Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
PERPETUAL SERVITUDE

The English language is not adequate to describe in a single term the relationship between the white and Negro races in the United States. Slavery existed here almost from the date of the first settlements until finally abolished by the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution; but the term slavery ordinarily denotes only the legal bondage of some 3,500,000 men, women, and children. All of the laws, customs, and extralegal restraints embraced in relations between free Negroes and whites in the several states where slavery existed, in those states where slavery had been abolished, and in all of the states since general emancipation -- all of the stresses and strains in institutional life from schools to courts to armed services -- everything in fact growing out of the doctrine of biological inequality and racial inferiority of the Negro to the white is inseparable one part from the other. There is no name for all of this.1

One cannot repeat too often that "belief in the biological inequality and racial inferiority of the Negro not only sustained slavery and colonization, but also determined the attitude of the public, the zeal of law-enforcement officials, the reasoning of judicial bodies, the efficiency of administrative functionaries, and the definition of policies by legislatures and Congress in all matters pertaining to Negroes and abolitionists. Slavery was not the source of this philosophy. It merely enshrined it, prevented a practical demonstration of its falsity, and filled public offices and the councils of religious, educational, and political institutions with men reared in its atmosphere. So long as the temple stood, men clung to the faith."2 One must add, and emphasize, that the faith did not entirely die when the temple was pulled down. We abolished slavery, but we left the freed Negroes to their own resources after a time. The white population of many sections, clinging tenaciously to the belief in racial inequality, soon reduced them to a second-class citizenship, which is and always has been a modified form of slavery from colonial times to the present.

The first protests against slavery in the colonies were made almost three centuries ago. Scant attention was given to them, and the institution remained to plague the Founding Fathers, not alone as a practical problem to be resolved in the Convention, but as a dreadful barrier to full acceptance of the principles of human dignity and individual freedom. Those principles have been cherished by us since men first came to America. Presumably, few people would be willing publicly to deny them as basic in our way of life; yet for many years we tolerated, indeed stoutly defended, an institution which embodied the opposing theory that some men and a whole race of people were biologically inferior to others. We formulated ingenious rationalizations of our conduct, devised legal barriers to its correction, heaped indignities upon those who spoke out in protest, challenged the divine right of free inquiry and discussion, and finally sent our young men out to kill each other when our political machinery broke down in the process of discussion, concession, and compromise. Slavery was destroyed

-3-

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