In Their Own Words: John Henry Hopkins, The American Citizen (Part 3)

I have defended, frankly and fully, the lawfulness of African slavery, in the Southern States, from the Scriptures, from the principles of true philanthropy, and from the Constitution.

John Henry Hopkins

Bishop John Henry Hopkins begins Chapter IX, the first of two concluding chapters on slavery in The American Citizen (1857), by summarizing his previous entries on bondage in the United States. “I have defended, frankly and fully,” he continues, “the lawfulness of African slavery, in the Southern States, from the Scriptures, from the principles of true philanthropy, and from the Constitution.” But, he adds, “The expediency of its continuance to the interests of the South and of the Union, is a different question.”

Hopkins elaborates on that “different question” and the “expediency” of defending and preserving slavery and yielding on the controversy to the leadership of southern slaveholders, all while working toward slavery’s ultimate abolition in the far-distant future. In Chapter IX, Hopkins explains that the true victims of slavery are not the enslaved but the enslavers, and that slavery should be abolished to preserve “the lasting union of this glorious nation” and the “prosperity of the Southern States themselves.” In the concluding Chapter X, he asserts that the only legal, moral, and effective way to end slavery is “to get rid of the slaves, and send them to Africa, as fast as possible” and after compensating their owners for their financial loss. In “the land of their fathers,” the former slaves would spread the blessings bestowed on them by Southern bondage and fulfill the underlying Christian purpose of slavery: to “raise up poor degraded Africa from heathen darkness and barbarity, and open that golden continent to the blessings of Christianity, civilization, and commerce.”

These excerpts conclude our blog posts on The American Citizen. We will follow next with posts examining the reaction of Hopkins’s critics to his pro-slavery writings.

John Henry Hopkins, The American Citizen: His Rights and Duties, According to the Spirit of the Constitution of the United States (1857).

CHAPTER IX: On the Expediency of Abolition

I HAVE defended, frankly and fully, the lawfulness of African slavery, in the Southern States, from the Scriptures, from the principles of true philanthropy, and from the Constitution. The expediency of its continuance to the interests of the South and of the Union, is a different question …

Slavery may be easily shown to have been, thus far, a benefit to the negro, when we remember the awful depth of heathen barbarism and wretchedness, from which it has raised him to his present state, in the hands of his Southern master. But it does not follow that it has been of advantage to the owners of the slaves. On the contrary, I believe that it entails upon them a very serious amount of loss, of danger, and of peculiar responsibility, which it would certainly be desirable to avoid, as soon as may be peacefully and judiciously practicable.

The loss to the master, in my humble judgment, must be considerable.

John Henry Hopkins

The loss to the master, in my humble judgment, must be considerable. Computing the price of an able-bodied slave at $900, the interest on this may be rated annually at $70 or $80; in addition to which, he must be fed and clothed, and his children must be maintained for many years before they can earn their living, and he and his wife must be supported in old age, long after they are of any use to their owner. We must also take into account the fact that it requires two negroes, on an average, to do the work of one white man. Certainly this proves that there is no laborer so dear and costly as the slave, since the same amount of toil could be obtained from the Irish or the German for less than half the actual expenditure. …

But the second branch of the argument, namely, the danger of the system, is still more worthy of attention. Although I believe that the great body of our southern slaves are perhaps the happiest and most contented laborers in the world, yet there are always some likely to be among them of a very different temper, prone to feelings of resentment, and disposed to regard their masters as oppressors, whom it would be no sin, but a virtue, to destroy. Instances have occurred, in all ages, of the terrible result of passion and revenge on the part of slaves. The histories of ancient Greece and Rome are full of them. In modern times, we cannot fail to think of St. Domingo; and in the Southern States themselves, there have been not a few lamentable outbreaks, which carried horror and misery in their train. Hence the insecurity, the constant sense of peril, which must attend the possession of slaves, even under the best of circumstances. Doubtless, habit may go far to reconcile their owners to the danger, and even to make them altogether insensible to their risk. But I have met with cases, in my small acquaintance, where it was a source of continual apprehensiveness; and this alone would be a serious objection to the system, if there were no other …

The third head of my suggestions, namely, the responsibility which is inseparable from the system, outweighs, in my own mind, all the rest. The whole burden of this responsibility rests on the master and the mistress, because the slaves, in general, are as thoughtless and careless as children, and need to be watched over, and provided for, with a sort of care, which is enough, of itself, to wear out the firmest nerves, and break down the strongest spirit of a conscientious guardian. They have to be taught the principles of morality and religion, by oral instruction; they have to be restrained from folly and from sin; their clothing and their dwellings must be inspected; their amusements and recreations must be regulated; their tempers towards each other must be governed; and in sickness they must be attended by eyes far more watchful than their own, in order to satisfy the feelings of a Christian. The overseer can be expected to do but little of all this, for if he looks after them in their hours of labor, it is as much as he is likely to perform, and more than he always performs as he ought for the advantage of the employer. But when these other duties are discharged towards a body of a hundred or perhaps several hundred of those simple and dependent creatures, the master and the mistress become slaves in a far more painful sense, than any of those who are under their control …

