Monthly Archives: June 2007

John Smith and Pocahontas: A Review of the “Sometimes Governor” of Jamestown’s Works and Reputation

 The following essay by Casey Levinson of Hunter College has been awarded second place in the 2007 Eighteenth-Century Reading Room Essay Contest. Congratulations to Casey!

John Smith and Pocahontas:

A Review of the “Sometimes Governor” of Jamestown’s Works and Reputation 

Most Americans who are familiar with John Smith know him from a paragraph in a high school textbook or from commercial dramatizations of colonial Jamestown such as the 1995 Disney animated feature “Pocahontas.” These popular treatments depict Smith and Pocahontas as two dashing twenty-somethings who fall madly in love but must hide their feelings from Powhatan, her father, and John Ratcliffe, the President of the Jamestown colony. Current historians, however, know that Pocahontas was only about thirteen years old when Smith met her, that they never had a romantic relationship and that the primary concerns within the Jamestown fort were starvation, disease and the amassing of what was later discovered to be fool’s gold. Smith himself, though absolutely an adventurer, was also a vain, dictatorial braggart and mercenary, castrated at twenty-nine by a gun powder explosion. Despite his efforts, the Virginia Company refused to rehire him and he died alone and unemployed with a reputation as a teller of tall tales. In fact, it has only been within the last twenty years or so that the historical community has begun to emerge from a contentious debate over the veracity of Smith’s words and many doubts still linger. This paper reviews Smith’s two different accounts of Jamestown’s first year, his 1608 A True Relation of such occurrences and accidents of note, as hath hapned in Virginia and his 1624 The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles and addresses one major question over which historians still struggle: Did the Pocahontas rescue in fact take place?

            Thomas Fuller, commenting in 1662 on the adventures Smith recounted in his 1630 autobiography, The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith, wrote, “[Smith’s] perils, preservations, dangers, deliverances…they seem to most men above belief, to some beyond truth.”[1] A year after Smith’s death, a satirical epic poem appeared in London with a title character oddly reminiscent of the deceased. The braggart hero of David Lloyd’s 1631 comic romance, The Legend of Captaine Iones, fights Indians and Arabs, is wounded in the genitals and is sold into slavery, all events Smith recounted in his various works.[2]

            Yet his writings lived on, and as America developed, his legend steadily grew. In his 1803 history of America, Englishman John Davis writes, “of the first settlers in Virginia, the most distinguished character was Captain Smith, a man who seemed to inherit every quality of a hero; a man of such bravery and conduct, that his actions would confer dignity on the page of the historian.” Davis’ romanticized depiction of Smith conforms to the common public perception of his era. Smith’s tendency to magnify his exploits in his writings had translated over time into accepted popular belief. Davis declares in his history that “by [Smith’s] judgment, courage, and industry, he saved the new establishment.”[3] It was not until the post-Civil War era that a movement began among historians to once again question the veracity of Smith’s accounts. With this debate came the first doubts about the famous Pocahontas incident.

            In 1867, previously unknown historian Henry Adams made his career with an article in the North American Review attacking Smith as an historian and challenging the existence of his famous rescue from death by Pocahontas. Before Adams, historians had generally accepted that during Smith’s imprisonment with the Chesapeake’s Algonquin Indians, he had been brought before their chief, Powhatan, for execution, and that it was only by the last second intervention of the chief’s favorite daughter that Smith kept his life. The only source for this event was Smith’s own account, published in the Generall Historie in 1624. Adams cited the absence of the Pocahontas story in the much earlier True Relation as evidence that Smith was simply lying.[4]

            The following is a review of Smith’s two versions of the events of December, 1607 on the way to and in Werawocomoco, centering on his capture by Opechancanough and his near-execution in Powhatan’s hut. Again, the True Relation (henceforth Relation) is Smith’s first version of the events, written c. June 2, 1608, and the Generall Historie (henceforth Historie) includes Smith’s second version of the events, written around 1623-1624. In the summary that follows, all facts, events and commentary are essentially in accord unless otherwise noted.

From The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, edited by Philip L. Barbour, 3 vols. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986):

           

            In December, 1607, Smith hired two Powhatan Indians with a canoe to guide him down river with two other colonists, Jehu Robinson and Thomas Emry, to find the lake into which the river emptied. Farther down the river, Smith ordered his guides to dock the canoe so that he could explore the forest. He brought one of the two Indian guides with him, leaving the other behind with his two men.

            While he was alone with his guide in the woods, Smith was ambushed by Opechancanough and 200 Powhatan warriors. Suspecting a betrayal, Smith bound his guide to him as a shield. During the ensuing fracas, Smith was wounded in the thigh. For his part, he shot two Indians with his pistol. The Powhatans captured him and led him back to their village where they showed him the dead bodies of Robinson and Emry, full of arrows. The text in the Relation is marred by editorial cuts, after “Emry I saw not” and “all over the woods”:

                       

With kinde speeches and bread he requited me, conducting me where the Canow lay and John Robinson slaine, with 20 or 30. arrowes in him. Emry I saw not, I perceived by the aboundance of fires all over the woods, At each place I expected when they would execute me.[5]

            Weeks later, Opechancanough took Smith to Werawocomoco to present him to Powhatan. Here one finds the point in the 1624 Historie when the famous Pocahontas rescue occurs. Smith is restrained “by as many as could [lay] hands on him” and his head is placed on “two great stones” in front of Powhatan. As his guards approach with clubs “to beate out his braines,” Pocahontas, “the Kings dearest daughter” cradles Smith’s head in her arms and lays her own head over his, compelling Powhatan to call off the execution. The chief decides Smith will live on to provide hatchets and copper to his people.

            Two days later, Powhatan “disguised himselfe in the most fearfullest manner he could…made the most dolefullest noyse” from behind a mat and, “more like a devill than a man,” informed Smith that the two were now “friends.” Powhatan returned Smith to Jamestown to bring him back “two great gunnes [canons] and a gryndstone” in exchange for lordship over the “County of Capahowosick.” Powhatan stated that he would henceforth regard Smith as his own son, with the new name “Nantaquoud.” Though it seems clear that Powhatan intended Smith to be his vassal, there is no evidence in either text that Smith understood this, nor does Smith make any statement that suggests he suspected the near-execution to be a premeditated ceremony. Despite his lack of comprehension of the ceremony, Smith seems to have remained factually accurate in his report. The Pocahontas episode does nothing to champion Smith’s character or ability and it lacks the romantic angle applied to it by later writers.

