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Sep 29, 1829

Walker’s Timeless “Appeal,” Part One

“Can our condition be any worse?  Can it be more mean and abject?…They cannot treat us worse; for they well know the day they do it they are gone.”

Editor’s Note

In 1828, small businessman and free African American David Walker presided as the de facto leader of Boston’s black community and abolitionist movement.  Through his powerful speeches and writing, Walker galvanized audiences’ attentions and consciences, wresting them from all sorts of slumbers, rousing them to excited action against the slavery menace.  Where no formal abolition movement existed, Walker’s rhetoric and publications provided the ideological and spiritual elements.  In 1829, he published a series of articles rocketing him to infamy nationwide.  Walker spread his Appeal throughout the vast, informative social networks linking free black communities (often through sailors and couriers) with their yet-enslaved brethren.  As Walker’s inflammatory text worked its way down the coasts and penetrated the southern countryside, threatening to stir shackled minds to resistance wherever it went, southern governments responded with vigor and fury to match.  Slave states banned the movement of black sailors and the dissemination of any information deemed hazardous to “public safety.”

In the Preface and first two Articles of his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, Walker channels deep spiritual faith and innumerable material sufferings into an impassioned abolitionist plea to his fellows, though his prose often addresses white Americans as well.  He compares the positions of African Americans in the United States to the slaves of civilizations past and their brothers-in-chains throughout the Atlantic world.  He seeks to expose the root sources of African miseries in the Americas.  The first article explains these miseries with reference to the long history of trans-Atlantic African slavery, a system novel in its brutality, its level of control over the individual slave, and the perpetual expulsion of former slaves from citizenship.  In prior eras, freed slaves could rise to the very heights of society, whereas flurries of state laws and even the American Constitution itself positively condemned African Americans to exist outside of and fundamentally apart from white American culture, politics, and law.  Walker concludes the first half of his series by denouncing ignorance, encouraging education and self-empowerment, and ultimately, violent resistance when and where necessary.

Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble to the Colored Citizens of the World, but in Particular and Very Expressly to Those of the United States of America (Excerpts)

Boston. 1829.

By David Walker

My dearly beloved Brethren and Fellow Citizens—

Having travelled over a considerable portion of these United States, and having in the course of my travels taken the most accurate observation of things as they exist—the result of my observation has warranted the full and unshaken conviction, that we (coloured people of these United States) are, the most degraded, wretched and abject set of beings, that ever lived since the world began, and I pray God, that none like us ever may live until time shall be no more. They tell us of the Israelites in Egypt, the Helots in Sparta, and of the Roman Slaves, which last, were made up from almost every nation under heaven, whose sufferings under those ancient and heathen nations, were, in comparison with ours, under this enlightened and Christian nation, no more than a cypher…little more…than the name and form of slavery; while wretchedness and endless miseries were reserved, apparently in a phial, to be poured out upon our fathers, ourselves, and our children by Christian Americans…

I am fully aware, in making this appeal to my much afflicted and suffering brethren, that I shall not only be assailed by those whose greatest earthly desires are, to keep us in abject ignorance and wretchedness, and who are of the firm conviction that heaven has designed us and our children, to be slaves and beasts of burden to them and their children.—I say I do not only expect to be held up to the public as an ignorant, impudent and restless disturber of the public peace, by such avaricious creatures, as well as a mover of insubordination—and perhaps put into prison or to death, for giving a superficial exposition of our miseries, and exposing tyrants…I will only ask one question here—Can our condition be any worse? Can it be more mean and abject? If there are any changes, will they not be for the better, though they may appear for the worst at first? Can they get us any lower? Where can they get us? They cannot treat us worse; for they well know the day they do it they are gone. But against all accusations, which may or can be preferred against me, I appeal to heaven for my motive in writing—who knows that my object is, if possible to awaken in the breasts of my afflicted, degraded and slumbering brethren, a spirit of enquiry and investigation respecting our miseries and wretchedness in this Republican land of Liberty!!!!!!

And as the inhuman system of slavery, is the source from which most of our miseries proceed, I shall begin with that curse to nations; which has spread terror and devastation through so many nations of antiquity…The fact is, the labor of slaves comes so cheap to the avaricious usurpers, and is of such great utility to the country where it exists, that those who are actuated only by sordid avarice, overlook the evils…And being a just and holy Being[, God] will at one day appear fully in behalf of the oppressed, and arrest the progress of the avaricious oppressors…The Lord our God will bring other destructions upon them—for not unfrequently will he cause them to rise up one against another, to be split and divided, and to oppress each other, and sometimes to open hostilities with sword in hand. Some may ask what is the matter with this united and happy people? Some say it is caused by political usurpers, tyrants, oppressors, &c. But has not the Lord an oppressed and suffering people among them? Does the Lord condescend to hear their cries, and see their tears in consequence of oppression? Will he let the oppressors rest comfortably and happy always? Will he not cause the very children of the oppressors to rise up against them, and oftimes put them to death? God works in many ways his wonders to perform…

Has he not the hearts of all men in his hand? Will he suffer one part of his creatures to go on oppressing and treating another like brutes, always, with impunity?…I ask every man who has a heart and is blessed with the privilege of believing—Is not God, a God of justice to all his creatures?…I say, if God gives you peace and tranquility and suffers you thus to go on, afflicting us and our children…would he be to us a God of justice?…

 

Article 1. Our Wretchedness in Consequence of Slavery.

My beloved brethren:—The Indians of North and of South America—the Greeks—the Irish, subjected under the king of Great Britain—the Jews, that ancient people of the Lord—the inhabitants of the Islands of the Sea—in fine, all the inhabitants of the Earth, (except, however the sons of Africa) are called men, and of course are, and ought to be free.—But we, (colored people) and our children are brutes, and of course are, and ought to be slaves to the American people and their children, forever—to dig their mines and work their farms; and thus go on enriching them, from one generation to another with our blood and our tears!!!!!!…

Now, I appeal to Heaven and to Earth, and particularly to the American People themselves, who cease not to declare that our condition is not hard…Show me a coloured President, a Governor, a Legislator, a Senator, a Mayor, or an Attorney at the Bar…Show me a man of colour, who holds the low office of a constable, or one who sits in a Juror Box, even on a case of one of his wretched brethren, throughout this great Republic!!…

Do they not institute laws to prohibit us from marrying among the whites? I would wish, candidly, however, before the Lord, to be understood, that I would not give a pinch of snuff to be married to any white person I ever saw in all the days of my life. And I do say it, that the black man, or man of colour, who will leave his own colour (provided he can get one, who is good for any thing) and marry a white woman, to be a double slave to her, just because she is white, ought to be treated by her, as he surely will be, viz: as a Neger!!!! It is not, indeed, what I care about inter-marriages with the whites, which induced me to pass this subject in review; for the Lord knows, that there is a day coming when they will be glad to get into the company of the blacks, notwithstanding we are, in this generation, levelled by them, almost on a level with the brute creation: and some of us they treat even worse than they do the brutes that perish…

I ask those people who treat us so well, Oh! I ask them, where is the most barren spot of land which they have given unto us?…Can a man of color buy a piece of land and keep it peaceably? Will not some white man try to get it from him, even if it is a mud hole? I need not comment any farther on a subject which all, both black and white will readily admit. But I must, really, observe that in this very city, when a man of colour dies, if he owned any real estate it most generally falls into the hands of some white person—the wife and children of the deceased may weep and lament if they please, but the estate will be kept snug enough by its white possessor…

The Spartans chained, and hand-cuffed the Helots, and dragged them from their wives and children, children from their parents, mothers from their suckling babes, wives from their husbands, driving them from one end of the country to the other? Notice the Spartans were heathens, who lived long before our Divine Master made his appearance in the flesh. Can Christian Americans deny these barbarous cruelties? Have you not Americans, having us subjected under you, added to these miseries, by insulting us in telling us to our face, because we are helpless, that we are not of the human family?…

But the slaves among the Romans. Every body who has read history, knows, that as soon as a slave among the Romans obtained his freedom, he could rise to the greatest eminence in the State, and there was no law instituted to hinder a slave from buying his freedom. Have not the Americans instituted laws to hinder us from obtaining our freedom? Do any deny this charge? Read the laws of Virginia, North Carolina, &c. Further, have not the Americans instituted laws to prohibit a man of colour from obtaining and holding any office, whatever, under the government of the U. States of America? Now, Mr. Jefferson tell us, that our condition is not so hard, as the slaves were under the Romans!!!!!!…

At the close of the first Revolution in this country, with Great Britain, there were but thirteen States in the Union, now there are twenty four, most of which are, slave-holding States, and the whites are dragging us around in chains and in hand-cuffs to their new States and Territories to work their mines and farms, to enrich them and their children—and millions of them believing firmly that we being a little darker than they, were made by our creator to be an inheritance to them and their children forever—the same as a parcel of brutes!!!!!

Are we men?—I ask you, O! my brethren, are we men? Did our creator make us to be slaves to dust and ashes like ourselves? Are they not dying worms as well as we? Have they not to make their appearance before the tribunal of heaven, to answer for the deeds done in the body, as well as we?—Have we any other master but Jesus Christ, alone? Is he not their master as well as ours? What right then, have we to obey and call any other master but himself?…

 

Article 2. Our Wretchedness in Consequence of Ignorance.

Ignorance, my brethren, is a mist, low down into the very dark, and almost impenetrable abyss of which, our fathers for many centuries have been plunged. The Christians…instead of trying to enlighten them, by teaching them, that religion, and light with which God had blessed them, they have plunged them into wretchedness ten thousand times more intolerable, than if they had left them entirely to the Lord, and to add to their miseries, deep down into which they have plunged them, tell them, that they are an inferior and distinct race of beings…

When we take a retrospective view of the Arts and Sciences—the wise legislators, the Pyramids, and other magnificent buildings, the turning of the channel of the river Nile, by the sons of Africa or of Ham, among whom learning originated, and was carried thence into Greece, where it was improved upon and refined…I say, when I view retrospectively, the renown of that once mighty people, the children of our great progenitor I am indeed cheered. Yea, further, when I view that mighty son of Africa, Hannibal, one of the greatest generals of antiquity, who defeated and cut off so many thousands of white Romans or murderers, and who, carried his victorious arms, to the very gates of Rome, and I give it as my candid opinion, that, had Carthage been well united and had given him good support, he would have carried that cruel and barbarous city by storm. But they were disunited, as the coloured people are now in the United States of America, the reason our natural enemies are enabled to keep their feet on our throats.

Beloved brethren—here let me tell you and believe it, that the Lord our God…will give you a Hannibal, And when the Lord shall have raised him up, and given him to you for your possession. Oh! My suffering brethren, remember the divisions and consequent sufferings of Carthage and of Hayti. Read the History particularly of Hayti, and see how they were butchered by the whites, and do you take warning. The person whom God shall give you, give him your support, and let him go his length, and behold in him, the salvation of your God. God will indeed, deliver you through him, from your deplorable and wretched condition, under the Christians of America. I charge you this day before my God to lay no obstacle in his way, but let him go…

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