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Lot 22: Ellery, William. Autograph manuscript signed , 4 pages (10 ¼ x 7 ¾ in.; 260 x 197 mm.)Platinum House
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
22. Ellery, William. Autograph manuscript signed (“A friend to Man”), 4 pages (10 ¼ x 7 ¾ in.; 260 x 197 mm.), [no date], with numerous corrections throughout; browned.
An editorial on slavery and the consequences of emancipation.
Signed as A friend to Man, Ellery discusses slavery and the consequences of emancipation.
Ellery writes in part: Whether the slave trade can be justified on the principles of reason or not it is not my intention to inquire.... My present design is to mention some of the bad effects which would probably flow from a general emancipation of the slaves in the North American states, and in the West India islands. A sudden general emancipation of them would prove . . . highly injurious to both countries and even to the blacks themselves. It would put a stop to four most important branches of commerce. I mean the sugar, the indigo, the rice, and the tobacco trades, which give employment and subsistence to a vast number of whites, as well as blacks. If the blacks, who are the principal instruments in cultivating those articles should be manumitted, many years would elapse before a sufficient number of white people could be engaged in that business, if whites could endure the hot sun under which the two first articles especially are cultivated. In the mean time what temporary employment could be found for them? Or what new channels could be opened for their continued industry, if their constitutions should be unable to sustain the intense heat to which the slaves are exposed in the West India islands and the two southernmost North American states? The advocates for a general emancipation of the blacks, I suppose, have thought of this matter and can tell how the whites might in this case be employed and subsisted; and certainly they have devised a way in which the numerous blacks, who are unacquainted with mechanic arts, and unaccustomed to provide for themselves, could be supported without violating the property of others.
It appears . . . that a sudden liberation . . . would open a door to repeated violence, and expose numbers of them to famine and death. It will perhaps be said that the earth is not full of inhabitants and that the whites may find fields for the exercise of their industry in more temperate climes . . . if some other way than the culture of the earth should be devised to employ them; and as for the blacks they may be sent back to Africa... But who will transport them? Is it certain that a country which sold them as slaves will receive them as freemen, and sell land for them to live upon?... Are there generous whites who will purchase of the proprietors of Africa territory sufficient for the emancipated blacks, and ensure them freedom there?...If this should be effected I believe no objection would be made to the sending the blacks already freed to Africa, and, if it can be proved that slavery is unjustifiable it may be presumed, that no on will, for the sake of his interest, hold them as slaves against his reason and conscience, but will admit of their being gradually manumitted and translated to the land of blacks. I hold one, and shall not object to his embarking for Africa with the freed blacks who may go thither, provided I can be sure that he will live happily and not be made a slave by the Negroes when he gets there.
Whether there are as many species of men as there are of horses and dogs, or not; and whether Providence designed that the black, wooly-headed, flat-nosed and thick-lipped should be slaves; and whether black folks are the seed of Cain or not are questions too high for me. I presume that Adam and Eve were copper colored, for the meaning of the word Adam I am told is red earth, and it is supposed that he was named Adam, because he was formed out of red earth, and probably he and his wife were of the same hue. What distinguishing color or mark was put upon Cain I believe it is impossible to tell . . . . This we know from observation and experience that the child follows the color of the father rather than that of the mother. We know too that according to Moses’ history, Noah did not descend from Cain, let his complexion be what it might, but from Seth, Adam’s third son. Noah consequently was of similar color with Adam and before the flood we hear not a word of servitude. Soon after the deluge, Canaan, who was the son of Ham, who was the son of Noah, was cursed by his grandfather, who at the same time declared that he should be a servant of servants to his brethren. Whether this strong expression denotes that he should be an absolute slave...or not, and how extensive this servitude or slavery was to be, whether it was to extend to his or his children’s children, and stop there, or was to attend his posterity forever; or was to be confined to and cease with Canaan himself I leave to casuists to investigate and determine. Here I think I may rest: if one man can become rightfully possessed of an absolute property in another man a third man may purchase him as well as any other species of property. The remainder of the final page is filled with Biblical quotations relating to bondage and the curse of Canaan.
During his tenure in Congress, which lasted from 1776 to 1786, William Ellery distinguished himself as a committeeman, especially in matters of commerce and the navy. In 1779, he was appointed as one of the congressional members of the newly created board of admiralty. When hostilities ceased, Ellery became sympathetic with the state-rights movement, which was so strong in Rhode Island. In 1785, he was elected chief justice of the superior court of the state but never took his seat, urging the necessity of his staying in Congress. At this time, he was a particularly valuable member of that body because so many of the older members had withdrawn since the war. After retiring from Congress, Ellery spent the final thirty years of his life as collector of customs for Newport. In 1817, the American Colonization Society had been formed for the purpose of purchasing hundreds of slaves and transporting them and other freemen to Liberia, with money raised from churches, state legislatures and private benefactors which may well have spurred Ellery to write the present manuscript.