Slave Labor Products---No. 3.

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Slave Labor Products---No. 3.


The exclusion of a discussion of the merits of this important question from the columns of the Liberator, seems to me to call for a more extended review of Garrison's editorial, which will therefore also constitute the principal part of this Essay.

He considers it "singular" that this zeal for abstinence is almost exclusively confined to a particular locality, and to members of the Society of Friends. With respect to the extent of this "locality" I am inclined to believe he is entirely misinformed.

His editorial proceeds, "for the consciences of some of these we entertain very little respect. They are those who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel." This character he ascribes to them for being scrupulous about slave labor produce while they vote under the U.S. Constitution, for Whigs and Democrats, &c.

He terms them "of the race of Pharisees and hypocrites" &c., "thanking God that they are not like these Anti-Slavery publicans and sinners."

Do not non-abstaining discunionists claim as much purity for their alleged exemption from all support of slavery, and manifest toward the free-labor voter equally as much of this self-righteous spirit? Free labor men do not, so far as I am acquainted with them, lay claim to be entirely clear of the use of slave labor produce, and instead of being liable to this charge of self-righteousness, are violently denounced for self-condemnation.--While Garrison accuses them of self-righteousness, Pillsbury and Foster censure them for possessing quite an opposite character.

The doctrine of self-righteousness belongs to that school of abolitionists which would make the world believe they are living in this government without contributing an item to its support; that by some mysterious sanctification of the money they pay, voluntarily, in a score of ways, into the U.S. treasury, absolves them from any implication in the sin of upholding it! and that by an equally mysterious process, the hire which the slaveholder receives from their hands for carrying on his business affords no incentive to the act! that it partakes of an entirely different character from that paid him by the anti-abolitionist, so that they neither support slavery nor the Government, though they afford to each that sustenance, without which neither could exist!!

But Garrison complains of the "unkind" expressions and "criminations" in certain free labor essays, &c. Are they more so than these criminations of Free labor Friends? There must be more acrimony among the free labor friends than I was aware of, if they have outstripped in severity his own animadversions upon what he considers pro-slavery conduct among others, and he is the last man from whom I expected to hear such a complaint.

But what was the practice of the leading anti-slavery men of 1838--Did they not support this same pro-slavery Government?--Some of them also "strained at gnats," (were free labor men) but they nearly all "swallowed camels," (voted.) Where they hypocrites? That which constitutes hypocrisy now must have been hypocrisy then. Were those pioneers (W.L. Garrison and others,) "hypocrites," who at the same time advocated voting under the United States constitution, and abstinence from slave labor produce?

The course of conduct Garrison prescribes as proper to pursue toward the free labor abolitionist, contrasts strangely in several particulars, with that which he deems it proper to take in reference to others who are in "error." Although they are "wasting their time," attempting that which is "preposterous and unjust," &c., he will not try to prevent their labors from making "as many proselytes as possible!" For some cause he speaks entirely different to the political abolitionist. It would sound strange truly, to hear him talking of "not waging any opposition" against the latter!

Again he cherishes toward them (these "preposterous" free labor men and women) "the highest personal esteem and honor for their stern fidelity to their convictions of duty." And while he regards their position as a most erroneous on, he will not consent to reason with them, or try to prevent their making proselytes! Altogether, it seems to me an unusual course to pursue toward those in error, for which I can conceive of no good reason.

The classing of the products of the labor of the free operative of the North, or of Europe with that of slaves, to aid the cause of non-abstinence, is like the stale argument against the Anti-Slavery movement, still ringing in our ears, that the free operatives have a higher claim on our sympathies than the slaves: For the use of free labor produce creates a demand for laborers, increases wages and relieves the poor; whereas the consumption of slave labor produce increases the task of the bondman, augments the demand for slaves, and extends and increases the power and dominion of the oppresors.

The one assists the poor, the other oppresses him.

To answer some other objections, such as the contamination of the currency, &c., &c., which have been met and refuted times innumerable by writers on the subject, W.L. Garrison among the rest, would seem too much like preaching to an anti-slavery veteran, grown gray in the cause, the doctrine of inalienable rights, or the competency of the slave to take care of himself. But what more need be said to destroy the whole force of the objections to the free labor cause raised in that editorial, than a sentence from the same article where he admits that "other persons" than good abolitionists, "cannot innocently use" those products? Who can regard this as any thing short of a complete refutation of all his preceding objections! I had before heard S.S. Foster allege that those who used slave labor goods, not being abolitionists, were "thieves and robbers," but I was not prepared to hear such declaration from friend Garrison.

It appears to be the fate of all who attempt to defend the principle of buying stolen goods, to get involved in absurdities. For example--Stephen S. foster at the late anniversaries at New York and Boston, says Henry Grew in the A.S. Standard, declared that the use of slave labor products rendered no aid to the slaveholder. Compare this with his declaration at New Garden, that those who use these products (abolitionists excepted) were thieves and robbers! Again at the latter convention, after declaring abstinence to be "just what the slaveholder desired of us," he avowed himself in favor of a free produc resolution and said he would vote for it. If the argument of the friends of this cause are not sufficient to convince such persons, I should suppose their own blunders in attempting to sustain the opposite ground would do it.

Garrison concludes that it is "much easier to pursue this course" (be free labor abolitionists, such as many members of the Society of Friends &c. are,) than to engage in these "fanatical agitations."

Most of his article however is devoted to the purpose of showing the extreme difficulty and trouble pertaining to this part of the anti-slavery enterprise!

But taking it as his opinion that the free labor question is "easy" and involves less sacrifice of ease and popularity than other branches of the subject, I must beg leave to entertain an entirely opposite opinion. I can conceive of no branch of the anti-slavery enterprise more arduous, more self-sacrificing, and more thankless than this. None that affords as little facility for the demagogue who wishes to palm himself upon the public as an abolitionists. It is easier to lecture under pay ,or for a time without pay--easier to withhold a vote, or to leave old parties and friends and vote a third party ticket--easier to print and circulate papers--to petition legislative bodies--to carry the fugitive in coaches by star light--to combat pro-slavery churches or organization--all are easier than to carry out, to the extent that many do, the free labor cause. So it seems to me; so I hear others, speaking from experiences also assert.

But is the free labor subject popular?--Nay. Even among abolitionists it is unpopular, (and where else could it be popular?)--The article under review is evidence enough of this. The course of most of the other anti-slavery papers go to confirm it. Introduce a free labor resolution into an anti-slavery convention, or make a speech upon the subject, and you have in the dissastisfied look of the audience, and the frown of the leading spirits and orators of the day, a strong confirmation of the truth.

If there be any part of the anti-slavery enterprise that is not "easy;" if there is any branch of it that is not popular, it is this; and let him who doubts, try it. Let him attempt to get up congregations to listen to a lecture upon it; let him meet the sneer of the pro-slavery merchant, when he asks for free labor goods, and see the jealousy of the anti-slavery man who thinks "no union with slaveholders" consists in not voting nor fellowshipping the existing churches, while he riots upon the unpaid toil of the bondman. Let him make a daily sacrifice, not only of popularity and ease, but of money. and then be accused by those professing to avoid "waging any opposition" against him, and "preposterous injustice"--and by leading anti-slavery men with "opposing the slave's cause," "doing what the slaveholder desires," "being no abolitionist and not worthy of the name," and advised to leave the A.S. Society "the sooner the better," &c. [vide S.S. Foster's speech at the Ohio State Convention 1846.] These obstacles from friends and foes will I trust, convince any one acquainted with them that of all branches of the A.S. cause, this measure has the least to do with the science of Anti-Slavery made easy.



B.B. Davis


Anti-Slavery Bugle 3:1, p. 2




B.B. Davis, “Slave Labor Products---No. 3.,” No Stain of Tears and Blood, accessed March 5, 2024,

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