The Negro-His Status
January 3, 1868
The Dispatch announces the highly racist popular opinion of the black population. The Dispatch goes as far as to compare black citizens with beasts unrelated to humans. It is still possible that black men are still men, even so they are still quite inferior to white men.
The Negro-His Status, &c. By "Ariel." Cincinnati: 1867. This publication has attracted more notice than it deserves, by reason of the political interest which just now belongs to its subject. It is an appeal to prejudice which may achieve a temporary notoriety, but can produce no lasting effect upon readers of ordinary understanding and reflection. The flippant contempt with which the author speaks of the opinions of other men whom he derides as " the learned," and his parade of his own discoveries in biblical research, " concurrent " (meaning perhaps "contemporaneous ") history, and the development of mummies, remind one of the quacksalver and his trumpeter at a fair or market denouncing all other doctors, and extolling the miraculous and infallible virtues of his own pills and powders. This impression is confirmed by his language and style; for it is impossible to believe that one who betrays such ignorance of English grammar, and of the meaning of English words, can possess the acquaintance he seems to boast of with ancient tongues-still less that he can be capable of correcting the mistakes of his predecessors in such studies. Moreover, there are passages which might tempt us to imagine the whole performance only a burlesque ; but, taking it altogether, he appears to assert his dogmas as if he really believed them. To review such a production would be a waste of time. The theme, which is inflicted on the reader in many repetitions and involutions, is simply this: That the negro is not a descendant of Ham, nor of Noah, nor of Adam and Eve; that he was a beast, and as such went into and came out of the ark; that he was the beast called the serpent, by which Eve was tempted in Paradise; and that where it is said that the sons of God took to themselves wives among the daughters of men, to the displeasure of the Almighty, the true meaning is that the descendants of Adam took wives from among the daughters of this beast. We leave these matters to be discussed by those who may be of opinion that it is worth while, and who have the learning necessary for the task. The question, to our mind, is not whether the genealogy of the negro can be traced to this or that ancestor, or to any ancestor at all; but it is whether, as he now exists upon the earth, he is a man, belonging to the human race or races-or whether he is, as asserted by " Ariel," one of the brute creation and a beast. This is obviously a question of physiology in its widest sense. Its solution depends upon a comparison of the nature and capacity of the negro, of his physical structure and powers, and of his intellectual and moral faculties on the one hand with those of the other races of men, and on the other with those of the brute creation. It has been made the subject of patient and thoughtful investigation by men of powerful and cultivated minds, in all ages; and the inquiry has been pursued, in recent times, with all the light to be derived from history, sacred and profane, and from scientific discovery and illustration. The results are the same that would be reached in nine cases out of ten by unlearned men of sound and sober judgment from their own observation and experience ; because the main facts are as patent to all who see and think as the mountains and the valleys, the woods and the waters which diversify the earth ; and the labors of the learned have only brought these great facts into significant relation with each other, and confirmed their teachings by proofs of a more recondite character. These results are in brief: 1. That the negro is a man-in the sense in which that word is used by every one except " Ariel "-that is to say, one of the human race or races, distinguished from all other animals, the gorilla included, both by physical conformation, by intellectual and moral qualities, by capacities for development and for the transmission and increase of knowledge, and by habits and modes of life, more or less civilized, which are unknown to and unattainable by any order, class, genus, or species of the lower animals. The limits of an article like this forbid any extended illustration. We must be content with referring to one single gift of God to man, which of itself is decisive of the whole matter-the gift of speech. Upon this subject a very eminent writer* says: "Several animals may be taught to pronounce words, and even to repeat sentences; which proves clearly that the want of speech is not owing to any defect in their organs; but to make them conceive the ideas which these words express is beyond the power of art: they articulate and repeat like an echo or a machine. " Language implies a train of thinking ; and for this reason brute animals are incapable of speech ; for, though their external senses are not inferior to our own, and though we should allow some of them to possess a faint dawning of comparison, reflection, and judgment, it is certain that they are unable to form that association of ideas in which alone the essence of thought consists. "The possession of speech therefore corresponds to the more numerous, diversified, and exalted intellectual and moral endowments of man, and is a necessary aid to their exercise and full development. The ruder faculties and simple feelings of animals do not require such assistance. The natural language of inarticulate sounds, gestures, and actions, suffices for their purposes. The wonderful discovery of alphabetical writing, and the invention of printing, complete the benefits derived from the noble prerogative of speech. "With the operations of animals, who always perform the same work in the very same manner, the execution of any individual being neither better nor worse than that of any other: in whom, the individual, at the end of some months, is what he will remain through life, and the species, after a thousand years, just what it was the first year; contrast the results of human industry and invention, and the fruits of that perfectibility which characterizes both the species and the individual. ****** " In the point of view Which I have just considered, man stands alone : his faculties, and what lie has effected by them, place him at a wide interval from all animals-at an interval which no animal hitherto known to us can fill up. The manlike monkey, the almost reasonable elephant, the docile dog, the sagacious beaver, the industrious bee, cannot be compared to him. In none of these instances is there any progress, either in the individuals or the species." [When "Ariel" shall produce a gorilla that can compose an editorial and set it in type, he will have proved, not, indeed, that the negro is a beast, but that the gorilla is a man.] 2. But while it is admitted that the negro is a man, distinguished, as we have said, from all the brute creation, it is no less true that he has always exhibited a marked inferiority to the white races of mankind and that his advances in civilization beyond its very first stages have been induced-generally, indeed, com-pelled-by the influence and authority of the white man. The author, already quoted,in discussing this moral aud intellectual inferiority, says: " In all the points which have just been considered the white races present a complete contrast to the dark colored inhabitants of the globe. "While the latter cover more than half of the earth's surface, plunged into a state of barbarism in which the higher attributes of human nature seldom make their appearance, strangers to all the conveniences and pleasures of advanced social life, and deeming themselves happy in escaping the immediate perils of famine; the former, at least in this quarter of the world (Europe), either never have been in so low a condition, or, by means of their higher advancements, have so quickly raised themselves from it, that we have no record of their existence as mere hunting or fishing tribes. In the oldest documents and traditions, which deserve amy confidence, these nobler people are seen at least in the pastoral state and. in the exercise of agriculture : the practice of which is so ancient, that the remotest and the darkest accounts have not preserved the name of the discoverer, or the date of its introduction. No European people, therefore, has been in a condition comparable to that of the present dark-colored races, within the reach of any history or tradition. * * * * " I do not mean to assert that all individuals and all tribes of dark colored men are inferior in moral and intellectual endowments to all those of the white division. The same gradations and modifications of structure and properties exist here as in other parts. Certainly we can produce examples enough in Europe of beings not superior to Hottentots and New Hollanders; and individuals of considerable talents and knowledge are met with in savage tribes. There may not be much difference between the lowest European community and the highest in somp dark variety of man. Examples of individuals and of small numbers will therefore prove little in this matter. 'I am aware also that all the white races have not made those signal advances in knowledge and civilization of which I have spoken as indicating their superior endowments. Their organization makes them capable of such distinctions, if circumstances are favorable, or rather if no obstacles exist. In the dark races, on the contrary, inferior organization renders it vain to present opportunities or to remove difficulties." We believe that the foregoing views present the truth, in regard to the status of the negro in the scale of humanity; his capacities, and his defects. We find them to correspond with all that we have observed and all that we know of the race so lately set free in these States. We think that they fully sustain and justify us in our opposition to the measures which would invest him with political power, or entrust him with the duties of govern-ment-at least, until there shall be such proof of his fitness for such employment as the world has not yet seen. But we think that the southern people and the southern press owe it to themselves and to the world-to their self-re-spect ' and to their reputation for intelligence and humanity-to repudiate and disown such weak and false pretences as those which have been put forth by " Ariel." Such allies impair, instead of adding to, our strength- "
About this article
“The Negro-His Status,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed March 26, 2019, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/755.