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Isaac Richardson
Isaac Richardson

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PREFACE. IN the month of August, 1841, I attended anantislavery convention in Nantucket, at which it was myhappiness to become acquainted with FREDERICKDOUGLASS, the writer of the following Narrative.He was a stranger to nearly every member of that body;but, having recently made his escape from the southernprison-house of bondage, and feeling his curiosity excitedto ascertain the principles and measures of theabolitionists,--of whom he had heard a somewhat vaguedescription while he was a slave,--he was induced to givehis attendance, on the occasion alluded to, though at thattime a resident in New Bedford. Fortunate, most fortunate occurrence!--fortunatefor the millions of his manacled brethren, yet pantingfor deliverance from their awful thraldom!--fortunatefor the cause of negro emancipation, and of universalliberty!--fortunate for the land of his birth, which hehas already done so much to save and bless!--fortunatefor a large circle of friends and acquaintances,whose sympathy and affection he has strongly securedby the many sufferings he has endured, by his virtuoustraits of character, by his ever-abiding remembranceof those who are in bonds, as being bound with them!--fortunate for the multitudes, in various parts of ourrepublic, whose minds he has enlightened on the subjectof slavery, and who have been melted to tears byhis pathos, or roused to virtuous indignation by his stirringeloquence against the enslavers of men!--fortunatefor himself, as it at once brought him into the Page ivfield of public usefulness, "gave the world assurance of aMAN," quickened the slumbering energies of his soul, andconsecrated him to the great work of breaking the rod ofthe oppressor, and letting the oppressed go free! I shall never forget his first speech at the convention--theextraordinary emotion it excited in my own mind--thepowerful impression it created upon a crowded auditory,completely taken by surprise--the applause whichfollowed from the beginning to the end of hisfelicitous remarks. I think I never hated slavery sointensely as at that moment; certainly, my perceptionof the enormous outrage which is inflicted by it, onthe godlike nature of its victims, was rendered far moreclear than ever. There stood one, in physical proportionand stature commanding and exact--in intellect richlyendowed--in natural eloquence a prodigy--in soul manifestly"created but a little lower than the angels"--yet a slave,ay, a fugitive slave,--trembling for his safety, hardly daringto believe that on the American soil, a single white personcould be found who would befriend him at all hazards, forthe love of God and humanity! Capable of high attainments asan intellectual and moral being--needing nothing but acomparatively small amount of cultivation to make him anornament to society and a blessing to his race--by the law of the land,by the voice of the people,by the terms of the slave code, he was only a piece of property, a beast of burden, a chattel personal, nevertheless! A beloved friend fromNew Bedford prevailed on Mr.DOUGLASS to address the convention. He came forwardto the platform with a hesitancy and embarrassment,necessarily the attendants of a sensitive mind in such anovel position. After apologizing for hisignorance, and reminding the audience that slaverywas a poor school for the human intellect and heart, Page vhe proceeded to narrate some of the facts in his ownhistory as a slave, and in the course of his speech gaveutterance to many noble thoughts and thrilling reflections.As soon as he had taken his seat, filled withhope and admiration, I rose, and declared that PATRICKHENRY, of revolutionary fame, never made a speechmore eloquent in the cause of liberty, than the one wehad just listened to from the lips of that hunted fugitive.So I believed at that time,--such is my beliefnow. I reminded the audience of the peril which surroundedthis self-emancipated young man at the North,--even in Massachusetts, on the soil of the PilgrimFathers, among the descendants of revolutionary sires; andI appealed to them, whether they would ever allow him tobe carried back into slavery,--law or no law,constitution or no constitution. The response wasunanimous and in thunder-tones--"NO!" "Will yousuccor and protect him as a brother-man--a resident ofthe old Bay State?" "YES!" shouted the whole mass, withan energy so startling, that the ruthless tyrants south ofMason and Dixon's line might almost have heard themighty burst of feeling, and recognized it as