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Title: Debater's Speech of Thomas J. Robinson, 1848: Electronic Edition.
Author: Robinson, Thomas J.
Funding from the University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Bari Helms
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First Edition, 2005
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Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-12-02, Risa Mulligan finished TEI/XML encoding.
Title of collection: Records of the Dialectic Society (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: Debater's Speech of Thomas J. Robinson, 1848
Author: Thomas J. Robinson
Description: 9 pages, 11 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
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Debater's Speech of Thomas J. Robinson, 1848
Robinson, Thomas J.

Cover page

Page 1
Debater's Speech
Thomas J. Robinson

Mr. President,

The question which is presented to us tonight for decision, on account of the intimate connection which it has both with the present and future welfare of our happy and prosperous country, and on account of the influence it may exert upon the cause of popular freedom all the world over, demands our serious and hearty consideration. To the American patriot, who, regarding with gratification the rapid strides with which this western world has advanced and is now advancing, towards the goal of national supremacy, watches with anxiety every attempt, which may be made to overthrow the palladium of our liberties: to the friend of human rights, who sees in the success or failure of this experiment of self government, happiness, or misery, entailed not only upon our own people, but also on a large portion of the habitable globe: and to the Christian philanthropist, whose daily prayer is raised to the God of nation for the preservation of our free religious institutions, this question commends itself with peculiar force and interest.
Conscious, then, of the magnitude of the question and its issues, I enter upon the defence of the negative, with a diffidence inspired by a knowledge of my personal inabability, yet, at the same time, relying upon the strength of the cause, which I espouse as sufficient of itself to determine a correct decision in any unprejudiced mind. Regarding truth as the end, and the good of our country as the aim of my remarks, I now proceed to examine the arguments and methods of reasoning employed by the Gentleman who has just addressed you in support of the affirmative.
The Gentleman adduces his first argument from the fact, that we have large public domain yet unpeopled, wide wastes of wilderness untenanted, save by the tutorless savage, and would have us encourage immigration from Europe, in order that these wilds may be reclaimed, and that the hum of busy life may be heard, where now resounds the savage warhoop.

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But, Mr. President I conceive that to be a shortsighted policy, which regards only the present, a policy suggested by selfishness and supported by folly. That this is such an one must be evident to all. For can anyone open his eyes, and witness the progress in Civilization, which, as the Gentleman very justly remarked, our infant country has already made, observe the successive tides of population, which, as billow follows billow, roll towards the Pacific, and yet in view of all this imagine that it is necessary to our prosperity, to urge the immigration of the prison-birds and poor house tenants of Europe, with its long train of attendant evils? Can one be conscious of this fact, that the original thirteen states have increased to their present numbers, within less than three-quarters of a century, and still suppose that we must look to Europe to people our western lands? No sir, we need no such assistance as this to help us onward. Our country holds within its own boundaries the elements of greatness. She desires the help of no European institution, but trusting to a Divine Providence, which has hitherto watched over and guided her glorious destinies. She hopes, and hopes rightly too, to run her course of splendor by herself independent of foreign aid. If however the Gentleman would urge immigration on the scone of humanity, and colonize these unoccupied territories with Europeans on account of the advantage they would gain. I think it can be met by an argument of the same kind equally strong. It is known to all that the Indians formerly inhabiting the territory, now converted into states, have been driven westward as civilization advanced, until now they are settled beyond the Mississippi. If then we import cargoes of foreigners and locate them in our western lands, however philanthropic an act we may thus perform, and however loudly we may boast of our humanity, in thus doing, we incur equal, yea greater censure in exterminating

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the already injured aborigines, we bestow the blessings of freedom upon the one people, but it is at the expense of the lives, liberty, and property of a far more noble race. They have already suffered many and great wrongs at our hands, and such an act as this would accumulate those wrongs so vastly, as possibly to call down the vengeance of a being, who is the God of the Indian as well as of the whiteman.
But Mr. President, we are told that it is to foreigners that we are indebted, for all the successful efforts thus far made in internal improvements. They have dug our canals, they have constructed our railroads, they have reared our cities. I must confess, Sir, that I am at a loss to determine what the Gentleman means. He must either intend to say that our day-laborers are composed principally of Irishman, Germans, "et id omni genus" or he tells us that we are a nation of foreigners. In the first sense I agree with him. I admit that our foreigners are usually of that class, which, unable either naturally or accidentally to enjoy any other kind of life is forced by necessity to earn a livelihood by daily labor, and that they find ready employment from the directors of our public works. But granting this I ask what does it prove? Does it show that we owe them for these great works of internal improvement, which he has mentioned? Does it establish beyond cavil that they are the mighty projectors of the plans of the railroads and canals, which intersect the length and breadth of our land? Or does it prove that they, axe in hand penetrate into the depths of the forest, fell trees, rear cities, and then invite the American people to hold and possess them. Most certainly not. It only tells what we already know, that they are but tools in the hands of wealth and power, having no more ability to put these plans into execution than mere marching has to perform its work without the aid of man. No one will then believe that we are indebted to foreigners for doing that for which they are paid, or that we have not a

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sufficient number of Native Americans to do our work, as far as physical force is concerned. The second interpretation given to the remark — that we are a nation of foreigners, scarcely deserves mention. How far the Gentleman may be successful in winning you, Sir, or this house, over to this belief I will not say, but I do say that, disclaiming all pretensions to being aboriginals, we have ever since we became a separate people, laid a claim, and I think not a weak one, to national individuality.
We are asked if we could not [justify] in suspecting some unpatriotic design in the opponents of immigration, some selfishness of spirit, which would sacrifice public good to private interests. How the Gentleman intends to justify his suspicions, we have not been told, and I fancy that it would require a fertile imagination to supply sufficient data. But I see how these foreigners may become the recipients of public patronage. I see how party spirit, which unhappily is too excitable in our country, may one day prompt to such a use of immigrants, as will endanger in an imminent degree the stability of our government. Important public stations are to a goodly number of our citizens, great desideratums, and when once in possession of them we are not to be surprised if secret measures are taken by the occupants, especially when so easily used, to retain their offices and their power. A thousand manoeuvres, based upon reciprocity, are employed by candidates and voters, and thus bad men may retain power, and the more honest be excluded. In this way I see how public good may be sacrificed to private interests, and in this way I see how unpatriotic designs may be charged upon the supporters of immigration.
It is thought that immigration will expel slavery from our land, and thus rid the South of the greatest disadvantage under which it now labors. No one can go farther than I, in desiring the lawful abolishment of slavery. I believe it to be an evil which affects the South more vitally than any other, an evil that should never have

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have been established in this land of equal rights, a clog to the progress of society and in direct opposition to the precepts of philanthropy. But I fear Sir that the Gentleman has been influenced more by his wishes than his judgement in supposing that immigration will prove an antidote to the bane. In support of his argument, he says, that New England has been the great theatre of immigration and therefore New England is free from slavery. The Gentleman must pardon me when I say that he has ascribed the effect to the wrong cause. New England is free from slavery it is true, but the cause must be attributed to the climate. The blacks, coming from the tropical regions, cannot endure the cold of our Northern states. Their mortality there is so great as to make them in the end unprofitable to their owners, and our Northern brethren with their proverbial shrewdness, were too wise to embark in a scheme so predjudicial to their interests. No Sir, the unalterable decree of the Creator has gone forth, saying to slavery "thus far shall thou go and no farther." And in obedience to that command we see the absence of slavery in the North. If then immigration has not been the cause of such an effect, in the instance which the Gentleman has cited we have yet to learn that it will be thus effective in any other. But Sir even if immigration has expelled slavery at the North, it has not driven it from the whole country, it has only changed the locality of the slaves form North to South, and Sir they will continue moving in that direction so long as Southern territory continues to be annexed. They are still however in the United States. None have left, and can we suppose that the price of free labour will be ever reduced so low by immigration, as to justify in a pecuniary point of view, the master in emancipating his slaves and paying their expenses to Liberia! If such a state of affairs could exist it would be more deplorable than our present system of slavery for it would substitute in its stead one more wrecked, more revolting to our feelings.

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No Sir, the tide of immigration may swell more and more, and finally, may deluge our whole land, yet the philanthropist will have to look to some other power to rid us of this curse. Thus far I have endeavored to reply to the arguments advanced by the Gentleman in support of the affirmative it now remains to notice some farther objections which may be urged against immigration. The condition of the immigrant when he arrives in our seaport towns is at the same time the most unfortunate and dangerous to which man can be subjected. Fresh from the workhouses, manufactories, or it may be prisons of Europe when his daily pittance was scarcely able to support him he lands upon our shores with the most erroneous ideas respecting the nature of the change which he is just accomplishing. He conceives the crossing the Atlantic to be the greatest obstacle in the road to wealth and power. He runs mad with the idea of freedom and having from his earlier education no ability to understand and properly appreciate the blessings of "liberty protected by law," he is ready to run into any kind of licentious excess, and is easily made the tool in the hands of the designing to perform the most nefarious deeds and carry out the most incendiary purposes. He is willing to listen to no explanation of equal rights unless it be defined equal condition and acting on this principle he takes his stand against the rich and opposes their every interest. That this is not a fancy picture of the great majority of those who seek their homes in our land, I will show by noticing an institution, which has been imported

