XII. THE SLAVERY AGITATION.
The United States inherited, and had to accept, from the colonial system, a great moral and social wrong. Slavery, planted on our soil soon after its first settlement, had spread not only through the South, but had existed for a time even in the Puritan colonies of New England. An active slave-trade had grown up, and was still flourishing at the time that the constitution was framed. There is every reason to believe that the most eminent and enlightened even of Southern statesmen, in the very infancy of the Republic, regarded African bondage as not only a moral, but, in many regards, a material evil. Washington and Jefferson especially uttered, in no doubtful accents, their dislike of the system; while such northern statesmen as Franklin, Adams, and Roger Sherman protested in yet sterner tones against its continuance.
[Strength of the Slave Power.]
[The Missouri Compromise.]
But slavery, like many traditional abuses of nations, was so securely lodged, so difficult to uproot, that wise men at once deplored its presence and despaired of its abolition. While, therefore, the framers of the constitution refused to insert a direct recognition of slavery in that instrument, choosing to regard it as temporary, and likely in time to become extinct, other subjects, crowding upon the attention of statesmen at the period of political formation, pushed this of slavery for a while into the background. The first definite collision between the upholders and the opponents of slavery occurred when, as a consequence of the rapid growth of the country, the territories began one after another to knock for admission into the household of States. The dispute came to an issue in the year 1820. Missouri sought admission into the Union, and it was attempted to admit her as a slave state. Then the Northern statesmen declared that some limit or restriction should be placed upon future admissions of States, in regard to slavery.
[The "Slavery Agitation."]
The debates in Congress were long and warm. Every argument which has since become so familiar on the subject was advanced on one side and on the other. The moral evil of slavery, its demoralizing influence upon freeman and bondman, its cruelties in practice, were dilated upon by some; others pictured "the peculiar institution" in its more patriarchal and pleasant aspects. Finally, the northern members agreed to admit Missouri as a slave State, on condition that thenceforth all new states north of the line of 36 deg.30'north latitude - known as "Mason and Dixon's line" - should be free; while all new states south of that line should decide for themselves whether they should be free or slave. It was the vain hope of the statesmen of Monroe's time that this settlement, known in history as the "Missouri Compromise," would be accepted as final, and that the mutual ill-feeling which had already become bitter between the sections would be finally allayed by it.
They flattered themselves that they had put a period to the agitation, and that the irritating question was now cast outside the domain of American politics. Perhaps they did not sufficiently reflect that the same power which had established the boundaries of slavery might, when the opportunity was ripe, erase them. The slavery agitation was, however, only in its infancy. It had within it a vital and irrepressible element of growth. With the advance of civil liberty, the growth of education, it, too, must necessarily make progress. As yet it was in the hands of so-called "fanatics." Respectable statesmanship, having made the Missouri Compromise, would have no more of it.
[The "Liberty Party."]
It was early in General Jackson's presidency that the small but determined "Liberty party" of the North began to attract attention by what was considered the extravagance of its utterances, and the absurdity of its proposals. The Quaker Lundy published his "Genius of Universal Emancipation"; Garrison put forth the "Liberator" at Boston; and soon, in various parts of the Union, abolition tracts and fanatical orators brought down upon them not only the execration of the South, but the assaults of northern mobs. An insurrection, under the lead of a negro named Turner, broke out in Virginia, and massacres and burnings followed. The Georgia Legislature put a price upon Garrison's head; and that devoted advocate of human freedom responded by founding the New England Anti-Slavery Society - an example soon followed in various places through the North.
[Sympathy for the Slaves.]
The cause was right, and grew despite every obstacle of mob violence, persecution, contempt, and, not the least, the indignant hostility of respectable statesmanship. Yet evidences began to appear, here and there, that the sympathy even of official responsibility was gradually leaning to the principle of liberty. The Massachusetts Supreme Court declared the child Med, whose master had brought her to Boston, to have become by that act free. There was still, however, much suffering in store for the anti-slavery advocates. Garrison, in attempting to speak before the Female Anti-Slavery Society in Boston, was dragged through the streets by an enraged mob, and was only saved from death by being hurried to the jail as a refuge. A hall in Philadelphia which had been desecrated by an abolition conference, was burned. Elijah Lovejoy, an Illinois abolition editor, was killed by a mob. These are a few among many examples of the violence with which the abolitionists were treated.