Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Seward

No. 265.]

Sir: A meeting was held in this city on the last Wednesday evening in January for the relief of the freedmen of the. United States. Mr. Laboulaye, the president of the French Emancipation Society, presided, and spoke. Speeches were also made by the Prince de Broglie, and Messrs. Frank and Cochin, of the Institute; by Mr. Grandpierre and Dhombres, Protestant clergymen, and by [Page 278] Mr. Chamerovzow, an agent of the British Abolition Society. I have the honor to send you a copy of the Revue des Cours Letteraries, containing a full account of their speeches.

Though, for obvious reasons, I had no agency in promoting this appeal to the charities of France, I esteem it my duty to direct your attention to the response, so honorable to both countries, which it awakened.

I am, sir, with great respect, your very obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.


The second meeting for the abolition of slavery in the United States and Cuba took place in Paris in January, 1866.

Mr. Laboulaye, the president. The first meeting in favor of the enfranchised slaves of North America was held here on the 3d of November. We invited, without distinction of religion or politics, all friends of America and of liberty. The hall filled at once; more were excluded than could be admitted. A second meeting was called for. We seized eagerly the opportunity to be useful to the blacks without offence to the whites. We have an army of speakers, who will talk to you as long as you will listen. As for the ladies’ committee, which collects subscriptions, I have not spoken to them; but I think myself safe in saying that you will earlier weary of giving than they of receiving. It is for you to sustain the honor of France.

I am rejoiced at this fresh meeting—at all meetings which appeal to the conscience of the public. They teach men moderation and mutual respect, as results can only be safely secured by modifications of opinions, the results of which are the triumphs of what is true and real. That is my first point.

You know that the subscriptions are taken up by the women of France, tired of hearing what the women of England and America were doing. They have determined to mix up in public affairs. These ladies, not yet used to great public occasions, leave to me to tell you what has become of their money.

The amount of subscription since May 1, 1865, has been 57,000 francs, from which three remittances of money and clothing have been made.

These remittances of clothing were admitted duty free in the United States, and the vessels carried them freight free. They were sent to New York, to the society established by General Sherman. To increase these contributions gentlemen may sacrifice some selfish luxury; ladies may reduce the amplification of their crinoline. This is my second point. I pass to the third. I read one letter from a masonic lodge. I have many others. All desire to co-operate with us. Solidarity is the phrase; and the influence of the day in discoveries, in physics, in morals, all the world vibrates to the same thought and feeling. The question of American freedom is not an American question; it is a question of the whole human race, and interests all civilization. Freedom cannot be exalted in one country without being exalted in all countries. This liberty, extended through America, is therefore of great interest to us.

Mr. Franck. We are assisting at the grandest spectacle which must fix the attention and rest in the memory of our generation. Four millions of slaves enfranchised by a single law, in a single day, at the end of a war of four years, sustained with indomitable energy, and for the perpetuity and indefinite extension of slavery: what event of our age is comparable to this? Four millions of rejected human beings at once restored to the paternal I home. Yes; these poor down-trodden negroes are human beings, formed in the image which we bear. They are such as we; they are our brothers.

The speaker then dwelt at some length on the means to be taken for the advancement of the negro race in the social relations by education, equal rights, and guarantees, &c.

Mr. Albert de Broglie. Passing by the generalities which have been enlarged upon, I fain would point to some difficulties or new facilities, some complications or some resulting aids, for bringing about the social condition which America undertakes, after a gigantic struggle, to present to Europe, to the world. The problem of transition from slavery to freedom, to civilization, is not new, nor has the Old World anything to reproach to the New World, perhaps. Ages ago slavery existed here, under aspects more revolting. The problem referred to has been more than once solved. Transition from servitude to liberty is not new. The only new thing is the collective character and the suddenness of the act of emancipation. In ancient time slavery never perished by simultaneous and sudden action. Henry Martin, with all his patient search amid the dust of antiquity, has nowhere discovered in history a supreme decree resembling that this day laid before this meeting. Full of novelty [Page 279] as it is, this spectacle of collective emancipation of the negroes in America is also full of grandeur. Even in the suddenness of the action there is a grandeur to which no generous spirit can be insensible.

There is a touching grandeur in looking upon a whole nation rising in its strength in one day, and at all risks, at the risk of great bloodshed, of great social convulsions, to break up such traditions, such prejudices, such interests, in order to yield public homage of respect and repentance to a moral principle, too long despised—to an imprescriptible right too long trampled under foot. There is in this a greatness to which no human heart can be insensible.

