there were many different sorts of abolitionists during the era of slavery. but there were not many like nathaniel peabody rogers. around 1840, he committed himself to total non-resistance. but in 1838 (seven years after nat turner and a year before amistad, which he also wrote about), he argued that slaves not only should rebel, but that insurrection was their moral duty, and it was every person's duty to join them. he opposed capital punishment, but finishes by arguing that, if hanging is permissible in any case, it is morally obligatory for slaveholders. so grapple with the fact that an american was publishing that in a newspaper in 1838.
The enslaved of the country are as much entitled to their liberty as any of us, by the law as it is. They have a right to throw off all violation of it by force, if they cannot otherwise. Nay, it is their duty to do so, if they can, for it is not injury merely, that they are submitting to - not wrongs. They are rendered incapable of suffering injury, incompetent to endure wrong. The accursed system, that preys upon them, makes things of them - exterminates their very natures. This they may not submit to. They ought to prevent it, at every expense. They ought to resist it, as the Christian should the devil, for it wars upon the nature of man, and devours his immortality. If they could heave off the system by an instantaneous and universal effort, they ought to do it. Individually we wish they could do it, and that they would do it. We may be wrong in this opinion, but we entertain it.
If our white brethren at the South were slaves, we should wish them instantaneous deliverance by insurrection, if this would bring it to them. We wish our colored brethren the same. We do not value the bodily lives of the present white generation there a straw, compared to the horrible thraldom, in which they hold the colored people, and we value their lives as highly as we do the colored people's. But insurrection can't effect it. It must be done by the abolitionists. They must annihilate the system by force of their principles, and as fast as possible. To the work then, and Heaven abandon the tardy! If you wish to save your white brethren and yourselves, we commend you to this work, in sharp earnest. We tell you, once for all, there is no time to be lost!
There is no end to the theme - there must be to this article. The people collectively have the power to declare slavery a crime in the slave states. Congress has the power to do what amounts to the same thing - by direct action. Lex talionis would enslave the perpetrators, but that would be devilish, and ought not to be inflicted. But if hanging is lawful in any case, it is in this.
["the constitutionality of slavery"]
speech is not violence. but sometimes it is an amazing act of courage, physical as well as intellectual and social. the slaveholders of the era and their representatives in washington certainly argued that abolitionist speech far milder than that was indeed violence. they banned it, confiscated it, burned it, etc., and killed some of the people who uttered it, such as elijah lovejoy, a newspaper editor burned out and killed the year before rogers published this.
sometimes it's amazing what comes from abebooks. i once got a 1948 edition of the meaning of words by the hyper-obscure american genius alexander bryan johnson. it says 'max black' on the flyleaf. i recently got a copy of felix g. rivera's book suiseki: the japanese art of miniature landscape stones inscribed by the author, but maybe that's not that surprising. but how about this little inscription on a lovely copy of acts of the anti-slavery apostles (1883) by parker pillsbury (which includes a stirring tribute to nathaniel peabody rogers): "This book was presented by the author to me personally in my office of the Buckeye Vidette [that's a newspaper], Salem Ohio." then it's signed pretty illegibly, then "Editor and Publisher."
i find things like this moving. i tried to migrate to kindle a while back, but keep coming back to the physical book for numerous reasons.
i've republished the nathaniel rogers book, in a more competent form. 6x9 size, correctish pagination, and justified margins at little extra cost to you! it's a miracle. looks better on kindle too, and is set up to match american defiance. sorry to anyone who might have bought the first version, which was not many. but the text is there either way, which is what does matter.
gonna say it once again until someone shows me i'm wrong: the most radical writer in the most dimensions alive in the first half of the nineteenth century. other candidates whose lives overlapped: william godwin and mary wollstonecraft, tom paine, percy shelley, pierre-joseph proudhon, robert owen, fanny wright, fourier, marx, william lloyd garrison. not going to cut it, though, i think! on the other hand, there is a lot of the world that isn't england, france, and the us.
anyway, nathaniel peabody rogers was a lovely transcendentalist nature writer to boot.
[From the Herald of Freedom, July 4, 1845]
While I am writing, it is raining most magnificently and gloriously out doors. It absolutely roars, it comes down in such multitude and big drops. And how refreshing! It waters the earth. There has been but little rain, and our sandy region had got to looking dry and distressed. Every thing looks encouraged now, as the great strainer over head is letting down the shower bath. The grass darkens as it drinks it in, with a kind of delicate satisfaction. And the trees stand and take it as a cow does a carding. They hold still as a mouse, while they abide by its peltings, not moving a twig, or stirring as leaf. The dust of the wide naked street is transmuted into mud. And the stages sound over the road, as if they rattled on naked pavement. Puddles stand in all the hollows.
You can hardly see the people for umbrellas, and the clouds look as if they had not done with us. The prospect for the Canterbury meeting looks lowery. Let it rain. All for the best. It is extraineous, but I could hardly help noticing the great Rain and saying this word about it. I think the more mankind regard these beautiful doings in Nature, the more they will regard each other, and love each other, and the less they will be inclined to enslave each other. The readier abolitionists they will become. And the better.
The Rain is a great Anti-Slavery discourse. And I like to have it pour. No eloquence is richer to my spirit, or music. A thunder shower, what can match it for eloquence and poetry! That rush from heaven of the big drops - in what multitude and succession, and how they sound as they strike! How they play on the old home roof and on the thick tree tops! What music to go to sleep by, to a tired boy as he lays under the naked roof! And the great low bass thunder as it rolls off over the hills and settles down behind them - to the very centre, and you can feel the old Earth jar under your feet - that is music and poetry and life. And the lightning strikes you - what of that? It won't hurt you. "Favored man," truly, as uncle Pope says, "by touch ethereal slain." A light touch, compared to Disease's, the Doctor's - or Poverty's. I am no trifler with human destiny, but nothing that naturally happens to a man can hurt him.
my next self-publishing project will be an anthology of american anti-authoritarian writings from the 17th through the 19th century. a number of fundamental texts here are far-too-little known and not widely enough available. many of them are quite unimaginably defiant. here is the toc, still subject to alteration:
Trial and Interrogation of Anne Hutchinson (1637)
Roger Williams, "A Plea for Religious Liberty" (1644)
John Woolman, "A Plea for the Poor, or a Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich" (1764)
Anti-Federalist Papers (1787)
Samuel Bryan, Centinel 1
Robert Yates, Brutus 3
Robert Yates, Brutus 6
James Madison, "The Virginia Resolutions" (1798)
Letter to Governor Harrison (1810)
Speech to the Osages (1812)
John Taylor of Caroline, "Authority" (1814)
David Walker, "Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World" (Preamble and Article 1, 1830)
Sarah Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (selections, 1838)
William Lloyd Garrison, "Declaration of Sentiments Adopted by the Peace Convention" (1838)
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nathaniel Peabody Rogers
"Reply to a Correspondent" (1846)
Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce (1846)
Henry David Thoreau
"Civil Disobedience" (1849)
"Life Without Principle (1863)
Lucretia Mott, "The Laws in Relation to Women" (1853)
Frederick Douglass, "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered" (1854)
Angela Heywood, "Human Sex Power - Fleshed Realism"
i have often heard or read that no white american of the antebellum period did not harbor racist attitudes, and that this includes abolitionists. that is really utterly false. consider nathaniel peabody rogers: in 1840 he was saying that racism is not natural but produced socially, and a century and a half before people were diagnosing bigotry against gay people as originating in fear, rogers was labeling racism 'color-phobia': the title of the essay from which this is drawn.
Our people have got it. They have got it in the blue, collapse stage. Many of them have got it so bad, they can’t get well. They will die of it. It will be a mercy if the nation does not. What a dignified, philosophic malady! Dread of complexion. They don’t know they have got it - or think, rather, they took it the natural way. But they were inoculated. It was injected into their veins and incided into their systems by old Doctor Slavery.
The color-phobia is making terrible havoc among our communities. Anti-slavery drives it out, and after a while cures it. But it a base, low, and vulgar ailment. It is meaner, in fact, than the itch. It is fouler than Old Testament leprosy. It is a tasty disorder, a beautiful ailment, very genteel, and apt to go in first families. We should like to have Hogarth take a sketch of the community that had it - of ours, for instance, when the St. Vitus’ fit was on.
Responding to the idea that God the Father demands capital punishment, Rogers writes as follows.
What would one of these fathers, here on earth, think of his family of children, who should set up such an institution, out of his door-yard where they go to play, and should string up little Charley or Anna or whoever by the neck, for some childish misdemeanor, done without permission of the majority of them? How would he feel - the depraved old gentleman - coming out, some time, to enjoy the glee of the young ones, to find one of them dangling by the neck, and older brother Sam, or Jim, standing dismally by, as Chaplain? And then Jim or Sam roll up the white of their eyes, and charge him with having ordained what they had been about.
If the family are of a gibbety temper and character, why let them have gibbets and be hanged to them. And if they don't hate one another quite bad enough for that, and do, for shutting up in dungeons for life or for years - let them have dungeons. Or fine or whip or crop ears, or whatever the family are malignant and hateful enough, to do. When they come to love one another, they will leave it off. Cross children will snap at each other and quarrel. Deprave them sufficiently, make them bad enough, and they will strangle one another.
19th-century whiteness studies, from 'rhose island meeting':
rhode island was proposing a new constitution with a color qualification for voting.
To make it go down with the people, the pitiful creatures inserted a color qualification. They must put in white - the color of the gulls you see winging their uncouth flight up and down the harbor - to shut out three or four hundred colored people, who otherwise might, - when they get money enough, go to the free and equal polls, to choose their masters. The patron of the new Constitution had assumed the name of the "Free Suffrage party."
Their freedom showed itself in making a man's hue the test of his rights. They felt free to enslave a man if he was not white as a diaper. One or two of their demagogues came into the meeting. One was a Dr. Brown, a steam doctor, whose political morality seemed about as high as that of a railroad engine with a Jim Crow car to it; or a church with a "nigger pew." The Doctor gave us an exposè of his white ethics. It seemed he wanted to get suffrage for the white folks, in order, by and by to extend it to the black. [But getting the vote] would not have any tendency to help the colored people out. It would prove a worthless boon in their hands. The white folks would not acknowledge them as equals if they were nominally voters. They never would consent to their being candidates for any thing. They would treat them as "niggers" still.
A man has rights, and they are important to him because their observance is necessary to his happiness, and their violation hurts him. He has a right to personal liberty. It is pleasant to him: permanently pleasant and good. It is therefore his right. And every creature, or I will call it, rather, every existence, (for whether created or not, they certainly exist, they are) every existence that is capable of enjoying or suffering, has its rights, and just mankind will regard them. And regard them as rights. The horse has rights. The dog. The cat, and the rat even. Real rights.
i'm going to start giving you bits of the rogers book. first off, here's a blurb from henry david thoreau. my editor said it was a big get.
But to speak of his composition. It is a genuine Yankee style, without fiction — real guessing and calculating to some purpose, and reminds us occasionally, as does all free, brave, and original writing, of its great master in these days, Thomas Carlyle. It has a life above grammar, and a meaning which need not be parsed to be understood. . . . We deem such timely, pure, and unpremeditated expressions of a public sentiment, such publicity of genuine indignation and humanity, as abound everywhere in [The Herald of Freedom], the most generous gifts a man can make, and should be glad to see the scraps from which we have quoted, and the others which we have not seen, collected into a volume.
i'm telling you this is a discovery: someone's going to have to convince me that a more important straight-to-e book has been published.
A great and almost unknown American writer from New Hampshire, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (1794-1846) was the most radical American political voice of the antebellum period. He is also an undiscovered American Transcendentalist, at his best comparable to Emerson and Thoreau. Both men acknowledged Rogers' influence on them, and Thoreau published one of his first essays - collected here - on Rogers' work, recognizing his excellence as both a political and a nature writer. Anti-slavery drove all his thought, and as an abolitionist writer, only Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips are his rivals. Rogers was an anarchist, a pacifist, a feminist, an environmentalist, a religious heretic, an individualist, an anti-capitalist and an advocate of animal rights.
His writings are collected here for the first time since 1849, along with Thoreau's essay "Herald of Freedom" and other materials about Rogers and American radicalism of the early 19th century.
nathaniel rogers was an amazing radical and an amazing writer, and if you want to see someone in 1840 who speaks up for animal rights, against capital punishment, against slavery, against the state, for environmentalism as that came much later to be understood, for indian rights, and so on, and did so with extreme clarity, creativity and vigor, you've got to check this out. he was a decade emerson's senior, and he is a fundamental american transcendentalist.
