St Paul: “Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so.” (1 Corinthians 7:20-21 NIV)
THE NATURE OF SLAVERY.
What is slavery?
Slavery, in its widest sense, is the absolute subjection of one human being to the will of another. The slave is considered as the absolute property of the master, who feels himself entitled to do what he will with his own. The slave is constrained to labour, whether he will or not; and that for the benefit of his master, not his own; the master alone having authority to appoint the nature of work on which the slave shall be employed, the time when he shall be constrained to labour or permitted to rest, and the amount of work that he shall be required to perform. The master, also, fixes the subsistence, or means of obtaining a subsistence, which shall be given in return. It is also in the power of the master to inflict on the slave any severity he may think necessary, in order to make him perform the task required, or any sort or degree of punishment for failing to -perform it, or otherwise incurring the displeasure of his master. The master, also, claims as his property the children of his slaves, and is at liberty to send them where, and employ them how he pleases; and to give, sell, or bequeath them to other persons, the slave having no power of appeal, and government no power of interference. This is slavery. It may be better or worse according to the customs of different places, or according to the dispositions of masters, whether more or less humane and considerate, or tyrannical and cruel, but the condition, in itself, is the same.
Now let the young reader again attentively peruse this page, and compare the description given of slavery, with any condition or relation between man and man that he has experienced or observed in this “happy land” of liberty.
It has been said, in the first place, that “slavery is the absolute or entire subjection of one human being to the will of another.” Now did you ever see any thing like this practised in England? No. An infant, indeed, is in entire subjection to its parents. This is wisely and mercifully appointed by the law of God, for the good of a poor little helpless being, who could not take care of itself. The parents are entrusted with it as a charge from God, and are prompted by natural affection to use it kindly and tenderly. If they are good parents, they have always two things in view,—the commands of God, and the welfare of the child. As the child becomes capable of understanding, they govern it by reason, rather than by force, and endeavour gradually to fit it to govern and take care of itself. While it is entirely dependent on them, they supply all its real wants to the utmost of their ability: they require of it only what is just and reasonable; and if at any time they inflict chastisement, it is not in a spirit of cruelty and tyranny, but in order to cure some evil propensity of the child, and to promote its real welfare. If—and there have been some shocking instances of this kind—if the parents should be wicked people, who, instead of loving and cherishing their tender offspring, should neglect or ill use it, the overseers of the poor have aright to interfere; or any neighbour who observes it may have the cruel parents taken before a magistrate, and punished according to their crime, while the poor child is properly taken care of. So, though an infant is entirely subject to its parents, it is not subject to their will. The laws of God and man protect it; and, if the will’ of the parents is to do ill by their child, the will of the law is that they shall suffer for it. But all this is very different from slavery. The master is not entrusted with the slave by any law of God or nature; there is no tie of affection to bind them to each other, and to secure the wise, and kind, and beneficial exercise of authority on the part of the master, or to bind the slave to willing and cheerful obedience. Then again, it is not the good of the slave that the master has in view in the relation, but his own profit. It is not that the slave-master undertakes to protect the helpless, till they have strength and ability to take care of themselves, and then let them go free. The grown up slaves are quite as capable as he is of taking care of themselves and their children, and would much rather do it their own way. Beside, the master has no intention of letting them go free at any future time: he will either employ them in his service as long as they live, or sell them to some other person.
An apprentice is subject to the will of his master; but not absolutely, or without conditions. For, first, he is at liberty to choose his own trade and master, nor can he be bound to serve but with his own consent. It is usual for a youth who is about to be apprenticed, to try for a short time first, on purpose that he may be able to judge whether he shall be likely to be satisfied with the conditions of the place. Then again, the master is bound as well as the apprentice,—bound to teach him his trade, and to allow him sufficient food, or pay him wages as agreed upon; and, if the master should starve, or ill use his apprentice, or require from him an unreasonable degree or duration of labour, or withhold the wages promised, the master is as liable to be taken before a magistrate, and compelled to do his duty, as the apprentice would be if he were lazy or disobedient. The apprentice may appeal, or his parents may appeal on his behalf. Each party has a hold on the other. Besides, however unkind the master may be, or however uncomfortable the apprentice may find his situation, he has, at least, the comfort of knowing, that it is but for a limited time, and the moment the period of his indenture expires, he is as free as if he had never been bound.
A servant is subject to the will of his master, but on a very different footing from a slave. Before he enters on his service, he enters into an engagement with his master, as to what work he is to perform, and what wages he is to receive, and the master cannot compel him to do other work, or a greater proportion, nor dare he withhold his wages. Meanwhile, his wife and children, if he have any, are altogether free from his master, nor can he himself be transferred to another master without his free consent. If the hired servant is not satisfied with the treatment he receives, or has an opportunity of bettering himself, he has but to give a proper notice, and is at full liberty to seek another master. But how different is this from slavery! Who can plead with the cruel slave-master, when he over-works, or beats, or starves his poor little slave boy or girl? Can the parents of the child? Oh, no: they are slaves themselves; and, if the master pleases, he can compel them to beat their own child, and cruelly ill treat them if they should refuse. Who chose the master, or the employment? Did the little slave? No: he was born in slavery. Did his parents? No: the master got possession of them; and, however much they may dislike him, or however much they may desire to serve, or that their child should serve, another master, they cannot get away. On the other hand, if the master choses to sell them, they cannot resist. Perhaps the father, and mother, and child, may be sold to three different masters, sent to distant places, and never again meet each other. A slave-master can do all this just as freely as an English farmer can dispose of his horses, cows, sheep, and pigs. Perhaps rather more so; for in England, a man who starves or ill uses his cattle, is disliked and despised by his neighbours, and may be punished by the law of the land; but, where slavery is common, the ill treatment of slaves is little regarded. Then, in England, the apprentice learns a trade, by which he hopes, in future, to obtain a living and support a family; and the servant is encouraged in his labour by the hope of gaining and saving property for his future use and comfort. It is truly gratifying to a benevolent master to know, that his thrifty servant or apprentice has a little fund in the Savings’ Bank; but not so with the poor slave. However industrious and ingenious he may be, all his earnings are not for himself, but for his master. Some masters, it has already been observed, may be much more humane and considerate than others; but, in point of law, whatever property a slave may acquire, belongs to his master. More than this, however kind the master may be, if he should happen to be unfortunate and poor, the slave, and all he has, may be sold for the payment of his master’s debts; and under a new master he may be overworked, and beaten, and starved, even to death, and no one to take his part, or restrain his cruel oppressor.
Even a prisoner in England is better off than a slave. He may, for his crimes, be separated from society, confined in a prison, kept to hard labour, and fed upon bread and water; but, in all this, he is subject not to the will of another individual, but to the laws of his country. In the first place, if he had been obedient to the laws, he would not have been exposed to these hardships; and, in the next place, the jailor dares not punish him as much as he pleases, but as much, and no more, than the sentence of the law directs. He dares not keep him in prison a day longer than the appointed time, or make him suffer any hardship or privation beyond what his sentence directs: and, lest one man, being put in trust, might be tempted to be cruel and tyrannical to those under his care, there are many magistrates appointed in every county, whose duty it is to inspect prisons, and take care that prisoners are treated with justice and humanity by inferior officers. In a land of liberty, there is no such thing known, as “the entire subjection of one human being to the will of another;” there is no slavery!
SOURCE: A History of Slavery and its Abolition: Esther Copley-1836