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HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 5: Slavery, Reform and the West

HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 5: Slavery, Reform and the West


A collection of primary source readings for American History to 1877.

Black Hawk’s Surrender Speech (1832)

The primary source readings in this course align with CSCC's version of The American Yawp, Volume 1, which is derived from the The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

This collection is a work in progress. As introductions, annotations, and "Questions to Consider" are added, updates will be reflected. Users are also welcome to download the Word version of the reading then add or revise the introductions, annotations, or questions. 

To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Christianna Hurford at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

There are not yet introductions to all the readings in this unit,  though we anticipate adding introductions following Autumn 2019 semester. 

Black Hawk’s Surrender Speech (1832)


Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

IN THE SPRING OF 1832, a band of the Sauk Nation—under the leadership of Maka-tai-mesh-ekia-kiak (Chief Black Hawk)—journeyed east from an Iowa reservation to their former Rock River, Illinois home. Violating President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830, Black Hawk sought a reprieve from the disease, starvation, and spiritual separation suffered by his nation following its new life on the reservation.1 The return was instigated as a peaceful means of survival; that is, Black Hawk’s intentions involved neither symbolic protest nor physical assault on the white settlers already squatting on the land previously occupied by the Sauk.

Whites, along with frontier forces, however, viewed the homecoming as a sign of savage encroachment—the commencement of an “aggressive warpath.”2 Black Hawk recalls Major General Edmund Gaines asking one last time for the Sauk’s removal: “I came here, nether to beg nor hire you to leave your village,” Gaines exhorted. “My business is to remove you, peaceably if I can, but forcibly if I must! I will give you two days to remove—and if you do not cross the Mississippi within that time, I will adopt measures to force you away!”3 Two days passed, and still Black Hawk’s nation refused to budge. Following suit, President Jackson’s troops engaged the Sauk in a bloody battle that ended the following August with 300 Natives dead, hundreds wounded, and the nation permanently displaced from its spiritual home.4 The Black Hawk War, as it came to be known, lasted merely fifteen weeks, but impaired a centuries-old indigenous community.

According to popular reports, Black Hawk surrendered in early September 1832 under a veil of shame and despondence.5 He noted in his autobiography the gravity of the war’s end and significance of the Sauk’s defeat:

I surveyed the country that had cost us so much trouble, anxiety, and blood, and now caused me to be a prisoner of war…and recollected that all this land had been ours, for which me and my people had never received a dollar, and that the whites were not satisfied until they took our village, pride and graveyards from us, and removed us across the Mississippi.6

Sauk identity suffered a dismal fate following the Black Hawk War; the Nation was robbed of its land, heritage, and pride in one fell swoop. With America’s physical and social robbery eminent, Black Hawk delivered an address entitled, “Farewell to Black Hawk” to finalize his surrender.

Black Hawk’s tribulations did not end, however, with his departing speech. First, federal Indian agents forced him to sign the Treaty of 1832, which officially removed the Sauk Nation and “by which the tribe paid an indemnity for expenses incurred in this Black Hawk War.”7 Second, a buffer zone between the Sauk’s Iowa reservation and their Rock River, Illinois encampment was established to prevent Black Hawk from returning to his ancestral home.8 Third, after several months in isolation at Jackson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri, the great chief was summoned, literally, to Jackson’s feet in Washington City. The purpose of the meeting was to issue a severe tongue-lashing, assuring that the Chief “learned his lesson” in the wake of the war. 9 Jackson then conducted Black Hawk “through some of our great towns” in order that the Chief experience “the strength of the white people” and see “that our [United States’] young men are as numerous, as the leaves in the woods.” He asked, “What can you [Black Hawk] do against us?”10 Black Hawk’s meeting with Jackson, his ensuing tour, his capitulation speech and his subsequent autobiography embodied the Chief’s surrender rhetoric.

Tales of American Indian demise and removal are not uncommon. As U.S. frontier history reveals, hundreds of American Indian nations were displaced. Moreover, General (and later, President) Jackson’s so-called “indian hunters” squashed dozens of Native insurrections generated in the years between the War of 1812 and the Indian Removal Act of 1830.11 The recovery and examination of American Indian oratory is important, though, and in the episode of Black Hawk’s surrender we find a rich sampling of Native leadership and voice. Black Hawk delivered his farewell address—upon his capture by white-friendly Winnebagos—and accepted (perhaps halfheartedly) Jackson’s admonitory talk and penalizing “trip” around the United States to complete the physical and symbolic end of Black Hawk-as-chief in September 1832.12 The following year, he published his autobiography. His speech, in particular, is noted as “one of the most touching of the recorded Indian speeches.” 13


Questions to Consider:


  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2.  According to this document what does it mean to be an Indian?  What does this say about their identity?
  3.  How does this author describe the white man?  Why?
  4. What does this document suggest about the religious ideals of these Native Americans?  Significance?
  5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]




Primary Source[2]

You have taken me prisoner with all my warriors. I am much grieved, for I expected, if I did not defeat you, to hold out much longer, and give you more trouble before I surrendered. I tried hard to bring you into ambush, but your last general understands Indian fighting. The first one was not so wise. When I saw that I could not beat you by Indian fighting, I determined to rush on you, and fight you face to face. I fought hard. But your guns were well aimed. The bullets flew like birds in the air, and whizzed by our ears like the wind through the trees in the winter. My warriors fell around me; it began to look dismal. I saw my evil day at hand. The sun rose dim on us in the morning, and at night it sunk in a dark cloud, and looked like a ball of fire. That was the last sun that shone on Black Hawk. His heart is dead, and no longer beats quick in his bosom. He is now a prisoner to the white men; they will do with him as they wish. But he can stand torture, and is not afraid of death. He is no coward. Black Hawk is an Indian.

He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to be ashamed. He has fought for his countrymen, the squaws and papooses, against white men, who came, year after year, to cheat them and take away their lands. You know the cause of our making war. It is known to all white men. They ought to be ashamed of it. The white men despise the Indians, and drive them from their homes. But the Indians are not deceitful. The white men speak bad of the Indian, and took at him spitefully. But the Indian does not tell lies; Indians do not steal.

An Indian who is as bad as the white men, could not live in our nation; he would be put to death, and eat [sic] up by the wolves. The white men are bad school-masters; they carry false looks, and deal in false actions; they smile in the face of the poor Indian to cheat him; they shake them by the hand to gain their confidence, to make them drunk, to deceive them, and ruin our wives. We told them to let us alone; but they followed on and beset our paths, and they coiled themselves among us like the snake. They poisoned us by their touch. We were not safe. We lived in danger. We were becoming like them, hypocrites and liars, adulterers, lazy drones, all talkers, and no workers.

We looked up to the Great Spirit. We went to our great father. We were encouraged. His great council gave us fair words and big promises, but we got no satisfaction. Things were growing worse. There were no deer in the forest. The oppossum and beaver were fled; the springs were drying up, and our squaws and papooses without victuals to keep them from starving; we called a great council and built a large fire. The spirit of our fathers arose and spoke to us to avenge our wrongs or die.... We set up the war-whoop, and dug up the tomahawk; our knives were ready, and the heart of Black Hawk swelled high in his bosom when he led his warriors to battle. He is satisfied. He will go to the world of spirits contented. He has done his duty. His father will meet him there, and commend him.

Black Hawk is a true Indian, and disdains to cry like a woman. He feels for his wife, his children and friends. But he does not care for himself. He cares for his nation and the Indians. They will suffer. He laments their fate. The white men do not scalp the head; but they do worse-they poison the heart, it is not pure with them. His countrymen will not be scalped, but they will, in a few years, become like the white men, so that you can't trust them, and there must be, as in the white settlements, nearly as many officers as men, to take care of them and keep them in order.

Farewell, my nation. Black Hawk tried to save you, and avenge your wrongs. He drank the blood of some of the whites. He has been taken prisoner, and his plans are stopped. He can do no more. He is near his end. His sun is setting, and he will rise no more. Farewell to Black Hawk.



[1] "Symbolic Suicide as Mortification, Transformation, and Counterstatement" by Jason Edward Black, University of Alabama is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Image: Eyre Crowe, Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia, 1861, via University of Virginia, The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas.

Temperance for Young Men and Women, Advice (1836)


Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]


“Early nineteenth−century temperance advocates aimed many of their appeals directly at young people, trying to awaken them to the dangers and “untold misery” of intoxicating drinks. They also sought to motivate women—as wives and mothers—to influence men not to drink. As the temperance campaign became widespread, anti−drink appeals appeared both in special temperance publications, such as The Temperance Almanac, and in many newspapers and magazines, such as the New England Farmer.”


Questions to Consider:


  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2.  How does the author describe the cause of Temperance?  How is this tied to the reform movements of the 19th century?
  3.  Compare and contrast the advice given to the young women and the young men – what do you think accounts for these similarities and differences?  What does it say of identity in American society?
  4. Why is the author careful to outline advice on marriage?  What seems to be the primary concern here and why?
  5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.] 



Primary Source[2]

Excerpts from THE TEMPERANCE ALMANAC, 1836

To Young Women,— It has been thought by some, unnecessary to address the female sex, on the subject of temperance—we think far otherwise. They are personally exposed to the danger of becoming intemperate. We know three ladies of highly respectable standing, who have during the last year died of intemperance. Their influence is great and we bespeak this for the temperance cause. It is the cause of purity, of holiness, of our country and of God. But above all, we address young ladies, that we may warn them of the danger of associating or connecting themselves with such as drink intoxicating drinks. Many an unsuspecting female has been led to her ruin by such drinks, and many a lovely woman has dragged out a miserable existence, with a drunken husband. Oh, the misery, the untold misery of such a union! What unkindness—what abuse—what brutality! Young woman!—would you avoid such a fate—look well to your associates. Touch not the fatal cup yourself—give not your affections to any one, until you have every reasonable certainty that total abstinence from intoxicating drinks is his motto.

To Young Men.— Young men are the hope of their country and the world. But can they be of service to their country or to the world, if they are intemperate. An intemperate ruler, or judge, or minister, or physician, or lawyer, or citizen of any class—what greater curses can be inflicted on a community? Young men are the hope of their parents, and the desire of a child ought to be, to gladden the hearts of the authors of its existence—to make their declining years peaceful—to smooth their passage to the grave. But what sorrow will pierce their hearts, if you are intemperate. What bitterness will fill their souls, if you walk in the paths of the drunkard! Young men look forward with beating hearts to the attainment of the favorite object of their ambition. But what will the possession be worth if you are intemperate? Wealth, honor, character, friends, all vanish before this fell* destroyer. Young man, whomsoever you are, if you drink a drop of intoxicating liquor, you are in danger of contracting the fatal habit of intemperance. There is no safety, but in the practice of TOTAL ABSTINENCE.

Excerpt from the NEW ENGLAND FARMER.


A young lady will be very unsafe in marrying a young man who uses ardent spirits*, either temperately or intemperately, because more women have been rendered wretched on account of drunken husbands, than by any thing else.—When Lavinia and Laura and Margaret, were let by their husbands to Hymen’s* altar, their husbands only took a little. Lavinia was the mother of four children, when the sheriff sold the last bed she had, for her husband’s drams*. Laura had three lovely babes, when her husband was carried to jail, and she left without bed, bread or home. Margaret had two children, when she followed their sottish* and brutish father to an untimely grave, and she and her babes were cast upon the world pennyless. Beware young ladies of him who can drink a dram even in a week. Don’t marry a reformed drunkard, as a man hardly ever gets clear of this awful disease. If you want to be miserable—if you want babblings—if you want wounds without a cause—a husband with red eyes, marry a man who drinks, who takes a little, and you are more likely to have the above enjoyments than in marrying any other character. If a man cannot give up his dram, he can sacrifice the happiness or property of any woman by taking a little.


