Slave Labor Products--No. 1.

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Slave Labor Products--No. 1.



Having, as your readers may infer from your editorials of the last two weeks, had some difficulty in getting access to your readers through the columns of the Bugle, and I suppose entirely debarred from a hearing through the Liberator, I must ask for a little more space than would otherwise be necessary, for prefatory remarks.

[We omit here a portion of our correspondent's preface, inasmuch as it relates to a matter which he was told in a private interview we thought would be out of place in our columns--nor is the part omitted needed to give a correct understanding of his Free Produce views.--EDRS.]

I consider the American Anti-Slavery Society under obligations, not only to admit, but to encourage the discussion of, and to advocate, the Free Labor question.

And especially is the Western A.S. Society bound to do this. When this Society received its impulse by the visit of Abby Kelley in 1845, the Declaration of Sentiment and Constitution of the present Society formed in 1833, was read in the Convention held in New Lisbon, and re-adopted by the same, as the acknowledged embodiment of the principles, doctrines and measures of this Society.--Among the measures which stand prominent in that declaraction of sentiment, is the following, "We shall encourage the labor of freemen rather than that of slaves, by giving a preference to their productions."

At the Convention of the Western Society held at New Garden last year, the following resolution was adopted:
Resolved, That we believe it our duty to abstain as far as practicable from the fruits of slaves' labor, and encourage the labor of freemen."

By the published proceedings of this Convention in the Bugle of June 26, 1816, it will be seen that this resolution "passed with scarcely a dissenting voice"! An editorial in the same paper says it passed "with much unanimity."

[A few lines also omitted here.--EDRS.]


Whenever the Am. A.S. Society has added to its policy any new measure, or modified any of its old ones, the subject of such change has always been a theme of much discussion; sometimes almost to the exclusion of the direct question. The change now attempted to be effected in relation to the free produce question, constitutes a remarkable exception to this rule. Even W.L. Garrison, who once maintained that the doctrine of abstinence from slave labor produce was a duty as clear as that of abstinence from slaveholding--"a self-evident truth," now takes a contrary position, and in doing so, declares in plain terms, his unwillingness either to discuss the subject or grant the use of his paper for the privilege of such discussion!!

Is it thus that "self-evident truths are to be disposed of by abolitionists? If this be so, and the evidence that it is need not now be disputed, we may not only hear of the Disunion doctrine being abandoned to-morrow, (for it never has, nor never will be claimed to be based on a self-evident truth,) but the abandonment of the idea of the slave's inalienable right to liberty, may with equal propriety be surrendered, for that is nothing more than a "self-evident truth."

But strange as it may seem, soon after W.L. Garrison's views became changed, we discovered one by one, without a public discussion of the question, with no circulation of anti-free labor tracts, the anti-slavery men and women dropping off!

The Am. Free Produce Society lost several of their active members, their names and their arguments, the latter unanswered and unanswerable, and both as monuments of their apostacy from the doctrine so triumphantly maintained by many of our ablest anti-slavery writers, are yet to be seen upon the records.

The few reasons which have been advanced against the free labor subject, being evidently the best that can be advanced, it is my purpose in these essays to review, not so much because of the sources from which they emanate, as for the purpose which they are intended to subserve, and the use made of them.

Whatever goes to discourage the manufacture of free produce, goes so far to encourage that of slave labor, and to encourage the latter, is to aid oppression.


The editor of the Liberator, W.L. Garrison, in his remarks on the free produce question, in the Liberator of the 5th of 3rd mo. last, I perceive, takes the ground, that the fruits of the unnpaid toil of the slave, may be innocently used by those who are earnestly laboring to overthrow slavery, but "not innocently by any other person"!

Strange as it appears to me to see such a position as this taken by one who in time past, occupied so firm a stand upon the other side of the question, I was still more surprised to read in the same editorial, other positions so palpably conflicting with parts of the above.

I have perused subsequent numbers of the Liberator with much expectation of seeing his late position on the above question, supported by a chain of argument, consistent with itself at least, and could not for a time believe his readers would be obliged to accept that article as the best and only defence that cause would afford. But the very fact that it has been sustained no better, by one whose ability to do justice to a worthy subject cannot be disputed, affords strong evidence to the friends of the free labor enterprise, that their cause stands upon a permanent basis.

