Form and Content
The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States Politically Considered is a political essay meant for two audiences—the entire nation and the free black community in the Northern states. It focuses on what Martin Delany called “truths” pertinent to race relations in the United States. Consisting of twenty-three chapters plus an appendix, it covers a wide range of themes on black-white relationships from the colonization of the New World to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.
In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act as part of a compromise package meant to diffuse the mounting sectional conflict over the admission of new states. The federal government pledged its resources to the apprehension of escaped slaves (fugitives). Since the law did not set down guidelines for identifying who was a fugitive, it threatened free African Americans with reenslavement. Many of them described the law as yet further evidence of the national capitulation to slave interests and of a nationwide attempt to keep black people in perpetual subordination. Two years earlier, at a state convention of the Colored Men of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, delegates concluded that “complexional intolerance” (racism), and not “conditional basis” (black poverty and backwardness), as hitherto assumed, determined white attitudes toward black people. This declaration signaled the demise of moral suasion, the dominant antislavery ideology of the 1830’s and 1840’s. Abolitionists (black and white) who subscribed to moral suasion preached that, through the cultivation of certain values that would improve their condition—industry, thrift, temperance, and education—black people would appeal favorably to the moral conscience of whites and win rights and privileges of citizenship. This was essentially an attempt to defer to the proslavery contention that black slaves were enslaved and marginalized as a result of their wretched condition. Delany was one of the foremost supporters of moral suasion. Moral suasion, however, failed to...
(The entire section is 854 words.)