the pledge ofan invincible determination, on the part of those who gaveit, never to betray him that wanders, but to hide theoutcast, and firmly to abide the consequences. It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind, that,if Mr. DOUGLASS could be persuaded to consecrate histime and talents to the promotion of the anti-slaveryenterprise, a powerful impetus would be given to it, and astunning blow at the same time inflicted on northernprejudice against a colored complexion. I thereforeendeavored to instil hope and courage into his mind, inorder that he might dare to engage in a vocation soanomalous and responsible for a person in his situation;and I was seconded in this effort by warm-hearted friends,especially by the late General Page viAgent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Mr.JOHN A. COLLINS, whose judgment in this instance entirelycoincided with my own. At first, he could give noencouragement; with unfeigned diffidence, he expressed hisconviction that he was not adequate to the performance ofso great a task; the path marked out was wholly anuntrodden one; he was sincerely apprehensive that heshould do more harm than good. After much deliberation,however, he consented to make a trial; and ever since thatperiod, he has acted as a lecturing agent, under theauspices either of the American or the MassachusettsAnti-Slavery Society. In labors he has been mostabundant; and his success in combating prejudice, ingaining proselytes, in agitating the public mind, has farsurpassed the most sanguine expectations that were raisedat the commencement of his brilliant career. He has bornehimself with gentleness and meekness, yet with truemanliness of character. As a public speaker, he excels inpathos, wit, comparison, imitation, strength of reasoning,and fluency of language. There is in him that union ofhead and heart, which is indispensable to an enlightenmentof the heads and a winning of the hearts of others. May hisstrength continue to be equal to his day! May he continueto "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of God," that hemay be increasingly serviceable in the cause of bleedinghumanity, whether at home or abroad! It is certainly a very remarkable fact, that one of themost efficient advocates of the slave population, nowbefore the public, is a fugitive slave, in the person ofFREDERICK DOUGLASS; and that the free colored population ofthe United States are as ably represented by one of theirown number, in the person of CHARLES LENOXREMOND, whose eloquent appeals have extorted thehighest applause of multitudes on both sides of theAtlantic. Let the calumniators of the colored Page viirace despise themselves for their baseness and illiberalityof spirit, and henceforth cease to talk of the naturalinferiority of those who require nothing but time andopportunity to attain to the highest point of humanexcellence. It may, perhaps, be fairly questioned, whether anyother portion of the population of the earth could haveendured the privations, sufferings and horrors of slavery,without having become more degraded in the scale ofhumanity than the slaves of African descent. Nothing hasbeen left undone to cripple their intellects, darken theirminds, debase their moral nature, obliterate all traces oftheir relationship to mankind; and yet how wonderfullythey have sustained the mighty load of a most frightfulbondage, under which they have been groaning forcenturies! To illustrate the effect of slavery on the whiteman,--to show that he has no powers of endurance, in sucha condition, superior to those of his black brother, --DANIEL O'CONNELL, the distinguished advocate ofuniversal emancipation, and the mightiest champion ofprostrate but not conquered Ireland, relates the followinganecdote in a speech delivered by him in the ConciliationHall, Dublin, before the Loyal National RepealAssociation, March 31, 1845. "No matter," said Mr.O'CONNELL, "under what specious term it may disguiseitself, slavery is still hideous. It has a natural, an inevitabletendency to brutalize every noble faculty of man. AnAmerican sailor, who was cast away on the shore ofAfrica, where he was kept in slavery for three years, was,at the expiration of that period, found to be imbruted andstultified--he had lost all reasoning power; and havingforgotten his native language, could only utter some savagegibberish between Arabic and English, which nobody couldunderstand, and which even he himself found difficulty inpronouncing. So much for the humanizing influence of THE DOMESTIC INSTITUTION!" Page viiiAdmitting this to have been an extraordinary case of mentaldeterioration, it