrawn, either by the journal in question, from its correspondent, or by our Society from its sister institution. I will just add, that the note to Arthur Tappan, appended to the pamphlet I sent you (footnote below says "This pamphlet has not been received"), was declined from this considerate notice, (I quote from memory,) "Mr Abdy's letter &c does not suit our columns," and that a promise was given to expose the French African Institution, which, according to Mr. Scoble, has drawn 300 pounds from the pockets of English dupes, has if I do not greatly err, never been redeemed --and I leave you to judge whether zeal or discretion, would decide an honest man's correspondence with the office in New Broad street. My publisher complained that the Abolitionists had not encouraged our joint production. That the Quakers were displeased with what had been said of their American brethren is no secret; and the last "Convention" showed pretty plainly that they are still unwilling to let truth be known. The ready acquiescence displayed on that occasion, in the singular request to lay aside the character of impartial judges, will, however, avail but little at that tribulan, before which Moravians and Quakers must one day render an account of their conduct toward beings of greater merit, because of less pretension, than their own. That I have columniated neither may be proved by reference to Shillitoe's Journal in America, where it will be seen that a man, admitted to be qualified in every other respect, was refused admittance to communion by the Quakers, because he wore, as they did, the same skin he was born with; and where we find this missionary of kindness remonstrating with the slaveholding Moravians of North Carolina. These facts, and others of similar import must have been well known at the very time that one of the Society of Friends requested the convened delegates and the meeting to suspend their judgment on what this solemn adjuraton would seem to brand with the mark of calumkny -- while the King of Denmark was reported to have coerced the Moravians -- as, if they who cannot be compelled to take and oath or serve in the army, could be compelled to rob their fellow-men of the only property they possess -- or, as if the same plea might not be, and has not been, set up by other slaveholders. Wm. Penn would have courted inquiry from an enemy -- his followers dread it from their friends. What is such a "world's Convention," but a solemn farce -- a packed jury of compromising cosmopolites; condemning the untried and reprieving the convicted -- returning verdicts to please the audience, and accepting excuses to please the judges. This matter had been brought under the notice of Joshua Leavitt, both by leatter, and in conversation; he had been urged to speak as unreservedly in England, as in America, on everything that related to the disabilities and afflictions of the African race; he had been cautioned in the presence of Phelps and Buffum, (who showed afterwards that he stood in no need of external stimulus,) against the manoeuvres which awaited him; and I cannot but deeply regret that any friend of the black man, whould have exhibited a spirit of forbearance and consessions as little minded by those who asked for it, as by those who are to suffer from it. A letter on this subject was printed in the Bath Journal, the Bath and CHiltenham Gazette; the organ of the Quakers and other dissenters, having declined it on the plea of its being too late, after they had delayed the notice long beyond the day they had agreed to insert it -- probably on the same ground that the Reporter had for a long time kept the matter, "under consideration."
It may perhaps be said in palliation of Quaker proceedings in Philadelphia, that it would have been too great a temptation for the virtue of a "nigger" to be suddenly admitted to the privilege of hiding his vanity under the garb of humility -- that a despises Pariah is not prepared to put himself upon an equal footing with Princes and Rulers, and that it would be dangerous for his feeble senses to attract attention, by assuming what was formerly intended to repel it, and that it would be unnecessary to place an uneducated outlaw above the observance of grammar and the graces. Whatever the motive, however, or the result of the exclusion -- whether the taboo of the high priest inflicted or reflected more dishonor, I may be pardoned for wishing that the Convention of colored Americans would depute to the next "Cosmopolite Congress," some worthy representative of their firmness -- one who will be true to his mission -- uninfluenced alike by fear and by favor -- resolved that the grievances of his race shall be proclaimed to the world -- though he may have stretched his plebeian legs under the table of a high-caste Quaker, and dined with one of the commercial aristocracy.
