Soft-hearted? Soft-headed.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

To the General Assembly of North Carolina

It is desirable that you should adopt a course of policy, and pass a system of laws to induce, if not compel, the free negroes in North Carolina to emigrate to the Abolition and Free Soil states.  It appears to me that Negrophobia, which is now raging and rousing up a large number of people in the non-Slaveholding states cannot be cured more effectually than by giving them some strong black medicine out of their own black Bottle: and therefore, the members of the Legislature ought in my Judgment to enact all the constitutional laws in their power to effect the object I have indicated.  I do not intend to offer reasons and arguments in favor of such Laws.  Every man who has a southern head on his shoulders and a southern heart in his bosom must see the propriety and the necessity of such legislation.

I propose that you pass a law making the ownership of land on which free negroes reside liable to pay all the taxes, contracts, damages, Penalties, fines and costs, and other legal liabilities which colored persons may contract or incur while living thereon. That it, I would make the actual possession of the free negro, a lein, on the land on which he lived, and let that lein continue until his public and private liabilities were paid and satisfied.

There is a numerous class of the worst sort of Abolitionists dwelling in our midst in the southern states who clandestinely trade with slaves and receive stolen good in payment for ardent spirits and other articles, thereby corrupting and destroying the value of servants.  Many of these malefactors are insolvent persons and some of them are agents of men of property, who select such deputies to do their dirty work, hoping that prudent laws cannot reach and punish them.  I propose that the offense just stated shall be punished, not only with fine and imprisonment, but, by one of more whippings on the bare back at the whipping post.  I am aware some persons have an aversion, through a sort of sickly sympathy, to inflict corporal punishment for the commission of any offences, hoping to gain for themselves the character of being very soft hearted, but I think all such might with much more propriety be considered very soft headed.  When offences proceed from the conception of the human heart, let no honest man sympathise with the offender.  But when the frailty of [illegible] nature is to be punished for deeds done without deliberation, then, kind and generous feelings may be justly excercised.  Society can only be carried on and preserved through the influence of example.  Those persons who live by corrupting and hiring negroes to steal for their benefit, deserve and ought to receive the most severe and exemplary punishments.

All our laws on the subject of Slavery, and the officious intermedling with it, which is the sin of the age, require revision, amendment and improvement.

I make another suggestion; I would make the land on which white Tenants live, liable to pay all fines, penalties and costs that they may be liable to pay while living on these landlords land; Then, the honest taxpayers and good citizens of the state & county would not so often be taxed, unjustly, to pay costs after the conviction of insolvent malefactors and old sinners.

Respectfully presented by James Graham.

Petition of James Graham, Lincoln County, dated 29 December 1850.  Petitions, North Carolina General Assembly, North Carolina State Archives.