“The insolvency of slavery shows and stares, and we shall perhaps live to
see that putrid Black-vomit extirpated by mere dying and planting.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson writing to Thomas Carlyle, 1859
The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1834-1872, Vol II
Carlyle (1795-1881) was a Scottish writer who also happened to be a slavery-supporting racist. Emerson (1803-1882) was an American writer who despised slavery and was one of the leading progressives of his day. Here, Emerson looks forward to the eradication of slavery in the US, choosing as his metaphor ‘Black Vomit’. He is not pejoratively referring to the skin colour of the slaves, but rather using a common synonym for Yellow Fever. Sufferers of Yellow Fever often throw up vomitus tinged with blood, giving it a blackish colour. Emerson puts slavery on a par with a deadly viral disease that causes misery and death. Tellingly, Yellow Fever was also referred to as ‘American Plague’ – itself a fitting description of slavery.