The Laws of Race, as Connected With Slavery
By the Author of “ The Law of the Territories,” “ Rustic Rhymes,” ete, Philadelphia : W. P. Hazard. 1860. 8vo. pp.70.
THERE is no lack of talk and writing among us on political topics; but there is great lack of independent and able thought concerning them. The disputes and the manæuvres of parties interfere with the study and recognition of the active principles which silently mould the national character and history. The double-faced platforms of conventions, the loose manifestoes of itinerant candidates for the Presidency, the rhetorical misrepresentations of “campaign documents,” form the staple of our political literature.
The writer of the pamphlet before us is one of the few men who not only think for themselves, but whose thoughts deserve attention. His essay on “ The Law of the Territories ” was distinguished not more by its sound reasoning than by the candor of its statements and the calmness of its tone and temper. If his later essay, on “ The Laws of Race, as connected with Slavery,” be on the whole less satisfactory, this is to be attributed, not to any want in it of the same qualities of thought and style as were displayed in his earlier work, but to the greater complexity and difficulty of the subject itself. The question of Race, so far as it affects actual national conditions, is one of the deepest and most intricate which can be presented to the student of politics. It is impossible to investigate it without meeting with difficulties which in the present state of knowledge cannot be solved, or without opening paths of speculation which no human foresight can trace to their end. This is, indeed, no reason for not attempting its discussion; and Mr, Fisher, in treating it in its relation to Slavery, has done good work, and has brought forward important, though much neglected considerations. He endeavors to place the whole subject of the relations of the white and the black races in this country on philosophic grounds, and to deduce the principles which must govern them from the teachings of ethnological science, or, in other words, from natural laws which human device can neither abrogate nor alter.
From these teachings he derives the three following conclusions.
“ The white race must of necessity, by reason of its superiority, govern the negro, wherever the two live together.
“ The two races can never amalgamate, and form a new species of man, hut must remain forever distinct, — though mulattoes and other grades always exist, because constantly renewed.
“Each race has a tendency to occupy exclusively that portion of the country suited to its nature.”
If true, these conclusions are of the utmost importance. They are higher laws, which “ must rule our politics and our destiny, either by the Constitution or over it, either with the Union or without it; and no wit or force of man is strong enough to resist them.” It is to the exposition of the results which follow from these conclusions, assuming them to be true, that the larger part of the present essay is devoted.
That these propositions express, or at least point the way to essential truths, we are fully persuaded. But we are not ready to accept all the inferences which the author draws from them, or to admit that they afford sufficient basis for some of his minor assumptions.
Arguing from his first conclusion, the author draws the inference that “ slavery is the necessary result” of the nature of the black and of the white man. “ The negro is by nature indolent and improvident.” “ He is also ignorant.” “ He requires restraint and guidance; "otherwise he would sink into helpless, hopeless vice, idleness, and misery.” But in these words, and in others to the same purport, Mr. Fisher assumes that the nature of the black is incapable of such improvement as to make what he calls the necessary condition of servitude needless in the interest of either race. We are surprised that so good a reasoner should speak of the ignorance of the black as a natural disqualification for independence, and the more so, because, in another passage, Mr. Fisher says, with truth, “ We darken his mind with ignorance.” That some form of subjection of the negro may be necessary for a time that extends far into the future is a point we will not dispute; but that slavery, as that word is generally understood, is the necessary result of his nature and of our nature we believe to be utterly untrue. The whole history of American slavery, far from exhibiting the negro as incapable of improvement, shows him making a slow and irregular advance in the development of intellectual and moral qualities, under circumstances singularly unfavorable. It is the plea of the advocates of the slavetrade, that the black is civilized by contact with the white. The plea is not without truth. It is the universal testimony of slave-owners, and the common observation of travellers, that the city and house slaves, that is, those who are brought into most constant and close relations with the whites, show higher mental development than those who are confined to the fields. The experiment of education, continued for more than one generation, has never been tried. The black is in many of his endowments inferior to the white ; but until he and his children and his children’s children have shown an incapacity to be raised by a suitable training, honestly given, to an intellectual and moral condition that shall fit them for self-dependence, we have no right to assert that slavery is a necessary condition, if in the meaning of necessary we include the idea of permanence. It is not needful to present here other objections to this sweeping assertion. They are old, well-known, and unanswerable.
But leaving this and other points on which we find ourselves at issue with Mr. Fisher, we come to what we regard as the most important part of his pamphlet, — the results which he shows to follow from the law, that “each race has a tendency to occupy exclusively that portion of the country suited to its nature.” In the States that lie on the Gulf of Mexico the negro “has found a congenial climate and obtained a permanent foothold.” “ The negro multiplies there ; the white man dwindles and decays.” We should be glad to quote at length the striking pages in which Mr. Fisher shows the prospect of the ultimate and not distant ascendency of the black race in this new Africa. The considerations he presents are of vital consequence to the South, of consequence only less than vital to the North. But by the side of “ New Africa ” are States and Territories in which the black race has little or no foothold. Free, civilized, and prosperous communities are brought face to face, as it were, with the mixed and degenerating populations of the Slave country. In the Free States the white race is increasing in numbers and advancing in prosperity with unexampled rapidity. In the Slave States the black race is growing in far greater proportion than the white, the most important elements of prosperity are becoming exhausted, and the forces of civilization are incompetent to hold their own against the ever-increasing weight of barbarism. Shall this new Africa push its boundaries beyond their present limits ? Shall more territory be yielded to the already wide-spread African race? It is not the question, whether the unoccupied spaces of the South and West shall be settled by Northern white emigrants with their natural property, or by Southern white emigrants with their legal property, — and there an end ; but it is the question, whether New England or New Africa shall extend her limits, — whether the country shall be occupied a century hence by a civilized or by a barbarous race. Every rood of ground yielded to the pretensions of the masters of slaves is so much of the heirloom of freedom and of civilization lost without hope of recovery. Slavery is transient. As an institution, such as it has developed itself in our Southern States, it has already given tokens of decay. But the qualities of race are so slowly affected by change as to admit of being called constant and permanent. The predominant influence of the blacks in the Cotton States is already (even putting aside the results of slavery) exhibiting itself in the lowering of the whites. These States are becoming uninhabitable for the whites,—not by reason of climate, or of slavery as an institution, but by reason of the operation of the inevitable increase of the slaves. They must have the land, and the stronger race will be driven out by the weaker, on account of the preponderance of their numbers and the vis inertiæ of their natures. There is no room in the United States, or in any of their unsettled territory, for the expansion of this transatlantic Africa. Where the black race is now settled it will stay, but it must be confined within its present limits.
We do not look upon the simple secession of the Slave States, or of any one of them, as dangerous, so far as the extension of slavery is concerned,—rather, on the contrary, as likely to end the great debate by securing all unoccupied territory to the North, to freedom, and to the white races. It is only, if an attempt should be made, for the sake of what is miscalled peace, and for the sake of the Union, to conciliate the misguided and unfortunate people of the South by compromise or concession, that we fear the consequences.
The responsibility under which we are to act is not for our own moral convictions alone, but also for the happiness of all future times. There is no room for concession, no space for compromise, in the settlement of the question of the prevalence of the black or of the white race on this continent,— in other words, the prevalence of liberty and Christianity and all their attendant blessings, or that of ignorance and barbarism with their train. “ We will decide this question,” says Mr. Fisher, whose words were written before the necessity for decision was so distinctly presented as at present, "we will decide it, if we can, as a united people ; but if we cannot, if cotton and slavery and the negro have already weakened our Southern brethren by their spells and enchantments, so that the South cannot decide according to the traditions and impulses of our race, then we of the North will still decide it, as by right we may,— by right of reason, of race, and of law.”