Chapter 8: the Chardon-Street Convention.—1840.This October convention is called by friends of Universal Reform to examine the foundations of the prevailing view of the Sabbath, ministry, and Church as divine appointments. Garrison does not sign the call, but takes part in the proceedings, as do many clergymen. The discussion is confined to the Sabbath, and he argues that the institution was done away by the coming of Christ. For this he is taxed by the New organization clergy with heading an infidel convention; and the financial mission of John A. Collins to England, on behalf of the American A. S. Society, furnishes an opportunity for fresh defamation of Garrison abroad.
The year 1840 was, in a fermenting period, distinguished for the number of conventions, of every species, looking to the amelioration of human society. One, which made much stir, was held at Groton, Mass.,1 on August 12 (while Mr. Garrison was on the water), being called by the friends of Christian Union, who inquired: ‘Is the outward organization of the Church a human or a divine institution?’ Amos Farnsworth was in the chair, and among other abolitionists who participated were A. B. Alcott, J. V. Himes, and Cyrus M. Burleigh. But also one remarked the Rev. George Ripley, the future founder of the Brook Farm community; Christopher Pearce Cranch; and (as the report read in the Liberator) ‘——Parker of Roxbury,’ with 2 littleknown Second-Adventists and ‘Come-outers.’ The3 Non-Resistance Convention was next in order, being the4 second annual meeting of the Society. It met at Chardon-Street Chapel on September 23, 24, 1840; but neither Mr. Garrison's annual report nor the rest of the proceedings5 need keep us from the more important ‘Chardon-Street Convention’—important in a personal sense to Mr. Garrison, as it was made the occasion of fresh defamation of him, even on the part of those who, like the Rev. Nathaniel Colver, had as much to do with it as6  he had. The call did not obtain the signature of the editor of the Liberator. At first, he was apprehensive that it was somewhat premature. But the result of it, said he, ‘led me to give thanks to God, and greatly to7 rejoice in spirit, because I believed that the truth as it is in Jesus' was signally promoted by it.’ Immediately upon the close of the Non-Resistance anniversary, on the evening of September 24, 1840, a meeting of the friends of Universal Reform was held at8 Chardon-Street Chapel. Its object was to consider the expediency of calling a ‘convention to examine the validity of the views which generally prevail in this country as to the divine appointment of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath, and to inquire into the origin, nature, and authority of the institutions of the Ministry and the Church, as now existing.’ Edmund Quincy was made chairman of this conference, and Mrs. M. W. Chapman secretary; and they, together with A. B. Alcott, Mrs. Thankful Southwick, and John A. Collins, were constituted a committee to summon the proposed convention. The call appeared in (among other journals) the Liberator for October 16, with the signatures of the9 above-named and of the Rev. Wm. H. Channing (a nephew of Dr. Channing), the Rev. Theodore Parker, the Rev. Robert F. Wallcut,10 Henry C. Wright, Abby Kelley, William Bassett, Thomas Davis, Oliver Johnson, and many others; thus representing the Groton Convention, the Non-Resistant Convention, the old anti-slavery  organization, and the Transcendental wing of the Unitarian denomination. As we have said, Mr. Garrison's name was conspicuous by its absence, but in the eyes of the New Organizers and the public at large he was constructively at the bottom of the whole thing. As the Standard (perhaps through N. P. Rogers) truthfully pointed out, in another connection:
Garrison . . . will not content himself with the one11 heresy of immediate emancipation, but must be ever and anon broaching others. The community had become familiarized somewhat with that, and were ceasing to mob it, and it was even growing respectable, when lo! he proclaims other heresies, and throws back the cause upon the contempt of the ‘judicious’ community. Not that he mingles any of his new heresies with the old one which the seceders had embraced; but community does. They identify the new heresies with anti-slavery, and the anti-slavery cause with Garrison; and we cannot keep them separate in the public mind. This is equivalent to Garrison's identifying them, and, in short, he does identify them, and is guilty of the offence in the estimation of community.No one was more aware of this, or cared less for it, than Mr. Garrison himself:
No adequate report of the Convention was ever made. It met at the Chardon-Street Chapel on November 17,18 1840, and sat for three days, without arriving at any conclusion or adopting any resolutions. The roll of members embraced, besides the persons already enumerated, Francis Jackson, Henry G. Chapman, Samuel Philbrick, William Adams, Andrew Robeson, James Russell Lowell, George Ripley, C. P. Cranch, and not a few ladies. Among the interested but passive spectators19 were Dr. Channing, who, as Theodore Parker reports, doubted the propriety of the Convention, ‘since it looks like seeking agitation, and [he] fears the opinion of Garrison, Quincy, and Maria W. Chapman’; and R. W. Emerson, who has left the best—indeed, an ideal—  summary view of the Convention in its three stages.20 Quincy presided. The ‘Come-outers’ protested against any organization of the meeting, which they desired to be free, without chairman or secretary or committee, bishop or pope. They were overruled, and the Sabbath question was taken up, and proved to be the only theme considered. The Rev. J. V. Himes, pastor of the Chapel,21 proposed that the Convention adopt the Old and the New Testaments as the only authentic record of faith and duty—in other words, that Bible proofs should alone be in order. This was discussed by Alcott, May, Garrison, the Rev. Luther Lee, the Rev. N. Colver, the Rev. John Pierpont, the Rev. Samuel Osgood, the Rev. Theodore Parker, and others, and did not prevail with the meeting. ‘Garrison,’ nevertheless, ‘emphatically22 remarked, more than once, that he did not see how those who rejected the Scriptures as of divine authority, could properly take part in the discussion; for what did we know in regard to the Sabbath except from the Bible?’ ‘At the opening of the Convention, and on various occasions during the discussion,’ to use his23 own words, ‘I expressly declared that I stood upon the Bible, and the Bible alone, in regard to my views of “the Sabbath, the Church, and the Ministry” —and that I felt if I could not stand triumphantly on that foundation, I could stand nowhere in the universe. My arguments were all drawn from the Bible, and from no other source.’ The second proposition came from Pierpont, namely, ‘That the first day of the week is ordained by divine authority as the Christian Sabbath,’ and hereupon the battle was waged; Mr. Garrison being foremost in taking the negative side (on the ground that the institution of the Sabbath had been abrogated by the coming of Christ),24 and having A. A. Phelps for his chief antagonist.  Mr. May, too, felt obliged to oppose him, and,25 when it was voted to adjourn the Convention to the last26 Tuesday in March, 1841, thought that another such meeting would do no good, and strove to have the vote 27 reconsidered. The adjournment to a day fixed, however, was reaffirmed, and there was unanimous acceptance of Mr. Garrison's proposal to take up, as the next subject, the Ministry. Edmund Quincy thus sketches, for the information of28 the absent Collins, the Convention, which ‘went off grandly’:
It was the most singular collection of strange specimens of humanity that was ever assembled. Groton was but a type of29 it30 Dr. Osgood, of Springfield, Phelps, Colver, &c., took the affirmative of the Sabbath question; Garrison, T. Parker, and31 others the negative. Phelps was ingenious though sophistical,32 and I suppose gave the best argument that could be made on that side. But if the Father has made a law binding on all his children, the breach of which he will punish with eternal damnation, and leaves it to be inferred and logicised from separate sentences of books written thousands of years ago and hundreds of years apart, it seems to me that we have been mistaken in his character. Although, perhaps, our Orthodox friends may reconcile it as ingeniously as Dr. Osgood accounted for the mitigation of the penalty of Sabbath-breaking. His hypothesis was, substantially, that the Almighty had grown better-natured than he used to be, and had left off stoning people to death. “Did you ever,” said a sly young law student to me after this hint,— “did you ever see a fellow pitch into his Maker in that style before?” Sylvanus Brown and Alcott were33 for emancipating themselves from the trammels of a moderator; and it was some time before we could get organized. There was less boring, on the whole, than we had a right to expect. Abigail Folsom34 read us a few chapters from St. Paul à propos des bottes.