  • ardent spirits − distilled liquors, such as, rum or whiskey
  • dram − a small drink of intoxicating liquor
  • fell − terrible; cruel
  • Hymen − the Greek god of marriage
  • sottish − drunken; stupid and foolish from drinking too much alcohol



[1] “Background Notes” to Temperance for Young Men and Women, Advice by Teach US History. Retrieved from:

[2] “To Young Women” and “To Young Men” from The Temperance Almanac, (1836), pp. 8-9 is in the public domain.

Be Careful Whom You Marry” from New England Farmer, (March 19, 1830), p. 280 is in the public domain.

[3] Glossary by Teach US History.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Excerpts (1845)

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Excerpts (1845)

Frederick Douglass


Questions to Consider:

  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2.  Douglass begins with his family history – what does this reveal and what does it say about is identity?
  3.  How does Douglass describe the conditions under slavery?  What impact do you think this would have had on both pro- and anti-slavery audiences?  Why?
  4. What does Douglass say of his experience in learning how to read and how/why was this a turning point for him?
  5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



Primary Source[1]


(Excerpts)CHAPTER 1. His birthday . . . I WAS born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit. The nearest estimate I can give makes me now between twenty-seven and twenty-eight years of age. I come to this, from hearing my master say, some time during1835, I was about seventeen years old. His mother . . .My mother was named Harriet Bailey. She was the daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite dark. My mother was of a darker complexion than either my grandmother or grandfather. My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child’s affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result. I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day’s work. She was afield hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary—a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Cruelty of his master to his aunt. . .


Master [. . .] would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cow skin. I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. CHAPTER 2.The plantations. . .Colonel Lloyd kept from three to four hundred slaves on his home plantation, and owned a large number more on the neighboring farms belonging to him.[On the home plantation] [t]he men and women slaves received, as their monthly allowance of food, eight pounds of pork, or its equivalent in fish, and one bushel of corn meal. Their yearly clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts, one pair of linen trousers, like the shirts, one jacket, one pair of trousers for winter, made of coarse negro cloth, one pair of stockings, and one pair of shoes; the whole of which could not have cost more than seven dollars. The allowance of the slave children was given to their mothers, or the old women having the care of them. The children unable to work in the field had neither shoes, stockings, jackets, nor trousers, given to them; their clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts per year. When these failed them, they went naked until the next allowance-day. Children from seven to ten years old, of both sexes, almost naked, might be seen at all seasons of the year. There were no beds given the slaves, unless one coarse blanket be considered such, and none but the men and women had these. This, however, is not considered a very great privation. They find less difficulty from the want of beds, than from the want of time to sleep; for when their day’s work in the field is done, the most of them having their washing, mending, and cooking to do, and having few or none of the ordinary facilities for doing either of these, very many of their sleeping hours are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day; and when this is done, old and young, male and female, married and single, drop down side by side, on one common bed,—the cold, damp floor,—each covering himself or herself with their miserable blankets; and here they sleep till they are summoned to the field by the driver’s horn. At the sound of this, all must rise, and be off to the field. There must be no halting; every one must be at his or her post; and woe betides them who hear not this morning summons to the field; for if they are not awakened by the sense of hearing, they are by the sense of feeling: no age nor sex finds any favor. Mr. Severe, the overseer, used to stand by the door of the quarter, armed with a large hickory stick and heavy cow skin, ready to whip any one who was so unfortunate as not to hear, or, from any other cause, was prevented from being ready to start for the field at the sound of the horn. Deep sadness of the slave songs. . . The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness. “I am going away to the Great House Farm! O, yea! O, yea! O!” I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. CHAPTER 4.No punishment for murdering slaves . . .The wife of Mr. Giles Hicks, living but a short distance from where I used to live, murdered my wife’s cousin, a young girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age, mangling her person in the most horrible manner, breaking her nose and breastbone with a stick, so that the poor girl expired in a few hours afterward. She was immediately buried, but had not been in her untimely grave but a few hours before she was taken up and examined by the coroner, who decided that she had come to her death by severe beating. The offence for which this girl was thus murdered was this:—She had been set that night to mind Mrs. Hicks’s baby, and during the night she fell asleep, and the baby cried. She, having lost her rest for several nights previous, did not hear the crying. They were both in the room with Mrs. Hicks. Mrs. Hicks, finding the girl slow to move, jumped from her bed, seized an oak stick of wood by the fireplace, and with it broke the girl’s nose and breastbone, and thus ended her life. I will not say that this most horrid murder produced no sensation in the community. It did produce sensation, but not enough to bring the murderess to punishment. There was a warrant issued for her arrest, but it was never served. CHAPTER 6

“Dark and mysterious things” . . .Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. [H]e said, “A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger(speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.” These words sank deep into my heart. . . It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument . . . against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. CHAPTER 10.Fighting for a sense of manhood . . .Mr. Covey entered the stable with a long rope; and just as I was half out of the loft, he caught hold of my legs, and was about tying me. As soon as I found what he was up to, I gave a sudden spring, and as I did so, he holding to my legs, I was brought sprawling on the stable floor. Mr. Covey seemed now to think he had me, and could do what he pleased; but at this moment—from whence came the spirit I don’t know—I resolved to fight; and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him. My resistance was so entirely unexpected that Covey seemed taken all a back. He trembled like a leaf. This gave me assurance, and I held him uneasy, causing the blood to run where I touched him with the ends of my fingers. He asked me if I meant to persist in my resistance. I told him I did, come what might; that he had used me like a brute for six months, and that I was determined to be used so no longer. We were at it for nearly two hours. Covey at length let me go, puffing and blowing at a great rate, saying that if I had not resisted, he would not have whipped me half so much. The truth was, that he had not whipped me at all. I considered him as getting entirely the worst end of the bargain; for he had drawn no blood from me, but I had from him. This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again with a determination to be free. . . I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.


George Fitzhugh Argues that Slavery is Better than Liberty and Equality (1854)

George Fitzhugh Argues that Slavery is Better than Liberty and Equality (1854)

George Fitzhugh

Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

As the nineteenth century progressed, some Americans shifted their understanding of slavery from a necessary evil to a positive good. George Fitzhugh offered one of the most consistent and sophisticated defenses of slavery. His study Sociology for the South attacked northern society as corrupt and slavery as a gentle system designed to “protect” the inferior black race and promote social harmony.

Questions to Consider:


  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2.  How does the author use history to defend his position?  Who might agree/disagree with this argument and why?
  3.  Why does the author compare ending slavery to allowing women into the workforce?  Who might agree/disagree with this argument and why?
  4. What good does the author suggest slavery brings to the nation (beyond the economic good)?  How does this compare/contrast to earlier arguments supporting the institution of slavery?
  5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]



Primary Source[2]

Liberty and equality are new things under the sun. The free states of antiquity abounded with slaves. The feudal system that supplanted Roman institutions changed the form of slavery, but brought with it neither liberty nor equality. France and the Northern States of our Union have alone fully and fairly tried the experiment of a social organization founded upon universal liberty and equality of rights. England has only approximated to this condition in her commercial and manufacturing cities. The examples of small communities in Europe are not fit exponents of the working of the system. In France and in our Northern States the experiment has already failed… we have conclusive proof that liberty and equality have not conduced to enhance the comfort or the happiness of the people. Crime and pauperism have increased. Riots, trades unions, strikes for higher wages, discontent breaking out into revolution, are things of daily occurrence, and show that the poor see and feel quite as clearly as the philosophers, that their condition is far worse under the new than under the old order of things….

The statistics of France, England and America show that pauperism and crime advance pari passu with liberty and equality. How can it be otherwise, when all society is combined to oppress the poor and weak minded? The rich man, however good he may be, employs the laborer who will work for the least wages. If he be a good man, his punctuality enables him to cheapen the wages of the poor man. The poor war with one another in the race of competition, in order to get employment, by underbidding; for laborers are more abundant than employers. Population increases faster than capital. Look to the situation of woman when she is thrown into this war of competition, and has to support herself by her daily wages. For the same or equally valuable services she gets not half the pay that man does, simply because the modesty of her sex prevents her from resorting to all the arts and means of competition which men employ. He who would emancipate woman, unless he could make her as coarse and strong in mind and body as man, would be her worst enemy; her subservience to and dependence on man, is necessary to her very existence. She is not a soldier fitted to enlist in the war of free competition. We do not set children and women free because they are not capable of taking care of themselves, not equal to the constant struggle of society. To set them free would be to give the lamb to the wolf to take care of. Society would quickly devour them. If the children of ten years of age were remitted to all the rights of person and property which men enjoy, all can perceive how soon ruin and penury would overtake them. But half of mankind are but grown-up children, and liberty is as fatal to them as it would be to children…

Domestic slavery in the Southern States has produced the same results in elevating the character of the master that it did in Greece and Rome. He is lofty and independent in his sentiments, generous, affectionate, brave and eloquent; he is superior to the Northerner, in every thing but the arts of thrift…

But the chief and far most important enquiry is, how does slavery affect the condition of the slave? One of the wildest sects of Communists in France proposes not only to hold all property in common, but to divide the profits not according to each mans in-put and labor but according to each mans wants. Now this is precisely the system of domestic slavery with us. We provide for each slave, in old age and in infancy, in sickness and in health, not according to his labor, but according to his wants. The masters wants are most costly and refined, and he therefore gets a larger share of the profits. A Southern farm is the beau ideal of Communism; it is a joint concern, in which the slave consumes more than the master, of the coarse products, and is far happier, because although the concern may fail, he is always sure of a support; he is only transferred to another master to participate in the profits of another concern…

There is no rivalry, no competition to get employment among slaves, as among free laborers. Nor is there a war between master and slave. The masters interest prevents his reducing the slaves allowance or wages in infancy or sickness, for he might lose the slave by so doing. His feeling for his slave never permits him to stint him in old age. The slaves are all well fed, well clad, have plenty of fuel, and are happy. They have no dread of the future no fear of want. A state of dependence is the only condition in which reciprocal affection can exist among human beings the only situation in which the war of competition ceases, and peace, amity and good will arise….



[2] George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society (Richmond: 1854), 226, 230-231, 244-246.

Primary source is in the public domain.


Chinese Merchant Complains of Racist Abuse (1860)

Chinese Merchant Complains of Racist Abuse (1860)

Pun Chi

Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]


The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought a major influx of Asian immigrants to the new state. This number only grew after railroad companies turned to Chinese laborers to build western railroads. Life for these immigrants was particularly difficult, as even financially successful Chinese immigrants faced considerable discrimination. In 1860, the Chinese merchant Pun Chi drafted this petition to congress, calling on the legislature to do more to protect Chinese immigrants.


Questions to Consider:

  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2.  According to the author, what enticed these immigrants to come to America?
  3.  What kind of treatment did the Chinese find once they settled in the Americas?  Why?
  4. According to the author what is the root of the trials that they bear?  What does this say about American identity?
  5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.] 




Primary Source[2]

We are natives of the empire of China, each following some employment or profession–literary men, farmers, mechanics or merchants. When your honorable government threw open the territory of California, the people of other lands were welcomed here to search for gold and to engage in trade. The ship-masters of your respected nation came over to our country, lauded the equality of your laws, extolled the beauty of your manners and customs, and made it known that your officers and people were extremely cordial toward the Chinese. Knowing well the harmony which had existed between our respective governments, we trusted in your sincerity. Not deterred by the long voyage, we came here presuming that our arrival would be hailed with cordiality and favor. But, alas! what times are these!–when former kind relations are forgotten, when we Chinese are viewed like thieves and enemies, when in the administration of justice our testimony is not received, when in the legal collection of the licenses we are injured and plundered, and villains of other nations are encouraged to rob and do violence to us! Our numberless wrongs it is most painful even to recite. At the present time, if we desire to quit the country, we are not possessed of the pecuniary means; if allowed to remain, we dread future troubles. But yet, on the other hand, it is our presumption that the conduct of the officers of justice here has been influenced by temporary prejudices and that your honorable government will surely not uphold their acts. We are sustained by the confidence that t-589he benevolence of your eminent body, contemplating the people of the whole world as one family, will most assuredly not permit the Chinese population without guilt to endure injuries to so cruel a degree. We would therefore present the following twelve subjects for consideration at your bar. We earnestly pray that you would investigate and weigh them; that you would issue instructions to your authorities in each State that they shall cast away their partial and unjust practices, restore tranquility to us strangers, and that you would determine whether we are to leave the country or to remain. Then we will endure ensuing calamities without repining, and will cherish for you sincere gratitude and most profound respect.

… The class that engage in digging gold are, as a whole, poor people. We go on board the ships. There we find ourselves unaccustomed to winds and waves and to the extremes of heat and cold. We eat little; we grieve much. Our appearance is plain and our clothing poor. At once, when we leave the vessel, boatmen extort heavy fares; all kinds of conveyances require from us more than the usual charges; as we go on our way we are pushed and kicked and struck by the drunken and the brutal; but as we cannot speak your language, we bear our injuries and pass on. Even when within doors, rude boys throw sand and bad men stones after us. Passers by, instead of preventing these provocations, add to them by their laughter. We go up to the mines; there the collectors of the licenses make unlawful exactions and robbers strip, plunder, wound and even murder some of us. Thus we are plunged into endless uncommiserated wrongs. But the first root of them all is that very degradation and contempt of the Chinese as a race of which we have spoken, which begins with your honorable nation, but which they communicate to people from other countries, who carry it to greater lengths.

Now what injury have we Chinese done to your honorable people that they should thus turn upon us and make us drink the cup of wrong even to its last poisonous dregs?

… If a Chinese earns a dollar and a half in gold per day, his first desire is to go to an American and buy a mining claim. But should this yield a considerable result, the seller, it is possible, compels him to relinquish it. Perhaps robbers come and strip him of the gold. He dare not resist, since he cannot speak the language, and has not the power to withstand them. On the other hand, those who have no means to buy a claim seek some ground which other miners have dug over and left, and thus obtain a few dimes. From the proceeds of a hard day’s toil, after the pay for food and clothes very little remains. It is hard for them to be prepared to meet the collector when he comes for the license money. If such a one turns his thoughts back to the time when he came here, perhaps he remembers that then he borrowed the money for his passage and expenses from his kindred and friends, or perhaps he sold all his property to obtain it; and how bitter those thoughts are! In the course of four years, out of each ten men that have come over scarcely more than one or two get back again. Among those who cannot do so, the purse is often empty; and the trials of many of them are worthy of deep compassion. Thus it is evident that the gold mines are truly of little advantage to the Chinese. Yet the legislature questions whether it shall not increase the license; that is, increase trouble upon trouble! It is pressing us to death. If it is your will that Chinese shall not dig the gold of your honorable country, then fix a limit as to time, say, for instance, three years, within which every man of them shall provide means to return to his own country. Thus we shall not perish in a foreign land. Thus mutual kindly sentiments shall be restored again…


[2] Pun Chi, “A Remonstrance from the Chinese in California to the Congress of the United States,” in William Speer, The Oldest and the Newest Empire: China and the United States (Pittsburg: 1877), 588-589. 594, 597-598.

Primary source is in the public domain.