8 December 2015
[FRANKLIN, Benjamin.] Gazette of the United States, 25 November 1789. 4 pages, folio (16 1/4 x 10 in.).
FRANKLIN’S ADDRESS TO THE PENNSYLVANIA SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY, printed just months before his death, and containing his strongest statement against slavery, where his heart matches the outrage of his intellect. “Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, “ he said, “that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitous care may sometimes open a source of serious evils. The unhappy man who has long been treated as a brute animal, too frequently sinks beneath the common standard of the human species. The galling chains that bind his body do also fetter his intellectual faculties and impair the social affections of his heart.” Along with his Articles of Confederation, perhaps the most significant Franklin paper.
Franklin entertained contradictory attitudes about slavery in his earliest writings. In the 1740s, he bought and sold slaves small time from his place of business, sometimes for investment. Franklin placed slave ads for others. He had a couple of slaves for domestic purposes, but eventually sold them. In Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, he saw slavery was hurting whites economically and felt too many negroes might impair the white situation. He had no compunction about decrying their natural
abilities. Yet when he reissued “Observations” years later he excused their disabilities as caused by slavery. In Conversations on Slavery in 1770, he again approached the subject ambiguously, seeming to condemn slavery for reasons other than inhumanity toward blacks. In 1772 he could write about the “constant butchery of the human species by this pestilant detestable traffic in the bodies and souls of men.” Unlike Jefferson, Franklin’s attitude toward blacks changed over decades with exposure to men such as Anthony Benezet.
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