Chapter 5: the crisis
I have given the foregoing sketches almost at random, and, where possible, in the words of others, in order to call up the decade between 1830 and 1840 without myself feeling the responsibility of a historian, and without asking the reader to give a chronological attention.
Facts often speak for themselves more truly, the less we explain them; and the philosophy of history is perhaps a delusion.
It was between 1830 and 1840 that the real work of Garrison
At the beginning of that decade Abolition was a cry in the wilderness: at the end of it, Abolition was a part of the American
's occupation throughout the epoch was to tend his engine-his Liberator
-and t9 assist in the formation of Anti-slavery societies.
Every breath of the movement was chronicled in the Liberator
, every new convert wrote to Garrison
was the focus, the exchange, the center
and heart of Anti-slavery activity.
He was the channel into which the new streams flowed.
If a drop of Abolition fell from the sky anywhere in America
, it was found in the Liberator
upon the following morning.
This drawing of the new men into a knowledge of each other made magical heat.
Every Abolition act or thought went immediately into the general Abolition consciousness.
It was Garrison
who caused the heat-lightning of 1825 to turn into the thunderbolts of 1835.
His gift of doing this was his greatness.
We must imagine Garrison
then, as always, behind and underneath the machinery and in touch with all the forces at work, writing away at his terrible Liberator
--fomenting, rebuking, retorting, supporting, expounding, thundering, scolding.
The continuousness of Garrison
is appalling, and fatigues even the retrospective imagination of posterity: he is like an allnight hotel: he is possessed: he is like something let loose.
I dread the din of him. I cover my head and fix my mind on other things; but there is Garrison
hammering away, till he catches my eye and forces me to attend to him. If Garrison
can do this to me, who am protected from dread of him by
eighty years of intervening time, think how his lash must have fallen upon the thin skins of our ancestors!
, then, and his propaganda went forward; the South
under its resentment swelled and fretted, and every phase of the matter was day by day recorded in the Liberator
, which remains as the inexhaustible coal-bed and historical deposit of these things.
Every leaf and twig, every letter, every quarrel, every prayer, is here preserved in the immortality of petrifaction.
To be in himself the focalization and to leave behind him the fossilization of that wonderful epoch was Garrison
The crisis in the struggle came in 1835-6, when a great attempt was seriously made by the whole organized force of the Slave Power
to put down the Abolitionists.
This suppression was to be done in the ordinary, historic way-through laws to be made against them, and through violence, where law fell short.
It will be seen in an instant that law was, throughout, on the side of the Abolitionists; and this is the reason why the violence was so great.
The South could not get at Garrison
through sheriffs and jailers.
Therefore it was
tempted to resort to riots and extra-legal terrorism.
It was lured into the fabrication of myths — as for instance, the myth that the constitution protected slavery against adverse opinion, the myth that the Abolitionists favored slave-insurrection, the myth that the language of the Abolitionists was so extreme as to make them the enemies of society, the exceedingly absurd myth that to send Anti-slavery publications through the United States
mails directed to adult white men in the South
was, somehow, an atrocious outrage.
The truth is that between 1830 and 1835, the element of passion was rising past the danger point, and running into something like insanity in the Southern
A madman believes his own logic, and ever drives it further.
The failure of law to protect the South
left no accurate demarcation as to their demands.
At the beginning, the slaveholders protested that Garrison
should be silenced, because he was a fanatic; but before long they were demanding that the Abolitionists should be hanged, and were mingling the name of Channing
in their execrations.
In the beginning they demanded only to be let alone; but before long they were swearing that the South
buy and sell slaves underneath Bunker Hill
This tidal fury could not be conciliated.
Anything that threatened the existence of Slavery stimulated the fury — and the time had come when all nature began to threaten Slavery.
Slavery began, in fact, to stalk abroad and horrify the world: Slavery came out of its lair.
At first there were meetings in the South
, destruction of Abolition literature in the mails; then white Vigilance Committees, and State Legislatures called, in chorus, upon the North
to stop the plague of Abolition by the enactment of stringent laws against the reformers.
A giant demonstration was planned by the friends of the South
to take place at Faneuil Hall in Boston
--1500 names being appended to the call for the meeting.
This meeting was to demonstrate the good faith of the North
towards the slaveholders, and to give public opinion a set towards the enactment of criminal statutes against Anti-slavery.
The meeting was a tremendous success and proved to be a sort of “view-halloo” for Slavery.
It was naturally followed by an increase of riots and mob violence against the Abolitionists.
