Chapter 14: brotherly love fails, and ideas abound.
During those strenuous, unresting years, included between 1829 and 1836, Garrison
had leaned on his health as upon a strong staff.
It sustained him without a break through that period, great as was the strain to which it was subjected.
But early in the latter year the prop gave way, and the pioneer was prostrated by a severe fit of sickness.
It lasted off and on for quite two years. His activity the first year was seriously crippled, though at no time, owing to his indomitable will, could he be said to have been rendered completely hors de combat
. Almost the whole of 1836 he spent with his wife's family in Brooklyn
, where his first child was born.
This new mouth brought with it fresh cares of a domestic character.
He experienced losses also.
Death removed his aged father-in-law in the last month of 1836, and four weeks later Henry E. Benson
, his brother-in-law.
Their taking off was a sad blow to the reformer and to the reform.
That of the younger man cast a gloom over anti-slavery circles in New England
; for at the time of his death he was the secretary and general agent of the Massachusetts Society, and although not twenty-three, had displayed uncommon capacity for affairs.
The business ability which he brought into his office was of the greatest value
where there was such a distinct deficiency in that respect among his coadjutors, and the loss of it seemed irreparable.
Afflicted as he was, the leader was nevertheless cheered by the extraordinary progress of the movement started by him. The growth and activity of Abolitionism were indeed altogether phenomenal.
In February, 1837, Ellis Gray Loring
estimated that there were then eight hundred anti-slavery societies in the United States
, that an anti-slavery society had been formed in the North
every day for the last two years, and that in the single State of Ohio
there were three hundred societies, one of which had a membership of four thousand names.
The moral agitation was at its height.
The National Society had hit upon a capital device for increasing the effectiveness of its agents and lecturers.
This was to bring them together in New York for a few weeks' study of the slavery question under the direction of such masters as Theodore D. Weld
, Beriah Green
, Charles Stuart
, and others.
All possible phases of the great subject, such as, What is slavery?
What is immediate emancipation?
The consequences of emancipation to the South
, etc., etc., pro-slavery objections and arguments were stated and answered.
The agents and lecturers went forth from the convention bristling with facts, and glowing with enthusiasm to renew the crusade against slavery.
, broken in health as he was, went on from Boston
to attend this school of his disciples.
He spoke briefly but repeatedly to them upon the all-absorbing topic which had brought them together.
“It was a happy circumstance, too,” he wrote, “that I was present with them, and that
they had an opportunity to become personally
acquainted with me; for, as I am a great stumblingblock in the way of the people, or, rather, of some people, it would be somewhat disastrous to our cause if any of our agents, through the influence of popular sentiment, should be led to cherish prejudices against me.”
In February, 1837, the Massachusetts Anti
-Slavery Society came to the rescue of the Liberator
from its financial embarrassments and hand-to-mouth existence by assuming the responsibility of its publication.
The arrangement did not in any respect compromise Mr. Garrison
's editorial independence, but lifted from him and his friend Knapp
in his own language, “a heavy burden, which has long crushed us to the earth.”
The arrangement, nevertheless, continued but a year when it was voluntarily set aside by Mr. Garrison
for causes of which we must now give an account.
In the letter from which we have quoted above, touching his visit to the Convention
of Anti-Slavery Agents
alludes to one of these causes.
He says: “I was most kindly received by all, and treated as a brother, notwithstanding the wide difference of opinion between us on some religious points, especially the Sabbath question
The italics are our own. Until within a few years he had been one of the strictest of Sabbath observers.
Although never formally connected with any church, he had been a narrow and even an intolerant believer in the creed and observances of New England
Words failed him in 1828 to express his abhorrence of a meeting of professed infidels: “It is impossible,” he
exclaimed with the ardor of a bigot, “to estimate the depravity and wickedness of those who, at the present day, reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ
,” etc. A year and a half later while editing the Genius
, he held uncompromisingly to the stern Sabbatical notions of the Puritans.
A fete given to Lafayette
on Sunday seemed to him an act of sheer religious desecration.
The carrying of passengers and the mails on the Sabbath provoked his energetic reprobation.
He was in all points of New England
Puritanism, orthodox of the orthodox.
Subsequently he began to see things in a different light.
As the area of his experience extended it came to him that living was more than believing, that it was not every one who professed faith in Jesus had love for him in the heart; and that there were many whom his own illiberalism had rated as depraved and wicked on mere points of doctrine, who, nevertheless, shamed by the blamelessness and nobility of their conduct multitudes of ardent Christians of the lip-service sort.
Indeed this contradiction between creed and conduct struck him with considerable force in the midst of his harsh judgments against unbelief and unbelievers.
“There are, in fact,” he had remarked a year or two after he had attained his majority, “few reasoning
Christians; the majority of them are swayed more by the usages of the world than by any definite perception of what constitutes duty-so far, we mean, as relates to the subjugation of vices which are incorporated, as it were, into the existence of society; else why is it that intemperance, and slavery, and war, have not ere this in a measure been driven from our land?”
As the months of his earnest young life passed him by, they showed him as they went how horrible a thing was faith without works.
“By their fruits ye shall know them,” the Master
had said, and more and more as he saw how many and great were the social evils to be reformed, and in what dire need stood his country of righteous action, did he come to put increasing emphasis on conduct, as the one thing needful to rid the land of the triple curse of slavery, intemperance, and war. As he mused upon these giant evils, and the desolation which they were singly and together causing in the world, and upon the universal apathy of the churches in respect of them, it seemed to him that the current religion was an offence and an abomination.
And in his prophetic rage he denounced it as “a religion which quadrates with the natural depravity of the heart, giving license to sin, restraining no lust, mortifying not the body, engendering selfishness, and cruelty!-a religion which walks in silver slippers, on a carpeted floor, having thrown off the burden of the cross and changed the garments of humiliation for the splendid vestments of pride!
a religion which has no courage, no faithfulness, no self-denial, deeming it better to give heed unto men than unto God!”
This was in the autumn of 1829, but though he was thus violently denunciatory of contemporary religion, the severity of his judgment against the skepticism of the times had not been materially modified.
He still regarded the unbeliever with narrow distrust and dislike.
When, after his discharge from Baltimore
jail, he was engaged in delivering his message on the subject of slavery, and was seeking an opportunity to make
what he knew known to the people of Boston
, he was forced, after vainly advertising for a hall or meetinghouse in which to give his three lectures, to accept the offer of Abner Kneeland
's Society of Infidels of the use of their hall for that purpose.
The spirit of these people, branded by the community as blasphemers, and by himself, too, in all probability, Garrison
saw to be as admirable as the spirit displayed by the churches of the city toward him and his cause was unworthy and sinful.
But, grateful as he was for the hospitality of the infidels, he, nevertheless, rather bluntly informed them that he had no sympathy with their religious notions, and that he looked for the abolition of slavery to evangelicism, and to it alone.
A few years in the university of experience, where he learned that conduct is better than creeds, and living more than believing, served to emancipate him from illiberal prejudices and narrow sectarianism.
He came to see, “that in Christ Jesus all stated observances are so many self-imposed and unnecessary yokes; and that prayer and worship are all embodied in that pure, meek, child-like state of heart which affectionately and reverently breathes but one petition-‘ Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
Religion . . . is nothing but love-perfect love toward God and toward man-without formality, without hypocrisy, without partiality-depending upon no outward form to preserve its vitality or prove its existence.”
This important change in Mr. Garrison
's religious convictions became widely known in the summer of
1836 through certain editorial strictures of his upon
a speech of Dr. Lyman Beecher
, at Pittsburgh
, on the subject of the Sabbath.
The good doctor was cold enough on the question of slavery, which involved not only the desecration of the Sabbath, but of the souls and bodies of millions of human beings.
If Christianity was truly of divine origin, and Garrison
devoutly believed that it was, it would approve its divinity by its manner of dealing with the vices and evils which were dragging and chaining the feet of men to the gates of hell.
If it parleyed with iniquity, if it passed its victims by on the other side, if it did not war incessantly and energetically to put down sin, to destroy wickedness, it was of the earth, earthy; and its expounders were dumb dogs where they should bark the loudest and bite the hardest; and Dr. Beecher
appeared to him one of these dumb dogs, who, when he opened his mouth at all, was almost sure to open it at the men who were trying through evil report and good to express in their lives the spirit of Him who so loved the world that He gave His Son
to die to redeem it. He bayed loud enough at the Abolitionists but not at the abomination which they were attacking.
He was content to leave it to the tender mercies of two hundred years. No such liberal disposition of the question of the Sabbath was he willing to allow.
He waxed eloquent in its behalf.
His enthusiasm took to itself wings and made a great display of ecclesiastical zeal beautiful to behold.
“The Sabbath,” quoth the teacher who endeavored to muzzle the students of Lane Seminary on the subject of slavery, whose ultimate extinction his prophetic soul quiescently committed to the operation of two centuries; “the Sabbath,” quoth he, “is
the great sun of the moral world
Out upon you, said Garrison
, the Lord God is the great sun of the moral world
, not the Sabbath.
It is not one, but every day of the week which is His, and which men should be taught to observe as holy days.
