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Letter to George Thompson (1839).

This letter was written in England in the summer of 1809, and read by Mr. Thompson at the Anniversary of the Glasgow Emancipation Society in that year.

My dear Thompson,--I am very sorry to say no to your pressing request, but I cannot come to Glasgow; duty takes me elsewhere. My heart will be with you though, on the 1st of August, and I need not say how much pleasure it would give me to meet, on that day especially, the men to whom my country owes so much, and on the spot dear to every American Abolitionist as the scene of your triumphant refutation and stern rebuke of Breckinridge. I do not think any of you can conceive the feelings with which an American treads such scenes. You cannot realize the debt of gratitude he feels to be due, and is eager to pay to those who have spoken in behalf of humanity, and whose voices have come to him across the water. The vale of Leven, Exeter Hall, Glasgow, and Birmingham are consecrated spots,--the land of Scoble and Sturge, of Wardlaw and Buxton, of Clarkson and O'Connell, is hallowed ground to us.

Would I could be with you, to thank the English Abolitionists, in the slave's name, for the great experiment they have tried in behalf of humanity; for proving in the face of the world the safety and expediency of immediate emancipation; for writing out the demonstration [8] of the problem as if with letters of light on the blue vault of heaven; to thank them, too, for the fidelity with which they have rebuked the apathy, and denounced the guilt of the American Church, in standing aloof from this great struggle for freedom in modern times. The appeals and exhortations which have from time to time gone out from among you may seem to have fallen to the ground in vain; but, far from it, they have awakened, in some degree at least, a slumbering Church to a great national sin, and they have strengthened greatly hands that were almost ready to faint in the struggle with a giant evil. We need them still; spare us not a moment from your Christian rebukes; give us line upon line and precept upon precept.

Our enterprise is eminently a religious one, dependent for success entirely on the religious sentiment of the people. It is on hearts that wait not for the results of West India experiments, that look to duty and not to consequences, that disdain to make the fears of one class of men the measure of the rights of another, that fear no evil in the doing of God's commands,--it is on such that the weight of our cause mainly rests, and on the conversion of those whose characters will make them such that its future progress must depend. It is upon just such minds that your appeals have most effect. I hardly exaggerate when I say that the sympathy and brotherly appeals of British Christians are the sheet-anchor of our cause. Did they realize that slavery is now most frequently defended in America from the Bible,--that when Abolitionists rebuke the Church for upholding it, they are charged with hostility to Christianity itself, they would feel this. If we construe a text in favor of liberty, it is set down to partiality and prejudice. A European construction is decisive. Our rebukes lose much of their force when they are represented, though falsely, [9] to spring from personal hostility,--from a zeal which undue attention to a single subject has made to outrun discretion. Your appeals sink deep,--they can neither be avoided nor blunted by any such pretence, and their first result must be conviction. Distance lends them something of the awful weight of the verdict of posterity. May they never cease! Let the light of your example shine constantly upon us, till our Church, beneath its rays, like Egypt's statue, shall break forth into the music of consistent action.

England, too, is the fountain-head of our literature. The slightest censure, every argument, every rebuke on the pages of your reviews, strikes on the ear of the remotest dweller in our country. Thank God, that in this the sceptre has not yet departed from Judah, that it dwells still in the land of Vane and Milton, of Pym and Hampden, of Sharp and Cowper and Wilberforce:--

The dead but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule
Our spirits from their urns.

May those upon whom rests their mantle be true to the realms they sway! You have influence where we are not even heard. The prejudice which treads under foot the vulgar Abolitionist dares not proscribe the literature of the world. In the name of the slave, I beseech you, let literature speak out, in deep, stern, and indignant tones, for the press,--

like the air,
Is seldom heard but when it speaks in thunder.

I am rejoiced to hear of your new movement in regard to India. It seals the fate of the slave system in America. The industry of the pagan shall yet wring from Christian hands the prey they would not yield to the commands of conscience or the claims of religion. Hasten [10] the day, for it lies with you, when the prophecy of our Randolph (himself a slave-holder) shall be fulfilled,--that the time would come when masters would fly their slaves, instead of slaves their masters, so valueless would be a slave's labor in comparison with his support To you, to the sunny plains of Hindostan, we shall owe it, that our beautiful prairies are unpolluted by the footsteps of a slave-holder; that the march of civilization westward will be changed from the progress of the manacled slave coffle, at the bidding of the lash, to the quiet step of families, carrying peace, intelligence, and religion as their household gods Mr. Clay has coolly calculated the value of sinews and muscles, of the bodies and souls of men, and then asked us whether we could reasonably expect the South to surrender 1,200,000,000 dollars at the bidding of abstract principles. Be just to India; waken that industry along her coast which oppression has kept landlocked and idle, break the spell which binds the genius of her fertile plains, and we shall see this property in man become like the gold in India's fairy tales,--dust in the slave-holder's grasp!

You cannot imagine, my dear brother, the impulse this new development of England's power will give the Antislavery cause in America. It is just what we need to touch a class of men who seem almost out of the pale of religious influence. Much as our efforts have been blessed, much as they have accomplished, though truth has often floated further on the shouts of a mob than our feeble voices could have carried it,--still our progress has served but to show us more clearly the Alps which lie beyond. The evil is so deep-rooted, the weight of interest and prejudice on its side so vast,--ambition clinging to political power, wealth to the means of further gain,--that we have sometimes feared they would be able to put off emancipation till the charter of [11] the slaves' freedom would be sealed with blood, that our day of freedom would be like Egypt's, when “God came forth from his place, his right hand clothed in thunder,” and the jubilee of Israel was echoed by Egypt's wailing for her first-born.

It is not the thoughtful, the sober-minded, the conscientious, for whom we fear. With them truth will finally prevail. It is not that we want eloquence or Christian zeal enough to sustain the conflict with such, and with your aid to come off conquerors. We know, as your Whately says of Galileo, that if Garrison could have been answered, he had never been mobbed; that May's Christian firmness, Smith's world-wide philanthropy, Chapman's daring energy, and Weld's soul of fire can never be quelled, and will finally kindle a public feeling before which opposition must melt away. But how hard to reach the callous heart of selfishness, the blinded conscience, over which a corrupt Church has thrown its shield lest any ray of truth pierce its dark chambers. How shall we address that large class of men with whom dollars are always a weightier consideration than duties, prices current stronger argument than proofs of holy writ? But India can speak in tones which will command a hearing. Our appeal has been entreaty, for the times in America are those party times, when-

Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg,
Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good.

But from India a voice comes clothed with the omnipotence of self-interest, and the wisdom which might have been slighted from the pulpit, will be to such men oracular from the market-place. Gladly will we make a pilgrimage and bow with more than Eastern devotion on the banks of the Ganges, if his holy waters shall be able to wear away the fetters of the slave. [12]

God speed the progress of your society! may it soon find in its ranks the whole phalanx of sacred and veteran Abolitionists! No single divided effort, but a united one to grapple with the wealth, influence, and power embattled against you. Is it not Schiller who says, “Divide the thunder into single notes, and it becomes a lullaby for children; but pour it forth in one quick peal, and the royal sound shall shake the heavens” ? So may it be with you! and God grant that without waiting for the United States to be consistent, before our ears are dust, the jubilee of emancipated millions may reach us from Mexico to the Potomac, and from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains.

Yours truly and most affectionately, Wendell Phillips.

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