            In the earlier Relation, in place of the would-be execution and Pocahontas’ rescue, comes a somewhat jarring passage describing Powhatan’s kindness and congeniality. Editor Philip Barbour suggests that a cut was made here and John Healey, the editor, may have penned the passage. That the style and tone of the prose in this section differs distinctly from that which precedes and follows it indeed supports Barbour’s argument for editorial interference. The Relation was published as a pamphlet for the Virginia Company, with the purposes of generating positive publicity for the colony and attracting more settlers. It was based on a private letter of Smith’s that he did not intend for print. One must assume the Virginia Company would have preferred to sell the idea of an amicable Powhatan in their pamphlet rather than that of a blood-hungry war chief. It was also in the Virginia Company’s interest to publicly present the Indians as capable of adopting Christianity. In item III of the first Virginia Charter, the crown stresses the importance of converting the Indians to Protestantism and the Virginia Company hoped to retain the king’s favor.[6] The shift from Smith’s narration to Healey’s occurs between Smith’s identification of Powhatan as “a naked Salvage” and Powhatan’s welcoming words:

[Powhatan,] with such a grave and Majesticall countenance, as drave me into admiration to see such state in a naked Salvage, hee kindly welcomed me with good wordes, and great Platters of sundrie Victuals, assuring mee his friendship, and my libertie within four dayes.[7]

            Smith’s discourse has been characterized to this point by both tension and astonishment as he anticipates his own murder but is at the same time awestruck by the majesty and ceremony of the Powhatan court. The tone of the second half of the excerpt eschews the fearful awe of the first portion and it is as if the attack, capture and imprisonment is revealed to have been a misunderstanding. John Healey’s editorial intervention in the Relation suggests that the 1608 account is not the completely dependable source historians such as Henry Adams have believed it to be. Concerning details where Smith’s own heroism is not currently at play, the Historie is in fact more consistently reliable. The Historie’s authority is most pronounced in regards to the Pocahontas episode.

            It is to Smith’s credit that he did not portray his relationship with Pocahontas as romantic. That lingering perception was developed by later interpreters and historians. In his 1803 history, John Davis describes their tryst in a rendition consistent with the stage plays and other retellings of his time. When Pocahontas, “whose soft simplicity and innocence,” writes Davis, “cannot but hold captive every mind,” first laid eyes on Smith at Werawocomoco, “never did the moon gaze more stedfastedly on the water than she on the prisoner.” After she rescues him, Pocahontas hangs “wildly on the neck of the reprieved victim, weeping with a violence that choaked her utterance.” According to Davis, Powhatan then offered one of his two best “sqaws” to Smith, but he refused the offer, “to the unspeakable joy of Pocahontas.” However, it was not until she later brought him provisions at Jamestown that she was able to summon the courage to confess her feelings. At that point, Davis states, Pocahontas “gave loose to all the tumultuous extasy of love.”[8]

            There are two main points in the case against the Pocahontas incident. First, Smith never mentioned the rescue in publication until after Pocahontas had died. Obviously, she never had a chance to rebut his testimony. Second, since Pocahontas had made quite a splash during her visit to Europe in 1616, only months before she succumbed to disease, the attention-hungry Smith could have been motivated to latch on to her celebrity to advance his own career.

            However, the case for the Pocahontas rescue is stronger. As stated before, there is a very good chance that it was cut by John Healey from the original 1608 account. The Relation was published without Smith’s knowledge while he was still in Jamestown. Healey admits in his introduction to the pamphlet that “somwhat more was by [Smith] written, which being as I thought (fit to be private) I would not adventure to make it publicke.” Wyndham Robertson suggested as far back as 1860, before Henry Adams’ article, that Healey may have cut the Pocahontas incident out of the Relation.[9] Without Smith’s original letter, there is no way of knowing what Healey and the Virginia Company thought was unfit for the public.         

            But the strongest evidence for the veracity of the Pocahontas story are Smith’s claims in the 1620’s that, prior to Pocahontas’ 1616 visit to the royal court, he gave Elizabeth I a “little booke” proclaiming the honorableness of the Indian Queen. Smith claimed his “little booke” explained how Pocahontas had saved his life by hazarding the beating out of her brains for his own. Though Smith’s “little booke” has not been preserved, Leo Lemay is right to insist that “it strains one’s credulity to believe that Smith in 1624 would lie about a letter written to the queen eight years before,” because surely, if this “little booke” were a lie, one of Smith’s contemporaries would have immediately exposed it. There was indeed a multitude of persons involved either with Virginia or the royal court circle such as Dr. Theodore Goulston, Henry Rolfe (John’s brother) and Samuel Purchas who had been close to Pocahontas or the queen and who were still alive when Smith published these statements. They would have known if Smith were lying and they would have said something about it. However, there is no record that any of them did.[10]

            Though he never seemed to recognize it, what John Smith experienced at Werawocomoco was most likely an Indian adoption ceremony. In such a ceremony, a captive is guided through a mock execution, spared his life and then accepted into his captor’s community, the effect being that a feudalistic political alliance is formed between the pardoner and the pardoned. The events following Smith’s reprieve suggest this was precisely the case and that Powhatan was attempting to incorporate Smith into his ruling underbody. Recordings of other contemporaneous examples of Indian adoption practices can be found in F. W. Hodge’s 1907 Handbook of American Indians. Jarvis Morse noted that “in connection with adoption practices…similar commutations of the death sentence can be found to have occurred both before and after the one in question.”[11]

            Critics of John Smith have rightfully pointed out that he had a tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments, embellish dramatic moments, and even invent heroic exploits for himself, especially toward the end of his life. These faults are more true, however, of Smith’s True Travels than of the Generall Historie. As well, the Pocahontas incident is almost entirely exempt from such temptations. Leo Lemay argues that sheer embarrassment may have been the cause of the rescue’s omission from the True Relation.[12] One should take into account as well the fact that Smith’s proclivity to declare unpopular truths kept him unemployed in middle age. Among his many complaints about the Virginia Company’s mismanagement, his criticism of the emphasis on gold mining must not have gone over well with either his employers or the crown. Gold, silver and copper were the only goods given their own section in the first Virginia charter. The crown and the Virginia (then London) Company were clearly inspired by the successes of the Spanish and judging by the charter, precious minerals were the main aim of the venture. The king, competing with Spain for global domination of both religion and wealth, was only concerned with a twenty percent tax on the gold and silver harvest and converting Indians to the Church of England.[13] Thus, though Smith was capable of telling tall tales, it was his habit of reporting truths that stifled his career. In light of these factors, but especially Smith’s “little booke” and Healey’s editing, we should confidently accept that the Pocahontas rescue did indeed occur.

           


 

Works Cited:

Adams, Henry. “Captain John Smith.” North American Review. CIV (1867): 1-30.

Davis, John. Travels of four and a half years in the United States of America; During 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802. London: R. Edwards, 1803.       

Lemay, J.A. Leo. Did Pocahontas Save Captain John Smith? Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

Morse, Jarvis M. “John Smith and His Critics: A Chapter in Colonial Historiography.” Journal of Southern History. I (1935): 123-137.

The Parliamentary Register; or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Lords. Vol. II. London: J. Almon, 1775.

Smith, John. The Complete Works of Captain John Smith. Edited by Philip L. Barbour. 3 vols. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.        

Vaughan, Alden T. “John Smith Satirized: The Legend of Captaine Iones.” The William and Mary Quarterly. 3rd Ser., Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1988): 712-732.


[1]J.A. Leo Lemay, Did Pocahontas Save Captain John Smith? (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992), 94.

[2]Alden T. Vaughan, “John Smith Satirized: The Legend of Captaine Iones,” The William and Mary Quarterly. 3rd Ser., Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1988): 712-732.

[3]John Davis, Travels of four and a half years in the United States of America; During 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802 (London: R. Edwards, 1803), 259, 261.

