previous next

Chapter 10: foreign influence: summary

In every great fluctuation that takes place in human society,--whether it be a moral, a political, or even an industrial phenomenon,--force converges upon some one man, and makes him the metaphysical center and thought-focus of the movement. The man is always a little metamorphosed by his office, a little deified by it. He is endued with supernatural sagacity, or piety, or resiliency. He is fed with artificial life, through the fact that thousands of men are sustaining him by their attention and in their hope. Thus in 1858, Lincoln suddenly became the great general-agent of political Antislavery in America; because his brain was exactly fitted for this work, which deified him quite rapidly. So of a hundred other cases of deification or demonization:leaders seem to be grabbed, used and flung aside by immaterial and pitiless currents of force, which had as lief destroy as benefit their darlings. Witness the career of Stephen A. Douglas. [242]

Garrison was the leader of Abolition from its inception to its triumph. His genius, .and his activity kept it a unity, despite the incessant tearing and crumbling that were the normal accompaniment of its spreading influence. “I have never met the man or woman,” said Wendell Phillips in 1865, “who had struck any effectual blow at the slave system in this country, whose action was not born out of the heart and conscience of William Lloyd Garrison.” There is a certain verbal exaggeration in Phillips' statement; but the idea conveyed is true. Garrison's preeminence is incontestable. In agitation, as elsewhere, the great man eats up the little man; he sets the clock in the little man's bosom by his own chronometer — or rather, all this is done for both of them by the stress of the times. There never was a leader of men more completely consumed by his mission than Garrison. His life was sucked up into Anti-slavery. He had no attention for other things. How he obtained food and lodging for his family during all these years is a mystery. From time to time, it seems, his friends would relieve his wants, or pay a doctor's bill. He was supported by his Cause: the benevolence which he generated [243] fed him. At the close of the war Garrison occupied a position of great eminence; and he could have cut a figure in public had he wished it. For, although the Abolitionists and Lincoln's Administration found some difficulty in coming to understand each other at the outset, they were in moral union before long; and they fought the war through together. “It was my privilege once, and once only, to talk with Abraham Lincoln, at Petersburg, Va., April 6, 1865,” says Daniel H. Chamberlain. “His face, his figure, his attitudes, his words, form the most remarkable picture in my memory, and will, while memory lasts. I spoke to him of the country's gratitude for his great deliverance of the slaves. His sad face beamed for a moment with happiness as he answered in exact substance, and very nearly in words: ‘I have been only an instrument. The logic and moral power of Garrison, and the Anti-slavery people of the country, and the army have done all.’ ”

Garrison had no worldly ambition; he even declined to favor Governor Andrew for a cabinet office in the days of the triumph of Abolition at the close of the war. He neglected and refused to write his own memoirs though offered large sums of [244] money to do so. He sank into private life as easily as if he had truly been the benevolent, self-educated clockmaker of a Pickwickian kind, whose type he physically resembled. The storm which had engendered this dragon passed over, and left behind it a placid old man.

We must now revert to certain antebellum doings of the Abolitionists which had a profound influence upon the diplomatic history of the country during the war. While the demoniac Garrison was, in 1833, stirring his American caldron with his right hand, he reached over with his left and set a-going another vessel in England, which was destined to be of enormous importance to this country. Garrison made five journeys to England, namely in 1833, 1840, 1846 and 1867, and 1877. In the first, he clasped hands with all the philanthropists in England who were, at that time, assembled to witness the final triumph of the law abolishing Slavery in the West Indies. His immediate object in this journey was to unmask the American Colonization Society before the British public, and to bring the non-conformist conscience of England into true relations with American Abolition. He visited the venerable [245] Clarkson, he met Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay, Samuel Gurney, Thomas Fowell Buxton, and many other men and women of this kind. At the suggestion of Daniel O'Connell he held a meeting in Exeter Hall, where O'Connell spoke. Garrison was at one with these warm-hearted people in England as water is at one with water. They loved him; they doted on him, and he on them.

As we have seen, George Thompson came to America in 1835, as an apostle to the Abolition Cause. Harriet Martineau came as a traveler in the same year. By her writings, and especially by her “Martyr age in America,” she explained to the English mind the Anti-slavery situation in this country. After the year 1835 there existed a bond between the philanthropists of England and of America. Constant intercourse, the sending of money and articles from England to the Cause in America, and an affectionate personal correspondence between the most unselfish classes in each country, led to the consolidation of a sort of Anglo-Saxon alliance of the only desirable kind — an alliance between loving and public-spirited persons in each country. As the outcome of this international union, which [246] was inaugurated in 1833, a spiritual alliance of private persons succeeded thirty years later in controlling the diplomatic relations between the two countries and in averting war. It was, perhaps, the first time in history that such a thing could have occurred; and the incident shows us that the influence of private morality upon world politics is by no means imperceptible.

In 1840 a good many of the Abolitionists went to England to attend a World's Convention, and to renew their acquaintance with O'Connell, Buxton, Elizabeth Fry, the Howetts, Elizabeth Pease and others. The later visit of Garrison to England in 1846, was due to a picturesque episode in Antislavery history. A free church in Scotland had accepted money subscribed by slaveholders in Charleston; and Edinburgh became for a few weeks the focus of Antislavery agitation. “Send back the money” was placarded upon the streets, while English and American Abolitionists flocked to the fray. Garrison took this occasion to go to London and attend a World's Temperance Convention, then in session at the London Literary Institute. Immediately thereafter he organized an Anti-Slavery League, and held “a real old-fashioned Anti-slavery [247] meeting,” the first that had ever been held in London. The astonishing freedom with which he dealt out blows and caresses to the British public, the perfectly popular, jocular, boisterous tone of his speech on this occasion reminds one of Luther, and shows a new side to Garrison's powers. His success with the public was great. Now it happened that there was still another World's Conference going on in London at that time, namely a meeting of the Evangelical Alliance, which was a union of protestant clergy from various parts of the world. Garrison and Thompson took, of course, no share in the deliberations of these clergymen, but watched their proceedings with interest. The slave question was already burning hotly in the Alliance. The contested point was whether slaveholders were to be admitted to fellowship. After much wrangling and reference to committees, etc., the Alliance decided for the admission of slaveholders. Imagine the state of mind of Thompson and Garrison! They instantly called a meeting at Exeter Hall under the auspices of their own newborn League: and they proceeded to denounce the Evangelical Alliance — yes, they denounced it out of existence — to the great [248] encouragement of the whole Abolition movement in America and elsewhere. This procedure occupied but a few days, and shows how much an active man can do, even upon a foreign soil, when he is dealing with matters peculiarly within his own province of understanding.

Garrison's personal relations with the British philanthropists can best be understood by reflecting upon his social isolation in America and upon the natural warmth of temperament in himself and in these English friends. “I did not hear without great emotion that you are returned to England, and I look forward with great happiness to meeting you in these better times,” writes the Duchess of Sutherland in 1867. Harriet Martineau wrote just before her death in 1876: “I can say no more. My departure is evidently near, and I hold the pen with difficulty. Accept the sympathy and reverent blessing of your old friend, Harriet Martineau.”

“ I have watched his career with no common interest, even when I was too young to take much part in public affairs; and I have kept within my heart his name and the names of those who have been associated with him in every step he has taken.” It [249] is John Bright who spoke thus, at the great Garrison banquet given in London in 1867. The voice of Bright here spoke for that whole world of liberal sentiment in England which first rose to power through the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832. It spoke for Glasgow and Edinborough, for Lancashire and Yorkshire — for the new Burgherdom which came into the world heralding religious freedom, popular education, and the protection of the humbler classes.

Garrison was better known to the working classes in Great Britain than in his own country. “During my visit to England,” said Henry Ward Beecher, speaking in 1863, “it was my privilege to address, in various places, very large audiences, and I never made mention of the names of any of those men whom you most revere and love, without calling down the wildest demonstrations of popular enthusiasm. I never mentioned the names of Mr. Phillips or Mr. Garrison, that it did not call forth a storm of approbation.”

It was through all this intercourse between the Abolitionists and the liberals of England that there grew up that understanding which the middle classes of England possessed as to the nature of the American [250] struggle in 1860 to 1865; and which alone averted the recognition of the Southern Confederacy by the British Government. In reading the life of Charles Francis Adams, it has always been a surprise to me to find how well informed the cotton spinners, operatives, and small tradesmen of England were upon the very point which the governing classes were so unwilling to understand. The story of the support given to the Northern cause by the cotton spinners of Lancashire, who were being starved to death by the blockade of our Southern ports, is among the most moving stories in history. They could not be induced to protest or to ask their own Government for relief against that blockade. They would not take sides against the United States Government whose action was crushing them, because that Government stood for the freedom of the slave. The tale resembles the story of some siege at which not merely the safety of a city, but the fate of all humanity is at stake. These humble creatures saved us. It was due to their fortitude that Great Britain did not openly recognize the Confederacy. Had the masses of England sustained the official classes in regard to the American [251] question, some sort of intervention by England in American affairs would in all probability have followed.

The Englishmen whose influence educated and sustained the working classes upon this whole matter were John Stuart Mill, John Bright, Richard Cobden, Lord Houghton, William E. Forster, George Thompson, Goldwin Smith, Justin Mc-Carthy, Thomas Hughes, Herbert Spencer, Professor J. E. Cairnes--as well as the Gurneys, Buxtons, Webbs, and Clarksons of the previous generation: that is to say they were the heart and conscience of England of which Garrison had found himself to be a part in the early days, and by which the whole Anti-slavery movement had been comprehendingly followed during thirty years. The lower classes in England saw that the battle raging in America was their own battle, and that upon the maintenance of the cause of free labor the progress of popular institutions all over the world largely depended.

When Garrison visited England in 1867 he was greeted as the Giant of an Idea ought to be greeted. Public receptions and lunches were given in his honor in London, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, and [252] Glasgow; and many names of note were to be found subscribed under words of welcome. Charles Darwin wrote, twelve years later, to young Garrison: “Thank you for the memorials of Garrison, a name to be forever revered.” I would not cite the fetes and ovations given to Garrison in London in 1867 as proving more than they do prove. We ought to examine the list of guests at the banquets and read the current newspaper editorials by the light of the events of that day, before deciding that Garrison's virtue was alone responsible for all this enthusiasm. I believe that Great Britain seized upon the London Banquet to Garrison as an opportunity for making a sort of amende for her unfriendly conduct during our crisis; and that persons attended this breakfast in 1867 who would not have been found at such a celebration if it had occurred in June, 1863. But whatever may have been the intentions of the Englishmen who, in 1867, gave Garrison a banquet, they did right to honor him; and their action gives the cue to posterity. It was Garrison who saved this nation. In his youth he gave us the issue through which alone salvation could come; and by his life he created the spirit through which that issue triumphed. [253]

When the strands of this great web are brought together, they are seen to be as light as gossamer: the whole expanding Cosmos of Slavery may be drawn backward through a gold ring. Slavery in the North American Colonies was an outcome of that geographical remoteness which has so much hampered our progress. Slavery was a form of outrage which could linger on in outlying corners of the globe, long after it had become impossible in the centers of Western civilization. It had no legal inception in our Colonies: it was older than law. But it grew with our growth. The arrangement between the Colonies which goes by the name of the “New England Confederation of 1643” contained a clause for the rendition of fugitive slaves. Before the year 1862 there was never a moment in our history when slavery could have been abolished by the popular will. The United States Constitution of 1789 could never have been adopted by the Southern States had it not contained clauses protecting slavery. Slavery was in the blood of our people. During the thirty years, from 1830 to 1860, while the system was being driven out of the blood of our people through the power of the New Testament, [254] there grew up a natural illusion, that the whole matter was one of municipal law. In reality the matter was one of influence, in which law only played a part.

The American temperament had thus been under the harrow of iniquity for two hundred years. During all this time slavery had been commercially an error, intellectually a blight, in every social aspect a poison. The toxin of it engendered in the Southerner that subtle quality, known and feared by the Greeks — an un-awed selfwill. This quality is a mere inability to give way, and shows that the inner will of the man is closed to the great creative force of the universe. If he cannot let this force in, he will be destroyed by it. Nature conspires against him; humanity joins hands against him. His fall is certain.

The toxin of slavery engendered also in the Northerner the correlative sin to selfwill, namely, a mean submission. The Southerner could not give way: he did not know how to yield. The Northerner could not stand fast: he always yielded. If you subtract the slave, who stands between these two samples of damaged temperament, you will still have a symbol of the institution of slavery in these two divergent attitudes of [255] degradation. Do not seek for the fault in conventions or in Constitutions. There is no fault: there is only a moral situation, having a geographical origin.

During all this time the stars were fighting against slavery. They fought behind clouds and darkly for two hundred years; and at last their influence began to develop visible symptoms of cure. A very small part of life or history is ever visible, and it is only by inference that we know what powers have been at work; but in 1829 it is plain that some terrible drug is in operation in America. Whether this hot liquid was first born in the vitals of the slave we do not know. It seems to me that the origin of it must have been in the slave himself; and that it was mystically transmitted to the Abolitionist, in whom it appeared as pity. We know that the drops of this pity had a peculiar, stimulating power on the earth — a dynamic, critical power, a sort of prison-piercing faculty, which sent voltages of electrical shock through humanity. It is plain that all this conductivity to the ideas of Abolition was a part of Abolition. The sensitiveness of the South to criticism was also a part of Abolition.