It is not regard for the forms of religion but for the spirit, which is essential to righteousness.
What is the command, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” but one of ten commandments?
Is the violation of the fourth any worse than the violation of the third or fifth, or sixth?
Nowhere is it so taught in the Bible
Yet, what is slavery but a breaking and treading down of the whole ten, what but a vast system of adultery, robbery, and murder, the daily and yearly infraction on an appalling scale not alone of the spirit but of the letter of the decalogue?
then passed to criticisms of a more special character touching the observance of the day thus: “These remarks are made not to encourage men to do wrong at any time, but to controvert a pernicious and superstitious notion, and one that is very prevalent, that extraordinary and supernatural visitations of divine indignation upon certain transgressors (of the Sabbath particularly and almost exclusively) are poured out now as in the days of Moses
and the prophets.
Whatever claim the Sabbath may have to a strict religious observance, we are confident it cannot be strengthened, but must necessarily be weakened, by all such attempts to enforce or prove its sanctity.”
This pious but rational handling of the Sabbath question gave instant offence to the orthodox readers of the Liberator
. For it was enough in those days to convict
the editor of rank heresy.
From one and another of his subscribers remonstrances came pouring in upon him. A young theological student at Yale ordered his paper stopped in consequence of the anti-Sabbatarian views of the editor.
A Unitarian minister at Harvard, Mass.
, was greatly cut up by reason thereof, and suddenly saw what before he did not suspect.
“I had supposed you,” he wrote in his new estate,
a very pious person, and that a large proportion of the Abolitionists were religious persons.
I have thought of you as another Wilberforce-but would Wilberforce have spoken thus of the day on which the Son of God rose from the dead? Garrison
's query in reply--“Would Wilberforce
have denied the identity of Christ
with the Father
?” --was a palpable hit. But as he himself justly remarked, “Such questions are not arguments, but fallacies unworthy of a liberal mind.”
Nevertheless, so long as men are attached to the leading strings of sentiment rather than to those of reason, such questions will possess tremendous destructive force, as Mr. Garrison
, in his own case, presently perceived.
He understood the importance of not arousing against him “denominational feelings or peculiarities,” and so had steered the Liberator
clear of the rocks of sectarianism.
But when he took up in its columns the Sabbath question he ran his paper directly among the breakers of a religious controversy.
He saw how it was with him at once, saw that he had stirred up against him all that religious feeling which was crystallized around the first day of the week, and that he could not hope to escape without serious losses in one way or another.
pretty certain,” he writes Samuel J. May
in September, 1836, “that the Liberator
will sustain a serious loss in its subscriptions at the close of the present volume; and all appeals for aid in its behalf will be less likely to prevail than formerly.
I am conscious that a mighty sectarian conspiracy is forming to crush me, and it will probably succeed to some extent.”
This controversy over the Sabbath proved the thin edge of differences and dissensions, which, as they went deeper and deeper, were finally to rend asunder the erstwhile united Abolition movement.
The period was remarkable for the variety and force of new ideas, which were coming into being, or passing into general circulation.
And to all of them it seems that Garrison
was peculiarly receptive.
He took them all in and planted them in soil of extraordinary fertility.
It was immediately observed that it was not only one unpopular notion which he had adopted, but a whole headful of them.
And every one of these new ideas was a sort of rebel-reformer, a genuine man of war. They had come as a protest against the then existing beliefs and order of things, come as their enemies and destroyers.
Each one of them was in a sense a stirrer — up of sedition against old and regnant relations and facts, political, moral, and religious.
Whoever espoused them as his own, espoused as his own also the antagonisms, political, moral, and religious which they would excite in the public mind.
All of which was directly illustrated in the experience of the editor of the Liberator
. Each of these new notions presently appeared in the paper along with Abolitionism.
What was his intention timid people began to
Did he design to carry them along with the Abolition movement?
Suspicious minds fancied they saw “in Mr. Garrison
, a decided wish, nay, a firm resolve, in laboring to overthrow slavery, to overthrow the Christian Sabbath
and the Christian
His doctrine is that every day is a Sabbath, and every man his own minister.
There are no Christian ordinances, there is no visible church.”
His no-government and non-resistant ideas excited yet further the apprehensions of some of his associates for the safety of that portion of the present order to which they clung.
As developed by Garrison
they seemed to deny the right of the people “to frame a government of laws to protect themselves against those who would injure them, and that man can apply physical force to man rightfully under no circumstances, and not even the parent can apply the rod to the child, and not be, in the sight of God, a trespasser and a tyrant.”
embraced besides Perfectionism, a sort of political, moral, and religious Come-outerism, and faith in “universal emancipation from sin.”
