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Chapter 18: the irrepressible Conflict.—1858.

Both Seward and Lincoln overtake Garrison's declaration (as far back as 1840) of the irreconcilability of freedom and slavery. Conviction seizes upon many abolitionists that the conflict will end only in blood. Garrison deprecates the idea, and washes his hands of all responsibility for such a ter-mination.

No attempt was made in 1858 to renew the Disunion Convention of the previous year. The financial prostration continued, and, furnishing a pretext to the clergy to blow up a spurious revival of religion, became a1 greater obstacle than ever. The Massachusetts abolitionists, however, relying upon the new Executive of the State,2 again besieged the Legislature for the removal of Judge Loring from an office which he doggedly clung to, in open3 defiance of the Personal Liberty Law of May 21, 1855—4 an unconstitutional statute, as he insisted. Mr. Garrison went in March before the Joint Special Committee having5 the petitions under consideration, with a paper drawn up by himself, and signed also by Samuel May, Sr. and Jr., by Francis Jackson, Wendell Phillips, Theodore Parker, and others. Both the Committee and the Legislature were favorable; an address for removal was voted, and6 Governor Banks acceded, but with a request, amounting to a condition, that the law of 1855 should be ‘materially’7 modified. The subservient Legislature did accordingly remove the stigma and the prohibition of slave-catching8 from a large class embraced in the original measure, and otherwise diminished the disunion attitude of the State.

Loring removed, the Liberator urged as the next step9 the procuring of an enactment that no man should be put on trial for his freedom in Massachusetts. At the New England Anti-Slavery Convention in May, Mr. Garrison introduced a resolution recommending petitions to this10 effect, which were duly put in circulation. While the 11 con [466] stitutionality of the unmutilated Personal Liberty Law could be defended at every point as a simple throwing of the whole burden of slave-catching on the Federal Government—the Constitution being silent as to the agents in this matter—the position which the State was now asked to take was incontestably opposed to ‘the compact.’ “That no person who has been held as a slave, shall be delivered up by any officer or court, State or Federal, within this Commonwealth, to any one claiming him on the ground that he owes ‘service or labor’ to such claimant, by the laws of one of the slave States of this Union” Lib. 28.98. —was clearly at odds with the Constitutional injunction12 ‘shall be delivered up.’ Nevertheless, the abolitionists could appeal on their own behalf to so high an authority13 as John Quincy Adams. That statesman, objecting to the Constitution of Missouri (pending her admission to the Union) that it disfranchised all the people of color who were citizens of the free States, and was thus ‘directly repugnant to the rights reserved to every citizen in the Union’ under the Federal Constitution, justified a declaratory act by any free-State legislature, making the citizens of Missouri aliens as long as the obnoxious article was maintained. Moreover, he had the courage to say that Congress, by admitting Missouri with such an article, made a breach in the Federal Constitution that would warrant a still more revolutionary proceeding:

Therefore, until that portion of the citizens of Massachusetts14 whose rights were violated by the article in the Missouri Compromise, should be redintegrated in the full enjoyment and possession of those rights, no clause or article of the Constitution of the United States should, within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, be so understood as to authorize any person whatsoever to claim the property or possession of a human being as a slave; and he would prohibit by law the delivery of any fugitive upon the claim of his master. All which, he said, should be done, not to violate, but to redeem from violation, the Constitution of the United States. It was, indeed, to be expected that such laws would again be met by retaliatory laws of Missouri and the other slaveholding States, and the consequences would be a dissolution de facto of the Union; but [467] that dissolution would be commenced by the article in the Missouri Constitution. “ That article,” declared Mr. Adams, “is itself a dissolution of the Union.”

Time had added tenfold strength to this argument, for Congress, at the behest of the Slave Power, had gone on violating the Constitution. It would now shortly seek to impose on Kansas a constitution open to Mr. Adams's special objection, but also far more infamous in that it not merely recognized an existing state of society, but was an instrument in the erection of slavery on virgin soil. Senator Douglas had warned the Administration in December, 1857, that if it persisted in foisting the15 Lecompton Constitution on the people of Kansas, it would have to maintain it by force of arms. You will then, he said, have nationalized this difficulty; you will have legalized civil war instead of localizing the Kansas quarrel. Nevertheless, on February 2, President Buchanan sent a16 message to Congress, denouncing the free-State inhabitants of Kansas as rebels, and counselling a settlement of the existing distraction by making the Lecompton Constitution the basis of admission to the Union. He reminded them that the Supreme Court had adjudged that “slavery exists in Kansas by virtue of the Constitution of the United States,” Lib. 28.28. and that ‘Kansas is therefore at this moment as much a slave State as Georgia or South Carolina.’

The popular demonstrations against this policy, the17 resistance promised by the Legislature of Kansas,18 Douglas's adverse report in the Senate, Crittenden's attempt to19 secure submission of the Lecompton Constitution to the popular vote—were all in vain. The two houses disagreeing, a conference committee adopted the bill contrived by William H. English of Indiana, and on April20 30 the enabling act was passed. The first section of Article 7 of the Constitution embedded in the act read as follows:

The right of property is before and higher than any21 constitutional sanction; and the right of the owner of a slave to such [468] slave and its increase is the same, and as inviolable, as the right of the owner of any property whatever.

The bill allowed Kansas to enter the Union at once with22 slavery established, and a land grant was offered as an inducement. Should she obstinately hold out for freedom, she must first have a population of 92,000 before she could be deemed fit for admission. The bribe was promptly spurned and the menace disregarded by the23 Territory, which stood erect by more than ten thousand majority

The Slave Power had staked everything on Kansas and had lost. In both sections of the country there was a growing sense of the political revolution in progress, a growing conviction that the Republicans would at the next election take control of the Government. Governor Moore of Alabama, in his inaugural address to the24 Legislature in December, 1857, denounced the Black Republican scheme to stop the extension of slavery—“confining it within the limits of the States where it now exists, so as ultimately to render slaves valueless to their owners, and thus effect their emancipation.” Lib. 28.1. The Legislature unanimously responded by asking him to call a State25 Convention if Congress refused to admit Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution. At the so-called Southern Commercial Convention held at Montgomery, Ala., on26 May 10, 1858, to discuss the African slave-trade and the relations of the South to the Union, Roger A. Pryor of Virginia could pledge his State to disunion in case a27 Black Republican President were installed at Washington with a majority in Congress. Henry W. Hilliard of Alabama agreed that the election of such a President28 would result in the subversion of the Government, and that the South would neither wait to see him installed, nor delay for some overt act. William L. Yancey of Alabama, though denying that Republican success at29 the next election would constitutionally justify secession, nevertheless held the Union to be already dissolved. He [469] should at least expect Virginia to say, “Form your Confederacy, and we will see that you are not molested by a foe that should reach you across our territory.” Cradle of the Confederacy, p. 390. During the summer he agitated for a ‘League of United Southerners,’ and publicly discussed the probable course of the30 movement for a Confederacy when once initiated. On November 11, at Jackson, Miss., Jefferson Davis—disregarding the lines of demarcation which Union-saving31 Republicans ostentatiously drew between themselves and the Garrisonians—said the question of disunion would arise ‘if an Abolitionist be chosen President of the United States.’ He entreated Mississippi to make ready for the contest, and alter over its old arms. He reported having heard President Pierce say that when a Northern army should go to subjugate the South, its first fighting would be done on Northern soil.32

Davis took for his text the famous speech of Senator Seward at Rochester, N. Y., on October 25, 1858; in which33 the latter foretold the supplanting of the Democratic Party in power by the Republican, and gave universal currency in a happy phrase to the old abolition view of34 the existing ‘Union’:

Shall I tell you what this collision [of two antagonistic35 systeams continually coming into closer contact] means? They who think that it is accidental, unnecessary, the work of interested or fanatical agitators, and therefore ephemeral, mistake the case altogether. It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation. Either the cotton and rice fields of South Carolina and the sugar plantations of Louisiana will ultimately be tilled by free labor, and Charleston and New Orleans become marts for legitimate merchandise alone, or else the rye-fields and wheat-fields of Massachusetts and New York must again be surrendered by their farmers to slave culture and to the production of slaves, and Boston and [470] New York become once more markets for trade in the bodies and souls of men. It is the failure to apprehend this great truth that induces so many unsuccessful attempts at final compromise between the slave and free States; and it is the existence of this great fact that renders all such pretended compromises, when made, vain and ephemeral.

At the West, in June, Abraham Lincoln had embodied the same truth in the less immediately famous sentence, already quoted, depicting the “house divided against itself,” Ante, p. 420. and prophesying that it would ultimately become wholly one thing or the other. His successful rival for the United States Senate, Stephen A. Douglas, repudiated36 the dictum alike of the statesman unanimously predesignated as the Republican candidate for President in 1860, and of the obscure Illinois politician who was in reality to stand and to be elected. The logic of Lincoln, he said37 on July 9, meant a war of extermination directed against the South.

Something more than philosophical reflections on the tendency of the Union was needed if the role of the North in the great change in prospect was to be anything more than passive. When Freedom could inspire the same jealousy, devotion, and unity—the same passion— as Slavery, the battle would be over. Mr. Garrison presented this view with his customary gravity in a speech at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York in May:38

First, a word in regard to the South.39

There are those who say they do not marvel at all that slaveholders are unwilling to part with their slave property. Well, I also think that Southern men are behaving very much according to human nature in its ordinary manifestations, in view of the fact that, inheriting an old institution, and finding it sustained by all that is deemed respectable, honorable, and religious in the South, they feel that to ask them to give up their slaves is tantamount to asking the men of the North to give up their houses and lands; and he, surely, would be regarded as a fool or a madman who should undertake to prove to the people of the North the enormity of holding horses, sheep, and swine as property, and [471] should call upon them, in the name of the living God, to cease holding such as property. I do not wonder that slaveholders strain every nerve to perpetuate slavery. As slaveholders, they are sagacious, far-sighted, and prompt to do the very thing that needs to be done to preserve their slave-system intact. They are not extravagant in any effort they make; they do not employ one single slave-driver too many; they do not own one superfluous bloodhound; they have none too many fetters— none too many whips; they have a slave code exactly adapted to the necessities of their position—everything complete and perfect from beginning to end. . . .

Now, I say, if slavery is to continue, we must have just this condition of things. It is absurd to talk about the cruel treatment by slaveholders of their slaves, while conceding the right of property in man. They are not unnecessarily brutal; they do the best they can under the circumstances.

If, then, it is to be expected that, on Southern soil, Southern men will stand up for slave institutions, let me ask you, men of the Empire State, men of the North, whether we are not bound, on our side of the line, to stand up as boldly and uncompromisingly in favor of free institutions? Why should we not do so? And if we are false to our own principles and professions, the more shame to us.

Now, throughout our mighty North, you know we have settled one thing—that slavery shall not be one of our institutions. Not a solitary slave clanks his chains on our Northern soil. We have put an end to chattel servitude as it once existed among us. This was well done, was it not? We abolished it because of its inherent injustice and immorality; because it could not be defended; because it was a blighting curse; because man was never made to be a slave, and freedom is the inalienable right of all. If this is so, then I hold that they who undertake to frame or furnish apologies in behalf of Southern slaveholders, and bring up objections against abolitionists, are not Northern men, but recreant to their own principles, and should migrate to the South.

We are “fanatics,” forsooth! and the men who are flinging this taunt at us are the very men who have, by constitutional enactment, in the Empire State—throughout the whole North ——subscribed to the doctrine of “Garrisonian” abolitionism! No man is allowed to be a slaveholder here. Tell me, men of the Empire State, why not? How dare you pass a law making it penal for me to take even the very first step towards making a [472] slave? How dare you have a law interfering with my benevolence and philanthropy, so that when I see a poor creature who “cannot take care of himself,” I may not seize him and claim him as my property—for his good, of course? If you say, God has not authorized me to hold a slave here, then I say, he has not authorized it at the South. There are not two Gods—one for the North, and one for the South—but one God; and if he makes it immoral to hold slaves at the North, he makes it no less immoral to hold slaves at the South. Before you reject a single doctrine I have laid down, you have got to burn every Northern State Constitution. I do not transcend them a hair'sbreadth. The only difference between me and the people of the North is, that I am for a consistent and uncompromising adherence to the doctrine they have laid down, and they are not. . . .

I do not wonder that the North is driven to the wall, by the South, in this controversy. Against such glaring contradictions, such a shuffling morality, the slaveholder has the argument. For if you concede his right to hold slaves on his own plantation, on the ground of benevolence and in consistency with morality and religion, then he logically answers that it cannot be wrong to hold slaves in the Empire State, and slavery ought to be a universal institution. The argument, I repeat, is with the slaveholder.

At the same meeting, Mr. Higginson dwelt at length on40 the ‘new element coming to settle the question of slavery by-and-bye on the soil where it exists.’ Probably no one who heard him could read John Brown between the lines.41 Mr. Higginson spoke with knowledge when he asked— ‘Is it [slavery] destined, as it began in blood, so to end? Seriously and solemnly I say, it seems as if it were.’

At the New England Convention in Boston on May 26, Theodore Parker (equally with Mr. Higginson a42 confidant of John Brown, and fresh from meeting him with his secret committee of backers at the Revere House) reiterated his belief that the time had passed “when the great American question of the nineteenth century could have been settled without bloodshed.” May 24, 1858. Mr. Garrison, who43 had long since regarded a bloody solution as inevitable,44 nevertheless deprecated the deviation of abolitionists from the policy observed from the beginning: [473]

‘When the anti-slavery cause was launched,’ he said,

it45 was baptized in the spirit of peace. We proclaimed to the country and the world that the weapons of our warfare were not carnal, but spiritual, and we believed them to be mighty through God to the pulling down even of the stronghold of slavery; and for several years great moral power accompanied our cause wherever presented. Alas! in the course of the fearful developments of the Slave Power, and its continued aggressions on the rights of the people of the North, in my judgment a sad change has come over the spirit of anti-slavery men, generally speaking. We are growing more and more warlike, more and more disposed to repudiate the principles of peace, more and more disposed to talk about “finding a joint in the neck of the tyrant,” and breaking that neck, “ cleaving tyrants down from the crown to the groin,” with the sword which is carnal, and so inflaming one another with the spirit of violence and for a bloody work.46 Just in proportion as this spirit prevails, I feel that our moral power is departing and will depart. I say this not so much as an Abolitionist as a man. I believe in the spirit of peace, and in sole and absolute reliance on truth and the application of it to the hearts and consciences of the people. I do not believe that the weapons of liberty ever have been, or ever can be, the weapons of despotism. I know that those of despotism are the sword, the revolver, the cannon, the bomb-shell; and, therefore, the weapons to which tyrants cling, and upon which they depend, are not the weapons for me, as a friend of liberty. I will not trust the war-spirit anywhere in the universe of God, because the experience of six thousand years proves it not to be at all reliable in such a struggle as ours. . . .

I pray you, abolitionists, still to adhere to that truth. Do not get impatient; do not become exasperated; do not attempt any new political organization; do not make yourselves familiar with the idea that blood must flow. Perhaps blood will flow—God knows, I do not; but it shall not flow through any counsel of mine. Much as I detest the oppression exercised by the Southern slaveholder, he is a man, sacred before me. He is a man, not to be harmed by my hand nor with my consent. He is a man, who is grievously and wickedly trampling upon the rights of his fellow-man; but all I have to do with him is to rebuke his sin, to call him to repentance, to leave him without excuse for his tyranny. He is a sinner [474] before God—a great sinner; yet, while I will not cease reprobating his horrible injustice, I will let him see that in my heart there is no desire to do him harm,—that I wish to bless him here, and bless him everlastingly,—and that I have no other weapon to wield against him but the simple truth of God, which is the great instrument for the overthrow of all iniquity, and the salvation of the world.

Peace seemed a proper theme for Mr. Garrison when occupying Theodore Parker's pulpit in Music Hall on May 30, 1858, as a substitute:

Theodore Parker to W. L. Garrison.

Boston, June 3, 1858.
47 My dear Mr. Garrison: I owe you many thanks for standing in my place and preaching the able discourse of last Sunday. I am glad, also, that you took that theme on which we probably differ most; for though I don't think with you thereon, I yet wish your views to be ably set forth before those who listen to me.

Please accept the pecuniary consideration, also, with the hearty thanks of

Yours faithfully,

W. L. Garrison to Theodore Parker.

14 Dix Place, June 3, 1858.
48 My dear Mr. Parker: I am greatly obliged to you for your kind note—so characteristic of your catholic spirit in all matters pertaining to an honest and conscientious difference of opinion. Be assured, if I had supposed you would have felt averse to a religious presentation to your people of my views on the subject of peace, I should not have done so. Be true to your own convictions, and I will try to be true to mine—holding the mind open to receive any new light that may be shed in any direction.

As to the pecuniary ‘consideration’ enclosed in your note for my discourse, I return it with thankfulness—

1. Because I never thought, and cannot think, of receiving a farthing on that score. [475]

2. Because I informed your people that I stood in your place as an act of friendship, to enable you to dispense ‘the word’ in a distant State; and, therefore, not as a matter of contract. And,

3. Because, on the score of favors, I am still very much your debtor, especially for your consoling services in times of49 affliction and bereavement by death.

‘May grace, mercy, and peace’ be with you and yours, now and evermore!

Yours, with high regards,

1 Lib. 28.70, 78, 83.

2 N. P. Banks.

3 E. G. Loring.

4 Lib. 28.38; ante, p. 416.

5 Mar. 2, 1858; Lib. 28.38.

6 Lib. 28.42, 46, 50.

7 Lib. 28.50, 54.

8 Lib. 28.54.

9 Lib. 28.51.

10 Lib. 28.90.

11 Lib. 28.98.

12 Art. 4,??? 2,??? 3.

13 Lib. 28.170.

14 J. Quincy's Life of J. Q. Adams, p. 113; Lib. 28.170.

15 Dec. 22; Lib. 28.5.

16 Lib. 28.23, 28; Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slave Power, 2.544.

17 Lib. 28.27, 28, 48.

18 Lib. 28.34.

19 Lib. 28.59; Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slave Power, 2.558.

20 Lib. 28.75; Wilson, 2.564, 565.

21 Lib. 28.107.

22 Lib. 28.155; N. Y. Herald, May 1, 1858.

23 Lib. 28.131; Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slave Power, 2.565.

24 Andrew B. Moore.

25 Lib. 28.15.

26 Lib. 28.87; Hodgson's Cradle of the Confederacy, p. 371.

27 Ibid., p. 382.

28 Ibid., p. 385.

29 Ibid., p. 391.

30 Ibid., p. 395.

31 Lib. 28.193; 30.17.

32 Compare a like warning on the part of Pierce's Attorney-General, Caleb Cushing, in Faneuil Hall, Dec. 9, 1859, in case his fellow-citizens of Massachusetts embarked in ‘a war of invasion [of the South] for the destruction of the Union and the Government of the Union’ (Lib. 29: 197).

33 Lib. 28.177.

34 Ante, 2.338.

35 Lib. 28.177.

36 Lib. 28.193.

37 Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slave Power, 2.572, 573.

38 May 11, 1858.

39 Lib. 28.83.

40 T. W. Higginson.

41 Sanborn's Life of John Brown, pp. 435, 440, 447, 457-460.

42 Ibid., pp. 440, 447, 458-460, 463, 511, 512; Weiss's Life of Parker, 2.161.

43 Lib. 28.94.

44 Ante, 2.183, 184.

45 Lib. 28.90.

46 See Adin Ballou on this point, Lib. 29.176.

47 Ms.

48 Ms.

49 Ante, p. 243.

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