Samuel Morse’s Telegraph; and slavery conditions in early U.S. described by his father, Jedediah Morse, “Father of American Geography” – American Minute with Bill Federer

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The world of communication was revolutionized by Samuel Finley Breese Morse, who died April 2, 1872.

Samuel F.B. Morse invented the Telegraph and the Morse Code.
He graduated from Yale in 1810, and became one of the greatest portrait artists.
He founded the National Academy of Design, and served as its president for 20 years.
In 1831, Morse was appointed to the first chair of fine arts in America, the Professor of Sculpture and Painting at New York University.
Morse obtained a patent for his telegraph, but found it difficult to get financial backers.
During the anxious days between failure and success, Samuel F.B. Morse wrote to his wife:
“The only gleam of hope, and I can not underrate it, is from confidence in God. When I look upward it calms my apprehensions for the future, and I seem to hear a voice saying:
‘If I clothe the lilies of the field, shall I not also clothe you?’ Here is my strong confidence, and I will wait patiently for the direction of Providence.”

In 1843, Congress agreed to underwrite Morse to erect the first telegraph lines between Baltimore and the U.S. Supreme Court chamber in Washington, D.C.
He demonstrated the telegraph for the first time on May 24, 1844, allowing Annie Ellsworth, the young daughter of a friend, to chose the message. She selected a verse from the Bible, Numbers 23:23,
“What hath God wrought?”

The Morse Code, considered the first digital binary code, became an international means of telecommunications.
It revolutionized the transfer of information and knowledge worldwide, and became the basis for all later advancements in communication.
Samuel Morse wrote:
“Every child has a dream, to pursue the dream is in every child’s hand to make it a reality. One’s invention is another’s tool.”
“Education without religion is in danger of substituting wild theories for the simple commonsense rules of Christianity.”

Four years before his death, Samuel F.B. Morse wrote:
“The nearer I approach to the end of my pilgrimage, the clearer is the evidence of the divine origin of the Bible, the grandeur and sublimity of God’s remedy for fallen man are more appreciated, and the future is illumined with hope and joy.”

Samuel F.B. Morse was the son of educator Jedediah Morse, known as “Father of American Geography.”

Jedediah Morse published:
  • Geography Made Easy, 1784, the first geography book published in the United States;
  • The American Geography, 1789;
  • Elements of Geography, 1795;
  • The American Gazetteer, 1797;
  • A New Gazetteer of the Eastern Continent, 1802;
  • A Compendious History of New England, 1804; and
  • Annals of the American Revolution.
Jedediah Morse received his Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1795.

Morse was a member of the board of overseers of Harvard College during a fateful controversy.

In 1803, Harvard’s Hollis Professor of Divinity, David Tappan, died, and the following year Harvard’s President, Joseph Willard, died.

Morse insisted faithful orthodox Christians be elected to take their places.

After a heated debate, Morse lost, and in 1805, liberals on the board elected Unitarian Christians Henry Ware as head of Harvard’s Divinity School and Samuel Webber as President of Harvard.

This was the pivotal moment beginning Harvard’s drift away from the traditional “revealed religion” of Calvinist Protestant Christianity, which the new leadership of Harvard increasingly saw as an enemy to be purged.

Historian Samuel Eliot Morrison wrote in Three Centuries of Harvard (1936):

“Thus the theological department of New England’s oldest university went Unitarian. Orthodox Calvinists of the true Puritan tradition now became open enemies to Harvard.”

In protest, Jedediah Morse and others founded Andover Theological Seminary in 1807 as the conservative Christian alternative to the liberal Harvard Divinity School.

An educator, Jedediah Morse was friends with Noah Webster –compiler of the Dictionary; Benjamin Silliman –Yale Professor who was the first to distill petroleum; and Jeremy Belknap –who wrote History of New Hampshire.

In 1798, Jedediah Morse delivered three sermons on the parties responsible for instigating the French Revolution, citing John Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy: Against All The Religions and Governments Of Europe, Carried On In The Secret Meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies.
When presented with the information, President George Washington wrote:
“It is not my intention to doubt that the doctrine of the Illuminati and the principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States.
On the contrary, no one is more satisfied of this fact than I am.
The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavored to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of separation).
That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a separation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned.”
(The Writings of George Washington, Volume 14, 1798–1799, New York, G. P. Putmans Sons, 1893, p. 119).

In his 1792 edition of The American Geography, or a View of the Present Situation of the United States of America, Jedidiah Morse wrote:
“The island Madagascar … has several petty savage kings of its own, both Arabs and Negroes, who making war on each other, sell their prisoners for slaves to the shipping which call here, taking clothes, utensils and other necessaries in return …
… The negroes of Africa … are subject to the most barbarous despotism. The savage tyrants who rule over them, make war upon each other for human plunder! and the wretched victims, bartered for spiritous liquors, are torn from their families, their friends, and their native land, and consigned for life to misery, toil and bondage …
Near the river Niger … the Negroes are governed by a number of absolute princes. The inhabitants are mostly pagans and idolaters … The greater part of the poor Negroes in the West-Indies and the southern states, were brought from these two countries (of Guinea and area of West Africa.)”
At the time John Newton, former slave-trader who composed Amazing Grace, and British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce, were fighting to end Britain’s slave trade, Jedidiah Morse condemned the slave trade in The American Geography, 1792:
“But how am I shocked to inform you, that this infernal commerce is carried on … by English men, whose ancestors have bled in the cause of liberty …
I cannot give you a more striking proof of the ideas of horror which the captive negroes entertain of the state of servitude they are to undergo.”

Morse estimated the number of armed citizens:
“The number of inhabitants in the United States to be three millions, eighty three thousand. Deduct from this five hundred and sixty thousand, the supposed number of negroes …
Suppose one sixth part of these capable of bearing arms, it will be found that the number of fencible (capable of defense) men in the United States are four hundred and twenty thousand.”
Morse gave contemporary accounts of the condition of slavery in the early states:

“NEW HAMPSHIRE … Slaves there are none. Negroes, who were never numerous in New-Hampshire, are all free by the first article of the bill of rights.”
MASSACHUSETTS … The Negro trade is totally prohibited in Massachusetts, by an act passed in the winter of 1788 …
In 1656 … laws in England, at this time, were very severe against the Quakers … many were confined in prisons where they died … King Charles the second also, in a letter to the colony of Massachusetts, approved of their severity …
These unhappy disturbances continued until the friends of the Quakers in England interposed, and obtained an order from the king, September 9th, 1661, requiring that a stop should be put to all capital or corporal punishment of his subjects called Quakers …
They are a moral, friendly, and benevolent people, and have much merit … particularly for their exertions in the abolition of the slavery of the Negroes.”

“RHODE ISLAND … (After the Revolution) the slave trade, which was a source of wealth to many of the people in Newport … has happily been abolished.
The legislature have passed a law prohibiting ships from going to Africa for slaves, and selling them in the West-India islands …
This law is more favorable to the cause of humanity, than to the temporal interests of the merchants who had been engaged in this inhuman trade.”

“NEW YORK … There … is … ‘The society for the manumission of slaves, and protecting such of them as have been or may be liberated.'”

“NEW JERSEY … County of Burlington … On the island are one hundred and sixty houses, nine hundred white, and one hundred black inhabitants. But few of the negroes are slaves.
There are two houses for public worship in the town, one for the Friends or Quakers, who are the most numerous, and one for Episcopalians.”

“PENNSYLVANIA … Of the great variety of religious denominations … the FRIENDS or QUAKERS are the most numerous …
They came over to America as early as 1656, but were not indulged the free exercise of their religion in New-England.
They were the first settlers of Pennsylvania in 1682, under William Penn, and have ever since flourished in the free enjoyment of their religion.
They believe that God has given to all men sufficient light to work their salvation … They neither give titles, nor use compliments in their conversation or writings, believing that whatsoever is more than yea, yea, and nay, nay, cometh of evil.
They conscientiously avoid, as unlawful, kneeling, bowing, or uncovering the head to any person. They discard all superfluities in dress or equipage; all games, sports, and plays, as unbecoming the Christian.
‘Swear not at all’ is an article of their creed, literally observed in its utmost extent. They believe it unlawful, to fight in any case whatever; and think that if their enemy smite them on the one cheek, they ought to turn to him the other also.
They are generally honest, punctual, and even punctilious in their dealings; provident for the necessities of their poor; friends to humanity, and of course enemies to slavery …”

“… THE PENNSYLVANIA SOCIETY for promoting the ABOLITION OF SLAVERY, and the relief of FREE NEGROES unlawfully held in bondage, was begun in 1774, and enlarged on the 23d of April, 1787 …
The legislature of this state have favored the humane designs of this society, by ‘An Act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery;’ passed on the 1st of March, 1780;
wherein, among other things, it is ordained, that no person born within the state, after the passing of the act, shall be considered as a servant for life; and all perpetual slavery is, by this act, forever abolished …
There is the Protestant Episcopal Academy–a very flourishing institution, The Academy for Young Ladies, another for the Friends or Quakers, and one for the Germans; besides five free schools, one for the people called Quakers, one for Presbyterians, one for Catholics, one for Germans, and one for Negroes.”

Morse continued:
“MARYLAND … There is … an indolence and inactivity in their whole behavior, which are evidently the effects of solitude and slavery. As the negroes perform all the manual labor, their masters are left to saunter away life in sloth, and too often in ignorance.”

“NORTH CAROLINA … The women, except in some of the populous towns, have very little (communication) with each other … They possess a great deal of kindness, and, except that they suffer their infant babes to suck the breasts of their black nurses, are good mothers, and obedient wives.”
Morse described how slavery was in disobedience to Christianity:

“SOUTH CAROLINA … The mischievous influence of slavery … in … southern states … the absolute authority which is exercised over their slaves, too much favors a haughty, supercilious behavior.

A disposition to obey the Christian precept, ‘To do to others as we would that others should do unto us,’ is NOT cherished by a daily exhibition of many.”
Morse included in The American Geography:
“VIRGINIA … A sensible gentleman… traveled through the middle settlements … has given the … following …
The women … are immoderately fond of dancing, and indeed it is almost the only amusement they partake of …
Towards the close of an evening, when the company are pretty well tired with country dances, it is usual to dance jiggs; a practice originally borrowed, I am informed, from the Negroes.
These dances are without any method or regularity: A gentleman and lady stand up, and dance about the room … in an irregular fantastical manner.'”
Morse quoted Jefferson’s History of Virginia:
“‘In the very first session (1777) held under the republican government, the (Virginia) assembly passed a law for the perpetual prohibition of the importation of slaves.
This will in some measure stop the increase of this great political and moral evil, while the minds of our citizens may be ripening for a complete emancipation of human nature …
In October 1786, an act was passed by the Virginia assembly, prohibiting the importation of slaves into the commonwealth, upon penalty of the forfeiture of the sum of 1000 pounds for every slave.
And every slave imported contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, becomes free …

By the (Northwest) Ordinance of Congress, passed on the 13th of July, 1787 … Article 6th. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
Morse described further:
“Much has been written of late to shew the injustice and iniquity of enslaving the Africans …
From repeated … calculations, it has been found, that the expense of maintaining a slave … is greater than that of maintaining a free man;
and the labor of the free man, influenced by the powerful motive of gain, is at least twice as profitable to the employer as that of the slave.
Besides, slavery is the bane of industry … Industry is the offspring of necessity … Slavery precludes this necessity; and indolence, which strikes at the root of all social and political happiness, is the unhappy consequence …
The injustice of the practice, shew that slavery is impolitic (unwise). Its influence on manners and morals is equally pernicious (destructive).”
Morse again quoted Jefferson:
“Jefferson observes, ‘Commerce between master and slave is … the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other …
‘And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?
‘Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever;
that considering numbers … a revolution of the wheel of fortune, and exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference? — The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.'”

Morse wrote:
“Under the federal government which is now established, we have reason to believe that all slaves in the United States will in time be emancipated …
Whether this will be affected by transporting them back to Africa; or by colonizing them in some part of our own territory, and extending to them our alliance and protection until they shall have acquired strength sufficient for their own defense; or by incorporation with the whites; or in some other way, remains to be determined.
All these methods are attended with difficulties. The first would be cruel; the second dangerous …
Deep-rooted prejudices … recollections … of the injuries … new provocations … would tend to divide them into parties, and produce convulsions … But justice and humanity demand that these difficulties should be surmounted.”

Morse concluded:
“In the middle and northern states … Societies for the manumission of slaves have been instituted in Philadelphia and New-York; and laws have been enacted, and other measures taken in the New-England states to accomplish the same purpose.
The FRIENDS, (commonly called Quakers,) have evinced the propriety of their name, by their goodness in originating, and their vigorous exertions in executing, this truly humane and benevolent design …
The time, however, is anticipated when all distinctions between master and slave shall be abolished;
and when the language, manners, customs, political and religious sentiments of the mixed mass of people who inhabit the United States, shall have become so assimilated, as that all nominal distinctions shall be lost in the general and honorable name of AMERICANS.”

Jedediah Morse founded the New England Tract Society in 1814, and the American Bible Society in 1816.

He was a member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1811-19.

In an “Election Sermon” given at Charleston, Massachusetts, April 25, 1799, Jedediah Morse stated:
“To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys.
In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions;
in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism.
I hold this to be a truth confirmed by experience …”

Morse concluded:
“If so, it follows, that all efforts to destroy the foundations of our holy religion, ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness.
Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.”
On his tombstone is written:
“In memory of Jedediah Morse — The Father of American Geography — Born in Woodstock, Windham County, Connecticut — August 23, 1761 — Died in New Haven, June 9, 1826 — In the Joy of a Triumphant Faith in Christ”
Reposted with permission by The American Minute