He not only alleges that "nothing would be gained" be pressing the free labor subject upon public attention; that it would be "a waste of time," &c., but sets down as "preposterous and unjust," those who "attempt to seek the subversion of slavery" by refusing the use of its products, or "attach moral guilt to the consumer." Yet I understand him to "attach moral guilt to the consumer" by saying that other persons than good abolitionists cannot innocently use those products!

We are told by his editorial, that to regard the consumer of slave labor products, as a supporter of the system, is an 'error,' yet the same editorial tells us that these consumers (good abolitionists excepted) are guilty for using them!

He imputes great credit to "the truly conscientious" who abstain, but must have forgotten that those are the individuals who "attach moral guilt to the consumer," and who therefore lie under this charge of preposterous injustice!

He considers it not susceptible of "clear demonstration" that it is wrong to use the productions of slave labor, that it should be "left to the individual conscience," and that "no man" could reduce the question to practice. Yet after laying down these conscience-soothers for abolitionists, he has arraigned the anti-abolitionists, as guilty for leaving the subject to "individual conscience," for not reducing to practice this "impracticability." He says the free labor abolitionists "are bound to be rigidly consistent." Does he mean thy only should be so? Are we to ask others to do what we call "impracticable"?

But why are anti-abolitionists "not innocent" in using these products? The answer must be that it is a pro-slavery (slavery sustaining) act. From this conclusion there appears to be no escape. Then we find the ground taken by W.L. Garrison and others to be this; that pro-slavery acts by those who labor in the slave's cause, are justifiable!--The pro-slavery church-member nor the voter for the veriest slave-holder, need ask for no broader license than this. If anti-slavery labor will atone for the support I render to the slave system, by purchasing of the slaveholder his ill-gotten gains, the same labor will exonerate me from guilt when for a similar reason (pecuniary gain) I vote for Henry Clay and a high tariff. And why may I not with as good a plea purchase John C. Calhoun's slaves and with their (the slaves') 'consent,' set them to work for me while I go forth to advocate the cause of human rights? It need not be replied that the slave would not in this case have a right to give his consent, if he can, as Stephen S. Foster asserts, and as Garrison implies, give his consent to the anti-slavery lecturer to use the proceeds of his unpaid toil after they had passed thro' the hands of his master. Or in other words, he can consent to be a slave that by virtue of the robberies committed upon him, the advocate of his rights may obtain his food and clothing cheaper, and be thus enabled to devote the more time to the cause of human liberty!! But who gave the slave a right to 'consent' to a moral wrong? To build up an Anti-Slavery Society upon the alleged justice of using the products of the labor or the slave, as one of its pillars, will be about as wise, as just, as consistent, us to establish a "Free Republic" with slavery for one of its "corner stones." The obvious intent of Garrison's argument is to show the difficulties of abstinence. Why not give the non-abstaining anti-abolitionist, the advantage of these difficulties, and not charge guilt upon individuals in an inverse ratio to the light they possess?

To the church-member or the voter who talks about "the difficulties" of Comeoutism, he has shown no quarters; yet it has not been conceded nor is it to be taken for granted, that belonging to any church or voting under the United States Constitution, does more to sustain slavery than the use of the products of slave labor. By abstinence from the latter no majority is required to produce an effect, nor is age or sex excluded from the privilege of a vote at the merchant's counter. It requires but little argument to show that the consumers of any commodity have the entire control over its production and manufacture, and that at their edict the same shall live and prosper, or die.

I understand his position, however, to require of all persons to abstain till they become good abolitionists, then all may with impunity participate with the slaveholder in his plunder!

If it is not a case "admitting of clear demonstration," that we have no just claim on the fruits of the bondman's toil, will it not be difficult also, to show that the slaveholder has no just right to those products, or at what stage of the process of production, manufacture and transfer, the title becomes clear and valid, so as to warrant their use by those who disclaim all connection with, or support of, the slave system?

B.B. Davis.


B.B. Davis


Anti-Slavery Bugle 2:49, p. 2




B.B. Davis, “Slave Labor Products--No. 1.,” No Stain of Tears and Blood, accessed March 5, 2024,

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