High School Unit I
Lesson A: The Struggle for Racial Justice, 1780-1863
- How did enslaved African Americans gain their freedom in Massachusetts?
- How did African Americans in Massachusetts build a sense of community?
- What strategies did abolitionists use to fight slavery?
- What obstacles did African Americans overcome in order to participate fully in the Union Army?
Document HS I-1: The End of Slavery in Massachusetts: Excerpt from Chief Justice Cushing’s Notes on Quok Walker v. Nathaniel Jennison, 1783
Although the decision in the case of Quok Walker v. Nathaniel Jennison was not officially recorded, the basis of Chief Justice Cushing’s ruling was found in his notebook.
As to the doctrine of slavery and the right of Christians to hold Africans in perpetual servitude, and sell and treat them as we do our horses and cattle, that (it is true) has been heretofore countenanced by the Province Laws formerly, but nowhere is it expressly enacted or established. It has been a usage—a usage which took its origin from the practice of some of the English nations, and the regulations of British government respecting the then Colonies, for the benefit of trade and wealth. But whatever sentiments have formerly prevailed in this particular or slid upon us by the example of others, a different idea has taken place with the people of America, more favorable to the natural rights of mankind, and to that natural, innate desire of Liberty, with which Heaven (without regard to color, complexion, or shape of noses-features) has inspired all the human race. And upon this ground our Constitution of Government, by which the people of this Commonwealth have solemnly bound themselves, sets out with declaring that all men are born free and equal—and that every subject is entitled to liberty, and to have it guarded by the laws, as well as life and property—and in short is totally repugnant to the idea of being born slaves. This being the case, I think the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and Constitution; and there can be no such thing as perpetual servitude of a rational creature, unless his liberty is forfeited by some criminal conduct or given up by personal consent or contract. . . .
Reprinted in Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, April 1874. pp. 293-94.
Document HS I-2: Racial Justice Now! Excerpts from David Walker’s Appeal To the Coloured Citizens of the World, 1829
David Walker’s Appeal is among the most powerful anti-slavery works ever written. He called on people of African descent to resist slavery and racism by any means. Walker’s writing influenced virtually every black leader who followed, including W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.
My dearly beloved Brethren and Fellow-Citizens:
Having travelled over a considerable portion of these United States, and having, in the course of my travels, taken the most accurate observations of things as they exist, the result of my observations has warranted the full and unshaken conviction, that we (coloured people of these United States) are the most degraded, wretched and abject set beings that ever lived since the world began; and I pray God that none like us ever may live again until time shall be no more. They tell us of the Israelites in Egypt, the Helots in Sparta, and of the Roman slaves, which last were made up from almost every nation under heaven, whose sufferings under those ancient and heathen nations were, in comparison with ours, under this enlightened and Christian nation, no more than a cypher ….
I will ask one question here — Can our condition be any worse? — Can it be more mean and abject? If there are any changes, will they not be for the better, though they may appear for the worse at first? Can they get us any lower? Where can they get us? They are afraid to treat us worse, for they know well, the day they do it they are gone. But against all accusations which may or can be preferred against me, I appeal to Heaven for my motive in writing — who knows that my object is, if possible, to awaken in the breasts of my afflicted, degraded and slumbering brethren, a spirit of inquiry and investigation respecting our miseries and wretchedness in this Republican Land of Liberty! ! ! ! !
From the Preamble to David Walker's Appeal in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, ed. by Charles M. Wiltse (1829; reprint Hill and Wang, 1965).
Document HS I-3: William Lloyd Garrison Takes a Stand: Excerpts from Editorial in First Issue of The Liberator, 1831
The Liberator, published weekly by William Lloyd Garrison, was the best known, most influential, and longest running anti-slavery newspaper in the U.S. With the backing of black and white abolitionists who shared his militant views, Garrison published the first issue in January 1831. The paper ceased publication in December 1865, following ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
During my recent tour for the purpose of exciting the minds of the people by a series of discourses on the subject of slavery, every place that I visited gave fresh evidence of the fact, that a greater revolution in public sentiment was to be effected in the free States—and particularly in New-England—than at the south. I found contempt more bitter, opposition more active, detraction more relentless, prejudice more stubborn, and apathy more frozen, than among slave owners themselves. Of course, there were individual exceptions to the contrary. This state of things afflicted, but did not dishearten me. I determined, at every hazard, to lift up the standard of emancipation in the eyes of the nation, within sight of Bunker Hill and in the birth place of liberty. That standard is now unfurled; and long may it float, unhurt by the spoliations of time or the missiles of a desperate foe—yea, till every chain be broken, and every bondman set free! Let southern oppressors tremble—let their secret abettors tremble—let their northern apologists tremble—let all the enemies of the persecuted blacks tremble….
Assenting to the "self-evident truth" maintained in the American Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights—among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population. In Park-Street Church, on the Fourth of July, 1829, in an address on slavery, I unreflectingly assented to the popular but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this opportunity to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly to ask pardon of my God, of my country, and of my brethren the poor slaves, for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice and absurdity. A similar recantation, from my pen, was published in the Genius of Universal Emancipation at Baltimore, in September, 1829. My conscience is now satisfied.
I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen;—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead….
William Lloyd Garrison
Reprinted in William Lloyd Garrison, 1805–1879: The Story of His Life, Told by His Children, Vol. 1., by Wendell Phillips Garrison (The Century Company, 1885).
Document HS I-4: Voices from North and South: Reviews of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1853
Reviews of Uncle Tom's Cabin differed greatly, depending on the reviewer's view of slavery and the movement to abolish it. The first is from a Boston journal, the second from The Southern Literary Messenger, published in Richmond, Virginia.
The enthusiastic reception of Mrs. Stowe's novel is the result of various causes. One is the merit of the book itself. It is, unquestionably, a work of genius…. It has the capital excellence of exciting the interest of the reader; this never stops or falters from the beginning to the end....
But whatever may be the literary merits of Uncle Tom, they do not account for its success.… It is true, that, were Uncle Tom not well written, it would not have produced these effects; but the result is so disproportioned to its merit as a work of art, that we must look to other causes. The book has one idea and purpose to which it is wholly devoted. Its sole object is to reveal to the world the nature of American slavery, and thus to promote the cause of abolition....
Another cause of the wide-spread popularity of Uncle Tom is its foundation in truth. It is a highly-colored description of a reality. This is undeniable by any one who can reflect on what must be the consequences of absolute and irresponsible power, bestowed without reference to character. Here is the real source of the power of the work. Were it a mere fanciful picture of ideal scenes, it would have already taken the place of other falsehoods, and been forgotten; for it does not pretend to be a work of mere imagination, and if it did, it wants the creative power, the touches of genius, that could give it life as such. If it be not founded on truth, it is nothing….
Unsigned, North American Review, Boston, October 1853.
We dismiss Mrs. Stowe: and we claim credit for our forbearance in thus resisting the temptation to castigate the improprieties of a woman, who has abandoned the elevated sphere appropriate to her sex, and descended into the arena of civil dissension and political warfare….
We have said that Uncle Tom's Cabin is a fiction. It is a fiction throughout; a fiction in form; a fiction in its facts; a fiction in its representations and coloring; a fiction in its statements; a fiction in its sentiments; a fiction in its morals; a fiction in its religion; a fiction in its inferences; a fiction equally with regard to the subjects it is designed to expound, and with respect to the manner of their exposition. It is a fiction, not for the sake of more effectually communicating truth; but for the purpose of more effectually disseminating a slander. It is a fictitious or fanciful representation for the sake of producing fictitious or false impressions. Fiction is its form and falsehood is its end....
Unsigned (probably John R. Thompson), Southern Literary Messenger Review (Richmond, Oct. 5,1852).
From the University of Virginia’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture” website.
Document HS I-5: Broken Promises: Excerpts from Letter to President Lincoln from Corporal in the Massachusetts 54th
When the Union Army recruited black men to fight in the Civil War, they were promised the same pay and benefits as whites received. Instead the War Department paid black soldiers $10 a month, $3.00 less than whites received, and took another $3 out for their uniforms. In protest, the men of the Mass 54th refused to acceptANY pay and began a campaign to win equal treatment. James Henry Gooding, a corporal in the Mass 54th Regiment appealed directly to President Lincoln. [Spelling is as in original.]
Morris Island [S.C.]. Sept 28th 1863
Your Excelency will pardon the presumtion of an humble individual like myself, in addressing you. but the earnest solicitation of my Comrades in Arms, besides the genuine interest felt by myself in the matter is my excuse, for placing before the Executive head of the Nation our Common Grievance:
On the 6th of the last Month, the Paymaster of the department, informed us, that if we would decide to receive the sum of $10 (ten dollars) per month, he would come and pay us that sum, but, that, on the sitting of Congress, the Regt would, in his opinion, be allowed the other 3 (three.) He did not give us any guarantee that this would be…
Now the main question is. Are we Soldiers, or are we LABOURERS. We are fully armed, and equipped, have done all the various Duties, pertaining to a Soldiers life, have conducted ourselves, to the complete satisfaction of General Officers, who, were if any, prejudiced against us, but who now accord us all the encouragement, and honour due us….Mr President. Today, the Anglo Saxon Mother, Wife, or Sister, are not alone, in tears for departed Sons, Husbands, and Brothers. The patient Trusting Decendants of Africs clime, have dyed the ground with blood, in defense of the Union, and Democracy.
When the war trumpet sounded o'er the land, when men knew not the Friend from the Traitor, the Black man laid his life at the Altar of the Nation, — and he was refused. When the arms of the Union, were beaten, in the first year of the War, And the Executive called more food, for its ravaging maw, again the black man begged, the privelege of Aiding his Country in her need, to be again refused, And now, he is in the War: and how has he conducted himself?… Obedient and patient, and Solid as a wall are they. All we lack, is a paler hue, and a better acquaintance with the Alphabet.
Now Your Excellency, We have done a Soldiers Duty. Why cant we have a Soldiers pay? You caution the Rebel Chieftain, that the United States, knows, no distinction, in her Soldiers: She insists on having all her Soldiers, of whatever, creed or Color, to be treated, according to the usages of War. Now if the United States exacts uniformity of treatment of her Soldiers, from the Insurgents, would it not be well, and consistent, to set the example herself, by paying all her Soldiers alike?… We appeal to You, Sir: as the Executive of the Nation, to have us Justly Dealt with. The Regt, do pray, that they be assured their service will be fairly appreciated, by paying them as American SOLDIERS, not as menial hierlings.
Please give this a moments attention
James Henry Gooding
Quoted in Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom and the Civil War ed. by Ira Berlin et al. (New Press, 1992).