I say then, that it is expedient, good, yea necessary, not only to the lasting union of this glorious nation, but to the prosperity of the Southern States themselves, that they should get rid of the slaves, and send them to Africa, as fast as possible. But this neither can nor ought to be done at the ruin of their owners. The whole country is equally interested in the result, and the whole country should be equally charged with the cost of the operation. Our southern brethren were led into the system by no fault of theirs. England herself introduced it into her colonies, long before the birth of our national Constitution, and at a time when it was in accordance with the sentiments and practice of the civilized world. It took a deeper hold at the South, because it agreed with the climate, and the peculiar products of the soil, the cotton-plant and sugar-cane. And the North has no right to reproach the South, for results which I have shown to be consistent with law and Gospel, and thus far highly beneficial to the slaves themselves, in the view of all true philanthropy.

But how can three millions of souls be emancipated and sent away? The magnitude of the difficulty is appalling. I grant it freely. The difficulty, however, is only increased by delay. And great as it certainly is, I do not believe that it is insurmountable. Let me invoke the kindly attention of the reader to the various modes in which I am persuaded that it may be accomplished, if the intelligent, zealous, and sincere lovers of their country, in the North and in the South, will only come together in the spirit of cordial patriotism and fraternity.

CHAPTER X: On the Mode of Abolition

… The adoption of such a measure, in my humble judgment, would produce complete internal peace, and its future advantages would probably exceed the most sanguine calculation.

1. It would put down, at once and forever, the dangerous, inflammatory, and revolutionizing plague of political abolitionism, which scatters firebrands throughout the land, and has already brought us to the awful verge of civil war.

2. It would restore the kind and fraternal spirit between the North and the South, and give a vast impulse to the influence and power of the Union.

3. It would relieve our Southern brethren from a very costly burden, give them the advantages of free labor, improve their exhausted soil, deliver them from the inevitable risks of slave insurrection, raise the price of their lands to treble or quadruple their present value, and bring to them, in crowds, the accession of new settlers, from the free States and from Europe, which the prevailing prejudice against slavery now keeps away.

4. It would elevate the character of our noble republic to the highest point, amongst all foreign nations, by removing the only obstacle which hinders their confidence in our principles of human liberty.

[Sending slaves to Liberia] would furnish the most sublime example which the world has ever seen, by sending forth a million of emancipated slaves, under proper officers, to regenerate the land of their fathers, to raise up poor degraded Africa from heathen darkness and barbarity, and open that golden continent to the blessings of Christianity, civilization, and commerce.

John Henry Hopkins

5. It would furnish the most sublime example which the world has ever seen, by sending forth a million of emancipated slaves, under proper officers, to regenerate the land of their fathers, to raise up poor degraded Africa from heathen darkness and barbarity, and open that golden continent to the blessings of Christianity, civilization, and commerce. There is the proper home of the negro race, since it is the only race adapted to the climate. And there must the happy consummation be effected, which divine Providence seems to have intended in the great work of Southern slavery. For those negroes could not have been qualified for such a mission, if they had not first learned, in the South, the lessons of sacred truth and moral principle. And they could not have had the opportunity of thus learning, unless their fathers had been placed in the condition of bondmen. And the elevation conferred on them could have produced no correspondent influence on Africa, unless they had been sent, by the beneficence of the United States, to that benighted region, and thus enabled to establish themselves in the full enjoyment of freedom, and lead its pagan tribes to the knowledge of religion, arts, and government. Surely no reflecting American can dwell upon the result without a thrill of grateful exultation, when he contemplates a chain of prosperous negro communities, framed upon our own model, and planted along the old slave coast; when he thinks of Liberia, multiplied a hundred-fold, beholding her kindred tribes coming to the light of the Gospel, and learning the benefits of education, of order, and of law; and when he can look to the noble energy of his own United States, and challenge the experience of mankind to show such a glorious product of generous zeal, for the best interests of humanity …

Read the introduction to Bishop John Henry Hopkins here.

One Reply to “In Their Own Words: John Henry Hopkins, The American Citizen (Part 3)”

  1. It’s interesting that the Bishop seems to propose Irish and German immigrants as slave replacements. Immigrant Irish-Americans, in particular, suffered considerable discrimination in the North in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not unlike what immigrants from south of our borders suffer today. And what does he mean in #3 when he claims that releasing the slaves would give their owners access to free labor? From whom? Newly freed slaves? or Irish/German immigrants?

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