His description of himself abont this time as “an Ishmaelitish editor” is not bad, nor his quotation of “Woe is me my mother!
for I was born a man of strife” as applicable to the growing belligerency of his relations with the anti-slavery brethren in consequence of the new ideas and isms, which were taking possession of his mind and occupying the columns of the Liberator
Among the strife-producers during this period of the anti-slavery agitation,the woman's question played a principal part.
Upon this as upon the Sabbath
's early position was one of extreme conservatism.
As late as 1830, he shared the common opinions in regard to woman's sphere, and was strongly opposed to her stepping outside of it into that occupied by man. A petition of seven hundred women of Pittsburgh, Pa.
, to Congress in behalf of the Indians gave his masculine prejudices a great shock.
“This is, in our opinion,” he declared, “an uncalled for interference, though made with holiest intentions.
We should be sorry to have this practice become general.
There would then be no question agitated in Congress without eliciting the informal and contrariant opinions of the softer sex.”
This toplofty sentiment accorded well with the customary assumption and swagger of one of the lords of creation.
For the young reformer was evidently a firm believer in the divine right of his sex to rule in the world of politics.
But as he grew taller and broader the horizon of woman widened, and her sphere embraced every duty, responsibility, and right for which her gifts and education fitted her. The hard and fast lines of sex disappeared from his geography of the soul.
He perceived for a truth that in humanity there was neither male nor female, but that man and woman were one in work and destiny-equals in bearing the world's burden, equals in building the world's glory.
He heard in his heart the injunction of the eternal wisdom saying: “Whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder;” and straightway disposed his opinions and prejudices, his thoughts and purposes in cordial obedience therewith.
He saw at once the immense value of woman's influence in the temperance movement, he saw no less quickly her
importance in the anti-slavery reform, and he had appealed to her for help in the work of both, and she had justified his appeal and proven herself the most devoted of coadjutors.
In the beginning of the movement against slavery the line of demarcation between the sexes was strictly observed in the formation of societies.
The men had theirs, the women theirs.
Each, sexually considered, were very exclusive affairs.
It did not seem to have occurred to the founders of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, or of the national organization to admit women to membership in them, nor did it seem to enter the mind of any woman to prefer a request to be admitted into them.
Anti-slavery women organized themselves into female anti-slavery societies, did their work apart from the men, who plainly regarded themselves as the principals in the contest, and women as their moral seconds.
The first shock, which this arrangement, so accordant with the oakand-ivy notion of the masculine half of mankind, received, came when representatives of the gentler sex dropped the secondary role assigned women in the conflict, and began to enact that of a star.
The advent of the sisters Grimk6 upon the anti-slavery stage as public speakers, marked the advent of the idea of women's rights, of their equality with men in the struggle with slavery.
At the start these ladies delivered their message to women only, but by-and-bye as the fame of their eloquence spread men began to appear among their auditories.
Soon they were thrilling packed halls and meeting-houses in different parts of the country, comprised of men and women.
The lesson which
their triumph enforced of women's fitness to enact the role of principals in the conflict with slavery was not lost upon the sex. Women went, saw, and conquered their prejudices against the idea of equality; likewise, many men. The good seed of universal liberty and equality fell into fruitful soil and germinated in due time within the heart of the moral movement against slavery.
The more that Sarah and Angelina Grimk
6 reflected upon the sorry position to which men had assigned women in Church and State the more keenly did they feel its injustice and degradation.
They beat with their revolutionary idea of equality against the iron bars of the cage-like sphere in which they were born, and within which they were doomed to live and die by the law of masculine might.
At heart they were rebels against the foundation principle of masculine supremacy on which society and government rested.
While pleading for the freedom of the slaves, the sense of their own bondage and that of their sisters rose up before them and revealed itself in bitter questionings.
“Are we aliens,” asked Angelina, “because we are women?
Are we bereft of citizenship because we are the mothers, wives, and daughters
of a mighty people?
no country — no interests staked on the public weal — no partnership in a nation's guilt or shame?”
This discontent with the existing social establishment in its relation to women received sympathetic responses from many friends to whom the sisters communicated the contagion of their unrest and dissatisfaction.
Angelina records that, “At friend Chapman
's, where we spent a social evening, I had a long talk with the brethren on the rights of
women, and found a very general sentiment prevailing that it is time our fetters were broken.
L. M. Child
and Maria Chapman
strongly supported this view; indeed very many seem to think a new order of things is very desirable in this respect.”
This prevalence of a sentiment favorable to women's rights, which Angelina observed in Mrs. Chapman
's parlors possessed no general significence.
For true to the character of new ideas, this particular new idea did not bring peace but a sword.
It set Abolition brethren against Abolition brethren, and blew into a flame the differences of leaders among themselves.
But the first irruption of strife which it caused proceeded from without, came from the church or rather from the clergy of the Orthodox Congregational churches
This clerical opposition to the idea of women's rights found expression in the celebrated “Pastoral letter,” issued by the General Association of Ministers
of that denomination to the churches of the same in the summer of 1837.
This ecclesiastical bull had two distinct purposes to accomplish ; first, to discourage the agitation of the slavery question by excluding antislavery agents from lecturing upon that subject in the churches; and, second, to suppress the agitation of the woman's question by setting the seal of the disapproval of the clergy to the appearance of women in their new and revolutionary role of public speakers and teachers on the burning subjects of the times.
authors threw up their hands and eyes in holy horror at the “widespread and permanent injury” which seemed to them to threaten “the female character.”
They scorned the new-fangled
notion of woman's independence, and asked for nothing better than the Pauline definition of her “appropriate duties and influence.”
“The power of women,” quoth they, “is in her dependence ..... When she assumes the place and tone of man as a public reformer, our care and protection of her seem unnecessary; we put ourselves in self-defence against her, she yields the power which God has given her for protection, and her character becomes unnatural!”
These Congregational ministers were not the only representatives of the lordly sex to whom the idea of women's equality was repellent.
Anti-slavery brethren, too, were flinging themselves into all postures of self-defence against the dangerous innovation, which the sisters Grimke
were letting into the social establishment, by itinerating “in the character of public lecturers and teachers.”
Amos A. Phelps
was quite as strongly opposed to women preachers, to women assuming the “place and tone of man as a public reformer,” as Nehemiah Adams
He remonstrated with them against their continued assumption of the character of public lecturers and teachers, but to no purpose.
Sarah and Angelina were uncompromising, refused to yield one iota of their rights as “moral and responsible beings.”
They firmly declined to make their Quakerism and not their womenhood their warrant for “exercising the rights and performing the duties” of rational and responsible beings, for the sake of quieting tender consciences, like that of Phelps
, among the anti-slavery brethren.
They were in earnest and demanded to know “whether there is such a thing as male and female virtues, male and female duties.”
Angelina writes: “My opinion is that there
is no difference, and that this false idea has run the ploughshare of ruin over the whole field of morality.
My idea is that whatever is morally right for a man to do is morally right for a woman to do. I recognize no rights but human rights. ... I am persuaded that woman is not to be, as she has been, a mere second-hand agent in the regeneration of a fallen world, but the acknowledged equal and co-worker with man in this glorious work.”
The debate on the subject threatened for a short season to push the woman's question to the level of the slavery question.
The contention became acrimonius, and the alienation of friendships was widespread.
John G. Whittier
and Theodore D. Weld
, who were both avowed believers in the idea of women's rights, nevertheless, felt that the agitation of the subject, under the circumstances, was a grave blunder.
“No moral enterprise, when prosecuted with ability and any sort of energy, ever
failed under heaven,” wrote Weld
to Sarah and Angelina, “so long as its conductors pushed the main
principle, and did not strike off until they reached the summit level.
On the other hand, every reform that ever foundered in mid-sea, was capsized by one of these gusty side-winds.”
endeavored to dissuade the sisters from mooting the question of women's rights at all, and to urge them to devote their voice and pen to the “main
But Angelina confesses that “our judgment is not convinced, and we hardly know what to do about it, for we have just as high an opinion of Brother Garrison's views, and he
says ‘go on
” The influence of Weld
finally prevailed with
's high-souled daughters,” and they refrained from further agitation of the subject of Women's rights lest they should thereby injure the cause of the slave.
But the leaven of equality was not so effectually disposed of. It had secured permanent lodgment in the anti-slavery body, and the fermentation started by it, went briskly on. Such progress did the principle of women's rights make among the Eastern Abolitionists
, especially among those of Massachusetts
, that in the spring of 1838 the New England Anti-Slavery Society voted to admit women to equal membership with men. This radical action was followed by a clerical secession from the society, which made a stir at the time.
For among the seceding members was no less a personage than Amos A. Phelps
, who was the general agent
of the Massachusetts Society, and therefore one of Garrison
's stanchest supporters.
The reform instituted by the New England
Society, in respect of the character of its membership, was quickly adopted by the Massachusetts Society and by several local organizations, all of which set the ball of discord spinning among the brethren at a great rate.
But by this time all the new ideas, Sabbatical, no-government, perfectionist, non-resistance, as well as women's rights, were within the anti-slavery arena, and fencing and fighting for a chance to live, with the old ideas and the old order.
championed all of the new ideas, and in doing so arrayed against himself all of the special champions of the existing establishments.
In his reduced physical state, the reformer was not equal to the tremendous concussions of this “era of activity,”
named it. At moments he appeared bewildered amid the loud, fierce clamor of contending ideas, each asserting in turn its moral primacy.
For an instant the vision of the great soul grew dim, the great heart seemed'to have lost its bearings.
All of the new ideas thawed and melted into each other, dissolved into one vague and grand solidarity of reforms.
The voice of the whole was urging him amid the gathering moral confusion to declare himself for all truth, and he hearkened irresolute, with divided mind.
“I feel somewhat at a loss to know what to do” --he confesses at this juncture to George W. Benson
, “whether to go into all the principles of holy reform and make the Abolition cause subordinate, or whether still to persevere in the one
beaten track as hitherto.
Circumstances hereafter must determine this matter.”
That was written in August, 1837; a couple of months later circumstances had not determined the matter, it would seem, from the following extract from a letter to his brother-in-law: “It is not my intention at present to alter either the general character or course of the Liberator.
work in the anti-slavery cause is not wholly done; as soon as it is, I shall know it, and shall be prepared, I trust, to enter upon a mightier work of reform.”
Meanwhile the relations between the editor of the Liberator
and the managers of the national organization were becoming decidedly strained.
For it seemed to them that Garrison
had changed the anti-slavery character of his paper by the course which he had taken in regard to the new ideas which were finding their way into its columns to the manifest harm of
the main principle of immediate emancipation.
This incipient estrangement between the pioneer and the executive committee of the national society was greatly aggravated by an occurrence, which, at the time, was elevated to an importance that it did not deserve.
This occurrence was what i§ known in antislavery annals as the “Clerical appeal.”
Five clergymen, who were obviously unfriendly to Garrison
, and distrustful of the religious and social heresies which they either saw or fancied that they saw in the Liberator
, and withal jealous lest the severities of the paper against particular pro-slavery ministers should diminish the influence and sacred character of their order, published, in August of 1837, in the New England Spectator
an acrid arraignment of editor and paper, upon five several charges, designed to bring Garrisonism to the block and speedy death.
This document was followed by two other appeals by way of supplement and rejoinder from the same source, an “Andover
appeal” from kindred spirits and a bitter, personal letter from one of the “seventy agents,” all of them having a common motive and purpose, viz., sectarian distrust and dislike of Garrison
, and desire to reduce his anti-slavery influence to a nullity.
In his diseased and suffering bodily condition, Garrison
naturally enough fell into the error of exaggerating the gravity of these attacks upon himself.
Insignificant in an historical sense, they really were an episode, an unpleasant one to be sure for the time being, but no more.
, however, they appeared in a wholly different light.
It seemed a rebellion on a pretty grand scale, which called for all his strength, all the batteries of the friends of freedom, all his terrible
and unsparing severities of speech to quell it. All his artillery he posted promptly in positions commanding the camp of the mutineers, and began to pour, as only he could, broadside after broadside into the works of the wretched little camp of rebels.
He could hardly have expended more energy and ammunition in attacking a strategical point of Southern slavery, than was expended in punishing a handful of deserters and insurgents.
he was not satisfied to draw upon his own resources for crushing the clerical sedition, he demanded reinforcements from the central authorities in New York as well.
And then began a contention between him and the Executive Committee of the National Society, which issued only in ill.
considered it the duty of the Executive Committee to disapprove officially of the action of the Massachusetts
recalcitrants, and also the duty of its organ, the Emancipator
, to rebuke the authors of the “appeals.”
Not so, replied Lewis Tappan
and Elizur Wright
, your request is unreasonable.
If you choose to make a mountain out of a molehill, you choose to make a mistake which the Executive Committee will not repeat.
Your troubles are wholly local, of no general importance whatever.
“What! Shall a whole army stop its aggressive movements into the territories of its enemies to charge bayonets on five soldiers, subalterns, company, or even staff officers, because they stray into a field to pick berries, throw stones or write an ‘ appeal?’
To be frank with you we shall make bold to say that we do not approve of the appeal, it is very censurable, its spirit is bad, but neither do we approve of your action in the premises,
it is also very censurable and its spirit is bad. What then?
shall the Executive Committee condemn the authors of the appeal and not condemn the editor of the Liberator
If strict military justice were done should not both parties be cashiered?
Let the Sabbath and the theoretic theology of the priesthood alone for the present.”
