Slave Labor Products---No. 4

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Slave Labor Products---No. 4


For reasons already briefly stated, a considerable portion of my previous numbers have been directed to a review of an editorial in the Liberator, not, as you suppose, to the "annihilation" of the editor, unless his existence depends upon the triumph of his anti-free labor views, in which case it would perhaps be fortunate for the cause of humanity, that your idea should prove correct. I think I do not underrate the many good properties of friend Garrison, and as to any feelings of ill will or malignity, I entertain none whatever towards him or any other man; but those who can see nothing but perfect consistency in all his ways, and conceive their pens best employed in lauding his excellencies, may do it; I consider it doing him and the cause of truth greater kindness, to endeavor to correct his errors. In doing this, my remarks have necessarily gone to "the establishment of abstinence views." I should be understood, that to refute the objections to a question is no unusual, nor is it an unreasonable, method of establishing its truth; and the continuance of the review of the said editorial, up to the near approach of Garrison's visit to Ohio, as the reader will have perceived, was not a matter of choice with me.

I would much prefer the reader would draw his conclusion of the purport and character of my articles on this subject, and also on the collateral question at issue between us, from my communications themselves, than to take your extraordinary version of them as contained in your last. What has already been written is sufficient to a correct undrstanding of the latter, if our very "unfortunate use of language" and of ideas do not mislead the reader.

The importance of giving especial attention to such arguments, even as those of S.S. Foster, or his "reckless assertions," as Henry Grew calls them, will appear obvious when we read in the editorial columns of the Anti-Slavery Bugle of Wendell Phillips at the late anniversary at New York, "fully endorsing the anti-free produce sentiments which have made the former [Foster] so odious in the estimation of some of the friends of the slave."

And what are the sentiments which have rendered Foster or his doctrines "so odious," and which are thus "fully endorsed"?--They are the declarations that the anti-slavery laborer "has the consent of the slave" to purchase of the master the fruits of his robberies upon the former!--that those who are not abolitionists, but purchase thereof are "thieves and robbers"!--but that such purchasers "do not aid the slaveholder"!--that those who advocate the free labor question are "not abolitionists," and should "leave the Society, the sooner the better," and some others equally "odious"!!

Notwithstanding the Declaration of Sentiment, the acknowledged exponent of the principles of the A.S. Society, clearly and expressly recognizes the Free Labor question as a legitimate measure, yet it seems to be the opinion of some, that the uttering of such sentiments as the above, by leading abolitionists, and their sanction and endorsement, in whole or in part, by Anti-Slavery papers, as real orthodox abolitionism, afford no justification for public criticism, but that those who still adhere to the A.S. Declaration of Sentiments and to the discarded axiom once laid down by W.L. Garrison, that "no transfer of stolen property can confer just possession," &c., may be denied a hearing through smoe of the A.S. papers and spurned from the Anti-Slavery platform, as I have already shown to have been the case.

None of these things, however, will deter those who, under a sense of duty, have, for fifteen to fifty years past, been laboring in this cause against ignorance, interestedness, and sophistry. They need not despair--the grounds occupied by the National A.S. Standard, to give a "preference" to free labor or goods, and otherwise assist the cause--the well known position of the Pennsylvania Freeman, the Non-Slaveholder and the Free Labor Advocate, &c.,--the establishment of a wholesale free labor store in Cincinnati, and the increasing interest manifested upon this subject in all parts of the country, are cheering evidence of its ultimate success.

It is confidently believed that if the attention of the Anti-Slavery people generally, was turned to this branch of the enterprise, that, in a very short time, the manufacture of the free, would be made to compete fully with that of slave labor goods, and from that moment the slave system must begin to wane.

I believe that many abolitionists are, by their efforts in behalf of the slave, through this means alone, doing their full share towards the abolition of slavery in the United States, and that if each person would do as much, slavery would be starved out, and in a very few years be supplanted by a system of free labor.

The free labor system is so clearly consistent, economical, right and just, as soon to commend itself to all candid men, and the feasibility of a project for putting in operation a plan for cultivating and manufacturing all tropical productions, upon the free principle, is such as would require but half the effort now bestowed upon other branches of enterprise, to ensure it success. Upon this disuion measure the Liberty party and all other anti-slavery people--the Friends--the Whig and Democratic abolitionists, &c. could unite. None, that I am aware of, deny the efficacy of this measure. Those Disunionists even, who justify their own use of slave labor goods, deny the rightfulness of others to use them. Why can they not be enlisted also? They say other persons "cannot innocently" use any other than free labor goods. Why then cannot they assist in bringing the free article within the reach of such whom they say are guilty for using the other? It is true they would, by recommending the subject to the attention of others, be preaching one doctrine and practising another, but this they do now, and their inconsistency would not therefore be increased, while they would be aiding a cause which they acknowledge to be just and righteous. To say the anti-abolitionist cannot innocently use slave grown products, is to say he is bound to use the free. It is attaching guilt to non-abstinence, so far as relates to the common people at least, and consequent importance to the subject, as a just and righteous cause. They are bound then, by their own avowed principles, and those of the parent Society, to aid in this work.

To a question like this, where pecuniary interest is to be overcome, it seems to me there are objections urged which the object or would never think of applying to other cases to which they would be equally applicable.

In a discourse upon general principles of moral and religious duty, delivered by S.S. Foster in Salem a year or two since, among other positions which he laid down, was this; that no appropriation to a righteous purpose, of property obtained through unjust means, could be made without crime. He supposed for an illustration, that a clerk in the employ of John Jacob Astor, should, without the knowledge of the owner or the possibility of his missing the property, embezzle a few thousand dollars--that he should appropriate the whole of it to the relief of the starving poor, thus accomplishing much good without inflicting any perceptible injury upon any. This, Foster said, would be as certainly a crime as any other act of theft, because it was predicated upon a wrong.

Now what anti-slavery man or woman will dissent from this principle?

Yet S.S. Foster, and W.L. Garrison have distinctly declared, and I believe all anti-free labor abolitionists understake to defend the doctrine, that it is wrong for any person to purchase the products of the unpaid toil of the slave unless they make good use of it! They must be used to clothe and feed good abolitionists, otherwise those who purchase or use them are guilty! That which they declare to be basely wicked, is changed to a laudable virtue, or at least an "innocent" act, byt the mere circumstances of being perpetrated by an abolitionist, instead of by an apologist for slavery!

An editorial in the last No. of the Bugle, and the speeches of Phillips, Foster, &c. at the late Anniversary, charge free labor abolitionists with laying down a principle and violating it themselves, which they say anti-free labor abolitionists do not!! If there be more merit in laying down a principle and disregarding it entirely, than in carrying it out to the extent that it and many other principles can be reasonably done, or if it be more meritorious to violate an acknowledged principle and deny it, than to do so to a less extent and confess it, I am not envious of such merit.

That anti-free labor abolitionists do recognize in various ways a principle involved in the free labor question--that we are supporting slavery by our commercial connection with the South--that they regard even the reception of money from slaveholders for benevolent purposes, as a violation of the principle involved in this question, is abundantly evident from innumerable documents and speeches official and unofficial put forth by the Society.

B.B. Davis


B.B. Davis


Anti-Slavery Bugle 3:4, p. 2




B.B. Davis, “Slave Labor Products---No. 4,” No Stain of Tears and Blood, accessed March 4, 2024,

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