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Democracy in America I: Chapter XVIII, part IV

In several of the Western States the negro race never made its appearance, and in all the Northern States it is rapidly declining. Thus the great question of its future condition is confined within a narrow circle, where it becomes less formidable, though not more easy of solution.

The more we descend towards the South, the more difficult does it become to abolish slavery with advantage: and this arises from several physical causes which it is important to point out.

The first of these causes is the climate; it is well known that in proportion as Europeans approach the tropics they suffer more from labor. Many of the Americans even assert that within a certain latitude the exertions which a negro can make without danger are fatal to them;oo but I do not think that this opinion, which is so favorable to the indolence of the inhabitants of southern regions, is confirmed by experience. The southern parts of the Union are not hotter than the South of Italy and of Spain;pp and it may be asked why the European cannot work as well there as in the two latter countries. If slavery has been abolished in Italy and in Spain without causing the destruction of the masters, why should not the same thing take place in the Union? I cannot believe that nature has prohibited the Europeans in Georgia and the Floridas, under pain of death, from raising the means of subsistence from the soil, but their labor would unquestionably be more irksome and less productive to them than to the inhabitants of New England. As the free workman thus loses a portion of his superiority over the slave in the Southern States, there are fewer inducements to abolish slavery.

All the plants of Europe grow in the northern parts of the Union; the South has special productions of its own. It has been observed that slave labor is a very expensive method of cultivating corn. The farmer of corn land in a country where slavery is unknown habitually retains a small number of laborers in his service, and at seed-time and harvest he hires several additional hands, who only live at his cost for a short period. But the agriculturist in a slave State is obliged to keep a large number of slaves the whole year round, in order to sow his fields and to gather in his crops, although their services are only required for a few weeks; but slaves are unable to wait till they are hired, and to subsist by their own labor in the mean time like free laborers; in order to have their services they must be bought. Slavery, independently of its general disadvantages, is therefore still more inapplicable to countries in which corn is cultivated than to those which produce crops of a different kind. The cultivation of tobacco, of cotton, and especially of the sugar-cane, demands, on the other hand, unremitting attention: and women and children are employed in it, whose services are of but little use in the cultivation of wheat. Thus slavery is naturally more fitted to the countries from which these productions are derived. Tobacco, cotton, and the sugar-cane are exclusively grown in the South, and they form one of the principal sources of the wealth of those States. If slavery were abolished, the inhabitants of the South would be constrained to adopt one of two alternatives: they must either change their system of cultivation, and then they would come into competition with the more active and more experienced inhabitants of the North; or, if they continued to cultivate the same produce without slave labor, they would have to support the competition of the other States of the South, which might still retain their slaves. Thus, peculiar reasons for maintaining slavery exist in the South which do not operate in the North.

But there is yet another motive which is more cogent than all the others: the South might indeed, rigorously speaking, abolish slavery; but how should it rid its territory of the black population? Slaves and slavery are driven from the North by the same law, but this twofold result cannot be hoped for in the South.

The arguments which I have adduced to show that slavery is more natural and more advantageous in the South than in the North, sufficiently prove that the number of slaves must be far greater in the former districts. It was to the southern settlements that the first Africans were brought, and it is there that the greatest number of them have always been imported. As we advance towards the South, the prejudice which sanctions idleness increases in power. In the States nearest to the tropics there is not a single white laborer; the negroes are consequently much more numerous in the South than in the North. And, as I have already observed, this disproportion increases daily, since the negroes are transferred to one part of the Union as soon as slavery is abolished in the other. Thus the black population augments in the South, not only by its natural fecundity, but by the compulsory emigration of the negroes from the North; and the African race has causes of increase in the South very analogous to those which so powerfully accelerate the growth of the European race in the North.

In the State of Maine there is one negro in 300 inhabitants; in Massachusetts, one in 100; in New York, two in 100; in Pennsylvania, three in the same number; in Maryland, thirty-four; in Virginia, forty-two; and lastly, in South Carolinaqq fifty-five per cent. Such was the proportion of the black population to the whites in the year 1830. But this proportion is perpetually changing, as it constantly decreases in the North and augments in the South.

It is evident that the most Southern States of the Union cannot abolish slavery without incurring very great dangers, which the North had no reason to apprehend when it emancipated its black population. We have already shown the system by which the Northern States secure the transition from slavery to freedom, by keeping the present generation in chains, and setting their descendants free; by this means the negroes are gradually introduced into society; and whilst the men who might abuse their freedom are kept in a state of servitude, those who are emancipated may learn the art of being free before they become their own masters. But it would be difficult to apply this method in the South. To declare that all the negroes born after a certain period shall be free, is to introduce the principle and the notion of liberty into the heart of slavery; the blacks whom the law thus maintains in a state of slavery from which their children are delivered, are astonished at so unequal a fate, and their astonishment is only the prelude to their impatience and irritation. Thenceforward slavery loses, in their eyes, that kind of moral power which it derived from time and habit; it is reduced to a mere palpable abuse of force. The Northern States had nothing to fear from the contrast, because in them the blacks were few in number, and the white population was very considerable. But if this faint dawn of freedom were to show two millions of men their true position, the oppressors would have reason to tremble. After having affranchised the children of their slaves the Europeans of the Southern States would very shortly be obliged to extend the same benefit to the whole black population.

hh Not only is slavery prohibited in Ohio, but no free negroes are allowed to enter the territory of that State, or to hold property in it. See the Statutes of Ohio.

ii The activity of Ohio is not confined to individuals, but the undertakings of the State are surprisingly great; a canal has been established between Lake Erie and the Ohio, by means of which the valley of the Mississippi communicates with the river of the North, and the European commodities which arrive at New York may be forwarded by water to New Orleans across five hundred leagues of continent.

jj The exact numbers given by the census of 1830 were: Kentucky, 688,-844; Ohio, 937,679. [In 1890 the population of Ohio was 3,672,316, that of Kentucky, 1,858,635.]

kk Independently of these causes, which, wherever free workmen abound, render their labor more productive and more economical than that of slaves, another cause may be pointed out which is peculiar to the United States: the sugar-cane has hitherto been cultivated with success only upon the banks of the Mississippi, near the mouth of that river in the Gulf of Mexico. In Louisiana the cultivation of the sugar-cane is exceedingly lucrative, and nowhere does a laborer earn so much by his work, and, as there is always a certain relation between the cost of production and the value of the produce, the price of slaves is very high in Louisiana. But Louisiana is one of the confederated States, and slaves may be carried thither from all parts of the Union; the price given for slaves in New Orleans consequently raises the value of slaves in all the other markets. The consequence of this is, that in the countries where the land is less productive, the cost of slave labor is still very considerable, which gives an additional advantage to the competition of free labor.

ll A peculiar reason contributes to detach the two last- mentioned States from the cause of slavery. The former wealth of this part of the Union was principally derived from the cultivation of tobacco. This cultivation is specially carried on by slaves; but within the last few years the market-price of tobacco has diminished, whilst the value of the slaves remains the same. Thus the ratio between the cost of production and the value of the produce is changed. The natives of Maryland and Virginia are therefore more disposed than they were thirty years ago, to give up slave labor in the cultivation of tobacco, or to give up slavery and tobacco at the same time.

mm The States in which slavery is abolished usually do what they can to render their territory disagreeable to the negroes as a place of residence; and as a kind of emulation exists between the different States in this respect, the unhappy blacks can only choose the least of the evils which beset them.

nn There is a very great difference between the mortality of the blacks and of the whites in the States in which slavery is abolished; from 1820 to 1831 only one out of forty-two individuals of the white population died in Philadelphia; but one negro out of twenty-one individuals of the black population died in the same space of time. The mortality is by no means so great amongst the negroes who are still slaves. (See Emmerson’s “Medical Statistics,” p. 28.)

oo This is true of the spots in which rice is cultivated; rice-grounds, which are unwholesome in all countries, are particularly dangerous in those regions which are exposed to the beams of a tropical sun. Europeans would not find it easy to cultivate the soil in that part of the New World if it must be necessarily be made to produce rice; but may they not subsist without rice-grounds?

pp These States are nearer to the equator than Italy and Spain, but the temperature of the continent of America is very much lower than that of Europe.

The Spanish Government formerly caused a certain number of peasants from the Acores to be transported into a district of Louisiana called Attakapas, by way of experiment. These settlers still cultivate the soil without the assistance of slaves, but their industry is so languid as scarcely to supply their most necessary wants.

qq We find it asserted in an American work, entitled “Letters on the Colonization Society,” by Mr. Carey, 1833, “That for the last forty years the black race has increased more rapidly than the white race in the State of South Carolina; and that if we take the average population of the five States of the South into which slaves were first introduced, viz., Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, we shall find that from 1790 to 1830 the whites have augmented in the proportion of 80 to 100, and the blacks in that of 112 to 100.”

In the United States, in 1830, the population of the two races stood as follows: –

States where slavery is abolished, 6,565,434 whites; 120,520 blacks. Slave States, 3,960,814 whites; 2,208,102 blacks. [In 1890 the United States contained a population of 54,983,890 whites, and 7,638,360 negroes.]