But if the spectacle is grand, the danger is great also, great for the masters, great for the slaves, great for society in general. The speaker then recurs to ancient slavery, its characteristics and modifications in old times and different countries, and, in fine, concludes that, independently of the moral causes referred to, abolition in the United States had become an imperious necessity growing out of the social condition of the country. Do you desire a striking proof of this necessity? It is worthy of notice, from the moment of emancipation, more than a year, what question do the American journals discuss, and Congress also, as to the condition of the freed blacks? Nothing but the right of suffrage. All other things are left to time and circumstance, as with the white race. The only question made as to these new men is, shall they exercise the right of suffrage, which is not merely an appanage of liberty, but a quota part of sovereignty, a fraction of supreme power, which may elevate them to all the functions which follow the right of suffrage, and possibly throw into their hands the practicable administration of the government? That is the question under discussion. I don’t express an opinion whether Congress ought not to stop short of the universal application of a principle in the interest of the social well-being of the blacks themselves. I don’t decide, but I know that all principles, even the most absolute, must admit of exceptions; and the simple fact that the question is raised characterizes the discussion of the great problem, which brings into contrast and antagonism the two poles of civilization and barbarism, universal suffrage and slavery, thus placed face to face, in proximity never anticipated. [Cheers.] Thus it often happens; the analogies of the physical world interpret the phenomena of the moral world. The United States are now about to accomplish a moral prodigy equal to the physical prodigies they have accomplished; and to this prodigy you are here to give your feeble aid. In the spirit of the sentiments which dictated her institutions, America will find her rule of action. Two sentiments inspired them, and alone can sustain them: the energetic living sentiment of human brotherhood, and equally energetic faith in the possibility of elevating human beings by religion, morality, and freedom. You are now called to aid in an act of human fraternization, and in proving the possibility of elevating humanity, however steeped in degradation, in a great act of confidence in the vitalitial power of liberty. [Applause.]

Mr. Grandpierre. The wretchedness in behalf of which respected citizens of the United States have asked our aid must be very great. Those who know somewhat of Americans, know they freely give the cordial hand-grip of good-will; but to reach out the hand to beg is not their way. It is their noble pride to suffice to themselves, instead of reliance on others. Individuals take the initiative. Individuals found colleges, sustain universities, build churches, support the clergy, so they practice a liberality unknown to us on this side the water. In 1853, Mr. Lawrence, of Boston, thinking Harvard College not well enough off, made a gift to it of $500,000 in aid of new professorships. At the same time a New York mechanic gave two millions of dollars for an establishment for the instruction of poor young mechanics of good character. Such things are continually happening. You will say, what do the children of these very liberal men think about it? I can tell you what they are apt to say. I heard it in that country. “My father made his money; he has a right to give it as he pleases. I shall follow his example.” And in fact they do so. A young man of twenty-one has laid a foundation for business. He thinks of marrying. As for a dowry, he don’t think of that. And you know the American expression, “Go ahead.” And he goes ahead. These habits seem to us rather hard; but there is good in them, and we might turn them to profit.

There is one fact that happened in the United States some years ago which has not been enough appreciated—that is, the touching proof of sympathy given by the northern States to England at the time of the cotton crisis. It was in the hottest of the war. The United States bent under a debt of several thousand millions, daily on the increase. Many of us thought they must break down. Then the cotton crisis burst out in England. Well, three or four millions of dollars were collected in the United States for the English operatives. That surely was disinterested generosity; for England manifested little sympathy for the Union.

But to return to my subject. I don’t think Americans have asked our aid on this solemn occasion to get rid of their duty, but because this enfranchisement of the negroes, at the outset an American question, is in fact universal, is the cause of humanity; and also because they are constrained by necessity to do so. Four millions of people cast by Providence on their hands, to be fed, clothed, instructed, are fed, clothed, and instructed, brought up to labor, and in knowledge are made men and Christians—I don’t know any history of a parallel case. Well, is there a nation, even he French, great as that is, so liberal, so rich, so heroic, that could alone go through with such an undertaking? Let us suppose that [Page 280] each black costs only each day for food, clothing, lodging, instruction, twenty cents. You have four millions of francs per day, 120 millions a month, and 1,460,000,000 francs a year. And do you suppose that at the end of one year all this want will disappear by enchantment, and these four millions of blacks will have learned what is free labor, free life, and Christian morality? No. That will be only the beginning of the beginning. I know that what we can do here will be only a drop in the ocean; but let us try to do what we can.

Mr. Chamerovzow, secretary of the London committee of emancipation, was introduced by Mr. Laboulaye, and gave an outline of the history of slavery in America, as well in the Spanish as British colonies and United States, to this time, with many details thoroughly familiar to the American citizens who read the papers, and finished by expressing his own ideas:

1. That as a general rule freedmen are not only capable of sustained industry, but ask nothing better than to be employed at reasonable wages.

2. That wherever schools are established, the freedmen, old and young alike, show an aptitude and desire to learn that is quite extraordinary.

3. That the American government is making every effort possible, through the Freedmen’s Bureau, to take care of the lot of these four millions of unfortunates.

4. That everywhere among them is to be found destitution and misery, the consequence of the social disorganization prevalent through the wide territory over which they are scattered: and this must last a long time, because of the ill-will of their old masters against their heretofore slaves.

5. That the northern people, by establishing aid societies and similar associations, have nobly seconded the efforts of the government, and are entitled to our sympathy.

Mr. Auguste Cochin. After what has been said, I wish to draw your attention to the reasons for hoping that slavery will soon be abolished in Brazil and Cuba. Their condition rests on the Emperor of Brazil and Queen of Spain. It is too late this evening to speak of Brazil. I will confine myself to Cuba.

Public opinion in that island has been much awakened by emancipation in Jamaica and other islands, and now lately in the United States.

Cuba is in a very favorable condition; for there are about one million of whites and free colored, and only about three hundred thousand slaves. The white and free colored population are already habituated to field labor, and the relations between the white and free colored population are of the best kind. Cuba has offered to give up slavery for the equivalent of free civil government. The corruptions of colonial functionaries are the cause of difficulty and delay. The question must be solved at Madrid.