[ExI] Adam Bates on a répugnant argument

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Fri Jul 10 20:43:39 UTC 2020

Since a few here have used an argument from historical relativism (I believe that’s what it’s called; correct me if I’m wrong), I felt this post from Adam Bates relevant.
On the repugnant argument that the founders' participation in slavery merely makes them "men of their time" and not monsters, here's an excerpt of British abolitionist Thomas Day's response to the Declaration of Independence. Written in 1776, it demonstrates quite clearly what "men of the time" were perfectly capable of understanding.


With what face, Sir, can he who has never respected the rights of nature in another, pretend to claim them in his own favor? How dare the inhabitants of the southern colonies speak of privileges and justice? Is money of so much more importance than life? Or have the Americans shared the dispensing power of Saint Peter's successors, to excuse their own observance of those rules which they impose on others? If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves. 

If men would be consistent, they must admit all the consequences of their own principles; and you and your countrymen are reduced to the dilemma of either acknowledging the rights of your negroes, or of surrendering your own. If there be certain natural and universal rights, as the Declarations of your Congress so repeatedly affirm, I wonder how the unfortunate Africans have incurred their forfeiture. Is it the antiquity, or the virtues, or the great qualities of the English-Americans which constitutes the difference, and entitles them to rights from which they totally exclude more than a fourth part of the species? Or do you choose to make use of that argument, which the great Montesquieu has thrown out as the severest ridicule, that they are black, and you white? that you have lank, long hair, while theirs is short and woolly? 

The more attentively you consider this subject, the more clearly you will perceive, that every plea, which can be advanced upon it, is the plea of interest and tyranny combatting humanity and truth. You cannot hide from yourself, that every title you can allege must be a title founded upon fraud or violence, and supported by open and avowed injustice. — Can any thing be clearer, than that a man, who is born free, can never forfeit his inheritance by suffering oppression; and that it is a contradiction to urge a purchase of what no one has a right to sell? IN or does it make any difference, whether the unfortunate victim pass from one to another, or from one to a thousand masters, any more than whether a nation be enslaved by a first, or by a hundredth tyrant. There can be no prescription pleaded against truth and justice ; and the continuance of the evil is so far from justifying, that it is an exaggeration of the crime. What would you say to a man, in private life, who should pretend to be no thief, be- cause he only bought stolen goods ; or that he was no villain, because he did not forge a deed himself, but only paid another to do it, and enjoyed the estate by that honorable security? Yet this is literally the title which the Americans plead to the unfortunate inhabitants of Africa. 

You do not go to Africa to buy or steal your negroes ; perhaps, because you are too lazy and luxurious: but you encourage an infamous and pitiless race to do it for you, and conscientiously receive the fruits of their crimes. You do not, merciful men, reduce your fellow-creatures to servitude! No — men of your independent spirits, that have taken up arms against the government that had protected and established them, rather than pay a tax of three-pence ; that have laid the axe to the root of all human authority, and, instead of drinking the bitter waters of civil abuses and prescriptive obedience, have ascended to the living fountain of truth, justice and nature, would never make flagitious attempts upon the liberties and happiness of their brethren! Yes, gentlemen, men of liberal minds like yours, acknowledge all mankind to be their equals. Leave hereditary tyrants and their flatterers to make distinctions unknown to nature, and to degrade one part of the species to brutes, while they equal the other with gods ! — You know that this is the greatest of all corruptions ; and as such, you detest it : — What ! are not all men naturally equal? And are not all civil distinctions, when legitimate, the permission of the people, and consequently subordinate to their power and control? Did you not carry the rights of men into the uncultivated desert and the howling wilderness? Not of Frenchmen, nor of Germans, nor of Englishmen, but of men; — men, the first and supreme distinction, who, created for freedom and happiness, transport to every soil the inherent prerogatives of their nature. 

'Rome n'est plus dans Rome, elle est partout ou je suis.' Yes, gentlemen, as you are no longer English, I hope you will please to be men ; and, as such, admit the whole human species to a participation of your inalienable rights. You will not, therefore, drag a trembling wretch from his cottage and his family ; you will not tear the child from the arms of his frantic mother, that they may drag on a loathsome existence in misery and chains ; you will not make depredations upon your unoffending neighbors, and, after having spread desolation over a fertile country, reduce the innocent inhabitants to servitude. To do this, you must be monsters, worse, I fear, than the majority of the House of Commons and the English ministry.* But you are men tremblingly alive to all the rights and feelings of the kind, and I believe, some of you at least, are Christians. Your worst actions, therefore, the greatest crimes to which even your enemies can object, are only that you are the voluntary causes of all these mischiefs! You, you encourage the English pirate to violate the laws of faith and hospitality, and stimulate him to new excesses by purchasing the fruits of his rapine. Your avarice is the torch of treachery and civil war, which desolates the shores of Africa, and shakes destruction on half the majestic species of man!



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