proves at least that the white slave can sink aslow in the scale of humanity as the black one. Mr. DOUGLASS has very properly chosen to write his ownNarrative, in his own style, and according to the best of hisability, rather than to employ some one else. Itis, therefore, entirely his own production; and, consideringhow long and dark was the career he had to run as a slave,--how few havebeen his opportunities toimprove his mind since he broke his iron fetters--it is, in my judgment,highly creditable to his head andheart. He who can peruse it without a tearful eye, aheaving breast, an afflicted spirit,--without beingfilled with an unutterable abhorrence of slavery andall its abettors, and animated with a determination toseek the immediate overthrow of that execrable system,--without tremblingfor the fate of this countryin the hands of a righteous God, who is ever on theside of the oppressed, and whose arm is not shortenedthat it cannot save,--must have a flinty heart, and bequalified to act the part of a trafficker "in slaves andthe souls of men." I am confident that it is essentiallytrue in all its statements; that nothing has beenset down in malice, nothing exaggerated, nothing drawnfrom the imagination; that it comes short of the reality,rather than overstates a single fact in regard toSLAVERY AS IT IS. The experience of FREDERICKDOUGLASS, as a slave, was not a peculiar one; his lotwas not especially a hard one; his case may be regardedas a very fair specimen of the treatment ofslaves in Maryland, in which State it is conceded that theyare better fed and less cruelly treated than in Georgia,Alabama, or Louisiana. Many have suffered incomparablymore, while very few on the plantations have suffered less,than himself. Yet how deplorable was his situation! whatterrible chastisements were Page ixinflicted upon his person! what still more shockingoutrages were perpetrated upon his mind! with all hisnoble powers and sublime aspirations, how like a brutewas he treated, even by those professing to have the samemind in them that was in Christ Jesus! to whatdreadful liabilities was he continually subjected! howdestitute of friendly counsel and aid, even in hisgreatest extremities! how heavy was the midnight of woewhich shrouded in blackness the last ray of hope,and filled the future with terror and gloom! what longingsafter freedom took possession of his breast,and how his misery augmented, in proportion as he grewreflective and intelligent,--thus demonstrating that ahappy slave is an extinct man! how he thought, reasoned,felt, under the lash of the driver, with thechains upon his limbs! what perils he encountered in hisendeavors to escape from his horrible doom! and howsignal have been his deliverance and preservation in the midst of anation of pitiless enemies! This Narrative contains many affecting incidents,many passages of great eloquence and power; but I thinkthe most thrilling one of them all is the descriptionDOUGLASS gives of his feelings, as he stood soliloquizingrespecting his fate, and the chances of his oneday being a freeman, on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay--viewing thereceding vessels as they flewwith their white wings before the breeze, and apostrophizingthem as animated by the living spirit of freedom. Who can readthat passage, and be insensibleto its pathos and sublimity? Compressed into it is awhole Alexandrian library of thought, feeling, andsentiment--all that can, all that need be urged, in the formof expostulation, entreaty, rebuke, against thatcrime of crimes,--making man the property of hisfellow-man! O, how accursed is that system, which entombs thegodlike mind of man, defaces the divine image, reducesthose who by creation were crowned Page xwith glory and honor to a level with four-footed beasts,and exalts the dealer in human flesh above all that is calledGod! Why should its existence be prolonged one hour? Isit not evil, only evil, and that continually? What does itspresence imply but the absence of all fear of God, allregard for man, on the part of the people of the UnitedStates? Heaven speed its eternal overthrow! So profoundly ignorant of the nature of slavery are manypersons, that they are stubbornly incredulous wheneverthey read or listen to any recital of the cruelties which aredaily inflicted on its victims. They do not deny that the slaves are held as property; but that terrible fact seems toconvey to their minds no idea of injustice, exposure tooutrage, or savage barbarity. Tell them of cruel scourgings,of mutilations and brandings, of scenes of pollution andblood, of the banishment of