[4]Henry Adams, “Captain John Smith,” North American Review. CIV (1867): 1-30.

[5]John Smith, The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, edited by Philip L. Barbour, 3 vols. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), vol. I, 45-47 and vol. II, 146-147.

[6]The Parliamentary Register; or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Lords. Vol. II. (London: J. Almon, 1775), 68.

[7]John Smith, The Complete Works, vol. I, 47-53 and vol. II, 150-151.

[8]Davis, 272-278.

[9]Lemay, 19.

[10]Lemay, 37-38.

[11]Jarvis M. Morse, “John Smith and His Critics: A Chapter in Colonial Historiography,” Journal of Southern History. I (1935): 125.

[12]Lemay, 27.

[13]The Parliamentary Register, 73.

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Filed under 1600's, Colonial America, Essay Contest, Indians, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Spectators of Oppression: Depictions of American Slavery in Travel Journals, 1792-1840

The following essay  by Michael Brenes of Hunter College has been awarded first place in the 2007 Eighteenth-Century Reading Room Essay Contest. Congratulations to Michael!

 

Spectators of Oppression:

Depictions of American Slavery in Travel Journals, 1792-1840 

           

            In Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic tome on American life in the nineteenth century, Democracy in America, he famously denounced Southern slavery while presciently conveying his opinion that it “is not an institution which can last.”[1] De Tocqueville was profoundly disturbed by slavery; it was for him a glaring contradiction to the ideas and values that America was founded upon, among them the individual right to liberty and freedom. The “peculiar institution” was simply incompatible with the progressive ideas of the Enlightenment, and its life was dwindling to an end. Slavery might not abolished through the volition and goodwill of Southern whites, Tocqueville reasoned, but if “freedom is refused to the Negroes of the South, they will end up by seizing it themselves.”[2]  

            But de Tocqueville was only the most famous expatriate traveler to America in the 1800’s that took a position toward slavery. Many writers of travel journals, while passing through the United States, recorded anecdotes of interactions with slaves, depictions of plantation life and the dynamics between slave and master. Most authors of travel journals were predominantly from Europe—specifically England—who had the means to travel extensively. Many were highly educated at elite universities and had intimate relationships with American leaders in government. One author even dedicated his book to Thomas Jefferson.[3]

Coming from this educated, enlightened background, most of these writers were vociferous opponents of slavery. If they did not outright petition for the abolishment of slavery, they at least denounced its practice. They often categorized slavery in the southern United States as an evil enterprise that rested on fallacious ideas of African-Americans. These authors believed that slavery remained in perpetuity simply because it kept the Southern economy profitable; however, like de Tocqueville, they felt it could not last for long. Indeed, thirty years prior to de Tocqueville’s journey through America, author Isaac Weld used uncannily similar words as his successor to predict that “there will be and end to slavery in the United States…[as] negroes will not remain deaf to the inviting call of liberty forever.”[4]

            It is no surprise that cosmopolitan, European elites had anti-slavery sympathies around the turn of the eighteenth century. What is more revelatory—and more relevant—are the diverse perspectives travel writers held toward slavery at the time. This paper will examine these various viewpoints of slavery as recounted by writers of travel journals. Furthermore, they will be set against the historiography of slavery in order to decipher their factual validity. In the end, I conclude, these authors of travel journals in the early 1800’s did not intend to embellish or downplay the reality of slavery; most were attempting to be objective and to offer themselves to their readers as impartial observers trying to understand slavery within its context.

            Travel narratives were popular forms of literature even before the American Revolution, but they experienced a surge in publication following the end of the first administration. An overwhelming interest in the political experiment that was the United States spurred this rapid increase in readership. Wanting to understand what made Americans tick, travel writers went out into America to survey the topography of the land, record the intricacies of its economy, and observe the social milieus of the people, all in an effort to discover what differentiated America from other countries.[5]

            It must be said that while travel writing made an attempt to be objective, subjectivity underlay all of its insights. Most authors wrote travel books under the influence of Enlightenment philosophers like the Scottish thinker David Hume, who felt that “the senses alone are not implicitly to be depended on; but we…must correct their evidence by reason.”[6] Authors of travel journals abided by this philosophical conviction almost to the point of faithful devotion: they did not believe that their interpretation of events was the definitive one, but if they saw something, it must indeed be true because they reasoned that their observations were true. As modern research in the field of psychology has proven, this is not always the case.[7] Nonetheless, empiricism was deemed by travel authors to be at the time the most scientific approach one could use in order to arrive at some universal truths.

            Using the method of empirical research, travel writers acted essentially as modern day reporters: they indiscriminately went out into the field of study, conducted interviews, viewed the circumstances which confronted them and weighed them against their subjective interpretation. Their facts were their observations, and their sources were reliable, ipso facto, because they were observed. When they went to the South to uncover the particulars of slavery, this was the mentality travel authors set out with. John Davis exemplified the attitude of colleagues when he wrote in the introduction of his narrative that he had “entered with equal interest the mud hut of the negro, and the log house of the planter.”[8]

            When they directed their attention toward the practice of slavery in the South, writers of travel journals saw a barbaric practice, rooted in and supported by in the avariciousness and pitilessness of Southern plantation owners. Writers of travel journals deplored the fierce hardships that the slaves were forced to undergo. With forcible prose, Thomas Anburey saw that slaves were forced to work all hours of the day with nothing to eat but a lunch that “consists of hominy and salt.”[9] If they refused to work under such harsh conditions, it was expected that they would be whipped or bound. Isaac Weld saw that slaves were neglected in both body and spirit as they were malnourished, given rags to wear as clothing and were publicly humiliated.[10] Charles Janson wrote that slaves in South Carolina labored in rice fields that are “overflowed with stagnant water” and that they “endur[ed] the scorching rays of the sun, in raising tobacco and different kinds of grain” all to preserve the wealth of the very people who enslave them.[11]

            While the work was backbreaking, the living conditions of the slaves were decrepit. Blacks were described by various writers as living in conditions of squalor. Slaves usually lived in quarters that feigned “the appearance of a small village” which were comprised of large, wooden huts.[12] These structures intended to provide shelter for the entire population of slaves. Many took notice of the stark, economic dichotomy between the slave and the master. Some authors had difficulty reconciling the destitution slave quarters when contrasted with the fecundity of the owners’ estates.[13]

            Travel writers blamed the coexistence of the owner and the overseer for this cruel treatment of slaves. The role of the overseer on the plantation was integral to the machinations of the plantation, while the master was the arbiter of plantation rules. The overseer, these authors felt, was the individual who had a greater and more negative impact on slaves.  The overseer was the everyday authority on the plantation; the presence of the owner of the plantation was largely absent from the regular operations of the plantation. The master’s presence was largely symbolic, while the overseer’s was ubiquitous and palpable. Indeed, the “eye is assailed in every direction with the unpleasant sight of…slaves toiling under the harsh commands of the overseer,” wrote Isaac Weld.[14] The overseer was employed under the owner but entirely independent from him; he acted with caprice in dealing with the slaves and appeared not to answer to the owner for his savagery.[15] Overseers were thought to be worse than the owners; they were “unfeeling monsters,” whose rapacious nature knew no bounds since it could be unleashed on the slaves with impunity.[16]

