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Xxvii.

My subject will be the necessity, Practicability, and dignity of the Anti-Slavery Enterprise, with Glimpses at the special duties of the North. By this enterprise I do not mean the efforts of any restricted circle, sect, or party, but the cause of the slave, in all its forms and degrees, and under all its names,—whether inspired by the pulpit, the press, the economist, or the politician,—whether in the early, persistent, and comprehensive demands of Garrison, the gentler utterances of Channing, or the strictly constitutional endeavors of others now actually sharing the public councils of the country. To carry through this review, under its different heads, I shall not hesitate to meet the objections which have been urged against it, so far at least as I am aware of them. And now, as I speak to you seriously, I venture to ask your serious attention even to the end. Not easily can a public address reach that highest completeness which is found in mingling the useful and the agreeable; but I desire to say, that, in this arrangement and co-ordination of my remarks to-night, I seek to cultivate that highest courtesy of a speaker, which is found in clearness.

I. I begin with the necessity of the Anti-Slavery Enterprise. In the wrong of Slavery, as defined by existing law, this necessity is plainly apparent; nor can any man within the sound of my voice, who listens to the authentic words of the law, hesitate in my conclusion. A wrong so grievous and unquestionable should not be allowed to continue. For the honor of human nature, and for the good of all concerned, it should at once cease to exist. On this simple statement, as a cornerstone, I found the necessity of the Anti-Slavery Enterprise.

I do not dwell, sir, on the many tales which come from the house of bondage; on the bitter sorrows there undergone; on the flesh, galled by the manacle or spirting blood beneath the lash; on the human form mutilated by the knife, or seared by red-hot iron; on the ferocious scent of blood-hounds in chase of human prey; on the sale of fathers [175] and mothers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, little children—even infants—at the auction-block; on the practical prostration of all rights, all ties, and even all hope; on the deadly injury to morals, substituting concubinage for marriage, and changing the whole land of Slavery into a by-word of shame, only fitly pictured by the language of Dante when he called his own degraded country a House of Ill-Fame; and last of all, on the pernicious influence upon the master as well as the slave, showing itself too often, even by his own confession, in rudeness of manners and character, and especially in that blindness which renders him insensible to the wrongs he upholds, while he,

so perfect is his misery,
Not once perceives his foul disfigurement,
But boasts himself more comely than before.

On these things I do not dwell, although volumes are at hand of unquestionable facts and of illustrative story, so just and happy as to vie with fact, out of which I might draw, until, like Macbeth, you had supped full of horrors.

But all these I put aside; not because I do not regard them of moment in exhibiting the true character of Slavery, but because I desire to present this argument on grounds above all controversy, impeachment, or suspicion, even from slave-masters themselves. Not on triumphant story, not even on indisputable facts, do I now accuse Slavery, but on its character, as revealed in its own simple definition of itself. Out of its own mouth do I condemn it. By the law of Slavery, man, created in the image of God, is divested of his human character, and declared to be a mere chattel. That this statement may not seem to be put forward without precise authority, I quote the law of two different States. The civil code of Louisiana thus defines a slave:

‘A slave is one who is in the power of a master to whom he belongs. The master may sell him, dispose of his person, his industry, and his labor. He can do nothing, possess nothing, nor acquire anything but what must belong to his master.’—Civil Code, Art. 35.

The law of another polished slave State gives this definition:

‘Slaves shall be deemed, sold, taken, reputed and adjudged in law to be chattels personal, in the hands of their owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators and assigns, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever.’—2 Brev. Dig. 229. (South Carolina.)

And a careful writer, Judge Stroud, in a work of juridical as well as philanthropic merit, thus sums up the law: [176]

‘The cardinal principle of Slavery—that the slave is not to be ranked among sentient beings, but among things—is an article of property—a chattel personal—obtains as undoubted law in all of these (the slave) States.’— Stroud's Laws of Slavery, 22.

Sir, this is enough. As out of its small egg crawls forth the slimy, scaly, reptile crocodile, so out of this simple definition crawls forth the whole slimy, scaly, reptile monstrosity, by which a man is changed into a chattel,—a person is converted into a thing,—a soul is transmuted into merchandise. According to this very definition, the slave is held simply for the good of his master, to whose behests, his life, liberty and happiness are devoted, and by whom he may be bartered, leased, mortgaged, bequeathed, invoiced, shipped as cargo, stored as goods, sold on execution, knocked off at public auction, and even staked at the gaming-table on the hazard of a card or die. The slave may seem to have a wife; but he has not; for his wife belongs to his master. He may seem to have a child; but he has not; for his child belongs to his master. He may be filled with the desire of knowledge, opening to him the gates of hope on earth and in heaven; but the master may impiously close this sacred pursuit. Thus is he robbed not merely of privileges, but of himself; not merely of money and labor, but of wife and children; not merely of time and opportunity, but of every assurance of happiness; not merely of earthly hope, but of all those divine aspirations that spring from the Fountain of Light. He is not merely restrained in liberty, but totally deprived of it; not merely curtailed in rights, but absolutely stripped of them; not merely loaded with burdens, but changed into a beast of burden; not merely bent in countenance to the earth, but sunk to the legal level of a quadruped; not merely exposed to personal cruelty, but deprived of his character as a person; not merely compelled to involuntary labor, but degraded to be a rude thing; not merely shut out from knowledge, but wrested from his place in the human family. And all this, sir, is according to the simple law of Slavery.

Nor is even this all. The law, by cumulative provisions, positively forbids that a slave shall be taught to read. Hear this, fellow-citizens, and confess, that no barbarism of despotism, no extravagance of tyranny, no excess of impiety can be more blasphemous or deadly. ‘Train up a child in the way he should go,’ is the lesson of sacred wisdom; but the law of Slavery boldly prohibits any such training, and dooms the child to hopeless ignorance and degradation. ‘Let there be light,’ was [177] the Divine utterance at the very dawn of creation,—and this commandment, travelling with the ages and the hours, still speaks with the voice of God; but the law of Slavery says, ‘Let there be darkness.’

But it is earnestly averred that slave-masters are humane, and that slaves are treated with kindness. These averments, however, I properly put aside, precisely as I have already put aside the multitudinous illustrations from the cruelty of Slavery. On the simple letter of the law I take my stand, and do not go beyond what is there nominated. The masses of men are not better than their laws, and, whatever may be the eminence of individual virtue, it is not reasonable to infer that the masses of slave-masters are better than the law of Slavery. And, since this law submits the slave to their irresponsible control, with power to bind and to scourge—to shut the soul from knowledge—to separate families—to unclasp the infant from a mother's breast, and the wife from a husband's arms,—it is natural to conclude that such enormities are sanctioned by them, while the brutal prohibition of instruction—by supplementary law—gives crowning evidence of their complete complicity. And this conclusion must exist unquestioned just so long as the law exists unrepealed. Cease, then, to blazon the humanity of slave-masters. Tell me not of the lenity with which this cruel law is tempered to its unhappy subjects. Tell me not of the sympathy which overflows from the mansion of the master to the cabin of the slave. In vain you assert these instances. In vain you show that there are individuals who do not exert the wickedness of the law. The law still endures. Slavery, which it defines and upholds, continues to outrage Public Opinion, and, within the limits of our Republic, upwards of three millions of human beings, guilty only of a skin not colored like your own, are left the victims of its unrighteous, irresponsible power.

Power divorced from right is devilish; power without the check of responsibility is tyrannical; and I need not go back to the authority of Plato, when I assert that the most complete injustice is that which is erected into the form of law. But all these things concur in Slavery. It is, then, on the testimony of slave-masters, solemnly, legislatively, judicially attested in the very law itself, that I now arraign this institution as an outrage upon man and his Creator. And here is the necessity of the Anti-Slavery Enterprise. A wrong so transcendent, so loathsome, so direful, must be encountered wherever it can be reached, and the battle must be continued without truce or compromise, until the field is entirely won. Freedom and Slavery can hold no divided empire; nor can there be any true repose until Freedom is everywhere established. [178]

To the necessity of the Anti-Slavery Enterprise, there are two—and only two—vital objections; one founded on the alleged distinction of race, and the other on the alleged sanction of Christianity. All other objections are of an inferior character, or are directed logically at its practicability. Of these two leading objections, let me briefly speak.

1. And, first, of the alleged distinction of race. This objection itself assumes two different forms, one founded on a prophetic malediction in the Old Testament, and the other on the professed observations of recent science. Its importance is apparent in the obvious fact, that, unless such distinction be clearly and unmistakably established, every argument by which our own freedom is vindicated,—every applause awarded to the successful rebellion of our fathers,—every indignant word ever hurled against the enslavement of our white fellow-citizens by Algerine corsairs, must plead trumpet-tongued against the deep damnation of Slavery, whether white or black.

It is said that the Africans are the posterity of Ham, the son of Noah, through Canaan, who was cursed by Noah, to be the servant of his brethren, and that this malediction has fallen upon all his descendants, including the unhappy Africans,—who are accordingly devoted by God, through unending generations, to unending bondage. Such is the favorite argument often put forth at the South, and more than once directly addressed to myself. Here, for instance, is a passage from a letter recently received: ‘You need not persist,’ says the writer, ‘in confounding Japheth's children with Ham's, and making both races one, and arguing on their rights as those of man broadly.’ And I have been seriously assured that until this objection is answered, it will be in vain to press my views upon Congress or the country. Listen now to the texts of the Old Testament which are so strangely employed:

‘And he (Noah) said, cursed be Canaan: a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant.’— Genesis, chap. IX. 25-27.