all light and knowledge, andthey affect to be greatly indignant at such enormous exaggerations, such wholesale misstatements, such abominablelibels on the character of the southern planters! Asif all these direful outrages were not the natural resultsof slavery! As if it were less cruel to reduce a humanbeing to the condition of a thing, than to give hima severe flagellation, or to deprive him of necessaryfood and clothing! As if whips, chains, thumb-screws,paddles, bloodhounds, overseers, drivers, patrols, werenot all indispensable to keep the slaves down, and togive protection to their ruthless oppressors! As if,when the marriage institution is abolished, concubinage,adultery, and incest, must not necessarily abound; whenall the rights of humanity are annihilated, any barrierremains to protect the victim from the fury of thespoiler; when absolute power is assumed over life andliberty, it will not be wielded with destructive sway!Skeptics of this character abound in society. In somefew instances, their incredulity arises from a want of Page xireflection; but, generally, it indicates a hatred of the light,a desire to shield slavery from the assaults of its foes, acontempt of the colored race, whether bond or free. Suchwill try to discredit the shocking tales of slaveholdingcruelty which are recorded in this truthful Narrative; butthey will labor in vain. Mr. DOUGLASS has frankly disclosedthe place of his birth, the names of those who claimedownership in his body and soul, and the names also ofthose who committed the crimes which he has allegedagainst them. His statements, therefore, may easily bedisproved, if they are untrue. In the course of hisNarrative, he relates two instancesof murderous cruelty,--in one of which a planterdeliberately shot a slave belonging to a neighboringplantation, who had unintentionally gotten within hislordly domain in quest of fish; and in the other, anoverseer blew out the brains of a slave who had fled to astream of water to escape a bloody scourging. Mr.DOUGLASS states that in neither of these instances was anything done by way of legal arrest or judicial investigation.The Baltimore American, of March 17, 1845, relates asimilar case of atrocity, perpetrated with similar impunity--asfollows:--"Shooting a Slave.--We learn, upon theauthority of a letter from Charles county, Maryland,received by a gentleman of this city, that a young man,named Matthews, a nephew of General Matthews, andwhose father, it is believed, holds an office at Washington,killed one of the slaves upon his father's farm by shootinghim. The letter states that young Matthews had been leftin charge of the farm; that he gave an order to the servant,which was disobeyed, when he proceeded to the house,obtained a gun, and, returning, shot the servant. Heimmediately, the letter continues, fled to his father'sresidence, where he still remains unmolested."--Let it neverbe forgotten, that no slaveholder or Page xiioverseer can be convicted of any outrage perpetrated onthe person of a slave, however diabolical it may be, on thetestimony of colored witnesses, whether bond or free. Bythe slave code, they are adjudged to be as incompetent totestify against a white man, as though they were indeed apart of the brute creation. Hence, there is no legalprotection in fact, whatever there may be in form, for theslave population; and any amount of cruelty may beinflicted on them with impunity. Is it possible for thehuman mind to conceive of a more horrible state ofsociety? The effect of areligious profession on the conduct ofsouthern masters is vividly described in the followingNarrative, and shown to be any thing but salutary. In thenature of the case, it must be in the highest degreepernicious. The testimony of Mr. DOUGLASS, onthis point, is sustained by a cloud of witnesses, whoseveracity is unimpeachable. "A slaveholder's profession ofChristianity is a palpable imposture. He is afelon of the highest grade. He is a man-stealer. It is of noimportance what you put in the other scale." Reader! are you withthe man-stealers in sympathyand purpose, or on the side of their down-trodden victims?If with the former, then are you the foe of God and man.If with the latter, what are you prepared to do and dare intheir behalf? Be faithful, be vigilant, be untiring in yourefforts to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free.Come what may--cost what it may--inscribe on the bannerwhich you unfurl to the breeze, as your religious and politicalmotto--"NO COMPROMISE WITH SLAVERY! NO UNION WITHSLAVEHOLDERS!"WM. LLOYD GARRISON.

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