He then asks, "Is there within the limits of these United States an individual who will not cheerfully contribute, in proportion to his means, to carry it into effect? By the peculiar blessings of freedom which you enjoy, by the disinterested sacrifices you made for its attainment, by the patriotic blood of those martyrs of liberty who died to secure your independence, and by all the tender ties of nature, let me conjure you once more to snatch your unfortunate countrymen from fetters, dungeons, and death.
This appeal was followed shortly after by a petition from the American captives in Algiers, addressed to the ministers of the gospel of every denomination throughout the United States, praying their help in the sacred cause of Emancipation. It begins by an allusion to the day of national thanksgiving appointed by President Washington, and proceeds to ask the clergy to set apart the Sunday preceding that day for sermons, to be delivered contemporaneously throughout the country in behalf of their brethren in bonds.
Although we are prisoners in a foreign land, although we are far, very far from our native homes, although our harps are hung upon the weeping willows of slavery, nevertheless America is still preferred above our chiefest joy, and the last wish of our departing souls shall be her peace, her prosperity, her liberty forever. On this day, the day of festivity and gladness, remember us, your unfortunate brethren, late members of the family of freedom, now doomed to perpetual confinement. Pray, earnestly pray, that our grievous calamities may have a gracious end.
Supplicate the Father of mercies for the most wretched of his offspring. Beseech the God of all consolation to comfort us by the hope of final restoration. Implore the Jesus whom you worship to open the house of the prison. Entreat the Christ whom you adore to let the miserable captives go free. We conjure you by the bowels of the mercies of the Almighty, we ask you in the name of your Father in heaven, to have compassion on our miseries, to wipe away the crystallized tears of despondence, to hush the heartfelt sigh of distress; and by every possible exertion of godlike charity, to restore us to our wives, to our children, to our friends, to our God and to yours.
Forbid it, the example of a dying, bleeding, crucified Savior! Forbid it, the precepts of a risen, ascended, glorified Immanuel! Do unto us in fetters, in bonds, in dungeons, in danger of the pestilence, as ye yourselves would wish to be done unto. Lift up your voices like a trumpet; cry aloud in the cause of humanity, benevolence, philosophy; eloquence can never be directed to a nobler purpose; religion never employed in a more glorious cause; charity never meditate a more exalted flight. O that a live coal from the burning altar of celestial beneficence might warm the hearts of the sacred order, and impassion the feelings of the attentive hearer!
Those States in which you minister unto the Church of God gave us birth. We are as aliens from the commonwealth of America.
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We are strangers to the temples of our God. The strong arm of infidelity hath bound us with two chains; the iron one of slavery and the sword of death are entering our very souls. Arise, ye ministers of the Most High, Christians of every denomination, awake unto charity! Let a brief, setting forth our situation, be published throughout the continent. Be it read in every house of worship, on Sunday, the 8th of February. Command a preparatory discourse to be delivered on Sunday, the 15th of February, in all churches whithersoever this petition or the brief may come; and on Thursday, the 19th of February, complete the godlike work.
It is a day which assembles a continent to thanksgiving. It is a day which calls an empire to praise. God grant that this may be the day which emancipates the forlorn captive, and may the best blessings of those who are ready to perish be your abiding portion forever! Thus prays a small remnant who are still alive; thus pray your fellow-citizens, chained to the galleys of the impostor Mahomet. The cause in which this document was written will indispose the candid reader to any criticism of its somewhat exuberant language.
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Like the drama of Cervantes, setting forth the horrors of the galleys of Algiers, "it was not drawn from the imagination, but was born far from the regions of fiction, in the very heart of truth. And here I should do injustice to the truth of history, if I did not suspend for one moment the narrative of this Anti-Slavery movement, in order to exhibit the pointed parallels then extensively recognized between Algerine and American slavery. The conscientious man could not plead in behalf of the emancipation of his white fellow-citizens, without confessing in his heart, perhaps to the world, that every consideration, every argument, every appeal urged for the white man, told with equal force in behalf of his wretched colored brother in bonds.
Thus the interest awakened for the slave in Algiers embraced also the slave at home. Sometimes they were said to be alike in condition; sometimes, indeed, it was openly declared that the horrors of our American slavery surpassed that of Algiers. John Wesley, the oracle of Methodism, addressing those engaged in the negro slave trade, said, as early as , "You have carried the survivors into the vilest of slavery, never to end but with life— such slavery as is not found among the Turks at Algiers.
The Christians of Europe and America carry on this commerce one hundred times more extensively than the Algerines. It has received a recent sanction from the immaculate Divan of Britain.
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Nobody seems even to be surprised by a diabolical kind of advertisements, which, for some months past, have frequently adorned the newspapers of Philadelphia. The French fugitives from the West Indies have brought with them a crowd of slaves. These most injured people sometimes run off, and their master advertises a reward for apprehending them. At the same time, we are commonly informed that his sacred name is marked in capitals on their breasts; or, in plainer terms, it is stamped on that part of the body with a red-hot iron. Before, therefore, we reprobate the ferocity of the Algerines, we should inquire whether it is not possible to find in some other region of this globe a systematic brutality still more disgraceful.
Not long after the address to the clergy by the captives in Algiers, a publication appeared in New Hampshire, entitled "Tyrannical Libertymen; a Discourse upon Negro Slavery in the United States, composed at —— in New Hampshire on the late Federal Thanksgiving Day," 97 which does not hesitate to brand American slavery in terms of glowing reprobation.
Their redemption, we hope, is not far distant.
