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Public opinion.1

Mr. President:-- I have been thinking, while sitting here, of the different situations of the Anti-slavery cause now and one year ago, when the last anniversary of this Society was held. To some, it may seem that we had more sources of interest and of public excitement on that occasion than we have now. We had with us, during a portion, at least, of that session, the eloquent advocate of our cause on the other side of the water.2 We had the local excitement and the deep interest which the first horror of the Fugitive Slave Bill had aroused. We had, I believe, some fugitives, just arrived from the house of bondage. It may seem to many that, meeting as we do to-day robbed of all these, we must be content with a session more monotonous and less effectual in arousing the community. But when we look over the whole land; when we look back upon what has taken place in our own Commonwealth, at Christiana, at Syracuse; look at the passage through the country of the great Hungarian; at the present state of the public mind,--it seems to me that no year, during the existence of the Society, has presented more encouraging aspects to the Abolitionists. The views which our friend (Parker Pillsbury) has just presented are those upon which, in our most sober calculation, we [36] ought to rely. Give us time, and, as he said, talk is all-powerful. We are apt to feel ourselves overshadowed in the presence of colossal institutions. We are apt, in coming up to a meeting of this kind, to ask what a few hundred or a few thousand persons can do against the weight of government, the mountainous odds of majorities, the influence of the press, the power of the pulpit, the organization of parties, the omnipotence of wealth. At times, to carry a favorite purpose, leading statesmen have endeavored to cajole the people into the idea that this age was like the past, and that a “rub-a-dub agitation,” as ours is contemptuously styled, was only to be despised. The time has been when, as our friend observed, from the steps of the Revere House — yes, and from the depots of New York railroads-Mr. Webster has described this Antislavery movement as a succession of lectures in schoolhouses,--the mere efforts of a few hundred men and women to talk together, excite each other, arouse the public, and its only result a little noise. He knew better. He knew better the times in which he lived. No matter where you meet a dozen earnest men pledged to a new idea,--wherever you have met them, you have met the beginning of a revolution. Revolutions are not made: they come. A revolution is as natural a growth as an oak. It comes out of the past. Its foundations are laid far back. The child feels; he grows into a man, and thinks; another, perhaps, speaks, and the world acts out the thought. And this is the history of modern society. Men undervalue the Antislavery movement, because they imagine you can always put your finger on some illustrious moment in history, and say, here commenced the great change which has come over the nation. Not so. The beginning of great changes is like the rise of the Mississippi. A child must stoop and gather away the pebbles to find it. But soon it swells broader and broader, bears [37] on it; ample bosom the navies of a mighty republic, fills the Gulf, and divides a continent.

I remember a story of Napoleon which illustrates my meaning. We are apt to trace his control of France to some noted victory, to the time when he camped in the Tuileries, or when he dissolved the Assembly by the stamp of his foot. He reigned in fact when his hand was first felt on the helm of the vessel of state, and that was far back of the time when he had conquered in Italy, or his name had been echoed over two continents. It was on the day when five hundred irresolute men were met in that Assembly which called itself, and pretended to be, the government of France. They heard that the mob of Paris was coming the next morning, thirty thousand strong, to turn them, as was usual in those days, out of doors. And where did this seemingly great power go for its support and refuge? They sent Tallien to seek out a boy lieutenant,--the shadow of an officer,--so thin and pallid that, when he was placed on the stand before them, the President of the Assembly, fearful, if the fate of France rested on the shrunken form, the ashy cheek before him, that all hope was gone, asked, “Young man, can you protect the Assembly?” And the stern lips of the Corsican boy parted only to reply, “I always do what I undertake.” Then and there Napoleon ascended his throne; and the next day, from the steps of St. Roche, thundered forth the cannon which taught the mob of Paris, for the first time, that it had a master. That was the commencement of the Empire. So the Antislavery movement commenced unheeded in that “obscure hole” which Mayor Otis could not find, occupied by a printer and a black boy.

In working these great changes, in such an age as ours, the so-called statesman has far less influence than the many little men who, at various points, are silently maturing a regeneration of public opinion. This is a reading and [38] chinking age, and great interests at stake quicken the general intellect. Stagnant times have been when a great mind, anchored in error, might snag the slow-moving current of society. Such is not our era. Nothing but Freedom, Justice, and Truth is of any permanent advantage to the mass of mankind. To these society, left to itself, is always tending. In our day, great questions about them have called forth all the energies of the common mind. Error suffers sad treatment in the shock of eager intellects. “Everybody,” said Talleyrand, “is cleverer than any body” ; and any name, however illustrious, which links itself to abuses, is sure to be overwhelmed by the impetuous current of that society which (thanks to the press and a reading public) is potent, always, to clear its own channel. Thanks to the Printing-Press, the people now do their own thinking, and statesmen, as they are styled,--men in office,--have ceased to be either the leaders or the clogs of society.

This view is one that Mr. Webster ridiculed in the depots of New York. The time has come when he is obliged to change his tone; when he is obliged to retrace his steps,--to acknowledge the nature and the character of the age in which he lives. Kossuth comes to this country, penniless, and an exile; conquered on his own soil; flung out as a weed upon the waters; nothing but his voice left;--and the Secretary of State must meet him. Now, let us see what he says of his “rub-a-dub agitation,” which consists of the voice only,--of the tongue, which our friend Pillsbury has described. This is that “tongue” which the impudent statesman declared, from the drunken steps of the Revere House, ought to be silenced,--this tongue, which was a “rub-a-dub agitation” to be despised, when he spoke to the farmers of New York.

He says, “We are too much inclined to underrate the power of moral influence.” Who is? “Nobody but a Revere [39] House statesman.” We are too much inclined to underrate the power of moral influence, and the influence of public opinion, and the influence of the principles to which great men — the lights of the world and of the present age — have given their sanction. Who doubts that, in our struggle for liberty and independence, the majestic eloquence of Chatham, the profound reasoning of Burke, the burning satire and irony of Colonel Barre, had influences upon our fortunes here in America? They had influences both ways. They tended, in the first place, somewhat to diminish the confidence of the British ministry in their hopes of success, in attempting to subjugate an injured people. They had influence another way, because all along the coasts of the country-“and all our people in that day lived upon the coast — there was not a reading man who did not feel stronger, bolder, and more determined in the assertion of his rights, when these exhilarating accents from the two Houses of Parliament reached him from beyond the seas.”

“I thank thee, Jew!” This “rub-a-dub agitation,” then, has influence both ways. It diminishes the confidence of the Administration in its power to execute the Fugitive Slave Law, which it has imposed so insolently on the people. It acts on the reading men of the nation, and in that single fact is the whole story of the change. Wherever you have a reading people, there every tongue, every press, is a power. Mr. Webster, when he ridiculed in New York the agitation of the Antislavery body, supposed he was living in the old feudal times, when a statesman was an integral element in the state, an essential power in himself. He must have supposed himself speaking in those ages when a great man outweighed the masses. He finds now that he is living much later, in an age when the accumulated common-sense of the people outweighs the greatest statesman or the most influential [40] individual. Let me illustrate the difference of our times and the past in this matter, by their difference in another respect. The time has been when men cased in iron from head to foot, and disciplined by long years of careful instruction, went to battle. Those were the days of nobles and knights; and in such times, ten knights, clad in steel, feared not a whole field of unarmed peasantry, and a hundred men-at-arms have conquered thousands of the common people, or held them at bay. Those were the times when Winkelried, the Swiss patriot, led his host against {he Austrian phalanx, and, finding it impenetrable to the thousands of Swiss who threw themselves on the serried lances, gathered a dozen in his arms, and, drawing them together, made thus an opening in the close-set ranks of the Austrians, and they were overborne by the actual mass of numbers. Gunpowder came, and then any finger that could pull a trigger was equal to the highest born and the best disciplined; knightly armor, and horses clad in steel, went to the ground before the courage and strength which dwelt in the arm of the peasant, as well as that of the prince. What gunpowder did for war, the printing-press has done for the mind, and the statesman is no longer clad in the steel of special education, but every reading man is his judge. Every thoughtful man, the country through, who makes up an opinion, is his jury to which he answers, and the tribunal to which he must bow. Mr. Webster, therefore, does not overrate the power of this “rub-a-dub agitation,” which Kossuth has now adopted, “stealing our thunder.” [Laughter and applause.] He does not overrate the power of this “rub-a-dub agitation,” when he says, “Another great mistake, gentlemen, is sometimes made. [Yes, in Bowdoin Square!] We think nothing powerful enough to stand before despotic power. There is something strong enough, quite strong enough; and if properly exerted, it will prove itself so; and that is, the power of intelligent [41] public opinion.” “I thank thee, Jew!” That opinion is formed, not only in Congress, or on hotel steps; it is made also in the school-houses, in the town-houses, at the hearth-stones, in the railroad-cars, on board the steamboats, in the social circle, in these Antislavery gatherings which he despises. Mark you: There is nothing powerful enough to stand before it! It maybe a self-styled divine institution; it may be the bank-vaults of New England; it may be the mining interests of Pennsylvania; it may be the Harwich fishermen, whom he told to stand by the Union, because its bunting protected their decks; it may lie the factory operative, whom he told to uphold the Union, because it made his cloth sell for half a cent more a yard; it may be a parchment Constitution, or even a Fugitive Slave Bill, signed by Millard Fillmore I! --no matter, all are dust on the threshing-floor of a reading public, once roused to indignation. Remember this, then you would look down upon a meeting of a few hundreds in the one scale, and the fanatic violence of State Street in the other, that there is nothing, Daniel Webster being witness, strong enough to stand against public opinion, and if the tongue and the press are not parents of that, what is?

