The Slave Trade
Henry Charles Carey

Chapter XV.
How Can Slavery Be Extinguished ?

How can slavery be extinguished, and man be made free?  This question, as regarded England, was answered some years since by a distinguished anti-corn-law orator, when he said that for a long time past, in that country, two men had been seeking one master, whereas the time was then at hand when two masters would be seeking one man.  Now, we all know that when two men desire to purchase a commodity, it rises in value, and its owner finds himself more free to determine for himself what to do with it than he could do if there were only one person desiring to have it, and infinitely more free than he could be if there were two sellers to one buyer.  To make men free there must be competition for the purchase of their services, and the more the competition the greater must be their value, and that of the men who have them to sell.

It has already been shown[1] that in purely agricultural communities there can be very little competition for the purchase of labour;  and that such is the fact the reader can readily satisfy himself by reflecting on the history of the past, or examining the condition of man as he at present exists among the various nations of the earth.  History shows that labour has become valuable, and that man has become free, precisely as the artisan has been enabled to take his place by the side of the ploughman — precisely as labour has become diversified — precisely as small towns have arisen in which the producer of food and wool could readily exchange for cloth and iron — precisely as manure could more readily be obtained to aid in maintaining the productiveness of the soil — and precisely, therefore, as men have acquired the power of associating with their fellow-men.  With the growth of that power they have everywhere been seen to obtain increased returns from land, increased reward of labour, and increased power to accumulate the means of making roads, establishing schools, and doing all other things tending to the improvement of their modes of action and their habits of thought; and thus it is that freedom of thought, speech, action, and trade have always grown with the growth of the value of labour and land.

It is desired to abolish the trade in slaves.  No such trade could exist were men everywhere free;  but as they are not so, it has in many countries been deemed necessary to prohibit the sale of men from off the land, as preliminary to the establishment of freedom.  Nothing of this kind, however, can now be looked for, because there exists no power to coerce the owners of slaves to adopt any such measures;  nor, if it did exist, would it be desirable that it should he exercised, as it would make the condition of both the slave and his master worse than it is even now.  Neither is it necessary, because there exists “a higher law” — a great law of the Creator — that will effectually extinguish the trade whenever it shall be permitted to come into activity.

Why is it that men in Africa sell their fellow-men to be transported to Cuba or Brazil?  For the same reason, obviously, that other men sell flour in Boston or Baltimore to go to Liverpool or Rio Janeiro — because it is cheaper in the former than in the latter cities.  If, then, we desired to put a stop to the export, would not our object be effectually accomplished by the adoption of measures that would cause prices to be higher in Boston than in Liverpool, and higher in Baltimore than in Rio?  That such would be the case must be admitted by all.  If, then, we desired to stop the export of negroes from Africa, would not our object be effectually and permanently attained could we so raise the value of man in Africa that he would be worth as much, or more, there than in Cuba?  Would not the export of Coolies cease if man could be rendered more, valuable in India than in Jamaica or Guiana?  Would not the destruction of cottages, the eviction of their inhabitants, and the waste of life throughout Ireland, at once be terminated, could man be made as valuable there as he is here?  Would not the export of the men, women, and children of Great Britain cease, if labour there could be brought to a level with that of Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania?  Assuredly it would;  for men do not voluntarily leave home, kindred, and friends.  On the contrary, so great is the attachment to home, that it requires, in most cases, greatly superior attractions to induce them to emigrate.  Adam Smith said that, of all commodities, man was the hardest to be removed — and daily observation shows that he was right.

To terminate the African slave trade, we need, then, only to raise the value of man in Africa.  To terminate the forced export of men, women, and children from Ireland, we need only to raise the value of men in Ireland;  and to put an end to our own domestic slave trade, nothing is needed except that we raise the value of man in Virginia.  To bring the trade in slaves, of all colours and in all countries, at once and permanently to a close, we need to raise the value of man at home, let that home be where it may.  How can this be done?  By precisely the same course of action that terminated the export of slaves from England to Ireland.  In the days of the Plantagenets, men were so much more valuable in the latter country than in the former one, that the market of Ireland was “glutted with English slaves;”  but as, by degrees, the artisan took his place by the side of the English ploughman, the trade passed away, because towns arose and men became strong to defend their rights as they were more and more enabled to associate with each other.  Since then, the artisan has disappeared from Ireland, and the towns have decayed, and men have become weak because they have lost the power to associate, and, therefore, it is that the market of England has been so glutted with Irish slaves that man has been declared to be “a drug, and population a nuisance.”

Such precisely has been the course of things in Africa.  For two centuries it had been deemed desirable to have from that country the same “inexhaustible supply of cheap labour” that Ireland has supplied to England;  and, therefore, no effort was spared to prevent the negroes from making any improvement in their modes of cultivation.  “It was,” says Macpherson, “the European policy” to prevent the Africans from arriving at perfection in any of their pursuits, “from a fear of interfering with established branches of trade elsewhere.”  More properly, it was the English policy. “The truth is,” said Mr. Pitt, in 1791—

“There is no nation in Europe which has plunged so deeply into this guilt as Britain.  We stopped the natural progress of civilization in Africa.  We cut her off from the opportunity of improvement.  We kept her down in a state of darkness, bondage, ignorance, and bloodshed.  We have there subverted the whole order of nature;  we have aggravated every natural barbarity, and furnished to every man motives for committing, under the name of trade, acts of perpetual hostility and perfidy against his neighbour.  Thus had the perversion of British commerce carried misery instead of happiness to one whole quarter of the globe.  False to the very principles of trade, unmindful of our duty, what almost irreparable mischief had we done to that continent!  We had obtained as yet only so much knowledge of its productions as to show that there was a capacity for trade which we checked.”

How was all this done?  By preventing the poor Africans from obtaining machinery to enable them to prepare their sugar for market, or for producing cotton and indigo and combining them into cloth — precisely the same course of operation that was pursued in Jamaica with such extraordinary loss of life.  Guns and gunpowder aided in providing cheap labour, and how they were supplied, even so recently as in 1807, will be seen on a perusal of the following passage, from an eminent English authority, almost of our own day:—

“A regular branch of trade here, at Birmingham, is the manufacture of guns for the African market.  They are made for about a dollar and a half:  the barrel is filled with water, and if the water does not come through, it is thought proof sufficient.  Of course, they burst when fired, and mangle the wretched negro, who has purchased them upon the credit of English faith, and received them, most probably, as the price of human flesh!  No secret is made of this abominable trade, yet the government never interferes, and the persons concerned in it are not marked and shunned as infamous.” — Southey’s “Espriella’s Letters”.

It is deemed now desirable to have cheap labour applied to the collection of gold-dust and hides, palm-leaves and ivory, and the description of commodities at present exported to that country will be seen by the following cargo-list of the brig Lily, which sailed from Liverpool a few weeks since for the African coast, but blew up and was destroyed in the neighbourhood of the Isle of Man, to wit:—

50 tons gunpowder,
20 puncheons rum,
A quantity of firearms, and
Some bale-goods.

Such are not the commodities required for raising the value of man in Africa, and until it can be raised to a level with his value in Cuba, the export of men will be continued from the African coast as certainly as the export from Ireland will be continued so long as men are cheaper there than elsewhere;  and as certainly as the trade described in the following letter will be continued, so long as the people India shall be allowed to do nothing but raise sugar and cotton for a distant market, and shall thus be compelled to forego all the advantages so long enjoyed by them under the native governments, when the history of the cotton manufacture was the history of almost every family in India:—

Havana, Feb. 11, 1853.

“On the morning of the 7th, arrived from Amoa, Singapore, and Jamaica, the British ship Panama, Fisher, 522 tons, 131 days’ passage, with 261 Asiatics (Coolies) on board, to be introduced to the labour of the island, purchased for a service of four years.  The loss on the passage was a considerable percentage, being 90 thrown overboard.  The speculators in this material are Messrs. Viloldo, Wardrop & Co., who have permission of the government to cover five thousand subjects.  The cargo is yet held in quarantine.

“On the 8th inst., arrived from Amoa and St. Helena, the ship Blenheim, Molison, 808 tons, 104 days’ passage, bringing to the same consignees 412 Coolies.  Died on the voyage, 38.  Money will be realized by those who have the privilege of making the introduction, and English capital will find some play;  but I doubt very much whether the purposes of English philanthropy will be realized, for, reasoning from the past, at the expiration of the four years, nearly all have been sacrificed, while the condition of African labour will be unmitigated.  A short term an cupidity strain the lash over the poor Coolie, and he dies;  is secreted if he lives, and advantage taken of his ignorance for extended time when once merged in plantation-service, where investigation can be avoided.” — Correspondence of the New York Journal of Commerce.

This trade is sanctioned by the British government because it provides an outlet for Hindoo labour, rendered surplus by the destruction of the power of association throughout India, and yet the same government expends large sums annually in closing an outlet for African labour, rendered surplus by the rum and the gunpowder that are supplied to Africa!

To stop the export of men from that important portion of the earth, it is required that we should raise the value of man in Africa, and to do this, the African must be enabled to have machinery, to bring the artisan to his door, to build towns, to have schools, and to make roads.  To give to the African these things, and to excite in his breast a desire for something better than rum, gunpowder, and murder, and thus to raise the standard of morals and the value of labour, has been the object of the founders of the Republic of Liberia, one of the most important and excellent undertakings of our day.  Thus far, however, it has been looked upon very coldly by all the nations of Europe, and it is but recently that it has received from any of them the slightest recognition and even now it is regarded solely as being likely to aid in providing cheap labour, to be employed in increasing the supplies of sugar and cotton, and thus cheapening those commodities in the market of the world, at the cost of the slaves of America and of India.

Nevertheless it has made considerable progress.  Its numbers now amount to 150,000,[2] a large proportion of whom are natives, upon whom the example of the colonists from this country has operated to produce a love of industry and a desire for many of the comforts of civilized life.  By aid, generally, of persuasion, but occasionally by that of force, it has put an end to the export of men throughout a country having several hundred miles of coast.  The difficulty, however, is that wages are very low, and thus there is but little inducement for the immigration of men from the interior, or from this country.[3]  Much progress has thus been made, yet it is small compared with what, might be made could the republic offer greater inducements to settlers from the interior, or from this country;  that is, could it raise the value of man, ridding itself of cheap labour.  Where there is nothing but agriculture, the men must be idle for very much of their time, and the women and children must be idle or work in the field;  and where people are forced to remain idle they remain poor and weak, and they can have neither towns, nor roads, nor schools.  Were it in the power of the republic to say to the people for hundreds of miles around, that there was a demand for labour every day in the year, and at good wages — that at one time cotton was to be picked, and at another it was to be converted into cloth — that in the summer the cane was to be cultivated, in the autumn the sugar was to be gathered, and in the winter it was to be refined — that at one time houses and mills were to be built, and at another roads to be made — that in one quarter stone was to be quarried, and in another timber to be felled — there would be hundreds of thousands of Africans who would come to seek employment, and each man that came would give strength to the republic while diminishing the strength of the little tyrants of the interior, who would soon find men becoming less abundant and more valuable, and it would then become necessary to try to retain their subjects.  Every man that came would desire to have his wife and children follow him, and it would soon come to be seen that population and wealth were synonymous, as was once supposed to be the case in Europe.  By degrees, roads would be made into the interior, and civilized black men would return to their old homes, carrying with them habits of industry and intelligence, a knowledge of agriculture and of the processes of the coarser manufactures, and with every step in this direction labour would acquire new value, and men would everywhere become more free.

To accomplish these things alone and unassisted might, however, require almost centuries, and to render assistance would be to repudiate altogether the doctrine of cheap labour, cheap sugar, and cheap cotton.  Let us suppose that on his last visit to England, President Roberts should have invoked the aid of the English Premier in an address to the following effect, and then see what must have been the reply:—

“My Lord:

“We have in our young republic a population of 150,000, scattered over a surface capable of supporting the whole population of England, and all engaged in producing the same commodities, — as a consequence of which we have, and can have, but little trade among ourselves.  During a large portion of the year our men have little to do, and they waste much time, and our women and children are limited altogether to the labours of the field, to the great neglect of education.  Widely scattered, we have much need of roads, but are too poor to make them, and therefore much produce perishes on the ground.  We cannot cultivate bulky articles, because the cost of transportation would be greater than their product at market; and of those that we do cultivate nearly the whole must be sent to a distance, with steady diminution in the fertility of the soil.  We need machinery and mechanics.  With them we could convert our cotton and our indigo into cloth, and thus find employment for women and children.  Mechanics would need houses, and carpenters and blacksmiths would find employment, and gradually towns would arise and our people would be from day to day more enabled to make their exchanges at home, while acquiring increased power to make roads, and land would become valuable, while men would become from day to day more free.  Immigration from the interior would be large, and from year to year we should be enabled to extend our relations with the distant tribes, giving value to their labour and disseminating knowledge, and thus should we, at no distant period, be enabled not only to put an end to the slave trade, but also to place millions of barbarians on the road to wealth and civilization.  To accomplish these things, however, we need the aid and countenance of Great Britain.”

The reply to this would necessarily have been—

“Mr. President:

“We are aware of the advantage of diversification of employments, for to that were our own people indebted for their freedom.  With the immigration of artisans came the growth of our towns, the value of our land, and the strength of the nation.  We are aware, too, of the advantages of those natural agents which so much assist the powers of man;  but it is contrary to British policy to aid in the establishment of manufactures of any description in any part of the world.  On the contrary, we have spared no pains to annihilate those existing in India, and we are now maintaining numerous colonies, at vast expense, for the single purpose of ‘stifling in their infancy the manufactures of other nations.’  We need large supplies of cotton, and the more you send us, the cheaper it will be; whereas, if you make cloth, you will have no cotton to sell, no cloth to buy.  We need cheap sugar, and if you have artisans to eat your sugar, you will have none to send us to pay for axes or hammers.  We need cheap hides, palm-leaves and ivory, and if your people settle themselves in towns, they will have less time to employ themselves in the collection of those commodities.  We need cheap labour, and the cheaper your cotton and your sugar the lower will be the price of labour.  Be content.  Cultivate the earth, and send its products to our markets, and we will send you cloth and iron.  You will, it is true, find it difficult to make roads, or to build schools, and your women will have to work in the sugar-plantations;  but this will prevent the growth of population, and there will be less danger of your being compelled to resort to ‘the inferior soils’ that yield so much less in return to labour.  The great danger now existing is that population may outrun food, and all our measures in Ireland, India, Turkey, and other countries are directed toward preventing the occurrence of so unhappy a state of things.”

Let us next suppose that the people of Virginia should address the British nation, and in the following terms:—

“We are surrounded by men who raise cotton wool, and we have in our own State land unoccupied that could furnish more sheep’s wool than would be required for clothing half our nation.  Within our limits there are water-powers now running to waste that could, if properly used, convert into cloth half the cotton raised in the Union.  We have coal and iron ore in unlimited quantity, and are daily wasting almost as much labour as would be required for making all the cloth and iron we consume in a month.  Nevertheless, we can make neither cloth nor iron.  Many of our people have attempted it, but they have, almost without exception, been ruined.  When you charge high prices for cloth, we build mills;  but no sooner are they built than there comes a crisis at ‘the mighty heart of commerce,’ and cloths are poured into our markets so abundantly and sold so cheaply, that our people become bankrupt.  When you charge high prices for iron, as you now do, we build furnaces; but no sooner are they ready than your periodical crisis comes, and then you sell iron so cheaply that the furnace-master is ruined.  As a consequence of this, we are compelled to devote ourselves to raising tobacco and corn to go abroad, and our women and children are barbarized, while our lands are exhausted.  You receive our tobacco, and you pay us but three pence for that which sells for six shillings, and we are thus kept poor.  Our corn is too bulky to go abroad in its rude state, and to enable it to go to market we are obliged to manufacture it into negroes for Texas.  We detest the domestic slave trade, and it is abhorrent to our feelings to sell a negro, but we have no remedy, nor can we have while, because of inability to have machinery, labour is so cheap.  If we could make iron, or cloth, we should need houses, and towns, and carpenters, and blacksmiths, and then people from other States would flock to us, and our towns and cities would grow rapidly, and there would be a great demand for potatoes and turnips, cabbages and carrots, peas and beans, and then we could take from the land tons of green crops, where now we obtain only bushels of wheat.  Land would then become valuable, and great plantations would become divided into small farms, and with each step in this direction labour would become more productive, and the labourer would from day to day acquire the power to determine for whom he would work and how he should be paid — and thus, as has been the case in all other countries, our slaves would become free as we became rich.”

To this what would be the reply?  Must it not be to the following effect:—

“We need cheap food, and the more you can be limited to agriculture, the greater will be the quantity of wheat pressing upon our market, and the more cheaply will our cheap labourers be fed.  We need large revenue, and the more you can be forced to raise tobacco, the larger our consumption, and the larger our revenue.  We need cheap cotton and cheap sugar, and the less the value of men, women, and children in Virginia, the larger will be the export of slaves to Texas, the greater will be the competition of the producers of cotton and sugar to sell their commodities in our markets, and the lower will be prices, while the greater will be the competition for the purchase of our cloth, iron, lead, and copper, and the higher will be prices.  Our rule is to buy cheaply and sell dearly, and it is only the slave that submits dearly to buy and cheaply to sell.  Our interest requires that we should be the great work-shop of the world, and that we may be so it is needful that we should use all the means in our power to prevent other nations from availing themselves of their vast deposites of ore and fuel; for if they made iron they would obtain machinery, and be enabled to call to their aid the vast powers that nature has everywhere provided for the service of man.  We desire that there shall be no steam-engines, no bleaching apparatus, no furnaces, no rolling-mills, except our own;  and our reason for this is, that we are quite satisfied that agriculture is the worst and least profitable pursuit of man, while manufactures are the best and most profitable.  It is our wish, therefore, that you should continue to raise tobacco and corn, and manufacture the corn into negroes for Texas and Arkansas;  and the more extensive the slave trade the better we shall be pleased, because we know that the more negroes you export the lower will be the price of cotton.  Our people are becoming from day to day more satisfied that it is ‘for their advantage’ that the negro shall ‘wear his chains in peace,’ even although it may cause the separation of husbands and wives, parents and children, and although they know that, in default of other employment, women and children are obliged to employ their labour in the culture of rice among the swamps of Carolina, or in that of sugar among the richest and most unhealthy lands of Texas.  This will have one advantage.  It will lessen the danger of over-population.”

Again, let us suppose the people of Ireland to come to their brethren across the Channel and say — “Half a century since we were rapidly improving.  We had large manufactures of various kinds, and our towns were thriving, and schools were increasing in number, making a large, demand for books, with constantly increasing improvement in the demand for labour, and in its quality.  Since then, however, a lamentable change has taken place.  Our mills and furnaces have everywhere been closed, and our people have been compelled to depend entirely upon the land;  the consequence of which is seen in the fact that they have been required to pay such enormous rents that they themselves have been unable to consume any thing but potatoes, and have starved by hundreds of thousands, because they could find no market for labour that would enable them to purchase even of them enough to support life.  Labour has been so valueless that our houses have been pulled down by hundreds of thousands, and we find ourselves now compelled to separate from each other, husbands abandoning wives, sons abandoning parents, and brothers abandoning sisters.  We fear that our whole nation will disappear from the earth; and the only mode of preventing so sad an event is to be found in raising the value of labour.  We need to make a market at home for it and for the products of our land; but that we cannot have unless we have machinery.  Aid us in this.  Let us supply ourselves.  Let us make cloth and iron, and let us exchange those commodities among ourselves for the labour that is now everywhere being wasted.  We shall then see old towns flourish and new ones arise, and we shall have schools, and our land will become valuable, while we shall become free.”

The answer to this would necessarily be as follows:—

“It is to the cheap labour that Ireland has supplied that we are indebted for ‘our great works,’ and cheap labour is now more than ever needed, because we have not only to underwork the Hindoo but also to underwork several of the principal nations of Europe and America.  That we may have cheap labour we must have cheap food.  Were we to permit you to become manufacturers you would make a market at home for your labour and wages would rise, and you would then be able to eat meat and wheaten bread, instead of potatoes, and the effect of this would be to raise the price of food;  and thus should we be disabled from competing with the people of Germany, of Belgium, and of America, in the various markets of the world.  Further than this, were you to become manufacturers you would consume a dozen pounds of cotton where now you consume but one, and this would raise the price of cotton, as the demand for Germany and Russia has now raised it, while your competition with us might lower the price of cloth.  We need to have cheap cotton while selling dear cloth.  We need to have cheap food while selling dear iron.  Our paramount rule of action is, ‘buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest one’ — and the less civilized those with whom we have to deal the cheaper we can always buy and the dearer we can sell.  It is, therefore, to our interest that your women should labour in the field, and that your children should grow up uneducated and barbarous.  Even, however, were we so disposed, you could not compete with us.  Your labour is cheap, it is true, but after having, for half a century, been deprived of manufactures, you have little skill, and it would require many years for you to acquire it.  Your foreign trade has disappeared with your manufactures, and the products of your looms would have no market but your own.  When we invent a pattern we have the whole world for a market, and after having supplied the domestic demand, we can furnish of it for foreign markets so cheaply as to set at defiance all competition.  Further than all this, we have, at very short intervals, periods of monetary crisis that are so severe as to sweep away many of our own manufacturers, and at those times goods are forced into all the markets of the world, to be sold at any price that can be obtained for them.  Look only at the facts of the last few years.  Six years since, railroad iron was worth 12 per ton.  Three years since, it could be had for 4.10, or even less.  Now it is at 10, and a year hence it may be either 12 or 4;  and whether it shall be the one or the other is dependent altogether upon the movements of the great Bank which regulates all our affairs.  Under such circumstances, how could your infant establishments hope to exist?  Be content.  The Celt has long been ‘the hewer of wood and drawer of water for the Saxon,’ and so he must continue.  We should regret to see you all driven from your native soil, because it would deprive us of our supply of cheap labour;  but we shall have in exchange the great fact that Ireland will become one vast grazing-farm, and will supply us with cheap provisions, and thus aid in keeping down the prices of all descriptions of food sent to our markets.”

The Hindoo, in like manner, would be told that his aid was needed for keeping down the price of American and Egyptian cotton, and Brazilian and Cuban sugar, and that the price of both would rise were he permitted to obtain machinery that would enable him to mine coal and iron ore, by aid of which to obtain spindles and looms for the conversion of his cotton into cloth, and thus raise the value of his labour.  The Brazilian would be told that it was the policy of England to have cheap sugar, and that the more he confined himself and his people — men, women, and children — to the culture of the cane, the lower would be the prices of the product of the slaves of Cuba and the Mauritius.

Seeing that the policy of England was thus directly opposed to every thing like association, or the growth of towns and other local places of exchange, and that it looked only to cheapening labour and enslaving the labourer, the questions would naturally arise:  Can we not help ourselves?  Is there no mode of escaping from this thraldom?  Must our women always labour in the field?  Must our children always be deprived of schools?  Must we continue for ever to raise negroes for sale?  Must the slave trade last for ever?  Must the agricultural communities of the world be compelled for all time to compete against each other in one very limited market for the sale of all they have to sell, and the purchase of all they have to buy?  Are there not some nations in which men are becoming more free, and might we not aid the cause of freedom by studying the course they have pursued and are pursuing?  Let us, then, inquire into the policy of some of the various peoples of Continental Europe, and see if we cannot obtain an answer to these questions.


1 Chap. VII. ante.

2 Message of President Roberts, Dec. 1849.

3 Lecture on the Relations of Free and Slave Labour, by David Christy, p. 46.