The members of the Free-Soil
party, in New York and Boston
particularly, had organized courses of lectures on the Slavery question for the first time, to be delivered in those cities; and their example was followed throughout the whole North
delivered the closing Lecture of the New York Course
at the Metropolitan Theatre
on the 9th of May, 1855.
The chair was occupied
by Hon. William Jay
, who introduced the speaker in the following words:
Ladies and Gentlemen: I have been requested, on the part of the Society, to perform the pleasing but unnecessary office of introducing to you the honored and well-known advocate of Justice, Humanity and Freedom, Charles Sumner.
It is not for his learning and eloquence that I commend him to your respectful attention; for learning, eloquence, and even theology itself, have been prostituted in the service of an institution well described by John Wesley as the sum of all villanies.
I introduce him to you as a Northern Senator on whom nature has conferred the unusual gift of a backbone—a man who, standing erect on the floor of Congress, amid creeping things from the North, with Christian fidelity denounces the stupendous wickedness of the Fugitive Law and Nebraska perfidy, and in the name of Liberty, Humanity and Religion, demands the repeal of those most atrocious enactments.
May the words he is about to utter be impressed on your consciences, and influence your conduct!
History abounds in vicissitudes.
From weakness and humility, men ascend to power and place.
From defeat and disparagement, enterprises are lifted to triumph and acceptance.
The martyr of to-day is gratefully enshrined on the morrow.
The stone that the builders rejected is made the head of the corner.
Thus it always has been, and ever will be.
Only twenty years ago,—in 1835,—the friends of the slave in our country were weak and humble, while their great Enterprise, just then showing itself, was trampled down and despised.
The small companies, gathered together in the name of Freedom, were interrupted and often dispersed by riotous mobs.
At Boston, a feeble association of women, called the Female Anti-Slavery Society, convened in a small room of an upper story in an obscure building, was insulted and then driven out of doors by a frantic crowd, politely termed at the time an assemblage of ‘gentlemen of property and standing,’ which, after various deeds of violence and vileness, next directed itself upon William Lloyd Garrison,—known as the determined editor of the Liberator, and the originator of the Anti-Slavery Enterprise in our day,—then ruthlessly tearing him away, amidst savage threats and with a halter about his neck, dragged him through the streets, until, at last, guilty only of loving liberty, if not wisely, too well, this unoffending citizen was thrust into the common jail for protection against an infuriated populace.
Nor was Boston alone.
Even villages, in remote rural solitude, belched forth in similar outrage; while the large towns, like Providence, New Haven, Utica.
Worcester, Alton, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, became so many fiery craters, overflowing with rage and madness.
What lawless violence failed to accomplish was next urged through the forms of law. By solemn legislative acts, the Slave States called on the Free States ‘promptly and effectually to suppress all associations within their respective limits purporting to be Abolition Societies;’ and Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York basely hearkened to the base proposition.
The press, too, with untold power, exerted itself in this behalf, while the pulpit, the politician, and the merchant conspired to stifle discussion, until the voice of Freedom was hushed to a whisper, ‘alas!
almost afraid to know itself.’
Since then—in the lapse of a few years only—a change has taken place.
Instead of those small companies, counted by tens, we have now this mighty assembly, counted by thousands; instead of an insignificant apartment, like that in Boston, the mere appendage of a printing-office, where, as in the manger itself, Truth was cradled, we have now this Metropolitan Hall, ample in proportions and central in place; instead of a profane and clamorous mob, beating at our gates, dispersing our assembly, and making one of our number the victim of its fury, we have now peace and harmony at unguarded doors, ruffled only by a generous competition to participate in this occasion; while legislatures openly declare their sympathies; villages, towns and cities vie in the new manifestation; and the press itself, with increased power, heralds, applauds and extends the prevailing influence, which, overflowing from every fountain, and pouring through every channel, at last, by the awakened voice of pulpit, politician and merchant, swells into an irrepressible cry.
Here is a great change, worthy of notice and memory, for it attests the first stage of victory.
Slavery, in all its many-sided wrong, still continues; but here in this metropolis,—ay, sir, and throughout the whole North,—freedom of discussion is at length secured.
And this, I say, is the first stage of victory—herald of the transcendant Future:
Hark! a glad voice the lonely desert cheers; Nor is there anything peculiar in the trials to which our cause has been exposed.
Thus in all ages has Truth been encountered.
At first persecuted, gagged, silenced, crucified, she has cried out from the prison,
from the torture, from the stake, from the cross, until at last her voice has been heard.
And when that voice is really heard, whether in martyr cries, or in the earthquake tones of civil convulsion, or in the calmness of ordinary speech, such as I now employ, or in that still small utterance inaudible to the common ear, then is the beginning of victory!
‘Give me where to stand, and I will move the world,’ said Archimedes; and Truth asks no more than did the master of geometry.
Prepare the way!
a God, a God appears!
a God! the vocal hills reply,
The rocks proclaim th' approaching Deity.