Quotations about   slavery

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SPARTACUS: When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) American screenwriter and novelist [James Dalton Trumbo]
Spartacus (1960) [novel by Howard Fast]
Added on 4-Sep-18 | Last updated 4-Sep-18
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Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness — justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967)
Added on 17-Nov-17 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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MARRIAGE, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) American writer and journalist
The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
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Added on 1-Nov-17 | Last updated 1-Nov-17
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Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.

Richard Lovelace (1617-1657) English poet
“To Althea, from Prison,” l. 25 (1649)
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Added on 19-Jun-17 | Last updated 19-Jun-17
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I believe it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“What I Believe,” sec. 6, Forum and Century (Sep 1930)
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Added on 22-May-17 | Last updated 22-May-17
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Look at the tyranny of party — at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty — a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes — and which turns voters into chattels, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible texts and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern Master.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
“The Character of Man” (23 Jan 1906), in The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (2010)
Added on 17-Apr-17 | Last updated 17-Apr-17
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This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our Republican example of its just influence in the world — enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites — causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty — criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech, Peoria, Illinois (16 Oct 1854)
Added on 29-Mar-17 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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Who but shall learn that freedom is the prize
Man still is bound to rescue or maintain;
That nature’s God commands the slave to rise,
And on the oppressor’s head to break the chain.
Roll, years of promise, rapidly roll round,
Till not a slave shall on this earth be found.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Poem, in his diary (30 Oct 1826)
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Sonnet written on the birthday of his father, John Adams, six months after his death.
Added on 7-Nov-16 | Last updated 8-Dec-16
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The conflict between the principle of liberty and the fact of slavery is coming gradually to an issue. Slavery has now the power, and falls into convulsions at the approach of freedom. That the fall of slavery is predetermined in the counsels of Omnipotence I cannot doubt; it is a part of the great moral improvement in the condition of man, attested by all the records of history. But the conflict will be terrible, and the progress of improvement perhaps retrograde before its final progress to consummation.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Journal (11 Dec 1838)
Added on 31-Oct-16 | Last updated 31-Oct-16
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We know the redemption must come. The time and the manner of its coming we know not: It may come in peace, or it may come in blood; but whether in peace or in blood, LET IT COME.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Speech to “The colored people of Pittsburge, Pennsylvania” (1843)

Representative Dellet of Alabama quoted the speech before the House of Representatives, then asked Adams, "though it cost the blood of thousands of white men?" Adams responded, "Though it cost the blood of millions of white men, let it come. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall."
Added on 10-Oct-16 | Last updated 10-Oct-16
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It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin?

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Journal (1820)
Added on 26-Sep-16 | Last updated 26-Sep-16
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I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Douglass - prayed with my legs - wist_info quote

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
(Attributed)

Mentioned frequently as being part of his earlier speeches, but unsourced. Also found as "failed to see the slightest scintillation of an answer until I prayed with my legs."
Added on 7-Mar-16 | Last updated 7-Mar-16
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I expose slavery in this country, because to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of the monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
Speech, Moorfields, England (22 May 1846)
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Added on 18-Aug-15 | Last updated 18-Aug-15
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Slavery was contrary to all the moral principles advocated by Plato and Aristotle, yet neither of them saw this because to renounce slavery would have meant the collapse of the life they were living.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
The Kingdom of God Is Within You, ch. 6 (1893) [tr. Maude (1936)]
Added on 18-Jun-15 | Last updated 18-Jun-15
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If the human animal has any value at all, he is too valuable to be property. If he has an inner dignity, he is much too proud to own other men. I don’t give a damn how scrubbed and perfumed he may be, a slave owner is subhuman.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough For Love [Lazarus Long] (1973)
Added on 12-May-15 | Last updated 12-May-15
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This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free.

George Carlin (1937-2008) American comedian
What Am I Doing in New Jersey? (1988)
Added on 7-Jan-15 | Last updated 7-Jan-15
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The slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown. He must dominate in his turn.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Rebel (1951)
Added on 8-Dec-14 | Last updated 8-Dec-14
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Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a “sacred right of self-government.” These principles cannot stand together. They are as opposite as God and Mammon; and whoever holds to the one must despise the other.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech, Peoria (16 Oct 1854)
Added on 5-Nov-14 | Last updated 5-Nov-14
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He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in an other hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of INFIDEL powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of an other.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Declaration of Independence [draft] (1776)

This anti-slavery clause was removed from the Declaration at the behest of the representatives of South Carolina as a requirement for their vote.
Added on 26-Aug-14 | Last updated 26-Aug-14
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I am aware that many object to the severity of my language, but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write in moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard.

William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) American abolitionist, journalist, suffragist, social reformer
The Liberator, #1 (1 Jan 1831)

On slavery.
Added on 10-Jul-14 | Last updated 10-Jul-14
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Those who enslave other peoples enslave themselves.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) English philosopher, naturalist
Letter to Sir Robert Giffin (17 May 1901)
Added on 17-Apr-14 | Last updated 17-Apr-14
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Man was born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) French philosopher and writer
The Social Contract, 1.1 (1762) [tr. Cole (1950)]
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Would you deliver people into bondage? Persuade them to despise one another, destroy their mutual respect.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) French politician, economist, philospher, anarchist
Of Justice in the Revolution and the Church [De la justice dans la révolution et dans l’Eglise] (1858)
Added on 3-Apr-14 | Last updated 3-Apr-14
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A slave is one who waits for someone else to free him.

