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Sims anniversary.1

Mr. Chairman: There is a resolution on your table to this effect:
Resolved, Therefore, That we advise all colored persons, liable to these arrests, to leave the United States, unless they are fully resolved to take the life of any officer who shall attempt, under any pretext, to seize them; and we urge the formation in every town of vigilance committees, prepared to secure to every person claimed as a slave the fullest trial possible, and to avail themselves fearlessly, according to their best judgment, of all the means God and Nature have put into their hands, to see that substantial justice be done.

To this Mr. Garrison moves as an amendment the following:

Resolved, That if “resistance to tyrants,” by bloody weapons, “ is obedience to God,” and if our Revolutionary fathers were justified in wading through blood to freedom and independence, then every fugitive slave is justified in arming himself for protection and defence,--in taking the life of every marshal, commissioner, or other person who attempts to reduce him to bondage; and the millions who are clanking their chains on our soil find ample warrant in rising en masse, and asserting their right to liberty, at whatever sacrifice of the life of their oppressors.

Resolved, That the State in which no fugitive slave can remain in safety, and from which he must flee in order to secure [72] his liberty in another land, is to be held responsible for all the crimes and horrors which cluster about the slave-system and the slave-trade,--and that State is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

I incline to the first form, rather than to that suggested by my friend, though such is my conviction of the soundness of his judgment and his rare insight into all the bearings of our cause, that I distrust my own deliberate judgment, when it leads me to a different conclusion from his.

I am, however, strongly impressed with the conviction, that the friends of the cause and the fugitives among us need some advice; and that we cannot make a better use of this occasion than to discuss what that advice shall be. Mr. Garrison's amendment seems to me too ambiguous; it contents itself with announcing an important principle, but suggests nothing, and advises nothing.

Why, Mr. Chairman, do we assemble here on such a melancholy occasion as the present? This, instead of last Thursday, should be our Fast Day, if there were any reason for us to first at all,--for on this day, twelve months ago, the Abolitionists of the Commonwealth suffered a great, a melancholy defeat. On that day, unexpectedly to many, a man was carried back to slavery from the capital of the State. It was an event which surprised some of our fellow-citizens, and all the rest of New England, which relied too fondly on the reputation Massachusetts had won as an antislavery community. Either the flavor of our old religion, or some remnant of the spirit of 1649 and 1776, had made the city of the Puritans a house of refuge to the fugitive. They had gathered here, and in our neighborhood, by hundreds. There are traditions of attempts to seize one now and then,--sometimes of trials in open court; and it is possible that, in the general indifference, a few may have been carried back quietly by some underling official, though we have no certain knowledge [73] of any case where the victim was not finally saved. Thomas Sims is the first man that the city of Boston ever openly bound and fettered, and sent back to bondage. I have no heart to dwell on so horrible an outrage:--that sad procession, in the dim morning, through our streets,_ the poor youth,--his noble effort to break his chains,--mocked with one short hour of freedom, and then thrust back to the hell he had escaped, by brother men, in the prostituted names of justice and religion. We sit down with the single captive, and weep with him as the iron enters into his soul,--too sad to think, for the moment, of the disgrace of our city, or even the wickedness of its rulers. Pity swallows up indignation. We might be forgiven if for the moment we mistook our sadness for despair, and even fancied the event disastrous to others than the victim. But not so. Liberty knows nothing but victories. In a cause like ours, to which every attribute of the Most High is pledged, “everything helps us.” Selfish commerce, huckstering politics, and the mocking priest, might turn from such a scene and congratulate each other, saying, , “Our mountain stands strong” ; but we knew that emotions were stronger than statutes, more lasting than ledgers, and not to be frozen down even by creeds, and that all New England would erelong gather itself to answer the last sad question of this hapless victim, as he stepped on the piratical deck of the Acorn,--“Is this Massachusetts liberty?”

What, then, is the use of such a celebration as this? It seems to me the only possible use that could, in any circumstances, be made of such an occasion, would be to record our protest against the deed, with an indignant rebuke of its perpetrators, and to direct our eyes forward to see what we can now do for men in like jeopardy with Sims. Our protest and our rebuke have been already uttered. It is needless to repeat them. The individuals who so infamously [74] misused their little brief authority nave, some of them, faded from the public eye,--melted back into the mass of their fellow-slaves. Their names are not worth recalling, for they are not of mark enough to point a moral. Let them pass, all of them ;--the judge who stood head and shoulders above the rest in brutal bearing and the arts of a demagogue; the commissioner, whom the atmosphere of noble enthusiasm about him never betrayed, during all that eventful week, into even the semblance of an honorable emotion; the counsellor who pledged a word, till then undoubted, to that lie for which no guaranty but his could have won even a momentary credence, and the belief of which snapped the last tiny thread of hope that bound the hapless victim to the altar of Massachusetts criminal law.

Yes, let them pass. The few whom charity may hope sinned, unable to “discern between their right hand and their left hand,” and the many who did just right enough to prove they knew their duty, but wallowed in the wrong so greedily as to show how much they loved it. Let History close the record. Let her allow that “on the side of the oppressor there was power,” --power “to frame mis chief by a law” ; that on that side were all the fore;8 of law, and behind those forms, most of the elements of control: wealth, greedy of increase, and anxious for order, at any sacrifice of principle,--priests prophesying smooth things, and arrogating to themselves the name of Christianity,--ambition, baptizing itself statesmanship,--and that unthinking patriotism, child of habit and not of reason, which mistakes government for liberty and law for justice. And, on the other hand, let her allow that, though the Abolitionists were heedful of the hour, and fearless against the prelates of the Church,

to plead her cause,
And from our judge vindicate the laws,

[75] while they “did not spare the tyrant one hard word,” they were strictly law-abiding citizens. While judges and executives deserted their posts, the Abolitionists violated no law. They begged for nothing but the law,--they wearied themselves to obtain the simple legal rights guaranteed to them and to all by the State. The city government, in direct defiance of the statute of 1843, aided, both directly and indirectly, in the arrest and detention of a person claimed as a slave. To effect this purpose, they violated the commonest rights of the citizens,--shut them out of their own court-house,--subjected them from day to day to needless, illegal, and vexatious arrests. Judges were “Artful Dodgers,” and sheriffs refused all processes. The Abolitionists exhausted every device, besieged every tribunal, implored the interference of every department, to obtain the tare execution of the law of the Commonwealth. And let History say beside, that meantime they fearlessly declared that resistance would be better than submission; while not so absurd as to throw one man, or a score of men, against a government in arms, they proclaimed that they would have been glad to see the people rise against the law,--that nothing which a handful of men could do for such an end was wanting,--that they denounced the church sanctioning the deed as “a synagogue of Satan,” and the law, whether constitutional or not, as mere tyranny and wickedness, its executioners worse than murderers,--that, knowing the value of a true law and real order, they said and believed, that rather than one man should be sent back to slavery, better, far better, human laws should be trampled under foot, and the order of society broken every day.

When the pulpit preached slave-hunting, and the law bound the victim, and society said, “Amen I this will make money,” we were “fanatics,” --“enthusiasts,” --“seditious,” --“disorganizers,” --“scorners of the pulpit,” [76] “traitors.” Genius of the Past drop not from thy tablets one of these honorable names. We claim them all as our surest title-deeds to the memory and gratitude of mankind. We indeed thought man more than constitutions, humanity and justice of more worth than law. Seal up the record l If Boston is proud of her part, let her rest assured we are not ashamed of ours!

All this has been said so often, that it is useless to dwell on it now. The best use that we can now make of this occasion, it seems to me, is to look about us, take our bearings, and tell the fugitives, over whom yet hangs this terrible statute, what course, in our opinion, they should pursue.

And, in the first place, it is neither frank nor honest to keep up the delusive idea that a fugitive slave can be protected in Massachusetts. I hope I am mistaken; I shall be glad to be proved incorrect; but I do not believe there is any such antislavery sentiment here as is able to protect a fugitive on whom the government has once laid its hand. We were told this afternoon, from this platform, that there were one hundred and fifty men in one town ready to come with their muskets to Boston,--all they waited for was an invitation. I heard, three weeks before the Sims case, that there were a hundred in one town in Plymouth County pledged to shoulder their muskets in such a cause. We saw nothing of them. I heard, three weeks after the Sims rendition, that there were two hundred more in the city of Worcester ready to have come, had they been invited. We saw nothing of them. On such an occasion, from the nature of the case, there cannot be much previous concert; the people must take their own cause into their own hands. Intense earnestness of purpose, pervading large classes, must instinctively perceive the crisis, and gather all spontaneously for the first act which is to organize revolution. When the Court was in pursuit of John [77] Hampden, we are not told that the two thousand men who rode up to London the next morning, to stand between their representative and a king's frown, waited for an invitation. They assembled of their own voluntary and individual purpose and found themselves in London. Whenever there is a like determination throughout Massachusetts, it will need no invitation. When, in 1775 the British turned their eyes toward Lexington, the same invitation went out from the Vigilance Committee of Mechanics in Boston, as in our case of April, 1851. Two lanterns on the North Church steeple telegraphed the fact to the country Revere and Prescott, as they rode from house to house in the gray light of that April morning, could tell little what others would do, they flung into each house the startling announcement, The red-coats are coming I, and rode on. None that day issued orders, none obeyed aught but his own soul. Though Massachusetts rocked from Barnstable to Berkshire, when the wire flashed over the land the announcement that a slave lay chained in the Boston court-house, there was no answer from the antislavery feeling of the State. It is sad, therefore, but it seems to me honest, to say to the fugitive in Boston, or on his way, that, if the government once seize him, he cannot be protected here. I think we are bound, an common kindness and honesty, to tell them that there are but two ways that promise any refuge from the horrors of a return to bondage: one is to fly,--to place themselves under the protection of that government. which, with all her faults, has won the proud distinction that slaves cannot breathe her air,--the fast-anchored isle of empire, where tyrants and slaves may alike find refuge from vengeance and oppression. And this is the course I would advise every man to adopt. This, unless there are, in his particular case, imperative reasons to the contrary, is his duty. If this course be impossible, [78] then the other way is to arm himself, and by resistance secure in the Free States a trial for homicide,--trusting that no jury will be able to crush the instincts of humanity as not to hold him justified.

But some one may ask, Why countenance, even by a mention of it, this public resistance,--you, whose whole enterprise repudiates force? Because this is a very different question from that great issue, the abolition of slavery. On that point, I am willing to wait. I can be patient, no matter how often that is defeated by treacherous statesmen. The cause of three millions of slaves, the destruction of a great national institution, must proceed slowly; and, like every other change in public sentient, we must wait patiently for it, and there the best policy is, beyond all question, the policy of submission; for that gains, in time, on public sympathy. But this is a different case. Who can ask the trebling, anxious fugitive to stop and submit patiently to the overwhelming chances of going back, that his fate may, in some indirect manner, and far-off hour, influence for good the destiny of his fellow-millions? Such virtue must be self-moved Who could stand and ask it of another? True, Thomas Sims returned is a great public event, calculated to make Abolitionists; but the game sickens me when the counters are living men. We have no right to use up fugitives for the manufacture of antislavery sentiment There are those who hang one man to benefit another, and to ceate a wholesome dread of crime. I shrink from using human life as raw material for the production of any state of public opinion, however valuable. I do not think we have a right to use up fugitive slaves in this pitiless way, in order to extend or deepen an antislavery sentiment At least, I have no right to use them so, without their full consent. It seems to me, therefore, we are bound to tell those who have taken refuge under the laws of Massachusetts, [79] what they must expect here. The time was when we honestly believed they might expect protection. That time, in my opinion, has passed by. I do not certainly know that there will be any taken this year or next. I do not know when they may choose again to take another man from Boston. But I do know, that just so soon as any other miscreant Webster [hisses and cheers] shall think it necessary to lay another fugitive slave on the altar of his Presidential chances, just so soon will another be taken from the streets of Boston. I note those hisses. Do not understand me that Mr. Webster himself will ever find it worth while again to ask this act of vassal service from his retainers. O no I wait a few months, and his fate will be that of Buckingham:--

wicked but in will, of means bereft,
He left not faction, but of that was left.

But even though he die or be shelved, the race of traitors will not be extinct; and it is a sickening dread for these two or three hundred men and women to live with this law, worse than the sword of Damocles, hanging over their heads. I believe the Abolitionists of the country owe it to their brethren to tell them what policy should rule their conduct in the present crisis. To be sure, you may ask them to stay, and, when they are taken, to submit, and let the fact appeal to the sympathies of the country, which will result in kindling public indignation; and if they choose, from deep religious convictions, to make themselves thus the food of antislavery growth, God bless them for the heroic self-sacrifice which dictates such a course. But I cannot ask of a poor, friendless, broken-hearted fellow-creature such a momentous sacrifice. I do say, in private, to every one that comes to me, “But one course is left for you. There is no safety for you here, there is no law for you here. The hearts of the judges are stone, the hearts of the people are stone. It is in [80] vain that you appeal to the Abolitionists. They may be ready, may be able, ten years hence.” But the “brace of Adamses,” to which our friend [Theodore Parker] alluded this morning, if they had mistaken 1765 for 1775, would have ended at the scaffold instead of the Declaration of Independence and the treaty of 1783. We must bide our time, and we must read, with anointed eyes, the signs of our time. If public opinion is wrong, we want to know it; know it, that we may remodel it. We will ourselves trample this accursed Fugitive Slave Law under foot. [Great cheering.] But we are a minority at present, and cannot do this to any great practical effect; we are bound to suggest to these unfortunates who look to us for advice, some feasible plan. This, in my view, should be our counsel: “Depart if you can,--if you have time and means. As no one has a right to ask that you stay, and, if arrested, submit, in order that your case may convert men to antislavery principles; so you have no right, capriciously, to stay and resist, merely that your resistance may rouse attention, and awaken antislavery sympathy. It is a grave thing to break into the bloody house of life. The mere expectation of good consequences will not justify you in taking a man's life. You have a perfect right to live where you choose. No one can rightfully force you away. There may be important and sufficient reasons, in many cases, why you should stay and vindicate your right at all hazards. But in common cases, where no such reasons exist, it is better that you surrender your extreme right to live where you choose, than assert it in blood, and thus risk injuring the movement which seeks to aid your fellows. Put yourselves under the protection of the British flag; appeal to the humanity of the world. Do not linger here.” Does any friend of the cause exclaim, “You take away the great means of antislavery agitation! The sight of a slave carried back to [81] bondage is the most eloquent appeal the antislavery cause can make to the sympathies of the public.” I know it! but the gain is all too dear when it is bought by the sacrifice of one man, thrust back to the hell of American bondage. Still, circumstances may prevent flight, imperative reasons may exist why he should remain here: he may be seized before he succeeds in escaping. I say to him, then, There is a course left, if you have the courage to face it. There is one appeal left, which has not yet been tried; it may avail you; I cannot insure you even that. It has now reached that pass when even the chance of a Boston gibbet may be no protection from a Georgia plantation; but if I were in your place, I would try! [Tremendous cheering.] The sympathies of the people will gather round you, if put on trial for such an act. The mortal hatred which would set the hounds of the law, thirsty for our blood, on keener scent, if we stood charged with legal offences, would not reach you. I do not know that the state-prison would be any refuge from the jail at Savannah or Charleston; but there may be something in an appeal to a Massachusetts jury impanelled to try a man s inalienable right to liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and to protect himself; and I hope — I dare not hope much, but I do hope — that there is still humanity enough to bring you in “not guilty.” There is another point. I really believe if a jury of Boston merchants should steel themselves to a verdict of guilty, that a Governor sitting in the seat of Samuel Adams or Henry Vane would never dare to sign the warrant, until he had secured a passage on board a Cunard steamer. I think, therefore, that it is possible an appeal to the criminal jurisdiction of the State might save a man. Perhaps it might be just that final blow which would stun this drunken nation into sobriety, and make it heed, at last, the claims of the slave.

