The Duty and Safety of Emancipation

Children's Literature

Background Notes

This play was published in 1843, as part of a source book of antislavery readings for use by students and at antislavery society meetings. It might have been performed on stage, but was more likely just read aloud by several different voices.

Transcription of Primary Source

Dramatis Personae.
JULIA MANNING, a Young Lady.
OLIVER SEWARD, a Fugitive Slave.

SCENE— Edward and Julia walking in a grove—They meet Albert.

Edward. Good evening, Albert, I am glad to see you, for we were just conversing on some subjects in which we feel no little interest, and would like to have your opinion concerning them.

Albert. Well, since there are so many things at the present day to excite our minds, it is difficult to guess, (although a yankee,) what you were speaking upon.

Edward. We were talking about the poor slaves of our country, and wondering how any one could be so destitute of the common feelings of humanity as to sanction in any way so abominable a system of oppression as American slaveholding.

Albert. Oh! I guess you are getting to be one of those hot−headed abolitionists. I wonder if you would be willing to give up your slaves, if you had them, and work yourself in a southern sun. You could not stand it all; and then what would you do for help?

Edward. Do? I would first make my slaves free, and then hire them as I would any other men.

Albert. Yes, but that would be too expensive for your business, and bankruptcy and poverty would soon be your reward for your generosity to your slaves.

Edward. No, Albert. I believe, if the southern planters would emancipate their slaves to−night, and pay them a fair price for their labor, it would be for their interest, as much more labor will be performed by a free−man under the same circumstances, than by the same person when he feels the galling chain of bondage continually pressing on him.

Albert. Yes, but the great danger would arise to the people, should the slaves be emancipated. Do you not think so, cousin Julia?

Julia. Why so, Albert?

Albert. Oh! They would wish to imitate their masters in living without work, and would soon be compelled to starve, or live by robbing and plundering every one they could lay their hands upon.

Julia. Well, Albert, you have really conjured up quite a scarecrow story. Why, this very necessity (which tends to insubordination in the slave) would stimulate the freeman—would induce him to labor—to labor willingly and cheerfully,—since his own master, and whatever he may earn is his own; and, with a bright prospect before him for the future, he would do more for the man who hired him, and treated him as a human being, in one week, than he had done before in thrice that time.

Albert. Do you really think so?

Julia. Yes, I do. Let me appeal to your own feelings. Would you be the same happy, active lad, if you were put into the situation of the slave, (allowing that you had a kind master?) Would you work as cheerfully were you driven to it by a taskmaster as you now do for your father, on his farm? Would not your better feelings be shocked, and paralyzed by such degradation?

Albert. But, Julia, the slaves are an ignorant race of beings, and, from their very nature, seem only fitted for servants.

Julia. But the slaves, if freed from the heavy yoke of bondage under which they now groan, would rise in the scale of life, and that, too, immediately.

Albert. You give more credit to the energies of the blacks than I had supposed belonged to them, under any circumstances.

Julia. We must not forget that they have always been a despised, outcast people, and have had but little chance, even when freemen, to advance much in the scale of social life.

Albert. Do you think, then, that they can be made useful citizens in the community, and stand on an equal footing with the whites?

Edward. Do you observe that well dressed, intelligent looking man, who is coming towards us? He is a fugitive slave. It is but three years since he commenced taking care of himself, yet no one is more respected for ability and activity. Let us ask him some questions.

[Enter Oliver Seward.]

Edward. We wish to ask you the reasons which induced you to leave your master. Was he cruel in his treatment of you?

Oliver. He was not. I had a very kind master; but it is hard to be a slave. I struggled long between my affection for my mother and brothers, and my love of liberty—and might, perhaps, have remained a slave to this day, had it not been for a flogging which I received for breaking, accidentally, one of the plantation tools. This roused my spirit, and I resolved to effect my escape, or die, rather than submit any longer.

Albert. But do you not fear that you may be sick, and unable to provide for yourself? You would then wish for the protection and care of your master.

Oliver. I hope to be able to guard against want in the case you suppose; but I would far prefer to die a FREE−MAN, than to live a slave.

Albert. Would the slaves be contented to remain and labor for their masters, if they were made free, and offered fair wages?

Oliver. They would be glad to do so. The climate of the South is more agreeable to them than the cold winters of the Northern States, and they are attached to the places which have always been to them a home.

Albert. But would not many of the slaves retaliate the injury then may have received, upon the masters, if they were emancipated?

Oliver. Why should they? It is contrary to their nature to return injury for benefit. They would then have none but the kindest feelings towards their masters; now, they cannot but think on the wrongs they endure; and the time must come, when, if those wrongs are not redressed, the limit to their forbearance will be passed, and they will extort, by the strong hand of power, that justice so long denied. It is slavery, not freedom, which threatens violence to the masters. The happy results of emancipation in Mexico, Peru, Hayti, and the British West Indies, prove this.

Albert. But do you think, Edward, that we are in any way responsible for this evil, as it exists in our country?

Edward. I certainly do; for it is a moral blot on our country’s fame, which we must speedily wipe out, or it will mar its glory forever.

Albert. I do believe slavery an evil, but I have not thought so deeply upon it before. The worst feature in it to my mind, however, is its cruelty in separating husbands and wives, and I had hoped that they did not feel so strong an attachment to relatives and friends as we do.

Julia. I am glad, Albert, you have mentioned that, for it is really a very sad view of the subject; you have already seen, from the conversation of our friend Oliver, that their sympathies are as strong as ours; but to my mind, the consideration that mind and soul are enslaved, or, more properly, destroyed, by the system, is sufficient to outweigh all others.

Albert. Well, I do think we should act more consistently on so important a subject, and I will give it a better place in my heart than I have heretofore done.

Edward. I hope you will think candidly and seriously on so momentous a question, and feel yourself bound to do all in your power to atone for past neglect.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
The Anti−Slavery Offering and Picknick; A Collection of Speeches, Poems, Dialogues, Songs for Schools and A.S. Meetings
H.W. Williams
Place of Publication: 
Old Sturbridge Village