Liberty Chimes: Ahmed’s Letters
In our editor’s second contribution, a Muslim traveler remarks on the perversity of slaveholding and imperial republicanism.
We have reached the end of Frances Whipple’s Liberty Chimes, and our editor’s second contribution of her own. And what a story it is!—“Ahmed’s Letters” turns Americans’ time-honored xenophobia on its head. The story is in the form of a letter, written by a Muslim traveler from the Barbary Coast of Africa. Like Samuel Johnson before him, Ahmed marvels that a people so animated by their professions to liberty and republicanism would also be the planet’s premier slave-drivers and human traffickers.
Whipple has Ahmed detail the origins of the impending war over Texas, whose own recent revolution was cooked up in the minds of American filibusters from New Orleans and the passive acceptance of American authorities. Southerners’ effort to invade, revolutionize, and annex Texas was, pure and simple, a slaveholding land grab and Whipple would not have it. With the voice of Ahmed, she reminded readers of the disastrous Seminole War and the costs of even a small amount of empire. Yes, it would cost lives and treasure, both wasted away forever in battle. Yes, empire also cost the lives of the innocent conquered peoples, not to mention Mexican dignity. Most of all, though, an imperial war with Mexico would mean prostituting the entire American nation for the benefit of a few hundred demonic planters. The entire country was now like a ship’s crew impressed into piracy, its reputation tarnished for all time. Ahmed concludes with a lament that will no doubt strike modern readers with every bit of irony Whipple intended back in 1845: once stripped of the blustery (but empty) republican rhetoric, Americans treated their fellow human beings more barbarically than all the “less civilized” peoples of the earth.
Liberty Chimes never had quite the effect Whipple might have hoped—but neither did it have to. She was right, after all: As most observers predicted, Texas annexation came with a war on Mexico, concocted by the president to steal territory from a weaker neighbor. But territory proved the Pandora’s Box that would, in the end, loose abolition upon the land. During Polk’s administration, radical northern Democrats joined hands with radical abolitionists to mark a new red line in the political war for liberty—Congress must no longer admit slave states to the Union. This was unacceptable to southerners and their allies in the North and West, and the battle for new states shaped the next several decades of American history. Antislavery numbers ballooned for Van Buren’s 1848 Free Soil candidacy and despite a drop four years later for John P. Hale, the Free Soilers eventually became the backbone of the Republican Party. Their numbers continued to grow and by 1860, Lincoln was elected on an explicitly antislavery platform without a single southern vote (he did not appear on the ballot). Through clashes over Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Fugitive Slave Act, state nullification efforts, Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Sumner, and a dozen other major factors in 1850s politics, the antislavery movement found itself, its full constituency, and its route to reformist victory; only, it did not happen in Whipple’s Rhode Island. There, the radical libertarian impulse all but died with the People’s Constitution and Dorr’s conviction of treason. Whipple began pursuing very different methods of moral and political reform just a few years after Liberty Chimes appeared—She discovered spirit mediumship, began speaking with the dead via séance, communicating their wisdom to her contemporaries, and ended her days in California, hopefully quite pleased with the small role she played in the grand history of human freedom.
Ed. Frances Whipple
Providence: Providence Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. 1845.
Brother of my soul,
Thou well rememberest that from time to time I have spoken to thee on the subject of Texas, and its annexation to these United States—which measure is now said to be inavertible; and only waits the ratification of the next Congress. The stupidity—the stolid indifference of these people in regard to the subject is really astonishing! One would think it should burn itself into every heart, until the whole man became ignited, as with inconsumable fire. But what do I see? A people professedly Republican, with the most sonorous grandiloquence about freedom on their lips, and the most swelling flourishes of patriotism in all their writings—the one half, or the small majority, urging and carrying forward a measure, which is intended to fasten the curse of slavery—slavery too, of the most revolting character—upon the land, forever; and the other half, or the large minority without sufficient force to resist the current—which they seem to take for granted it is impossible to arrest! And this has been the condition of things for months! Impossible! Nought should be considered impossible, while aught remains to be done! Impossible!—the word should be made obsolete at such a crisis; and every man should plant himself upon the rights of man, and do battle therefor, with a firm resolve to conquer, or die in the struggle! Is there no Leonidas to throw himself into the gap? Are there no brave three hundred men to follow, and sustain him?