            As a result of what they had seen when traveling through plantations in the South, it reinforced their preexisting ideas regarding slavery, the most conspicuous being that it must be abolished through whatever means. There was simply no logic—no “casuistry” to use one writer’s word—that could permit the ownership of slaves.[17] These writers looked to slaves as human beings who have human qualities and claimed that they should be given the rights that whites had already taken for granted. One writer claimed that since slaves shared the ability to communicate through language, it was obvious that they are “men” and should be free.[18]

            But they took great pains to absolve themselves for slavery’s existence in their time. It was not their contemporaries’ fault that slavery continued in the United States, these authors reasoned; however, they did have a resolute responsibility in ending it. One writer wrote that “the present generation” is not at fault for slavery, but that its must carry out its duty to “mitigate its evils as far as possible.”[19]

            Moreover, although writers of travel journals felt that slavery should be abolished, that did not mean that they felt that blacks were equal to whites, or that they had the mental capabilities and faculties of white Anglo-Saxons. Indeed, many, if not all, harbored virulent stereotypes of blacks—ones that we now recognize today as preposterous. None of the authors of travel journals thought that slaves were, or had the potential to be their intellectual equals. To think such a think would have been a departure from years of intellectual tradition. Just because African Americans were human beings who deserved to live unfettered from oppression, this did not make travel authors adopt the position that blacks were somehow equal to them.

            Indeed, the racism of many authors comes through multiple times in their books. James Kirke Paulding claimed that blacks “seem a gay, harmless, and unthinking race.”[20] Upon encountering an elderly black slave, Paulding reasons that he has witnessed the personification of his stereotype because the man possessed an “unreflecting gayety, which, happily for his race, so generally falls to their portion.”[21]  He thought it was a wonderful sight to see slaves overwhelmingly “jovial and vivacious in a Christian land.”[22] It was frequently felt by authors that blacks “appear jovial, contented and happy,” despite of their hardships.[23] Another writer felt that it “is a fortunate circumstance that they possess and are blessed with such an easy satisfied disposition” otherwise, the writer felt that slaves would inevitably “sink under…misery and wretchedness.”[24]

            These anecdotes reasserted the image of the “happy Sambo” in the American imagination as whites interpreted this behavior amongst African Americans as a sign that slaves acquiesced to their condition; and that the depravity of their bondage was alleviated by their own personal attitudes. Travel writers did not interpret this behavior for what it was: a tool of survival employed by blacks that assuaged whites’ suspicion of slave rebellion: an action that would be punished with whippings, beatings, torture, and possible death.

            But white, travel writers could not understand this. They were blinded to this explanation by their deep-seated racism. The ability to be racist and at the same time anti-slavery, which, according to most contemporary viewpoints, seems contradictory if not irreconcilable, but was nevertheless the attitude of most authors in the early 1800’s. To any historian of the nineteenth century, the mental compartmentalization of slavery and African Americans is no surprise. Nevertheless, it deserves elaboration since this mode of thought played a key role in the intellectual foundation of slavery.

            As modern historians have amply demonstrated, racist portrayals of blacks stemmed from slave owners’ attempt to justify the inequity of slavery. Many historians have developed hypothesis about the origins of black stereotypes and the reason for their recurrence in the lexicon of supporters of slavery. Eugene D. Genovese and Kenneth Stampp have asserted that these stereotypes were a product of the paternalistic relationship between blacks and whites which owners insinuated into the minds of their slaves.[25]  There is some veracity to this argument, as it is certain that racial stereotypes served to protect the hegemony of the master, but this is not the end of the argument. More likely is James Oakes’ theory that racial stereotypes served to keep slaves under “total subordination,” thereby guaranteeing that owners could obtain their comprehensive labor while at the same time preventing dissension.[26]

            The impact of these travel journals on the American reading public is difficult to assess. However, it would be a fair supposition that their publication was minimal on what one historian called “the slaveholding republic.”[27] Since literacy rates were still low at this point, it is unlikely that a wide array of Americans read these books. More likely is that these books gained more of a following in places like London, but that the reading public in America, while ever-growing, was not as significant.  These travel journals did not revolutionize the American outlook towards blacks, nor did they facilitate the demise of slavery.

            What these travel journals demonstrate is the opinion of prominent intellectuals of the day. Since it was these men—and a select group of women—who were responsible for the liberation of slaves in Europe and America, their insights provide an indication as to the direction of the anti-slavery movement. Their books are valuable historical documents that lend insights into the intellectual thought toward slavery at the time. Furthermore, they help contemporary audiences understand the ideological evolution toward thinking about African Americans. Contained within the writings of these authors are the glimpses of our society today. Indeed, the insights of travel narratives in the early nineteenth century continue to be salient, as they allow us to understand why racism in its entirety has yet to be extirpated from the American consciousness.


[1] Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America and Two Essays on America (New York: Penguin Classics edition, 2003), 496.

[2] Ibid., 496.

[3] See, for example the introduction to John Davis, Travels of four and a half years in the United States of America; during 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802. Dedicated by permission to Thomas Jefferson, Esq. President of the United States. (London: Sold by T. Ostell and T. Hurst, 1803). Charles J. Tanenbaum collection, 18th-Century Reading room of the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York.

[4] Weld, 94.

[5] Richard Gassan, “The First American Tourist Guidebooks: Authorship and the Print Culture of the 1820s,” Book History 8 (2005): 51-74, http://muse.jhu.edu/

[6] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993), 104. For a valuable synthesis of Enlightenment thought see Isaac Kramnick, The Portable Enlightenment Reader (New York: Penguin, 1995).

[7] There has been much research conducted by psychologists in the past fifty years alone that discredits the viability of empiricism as being an accurate method through which to ascertain whether any object or individual presented visually exists in the world objectively, and is in fact real, or in a state that one recognizes to be “real.” The process of seeing an object inherently means interpreting it, these psychologists say, and that is where the problem of empiricism lies: interpretation differs according to how the information is processed. The use of heuristics affect how an observed image will be processed within the brain, where it will be imbued with meaning within the context of its external surroundings.  See the work done by Richard E. Nisbitt and Timothy DeCamp Wilson, “Telling More than we Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes” Psychological Review 84 (1977) 231-259; Ziva Kunda, Social Cognition: Making Sense of People (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999) chapter 3.

[8] John Davis, Travels of four and a half years in the United States of America; during 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802. Dedicated by permission to Thomas Jefferson, Esq. President of the United States. (London: Sold by T. Ostell and T. Hurst, 1803). Charles J. Tanenbaum collection, 18th-Century Reading Room of the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York.

[9] Thomas Anburey, Travels through the Interior Parts of America; in a Series of Letters (London: Printed for William Lane, 1791), 296-6. Charles J. Tanenbaum collection, 18th-Century Reading Room of the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York.

[10] Isaac Weld, Travels through the State of North America, and the provinces of upper and lower Canada, during the years 1795, 1796, and 1797 Vol. II (London: Printed for J. Stockdale, 1800), 149, Charles J. Tanenbaum collection, 18th-Century Reading Room of the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York.

[11] Charles Janson, Stranger in America: containing observations made during a long residence in that country, on the genius, manners and customs of the people of the United States; with biographical particulars of public characters; hints and facts relative to the arts, sciences, commerce, agriculture, manufactures, emigration, and the slave trade (London: Albion Press, 1807), 373. Charles J. Tanenbaum collection, 18th-Century Reading Room of the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York.

[12] Anburey, 287.

[13] Weld, 133-140.

[14] Weld, 133.

[15] See Janson, 375.

[16] Anburey, 296

[17] Davis, 85.

[18] Davis, 85.

[19] Paulding, 26.

[20] James Kirke Paulding, Paulding, Letters from the South, written during an excursion in the

Summer of 1816 (New York: James Eastburn & Co., 1817), 118, Charles J. Tanenbaum collection, 18th-Century Reading Room of the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York.

[21] Ibid., 24.

[22] Paulding, 120.

[23] Anburey, 298.

[24] Ibid., 296.

[25] Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. (New York: Vintage 1976), 323; Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery and the Antebellum South (New York, Vintage, 1989), 322-323.

[26] James Oakes, Slavery and Freedom (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1990), 145.

[27] Don Edward Feherenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

 

 

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Item of the Day: The American Kalendar (1796)

Full Title: The American Kalendar; or, United States Register, for New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. For the Year 1796. London: Printed for J. Debrett, opposite Burlington-House, Piccadilly, 1796.

 

A VIEW of the Population of the United States of AMERICA.

In the year 1783, the number of inhabitants in the United States was computed at — 2,389,300

In the year 1791 it was according to the census taken — 4,131,616

The population therefore has increased, during eight years, — 1,742,316

And, according to this calculation, it has augmented from 1791 to 1794 — 653,367

The number of inhabitants in the United States was, therefore, in 1794 — 4,784,983

From this calculation, it appears that, in the natural course of things, the population of this country will be (if not checked by unforeseen events), in the year:

1800 — 6,091,717

in 1818 — 8,269,607

in 1820 — 10,447,497

in 1850 — 16,981,167

in 1900 — 27,879,617

 

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Item of the Day: Miller’s Recapitulation of A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century (1803)

Full Title: A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century. Part First; In Two Volumes: Containing A Sketch of the Revolutions and Improvements in Acience, Arts, and Literature, during that Period. By Samuel Miller. Vol. II. Published According to Act of Congress. New-York: Printed by T. and J. Swords, no. 160 Pearl-Street, 1803.

 

 [The following passages are excerpted from the final chapter in Miller’s A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century]

 

RECAPITULATION.

 

WE have now made a hasty tour through one of the departments of the subject which we undertook to examine. From the foregoing survey, which, however tedious it may have appeared to the reader, is, in reality, a very rapid one, the eighteenth century appears to bear a singularly distinct and interesting character. In almost every department of knowledge, we find monuments of enterprize, discovery, and improvement; and, in some, these monuments are so numerous, valuable, and splendid, as to stand without parallel in the history of the human mind. There have been periods in which particular studies were more cultivated; but it may be asserted, with confidence, that in no period of the same extent, since the creation, has a mass of improvement so large, diversified and rich been presented to view. In no period have the various branches of science, art and letters, received, at the same time, such liberal accessions of light and refinement, and been made so remarkably to illustrate and enlarge each other. Never did the inquirer stand at the confluence of so many streams of knowledge as at the close of the eighteenth century.

But, in order to bring more immediately and distinctly into view the leading characteristics of the last age, as deducible from the statements which have been given, an attempt will be made to sum them up in the few following particulars:

1. The last century was pre-eminently an AGE OF FREE INQUIRY. No period in the history of man is so well entitled to this character. Two centuries have not rolled away, since the belief that the earth is globular in its form was punished as a damnable heresy; since men were afraid to avow the plainest and most fundamental principles of philosophy, government, and religion; and since the sporit of liberal inquiry was almost unkown. In the seventeenth century, this spirit began to show itself; but it was reserved for the eighteenth to witness an indulgence and extension of it truly wonderful. Never, probably, was the human mind, all things considered, so much unshackled in its inquiries. Men have learned, in a greater degree than ever before, to make light of precedent, and to throw off the authority of distinguished names. They have learned, with a readiness altogether new, to discard old opinions, to overturn systems which were supposed to rest on everlasting foundations, and to push their inquiries to the utmost extent, awed by no sanctions, restrained by no prescriptions.

This revolution in the human mind has been attended with many advantages, and with many evils. It has led to the developement [sic] of much truth, and has contributed greatly to enlarge the bounds of literature, science, and general improvement. It has opened the way to a free communication of all discoveries, real or supposed, and removed various obstacles which long retarded the progress of knowledge. But this spirit of inquiry, like every thing else in the hands of man, has been perverted and abused. It has been carried to the extreme of licentiousness. In too many instances, the love of novelty, and the impatience of all restraint founded on prescription or antiquity, have triumphed over truth and wisdom; and, in the midst of zeal for demolishing old errors, the most sacred principles of virtue and happiness have been rejected and forgotten. . . .

6. The last century is pre-eminently entitled to the character of THE AGE OF PRINTING. It is generally known, that this art is but little more than three centuries old. Among the ancients, the difficulty and expense of multiplying copies of works of reputation were so great, that few made the attempt; and the author who wished to submit his compositions to the public, was under the necessity of reciting them at some favourable meeting of the people. The disadvantages attending this state of things were many and great. It repressed and discouraged talents, and rendered the number of readers extremely small. The invention of printing gave a new aspect to literature, and formed one of the most important eras in the history of human affairs. It not only increased the number, and reduced the price of books, but it also furnished the authors with the means of laying the fruits of their labours before the public, in the most prompt and extensive manner. considering this art, moreover, as a great moral and political engine, by which an impression may be made on a large portion of a community at the same time, it assumes a degree of importance highly interesting to the philanthropist, as well as to the scholar. . . .

7.  The last century is entitled to distinction above all others, as THE AGE OF BOOKS; an age in which the spirit of writing, as well as of publication, exceeded all former precedent. Though this is closeley connected with the foregoing particular, it deserves a more distinct and pointed notice. Never, assuredly, did the world abound with such a profusion of vaious works, or produce such an immense harvest of literary  fruits. The publication of books, in all former periods of the history of learning, laboured under many difficulties. Readers were comparatively few; of course writers met with small encouragement of a pecuniary kind to labour for the instruction of the public. Hence, none in preceding centuries became authors, but such as were prompted by benevolence, by literary ambition, or by an enthusiastic love of literature. But the eighteenth century exhibited the business of publication under an aspect entirely new. It presented an increase in the number, both of writers and readers, almost incredible. In this century, for the first time AUTHORSHIP BECAME A TRADE. Multitudes of writers toiled, not for the promotion of science, nor even with a governing view to advance their own reputaiton, but for the market. Swarms of book-makers by profession arose, who inquired, not whether the subjects which they undertook to discuss stood in need of further investigation; or whether they were able to do them more ample justice than their predecessors; but whether more books might not be palmed upon the public, and made a source of emolument to the authors. Hence, there were probably more books published in the eighteenth century, than in the whole time that had before elapsed since the art of printing was discovered; perhaps more than were ever presented to the public, either in manuscript, or from the press, since the creation.

