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[96]

Chapter 4: ‘no union with slaveholders!’—1844.

The American Anti-slavery Society and the New England Convention formally adopt Garrison's disunion doctrine, not without individual protests and withdrawals. Breach with N. P. Rogers.


Garrison's favorite hobby of the Dissolution of the Union,” Ms. Jan. 30, 1844, to R. D. Webb. as Quincy dubbed the doctrine slowly evolving in the abolition mind, was discussed in Faneuil Hall and at the State House at the twelfth annual1 meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Quincy himself reported, for the business committee, resolves deeming it “the only true and consistent position to withhold support and sanction from the Constitution of the United States; and to present to the consciences of our countrymen the duty of dissolving their connexion with the Government, until it shall have abolished slavery.” Lib. 14.18. Stephen Foster presented an elaborate protest as of the Massachusetts Society against the2 Constitution and the Union, which was ordered printed. Mr. Garrison was at the front with a resolution, “that the ballot-box is not an anti-slavery, but a pro-slavery, argument, so long as it is surrounded by the U. S. Constitution, which forbids all approach to it except on condition that the voter shall surrender fugitive slaves— suppress negro insurrections—sustain a piratical representation in Congress, and regard man-stealers as equally eligible with the truest friends of human freedom and equality to any or all the offices under the United States Government.” Lib. 14.18. Later in the proceedings, he introduced and maintained other resolutions condemning the3 nature, and showing the natural consequences, of the ‘bloody compromise’ on which the Constitution was founded, and urging the duty of withdrawing allegiance [97] to the compact and, ‘by a moral and peaceful revolution,’ effecting its overthrow.

No action was taken upon any of these, owing to the diminished attendance at the close of the meetings, but4 the Society was unmistakably in accord with the policy of the future. It followed Mr. Garrison in renewing the testimony against the Liberty Party, and specifically (in this Presidential year) against its candidate, J. G. Birney,5 as well as against Henry Clay, the predestined nominee of the Whig Party, and Calhoun and Van Buren, possible candidates of the Democratic Party.

“The behavior of the Society in all these circumstances was admirable,” Ms. Jan. 30, 1844. wrote Edmund Quincy to R. D. Webb,

and showed that it perfectly understood itself and what was going on. I never felt more relieved and satisfied at the adjournment of any meeting since that of 1839, when the real battle of New and Old Organization was fought, the question being the6 accepting of Garrison's Report. We instituted a series of a Hundred Conventions in Massachusetts,7 which will suffice to8 open the eyes of any who need enlightenment as to the true character of the Liberty Party. If it cannot control and use them, it will do all in its power to thwart them and destroy their effect.

John Quincy Adams occupied a good deal of time,9 and D. L. Child made an unfortunate show of zeal in defending his A.10 S. character—a character which Mr. A. has always, and very emphatically in his last speech, disclaimed. Thomas Earle of11 Philadelphia (who is about as rabid a Democrat as Child is a12 Whig, though with more command of his prejudices) and Garrison brought up a mass of facts respecting him which surprised13 me by their amount.14 One of the most remarkable proofs of the profligacy of the Third Party is the adopting of Mr. A. as their candidate, virtually, by not setting up one of their own in [98] his District, and thus procuring his election, although they profess that they can support no man but one belonging to their party, and especially aim their blows at the Whigs and friends of Clay. Now Mr. Adams is a Whig, a supporter of Clay, a repudiator of Liberty Party, rejects Immediate Emancipation as impracticable and unjust, declares that he will vote against the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and in Florida, denounces abolitionists and the A. S. agitation; and while he admits that slavery can be abolished by a change of the Constitution, all that he has ever done towards it was to ask leave at the last moment of a session, four years ago, when another member had possession of the House, to offer an amendment providing for the emancipation of all slaves born after15 1850! He was refused permission to offer his amendment then, and has never proposed it since, such as it is, though he has had four years to do it in! And yet Leavitt claims him as one of his men, and Whittier, in a letter to Sturge, in one of the last16 B. & F. Reporters, describes him, in effect, as the leader of the A. S. movement, and gives the British public to understand that he is the head of the Liberty Party!17

In a letter from Boston to the Standard, reviewing the annual meeting, Mr. Child wrote that, as to disunion, he was convinced his repugnance to discussing the subject had been wrong. It was a duty to discuss it. ‘I can see plainly,’ he said, “that the doctrine of ‘ Repeal,’ as it is called, is gaining, and must gain, ground. With me it is a question of time. I am in favor of dissolution if we cannot have abolition, and that at a day not very distant; but I could wish to see all reasonable means used of reforming before we destroy the Constitution.” Lib. 14.26. But no means could be reasonable where the attainment of the object was hopeless in the nature of things. The shallowest observer of the Southern temper, from the very outset of the anti-slavery agitation, ought to have18 perceived that any Constitutional change adverse to slavery, and diminishing by one jot or tittle its hold upon the direction of the general Government, would, before it [99] could be consummed, be the signal for a violent disruption of the Union. The election of Lincoln in 1860 did not touch the Constitution, nor did it avowedly or necessarily involve any amendment of that instrument; yet the Slave Power refused to live for a single hour under a regime pledged only to the Constitutional restriction of the area of slavery. In this very year, 1844, toasts19 were drunk on the Fourth of July in South Carolina to ‘Texas or Disunion’; and there and in Alabama a convention of the slaveholding States was demanded, “to count the cost and value of the Federal Union.” Lib. 14: 129, 142. Thomas H. Benton openly denounced annexation, not per se, but20 as being an actual cover for a disunion conspiracy.

The policy of seeking anti-slavery amendments to the Constitution Mr. Garrison had relegated to the limbo to which he had long ago consigned that of21 addressing moral appeals to slaveholders. His Liberator call for the tenth anniversary of the American Society now unhesitatingly made the repeal of the Union a main22 object of rallying to New York. The results of this23 meeting, which lasted three days, were tersely summed up by Francis Jackson in a letter to N. P. Rogers: “The principal things we did were to mend up the Constitution of our Society, and do what we could to break down the Constitution of the Union. . . . The Executive Committee was located in Boston, and this afternoon we shall muster our crew, and hoist anchor for another voyage.” Ms. May 12, 1844. Wendell Phillips led off with resolutions affirming “that the only exodus of the slave to freedom, unless it be one of blood, must be over the ruins of the present American Church and the grave of the present Union;” Lib. 14: [82]; N. Y. Independent, May 29, 1884, p. 3. ‘that the abolitionists of this country should make it one of the primary objects of their agitation, to dissolve the American Union;’ and again, ‘that secession from the present United States Government is the duty of every abolitionist; since no one can take office, or throw a vote for another to hold office, under the U. S. Constitution, without violating his anti-slavery principles, and rendering himself an abettor of the slaveholder in his sin.’ [100]

Mr. Garrison's part was a written address to the Friends24 of Freedom in the United States. his document, in view of the first decade of the Society's existence, undertook a fresh declaration of its principles-first, as regards slavery, ‘that it ought to be immediately and forever abolished;’ and as regards the existing national compact, ‘that it is “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell,” ’ and that ‘henceforth, therefore, until slavery be abolished, the watchword, the rallying-cry, the motto on the banner of the American Anti-Slavery Society shall be, “no Union with slaveholders!” ’ ‘To accomplish this sublime resolution, the Society registers its sacred pledge’—to continue its agitation on the above lines:

5. To give no countenance to any political party which is in25 favor of continuing in alliance with the slaveholding States, or which is for allowing slaveholders to act [sit?] in the national26 halls of legislation, or for entrusting them with any of the interests of freemen.

6. To persuade Northern voters, that the strongest political influence which they can wield for the overthrow of slavery, is, to cease sustaining the existing compact, by withdrawing from the polls, and calmly waiting for the time when a righteous government shall supersede the institutions of tyranny.

8. To endeavor to effect, by all just and peaceful means, such a change in the public sentiment of the North as shall convince the South that nothing but the immediate abolition of slavery can make us a united people.27

This paper, together with

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