What Shall be Done with the Slaves?
To the Editor of the New York Times:
A correspondent asks (in good faith) what shall be done with the slaves of our Southern States, if they are suddenly emancipated? He says that a great many would be in favor of that course if they knew what to do with them. As the difficulties of war gather before us, I also hear that question asked by very many who see in emancipation the only chance of peace and permanent union. But to let loose on those whom we so lately called "our Southern brethren" a repetition of "the horrors of St. Domingo," is what none of us feel disposed to do. We feel no disposition to surrender our own race to the knife, to the lust and cupidity of African barbarism. You see we don't know any better than to imagine that emancipation would result in the utter extinction of civilization in the South, because the slaveholders, and those in their interest, have persistently for a half-century told us that such would be the effect of making the Negroes free; and they always instance the "horrors of St. Domingo" to show the inevitable result of emancipation. Now, the fact is not so. In 1794, Slavery was abolished in St. Domingo by act of the French national Convention. But the Negroes did not revolt, did not rise in insurrection, did not murder, rob, and expel the white from the island, until in 1801, seven years after their emancipation, Bonaparte decreed their re-enslavement, and undertook to remand them under the orders of their former masters. And even then, it was only after the French had been guilty of the most horrible outrages against the negroes, that they retaliated in kind. Such is the true history of the "Horrors of St. Domingo." In this instance, it is very evident that the best thing to have done with the emancipated slaves was to let them alone.
On the 1 of August, 1834, 800,000 slaves were set free in the British West Indies by act of Parliament. They were much more numerous than the whites. They were set free at midnight.
They had no houses, no lands, no property of any kind, except the miserable rags in which they were clothed when they became free; no education — but were as entirely imbued with the barbarism of chattlehood, as the four millions of our Southern slaves are.
Now, the result is, they have not revolted, nor made any insurrection; they have acquired a large amount of property — $11,000,000 in the island of Jamaica alone — they are educating their children; many of the school teachers, and magistrates, and members of the Colonial Assembly, are colored men. — The British Government and people consider them peaceable and valuable subjects of the British empire. The experience of the British Government has taught us that the best thing to do with emancipated slaves was to let them alone.
A few years ago, (for I have not the date,) the slaves of the Danish West India Island of Santa Cruz, twenty-five thousand in number, rose in revolt and took their liberty. The whites in the island were three thousand. If the assumptions of our "Southern brethren" are correct, of course there was terrible butchery and dreadful outrage; but the facts were not so. There was no bloodshed. The Danish Government has concluded to let them alone, and they are free to-day.
But what shall we do with the slaves of the model Republic? Allow me to ask what would the South do without them? Do they not make four millions of bales of cotton, four hundred thousand hogsheads of sugar, tobacco for the world, and nearly all the rice we use? They have no independent fortunes to fall back on; they have got to work for their living or starve. In the West Indies they may be lazy if they choose, (which they do not,) in a climate only 6° to 18° north of the equator, and live on the banana and other products of their gardens, but in the chills and frosts between the latitudes of 30° and 36°, in which the great majority of the slaves live, they have got to have corn, and potatoes, and pork, and woolen clothes. They will want more of each of them than they get now, and will have to work to get them. If slavery could have been abolished peaceably, it would scarcely have created a ripple on the ocean of commerce.
One word now. How many there are who fear an irruption of emancipated slaves into the labor market of the North. How idle is this expectation! The South needs all the labor she can get; the North has a surplus. In the North the negro is out of his latitude; in the South at home. In the event of emancipation, ten years would not elapse before a colored person would be an uncommon sight among us.
South Carolina and Louisiana have within a few years passed severe and iniquitous laws, avowedly to prevent negroes from getting rich, and to drive those who were rich from the State. Gen. Fremont was born in Charleston, in South Carolina, and is quite well acquainted with the negro character in the South; yet, from his recent action in Missouri, he does not seem very much shocked at the idea of negroes participating in the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
J. B. Lyon.