We manage matters of general import rather indiscreetly in this land of liberty. The remedies of old diseases are often the causes of new, and the removal of abuses, is a signal for the renewal of complaints. Hence we have schisms among reformers, and selfishness among philanthropists. Humane associations, like religious establishments, degenerate into instruments of private vanity or interest, and those who undertake to cure our infirmaties, take good care to remind us of their own. Unhappily for the good cause, some who were willing to save the Abolitionsts the trouble of thinking for themselves, have set an equivocal example of compromise with the Government, too profitable to be altogether lost on their successors. It is too much for an Englishment to see himself gazetted as holding conference with one of her Majesty's ministers, to risk a repetition of the gratification, by an unbending advocacy of what may give offence to the dispenser of such honors; and the bestowal of titles and judicial appointments on the prominent leaders of a popular agitation, has a tendency to merge the love of one's neighbor in the love of one's self. There seemed at last year's Convention to be a rivalry of adulation among the political parties of the day. Lord Palmerston's influence with the Bey of Tunis, was set off against Lord Aberdeen's with the President of Texas, and the Whig humanity in the old world was pitted against the Tory humanity in the new. No one had any more doubt of the sincerity attached to these Cabinet-Professions, than he had of the African Chief's independence of the Sultan and the French Court, of of Houston's liberty of action between a Free State on one side, and Slave States on the other. No one asked whether prospective freedom was right in Africa and wrong in America -- whether immediate emancipation could be consistently demanded in one part of the world, and gradual emancipation be received with thanks in another. Not a voice was raised in behalf of an unoffending ally, despoined of her most valuable province -- nor did one of the opponents to a separate legislation in oppressed Ireland, hint an objection to the usurpation of every political function by the voluntary subjects of a transatlantic empire. Yet it required no great sagacity to see that the recognition of this new State had done more to injure the cause for which the Convention was assembled, than the English government had ever done in its favor. Texas must, by the process of assimilation, be incorporated with one of its neighbors. The attraction of free blacks, and the attraction of slaves cannot neutralize each other. It must conquer or be conquered. If but a slight acquaintance with the peculiarities of your system had existed where it was both needed and expected, would our Government have been permitted to acknowledge a state of things which had been brought about for the express purpose of supporting what they professed to abominate? Was it not evident to every inquirer, that your planters sought in Texas a security for their private property, and an increase to their federal prerogatives; -- that the revolted province could neither keep a promise of emancipation, without offending the people it had left, not break it, without attacking the people it had betrayed: and that the maintenance of its separate establishment was equally incompatible with its strength and its weekness? Was it not well known, that one, if not more, of the proprieters of a paper in the confidence of the Whigs, had an interest in deceiving the public, proportioned to the hands he possessed in the disputed territory? Were there not agents employed in promoting German emigration to Texas by every art of misrepresentation -- the same persons preaching liberty in Europe, and slavery in America? Who could doubt that the fear of losing Canada operated more strongly in Downing Street, than the wish to save Mexico, and that the concession of neutrality in the East, was purchased by the permission of aggression in the West? To believe in Whig sincerity on these points, evinces little experience and less sagacity. Why does the Morning Chronicle deprecate interference with the Americans, and the Edinburgh Review exhibit such indifference to American abolition? Why has Macauley, who owes all he has, and all he is, to abolition, keep(kept) aloof from the Abolitionists? Why does Lord Morpeth take the chair at meetings for universal emancipation, and yet recommend that American emancipation should be left to itself? Has not every statesman of every party endeavored to make a tool of those who assume to direct public opinion and control the Government? Think for a moment what a combination of mighty interests is arrayed here against an agitation which threatens them with the loss, or the interruption of their resources? The English manufacturer cares less for the tears of the negro, than for the rise of prices in the cotton market; -- he sees insurrection in an abolition pamphlet, and waits with philosophic composure till supplies from free labor will enable him to be humane without any risk, and generous without any sacrifice. All such considerations, and others that might be mentioned, will effect you no farther than to instal caution, and prepare you for coldness or opposition. The co-operation of legislators may be bought too dearly. They follow their trade; -- you follow your duty; they obey their masters; you obey your conscience. They work for themselves; you work for others. The labor and the honor may be fairly divided between you -- and Justice will have no reason to envy Expediency.
Though my pen has run on beyond my purposes, and far beyond the limits of moderation, yet I venture to trespass still farther upon your patience.
We cannot, I am ashamed to say, claim exemption from the prejudice of color. WIlberforce, I was told by Miss Macauley, was heard to declare that he should not feel at ease at table with a negro; -- and de Beaumont, when asked why Bissetta was not a member of the Committee of the French Abolition Society, replied -- "Why! he is a colored man." Here we have a religious man, and a liberal expressing sentiments opposed to every rational idea of what we owe to God and to humanity. Thus it is that Benevolence is employed to foster Pride. -- We humiliate while we relieve, and claim superiority of nature for mere superiority of fortune. It really seems as if many considered an African and a bullock as entitled to the same sort of sympathy, and subscribed to the anti-slavery Society, as they subscribe for the prevention of cruelty to animals. I infer, from the remarks of L'Instant (the Haytien) on this subject, that these strictures may be applied to some who have taken an active part in the cause of Abolition among us; and perhaps the skin-proud "Friends" in the "City of Love" may look for a defence of their "shortcomings," as much to the consciousness of the same weakness as to religious affinities in the City of Commerce; and hope that London will not blush for Philadelphia; he knew that the pursuit of riches and the love of titles have made sad inroad on the simple virtues of the Quakers; and it can readily be conceived how those who can look up with undue respect to the distinctions which mark human folly, may look down with contempt or condescension on those which illustrate divine wistom.