Mark me! I do not advise any one to take the life of [82] his fellow,--to brave the vengeance of the law, and run the somewhat, after all, unequal risk of the hard technical heart of a Massachusetts jury. Such an act must be, after all, one's own impulse. To burst away from all civil relations, to throw one's self back on this great primal right of self-protection, at all hazards, must be the growth of one's own thought and purpose. I can only tell the sufferer the possibilities that lie before him,--tell him what I would do in his case,--tell him that what I would do myself I would countenance another in doing, and aid him to the extent of my power.

The antislavery cause is a wonder to many. They wonder that it does not succeed faster. We see William Cobbett, with his Political Register, circulating seventy thousand copies per week, appeal to the workingmen of Great Britain, and in a few years he carries his measures over the head of Parliament. Cobden talks the farmers of England, in less than ten years, out of a tyranny that had endured for generations. The difference is, we have no such selfish motives to appeal to. We appeal to white men, who cannot see any present interest they have in the slave question. It is impossible to stir them. They must ascend to a level of disinterestedness which the masses seldom reach, before we can create any excitement in them on the question of slavery. I do not know when that point will be gained. If we shall ever be able to reach, through the press, the millions of non-slaveholding white men in the Southern States, I think we shall have a parallel then to the course of English agitation; for we can then appeal to the selfish interest of white men, able to vote, to speak, and to act on this subject. But at present we have to make men interested, indignant, enthusiastic for others, not for themselves. The slave question halts and lingers, because it cannot get the selfishness of men on its side; and that, after all, has been the lever [83] by which the greatest political questions have been carried.

There is one other motive; that is, fear. Cobbett and his fellows gathered the people of Great Britain in public meetings of two hundred thousand men; and though the Duke of Wellington ordered his Scotch Greys to rough-grind their swords, as at Waterloo, he feared to order them drawn in the face of two hundred thousand Englishmen. That gathering was for their own rights. Cross the Channel, and you come to the Irish question. How was that dealt with? By fear. When Ireland got no sympathy from the English people, she so ordered her affairs that the dread of anarchy, anchored so close to Liverpool and Bristol, forced the government to treat the question, and they treated it by submission.

Now, I read my lesson in the light of this historical experience. I cannot yet move the selfishness of the white man to help me. On this question I cannot get it on my side. It is just possible that the fugitive slave, taking his defence into his own right hand, and appealing to the first principle of natural law, may so excite the sympathy of some and the fears of others, as to gain the attention of all, and force them to grapple with this problem of slavery and the Fugitive Slave Bill. The time may come when Massachusetts may not be willing to have her cities scenes of bloodshed, in order that one over-ambitious man may gain his point, and smooth his path to the Presidency; or that a human being should be hurried into bondage, that rich men may add field to field and house to house.

I have striven to present this point as slowly, as fully, as deliberately as possible, because I know it is an important one. It is, in some sense, the launching of a new measure in the antislavery enterprise, to countenance the fugitive, who has tried in vain every avenue of escape, in standing even at last at bay, and protecting himself. But [84] I know of no pledge of the antislavery cause against it. Our enterprise is pledged to nothing but the abolition of slavery. When we set out, we said we would do our work under the government and under the Church. We tried it. We found that we could not work in either way; we found it necessary to denounce the Church and withdraw from the government. We did what we could to work through both. We saw that it was expedient to work through them both, if we could. Finding it impossible, we let experience dictate our measures. We came out. Consistency-consistency bade us come out. Consistency,--we cannot always sail due east, though our destination be Europe. It is no violation of consistency, therefore, (if that were of any consequence,) for us to adopt a measure like this, though it was not at first contemplated.

I go further. I do not believe that, if we should live to the longest period Providence ever allots to the life of a human being, we shall see the total abolition of slavery, unless it comes in some critical conjuncture of national affairs, when the slave, taking advantage of a crisis in the fate of his masters, shall dictate his own terms. How did French slavery go down? How did the French slave-trade go down? When Napoleon came back from Elba, when his fate hung trembling in the balance, and he wished to gather around him the sympathies of the liberals of Europe, he no sooner set foot in the Tuileries than he signed the edict abolishing the slave-trade, against which the Abolitionists of England and France had protested for twenty years in vain. And the trade went down, because Napoleon felt that he must do something to gild the darkening hour of his second attempt to clutch the sceptre of France. How did the slave system go down? When, in 1848, the Provisional Government found itself in the Hotel de Ville, obliged to do something to draw to itself [85] the sympathy and liberal feeling of the French nation, they signed an edict — it was the first from the nascent Republic — abolishing the death-penalty and slavery. The storm which rocked the vessel of state almost to foundering, snapped forever the chain of the French slave. Look. too, at the history of Mexican and South American emancipation; you will find that it was, in every instance, I think, the child of convulsion.

The hour will come--God hasten it I — when the American people shall so stand on the deck of their Union, “built ia tha eclipse, and rigged with curses dark.” If I live to see that hour, I shall say to every slave, “Strike now for Freedom [Long-continued and deafening cheers.] The balance hangs trembling; it is uncertain which scale shall kick the beam. Strain every nerve, wrestle with every power God and nature have put into your hands, for your place among the races of this Western world” ; and that hour will free the slave. The Abolitionist who shall stand in such an hour as that, and keep silence, will be recreant to the cause of three million of his fellow-men in bonds. I believe that probably is the only way in which we shall ever, any of us, see the downfall of American slavery. I do not shrink from the toast with which Dr. Johnson flavored his Oxford Port,--“Success to the first insurrection of the blacks in Jamaica!” I do not shrink from the sentiment of Southey, in a letter to Duppa,--“There are scenes of tremendous horror which I could smile at by Mercy's side. An insurrection which should make the negroes masters of the West Indies is one.” I believe both these sentiments are dictated by the highest humanity. I know what anarchy is. I know what civil war is. I can imagine the scenes of blood through which a rebellious slave-population must march to their rights. They are dreadful. And yet, I do not know that, to an enlightened mind, a scene of civil [86] war is any more sickening than the thought of a hundred and fifty years of slavery. Take the broken hearts, the bereaved mothers, the infant wrung from the hands of its parents, the husband and wife torn asunder, every right trodden under foot, the blighted hopes, the imbruted souls, the darkened and degraded millions, sunk below the level of intellectual life, melted in sensuality, herded with beasts, who have walked over the burning marl of Southern slavery to their graves, and where is the battlefield, however ghastly, that is not white — white as an angel's wing — compared with the blackness of that darkness which has brooded over the Carolinas for two hundred years? [Great sensation.] Do you love mercy? Weigh out the fifty thousand hearts that have beaten their last pulse amid agonies of thought and suffering fancy faints to think of, and the fifty thousand mothers who, with sickening senses, watch for footsteps that are not wont to tarry long in their coming, and soon find themselves left to tread the pathway of life alone,--add all the horrors of cities sacked and lands laid waste,--that is war,--weigh it now against some young, trembling girl sent to the auction-block, some man like that taken from our court-house and carried back into Georgia; multiply this individual agony into three millions; multiply that into centuries; and that into all the relations of father and child, husband and wife; heap on all the deep moral degradation both of the oppressor and the oppressed,--and tell me if Waterloo or Thermopylae can claim one tear from the eye even of the tenderest spirit of mercy, compared with this daily system of hell amid the most civilized and Christian people on the face of the earth!

No, I confess I am not a non-resistant. The reason why I advise the slave to be guided by a policy of peace is because he has no chance. If he had one,--if he had as good a chance as those who went up to Lexington, [87] eventy-seven years ago,--I should call him the basest recreant that ever deserted wife and child if he did not vindicate his liberty by his own right hand. [Cheers.] And I am not by any means certain that Northern men would not be startled-would not be wholesomely startled — by one or two such cases as a scoundrel Busteed shot over his perjured affidavit. If a Morton or a Curtis could be shot on the commissioner's bench by the hand of him they sought to sacrifice, I have no doubt that it would have a wholesome effect. [Great applause.] Is there a man here who would, if he had arms in his hands, either himself go to Georgia, or let any one near and dear to him go there, without sending somebody before him to a lighter and cooler place than a Georgian plantation?

I am not dealing with the cause of three millions of slaves. I am not dealing with the question of a great sin and wrong existing among us. I believe I understand the philosophy of reform. I understand the policy of waiting. I know that, in reforming great national abuses, we cannot expect to be in haste; that the most efficient protection for the three million of slaves is to eradicate the prejudice of the twenty millions of whites who stand above them. I have learnt all that. But, Mr. Chairman, the question to which I speak is a very different one. It is this.

