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1798-09-05

An oration upon the infringement of the rights of man, to be delivered at the commencement of Rhode Island College; September 5th, 1798
The growing controversy over the morality of the transatlantic slave trade in the late eighteenth century spilled onto the campus of the College of Rhode Island, what is today Brown University. At the 1798 commencement ceremony, a senior at the College, James Tallmadge, delivered this "oration upon the infringement of the rights of man." In the speech, Tallmadge mocked the various claims of the trade's defenders (some of whom were doubtless sitting in the audience), dismissing such arguments as feeble rationalizations designed to disguise "avarice" and "appease a corroding conscience." Tallmadge later earned distinction in the U.S. House of Representatives for his opposition to the extension of slavery into the western territories.