previous next

The Boston mob.1

Mr. President: I feel that I have very little right on this platform to-day. I stand here only to express my gratitude to those who truly and properly occupy it, for what we all owe them — the women and the men — who stood by our honor, and so nobly did our duties, when we forgot it and them twenty years ago.

At this hour, twenty years ago, I was below in the street;--I thank God I am inside the house now! I was not in the street as one of the mob, but as a spectator. I had come down from my office in Court Street to see what the excitement was. I did not understand antislavery then; that is, I did not understand the country in which I lived. We have all learned much since then; learned what antislavery means,--learned what a republican government really is,--learned the power of the press and of money, which I, at least, did not know then. I remember saying to the gentleman who stood next to me in the street: “Why does not the Mayor call out the regiment?” (I belonged to it then.) “We would cheerfully take arms in such a case as this. It is a very shameful business. Why does he stand there arguing? Why does he not call for the guns?” I did not then know that the men who should have borne them were the [214] mob; that all there was of government in Boston was in the street.; that the people, our final reliance for the execution of the laws, were there. in “broadcloth and broad daylight,” in the street. Mayor Lyman knew it; and the only honorable and honest course open to him was, to have said, “If I cannot be a magistrate, I will not pretend to be one.”

I do not know whether to attribute the Mayor's disgraceful conduct to his confused notion of his official duties, or to a cowardly unwillingness to perform what he knew well enough to be his duty. A superficial observer of the press and pulpit of that day would be inclined to consider it the result of ignorance, and lay the blame at the door of our republican form of government, which thrusts up into important stations dainty gentlemen like Lyman, physicians never allowed to doctor any body but the body politic, or cunning tradesmen who have wriggled their slimy way to wealth,--men who in a trial hour not only know nothing of their own duties, but do not even know where to go for advice. And for the preachers, I am inclined to think this stolid ignorance of civil rights and duties may be pleaded as a disgraceful excuse, leaving them guilty only of meddling in matters far above their comprehension. But one who looks deeper into the temper of that day will see plainly enough that the Mayor and the editors, with their companions “in broadcloth,” were only blind to what they did not wish to see, and knew the right and wrong of the case well enough, only, like all half-educated people, they were but poorly able to comprehend the vast importance of the wrong they were doing. The mobs which followed, directed against others than Abolitionists, the ripe fruit of the seed here planted, opened their eyes somewhat.

Mr. Garrison has given us specimens enough of the press of that day. There was the Daily Advertiser, of [215] course on the wrong side,--respectable when its opponents are strong and numerous, and quite ready to be scurrilous when scurrility is safe and will pay,--behind whose editorials a keen ear can always catch the clink of the dollar.--entitled to be called the Rip Van Winkle of the press, should it ever, like Rip, wake up; the Advertiser condescended, strangely enough, to say, that it was not surprised (!) that papers abroad considered the meeting of mobocrats in the street below a riot (!); but the wiser Advertiser itself regarded it “not so much as a riot as the prevention of a riot” ! It “considered the whole transaction as the triumph of law over lawless violence, and the love of order over riot and confusion” ! Dear, dreamy Van Winkle! and he goes on to “rejoice” at the exceeding “moderation” of the populace, that they did not murder Mr. Garrison on the spot! And this is the journal which Boston literature regards as its organ, and which Boston wealth befools itself by styling “respectable” !

Next came the scurrilous Gazette, which, it is said, repented of its course when it found that Northern subscribers fell off and Southerners continued to despise it as before; and which, outliving public forbearance and becoming bankrupt, earned thus the right to be melted into the Daily Advertiser.

With them in sad alliance marched the Courier,--always strong and frank, whichever side it took, and even of whose great merit and bravery between that time and this, it is sufficient praise to say, that it was enough to outweigh its great wrong in 1835, and its vile servility now.

With rare dating, the Christian Register, the organ of the Unitarians, snatched the palm of infamy. In a moment of forgetful frankness, remembering, probably, the coward course of its own sect, it counselled hypocrisy; suiting manner to matter, it hints to the Abolitionists, that [216] they should imitate the example, as, with laughable ignorance, it avers, of the early Christians of Trajan's day, and meet in secret, if the “vanity” of the ladies would allow! The coward priest forgot, if he ever knew, that the early Christians met in secret beneath the pavements of Rome, only to pray for the martyrs whose crosses lined the highways, whose daring defied Paganism at its own altars, and whose humanity stopped the bloody games of Rome in the upper air; that they met beneath the ground, not so much to hide themselves, as to get strength for attacks on wicked laws and false altars.

Infamy, however, at that day, was not a monopoly of one sect. Hubbard Winslow, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, strictly Orthodox, a bigot in good and regular standing, shortly after this preached a sermon to illustrate and defend the doctrine, that no man, under a republican government, has a right to promulgate any opinion but such as “a majority of the brotherhood would allow and protect” ; and he is said to have boasted that Judge Story thanked him for such a discourse!

The Mayor played a most shuffling and dishonorable part. For some time previous, he had held private conferences with leading Abolitionists, urging them to discontinue their meetings, professing, all the while, entire friendship, and the most earnest determination to protect them in their rights at any cost. The Abolitionists treated him, in return, with the utmost confidence. They yielded to his wishes, so far as to consent to do nothing that would increase the public excitement, with this exception, that they insisted on holding meetings often enough to assert their right to meet. Yet, while they were thus honorably avoiding everything which would needlessly excite the public mind, going to the utmost verge of submission and silence that duty permitted,--while the Abolitionists, with rare moderation, were showing this magnanimous forbearance [217] and regard to the weakness of public authority and the reckless excitement of the public,--the Mayor himself, in utter violation of official decorum and personal honor, accepted the chair of the public meeting assembled in Faneuil Hall, and presided over that assembly,--an assembly which many intended should rouse a mob against the Abolitionists, and which none but the weak or wilfully blind could avoid seeing must lead to that result. In his opening speech to that factious meeting, the Mayor, under oath at that moment to protect every citizen in his rights, and doubly bound just then by private assurances to these very Abolitionists, forgot all his duty, all his pledges, so far as to publicly warn them of the danger of their meeting, --a warning or threat, the memory of which might well make him tremblingly anxious to save Garrison's life, since of any blood shed that day, every law, divine and human, would have held the Mayor guilty.

Such was the temper of those times. The ignorant were not aware, and the wise were too corrupt to confess, that the most precious of human rights, free thought, was at stake. These women knew it, felt the momentous character of the issue, and consented to stand in the gap. Those were trial hours. I never think of them without my shame for my native city being swallowed up in gratitude to those who stood so bravely for the right. Let us not consent to be ashamed of the Boston of 1835. Those howling wolves in the streets were not Boston. These brave men and women were Boston. We will remember no other.

I never open the statute-book of Massachusetts with out thanking Ellis Gray Loring and Samuel J. May. Charles Follen and Samuel E. Sewall, and those around me who stood with them, for preventing Edward Everett from blackening it with a law making free speech an indictable offence. And we owe it to fifty or sixty women, [218] and a dozen or two of men, that free speech was saved, in 1835, in the city of Boston. Indeed, we owe it mainly to one man. If there is one here who loves Boston, who loves her honor, who rejoices to know that, however fine the thread, there is a thread which bridges over that dark and troubled wave, and connects us by a living nerve with the freemen of the Revolution,--that Boston, though betrayed by her magistrates, her wealth, her press, and her pulpits, never utterly bowed her neck, let him remember that we owe it to you, Sir, [Mr. Francis Jackson,] who offered to the women not allowed to meet here, even though the Mayor was in this hall, the use of your house; and one sentence of your letter deserves to be read whenever Boston men are met together to celebrate the preservation of the right of free speech in the city of Adams and Otis. History, which always loves courage, will write it on a page whiter than marble and more incorruptible than gold. You said, Sir, in answer to a letter of thanks for the use of your house :--

If a large majority of this community choose to turn a deaf ear to the wrongs which are inflicted upon their countrymen in other portions of the land,--if they are content to turn away from the sight of oppression, and “pass by on the other side,” so it must be.

But when they undertake in any way to impair or annul my right to speak, write, and publish upon any subject, and more especially upon enormities which are the common concern of every lover of his country and his kind,--so it must not be,--so it shall not be, if I for one can prevent it. Upon this great right let us hold on at all hazards. And should we, in its exercise, be driven from public halls to private dwellings, one house at least shall be consecrated to its preservation. And if, in defence of this sacred privilege, which man did not give me, and shall not (if I can help it) take from me, this roof and these walls shall be levelled to the earth,--let them fall, if they must. They cannot crumble in a better cause. They will appear of [219] very little value to me, after their owner shall have been whipped into silence.