Thou wilt remember, my friend, that, after Mexico had achieved her independence, her first great measure was to manumit her slaves, providing that slavery should cease, and forever, throughout her dominions. This noble consistency, which so readily gave to others what she demanded for herself, should have secured to her the admiration of the living world, as it surely will the applause of posterity. But this only inflamed the avarice of the American slave-holders, many of whom had settled in Texas; and a conspiracy was immediately set on foot to rend the colony from the parent country. To this end seditions were fomented by a band of swindlers and loafers, who had emigrated from the United States, and who were sustained and encouraged by the slave-power of the country. These continued to import and retain slaves, contrary to the express laws of the Republic; and, by their wild and lawless character, they overawed the old residents, who were living prosperous and happy, under the gentle sway of Mexico. Although the Texas declaration of independence falsely asserts to the contrary, all religions were tolerated by an act of the legislature, the right of trial by jury, in all cases whatsoever, was secured by law; schools were established; their lands were given to the people, and they were exempt from taxation for ten years; the gentlest, the most generous policy ever extended to any body of emigrants, was met with the basest ingratitude. In this way the revolt commenced; and though this country was, at that time, and has remained since, under bonds of peace and mutual alliance with Mexico; yet, in violation of the law of nations—in violation of all good faith—men, money, and arms, were publicly levied, and transported into Texas, to aid the insurgents. They were permitted to pass the borders without check or hindrance, under the weak and silly pretence that they could not be restrained. The cause of Texas was represented as the cause of liberty; and strong appeals to patriotism in connection with the foulest prejudice and cupidity, were made in her behalf, and published openly in the public Journals. The President was known to hold a correspondence with the chief of the conspirators, one of whom, SWARTWOUT, was his very particular friend. An army was raised for the special purpose of convoying a large body of recruits into Mexico; and they had actually received marching orders—but the affair getting abroad, they were retained.
An agency was established in New Orleans, with full powers to raise and equip a navy, to forward supplies to the army, and to accept, and encourage, the services of volunteers. At this time Mexico had a fleet which commanded the gulf; but, within three months, four heavily armed schooners were equipped, in full view of the Custom House of New Orleans; and, in less than four months, every Mexican cruiser was either destroyed, or driven into port: and this loss of the command of the sea, was the main cause of the defeat of Santa Anna—with which the Texans had nothing to do. At this period, transports filled with armed volunteers, were continually leaving New Orleans. Munitions of war were purchased and shipped in the most open manner; and, at one time, three transports and an armed steamboat, with five hundred volunteers under the command of Gen. Green, fitted out, and sailed from the Levee, which is directly in front of the Custom House, with the sound of drums, and the Texan colors flying. Simultaneously with these movements, another large army belonging to the United States was depatched into Mexico, ostensibly with the very friendly intention of protecting our ALLY from the Indians on our frontier; but, really, to overawe the Mexican and strengthen the Texan Soldiers; and this policy they fully sustained, always permitting American volunteers to pass into Texas by the hundred; while no Mexican, or native Indian, was allowed to approach the Texan army; and this was their neutrality!—Surely the pretext that these facts were unknown to the government, exceeds in audacity the movements themselves, yet no proclamation was issued; and no overt, or official act of the Executive, discountenanced, or, in any way, discouraged them. THE PRESIDENT NOT ONLY VIOLATED THE LAWS OF NATIONS, BUT HIS OATH OF OFFICE; and, after all this, in his following message, the Chief Magistrate spoke not one word of the troubles; but represented all the relations with Mexico as of the most bright and sunny character!
In his general order for the execution of Arbuthnot, and Ambrister, President Jackson says;—”It is an established principle of the law of nations, that any individual of any nation, making war against the citizens of another nation, they being at peace, forfeits his allegiance, and becomes an outlaw, and a pirate.” According to this principle, then, the whole array of “Emigrants” and Volunteers, with THE GOVERNMENT AT THEIR HEAD, should have been hanged, as OUTLAWS and PIRATES! Tell it not in Algiers, O, my brother! Publish it not on the hills of Constantine! how this great Nation has fallen!—how Slavery walketh abroad, or sitteth in high places, clothed in purple, while Freedom is robed in sackcloth, and bowed down to the dust, in sorrow and lamentation! The proud mock her as they go by; and the great ones of the land rejoice in her tears!
To this alliance with Texas the whole spirit, and most of the men of the North, were entirely opposed—until, in the electioneering campaign of 1844, it was made the test question of a party, and the basis of political action. In the name of Democracy, then, which declares that “all men are created free and equal, and are by nature endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” a system is to be sustained and perpetuated, which cuts off, at a blow, every one of those rights—which devours and swallows up life with fearful rapidity—which annihilates liberty—which leaves no room for happiness, but in the grave—which divests man of his God-like attributes, drives him to the shambles, and makes him a brute—a THING—which tramples under foot all social and domestic relations—which invades the sanctuary of female virtue, and pronounces woman, PROPERTY.
The great movement of Annexation has been carried forward by addressing two of the strongest of the selfish principles, the LOVE OF GAIN and the LOVE OF POWER. In addition to the impulse which Slavery gave, the whole country was flooded with Texan “Scrip,” or fradulent land-titles, which would be worth nothing if the Mexican authority was re-established, but which would increase in value, if Texas could be allied to this country. So the scrip-holders, like the slave-holders, became violent Annexationists; and here was the root of their patriotism! Remember that all right of alliance is predicated on the assumption that Texas achieved her independence. This she never did. Her battles were fought, and her victories won, by American volunteers! Ever at the battle of San Jacinto, there were not twenty native Texans on the field. The true people of Texas were satisfied with the government of Mexico, and indisposed to change; and these were so far in a majority in 1843, as to decline a formal proposition of alliance made by this government; and it was only acceded to, upon a direct THREAT OF WAR! Yes, my brother, this self-styled noble and magnanimous government—has crowned her meanness by threatening the feeble and infant republic of Texas with war! What an array of facts is here! The Americans invading the territory of Mexico, with whom they were at peace, and taking possession of the country, without the consent, and against the wishes, of a majority even of the people of Texas! They have overthrown the laws and usurped the dominion of a friendly power—and now a majority of the people at home sustain them in the wrong! What a record for history! Is there no true blood in your veins, that ye blush not, O ye degenerate sons of noble fathers! Are these people so lifted up—so swelled out with a mighty pride, that they really have no regard to the opinion of the world—no regard even to the laws which govern the world? Are they so blinded by self-conceit that they cannot perceive the ridiculous, the despicable light in which they appear? Allah is good; and I bless thee, O MY FATHER, that the star of my nativity rose not in the Untied States, but in the States of Barbary.
Thou wilt remember the several reasons which have been urged by its friends, in favor of the measure, to which I have given due weight in former letters. I have no leisure at this time to give them further attention. I will, however, just recapitulate the heads, for the better present understanding of the subject:—They are—the danger of smugglers in the south-east—of the occupation of the country by England—of the escape of Southern slaves into Mexico—and the advantages to their trade and commerce. The fallacy of all these I have before shown thee. But even if they were valid, are they not founded in sheer policy? And how can they stand against a question of absolute right? As well might we possess ourselves of our neighbor’s purse, because it is convenient, or agreeable to do so—because we may make ourselves, richer or stronger by so doing. Wrong, be being extended from the individual to the mass—to the nation—does not lose its character. It is still wrong; and though it multiply itself into a thousand hydras, yet every single head will be held accountable; and, in proportion to its power of persuading others, will be found guilt. Let no man seek to hide himself under his neighbor’s fault, nor under the shadow of the general wickedness—though it spread itself forth as the banyan tree—though it stretch itself upward so as to darken heaven—yet the worm that is nourished as its own root shall consume its vitality. It shall wither away, and the lightning of God shall consume it. All wrong is temporary. It existeth but for a season. Only Truth and Right are eternal.
I should here allude to the dissimulation and inconsistency of the Annexationists, one party of whom strongly recommend it as a pro-slavery measure, and another as an anti-slavery measure,—both being agreed between themselves, to use any means, and tell any story, by which the North may be cajoled, and the grand object effected. Mr. Murphy, chargee of this Government at Texas, speaks quite explicitly on this point. In a letter to Mr. Upshur, of September 23d, 1843—he says, “do not offend our fanatical brethren of the North. Talk about civil, political, and religious liberty; that will be the safest issue to go before the world with!” What can be expected of a people who have such leaders? And what hope can there be in a nation where POLICY is superior to TRUTH, and PARTY is paramount to RIGHT? But there is one recommendation of the measure which I must notice here, since it shows quite clearly how rich they are in resources, how strong in reasons. Mr. Walker, the slave-holding anti-slavery advocate from Mississippi, strongly argues the necessity of changing boundaries, because the present carves the valley into “a shape actually hideous!” It is too angular. It does not exemplify Hogarth’s line of grace and beauty, and therefore must be changed. A very excellent reason for invading and spoiling one’s neighbor!
In weighing the advantages of Annexation, I wish thee to bear in mind that the character of the climate on the Gulf of Mexico is such, that a white population, sufficient for its defence, can never be maintained there. The slave population, with all its elements of discord, must always preponderate. To excite such a people to revolt, would probably be the first policy of an invading enemy; and to be prepared against this, would require a stationary force greater than would be necessary for the defence of the whole Atlantic coast. What will be gained, then, by the possession of all the dangerous coast to Texas, which is wholly unfit, either for the purposes of commerce or defence?
The annexation of Texas became a party measure of the Democrats; and but few distinguished men among them dared to breast the current of popular action. The spirit in which such opposition would be met, was shewn by Mr. Walker, when he declared, that “the wrath of this indignant nation, shall roll like lava, in fiery torrents, over the political graves, of those who oppose the admission of Texas.” Deeply is it to be regretted that a Buchanan, a Woodbury, and a Bancroft, should not have chosen “political graves” rather than have lent the influence of their splendid genius to so bad a cause; and that even a Webster without any apology of party bias, should voluntarily have given it an indirect support! The orator of Plymouth Rock, and of Bunker Hill, bowing down before the Southern Moloch! Could the pilgrims have foreseen this, the Mayflower would have turned back, to retrace her pathway over those wintry seas; and could the dying heroes of Bunker have known it, their spirits, ere they parted forever, would have felt a pang keener than death, in the conviction that all those rivers of blood were poured out in vain!
I have seen but one Democratic paper which came out against Annexation; and that is The Independent Democrat, edited by Robert C. Wetmore. Cherish the name, my friend, for we must expect great things of a man who could, in this country, be his own judge of right—and resist the sway of his party. We see in this fact a heroism sufficient for all things. I am happy to add two others names to the above—those of Richard D. Davis, and John P. Hale, the only democratic members of Congress who went against Annexation, at the final vote, in 1845! These names are embalmed forever by their true love of liberty.
I will now give thee some good sound Northern reasons why Texas should not be annexed, beginning with the lowest, or those of a purely economical character. First, then, the United States must liquidate, or assume, the vast national debt of Texas—a debt of $10,000,000. In addition to this, she must become responsible for the payment of the Mexican land claims. Thou wilt remember that previous to the revolution, Mexico had nearly covered the entire soil of Texas with grants. These grants she will be obliged to make good, although the soil has been covered, again and again, by the forged scrip, which has been hawked through this country. To a nation nearly or quite bankrupt this is surely no trifle; especially when we take into the account all the incalculable expenses of war, and standing armies for the protection of a wide and weak frontier. This vast amount must be liquidated by taxes drawn mainly from the northern laborer, who is to gain nothing by the accession; but, on the contrary, is actually in danger of losing his own liberty, and of being reduced to the condition of a serf, or bondman. Are the free laborers of the North prepared for this? Do they know that the necessity of such a relation as that of master and slave, has been boldly advocated by Calhoun, by M’Duffie, and by Lamar, the late Governor of Texas? These men surely do not want the will to make the white laborers slaves; and when they have made forty-three new slave states as large as that of Massachusetts, who will become guarantie for their want of power? Then let Northern men remember that in their blind, or guilty acquiescence in a base party measure, they may have sealed their own doom! Shame on the leaders, who have so abused their generous confidence—who have so blinded, misled, and corrupted them!
Again, it would increase the elements of internal disorder and jealousy, and sow the seeds of final disunion. The opposing interests, habits, and principles of the North and South, cannot be long reconciled to each other, or stand in juxtaposition without conflict. When the electioneering excitement shall have produced its reaction, the dupes of political sophistry will begin to be indignant at the cheat; and they will come out against it—unless the North is wholly subdued, and made really an appendage and organ of the South—which cannot be done in one day; for the North is, in the main, true and staunch. The only difficulty is, that it is kept in such strong armor of dollars and cents, there is no such thing as getting into it. But, in the event alluded to, public virtue would be undermined, free labor would be degraded, the standard of national morality would be immensely lowered, corruption would lead to weakness—and weakness would soon find the downward steps to final ruin. This is no idle speculation. There is nothing can long sustain a people, however rich, or powerful, or enlightened they may be, if the principle of honor, of integrity, of high heroic virtue be wholly wanting. All history—all experience—shows that when the public heart has become corrupt, the nation has begun to decay. I believe not that nations, like individuals, must have their limited period of growth, decay, and dissolution. If I could believe such a doctrine at all, I should see in this nation fearful signs of approaching fate; but such an idea is contrary to the great law which is interwoven in the destiny of man, and which binds him to the necessity of infinite progress. True, some fearful mistakes have been made; and Nations have been immolated on the funeral pile of their accumulated sins; but the present, and the future, must learn the lessons of the past. Let the nation cherish Purity and Justice, and Truth, and it shall live; for these are eternal.
Again, it will be made the avenue to future conquest and aggression. A Nation that has forfeited her good faith can have no character to lose, and piracy on the high seas, may consummate her course of domestic, social and international piracy. The subjugation of Mexico, is, even now, openly talked of; and the rich temples, and golden images of that country, are pointed out by the leaders as stimulants to the cupidity of lawless adventurers.
Is this Republic, then, to be not only a nation of slave-breeders, but must it also become a nursery of robbers and pirates?—for what better is he than a robber and a pirate, who goes forth to spoil his neighbor, with no higher motive than the love of gain? Is the public virtue to be increased in this way, or the great heart of the nation to be strengthened? Are the scenes of feudal times to be brought up anew, and re-enacted in the heart of this republic, and in the middle of the nineteenth century?
Again; it will involve the country in war; and war has, even now, been declared by Mexico. Sneer not, proud American, but rather remember the Seminole war, where, in spite of your blood-hounds, millions of money, and thousands of human lives, were wasted, to subjugate a handful of Indians—who have never been subdued, even yet! But will the powers of Europe look on quietly, and see the dismemberment of a Republic? For not only is Texas dismembered, but two other states, which American rapacity is grasping. But a war with Mexico will be no contemptible affair; for she will be in the right, her enemies in the wrong. How will these Republicans do battle in behalf of Slavery? They should have faces cold and stony as the Sphynx, lest the blood which has flowed in direct currents from the Pilgrim fountains, should force itself upward, and mantle their checks with the burning blush of shame; until, looking upon each other, their knees would smite together in mortal agony, at the speaking evidence of their guilt. Then shall come forth the Champions of Right, with their smooth pebbles from the brook; and the boasting Goliaths shall be laid low; for God is not on their side.
The true policy of this country is peace. In peace her resources are to be developed, her character elevated, the basis of her institutions established, and her duties to mankind fulfilled.
Could she but perceive the true end of her being, she would read therein a mission to the Ages, and the Nations—she would see herself destined to be the great exponent of human liberty, shewing the absolute value of man, as man—demonstrating that the hand-laborer and the king, are intrinsically equal—both standing on the same great level platform of Humanity. This is her peculiar mission; and for this the Declaration of Independence is her diploma. But if she is false to her trust—if she becomes corrupt, and wantonly presses downward to the gulf of irretrievable ruin, how will the less-favored Nations taunt her with bitter mockery; “Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us! How art thou fallen from heaven, Oh Lucifer, star of the morning!”
Again; it would give a fatal preponderance to the slave-power, which has long governed this country.
Let it be remembered that the South, though far in the minority, has held the reins of the government, and swayed the destiny of the nation almost the entire period of fifty years. One word will explain to thee how this is effected. By a law of the Nation, Slave property is represented in the national councils—that is, five slaves rank equal to three free men of the North—so that a planter having one hundred slaves, would be entitled to as much weight in the Senate as 60 free men of the north. Now when 43 new slave states as large as that of Massachusetts shall have been erected, and there shall be a representation of five or six millions of Slaves, there will no longer be an enemy to contend with; for the North must either sink down into a state of degrading vassalage, or seek for Freedom in disunion.
Again; it will indefinitely enlarge the boundaries of slavery, and tend to make the institution perpetual. This has, indeed, been THE GREAT PRINCIPLE which has lain at the base of all southern action on the subject—the grand lever which has moved all southern influence. This policy has been openly avowed by nearly all the great Leaders of the enterprise; and yet, with the fact of their assertions staring them full in the face, Northern men affect to disbelieve. Do they think these men are fools, that they should struggle, and bully, and wrangle for years, with a concentration of zeal which has swallowed up all other interests, unless they well knew why? General Lamar, late President of Texas, has given us some light on this subject, which we should do well to profit by. He says that, in cases of non-annexation, from the proximity of Mexico, the insecurity of negro property would be infinitely increased; and, consequently, the tide of emigration from the southern states would be arrested; and, at the same time, the influx of emigrants from Europe, which has been continuous and great, would vastly increase—and in proportion the anti-slavery spirit would extend itself—until it should become paramount, and then an emancipation act might safely and peaceably be established through the ballot box. This he thinks more than probable, and he further says that if Texas should abolish slavery, the institution could not be sustained in the old and worn out states of the South for fifty years! Are Antislavery men deaf to these assertions, made by one who knew all the facts in the case—who was acquainted, not only with the localities, but the spirit of the people? The General proceeds to urge Annexation, because it “would give stability to their domestic institutions, and thereby save them FOREVER, from the unparalleled calamities of abolition.” I know that it is said by some persons, with Messrs. Jay and Walker at their head, that there will not be a single slave the more, for all this accession of slave territory, but there will, on the contrary, be a gradual tendency towards manumission. Are these persons aware of the absurdity they are rushing into?—When did the increased demand ever tend to lessen the supply? Do they not know that, so far from this, in all commercial relations, the demand always regulates the supply? A regular trade has long been kept up with Cuba, in slaves, which had been imported from Africa; and when this great market is fairly open, and the strength of the South is superadded to their own, will this trade diminish; will there not, on the contrary, be a fearful increase?
And shall not this country be mainly accountable for all these evils?—for the desolating wars of conquest which scourge Africa—for the wasting flesh and whitening bones which mark the path of the coffle over the desert, and which we have seen together, and lamented over, O, my friend, without ever dreaming that the ultimate destination of the wretched survivors, was this promised land of Liberty!—will she not be accountable for all the increasing horrors of the middle passage, and for the robbery of uncounted souls of all right in themselves, or in their own bodies? The destiny of millions is now committed to her hands. If she is false, she plunges the suicidal knife into her own heart!
Can it be too late to act even now? Can it ever be too late, while aught remains to do? Were this my country I would go abroad into the streets and highways, through wood, prairie, and wilderness, and cry aloud, without ceasing. I would call upon every man who loves liberty—upon every man who loves right—to come out and help me!—Are there not twelve righteous men to save this nation? Nay, if there be but one LOT, in God’s name, let him COME OUT.
I must close this hastily, begging forgiveness for its great length; yet knowing that no question touching Human Rights, can be indifferent to thee—and so I throw it and myself into the arms of they love.
Salem-alik. Thine ever,
Ahmed el Korah.