Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
INSURRECTIONS

On 14 February 1804, David Bard said in the House of Representatives: "Gentlemen tell us, though I can hardly think them serious, that the people of this description can never systematize a rebellion...experience speaks a different language -- the rigor of the laws, and the impatience of the slaves, will mutually increase each other, until the artifices of the one are exhausted, and until, on the other hand, human nature sinks under its wrongs, or obtains the restoration of its rights.... To be convinced of this, we have only to look at St. Domingo. There the negroes felt their wrongs, and have avenged them; they learned the rights of man, and asserted them; they have wrested the power from their oppressors, and have become masters of the island."1

Bard's statement of fact has the clarity and completeness of a geometrical theorem. No man was ever born to be a slave. The will to be free and the imperious longing for something better in life are universal among men. Persons who were deprived of their freedom, and then denied all the attributes of rational human beings, and then reduced, insofar as was possible, to the status of animals, were likely to assert their inalienable rights at any time -- by flight or by physical force, individually or in groups. It has always been so, always will be so, while man survives. People who lived in the slave states knew it, and one cannot dig very deep into the history of slavery without encountering sundry evidences of a great fear which pervaded the region at all times. The slaveholders sought safety in repression, but as Bard said, every act of repression drove more slaves to resistance, and every act of resistance led to more repression, so there was no end to the vicious circle. We shall have occasion to deal with many aspects of slavery which are indisputable proof of constant apprehension:

The rigor, amounting to fanaticism, with which all discussion of the evils of slavery and programs of emancipation was suppressed. This ultimately reached the point of excluding antislavery literature from the mails, forbidding all discussion of the subject in Congress, and attempting to outlaw antislavery societies in the free states. Fear that the discussion would be introduced into the slave states under a Republican administration was a major cause of secession.

The harsh and arbitrary manner of enforcing submission to the master race. Fear is the mother of cruelty, and cruelty was the rule, not the exception. Proof of a constant warfare was everywhere. There were the laws subjecting every slave away from his master's property without a pass to chastisement by anyone who might apprehend him, the barbarous mutilations of those who ran away and were not killed in the hunt, the brutal whippings, and the murders without penalty committed in course of corrections. The newspapers of the South are filled with advertisements for runaway slaves, listing scars from the whip, brandings, gunshot wounds, eyes and teeth missing, cropped ears, mutilations by dogs, and sundry other marks of violence. Every driver carried his whip. Every jail had its whipping post, and every community its bloodhounds. Yet, in spite of all this, slaves ran away in such numbers that an esti

-109-

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