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III. And now, in the third place, the Anti-Slavery Enterprise, which I have shown to be at once necessary and practicable, is commended by its inherent dignity. Here the reasons are obvious and unanswerable.

Its object is benevolent; nor is there, in the dreary annals of the Past, a single Enterprise which stands forth more clearly and indisputably entitled to this character. With unsurpassed and touching magnanimity, it seeks to benefit the lowly whom your eyes have not seen, and who are ignorant even of your labors, while it demands and receives a self-sacrifice calculated to ennoble an enterprise of even questionable merit. Its true rank is among works properly called philanthropic— the title of highest honor on earth. ‘I take goodness in this sense,’ says Lord Bacon in his Essays, ‘the affecting of the weal of men, which is what the Grecians call Philanthropeia—of all virtues and dignities of the mind the greatest, being the character of the Deity; and without it, man is a busy, mischievous, wretched thing, no better than a kind of vermin.’ Lord Bacon was right, and, perhaps, unconsciously followed [188] a higher authority; for, when Moses asked the Lord to show unto him His glory, the Lord said, ‘I will make all my goodness to pass before thee.’ Ah! sir, Peace has trophies fairer and more perennial than any snatched from fields of blood, but among all these, the fairest and most perennial are the trophies of beneficence. Scholarship, literature, jurisprudence, art, may wear their well-deserved honors; but an Enterprise of goodness deserves, and will yet receive, a higher palm than these.

In other aspects its dignity is apparent. It concerns the cause of Human Freedom, which, from the earliest days, has been the darling of history. By all the memories of the Past; by the stories of childhood and the studies of youth; by every example of magnanimous virtue; by every aspiration for the good and true; by the fame of the martyrs swelling through all time; by the renown of patriots whose lives are landmarks of progress; by the praise lavished upon our fathers, you are summoned to this work. Unless Freedom be an illusion, and Benevolence an error, you cannot resist the appeal. But our cause is nobler even than that of our fathers, inasmuch as it is more exalted to struggle for the freedom of others than for our own.

Its practical importance at this moment gives to it an additional eminence. Whether measured by the number of beings it seeks to benefit; by the magnitude of the wrongs it hopes to relieve; by the difficulties with which it is beset; by the political relations which it affects; or by the ability and character it has enlisted, the cause of the slave now assumes proportions of grandeur which dwarf all other interests in our broad country. In its presence the machinations of politicians, the aspirations of office-seekers and the subterfuges of party, all sink below even their ordinary insignificance. For myself, sir, I can see little else at this time among us which can tempt out on to the exposed steeps of public life an honest man, who wishes, by something that he does, to leave the world better than he found it. I can see little else which can afford any of those satisfactions which an honest man should covet. Nor is there any cause which so surely promises final success;

Oh! a fair cause stands firm and will abide;
Legions of angels fight upon its side!

It is written that in the last days there shall be scoffers, and even this Enterprise, thus philanthropic, has not escaped their aspersions. And as the objections to its Necessity were twofold, and the objections to its Practicability twofold, so, also, are the aspersions twofold;—first [189] in the form of hard words, and secondly, by personal disparagement of those who are engaged in it.

1. The hard words are manifold as the passions and prejudices of men; but they generally end in the imputation of ‘fanaticism.’ In such a cause, I am willing to be called ‘fanatic,’ or what you will; I care not for aspersions, nor shall I shrink before hard words, either here or elsewhere. I have learned from that great Englishman, Oliver Cromwell, that no man can be trusted ‘who is afraid of a paper pellet;’ and I am too familiar with history not to know, that every movement for reform, in Church or State, every endeavor for Human Liberty or Human Rights, has been thus assailed. I do not forget with what facility and frequency hard words have been employed—how that grandest character of many generations, the precursor of our own Washington, without whose example our Republic might have failed—the great William, Prince of Orange, the founder of the Dutch Republic, the United States of Holland—I do not forget how he was publicly branded as ‘a perjurer and a pest of society;’ and, not to dwell on general instances, how the enterprise for the abolition of the slave-trade was characterized on the floor of Parliament by one eminent speaker as ‘mischievous,’ and by another as ‘visionary and delusive;’ and how the exalted characters which it had enlisted were arraigned by still another eminent speaker—none other than that Tarleton, so conspicuous as the commander of the British horse in the southern campaigns of our Revolution, but more conspicuous in politics at home,—‘as a junto of sectaries, sophists, enthusiasts and fanatics;’ and also were again arraigned by no less person than a prince of the blood, the Duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV. of England, as ‘either fanatics or hypocrites,’ in one of which classes he openly placed William Wilberforce. But impartial history, with immortal pen, has redressed these impassioned judgments; and the same impartial history will yet rejudge the impassioned judgments of this hour.

2. Hard words have been followed by personal disparagement, and the sneer is often launched that our Enterprise lacks the authority of names eminent in Church and State. If this be so, the more is the pity on their account; for our cause is needed to them more than they are needed to our cause. But alas! it is only according to the example of history that it should be so. It is not the eminent in Church and State, the rich and powerful, the favorites of fortune and of place, who most promptly welcome Truth, when she heralds change in the existing order of things. It is others in poorer condition who throw open their hospitable [190] hearts to the unattended stranger. Nay, more; it is not the dwellers amidst the glare of the world, but the humble and lowly, who most clearly discern new duties,—as the watchers, placed in the depths of a well, may observe the stars which are obscured to those who live in the effulgence of noon. Placed below the egotism and prejudice of self-interest, or of a class—below the cares and temptations of wealth or power—in the obscurity of common life, they discern the new signal, and surrender themselves unreservedly to its guidance. The Saviour knew this. He did not call upon the Priest, or Levite, or Pharisee, to follow him; but upon the humble fisherman by the sea of Galilee.

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