The war with Mexico
had ended in the conquest of that country, and the annexation of just as large a portion of its territory as we saw fit to demand.
The extension of our republic to the Pacific Ocean
, with the vast domain thus acquired, would now call for new legislation, and slavery was stretching forth her hands to grasp those vast regions which were now open for the first time to the enterprise of the Anglo-Saxon
The Pro-slavery party at the North
seemed more ready than ever to yield to any demands that slavery might make, and both parties vied with each other in bowing to the now all-powerful Moloch.
But signs were everywhere appearing of the birth of a new party which would resist the further extension of slavery over free soil.
There were strong men throughout the country, who were preparing for a new movement.
Mr. Van Buren
was not strong enough to command the nomination of his party at Baltimore
, and the Democratic
statesmen of New York, embracing such men as Silas Wright
and Gov. Dix
, were preparing to stand by their former political leader, in making some movement to
resist the imperious demands of the slave power.
Salmon P. Chase
, who entertained strong anti-slavery sentiments, as well as Joshua Giddings
, commanded great influence in Ohio
, while Mr. Charles Francis Adams
, and his friend, Charles Sumner
, were putting forth their mightiest efforts to restore to the old Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Bay the spirit of liberty, whose beacon-fires had long ago begun to grow dim. There was a general disposition, through many portions of the North
, to throw off despotism of party; and with a view to unite men of all parties against the future encroachments of slavery, a mass Convention was called, to meet at Worcester
on the 28th of June, 1848.
In that convention, Mr. Charles Francis Adams
, Mr. Giddings
, and Mr. Sumner
were the chief speakers, and the leading spirits.
Before Mr. Sumner
spoke, Charles Francis Adams
, after showing how basely the Whig Party had prostituted itself to the behests of slavery, closed with the following stirring words:
The only thing to be done by all under such circumstances, is what as one, individually, I have made up my mind to do, that is—to have nothing more to do with it. Hereafter, then, I stand free, clear, a freeman, without any pledges, without any promise to any party.
I stand, then, ready to go forward as one in this great movement, which shall establish, I hope, forever, the sacred principle of freedom throughout this hemisphere.
Forgetting the things that are behind, I propose that we press forward to the high calling of our new occupation; and, fellow-citizens, whatever may be the fate of you or me, all I can now add is, to repeat the words of one with whom I take pride in remembering that I have been connected—‘Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish;’ to go with the liberties of my country, is my fixed determination.
These words, which had something of the ring of the old Revolution in them, transported the assembly with
the wildest enthusiasm.
Perhaps no man, except Charles Sumner
, could have followed such a speaker as Mr. Adams
proved himself to be that day, and maintained the fervor of the meeting.
In alluding to what Mr. Adams
had said, he modestly renounced any hope of exciting a deeper feeling, or even a desire to fan the fires of patriotism and liberty which had been once more re-kindled in the old Bay State
But one thing, at least, he declared that he could do, ‘I can join them —Giddings and Adams
—in a renunciation of those party relations which seem now inconsistent with the support of freedom.
Like them, I have been a Whig, because I thought this Party represented the moral sentiments of the country; that it was the
Party of Humanity: but it has ceased to sustain this character.
It does not represent the moral sentiments of the country; it is not the Party of Humanity: and a party which renounces its sentiments, must itself expect to be renounced.
For myself, therefore, in the coming conflict, I wish it to be understood that I belong to the Party of Freedom—to that party which plants itself on the Declaration of Independence
and the Constitution of the United States
He then proceeded with his speech, in terms of fervid eloquence.
I am reminded, he said, by the transactions in which we are now engaged, of an incident in French history.
It was late in the night, at Versailles, that a courtier of Louis XVI., penetrating the bedcham-ber of his master, and arousing him from his slumbers, communicated to him the intelligence—big with gigantic destinies—that the people of Paris, smarting under wrong and falsehood, had risen in their might, and, after a severe contest with hireling troops, destroyed the Bastile.
The unhappy monarch, turning upon his couch, said, ‘It is an insurrection.’
‘No, Sire,’ was the reply of the honest courtier, ‘it is a revolution.’
And such is our Movement to-day.
It is a Revolution—not beginning
with the destruction of a Bastile, but destined to end only with the overthrow of a tyranny, differing little in hardship and audacity from that which sustained the Bastile of France—I mean the Slave Power of the United States.
By the Slave Power, I understand that combination of persons, or, perhaps, of politicians, whose animating principle is the perpetuation and extension of Slavery, and the advancement of Slaveholders.
That such a combination exists, will be apparent from a review of our history.
It shows itself, in the mildest, and perhaps the least offensive form, in the undue proportion of offices under the Federal Constitution, which has been held by Slaveholders.
It is still worse apparent in a succession of acts by which the Federal Government has been prostituted to the cause of Slavery.
Among the most important of these is the Missouri Compromise, the Annexation of Texas, and the War with Mexico.
Mindful of the sanctions, which Slavery derived under the Constitution—from the Missouri Compromise—of the fraud and iniquity of the Annexation of Texas—and of the great crime of waging an unnecessary and unjust war with Mexico—of the mothers, wives, and sisters compelled to mourn sons, husbands, and brothers, untimely slain,—as these things, dark, dismal, atrocious, rise to the mind, may we not brand their author, the Slave Power, as a tyranny hardly less hateful than that which sustained the Bastile.
This combination is unknown to the Constitution; nay, it exists in defiance of the spirit of that instrument, and of the recorded opinions of its founders.
The Constitution was the crowning labor of the authors of the Declaration of Independence.
It was established to perpetuate, in the form of an organic law, those rights which the Declaration had promulgated, and which the sword of Washington had secured —‘We hold these truths to be self-evident—that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights,—that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
Such are the emphatic words which our country took upon its lips, when it first claimed its place among the nations of the earth.
These were its baptismal vows.
And the preamble of the Constitution renews them, when it declares its objects to be, among other things, ‘to establish justice, to promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.’
Mark; it is not to establish injustice— not to promote the welfare of a class, or of a few slaveholders, but the general welfare; not to foster the curse of slavery, but to secure the blessings of liberty. And the declared opinions of the fathers were all
in harmony with these instruments.
‘I can only say,’ said Washington, ‘that there is not a man living, who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is, by the legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall not be wanting.’
Patrick Henry, while confessing that he was a master of slaves, said, ‘I will not, I cannot justify it. However culpable my conduct, I will so far pay my devoir to virtue, as to own the excellence and rectitude of her precepts, and lament my want of conformity to them.
I believe a time will come, when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil.’
And Franklin, as President of the earliest Abolition Society of the country, signed a petition to the first Congress, in which he declared that he ‘considered himself bound to use all justifiable endeavors to loosen the bands of slavery, and promote a general enjoyment of the blessings of freedom.’
Thus the soldier, the orator, and the philosopher of the Revolution, all unite in homage to Freedom.
Washington, so wise in counsel and in battle; Patrick Henry, with his tongue of flame; Franklin, with his heaven-descended sagacity and humanity, all bear testimony to the true spirit of the times in which they lived, and of the institutions which they helped to establish.
It is apparent that our constitution was formed by the lovers of Human Freedom; that it was animated by their divine spirit; that the institution of Domestic Slavery was regarded by them with aversion, so that, though covertly alluded to, it was not named in the instrument; and that they all looked forward to the day when this evil and shame would be obliterated from the land.
Surely, then, it is right to say that the combination, whose object is to perpetuate and extend Slavery, is unknown to the Constitution, and exists in defiance of the spirit of that instrument, and of the recorded opinions of its founders.
Time would fail me to dwell on the growing influence which it has exerted from the foundation of the government.
In the earlier periods of our history it was moderate and reserved.
The spirit of the founders still prevailed.
But with the advance of time, and as these early champions passed from the scene, it became more audacious, aggressive and tyrannical, till at last it has obtained the control of the government, and caused it to be administered, not in the spirit of Freedom, but in the spirit of Slavery.
Yes! the government of the United States is now (let it be said with shame) not what it was at the beginning, a government merely permitting, while it regretted Slavery, but a
government openly favoring and vindicating it, visiting also with its displeasure all who oppose it.
It is during late years that the Slave Power has introduced a new test for office—a test which would have excluded Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.
It applies an arrogant and unrelenting ostracism to all who express themselves against Slavery.
And now, in the madness of its tyranny, it proposes to extend this curse to new soils not darkened by its presence.
It seeks to make the flag of our country the carrier of Slavery into distant lands; to scale the mountain fastnesses of Oregon, and descend with its prey upon the shores of the Pacific; to cross the Rio Grande, and there, in broad territories, recently obtained by robber hands from Mexico, to plant a shameful institution, which that republic has expressly abolished. * *
And now the question occurs, What is the true line of duty with regard to these two candidates?
Mr. Van Buren (and I honor him for his trumpet call to the North) has sounded the true note, when he said he could not vote for either of them.
Though nominated by different parties, they represent, as I have said, substantially the same interest —the Slave Power.
The election of either would be a triumph of the Slave Power, and entail upon the country, in all probability, the sin of extending slavery.
How, then, shall they be encountered?
It seems to me, in a very plain way. The lovers of Freedom, of all parties, and irrespective of all party association, must unite, and, by a new combination, congenial with the Constitution, oppose both candidates.
This will be the Freedom power, whose single object shall be to resist the Slave power.
We shall put them face to face, and let them grapple.
Who can doubt the result?
But it is said that we shall throw away our votes, and that our opposition will fail.
No honest, earnest effort in a good cause ever fails.
It may not be crowned with the applause of men; it may not seem to touch the goal of immediate worldly success, which is the end and aim of so much of life.
But still it is not lost.
It helps to strengthen the weak with new virtue; to arm the irresolute with proper energy; to animate all with devotion to duty, which in the end conquers all. Fail!
Did the martyrs fail, when with their precious blood they sowed the seed of the Church?
