"LEGISLATORS OF AMERICA, YOU ARE THE REAL UPHOLDERS OF SLAVERY… YOU IMMORTALIZE INJUSTICE": VERY RARE FIRST EDITION OF AMERICAN ABOLITIONIST ELIHU SMITH'S DISCOURSE… FOR PROMOTING THE MANUMISSION OF SLAVES, 1798, PUBLISHED THE SAME YEAR AS HIS EARLY DEATH AT 27, IN ORIGINAL WRAPPERS
SMITH, E[lihu].H[ubbard]. A Discourse, Delivered April 11, 1798, At the Request of and Before the New-York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and Protecting Such of Them as Have Been or May Be Liberated. New-York: T. & J. Swords, 1798. Slim octavo, original tan self-wrappers, string tied, uncut; pp. (1-5) 6-30 (2). $3500.
First edition of Smith's scathing attack on American slavery, declaring it a betrayal as "thousands of your fellow-beings, children of the same father and inheritors of the same destiny… writhe under the lash of cruelty," an exceptional 18th-century abolitionist work published barely ten years after ratification of the Constitution, exceedingly rare uncut in original wrappers.
Trained as a physician under Benjamin Rush, "Smith was an early abolitionist, a member and Recording Secretary of the New York Manumission Society and trustee of the city's African Free School" (Stevenson, Litchfield Native). "Passionately committed to the improvement of the fledgling nation through the acquisition and circulation of information," Smith's analysis of slavery in this very rare work, published the same year as his early death at 27, expresses his and the Society's commitment "to ideals of human perfectibility, which they combined with the practical labor of achieving change" (Kelly on Kaplan, Men of Letters). Here he takes aim at leaders and nations where the "spirit of despotism… multiplied and extended the evil" of slavery, and "wrought it into a system." Noting the influence of renowned abolitionists John Woolman and Anthony Benezet, he asserts that it is those in slave trade who particularly "opened a new field for… every baneful enterprise" when they became "the first to violate the noble principles by which they had been guided."
Smith especially speaks to American leaders and slaveholders who concede "slavery is unjust," but claim "it is entailed upon us by our fathers; it is interwoven with every part of our social organization." In reply, he declares that it is "strange reasoning" to endorse slavery simply because it exists. Arguing "the laws of our country authorized the possession in human flesh," he asks: "Shall the legislators of a great nation be denied the power… of acknowledging their errors, and laboring to correct them?… Encumbered as we are with this mighty evil," Smith proclaims: "You, yes you, the Legislators of America, you are the real upholders of slavery… you foster and protect it… you immortalize injustice… while thousands of your fellow-beings, children of the same father, and inheritors of the same destiny… writhe under the lash of cruelty." Evans 34554. Sabin 82502. Dumond, 103. ESTC W37980. Not in Blockson.
Text quite fresh with only faintest foxing to original wrappers. An excellent about-fine uncut copy in original wrappers.