“I could have wished, yes, I have wished from the bottom of my soul,” it is Wright
who now holds the pen, “that yon could conduct that dear paper, the Liberator
, in the singleness of purpose of its first years, without traveling off from the ground of our true, noble, heart-stirring Declaration of Sentiments-without breathing sentiments which are novel and shocking to the community, and which seem to me to have no logical sequence from the principles on which we are associated as Abolitionists.
I cannot but regard the taking hold of one great moral enterprise while another is in hand and but half achieved, as an outrage upon commonsense, somewhat like that of the dog crossing the river with his meat.
But you have seen fit to introduce to the public some novel views — I refer especially to your sentiments on government and religious perfection-and they have produced the effect which was to have been expected.
And now considering what stuff human nature is made of, is it to be wondered at that some honest-hearted, thorough-going Abolitionists should have lost their equanimity?
As you well know I am comparatively no bigot to any creed, political or theological, yet to tell the plain truth, I look upon your notions of government and religious perfection as downright fanaticism-as harmless as they are absurd.
I would not care a pin's
head if they were preached to all Christendom; for it is not in the human mind (except in a peculiar and, as I think, diseased state) to believe them.”
Barring the extreme plainness of speech with which Wright
gave their advice to Mr. Garrison
, it was in the main singularly sound and wise.
But the pioneer did not so regard it. He was possessed with his idea of the importance of chastising the clerical critics, and of the duty of the Executive Committee and of the Emancipator
to back him in the undertaking.
His temper was, under all circumstances, masterful and peremptory.
It was never more masterful and peremptory than in its manage ment of this business.
The very reasonable course of the Board at New York suggested to his mind a predominance of “sectarianism at headquarters,” seemed to him “criminal and extraordinary.”
As the Executive Committee and its organ would not rebuke the schismatics, he was moved to rebuke the Executive Committee and its organ for their “blind and temporizing policy.”
And so matters within the movement against slavery went, with increasing momentum, from bad to worse.
The break in the anti-slavery ranks widened as new causes of controversy arose between the management in Boston
and the management at New York.
The Massachusetts Abolitionists had stood stanchly by Garrison
against the clerical schismatics.
They also inclined to his side in his trouble with the national board.
Instead of one common center of activity and leadership the anti-slavery reform began now to develop two centers of activity and leadership.
and the Liberator
formed the moral nucleus at
one end, the Executive Committee and the Emancipafor
the moral nucleus at the other.
Much of the energies of the two sides were in those circumstances, absorbed in stimulating and completing the processes which were to ultimate in the organic division of the body of the movement against slavery.
When men once begin to quarrel they will not stop for lack of subjects to dispute over.
There will be no lack, for before one disputed point is settled another has arisen.
It is the old story of the box of evils.
Beginnings must be avoided, else if one evil escapes, others will follow.
The anti-slavery Pandora
had let out one little imp of discord and many big and little imps were incontinently following.
Against all of the new ideas except one, viz., the idea of anti-slavery political action, the New York leadership, speaking broadly, had opposed itself.
But as if by some strange perversity of fate, this particular new idea was the only one of the new ideas to which the Boston
leadership did not take kindly.
It became in time as the very apple of the eye to the management of the National Society.
And the more ardently it was cherished by them, the more hateful did it become with the Boston Board
It was the only one of the new ideas which had any logical sequence from the Abolition cause.
In a country where the principle of popular suffrage obtains, all successful moral movements must sometime ultimate in political action.
There is no other way of fixing in laws the changes in public sentiment wrought during this period of agitation.
The idea of political action was therefore a perfectly natural growth from the moral movement against slavery.
The only reasonable
objection to it would be one which went to show that it had arrived out of due course, that its appearance at any given time was marked by prematurity in respect of the reasons, so to speak, of the reform.
For every movement against a great social wrong as was the anti-slavery movement must have its John-the-Baptist stage, its period of popular awakening to the nature and enormity of sin and the duty of immediate repentance.
The anti-slavery enterprise was at the time of the controversy between the New York and the Boston Boards
in this first stage of its growth.
It had not yet progressed naturally out of it into its next phase of political agitation.
True there were tendencies more or less strong to enter the second stage of its development, but they seem irregular, personal, and forced.
The time had not come for the adoption of the principle of associated political action against slavery.
But the deep underlying motive of the advocates of the third-party idea was none the less a grand one, viz., “to have a free Northern nucleus,” as Elizur Wright
put it, “a standard flung to the breezesomething around which to rally.”
probed to the quick the question in a passage of an address to the Abolitionists, which is here given: “Abolitionists!
you are now feared and respected by all political parties, not because of the number of votes you can throw, so much as in view of the moral integrity and sacred regard to principle which you have exhibited to the country.
It is the religious aspect of your enterprise which impresses and overawes men of every sect and party.
Hitherto you have seemed to be actuated by no hope of preferment or love of
power, and therefore have established, even in the minds of your enemies, confidence in your disinterestedness.
If you shall now array yourselves as a political party, and hold out mercenary rewards to induce men to rally under your standard, there is reason to fear that you will be regarded as those who have made the anti-slavery cause a hobby to ride into office, however plausible or sound may be your pretexts for such a course.
You cannot, you ought not, to expect that the political action of the State
will move faster than the religious action of the Church
, in favor of the abolition of slavery; and it is a fact not less encouraging than undeniable, that both the Whig
and Democratic parties have consulted the wishes of Abolitionists even beyond the measure of their real political strength.
More you cannot expect under any circumstances.”
Hotly around this point raged the strife among brethren.
Actuated by the noblest motives were both sides in the main, yet, both sides displayed in the maintenance of their respective positions an amount of weak human nature, which proves that perfection is not attainable even by the most disinterested of men. Harsh and abusive language good men uttered against good men. Distrust, suspicion, anger, and alienation took possession of the thoughts of the grandest souls.
Saints and heroes beseemed themselves like very ordinary folk, who, when they come to differences, come directly afterward to high words and thumping blows.
The love of David and Jonathan which once united Garrison
, has died.
meet and only exchange civilities.
They, too, have
become completely alienated, and so on down the long list of the “goodliest fellowship . . . whereof this land holds record.”
To a sweet and gentle spirit like Samuel J. May
, the acrimony and scenes of strife among his old associates was unspeakably painful.
Writing to Garrison
from South Scituate
, May i, 1839, he touches thus upon this head: “I now think I shall not go to New York next week.
In the first place, I cannot afford the expense . . . But I confess, I do not lament my inability to go so much as I should do if the prospect of an agreeable meeting was fairer.
I am apprehensive that it will be not so much an anti-slavery as anti-Garrison and anti-Phelps meeting, or anti-board-of-managers and antiexecutive committee meeting.
Division has done its work, I fear, effectually.
The two parties seem to me to misunderstand, and therefore sadly misrepresent one another.
I am not satisfied with the course you and your partisans have pursued.
It appears to me not consistent with the non-resistant, patient, long-suffering spirit of the Gospel.
And I do not believe that either the cause of the slave, or the cause of peace and righteousness has been advanced.”
The situation was further complicated by the discovery of a fresh bone of contention.
As if to give just a shade of sordidness to the strife there must needs arise a money difficulty between the two rival boards of leaders.
This is how our recent band of brothers happened to stumble upon their new apple of discord.
Soon after the formation of the National Society an arrangement was made with each of the State
societies whereby they agreed to operate financially their respective territories and to turn into the
national treasury the several sums which at the annual meeting they obligated themselves to contribute to the general work.
This arrangement was intended to avoid the expense, conflict, and confusion consequent upon the employment of two sets of agents to work the same territory.
Matters went on quite smoothly under this plan between the Massachusetts Board
and the National Board
until the beginning of the year 1839, when the former fell into arrears in the payment of its instalments to the latter.
Money from one cause or another, was hard to get at by the Massachusetts Board
, and the treasury in New York was in an extremely low state.
The relations between the two boards were, as we have seen, much strained and neither side was in the mood to cover with charity the shortcomings of the other.
Perhaps the board at New York was too exacting, perhaps the board at Boston
vas not sufficiently zealous, under the circumstances.
But what were the real irritating causes which kept the two boards at loggerheads over the matter need not here be determined.
This fact is clear that the arrangement was rescinded by the New York management, and their agents thrown into Massachusetts
This action only added fuel to a fire which was fast assuming the proportions of a conflagration.
All the anti-Garrisonians formed themselves into a new anti-slavery society, and the National Board
, as if to burn its bridges, and to make reconciliation impossible, established a new paper in Boston
in opposition to the Liberator
. The work of division was ended.
There was no longer any vital connection between the two warring members of the anti-slavery reform.
To tear the dead tissues asunder which still joined them, all that was wanted was anothar sharp shock, and this came at the annual meeting of the National Society in 1840 over the woman's question.
The issue, “Shall a woman serve with men on a committee?”
was precipitated upon the convention by the appointment of that brilliant young Quakeress, Abby Kelley
, on the business committee with ten men. The convention confirmed her appointment by about a hundred majority in a total vote of I,008.
Whereupon those opposed to this determination of the question, withdrew from the convention and organized the American
and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.
had triumphed and he was immensely elated with his victory.
His moral leadership was definitely established, never again to be disputed by his disciples and followers.