Slavery and the Irrepressible Conflict: an Address Delivered in Geneva, New York, on 1 August 1860
SLAVERY AND THE IRREPRESSIBLE CONFLICT: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN GENEVA, NEW YORK, ON 1 AUGUST 1860
Douglass' Monthly, 3: 327—30 (September 1860). Another text in Foner, Life and Writings, 2: 502—17.
Douglass had already arranged to visit France in the spring of 1860 when the news reached him of the unexpected death of his ten-year-old daughter Annie on 13 March. “Acting upon the impulse of the moment, regardless of the peril,” Douglass abandoned his plans and immediately left England, returning to his Rochester home by way of Portland, Maine, and Canada. His arrival in the United States was not publicized for nearly a month, and it was not until late summer that he actively resumed his lecturing. Douglass’s three-hour address at the 1 August 1860 commemoration of West Indian Emancipation in Geneva, New York, was his first major speech after his return and highlighted a full day of festivities. Awakened at dawn by cannon fire and bell ringing, some celebrants attended a prayer service at the High Street Church at 6:00
A.M. A business meeting followed at 9:00 A.M., and two hours later marchers carrying banners began their procession through the city to a local park. In a letter to Douglass' Monthly, J. W. Duffin, a local black abolitionist, enthusiastically described the parade as one “which for beauty and grandeur has never [been] equaled in the Empire State.” Following a welcoming speech by Henry Bradley, “thousands of eager hearers,” according to Dufﬁn, listened to Douglass’s address “as if enchanted to the spot, so captivated were they by the eloquent truths of the speaker.” A steamboat excursion on Seneca Lake and a ball in the evening completed the day’s events. J. W. Duffin to Douglass' Monthly, 3 August 1860, in DM, 3: 308 (August 1860); Douglass, Life and Times, 355—57; Quarles, FD, 184—85.
MR. PRESIDENT;1Henry Bradley, a veteran antislavery activist from Yates County, New York, presided over the meeting and delivered a speech welcoming Douglass. Bradley had served as a delegate to the American Anti-Slavery Society convention in 1839 and was vice president of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society five years later. J. W. Dufﬁn to Douglass' Monthly, 3 August 1860, in DM, 3: 326 (September 1860); New York Emancipator, 23 May 1839; Lib., 5 January 1844.—I thank you very sincerely for the kind and cordial welcome you have been pleased, on behalf of this vast audience, to extend to me, and also for the words of sympathy with me in the experiences through which 1 have passed since our last meeting in this place. I esteem it a high privilege, especially in view of the many vicissitudes and exciting incidents of the past twelve months, to join you again in appropriate recognition of this anniversary of freedom. It is now twenty-six years since the justice and humanity of England, represented in the British Parliament and throne, abolished and put an end to slavery in the British West Indies forever. No greater demonstration of philanthropy has occurred during the present century. It astonished the world by its grandeur. Men could hardly believe that humanity could so succeed against the selfishness of property. The transition for the slaves emancipated was a most wonderful experience. In all our emancipations in the United States, we have had nothing so sudden and so startling as this. The slaves were eight hundred thousand chattels yesterday; they were eight hundred thousand free men and women the next day. It was a trying event. It tested the metal of slaves as well as masters, and the behavior of the former proved them worthy of their newly gained freedom. Emancipation had been looked for and prayed for by the scarred and mutilated bondmen; but even they must have found it hard to believe that they were now forever free. Yet, in the doubt, and in the assurance, and in the great joy of the occasion, their behavior was equally orderly and beautiful.
Many of the old slave—drivers anticipated the event with the gloomiest forebodings. Knowing how well they had deserved vengeance. they shuddered at the thought of its possible approach. Guilty men! they read human nature wrong. They who study mankind with a whip in their hands, will always go wrong. They see but one side of everything about them, and that is the worst side. They only see without, the qualities they feel within themselves. Pride, self-love, cruelty. brutality and revenge had been cultivated with all the approved instruments of torture on the plantation. These qualities they knew and well understood; but they did not see the higher elements of human nature. According to their dismal fears and predictions, the Islands were to be desolated. The white inhabitants were to be slaughtered. Fire and sword were to be let loose, and neither age nor sex were to be spared.
It is one of the glories of the occasion and the event, that every such prediction and objection was refuted by the grand result. Not even the most unscrupulous and eager slanderers of the negro race have been able to sustain a charge of violence against the emancipated bondmen. Peace, joy and gratitude combined to sanctify and hallow the glorious advent of liberty.
We meet here to-day, as we met here last year,2On 1 August 1859 Douglass, who served as president of the event, and the Reverend George B. Cheever delivered the principal addresses at the West Indian Emancipation celebration in Geneva, New York. NASS, 13 August 1859. to honor this high and brilliant example of British justice towards a people every where spoken against. The event is worthy the attention of all men, but to the American people it addresses itself with tenfold power and force as an example fit to be honored and imitated. The First of August is, and of right ought to be, the great abolition day for all the friends of freedom. In regard to England, a very significant and gratifying fact may be stated. Notwithstanding all the years of clamor against the results of emancipation, England has steadily persisted in its abolition policy.
The abolition of slavery in the West Indies is now, as at the beginning, esteemed by every true-hearted Briton as the chief glory of his country. And well it may be. It was the result of the very best elements of cultivated human nature. The labor, the zeal, the earnestness, and the perseverance employed in bringing the British people to see slavery in its true character, and to bring them to act for its abolition, were never excelled by those of any other great reformatory movement. The people there talk to this day of
the mighty enthusiasm that rocked the land, and every man is proud to say that he had a hand in the great work. The British public, though weighed down and staggering under a heavy weight of taxation, bore, without a murmur, the additional burden of twenty millions sterling. If there was any complaint at all, it was that the masters got it instead of the slaves. How striking and humiliating is the contrast in respect to slavery, between England and America, the mother and the daughter! If the merits of republican institutions, as against those of a monarchy, were made to depend upon the character and history of the American Republic, monarchical institutions would most certainly bear off the palm. The British monarchy, self-moved and self-sustained. emancipated, set free, and clothed with the dignity of citizenship, nearly a million slaves at a single stroke of the pen, and then began to exert, and continues to exert her great moral influence to make her noble example felt throughout the world.