This unprecedented and wonderful multiplication of books, while it has rendered the means of information more easy of access, and more popular, has also served to perplex the mind of the student, to divide his attention, and to distract his powers. Where there are so many books, there will be less deep, original, and patient thinking; and each work will be studied with less attention and care. It may further be observed, that the abridgement, compilations, epitomes, synopses, and selections which are daily pouring from the press in countless numbers, and which make so large a part of modern publicaitons, have a tendency to divert the mind from the treasures of ancient knowledge, and from the volumes of original authors. Thus, the multiplicity of new publications, while they would seem at first view, highly favourable to the acquisition of learning, are found, as will be afterwards more fully shown, hostile to deep and sound erudition. . . .

 

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Item of the Day: A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century (1803)

Full Title: A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century. Part First; In Two Volumes: Containing a Sketch of the Revolutions and Improvements in Science, ARts, and Literature, during that Period. By Samuel Miller. Vol. I. New-York: Printed by T. and J. Swords, No. 160 Pearl-Street, 1803.

INTRODUCTION.

THE oldest historian in the world, and the only one in whose information and faithfulness we can place unlimited confidence, tells us, that, in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, he said–-Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years. Without recurring to the regular motions of these celestial orbs, time would pass unnoticed and unmeasured. Its flight, in itself, is not an object of sense; we neither see nor hear it. But by observing the diurnal revolutions of the heavenly bodies, we acquire the conception of days; by dividing these days, we form hours and minutes; and, by multiplying them, we gain the ideas of months, years, and ages. Like all the rest of the works and ways of God, these means of marking the progress of time, and ascertaining its portions, are adapted to promote both physical and moral advantage. To the philosopher they furnish inestimable rules and principles of calculation; to the man of business they present measures and stimulants to industry; and, above all, to the christian they offer coninual memorials of the end of life, and unceasing excitements to moral dispatch.

Hence the close of one year, and the commencement of another, are generally marked by mutual congratulations, by a peculiar train of refections, by new plans and undertakings, and by characteristic changes in domestic, social, and political affairs. It is a period which interests the feelings, and constitutes a prominent point in the life of almost every man.

But, on reaching the temination of an active and eventful CENTURY, and entering upon a new one, the emotions of the reflecting mind are still more strong, and the impressions made more various and interesting. This is a transition which few individuals at present on earth have before witnessed, and which few now living will ever again behold. At such a period it is natural, and it is useful, to pause; to review the extensive scene; to estimate what has been done; to inquire whether we have grown wiser and better, or the reverse; and to derive those lessons of wisdom from the whole, which rational beings ought ever to draw from experience. —While the student of chronology is disputing about the time when the old century terminated, and the new one began; and while the astronomer sees nothing in this period but the completion of a certain number of planetary revolutions, and the commencement of another series, the man of true wisdom is employed in attending to other objects, in pursuing different inquiries. —Rich were the stores of instruction, and great the improvement, which an ancient king received from returning, after a long course of action, and looking upon all the works which his hand had wroght, and the labour which he had laboured to do. It was upon this calm retracing of his steps, that he discovered, more fully than ever before, wherein he had been profitably employed; and in what respects his unwearied exertions had been but vanity and vexation of spirit.’

Standing, therefore, as we do, upon the threshold of a NEW CENTURY, it may prove both amusing and instructive to take a hasty retrospect of that to which we have just bidden adieu. In this retrospect, the scene which lies before us is large and various. On whatever part we cast the eye, important objects, and interesting lessons, present themselves to view. Out of these it will only be possible to select a few of the most conspicuous and striking, and to display each with the utmost brevity.

He who attempts to view, even the most superficial, of human nature, and of human affairs, within any given period, will soon find that the object which he undertakes to survey, is complex and multiform. Man, always variable, and never consistent, imparts this character to every thing that he touches. To give the history of a single mind for a single day; to mark with justice its revolutions, its progress, its acquirements, and its retrocessions; to form an estimate of the good, or of the evil, which, within this time, it may have produced; and to trace, in accurate lines, wherein its character on that day differed from its character on the preceding, is a task which can appear easy only to ignorance and inexperience. And in proportion as the number of minds to be contemplated increases, or the length of the time in question is extended, the difficulties of the undertaking multiply, and it becomes, in every respect, more arduous. How numerous the difficulties, then, of estimating the operations and the progress of the human race for an hundred years!

Another source of doubt and mistake also arises here, besides that which is occasioned by the complexness and confusion of the scene. Who can distinguish between revolution and improvement in human affairs? Who can undertake to say in what cases they are synonymous terms, and when they are directly opposite? If every change were to be considered an advantage, it would follow, of course that the strides of civilized man, in every species of improvment, during the last century, have been prodigious. But, alas! this principle cannot be admitted by the cautious inquirer, or the friend of human happiness. The passion for novelty and change, so universal and unceasing, has doubtless oftentimes indulged itself at the espense of real good, and substantial enjoyment.

A wise man, and an inspired writer, has told us, that there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing wherof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us. —This passage, like many others of a similar kind, is doubtless not to be interpreted as declaring literally, that there never have been, nor ever can be, any schemes, events, or discoveries entitled to the appellation of new; but as teaching us, in a strong and figurative manner, that the projects and improvements of human genius are frequently sinking into forgetfulness, and rising again; that old systems are daily revived, clothed in new dresses, decorated with new names, and palmed on the world as creatures of modern birth; and that very few of the boasted efforts of genius, either in Solomon’s days, or at any subsequent period, could be called entirely original. The smallest acquaintance with history is sufficient to convince any one that this is a just representation. That there are some things peculiar to certain periods and countries, will not be disputed; but that these are fewer in number, and the peculiarity much smaller in degree, than transient observers imagine, is certainly also true. Hence arise a further difficulty in deciding whrein one age differs from another. History is not an instructress sufficiently minute and patient to enable us always to judge promptly and accurately on the subject.

“It affords some astonishment,” says a late writer, “and much curious speculation, to the reflecting mind, that, probably, not a system of philosophy exists among the moderns, which had not its foundation laid upon some one opinion or another of the ancient theorists, and the outlines of which may not be found in such of their writings as have come down to our time. Even the Newtonian doctrine of gravitation was not unknown to Lucretius; for that poet, in his first book, attempts to refute the idea that the universe had a centre, to which all things tend by their natural gravity. That the central point had the strongest power of attraction was equally an hypothesis of SIR ISAAC NEWTON and the ancient stoics.” The ingenious writer might have gone into a very amusing detail on this subject. Some facts, tending to confirm his position, will appear in the following pages. Let us beware, however, of carrying the principle beyond due bounds.