Napoleon said, “I fear three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets.” Mr. Webster now is of the same opinion. “There is not a monarch on earth,” he says, “whose throne is not liable to be shaken by the progress of opinion and the sentiment of the just and intelligent part of the people.” “I thank thee, Jew!” We have been told often, that it was nothing but a morbid sentiment that was opposed to the Fugitive Slave Bill,--it was a sentiment of morbid philanthropy. Grant it all. But take care, Mr. Statesman; cure or change it in time, else it will beat all your dead institutions to dust. Hearts and sentiments are alive, and we all know that the gentlest [42] of Nature's growths or motions will, in time, burst asunder or wear away the proudest dead-weight man can heap upon them. If this be the power of the gentlest growth, let the stoutest heart tremble before the tornado of a people roused to terrible vengeance by the sight of long years of cowardly and merciless oppression, and oft-repeated instances of selfish and calculating apostasy. You may build your Capitol of granite, and pile it high as the Rocky Mountains; if it is founded on or mixed up with iniquity, the pulse of a girl will in time beat it down. , “There is no monarch on earth whose throne is not liable to be shaken by the sentiment of the just and intelligent part of the people.” What is this but a recantation,doing penance for the impudence uttered in Bowdoin Square? Surely this is the white sheet and lighted torch which the Scotch Church imposed as penance on its erring members. Who would imagine, that the same man who said of the public discussion of the Slavery question, that it must be put down, could have dictated this sentiment,--“It becomes us, in the station which we hold, to let that public opinion, so far as we form it, have free course” ? What was the haughty threat we heard from Bowdoin Square a year ago? “This agitation must be put down.” Now, “It becomes us, in the station which we hold, to let that public opinion have free course.” Behold the great doughface cringing before the calm eye of Kossuth, who had nothing but , “rub-a-dub agitation” with which to rescue Hungary from the bloody talons of the Austrian eagle!

This is statesmanship! The statesmanship that says to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to-day, “Smother those prejudices,” and to-morrow, “There is no throne on the broad earth strong enough to stand up against the sentiment of justice.” What is that but the “prejudices” of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts against [43] man-hunting? And this is the man before whom the press and the pulpit of the country would have had the Abolitionists bow their heads, and lay their mouths in the dust, instead of holding fast to the eternal principles of justice and right!

It would be idle, to be sure, to base any argument on an opinion of Mr. Webster's. Like the chameleon, he takes his hue, on these subjects, from the air he breathes He has his “October sun” opinion, and his Faneuil Hall opinions. But the recantation here is at least noticeable; and his testimony to the power of the masses is more valuable as coming from an unwilling witness. The best of us are conscious of being, at times, somewhat awed by the colossal institutions about us, which seem to be opposing our progress. There are those who occasionally weary of this moral suasion, and sigh for something tangible; some power that they can feel, and see its operation. The advancing tide you cannot mark. The gem forms unseen. The granite increases and crumbles, and you can hardly mark either process. The great change in a nation's opinion is the same. We stand here to-day, and if we look back twenty years, we can see a change in public opinion; yes, we can see a great change. Then the great statesmen had pledged themselves not to talk on this subject. They have been made to talk. These hounds have been whipped into the traces of the nation's car, not by three newspapers, which Napoleon dreaded, but by one. [Cheers.] The great parties of the country have been broken to pieces and crumbled. The great sects have been broken to pieces. Suppose you cannot put your finger upon an individual fact; still, in the great result, you see what Webster tells us in his speech: “Depend upon it, gentlemen, that between these two rival powers,--the autocratic power, maintained by arms and force, and the popular power, maintained by - [44] opinion,the former is constantly decreasing; and, thank God I the latter is constantly increasing. Real human liberty i gaining the ascendant;--[he must feel sad at that!]--and the part which we have to act in all this great drama is to show ourselves in favor of those rights; to uphold our ascendency, and to carry it on, until we shall see it culminate in the highest heaven over our heads.”

Now I look upon this speech as the most remarkable Mr. Webster has ever made on the antislavery agitation to which we are devoted,--as a most remarkable confession, under the circumstances. I read it here and to you, because, in the circle I see around me, the larger proportion are Abolitionists,--men attached to the movement which this meeting represents,--men whose thoughts are occasionally occupied with the causes and with the effects of its real progress. I would force from the reluctant lips of the Secretary of State his testimony to the real power of the masses. I said that the day was, before gunpowder, when the noble, clad in steel, was a match for a thousand. Gunpowder levelled peasant and prince. The printing-press has done the same. In the midst of thinking people, in the long run, there are no so-called “great” men. The accumulated intellect of the masses is greater than the heaviest brain God ever gave to a single man. Webster, though he may gather into his own person the confidence of parties, and the attachment of thousands throughout the country, is but a feather's weight in the balance against the average of public sentiment on the subject of slavery. A newspaper paragraph, a county meeting, a gathering for conversation, a change in the character of a dozen individuals,--these are the several fountains and sources of public opinion. And, friends, when we gather, month after month, at such meetings as these, we should encourage ourselves with considerations of this kind:--that we live in an age of democratic [45] equality; that, for a moment, a party may stand against the age, but in the end it goes by the board; that the man who launches a sound argument, who sets on two feet a startling fact, and bids it travel from Maine to Georgia, is just as certain that in the end he will change the government, as if, to destroy the Capitol, he had placed gunpowder under the Senate-chamber. Natural philosophers tell us, that, if you will only multiply the simplest force into enough time, it will equal the greatest. So it is with the slow intellectual movement of the masses. It can scarcely be seen, but it is a constant movement: it is the shadow on the dial; never still, though never seen to move; it is the tide, it is the ocean, gaining on the proudest and strongest bulwarks that human art or strength can build. It may be defied for a moment, but in the end Nature always triumphs. So the race, if it cannot drag a Webster along with it, leaves him behind and forgets him. [Loud cheers.] The race is rich enough to afford to do without the greatest intellects God ever let the Devil buy. Stranded along the past, there are a great many dried mummies of dead intellects, which the race found too heavy to drag forward.

I hail the almighty power of the tongue. I swear allegiance to the omnipotence of the press. The people never err. “Vox populi, Vox Dei,”-the voice of the people is the voice of God. I do not mean this of any single verdict which the people of to-day may record. In time, the selfishness of one class neutralizes the selfishness of another. The interests of one age clash against the interests of another; but in the great result the race always means right. The people always mean right, and in the end they will have the right. I believe in the twenty millions--not the twenty millions that live now, necessarily — to arrange this question of slavery, which priests and politicians have sought to keep out of sight [46] They have kept it locked up in the Senate-chamber, they have hidden it behind the communion-table, they have appealed to the superstitious and idolatrous veneration for the State and the Union to avoid this question, and so have kept it from the influence of the great democratic tendencies of the masses. But change all this, drag is from its concealment, and give it to the people; launch it on the age, and all is safe. It will find a safe harbor. A man is always selfish enough for himself. The soldier will be selfish enough for himself; the merchant will be selfish enough for himself; yes, he will be willing to go to hell to secure his own fortune, but he will not be ready to go there to make the fortune of his neighbor. Rarely is any man willing to sacrifice his own character for the benefit of his neighbor; and whenever we shall be able to show this nation that the interests of a class, not of the whole, the interests of a portion of the country, not of the masses, are subserved by holding our fellow-men in bondage, then we shall spike the guns of the enemy, or get their artillery on our side.

I want you to turn your eyes from institutions to men. The difficulty of the present day and with us is, we are bullied by institutions. A man gets up in the pulpit, or sits on the bench, and we allow ourselves to be bullied by the judge or the clergyman, when, if he stood side by side with us, on the brick pavement, as a simple individual, his ideas would not have disturbed our clear thoughts an hour. Now the duty of each antislavery man is simply this,--Stand on the pedestal of your own individual independence, summon these institutions about you, and judge them. The question is deep enough to require this judgment of you. This is what the cause asks of you, my friends; and the moment you shall be willing to do this, to rely upon yourselves, that moment the truths I have read from the lips of one whom the country regards as its greatest statesman [47] will shine over your path, assuring you that out of this agitation, as sure as the sun shines at noonday, the future character of the American government will be formed.

If we lived in England, if we lived in France, the philosophy of our movement might be different, for there stand accumulated wealth, hungry churches, and old nobles,--a class which popular agitation but slowly affects. To these public opinion is obliged to bow. We have seen, for instance, the agitation of 1848 in Europe, deep as it was, seemingly triumphant as it was for six months, retire, beaten, before the undisturbed foundations of the governments of the Continent. You recollect, no doubt, the tide of popular enthusiasm which rolled from the Bay of Biscay to the very feet of the Czar, and it seemed as if Europe was melted into one republic. Men thought the new generation had indeed come. We waited twelve months, and “the turrets and towers of old institutions — the church, law, nobility, government-reappeared above the subsiding wave.” Now there are no such institutions here ;--no law that can abide one moment when popular opinion demands its abrogation. The government is wrecked the moment the newspapers decree it. The penny papers of this State in the Sims case did more to dictate the decision of Chief Justice Shaw, than the Legislature that sat in the State-House, or the statute-book of Massachusetts. I mean what I say. The penny papers of New York do more to govern this country than the White House at Washington. Mr. Webster says we live under a government of laws. He was never more mistaken, even when he thought the antislavery agitation could be stopped. We live under a government of men-and morning newspapers. [Applause.] Bennett and Horace Greeley are more really Presidents of the United States than Millard Fillmore. Daniel Webster himself cannot even get a nomination. Why? Because, [48] long ago, the ebbing tide of public opinion left him a wreck, stranded on the side of the popular current.

We live under a government of men. The Constitution is nothing in South Carolina, but the black law is everything. The law that says the colored man shall sit in the jury-box in the city of Boston is nothing. Why? Because the Mayor and Aldermen, and the Selectmen of Boston, for the last fifty years, have been such slaves of colorphobia, that they did not choose to execute this law of the Commonwealth. I might go through the statute-book, and show you the same result. Now if this be true against us, it is true for us. Remember, that the penny papers may be starved into antislavery, whenever we shall put behind them an antislavery public sentiment. Wilberforce and Clarkson had to vanquish the moneyed power of England, the West India interest, and overawe the peerage of Great Britain, before they conquered. The settled purpose of the great middle class had to wait till all this was accomplished. The moment we have the control of public opinion,--the women and the children, the school-houses, the school-books, the literature, and the newspapers,--that moment we have settle the question.

Men blame us for the bitterness of our language and the personality of our attacks. It results from our position. The great mass of the people can never be made to stay and argue a long question. They must be made to feel it, through the hides of their idols. When you have launched your spear into the rhinoceros hide of a Webster or a Benton, every Whig and Democrat feels it. It is on this principle that every reform must take for its text the mistakes of great men. God gives us great scoundrels for texts to antislavery sermons. See to it, when Nature has provided you a monster like Webster, that you exhibit him-himself a whole menagerie — throughout the country. [49] [Great cheering.] It is not often, in the wide word's history, that you see a man so lavishly gifted by nature, and called, in the concurrence of events, to a position like that which he occupied on the seventh of March, surrender his great power, and quench the high hopes of his race. No man, since the age of Luther, has ever held in his hand, so palpably, the destinies and character of a mighty people. He stood like the Hebrew prophet betwixt the living and the dead. He had but to have upheld the cross of common truth and honesty, and the black dishonor of two hundred years would have been effaced forever. He bowed his vassal head to the temptations of the flesh and of lucre. He gave himself up into the lap of the Delilah of slavery, for the mere promise of a nomination, and the greatest hour of the age was bartered away,--not for a mess of pottage, but for the promise of a mess of pottage, -a promise, thank God which is to be broken. [Enthusiastic applause.] I say, it is not often that Providence permits the eyes of twenty millions of thinking people to behold the fall of another Lucifer, from the very battlements of Heaven, down into that “lower deep of the lowest deep” of hell. [Great sensation.] On such a text, how effective should be the sermon

Let us see to it, that, in spite of the tenderness of American prejudice, in spite of the morbid charity that would have us rebuke the sin, but spare the sinner, in spite of this effeminate Christianity, that would let millions pine, lest one man's feelings be injured,--let us see to it, friends, that we be “harsh as truth and uncompromising as justice” ; remembering always, that every single man set against this evil may be another Moses, every single thought you launch may be the thunders of another Napoleon from the steps of another St. Roche; remembering that we live not in an age of individual despotism, when a Charles the Fifth could set up or put down the slave-trade, [50] but surrounded by twenty millions, whose opinion is omnipotent,--that the hundred gathered in a New England school-house may be the hundred who shall teach the rising men of the other half of the continent, and stereotype Freedom on the banks of the Pacific; remembering and worshipping reverentially the great American idea of the Omnipotence of “thinking men,” of the “sentiment of justice,” against which no throne is potent enough to stand, no Constitution sacred enough to endure. Remember this, when you go to an antislavery gathering in a school-house, and know that, weighed against its solemn purpose, its terrible resolution, its earnest thought, Webster himself, and all huckstering statesmen, in the opposite scale, shall kick the beam. Worshipping the tongue, let us be willing, at all times, to be known throughout the community as the all-talk party. The age of bullets is over. The age of men armed in mail is over. The age of thrones has gone by. The age of statesmen-God be praised I such statesmen — is over. The age of thinking men has come. With the aid of God, then, every man I can reach I will set thinking on the subject of slavery. [Cheers.] The age of reading men has come. I will try to imbue every newspaper with Garrisonianism. [Loud applause.] The age of the masses has come. Now, Daniel Webster counts one. Give him joy of it!-but the “rub-a-dub agitation” counts at least twenty,--nineteen better. Nineteen, whom no chance of nomination tempts to a change of opinions once a twelve-month; who need no Kossuth advent to recall them to their senses.

What I want to impress you with is, the great weight that is attached to the opinion of everything that can call itself a man. Give me anything that walks erect, and can read, and he shall count one in the millions of the Lord's sacramental host, which is yet to come up and trample all oppression in the dust. The weeds poured forth in nature's [51] lavish luxuriance, give them but time, and their tiny roots shall rend asunder the foundations if palaces, and crumble the Pyramids to the earth. We may be weeds in comparison with these marked men; but in the lavish luxuriance of that nature which has at least allowed us to be “thinking, reading men,” I learn, Webster being my witness, that there is no throne potent enough to stand against us. It is morbid enthusiasm this that I have. Grant it. But they tell us that this heart of mine, which beats so unintermittedly in the bosom, if its force could be directed against a granite pillar, would wear it to dust in the course of a man's life. Your Capitol, Daniel Webster, is marble, but the pulse of every humane man is beating against it. God will give us time, and the pulses of men shall beat it down. [Loud and enthusiastic cheering.] Take the mines, take the Harwich fishing-skiffs, take the Lowell mills, take all the coin and the cotton, still the day must be ours, thank God, for the hearts-the hearts are on our side!

There is nothing stronger than human prejudice. A crazy sentimentalism like that of Peter the Hermit hurled half of Europe upon Asia, and changed the destinies of kingdoms. We may be crazy. Would to God he would make us all crazy enough to forget for one moment the cold deductions of intellect, and let these hearts of ours beat, beat, beat, under the promptings of a common humanity! They have put wickedness into the statute-book, and its destruction is just as certain as if they had put gunpowder under the Capitol. That is my faith. That it is which turns my eye from the ten thousand newspapers, from the forty thousand pulpits, from the millions of Whigs, from the millions of Democrats, from the might of sect, from the marble government, from the iron army, from the navy riding at anchor, from all that we are accustomed to deem great and potent,--turns it back to the

Simplest child or woman, to the first murmured protest [52] that is heard against bad laws. I recognize in it the great future, the first rumblings of that volcano destined to overthrow these mighty preparations, and bury in — the hot lava of its full excitement all this laughing prosperity which now rests so secure on its side.

All hail, Public Opinion! To be sure, it is a dangerous thing under which to live. It rules to-day in the desire to obey all kinds of laws, and takes your life. It rules again in the love of liberty, and rescues Shadrach from Boston Court-House. It rules to-morrow in the manhood of him who loads the musket to shoot down--God be praisedthe man-hunter, Gorsuch. [Applause.] It rules in Syracuse, and the slave escapes to Canada. It is our interest to educate this people in humanity, and in deep reverence for the rights of the lowest and humblest individual that makes up our numbers. Each man here, in fact, holds his property and his life dependent on the constant presence of an agitation like this of antislavery. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty: power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day, or it is rotten. The living sap of to-day outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand intrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity. All clouds, it is said, have sunshine behind them, and all evils have some good result; so slavery, by the necessity of its abolition, has saved the freedom of the white race from being melted in the luxury or buried beneath the gold of its own success. Never look, therefore, for an age when the people can be quiet and safe. At such times Despotism, like a shrouding mist, steals over the mirror of Freedom. The Dutch, a thousand years [53] ago, built against the ocean their bulwarks of willow and mud. Do they trust to that? No. Each year the patient industrious peasant gives so much time from the cultivation of his soil and the care of his children to stop the breaks and replace the willow which insects have eaten, that he may keep the land his fathers rescued from the water, and bid defiance to the waves that roar above his head, as if demanding back the broad fields man has stolen from their realm.

Some men suppose that, in order to the people's governing themselves, it is only necessary, as Fisher Ames said, that the “Rights of Man be printed, and that every citizen have a copy.” As the Epicureans, two thousand years ago, imagined God a being who arranged this marvellous machinery, set it going, and then sunk to sleep. Republics exist only on the tenure of being constantly agitated. The antislavery agitation is an important, nay, an essential part of the machinery of the state. It is not a disease nor a medicine. No; it is the normal state,--the normal state of the nation. Never, to our latest posterity, can we afford to do without prophets, like Garrison, to stir up the monotony of wealth, and reawake the people to the great ideas that are constantly fading out of their minds,--to trouble the waters, that there may be health in their flow. Every government is always growing corrupt. Every Secretary of State is, by the very necessity of his position, an apostate. [Hisses and cheers.] I mean what I say. He is an enemy to the people, of necessity, because the moment he joins the government, he gravitates against that popular agitation which is the life of a republic. A republic is nothing but a constant overflow of lava. The principles of Jefferson are not up to the principles of today. It was well said of Webster, that he knows well the Hancock and Adams of 1776, but he does not know the Hancocks and Adamses of to-day The republic which sinks to sleep, trusting to constitutions and machinery, to [54] politicians and statesmen, for the safety of its liberties, never will have any. The people are to be waked to a new effort, just as the Church has to be regenerated, in each age. The antislavery agitation is a necessity of each age, to keep ever on the alert this faithful vigilance, so constantly in danger of sleep. We must live like our Puritan fathers, who always went to church, and sat down to dinner, when the Indians were in their neighborhood, with their musket-lock on the one side and a drawn sword on the other.

If I had time or voice to-night, I might proceed to a further development of this idea, and I trust I could make it clear, which I fear I have not yet done. To my conviction, it is Gospel truth, that, instead of the antislavery agitation being an evil, or even the unwelcome cure of a disease in this government, the youngest child that lives may lay his hand on the youngest child that his gray hairs shall see, and say: “The agitation was commenced when the Declaration of Independence was signed; it took its second tide when the Antislavery Declaration was signed in 1833,--a movement, not the cure, but the diet of a free people,--not the homeopathic or the allopathic dose to which a sick land has recourse, but the daily cold water and the simple bread, the daily diet and absolute necessity, the manna of a people wandering in the wilderness.” There is no Canaan in politics. As health lies in labor, and there is no royal road to it but through toil, so there is no republican road to safety but in constant distrust. “In distrust,” said Demosthenes, “are the nerves of the mind.” Let us see to it that these sentinel nerves are ever on the alert. If the Alps, piled in cold and still sublimity, be the emblem of Despotism, the ever-restless ocean is ours, which, girt within the eternal laws of gravitation, is pure only because never still. [Long-continued applause.]

1 speech before the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society, at the Melodeon, Wednesday evening, January 28, 1852.

2 George Thompson, Esq., M. P.

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