Slave Labor Products---No. 2.

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Slave Labor Products---No. 2.


Criticism of William Lloyd Garrison



Before proceeding with this number of my series, permit me, with all deference to your veto power, respectfully to request that you will concede to me the right to judge whether what I write be "necessary to correct understanding" of my views. You will thus be saved the trouble of curtailing, mutilating or interpolating for me; I shall have some assurance that what I write will be published as I arrange and prepare it, and your readers will sometimes be favored with both sides of a subject on which they would otherwise have to decide from hearing one only.*


This subject of slave labor produce, says Garrison, "must be left to the individual conscience." He quotes from Paul, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind," &c. "To him that esteemeth any thing unclean to him it is unclean," &c.-- Can any one tell what peculiar relevancy there can be in such advice to the subject under consideration? How will the same precepts sound when applied to the pro-slavery church member, the Whig, the Democrat or the Slaveholder? Why not leave such to their individual conscience, also? Can any one find a reason satisfactory to his own mind for thus discriminating?

Friend Garrison informs us that he is not willing to discuss this question! He is not now willing to assist in leading his friends out of an "error" as he terms it, although he was instrumental in involving them in it.--Many are indebted in part to the arguments he has used for their "conscientious scruples" on this subject. He once laid down, as a settled principle, the following declaration:

"I hold this truth to be self-evident, that no transfer, or inheritance, or sale of stolen property, can convert it into just possession or destroy the claim of the original owner; the maxim being universally conceded to be just, that the receiver is as bad as the thief."

This was heralded forth to the world through the Liberator, and who at that time would have believed that the editor would have ever abandoned that "self-evident truth," without showing conclusively that the position was false, or that he would deny the privilege to others either to prove or confute the proposition? He appears disposed to permit his friends to stray off into the same "error" from which he believes himself to have been so fortunately redeemed, pursuing after that bubble of a self-evident truth which he has put them on the track of!

For such treatment I think we have just cause to complain of our once admired champion. If we have any thing from his pen to eradicate the conviction, that we cannot innocently use the proceeds of unrequited toil, and to upset the above axiom or prove it but a chimera, it must be found in his late editorial--in the declaration that there are "difficulties" in the question--that there are a "thousand others" of vital importance--in the assertion that the Abolitionists are "innocent" but others are "not innocent" in using those products--in a quotation from Paul that "to him that esteemeth anything unclean to him it is unclean," and in the comparison of other systems of oppression with that of slavery!! &c.

Is it possible that W.L. Garrison has been convinced by such reasons that the "self-evident truth" that "no transfer, or inheritance, or sale of stolen property can convert it into just possession," and always was, an "error," or that "self-evident truths" are to be abandoned upon such evidence? The disunionist would, as I conceive, have less cause for surprise, and less for complaint, if Garrison would now reverse his course upon that question, and assign similar reasons for such change, and then decline a further investigation.

The Free Produce question was a conspicuous item among the measures avowed by the parent society--Disunion was not. "No casuistry" has settled the disunion question "like a moral axiom." Garrison, although he seems to have forgotten it, has thus settled the free produce question. The use of the Union is claimed by a class of the anti-slavery people as a means of abolishing slavery. No such claim I presume will be seriously made upon the use of slave labor goods as a means of removing the evil.--The "difficulties" of withholding all support to the Union are much greater than those of refusing the use of slave labor products, and all the arguments used by Garrison in his editorial would, it appears to me, apply with more force to his case, were he to abandon the disunion ground, and present to his readers a similar defense for his course.

After reading and re-reading that editorial, and seeking in vain for any logical argument in it, many of his friends will still be compelled to adhere to an old-fashioned idea, handed down by John Woolman and his contemporaries--thorougly examined and found true by the old school abolitionists of 1790, and re-endorsed by an equally devoted band in 1833, that the slaveholder and the consumer of his commodities, together with all the complex machinery pertaining to the process of their production, transfer, traffic and consumption, constitute one great "slaveholding firm," all acting in harmony--no part of which can be spared without detriment to the rest, and that the consumer is, especially, the main spring which gives to the whole, motion, energy and vitality.

If, then, we are bound to be "rigidly consistent," should we not take down the motto, "No union with slaveholders," until we shall have become disenthralled from this vast "slaveholding firm"? The disunionist who cleaves to it holds in one hand the motto "no union with slaveholders," and in the other the tempting bribe to the slaveholder, "Give us your cotton, and your rice, and your sugar, and we will give you our money; but if you liberate your slave you cannot furnish it so cheap--we will then patronize him who wrests those articles from his victim without compensation; we are abolitionists, it is "innocent" for us to buy of him who can sell cheapest without regard to the mode by which he procures his goods."

The Fosters, the Pillsburys, the Jacksons, and other non-abstaining abolitionists, says Garrison, says Garrison, need no certificate of their devotion to the cause of the slave. Those may all be good abolitionists, which is not saying they might not be better. Pulpit labor is often mistaken, however, for practical work. Politicians are often set down as true patriots and great champions of human liberty, when there is not perhaps a single act they have performed to merit the character imputed to them, save those of public speaking in behalf of freedom. This they have done with less pecuniary compnsation, and no more hope of acquiring distinction and eminence than has the anti-slavery lecturer. Such may, or they may not be the true friends of human freedom. What we want is practical work as well as preaching. If W.L.G. had been arguing the other side of the question, I doubt not it would have occurred to him to show that C.C. Burleigh, Lucretia Mott, and other free produce anti-slavery laborers possessed all the requisites of the above named with the additional evidence of their fidelity to the cause, that they make sacrifices to procure the unstained productions of free labor.

As to those he speaks of as "needing no ceritificate" &c., those of them I have heard, would surely be entitled to a clear "certificate" from the slaveholder for their warm advocacy of a doctrine most essential to the existence of his "peculiar institution," which may be properly termed, "COMMERCIAL UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS."


*This insinuation that we would exclude one side of a question while we admitted the other, is entirely destitute of foundation. It has not the least semblance of truth, and we are unable to conceive how it was possible for the writer to think otherwise when he penned it.--EDRS.]


B.B. Davis


Anti-slavery Bugle 2:51, p. 2




B.B. Davis, “Slave Labor Products---No. 2.,” No Stain of Tears and Blood, accessed June 21, 2024,

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