The first two sections of the “Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act” discuss the need to extend the divine blessing of freedom to others regardless of the physical differences among the people in order to “add one more step to universal civilization”.
They also point to the idea that the experience of America from the hands of the British monarchy should serve as a lesson to guide the nation in extending the blessings received from God to all people. The Negro and Mulatto slaves have been given the deepest afflictions, the first two sections indicate, and that they do not necessarily have a duty “to render service to society, which they otherwise might.”In “African Slavery in America,” Thomas Paine argues that slavery is essentially against the principles of Justice and Humanity as well as the principles of religion. He goes on to say that Americans have been enslaved under the British rulers and, therefore, they know how it feels to be enslaved.
That being the case, Americans should not replicate the atrocity that they have felt unto those whom they see as mere subjects or properties of men. The first section of the Act clearly echoes the sentiments of Paine on the issue of slavery, especially on the part where the American experience under the British monarchy is seen as, in the words of Paine, wicked and inhuman. Paine appears to hint at history as a firm lesson for the rest of America, serving as a reminder that Americans should not do unto others what they do not want others to do unto them—such is the very heart of the Christian Gospel.The third section of the Act formally enacts the abolition of slavery; those born after and those who are still bonded in slavery—including the children who inherited their servitude form their mothers—during its enactment shall no longer be placed under a life of servitude.
However, the third section does not come with certain conditions in the preceding sections of the Act which reaffirm the position of Paine that, while the need for the abolition of slavery is significant, the road that leads toward its realization does not come for free.While the third section of the Act formally enacts the abolition of slavery, the fourth section, however, lays down the specific conditions and details of the Act. More specifically, Negro and Mulatto children can only attain their freedom from servitude after they have reached the age of twenty-eight years. Slaves bound by indenture are also exempted from the provisions of the Act although the same punishments and correctional actions can be enforced on their masters or mistresses if they treat the slaves cruelly.
Children abandoned by their masters and mistresses shall be placed under indenture as an apprentice to the overseers until they reach twenty-eight years of age. Apparently, Paine somehow shows almost the same sentiment in his arguments during the Constitutional Convention debates. For instance, Paine argues that letting the old and infirm slaves free is unjust and cruel. These slaves should, instead, be kept although keeping them requires that they be treated humanely.
As for the rest of the slaves who are neither infirm nor old, Paine suggests that the legislature should provide the guiding principles for the masters. Paine offers several suggestions such as giving these slaves lands to rent or allowing these slaves to continue with their labor although they ought to be given allowances for doing so. The reason, Paine suggests, is that those actions enable the so-called slaves to have property of their own and to work at their own disposal which, in the end, will push them to become industrious individuals.The fifth section of the Act specifies the process that the slave-owners should follow in submitting their personal information together with the personal information of the slaves at the time to the clerks so that the government of Philadelphia can identify the slaves who will have their rightful claim to freedom at the age of thirty-one years.
The sixth section provides the liabilities of the slave-owners to the overseers of the poor if they neglect the slaves. Interestingly, the seventh and eight sections of the Act provide the grounds for the treatment of slaves in the face of criminal sanctions. The seventh section gives slaves equal measures of punishment to those of the freemen who also commit crimes and offences. However, the section also states that no slave shall be allowed to bear witness against a freeman.
Section eight requires slave-owners to declare the value of their slaves who are sentenced to death while section nine provides that the rewards and penalties to those who recover runaway slaves and conceal slaves, respectively, shall be the same amount as to the value of such slaves.Paine also asserts that slaves should be given the chance to raise their own families and stay with them through their lives which, in essence, enables them to practice the same civil protection with the freeman. The civic duties and responsibilities of slaves should also be in the same measure as those of the freeman. However, Paine also recognizes the idea that it will be difficult to immediately enact his suggestions after the convention, which is why he accepts the fact that, although slaves have a right in justice, they should be free only sooner after the legal principles have been laid down and the conditions have been met.
The documents—the “Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act” and “African Slavery in America” by Thomas Paine—foreshadow the growing conflict over the issue of slavery at the time. For one, Paine generally argues for the abolition of slavery but somehow concedes to the idea that slavery can not be immediately put to an end. He points out that if the parents were “justly slaves”, they should be freed sooner in order to attend to the needs of their children. He does not specifically suggest that parents who were “justly” slaved should be freed immediately such as right after the enactment of “Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act”.
The fact that the Act is a “gradual abolition” act implies that it will take time before all the slaves in the different American States are finally released from their bondage.It can be said that the gradual abolition of slavery in America at that time stems from the facts that there were delegates who owned slaves and that there were countless other slave-owners who resisted the abolition of slavery. To a certain extent, Paine can only insist for the abolition of slavery as far as the interests of the slave-owners would permit. Yet he forcefully argued that slavery should be abolished the soonest time possible, citing arguments that reflect the religious point of view.
Paine’s use of religious principles in forwarding his argument against the slavery and of the American experience from the hands of the British monarchy certainly stand as strong refutations against the institution of slavery at the time. However, the strength of his arguments can only go as far as allowing certain conditions before his goal is finally met.One interesting part of the Act is that it specifies the age of slaves as to when they can finally avail of the freedom that is due to them. It also specifies that the slaves under indenture after the enactment of the Act shall remain under the ownership of their masters or mistresses until they have reached the required age or the indenture has lapsed.
These things suggest that slavery remained a part of America even after the Act was adopted and that the interests of the slave-owners prevailed despite the arguments put forward by Thomas Paine. The debates between Paine and those who favored slavery only revealed the prevalent conflict of interests, stretching up to the point when the Act was adopted where it still recognized the interests of the slave-owners. Nevertheless, slavery was finally abolished in later years and the slaves who were able to meet the requirements set forth by the Act were released from bondage.ReferencesPaine, T.
African Slavery in America. Retrieved February 11, 2009, from http://www.thomaspaine.org/Archives/afri.
htmlPennsylvania: An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery (1780). Retrieved February 11, 2009, from http://www.milestonedocuments.com/document_detail.php?id=127&more=fulltext