I, William Crafts, an independent, isolated individual in myself, am no more called to secure the safety of three million of slaves than you are. I, William Crafts, have succeeded in getting to Boston. I have reached what is called free territory. It happens that there are strong and sufficient reasons why I cannot leave these shores, or cannot yet leave them. I have got possession of arms. I have inquired of the most intelligent men, and they tell me that the laws afford me no protection. I have asked of the highest authorities on government my duty in this emergency, [88] and they tell me, one and all, from Grotius down to Lord Brougham, that when government ceases to protect, the citizen ceases to owe allegiance.2 Very well. My case stands by itself. It is for me to decide to-night whether I will go back to Georgia to-morrow. It is no special comfort to assure me that, half a century hence, somebody will go down to Faneuil Hall,-- some Robert C. Winthrop, perhaps, converted for the occasion,--and pronounce an oration on the jubilee of American freedom. It is no answer to tell me that, in order to this, it is considered by some people to be a great thing that the fugitive should go willingly and quietly back to slavery. There comes up to me a man who says he is an officer, and has a parchment warrant in his pocket. Somebody has given him authority to seize me. I am not to be bullied by institutions. I am not to be frightened by parchments. Forms and theories are nothing to me. Majorities are nothing. You have outlawed me from your law. You have exiled me from your protection. I am a descendant of Esau,--every man's hand against me, my hand against every man. I have no time or means of escape, no defence, except I make it. If I make it, I secure the hour of liberty and escape. I decide to make it. I shoot the miscreant, and thus gain time to pass from the spot where I was to have been arrested, to freedom under the flag of England or on the deck of a vessel.

Let him who fully knows his own heart and strength, and feels, as he looks down into his child's cradle, that he could stand by and [89] see that little nestling one borne away, and submit,--let him cast the first stone. But all you whose blood is wont to stir over Naseby and Bunker Hill will hold your peace, unless you are ready to cry, with me, Sic semper tyrannis! So may it ever be with slave-hunters!

Mr. Chairman, it seems to me that the man who is not conscientiously a non-resistant, is not only entitled, he is bound, to use every means that he has or can get to resist arrest in the last resort. What is he slave, when he is once surrendered? He goes back to degradation worse than death. If he has children, they are to perpetuate that degradation. He has no right to sacrifice himself or them to that extent. These are considerations which it is just as well to state, and to bring before the community. I know my friend, Mr. Garrison, differs from me on this question. You will listen to him. I shall not quarrel if you agree with his judgment, and leave me alone. I am talking to-night to the men who say they were ready to take up their muskets in defence of Thomas Sims, or Shadrach, or somebody else. It is very well for fiction --for a Harriet Beecher Stowe — to paint a submissive slave, and draw a picture that thrills your hearts. You are very sensitive over “Uncle Tom's cabin.” Your nerves are very sensitive; see that your consciences are as sensitive as your nerves. If your hearts answered instead of your nerves, you would rise up every one of you Abolitionists, ready to sacrifice everything rather than a man should go back to slavery. Let me see that effect, and then I will reckon the value of the tears that have answered to the wand of this magician; but till then, they are but the tears of a nervous reader under high excitement. Would those tears could crystallize into sentiment, crystallize into principle,--into Christian principle, out of which the weapon of antislavery patience and perseverance and self-sacrifice is to be wrought Guard [90] yourselves, friends, against the delusive idea, that the tears and sad eyes you see about you are harbingers of a better hour for Massachusetts than this day twelve months saw darken over her fame. It may be so; but there is no certainty that it will. We are to speak to practical Massachusetts. I do not shrink from going before the farmers, the mechanics, and the workingmen,--the thinking men of Massachusetts,--and urging upon them the consideration that the State, by solemn act, has proclaimed to every one that her soil is not holy enough to protect the fugitive, and that, so far as she is concerned, the only thing left, the only possibility, the only chance remaining for the fugitive, lies in his own courage and good right arm. The city of John Hancock has proved that her soil is not holy enough to protect the fugitive; Faneuil Hall, where “still the eloquent air breathes, burns,” with Otis and Adams, is not holy enough to shelter the fugitive; Bunker Hill, red with the blood of the noblest men who ever fell in the cause of civil liberty, is not too sacred for fettered feet; the churches, planted, as we have been told to-day, in tears, in prayers, and in blood, have no altar-horns for the fugitive; the courts, even that which first naturalized Lord Mansfield's decision, drawing a nice distinction between slaves brought and slaves escaping,--judges loving humanity so well, even in the humblest suitor, that, like their noble predecessors in the great case of DeVere, they “caught hold of a twig or a twine thread to uphold it” ;--that, too, has shut its doors on the fugitive,--yes, against that very child Med, should she again be seized, in whose behalf they settled this proud rule. I would say all this to the men about me, and add,--There is one gleam of hope. It is just possible that the floor of the State's prison may have a magic charm in it. That may save the fugitive, if he can once entitle himself to a place [91] there. When, therefore, the occasion shall demand, let us try it! [Great cheering.] It is a sad thought, that the possibility of a gibbet, the chance of imprisonment for life, is the only chance which can make it prudent for a fugitive to remain in Massachusetts.

You will say this is bloody doctrine,--anarchical doctrine; it will prejudice people against the cause. I know it will. Heaven pardon those who make it necessary! Heaven pardon the judges, the merchants, and the clergy, who make it necessary for hunted men to turn, when they are at bay, and fly at the necks of their pursuers I It is not our fault! I shrink from no question, however desperate, that has in it the kernel of possible safety for a human being hunted by twenty millions of slave-catchers in this Christian republic of ours. [Cheers.] I am willing to confess my faith. It is this: that the Christianity of this country is worth nothing, except it is or can be made capable of dealing with the question of slavery. I am willing to confess another article of my faith: that the Constitution and government of this country is worth nothing, except it is or can be made capable of grappling with the great question of slavery. I agree with Burke: “I have no idea of a liberty unconnected with honesty and justice. Nor do I believe that any good constitutions of government or of freedom can find it necessary for their security to doom any part of the people to a permanent slavery. Such a constitution of freedom, if such can be, is in effect no more than another name for the tyranny of the strongest faction; and factions in republics have been and are full as capable as monarchs of the most cruel oppression and injustice.” That is the language of Edmund Burke to the electors of Bristol; I agree with it! [Applause.] The greatest praise government can win is, that its citizens know their rights, and dare to maintain them. The best use of good laws is to teach men to trample bad laws under their feet. [92]

On these principles, I am willing to stand before the community in which I was born and brought up,--where I expect to live and die,--where, if I shall ever win any reputation, I expect to earn and to keep it. As a sane man, a Christian man, and a lover of my country, I am willing to be judged by posterity, if it shall ever remember either this meeting or the counsels which were given in its course. I am willing to stand upon this advice to the fugitive slave — baffled in every effort to escape, or bound here by sufficient ties, exiled from the protection of the law, shut out from the churches — to protect himself, and make one last appeal to the humane instincts of his fellow-men. Friends, it is time something should be said on these points. Twenty-six cases--twenty-six slave cases, under this last statute, have taken place in the single State of Pennsylvania. I do not believe one man in a hundred who hears me supposed there were half a dozen cases there. So silently, so much a matter of course, so much without any public excitement, have those slaves been surrendered Should the record be made up for the other States, it would probably be in proportion. Recollect, beside, the cases of kidnapping, not by any means unfrequent, which are so much facilitated by the existence of laws like this. For slaves to stay among us and be surrendered may excite commiseration; but remember, and this is a very important consideration, familiarity with such scenes begets indifference; the tone of public sentiment is lowered; soon cases pass as matters of course, and the community, burnt over with previous excitement, is doubly steeled against all active sympathy with the sufferers. What was usurpation yesterday is precedent to-morrow. When we asked the Supreme Court of Massachusetts to interfere in Sims's behalf, on the ground that the law of 1850 was unconstitutional, they declined, because the law was much the [93] same as that of 1793, and that was constitutional, because is held and submitted to. Surely, tyranny should have no such second acquiescence to plead. Yet that public feeling, so alert, so indignant at the outset, already droops and grows cold. Government stands ever a united, powerful, and organized body, always in session, its temptations creeping over the dulled senses, the wearied zeal, or the hour of want. The sympathies of a people for the down-trodden and the weak are scattered, evanescent, now excited, now asleep. The assembly which is red-hot to-day has vanished to-morrow. The indignation that lowers around a court-house in chains is scattered in a month. The guerilla troops of reform are now here, and now crumbled away. On the other hand, permanently planted, with a boundless patronage, which sways everything, stands government, with hands ever open, and eyes that never close, biding cunningly its time; always concentrated; and, of course, too often able to work its will, for a time, against any amount of popular indignation or sympathy.

Do not misunderstand me. I know the antislavery cause will triumph. The mightiest intellects, the Websters and the Calhouns of the Whig and Democratic parties,--they have no more effect upon the great mass of the public mind, in the long run, than the fly's weight had on the chariot-wheel where he lighted. But that is a long battle. I am speaking now of death or life, to be dealt out in a moment. I am dealing with a family about to be separated, standing, as many of you have been called again and again to do, by the hearth, or at the table, where that family circle were never to assemble again; broken and scattered to the four winds; the wife in agony, her husband torn from her side, her children gathering around, vainly asking, “Where are we to go, mother?” Open those doors How many of them [94] might you open in these Northern States within the last two years How many of these utterly indescribable scenes might you have witnessed within that brief period I This law has executed itself. Twenty-six have been sent back from Pennsylvania; only one from Boston; only a dozen, perhaps, from New York. Yes; but, in the mean time, the dread that they might be seized has broken up hundreds of happy families. It has been executed: and when I remember that Northern traitor who made its enactment possible, I sometimes think that the vainest man who ever lived never dreamed, in the hour of his fondest self-conceit, that he had done the human race as much good as Daniel Webster has wrought it sorrow and despair. [Great applause.] I do not think you fully appreciate the state of dread in which the colored population has lived for months.

Mark, too, the infamous characteristics of these cases It is not their frequency, after all, that should cause the most apprehension, but the objectional incidents and very dangerous precedents they establish. It is not that the slave act is law. That is not half the enormity of the fact. It is, that not only is the slave statute held to be law, but that there is really no law beside it in the Free States,--to execute it, all other laws are set aside and disregarded. The commonest and best settled principles have been trodden under foot. Almost all these persons have been arrested by a lie. Sims was,--Long was,--Preston was. In the case at Buffalo, the man was arrested by a bloodthirsty attack,--knocked down in the streets. The atrocious haste, the brutal haste of Judge Kane, in the case of Hannah Kellam, language fails in describing,--indignation stands dumb before the cold and brutal wickedness. Many of these cases have been a perversion, not only of all justice, but of all law. Take a single and slight instance. The merciful and safe rule [95] has always been, that an officer, arresting any one wrongfully, shall not be permitted to avail himself of his illegal act for the service of a true warrant while he has the man in custody. This would be not only a sanction, but an encouragement, of illegal detention. But, in several of these cases, the man has been seized on some false pretence, known to be a sham, and then the authorities allowed those having him in custody to waive the prosecution of the pretended claim, and serve upon him the real warrant. The same disgraceful proceeding was allowed in the Latimer case in this city, his master arresting him as a thief, and afterwards dismissing that process, and claiming him as a slave. This dangerous precedent has been followed in many of these late cases. The spirit of the rule, and in some cases its letter, would have set the prisoner free, and held void all the proceedings.

Amid this entire overthrow of legal safeguards, this utter recklessness of all the checks which the experience of ages has invented for the control of the powerful and the protection of the weak, it is idle to dream of any colored person's being safe. They stand alone, exposed to the whole pelting of this pitiless storm. I wish there existed here any feeling on this subject adequate to the crisis. Is there such? Do you point me to the past triumphs of the antislavery sentiment of Massachusetts? The list is short, we know it by heart. Yes, there has been enough of feeling and effort to send Charles Sumner to the Senate. Let us still believe that the event will justify us in trusting him, spite of his silence there for four long months,--silence when so many ears have been waiting for the promised words. There is an antislavery sentiment here of a certain kind. Test it, and let us see what it is worth. There is antislavery sentiment enough to crowd our Legislature with Free-Soilers. True. Let us wait for some fruit, correspondent to their pledges, before we rejoice too loudly. Heaven grant us the sight of [96] some before we be forced to borrow from our fathers a name for these legislative committees of Free-Soilers. In 1765 there were certain Parliamentary committees, to whom were referred the petitions of the Colonists, and many good plans of relief, and that was the last heard of either petition or plan. Our fathers called them “committees of oblivion.” I hope we may never need that title again; and wherever we find the untarnished name of Sewall, we need have no apprehension.

Yes, there is antislavery sentiment sufficient to put many persons on their good behavior,--sufficient to bring Orville Dewey to his knees, and make him attempt to lie himself out of a late delicate embarrassment. [Great applause.] That, to be sure, is the only way for a true-bred American to apologize! Some men blame us for the personality of our attacks,--for the bad taste of actually naming a sinner on such a platform as this. Never doubt its benefits again. Did not the reverend doctor “go to and fro in the earth, and walk up and down in it,” offering to return his own mother into slavery for our dear Union; and was he not rewarded by our national government with a chaplaincy in the navy,--as most men thought to secure him a trip to the Mediterranean, and repose his wearied virtue? Where could public rumor more appropriately send him than to that very spot on the Naples coast, where his great and only exemplar, Nero, devoted his mother to a kinder fate than this Christian imitator designed for a “venerable relative” Could he have passed his life at Bauli, the genius of the place would have protected her well-deserving son, and all had been well. But here a certain “ruba-dub agitation” had done so much mischief, that even the Unitarian denomination could not uphold its eminent leader till he had explained that he did not mean his “venerable relative,” he only meant his son! How clear the lesson to that son not to treat others as they treat - [97] him.since then he might be led to do what even his father deems inhuman, namely, return his “venerable relative” into slavery to save a Union! Does Dr. Dewey indeed think it “extravagant and ridiculous to consent” to return one's mother to slavery? On what principle, then, it has been well asked, does he demand that every colored on submit patiently to have it done? Does his Bible read that God did not make of one blood all nations?

Yes, we have antislavery feeling and character enough to humble a Dewey; we want more,--want enough to save a Sims,--to give safe shelter to Ellen Crafts. “Hide the outcast, bewray not him that wandereth,” is the simplest lesson of common humanity. The Commonwealth, which, planted by exiles, proclaimed by statute in 1641 her welcome to “any stranger who might fly to her from the tyranny or oppression of their persecutors,” the State which now seeks “peace in liberty,” should not content herself with this: her rebuke of the tyrant, her voice of welcome to the oppressed, should be uttered so loud as to be heard throughout the South. It should not be necessary to hide the outcast. It ought not to be counted merit now that one does not lift hand against him. O no I fidelity to ancient fame, to present honor, to duty, to God, demands that the fugitive from the oppressions of other lands should be able to go up and down our highway in peace,--tell his true name, meet his old oppressor face to face, and feel that a whole Commonwealth stands between him and all chance of harm.

God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts!

How coldly, often, does the old prayer fall from careless lips How sure to reach the ear of Him, who heareth the sighing of the prisoner, when it shall rise, in ecstasy of gratitude, from the slave-hut of the Carolinas, or from the bursting heart of the fugitive, who, after deadly peril, rests at last beneath the shadow of her protection!

1 speech at the Melodeon, on the first anniversary of the rendition of Thomas Sims, April 12, 1852.


Protection, your Lordships are aware, affording security of person and property, is the first law of the state. The Legislature has no right to claim obedience to its laws, the Crown has no right to demand allegiance from its subjects, if the Legislature and the Crown do not afford, in return for both, protection for person and property. Without protection, the Legislature would abdicate its functions, if it demanded obedience; without protection, the Crown would be a usurper of its right to enforce allegiance. Lord Brougham's Debate on the Irish Coercion Bill, 1833.

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