This was only thirty days after the [unreadable in text] I need not read the remainder of that letter, written is in the same strain.

We owe it to one man that a public meeting was held, within a month, by these same women, in the city of Boston. But to their honor be it remembered, also,--a fact which Mr. Garrison omitted to state,--that when Mayor Lyman urged them to go home, they left this hall in public procession and went “home” to the house of Mrs. M. W. Chapman, in West Street, to organize and finish their meeting that very afternoon. To Mrs. Chapman's pen we owe the most living picture of that whole scene, and her able, graphic, and eloquent reports of the proceedings of the Female Antislavery Society, and specially of this day, have hung up to everlasting contempt the “men of property and standing,” --the “respectable” men of Boston.

Let us open, for a moment, the doors of the hall which stood here, and listen to the Mayor receiving his lesson in civil duty from the noble women of this society.

Mr. Lyman.--Go home, ladies, go home.

President.-What renders it necessary we should go home?

Mr. Lyman.---I am the Mayor of the city, and I cannot now explain; but will call upon you this evening.

President.--If the ladies will be seated, we will take the sense of the meeting.

Mr. Lyman.--Don't stop, ladies, go home.

President.--Will the ladies listen to a letter addressed to the Society, by Francis Jackson, Esq.?

Mr. Lyman.--Ladies, do you wish to see a scene of bloodshed and confusion? If you do not, go home.

one of the Ladies.--Mr. Lyman, your personal friends [220] are the instigators of this mob; have you ever used your personal influence with them?

Mr. Lyman.--I know no personal friends; I am merely an official. Indeed, ladies, you must retire. It is dangerous to remain.

lady.--If this is the last bulwark of freedom, we may as well die here as anywhere.

There is nothing braver than that in the history of the Long Parliament, or of the Roman Senate.

At that Faneuil Hall meeting, one of “the family” was present,--one of that family which was never absent when a deed of infamy was to be committed against the slave,--a family made up mostly of upstart attorneys, who fancy themselves statesmen, because able to draw a writ or pick holes in an indictment. Mr. Thomas B. Curtis read the resolutions; and then followed three speeches, by Harrison Gray Otis, Richard Fletcher, and Peleg Sprague, unmatched for adroit, ingenious, suggestive argument and exhortation to put down, legally or violently,--each hearer could choose for himself,--all public meetings on the subject of slavery in the city of Boston. Everything influential in the city was arrayed against this society of a few women. I could not but reflect, as I sat here, how immortal principle is. Rev. Henry Ware, Jr. read the notice of this society's meeting from Dr. Channing's pulpit, and almost every press in the city woke barking at him next morning for what was called his “impudence.” He is gone to his honored grave; many of those who met in this hall in pursuance of that notice are gone likewise. They died, as Whittier so well says,

their brave hearts breaking slow,
But, self-forgetful to the last,
In words of cheer and bugle glow,
Their breath upon the darkness passed.

In those days, as we gathered round their graves, and [221] resolved that, the “narrower the circle became, we would draw the closer together,” we envied the dead their rest. Men ceased to slander them in that sanctuary; and as we looked forward to the desolate vista of calamity and toil before us, and thought of the temptations which beset us on either side from worldly prosperity which a slight sacrifice of principle might secure, or social ease so close at hand by only a little turning aside, we almost envied the dead the quiet sleep to which we left them, tie harvest reaped, and the seal set beyond the power of change. And of those who assaulted them, many are gone. The Mayor so recreant to his duty, or so lacking in knowledge of his office, is gone; the Judge before whom Mr. Garrison was arraigned, at the jail, the next day after the mob, is gone; the Sheriff who rode with him to the jail is gone; the city journals have changed hands, being more than once openly bought and sold. The editor of the Atlas, whose zeal in the cause of mob violence earned it the honor of giving its name to the day,--“the Atlas mob” many called it,--is gone; many of the prominent actors in that scene, twenty years ago, have passed away; the most eloquent of those whose voices cried “Havoc!” at Faneuil Hall has gone,--Mr. Otis has his wish, that the grave might close over him before it closed over the Union, which God speed in his good time;--but the same principle fills these same halls, as fresh and vital today, as self-fixed and resolute to struggle against pulpit and press, against wealth and majorities, against denunciation and unpopularity, and certain in the end to set its triumphant foot alike on man and everything that man has made.

Here stands to-day the man whom Boston wealth and Boston respectability went home, twenty years ago this night, and gloried in having crushed. The loudest boasters are gone. He stands to-day among us, these very [222] walls, these ideas which breathe and burn around us, saying for him, “I still live.” If, twenty or twice twenty years hence, he too shall have passed away, may it not be till his glad ear has caught the jubilee of the emancipated millions whom his life has been given to save!

This very Female Antislavery Society which was met here twenty years ago did other good service but a few months after, in getting the Court of Massachusetts to recognize that great principle of freedom, that a slave, brought into a Northern State, is free. It was in the well-known Med case. We owe that to the Boston Female Antislavery Society. To-day, Judge Kane, and the Supreme Court, which alone can control him, are endeavoring to annihilate that principle which twenty years ago was established. How far and how soon they may be successful, God only knows.

Truly, as Mr. Garrison has said, the intellectual and moral growth of antislavery has been great within twenty years; but who shall deny that, in the same twenty years, the political, the organic, the civil growth of slavery has been more than equal? We stand here to-day with a city redeemed — how far? Just so far as this meeting commemorates,--the right of free speech is secured. Thank God! in twenty years, we have proved that an antislavery meeting is not only possible, but respectable, in Massachusetts,--that is all we have proved. Lord Erskine said a newspaper was stronger than government. We have got many newspapers on our side. Ideas will in the end, beat down anything;--we have got free course for ideas.

But let us not cheer ourselves too hastily, for the government, the wealth, the public opinion, of this very city in which we meet, remain to-day almost as firmly anchored as ever on the side of slavery. Vanes turn only when the wind shifts, so the Daily Advertiser has not changed a whit, [223] --not a whit. The same paper that spoke doubtful words before October 21st, hoped the meeting would be stopped, and afterwards could not quite decide whether there was a mob or not, but was glad the ladies were not allowed to hold their meeting,--that same paper would doze through the same shameless part to-day. That paper, which represented then so well the mobocrats in broadcloth, has passed from a father wearied in trying to hold Massachusetts back, to his son,--whose accession, to reverse James the First's motto, “no day followed,” --and it is published to-day with the same spirit, represents the same class, actuated exactly with the same purpose. If there is strength outside the city, in the masses, enough to rebuke that class and that press and that purpose, and give the State of Massachusetts more emphatically to some kind of antislavery, it is still a struggle. I would not rejoice. therefore, too much. We must discriminate. “To break your leg twice over the same stone is your own fault,” says the Spanish proverb.

I came here to-day to thank God that Boston never wanted a person to claim his inalienable right to utter his thoughts on the subject of slavery, nor a spot upon which he could do it;--that is all my rejoicing to-day. And on that corner-stone of individual daring, of fidelity to conscience, I recognize the possibility of the emancipation of three millions of slaves. But that possibility is to be made actual by labors as earnest and unceasing, by a self-devotion as entire, as that which has marked the twenty years we have just passed.

I find that these people, who have made this day famous, were accused in their own time of harsh language and over-boldness, and ... t disparagement of dignities. These were the three charges brought against the Female Antislavery Society in 1835. The women forgot their homes, it was said, in endeavoring to make the men do [224] their duty. It was a noble lesson which the sisters and mothers of that time set the women of the present day,--I hope they will follow it.

There was another charge brought against them,--it was, that they had no reverence for dignitaries. The friend who sits here on my right (Mrs. Southwick) dared to rebuke a slaveholder with a loud voice, in a room just before, if not then, consecrated by the presence of Chief Justice Shaw, and the press was astonished at her boldness. I hope, though she has left the city, she has left representatives behind her who will dare rebuke any slave-hunter, or any servant of the slave-power, with the same boldness, frankness, and defiance of authorities, and contempt of parchment.

Then there was another charge brought against their meetings, that they indulged in exceedingly bold language about pulpits and laws and wicked magistrates. That is a sin which I hope will not die out. God grant we may inherit that also.

I should like to know very much how many there are in this hall to-day who were out in the street, as actual mobocrats, twenty years ago. I know there are some here who signed the various petitions to the City Government to prevent the meeting from being held; but it would be an interesting fact to know how many are here to-day, actually enlisted under the antislavery banner, who tore that sign to pieces. I wish we had those relics; the piece of that door which was long preserved, the door so coolly locked by Charles Burleigh,--it was a touching relic. We ought to have a portion of that sign which the Mayor threw down as a tub to the whale, hoping to save some semblance of his authority,--hoping the multitude would be satisfied with the sign, and spare the women in this hall,--forgetting that a mob is controlled only by its fears, not by pity or good manners. [225]

But, Mr. President, it is a sad story to think of. Antislavery is a sad history to read, sad to look back upon. What a miserable refuse public opinion has been for the past twenty years!--what a wretched wreck of all that republican education ought to have secured! Take up that file of papers which Mr. Garrison showed you, and think, Republicanism, a Protestant pulpit, free schools, the model government, had existed in our city for sixty years, and this was the result! A picture, the very copy of that which Sir Robert Peel held up in the British Parliament, within a month after the mob, as proof that republicanism could never succeed. It is a sad picture to look back upon. The only light which redeems it is the heroism that consecrated this hall, and one house in Hollis Street, places which Boston will yet make pilgrimages to honor.

The only thing that Americans (for let us be Americans to-day, not simply Abolitionists),--the only thing for which Americans can rejoice, this day, is, that everything was not rotten. The whole head was not sick, nor the whole heart faint. There were ten men, even in Sodom! And when the Mayor forgot his duty, when the pulpit prostituted itself, and when the press became a pack of hounds, the women of Boston, and a score or two of men, remembered Hancock and Adams, and did their duty. And if there are young people who hear me to-day, let us hope that when this special cause of antislavery effort is past and gone, when another generation shall have come upon the stage, and new topics of dispute have arisen, there will be no more such scenes. How shall we ever learn toleration for what we do not believe? The last lesson a man ever learns is, that liberty of thought and speech is the right for all mankind; that the man who denies every article of our creed is to be allowed to preach just as often and just as loud as we ourselves. We have learned this,--been taught it by persecution on the question [226] of slavery. No matter whose the lips that would speak, they must be free and ungagged. Let us always remember that he does not really believe his own opinions, who dares not give free scope to his opponent. Persecution is really want of faith in our creed. Let us see to it, my friends, Abolitionists, that we learn the lesson the whole circle round. Let us believe that the whole of truth can ... do harm to the whole of virtue. Trust it. And remember, that, in order to get the whole of truth, you must allow every man, right or wrong, freely to utter his conscience, and protect him in so doing.

The same question was wrought out here twenty years ago, as was wrought in the protest of fifty or a hundred Abolitionists, when an infidel (Abner Kneeland) was sent to Boston jail for preaching his sentiments. I hope that we shall all go out of this hall, remembering the highest lesson of this day and place, that every man's conscience is sacred. No matter how good our motives are in trying to gag him! Mayor Lyman had some good motives that day, had he only known what his office meant, and stayed at home, if he felt himself not able to fill it. It is not motives. Entire, unshackled freedom for every man's lips, no matter what his doctrine;--the safety of free discussion, no matter how wide its range ;--no check on the peaceful assemblage of thoughtful men! Let us consecrate our labors for twenty years to come in doing better than those who went before us, and widening the circle of their principle into the full growth of its actual and proper significance.

Let me thank the women who came here twenty years ago, some of whom are met here to-day, for the good they have done me. I thank them for all they have taught me. I had read Greek and Roman and English history; I had by heart the classic eulogies of brave old men and martyrs; I dreamed, in my folly, that I heard the same tone in my [227] youth from the cuckoo lips of Edward Everett;--these women taught me my mistake. They taught me that down in those hearts which loved a principle for itself, asked no man's leave to think or speak, true to their convictions, no matter at what hazard, flowed the real blood of 1876, of 1640, of the hemlock-drinker of Athens, and of the martyr-saints of Jerusalem. I thank them for it! My eyes were sealed, so that, although I knew the Adamses and Otises of 1776, and the Mary Dyers and Ann Hutchinsons of older times, I could not recognize the Adamses and Otises, the Dyers and Hutchinsons, whom I met in the streets of 1835. These women opened my eyes, and I thank them and you [turning to Mrs. Southwick and Miss Henrietta Sargent, who sat upon the platform] for that anointing. May our next twenty years prove us all apt scholars of such brave instruction!

1 speech before the antislavery meeting held in Stacy Hall, Boston, on the twentieth anniversary of the mob of October 21, 1835.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Massachusetts (Massachusetts, United States) (5)
Sodom (Israel) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1835 AD (5)
1876 AD (1)
October 21st, 1835 AD (1)
1776 AD (1)
1640 AD (1)
October 21st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: