Thomas Carlyle, Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question, Communicated by Thomas Carlyle, (London: Thomas Bosworth), 1853


(*This pamphlet was written by one of the profoundest thinkers in Europe, and first published in London in 1849, fifteen years after the fatal experiment of emancipation.) [Note: The preceding note is part of the original publication.]

My Philanthropic Friends—It is my painful duty to address some words to you this evening, on the Rights of Negroes. Taking, as we hope we do, an extensive survey of social affairs, which we find all in a state of the frightfullest embroilment, and as it were, of inextricable final bankruptcy, just at present; and being desirous to adjust ourselves in that huge up-break, and unutterable welter of tumbling ruins, and to see well that our grand proposed Association of Associations, the Universal Abolition-of-Pain Association, which is meant to be the consummate golden flower and summary of modern philanthropisms all in one, do not issue as a universal “Sluggard-and-Scoundrel Protection Society”—we have judged that, before constituting ourselves, it would be proper to commune earnestly with one another and discourse together on the leading elements of our great Problem, which surely is one of the greatest. With this view the Council has decided, both that the Negro Question, as lying at the bottom, was to be the first handled, and if possible the first settled; and then also, what was of much more questionable wisdom, that — that, in short, I was to be speaker on the occasion. An honorable duty; yet, as I said, a painful one! Well, you shall hear what I have to say on the matter; and probably you will not in the least like it. 

West Indian affairs, as we all know, and as some of us know to our cost, are rather in a troublous condition this good while. In regard to West Indian affairs, however, Lord John Russell is able to comfort us with one fact, in- disputable where so many are dubious, that the negroes are all very happy and doing well. A fact very comfort- able indeed. West Indian whites, it is admitted, are far enough from happy; West Indian Colonies not unlike sinking wholly into ruin; at home, too, the British whites are rather badly off, several millions of them hanging on the verge of continual famine; and in single towns, many thousands of them very sore put to it, at this time, not to live “well,” or as a man should, in any sense temporal or spiritual, but to live at all — these, again, are uncomfortable facts; and they are extremely extensive and important ones. But, thank heaven, our interesting black population, equalling almost in number of heads one of the Ridings of Yorkshire, and in worth, in (quantity of intellect, faculty, docility, energy, and available human valor and value) perhaps one of the streets of Seven Dials, are all doing remarkably well. “Sweet blighted lilies,” as the American epitaph on the nigger child has it, sweet blighted lilies, they are holding up their heads again! How pleasant, in the universal bankruptcy abroad, and dun, dreary stagnancy at home, as if for England too there remained nothing but to suppress Chartist riots, banish united Irishmen, vote the supplies, and wait with arms crossed till black anarchy and social death devoured us also, as it has the others; how pleasant to have always this fact to fall back upon: our beautiful black darlings are at least happy; with lit- tie labor except to the teeth, which, surely, in those excellent horse-jaws of theirs, will not fail! 

Exeter Hall, my philanthropic friends, has had its way in this matter. The twenty millions* (*Twenty millions of pounds — one hundred millions of dollars, — The sum paid for emancipation.), a mere trifle despatched with a single dash of the pen, are paid; and far over the sea, we have a few black persons rendered extremely “free” indeed. Sitting yonder, with their beautiful muzzles up to the ears in pumpkins, imbibing sweet pulps and juices; the grinder and incisor teeth ready for every new work, and the pumpkins cheap as grass in those rich climates, while the sugar-crops rot round them uncut, because labor cannot be hired, so cheap are the pumpkins; and at home we are required but to rasp from the break- fast loaves of our own English laborers some slight “differential sugar-duties,” and lend a poor half million, or a few poor millions now and then, to keep that beautiful state of matters April, going on. A state of matters lovely to contemplate in these emancipated epochs of the human mind; which has earned us not only the praises of Exeter Hall, and loud, long eared hallelujahs of laudatory psalmody from the friends of freedom everywhere, but lasting favor (it is hoped) from the Heavenly Powers themselves, and which may, at least, justly appeal to the Heavenly Powers, and ask them, if ever in terrestrial procedure they saw the match of it? Certainly in the past history of the human species it has no parallel: nor, one, hopes, will it have in the future. [Some emotion in the audience, which the chairman suppressed.] 

Sunk in deep froth oceans of “Benevolence,” “Fraternity,” “Emancipation-principle,” “Christian Philanthropy,” and other amiable-looking, but most baseless, and in the end baleful and all-bewildering jargon, sad product of a sceptical eighteenth century, and of poor human hearts left destitute of any earnest guidance, and disbelieving that there ever was any, Christian or Heathen, and reduced to believe in rose-pink Sentimentalism alone, and to cultivate the same under its Christian, Antichristian, Broad-brimmed, Brutus-braded, and other forms, has not the human species gone strange roads during that period? And poor Exeter Hall, cultivating the Broad-brimmed form of Christian Sentimentalism, and long talking and bleating and braying in that strain, has it not worked out results? Our West Indian legislatings, with their spoutings, anti-spoutings, and interminable jangle and babble; our twenty millions down on the nail for blacks of our own; thirty gradual millions more, and many brave British lives to boot, in watching blacks of other people's; and now at  last our ruined sugar-estates, differential sugar-duties, “immigration loan,” and beautiful blacks sitting there up to the ears in pumpkins, and doleful whites sitting here without potatoes to eat: never till now, I think, did the sun look down on such a jumble of human nonsenses. God grant that the measure may now at last be full!  But no, it is not yet full; we have a long way to travel back, and terrible flounderings to make, and in fact an immense load of nonsense to dislodge from our poor heads, and manifold cobwebs to rend from our poor eyes, before we get into the road again, and can begin to act as serious men that have work to do in this universe, and no longer as windy sentimentalists that merely have speeches to deliver and despatches to write. O, Heaven, in West Indian matters, and in all manner of matters, it is so with us: the more is the sorrow! 

The West Indies, it appears, are  short of labor, as indeed is very conceivable in those circumstances. Where a black man, by working about half an hour a day (such is the calculation), can supply himself, by aid of sun and soil, with as much pumpkin as will suffice, he is likely to be a little stiff to raise into hard work! Supply and demand, which science says should be brought to bear on him, have an uphill task of it with such a man. Strong sun supplies itself gratis, rich soil in those unpeopled, or half-peopled regions almost gratis; these are his “supply,” and half an hour a day, directed upon these, will produce pumpkin, which is his “demand.” The fortunate black man, very swiftly does he settle his account with supply and demand ; not so swiftly the less fortunate white man of those tropical localities. A bad case his, just now. He himself cannot work; and his black neighbor, rich in pumpkin, is in no haste to help him. Sunk to the ears in pumpkin, imbibing saccharine juices, and much at his ease in the creation, he can listen to the less fortunate white man’s “demand,” and take his own time in supplying it. Higher wages, massa; higher, for your cane-crop cannot wait; still higher, till no conceivable opulence of cane-crop will cover such wages. In Demerara, as I read in the blue book of last year, the cane-crop, far and wide, stands rotting; the fortunate black gentlemen, strong in their pumpkins, having all struck till the “demand” rise a little. Sweet, blighted lilies, now getting up their heads again! 

Science, however, has a remedy still. Since the demand is so pressing, and the supply so inadequate, (equal in  fact to nothing in some places, as appears,) increase the supply; bring more blacks into the labor market, then will the rate fall, says science. Not the least surprising part of our West-Indian policy is this recipe of  “immigration;” of keeping down the labor-market in those islands by importing new Africans to labor and live there.* (* What Carlyle here states was a fact. After it was found that the emancipated negroes would not work, the Exeter Hall fanatics actually proposed to import front some region a fresh supply of negroes.)   If the Africans that are already there could be made to lay down their pumpkins, and labor for their living, there are already Africans enough. If the new Africans, after laboring a little, take to pumpkins like the others, what remedy is there? To bring in new and ever new Africans, say you, till pumpkins themselves grow dear; till the country is crowded with Africans; and black men there, like white men here, are forced by hunger to labor for their living? That will be a consummation. To have “emancipated” the West Indies into a Black Ireland; “free,” indeed, but an Ireland, and Black!  The world may yet see prodigies; and reality be stranger than a nightmare dream. 

Our own white or sallow Ireland, sluttishly starving from age to age on its act-of-parliament “freedom,” was hitherto the flower of mismanagement among the nations; but what will this be to a Negro Ireland, with pumpkins themselves fallen scarce like potatoes? Imagination cannot fathom such an object; the belly of Chaos never held the like. The human mind, in its wide wanderings, has not dreamt yet of such a “freedom” as that will be. Towards that, if Exeter Hall and science of supply and demand are to continue our guides in the matter, we are daily traveling, and even struggling, with loans of half a million and such like, to accelerate ourselves. 

Truly, my philanthropic friends, Exeter Hall philanthropy is wonderful. And the social science — not a “gay science,” but a rueful — which finds the secret of this universe in “supply and demand,” and reduces the duty of human governors to that of letting men alone, is also wonderful. Not a  “gay science,” I should say, like some we have heard of; no, a dreary, desolate, and indeed quite abject and distressing one; what we might call, by way of eminence, the dismal science. These two, Exeter Hall philanthropy and the dismal science, led by any sacred cause of black emancipation, or the like, to fall in love and make a wedding of it, will give birth to progenies and prodigies; dark, extensive moon-calves, unnameable abortions, wide-coiled monstrosities, such as the world has not seen hitherto! [Increased emotion, again suppressed by the chairman.] 

In fact, it will behoove us of this English nation to overhaul our West Indian procedure from top to bottom, and ascertain a little better what it is that fact and nature demand of us, and what only Exeter Hall wedded to the Dismal Science demands. To the former set of demands we will endeavor, at our peril, and worse peril than our purse’s, at our soul’s peril, to give all obedience. To the latter we will very frequently demur, and try if we can- not stop short where they contradict the former, and especially before arriving at the black throat of ruin, whither they appear to be leading us. Alas! in many other provinces besides the West Indian, that unhappy wedlock of Philanthropic Liberalism and the Dismal Science has engendered such all-enveloping delusions, of the moon-calf sort, and wrought huge woe for us, and the poor civilized world, in these days. And sore will be the battle with said moon-calves; and terrible the struggle to return out of our delusions, floating rapidly on which, not the West Indies alone, but Europe generally, is nearing the Niagara Falls. [Here various persons, in an agitated manner, with an air of indignation, left the room, especially one very tall gentleman in white trousers, whose boots creaked much. The President, in a resolved voice, with a look of official rigor, whatever his own private feelings might be, enjoined “silence, silence!”  The meeting again sat motionless.] 

My philanthropic friends, can you discern no fixed headlands in this wide-weltering deluge of benevolent twaddle and revolutionary grape-shot, that has burst forth on us; no sure bearings at all? Fact and Nature, it seems to me, say a few words to us, if happily we have still an ear for fact and nature. Let us listen a little and try. 

And first, with regard to the West Indies, it may be laid down as a principle, which no eloquence in Exeter Hall, or Westminster Hall, or elsewhere, can invalidate or hide, except for a short time only, that no black man who will not work according to what ability the gods have given him for working, has the smallest right to eat pumpkin, or to any fraction of land that will grow pumpkin, however plentiful such land may be; but has an indisputable and perpetual right to be compelled, by the real proprietors of said land, to do competent work for his living. This is the everlasting duty of all men, black or white, who are born into this world. To do competent work, to labor honestly according to the ability given them; for that and for no other purpose was each one of us sent into this world; and woe is to every man who, by friend or by foe, is prevented from fulfilling this the end of his being. That is the “unhappy” lot; lot equally unhappy cannot otherwise be provided for man. Whatsoever prohibits or prevents a man from this his sacred appointment to labor while he lives on earth, that, I say, is the man’s deadliest enemy; and all men are called upon to do what is in their power or opportunity towards delivering him from that. If it be his own indolence that prevents and prohibits him, then his own indolence is the enemy he must be delivered from: and the first “right” he has, poor, indolent blockhead, black or white, is, that every unprohibited man, whatsoever wiser, more industrious person may be passing that way, shall endeavor to “emancipate” him from his indolence, and by some wise means, as I said, compel him, since inducing will not serve, to do the work he is fit for. Induce him if you can; yes, sure enough, by all means try what inducement will do; and indeed every coachman and carman knows that secret, without our preaching, and applies it to his very horses as the true method: — but if your nigger will not be induced? In that case, it is full certain he must be compelled; should and must; and the tacit prayer he makes (unconsciously he, poor blockhead,) to you, and to me, and to all the world who are wiser than himself, is “compel me!” For indeed he must, or else do and suffer worse, he as well as we. It were better the work did come out of him! It was the meaning of the gods with him and with us, that his gift should turn, to use in this creation, and not lie poisoning the thorough-fares, as a rotten mass of idleness, agreeable to neither heaven nor earth. For idleness does, in all cases, inevitably rot, and become putrescent; and I say deliberately, the very devil is in it

None of you, my friends, have been in Demerara lately, I apprehend. May none of you go till matters mend there a little. Under the sky there are uglier sights than perhaps were seen hitherto. Dead corpses, the rotting body of a brother man, whom fate or unjust men have killed, this is not a pleasant spectacle; but what say you to the dead soul of a man, in a body which still pretends to be vigorously alive, and can drink rum? An idle white gentleman is not pleasant to me; though I confess the real work for him is not easy to find, in these our epochs; and perhaps he is seeking, poor soul, and may find at last. But what say you to an idle black gentleman, with his rum-bottle in his hand, (for a little additional pumpkin you can have red herrings and rum in Demerara,) rum- bottle in his hand, no breeches on his body, pumpkin at discretion, and the fruitfullest region of the earth going back to jungle round him? Such things the sun looks down upon in our fine times; and I, for one, would rather have no hand in them.* (* What a frightful picture of the results of emancipation! What a looking-glass for us to see our foolish faces in!)