It is really amazing how far into the regions of darkness and sorrow this knowledge of British feeling has penetrated. The most ignorant slave on the banks of the Red River has by some means or other come to learn that the English are the friends of the African race. Her ships are on the gold coast; they are in the Gulf of Mexico. and along the coast of the Brazils in search of slave pirates, only secure from arrest when they hoist the American flag. While the British monarchy thus employs its powers, how is it with our so—called Christian Protestant Republic? The story is soon told. Four millions clank their fetters at the very doors of our churches and our Government. The slave trade, long ago abolished by the humanity of your revolutionary fathers, is now openly defended, and is secretly carried on, with the evident connivance of the Government in various ports of the South. The policy of limiting slavery, which comes down to us from the founders of the government, has been set aside by the Dred Scott decision. Free colored men. who, in the better days of the Republic, were regarded and treated as American citizens, have been made aliens and enemies in the land of their birth. Slavehunting, which had died out under the quiet inﬂuence of a partial civilization. has now, in the middle of the nineteenth century. been thoroughly revived. Thus. while the British Government, with far less pretension to liberty than we, is wielding the mighty power and influence which her position and greatness give her, for the promotion of liberty and humanity throughout the world—the American Government is worse than winking at the slave trade. and slavers are fitted out in sight of our business men’s prayer meetings. It is evidently the design of the Slave
Power of this Republic to fasten the terrible curse of human bondage upon every quarter of this continent.
But England is not the only nation whose conduct stands in marked and striking contrast with our own. There stands Russia, grim and terrible, half way between barbarism and civilization—a conglomeration of many races, darkened by ages of wide-spread cruelty and blood— governed by a despotism, cold and hard as granite—supremely indifferent to the good or ill opinion of mankind—with no freedom of tongue, no freedom of press—yet even she proves herself more just and wise in her day and generation than we. She knows enough, and is wise enough to make friends of her own household. The car of emancipation is advancing gloriously in that country; the shouts of millions, headed by the Emperor Alexander3Czar Alexander II (1818—81) was the crowned head of Russia for the last twenty-six years of his life. Refom-minded in the early years of his reign, he initiated and presided over the emancipation of Russian serfs, ﬁnally realized in 1861. Seton-Watson, Russian Empire, 332—48. 783. himself, go up in joy over the freedom of the Russian serf.
But with us how different is the spectacle! Slavery is everywhere the pet monster of the American people. All our political parties, and most of our churches, kneel with humility at its accursed shrine of tears and blood! Each party vies with the other in its zealous self-abasement and servile devotion. In our politics, as well as in our religion, he who refuses to join in the worship of whips, and in acknowledgment of the charity of chains, is stigmatized as a blasphemer, and an enemy to the State. We read, the Chaldean monarch set up an image of gold for his subjects to worship. That was bad enough, and one may rejoice, that there was virtue enough in the three Hebrews to refuse to kneel.4Douglass alludes to the biblical story of the golden idol constructed by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and to the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to worship it. Their refusal, persecution, and triumphant emergence from the fiery furnace in which the king caused them to be placed is recounted in Dan. 3: 1—30. But bad as the image was as an object of worship, the thing itself was not undesirable. But our object of worship is in itself revolting. A vulture feeding on a living and quivering human heart. tearing it to pieces with his remorseless talons and bloody beak, would be an appropriate symbol of the object of our national devotion. For where under the whole heavens can there be found any system of wrong and cruelty to compare with our slavery? Who has measured its vast extent, found its limits, or sounded the depths of its wickedness? Language fails to describe it, and the human mind, though winged with a fancy outflying the lightning, fails to overtake and comprehend this huge and many headed
abomination. I know slavery as well as most men. I was born in it, as most of you know; but though I have been a victim to what has broken the spirit and cowed into servility many a better man than myself, 1 have not yet been able to convey even my limited sense of the ten thousand wrongs of slavery. l have spoken and written much on the subject during the last twenty years, and have been at times accused of exaggeration; and yet I can say, with truth, that l have fallen far short in describing the pains and woes, and in painting the unbroken stream of sorrow and sighing mercilessly poured down upon the sable millions doomed to life-long bondage in this boasted free country. Slavery has been denounced as the sum of all villainies. The language is well chosen. But who can grapple with a thing so huge as the sum of all villainies? The idea is too large and dreadful for the imagination. The warp and woof of slavery is yet to be unraveled. Each bloody thread must yet be disentangled and drawn forth, before men will thoroughly understand and duly hate the enormity, or properly abhor its upholders and work its abolition. This is the work still to be done. After all the books, pamphlets and periodicals—after all the labors of the Abolitionists at home and abroad—we have still to make the American people acquainted with the sin and crime of our slave system.
In this good work, let me acknowledge the sentiment of gratitude which you and I feel on this occasion to Hon. CHARLES SUMNER, of Massachusetts. It is more than empty praise to say that we recognize him as the WILBERFORCE5William Wilberforce. of America. He has brought to the right side of the discussion a quenchless zeal, and an irresistible earnestness. His large culture and eminent talents have been industriously applied to the work of placing before the world the monstrous crime and withering barbarism of our country. For this great service, I embrace this occasion to thank him, in my own name, and in the name of our whole people. Many other noble men have spoken, and have spoken well. We thank them all—we appreciate them all; but among them all, none has uttered the feelings of the black man so well; none have hurled at slavery such a succession of moral thunderbolts as he. Were Mr. SUMNER only a non-extensionist, we might not mention his name for special honor on this memorable day. But the brave Senator from Massachusetts takes rank with a higher order of men, and is engaged in a sublimer work. The principles which he enunciates, the doctrines which he maintains, with an eloquence unmatched in the American Senate, and unsurpassed out of it, compel us to rank him with the
SHARPES, the CLARKSONS, the BUXTONS, and the BROUGHAMS of England—the great men whose mighty efforts have given us and our people the event we have met this day to celebrate. Like them, CHARLES SUMNER is an Abolitionist. Owing to a difference in the civilization of the two countries, Mr. SUMNER has suffered as they did not. for the faithful utterance of his opinions. His sacred blood has stained the Senate floor. Assassin blows have fallen upon him; and yet we have him still with us, in all the strength, fertility and grandeur of his well-stored intellect. Four years of painful anxiety have been dispelled by the sight of his rising, as he has risen, with redoubled zeal, and with powers of action and utterance augmented, quickened and intensified. His assailants and would-be murderers were not spared, as I almost wish they had been, to experience the mortification of seeing the noble Senator rise, as if from the very grave to which they had aimed to consign him. They have both ceased from the earth, and Mr. SUMNER looks in vain around the Senate hall to find any to imitate the example of his dead assassins.6Charles Sumner returned to the Senate in December 1859. His attacker, Preston Smith Brooks, died on 27 January 1857. Andrew Pickens Butler, on whose behalf Brooks caned Sumner, died on 25 May 1857. Donald, Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War, 348; DAB, 3: 88, 355. A mighty change has been going on in Washington during these last four years. The Massachusetts Senator could well indulge in what he calls the easy victory of charity towards his fallen foes.
But there is a charity which falls upon the head of the wrong-doer like coals of living fire. Such charity was deserved. and such was meted out to the haughty slave-masters of the Senate. I would have given a great deal to have looked upon them during the execration. A man more politic than Mr. SUMNER might have broken the ominous silence of four years in a tone better suited to the taste of those who are just now desiring the success of the Republican party with principles or without principles. But Mr. SUMNER is better than his company. He not only talks of the irrepressible conflict, but nobly ﬂings himself into it with all the ardor of his great soul, and becomes himself a part of it. I hail him with a full heart, as a man of the right metal. Let us thank God and take courage, that such a man in this hour of pro-slavery truckling, backed up by the Legislature of such a State, bravely stands up in the highest council of the nation the champion of liberty and equal rights to all men of whatever class, clime, condition or color.
Friends, I shall not detain you to-day with any history of West India Emancipation. Elsewhere, and on other occasions, I have done this at
length. Nor shall I stop to justify emancipation by an appeal to its material results. The chief objection that we have ever heard against it, is, that when free, and left to decide the question for himself. the black man will not work. This objection comes from those who have as little taste for work under a tropical sun as the negroes. A kind and humane lady in England, who took an earnest interest in emancipation, when told that the negroes of Jamaica were lazy and would not work, answered the objection by saying she was glad that after working so long and hard under cruel task masters, the poor people could now take a little time to rest. This charge of special indolence I have met on other occasions, and shall not repeat my refutation of it here. My work is nearer home. This is a free day—a day for free speech—and all things touching the cause of human freedom are in order here to-day. Subjects of discourse are abundant, and invite us on every side. Our Democratic Republic is just now undergoing one of its periodical political convulsions. It is engaged in the quadrennial business of electing its King. We are a strange people. We flatter ourselves that the people govern, and that the government is directly and immediately responsible to the people. And so, indeed, it seems in theory; but the matter is quite different in practice. In this respect we are even in the rear of old England and our neighbors across the lakes. We have a less responsible Government than either. It should be distinguished from all other Governments as the irresponsible Government.
By the Constitution of the United States our King reigns over us for the term of four years. It seems a short term; but experience shows that it is quite long enough for the perpetration of almost innumerable mischiefs, and to thwart and defeat the most beneficent measures. Our King is armed with mighty powers, the veto power among them. He is Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy. During his reign he can exercise his power as rigorously as any of the crowned heads of Europe, and do so with greater impunity. I assert fearlessly, that while Americans are ever boasting of the sovereignty of the people, there is no Government on the earth which can be administered in more open violation of the principles of freedom, or in more flagrant contempt for the rights and wishes of the people, than the American Government during a Presidential term. Commanding the purse, the sword and the patronage of the Government, and being safely installed in the Presidential chair, with a Cabinet of his own selection about him, the President is thereafter beyond the reach of the people. You cannot get at him. He is above inquiry, and therefore above impeachment and below assassination. The limits set to his term of office protect him. Any hardened
old sinner, such as now reigns over us, once in office, may luxuriate in corruption and tyranny to his heart’s content, (if such men have hearts and can feel content). Mr. BUCHANAN has been reveling in rascality from the very commencement of his reign. He began with the Dred Scott decision, advanced to the Lecompton Constitution,7This constitution for the proposed state of Kansas was adopted at a convention held in Lecompton, Kansas, in the fall of 1857. In the June election for delegates, in which only 2,200 of 9,000 registered voters participated, opponents of slavery abstained from voting. thereby allowing proslavery candidates to run virtually unopposed. The Lecompton Constitution, which banned free blacks from the state, deviated from other contemporary state constitutions in including a provision prohibiting its amendment for seven years. Although the constitution as a whole was not submitted to a popular vote, its article on slavery was to be decided in a referendum held in December 1857. If rejected (the “Constitution with no slavery"), slavery would “no longer" exist in Kansas, “except that the right of property in slaves" already in the territory would “in no manner be interfered with." With the Free Staters again abstaining, 6,226 votes were cast for the constitution with slavery and 569 for it without slavery. After charges of improper voting procedures were made, the territorial legislature, which was controlled by Free Staters, called for another election in which voters could decide on the constitution as a whole. Proslavery forces refused to participate in the new election, held in January 1858, and the result was an overwhelming defeat for the Lecompton Constitution: 10,226 votes against it, 138 for it with slavery, and 24 for it without slavery. Despite the apparent opposition to the constitution by the majority of Kansans, President Buchanan continued to support it and defend its legality. Attempting to ensure support for its passage in Congress, the president encountered strong opposition from Democratic senator Stephen A. Douglas, thereby precipitating an intense intraparty struggle in addition to the expected interparty strife. After conflict-ridden sessions in both houses of Congress, and with the help of the English Bill, the deadlock was finally broken. Nonetheless, on 2 August 1858 Kansans decidedly rejected the Lecompton Constitution by a vote of 11,300 to 1,788 in the third referendum on the issue in eight months. Potter, Impending Crisis, 313—25; Klein, President James Buchanan, 296—99, 301—12; Rawley, Race and Politics, 212—17, 223—27, 231—38; Eugene H. Berwanger, The Frontier Against Slavery: Western Anti-Negro Prejudice and the Slavery Extension Controversy (Urbana, Ill., 1967), 115—18. and has improved like a young bear from bad to worse ever since.
We boast of our self-government. What superlative nonsense! It has no existence, except one day in four years. The first Minister in England, who is in fact the ruler of the country, may be outvoted and compelled to resign his office any day in the year. The House of Commons, or any member of it, may call him to account upon the first appearance of misconduct in the direction of public affairs.
All is different here. Once well mounted, with the reins of Government in his fists, the Presidential rider may force in his spurs, lay on the whip, draw the blood at every blow, and defy the national animal to throw him off. We have been kicking and tossing about very wildly since we felt Mr. BUCHANAN in the saddle; but there the old fellow sits as calm as a summer morning. The rulers over yonder, who have crowns annexed to them, must
look out for their heads. Conspiracies, revolutions and assassinations are more than possible to them, as LOUIS NAPOLEON himself can tell you. But here we have a political safety valve. Freedom to choose a new ruler one day in four years, compensates for all the tyranny, injustice and corruption, inaugurated and submitted to during the Presidential term. Schemes of villainy may be set in motion during such a term, which may cling to the country and curse it for ages. You have no remedy. Yea must bear it for four years, and then possibly take another a little more dishonest and tyrannical than his predecessor.
What better was FILLMORE and the Fugitive Slave Bill8President Millard Fillmore, who originally doubted the constitutionality of some of the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Bill, signed the measure into law in 1850 after conferring with Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Attorney General John J. Crittenden. Robert H. Jones, Disrupted Decades: The Civil War and Reconstruction Years (New York, 1973), 94; [Ivory Chamberlain], Biography of Millard Fillmore (Buffalo, N.Y., 1856), 129—34. than TYLER and Texas?9John Tyler was an energetic, consistent supporter of the annexation of Texas, which was effected during the last days of his presidency. What better is BUCHANAN with Lecompton and bribery,10The administration of President James Buchanan was criticized not only for its support of the Lecompton Constitution but also for the ﬁscal corruption within its ranks. Among the corruption charges were instances of improperly contracting public printing to Democratic newspapers, awarding government contracts to campaign contributors without soliciting bids. the embezzlement of public monies by federal officials, and the bribing of congressmen to procure votes on the admission of Kansas. Such speculations were chronicled at great length in the biased but damaging Covode Committee report, which was prepared by congressional Republicans. Potter, Impending Crisis, 297—327; Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850's (New York, 1978), 214, 240. than PIERCE11Franklin Pierce. with his shameless and violent measures for making Kansas a slave State? From bad to worse all the time. The lesson which each gives his successor, is. steal all you can during your term, enrich yourself and your friends, for behave well or ill, you are sure to go out of office with as many curses as coppers. One scripture at least is followed by these Christian gentlemen. Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.12Luke 16: 9. After each election one host of incompetent kin folks takes the place of another; and hence the offices of Government are constantly kept in green and incompetent hands. Such is the machine, and such are its workings. It looks well on paper. It sounds well on the stump, but its works testify trumpet tongued against it.
Well, we are about to try our hand again. A new political crisis is upon the country. The Presidential track is crowded with aspirants. A frightful number of patriots are modestly consenting to assume the burden of Presidential
honors. Instead of the five loaves and two fishes13Douglass refers to the numbers of loaves and fishes with which Jesus fed the multitudes. Mark 6: 38, Matt. 14: 17—19, and Luke 9: 13.—the usual number of political principles—we have five parties and no principles in the present canvass. And yet. since the organization of Government, there has been no election so exciting and interesting as this. The elements are everywhere deeply stirred, and nowhere are they more deeply stirred than at the South. Our political philosophers call the present contest a sectional strife; as if there could be conscious antagonism between two pieces of land not even separated by a stream of fresh water; as if the stately oaks and elms of New York had all at once become offended with the noble pines of North Carolina; as if the wheat, rye and oats of the North had all at once conceived a deadly hatred towards the rice, cotton and tobacco of the sunny South; or as if the bleak and cold granite hills of New Hampshire had declared open war against the hot and feverish rice swamps of Georgia, or the sugar plantations of Louisiana.
The irrepressible conﬂict has no such explanation. The present strife is one of sentiments, ideas and systems. It respects not so much the rights of labor, the rights of capital, as the rights of man. Under all the deceptive phrases of the political speech of the times, the real meaning of the contest forces itself into view, and defies all arts of concealment. Slavery is the real issue—the single bone of contention between all parties and sections. It is the one disturbing force, and explains the confused and irregular motion of our political machine. All other issues died ten years ago. This is the only living one. Every thoughtful man who goes to the ballot box this fall will go there either to help or to hinder slavery. or with the idea of neither helping nor hindering slavery. In any case, slavery is the object. Taking broad abolition ground, as I hope many of us do, we have much to regret, as well as much to congratulate ourselves upon in the present state of the abolition question, and in the relations and prospects of the political parties in reference to that question.
It is sad to think that after a struggle so long and perilous, marked by the blood and tears of martyrs, we are still confronted by the slave system, unconquered, unsubdued, fierce, greedy, turbulent, and more rampant than ever. But such is the fact. Twenty years ago, slaveholders and their advocates and abettors contented themselves with asking to be let alone. The people of the North were told to mind their own business, that slavery was purely a local system, one with which the North had nothing to do. If it
were a curse, it was the curse of the South. and the South would bear it alone. If it were a blessing, it belonged alone to the South. Very different is the tone of the Slave Power to-day. Now. slavery seems to be the only national interest, and the whole power of the Federal Government is invoked to fortify and perpetuate the system on pain of a dissolution of the Union and civil war.
How has this altered state of the question been brought about? Through what blunder on the part of the Abolitionists themselves has this advantage been given to the enemies of justice and freedom? Without question, one great and deplorable mistake has been committed by the opponents of slavery, and that mistake explains to some extent the present proud and arrogant behavior of the defenders of the huge abomination. We have allowed them to prepare and make the issues of all our late elections, and to decide the character of the controversy before the people. Instead of basing ourselves firmly and immovably on the principle of immediate, unconditional emancipation. as the right of the slave, and as the duty of the masters, and being the aggressors, we have been defending outposts and allowing them to be the aggressors. We have permitted them the advantage of selecting the ground and stipulating the conditions. The result has been that we have been constantly battling against slavery where it does not exist. and conceding rights and privileges where it does exist. Carefully guarding the slave system within its present limits, the slaveholders have now impudently demanded the right to extend the evil over all the land.
In attestation of what I have now affirmed, let me give a few pages in our national history. You are familiar with the facts, and still it is well to revive them and keep them before the public mind. I wish to impress upon your minds how the anti-slavery sentiment of the country has been abused and deadened—how the anti-slavery cause has been subverted—how the whole abolition movement, or train, (to use a railroad phrase.) has been switched off the abolition track to that of non-extension. The deep game by which this was accomplished was brought to light sixteen years ago.
In the year 1844, while all that was honest and upright in the country was sighing over the atrocious scourge and the deep disgrace and scandal of America; while we were sedulously teaching the infant lips of the Republic to denounce the existence of slavery as a curse; to abolish the hateful thing forever—the slaveholders. with an audacity half sublime, openly ﬂung into the Presidential canvass an imperative demand for the annexation of Texas, a country as large as the French empire. There was no concealment of the motives for this measure. The slaveholders told the
country and the world just what they wanted with Texas. Mr. JOHN C. CALHOUN, then Secretary of State under JOHN TYLER, was, as all know, the leading spirit in this bold enterprize, and the part he took in it showed his satanic sagacity. His policy still lives, and his spectre now leads the infernal hosts of slavery and the slave trade. Texas was in debt, like most other slave countries. She wanted money and wanted credit. Two ways were open to her by which she could get both. England was willing to assist her, on condition that she would abolish her slavery; and America would assist her, provided she would make her slavery perpetual.
Again you have the Monarchy for freedom, and the model Republic for slavery and chains. Mr. CALHOUN at Washington, and Mr. EVERETT14Edward Everett. at London, both pressed the claims of this barbarism against the humanity and civilization of Europe. Mr. CALHOUN told the British Government, in the name of the whole American people, that Texas was desired as a means of propping up slavery, and that America could not permit Texas to come under the anti-slavery policy of England. This bold and skillful maneuver of the slaveholders worked admirably. It sent Mr. VAN BUREN in silence to Kinderhook,15Kinderhook, a small village in Columbia County, New York, was the hometown of Martin Van Buren. Robert V. Remini, Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party (New York, 1961), 2. HENRY CLAY to the shades of Ashland, and JAMES K. POLK, a man unknown to fame, to the Presidential chair. Mr. VAN BUREN was moderately opposed to annexation; Mr. CLAY was against it at the North, and for it at the South; and Mr. POLK for it North and South alike. This decided the conflict. Mr. POLK was triumphantly elected, and you all know what followed. The war with Mexico, with all its waste of blood and treasure, was the bitter fruit of annexation; for, as all know, Texas was a revolted province of Mexico. She had revolted in part because of the humane laws of Mexico for the abolition of slavery. In taking her we took her debts, her quarrels, her slavery, and all the disgrace and scandal attaching to her name. Hers was the bad reputation of criminals, slaveholders and cut throats.
The people of the North are and have ever been a strangely hopeful and conﬁding people. They have always presumed upon the good disposition and good intentions of their Southern brethren. I remember well, when a man would have been laughed at as a simpleton or frowned at as a fanatic if he ventured to whisper a danger of the annexation of Texas. Up to the very year in which the perfidious deed was consummated, scarcely any one at
the North believed that Texas could be annexed. Even after it was done, we went on hoping. Some went on so far as to tell the people that as Texas had been voted in. she could be voted out. Boston took the lead in denouncing the perfidy of forcing the old members of the Confederacy into this fellowship, without their consent or consultation.16Abolitionists and Whigs in Boston were especially active in protesting against the proposed annexation of Texas during 1844 and 1845. The most celebrated meeting, the Convention of the People of Massachusetts, met in Boston's Faneuil Hall on 29 and 30 January 1845 and condemned annexation as both proslavery and unconstitutional. The issue afforded Garrisonian abolitionists the opportunity to argue for disunion before a large audience. Lib., 31 January, 7 February 1845; Merrill, Against Wind and Tide, 205—15. Others of the hopeful class said the South had got Texas, but the victory would be rendered barren by making the largest part of it into free States. Deluded and infatuated men! They did not know the rapacious spirit and fatal skill at work against them. Disappointed and defeated, they nevertheless maintained the same hopeful and confiding tone in regard to the Territories acquired from Mexico after the war.
The Abolitionists who refused to vote for Mr. CLAY—the man who was either for or against, or neither for nor against the annexation of Texas—were, during the interval between 1844 and 1848, placed in a trying position before the people of the North. They were kept under a galling fire of all the Whig guns of the country. They were charged with defeating Mr. CLAY. by voting for JAMES G. BIRNEY, electing Mr. POLK, and annexing Texas.17James Birney's vote totals in Michigan and especially in New York, where Birney garnered 15,812 votes and Henry Clay lost to James K. Polk by 5,106 votes, were believed by some antislavery politicians, including Joshua Giddings, to have cost Clay the election of 1844, thus paving the way for the Mexican War. Van Deusen, Life of Henry Clay, 376; Sewell, Ballots for Freedom, 139; Filler, Crusade Against Slavery, 177. The thing was, to be sure, only a lie; but having the advantage of being well stuck to, it produced a visible effect upon the abolition party. Voting directly for the abolition of slavery declined. The leaders of the party began to look for available candidates outside of the abolition ranks. Abolition lecturers were supplanted by merely Free Soil lecturers. Abolition newspapers, one after another. faded from view, and Free Soil papers took their places. The Buffalo Convention of 1848,18The massive convention that created the Free Soil party drew between 10,000 and 20,000 participants and observers, including Douglass, to Buffalo, New York, during the second week of August 1848. A conference committee of ex-Whigs, ex-Democrats, and Liberty party supporters hammered out positions at the city‘s Universalist Church that were later considered at a mass meeting in a nearby park. The approved platform opposed expansion of slavery and the use of federal powers to support slavery. The conference committee also nominated former president Martin Van Buren for president and Charles Francis Adams for vice president. Because Van Buren represented Barnburner Democrats not known for their thorough antislavery convictions, the convention came under attack as having compromised Liberty party convictions, but Joshua Leavitt, a veteran Liberty man, helped to close the proceedings by noting the antislavery character of the platform and pronouncing the Liberty party movement “not dead, but TRANSLATED." Sewell, Ballots for Freedom, 156—58; Joseph G. Rayback, Free Soil, The Election of 1848 (Lexington, Ky., 1970), 223—30.
being the first confluence of the abolition sentiment with the old corrupt political elements of the country, was higher toned in its anti-slavery than any Convention since held. The abolition element has by no means kept pace with the growth of the non-extension party. The National Conventions, held successively in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago,19The 1852 convention of the Free Democratic party was held in Pittsburgh, while the 1856 and 1860 Republican party conventions met, respectively, in Philadelphia and Chicago. Sewell, Ballots for Freedom, 243-46, 280—85, 361—63.
have formed a regular gradation of descent from the better utterances of ’48 at Buffalo, till at last good readers have been puzzled to find even a fibre, to say nothing of a plank of abolition in the platform adopted at Chicago. We have constantly been acquiescing in present attainments of slavery, and only battle against its future acquisitions. We hear nothing now of no more slave States. We hear nothing of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. We hear nothing of the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law; and even the Declaration of Independence, declaring all men free and equal, came near being voted down in the Chicago Convention,20On 17 May 1860 the Republican National Convention, meeting in Chicago, adopted a platform that was decidedly more moderate on the slavery question than the party's 1856 platform. Veteran antislavery radical Joshua Giddings proposed that the preamble to the platform contain the language of the Declaration of Independence regarding “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but the convention rejected the proposal. As Giddings rose to leave the hall, George W. Curtis dramatically urged a reconsideration, and the motion to incorporate the words from the Declaration then carried. Nevins, Emergence of Lincoln, 2: 254; James Brewer Stewart, Joshua R. Giddings and the Tactics of Radical Politics (Cleveland, 1970), 271-73. and was admitted at last only on the strength of the eloquence of GEO. W. CURTIS,21George William Curtis (1824—92), who supported William H. Seward for the presidency, attended the 1860 Republican convention as an aide to Thurlow Weed. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Curtis lived for two years at Brook Farm and later traveled in Europe and the Middle East. He was a correspondent for the New York Tribune and an editor for Putnam's Monthly and by 1860 had written five books of travel and satire. A champion of various reforms, including antislavery, women's rights, and civil service. Curtis achieved fame as an orator and as editor of Harper's Weekly during and after the Civil War. Nevins, Emergence of Lincoln, 2: 248; DAB, 4 : 614—16. who warned the Convention against rejecting it.
This declaration is one of the disheartening features of the times. The facts wear anything but a cheering aspect to those of us who looked hopefully to the speedy abolition of slavery by moral and political action; and yet our cause is not lost, nor is it powerless. The abolition idea is still
abroad, and may yet be made effective. It has no powerful party committed distinctly to its realization, but has a party distinctly committed to a policy which the people generally think will do certain preliminary work essential to the overthrow of slavery. While I see with others, and our noble friends GERRIT SMITH and WILLIAM GOODELL among them, that the Republican party is far from an abolition party, I cannot fail to see also that the Republican party carries with it the anti-slavery sentiment of the North, and that a victory gained by it in the present canvass will be a victory gained by that sentiment over the wickedly aggressive pro-slavery sentiment of the country. I would gladly have a party openly combined to put down slavery at the South. In the absence of such a party, I am glad to see a party in the field against which all that is slaveholding, malignant and negro-hating, both at the North and the South, is combined. 1 know of no class of men whose instincts as to men and measures touching slavery are more to be depended upon than those of the slaveholders. There are gradations in all things, and reforms among them. A man need not be a WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON or a WILLIAM H. SEWARD in order to get himself recognized as an enemy to slavery. The slaveholders know that the day of their power is over when a Republican President is elected. The mobs gotten up to put down the Republican Conventions at Baltimore,22On 26 April 1860 the Maryland Republican State Convention, meeting at Baltimore to select delegates to the national convention in Chicago, was interrupted by a number of “roughs” opposed to the principles and platforms of the Republican party. Led by Erasmus Levy, the protesters “made a rush and upset the President's [Montgomery Blair's] table, knocking several Republicans down, and tearing up their papers and documents." While police attempted to disperse a hostile crowd outside, the delegates inside were confronted by “one fellow [who] boldly walked forward [and] peremptorily announced to the Chairman of the Convention in a loud tone that this thing had gone far enough, and he, therefore, commanded a suspension of operations." The delegates, “apprehending momentarily an assault," fled from the meeting place. When order was finally restored, the owner of the meeting hall refused to allow its further use by the Republicans. who later reconvened at an undisclosed place to finish their business. New York Times, 27 and 28 April 1860; Washington (DC) Evening Star, 27 April 1860. Alexandria and Wheeling, the threats of violence offered to CASSIUS M. CLAY and his Republican associates in Kentucky,23In December 1859 a mob attacked the antislavery community that Cassius Clay had established at Berea, Kentucky, and the school that John G. Fee and others had founded there. The mob gave residents ten days to vacate the state, and a dozen families did in fact leave, forfeiting their property in the process. Clay, however, remained in Kentucky, fending off threats to his life. Nevins, Emergence of Lincoln, 2: 109, 115. and the threats of a dissolution of the Union in case of the election of LINCOLN, are tolerable endorsements of the anti-slavery tendencies of the Republic party; and for one, Abolitionist though I am, and resolved to cast my vote for an Abolitionist, I sincerely hope for
the triumph of that party over all the odds and ends of slavery combined against it. I do not accord with those who prefer the defeat of the Republican party from a fear that it will serve slavery as faithfully as the Democratic party, or either branch of it. To do any thing of the kind would be to cut its own thread of existence.
If the Republican party shall arrest the spread of slavery; if it shall exclude from office all such in the slave States who know only slavery as master and law-giver, who burn every newspaper and letter supposed to contain anti-slavery matter, who refuse to hand a black man a letter from the Post Office because he is of the hated color, and will put men into office who will administer them justly and impartially; if it will send ministers and other agents to foreign courts who will represent other interests than slavery, and will give a colored citizen of a free State a passport as any other citizen—place the honor of the nation on the side of freedom, encourage freedom of speech and of the press, protect Republican principles and organizations in the slave States—that party, though it may not abolish slavery, will not have existed in vain. But if, on the other hand, it shall seek ﬁrst of all to make itself acceptable to slaveholders—do what it can to efface all traces of its anti-slavery origin—fall to slavecatching—swear by the Dred Scott decision, and perpetuate slavery in the District of Columbia—it will disappoint the hopes of all its heart friends, and will be deserted, shunned and abhorred as the other parties now are, and its place will be taken by another and better party. organized on higher ground and animated by a nobler spirit. Bad as the moral condition of this country is, and powerful as may be the influence of prejudice, the sun of science and civilization has risen too high in the heavens for any party to stand long on the mean, narrow and selfish idea of a ‘white man’s party.’ This is an age of universal ideas. Men are men, and governments cannot afford much longer to make discrimination between men in regard to personal liberty. Surely the Republican party will not fall into the mistake or the crime of competing with the old parties in the old worn out business of feeding popular malignity, by acts of discrimination against the free colored people of the United States. I certainly look to that party for a nobler policy than that avowed by some connected with the Republican organization.
How stands the case with the two wings of the so-called Democratic party? What is the difference between DOUGLAS24The Democratic convention that met in Charleston. South Carolina, on 23 April 1860, adjourned on 3 May when it failed to nominate a presidential candidate even after the secession of eight southern delegations opposed to Stephen A. Douglas. Reconvening in Baltimore, Maryland, on 18 June, the convention again experienced dissension, including another withdrawal of southern delegates, but eventually nominated Douglas for the presidency. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas, 749—73; Potter, Impending Crisis, 407—13. and BRECKINRIDGE?25John Cabell Breckinridge (1821—75), of Lexington, Kentucky, was a lawyer, soldier, and Democratic politician. Educated at Centre College, Transylvania University, and the College of New Jersey (Princeton), he won election to the state legislature in I849, to Congress in 1851, and to the vice presidency in 1856. In I859, while still vice president, he was chosen to ﬁll a Senate term slated to begin in March l86l. During the I860 Democratic convention in Charleston, South Carolina, he declined to be considered a presidential candidate but did accept nomination by the anti-Douglas wing of the party that met in Baltimore in June I860. In the general election Breckinridge received nearly 700,000 votes, running third behind Lincoln and Douglas. In his brief tenure as senator he attempted to ward off secession by urging the implementation of the Crittenden Compromise. When Union troops secured Kentucky, Breckinridge resigned from the Senate and joined both the Kentucky (Confederate) provisional government and the Confederate army, in which he rose to the rank of major general. After the war Breckinridge escaped to Cuba and lived briefly in Europe and Canada before returning to his Kentucky law practice in 1868. William C. Davis, Breckinridge: Statesman, Soldier, Symbol (Baton Rouge, 1974); Frank H. Heck, Proud Kentuckian: John C. Breckinridge, 1821—1875 (Lexington, Ky., 1976); DAB, 327—10. I
will tell you: BRECKINRIDGE believes that the Supreme Court has decided that the slaveholder has a right to carry his slaves into any Territory belonging to the US, and that while Congress is bound to protect the slaveholders in this right, there is no power either in Congress, or in any such Territory, to prohibit the relation of master and slave. Mr. DOUGLAS does not believe that the Supreme Court has so decided, but avows himself ready to abide by the decision as soon as the Court shall so decide. The difference between the two, is the difference between two obedient servants of the same master. One thinks himself already sent, and the other holds himself ready upon the moment of receiving orders. Mr. DOUGLAS, addressing the slaveholders, says2—l am your humble, obedient servant. I stand by the Dred Scott decision; and if that, or any other decision of the Supreme Court establishes slavery in the Territories, I am for it also. I am ready, upon a knowledge of this fact, to send all the moonshine I now hold, about the right of the people to govern themselves, to the winds. The difference between DOUGLAS and BRECKINRIDGE is, therefore, simply the difference between now and then a difference which seems wide before the election, but which will vanish immediately after the election, let who will attain the Presidency—for there can be no doubt as to how the Supreme Court, with a majority of slaveholders, will decide the question, if it has not already decided.
In view of this state of the case, it is scarcely worth while to do more than denounce the humbug with which Mr. DOUGLAS is just now seeking to win your votes. By a peculiar use of words, he confounds power with right
in such a manner as to make the power to do wrong the right to do wrong. By his notion of human rights, everything depends upon the majority. It is not a bit more absurd and monstrous to say that the first settlers in a Territory have the right to protect murder, than that they have the right to protect slavery. The right to do the one is just as good as the right to do the other. The right of the slaveholder is precisely the right of the highway robber. The one says your money or your life, and the other says your liberty or your life, and both depend upon superior force for their existence.
I say nothing here and now about the BELL and EVERETT party?26Douglass refers to the Constitutional Union party by using the names of John Bell and Edward Everett, its candidates for president and vice president, respectively. The party, which was organized in late 1859 and early 1860, nominated Bell and Everett at at its convention in Baltimore in May I860. Consisting mostly of former Whigs who defended both slavery and union, the Constitutional Unionists showed some strength in the border and slave states, polling 576,414 votes in the 1860 presidential election. John Bell (1797—1869), a Tennessee lawyer educated at Cumberland College (University of Nashville), began his political career as a Jacksonian Democrat but eventually joined the Whigs. Bell sat in Congress from 1827 until 1841. when he briefly served as secretary of war. From 1847 to 1859 he was a senator from Tennessee. An opponent of both the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Lecompton Constitution, Bell generally took a middle course on sectional questions. even though he owned a large number of slaves himself. Bell continued to labor for sectional compromise until Fort Sumter was fired upon, at which time he urged Tennessee to enter into “alliance” with the seceded states should the federal government use force against them. After Union troops entered Tennessee. Bell moved to the lower South, where he remained for the duration of the war. Potter, Impending Crisis, 416—17; DAB, 2: 157—58. A party without any opinion need have no opinion expressed of it. If a party is [of] a mind to be blind and dumb, it cannot be surprised at being considered deaf as well. There is doubt now that there is any such party in existence, since the leaders of it have been endeavoring to sell the party out. It is a question who holds the bill of sale in this State—Mr. BROOKS27The brothers James and Erastus Brooks, journalists and politicians, played active roles in the 1860 campaign in New York. James Brooks (1810—73), born in Portland, Maine, taught school and brieﬂy studied law after his graduation from Waterville (Colby) College. Beginning his journalism career in Maine, Brooks moved to New York City in I835 and the next year founded the New York Express, a “decidedly Whig" newspaper. After serving two terms as a Whig congressman (1849—53), he ﬂirted with the Know-Nothings but eventually joined the Democratic party. Although the Express preferred the Constitutional Union candidates in 1860, Brooks realized the hopelessness of that party’s position in the state and was instrumental in forging a fusion ticket of Bell and Douglas electors. A Copperhead during the Civil War, Brooks returned to Congress (1863-66, 1867-73), where he staunchly supported President Johnson‘s Reconstruction policies and tariff and fiscal reform. In 1873 the House censured him for his role in the Credit Mobilier scandal. Erastus Brooks (1815-86), also born in Portland, attended Brown University and worked on various newspapers before joining his brother as coeditor and proprietor of the Express in I843. A “Silver Gray” Whig opposed to the Thurlow Weed-William Seward faction of the party. Brooks affiliated with the Know-Nothings in the 1850s. He won election to the state senate in 1853 and 1855 but lost the governorship in 1856, when he reportedly bargained with the Democrats, who wanted Know-Nothing support for their presidential nominee, James Buchanan. Four years later Brooks was a delegate to the Constitutional Union party convention that nominated John Bell and Edward Everett. Like his brother, Erastus Brooks later became a Democrat, serving in the state assembly and on various public bodies. He ran the Express until 1877 and was a founder of the Associated Press. New York Times, 1 May 1873, 26 November 1886; New York Tribune, 1 May 1873, 26 November 1886; Flick, History of New York, 7: 82, 85; DeAlva Stanwood Alexander, A Political History of the State of New York, 3 vols. (New York, 1906-09), 2: 238, 326; Mark L. Berger, The Revolution in the New York Party Systems, 1840—1860 (Port Washington, N.Y., 1973), 7, 19, 110, 116; ACAB, 12: 386—87; DAB, 3: 76—79. or Mr.
DOUGLAS.28Douglas Democrats attempted fusion with other anti-Lincoln parties in several states. Douglass's reference to the Constitutional Union party's joining forces with (or subordinating itself to) the Douglas forces in New York was prescient in that such an alliance did develop. After the “Soft” Democrats convened in Syracuse in mid-August. Horatio Seymour, a Douglas man, arranged with Washington Hunt and other Bell supporters, including James Brooks, to form a joint electoral ticket in which ten of the places would be filled by Constitutional Unionists. Although Republicans scoffed at the move. Horace Greeley calling it the “Syracuse auction." the New York City business community approved. The merchants had earlier threatened to withhold campaign funds unless a fusion of anti-Lincoln parties took place. The Breckinridge faction of the state Democratic party (the “Hards") eventually joined the fusion movement. obtaining seven of the places originally allotted to Douglas electors. Alexander, Political History of New York, 2: 324—33; Nevins, Emergence of Lincoln, 2: 297—98; Stewart Mitchell, Horatio Seymour of New York (Cambridge, Mass., 1938), 216—18; Philip S. Foner, Business and Slavery: The New York Merchants and the Irrepressible Conﬂict (Chapel Hill, 1941), 169—207; DAB, 9: 395. But could such a party as the BELL and EVERETT party, made up of the old effete Know Nothing elements, succeed in gaining power, there is nothing in its character to inspire a single ray of hope for the slave or humanity, but in addition to negro hate, we should have an equally abominable hate toward foreigners.
Of the HOUSTON29Samuel Houston (1793-1863), soldier and statesman, was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, but grew up near the Cherokee Nation in Tennessee. A soldier during the War of 1812, he served his adopted state as a Democratic congressman (1823—27) and governor (1827—29) before retiring to live among the Cherokees. Houston eventually resettled in Texas, where as commander in chief of its army he was instrumental in winning Texan independence from Mexico. Twice elected president of the Republic of Texas (1836-38, 1841-44), Houston was later a U.S. senator (1846—59) and governor (1859—61) who strongly opposed secession. In 1860 Houston tested public opinion several times in an attempt to launch a presidential candidacy. In March the regular Democrats of Texas began a campaign on his behalf, to which he consented. But Houston did not attend the Democratic convention in Charleston, South Carolina, and his hopes for a “Draft Houston" movement that would “originate with the people" did not materialize among Democrats. On 21 April, the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, a group of Texas independents nominated Houston for president. and during the following month he received some support among the Constitutional Unionists, but not their nomination. Houston allowed his name to remain in contention as a possible independent candidate until mid- August, but no groundswell of support ever developed. Donald Braider, Solitary Star: A Biography of Sam Houston (New York, 1974); DAB, 9: 263—67. and STOCKTON party,30This is probably Robert Field Stockton (1795—1866), a New Jersey naval officer, railroad investor, and politician who was a possible running mate for Sam Houston in 1860. Stockton, who matriculated at the College of New Jersey (Princeton). fought in the War of1812 and in the war with the Barbary States, and for a time engaged in the capture of illegal slave-trading ships. During the1830s, when he concentrated on canal and railway ventures, he entered politics, first as a Whig and then as a campaigner for Jacksonian Democrats. Returning to active duty in 1838, he declined an appointment by President John Tyler to become secretary of the navy in 1841. During the Mexican War, Stockton fought both off the coast and on the mainland of southern California, leading a successful conquest of that territory. From 1851 until 1853 he served as a Democratic senator from New Jersey, but by 1856 he was a supporter of the Know-Nothing party. DAB, 18: 48—49. (the South Americans,) we
may say just what has been said of the BELL and EVERETT party, and that is as much as nothing. It is impossible to distinguish between the two factions. On the question of slavery they stand together, and may be relied upon in any emergency for slavery.
I alluded at the beginning to the exciting vicissitudes and incidents of the past year. Three months after our last anniversary, there appeared upon the theatre of American life a man whose character and deeds dazzled, astonished and bewildered the whole nation. A knowledge of him flashed across the oceans and continents like a splendid meteor. For a time, the whole civilized world stood amazed and gazing. There was that peculiarity in him, which in all the ages had awakened the reverence of men, the sage not less than the simple—a human soul illuminated with divine qualities in such high degree as to raise the question, was he our brother?—a man of like passions with ourselves. His behavior was so unusual that men did not know what to make of him. It was thought that the race of such men had become extinct. Men had read of them, as beings belonging to another age. They could not believe that any such man could now be on the earth, and not until they were startled by the reality could they admit the possibility. We have not yet recovered from the wonder with which this man’s deeds filled us. His character is yet the study of great minds. Poets, statesmen and philosophers study him as the astronomers the heavenly bodies. He was as a comet, whose brightness overspread half the sky, and men, timid men, thought that a second visit might fire the earth. I need not tell you who this strange man was. You have anticipated me.
You know that I allude to the hero of Harper’s Ferry. The ablest and best men of the land have spoken of JOHN BROWN, and have confessed their inability to do him justice. The Tribune never said a truer thing than when it said the time had not come to pronounce judgment upon the character and deeds of JOHN BROWN.31Douglass summarizes the frequently stated editorial view of Horace Greeley's New York Daily Tribune. See New York Daily Tribune, 19 October, 3 December 1859. Our land is too fat with the lost sweat and warm blood of slaves driven to toil and death; our civilization is
yet too selfish and barbarous; our statesmen are yet too narrow, base and mobocratic; our press is yet too venal and truckling; our religion is too commercial, too much after the pattern of the pride and prejudices of our times, to understand and appreciate the great character who sacrificed himself for the hated negroes of this country. With the statesmanship, civilization and Christianity of America, the negro is simply a piece of property, having no rights which white men are required to respect; but with JOHN BROWN and his noble associates, the NEGRO IS A MAN, entitled to all the rights claimed by the whitest man on the earth. Brave and glorious old man! Yours was the life of a true friend of humanity, and the triumphant death of a hero. The friends of freedom shall be nerved to the glorious struggle with slavery by your example; the hopes of the slave shall not die while your name shall live, and after ages shall rejoice to do justice to your great history.