[From the Herald of Freedom of Dec. 30, 1842: Miscellaneous Writings, 247]
We speak of the "freedom" of it, and of "liberty of Speech," as though it were even to be claimed that the human voice should not be regulated at all times and under all circumstances, by the arbitrary caprice of tyrants. The human voice is free of course. It is as naturally and inalienably free of every power but the man's that utters it, as God is free, and language would hardly be marred more by the phrase freedom of God than by such expressions as Liberty of Speech. Who should think of regulating a man's speech but himself? What has he got it for, but to use at his discretion, and what has he discretion for, if not to govern himself with, in speech and thought. If a man has not discretion enough to govern his own utterance, how can he govern his neighbor's? How can any number of men, each and all incompetent to regulate themselves, regulate others? Those others meantime competent to regulate them, though incapable of bridling their own tongues - or rather of guiding them without bridle, as the Parthian manages his unreigned steed. Human speech is sovereign. Nobody can govern it but the individual it belongs to. Nobody ought to think of it. Every body has his hands full with his own, which he can manage and ought to, and which he cannot innocently commit to the manage of another. It can be done. Speech is good for nothing unless it be done. Men better be without tongues and organs and powers, than not use them sovereignly. If it be not safe to entrust self-government of speech to mankind, there had better not be any mankind. Slavery is worse than non-existence. A society involving it is worse than none. The earth had better go unpeopled than inhabited by vassals. How it must look to spectator eyes - tenanted by hampered immortality, with clipped wings and hand-cuffed wrists and fettered spirits. What angel would ever light upon it but that dragon-pinioned one who as John Milton has poeticized - lighted once from Hell on its "bare outside." Better have them kept bare to this day, than peopled by a tongue-tied race of men.
Rogers was a radical abolitionist/pacifist/feminist who edited the New Hampshire paper Herald of Freedom. I've done a lot of work on him; I'm gathering it up into an e-book which I'll put up in the next few days on amazon and googledocs.
i've created the pantheon as a web page, adding emerson, thoreau, margaret fuller, and the quite amazing lydia maria child. i will begin to add links to texts by these folks and other materials, some of which i'll be typing in.
meanwhile, the paper keeps growing. in connecting the radicals to the transcendentalists, i've got emerson, from the journals, approving non-resistance and its attendant anarchism.
Of 'the principle of non
resistance,' he says "Trust it. Give up the Government without too
solicitously inquiring whether roads can be still built, letters carried, &
title deeds secured when the government of force is at an end" (vol 1
711). He too saw Mott preach. He praises her courage and says "she makes
every bully ashamed (vol 2 508-509).
so here's a moment with a very underappreciated transcendentalist: nathaniel rogers.
Herald of Freedom, July 4, 1845]
While I am writing, it is
raining most magnificently and gloriously, out doors. It absolutely roars, it
comes down in such multitude and big drops. And how refreshing! It waters the
earth. There has been but little rain, and our sandy region had got to looking
dry and distressed. Every thing looks encouraged now, as the great strainer
over head is letting down the shower bath. The grass darkens, as it drinks it
in, with a kind of delicate satisfaction. And the trees stand and take it, as a
cow does a carding. They hold still as a mouse, while they "abide by its
peltings," not moving a twig, or stirring as leaf. The dust of the wide
naked street is transmuted into mud. And the stages sound over the road, as if
they rattled on naked pavement. Puddles stand in all the hollows. You can
hardly see the people for umbrellas - and the clouds look as if they had not
done with us. The prospect for the Canterbury meeting looks lowery. Let it
rain. All for the best. It is extraineous, but I could hardly help noticing the
great Rain and saying this word about it. I think the more mankind regard these
beautiful doings in Nature, the more they will regard each other, and love each
other, and the less inclined to - enslave each other. The readier abolitionists
they will become. And the better. The Rain is a great Anti-Slavery discourse.
And I like to have it pour. No eloquence is richer to my spirit, or music. A
thunder shower, what can match it for eloquence and poetry! That rush from
heaven of the big drops - in what multitude and succession, and how they sound
as they strike! How they play on the old home roof and on the thick tree tops!
What music to go to sleep by, to a tired boy as he lays under the naked roof!
And the great low bass thunder as it rolls off over the hills and settles down
behind them - to the very centre, and you can feel the old Earth jar under your
feet - that is music and poetry and life. And the lightning strikes you - what
of that! It won't hurt you. "Favored man," truly, as uncle Pope says,
"by touch ethereal slain." A light touch, compared to Disease's, the
Doctor's - or Poverty's. I am no trifler with human destiny - but nothing that
naturally happens to a man can hurt him.