previous next

Chapter 12: flotsam and jetsam.

The results of the storm became immediately manifest in several ways. Such a commotion did not leave things in precisely the state in which they were on the morning of the memorable day on which it struck the city. The moral landscape and geography of the community had sensibly changed at its close. The full extent of the alteration wrought could not at once be seen, nor was it at once felt. But that there were deep and abiding changes made by it in the court of public opinion in Boston and Massachusetts on the subject of slavery there is little doubt. It disgusted and alarmed many individuals who had hitherto acted in unison with the social, business, and political elements, which were at the bottom of the riot. Francis Jackson, for instance, had been one of the fifteen hundred signers of the call for the great Faneuil Hall meeting of the 21st of August. But on the afternoon of the 21st of October he threw his house open to the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, after its meeting had been broken up by the mob. It seemed to him then that it was no longer a mere struggle for the freedom of the slave, but for the right of free speech and free discussion as well. Dr. Henry I. Bowditch, a young man, in 1835, eminent professor and physician subsequently, dates from that afternoon of mob violence his conversion to Abolitionism. [234] In that selfsame hour seeds of resistance to slavery were sown in two minds of the first order in the city and State. Wendell Phillips was a spectator in the streets that day, and the father of Charles Sumner, the sheriff at the time, fought bravely to save Garrison from falling into the hands of the mob. The great riot gave those young men their first summons to enter the service of freedom. It was not long afterward probably that they both began to read the Liberator. From that event many intelligent and conservative people associated slavery with lynch law and outrage upon the rights of free speech and popular assembly.

This anti-slavery reaction of the community received practical demonstration in the immediate increase of subscribers to the Liberator. Twelve new names were added to the subscription list in one day. It received significant illustration also in Garrison's nomination to the legislature. In this way did between seventy and eighty citizens testify their sympathy for him and their reprobation of mob rule. In yet another way was its influence felt, and this was in the renewed zeal and activity which it instantly produced on the part of the Abolitionists themselves. It operated upon the movement as a powerful stimulus to fresh sacrifices and unwearied exertions. George W. Benson, Garrison's brother-in-law, led off bravely in this respect, as the following extract from a letter written by him in Boston, two days after the riot, to Garrison, at Brooklyn, well illustrates. He had come up to the city from Providence the night before, in quest of his sister and her husband. Not finding them, he turned to the cause which had been [235] so ruthlessly attacked, and this is the sort of care which he bestowed upon it. He got Burleigh to write a general relation of the mob for publication in the Liberator, and Whittier to indite another, with an appeal to the public, the same to be published immediately, and of which he ordered three thousand copies for himself.

“I further ordered,” he writes, “one thousand copies of A. Grimke's letter, with your introductory remarks, and your address published in the Liberator several weeks since, with your name appended, and Whittier's poetry on the times, in a pamphlet form. I urged all our friends to redouble their exertions. They seemed well disposed to accept the advice, as nothing will now avail but thorough measures. Liberty or Death!”

This is a fair specimen of the indomitable, indefatigable spirit which was born of the attempt to put Abolitionism down by lawlessness and violence. Indeed, the “Broad-Cloth mob,” viewed in the light of the important consequences which followed it, was equal to a hundred anti-slavery meetings, or a dozen issues of the Liberator.

It is a curious and remarkable circumstance that, on the very day of the Boston mob, there occurred one in Utica, N. Y., which was followed by somewhat similar results. An anti-slavery convention was attacked and broken up by a mob of “gentlemen of property and standing in the community,” under the active leadership of a member of Congress. Here there was an apparent defeat for the Abolitionists, but the consequences which followed the outrage proved it a blessing in disguise. For the cause made [236] many gains thereby, and conspicuously among them was Gerrit Smith, ever afterward one of its most eloquent and munificent supporters. If anti-slavery meetings made converts by tens, anti-slavery mobs made them by hundreds. The enemies of freedom builded better than they knew or intended, and Garrison had the weightiest of reasons for feeling thankful to them for the involuntary, yet vast aid and comfort which their pro-slavery virulence and violence were bringing him and the anti-slavery movement throughout the free States. Example: in 1835-36, the great mob year, as many as three hundred and twenty-eight societies were organized in the North for the immediate abolition of slavery.

The mob did likewise help towards a satisfactory solution of the riddle propounded by Garrison: “Shall the Liberator die?” The fresh access of antislavery strength, both in respect of zeal and numbers, begotten by it, exerted no slight influence on the longevity of the Liberator. Poor the paper continued, and embarrassed the editor for many a month thereafter, but as an anti-slavery instrument its survival may be said from that proceeding to have become a necessity. To allow the Liberator to die at this juncture would have been such a confession of having been put down, such an ignominious surrender to the mobocrats as the Abolitionists of Boston would have scorned to make. “I trust,” wrote Samuel E. Sewall, “there will not be even one week's interruption in the publication of the Liberator.” Ex uno disce omnes. He but voiced the sentiment of the editor's disciples and associates in the city, in the State, and in New England as well. [237]

Besides these larger consequences there were others of a more personal and less welcome character. The individual suffers but the cause goes forward. Property-holders in Boston after the riot were not at all disposed to incur the risk of renting property to such disturbers of the peace as Garrison and the Liberator. The owner of his home on Brighton street was thrown into such alarm for the safety of his property, if Garrison continued to occupy it, that he requested the cancellation of the lease and the vacation of the premises. Garrison and his friends, all things considered, decided that it was the part of wisdom to accede to the request-although this breaking up of his home was a sore trial to the young husband in more ways than one.

The landlord of the building where was located the Liberator office promptly notified the publishers to remove the paper not many mornings after the mob. This was particularly hard luck, inasmuch as the most dilligent quest for another local habitation for the paper, failed of success. No one was willing to imperil his property by letting a part of it to such a popularly odious enterprise. So that not only had the household furniture of the editor to be stored, but the office effects of the paper as well. The inextinguishable pluck and zeal of Garrison and his Boston coadjutors never showed to better advantage than when without a place to print the Liberator, the paper was “set up in driblets” in other offices at extraordinary expense, and sent out week after week to tell the tale of the mob, and to preach with undiminished power the gospel of universal emancipation. [238]

But more afflictive to the feelings of the reformed than the loss of his home, or that of the office of the Liberator, was the loss of his friend, George Thompson. It seemed to him when the English orator departed that “the paragon of modern eloquence,” and “the benefactor of two nations,” had left these shores. Garrison's grief was as poignant as his humiliation was painful. George Thompson had come hither only as a friend of America, and America had pursued him with the most relentless malice. The greatest precautions were taken after the “Broadcloth mob” to ensure his safety. The place of his concealment was kept a secret and committed only to a few tried friends. There is no doubt that had these precautions not been observed and his hiding place been discovered by the ruffians of the city, his life would have been attempted. Indeed it is almost as certain that had he ventured to show himself in public he would have been murdered in broad daylight in any of the large towns and cities of Massachusetts. His mission was clearly at an end unless he was determined to invite martyrdom. In these circumstances there was nothing to do but to smuggle him out of the country at the first opportunity. On Sunday, November 8, the anxiously looked — for moment came when George Thompson was put upon a packet, in which he sailed for St. Johns, New Brunswick, whence he subsequently took passage for England. Garrison was inconsolable. “Who now shall go forth to argue our cause in public,” he sadly asked, “with subtle sophists and insolent scoffers?” little dreaming that there was then approaching him out of the all-hail hereafter a [239] greater in these identical respects than George Thompson, indisputably great as he was.

It was a blessed refuge to Garrison, the Benson homestead of Brooklyn, termed Friendship's Valley. Hunted as a partridge by his enemies here he found the quiet, and sympathy, and the right royal welcome and affection for which his heart panted amidst the dust, and din, and dangers of the crusade against slavery. But grateful as were the domestic sweets of Friendship's Valley, his was altogether too militant and masterful a spirit to yield himself without a struggle to the repose which it offered. He did not at all relish the idea of being a forced exile from Boston, of being obliged to edit the Liberator at such long range. But his friends urged him to submit to the one, and do the other, both on grounds of economy and common prudence. He was almost superanxious lest it be said that the fear of the mob drove him out of Boston, and that the fear of it kept him out. This super-anxiety in that regard his friends to a certain degree shared with him. It was a phase of Abolition grit. Danger attracted this new species of reformers as a magnet draws iron. Instead of running away from it, they were, with one accord, forever rushing into it. And the leader in Brooklyn was for rushing back to Boston, where, if one chanced to sow the wind in the morning, he might be morally certain of reaping the whirlwind in the afternoon.

Two weeks after he had been secretly conveyed to Canton by Deputy Sheriff Parkman, being the day of his discharge from Leverett street jail, he was back again in Boston. The popular excitement had subsided. [240] He showed himself freely in the streets and was nowhere molested. One day, however, while at the anti-slavery office on Washington street, he witnessed what was perhaps a final manifestation of the cat-like spirit of the great mob. A procession passed by with band and music, bearing aloft a large board on which were represented George Thompson and a black woman with this significant allusion to the riot, made as if addressed to himself by his dusky companion in disgrace: “When are we going to have another meeting, Brother Thompson?” The cat-like creature had lapsed into a playful mood, but its playfulness would have quickly given place to an altogether different fit did it but know that Garrison was watching it from the window of the very room where a few weeks before he had nearly fallen into its clutches.

Garrison remained in Boston two weeks, going about the city, wherever and whenever business or duty called him in a perfectly fearless way. He left on the afternoon of November 18th. On that same afternoon the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society held a memorable meeting at the house of Francis Jackson. It was then that Harriet Martineau, another foreign emissary, avowed her entire agreement with the principles of the Abolitionists, which subjected her to social ostracism, and to unlimited abuse from the pro-slavery press of the city.

The new hatred of slavery which the mob had aroused in Boston found heroic expression in a letter of Francis Jackson's replying to a vote of thanks of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to him for his hospitality to the ladies after their meeting was [241] broken up by the mob. Mr. Jackson in his answer points with emphasis to the fact that his hospitality had a double aim, one was the accommodation of the ladies, the other the preservation of the right of free discussion. In his regard a foundation principle of free institutions had been assailed. “Happily,” he shrewdly observed,

one point seems already to be gaining universal assent, that slavery cannot long survive free discussion. Hence the efforts of the friends, and apologists of slavery to break down this right. And hence the immense stake which the enemies of slavery hold, in behalf of freedom and mankind, in its preservation. The contest is, therefore, substantially between liberty and slavery.

As slavery cannot exist with free discussion, so neither can liberty breathe without it. Losing this, we, too, shall be no longer free men indeed, but little, if at all, superior to the millions we now seek to emancipate.

This apprehension and spirit of resistance, voiced by Francis Jackson, was Garrison's new ally, which, phcenix-like, was born out of the ashes of that terrific attempt of his enemies to effect his destruction, known as the “Broad-Cloth mob.”

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.
1835 AD (2)
1836 AD (1)
November 18th (1)
November 8th (1)
October 21st (1)
August 21st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: