Petition from the Society of Friends, Charles City County, December 14, 1831
In this petition, a group of Quakers called for the Virginia Assembly to pass a gradual emancipation law, freeing all slaves born after a certain date. They asked that the state procure land on which to colonize those freed slaves who wished to leave Virginia. They saw slavery as violating the natural laws of "justice and humanity," and they considered speaking out for the cause of abolition their religious duty.
Charles City County:
Slave Population, 1830: 2,957 (53% of total population)
To the Senate and House of Delegates of Virginia in general Assembly.
The Memorial and Petition of the religious Society of Friends, of Virginia Yearly Meeting respectfully shows.
That your Memorialists, under a deep sense of the responsibility which rests upon them, both as Citizens of this State and as a Christian Community, desire to call your attention to a Subject of the utmost importance. From the republican nature of our government, the citizens of this State possess in a preeminent manner the privilege of presenting their views of important Subject for Legislative consideration, and on some occasions, they must be under the imperious obligation of doing so. In addition to this obligation, which arises from the formation of our government and the inseparable connection of our interests with the present memorial—the influence of a Christian Solicitude for the preservation and happiness, not only of ourselves and those identified with our homes and the tenderest ties of nature—but also of our fellow Citizens and our beloved country in the most comprehensive construction of the term. In common with all other Christian denominations, we believe that the most High rules in the nations of the earth, exercising his Power and Providence throughout his vast incalculable dominions. All History combines in an unbroken chain in Support of a belief in the interposition of God in human affairs. The rise and fall of Empires bear testimony, which cannot be resisted, of the riches of his goodness, the chastisements of his displeasure and sometimes of the terrors of his judgments. Those dispensations of an overruling Providence have ever been in intimate connection with the Laws he has established for the government of his rational creatures. While his wrath has been revealed from heaven against the Children of disobedience. While the most potent empires have sunk beneath the stroke of His rod—his goodness, power and Providence through all the ages have been displayed on behalf of those who have made his righteous law, their rules of action, who depended on the direction of his Wisdom; and trusted for deliverance and support in His Almighty arms.
The present important crisis demands in a peculiar manner an humbling remembrance of the goodness and Sovereignty of the Almighty. The people of the United States and of this Commonwealth have abundant cause for reverent acknowledgment of the interposition of a gracious Providence. His blessings have been bountifully dispensed to us, and his hand has been made manifest in preserving us from many impending dangers. As intelligent beings, we are called upon to bow under a sense of the Sovereignty of God. We are bound to acknowledge the immutability of his Law, and the perfection of all his attributes, and took to Him for direction in the administration of our public affairs. In this state of mind, there cannot be a doubt that if we follow his counsel in the fulfillment of his law, his blessings will be a wall of preservation around about us. Solemnly impressed with a sense that we cannot disarm his judgments and that in the way of obedience we may confidently trust in his providential care, we would call your attention to an evil in our Country an evil which has been of long continuance, and is now of increasing magnitude. We allude to the condition of the African race in our land. We need not apprehend on the present occasion [to] descend in detail into the consequences of this evil, either present or prospective,—as respects that suffering and degraded class of the human family, or as relates to us and to our fellow citizen. It is admitted on all hands, that the first principles of our republican institution and the immutable laws of justice and humanity have long been violated. Not only have the effects of the system upon our national prosperity been seen, but its demoralizing tendency and its ultimate awful consequences have been sufficiently developed to demand legislative interference.
We believe that as our present difficulties and dangers originated in a departure from the laws of justice and humanity, which the Creator has fixed for the government of his rational creatures in their intercourse with each other; so nothing short of an abandonment of the cause from which the present state of things has arisen can be regarded as an effectual remedy. We have seen that by a perseverance in a system repugnant to the laws of God, and subversive of the rights, and destructive to the happiness of man, there has been an awful increase, both of the difficulties and dangers by which we are surrounded. We, therefore, solemnly believe that some efficient system for the abolition of slavery in the Commonwealth and restoration of the African race to the inalienable rights of man is imperiously demanded by the laws of God, and inseparably connected with the best interests of the Commonwealth at large. The voice of justice and humanity has been repeatedly raised on behalf of the victims of oppression. But the appeal embraces not the sable children of Africa alone; the peace, the safety, the prosperity and happiness of all classes are included in the policy dictated by the spirit of our government, the feelings implanted in our nature and the laws, which the great Sovereign of the Universe has himself promulgated from Heaven.
Under a view of the claims of justice and humanity on behalf of a deeply injured race, and the various responsibilities, which rest upon this Commonwealth in regard to their present condition, we submit for your consideration the propriety of passing an Act, declaring that all person born in the State after some period, to be fixed by law, shall be free, and also that the State of Virginia, provide some territory, or solicit the aid of the United States in providing one, for the formation of a Colony for people of color, and also to aid in removing such free persons as may be disposed [to] emigrate, and such slaves as may be given up for that purpose. We implore the continuance of the mercies and blessings of God upon our beloved Country. We pray that he may graciously condescend to direct your understandings of the Wisdom, which is from above, in considering and resolving this most momentous Subject, in which the rights and happiness of the present and future generations are so deeply involved that through your instrumentality, his benedictions may be shed upon our Country and the blessings of those who are ready to perish may come upon you.
Signed by direction and on behalf of the Representatives of the Society foresaid, held in Charles City County the 24th of the 11th month 1831 by Fleming Bates.
From Erik S. Root, Sons of the Fathers: The Virginia Slavery Debates of 1831–1832 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2010), 317-318.