Chapter 4: pictures of the struggle
There are pages in the memoirs of Antislavery that shine with a light which sanctifies this continent, and which will be undiminished a thousand years hence.
Nay, it will shine more clearly then than now; for we are still living in the valley of the shadow of death.
The war followed so quickly upon the true awakening of the nation as to the nature of slavery that those early watchers, whose cries had aroused us, were still in coventry; they were still held to be odious, although their piercing appeal had put life and religion into all. The North
died for the slave, with condemnation of the Abolitionist upon its lips.
This paradoxical outcome was due to the rapidity with which events moved during the final crisis.
A revolution may be studied in its origins, and may be comprehended through its results; but during the actual cascade that leads from the one epoch to the other, scene succeeds
scene with such fury that history becomes unintelligible.
In the years that intervened between the Kansas
troubles and the outbreak of the war, so many things happened at once that all issues and all feelings were telescoped together.
There followed the picturesque horrors and scenes of war-time; there followed the new patriotism, the new heroes, the New Legend-all of it so vivid, so drenched in grief, so glorified by honor, so informed with the meaning of a new heaven and a new earth, that the immediate past was belittled.
The Abolitionists thus passed straight from the odium of people preaching unpleasant truth to the odium of people proclaiming what everybody knows.
They have never had a heyday.
Their cause triumphed but not they themselves.
They still remain under a cloud in America
, and are regarded with some distrust by the historian and by the common man. I can scarcely find a man who sees in these early Abolitionists, as I do, the lamp and light of the whole after-coming epoch.
Perhaps our age is still too near to theirs to do it justice; and the mere flight of time may bring men to a truer perspective of the whole matter.
Religious animosities do not die out in a moment.
Many of us still feel a lambent and rising heat course through our veins in reading the history of the religious wars of three centuries ago. This is because those wars have come down in family life, and are thus a part of the intimate personal history of men. So of this just-buried cause, Abolition.
Consider how the American
of to-day reads the Constitutional History
of the years before the war. Nullification, the Texas
scheme, the Mexican War
, the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise
, the Kansas
troubles-all these things and every subsidiary foreign or domestic issue in our annals, are interesting to us because we feel so intimately the hot place in each one of them.
Part of this heat comes from prejudice and accident, part of it from the central focus of truth; and we cannot always be sure which kind it is that burns in us. But there is a species of glow that can be trusted.
It comes to us when we read accounts of heroism.
Tales of noble self-sacrifice never remain mere adjuncts to a creed, or portions of a partisan tradition.
They contain in themselves the whole of salvation.
Posterity will recur to the age of the Anti-slavery
movement in order to find there those little digests of human nature which are true to all time.
Here are the gems in the treasury of a nation's life; and it matters not to later ages whether the geological strata in which they lie embedded be Catholic or Protestant, Christian or pagan, political or religious.
Whenever a reform movement is started in this world and is making headway, the evils which it threatens instinctively strive to gain control over it. We see this every day in our local citizens' movements, which always begin by sincere activity, and almost always grow effete through capture by the politicians.
Our civil service associations tend to become absorbed by the political parties, who man them with paid officials, and run up the expenses till the cure has become a part of the disease.
This oscillation between reform and absorption goes on ceaselessly; and the young prophet always finds himself obliged to attack and destroy some sham reform association, bearing a fine name, before he can get at the real evil.
Let us note this also; that a somnolent and inactive reform association, with a fine name, and an aroma of original benevolence about it, and perhaps even a
superficially good record, is the very sort of association to attract respectable, rich, lazy, and conservative people.
The Colonization Society in 1830 presented an extreme case of sham reform.
It had been started in 1816 in Virginia
, with the avowed object of transporting free negroes to Africa
It had been pushed with diligence and paraded as the cure for the evils of slavery, and its benevolence was assumed on all hands.
Everybody of consequence belonged to it. Garrison
, himself, joined it in good faith.
This Colonization Society had, by an invisible process, half conscious, half unconscious, been transformed into a serviceable organ and member of the Slave Power
In order to investigate the real functions of this society, Garrison
, in 1831, obtained from its headquarters at Washington
, the files of its documents and of its newspaper, the African Repository
“The result of his labors,” says Oliver Johnson
, “was seen in a bulky pamphlet, that came from the press in the spring, entitled ‘Thoughts on African Colonization; or, an Impartial Exhibition of the Doctrines, Principles and Purposes of the American Colonization Society; together
with the Resolutions, Addresses and Remonstrances of the Free People
As a compilation of facts and authorities it was unanswerable and overwhelming.