That is all; and I need only read these words in order to expose the whole transpicuous humbug. But I am tempted to add, that, to justify this objection, it will be necessary to maintain at least five different propositions, as essential links in the chain of the African slave; first, that, by this malediction, Canaan himself was actually changed into a chattel, whereas, he is simply made the servant of his brethren; secondly, that not merely Canaan, but all his posterity, to the remotest generation, [179] was so changed, whereas the language has no such extent; thirdly, that the African actually belongs to the posterity of Canaan,—an ethnographical assumption absurdly difficult to establish; fourthly, that each of the descendants of Shem and Japheth has a right to hold an African fellow-man as a chattel,—a proposition which finds no semblance of support; and, fifthly, that every slave-master is truly descended from Shem or Japheth,—a pedigree which no anxiety or audacity can prove! This plain analysis, which may fitly excite a smile, shows the five-fold absurdity of an attempt to found this revolting wrong on

Any successive title, long and dark,
Drawn from the mouldy rolls of Noah's ark.

The small bigotry which could find comfort in these texts, has been lately exalted by the voice of science, which has undertaken to suggest that the different races of men are not derived from a single pair, but from several distinct stocks, according to their several distinct characteristics; and it has been audaciously argued that the African is so far inferior, as to lose all title to that liberty which is the birthright of the lordly white. Now I have neither time nor disposition on this occasion to discuss the question of the unity of the races; nor is it necessary to my present purpose. It may be that the different races of men proceeded from different stocks; but there is but one great Human Family, in which Caucasian and African, Chinese and Indian, are all brothers, children of one Father, and heirs to one happiness,—alike on earth and in heaven. ‘Star-eyed science’ cannot shake this everlasting truth. It may vainly exhibit peculiarities in the African, by which he is distinguishable from the Caucasian. It may, in his physical form and intellectual character, presume to find the stamp of permanent inferiority. But by no reach of learning, by no torture of fact, by no effrontery of dogma, can it show that he is not a man. And as a man he stands before you an unquestionable member of the Human Family, and entitled to all the rights of man. You can claim nothing for yourself, as man, which you must not accord to him. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,—which you proudly declare to be your own inalienable, God-given rights, and to the support of which your fathers pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor, are his by the same immortal title that they are yours.

2. From the objection founded on the alleged distinction of race, I pass to that other founded on the alleged sanction of slavery by Christianity. And, striving to be brief, I shall not undertake to reconcile [180] texts often quoted from the Old Testament, which, whatever may be their import, are all absorbed in the New; nor shall I stop to consider the precise interpretation of the oft-quoted phrase, Servants, obey your masters; nor seek to weigh any such imperfect injunction in the scales against those grand commandments, on which hang all the law and the prophets. Surely, in the example and teachings of the Saviour, who lifted up the down-trodden, who enjoined purity of life, and overflowed with tenderness even to little children, human ingenuity can find no apology for an institution which tramples on man,—which defiles woman,—and sweeps little children beneath the hammer of the auctioneer. If to any one these things seem to have the license of Christianity, it is only because they have first secured a license in his own soul. Men are prone to find in uncertain, disconnected texts, a confirmation of their own personal prejudices or prepossessions. And I —who am no divine, but only a simple layman—make bold to say, that whoever finds in the Gospel any sanction of Slavery, finds there merely a reflection of himself. On a matter so irresistibly clear, authority is superfluous; but an eminent character, who as poet makes us forget his high place as philosopher, and as philosopher, makes us forget his high place as theologian, has exposed the essential antagonism between Christianity and Slavery, in a few pregnant words which you will be glad to hear,—particularly as, I believe, they have not been before introduced into this discussion. ‘By a principle essential to Christianity,’ says Coleridge, ‘a person is eternally differenced from a thing; so that the idea of a Human Being necessarily excludes the idea of property in that Being.’

With regret, though not with astonishment, I learn that a Boston divine has sought to throw the seamless garment of Christ over this shocking wrong. But I am patient, and see clearly how vain will be his effort, when I call to mind, that, within this very century, other divines sought to throw the same seamless garment over the more shocking slave-trade; and that, among many publications, a little book was then put forth with the name of a reverend clergyman on the title-page, to prove that ‘the African trade for negro slaves is consistent with the principles of humanity and revealed religion;’ and, thinking of these things, I am ready to say with Shakespeare,

In religion,
What damned error, but some sober brow
Will bless it and approve it with a text?

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