by Carl Watner
In the Fall of 2013, I received a direct-mail campaign piece from The Foundation for Economic Education which was accompanied by a DVD titled AMAZING GRACE. The DVD told the story of the efforts of William Wilberforce and the British abolitionists to outlaw the slave trade. Their primary focus was on getting enough votes in the House of Commons and the House of Lords to make it a criminal act for any British subject or British-owned ship to transport slaves within the empire. When this goal was finally achieved in 1807, the abolitionists realized that they needed to undertake another campaign, this time to outlaw the ownership of slaves within the British dominions. Finally, in 1833, both houses of Parliament passed an emancipation bill which made the slaves apprentices until 1838, when they would become officially free. In addition, the British government awarded the owners of these slaves 20 million pounds in government bonds to compensate them for the loss of their “property.” 
Watching AMAZING GRACE got me thinking. Although most civilizations have had some form of slavery, historically, what were some of the non-political ways that the slaves had been freed? How might slavery have been abolished in a voluntaryist society where there was no central government to decree what was legal and illegal? Although it is clear that slavery and voluntaryism are incompatible, it is still likely that some form of slavery would occur in a voluntaryist society, but it would not be a socially acceptable institution. Slavery is the total violation of a person’s self-ownership rights. Indeed, some abolitionists referred to slavery as “man stealing.” Under a system of chattel slavery, slave owners not only buy and sell their slaves like beasts of burden, but the children of slaves are the slave owner’s property, too. As David Brion Davis wrote in THE PROBLEM OF SLAVERY IN WESTERN CULTURE, “the slave has three defining characteristics: his person is the property of another man, his will is subject to his owner’s authority, and his labor or services are obtained through coercion.”  In most cases, this requires the existence of a government and laws to define the rights of the slave owner, laws against manumission, laws that create compulsory slave patrols and, above all else, the use of the government police power to force the return of runaway slaves. 
Even though advances in technology and the Industrial Revolution and human understanding were making slavery less justifiable and less economically sustainable before the American Civil War, the big question still remained: Was it right or wrong for one person to own another? Many early American abolitionists believed that it was necessary “to convince their fellow-citizens … that slave-holding was a heinous crime,” but they shared different opinions about the proper way to bring about its cessation.  William Lloyd Garrison and his followers, for example, were opposed to involvement in politics. Whether it be office holding or participating in political parties, they did not want to support a government which permitted slavery. To Garrison’s way of thinking the end could not justify the means. They sought “a change in the moral vision of the people.”  “In seeking to reform the public sentiment that lay behind laws and constitutions and that inspirited them, the Garrisonians struck at the source of the problem.”  Moral suasion (as they called it) laid the axe at the root of the tree. Their task was “to awaken public opinion to the horror of slavery and to stimulate it to take action against the evil. … Without public opinion on their side, the abolitionists could accomplish” very little. Using moral persuasion, they had to concentrate on “awakening consciences and disseminating the truth” that slavery was evil.  Lydia Maria Child, a cohort of Garrison, pointed out that even if slavery were outlawed by Congress “great political changes … without corresponding changes in the moral sentiment of a nation, would be worse than useless.” The evils of slavery would reappear “in a more exaggerated form.” 
It is clearly wrong to think that the only way slavery could have been eliminated in the United States is by having fought the Civil War. As Jim Powell wrote in the conclusion to his book, GREATEST EMANCIPATIONS: HOW THE WEST ABOLISHED SLAVERY, “a peaceful, persistent, multi-strategy process of eroding slavery would have made it much less difficult to arrive at a point where blacks could be both emancipated and safe, flourishing with equal rights in a free society.”  Voluntaryists reject violent means, such as those used by John Brown and the armies of the North. Violence only begets violence and certainly does not change minds. Voluntaryists also reject governmental solutions to the problem of slavery. They would not become involved in party politics or government emancipation programs. What Voluntaryists would have done is to constantly emphasize that slavery was an unmitigated evil and dispel the assumption that “blacks were incapable of living in freedom.”  Voluntaryists would have supported the establishment of trade and vocational schools and colleges that would help blacks demonstrate that they were as capable, hard-working, frugal, and enterprising as their white counterparts. People like Frederick Douglas, Doctor James McCune Smith, William Wells Brown, and Booker T. Washington were shining examples of what could be achieved.
In a letter written about March 1, 1837, the sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke pretty much summarized what they described as “The definite, practical means by which the North can put an end to Slavery in the South.” They purported to set forth the sins of the North, and then “showed what Northerners could do to overthrow the great Prison House of the South.” Although they endorsed petitioning Congress and refusing to vote for pro-slavery Congressmen, they emphasized the voluntaryist, non-political means of undermining slavery:
Let the northern churches refuse to receive slaveholders at their communion tables, or to permit slaveholding ministers to enter their pulpits. … Let northern men who go to the South to make their fortunes, see to it that those fortunes are not made out of the unrequited toil of the slave. … Let northern manufacturers refuse to purchase cotton, for the cultivation of which the laborer has received no wages. Let the grocer refuse to buy the rice and sugar of the South, … . Let the merchant refuse to receive the articles manufactured of slave grown cotton, and let the consumer refuse to purchase either the rice, sugar or cotton articles … which has cost the slave his unpaid labor, his tears and his blood. Every northerner may, in this way, bear a faithful testimony against slavery at the South, by withdrawing his pecuniary support. …
If Northerners were to do all we have marked out, can anyone doubt the powerful influence which it would produce on southern conscience and Southern interest? Could slavery live a single year under such an organized, disinterested, noble opposition to it? No, it would wither and die, never to be revived again. If Northerners were to purify their hearts and cleanse their hands from the sin of slavery, then would their tongues be loosed, and they would unceasingly pour into the ears of Southerners, the calm remonstrance, the brotherly rebuke, the earnest entreaty “to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.” … Oh no! He still has the heart of a man, and that heart would soon break under the hammer of truth. 
However, some major ideas were missing from the Grimkes’ letter, such as mounting a major tax refusal campaign against any government which supported slavery; and encouraging the slaves, themselves, to stop work and confront their oppressors with their refusal to cooperate.  Whether one believes that northern declamations against slavery and the religious, social, and economic boycott of slave-owning Southerners would be effective, history shows that these and other nonviolent means of weakening and undercutting slavery did exist, and in many cases, were at least partially successful, in accomplishing their goal.
In the case of England, the British abolitionists undertook a massive public relations campaign to arouse the public against the slave trade. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed, it was “something absolutely without precedent in history.”  To begin the massive job of changing public opinion, the British abolitionists used every means at their disposal. They used popular forums, like the debating societies (where women often took part), to argue the demerits of slavery. They collected many thousands of signatures on petitions. They printed and distributed letters reporting on the status of their campaign and solicited contributions to support their cause. They publicized and utilized a logo and medallion created by Josiah Wedgewood and his workers, which read “Am I not a man and a brother?” They encouraged people to boycott the use of slavegrown sugar. They issued the first widely distributed political poster showing the inhumane conditions existing in ships engaged in the slave trade. They organized local committees under the umbrella of a national organization, and they put an ex-slave, Olaudah Equiano, on tour to publicize his autobiography, which rapidly became a best-seller. 
The sugar boycott in Britain reached its climax during the year 1792, when it was estimated that 300,000 men, women, and children abstained from using slave-grown sugar. A tract written and published in the same year argued that since neither the slave dealer nor planter had any moral right to control the slave or the products of his labor, they could not convey good title. Anyone who bought from them only had a criminal possession; by receiving the produce of the slave’s labor a person became an accessory to robbery, after the fact. The advocates of the boycott argued, that “If we purchase the commodity, we participate in the crime.”  A 20th Century researcher on “slave sugar boycotts and female activism” noted:
of purifying oneself from pollution by the sin of slavery, …; and it was a way of rooting antislavery in domestic culture; and it was a means of promoting economic systems based on waged rather than unwaged labor. But it had another important significance. It was promoted as a way of bringing about the downfall of the slave system as rapidly as possible, without awaiting the results of parliamentary deliberations. … Abstention encouraged universal participation. .. Abstention campaigners recognized that their effectiveness depended on gaining the widest possible public participation, and thus actively solicited the support of children, of the poor, and most, notably, of women. … Private abstention became an expression of public anti-slavery opinion. … Abstention was direct action by the masses.
In 1824, Quaker pamphleteer, Elizabeth Heyrick, asserted that slavery was a question in which we are all implicated. The West Indian planter, and the people of this country, stand in the same moral relation to each other, as the thief and the receiver of stolen goods.] There was no neutral ground: “the whole nation must now divide itself into the active supporters, and the active opposers of slavery.” … Abstention was thus linked to an unwillingness to rely on governmental action. … If government would not take action the people must bring about the end of the slave trade themselves by putting economic pressure on the planters and slave traders. … Government could be by-passed and, through abstention, ‘We, the people, the common people of England – we ourselves will emancipate’ [the slave]. Abstention campaigns were thus about the people taking things into their own hands rather than relying on the authorities. 
Although the sugar boycott only reduced the price of sugar by one penny per pound, this alarmed the West Indian slave owners “more than all the alarm that had been produced by moral and legislative action.”  Midgley concludes that the boycott’s “direct impact on sugar production in the West Indies was very limited. … Abstention’s significance lay rather in its vital role in creating a national anti-slavery culture in Great Britain.” 
American abolitionists, with the active participation of many Quakers, created their own Free Produce movement. In 1839, Thomas Branagan published his tract, BUYING STOLEN GOODS SYNONYMOUS WITH STEALING. He argued that “Slavery depends on the consumption of the produce of its labour for support. Refuse this produce, and slavery MUST cease. Say not that individual influence is small. Every aggregate must be composed of a collection of individuals. It is only by such collected individual influence, that any important end is attained; any great design is accomplished by man. The power of numbers supplies the want of sufficient force in the individual; … .”  Elihu Burritt (1810-1879), the Learned Blacksmith, noted in Reason Seven of his preCivil War tract TWENTY REASONS FOR TOTAL ABSTINENCE FROM SLAVE-LABOUR PRODUCE, “It is a measure that does not trench upon any principle of free trade. It asks the interference of no legislation against the introduction or use of slave-labour produce. It requires no petitions to parliaments, diets, national assemblies, courts, or congresses. It involves nothing but the free, voluntary legislation of the individual conscience upon the articles of household or personal consumption.”  The Quaker-led American Free Produce Association called the boycott “one of the most efficient means of peacefully abolishing the system of slavery.” 
The Quakers did not limit their abolitionist activities to the free produce movement. In fact, their opposition to slavery began much earlier. The Quakers became the only major religious denomination that would not allow its members to own slaves.  They eventually voluntarily abolished slavery and slaveholding among the members of their religion. Those who refused were disowned from the Society. In 1758, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting resolved to exclude members who bought or sold slaves. “Those who persisted in violating the rules by purchasing Negroes were … subjected to discipline. … They could not have the unity of Friends” if they continued to own slaves.  The Quakers asserted that slaves were “prize” goods, that is, captives of war, violence, cruelty, and oppression, of theft and robbery of the highest nature. The use of prize goods or any goods obtained through illegitimate means was inconsistent with their testimony towards peace and nonviolence. Therefore it was only consistent that they forego the purchase and services of human beings who had been captured in Africa, even though they themselves had not been involved in the original violence.
Not only did most Quakers manumit their slaves, but they actually paid reparations to their former slaves, as compensation for their past unpaid services. In this sense, they may have been the only “ruling class” ever to voluntarily relinquish their power over others.  One of the earliest Quakers to attack slavery was Elias Hicks (1748-1830), who manumitted his own slaves in 1778. In 1811, he published his OBSERVATIONS ON THE SLAVERY OF THE AFRICANS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS, AND ON THE USE OF THE PRODUCE OF THEIR LABOR. “Hicks insisted that all men were free under the laws of God; that no one had a moral right to enslave his fellows for any reason whatever. Users of the products of slave labor shared in the guilt of the slaveholders, he believed; they were equally culpable in the sight of God. No man-made law sanctioning slavery could remove this guilt, nor could slaveholders rightfully refuse to emancipate their slaves. On the contrary, they owed their slaves wages for the work which had unjustly been required of them.” 
Many Quakers were active in the Underground Railroad, and stood ready to help runaway slaves. But as Harriet Tubman and other contemporaries noted, the slaves had to want to be free. She is reputed to have said, “I freed a thousand slaves, but I could have freed a thousand more if they had only known they were slaves.” No external authority could make them free. This was exactly the point that the nonviolent Garrisonians clung to before John Brown’s raid and the outbreak of the Civil War. Violence was not a permanent solution to the problem of slavery. Violence would not make the slaves want freedom; violence would not convince the slaveholders that their ownership of slaves was a moral wrong; and violence would not change public sentiment. Slavery and governments and violence were so intertwined that the Garrisonians believed that it was foolish to believe that violence exercised by governments could be used to end slavery.
Furthermore, as the nonviolent critics of John Brown pointed out a war against slavery would be almost as bad as slavery itself.  Parker Pillsbury expressed a basic pacifist insight when “he said, ‘We cannot cast out the devil of slavery by the devil’ of war.”  Adin Ballou asked, “If the slaves were freed by rebellion what is to be done with them for the next one hundred years? It would take at least a century to educate them out of the ferocity engendered by such conflict. How are they to be employed, trained for liberty, and organized into well ordered communities? And above all how is this work to be accomplished with the great mass of whites in the country full of horror, loathing, and revenge toward them? … Can’t we wait the operation of a more peaceful process? Can’t we content ourselves with holy efforts to bring about a change in public sentiment, so that this thing may be accomplished, without resorting to such horrible measures? It may seem hard to wait, but if we do not wait, we shall do worse.”  Ballou claimed that there were “vast differences between a people trained for liberty and self-government through a century and a half, and the millions of long crushed slaves, schooled to servility and studiously kept in ignorance. Such a people need all the help and benefit of a peaceful emancipation.”  William H. Furness, Philadelphia Underground Railroader and Unitarian pastor summarized the damage that Brown’s raid did to abolitionism. “In resorting to force” he injured the cause of abolitionism. “He did not take into account the undeviating law that violence produces violence. …Revolutions effected by force always end, sooner or later, in reestablishing the tyranny they undertake to overthrow.” 
After the war, there were a few nonviolent abolitionists who realized that the Northern victory was hollow. They disagreed with Garrison’s belief that government-forced emancipation was a success. “H.C. Wright [had] repeatedly said that only ideas, not bullets, could permanently settle the question of slavery. … Ezra Heywood pointed out that a government that could abolish slavery as a military necessity had no antislavery principles and could therefore re-establish slavery if circumstances required it.” Indeed, the federal government initiated military conscription during the war (1862), even before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. “Abby Kelley Foster … predicted flatly, if the slave is freed only out of consideration for the safety of the Union, then ‘the hate of the colored race will still continue, and the poison of that wickedness will destroy us as a nation’.” At least a few of the nonviolent abolitionists “had not forgotten their fundamental belief that to achieve humanitarian reform, particularly if it was to be thorough and permanent reform, the methods used to achieve it must be consistent with the nature of the reform.”  “What most pro-war abolitionists often chose to brush aside was that after the fighting most blacks would still be living in the South among … Confederates” who were opposed to their emancipation.  What the critics of war saw was that “War as a means to end the oppression of Negroes was to be little more than tragic futility.” 
In predicting the success of forced emancipation as a result of war, Thomas Wentworth Higginson noted that in reality “freedom of the slave ultimately had to be the work of the slave. He stated frankly in a private letter: ‘The great obstacle to anti-slavery action has always been the apparent feebleness and timidity of the slaves themselves.’ … Nonresistants held similar sentiments. One of them repeated Lord Byron’s often quoted line, ‘Who would be free, themselves must strike the first blow.’ The antislavery movement could help in removing ‘the outward forms of bondage,’ but it was up to the Negroes to raise themselves in the scale of civilization.” As Adin Ballou put it, “To put an end to slavery by emancipation will not materially elevate the character of the race,” nor make them free. The slaves have to want to free themselves; otherwise efforts by others to free them would ultimately fail. 
Douglas Lorimer in his article “Black Slaves and English Liberty” concluded that it was this attitude of desiring freedom and taking responsibility for one’s own self which actually brought freedom to the slaves in England. “Aided by free blacks and sympathetic whites … they established their own liberty.” The slaves simply voted with their feet and chose to become free servants.  Since English law of the mid to late 1700s did not take cognizance of a person’s skin color (“the law took no notice of a negro”), common law processes applied to those slaves that were brought to England by their masters.  In 1772, in what became known as the Somerset decision, Lord Mansfield removed the greatest threat to blacks in England: they could not be forcefully deported to a foreign country (where their slave status would be legally recognized).  Slaves in England were subject to the writ of habeas corpus. A Negro could not be held as a slave against his will, since there was no positive law sanctioning slavery within England. However, as Lorimer emphasized, the end of slavery in England came about, not from the decisions of the courts, but from the actions of the slaves.
One of the ways that some American slaves struck their first blows for freedom was by arranging to buy themselves. This was done by the slave purchasing himself from his master.  It is impossible to calculate the number of slaves who were freed by purchase, though historical records show it was in the hundreds, if not thousands. Often times, the self-purchase movement went forward in spite of the legal restrictions imposed by all of the slave states. It was most prevalent in the industrialized cities, where slaves usually had more opportunities to earn money. In cities, such as Charleston, SC, self-purchase arrangements were sometimes made through churches. In other places, already freed slaves were used as intermediaries and/or trustees to hold title to slaves who bought themselves. The self-purchase movement helped to undermine the system of slavery by refuting the argument that slavery was justifiable and necessary because Negroes were inferior beings. It demonstrated that Negroes could attain their freedom in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Furthermore, it aroused envy and discontent among those who were still slaves by showing what could be accomplished by free Negroes. 
So what would laying the axe to the root of the tree mean in terms of voluntaryist strategy? Ultimately, it would mean influencing public opinion to such an extent that slavery would no longer be tolerated. Society and culture would gradually dry up the support for slavery.  This is what happened in at least one northern state. “By the time of the first United States Census, in 1790, no slaves were officially listed in Massachusetts.”  Indeed in examining how slavery was ‘dried up’ in Massachusetts, in 1795, “Jeremy Belknap … claimed that public opinion was chiefly responsible for the wane of slavery. Summarizing the instances in which slaves had sued for and obtained their freedom before the Revolution, he noted that the process became easier after the ratification of the state Constitution of 1780, when many Negroes asked for their freedom and got it, while others simply absconded and depended upon the weight of public opinion to sustain them in their behavior.”  Thus, “When public opinion would no longer tolerate slavery it disappeared ….”  No war, no violence, no government legislation nor emancipation proclamations were necessary. When public opinion turns against slavery, support for slavery collapses, and the slaves simply become free.
The nonviolent campaign to abolish slavery holds many lessons for the voluntaryist who wants to abandon taxation and the state. As I noted in my anthology, RENDER NOT: THE CASE AGAINST TAXATION, the arguments against taxation are very analogous to the arguments against slavery. As I explain there, taxation is not only theft – it is slavery. If voluntaryists are to learn anything from the movement to abolish the slave trade and slavery it should be that they must lay the axe at the root of the tree and convincingly demonstrate that the premise behind taxation is that the State owns the citizen. When public opinion no longer tolerates the coercive monopolization of public services exercised by the State, the State will disappear. No war, no violence, no government legislation, nor government tax holidays will be necessary. When public opinion turns against taxation, support for the State will collapse, and the citizenry will simply become free.
 Hochschild, Adam, BURY THE CHAINS, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, pp. 347-348.
 Davis, David Brion, THE PROBLEM OF SLAVERY IN WESTERN CULTURE: Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966, p. 31.
 Hummel, Jeffrey Rogers, EMANCIPATING SLAVES, ENSLAVING FREE MEN, Chicago: Open Court, 1996, p. 353.
 Kraditor, Aileen, MEANS AND ENDS IN AMERICAN ABOLITIONISM, New York: Pantheon Books, p. 5.
 Wiecek, William M., THE SOURCES OF ANTISLAVERY CONSTITUTIONALISM IN AMERICA, 1760-1848, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977, p. 235.
 ibid., p. 246.
