THE AFRICAN AND THE TRUE
1—THE ENDS OF SLAVERY
The modern ground of works with Africa is very broad slavery is the base of the heavy pyramid, and what is the apex? The compulsory colonisation of America and the West Indies with African slaves has force the civilised world by slow degrees, and with varied directness on the part of its different nations, to become a great anti-slavery league. The orient gave slavery a supreme sanction, and made it a venerable orthodoxy. For slavery of some kind was older than profane history; it descended from the remnants of the old Asiatic religions, and was not denounced in the Jews Scriptures. It was not, and probably could not be, forbidden in Mahometanism; and it is so ingrained in the nature of man, in his self-love which crowns itself in the love of dominion over his fellows and possession of them, that to forbid it root and branches was impossible even to a Gordon with whom love to God and love to man were a passion. We see only the beginning of the end of it; for it wants many ending. Its final extinction awaits the ages when in all countries “Gentilism” shall begin to pass away. Jesus said, “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exorcise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you; but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant, and whosoever would be first among you shall be your bond-servant.” Here are the root of slavery and the divine declaration of anti-slavery brought face to face. No institution is assailed. It is a question of freedom. And the issue is committed by the creator and giver of freedom to the inalienable arbitration of mankind. The servant and bondservant are the loves of dominion surviving for righteousness sake.
Pending this age-long issue, England, Britain had the privilege of leading the way towards personal freedom for her slaves. She first enacted against the world that whatever slaves of whatever country set foot upon British ground was then and there a Free Man. That noble speaker, Curran, gave memorable utterances to this fact of individuals rescue in pleading for Hamilton Rowan. Irish, Scotch, and English readers will love his word. He says of the slave landing in our united islands: “No matter in what language his doom may have been pronounced; no matter what complexion incompatible with freedom an Indian or an African sun may have burnt upon him; no matter in what disastrous battle his liberty may have been cloven down; no matter with solemnities he may have been devoted upon the alter of slavery;—the first moment he touches the sacred soil of Britain, the alter and the god sink together in the dust; his soul walks abroad in her own majesty; his body swells beyond the measure of his chains that burst from around him; and he stands redeemed, regenerated, and disenthralled by the irresistible genius of universal emancipation.”
After Great Britain’s emancipation of these her guests now the sons and daughters of her own liberty, came her gradual emancipation, first by apprenticeship of her slaves in the West Indies. Under no external compulsion, and with singleness of aim, she purchased the slaves of their owners and endangered the West Indies commercially so far as their prosperity was ground upon compulsory labour. The way of right and awakened conscience was represented here; the rule of the minority. Welberforce, Clarkson, and a few others, upper house men, held within their hearts the earthquake that in its proportions overthrew the grossness of slavery in the British dominions. The seed grew. The motion went connecting multitudes as tracks of new justice and judgement until its voice was felt in parliament and an English lord Stanley emancipate his country, and so far made Christian brotherhood with the African an accomplished fact.
We may, as is usual in such cases, call the British place of assembly a black-parlour, the United States gathered a larger hall, full of men illustrious by presence there and lightening the place by their own names,—Garrison, Beecher, Stowe, the Lady, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and everywhere an array of eloquent pleaders. The enforcement of the fugitive slave law, which enacted that in whatever state of the union a runaway slave set his foot he was still a slave, shaped and sharpened a crisis, and John Brown, now immortal even in this world, died on the gallows in the agony of it. His refrain chants the deadlessness of causes in and through the death of men. “Old John Brown is dead, but his soul is marching on,”
Then war. Whether for the slave or not, at first, openly for the slave at last. His freedom came as Fate. This generation knows the history of it. How it rent the United States for a time; how it cost lives by the hundred thousands and how president Lincoln compelled himself as a Statesman and Saviour of his country to sign emancipation point blank for every black and coloured person north and south of the Republic. The magnitude of the catastrophe and the newness of what was left after it, showed the depth of war and it was the white race, which was chiefly exercised in it, though there were black battalions enlisted. But it was not a servile war. Two consciences held swords in it; both in the hands of freemen. The African beheld the strife of which he was the prize for the most part from a distance.
Why was the African thus emancipated? War, and the Politics of War, was the last reason; especially the political ground. Emancipation took the floor from under the feet of the south, or aimed to do so. But anti-slavery as a standard and a faith, as a conscience, was harder reason behind. If America could have been prevoyant enough to read its omen! Events were loudly teaching that a new spirit was born into the world; a fresh common sense of the independence of all men of their fellows, anchored to the plain fact of the interdependence of all men upon each other. These things had grown to be a pressure and power in Christendom. We may indeed choose to consider the stages which led and lead to emancipation and anti-enslavement universally as an obvious part of the advancing rights of man; as an outcome of modern politics in the direction of what is call democracy. This might be thought to account for it better in the United States than elsewhere. But while it supplies a concurrent cause for the emancipation of the Bantu, it wants a supplement for the greater problem of the determined assault by the Christian nations on the slave trade internal to Africa, and carried on form its coasts. Advancing democracy, especially if it means demagogy, has no credit here. Nor has republicanism a claim to be first in the field of Anti-Slavery. Yet we have to admit to our discredit that Great Britain inaugurated the African-American slave trade, and prosecuted it for ages with relentless vigour. Truly we owed the first amends for our malign example to the world. We have wiped out the blot. But having been ourselves engaged in the slave-trade, and more recently in slave-holding, and having purged this sin, we may frankly admit that the worst African vices may in time be extinguished in the seats where the prevail. But of this, more in the sequel.
At present let us take it for granted that the Providence of God is “moving in a mysterious way” over the face of the whole earth to make all thing new. This accounts here means for the smallest of the beginning, for the increase of the means, and the greatest of the ends. He comes to one or two, or a few minds first, and inspires into them what shall be. With their willingness, He makes a new will in them for His objects. They are impregnable persons, and have a new age with them in which live and move. In every way of life such individuals are appearing and they are not suggested from below. They are of the spirit of the time, and deeply considered that spirit is of the Divine Providence.