The Condition, Elevation, Migration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States Politically Considered Analysis

Martin Robison Delany

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

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.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Adeleke, Tunde. Without Regard to Race: The Other Martin Robison Delany. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003. Detailed political biography of Delany that emphasizes his willingness to modify or put aside the narrower cause of Black Nationalism in the service of the larger cause of racial equality.

Delany, Martin R. Martin R. Delany: A Documentary Reader. Edited by Robert S. Levine. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Hefty volume collecting many of Delany’s journalistic and other writings. The collection is organized chronologically, allowing one to see the evolution of Delany’s thought and style over time and to assign The Condition its proper place within that evolution.

Griffith, Cyril E. The African Dream: Martin R. Delany and the Emergence of Pan-Africanist Thought. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975. Discusses the central themes of Delany’s book within the context of his development as a nationalist, emigrationist, and pan-Africanist.

Kahn, Robert. “The Political Ideology of Martin R. Delany.” The Journal of Black Studies 14 (June, 1984): 415-440. Summarizes the major issues in the book and discusses them within the context of Delany’s growing separatist consciousness.

Levine, Robert S. “Twelve...

(The entire section is 425 words.)