Mr. Perry to Mr. Seward
Sir: I have had occasion in one of my despatches to speak of the support given to the cause of freedom, as opposed to slavery, by the official Arab journals of Tunis. In another despatch I spoke of a formal interview between an American slaveholder and one of the ministers of the Bey of Tunis, in which the former endeavored to impress upon the latter his ideas in regard to the advantages of slavery over free institutions. The Moslem minister of Barbary appreciated the zeal and eloquence of this propagandist of slavery, but having a practical knowledge of this institution, failed to be convinced by the arguments offered in its support.
Though piracy and slavery existed in this regency for centuries, they have disappeared with the advancing light of civilization. The former was abolished in 1816, when three thousand Christian captives (slaves) were released in one day; the latter was abolished in 1845, and on the 23d of January, 1846, Ahmed Bey, then upon the throne, addressed a letter to the resident consuls, in which he employed language to this effect: “We are all fellow-creatures of God, and as such have no right to enslave each other. I have long felt that human slavery is cruel, and have exerted myself for its eradication, and have given orders to my governors and deputies in all my provinces that no human being be henceforth recognized as a slave.”
That the actual Bey entertains similar sentiments I have ample proof. During our interview with him, after some expressions on my part in favor of constitutional liberty, he replied: “I desire to extend the liberties of my subjects as fast as they are able to receive them;” and he closed his remarks by saying, as if for a delicate home thrust on me: “I see not how any just discrimination can be made in regard to these liberties on the ground of color or race; the privileges enjoyed should rather depend upon the intelligence and character of the subjects.”
I now have the honor to lay before the department a more full, elaborate and authoritative statement of Tunisian sentiment in regard to the great question that agitates our country. It is a letter, already printed and circulated in the Arabic language, from one of the most respected and worthy men in this regency. It explains slavery from a Moslem point of view, quoting from the Koran and its acknowledged expounders, and showing from what motives the proclamation for the abolition of slavery was finally issued. In writing this letter, General Heussein, who has travelled extensively in Europe and is an accurate observer, had distinctly before him here the terrible evils consequent upon centuries of slavery. He saw here labor degraded by having been for so long a time regarded as the special and appropriate business of slaves; the public conscience deadened by familiarity with injustice and wrong; the principles of liberty uprooted, and supplanted by those of slavery, and the country impoverished to a fearful extent. With such a sad picture before him, he speaks his honest convictions as a Mussulman and as a man, and in the name of humanity exhorts Americans not to harbor an institution which produces such results.
This letter comes with the highest sanctions of the country, and the appeal which is made at the conclusion, to Americans, is but the utterance of a common [Page 340] sentiment in this region. General Heussein’s negro Bona, who was pounced upon at Paris by a chivalrous southerner, still serves as his confidential companion; and should the general visit America, as he hopes to do at the conclusion of our pro-slavery rebellion, the question is asked whether Bona would be protected in his rights as a gentleman in the grand opera saloons of America, as he was at Paris.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
- The izhar is the state into which a husband falls by the hasty utterance of a word, which, according to the Moslem law, makes it a sin for him longer to live with his wife. Thus, for instance, if he says to his wife in a fit of passion, “I shall not touch you any more; if I do may it be as I touch my mother or my sister,” he must either divorce his wife, or, to live with her, must atone for that inconsiderate expression. By comparing his wife to his mother or his sister he loses his marital rights.↩