Did the discomfited champions of Freedom fail, who have left those names in history which can never die?
Did the three hundred Spartans fail, when, in the narrow pass, they did not fear to brave the innumerable Persian hosts, whose very arrows darkened the sun?
No! Overborne by numbers, crushed to earth, they
have left an example which is greater far than any victory.
And this is the least we can do. Our example shall be the source of triumph hereafter.
It will not be the first time in history that the hosts of Slavery have outnumbered the champions of freedom.
But where is it written that Slavery finally prevailed?
But the assurances received here to-day show that we need not postpone our anticipations of success.
It seems already at hand.
The heart of Ohio beats responsive to the heart of Massachusetts, and all the Free States are animated with the vigorous breath of Freedom.
Let us not, then, waste time in vain speculations between the two candidates.
Both are bad. Both represent a principle which we cannot sanction.
Whatever may be said by politicians to the contrary, the question of Freedom is the only one now before the American people.
All other questions being withdrawn, what remains for those who, in casting their votes, regard principles rather than men? It is clear, that the only question of any present practical interest is that arising from the usurpations of the Slave Power, and the efforts to extend slavery.
This is the vital question of our country at this time.
It is the question of questions. It was lately said in the Convention of the New York Democracy at Utica, (and I am glad to allude to the doings of that most respectable body of men,) that the movement in which we are now engaged was the most important of any since the American Revolution.
Something more might have been said.
It is a continuance of the American Revolution. It is an effort to carry into effect the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and to revive in the administration of our government the spirit of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson; to bring back the Constitution to the principles and practice of its early founders; to the end that it shall promote Freedom and not Slavery, and shall be administered in harmony with the spirit of Freedom, and not with the spirit of Slavery.
There are emphatic words in the last will and testament of Washington, which may be adopted as a motto for the present contest.
After providing for the emancipation of his slaves, to take place on the death of his wife, he says, ‘And I do expressly forbid the sale or transportation out of the said Commonwealth, of any slave I may die possessed of under any pretence, whatever.’
So at least should the people of the United States expressly forbid the sale or transportation of any slave beyond their ancient borders, under any pretence whatever.
Returning to our forefathers for their principles, let us borrow, also, something of their courage and union.
Let us summon to our sides
the majestic forms of those civil heroes, whose firmness in council was equalled only by the firmness of Washington in war. Let us listen again to the eloquence of the elder Adams, animating his associates in Congress to independence; let us hang anew upon the sententious wisdom of Franklin; let us be enkindled, as were the men of other days, by the fervid devotion to Freedom, which flamed from the heart of Jefferson.
Deriving instruction from our enemies, let us also be taught by the Slave Power.
The two hundred thousand slaveholders are always united in purpose.
Hence their strength.
Like arrows in a quiver, they cannot be broken.
The friends of Freedom have thus far been divided.
Union, then, must be our watchword,—union among men of all parties.
By such a union we shall consolidate an opposition which must prevail.
Let Massachusetts—nurse of the men and principles which made our earliest revolution—vow herself anew to her early faith.
Let her elevate once more the torch, which she first held aloft.
Let us, if need be, pluck some fresh coals from the living altars of France.
Let us, too, proclaim ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,’—Liberty to the captive —Equality between the master and his slave—Fraternity with all men, the whole comprehended in that sublime revelation of Christianity, the Brotherhood of Mankind.
In the contemplation of these great interests, the intrigues of party, the machinations of politicians, the combinations of office-seekers, seem all to pass from our sight.
Politics and morals, no longer divorced from each other, become one and inseparable in the holy wedlock of Christian sentiment.
Such a union elevates politics, while it gives a new sphere to morals.
Political discussions have a grandeur which they have never before assumed.
Released from those topics, which concern only the selfish strife for gain, and which are perhaps independent of morals, they come home to the hearts and consciences of men. A novel force passes into the contests of party, breathing into them the breath of a new life, of Hope, of Progress, of Justice, of Humanity.
It is easy to see from this demonstration to-day, and from the glad tidings that swell upon us from all the Free States, that this great cause of Freedom, to which we now dedicate ourselves, will sweep the heartstrings of the people!
It will smite all the chords with a might to draw forth emotions, such as no political struggle has ever caused before.
It will move the young, the middle-aged, and the old. It will find a place in the family circle, and mingle with the flame of the household hearth.
It will touch the souls of mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, until
the sympathies of all shall swell in one firm and irresistible voice against the deep damnation, in this age of Christian light, of lending new sanctions to the slavery of our brother-man.
Come forth, then, men of all parties; let us range together.
Come forth, all who have thus far stood aloof from parties.
Here is an occasion for action.
Men of peace!
All who feel in any way the wrong of slavery, take your stand!
Join us, ye lovers of Truth, of Justice, of Humanity!
And let me call especially upon the young.
You are the natural guardians of Freedom.
In your firm resolves and generous souls, she will find her surest protection.
The young man, who is not willing to serve in her cause—to suffer, if need be, for her—gives little promise of those qualities which secure an honorable age.