Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

Chapter 42
LABOR

The American Antislavery Society at the time of organization said: "Every man has the right to his own body; to the products of his labor; to the protection of the common advantages of society." It then resolved to buy the produce of free labor instead of slave labor.1 This economic approach to the problem of how to abolish slavery had been made as early as the religious approach, and in the end was just as ineffective. Slaveholders weathered the threat to their pocketbooks about as easily as the threat to their salvation.

Sometime about 1791 a movement began in England to refrain from the use of anything produced by slave labor in order that slavery might thereby be made so unprofitable as to disappear.2 This was the free produce movement, thoroughly sound in its conception when West Indian sugar was the chief product of slave labor, but thoroughly inffective when cotton became the staple crop of the American South. Clarkson said at the height of the debate over the slave trade in the House of Commons that people of all classes in every town in England had given up the use of sugar, as many as 500 in some towns and 300,000 in all.3 Most of the Quakers in England supported the movement, and in the United States it was primarily a Quaker movement.4 A society was organized at one time to promote the use of maple sugar in place of cane sugar. It was estimated that 263,000 acres of sugar brush would supply the needs of the entire country.5 The third convention of the abolition societies, meeting in Philadelphia in 1796, urged the members of the several societies to promote the buying of free labor produce.6 The movement continued in both England and the United States during the early years of the nineteenth century. A leading Quaker in 1853 argued that three-fourths of the slaves were engaged in supplying the English mills with cotton, and if the British market were closed three- fourths of the land devoted to cotton culture would revert to wilderness and the planters would be bankrupted.7

People were urged to refrain from using the products of slave labor that they might not partake of other men's sins. Samuel Rhoads and Elihu Burritt both argued that such produce was the fruit of robbery perpetrated on the slave every day and that its voluntary consumption was participation in the awful sin of holding men in bondage. Christians should practice their professions.8 Every Christian man, woman, and child in England and the United States should and could refrain from the use of rice, sugar, and cotton. Angelina Grimké wrote a detailed explanation to Lewis Tappan in 1841 of the sin of using cotton goods.9 She also forbade Theodore Weld to buy mattress ticking produced by slave labor for their home.10 She said to Tappan: "If every bale of cotton and every piece of calico were stained with the sweat and blood which has flowed so freely in raising the raw material, who would be found ready to receive, and manufacture, and vend, and wear the fabric into which slave grown cotton has been wrought? " Elizabeth Margaret Chandler spoke in a more personal way in her poem "Slave Produce":

-350-

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