Benjamin Rush was a Founding Father of the United States. Rush lived in the state of Pennsylvania and was a physician, writer, educator, humanitarian and a devout Christian, as well as the founder of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Rush was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and attended the Continental Congress. Later in life, he became a professor of medical theory and clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Despite having a wide influence on the development of American government, he is not as widely known as many of his American contemporaries. Rush was also an early opponent of slavery and capital punishment. Despite his great contributions to early American society, Rush may be more famous today as the man who, in 1812, helped reconcile the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams by encouraging the two former Presidents to resume writing to each other. The editor of the preface of this book gives an in depth look into Benjamin Rush’s life. The writings of Rush, which are mentioned in this book, show a wide range of interest and knowledge embracing agriculture and the mechanical arts, chemistry and medicine, political science, and theology. Including letters he wrote in effort to dispel prejudice, to fight oppression, and to elevate the lot of the lowly. Dagobert D. Runes was a philosopher and author. He was the founding publisher of The Philosophical Library, where he worked to bring philosophical texts to a general audience. Runes was a colleague and friend of Albert Einstein and many other influential philosophers and scientists. Runes is responsible for publishing an English translation of Marx's On the Jewish Question, which he published under the title A World without Jews, and for editing The Dictionary of Philosophy, published in 1942.
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The Selected Writings of Benjamin Rush
By Dagobert D. Runes
Philosophical LibraryCopyright © 1947 Philosophical Library, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ON GOOD GOVERNMENT
So much hath been said upon the subject of Slave-keeping, that an apology may be required for this paper. The only one I shall offer is, that the evil still continues. This may in part be owing to the great attachment we have to our own interest, and in part to the subject not being fully exhausted. The design of the following paper is to sum up the leading arguments against it, several of which have not been urged by any of those authors who have written upon it.
Without entering into the history of the facts which relate to the slave-trade, I shall proceed immediately to combat the principal arguments which are used to support it.
And here I need hardly say any thing in favor of the Intellects of the Negroes, or of their capacities for virtue and happiness, although these have been supposed by some to be inferior to those of the inhabitants of Europe. The accounts which travellers give us of their ingenuity, humanity, and strong attachment to their parents, relations, friends and country, show us that they are equal to the Europeans, when we allow for the diversity of temper and genius which is occasioned by climate. We have many well attested anecdotes of as sublime and disinterested virtue among them as ever adorned a Roman or a Christian character. But we are to distinguish between an African in his own country, and an African in a state of slavery in America. Slavery is so foreign to the human mind, that the moral faculties, as well as those of the understanding are debased, and rendered torpid by it. All the vices which are charged upon the Negroes in the southern colonies and the West-Indies, such as Idleness, Treachery, Theft, and the like, are the genuine offspring of slavery, and serve as an argument to prove that they were not intended, by Providence for it.
Nor let it be said, in the present Age, that their black color (as it is commonly called), either subjects them to, or qualifies them for slavery. The vulgar notion of their being descended from Cain, who was supposed to have been marked with this color, is too absurd to need a refutation.—Without enquiring into the Cause of this blackness, I shall only add upon this subject, that so far from being a curse, it subjects the Negroes to no inconveniencies, but on the contrary qualifies them for that part of the Globe in which providence has placed them. The ravages of heat, diseases and time, appear less in their faces than in a white one; and when we exclude variety of color from our ideas of Beauty, they may be said to possess every thing necessary to constitute it in common with the white people.
It has been urged by the inhabitants of the Sugar Islands and South Carolina, that it would be impossible to carry on the manufactories of Sugar, Rice, and Indigo, without Negro slaves. No manufactory can ever be of consequence enough to society, to admit the least violation of the laws of justice or humanity. But I am far from thinking the arguments used in favor of employing Negroes for the cultivation of these articles, should have any weight.
M. Le Poivre, late envoy from the king of France, to the king of Cochin-China, and now intendant of the isles of Bourbon and Mauritius, in his observations upon the manners and arts of the various nations in Africa and Asia, speaking of the culture of sugar in Cochin-China, has the following remarks—"It is worthy observation too, that the sugar cane is there cultivated by freemen, and all the process of preparation and refining, the work of free hands. Compare then the price of the Cochin-Chinese production with the same commodity which is cultivated and prepared by the wretched slaves of our European colonies, and judge if, to procure sugar from our colonies, it was necessary to authorize by law the slavery of the unhappy Africans transported to America. From what I have observed at Cochin-China, I cannot entertain a doubt, but that our West-India colonies, had they been distributed without reservation amongst a free people, would have produced double the quantity that it now procured from the labor of the unfortunate Negroes.
What advantage, then, has accrued to Europe, civilized as it is, and thoroughly versed in the laws of nature, and the rights of mankind, by legally authorizing in our colonies, the daily outrages against human nature, permitting them to debase man almost below the level of the beasts of the field? These slavish laws have proved as opposite to its interest, as they are to its honor, and to the laws of humanity. This remark I have often made.
Liberty and property form the basis of abundance, and good agriculture: I never observed it to flourish where those rights of mankind were not firmly established. The earth which multiplies her productions with a kind of profusion, under the hands of the free-born laborer seems to shrink into barrenness under the sweat of the slave. Such is the will of the great Author of our Nature, who has created man free, and assigned to him the earth, that he might cultivate his possession with the sweat of his brow; but still should enjoy his Liberty.
Now if the plantations in the islands and the southern colonies were more limited, and freemen only employed in working them, the general product would be greater, although the profits to individuals would be less,—a circumstance this, which by diminishing opulence in a few, would suppress luxury and vice, and promote that equal distribution of property, which appears best calculated to promote the welfare of society.——I know it has been said by some, that none but the natives of warm climates could undergo the excessive heat and labor of the West-India islands. But this argument is founded upon an error; for the reverse of this is true. I have been informed by good authority, that one European who escapes the first or second year, will do twice the work, and live twice the number of years that an ordinary Negro will do: nor need we be surprised at this, when we hear that such is the natural fertility of the soil, and so numerous the spontaneous fruits of the earth in the interior parts of Africa, that the natives live in plenty at the expence of little or no labor, which, in warm climates, has ever been found to be incompatible with long life and happiness. Future ages, therefore, when they read the accounts of the Slave Trade (—if they do not regard them as fabulous)——will be at a loss which to condemn most, our folly or our guilt, in abetting this direct violation of the laws of nature and religion.
But there are some who have gone so far as to say that slavery is not repugnant to the genius of Christianity, and that it is not forbidden in any part of the Scriptures. Natural and revealed Religion always speak the same things, although the latter delivers its precepts with a louder, and more distinct voice than the former. If it could be proved that no testimony was to be found in the Bible against a practice so pregnant with evils of the most destructive tendency to society, it would be sufficient to overthrow its divine original. We read it is true of Abraham's having slaves born in his house; and we have reason to believe, that part of the riches of the patriarchs consisted in them: but we can no more infer the lawfulness of the practice, from the short account which the Jewish historian gives us of these facts, than we can vindicate telling a lie, because Rahab is not condemned for it in the account which is given of her deceiving the king of Jericho. We read that some of the same men indulged themselves in a plurality of wives, without any strictures being made upon their conduct for it; and yet no one will pretend to say, that this is not forbidden in many parts of the Old Testament. But we are told the Jews kept the heathens in perpetual bondage. The design of providence in permitting this evil, was probably to prevent the Jews from marrying among strangers, to which their intercourse with them upon any other footing than that of slaves, would naturally have inclined them. Had this taken place—their Natural Religion would have been corrupted—they would have contracted all their vices, and the intention of providence in keeping them a distinct people, in order to accomplish the promise made to Abraham, that "in his Seed all the Nations of the earth should be blessed," would have been defeated; so that the descent of the MESSIAH from ABRAHAM, could not have been traced, and the divine commission of the Son of God, would have wanted one of its most powerful arguments to support it. But with regard to their own countrymen, it is plain, perpetual slavery was not tolerated. Hence, at the end of seven years or in the year of the jubilee, all the Hebrew slaves were set at liberty, and it was held unlawful to detain them in servitude longer than that time, except by their own consent. But if, in the partial revelation which GOD made, of his will to the Jews, we find such testimonies against slavery, what may we not expect from the Gospel, the design of which was to abolish all distinctions of name and country. While the Jews thought they complied with the precepts of the law, in confining the love of their neighbour "to the children of their own people," Christ commands us to look upon all mankind even our enemies as our neighbours and brethren, and "in all things, to do unto them whatever we would wish they should do unto us." He tells us further that his "Kingdom is not of this World," and therefore constantly avoids saying any thing that might interfere directly with the Roman or Jewish governments: so that altho' he does not call upon masters to emancipate their slaves, or upon slaves to assert that liberty wherewith God and nature had made them free, yet there is scarcely a parable or a sermon in the whole history of his life, but what contains the strongest arguments against slavery. Every prohibition of covetousness —intemperance—pride—uncleanness—theft—and murder, which he delivered,—every lesson of meekness, humility, forbearance, charity, self-denial, and brotherly- love which he taught, are levelled against this evil;—for slavery, while it includes all the former vices, necessarily excludes the practice of all the latter virtues, both from the master and the slave.—Let such, therefore, who vindicate the traffic of buying and selling souls, seek some modern system of religion to support it, and not presume to sanctify their crimes by attempting to reconcile it to the sublime and perfect Religion of the Great Author of Christianity.
There are some amongst us who cannot help allowing the force of our last argument, but plead as a motive for importing and keeping slaves, that they become acquainted with the principles of the religion of our country.—This is like justifying a highway robbery because part of the money acquired in this manner was appropriated to some religious use.—Christianity will never be propagated by any other methods than those employed by Christ and his apostles. Slavery is an engine as little fitted for that purpose as fire or the sword. A Christian slave is a contradiction in terms. But if we enquire into the methods employed for converting the Negroes to Christianity, we shall find the means suited to the end proposed. In many places Sunday is appropriated to work for themselves. Reading and writing are discouraged among them. A belief is even inculcated among some, that they have no souls. In a word,—Every attempt to instruct or convert them, has been constantly opposed by their masters. Nor has the example of their Christian masters any tendency to prejudice them in favor of our religion. How often do they betray, in their sudden transports of anger and resentment (against which there is no restraint provided towards their Negroes) the most violent degrees of passion and fury! What luxury—what ingratitude to the supreme being—what impiety in their ordinary conversation do some of them discover in the presence of their slaves; I say nothing of the dissolution of marriage vows, or the entire abolition of matrimony, which the frequent sale of them introduces, and which are directly contrary to the law of nature and the principles of Christianity. Would to heaven I could here conceal the shocking violations of chastity, which some of them are obliged to undergo without daring to complain. Husbands have been forced to prostitute their wives, and mothers their daughters, to gratify the brutal lust of a master. This—all—this is practised—blush—ye impure and hardened monsters, while I repeat it——by men who call themselves Christians!
But further——It has been said that we do a kindness to the Negroes by bringing them to America, as we thereby save their lives, which had been forfeited by their being conquered in war. Let such as prefer or inflict slavery rather than death, disown their being descended from or connected with our mother countries.—But it will be found, upon enquiry, that many are stolen or seduced from their friends, who have never been conquered; and it is plain, from the testimony of historians and travellers, that wars were uncommon among them, until the Christians who began the slave trade, stirred up the different nations to fight against each other. Sooner let them imbrue their hands in each others blood, or condemn one another to perpetual's lavery, than the name of one Christian, or one American be stained by the perpetuation of such enormous crimes. Nor let it be urged that by treating slaves well, we render their situation happier in this country than it was in their own.——slavery and vice are connected together, and the latter is always a source of misery. Besides, by the greatest humanity we can show them, we only lessen, but do not remove the crime, for the injustice of it continues the same. The laws of retribution are so strongly inculcated by the moral governor of the world, that even the ox is entitled to his reward for "treading the corn." How great then must be the amount of that injustice which deprives so many of our fellow creatures of the just reward of their labor!
But it will be asked here, What steps shall we take to remedy this evil, and what shall we do with those slaves we have already in this country? This is indeed a most difficult question. But let every man contrive to answer it for himself. If you possessed an estate which was bequeathed to you by your ancestors, and were afterwards convinced that it was the just property of another man, would you think it right to continue in the possession of it? would you not give it up immediately to the lawful owner? The voice of all mankind would mark him for a villain who would refuse to comply with this demand of justice. And is not keeping a slave after you are convinced of the unlawfulness of it—a crime of the same nature? All the money you save, or acquire by their labor is stolen from them; and however plausible the excuse may be that you form to reconcile it to your consciences, yet be assured that your crime stands registered in the court of Heaven as a breach of the eighth commandment.
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Table of Contents
ContentsON GOOD GOVERNMENT,
A PLAN OF A PEACE-OFFICE FOR THE UNITED STATES,
ON HELPING. THE AFRICANS - From a Letter to Granville Sharp,
ON THE DEFECTS OF THE CONFEDERATION,
ON SECURITIES FOR LIBERTY - Letter from Dr. Rush, to Dr. Ramsay,
ON PUNISHING MURDER BY DEATH,
OBSERVATIONS ON THE GOVERNMENT OF PENNSYLVANIA,
OF THE MODE OF EDUCATION PROPER IN A REPUBLIC,
EDUCATION AGREEABLE TO A REPUBLICAN FORM OF GOVERNMENT,
PLAN OF A FEDERAL UNIVERSITY,
THE AMUSEMENTS AND PUNISHMENTS WHICH ARE PROPER FOR SCHOOLS Addressed to George Clymer, Esq.,
THE BIBLE AS A SCHOOL BOOK - Addressed to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, of Boston,
ON NATURAL AND MEDICAL SCIENCES,
LECTURES ON ANIMAL LIFE,
THE INFLUENCE OF PHYSICAL CAUSES UPON THE MORAL FACULTY,
ON THE DIFFERENT SPECIES OF MANIA,
ON THE DIFFERENT SPECIES OF PHOBIA,
THE PROGRESS OF MEDICINE - A Lecture,
OBSERVATIONS AND REASONING IN MEDICINE - A Lecture,
MEDICINE AMONG THE INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA - A Discussion,
THE VICES AND VIRTUES OF PHYSICIANS - A Lecture,
DUTIES OF A PHYSICIAN - A Closing Lecture to Medical Students,
ON MISCELLANEOUS THINGS,
INFLUENCE OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION,
THE EFFECTS OF ARDENT SPIRITS UPON MAN,
ON OLD AGE,
SERMON ON EXERCISE,
ON MANNERS - Excerpts from a Diary Traveling Through France,
DIRECTIONS FOR CONDUCTING A NEWSPAPER - Addressed to Mr. Brown, editor of the Federal Gazette,
THE BENEFITS OF CHARITY - A Dream,
THE YELLOW FEVER - Some Family Letters,
APPENDIX - LIST,