From the [Philadelphia] General Advertiser, Wednesday, March 14, 1792
You were men – you are citizens, and reinstated in the enjoyment of your rights, and you will henceforth partake of the sovereignty of the people. The decree, which the National Assembly has just executed on your account, upon the subject, is not a favor; for a favor is a privilege, and a privilege is an unjust act; and these words must no more stain the code of the French natives. And promising you the exercise of political rights, we have discharged a duty; to have neglected which, had been a crime in ourselves, and a stain on the Constitution. Can the legislators of a free nation do less for you, than our former despots.
More than an age has elapsed since Louis XIV solemnly declared and proclaimed your rights: but this sacred inheritance has been invaded by pride and cupidity, which gradually aggravated your yoke and poisoned your existence. The resurrection of the French Empire has illumined your bosoms with a gleam of hope, and this consoling ray has sweetened the bitterness of your misfortunes. Europe could scarcely have conceived so much: the white colonists, who hold their seats amongst us, complained in the most lively manner, of the ministerial tyranny; but neglected to make any mention of their own. They never articulated the complaints of the hapless colored, who notwithstanding were the children of their protection; and it is ourselves, who, at the distance of 2000 leagues, have been constrained to step forward in defense of these children, against the contempt, the unremitted calumny—against the cruelty of their fathers. In vain has it been attempted to stifle your cries; your sighs, in spite of seas which separate us, your misfortunes vibrate to the bosoms of the French, of Europe – for these can feel.
God, in his affection, embraces all mankind: his love admits no distinction, but that which results from extent of virtues: can that law, which emanates from eternal justice, sanctify a culpable predilection: and can that country which surveys all, as members of one extensive family, prove a mother to some, and a stepmother to others.
No, gentlemen, ye could not escape the anxiety of the National Assembly. In displaying to the eyes of the universe the great charter of nature, they observed in it your titles: an attempt has been made to efface them: but the characters are happily indelible, like the sacred lamp of the divinity, impressed in your countenances.
Since the 28th of March, 1790, the national assembly, in its instructions to the colonies, comprised both the white and colored, under one denomination. Your enemies wished to impose a different construction, on the paper. But it is an incontestable circumstance, that at the time, when I demanded, that you should be comprehended particularly, a crowd of deputies, many of whom were planters, immediately asserted that you were included in the general tenor of the article: and M. Barnave himself (who had asserted this before me) yielding to my frequent demands, at length avowed the same, in the face of the assembly. Had I not reason to fear, that such a malignant interpretation would disguise our decrees? New troubles, upon your account, and your misfortunes, heaped upon these, have too well justified my apprehensions. The letters which I have received from you, on that subject, have occasioned my tears to flow. Posterity will learn with astonishment, and perhaps with indignation, that through the course of five successive days we debated your cause, whose justice is self evident – alas! What humanity is reduced to struggle against vanity and prejudice, its triumph is a painful conquest.
The Society of the Friends of the blacks have long since laboured to meliorate your situation and that of the slaves. It is difficult, perhaps impossible for it to render good with impunity and its respectable zeal has been rewarded with many outrages. Many vile persons have, beneath the shelter of anonymous publications, endeavored to poison it with their venom: and, in insolent libel, they do not cease to repeat objections and calumnies, which have seen an hundred times blasted. How frequently have these malicious persons accused us of being sold to the English, of being armed against France by them, of addressing incendiary letters to you, and furnishing you with arms! You known, my friends, how licentious and atrocious these calumnies are, against us, who have ever enjoined you, attachment to your mother country, resignation—patience in expecting the resuscitation of justice. Nothing could ever chill our zeal or that of your brethren of colour, who reside in Paris. M. Raimond, particularly, has devoted himself to your defense in an heroic manner. With what transport would you have beheld this distinguished citizen, at the bar of the National Assembly, of which he merited to have been a member, present the tablet, describing your misfortunes, demanding with energy your rights! If the Assembly had sacrificed them, its glory had been blasted forever. Duty obliged them to decree with justice, to explain with perspicuity, to execute with firmness, that which they resolved: and if it should please the supreme Deity, that any even now concealed in the bosom of futurity, should deprive us of our colonies, would it not be preferable to deplore a loss than reproach ourselves with injustice?
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