The Slave Trade

Friday, April 26th, 2013

As a strong proponent of paternalistic slavery, Fitzhugh argues against the slave trade:

From several quarters propositions have of late been made for the revival of the African slave trade. The South has generally been opposed to this trade, the North favorable to it. Such is likely to be the case again; for the North would make much money by conducting the trade; the settled states of the South lose much by the depreciation of their negroes. The extreme inhumanity of this trade is enough to condemn it, but men’s interests blind their eyes and steel their hearts against considerations of humanity. Besides, the argument will be most successfully played in its behalf, that it will but take the place of another kind of slave trade, that is still more inhuman. The importation of apprentices or temporary slaves is now actively conducted by England from Africa and various parts of Asia. These apprentices, if not worked to death before their terms of service expire, are left to starve afterwards, and new ones imported in their place. They are treated with less humanity than slaves, because the master has little interest in their lives. Vastly larger numbers must be imported to supply the demand for labor, because their children are not slaves, and they themselves but for a time. After liberation they will become a nuisance to the country that imports them.

The fact that, despite of the enormous annual importation of slaves to Cuba, the number of whites is greater than that of blacks in that island, proves clearly enough that where it is cheaper to buy African slaves than to rear them, men will work these poor natives to death, regardless of humanity. Besides, the natural antipathy between the savage and the civilized man, not only prevents the influence of domestic affection on the heart of the master, but indurates his feelings and degrades his morals. Our slaves are treated far better than they were forty years ago, because they have improved in mind and morals, approached nearer to the master’s state of civilization, and thus elicited more of his interest and attachment. Slavery with us is becoming milder every day; were the slave trade revived, it would resume its pristine cruelty. The slaves we now hold would become less valuable, and we should take less care of them. In justice to them let us protest against the renewal of this infamous traffic. Slavery originating from the conquest of a country is beneficent even in its origin, for it preserves the slaves or serfs who are parcelled out to the conquering chiefs from the waste, pillage, cruelty and oppression of the common soldiers of the conquering army, — but slavery brought about by hunting and catching Africans like beasts, and then exposing them to the horrors of the middle passage, is quite a different thing.

We think it would be both wise and humane to subject the free negroes in America to some modification of slavery. Competition with the whites is killing them out. They are neither so moral, so happy, nor half so well provided as the slaves. Let them select their masters, and this would be another instance of slavery originating without violence or cruelty — another instance in which slavery would redress much greater evils than it occasioned.

I remember watching a documentary on Brazil years ago, which explained how the slave-owners there found it more economical to work slaves to death and import a new batch from Africa each season. When the British ended the slave trade, the Brazilian system had to evolve.

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