But should any person contribute money for this purpose which he had cudgelled out of a negro slave, he would deserve less applause than an actor in the comedy of Las Casas When will Americans show that they are what they affect to be thought—friends to the cause of humanity at large, reverers of the rights of their fellow-creatures?
Hitherto we have been oppressors; nay, murderers!
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Surely the curse of God and the reproach of man is against us. Worse than the seven plagues of Egypt will befall us. If Algiers shall be punished sevenfold, truly America seventy and sevenfold.
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To the excitement of this discussion we are indebted for the story of "The Algerine Captive;" a work to which, though now forgotten, belongs the honor of being among the earliest literary productions of our country reprinted in London, at a time when few American books were known abroad. It was published anonymously, but is known to have been written by Royall Tyler, afterwards Chief Justice of Vermont. In the form of a narrative of personal adventures, extending through two volumes, as a slave in Algiers, the author depicts the horrors of this condition.
In this regard it is not unlike the story of "Archy Moore," in our own day, displaying the horrors of American slavery. The author, while engaged as surgeon on board a ship in the African slave trade, is taken captive by the Algerines. After describing the reception of the poor negroes, he says, "I cannot reflect on this transaction yet without shuddering. I have deplored my conduct with tears of anguish; and I pray a merciful God, the common Parent of the great family of the universe, who hath made of one flesh and one blood all nations of the earth, that the miseries, the insults, and cruel woundings I afterwards received, when a slave myself, may expiate for the inhumanity I was necessitated to exercise towards these my brethren of the human race.
I will fly to our fellow-citizens in the Southern States; I will, on my knees, conjure them, in the name of humanity, to abolish a traffic which causes it to bleed in every pore. If they are deaf to the pleadings of nature, I will conjure them, for the sake of consistency, to cease to deprive their fellow-creatures of freedom, which their writers, their orators, representatives, senators, and even their constitutions of government, have declared to be the unalienable birthright of man.
But this comparison was presented not merely in the productions of literature, or in fugitive essays. It was distinctly set forth, on an important occasion, in the diplomacy of our country, by one of her most illustrious citizens. Complaint had been made against England for carrying away from New York certain negroes, in alleged violation of the treaty of In an elaborate paper discussing this matter, John Jay, at that time, under the Confederation, Secretary for Foreign Affairs, says, "Whether men can be so degraded as, under any circumstances, to be with propriety denominated goods and chattels , and, under that idea, capable of becoming booty , is a question on which opinions are unfortunately various, even in countries professing Christianity and respect for the rights of mankind.
Is there any difference between the two cases than this , viz. The same comparison was also presented by the Abolition Society of Pennsylvania, in an Address, in , to the Convention which framed the Federal Constitution. Franklin, in an ingenious apologue, marked by his peculiar humor, simplicity, logic, and humanity. As President of the same Abolition Society, which had already addressed the Convention, he signed a memorial to the earliest Congress under the Constitution, praying it "to countenance the restoration of liberty to those unhappy men, who alone, in this land of freedom, are degraded into perpetual bondage; and to step to the very verge of the power vested in them for discouraging every species of traffic in the persons of our fellow-men.
The last and almost dying energies of Franklin were excited. In a remarkable document, written only twenty-four days before his death, and published in the journals of the time, he gave a parody of a speech actually delivered in the American Congress—transferring the scene to Algiers, and putting the American speech in the mouth of a corsair slave dealer, in the Divan at that place.
All the arguments adduced in favor of negro slavery are applied by the Algerine orator with equal force to justify the plunder and enslavement of whites. Most certainly we shall be aided, at least in our appreciation of American slavery, when we know that it was likened, by characters like Wesley, Jay, and Franklin, to the abomination of slavery in Algiers. But whatever may have been the influence of this parallel on the condition of the black slaves, it did not check the rising sentiments of the people against White Slavery.
The country was now aroused.
A general contribution was proposed for the emancipation of our brethren. Their cause was pleaded in churches, and not forgotten at the festive board. At all public celebrations, the toasts, "Happiness for all," and "Universal Liberty," were proposed, not less in sympathy with the efforts for freedom in France than with those for our own wretched white fellow-countrymen in bonds.
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On at least one occasion, they were distinctly remembered in the following toast: "Our brethren in slavery at Algiers. May the measures adopted for their redemption be successful, and may they live to rejoice with their friends in the blessings of liberty. Meanwhile, the earnest efforts of our government were continued.
In his message to Congress, bearing date December 8, , President Washington said, "With peculiar satisfaction I add, that information has been received from an agent deputed on our part to Algiers, importing that the terms of the treaty with the Dey and regency of that country have been adjusted in such a manner as to authorize the expectation of a speedy peace, and the restoration of our unfortunate fellow-citizens from a grievous captivity. Besides securing to the Algerine government a large sum, in consideration of present peace and the liberation of the captives, it stipulated for an annual tribute from the United States of twenty-one thousand dollars.
But feelings of pride disappeared in heartfelt satisfaction. It is recorded that a thrill of joy went through the land when it was announced that a vessel had left Algiers, having on board all the Americans who had been in captivity there. Their emancipation was purchased at the cost of upwards of seven hundred thousand dollars.
But the largess of money, and even the indignity of tribute, were forgotten in gratulations on their new-found happiness.
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The President, in a message to Congress, December 7, , presented their "actual liberation" as a special subject of joy "to every feeling heart. This act of national generosity was followed by peace with Tripoli, purchased November 4, , for the sum of fifty thousand dollars, under the guaranty of the Dey of Algiers, who was declared to be "the mutual friend of the parties.