The Middle Passage Essay - 1219 Words | Bartleby

With the movement westward, longer distances were covered and demand increased for more amenities. As rail travel extended into the Midwest, a passenger from the East might sit on a hard, wooden seat for 48 hours to reach Chicago. Some effort was made to make the coaches less uncomfortable by upholstering the seats, but low ceilings, lack of heating and ventilation, and rudimentary suspension systems still made for an awful ride. As ridership increased and competition between railroads flourished, passengers reaped the rewards of improved car design.

A major cause for British abolition was the exposure of the horrific Middle Passage journey.

That those who have not yet read Mr. Thornton’s book may not be even temporarily liable to the misunderstanding of his meaning, and of the whole spirit of his writings, which might be the effect of reading only the passage cited in the text, I will at once bring forward the other side of his opinion. Nothing, he says, can be further from his purpose “than to exculpate the existing social system, or to suggest an excuse for continued acquiescence in its enormities. . . . . . To affirm that those evils of the existing social polity which constitute the peculiar grievance of the poor are not the result of human injustice, is perfectly consistent with the most vehement denunciation both of the evils themselves and of the heartless indifference that would perpetuate them. It is perfectly consistent, even with the admission that the rich are bound to do what they can to alleviate those evils—with this proviso, however, that they are so bound, not by their duty to others, but by their duty to themselves. The obligation is imposed upon them not by injunctions of justice, but by the force of sympathy and the exhortations of humanity and charity. The sacrifices which it may thus become incumbent on the rich to make, the poor are not in consequence entitled to demand. If the sacrifices are withheld, the rich stand convicted indeed of brute selfishness, but they do not thereby lay themselves open to the additional charge of injustice. This distinction is not drawn for the sake of pedantic precision; it is one of immense practical importance. To all right reasoning, it is essential that things should be called by their right names; and that nothing, however bad, should receive a worse name than it deserves. The more glaring a sin, the less reason is there for exaggerating it; and, in the case before us, the use of an erroneous epithet has been a fruitful source of further error. Unless the present constitution of society had been arbitrarily assumed to be unjust, it would never have been proposed to correct its injustice by resorting to means which would otherwise have been at once perceived to be themselves utterly unjustifiable. On no other account could it ever have been supposed that liberty demanded for its own vindication the violation of liberty, and that the freedom of competition ought to be fettered or abolished. For freedom of competition means no more than that every one should be at liberty to do his best for himself, leaving all others equally at liberty to do their best for themselves. Of all the natural rights of man, there is not one more incontestable than this, nor with which interference would be more manifestly unrighteous. Yet this it is proposed to set aside as incompatible with the rights of labour, as if those could possibly be rights which cannot be maintained except by unrighteous means. (Pp. 94-5.)

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It was the horror of the Middle Passage, and its depicted accounts, which toppled the first domino of European abolition to the slave trade.

the question which required to be argued on the subject of endowments, was the right of the State to interfere with them: not merely the right to bring them back to their original purpose when by the corruption or negligence of the managers it had been departed from, but the right to change altogether the application designed by the founder. This question now scarcely needs further argument. Discussion, and the progress of political thought, have done their work. We have well-nigh seen the last of the superstition which allowed the man who owned a piece of land or a sum of money five hundred years ago, to make a binding disposition determining what should be done with it as long as time or the British nation should last; which, after limiting an owner’s power to tie up his property in favour of individuals to the term of a single generation, thinks it spoliation to disobey his orders after the lapse of centuries, when their apparent purpose is connected with religion or charity. These prejudices had nearly ceased to be formidable, even before they received their death-blow from the triumphant passage through the House of Commons of the proposal for disendowing the Irish Protestant Church. Whoever voted, or would vote, for that great measure of justice and common sense, indicates his opinion that the jurisdiction of the State over Endowments extends, if need be, to an entire alteration of their purposes; and even those whose political or ecclesiastical partisanship ranges them on the other side, find it consistent with their principles to propose alternative plans, as subversive as disendowment itself of the legal rights vested by the endowment in collective or fictitious public persons. There is, as on all other great questions, a minority behind the age; which is as natural as that there should be minorities in advance of it. But with the bulk of the nation the indefeasibility of endowments is a chimera of the past; so much so, that those who fought hardest against this superstition when it was alive, are now likely to find themselves under the obligation, not of re-arguing a gained cause, but rather of checking the reaction to a contrary extreme, which so generally succeeds the defeat of an old error, when the conflict has been long.

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The concluding sentence is ambiguous, and if the writer means that landowners have no claim to indemnity for the market value of their land, but only for the capital which has been laid out on it, we cannot admit that he awards full justice to them. It is true the original claim to hold land as private property, was only valid in so far as it was grounded on past, or conceded with a view to future, expenditure of labour and capital. But when the law has given more than this—has allowed the original powers of the soil to be permanently appropriated, and to pass by purchase and sale to those who have paid full value for it in things produced by labour—this property is no more a fit subject of confiscation than any other. Society has no right to seize upon one particular kind of property, and on the ground of a moral defect in the first title, a thousand years ago, turn out the possessors with no compensation except for actual expenses. For the sake of great public reforms, sacrifices may have to be imposed on the possessors of property, but not on one class or description of property peculiarly, no more than on one individual; and the most proper time for demanding such sacrifices is on the occasion of succession by death, that being the mode which least interferes with the habits and expectations which have grown up under the sanction of law.