A difficulty also arises, in attempting to make the proposed estimate, from the dispostion of man to magnify present objects. It is an old remark, that important persons and scenes acquire an additional magnitude in our eyes when seen from a distance. But it is as true that the same error of intellectual vision occurs daily with respect to objects seen near at hand. Men have always been unduly disposed to consider their own times as distinguished, above all others, by remarkable events. The virtue of the vice, the knowledge or the ignorance, the discoveries or the destructions, which we personally witness, or of which we have recently heard, are apt to impress us more deeply, and to be estimated more highly in the history of man, than their real importance deserves. Hence nothing is more common than to hear men express an opinion, that the country and the period in which their lot is cast are more awfully degenerate, or more extensivley enlightened, according to the occurrence, or the object which happens to occupy their minds, than the world ever before witnessed. No doubt a portion of this prejudice and partiality cleaves to every mind, and must always interpose an obstacle in the way of him who would accurately calculate the magnitude, and justly exhibit the features of recent events.

But, after making every allowance for errors in calculation which may arise from these several sources, it will probably be acknowledged, that the century of which we have just taken leave has produced an unusual number of revolutions, and at least some improvements, —In LITERATURE and SCIENCE—in POLITICAL PRINCIPLES and ESTABLISHMENTS—in the MORAL WORLD–and in the CHRISTIAN CHURCH.

To think of surveying each of these wide fields, throughout its whole extent; and especially to think of conducting the survey with the minuteness of observaton, and the profundity of research which would become a philosophic inquirer, are, at present, out of the question. Had the writer temerity enough to engage in such a plan, or the presumption to assume so high a character, the variety and immensity of the task would soon convince him of his error. The most brief and rapid sketches only will, therefore, be attempted, on each of the above heads of inquiry.

 

 

 

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Item of the Day: Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty (1776)

Full Title: Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. To which is added An Appendix, Containing a State of the National Debt, an Estimate of the Money drawn from the Public by the Taxes, and an Account of the national Income and Expenditure since the last War. By Richard Price. Second Edition. London: Printed for T. Cadell, in the Strand, M.DCC.LXXVI.

 

OBSERVATIONS, &C.

OUR Colonies in North America appear to be now determined to do and suffer every thing, under the persuasion, that GREAT BRITAIN is attempting to rob them of that Liberty to which every member of society, and all civil communities, have a natural and unalienable right. The question, therefore, whether this is a reasonable persuasion, is highly interesting, and deserves the most careful attention of every Englishman who values Liberty, and wishes to avoid staining himself with the guilt of invading it. But it is impossible to judge properly of this question without correct ideas of Liberty in general, and of the nature, limits, and principles of Civil Liberty in particular. –The following observations on this subject appear to me important, as well as just; and I cannot make myself easy without offering them to the public at the present period, big with events of the last consequence to this kingdom. I do this, with reluctance and pain, urged by strong feelings, but at the same time checked by the consciousness that I am likely to deliver sentiments not favourable to the present measures of that government, under which I live, and to which I am a constant and zealous well-wisher. Such, however, are my present sentiments and views, that this is a consideration of inferior moments with me and, as I hope never to go beyond the bounds of decent discussion and expostulation, I flatter myself, that I shall be able to avoid giving any person just cause of offence.

The observations with which I shall begin, are of a more general and abstracted nature; but being, in my opinion, of partiuclar consequence; and necessary to introduce what I have principally in view, I hope they will be patiently read and considered.

SECT. I.

Of the Natureof Liberty in General.

IN order to obtain a more distinct and accurate view of the nature of Liberty as such, it will be useful to consider it under the four folloing general divisions.

First, Physical Liberty. —Secondly, Moral Liberty. —Thirdly, Religious Liberty. —-And Fourthly, Civil Liberty. These heads comprehend under them all the different kinds of Liberty. And I have placed Civil Liberty last, because I mean to apply to it all I shall say of the other kinds of Liberty.

By PHYSICAL LIBERTY I mean that principle of Spontaneity, or Self-determination, which constitutes us Agents; or which gives us a command over our actions, rendering them properly ours, and not effects of the operation of any foreign cause. —MORAL LIBERTY is the power of following, in all circumstances, our sense of right and wrong; or of acting in conformity to our reflecting and moral principles, without being controuled by any contrary principles. —RELIGIOUS LIBERTY signifies the power of exercising, without molestation, that mode of religion which we think best; or of making the decisions of our own consciences, respecting religious truth, the rule of our conduct, and not any of the decisions of others. —In like manner; CIVIL LIBERTY is the power of a Civil Society or State to govern itself by its own discretion; or by laws of its own making, without being subject to any foreign discretion, or to the impositions of any extraneous will or power.

It should be observed, that, according to these definitions of the different kinds of liberty, there is one general idea, that runs through them all; I mean, the idea of Self-direction, or Self-government. –Did our volitions originate not with ourselves, but with some cause over which we have no power; or were we under a necessity of always following some will different from our own, we should want PHYSICAL LIBERTY.

In like manner; he whose perceptions of moral obligation are controuled by his passions has lost his Moral Liberty; and the most commong language applied to him is, that he wants Self-goverment.

He likewise who, in religion, cannot govern himself by his convictions of religious duty, but is obliged to receive formularies of faith, and to practice modes of worship imposed upon him by others wants Religious Liberty. –And the Community also that is governed, not by itself, but by some will independent of it, and over which it has not controul, wants Civil Liberty.

In all these cases there is a force which stands opposed to the agent’s own will; and which, as far as it operates, produces Servitude. –In the first case, this force is incompatible with the very idea of voluntary motion; and the subject of it is a mere passive instrument which never acts, but is always acted upon –In the second case; this force is the influence of passion getting the better of reason, or the brute overpowering and conquering the will of the man. –In the third case; it is Human Authority in religion requiring conformity to particular modes of faith and worship, and superseding private judgment. –And in the last cae, it is any will distinct from that of the Majority of a Community, which claims a power of making laws for it, and disposing of its property.

This it is, I think, that marks the limit, or that lays the line between Liberty and Slavery. As far as, in any instance, the operation of any cause comes in to restrain the power of Self-government, so far Slavery is introduced: Nor do I think that a preciser idea than this of Liberty and Slavery can be formed.

I cannot help wishing I could here fix my reader’s attention, and engage him to consider carefully the dignity of that blessing to which we give the name of LIBERTY, according to the representation now made of it. There is not a word in the whole compass of language which expresses so much of what is important and excellent. It is, in every view of it, a blessing truly sacred and invaluable. –Without Physical Liberty, man would be a machine acted upon by mechanical springs, having no principle of motion in himself, or command over events; and, therefore, incapable of all merit and demerit. –Without Moral Liberty he is a wicked and detestable being, subject to the tyranny of base lusts, and the sport of every vile appetitie. –And without Religious and Civil Liberty he is a poor and abject animal without rights, without property, and without a conscience, bending his neck to the yoke, and crouching to the will of every silly creature who has the insolence to pretend to authority over him. –Nothing, therfore, can be of so much consequence to us as Liberty. It is the foundation of all honour, and the chief privilege and glory of our natures.

In fixing our ideas on the subject of Liberty it is of particular use to take such an enlarged view of it as I have now given. But the immediate object of the present enquiry being Civil Liberty, I will confine to it all the subsequent observations. . . .

 

 

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Item of the Day: First Philippic Oration of Demosthenes (1757)

Full Title: Orations of Demosthenes, Translated by the Rev. Mr. Francis, with Critical and Historical Notes. Vol. I. London: Printed for A. Millar in the Strand, MDCCLVII.

ORATION III.

FIRST PHILIPPIC.

 

The ARGUMENT.

THE Rapidity of his Conquests, the numerous Forces he commanded, and his own enterprising Spirit, had long since made Philip of Macedon an Object of much Apprehension to the Athenians. He had lately taken several Tracian Cities; Confederates and Allies of Athens. The Year before this Oration, he had totally routed the Phocaens, and this present Year had attempted to march into Phoci, through the Pass of Thermopylae. The Athenians opposed him, and with Success. They now deliberate upon their Conduct towards him. Demosthenes advises an immediate Declaration of War. Shews the Necessity of such a Measure, both from Motives of Interest and Glory. Lays down a Plan for military Operations. Paints the Dangers of the Republic in the strongest Colours. Flatters and reproaches. Terrifies and encourages; for while he presents Philip as truly formidable, he represents him indebted for the Power, which made him thus formidable, only to the Indolence and Inactivity of the Athenians.

Our Author pronounced this Oration in the first year of the hundred and seventh Olympiad, when he was nine and twenty Years of Age. [Rev. Mr. Francis]

 

IF any new Affair, O Men of Athens, were appointed for your Debates, restraining my Impatience,  until the greatest Part of those, who are authorised by Custom, had laid before you their Opinions, I had continued silent, if the Measures they proposed had pleased me; if otherwise, I would then have endeavoured to speak my own Sentiments. But since the same Conjunctures, upon which they have often spoken are still the Subject of your Deliberations, I think, I may with Reason expect to be forgiven, though I rise before them in this Debate. For if they had ever given you that salutary Advice, your Affairs, required, there could be no Neccessity for your present Counsils.

LET it be therefore our first Resolution, O men of Athens, not to despair of our present Situation, however totally distressed, since even the worst Circumstance in your past Conduct is now become the best Foundation for your future Hopes. What Circumstance? That your never having acted in any single Instance, as you ought, hath occasioned your Misfortunes; for if you had constantly pursued the Measures necessary for your Welfare, and still the Commonwealth had continued thus distress, there could not even an Hope remain of its ever hereafter being a happier situation.

YOU should next with Confidence recollect, both what you have heard from others, and what you may remember you yourselves have seen, how formidable a Power the Lacedaemonians not long since possessed, and how generously, how consistently with  the Dignity of your Character, you then acted; not in any one Partiuclar unworthy of the Republic, but supporting, in Defence of the common Rights of Greece, the whole Weight of the War against them. Why do I mention these Instances? That you may be convinced, O Men of Athens, that nothing is capable of alarming you, while you are attentive to your Interests; nothing, while you are thus thoughtlessly negligent, will succeed as you desire. As Examples of this Truth, consider the Power of the Cadedaemonians, which you subdued by paying a just Attention to your Affairs; consider the Insolence of this Man, by which you are now alarmed, only through your own exceeding Indolence.

YET whoever reflects upon the numerous Forces he commands; upon all the Places he hath wrested from the Republic, and then concludes, that Philip is not without Difficulty to be conquered, indeed concludes justly. Let him reflect, however, that we, O Men of Athens, were formerly Masters of Pydna, Potidaea, Methone, with all that large Extent of Country round them, upon the very Frontiers of Macedonia; that many of the Nations, now in Confederacy with him, were once governed by their own Laws; were absolutely free, and then greatly preferred your Alliance to that of Philip. Had Philip therefore at that Time entertained an Opinion, that it would be dangerous to enter into a War with the Athenians, possessed of Fortresses, from which they might make Incursions into Macedonia, while he himself was wholly destitute of Allies, he never had attempted what he hath since executed; he had never gained so formidable a Strength. But he was wisely conscious, O Men of Athens, that all these Countries were placed, as common Prize of War, between the contending Parties; that in the very Nature of Things, to the Present belong the Possession of the Absent; to them, who are willing to support the Labour, attempt the Danger, to them belong the Treasures of the Indolent. Acting upon this Principle, he universally subdues and takes Possession; sometimes by Right of Conquest; sometimes, under the Name of Friendship and Alliance. For all Mankind with Chearfulness [sic] enter into Alliances, and engage their whole Attention to those, whom they behold ready and resolute to act in support of their proper Interests.

IF, therfore, you could even now resolve to form your Conduct upon these Maxims, which you have never yet regarded; if every Man, according to his Duty, and in Proportion to his Ablilities, would render himself useful to the Republic, and without disguising or concealing those Ablilities, would act with Vigour and Alacrity; the rich, by a voluntry Contribution of his Riches; the young, by enlisting in the Army; or, at once, and simply to express myself, if you resolve to be Masters of your own Fortune; if every single Citizen will no longer expect, while he himself does absolutely nothing, that his Neighbour will do every Thing for him, then shall you preserve, if such the Will of Jupiter, what you now possess; recover what you have lost by your Inactivity, and chastise this Macedonian. For do not imagine, his present Success is fixed and immortal, as if he were a God. There are, even among those, who seem in strictest Amity with him, who hate, who fear, O Men of Athens, who envy him. Every Passion, incident to the rest of Mankind, you ought assuredly to believe inhabits the Bosoms of his present Allies. But all these Passions are suppressed by their not having whither to fly for Refuge and Protection, through your Indolence, your Dejection of Spirit, which, I pronounce, must be now laid aside for ever. For behold, to what Excess of Arrogance this Man proceeds, who neither gives you the Choice of Peace or War; who threatens, and, as it is reported, talks of you with utmost Insolence; who not contented with the Possession of what he hath blasted with the Lightnings of is War, perpetually throws abroad his Toils, and having on every side inclosed us, sitting here, and indolently forming some future Schemes of Conguest, now stalks around his Prey.

WHEN therefore, O Men of Athens, when will you act, as your Glory, your Interest demands? When some new Event shall happen? When, in the Name of Jupiter! some strong Necessity shall compel you? What then shall we deem our present Circumstances? In my Judgement, the strongest Necessity to a free People, is a Dishonour attending their public Measures. Or, tell me, do you purpose, perpetually wandering in the Market-place, to ask each other, “Is any Thing new reported?” Can any Thing new, than a Man of Macedon, conquering the Athenians, and directing at his Pleasure the Affairs of Greece? “Is Philip dead? Not yet, by Jupiter, but extremely weakened by Sickness.” His Sickness, or his Death, of what Importance to you? Should any Accident happen to this Philip, you yourselves would instantly create another, if such, as at present your Attention to your Affairs. For not so much by his own proper Strength has he grown to this exceeding Greatness, as by your Indolence. However, should some Accident really happen to him; should Fortune be so far propitious to us (she, who is always more attentive in her Concern for us, than we are for ouselves, and may she one Day perfect this her own Work) be assured, if you were near his Dominions, and ready to advance upon the general Disorder of his Affairs, you might dispose of every Thing according to your Pleasure. But in your present Disposition should some favourable Conjucture even deliver up Amphipolis to you, thus fluctuating in your Operations and your Councils, you could not receive the least Benefit from the Possession, with Regard to Macedonia. . . .

 

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Filed under 1750's, Ancient Greece, Greek/Roman Translations, Oratory, Posted by Caroline Fuchs