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Chapter 11: Anti-slavery orators

George William Curtis, in one of his essays, says that “three speeches have made the places where they were delivered illustrious in our history-three, and there is no fourth.” He refers to the speech of Patrick Henry in Williamsburg, Virginia, of Lincoln in Gettysburg, and the first address of Wendell Phillips in Faneuil Hall.

If it was the purpose of Mr. Curtis to offer the three notable deliverances above mentioned as the best and foremost examples of American oratory, the author cannot agree with him. In his opinion we shall have but little difficulty in picking out the three entitled to that distinction, provided we go to the discussion of the slavery question to find them. That furnished the greatest occasion, being with its ramifications and developments, by far the greatest issue with which Americans have had to deal.

The three speeches to which the writer refers were the more notable because they were altogether impromptu. They were what we call “off hand.” They were delivered in the face of mobs or other bitterly hostile audiences — a circumstance that probably contributed not a little to their effectiveness.

John Quincy Adams, who was unquestionably

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