Yes, this is the eternal law of nature for a man, my beneficent Exeter Hall friends; this, that he shall be permitted, encouraged, and if need be, compelled to do what work the Maker of him has intended by the making of him for this world. Not that he should eat pumpkin with never such felicity in the West India Islands is, or can be, the blessedness of our black friend but that he should do useful work there, according as the gifts have been bestowed on him for that. And his own happiness, and that of others round him, will alone be possible by his and their getting into such a relation that this can be permitted him, and in case of need that this can be compelled him. I beg you to understand this; for you seem to have a little forgotten it, and there lie a thousand inferences in it, not quite useless for Exeter Hall, at present. The idle black man in the West Indies had, not long since, the right, and will again under better form, if it please Heaven, have the right (actually the first “right of man” for an indolent person) to be compelled to work as he was fit, and to do the Maker’s will who had constructed him with such and such capabilities, and prefigurements of capability. And I incessantly pray Heaven, all men, the whitest alike and the blackest, the richest and the poorest, in other regions of the world, had attained precisely the same right, the divine right of being compelled (if “permitted” will not answer) to do the work they are appointed for, and not to go idle another minute, in a life which is so short, and where idleness so soon runs to putrescence. Alas! we had then a perfect world; and the Millennium, and true “Organization of Labor,” and complete blessedness, for all workers and men, had then arrived, which in these our own poor districts of the Planet, as we all lament to know, it is very far from having yet done. (More withdrawals; but the rest sitting with increased attention.).



Do I, then, hate the negro? No, except when the soul is killed out of him, I decidedly like poor quashee; and find him a pretty kind of man. With a pennyworth of oil, you can make a handsome glossy thing of Quashee, when the soul is not killed in him A swift, supple fellow; a merry-heart- ed, grinnin0, dancing, singing, affectionate kind of creature, with a great deal of melody and amenability in his composition. This certainly is a notable fact: the black African, alone of wild men, can live among men civilized. While all manner of Caribs and others pine into annihilation in presence of the pale faces, he contrives to continue; does not die of sullen, irreconcilable rage, of rum, of brutish laziness and darkness, and fated incompatibility with his new place; but lives and multiplies, and evidently means to abide among us, if we can find the right regulation for him. We shall have to find it; we are now engaged in the search; and have at least discovered that of two methods, the old Demerara method and the new Demerara method, neither will answer. 

Alas, my friends, I understand well your rage against the poor negro’s slavery; what said rage proceeds from; and have a perfect sympathy with it, and even know it by experience. Can the oppressor of my black fellow-man be of any use to me in particular? Am I gratified in my mind by the ill usage of any two or four-legged thing; of any horse or any dog? Not so, I assure you. In me too the natural sources of human rage exist more or less, and the capability of flying out into “fiery wrath against oppression,” and of signing petitions, both of which things can be done very cheap. Good heavens, if signing petitions would do it, if hopping to Rome on one leg would do it, think you it were long undone! 

Frightful things are continually told us of negro slavery, of the hardships, bodily and spiritual, suffered by slaves. Much exaggerated, and mere exceptional cases, say the opponents. Exceptional cases, I answer; yes, and universal ones! On the whole, hardships, and even oppressions and injustices are not unknown in this world; I myself have suffered such, and have not you? It is said, Man, of whatever color, is born to such, even as the sparks fly upwards. For in fact, labor, and this is properly what we call hardship, misery, &c, (meaning mere ugly labor not yet done,) labor is not joyous but grievous; and we have a good deal of it to do among us here. We have, simply, to carry the whole world and its businesses upon our backs, we poor united Human Species; to carry it, and shove it forward, from day to day, some how or other, among us, or else be ground to powder under it, one and all. No light task, let me tell you, even if each did his part honestly, which each doesn’t by any means. No, only the noble lift willingly with their whole strength, at the general burden; and in such a crowd, after all your drillings, regulatings, and attempts at equitable distribution, and compulsion, what deceptions are still practicable, what errors are inevitable! Many cunning, ignoble fellows shirk the labor altogether. and instead of faithfully lifting at the immeasurable universal hand-barrow with its thousand million handles, contrive to get on some edge of it, and be lifted. 