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with them, one which already obtains in our Northern cities, which has already infused some of our Northern manufactories and threatens yet to prove the cause of great disturbance in the community. I speak of the Trade Unions. It is only necessary to remark that they are the nurseries of these "strikes for higher wages," and their consequent riots to condemn them in the eyes of all good men. It is an institution imported from Europe, and supported by people imported from Europe, and although it is productive of harmful effects there it will become more injurious here. The operatives on the different factories fancying that they are not sufficiently well paid and aware of the power of associated actions enter into a bargain with one another to do no more work until they are paid whatever price for labor they may think proper to exact and not only so but they take coercive measures to prevent others from supplying their place and frequently go so far as to cause loss of life. From the common fund of the association they are supported until their employers come to terms. This Mr. President is a general outline of the institution. I will not attempt to portray the evils that must inevitably flow from this system. The cripling effect which it will have on the manufacturing and through it upon the agricultural interests of the country the debasing tendency which this warfare of the poor upon the rich will exert upon the morals of the people at large. The injurious issues are more easily imagined than described they must appear to you, Sir, yes to every one, as alone sufficient to render immigration not only not desirable but also greatly to be feared, and yet we are told in the face of all this that it is the "largest aspiration of the son of Erin to work for the public good."

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Another objection to immigration worthy of your serious attention arises from the religion of a majority of those who find new homes in the western Continent. The late famine has driven countless numbers of Irish to our shores, and every one is aware that their prevailing religion is Roman Catholicism. They are subjected to papal bondage the same in kind though not in degree as were most of the European Countries during the dark ages. Let us not deceive ourselves with the visionary opinion that his Holiness the Pope will remain careless and unconcerned when such great advantages for extending his spiritual perhaps temporal power are offered to him in this our Republican land. Read the history of Europe and tell me at what time the Roman pontiff did not aim at universal dominion? When such an event was at all to be expected! Never is he idle when anything is to be gained by action, never careless when his attention is required. Like the lion crouched before his prey he only awaits a favorable moment to leap and devour. How pitiable is that country which is completely in his power, in which every one from "the head that wears a crown" to the humble beggar can be made to tremble by his threatening Bulls. See Henry 4th of Germany with base head and feet at the threshold of Hildebrand waiting for absolution. Behold John of England intimidated into submission and on bended knee solemnly surrendering his kingdom to Innocent 3rd and tell me if we desire such a state of things in America. Witness the fires of Smithfield which were kindled by a bloody Mary. Hear the shrieks of St. Bartholomew's day when seventy thousand fell victims to papal persecution and tell

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me if we wish such scenes enacted here. If popery should even become the established religion of our land, I ask what assurance have we that such a state of things will not exist! If we consult that "plulos oplry which teaches by example" what do we learn! We learn every thing which tends to increase our fear, nothing to allay them. That this generation will witness Romanism as the prevailing religion in the United States I do not say, but Sir if immigration continues as it has begun, not many generations will have been numbered with the dead, ere the world will see papal power oppressing our State and religious slavery fastening its shakles upon our people. And if there be oppressive tyrany it is the tyrany of the pope if there be abject slavery it is the thraldom of the mind.
In conclusion Mr. President if it is desirable that our offices should become corrupted and our officers demagogues, that the elective franchise should be but a empty name that anarchy should raise her haggard head in our land, that the simoom of ignorance and vice should sweep over us blasting with its fetid breath all vegetative virtue and inteligence and finally that we should present to the world the mournful spectacle of a wrecked empire in cause immigration, but if on the other hand we wish to hand down to succeeding people the rights and privileges which have been bequeathed to us, to keep the escutcheon of our liberties bright and unsullied, and to be to the world an example of a free and happy people, a people in the full enjoyment of the largest liberty protected by law, then let us hand in hand oppose it.

Thomas J. Robinson

Back page
"Is it desirable that our country should be peopled by immigrants from Europe"?


    James P. Scales of Rockingham
    William E. Hill of Duplin


    Thomas J. Robinson of Fayetteville
    Peter M. Hale of Fayetteville
Decided in favor of the Negative.