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‘The Market of Human Flesh’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

Posted on 10/31/2017

The October release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a piece of travel literature describing America and its peculiar institution, a pamphlet bemoaning the ills of Reconstruction, and speeches and writings on the political aspects of slavery by abolitionist and senator Charles Sumner.

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A Tour in the United States of America (1784)

By John Ferdinand Smyth Stuart, Esq.

John Ferdinand Smyth Stuart (1745-1814) studied medicine at Edinburgh University, emigrated to America, and began his practice in Virginia. When the American Revolution began, Stuart, a loyalist, abandoned his home and served in the British Army. During the war he was captured and held prisoner, spending eighteen months in irons. Misfortune followed Stuart. After returning to England after the war, his pension for service was suspended. Moving to the West Indies, he was shipwrecked three times. Returning one more time to England, he learned his pension claims were too old to be heard. In 1814 he was knocked down and killed by a carriage.

Writing of his sojourn in America, Stuart recounts the country’s natural beauty but the charm of his prose is diminished quickly when he writes:

As I observed before, at least two-thirds of the inhabitants are negroes, whose difference of features and color, and rank offensive smell, are extremely disagreeable and disgustful to Europeans: but, poor creatures! they are all humility and submission; and it is the greatest pleasure of their lives, when they can please the whites.

You cannot understand all of them, as great numbers, being Africans, are incapable of acquiring our language, and at best but very imperfectly, if at all; many of the others also speak a mixed dialect between the Guinea and English.

It is fortunate for humanity, that these poor creatures possess such a fund of contentment and resignation in their minds; for they indeed seem to be the happiest inhabitants in America, notwithstanding the hardness of their fare, the severity of their labor, and the unkindness, ignominy, and often barbarity of their treatment.

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Common Sense for the People (1868)

This unsigned pamphlet undoubtedly captures the sentiment held by many following the Civil War. 

It is the present and immediate future that concerns us now. Let us look this present squarely in the face. It is not an attractive object in any light in which it can be put. The country is not at peace or anything like peace. From the Potomac to the Rio Grande is a prostrate community, governed as a conquered province, by strict military rule, and at a cost to the North incalculable, and over it roam restless, but not content, riotous, but not happy, the negro race, which, by the process of war, has been made free.

The author closes with a dark vision of the future, writing:

One other word in conclusion. The object of this tract is to discuss, not men, but principles and things and measures past and prospective. So treating it, let us for a moment look at what intolerant proscription and agitation the platform of the Radical Republicans pledge the party to. The right of self-government, and the regulation of suffrage is reluctantly conceded to the North. Unlimited Negro Suffrage is forced upon the South. In every Southern State, without any volition on its part, Negroes are to vote and be voted for. Can any one imagine that such a confederation of American States can exist in peace? Can any one suppose such a Union can secure peace or common confidence or continuance? We shall be launched on a new sea of turmoil and confusion, and perhaps of war, not between sections, as before, but what is more hideous, between races.

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The Works of Charles Sumner (1875)

By Charles Sumner

Charles Sumner (1811-1874) was a lawyer, orator, U.S. Senator, and abolitionist. He led the anti-slavery forces in Massachusetts and the Radical Republicans in the Senate during the Civil War.  In 1845, Sumner spoke at a public meeting in Faneuil Hall, Boston, in opposition to the admission of Texas to the Union as a slave state. Sumner enumerates his objections, arguing: 

And whereas the scheme for the annexation of Texas as a Slave State, begun in stealth and fraud, and carried on to confirm Slavery and extend its bounds, in violation of the fundamental principle of our institutions, is not consummated, and may be arrested by the zealous and hearty co-operation of all who sincerely love their country and the liberty of mankind,—

And whereas this scheme, if successful, involves the whole country, Free States as well as slave-owners, in one of the two greatest crimes a nation can commit, and threatens to involve them in the other, namely, Slavery and unjust War—Slavery of the most revolting character, and War to sustain Slavery,—

And whereas the State Constitution of Texas, which will soon be submitted to Congress for adaptation or rejection, expressly prohibits the Legislature, except under conditions rendering the exception practically void, from enacting any law for the emancipation of slaves, and for the abolition of the slave-trade between Texas and the United States, thereby reversing entirely the natural and just tendency of our institutions towards Freedom,—

And whereas the slaveholders seek annexation for the purpose of increasing the market of human flesh and for extending and perpetuating Slavery—

And whereas, by the triumph of this scheme, and by creating new Slave States within the limits of Texas, the slaveholders seek to control the political power of the majority of freemen represented in the Congress…

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