What a story we have heard about all that, not from vague rumor since yesterday, but from inspired prophets, speakers and seers, ever since speech began. How the giant, willing spirit, among white masters, and in the best regulated families, is so often not loaded only, but overloaded, crushed down like an Enceladus; and all his life has to have armies of pigmies building tabernacles on his chest; marching composedly over his neck, as if it were a highway; and much amazed if, when they run their straw-spear into his nose, he is betrayed into sudden sneezing, and oversets some of them. [Some laughter, the speaker himself looking terribly serious.] My friends, I have come to the sad conclusion that slavery, whether established by law, or by law abrogated, exists very extensively in this world, in and out of the West Indies; and, in fact, that you cannot abolish slavery by act of parliament, but can only abolish the name of it, which is very little! In the West Indies itself; if you chance to abolish slavery to men, and in return establish slavery to the devil, (as we see in Demerara,) what good is it?* (* The result of abolishing negro slavery in the West Indies is not inaptly called establishing slavery to the devil.) To save mens’ bodies, and fill them with pumpkins and rum, is a poor task for human benevolence, if you have to kill their soul, what soul there was, in the business! Slavery is not so easy to be abolished; it will long continue, in spite of acts of parliament. And shall I tell you which is the one intolerable sort of slavery, the slavery over which the very gods weep? That sort is not rifest in the West Indies; but with all its sad fruits, prevails in nobler countries. It is the slavery of the strong to the weak; of the great and noble minded to the small and mean! The slavery of Wisdom to Folly. “Be silent, or thou shalt repent it! Suppress thyself; I advise thee; canst thou not contrive to cease, then ?” That also, in some anarchic epochs, has been seen. When, of high and noble objects, there remained, in the market-place of human things, at length none; and he that could not make guineas his pursuit, and the applause of flunkies his reward, found himself in such a minority as seldom was before. Minority, I know, there always was; but there are degrees of it, down to minority of one, — down to suppression of the unfortunate minority, and reducing it to zero, that the flunkey world may have peace from it henceforth. The flunkey world has peace; and descends, manipulating its ballot boxes, negro suffrages, quoting its Dismal Sciences, Statistics, and other satisfactory Gospels and Talmuds, into the throat of the devil; not bothered by the importunate minority on the road. Did you never hear of  “Crucify him! crucify him!” That was a considerable feat in the suppressing of minorities; and is still talked of on Sundays — with very little understanding, when I last heard of it. My friends, my friends, I fear we are a stupid people; and stuffed with such delusions, above all, with such immense hypocrisies and self-delusions from our birth upwards, as no people were before; God help us! Emancipated? Yes, indeed, we are emancipated out of several things, and into several things. No man, wise or foolish, any longer can control you for good or for evil. 

If precisely the wisest man were at the top of society, and the next wisest next, and so on till we reached the Demerara nigger (from whom downwards, through the horse, &c., there is no question hitherto,) then were this a perfect world, the extreme maximum of wisdom produced in it. That is how you might produce your maximum, would some god assist. And I can tell you also how the minimum were producible. Let no man in particular be put at the top; let all men he accounted equally wise and worthy, and the notion get abroad that anybody or nobody will do well enough at the top; that money (to which may be added success in stump oratory) is the real symbol of wisdom, and supply and demand the all-sufficient substitute for command and obedience among two-legged animals of the unfeathered class: accomplish all those remarkable convictions in your thinking department; and then in your practical, as is fit, decide by count of heads, the vote of a Demerara nigger equal, and no more, to that of a Chancellor Bacon: this, I perceive, will (so soon as it is fairly under way, and all obstructions left behind) give the minimum of wisdom in your proceedings. Thus were your minimum producible, with no god needed to assist, nor no demon even, except the general demon of Ignavia (unvalor,) lazy indifference to the production or non-production of such things, which runs in our own blood. Were it beautiful, think you? Folly in such millionfold majority, at length peaceably supreme in this earth. Advancing on you as the huge buffalo-phalanx does in the western deserts; or as, on a smaller scale, those bristly creatures did in the Country of the Gadarenes. Rushing, namely, in wild stampede (the devil being in them, some small fly having stung them,) boundless — one wing on that edge of your horizon, the other wing on that, and rearward whole tides and oceans of them: — so could. Folly rush; the enlightened public one huge Gadarenes swinery, tail cocked, snout in air, with joyful, animating, short squeak; fast and ever faster; down steep places, to the sea of Tiberias, and the bottomless cloacas of nature: quenched there, since nowhere sooner. My friends, such sight is too sublime, if you are out in it, and are not of it! 

* * * * * 

I am prepared to maintain against all comers, that in every human relation, from that of husband and wife, down to that of master and servant, nomadism is the bad plan, and continuance the good. A thousand times, since I first had servants, it has occurred to me, how much better had I servants that were bound to me, and to whom I were bound! Doubtless it were not easy; doubtless it is now impossible; but if it could be done! I say, if the black gentleman is born to be a servant, and, in fact, is useful in God’s creation only as a servant, then let him hire not by the month, but by a very much longer term. That he “hired for life,” really here is the essence of the position he now holds! Consider that matter. All else is abuse in it, and this only is essence; and the abuses must be cleared away. They must and shall! Yes; and the thing itself seems to offer (its abuses once cleared away) a possibility of the most precious kind for the black man and for us. Servants hired for life, or by a contract for a long period, and not easily dissoluble, so, and not otherwise, would all reasonable mortals, black and white, wish to hire and to be hired ! I invite you to reflect on that; for you will find it true. And if true, it is important for us, in reference to this negro question and some others. The Germans say, “you must empty out the bathing-tub, but not the baby along with it.” Fling out your dirty water with all zeal, and set it careering down the kennels; but try if you can help the little child.

How to abolish the abuses of slavery, and save the precious thing in it; alas, I do not pretend that this is easy, that it can be done in a day or a single generation, or a single century; but I do surmise or perceive that it will, by straight methods or by circuitous, need to be done, not in the West Indian regions alone, and that the one way of helping the negro at present (distressed needlewomen, &c, being quite out of our reach) were, by piously and strenuously beginning it. Begun it must be, I perceive; and carried on in all regions where servants are born and masters; and are not prepared to become distressed needle-women or Demerara niggers, but to live in some human manner with one another. And truly, my friends, with regard to this world-famous nigger question — which perhaps is louder than it is big, after all — I would advise you to attack it on that side. Try against the dirty water, with an eye to save the baby! That will be a quite new point of attack; where, it seems to me, some real benefit and victory for the poor negro might, before long, be accomplished; and something else than Demerara freedom (with its rum-bottle and no breeches —   “baby” quite gone down into the kennels!) or than American stump-oratory, with mutual exasperation fast rising to the desperate pitch, might be possible for philanthropic men and women of the Anglo-Saxon type.



For the rest, I never thought the “rights of negroes” worth much discussing; the grand point, as I once said, is the mights of men — what portion of their “rights” they have a chance of getting sorted out, and realized in this confused world. We will not go deep into the question here about the negroes rights. We will give a single glance into it, and see, for one thing, how complex it is. 

West India Islands, still full of waste fertility, produce abundant pumpkins; pumpkins, however, you will observe, are not the sole requisite for human well-being. No; for a pig they are the one thing needful; but for a man they are only the first of several things needful. The first is here; but the second and remaining, how are they to be got? The answer is wide as human society itself. Society at large, as instituted in each country of the world, is the answer such country has been able to give: here, in this poor country, the rights of man and the mights of man are — such and such! An approximate answer to a question capable only of better and better solutions, never of any perfect, or absolutely good one. Nay, if we inquire, with much narrower scope, as to the right of chief management in cultivating those West India lands: as to the “right of property” so-called, and of doing what you like with your own? Even this question is abstruse enough. Who it may be that has a right to raise pumpkins and other produce on those islands, perhaps none can, except temporarily, decide. The islands are good. withal for pepper, for sugar, for sago, arrow-root, for coffee, perhaps for cinnamon, and precious spices; things far nobler than pumpkins; and leading towards commerce, arts, politics, and social developments, which alone are the noble product, where men (and not pigs with pumpkins) are the parties concerned! Well, all this fruit too, fruit spicy and commercial, fruit spiritual and celestial, so far beyond the merely pumpkinish and grossly terrene, lies in the West India lands: and the ultimate “proprietorship” of them — why, I suppose, it will vest in him who can the best educe from them whatever of noble produce they were created fit for yielding. He, I compute, is the real “Viceregent of the Maker” there; in him, better and better chosen, and not in another, is the “property” vested by decree of Heaven’s chancery itself! 

Up to this time it is the Saxon British mainly; they hitherto have cultivated with some manfulness and when a manfuller class of cultivators, stronger, worthier to have such land, abler to bring fruit from it, shall make their appearance, they, doubt it not, by fortune of war, and other confused negotiation and vicissitude, will be declared by nature and fact to be the worthier, and will become proprietors, perhaps also only for a time. That is the law, I take it; ultimate, supreme, for all lands in all countries under the sky. The one perfect eternal proprietor is the Maker who created them; the temporary better or worse proprietor is he whom the Maker has sent on that mission; he who the best hitherto can educe from said lands the beneficent gifts the Maker endowed them with, or, which is but another definition of the same person, he who leads hitherto the manfullest life on that bit of soil, doing better than another yet found can do, the eternal purpose and supreme will there. 

And now observe, my friends, it was not black quashee, or those he represents, that made those West India Islands what they are, or can, by any hypothesis, be considered to have the right of growing pumpkins there. For countless ages, since they first mounted oozy, on the back of earthquakes, from their dark bed in the ocean deeps, and reeking saluted the tropical sun, and ever onwards till the European white man first saw them some three short centuries ago, those islands had produced mere jungle, savagery, poison-reptiles, and swamp-malaria till the white European first saw them, they were as if not yet created — their noble elements of cinnamon, sugar, coffee, pepper, black and grey, lying all asleep, waiting the white enchanter who should say to them, awake! Till the end of human history and the sounding of the trump of doom, they might have lain so, had quashee and the like of him been the only artists in the game. Swamps, fever-jungles, man-eating Caribs, rattlesnakes, and reeking waste and putrefaction, this had been the produce of them under the incompetent Caribal (what we call Cannibal) possessors, till that time; and quashee knows, himself, whether he could have introduced an improvement. Him, had he been by a miraculous chance wafted thither, the Caribals would have eaten, rolling him as a fat morsel under their tongue; for him, till the sounding of the trump of doom, the rattlesnakes and savageries would have held on their way. It was not he, then; it was another than he! Never by art of his could one pumpkin have grown there to solace any human throat; nothing but savagery and reeking putrefaction could have grown there. These plentiful pumpkins, I say therefore, are not his; no, they are another’s: they are his only under conditions. Conditions which Exeter Hall, for the present, have forgotten; but which nature and the eternal powers have by no manner of means forgotten, but do at all moments keep in mind; and, at the right moment, will, with the due impressiveness, perhaps in a rather terrible manner, bring again to our mind also.

If quashee will not honestly aid in bringing out those sugars, cinnamons, and nobler products of the West India Islands, for the benefit of all mankind, then I say neither will the powers permit quashee to continue growing pumpkins there for his own lazy benefit; but will sheer him out, by and by, like a lazy gourd overshadowing rich ground; him and all that partake with him — perhaps in a very terrible manner. For, under favor of Exeter Hall, the “terrible manner” is not yet quite extinct with the destinies in this universe; nor will it quite cease, I apprehend, for soft sawder or philanthropic stump oratory now or henceforth. No; the gods wish besides pumpkins, that spices and valuable products be grown in their West Indies; thus much they have declared in so making the West Indies — infinitely more they wish, that manful, industrious men occupy their West Indies, not indolent two-legged cattle, however “happy” over their abundant pumpkins. Both these things, we may be assured, the immortal gods have decided upon, passed their eternal act of parliament for; and both of them, though all terrestrial parliaments and entities oppose it to the death, shall be done. Quashee, if he will not help in bringing out the spices, will get himself made a slave again (which state will be a little less ugly than his present one,) and with beneficent whip, since other methods avail not, will be compelled to work Or, alas, let him look across to Hayti, and trace a far sterner prophecy ! Let him, by his ugliness, idleness, rebellion, banish all white men from the West Indies, and make it all one Hayti — with little or no sugar growing, black Peter exterminating black Paul, and where a garden of the Hesperides might be, nothing but a tropical dog-kennel and pestiferous jungle — does he think that will forever continue pleasant to gods and men? I see men land one day on these black coasts; men sent by the laws of this universe, and inexorable course of things; men hungry for gold, remorseless, fierce as old buccaneers were; and a doom for quashee which I had rather not contemplate!  The gods are long-suffering; but the law from the beginning was, he that will not work shall perish from the earth; and the patience of the gods has limits. 

Before the West Indies could grow a pumpkin for any negro, how much European heroism had to spend itself in obscure battle; to sink, in mortal agony, before the jungles, the putrescences and waste savageries could become arable, and the devils be in some measure chained there! The West Indies grow pine-apples and sweet fruits, and spices; we hope they will one day grow beautiful heroic human lives too, which is surely the ultimate object they were made for: beautiful souls and brave; sages, poets, and what not; making the earth nobler round them, as their kindred from old have been doing; true “splinters of the old Harz Rock;” heroic white men, worthy to be called old Saxons, browned with a mahogany tint in those new climates and conditions. But under the soil of Jamaica, before it could even produce spices or any pumpkin, the bones of many thousand British men had to be laid. Brave Colonel Fortescue, brave Colonel Sedgwick, brave Colonel Brayne — the dust of many thousand strong old English hearts lies there; worn down swiftly in frightful travail, chaining the devils, which were manifold. heroic Blakt contributed a bit of his life to that Jamaica. A bit of the great Protector’s own life lies there ; beneath those pumpkins lies a bit of the life that was Oliver Cromwell’s. How the great Protector would have rejoiced to think, that all this was to issue in growing pumpkins to keep quashee in a comfortably idle condition ! No that is not the ultimate issue — not that. 