There began, therefore, in about 1830, a [256] course of shuttling passion, which seems ever to repeat itself and to run upon a circuit. A wave of criticism from the North arouses violent opposition at the South: this awakens the North to new criticism. As the result of each reaction the South loses a little and the North gains a little. Now the relative numbers and resources of the North were, during all this time, increasing so rapidly that nothing but hypnotism could keep her in subjection to the Slave Power. And the days of hypnotism were plainly at an end; the days of shock and question were come. Whatever the South did, turned out to be shocking, and to be mistaken. Whatever the South did, returned to plague the inventor. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was a Southern victory and jarred upon the Northern conscience a little. Nine years thereafter arises Abolition. The offer of a reward for Garrison by the State of Georgia in 1831 weakened the South; the elaborate attempts to suppress the Abolitionists in 1835 weakened the South; the Annexation of Texas weakened her. The Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, the invasion of Kansas by the Border Ruffians, the Dred [257] Scott Decision — each one of these things, though apparently a victory, proved in the end to be a boomerang, which operated to weaken the South and to awaken the North. On the other hand the North seemed to be protected from the consequences of moral error. The greatest illustration of this is the case of John Brown, whose crimes were at first not credited, and later were sanctified by contemporary Northern opinion.

Curiously enough, the political control of the South went on growing stronger and stronger while the basis for this controlits hold on the Northern imaginationwas growing weaker and weaker. In other words, the Southern leaders always won: their cause always lost. Some Nemesis was working out. The mecanique of each successive step in the process was always the same. The weapon of the South was her threat of disunion. This threat seems to have had the effect of a spell upon our Northern ancestors. Disunion was in their opinion too horrible to be named, and much too terrible to be executed. The mere thought of it shattered Northern nerves. A world without the United States Constitution seemed to Northern men like a world before God's arrival — chaos come again. [258] It was this threat of disunion that carried the Missouri Compromise in 1820, gave the moral victory to the Niillifiers in 1832, carried the Compromise measures of 1850, repealed the Missouri Compromise in 1854, elected Buchanan in 1856, and ruled the fortunes of the Republic in collateral matters between these crises.

The North was so accustomed to knuckling under at the sound of that threat that when Secession actually took place in 1860, --when the worst had happened and the Union was irretrievably shattered,--the North begged for more compromises: it proposed to woo the South back through new concessions. It offered another Fugitive Slave Law which should be embodied in the Constitution. The triumphant Republican Party seems to have been stunned, and could not believe that the longdreamed — of catastrophe had actually occurred. It will be observed that both North and South upon this occasion merely played their stock parts. The South, through the habit of self-will, seceded. The North, through the tradition of self-abasement, begged her to come back.

Then occurred a thing which no one expected. The submerged courage, the abased [259] self-assertion of the Northern people broke suddenly into expression. Fort Sumter was fired on, and every one of twenty millions of people received a shock that gave him a new kind of an organ for a heart. The dramatic nature of this climax was greatly enhanced by the slow manner of its coming on, by the dreadful waiting of the previous months, by the cowardice and inefficiency of the politicians, and by the dumbness of all the oracles. Garrison, at this juncture, is as empty as the prophets of Baal: he knows nothing. Earth's remedies have failed. No one is abreast of the situation. Lincoln only waits. At this moment, when the catastrophe is in the sky and the thud of Fate's footsteps can be heard, there occurred that thing which Herndon had spoken of in a prophetic letter one year earlier. Herndon wrote his last letter to Theodore Parker on December 15, 1859. “The Republicans in Congress,” he says, “are grinding off the flesh from their kneecaps, attempting to convince the South that we are cowards. We are cowards, that is, our representatives are. . . . The South is now catechising the North. To this question, ‘What is the true end of man?’ it stands and shiveringly answers, ‘ The chief end of man is to support [260] the nigger institutions, and to apologize to despots.’ The Senators are all on their knees. So are the Representatives. Let them shrive themselves there, and mankind will avenge the humiliation in the future. This is God's constant mode of operation. The race will pull the trigger which the individual refused to touch. God will cry to the race ‘ Fire’ and it will fire.”

Never did the calculating human intellect more completely break down in the whole legal history of America. Never did so much ability prove so impotent to understand or to assist a social development. Salvation came in spite of all men-through the invisible. Courage came back with the war,--a certain great, gross courage,mixed with carnage and barbarity as the courage of war ever must be,--yet still courage. This was the precious part of the war; for this courage was but a sample thread of a new kind of life which trusts generous feelings, relies upon the unseen, is in union with the unconscious operations of the spirit.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1867 AD (7)
1860 AD (3)
1835 AD (3)
1833 AD (3)
1865 AD (2)
1854 AD (2)
1850 AD (2)
1846 AD (2)
1840 AD (2)
1832 AD (2)
1830 AD (2)
1820 AD (2)
1877 AD (1)
1876 AD (1)
April 6th, 1865 AD (1)
June, 1863 AD (1)
1863 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
December 15th, 1859 AD (1)
1858 AD (1)
1856 AD (1)
1831 AD (1)
1829 AD (1)
1789 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: