Richard Allen (1760-1831) was a minister, educator, writer, and one of the most distinguished African-American leaders of his day. Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in 1794, with the intent of providing African-Americans, both those free and those enslaved, with a spot to worship without the threat of racial discrimination. Throughout his life, Allen worked hard to advance the state of people of his race in society; this activism encompassed educational and political efforts.As you read, take notes on the rhetorical strategies Allen uses to advance his perspective on the state of black people in 18th-century American society.
The judicious part of mankind will think it unreasonable that a superior good conduct is looked for from our race, by those who stigmatize us as men, whose baseness is incurable, and may therefore be held in a state of servitude, that a merciful man would not doom a beast to; yet you try what you can to prevent our rising from a state of barbarism you represent us to be in, but we can tell you from a degree of experience that a black man, although reduced to the most abject state human nature is capable of, short of real madness, can think, reflect, and feel injuries, although it may not be with the same degree of keen resentment and revenge that you who have been and are our great oppressors would manifest if reduced to the pitiable condition of a slave.Q1
We believe if you would try the experiment of taking a few black children, and cultivate their minds with the same care, and let them have the same prospect in view as to living in the world, as you would wish for your own children, you would find upon the trial, they were not inferior in mental endowments.
I do not wish to make you angry, but excite attention to consider how hateful slavery is in the sight of that God who hath destroyed kings and princes for their oppression of the poor slaves. Pharaoh and his princes with the posterity of king Saul, were destroyed by the protector and avenger of slaves. Would you not suppose the Israelites to be utterly unfit for freedom, and that it was impossible for them, to obtain to any degree of excellence? Their history shows how slavery had debased their spirits. Men must be willfully blind, and extremely partial, that cannot see the contrary effects of liberty and slavery upon the mind of man; I truly confess the vile habits often acquired in a state of servitude, are not easily thrown off; the example of the Israelites shows, who with all that Moses could do to reclaim them from it, still continued in their habits more or less; and why will you look for better from us, why will you look for grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? It is in our posterity enjoying the same privileges with your own, that you ought to look for better things.Q2
When you are pleaded with, do not you reply as Pharaoh did, "Wherefore do ye Moses and Aaron let the people from their work, behold the people of the land now are many, and you make them rest from their burthens." We wish you to consider that God himself was the first pleader of the cause of slaves.
That God who knows the hearts of all men, and the propensity of a slave to hate his oppressor, hath strictly forbidden it to his chosen people, "Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land." Deut. 23. 7. The meek and humble Jesus, the great pattern of humanity, and every other virtue that can adorn and dignify men, hath commanded to love our enemies, to do good to them that hate and despitefully use us. I feel the obligations, I wish to impress them on the minds of our colored brethren, and that we may all forgive you, as we wish to be forgiven, we think it a great mercy to have all anger and bitterness removed from our minds; I appeal to your own feelings, if it is not very disquieting to feel yourselves under dominion of wrathful disposition.Q3
If you love your children, if you love your country, if you love the God of love, clear your hands from slaves, burthen not your children or your country with them, my heart has been sorry for the blood shed of the oppressors, as well as the oppressed, both appear guilty of each others blood, in the sight of him who hath said, he that sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.
Will you, because you have reduced us to the unhappy condition our color is in, plead our incapacity for freedom, and our contented condition under oppression, as a sufficient cause for keeping us under the grievous yoke. I have shown the cause, — I will also show why they appear contented as they can in your sight, but the dreadful insurrections they have made when opportunity has offered, is enough to convince a reasonable man, that great uneasiness and not contentment, is the inhabitant of their hearts. God himself hath pleaded their cause, he hath from time to time raised up instruments for that purpose, sometimes mean and contemptible in your sight, at other times he hath used such as it hath pleased him, with whom you have not thought it beneath your dignity to contend. Many have need convinced of their error, condemned their former conduct, and become zealous advocates for the cause of those, whom you will not suffer to plead for themselves.
- Judicious (adjective): having, showing, or done with good judgment or sense x
- Stigmatize (verb): to describe or regard as worthy of disgrace or great disapproval x
- lowness x
- Barbarism (noun): absence of culture and civilization x
- Manifest (verb): to show (something) clearly x
- Endowment (noun): a person’s natural ability or talent x
- Posterity (noun): all future generations x
- Debase (verb): to reduce in quality or value; to degrade x
- Moses is a prophet in Abrahamic religions, which includes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to the Hebrew Bible, he was a former Egyptian prince who became a religious leader later in life. x
- A thistle is an herbaceous plant of the daisy family, which typically has a prickly stem. x
- burdens x
- Propensity (noun): an inclination or natural tendency to behave a certain way x
- Abhor (verb): to hate x
- brothers x
- Dominion (noun): control of a region; power to rule x
- Wrath (noun): extreme anger x
- The yoke is a tool used to control livestock, and is often used to refer to those who are oppressed or controlled. x
- Insurrection (noun): an act of revolt against civil authority x
- Contemptible (adjective): not worthy of respect of approval x
- Contend (verb): to argue strongly x
- Zealous (adjective): having or showing great enthusiasm or energy in pursuit of a cause or objective x