It condemned the Colonization Society out of its own mouth, and by a weight of evidence that was irresistible.
There was just enough of comment to elucidate the testimony from official sources and bring it within the comprehension of the simplest reader.
His indictment contained ten averments, viz.: I. The American Colonization Society is pledged not to oppose the system of slavery; 2, It apologizes for slavery and slave-holders; 3.
It recognizes slaves as property; 4.
It increases the value of slaves; 5.
It is the enemy of immediate abolition; 6.
It is nourished by fear and selfishness; 7.
It aims at the utter expulsion of the blacks; 8.
It is the disparager of the free blacks; 9.
It denies the possibility of elevating the blacks in this country; 10.
It deceives and misleads the Nation.
Each of these averments was supported by pages of citations from the annual reports of the society, from the pages of its official organ, the African Repository
, and from the speeches of its leading champions in all parts of the country.
It was impossible to
set this evidence aside, and equally so to resist the conclusions drawn therefrom.
The work could not be, and therefore was not answered.”
The book made a tremendous sensation and became the arsenal of the Abolitionists in this country and of their exponents abroad.
“It was early in 1852, I think,” says Elizur Wright
, “that Mr. Garrison
struck the greatest blow of his life-or any man's life-by publishing in a thick pamphlet, with all the emphasis that a printer knows how to give to types, his Thoughts on Colonization
The Colonization Society was an embodiment of the public consciousness.
It was prevalent, it was a part of the people's daily life.
All the great divines belonged to it, all the academic bigwigs, social figure-heads and moneyed men. And yet, in fact, Colonization was a sort of obscene dragon that lay before the Palace of Slavery to devour or corrupt all assailants.
attacked it like Perseus
, with a ferocity which to this day is thrilling.
His eyes, his words, and his sword flash and glitter.
And he slew it. He cut off its supplies, he destroyed its reputation in Europe
; and he thereby opened the path between the Abolition movement and the conscience
Nothing he ever did was more able.
Nothing that Frederick the Great
ever did in the field of war was more brilliant than this political foray of Garrison
, then at the age of twenty-seven, upon the keyposition and jugular vein of slavery.
Among the immediate consequences of Garrison
's pamphlet on colonization was the contest over Lane Seminary at Cincinnati
, a contest which became the storm center of Abolition influence for a year, and qualified public opinion ever after.
I quote part of the account given by Oliver Johnson
from his well-known volume on Garrison
and his time — from which many of these illustrations are taken.
was a right-hand man of Garrison
's and at times was editor and co-editor of the Liberator
. He gave up his life to Anti-slavery, and is a fair example of the sort of man who came into existence, as if by miracle, when Garrison
stamped his foot in 1830.
“The founding of Lane Seminary, at the gateway of the great West
, was a part of this plan, to extend the influence of Orthodoxy, and Dr. Beecher
recognized as the leader of New England
Revivalism, and the strongest representative of the advanced school of Orthodoxy at that day, Mr. Tappan
thought that he of all others was the man best fitted to train a body of ministers for the new field.
, after considerable delay, and to the great grief of his Boston church, accepted the appointment.
Such was his fame that a large class of students, of unusual maturity of judgment and ripeness of Christian experience, was at once attracted to the Seminary
In the literary and theological departments together, they numbered about one hundred and ten. Eleven of these were from different slave States; seven were sons of slaveholders; one was himself a slaveholder, and one had purchased his freedom from cruel bondage by the payment of a large sum of money, which he had earned by extra labor.
Besides these there were ten others who had resided for longer or shorter periods in the slave States, and made careful observation of the character and workings of slavery.
The youngest of these students was nineteen years of age; most of those in the theological department were more than twenty-six, and several were over thirty.
Most if not all of them
had been converted in the revivals of that period, and were filled with the revival spirit in which Dr. Beecher
so much delighted.
A more earnest and devoted band of students was probably never gathered in any theological seminary.
had great pride as well as confidence in them.”
The students in this Seminary at Cincinnati
were planning to form a Colonization Society, and Garrison
's pamphlet being in the air, its arguments were being used to oppose the plan.
The students therefore organized a nine days solemn debate upon the whole matter, with the result that Garrison
and Immediate Emancipation carried the day. In the meantime the country at large took an interest in the affair, and the press assailed the Seminary
as a hotbed of Abolition.
Dr. Lyman Beecher
and the trustees were harried and threatened.