Ezra Pound (1885-1972) American expatriate poet, critic, intellectual
“Gists,” Impact: Essays on Ignorance and the Decline of American Civilization, ed. Noel Stock (1960)
Added on 27-Mar-14 | Last updated 27-Mar-14
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We hear often of the distress of the negro servants, on the loss of a kind master; and with good reason, for no creature on God’s earth is left more utterly unprotected and desolate than the slave in these circumstances. The child who has lost a father has still the protection of friends, and of the law; he is something, and can do something, — has acknowledged rights and position; the slave has none. The law regards him, in every respect, as devoid of rights as a bale of merchandise. The only possible acknowledgment of any of the longings and wants of a human and immortal creature, which are given to him, comes to him through the sovereign and irresponsible will of his master; and when that master is stricken down, nothing remains.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American author
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ch. 29 “The Unprotected” (1862)
Added on 12-Mar-14 | Last updated 12-Mar-14
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“It don’t look well, now, for a feller to be praisin’ himself; but I say it jest because it’s the truth. I believe I’m reckoned to bring in about the finest droves of niggers that is brought in, — at least, I’ve been told so; if I have once, I reckon I have a hundred times, — all in good case, — fat and likely, and I lose as few as any man in the business. And I lays it all to my management, sir; and humanity, sir, I may say, is the great pillar of my management.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American author
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ch. 1 “In Which the Reader Is Introduced to a Man of Humanity” (1862)
Added on 5-Mar-14 | Last updated 5-Mar-14
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George’s first voyage was on a slaver, and he wished himself dead many a time before it was over, — and ever after would talk like a man beside himself, if the subject was named. He declared that the gold made in it was distilled from human blood, from mothers’ tears, from the agonies and dying groans of gasping, suffocating men and women, and that it would sear and blister the soul of him that touched it; in short, he talked as whole-souled, unpractical fellows are apt to talk about what respectable people sometimes do. Nobody had ever instructed him that a slaveship, with a procession of expectant sharks in its wake, is a missionary institution, by which closely. packed heathens are brought over to enjoy the light of the Gospel.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American author
The Minister’s Wooing, ch. 1 “Pre-Railroad Times” (1859)
Added on 19-Feb-14 | Last updated 19-Feb-14
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I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother I was oppressed and broken-hearted, with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity — because as a lover of my country I trembled at the coming day of wrath. It is no merit in the sorrowful that they weep, or to the oppressed and smothering that they gasp and struggle, not to me, that I must speak for the oppressed — who cannot speak for themselves.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American author
Letter to Lord Denman (20 Jan 1853)

On Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Added on 5-Feb-14 | Last updated 5-Feb-14
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Whipping and abuse are like laudanum; you have to double the dose as the sensibilities decline.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American author
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ch. 20 “Topsy” (1852)
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Added on 25-Mar-13 | Last updated 17-Dec-13
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What is blasphemy? I will give you a definition; I will give you my thought upon this subject. What is real blasphemy?
To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.
To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.
To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.
To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.
To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.
To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.
To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.
To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 15-Feb-12 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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Facts too shocking to be contemplated occasionally force their way to the public ear, and the comment that one often hears made on them is more shocking than the thing itself. It is said, “Very likely such cases may now and then occur, but they are no sample of general practice.” If the laws of New England were so arranged that a master could now and then torture an apprentice to death, would it be received with equal composure? Would it be said, “These cases are rare, and no samples of general practice”? This injustice is an inherent one in the slave system, — it cannot exist without it.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American author
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Conclusion (1852)
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Added on 12-Jan-11 | Last updated 17-Dec-13
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Is man ever a creature to be trusted with wholly irresponsible power? And does not the slave system, by denying the slave all legal right of testimony, make every individual owner an irresponsible despot? Can anybody fall to make the inference what the practical result will be? If there is, as we admit, a public sentiment among you, men of honor, justice and humanity, is there not also another kind of public sentiment among the ruffian, the brutal and debased? And cannot the ruffian, the brutal, the debased, by slave law, own just as many slaves as the best and purest? Are the honorable, the just, the high-minded and compassionate, the majority anywhere in this world?

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American author
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Conclusion (1852)
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Added on 5-Jan-11 | Last updated 17-Dec-13
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If a man really believes that God once upheld slavery; that he commanded soldiers to kill women and babes; that he believed in polygamy; that he persecuted for opinion’s sake; that he will punish forever, and that he hates an unbeliever, the effect in my judgment will be bad. It always has been bad. This belief built the dungeons of the Inquisition. This belief made the Puritan murder the Quaker.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Interview, The Sunday Union, New Haven, Conn. (10 Apr 1881)
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Added on 18-Sep-08 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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A slave has but one master; an ambitious man has as many masters as there are people who may be useful in bettering his position.

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
The Characters [Les Caractères] (1688)
Added on 25-Jul-08 | Last updated 16-Aug-17
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Man is created free, and is free,
Though he be born in chains.

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) German poet, playwright, critic [Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller]
“The Word of the Faithful [Die Worte des Glaubens],” st. 2 (1797)
Added on 29-May-08 | Last updated 10-Apr-14
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This is a world of compensation; and he who would be no slave must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Letter to Henry L. Pierce, et al. (6 Apr 1859)
Added on 24-Sep-07 | Last updated 20-Mar-14
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Debt is the slavery of the free.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 15-Feb-17
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Many politicians are in the habit of laying down as self-evident the proposition that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. This maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“John Milton,” Edinburgh Review (Aug 1825)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Mar-14
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Few men desire liberty; most men wish only for a just master.

[Namque pauci libertatem, pars magna iustos dominos volunt.]

Sallust (c. 86-35 BC) Roman historian and politician [Gaius Sallustius Crispus]
Histories, 4.69.18

    Alt. trans.:
  • "Few men desire freedom, the greater part desire just masters."
  • "Only a few prefer liberty, the majority seek nothing more than fair masters."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 10-Jan-14
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