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[26]

Chapter 3: one of their traits

The writer has spoken of the courage of the Abolitionists. There is another trait by which they were distinguished that, in his opinion, should not be passed over. That was their extreme hopefulness-their untiring confidence. No matter how adverse were the conditions, they expected to win. They never counted the odds against them. They trusted in the right which they were firmly persuaded would prevail some time or another. For that time they were willing to wait, meanwhile doing what they could to hasten its coming.

Benjamin Lundy, the little Quaker mechanic, who was undeniably the Peter-the-Hermit of the Abolitionist movement, when setting out alone and on foot, with his printing material on his back, to begin a crusade against the strongest and most arrogant institution in the country, remarked with admirable naivete, “I do not know how soon 1 shall succeed in my undertaking.”

William Lloyd Garrison, when the pioneer Anti-Slavery Society was organized by only twelve men, and they people of no worldly consequence, the meeting for lack of a better place being held in a colored schoolroom on “Nigger Hill” in Boston, [27] declared that in due time they would meet to urge their principles in Faneuil Hall--a most audacious declaration, but he was right.

The writer, when a boy, was witness to an exhibition of the same spirit. A kinsman of his was a zealous Abolitionist, although not particularly gifted with controversial acumen. He and his minister, as often happened, were discussing the slavery question. The minister, like many of his cloth at that time, was a staunch supporter of “the institution,” which, according to his contention, firmly rested on biblical authority.

“How do you expect to destroy slavery, as it exists in Kentucky, by talking and voting abolition up here in Ohio?” asked the clergyman.

“We will crush it through Congress when we get control of the general government,” said my kinsman.

“But Congress and the general government have, under the Constitution, absolutely no power over slavery in the States. It is a State institution,” replied the clergyman.

It is unnecessary to follow the discussion, but, one after another, the quicker-witted and better-informed preacher successfully combated all the propositions advanced by my relative in trying to give a reason for the faith that was in him, until he was completely cornered. “Well,” said he at last, “the good Lord has not taken me into His confidence, and I don't know what His plans for upsetting slavery are, but He will be able to manage it somehow.”

My kinsman lived long enough to see the day [28] when there was not a slave on American soil, and the minister lived long enough to become a roaring Abolitionist.

It was doubtless their confidence in ultimate triumph, a result of their absolute belief in the righteousness of their cause, that, as much as anything else, armed and armored the Abolitionists against all opposition. It was one main element of their strength in the midst of their weakness. Without it they could not have persisted, as they did, in their separate or “third party” political action, that cleared the way and finally led up to a victorious organization. Year after year, and for many years, they voted for candidates that had no chance of election. Their first presidential ticket got only seven thousand votes in the whole country. The great public, which could not see the use of acting politically for principle alone, laughed at their simplicity in “throwing away their votes.” “Voting in the air” was the way it was often spoken of, and those who were guilty of such incomprehensible folly were characterized as “one idea people.” They, however, cared little for denunciation or ridicule, and kept on regularly nominating their tickets, and as regularly giving them votes that generally appeared in the election returns among the “scattering.” They were not abashed by the insignificance of their party.

They were men who dared to be
In the right with two or three,

according to the poet Lowell.

In the county in which I lived when a boy, there [29] was one vote polled for the first Abolitionist presidential ticket. The man who gave it did not try to hide his responsibility — in fact, he seemed rather proud of his aloneness — but he was mercilessly guyed on account of the smallness of his party. His rejoinder was that he thought that he and God, who was, he believed, with him, made a pretty good-sized and respectable party.

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