Letter from U.S. Senator Robert Y. Hayne (South Carolina) to Mayor Harrison Gray Otis (Boston, Massachusetts)
Senator Robert Y. Hayne, South Carlina
Charleston 14th Oct. 1831
I have the honor of enclosing you a Paper [Number 38 of the Liberator] which was lately forwarded to me from Boston by some person unknown. You will perceive that it is addressed to the “Hon Robert Y Hayne, (Gratuitous),” and as it is probable that the hand writing of the individual may be known in Boston, I will be obliged to you to cause the proper inquiries to be instituted on that subject and to inform me of the result. If this number of the “Liberator” had been the only one which had found its way into this State, I should probably not have troubled you on the subject. But it has come to my knowledge that Col Drayton, Mr Grimké and other Gentlemen have received several of these Papers, and I have reason to believe they are extensively circulated throughout the Southern States. From the enclosed publication in the “Tarborough Free Press” it appears probable that secret agents [p. 279] have been employed for the purpose of distributing “incendiary publications,” among a portion of our people, on whose minds they could not fail to produce the most lamentable effects. I have carefully examined the several numbers of the “Liberator,” which have been lately forwarded to this place, and have no hesitation in giving my opinion that unless the circulation of such productions among the colored population of the Southern States, can by some means be prevented, the inevitable effect will be to produce disturbances of a serious character. I do not mean to intimate that there can ever exist the smallest apprehension for the permanent safety of the Citizens of any one of the Southern States. There is not one of these States in which the constituted authorities have not in their hands ample means to put down promptly and effectually all attempts of this nature. But the poor ignorant and deluded beings, who may be tempted to reenact the afflicting scenes which have lately been exhibited at Southampton must fall victims to the wicked schemes of those who are endeavouring under the garb of religion and philanthropy to seduce them to their ruin. In presenting these views I am satisfied that they will find a cordial response from those respectable and intelligent among you who are acquainted with the true character and actual situation of that class of our people, the amelioration of whose condition is the professed object of the publications in question, and I will not indulge the apprehension that any desire could possibly exist among any respectable portion of our northern brethren to violate those rights of property on the preservation of which the prosperity, nay the very existence of the Southern States depend. Regarding therefore the publication and distribution of such Papers as the “Liberator,” as of dangerous tendency to the peace and safety of this portion of the Union, I have felt it to be my duty to call your attention to the fact that such a publication is issued weekly from No. 10 Merchants Hall in the City of Boston, by two persons who call themselves William Lloyd Garrison and Isaac Knapp. That 40 weekly Nos. have already been issues, and that they are circulated here with manifest danger to the peace and good order of society. It will be for you to say whether there are any measures within your power for the suppression of this dangerous practice. Should any of your citizens under- [p. 280] take to introduce secretly into our community, any article calculated and intended to spread a contagious disease fatal to the health or the lives of our people, I presume it would be competent to the authorities both of South Carolina & Massachusetts, to provide for the prevention and punishment of the offence, and if it were possible that such articles could be publicly manufactured or prepared for exportation in the City of Boston, I presume no doubt could exist of the right or the duty of the constituted authorities of Massachusetts to interfere to prevent the perpetration of so gross an outrage. I can perceive no substantial difference between the introduction of a contagious disorder calculated to destroy the lives of our people, and the dissemination of incendiary publications, artfully framed and disseminated for the purpose of inciting our Slaves to insurrection. By our laws, both offences would be subjected to the severest punishment, and I should think that if our measures of precaution are found to be inadequate to suppress the evil, we would have a right to expect, that measures should be taken to prevent those from executing their purpose who in a sister State openly prepare, vend and publish articles manifestly intended to be so used. This is a matter however entirely for our consideration. I have performed my duty in simply giving you the information that such publications are issued in Boston with a view to their dissemination in the Southern States as is proved by the fact that they are secretly and gratuitously circulated and that they consist almost entirely of false statements, artfully contrived to delude the ignorant, and calculated to bring about violence and bloodshed. This state of things cannot be long suffered to continue without producing the most lamentable consequences, sowing jealousies and dissentions among the different portions of our Common Country, and driving us to the adoption of measures of self protection, which may interrupt the harmony and good understanding which has heretofore subsisted between the several States of this confederacy and which cannot fail to operate most fatally upon the happiness of that portion of our people for whose special benefit it is alleged that such publications are intended.
I have the honor to be very respectfully your obt Servt
Robt Y. Hayne
The Hon the Mayor of Boston
P.S. Since writing the above I perceive that a Bill of Indictment has been found in North Carolina against the individuals above mentioned.
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765-1848, Volume 2 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), 278-280.