The West Indian whites, so long as this bewilderment of philanthropic and other jargon abates from them, and their poor eyes get to discern a little what the facts are, and what the laws are, will strike into another course, I apprehend! I apprehend they will, as a preliminary, resolutely refuse to permit the black man any privilege whatever of pumpkins till he agree for work in return.  Not a square inch of soil in these fruitful isles, purchased by British blood, shall any black man hold to grow pumpkins for him, except on terms that are fair towards Britain. Fair; see that they be not unfair, not toward ourselves, and still more not towards him. For injustice is for ever accursed: and precisely our unfair- ness towards the enslaved black man has, by inevitable revulsion and fated revulsion of the wheel, brought about these present confusions. Fair towards Britain it will be, that quashee give work for privilege to grow pumpkins. Not a pumpkin, quashee, not a square yard of soil, till you agree to do the State so many days of service. Annually that soil will grow you pumpkins; but annually also without fail, shall you, for the owner thereof do your appointed days of labor. The State has plenty of waste soil; but the State will religiously give you none of it on other terms. The State wants sugar from these islands, and means to have it ; wants virtuous industry in these islands, and must have it. The State demands of you such ser vice as will bring these results, this latter result, which includes all. Not a black Ireland, by immigration, and boundless black supply for the demand; not that — may the gods forbid — but a regulated West Indies, with black working population in adequate numbers; all “happy,” if they find it possible ; and not entirely unbeautiful to gods and men, which latter result they must find possible All “happy” enough ; that is to say, all working according to the faculty they have got, making a little more divine this earth which the gods have given them. Is there any other happiness, if it be not that of pigs fattening daily to the slaughter? So will the State speak by and by.

To state articulately, and put into practical lawbooks, what on all sides is fair, from the West Indian white to the West Indian black; what relations the Eternal Maker has established between these two creatures of His; what He has written down with intricate but ineffaceable record, legible to candid human insight, in the respective qualities, strengths, necessities and capabilities of each of the two: this will be a long problem, only to be solved by continuous human endeavor and earnest effort gradually perfecting itself as experience successively yields new light to it. This will be to “find the right terms;” terms of a contract that will endure, and be sanctioned by heaven and obtain prosperity on earth, between the two. A long problem, terribly neglected hitherto; whence these West Indian sorrows and Exeter Hall monstrosities, just now. But a problem which must be entered upon, and by degrees be completed. A problem which, I think, the English people also, if they mean to retain human colonies, and not black Irelands in addition to the whites, cannot begin too soon. What are the true relations between negro and white, their mutual duties under the sight of the Maker of them both; what human laws will assist both to comply more and more with these? The solution, only to be gained by earnest endeavor, and sincere reading of experience, such as have never yet been bestowed on it, is not yet here; the solution is perhaps still distant. But some approximation to it, various real approximations, could be made and must be made: this of declaring that negro and white are unrelated, loose from one another, on a footing of perfect equality, and subject to no law but that of supply and demand according to the dismal science; this, which contradicts the palpablest facts, is clearly no solution, but a cutting of the knot asunder; and every hour we persist in this is leading us towards dissolution instead of solution! 

What then is practically to be done, by us poor English, with our Demerara and other blacks? Well, in such a mess as we have made there, it is not easy saying what is first to be done But all this of perfect equality, of cutting quite loose from one another; all this, with “immigration loan,” “ happiness of black peasantry,” and other melancholy stuff that has followed from it, will first of all require to be undone, and the ground cleared of it, by way preliminary to “doing !” After that there may several things be possible. Already one hears of black Adscripti glebae;  which seems a promising arrangement, one of the first to suggest itself in such a complicacy. It appears the Dutch blacks, in Java, are already a kind of Adscripts, after the manner of the old European serfs; bound, by royal authority, to give so many days of work a year. Is not this something like a real approximation; the first step towards all manner of such? Wherever; in British territory, there exists a black man, and needful work to the just extent is not to be got out of him, such a law, in defect of better, should be brought to bear upon said black man! How many laws of like purport, conceivable some of them, might be brought to bear upon the black man, with all despatch by way of solution instead of dissolution to their complicated case just now! On the whole, it ought to be rendered possible, ought it not, for white men to live beside black men, and in some just manner to command black men, and produce West Indian fruitfulness by means of them? West Indian fruitfulness will need to be produced. If the English cannot find the method for that, they may rest assured that another will come (Brother Jonathan or still another) who can. He it is whom the gods will bid continue in the West Indies; bidding us ignominiously, “depart, ye quack-ridden, incompetent!” 

Oh, my friends, I feel there is an immense fund of human stupidity circulating among us, and much clogging our affairs for some time past A certain man has called us, “of all peoples the wisest in action ;“ but added, “the stupidest in speech :“—and it is a sore thing, in these constitutional times, times mainly of universal parliamentary and other eloquence, that the “speakers” have all first to emit, in such tumultuous volumes, their human stupor, as the indispensable preliminary, and everywhere we must first see that and its results out, before beginning any business.


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An American Antiquarian Society Online Exhibition
Curated by Lucia Z. Knoles, Professor of English, Assumption College

All primary sources in this exhibit are in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.
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