 Kraditor, op. cit, pp. viii, 165, 216.
 ibid., p. 23.
 Powell, Jim, GREAT EMANCIPATIONS: HOW THE WEST ABOLISHED SLAVERY, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 245.
 Stauffer, John , “How the Bonds Were Finally Broken,” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (February 1-2, 2014), pp. C5, C7 at p. C5.
 Barnes, Gilbert H. and Dumond, Dwight L, editors, LETERS OF THEODORE DWIGHT WELD, ANGELINA GRIMKE WELD, AND SARAH GRIMKE 1822-1844 (Volume I), Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1965, pp. 371-372. Emphasis in original.
 Perry, Lewis, RADICAL ABOLITIONISM, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973, p. 235.
 Hochschild, Adam, “Against All Odds,” MOTHER JONES (January/February 2004), pp. 66-73, at p. 67.
 ibid., pp. 70-71.
 Fox, William, AN ADDRESS TO THE PEOPLE OF GREAT BRITAIN, ON THE PROPRIETY OF ABSTAINING FROM WEST INDIA SUGAR AND RUM, London: 10th edition: Daniel Lawrence, 1792, p. 4. Found online.
 Midgley, Clare, “Slave Sugar Boycotts, Female Activism and the Domestic Base of British Anti-Slavery Culture,” 17 SLAVERY AND ABOLITION (December 1996), pp. 137-162, at 152-154. Emphasis in original.
 Mabee, Carleton, BLACK FREEDOM: THE NONVIOLENT ABOLITIONISTS FROM 1830 THROUGH THE CIVIL WAR, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1970, pp. 185-186.
 Midgley, op. cit., p. 155.
 Branagan, Thomas, THE GUARDIAN GENIUS OF THE FEDERAL UNION, New York: Published for the Author, 1839, p. 33. See pp. 30-34 for “Buying Stolen Goods Synonymous With Stealing.” Digitized and online by Google.
 Burritt, Elihu, TWENTY REASONS FOR TOTAL ABSTINENCE FROM SLAVE-LABOUR PRODUCE, post-1852. Found online at the Antislavery Literature Project site.
 Mabee, op. cit., p. 186. Also see Nuermberger, Ruth Ketring, THE FREE PRODUCE MOVEMENT: A QUAKER PROTEST AGAINST SLAVERY, Durham: Duke University Press, 1942.
 Mabee, op. cit., p. 3.
 Zilversmit, Arthur, THE FIRST EMANCIPATION: THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN THE NORTH, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967, p. 76.
 Watner, Carl, “The Radical Libertarian Tradition in Antislavery Thought,” 3 JOURNAL OF LIBERTARIAN STUDIES (Fall 1979), pp. 299-329 at p. 310.
 Drake, Thomas E., QUAKERS AND SLAVERY IN AMERICA, Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1965, p. 116.
 Mabee, op. cit., p. 339.
 ibid., p. 362.
 ibid., pp. 323-324.
 ibid., p. 324.
 ibid., p. 327.
 ibid., p. 336.
 ibid., p. 339.
 ibid., p. 330.
 Perry, op. cit., pp. 236-237.
 Lorimer, Douglas A., “Black Slaves and English Liberty: A Reexamination of Racial Slavery in England,” 3 IMMIGRANT & MINORITIES (July 1984), pp. 121-150 at pp. 124-125.
 Drescher, Seymour, “Manumission in a Society without Slave Law: Eighteenth Century England,” 3 SLAVERY & ABOLITION (December 1989), pp. 85-101 at p. 87.
 Hochschild (2005), op. cit., pp. 46-50.
 Matison, Sumner Eliot , “Manumission By Purchase,” 33 THE JOURNAL OF NEGRO HISTORY (April 1948), pp. 146-167 at pp. 166- 167.
 ibid., pp. 153 and 167.
 Freeman, Harrop A., “A Remonstrance for Conscience,” 106 UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA LAW REVIEW (April 1958), pp. 806-830 at p. 825.
 Cushing, John D., “The Cushing Court and the Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts,” 5 THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF LEGAL HISTORY (April 1961), pp. 118-144 at p. 138.
 ibid., pp. 136-137.
 ibid., p. 144.