Colver's malice did not cease with the Convention, in which he and Mr. Garrison participated on exactly equal terms, as invited and not as inviters, and as strenuous defenders of the Bible doctrine in regard to the Sabbath —as each interpreted it for himself. The same mail which carried the foregoing letter conveyed two from49 Colver to members of the London Committee, which, having been shown to Elizabeth Pease, she carefully copied, and sent her transcripts to the person they most nearly concerned. Immediately upon receipt of them, Mr. Garrison printed (with his own emphasizing) the following extracts:
 This tissue of falsehoods already appears in its true light to the attentive reader of what has gone before. Mr. Garrison resented it not only as a stab in the dark,51 intended to ruin his character among the abolitionists of England, but as a gross impertinence. ‘Whatever I may think of “the Sabbath, the Church, and the Ministry,” it is not a matter that concerns abolitionists, and does not come within the “appropriate sphere” of their approval or condemnation. Whoever will undertake to show that I am not an Abolitionist, will speak to a point that is pertinent, and not travel out of the record.’ As to the motive of Colver's defamation:
Atrocious as it is, it does not excite any special surprise in52 my breast; for my acquaintance with the author, for the last two or three years, has fully satisfied me that he is a wolf in sheep's clothing—a bitter enemy of holiness—a practical unbeliever in the gospel—a stranger to the spirit of Christ—and unworthy of confidence or respect. This opinion he knows I have long entertained of him as a man and as a professed teacher of religion; for, having frequently brought him to the test of eternal truth, and clearly perceived the temper of his mind, I have felt it my duty to tell him, frankly and faithfully, what is my estimate of his character. My fidelity to him has greatly enraged him; and as there is no malignity like that of a corrupt priest when he finds that his mask of profession fails to conceal his moral deformity, it is perfectly natural that he should endeavor to revenge himself as opportunity may offer. My friends in England may rest assured that this pretended zeal of Nathaniel Colver for the institutions of religion, and this slanderous assault upon my religious views, proceed from personal animosity towards myself; nor would they be led astray by any false statements he might be disposed to make, if they knew him as well as he is known at home by those who are able to discriminate between the form of godliness and the power of it.53 We need not follow Mr. Garrison through all his exposure of Colver's romancing. Enough to cite here his comment on the allegation that ‘Garrison has just headed an infidel convention’:
Every word, every syllable in this sentence is untrue. No54 such convention has been held. I am as strongly opposed to “infidelity” (as that term is commonly understood) as I am to priestcraft and slavery. My religious sentiments (excepting as they relate to certain outward forms and observances, and respecting these I entertain the views of ‘Friends’), are as rigid and uncompromising as those promulgated by Christ himself. The standard which he has erected is one that I reverence and advocate. In a true estimate of the divine authority of the Scriptures, no one can go beyond me. They are my text-book, and worth all other books in the universe. My trust is in God, my aim to walk in the footsteps of his Son, my rejoicing to be crucified to the world, and the world to me. So much for the charge of “ infidelity.”Here we must take leave of the subject of poisoning55 the English mind against Mr. Garrison—an operation in which Birney and Stanton,56 after his departure, had been active, with the zealous cooperation of Captain57 Stuart, who renewed his warfare on the old organization in the persons of Collins and Remond.58  Despite the hue-and-cry of ‘infidelity’ raised against59 the Liberator and its editor; despite the precarious condition of the American Society and its new organ; and notwithstanding the flat condition of the cause everywhere, in consequence of the overpowering political interest, the close of the year found Mr. Garrison in a cheerful if not exalted state of mind.60 We see it not only in the elasticity with which he met the fresh blows showered upon him, but in the renewed activity of his muse—this last being also a sign of good physical condition. No fewer than five sonnets proceeded from him in December—partly contributed to the Liberator,61 and partly to the Liberty Bell, the annual publication of the Anti-Slavery Fair, under the auspices of Mrs. Chapman. We can fancy him composing them on his lonely midnight walks across the long bridge to Cambridge, over the Charles River. These two, the best of the five, if not at his high-water mark, have, perhaps, a claim to be quoted:
Sonnet to Liberty.They tell me, Liberty! that, in thy name,62
I may not plead for all the human race;
That some are born to bondage and disgrace,
Some to a heritage of woe and shame,
And some to power supreme, and glorious fame.
With my whole soul I spurn the doctrine base,
And, as an equal brotherhood, embrace
All people, and for all fair freedom claim!
Know this, O man! whate'er thy earthly fate—
God never made A Tyrant, nor A slave:
Woe, then, to those who dare to desecrate
His glorious image!—for to all He gave
Eternal rights, which none may violate;
And, by a mighty hand, th' oppressed He yet shall save.
The retrospect from the beginning, on this thirty-fifth birthday, may well have astounded the still youthful founder of the anti-slavery movement. But passing from the romance of his own career to the events of the twelvemonth just closing, there was much to stimulate his ardor for the fray. The new gag applied by 64 Congress in January65 had stirred again in Massachusetts the spirit of resistance to tyranny, leading to another vigorous protest, by the Legislature, against the denial66 of the right of petition, and to resolutions urging Congress to abolish the domestic slave trade ‘without delay,’67 and to decree the immediate abolition of slavery in the District—this last resolve being adopted almost unanimously  in the House.68 The State law prohibiting mixed marriages narrowly escaped being repealed, and the first step was taken towards protecting the colored seamen of69 Massachusetts against outrageous oppression in Southern ports. In party politics, Henry Clay had, as we have seen, lost his nomination at the hands of the anti-slavery70 Whigs; and while Harrison, it is true, had received the support of the same wing in the Convention and at the polls, at least the evil was not conceivably greater than would have been Van Buren's reelection. The Third Party, meantime, had been defeated in its endeavor to capture the national anti-slavery organization, although successful with some of the State and71 many of the local societies which the spirit of New Organization had invaded. It had likewise cut a sorry figure in the election. From the point of view of the Philadelphia Declaration of Sentiments it was a foreordained failure. Though one of the products, it was not the heir of the movement begun in 1833, to which its inception was well-nigh fatal. Its rise marks the end of the expansion of the purely moral organization of the anti-slavery sentiment of the country. Never afterwards were there so many societies, or so large a membership, or such a powerful pulsation in the enterprise. Though the fourteenth resolution adopted by the Liberty72 Party at Albany professed not to undervalue or forget moral instrumentalities, and urged the maintenance of these by abolitionists, it was overridden by the ninth resolution, which declared that the only hope of peaceful abolition lay in the ballot—i. e., in separate political organization. In like manner, the pretence, in the preamble, of direct descent from the American Anti-Slavery Society73 was nullified by the omission of any allusion to the doctrine of immediatism. And whereas Mr. Garrison,  in his abolition propaganda, had been cruelly maligned with false charges of ‘sifting in’ extraneous doctrines, the new party began at once to ‘sift in’ on its own account, in these vague terms of its tenth resolution:
Sonnet: on completing my thirty-fifth yearIf to the age of threescore years and ten,63
God of my life! thou shalt my term prolong,
Still be it mine to reprobate all wrong,
And save from woe my suffering fellow-men.
Whether, in Freedom's cause, my voice or pen
Be used by Thee, who art my boast and song,
To vindicate the weak against the strong,
Upon my labors rest Thy benison!
O! not for Afric's sons alone I plead,
Or her descendants; but for all who sigh
In servile chains, whatever their caste or creed:
They not in vain to Heaven send up their cry;
For all mankind from bondage shall be freed,
And from the earth be chased all forms of tyranny.
Resolved, That while we consider the abolition of slavery as74 paramount to all other questions of national politics, and have nominated, and expect to nominate and to elect, with a special view to this vital question, we by no means lose sight of numerous other questions in which all who are to be affected, directly or indirectly, by our Government are deeply interested; and we consider that our fundamental principle, to wit, that all men within its jurisdiction are, as men, entitled to an equal participation in the benefits of our Government, does decide all these questions in favor of the general good, by deciding them in favor of the widest and largest liberty that can flourish under just laws.This was the price of a vice-presidential candidate75 whose hobby was anti-monopoly. A year later, the State Liberty Party Convention of Massachusetts recommended the approaching National Convention to76 ‘consider and publish a full and explicit declaration of the principles of the Liberty Party, rejecting all points on which a good degree of union cannot be secured, by moderation and mutual concession.’ So far already had the party moved away from the simple test of adhesion to the doctrine of immediate emancipation. Moreover, the same State Convention debated resolutions which77 they almost unanimously approved (though deeming it expedient not to pass them, but to refer them to the national body), and which embraced such extraneous topics as ‘Corn Laws,’ ‘Emigration from Foreign Countries,’ ‘Home Manufactures and Tariff,’ ‘The Banking System,’ ‘Cotton Manufactures,’ ‘Reciprocity in Trade,’ ‘Economy in Expenditures.’ As if an anticlimax were still needed, respectful reference was given to two resolutions recommending the abolition of the poll-tax, and the election of sheriffs, coroners, and justices of the peace by the people!  Such a party, it is superfluous to say, was not, and could not be, the antipode of the Slave Power. That distinction remained to the Garrisonian abolitionists. Their moral warfare was conditioned by none of the clogs of party—neither by fealty to the Constitution of the United States, nor by ends conformable to that instrument, such as abolition in the District and other Territories, the suppression of the inter-State slave trade, and the exclusion of new slave States from the Union; nor by considerations of numbers. ‘A political contest,’ said the editor of the Liberator, ‘differs 78 essentially from one that is moral. In the latter, one may chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight. In the former, profligacy and virtue, good and evil, right and wrong, meet on equal terms. Success depends wholly on numerical superiority.’ A political party, furthermore, must have its prizes of office. ‘All are invited to join,’ wrote James C. Jackson to Francis79 Jackson, ‘for all can have the privilege of struggling for promotion. The ladder is made for all, and all are invited to commence its ascent,’ whether for a town office or for something higher. ‘Can any man tell,’ he asked, ‘what increase of power, moral power, William Goodell would have by which to abolish slavery, if he were elected to the office of roadmaster in the ancient and honorable village of Whitesboroa?’ Finally, a party must have its exclusive candidates, and cannot tolerate support of its principles in the person of a candidate of another party. Thus, the reelection of N. B. Borden, a vice-president of the Massachusetts Society and president of the Fall River Anti-Slavery Society, who had already been a Representative in Congress, was opposed by the Liberty Party, professedly because, as an anti-slavery man, he deemed it wiser to vote for Harrison than for Birney.80 More extraordinary efforts to defeat him could not have been made if he had been an avowed apologist for slavery:  ‘New Organization,’ said Mr. Garrison,
had mustered as81 many clerical politicians as possible to harangue the people of the Tenth District, in opposition to the claims of Mr. Borden. . . . There were Rev. Messrs. Torrey, Cummings, Lee, Phelps, Denison, Leavitt,--all in a row! We believe “the business of a politician” to be a very poor and paltry one, and the less a minister of the gospel has to do with it, the better. Is there one man in the United States—in the whole world who can honestly and truly affirm, before God, that by becoming a politician he has improved his manners or morals, his head or his heart, or has elevated the tone of his piety, or felt new emotions of spiritual life? If so, we have yet to see that man. Are there not thousands of good men who have a far different confession to make?A further distinction between the new anti-slavery method and the old, and a very significant one, lay in the fact that the Liberty Party necessarily divorced itself from that foreign philanthropic alliance which Mr. Garrison had established in 1833. A Thompson coming over to speak for it, and to help elect its candidates, from coroner to President, and to promote its policy with reference to the Constitution and laws on the subject of slavery, would have exposed himself to national and popular resentment which would not have been without excuse. This was what Thompson himself,82 Stuart, and Cropper had deprecated. The sending over of material assistance, ‘British gold,’ would have aroused yet livelier hostility to the new party. The abolitionists, on the other hand, continued to draw upon the moral sympathy of the world for objects which remained purely moral. Their funds were recruited as before on both sides of the Atlantic, and their national organ was sustained largely by the proceeds of goods furnished annually from Great Britain, and disposed of at the anti-slavery bazaars. The chapters which are to follow will show how indispensable this international cooperation was. On the assumption that the Liberty Party was the progenitor of the Republican Party which gave the  finishing-stroke to slavery, Mr. Garrison's opposition to the former has been pronounced both unworthy of him, and a striking evidence of his want of prevision. Those who have read the present narrative of its origin must conclude that he had no choice but to oppose the alter ego of New Organization. Those who read beyond, whether in this biography or in general histories of the ante-bellum period, will find the same men who in 1840 nominated Birney against Van Buren and against Harrison, nominating Van Buren as the Free-Soil candidate of 1848. They will find the anti-slavery policy of the83 Free-Soil Convention of 1852 summed up in resistance to the extension of slavery and to Federal fugitive-slave laws. But not till they consult the proceedings of the Peace Conference at Washington in February, 1861; the84 contemporaneous propositions of the Senate Committee of Thirteen and House Committee of Thirty-three; and the subsequent vote of both Houses for an amendment to the Constitution forbidding Congress ever to interfere with slavery in the States (a majority of the Republicans assenting)—will they realize how utterly spurious was the claim of the founders of the Liberty Party to be the true channel of succession for the principles first formulated by William Lloyd Garrison.