Jacksonian Miscellanies, #52

March 10, 1998

JMISC #52: Abdy Excerpt 4 - Jackson's Visit and Racism

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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This is the 4th extract from Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America, from April, 1833, to October, 1834. by Edward S. Abdy (London: Murray, 1835).

It describes Andrew Jackson's visit to New York, and then dwells at length on American racism.

The city was now all bustle and anxiety, in expectation of a visit from the President of the United States, who was to arrive on the 12th from Philadelphia. The corporation had engaged apartments for him at the American Hotel; and the ladies seemed to be agreed that they were fitted up with great taste, and in a style of splendor not unworthy of a guest of the richest city of the Union; and no doubt "Old Hickory" slept as comfortably in the bed provided for him as if he had been master of the Tuilleries, or of Windsor Castle. Though there were many visitors on the occasion of throwing open the rooms to the public gaze, there was no crowding or confusion; for as every one was admitted, no one went to obtain an indulgence or exercise a privilege. Between three and four in the afternoon the President arrived in the steamboat, with his attendants. An immense multitude, that covered every accessible spot on land or water, greeted his arrival at the battery with such demonstrations of rejoicing, as led me to think that he must be extremely popular, or the people extremely fond of receiving homage from the work of their own hands. From the open carriage of an American gentleman, at whose house I had dined, I had a good view of "the great man," as he passed on horseback along the Broadway, accompanied by the governor of the State, the civic authorities, the militia, &c. He was dressed in a plain suit of black; and, as he passed through the dense mass of spectators, and bowed most assiduously to the cheers and wavings of flags and handkerchiefs, that caught his ears and his eyes on all sides-from the open pavement, the doorways, the windows, and the roofs of the houses,--his gray hair and elevated forehead presented the picture of a fine old man, more remarkable for a muscular frame and an inflexible countenance than for dignified deportment or graceful manners. He remained some little time in the city to receive and pay the accustomed courtesies, and then proceeded to the eastward, to grasp the hands and gladden the hearts of the Yankees. Whether he was overcome by the fatigues of his excursion, or some political embarrassment arrested his progress, he cut short his journey after he had quitted Boston, and abruptly returned to Washington.

Though I had heard much, before I left England, about the aristocracy of the skin, which so disgracefully distinguishes the new from the old world, I was not prepared to find that America had borrowed from Asia her degrading system of castes, and that the western world was divided into Brahmins and Pariahs. That a people, not otherwise inferior to the rest of mankind in justice, religion, or kind-heartedness, should condemn nearly one-fifth of their fellow citizens, without pity, without remorse, and without a trial, to contempt and obloquy, for no reason but that of the strongest, and no crime but that of color, is one of those anomalies, which the history of every age and country--to the shame of human nature--exhibits, but which the history of no age and of no country exhibits in more preposterous contradiction to the spirit of the times, the advancement of intelligence, and the spread of Christianity. Alarmed at the increasing numbers of this insulted race, and foreseeing, with the instinctive acuteness of cruelty, in their advancing intelligence, a demand for social rights and the efforts of commercial competition, the favored majority were straining every nerve to drive them out of the country by contumelious treatment or deceptious promises. Emigration was offered, as the better part of that alternative which alone remained to national injustice--of expatriating them, as likely to become dangerous or troublesome, or of admitting them to the same privileges with the native-born or naturalized whites. They were told that they were to be sent to their native country, as if that alone were not our native country where we were born; where the remains of those nearest and dearest to us rest; and where every inanimate object bears upon it the indelible impress of our earliest associations and fondest affections. Interested in the fortunes of a people to whom no nation owes a heavier debt, for its crimes and its cruelties, than our own, and who seem destined by the mysterious orderings of Providence, to enjoy and impart the blessings of civilization in the land of their servitude, I determined to investigate their present condition, and ascertain how far they were likely to accept the proffered bounty of the Colonization Society. With this view I called, at the suggestion of a person to whom he was well known, upon the Rev. Peter Williams--a minister of the Protestant Episcopalian church, into which he was ordained by Bishop Hobart. His father, who had been a slave, kept a tobacconists shop after his emancipation, and had, as his first servant, the son of his former master-- a double reverse of fortune, that illustrates the doctrine of compensation in a very striking manner.

I found Mr. Williams a very intelligent man, of pleasing and gentlemanly manners, and was much gratified with the information he gave me relative to the situation and prospects of a people, who, like the Jews, have escaped from bondage, to suffer from calumny. It was his opinion that they were chiefly petty offences, for which the blacks, who are found in such numbers in the prisons and penitentiaries, have been committed,-- offences that are often overlooked in the whites, who have to contend neither against the prejudice which disposes to conviction, nor against the difficulty of obtaining evidence to character. The prejudice against them was less prevalent, he thought, in the rural districts than in the cities and towns; and stronger among the wealthy than the less fortunate portions of society. This opinion was verified by subsequent observation, and I discovered, contrary to what might have been reasonably expected, that the feeling, however suppressed or disguised, was more bitter in the women than in the men--in the clergy than in the laity--and in the north than in the south. The father of Mr. Williams performed, while a slave, an action so noble and disinterested, that it ought to be recorded. During the revolutionary war, be rescued the Rev. Mr. Chapman--a Presbyterian minister of New Jersey--from the enemy, who were in search of him as one of the most active promoters of the rebellion. An English officer, who suspected that he knew the place of Chapman's retreat, threatened his life, and then offered him his purse, to betray him. But neither the menace nor the gold had any influence upon his resolution; he resisted both, to preserve a man who had no claim upon his benevolence but the danger he was in. The son is worthy of the parent, and is respected by all in spite of his lineage. White clergymen, and even bishops, are sometimes seen in his pulpit,--not but what they resume, on quitting the colored congregation, the sandals they had left at the door, or are not again "conformed" to the world because they have been thus "transformed" by Christian charity. The teachers of the same religion ought not surely to be considered as unfit associates for one another; nor should he, who has given to another authority to preach the gospel, refuse to secure him against insult by the proper employment of that influence which his high calling gives him over his own flock. It is no answer to these remarks to assert that the prejudices of the country are too strong and too widely diffused to be combated by individual efforts, and that foreigners have no right to interfere. If the existence of a custom is to be its justification, and every nation is to be per- mitted to do what seems right in its own eyes, infanticide in China and self-immolation in Hindostan are natural and lawful; every vice, however odious, and every crime, however hideous, are to be tolerated in those communities that commit them; and no principles, by which human actions and sentiments are to be regulated, can ever be discovered.

The brutal indifference to human virtue and happiness that accompanies this antipathy is inconceivable. There was an article in the American Quarterly Review, about this time, on the subject of the Colonization Society. It abounded in that sort of hypothetical reasoning, gratuitous assumption, and arbitrary analogies which generally characterise the advocacy of a bad cause. The vulgar fallacy of contrasting theory with experience was thrust forward; as if the same facts could be valuable when separated, and worthless in conjunction; or the principle which is found in all, of less consequence than the accessaries with which each is casually connected. But the badness of the logic is lost in the atrocity of a suggestion, which involves so much inhumanity in the expedient recommended, and so much demoralization in the results, that we are at a loss to decide which most deserves our reprobation--the writer of such an article, or the people to whom it is addressed. "If Congress," says the Reviewer, "had, from 1790, been empowered to make a very moderate annual appropriation for the purchase of the female infants of slaves, and taken no other measures, slavery would be (would have been) now little more than a name, and, twenty years hence, all but extinct." This measure has several times been urged upon the planters by Niles, in his Register. "We calculated,"--such are his words so late as Sept. 1834,--"we calculated, some years ago, that the removal annually of twelve or thirteen thousand young colored females from the United States, would check the progress of the whole colored population; and suppose that, if slavery is ever abolished in this country, unless by acts of lawful violence, it must be brought about by gradual, and moderate, and kind removals of young females--from which no great inconvenience to either party would result. Steadinesss in the policy suggested would, in a few years, very materially reduce the comparative number of the colored population."This was said on the occasion of our sending out young women to Australia. Niles must have known, or ought to have known, why they were sent. The object was not, as he would have it be believed, to check population at home. He would not, perhaps, regret to see the same vices which called for this importation into New Holland, resulting from the projected exportation from North America. The more degraded the one race, the greater relative importance of the other --in their own eyes. It is from Spanish barbarity that this scheme appears to have been borrowed. "It was the policy of sugar-planters ," says Abbott, in his Letters on Cuba, "to purchase males alone; and they were not allowed wives off of the estate; therefore they were wholly denied a privilege, even more eagerly coveted by blacks than whites, and were condemned to monkish celibacy--or that which was very much worse. A policy so barbarous has been abandoned by most but it is retained by some, and even by coffee-planters; where the labor is comparatively light, either excluding females from the estate, or locking up the sexes in separate buildings." Population is discouraged in Cuba, because it is cheaper to buy than to rear slaves, on the same principle that a farmer purchases, instead of breeding, his horses. The ordinary profits of stock can only be made by conforming to the system which competition introduces and self-defence is obliged to adopt. If man, by becoming property, could, by any possibility, be secured against the contingencies to which property is exposed, he would no longer be a slave.

In 1820 there were, on the island, but five female blacks to nine males of the same race; while the proportion among the sexes in the white popuIation was as seven to eight. Between 1811 and 1825, according to a statistical account published at the Havana in 1829 by a Commission appointed by the local government, 185,000 blacks had been imported from Africa; yet there were no more than 286,942 in the year 1827, while in 1817 there had been 225,268. Some deduction must be made from the destruction thus implied, on account of the contraband trade carried on between the island and the Slave States of the continent. Still the black or mixed races added to their numbers more rapidly than the other, from 1775 to 1827. The whites had increased 224 per cent. during that period, the free colored population 246, and the slaves 547.

To return to the Review, a more extended notice of which may be excused as the able advocate of an association, which owes its origin to a combination of circumstances so little understood in Europe, that no one would believe it possible for a whole nation to invoke the aid and admiration of Humanity for a work of consummate duplicity and wickedness. The writer in question is, however, consistent:--he approves of teaching religion to the slaves by oral communication alone, and speaks with complacency of the law recently enacted in Georgia, that no colored person shall engage in preaching or exhortation or as a class reader. The black, it is said, is naturally inferior to the white: what if the former had been the sculptor? Admitting the truth of this position, what right does the distinction give to the latter?--It was his pride that suggested the hypothesis; and his avarice that connected the premises with the conclusion. The logic is worthy of the morality. He who is accustomed to see or to infer benevolent design in everything around him, will not doubt that the diversities of form and complexion, which distinguish the various tribes of men, have the accommodation of the species for their object, as they have the divine goodness for their Author. He would laugh at the folly, if be were not indignant at the impiety, which would make an assumed superiority of mind a reason for employing the physical powers of the victim for its own purposes; and would readily acknowledge, that, if authority were to change hands, the justification of its exercise might, by parity of reasoning, be founded on the same distinction-- since the African would claim a property in European intellect on the plea of a more perfect bodily organization. How can it be said, with any semblance of truth, that the free blacks quit the country without constraint or coercion, since their residence in all the States is made the source of unceasing annoyance to them; and, in some of them, is no longer tolerated? "The laws of Maryland,"*

says the Reviewer, "provide that they are to be removed with their free consent; and, if they refuse to emigrate, they are required to leave the State." -- "The supporters of the scheme (of deportation) believe" be adds, "that slavery is a moral and a political evil:--but, being a constitutional and legitimate system here, [we know too well in Europe what legitimate means,] they have neither inclination nor interest, nor ability to disturb it." Singular consistency between conviction and volition; that couples the acknowledgement of an iniquity with an indifference to its removal! The African Repository has long used the same sort of language. Many members of the Society have a direct interest in the continuance of this "legitimate" system; as they rear human beings like cattle, for the market, the limits of which are extended by this "scheme." A new channel is thus opened for the stream, the profitable springs of which are in their hands. Avarice is purified by its alliance with Benevolence; and the worship of God and Mammon is found to be both practicable and lucrative.

"The Society maintains that no slave ought to receive his liberty, except on condition of being excluded, not merely from the State, which sets him loose, but from the whole country;" i.e. punishment is to fall, not upon the perpetrators, but the victims of this "moral evil"; misfortune and crime are to meet with the same fate; and the justice of the white man is to make even Liberty a curse. We are told, in every publication that issues from this Society, in every speech that is addressed by its advocates to an applauding public, that these unfortunate beings are to be expatriated, because they are "an ignorant, indolent, and depraved population." Yet a clergyman in Virginia, while offering to emancipate seventeen of these "degraded" creatures, declared in a letter written by him in 1828, that they were "as desirable a parcel for their integrity and industry as any man owned," and the Reviewer himself says- "no capital crime has been committed (in Liberia) since its commencement; and very few (be believes) of any description." The same men, we are called upon to believe, are rogues in America and honest men in Africa; depravity becomes virtue by crossing the Atlantic; and the rubbish and refuse of the mother country prove a boon and a blessing to her colony. The parent and child are not more completely separated by the waters of the Atlantic than by the natural sympathy of the one with every thing that bears the human form, and the superstitious repugnance which the other has imbibed, from early infancy, against one fifth of those who were born on the same soil with himself. What right has any one to say, "homo sum," who cannot add --"nihil humani a me alienum puto"? He cannot "know himself a man," till he has been taught "what others are to feel."

In England, a sable complexion is a passport, almost everywhere, to kindness and, liberality. In that part of America, which "claims kindred" with her sons, it is viewed with aversion or repelled with scorn. The studied separation in the first periods of life;--the universal antipathy during all that succeed; --the rigorous exclusion from the courtesies and accomplishments, of social life; --and, above all, the risk of losing caste attached to any deviation from what despotic custom has marked with her inexorable "tabu" --form a barrier to a more liberal and humane intercourse, which none but the most generous or the most vile among the whites can break through.

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