Saturday, February 12, 2011

Benjamin Franklin on Slavery


“Neither the federal Constitution nor the new state constitution reflected Franklin’s own wishes.  And they both violated a belief that he had come to only late in life, namely that the enslavement of human beings could not be justified.  It is not clear when he had reached this belief.  When he first went to England in 1757, he brought two household slaves with him, as we learn only in a casual reference in a letter to Deborah in 1760.  By the time he returned for the last time to Philadelphia in 1785, he was ready to join his Quaker friends there in trying to make an end to slavery in the United States.  In April, 1787, he was elected president of a Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.

Much of his correspondence during the remainder of his life was devoted to this subject.  See, for example, his exchanges with Granville Sharp, the English abolitionist.  In February, 1790, the Society petitioned the new United States Congress under the Constitution for a federal prohibition of slavery [see Petition below].  When Congress declined to hear the petition, Franklin responded with one of his most biting satirical hoaxes in the Federal Gazette of March 23, 1790.  Speaking as one Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim, a member of the Algerian governing council, he gave the arguments against a supposed petition for granting freedom to Christians held in slavery in Africa.  They were, of course, the same arguments used in the United States Congress against the petition presented by the Pennsylvania abolition society.  It was, appropriately, Franklin’s last public statement.  He died less than a month later, on April 17, 1790.”
--Edmund S. Morgan
http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/morgan.jsp

Petition from the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery

Signed by Benjamin Franklin, President of the Pennsylvania Society, February 3, 1790

To the Senate & House of Representatives of the United States,
The Memorial of the Pennsylvania Society for promoting the Abolition of Slavery, the relief of free Negroes unlawfully held in bondage, & the Improvement of the Condition of the African Races.
Respectfully Sheweth,

That from a regard for the happiness of Mankind an Association was formed several years since in this State by a number of her Citizens of various religious denominations for promoting the Abolition of Slavery & for the relief of those unlawfully held in bondage. A just & accurate Conception of the true Principles of liberty, as it spread through the land, produced accessions to their numbers, many friends to their Cause, & a legislative Co-operation with their views, which, by the blessing of Divine Providence, have been successfully directed to the relieving from bondage a large number of their fellow Creatures of the African Race. They have also the Satisfaction to observe, that in consequence of that Spirit of Philanthropy & genuine liberty which is generally diffusing its beneficial Influence, similar Institutions are gradually forming at home & abroad.

That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty being, alike objects of his Care & equally designed for the Enjoyment of Happiness the Christian Religion teaches us to believe & the Political Creed of America fully coincides with the Position. Your Memorialists, particularly engaged in attending to the Distresses arising from Slavery, believe it their indispensable Duty to present this Subject to your notice. They have observed with great Satisfaction that many important & salutary Powers are vested in you for "promoting the Welfare & Securing the blessings of liberty to the "People of the United States." And as they conceive, that these blessings ought rightfully to be administered, without distinction of Colour, to all descriptions of People, so they indulge themselves in the pleasing expectation, that nothing, which can be done for the relive of the unhappy objects of their care, will be either omitted or delayed.

From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally the Portion, It is still the Birthright of all men, & influenced by the strong ties of Humanity & the Principles of their Institution, your Memorialists conceive themselves bound to use all justifiable endeavours to loosen the bounds of Slavery and promote a general Enjoyment of the blessings of Freedom. Under these Impressions they earnestly entreat your serious attention to the Subject of Slavery, that you will be pleased to countenance the Restoration of liberty to those unhappy Men, who alone, in this land of Freedom, are degraded into perpetual Bondage, and who, amidst the general Joy of surrounding Freemen, are groaning in Servile Subjection, that you will devise means for removing this Inconsistency from the Character of the American People, that you will promote mercy and Justice towards this distressed Race, & that you will Step to the very verge of the Powers vested in you for discouraging every Species of Traffick in the Persons of our fellow men.

Philadelphia February 3, 1790
B. Franklin
President of the Society
_____________________________________

No comments: