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Welcome to George Thompson (1840).

A reception to George Thompson, in Faneuil Hall, November 15, 1850, was broken up by an angry mob. The meeting was therefore adjourned to Worcester, and supplemented by other meetings in several cities. At the reception in Lynn, November 26, 1850, Mr. Phillips delivered the following speech:--

This is certainly, fellow-citizens, a glad sight for my eloquent friend to look upon; these enthusiastic crowds, pressing to extend to him a welcome, and do their part in atonement for the scenes of 1835, and to convince him that even now, not as Boston speaks so speaks the State [cheers]; and yet, it is not in our power, my friends, with all our numbers or zeal, to tender to our guest so real, so impressive a compliment as that with which Faneuil Hall flattered him, the 15th day of this month. “Indignation,” it has been well said, “is itself flavored with a season of compliment.” How potent has a man a right to consider his voice, when a whole nation rises to gag him! No sooner does our friend announce his intention of visiting these shores, no sooner does he set his face hitherward, than the whole press howls in concert, and alarm encamps all along our seaboard. One would imagine his brow must be like that of the archangel Byron describes, and that-

Where he gazed, a gloom pervaded space.

No sooner does he land, than mob law is triumphant to silence him. Certainly the humblest man must be puffed [25] up by such unequivocal attestations to his importance. [Cheers.] To suppose Faneuil Hall roused to such a pitch by the advent of any insignificant person, to suppose the Daily Advertiser awakened to knowledge of any so recent event by a trifling matter, would be-

ocean into tempest tossed,
To waft a feather or to drown a fly. [Laughter and cheers.]

Daniel Webster once said, in this country, that in the case of a suspected murderer, “suicide is confession.” In the same way, mob law now is confession [cheers],--confession that the land knows itself guilty, cannot abide the gaze of honest men, and dreads the testimony against itself of a voice whose trumpet notes have rung out over so many well-fought fields of reform, and at whose summons the best spirits of our father-land are still glad to gather. [Loud cheers.] It was an Irish character in one of Lever's novels, I believe, who first proclaimed that “he had rather, at any time, knock a man down, than argue with him;” but the preference seems to have found now admirers off of the Green Isle. [Cheers.] I am not sure, Mr. Chairman, that we are correct, after all, in ascribing all this indignation in the city to the fear of national rebuke at the hands of Mr. Thompson. I am afraid it was no such honorable sentiment as the dread of being held up to the gaze of other nations, “a mildewed ear blasting our wholesome brothers;” of having painted to us--

the exulting tyrant's sneer
Borne to us from the old world's thrones,
And all their grief, who, pining, hear,
In sunless mines and dungeons drear,
How Freedom's land her faith disowns!

I fear we must trace it to a baser origin. These are the hurricane months of American politics. Every day [26] seems to have a storm of its own; and the Whig party, especially, is just now scudding under the bare poles of despair! [Cheers.] For the first time within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, Boston has been hurled from its supremacy over the State. Cushioned in the luxurious seclusion of city life, party leaders began to believe the mass of the people as heartless as themselves. Willing themselves to be slave-catchers, they vainly thought there were many others like them, forgetting that God made the country, while man made the town. [Loud cheers.]

The unwelcome discovery that there were men outside the city, who existed for other purposes than merely to register the edicts of State Street, came with stunning suddenness upon them; and their cup was both so bitter and so full that it was perhaps cruel on our part to add a drop to its waters of penance, and especially so big and bitter a drop as George Thompson. [Cheers.] We should have chosen our time better. The child, robbed for the first time of its rattle, should have been allowed time to win over its petulance. I look upon the scene in Faneuil Hall as made up full as much of the last spasms of defeated Whiggery,--Webster Whiggery, I mean,--as of hatred for George Thompson. [Cheers.] And it is in connection, partly, with this point, that I hail these tokens of welcome extended to him here, and at Worcester, as of especial value. It is of great importance, just now, that the South and the nation should understand Massachusetts. Mr. Webster has been trying to persuade everybody that he is the State. Some leading presses have labored to show that Webster, Whigdom, and Massachusetts were identical. While things remained as they were, it was impossible to offer conclusive testimony to the contrary. Public meetings are here to-day, and gone to-morrow. Protests, the most [27] emphatic, from leading individuals are easily doffed aside as mere outbreaks of individual enthusiasm. Men judge the Commonwealth by the ballot-box. When she launches her crusade, say they, we shall see her drop anchor in the legislature. [Cheers.] Thank God, November has ripened this evidence for us. We have set up a mile-stone of progress which the blindest can feel, if he cannot see. [Cheers.] That a large party should follow Mr. Webster anywhere is not surprising. You know, Mr. Chairman, I was once among that crowd who are said to be “bred to the bar,” --and very kind of them surely, since the bar is never bread to them. Well, sir, I remember an insurance case which illustrates my meaning. You recollect that when an insured article is lost from any defect of its own, the insurers are not liable. Now in carrying some sheep from one port to another, the ram, getting frightened, leaped overboard, and the whole flock followed. [Cheers.] The insurers pleaded, in defence of a suit brought against them, that it was an inherent defect in the article. [Cheers.] Now when Mr. Webster, standing on that majestic height whence the hopes of the North, “with airy tongues that syllable men's names,” summon him to the noblest task ever given to man, when such an one plunged into the Secretary of Stateship and nowhere [cheers], it was to be expected that a large portion of the old Whig party should follow him. It is an inherent defect of the article. [Loud laughter.] Thank Heaven, however, that when even he shouldered the Fugitive Slave Bill, there were so many fugitives from his own party that hardly enough were left to count them. [Cheers.]

Now, at least, the question is settled where Massachusetts stands; so unequivocally, that even the Daily Advertiser, which never announced the nomination of [28] Horace Mann until after he was elected [cheers and laughter], even that late riser may be considered posted on this point. I remember Mr. Webster once said, in reply to some taunt of Hayne's, “There is Massachusetts! Behold her, and judge for yourselves! There is Concord and Lexington and Bunker Hill, and there they will remain forever.” Let us borrow the formula, and when anybody in the United States Senate doubts our position, let us cry, “There is Massachusetts! Behold her, and judge for yourselves! There is George Thompson, welcomed by the ‘heart,’ if he could not be by the pocket of the Commonwealth. [Cheers.] There is Horace Mann in, and Charles W. Upham out, and there they will remain forever. [Cheers.] There is George S. Boutwell in, and George N. Briggs out, and there may they remain forever.” [Enthusiastic cheers.]

I cannot however quite consent to say that our friend could not be heard in Faneuil Hall. That glorious old name does not belong to bricks and mortar. As the Scottish chief boasted that “where McGregor sits is the head of the table,” so where Freedom dwells, where all lips are free, wherever the foe of slavery is welcome, no matter whether an English or an African sun may have looked upon him, there is Faneuil Hall. [Cheers.] Ubi Libertas, ibi patria was Franklin's motto, which Bancroft's lines render well enough,--

Where dwell the brave, the generous, and the free,
Oh, there is Rome — no other Rome for me. [Cheers.]

Our welcome to George Thompson to-night is only the joy we have in grasping his hand, and seeing him with our own eyes. But we do not feel that, for the last fifteen years, he has been absent from us, much less from the battle to whose New England phalanx we welcome him to-night. Every blow struck for the right in England [29] is felt wherever English is spoken. We may have declared political independence, but while we speak our mother-tongue, the sceptre of intellect can never depart from Judah,--the mind of America must ever be, to a great extent, the vassal of England.

Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere,

and whoever hangs with rapture over Shakspeare, kindles with Sidney and Milton, or prays in the idiom of the English Bible, London legislates for him. [Cheers.] When, therefore, Great Britain abolished slavery in the West Indies, she settled the policy of every land which the Saxon race rules; for all such, the question is now only one of time. Every word, therefore, that our friend has spoken for the slave at home, instead of losing power has gained it from the position he occupied, since he was pouring the waters of life into the very fountainhead of our literature.

Neither have his labors in behalf of other reforms been so much lost to the slave. The cause of tyrants is one the world over [cheers], and the cause of resistance to tyranny is one also. [Cheers.] Whoever, anywhere, loves truth and hates error, frowns on injustice and holds out his hand to the oppressed, that man helps the slave. An Hungarian triumph lightens the chains of Carolina; and an infamous vote in the United States Senate adds darkness to the dungeon where German patriots lie entombed. [Cheers.] All oppressions under the sun are linked together, and each feels the Devil's pulse keep time in it to the life-blood of every other. Of this brotherhood, it matters not what member you assail, since-

Whichever link you strike,
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike. [Cheers.]

The cause of reform, too, is one,--“distinct like the billows, but one like the sea.” It matters not, therefore, [30] in what part of the Lord's harvest-field our friend has been toiling: whether his voice cheered the starving Hindoo crushed beneath British selfishness, or Hungary battling against treason and the Czar; whether he pleaded at home for bread and the ballot, or held up with his sympathy the ever-hopeful enthusiasm of Ireland,--every true word spoken for suffering man, is so much done for the negro bending beneath the weight of American bondage. [Cheers.] It is said that the earthquake of Lisbon tossed the sea in billows on the coast of Cuba; so no indignant heart is beating anywhere whose pulses are not felt on the walls of our American Bastile. [Cheers.] When, therefore, we recount to Mr. Thompson our success and marvellous progress, we are but returning to him the talent he committed to our trust; not only in that for many of us his eloquence breathed into our souls the breath of Antislavery life, but inasmuch, also, as we have been aware, with the Roman consul whom the gods aided, that, at all times and in all trials, “he rode at our right hand.”

Our friend has dwelt long and most impressively on the objection brought against him, as a foreigner, for taking sides on American questions.1 Ah, the evil is not that he takes sides; it is that he takes the wrong side! [Cheers.] How much better Father Mathew played his [31] cards! Mr. Thompson comes here for the benefit of his health. In Italy invalids are always recommended to secure the southerly side of the house. Mistaken man! how wild in him, an invalid, to take so Northerly a view of this great question! [Cheers.] But for this, like the pliant Irishman, he might have moved in the best society! Could he but have chanced to be born in Ireland, and have early contracted the habit of kissing the “Blarney stone” of every nation, instead of shivering here beneath that North Star,--which South Carolina, it is said, intends to forbid her pilots to steer by, it is so incendiary a twinkler! [laughter and cheers]instead of this, he could “repose his wearied virtue” --

Where the gentle south wind lingers,
'Mid Carolina's pines;
Or falls the careless sunbeam
Down Georgia's golden mines.

I come to-night from that little family party of the Curtises, the slave-catchers' meeting in Faneuil Hall, and am exceedingly glad to be able to inform you that our ever-active [!] Mayor has been able, quite contrary to his expectations, to keep the peace there to-night. [Laughter.] I was much pleased, even in that gathering, to witness the unconscious effect of our agitation. In the first place it is considered a settled thing that the Union is in danger! Nothing less, it seems, would have induced Mr. Choate and all the Messrs. Curtises to come forth in its defence. Put that down as one evidence of success. It used to be said that characters which needed defence were not worth defending. Perhaps it will be found to be the case with laws. Add that to our trophies.

Mr. B. R. Curtis--the only one of the speakers entitled to much influence or consideration — very palpably [32] evaded any expression of opinion on the propriety or necessity of the late Fugitive Slave Bill, another homage of vice to virtue. He also admitted the slave clause of the Constitution to be immoral. His only argument to justify our fathers in admitting it was, they were afraid to do otherwise; feared poverty, England, anarchy, and all sorts of ills. The Sultan might well have pleaded, in the face of Mr. Webster's recent eloquence, that fear of dethronement, anarchy, Russia, and a thousand ills, justified him in surrendering Kossuth. Would the world, would humanity, would even Mr. Webster, have said Amen to such a plea from his mouth? There may be times when States should say with the great Roman, “It is necessary to go; it is not necessary to live!” Perhaps Mr. Curtis may yet find this to be one of those occasions. One thing we know, the great senator told the Sultan that if Kossuth were given up, he could not tell how or when, but verily, Turkey would somehow have to “look out for the consequences.” “I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word.” Once on a time Emperor Georgia sent after our William and Ellen Kossuth; the Webster Whigs argued for their surrender; and Heaven has graciously permitted us to live and see both how and when they had to “look out for the consequences.” [Laughter and cheers.]

Mr. Curtis defended the right of Massachusetts to surrender the fugitive slave, on the ground that every sovereign State had authority to exclude foreigners front its soil. “Exclude foreigners from the soil” ! How delicate a phrase! What a “commodity of good names” this trouble of ours has coined! “Service and labor” was the Constitutional veil to hide the ugly face of slavery. Then, “Peculiar institution” ! “Patriarchal institution” !! “Domestic institution” !!! And now, “excluding foreigners from our soil” !!!! “Truly, the [33] epithets, Master Holofernes, are sweetly varied!” Throw in this trifle also, as deference to a sentiment which dares to do that which it dislikes to hear named. But let us, meantime, be careful to use all plainness of speech — to call things rigorously by their right names. Whoever professes his readiness to obey this bill, call him “slave-catcher;” let the title he chooses stick to him. Heed no cry of “harsh language.” Yield not to any tenderness of nerves more sensitive than the conscience they cover; remember,--

There is more force in names
Than most men dream of; and a lie may keep
Its throne a whole age longer, if it skulk
Behind the shield of some fair-seeming name.

Mr. Curtis forgot to finish his argument, and show us how, in present circumstances, it is moral in us to exercise this legal right. I may have, by law, the right to exclude the world from my house; but surely there are circumstances, as in the case of a man dying on my threshold, where it would be gross inhumanity, utter sin before God, to exercise that right. Surely, the slave's claim on us is equal. How exactly level to the world's worst idea of a Yankee, this pocket argument that the Commonwealth would suffer by yielding to its noblest instincts; that Massachusetts cannot now afford to be humane, to open her arms, a refuge, in the words of her own statute of 1642, for all who “fly to her from the tyranny and oppression of their persecutors!” In 1850, our poor, old, heavy-laden mother must leave that luxury to Turks and other uncalculating barbarians! We Christians “must take thought for the morrow,” and count justice, humanity, and all that, mere fine words! But is the slave a foreigner? Not, surely, when we pledge our whole physical force to his master to keep [34] him in chains! Were the surrender clause the only clause in our Constitution relating to slaves, Mr. Curtis's argument would have some shadow of claim to plausibility. But Massachusetts has pledged her whole strength to the slave's injury. She, as a member of this Union, promises the slave-holder to keep peace on the plantation; and if the slave rises to get his liberty, she will, as Edward Everett once offered, “buckle on her knapsack” to put him down. It is not for her now to turn round and treat him like a foreigner in whose wrong or welfare she has had no share. The slave may well cry to her, “Treat me always like a foreigner; cease to enable my oppressor, by your aid, to keep me in chains; take your heel off my neck; and then I will not only not ask a place on your soil, but soon I will raise free arms to God, and thank him, not for Massachusetts' mercy, but for Massachusetts' justice and consistency.”

But, granting the whole of Mr. Curtis's argument, he did not touch, or even glance at, the popular objection to the Fugitive Slave Bill, which is not that fugitive slaves are to be given up according to its provisions, but that its right name is, “A Bill for the more safe and speedy kidnapping of free colored people.” The law-abiding citizens whom he addressed, complain that while every man found on Massachusetts soil has a right, until the contrary is shown, to be considered a free man, this bill recognizes the right, not in the remotest manner alluded to in the Constitution, of certain other persons to arrest and transport him elsewhere, without judge, warrant, process, or reason rendered to anybody; and even in cases of resistance to this, allows such a man to be carried hence on ex parte evidence, of whose manufacture he had no notice, gotten up nobody knows where and by whom nobody has authority to inquire! And that we are called to put implicit confidence in the peculiarly [35] conscientious and striking reluctance of slaveholders to trespass on the rights of others, that this loose law, this wide-open gate for avarice and perjury, shall never be abused! And, further still, we are told not to be anxious about the checks and safeguards of jury trial; since, when such unfortunates reach Charleston or New Orleans,--and, by the way, what bond is taken that they ever shall, and not be carried to Cuba or Brazil first?--they, the mistakenly kidnapped citizens of the Commonwealth, shall have all the blessed privileges of a jury trial that the slaves of that paradise enjoy! We ask bread,--a freeman's jury trial (a matter of right, not of favor), by his peers in the neighborhood, with a witness-box open to all men, white or black, and the burden of proof on the claimant to show his title. Our statesmen (!) offer us a stone,--the slave's jury trial (not a matter of right, but granted when he finds some one willing to run the risk of paying single, perhaps double, costs, and in some States, only if the Court pleases, even then), subject to lashes if the suit be held groundless, the jury-box filled probably with slave-holders, a witness-box closed against all men of his own race, and the burden of proof on him to show that the claimant does not own him according to Southern law! Verily, gentlemen, our unprofessional eyes can see, or think they see, a difference worth “discussing” !

Mr. Clay says, in his letter to the Philadelphia Union Meeting, that the question now is, “Whether this agitation against slavery shall put down the Union, or the Union be preserved, and that agitation be put down. There is no other alternative.” What does he mean by “agitation” ? He means meetings like this, of men and women gathered together to do honor to an honest man, to encourage each other in resisting infamous and cruel [36] laws, and to join in ridding the land of the fetter and the chain. Yes; it is the fetter and the chain, the unspeakable blessings of slavery, for whose sake reason is to be hoodwinked, and eloquence to be gagged! The fetter and the chain, which, on the other side of the ocean, trade has worn away by the beneficent action of her waters, or Christianity melted in the fervor of her indignant rebuke! These, in Mr. Clay's opinion, it is our appropriate work to forge anew! We have not so read the scroll of our country's destiny. To the anointed eye, the planting of this continent is the exodus of the race out of the bondage of old and corrupt institutions. The serene and beautiful spirit that leads it, laughs with pitying scorn at the efforts of the mightiest Pharaoh to stay this constant and gradual advance of humanity. Every blow falls on the head of the assailants,--they consume nothing but themselves.

Put the Union into one scale and free speech into the other; it needs no ghost to tell which will kick the beam. It was the love of free thought and free speech, burning in this same Saxon blood of ours, that, two hundred years ago, translated the Bible out of dead tongues into living speech. That work cost the upsetting of one or two kingdoms, and the downfall of a great church. Here and now the same love of freedom and the same Saxon blood are engaged in translating liberty out of dead professions into living practice. It will be no matter of surprise, if so great a work cost a Union or two; but what is that to us? See thou, creature of Union, knowing no “higher law” than the parchment of 1789, to that!

No man of full age and sound mind really believes that any thing can be maintained in this country which requires for its existence the stifling of free discussion. This Yankee right to ask all sorts of questions, on all [37] sorts of subjects, of all sorts of persons, is no accidental matter,--it is part of the organic structure of the Yankee constitution. Freedom in thought and word is the genius of our language, the soul of our literature, the undertone of all our history, the groundwork of our habits. It gives the form to our faith, since Saxons are plainly Protestants by nature. It is only to secure this that the uneasy race submits to the necessary evil of law and government, habeas corpus and jury trial; that a comma in the wrong place shall save even a murderer's neck; that the State shall take no cent till it has been seven times voted,--these are the gilding and sugar that soothe the restive child into being ruled at all. Our liberty is no superficial structure like the Capitol at Washington, which man put up and man can pull down again. It is an oak, striking its roots through the strata of a thousand customs; to uproot it would shake the continent. It is the granite of the New England formation, basing itself in the central depths, peering to heaven through the tops of our mountains, and bearing on its ample sides the laughing prosperity of the land. The wind of the blow that shall be aimed at free speech will strike the Union to the dust. Let us always rejoice when the frenzy of our opponents leads them to wed the cause of the slave with the cause of free speech. Union meetings and loud cheers may stand for the “Dearly beloved” with which the old English ceremony of marriage began; but the result, like the last word of that prayer-book formula, will verily be, “amazement.” Woe to the statesman who waves his bit of red cloth in the face.of that mad bull, a full-blooded Saxon roused to the suspicion, however unfounded, that somebody is plotting to prevent his tongue from wagging as it lists!

It was the weight of the hand of Charles I. on English tongues — the attempted arrest of the five membersthat [38] settled the question whether he should sit upon a throne or stand upon a scaffold. It was the Alien and Sedition Acts-provisions against foreigners, and forbidding to “print, publish, and utter anything to bring government and laws into disrepute” --that contributed so much to send the Federal party to the tomb of the Capulets. When old men, and men high in the land's confidence, like those who meet in Philadelphia, New York, and at Faneuil Hall to-night, talk with such thoughtless impudence, of “putting down discussion,” remember that whom God would destroy, he first makes mad. Were it not so, Mr. Choate would be the first man to laugh at the spectacle of himself, a very respectable lawyer and somewhat eloquent declaimer of the Suffolk bar, coolly asserting with a threatening brow, meant to be like that of Jove, to the swarming millions of the free States, that “this discussion must stop!” To such nonsense, whether from him, or the angry lips of his wire-puller in front of the Revere House, the only fitting answer is Sam Weller's repetition to Pickwick, “It can't be done.” [Cheers and laughter.] The like was never attempted but once before, when Xerxes flung chains at the Hellespont-

And o'er that foolish deed has pealed
The long laugh of a world!

Oh, no! this chasm in the forum all the Clay in the land cannot fill. [Cheers.] This rent in the mantle all the Websters in the mill cannot weave up. [Cheers.] Perpetuate slavery amid such a race as ours! Impossible! Re-annex the rest of the continent, if you will; pile fugitive slave bills till they rival the Andes; dissolve, were it possible, the union God has made between well doing and well-being,--even then you could not keep slavery in peace till you got a new race to people these [39] shores. The blood which has cleared the forest, tortured the earth of its secrets, made the ocean its vassal, and subjected every other race it has met, will never volunteer its own industry to forge gags for its own lips. You, therefore, who look forward to slavery and peace, make ready to sweep clean the continent, and see that Webster, Foot, and Dickinson be the Shem, Ham, and Japlet of the Ark you shall prepare. [Cheers.] The Carpathian Mountains may serve to shelter tyrants; the slope of Germany may bear up a race more familiar with the Greek text than the Greek phalanx; the wave of Russian rule may sweep so far westward, for aught I know, as to fill with miniature tyrants again the robber castles of the Rhine,--but this I do know: God has piled our Rocky Mountains as ramparts for freedom; He has scooped the valley of the Mississippi as the cradle of free States, and poured Niagara as the anthem of free men. [Loud cheers.]

1 Mr. Choate said in his speech at Faneuil Hall, “If the philanthropist wishes to say anything about slavery, let him strike his blow in Cuba, let him strike it below the line, let him go where the stars and stripes do not wave over it.” Is there not a story of one who listening to a sermon which asserted that all the world would be reformed, if every man would reform one sinner, cried out, “True, I'll go right home and reform my brother Bill!” and if there be such a story, is not the advice of the eloquent gentleman flat plagiarism? Besides, George Thompson has come to his Cuba, come where his “stars and stripes [The Union Jack] do not wave,” and yet the Choates of the island do not seem to agree with their Boston relative, that this is his “appropriate sphere!”

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