With sincere wishes for your happiness here, and the postponement of the reward which awaits you hereafter, I have much pleasure in subscribing myself, &c. &c.
The remarks on Dr. Channing, as those upon the Quakers, referred not to Slavery; but to the vulgar antipathy of color. His friends, who have confounded them, cannot well escape the imputation of ignorance without incurring that of evasion.
It is a droll sort of apology for a philosopher, that he who exhorted others not to yield to circumstances should have suffered his own conduct to be moulded by them. Goodness is the proper "environment" of a good man. The case is plain enough. Here was a tracher of humanity unmoved by the cruelties around him -- inculcating the right of every human being to respect, and yet indifferent to the unmerited degradation of his fellow-countrymen -- obnoxious by his silence to the reproaches he bestowed on others, while inculcating the duty of humility, neither rebuking nor noticing the most inveterate pride that every insulted its victims and demoralized its votaries. It was natural for a stranger to approach with reluctance one whose inconsistencies he could not see without regret. If he was prevailed upon to visit Dr. Channing, he would have done still more violence to his feelings if he had been prevailed upon to suppress the narrative. He acted the part of an "honest chronicler," and he pities those who take offence at his candor.
The London Committee of the Anti-Slavery Society seem somewhat regardless of consistency. They oppose the introduction of laborers into the West Indies, and yet demand "protection" for the only interest which is to be promoted by it. They admit immigration will be injurious to the negro, while they represent the Whigs who support it as his best friends. They court the patronage of noble Lords who deprecate the sympathy they themselves profess for the American Abolitionists. The economical superiority of free over slave-labor is their declared conviction, and its inferiority is the assumption of their petitions to the Legislature. They war against slaveholding with the money they receive from Slaveholders. The wrongs of the negro swell out the Moravian subscriptions, and the slave-worked mine sharer's contribution on their list of subscribers proclaims their utter disregard of principle. The Judge's salary is paid out of the convict's hush-money. They declaim against the tyranny of the planters while they advocate a line of policy, which by encouraging an unremunerative produce, will leave the black to the mercy of the employer. While the condition of their influence on the national mind is to act in accordance with the national rights and interests, they defend a tariff of duties which robs the people without offering an equivalent, enriches their bitterest enemies, forces capital out of its natural channels, and depresses labor below the level it should find in the development of its inherent resources. That the West India proprietors, who wanted "protection" for compulsory labor against free, should now want "protection" for free labor against compulsory is perfectly consistent. They well know that the cultivation of sugar, under circumstances, which require large capitals and oppressive bounties, would check the tendency to independence in the growers of produce more adapted to the soil and the climate. They feel that the removal of restrictions would compel them to relinquish all hopes of rivalling the mother country in the enjoyment of monopoly, based on the degradation of the peasantry and creative of overbearing oligarchy. They see that Hayti finds it cheaper to import, than to grow sugar, and they hope to tax us for the whole amount of the difference. Abolish the sugar duties, and the emancipated negro will be left to make an unimpeded bargain with his employer. Continue them, and he will be reduced to his former state of servitude. The Brazilian will not gain freedom, and the Jamaica black will lose it. What right, in fact, have we to take for granted the acquiesence of either in the views we are pleased to take of his interest? We may be inflicting an injury in striving to confer a benefit, and the sum of human misery may be increased by the steps we are taking for its diminution. It is the slave's question in the same sense as the Corn-Law is the laborer's question.
If free-trade, as most of the Abolitionists maintain, be a natural right, no deviation from its correlative obligation can, as they insinuate, be justified by the pretence of ultimate good. In the case before us, the good is contingent and doubtful; the evil is present and certain. The cry of inhumanity is too absurd to deserve an answer. For my part, I believe that Slavery is encouraged by the sugar-duties, as I know that Slave-Trade has been encouraged by its "abolition."
You will not be surprised to hear that a schism has shown itself in
the Abolition Society, and that the doings of the "Privy Council," have
not met with the approbation of the general body. So far, indeed,
has this impatient indocility proceeded, that the Committee has been denounced
in a printed circular as "not so fully enjoying the confidence of the Anti-Slavery
public as is necessary for the successful prosecution of its labors," and
to have "unconsciously adopted a course involving principles of action
at variance with justice and humanity." Whether the committee is,
like Slavery, to have its phases," I know not. Its present phasis,
however, looks rather towards an eclipse than a crescent. Let us
hope that we may be blessed with a luminary less encumbered with satellites,
less eccentric in its orbit, and more bright in its inspirations.
You can support this site at no cost if you make an Amazon purchase using this link to get to Amazon: Thanks