The hearts of the Abolitionists were stirred to the depths.
“In every part of the free States,” says Oliver Johnson
, “there were Christian men and godly women not a few, who prayed to God night and day that Lyman Beecher
might be imbued with strength and courage to stand up nobly in the face of the storm that raged around him, and maintain the
right of his pupils, as candidates for the Christian
ministry, to investigate and discuss the subject of slavery, and to bear their testimony against it as a sin, and a mighty hindrance to the spread of the Gospel.”
At last, the trustees of the Seminary
, thinking to avoid the danger, forbade the students to discuss slavery at all — even in private.
The outcome was that seventy or eighty students resigned in a body.
The institution was disgraced and wrecked; it never recovered from the experience.
The greatest result of the episode, however, was this, that the young men who resigned became, by force of circumstances, something like public characters.
Their first step was a public one--into the arena.
They issued an appeal to the Christian
public, and many of them went out into the world as protagonists of Abolition.
Here was a miraculous draught indeed; for, of course, among them were men of mark; and Theodore D. Weld
, the ringleader, was, as Johnson
says, the peer of Beecher
himself in native ability.
Thus burst a seed-pod of Abolition.
This propagative influence had been in Garrison
That pamphlet evoked, it elicited, it agitated.
When we come later to review
's writings, let us remember what these writings accomplished.
Let us remember that, however tedious this pamphlet on Colonization may seem to us, however dead it may fall, under criticism, to-day, it had this life-giving quality in its own time.
Another of the early picturesque episodes of Anti-slavery history was the case of Prudence Crandall
It set the world ringing, and caused new champions to step forward, fully armed, out of that mystical wood which ever fringes the open lawns where heroes are at combat.
I again quote from Oliver Johnson
In 1832, Prudence Crandall, a Quaker young woman of high character, established in Canterbury, Windham County, Conn., a school for young ladies.
Now there was in that town a respectable colored farmer named Harris, who had a daughter, a bright girl of seventeen, who, having passed creditably through one of the district schools, desired to qualify herself to be a teacher of colored children.
She was a girl of pleasing appearance and manners, a member of the Congregational church, and of a hue not darker than that of some persons who pass for white.
Miss Crandall, good Quaker that she was, admitted this girl to
The pupils, some of whom had been associated with her in the district school, made no objection; but some of the parents were offended, and demanded the removal of the dark-skinned pupil.
Miss Crandall made a strong appeal in behalf of the girl, and did her best to overcome the prejudices of the objectors, but in vain.
After reflection she came to the conclusion, from a sense of duty, to open her school to other girls of a dark complexion.
The announcement of her purpose threw the whole town into a ferment.
A town-meeting was held in the Congregational church, and so fierce was the excitement that the Rev. Samuel J. May and Mr. Arnold Buffum, the Quaker President of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, who had been deputed by Miss Crandall to speak for her, were denied a hearing.
Why has this woman no tablet?
Will the annals of Canterbury, Connecticut
, show a more heroic figure during the next thousand years--that the hamlet waits to celebrate its patron saint?
Had Prudence Crandall
lived in the time of Diocletian, or in the time of Savonarola
, or in the time of Garibaldi
, she would have had a shrine to which Americans
would have flocked today.
Not without immense influence was the stand she made.
It cost two years of struggle, during which the Slave Power
, as we have seen, passed such bills to suppress her as, in the rebound, weakened its hold on the people of the North
We now find it hard to imagine that, in 1834, it should have been a crime in Connecticut
to give primary education to colored girls.
Yet such was the case.
At her first trial there was a disagreement of the jury.
Upon the second she was convicted.
An appeal was thereupon taken and was followed by a disagreement among the judges.
Thereafter the matter was allowed to drop, through the finding of a flaw in the indictment.
All this, however, was not done in a corner, nor without the indignation of all warm-hearted people, nor without the exhibition of splendid legal ability on both sides of the contest.
Important law-suits were the bull-fights of America
before the war. This one called into being a new local newspaper, supported by Arthur Tappan
, because the existing papers would publish only the Pro-slavery side of the contest.
It called into activity also several new propagandists of the first order,
including C. C. Burleigh
, who was turned from the career of a brilliant advocate and was transformed for life into an evangelist of liberty, through the courage of this woman.
Her story showed the lengths to which the Slave Power
not only would but could
go at the North
, and gave a glance into the burning pit, which even casual and callous persons could not forget.
It was while this long contest was in progress that the National Anti
-Slavery Society was formed by a meeting at Philadelphia
of about sixty Abolitionists, from eleven states.