The most important of the new ebullitions was the so called Boston
mob (October 21, 1835), which led Garrison
about with a rope round him-and might easily have ended in his death.
, the President
of the United States
, referred to the recent Pro-slavery demonstration at the North
in his Message to Congress, in December, 1835.
“ It is fortunate for the country,” he says, “that the good sense, the generous feeling, and the deep-rooted attachment of the people of the non-slaveholding States to the Union
, and to their fellow citizens of the same blood in the South
, have given so strong and impressive a tone to the sentiments entertained against the proceedings of the misguided persons who have engaged in these unconstitutional and wicked attempts [ ‘to circulate through the mails inflammatory appeals addressed to the passions of the slaves ’ ].”
Here was support from high quarters.
It was not till January, 1836, that the time came for Edward Everett
, to take notice of the entreaties of the Southern States
In his Message to the Massachusetts Legislature he intimated that the Abolitionists could be punished under the law as it stood: because “whatever by direct and necessary operation is calculated
to excite insurrection among slaves may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor at common law.”
This part of his Message was referred to a joint Committee of Five of the Legislature, together with the Southern
It was in the hearings before this committee, that the work was done which put an end to Southern hopes of enslaving Massachusetts
The great attempt was foiled.
The South had done its utmost to suppress Abolition, and had failed.
After this time, Abolition is in the field as an accepted fact.
Within eight years thereafter, in 1844, Birney
was nominated for the Presidency as the candidate of a third party.
We must think of this whole Southern movement as a big, mountainous wave, involving multitudinous lesser waves and eddies, which, as it rolled forward and surged back, created complex disturbances, all interlocked with one another.
The power of the South
was exerted over the President
and over the ruffian on the street corner, and it was all one power, one pull together, one control.
Let us take a rapid but clear glance over certain stages of the movement which have already been mentioned.
The popular feeling at the South
, which was the motive power of the whole
affair, may be illustrated in a paragraph from the Richmond Whig
Let the hell-hounds of the North beware.
Let them not feel too much security in their homes, or imagine that they who throw firebrands, although from, as they think, so safe a distance, will be permitted to escape with impunity.
There are thousands now animated with a spirit to brave every danger to bring these felons to justice on the soil of the Southern States, whose women and children they have dared to endanger by their hell-concocted plots.
We have feared that Southern exasperation would seize some of the prime conspirators in their very beds, and drag them to meet the punishment due their offenses.
We fear it no longer.
We hope it may be so, and our applause as one man shall follow the successful enterprise.
This then is the outer ring of fiery feeling which dreamed of moving Northward and doing, it knew not what, to put down Abolition.
The spirit of violence, as shown, for instance, in the breaking into of the United States
Post-office at Charleston, S. C.
, and the seizing of Abolition newspapers for a bonfire, was redoubled by the attitude of the Federal
The United States
Postmaster-General, Amos Kendall
, a Massachusetts man, approved the deed.
Now, the only reason why riots do not occur every day, accompanied by destruction of property and injury to unoffending persons, is that the strong arm of law and order is against the ubiquitous loafer and ruffian.
Once let this gentleman see a chance of rioting with impunity, and he instantly appears and riots.
How easily then did disturbances follow when State and National officials, as well as the rich and respectable classes, gave the cue. The average man at the time we are chronicling really believed that the Abolitionist was a criminal in essence, and ought to be proclaimed as such by law.
The Anti-slavery writers, in describing this period, use the terminology of fiercer times.
calls it a “Martyr age,” and we constantly hear of the “reign of terror” in 1835.
Now the term “persecution” is apt to call up in our minds the fiercest images of history, scenes of bloodshed and tyranny, combats with wild beasts in the amphitheater, executions in the market-place, men driven to hide in caves in the rocks, etc. The unpleasantnesses and injustices to which the Abolitionists were
subjected never justified a literal application of the terms “martyr,” “reign of terror,” etc.; but the word “persecution” is most aptly used to describe their sufferings, if we reflect that there are persecutions which do not result in death.
was certainly persecuted; the Abolitionist was harassed and his life was made as uncomfortable as the law would permit.
The outrages, both legal and extra-legal, which fell upon Anti-slavery people, may be studied at leisure in the press of the time.
They lie upon any page of the history of that day. The following are severe cases.
They are mentioned in the large life of Garrison
Dr. Reuben Crandall, a perfectly innocent man and younger brother of Prudence Crandall, was thrown into a noisome jail in Georgetown, in the District of Columbia, on a charge of “ circulating Tappan, Garrison & Company's papers, encouraging the negroes to insurrection,” for which a mob would fain have lynched him. . . . It was nearly a year before he was brought to trial, and meantime his health had been ruined.
“ Five thousand dollars were offered on the Exchange
in New York for the head of Arthur Tappan
on Friday last,” writes
is barricading his house with shutters, bars and bolts.”
“ How imminent is the danger that hovers about the persons of our friends, George Thompson
and Arthur Tappan
to George Benson
“Rewards for the seizure of the latter are multiplying — in one place they offer three thousand dollars, for his ears
--a purse has been made up, publicly, of $20,000, in New Orleans for his person.
I, too,--I desire to bless God, --am involved in almost equal peril.
I have just received a letter written evidently by a friendly hand, in which I am apprised that ‘my life is sought after, and a reward of $20,000 has been offered for my head by six Mississippians.’
He says-‘ Beware of the assassin!
May God protect you!’
and signs himself ‘A Marylander, and a resident of Philadelphia
“Typical cases were the town-meeting appointment of a vigilance committee to prevent Anti-slavery meetings in Canaan, N. H.
; the arrest of the Rev. George Storrs
, at Northfield
, in the same State, in a friendly pulpit, at the close of a discourse on slavery, as a ‘common brawler,’ and his subsequent sentence by a ‘ justice of the peace’ to hard
labor in the House of Correction
for three months (not sustained on appeal); and the repeated destruction of Birney
printing-office by the ‘gentlemen of. property and standing’ in Cincinnati-an outrage bearing a close resemblance to that engendered by the Faneuil Hall meeting, and ending in a midnight raid upon the colored homes of the city, with the connivance of the mayor.”
As for mere social ostracism,--the refusal on the part of Beacon Street to ask Wendell Phillips
to dinner, the black-balling at the Clubs in New York of distinguished Abolitionists,--the Muse of History cannot record these things among her tragedies.
We have seen, in the case of Henry I. Bowditch
and his walk with Douglass
, upon what plane the drama moved.
It was a drama of character, rather than a drama of blood.
The Anti-slavery people are, however, not inexcusable in calling this epoch “the reign of terror.”
It was, at any rate, a reign of brickbats and anathema, which developed here and there into tarring and feathering and murder.
The reason why it did not turn into a veritable reign of terror, a time of proscription and execution, is that the middle classes at the North
awoke out of
their lethargy, and protected the reformers instead of oppressing them.
The passions were there; the introverted enthusiasm of the South
and the martyr spirit of the Abolitionist were there.
There also was the pliant tool between them — the Northern
business man. This tool, however, broke.
The great meeting in Faneuil Hall, already spoken of, a meeting attended by numerous Southerners who made the journey to Boston
on purpose, represents the apogee of the Sun
of Liberty in America
In considering this meeting we are again baffled by the strangeness of its historic atmosphere; the low pulse of the Northerner
is a puzzle to us. It is easy to understand and sympathize with the Southern
tiger bereft of his prey, and with the Northern
lamb who lifts up his voice for justice before being devoured.
The first is the typical tyrant, and the second the typical saint.-The conduct, however, of the Massachusetts Philistine
, who looks like an educated gentleman and acts the part of a terrified servant, is a difficult thing to understand.
We can get a sidelong glimpse into the mystery by remembering how people behave in moments of panic — with what meanness, with what irrational thoughtlessness, with what denial of
their true selves.
Now the Massachusetts
statesmen, business men, and persons of distinction and wealth, had lived for years in a state of continuous panic
. This had shredded them into spectres.
It is quite true that there was a spiritual “reign of terror” at this epoch, a terror which intimately affected all classes, and the Abolitionists' phrase is thus truer than it seemed.
, one of Massachusetts
' most distinguished men, a United States Senator
and former Congressman
, and a thoroughly representative mouthpiece of the Conservative classes at the North
, spoke as follows at the memorable Pro-slavery meeting in Faneuil Hall:
Time was, when . . .the generous and gallant Southrons came to our aid, and our fathers refused not to hold communion with slaveholders. . . . When He, that slaveholder (pointing to the full-length portrait of Washington), who from this canvas smiles upon you — his children — with paternal benignity, came with other slaveholders to drive the British myrmidons from this city and this hall, our fathers did not refuse to hold communion with him or them.
With slaveholders they formed the Confederation, neither asking nor receiving any
right to interfere in their domestic relations; with them they made the Declaration of Independence, coming from the pen of that other slaveholder, Thomas Jefferson, a name dear to every friend of human rights.
And in the original draft of that Declaration was contained a most eloquent passage upon this very topic of negro slavery, which was stricken out in deference to the wishes of members from the South.
There is something about this language so far removed from good sense that it gives us pause.
is the influence of terror.
Mr. Harrison Gray Otis
, who moved on a still higher social plane than Sprague
, nay, who stood very near the gods in the imagination of Bostonians, spoke as follows:
I deny that any body of men can lawfully associate for the purpose of undermining, more than for overthrowing, the government of our sister States.
There may be no statute to make such combinations penal, because the offense is of a new complexion.
found an even stronger objection to the Society in “its evident direction towards becoming a political association, whose object it will be, and whose tendency
now is, to bear directly upon the ballot-boxes and to influence the elections,” as in the recent case of Abbott Lawrence
“How soon might you see a majority in Congress returned under the influence of (Anti-slavery) associations?”
' reasoning here is the chattering of teeth.
“The ballot-box and election!”
The slavery issue to come into politics — who can prevent it?
Where are we?
Who is talking?
Have I read that sentence aright?
Such questions go through one's mind no matter how often one re-reads these speeches.
It must be confessed that a city is not far from chaos when so much passion and so faint a rationality can go forth as the voice of her powerful classes, and of her educated men. The situation was greatly alleviated by the good sense and calmness of the Abolitionists; for although Garrison
's language was generally blatant, his conduct was invariably exemplary; and the reformers' course of action in legal and legislative maneuvering was often brilliant in the extreme.
The Boston Abolitionists behaved during this trying season with circumspection.
After the Faneuil Hall demonstration, Mayor Lyman
, who had presided at that
meeting, had, in a courteous if not friendly manner, privately counseled them to discontinue their meetings while the public mind was so heated, at the same time assuring them that he would protect them in their rights if they chose to exercise them.
They therefore held only their constitutional meetings; and it was one of these which fell due on Wednesday, October 14, the anniversary of the formation of the Boston Female Anti
This meeting was postponed and duly advertised for October 21, 1835.
On that day a Pro-slavery mob, organized by newspaper men and business men, and composed of from two to five thousand particularly respectable persons, was got together for the purpose of tarring and feathering George Thompson
, who was believed to be at the meeting.
was not to be found, the mob cried out for Garrison
It surged into the women's meeting where Garrison
was. For some time the thirty women went forward with their prayers and proceedings while the mob howled upon them.
left the meeting in order to protect it, but could not escape from the building on account of the crowd.
He therefore retreated across the hall to the Anti-slavery office which happened
to be in the same building.
Thither the crowd followed him.
“ An assault,” according to Garrison
's account of the matter, “was now made upon the door of the office, the lower panel of which was instantly dashed to pieces.
Stooping down and glaring upon me as I sat at the desk, writing an account of the riot to a distant friend, the ruffians cried out- ‘There he is!
Out with the scoundrel!’
etc., etc. Turning to Mr. Burleigh
, I said--‘ You may as well open the door, and let them come in and do their worst.’
But he, with great presence of mind, went out, locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and by his admirable firmness succeeded in keeping the office safe.”
now appeared upon the scene, and prevailed upon the women to adjourn.
They passed down the staircase “amid manifestations of revengeful brutality” and so, in a close column, to the house of Francis Jackson
, a new and powerful recruit to their cause.
now had to deal with the mob. Their attention had been attracted to the Antislavery sign board and Mayor Lyman
permitted its demolition by the crowd, a betrayal of his trust as custodian of property and of the
peace which Garrison
thereupon devoted his energies to helping Garrison
to make good his escape from the mob. Garrison
was induced to get out of a rear window, and one of the sheriffs, in order to persuade the crowd to disperse, announced that Garrison
The crowd, however, got on his track and followed after him. It came up with him in a carpenter's shop.
The crowd was made up of both friends and foes.
“On seeing me,” continues Garrison
, “three or four of the rioters, uttering a yell, furiously dragged me to the window, with the intention of hurling me from that height to the ground; but one of them relented and said--‘ Don't let us kill him outright.’
So they drew me back, and coiled a rope about my body-probably to drag me through the streets.
I bowed to the mob, and requesting them to wait patiently until I could descend, went down upon a ladder that was raised for that purpose.
I fortunately extricated myself from the rope, and was seized by two or three powerful men, to whose firmness, policy, and muscular energy I am probably indebted for my preservation.
They led me along bareheaded (for I had
lost my hat), through a mighty crowd, ever and anon shouting, ‘He shan't be hurt!
You shan't hurt him!
Don't hurt him!
He is an American,’ etc., etc. This seemed to excite sympathy among many in the crowd, and they reiterated the cry, ‘He shan't be hurt!’
At this point we will turn to Charles Burleigh
's tale: “Going to the Post-office, I saw the crowd pouring out from Wilson's Lane into State Street with a deal of clamor and shouting, and heard the exulting cry, ‘They've got him — they've got him.’
And so, sure enough, they had. The tide set toward the south door of the City Hall, and in a few minutes I saw Garrison
between two men who held him and led him along, while the throng pressed on every side, as if eager to devour him alive.
His head was bare, his face a little more highly colored than in his most tranquil moments, as if flushed by moderate exercise, and his countenance composed.”
In the upshot, Mayor Lyman
's efforts to save him were successful; and Garrison
was forthwith jailed for the night as a disturber of the peace.
Throughout this episode Garrison
acted with wisdom and courage.
Had he behaved in any different manner, had he shown fight,
did at Alton
, had his followers become exasperated, bloodshed would probably have followed and the whole controversy in Boston
would thenceforth have been overcast by the spirit of civil war. The thing to be noted is that Garrison
's conduct during this mob was an exemplification of the whole Anti-slavery policy, which had been fully set out in the documents and literature of the movement during the preceding five years. Moral agitation with no resort to force, no resistance to force, was the Abolition watchword.
When a whole age is completely insane upon some subject, sane views upon that subject will seem like madness to the age. It was thus perfectly normal that the assembly of moderate and holy persons who met in Philadelphia
to form the national Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, and parted, as we have seen, with tears and prayers,should have been both watched and guarded by the police.
These men seemed to that age like dangerous malefactors.
So also was it accordant with spiritual law that Garrison
should have been shut up as a rioter on the night following the Boston
mob. He was a man of little humor where his principles were at stake, and could see nothing in the
arrest but a ghastly paradox; whereas in reality that arrest is a charming epitome of the times.
How much danger was Garrison
in while being dragged and hustled through the streets of Boston
Was there a pot of hot tar and a bath of feathers waiting at some convenient corner, which would have been produced and set in operation on the Common, but for Mayor Lyman
's timely interference?
Very likely there was. There seems to have been a plan to maltreat Thompson
, which plan was divulged to the public through broadsides and to Garrison
through anonymous letters, one of the letters being friendly.
We see the Garrison
mob to-day as the sticking-point of violence in Boston
We know that this mob was not followed by a series of mobs.
We see that it did no damage to speak of; and therefore we cannot help thinking of it as a harmless affair.
But a mob has always something devilish and incalculable in its action, and a mob led by gentlemen, a mob in which the ruffian saw that he was supported by the Bank President
, and that no prosecution could possibly follow in the wake of the day, might be the most dangerous of all mobs.
The experience of Birney
and his press in
, of Lovejoy
and his press in Illinois
, the burning of Pennsylvania Hall
and countless other acts of violence show that the Abolitionists did right to be alarmed.
As a matter of fact they were seriously frightened.
and the ladies put on as bold a front as they could, they did not feel like shaking hands with their old friend Mayor Lyman
and regarding that mob as a joke.
There was, after all, a real and terrific force at the back of the mob. It was the mob of the Richmond Whig
, of the Faneuil Hall Pro-Slavery meeting.
The Southern fire had moved North, and seemed to encircle the Anti-slavery agitators.
The “gentlemen of property and standing” --to use the pompous newspaper phrase of the day — who led the mob, were actuated by one of the major passions of humanity-defense of property.
For in a big sense, in a metaphorical sense, the South
was right; and all this Abolition movement was a servile uprising.
The slave heart and soul had somehow come into communion with the Anti-slavery heart and soul, and together they were generating an earthquake beneath the slaver's feet.
This whole religious message is mirrored in
“Uncle Tom's Cabin,” a book which it took twenty years of Abolition to make the soil for. “Uncle Tom's Cabin” appeared in 1852 and is to-day our key to that whole epoch: but the vision of that book was in the heart of the Anti-slavery people long before.
They gave that vision to the world; they gave it to Harriet Beecher
The pictures and thoughts of “Uncle Tom's Cabin” were sown into the mind of Harriet Beecher
as a child; the emotion of it was generated in 1829.
And so the early instinct to put down this whole movement as a servile insurrection had justification in fact.
As a general rule servile insurrections are put down by officials; by judges, sheriffs and troops.
Historic reasons made this course not feasible at the North
Therefore the deluded upper classes of Boston
, who had thrown in their fortunes with slavery, did what all determined men do when law fails them — they took the field personally.
The women who marched through the rioters trembled with antagonism, if not with fear.
One of them wrote afterwards:
When we emerged into the open daylight, there went up a roar of rage and contempt, which increased when they saw that we did not intend to separate, but walked
in regular procession.
They slowly gave way as we came out. As far as we could look either way the crowd extended — evidently of the so-called ‘wealthy and respectable,’ ‘the moral worth,’ ‘the influence and standing.’
We saw the faces of those we had, till now, thought friends; men whom we never before met without giving the hand in friendly salutation; men whom till now we should have called upon for condemnation of ruffianism, with confidence that the appeal would be answered.
There is something old-world, something more like the Eighteenth Century than the Nineteenth in this scene; I would not miss it out of our history.
But the people who took part in it could never think of it lightly.
It was too real, too fierce, too dangerous.
The mob was too near, and its genteel character was unpleasant.
I have at times thought that the Anti-slavery people were almost ungrateful to Theodore Lyman
To them he was a man who had not done his duty; he should have protected their sign.
He should have defied and dispersed the rioters, instead of conciliating the mob and dispersing the ladies' meeting.
He should have jailed the ringleaders in the riot and conducted Garrison
in safety to his home.
And yet, for an official during a great mania, and for a man by nature timid during a riot, he seems to me to have done fairly well.
He appeared upon the scene of conflict, and in the end saved Garrison
from the clutches of the mob. The Abolitionists, like lawyers in a jury case, never missed a point; and the points against Lyman
He was a pawn in their demonstration.
It was their function to throw up a clear silhouette of the times, and to show just how far Theodore Lyman
had fallen short of efficient courage, and Boston
, of liberty.
We cannot hold them to the historic perspective, nor expect them to display a judicial temper upon the matter.
I myself, however, feel grateful to Lyman
for saving Garrison
; though I also respect Garrison
for not altering his criticism by an iota because of the personal question.
He could not step aside for a moment and play the part of philosophic spectator.
As well expect a point which is moving in a curve in obedience to an algebraical formula to change its course for reasons of politeness.
Let us not forget that all these people were wound up, and that each man and each group of men in the struggle was following a track like one of
the heavenly bodies; being governed by a logic, unseen, mighty, and terrible, leading to greater things.
The Boston mob gives a barometrical record of conditions in the North
Every village had its Garrison
, its Mayor Lyman
, its Francis Jackson
Moved by the spectacle of Garrison
's persecution, Charles Sumner
, Henry I. Bowditch
, and Wendell Phillips
became converts to the cause.
Every village in the North
after October 21, produced its Bowditch
, its Sumner
, its Phillips
There were now six State and three hundred auxiliary Anti-slavery societies, all formed since 1831. “So then,” comments Garrison
, “we derive from our opponents these instructive but paradoxical facts---that without numbers, we are multitudinous; that without power, we are sapping the foundations of the Confederacy
; that without a plan, we are hastening the abolition of slavery; and without reason or talent we are rapidly converting the nation.”
For the second time within three months it became wise for Garrison
to leave Boston
His landlord, quite naturally, feared for the safety of his house.
The printingoffice of the Liberator
was closed, and the
work was done clandestinely elsewhere.
During this winter the Abolitionists kept rather quiet; but they emerged in the spring to attend the Lunt Committee
that Committee appointed by Governor Everett
to consider the requests from Southern legislatures that Massachusetts
should do something to suppress Anti-slavery.
The first hearing in the matter was held on March 4th, 1836, at the State House
The audience was so large that the Hall
of the House of Representatives had to be used.
Many women, including Harriet Martineau
, were there, and the social, political and mercantile classes of Boston
When the meeting came to order Samuel J. May
set forth the history of Abolition and showed the mildness of its methods.
Ellis Gray Loring
, one of the earliest aristocrats to join the cause, reviewed the perfect legality of the ideals and conduct of the Anti-slavery societies.
The gentle Charles Follen
, a learned and saintly man, began to expound the rights of man and to explain to the Committee
the natural sequence of cause and effect which existed between the Faneuil Hall Pro-slavery meeting in August and the treatment of Garrison
by the mob in October. Chairman Lunt
, who seems to have been a
narrow partisan who little understood the issue under discussion, and who thought it his duty towards his constituents to browbeat the reformers, declined to allow Follen
to pursue this line of argument.
The Abolitionists, upon this rebuff, brought the hearing promptly to a close, asserting that they must be allowed to make their own arguments or none.
They immediately petitioned the Legislature for permission to argue their own case in their own way before the Committee
This militant front assumed by the little body of Protestants was a very able piece of tactics.
Their real appeal was, of course, directed to the grand public — not to the public of the city of Boston
, but to the people of the State of Massachusetts
who were watching the whole proceeding with passionate interest.
Would the Legislature dare to refuse the Abolitionists permission to present their own arguments ip their own way?
The permission was granted.
The second hearing before the Lunt Committee
was a stormy one.
It was naturally crowded, because of the issues raised by the first. Mr. Lunt
behaved, strange to say, with the same singular stupidity as at the first meeting.
Let us remember that this
hearing was for the moment the center of the great storm of passion that had moved up from the South
during the preceding year and by which it was hoped that the Abolition cause would be engulfed and obliterated.
The center of the storm, however, is perfectly calm.
The voice that comes from it is not a still small voice, but a very calm voice.
It is the voice of Samuel J. May
. “It seemed,” said Mr. May
, addressing the chairman, “it seemed on the 4th instant that the chairman considered that we came here by his grace to exculpate ourselves from the charges alleged against us by the legislatures of several of the Southern States
; and that we were not to be permitted to express our anxious apprehensions of the effects of any acts by our Legislature intended to gratify the wishes of those States.
In order, therefore, that we might appear before you in the exercise of our right as free citizens
, we have appealed to the Senate and House of Representatives, and have their permission to do so. Dr. Follen
was setting before you what we deem the most serious evil to be apprehended from any condemnatory resolutions which the Legislature might be induced to pass; and if he is not permitted to press this upon
your consideration our interview with the Committee
must end here.”
was allowed by the chairman to proceed, but the following speaker, Rev. William Goodell
, was compelled to sit down by the chairman.
He was at the moment in the midst of a most telling quotation from Gov. McDuffie
, of South Carolina
, who had said that “the laboring population of no nation on earth are entitled to liberty or capable of enjoying it.”
“Sit down,” said Mr. Lunt
, “the Committee
will hear no more of it.”
The Abolitionists immediately and meekly showed their compliance by beginning to leave the Hall
This is magnificent agitation: it is impossible for reformers to be more able than this.
Such conduct sends out an appeal to common sense, to justice, to fair play, to the mind of the average man and of the courageous person everywhere.
And lo, before the Hall
had emptied itself, there came a response to that appeal, a response from one whose mere name was a summary of the traditions he spoke for. “The audience here began to leave the Hall
,” continues Mr. May
, “but were arrested by a voice in their midst.
It was the voice of Gamaliel Bradford
, not a member of the Anti-Slavery Society,
who had come there only as a spectator, but had been so moved by what he had witnessed that he pronounced an eloquent, thrilling, impassioned, but respectful appeal in favor of free discussion.”
sat down Mr. George Bond
, one of the most prominent merchants and estimable gentlemen of Boston
, made a speech to the same effect.
Abolition thus began to penetrate the stalwart and sensible classes.
It could no longer be regarded as merely the infatuation of foolish persons.
There were still to be years of struggle, but the loneliness was at an end. The great shattering climax of all this period was the murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy
, a young Presbyterian minister and native of Maine
, on November 7th, 1837, at Alton, Ill.
He was shot down as he emerged from the burning building in which the last of four Anti-slavery printing-presses
perished at the hands of infuriated Pro-slavery rioters.
, though a clergyman, had determined to protect his rights of free speech under the Constitutional forms of self-defense.
He and his friends had armed themselves according to law, and were under the protection of the Mayor
of the town.
They thus stood like the embattied
farmer at Lexington
— nay, more strongly, for these men were not Revolutionists, but peaceful citizens resisting illegal violence.
was ruthlessly shot down by a shower of bullets from the street.
Here was something that the average American
It was not expressed in Biblical language, nor did it come from a saint; but it spoke to the fighting instinct in the common man.
Nothing except John Brown
's Raid ever sent such a shock across the continent, or so stirred the North
to understand and to resist the advance of slavery as Lovejoy
The Abolitionists of Boston
immediately sought Faneuil Hall, which was at first refused.
, heading the free-speech movement, joined with the Abolitionists in claiming the right to use the Hall
It was felt that the great public was behind this claim: the use of the Hall
There followed that meeting to which the dazzling eloquence of Wendell Phillips
has given immortality.
It was a free-speech, not an Abolition meeting, its object being to protest against Lovejoy
's murder as a crime against the statutory right of free speech.
We see here a very different situation
from the state of things at the Faneuil Hall Pro-slavery meeting of 1835, when slavery had hired the Hall
and held the floor.
At the Lovejoy meeting freedom had hired the Hall
and held the floor.
Nevertheless the meeting was to some extent packed by the Pro-slavery element who hoped to stampede it in favor of the South
was an unknown young lawyer, the scion of a very distinguished family, and he had gone to the meeting without any intention of taking part in its proceedings.
He was drawn into the fray by the extraordinary speech of James T. Austin
and leader of the conservatives.
declared that Lovejoy
was not only presumptuous and imprudent while he lived, but that he “died as the fool dieth.”
He compared the murderers of Lovejoy
with the men who destroyed the tea in Boston harbor
, and said that wherever the Abolition fever raged there were mobs and murders.
was vociferously applauded and there was some prospect that the whole meeting would break up in a riot.
had great difficulty in getting the attention of the audience.
,” he said, “we have met for the freest discussion of these resolutions and the events which
gave rise to them.”
(Cries of “question,” “hear him,” “go on,” “no gagging” etc.) “I hope I shall be permitted to express my surprise at the sentiments of the last speaker — surprise not only at such sentiments from such a man, but at the applause they have received within these walls.
A comparison has been drawn between the events of the Revolution and the tragedy at Alton
We have heard it asserted here, in Faneuil Hall, that Great Britain
had a right to tax the Colonies; and we have heard the mob at Alton
, the drunken murderers of Lovejoy
, compared to those patriot fathers who threw the tea overboard!
(Great applause.) Fellow-citizens, is this Faneuil Hall doctrine?” ( “No, no.” ) After giving a clear exposition of the difference between the riot at Alton
and the Boston Tea Party, Phillips
continued: “Sir, when I heard the gentleman lay down principles which place the murderers of Alton
side by side with Otis
, with Quincy
, I thought those pictured lips (pointing to the portraits in the Hall
) would have broken into voice to rebuke the recreant American--the slanderer of the dead.
(Great applause and counter-applause.) The gentleman said that he should
sink into insignificance if he dared not gainsay the principles of these resolutions.
Sir, for the sentiments he has uttered, on soil consecrated by the prayers of Puritans, and the blood of patriots, the earth should have yawned and swallowed him up.”
(Applause and hisses, with cries of “Take that back!” ) The uproar became so great that for a time no one could be heard.
At length the Hon. William Sturgis
came to Mr. Phillips
's side at the front of the platform.
He was met with cries of “Phillips
or nobody,” “Make him take back recreant;
he shan't go on till he takes it back.”
When it was understood that Mr. Sturgis
meant to sustain, not to interrupt Mr. Phillips
, he was listened to and said, “I did not come here to take part in this discussion, nor do I intend to; but I do entreat you, fellow citizens, by everything you hold sacred,--I conjure you by every association connected with this Hall, consecrated by our Fathers to freedom of discussion,that you listen to every man who addresses you in a decorous manner.”
resumed his speech and made in this, his debut, one of the best remembered triumphs in a life of oratory.
His speech, though imperfectly reported, is one of those historic speeches which carry their eloquence to the
reader, even through the disguise of print.
was asked afterwards what his thoughts were during the delivery of it, he said he was thinking of nothing except the carrying of resolutions.
This he accomplished and the vote of the meeting was cast for freedom: the murderers of Lovejoy
The practical importance of this outcome to the Abolitionists is brought home to us in a letter written by one of them, a woman, to a friend in England
men, my husband for instance, came home that day and lifted up their voices and wept.
did not know how dangerous an experiment, as people count danger, he adventured.
We knew that we must send our children out of town and sleep in our day garments that night, unless free discussion prevailed.”
The burning of Pennsylvania Hall
, in Philadelphia
, in May, 1838, was among the last of the outrages committed during this epoch of persecution.
There seems after this to have been a simmering down of the antagonism of the public to the Abolitionists, and it was not until 1850 that another great attempt, the last attempt, was made by the united South
to control the destinies of the North