How young these men were may be judged by the fact that forty-five of them survived to witness the emancipation of the slaves thirty years later.
I quote a few paragraphs from Samuel J. May
's reminiscences, which picture the state of mind of these men as their deliberations of several days drew to a close.
The men had, for the most part, never seen each other before this meeting.
A declaration of principles had been prepared.
“ Between twelve and one o'clock,” says Mr. May
we repaired with the Declaration to the hall.
Edwin P. Atlee, the chairman, read it to the Convention.
Never in my life have I seen a deeper impression
made by words than was made by that admirable document upon all who were there present . ...
At the suggestion of an Orthodox brother, and without a vote of the Convention, our President himself, then an Orthodox minister, readily condescended to the scruples of our Quaker brethren, so far as not to call upon any individual to offer prayer; but at the opening of our sessions each day he gave notice that a portion of time would be spent in prayer.
Any one prayed aloud who was moved to do so. It was at the suggestion also of an Orthodox member that we agreed to dispense with all titles, civil or ecclesiastical.
Accordingly, you will not find in the published minutes of the Convention appendages to any names,neither D. D., nor Rev., nor Hon., nor Esq., -no, not even plain Mr. We met as fellow men, in the cause of suffering fellow men. ...
I cannot describe the holy enthusiasm which lighted up every face as we gathered around the table on which the Declaration lay, to put our names to that sacred instrument.
It seemed to me that every man's heart was in his hand — as if every one felt that he was about to offer himself a
living sacrifice in the cause of freedom, and to do it cheerfully.
There are moments when heart touches heart, and souls flow into one another.
That was such a moment.
I was in them and they in me; we were all one.
There was no need that each should tell the other how he felt and what he thought, for we were in each other's bosoms.
I am sure there was not, in all our hearts, the thought of ever making violent, much less mortal, defense of the liberty of speech, or the freedom of the press, or of our own persons, though we foresaw that they all would be grievously outraged.
Our President, Beriah Green, in his admirable closing speech, gave utterance to what we all felt and intended should be our course of conduct.
He distinctly foretold the obloquy, the despiteful treatment, the bitter persecution, perhaps even the cruel deaths we were going to encounter in the prosecution of the undertaking to which we had bound ourselves.
The age played its part quite handsomely in apportioning persecution to the new preachers of the Gospel.
The case of Amos Dresser
may be cited as a sample from Oliver Johnson
Amos Dresser, a young theological student
(a native of Berkshire County, Mass.), went to Nashville, Tenn., in the summer of 1835, to sell the ‘Cottage Bible.’
His crime was that he was a member of an antislavery society, and that he had some antislavery tracts in his trunk.
For this he was fogged in the public square of the city, under the direction of a Vigilance Committee, composed of the most distinguished citizens, some of them prominent members of churches.
He received twenty lashes on the bare back from a cowskin.
On the previous Sunday he had received the bread and wine of the communion from the hands of one of the members of that Vigilance Committee!
Another member of the Committee was a prominent Methodist, whose house was the resort of the preachers and bishops of his denomination.
was a Massachusetts man. One wonders how the slaveholders would have behaved if a Southerner had, for any cause whatever, been treated in Massachusetts
was treated in Tennessee
But the North
made no complaints.
It is incredible and this is the difficulty which the whole epoch presents to us — it is incredible that the earth should ever have nurtured such a race of cowards as the dominant
classes in our Northern States seem to have been.
And yet we know they were no worse, nor very different from other persons recorded in history; they furnish merely an acute, recent example of how self-interest can corrupt character, of how tyranny can delude intellect.
The sufferings of such persons as Dresser
are never lost.
It required just such exhibitions as this to make the North
see to what depths it had sunk.
For many years, however, the North
could draw no inference from such cases, except this:--that persons like Dresser
were misguided fools, who interfered with matters best left alone.
The next picture must be of another kind.
It shall be of the young Puritan divine, Samuel J. May
, a descendant of the Sewalls and Quincys and of all that Eighteenth Century New England
aristocracy of learning and virtue, which seems to have dwindled and withered in a single generation, and left-except for one or two bright spirits — nothing but shadow-characters, and feeble-natured persons on the stage.
The occasion of May's conversion was Garrison
's first Boston
address, which was given in 1830 in Julien Hall, the hall being lent for the purpose by an association
of avowed infidels.
had but recently denounced the principles of these men; for at this time he was intensely orthodox.
The lesson in charity he thus received from opponents must have been salutary, even to him. The whole incident, including May's conversion, shows how closely knitted together are all the liberal impulses in a community.
At this time May was thirty-three.
His family besought him to shun the new fanaticism; but he put their counsels gently aside.
May is the angel of Anti-slavery.
He gives the following account of his conversion:
Presently the young man (Garrison) arose, modestly, but with an air of calm determination, and delivered such a lecture as he only, I believe, at that time, could have written; for he only had had his eyes so anointed that he could see that outrages perpetrated upon Africans were wrongs done to our common humanity; he only, I believe, had had his ears so completely unstopped of “prejudice against color” that the cries of enslaved black men and black women sounded to him as if they came from brothers and sisters.
He began with expressing deep regret and shame for the zeal he had lately manifested
in the Colonization cause.
It was, he confessed, a zeal without knowledge.
He had been deceived by the misrepresentations so diligently given, throughout the free States by Southern agents, of the design and tendency of the Colonization scheme.
During his few months' residence in Maryland he had been completely undeceived.
He had there found out that the design of those who originated, and the especial intentions of those in the Southern States that engaged in the plan, were to remove from the country, as “a disturbing element” in slaveholding communities, all the free colored people, so that the bondmen might the more easily be held in subjection.
He exhibited in graphic sketches and glowing colors the suffering of the enslaved, and denounced the plan of Colonization as devised and adapted to perpetuate the system, and intensify the wrongs of American slavery, and therefore utterly undeserving of the patronage of lovers of liberty and friends of humanity.
Never before was I so affected by the speech of man. When he had ceased speaking I said to those around me: “ That is a providential man; he is a prophet; he will shake our nation to its center, but he will
shake slavery out of it. We ought to know him, we ought to help him. Come, let us go and give him our hands.”
Mr. Sewall and Mr. Alcott went up with me, and we introduced each other.
I said to him: “Mr. Garrison, I am not sure that I can indorse all you have said this evening.
Much of it requires careful consideration.
But I am prepared to embrace you. I am sure you are called to a great work and I mean to help you.”
With a mind as acute as a lawyer's, and a spirit as unselfish as a seraph's, May plunged into the cause.
It is he who appeared upon the scene to protect and to represent Prudence Crandall
at the meeting of her townsfolk which it was not safe for her to attend.
It is he who has left us the best short book on the early years of the movement, from which book many of these illustrations are taken.
He was of milder speech than Garrison
“0 my friend,” cried May at the close of an expostulation with Garrison
, “do try to moderate your indignation, and keep more cool; why, you are all on fire.”
stopped, laid his hand on May's shoulder with a kind but emphatic pressure, and said slowly: “Brother May, I have need to be all on fire
for I have mountains of ice about me to melt.”
“From that time to this,” adds Mr. May
, “I have never said a word to Mr. Garrison
in complaint of his style.
I am more than half satisfied that he was right then, and we who objected were mistaken.”
May was not so political-minded as Garrison
; he had not Garrison
's strategic understanding of the fight, nor Garrison
's gift of becoming the central whirpool of idea and of persecution.
But he was the diviner spirit of the two.
I do not think Garrison
could have made the following appeal.
It moves in a region of humility which is foreign to Garrison
's nature, to his tactics and to his genius.
had been a family friend of the Mays, and had been particularly kind to Samuel when the latter was a small boy. This affectionate relationship had never been shaken.
The story must be told by May himself.
“ Late in the year 1834,” says Mr. May
being on a visit in Boston, I spent several hours with Dr. Channing in earnest conversation upon Abolitionism and Abolitionists.
My habitual reverence for him was such that I had always been apt to defer perhaps too readily to his opinions, or not to
make a very stout defense of my own when they differed from his. But at the time to which I refer I had become so thoroughly convinced of the truth of the essential doctrines of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and so earnestly engaged in the dissemination of them that our conversation assumed, more than it had ever done, the character of a debate.
He acknowledged the inestimable importance of the object we had in view.
The evils of Slavery, he assented, could not be overstated.
He allowed that removal to Africa ought not to be made a condition of the liberation of the enslaved.
But he hesitated still to accept the doctrine of immediate emancipation.
His principal objections, however, were alleged against the severity of our denunciations, the harshness of our epithets, the vehemence, heat, and excitement caused by the harangues at our meetings, and still more by Mr. Garrison's Liberator. The Doctor dwelt upon these objections, which, if they were as well founded as he assumed them to be, lay against what was only incidental, not an essential part of our movement.
He dwelt upon them until I became impatient, and, forgetting for the moment my wonted deference, I broke out with not a
little warmth of expression and manner:
“Dr. Channing,” I said, “I am tired of these complaints.
The cause of suffering humanity, the cause of our oppressed, crushed colored countrymen, has called as loudly upon others as upon us Abolitionists.
It was just as incumbent upon others as upon us to espouse it. We are not to blame that wiser and better men did not espouse it long ago. The cry of millions, suffering the cruel bondage in our land, had been heard for half a century and disregarded.
“The wise and prudent” saw the terrible wrong, but thought it not wise and prudent to lift a finger for its correction.
The priests and Levites beheld their robbed and wounded countrymen, but passed by on the other side.
The children of Abraham held their peace, and at last “the very stones have cried out” in abhorrence of this tremendous iniquity; and you must expect them to cry out like “the stones.”
You must not wonder if many of those who have been left to take up this great cause, do not plead it in all that seemliness of phrase which the scholars and practiced rhetoricians of our country might use. You must not expect them to manage with all the calmness and discretion that clergymen and
statesmen might exhibit.
But the scholars, the statesmen, the clergy had done nothing, --did not seem about to do anything; and for my part I thank God that at last any persons, be they who they may, have earnestly engaged in this cause; for no movement can be in vain.
We Abolitionists are what we are-babes, sucklings, obscure men, silly women, publicans, sinners, and we shall manage this matter just as might be expected of such persons as we are. It is unbecoming in abler men who stood by and would do nothing to complain of us because we do no better.”
“Dr. Channing,” I continued with increased earnestness, “it is not our fault that those who might have conducted this great reform more prudently have left it to us to manage as we may. It is not our fault that those who might have pleaded for the enslaved so much more wisely and eloquently, both with the pen and the living voice, than we can, have been silent.
We are not to blame, sir, that you, who, more perhaps than any other man, might have so raised the voice of remonstrance that it should have been heard throughout the length and breadth of the land-we are not to blame, sir, that you have not so
And now that inferior men have been compelled to speak and act against what you acknowledge to be an awful system of iniquity, it is not becoming in you to complain of us because we do it in an inferior style.
Why, sir, have you not taken this matter in hand yourself?
Why have you not spoken to the nation long ago, as you, better than any other one, could have spoken?”
At this point I bethought me to whom I was administering this rebuke,--the man who stood among the highest of the great and good in our land,--the man whose reputation for wisdom and sanctity had become world-wide,--the man, too, who had ever treated me with the kindness of a father, and whom, from my childhood, I had been accustomed to revere more than any one living.
I was almost overwhelmed with a sense of my temerity.
His countenance showed that he was much moved.
I could not suppose he would receive all I had said very graciously.
I waited his reply in painful expectation.
The minutes seemed very long that elapsed before the silence was broken.
Then in a very subdued manner and in the kindliest tones of his voice he said, “Brother May, I acknowledge the justice
of your reproof.
I have been silent too long.”
Never shall I forget his words, look and whole appearance.
I then and there saw the beauty, the magnanimity, the humility of a truly great Christian soul.
He was exalted in my esteem more even than before.
Surely this is as moving an appeal as one man ever made to another; and the figures of May and Channing
seem to stand as in a bas-relief symbolizing the old and the new generation.
Are the caverns of Antislavery controversy strewn with fragments of such marble as this?
I know that Emerson
used to say that eloquence was dog-cheap at Anti-slavery meetings; but I did not expect to find gestures so sublime or episodes so moving.
The figures of Hebrew historyof Jacob and Joseph, of Nathan and David, of Hagar
and Ishmael — rise before us in their solemn, soul-subduing reality; and are one in spirit with these Anti-slavery scenes.
My shelves are lined with books about Saint Francis
of Assisi; my walls are papered with photographs of men of genius in Florence
, and of saints in Sienna
I desire also to remember the saints of New England
are digging for art and for intellect in Troy
, in Sardis
Let us sometimes also dig in the old records of our own towns; and, while doing so, let us pray that mind be given us to understand what we bring to light.
In the year following his interview with May (1836), Dr. Channing
published his famous pamphlet on Slavery, which was of enormous value to the Anti-slavery cause, though it did not coincide with Abolition opinion.
It condemned Slavery to heart's content, but did not advocate immediate action.
The engines of rationalism and the fountains of morality were by Channing
turned upon the entire subject.
This was no half-work: it was thorough.
's name carried the book into houses, both at the North
and in the South
where no Abolition literature could penetrate; and made it a mile-stone in the progress of Anti-slavery.
Its most lasting importance to posterity, however, is that it proves Channing
's courage, and shows that his occasional subserviency toward his Trustees was not due to a defect in his nature, but to a defect in his education, a defect in his vision.
Could the matter have been explained to his mind through the elaborate machinery of his own philosophy, he would have broken his chains.
are plenty of people to whom the crucial problems of their own lives never get presented in terms that they can understand.
Abolitionists were, of course, not satisfied with Channing
's pamphlet; for he could not sanction their views; and indeed he repeated many of the commonplace charges against them,--e. g., “that the Abolitionists exaggerated the importance of their cause; that they sent their literature to the slave; that their language was too violent,” --etc.
Most of these charges appear to-day to contradict the main thesis of the book, and to record merely the nervous petulance of that age.
The Slave Barons and their Boston
friends were cut to the heart by Channing
They denounced him as an even more dangerous enemy than Garrison
If, at times, we feel dissatisfied with Channing
's caution, we should remember that he was a middle-aged man when these problems arose.
was born in 1780; and Anti-slavery was an agony in the blood of young men, in 1829.
I have referred to John Quincy Adams
' detestation of slavery.
He was, however, never an Abolitionist, and he did not even favor the abolition of slavery in the District
For this latter opinion he had the most fantastic reason; namely that, although the residents of the District
had no votes, and were governed by Congress, nevertheless he felt himself to be all the more bound in honor to act during his term in Congress as if he were the representative chosen by the people of that District; that is, to act according to what he knew to be the will of his quasi
But, for his real
constituents he held no such reverence, and in his dealings with them he was governed by his own conscience.
Such are the vagaries of men.
The romantic, extravagant nature of this man was, at an early age, put in irons to law, diplomacy, politics, and administrative duty.
He was a born agitator, who appeared at a time when his peculiar talents were not demanded by the age. In John Quincy Adams
' boyhood all the talents and energies of this country were required for the assembling, setting in motion, and keeping together of the machineries of our new Government.
There was no demand for an agitator, whose function is always to displace, to disperse, and to pull apart.
And thus it happened with John Quincy Adams
that he was never young till he was old.
The opportunity to exercise his extraordinary talents for agitation came when he took his seat in Congress toward the close of his long, brilliant career.
He proceeded to focus the entire attention of the country upon one or two points of parliamentary procedure.
Now an agitator is a man who is willing to make use of the members of government, not only for the various purposes for which they are framed,--as, e. g., the Legislature to legislate, the Judiciary to adjudicate, the Executive
to administer, etc.,--but this man makes use of any or all of them as a machine to spread an idea.
He uses the forms of government as an educational apparatus.
The branch of the Anti-slavery cause which it became Adams
' fate to develop, was the conflict between Slavery and the right to petition.
The policy of the Slave Power
was to smother all petitions upon the subject of Slavery which came before Congress, by laying them upon the table unread.
During half a dozen years Adams
fought this fight practically alone.
If we picture to ourselves a man who had grown up with the country, who had the most intimate recondite, passionate knowledge of its constitutional law, dedicating himself to the
plainest proposition regarding free speech, and proclaiming it in the face of a howling but comparatively unlettered majority, who seethed, and raged, and raved about him like the waves about a light-house---we have John Quincy Adams
at an age of over seventy, presenting the Abolition petitions in Congress.
His figure is part of the Antislavery struggle.
It is clear to our instinct that if Adams
did not have Abolition in his veins, he had something almost as good; he had the thing that Abolition was the sign of, namely, courage.
His peculiar kind of courage was, in one sense, not as good as Abolition; for it was not an elixir.
It would never have abolished slavery: it was not selfperpetuating.
It would have died with him. Yet the passion within him, which he cloaked under the name of Free Speech, was in reality the Will to Pity, the Will to Love, the Will to express freely that emotional side of man's nature with which he himself was so richly endowed.
This is why the last page of this man's life lifts him into a new kind of greatness.
It makes no difference what he did before this era. His service to the Abolition cause was proportionate to his position.
His conduct showed the country what slavery pointed to, and
demonstrated also the conservative nature of Abolition.
It showed that Abolition was at one with the foundations of society.
The aristocracy of Boston
, during these years, regarded John Quincy Adams
as an enfant terrible;
but the people of Massachusetts
stood by him and, in the end, rallied to congratulate him at a monster meeting.
Human nature could not withhold its tribute of admiration.
, an Englishman, whose life had been devoted to the cause of Antislavery in the British
colonies, and who was one of the greatest popular orators of that day, had done more than any one man to abolish West Indian Slavery; and it was natural that Garrison
, who went to England
in 1833 for conference with the victorious British Abolitionists, should enlist Thompson
in the American
cause and bring him to America
Upon the passage of the Act abolishing Slavery in the West Indies
, Lord Brougham had risen in the House of Lords and said: “I rise to take the crown of this most glorious victory from every other head, and place it upon George Thompson
's. He has done more than any other man to achieve it.”
One can imagine how the Americans
1833, who set a price on the heads of their own compatriots when they were Abolitionists, would welcome the most powerful, the most popular living advocate of the hated cause — a stranger and an Englishman.
was mobbed and hounded, threatened, insulted, and would have been killed if fate had assisted ever so little by lending the opportunity.
I shall content myself with giving Mr. May
's description of Thompson
“ Mr. Thompson
then went on to give us a graphic, glowing account of the long and fierce conflict they had had in England
for the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies
His eloquence rose to a still higher order.
His narrative became a continuous metaphor
, admirably sustained.
He represented the Anti-slavery enterprise in which he had been so long engaged as a stout, wellbuilt ship, manned by a noble-hearted crew, launched upon a stormy ocean, bound to carry inestimable relief to 800,000 sufferers in a far-distant land.
He clothed all kinds of opposition they had met, all the difficulties they had contended with, in imagery suggested by the observation and experience of the voyager across the Atlantic
in the most tempestuous season of the year.
the height of his descriptions, my attention was withdrawn from the emotions enkindled in my own bosom sufficiently to observe the effect of his eloquence upon half a dozen boys, of twelve or fourteen years of age, sitting together not far from the platform.
They were completely possessed by it. When the ship reeled or plunged or staggered in the storms, they unconsciously went through the same motions.
When the enemy attacked her, the boys took the liveliest part in battle-manning the guns, or handing shot and shell, or pressing forward to repulse the boarders.
When the ship struck upon an iceberg, the boys almost fell from their seats in the recoil.
When the sails and topmasts were well-nigh carried away by the gale, they seemed to be straining themselves to prevent the damage; and when at length the ship triumphantly sailed into her destined port with colors flying and signals of glad tidings floating from her topmast, and the shout of welcome rose from thousands of expectant freedmen on the shore, the boys gave three loud cheers, ‘Hurrah!
This irrepressible explosion of their feelings brought them at once to themselves.
covered their faces, sank down on their seats, one of them upon the floor.”
It was one thing for the American
to thrill for the liberty of Greece
, or Hungary
; and another to allow foreign enthusiasts to thrill over American Anti-slavery.
was marked for assassination and kidnapping; and a gibbet was erected for him in Boston
It was Thompson
whom the mob were in search of when they caught Garrison
at the meeting of the Female Antislavery Society
, soon to be described.
The impertinence of Thompson
consisted in his being a foreigner, and this fact played upon the peculiar American weakness — our sensitiveness to foreign opinion.
“He comes here from the dark corrupt institutions of Europe
,” said Mr. Sprague
in Faneuil Hall, “to enlighten us
upon the rights of man and the moral duties of our own condition.
Received by our hospitality, he stands here upon our soil, protected by our laws, and hurls ‘firebrands, arrows and death ’ into the habitations of our neighbors, and friends, and brothers; and when he shall have kindled a conflagration which is sweeping in desolation over the land, he has only to embark for his own country, and there
look serenely back with indifference or exultation upon the widespread ruir by which our
cities are wrapt in flames, and our
garments rolled in blood. . . . If the storm comes, we
must abide its pelting; if convulsions come, we
must be in the midst of them.
, then, it belongs to judge of the exigencies of our own condition, to provide for our own safety, and perform our own duties without the audacious interference of foreign emissaries.”
I am grateful to this man, George Thompson
He stood for courage in 1835 in Massachusetts
He typified courage also at a later time during the Civil War
when he stood with John Bright and W. E. Forster
as the expounders of the cause of the North
before the people of Great Britain
He was one of the friends of the United States
to whom it is due that England
's governing classes did not assist the South
openly, and thereby give rise to an age-long, never-dying antagonism between England
I am glad that George Thompson
lived to be thanked by Lincoln
and his Cabinet, and to be ceremoniously received in a House of Representatives thronged with the best intellects and hearts in America