To make the position clearer, an illustration may be allowed. Suppose a
body of good men become convinced that the inspired direction, “them
that sin, rebuke before all, that others may fear,” imposes upon them
the duty of openly rebuking every body whom they discover in the practice
of any sin. Suppose these men are daily in the habit of going into the streets,
and calling all by-standers around them, pointing out certain men, some as
liars, some as dishonest, some as licentious, and then bringing proofs of
their guilt and rebuking them before all; at the same time exhorting all around
to point at them the finger of scorn.
They persevere in this course till the whole community is thrown into an
uproar; and assaults, and even bloodshed ensue. They then call on all good
citizens to protect their persons from abuse, and to maintain the liberty
of speech and of free opinion.
Now the men may be as pure in morals, as conscientious and upright in intention,
as any Abolitionist, and yet every one would say, that their measures were
unwise and unchristian.
In like manner, although Abolitionists may be lauded for many virtues,
still much evidence can be presented, that the character and measures of the
Abolition Society are not either peaceful or christian in tendency, but that
they are in their nature calculated to generate party spirit, denunciation,
recrimination, and angry passions.
The first thing I would present to establish this, is the character of
the leaders of this association. Every combined effort is necessarily directed
by leaders; and the spirit of the leaders will inevitably be communicated
to their coadjutors, and appear in the measures of the whole body.
In attempting to characterize these leaders, I would first present another
leader of a similar enterprise, the beloved and venerated WILBERFORCE. It is thus that his prominent traits are delineated by an
“His extreme benevolence contributed largely to his success. I have
heard him say, that it was one of his constant rules, and on the question
of slavery especially, never to provoke an adversary--to allow him credit
fully for sincerity and purity of motive--to abstain from all irritating
expressions--to avoid even such political attacks as would indispose
his opponents for his great cause. In fact, the benignity, the gentleness,
the kind-heartedness of the man, disarmed the bitterest foes. Not only on
this question did he restrain himself, but generally. Once he had been called
during a whole debate `the religious member,' in a kind of scorn. He remarked
afterwards, that he was much inclined to have retorted; by calling his opponent
the irreligious member, but that he refrained, as
it would have been a returning of evil for evil. Next to his general consistency,
and love of the Scriptures, the humility of his character
always appeared remarkable. The modest, shrinking, simple Christian statesman
and friend always appeared in him. And the nearer you approached him, the more his habit of mind obviously appeared to be modest and lowly.
His charity in judging of others, is a farther trait
of his Christian character. Of his benevolence I need not speak, but his kind construction of doubtful actions, his charitable language toward those with whom he most widely differed, his
thorough forgetfulness of little affronts, were fruits of that general benevolence
which continually appeared.”
This was the leader, both in and out of Parliament, of that body of men
who combined to bring to an end slavery and the slave trade, in the dominions
of Great Britain. With him, as principal leaders, were associated CLARKSON, SHARPE, MACAULEY, and others of a similar spirit. These men
were all of them characterized by that mild, benevolent, peaceful, gentlemanly
and forbearing spirit, which has been described as so conspicuous in Wilberforce.
And when their measures are examined, it will be found that they were eminently
mild, peaceful, and forbearing. Though no effort that is to encounter the
selfish interests of men, can escape without odium and opposition,
from those who are thwarted, and from all whom they can influence, these men
carefully took those measures that were calculated to bring about their end
with the least opposition and evil possible. They avoided prejudices, strove
to conciliate opposers, shunned every thing that would give needless offence
and exasperation, began slowly and cautiously, with points which could be
the most easily carried, and advanced toward others only as public sentiment
became more and more enlightened. They did not beard the lion in full face,
by coming out as the first thing with the maxim, that all slavery ought and
must be abandoned immediately. They began with “inquiries as to the impolicy of the slave trade,”
and it was years before they came to the point of the abolition of slavery.
And they carried their measures through, without producing warring parties
among good men, who held common principles with themselves.
As a general fact, the pious men of Great Britain acted harmoniously in this
Let us now look at the leaders of the Abolition movement in America. The
man who first took the lead was William L. Garrison, who, though he professes
a belief in the Christian religion, is an avowed opponent of most of its institutions.
The character and spirit of this man have for years been exhibited in “the
Liberator,” of which he is the editor. That there is to be found in
that paper, or in any thing else, any evidence of his possessing the peculiar
traits of Wilberforce, not even his warmest admirers will maintain. How many
of the opposite traits can be found, those can best judge who have read his
paper. Gradually others joined themselves in the effort commenced by Garrison;
but for a long time they consisted chiefly of men who would fall into one
of these three classes; either good men who were so excited by a knowledge
of the enormous evils of slavery, that any thing was
considered better than entire inactivity, or else men accustomed to a contracted
field of observation, and more qualified to judge of immediate results than
of general tendencies, or else men of ardent and impulsive
temperament, whose feelings are likely to take the lead, rather than their
There are no men who act more efficiently as the leaders of an enterprise
than the editors of the periodicals that advocate and defend it. The editors
of the Emancipator, the Friend of Man, the New York Evangelist, and the other
abolition periodicals, may therefore be considered as among the chief leaders
of the enterprise, and their papers are the mirror from which their spirit
and character are reflected.
I wish the friends of these editors would cull from their papers all the
indications they can find of the peculiarities that distinguished Wilberforce
and his associates; all the evidence of “a modest and lowly spirit,”--all
the exhibitions of “charity in judging of the motives of those who oppose
their measures,” --all the “indications of benignity, gentleness,
and kind-heartedness,”--all the “kind constructions of doubtful
actions,”--all the “charitable language used toward those
who differ in opinion or measures,”--all the “thorough
forgetfulness of little affronts,”-- all the cases where “opponents
are allowed full credit for purity and sincerity of motive,” --all
cases where they have been careful “never to provoke an adversary,”--all
cases where they have “refrained from all irritating expressions,”--all
cases where they have avoided every thing that would “indispose their
opponents for their great cause,” and then compare the result with what
may be found of an opposite character, and I think it would not be unsafe
to infer that an association whose measures, on an exciting subject, were
guided by such men, would be more likely to be aggressive than peaceful. The
position I would establish will appear more clearly, by examining in detail
some of the prominent measures which have been adopted by this association.
One of the first measures of Abolitionists was an attack on a benevolent
society, originated and sustained by some of the most pious and devoted men
of the age. It was imagined by Abolitionists, that the influence and measures
of the Colonization Society tended to retard the abolition
of slavery, and to perpetuate injurious prejudices against the coloured race.
The peaceful and christian method of meeting this difficulty would have been,
to collect all the evidence of this supposed hurtful tendency, and privately,
and in a respectful and conciliating way, to have presented it to the attention
of the wise and benevolent men, who were most interested in sustaining this
institution. If this measure did not avail to convince them, then it would
have been safe and justifiable to present to the public a temperate statement
of facts, and of the deductions based on them, drawn up in a respectful and
candid manner, with every charitable allowance which truth could warrant.
Instead of this, when the attempt was first made to turn public opinion against
the Colonization Society, I met one of the most influential supporters of
that institution, just after he had had an interview with a leading Abolitionist.
This gentleman was most remarkable for his urbanity, meekness, and benevolence,
and his remark to me in reference to this interview, shows what was its nature.
“I love truth and sound argument,” said he, “but
when a man comes at me with a sledge hammer, I cannot help dodging.”
This is a specimen of their private manner of dealing. In public, the enterprise
was attacked as a plan for promoting the selfish interests and prejudices
of the whites, at the expense of the coloured population; and in many cases,
it was assumed that the conductors of this association were aware of this,
and accessory to it. And the style in which the thing was done was at once
offensive, inflammatory, and exasperating. Denunciation, sneers, and public
rebuke, were bestowed indiscriminately upon the conductors of the enterprise,
and of course they fell upon many sincere, upright, and conscientious men,
whose feelings were harrowed by a sense of the injustice, the indecorum, and
the unchristian treatment, they received. And when a temporary impression
was made on the public mind, and its opponents supposed they had succeeded
in crushing this society, the most public and triumphant exultation was not
repressed. Compare this method of carrying a point, with that adopted by Wilberforce and his compeers, and I think you will allow that
there was a way that was peaceful and christian, and that this was not the
way which was chosen.
The next measure of Abolitionism was an attempt to remove the prejudices
of the whites against the blacks, on account of natural peculiarities. Now,
prejudice is an unreasonable and groundless dislike of persons or things. Of course, as it is unreasonable,
it is the most difficult of all things to conquer, and the worst and most
irritating method that could be attempted would be, to attack a man as guilty
of sin, as unreasonable, as ungenerous, or as proud, for allowing a certain
This is the sure way to produce anger, self-justification, and an increase
of the strength of prejudice, against that which has caused him this rebuke
The best way to make a person like a thing which is disagreeable, is to
try in some way to make it agreeable; and if a certain class of persons is
the subject of unreasonable prejudice, the peaceful and christian way of removing
it would be to endeavour to render the unfortunate persons
who compose this class, so useful, so humble and unassuming, so kind in their
feelings, and so full of love and good works, that prejudice would be supplanted
by complacency in their goodness, and pity and sympathy for their disabilities.
If the friends of the blacks had quietly set themselves to work to increase
their intelligence, their usefulness, their respectability, their meekness,
gentleness, and benevolence, and then had appealed to the pity, generosity,
and christian feelings of their fellow citizens, a very different result would
have appeared. Instead of this, reproaches, rebukes, and sneers, were employed
to convince the whites that their prejudices were sinful, and without any
just cause. They were accused of pride, of selfish indifference, of unchristian
neglect. This tended to irritate the whites, and to increase their prejudice
against the blacks, who thus were made the causes of rebuke and exasperation.
Then, on the other hand, the blacks extensively received the Liberator, and
learned to imbibe the spirit of its conductor.
They were taught to feel that they were injured and abused, the objects
of a guilty and unreasonable prejudice--that they occupied a lower place
in society than was right-- that they ought to be treated as if they
were whites; and in repeated instances, attempts were made by their friends
to mingle them with whites, so as to break down the existing distinctions
of society. Now, the question is not, whether these things, that were urged
by Abolitionists, were true. The thing maintained is, that the method taken
by them to remove this prejudice was neither peaceful nor christian in its
tendency, but, on the contrary, was calculated to increase the evil, and to
generate anger, pride, and recrimination, on one side, and envy, discontent,
and revengeful feelings, on the other.
These are some of the general measures which have been exhibited in the
Abolition movement. The same peculiarities may be as distinctly seen in specific
cases, where the peaceful and quiet way of accomplishing the good was neglected,
and the one most calculated to excite wrath and strife was chosen.
Take, for example, the effort to establish a college for coloured persons.
The quiet, peaceful, and christian way of doing such a thing, would have been,
for those who were interested in the plan, to furnish the money necessary,
and then to have selected a retired place, where there would be the least
prejudice and opposition to be met, and there, in an unostentatious way, commenced
the education of the youth to be thus sustained. Instead of this, at a time
when the public mind was excited on the subject, it was noised abroad that
a college for blacks was to be founded. Then a city was selected for its location,
where was another college, so large as to demand constant effort and vigilance
to preserve quiet subordination; where contests with “sailors and town
boys” were barely kept at bay; a college embracing a large proportion
of southern students, who were highly excited on the subject of slavery and
emancipation; a college where half the shoeblacks and waiters were coloured
men. Beside the very walls of this college, it was proposed to found a college
for coloured young men. Could it be otherwise than that opposition,
and that for the best of reasons, would arise against such an attempt, both
from the faculty of the college and the citizens of the place? Could it be
reasonably expected that they would not oppose a measure so calculated to
increase their own difficulties and liabilities, and at the same time so certain
to place the proposed institution in the most unfavourable of all circumstances?
But when the measure was opposed, instead of yielding meekly and peaceably
to such reasonable objections, and soothing the feelings and apprehensions
that had been excited, by putting the best construction on the matter, and
seeking another place, it was claimed as an evidence of opposition to the
interests of the blacks, and as a mark of the force of sinful prejudice. The
worst, rather than the best, motives were ascribed to some of the most respectable,
and venerated, and pious men, who opposed the measure; and a great deal was
said and done that was calculated to throw the community into an angry ferment.
Take another example. If a prudent and benevolent female
had selected almost any village in New England, and commenced a school for
coloured females, in a quiet, appropriate, and unostentatious way, the world
would never have heard of the case, except to applaud her benevolence, and
the kindness of the villagers, who aided her in the effort. But instead of
this, there appeared public advertisements, (which I saw at the time,) stating
that a seminary for the education of young ladies of colour was to be opened
in Canterbury, in the state of Connecticut, where would be taught music on
the piano forte, drawing, &c., together with a course of English education.
Now, there are not a dozen coloured families in New England, in such pecuniary
circumstances, that if they were whites it would not be thought ridiculous
to attempt to give their daughters such a course of education, and Canterbury
was a place where but few of the wealthiest families ever thought of furnishing
such accomplishments for their children. Several other particulars might be
added that were exceedingly irritating, but this may serve as a specimen of the method in which the whole affair was conducted. It was an entire
disregard of the prejudices and the proprieties of society, and calculated
to stimulate pride, anger, ill-will, contention, and all the bitter feelings
that spring from such collisions. Then, instead of adopting measures to soothe
and conciliate, rebukes, sneers and denunciations, were employed, and Canterbury
and Connecticut were held up to public scorn and rebuke for doing what most
other communities would probably have done, if similarly tempted and provoked.
Take another case. It was deemed expedient by Abolitionists to establish
an Abolition paper, first in Kentucky, a slave State. It was driven from that
State, either by violence or by threats. It retreated to Ohio, one of the
free States. In selecting a place for its location, it might have been established
in a small place, where the people were of similar views, or were not exposed
to dangerous popular excitements. But Cincinnati was selected; and when the
most intelligent, the most reasonable, and the most patriotic of
the citizens remonstrated,--when they represented that there were
peculiar and unusual liabilities to popular excitement on this subject,--that
the organization and power of the police made it extremely dangerous to excite
a mob, and almost impossible to control it,-- that all the good aimed
at could be accomplished by locating the press in another place, where there
were not such dangerous liabilities,--when they kindly and respectfully
urged these considerations, they were disregarded. I myself was present when
a sincere friend urged upon the one who controlled that paper, the obligations
of good men, not merely to avoid breaking wholesome laws themselves, but the
duty of regarding the liabilities of others to temptation; and that where
Christians could foresee that by placing certain temptations in the way of
their fellow-men, all the probabilities were, that they would yield, and yet
persisted in doing it, the tempters became partakers in the guilt of those
who yielded to the temptation. But these remonstrances were ineffectual. The
paper must not only be printed and circulated, but it must
be stationed where were the greatest probabilities that measures of illegal
violence would ensue. And when the evil was perpetrated, and a mob destroyed
the press, then those who had urged on these measures of temptation, turned
upon those who had advised and remonstrated, as the guilty authors of the
violence, because, in a season of excitement, the measures adopted to restrain
and control the mob, were not such as were deemed suitable and right.
Now, in all the above cases, I would by no means justify the wrong or the
injudicious measures that may have been pursued, under this course of provocation.
The greatness of temptation does by no means release men from obligation;
but Christians are bound to remember that it is a certain consequence of throwing
men into strong excitement, that they will act unwisely and wrong, and that
the tempter as well as the tempted are held responsible, both by God and man.
In all these cases, it cannot but appear that the good aimed at might have
been accomplished in a quiet, peaceable, and christian way,
and that this was not the way which was chosen.
The whole system of Abolition measures seems to leave entirely out of view,
the obligation of Christians to save their fellow men from all needless temptations.
If the thing to be done is only lawful and right, it does not appear to have
been a matter of effort to do it in such a way as would not provoke and irritate;
but often, if the chief aim had been to do the good in the most injurious
and offensive way, no more certain and appropriate methods could have been
So much has this been the character of Abolition movements, that many have
supposed it to be a deliberate and systematized plan of the leaders to do
nothing but what was strictly a right guaranteed by
law, and yet, in such a manner, as to provoke men to anger, so that unjust
and illegal acts might ensue, knowing, that as a consequence, the opposers
of Abolition would be thrown into the wrong, and sympathy be aroused for Abolitionists
as injured and persecuted men. It is a fact, that Abolitionists have taken
the course most calculated to awaken illegal acts of violence,
and that when they have ensued, they have seemed to rejoice in them, as calculated
to advance and strengthen their cause. The violence of mobs, the denunciations
and unreasonable requirements of the South, the denial of the right of petition,
the restrictions attempted to be laid upon freedom of speech, and freedom
of the press, are generally spoken of with exultation by Abolitionists, as
what are among the chief means of promoting their cause. It is not so much
by exciting feelings of pity and humanity, and Christian love, towards the
oppressed, as it is by awakening indignation at the treatment of Abolitionists
themselves, that their cause has prospered. How many men have declared or
implied, that in joining the ranks of Abolition, they were influenced, not
by their arguments, or by the wisdom of their course, but because the violence
of opposers had identified that cause with the question of freedom of speech,
freedom of the press, and civil liberty.
But when I say that many have supposed that it was the deliberate intention
of the Abolitionists to foment illegal acts and violence, I
would by no means justify a supposition, which is contrary to the dictates
of justice and charity. The leaders of the Abolition Society disclaim all
such wishes or intentions; they only act apparently on the assumption that
they are exercising just rights, which they are not bound to give up, because
other men will act unreasonably and wickedly.
Another measure of Abolitionists, calculated to awaken evil feelings, has
been the treatment of those who objected to their proceedings.
A large majority of the philanthropic and pious, who hold common views
with the Abolitionists, as to the sin and evils of slavery, and the duty of
using all appropriate means to bring it to an end, have opposed their measures,
because they have believed them not calculated to promote, but rather to retard
the end proposed to be accomplished by them. The peaceful and Christian method
of encountering such opposition, would have been to allow the opponents full
credit for purity and integrity of motive, to have avoided all harsh and censorious language, and to have employed facts, arguments and
persuasions, in a kind and respectful way with the hope of modifying their
views and allaying their fears. Instead of this, the wise and good who opposed
Abolition measures, have been treated as though they were the friends and
defenders of slavery, or as those who, from a guilty, timid, time-serving
policy, refused to take the course which duty demanded. They have been addressed
either as if it were necessary to convince them that slavery is wrong and
ought to be abandoned, or else, as if they needed to be exhorted to give up
their timidity and selfish interest, and to perform a manifest duty, which
they were knowingly neglecting.
Now there is nothing more irritating, when a man is conscientious and acting
according to his own views of right, than to be dealt with in this manner.
The more men are treated as if they were honest and sincere-- the more
they are treated with respect, fairness, and benevolence, the more likely
they are to be moved by evidence and arguments. On the contrary,
harshness, uncharitableness, and rebuke, for opinions and conduct that are
in agreement with a man's own views of duty and rectitude, tend to awaken
evil feelings, and indispose the mind properly to regard evidence. Abolitionists
have not only taken this course, but in many cases, have seemed to act on
the principle, that the abolition of Slavery, in the particular mode in which
they were aiming to accomplish it, was of such paramount importance, that
every thing must be overthrown that stood in the way.
No matter what respect a man had gained for talents, virtue, and piety,
if he stood in the way of Abolitionism, he must be attacked as to character
and motives. No matter how important an institution might be, if its influence
was against the measures of Abolitionism, it must be attacked openly, or sapped
privately, till its influence was destroyed. By such measures, the most direct
means have been taken to awaken anger at injury, and resentment at injustice,
and to provoke retaliation on those who inflict the wrong. All the partialities
of personal friendship; all the feelings of respect accorded
to good and useful men; all the interests that cluster around public institutions,
entrenched in the hearts of the multitudes who sustain them, were outraged
by such a course.
Another measure of Abolitionists, which has greatly tended to promote wrath
and strife, is their indiscreet and incorrect use of terms.
To make this apparent, it must be premised, that words have no inherent
meaning, but always signify that which they are commonly understood to mean. The question never should be asked, what ought a word to mean? but simply, what is the meaning generally attached
to this word by those who use it? Vocabularies and standard writers are the
proper umpires to decide this question. Now if men take words and give them
a new and peculiar use, and are consequently misunderstood, they are guilty
of a species of deception, and are accountable for all the evils that may
ensue as a consequence.
For example; if physicians should come out and declare, that it was their
opinion that they ought to poison all their patients, and they
had determined to do it, and then all the community should be thrown into
terror and excitement, it would be no justification for them to say, that
all they intended by that language was, that they should administer as medicines,
articles which are usually called poisons.
Now Abolitionists are before the community, and declare that all slavery
is sin, which ought to be immediately forsaken; and that it is their object
and intention to promote the immediate emancipation
of all the slaves in this nation.
Now what is it that makes a man cease to be a slave and become free? It
is not kind treatment from a master; it is not paying wages to the slave;
it is not the intention to bestow freedom at a future time; it is not treating
a slave as if he were free; it is not feeling toward a slave as if he were
free. No instance can be found of any dictionary, or any standard writer,
nor any case in common discourse, where any of these significations are attached
to the word as constituting its peculiar and appropriate meaning. It always signifies that legal act, which, by the
laws of the land, changes a slave to a freeman.
What then is the proper meaning of the language
used by Abolitionists, when they say that all slavery is a sin which ought
to be immediately abandoned, and that it is their object to secure the immediate
emancipation of all slaves?
The true and only proper meaning of such language is, that it is the duty
of every slave-holder in this nation, to go immediately and make out the legal
instruments, that, by the laws of the land, change all his slaves to freemen.
If their maxim is true, no exception can be made for those who live in States
where the act of emancipation, by a master, makes a slave the property of
the State, to be sold for the benefit of the State; and no exception can be
made for those, who, by the will of testators, and by the law of the land,
have no power to perform the legal act, which alone can emancipate their slaves.
To meet this difficulty, Abolitionists affirm, that, in such cases, men
are physically unable to emancipate their slaves, and of course are not bound to do it; and to save their great maxim, maintain that, in such
cases, the slaves are not slaves, and the slave-holders are not slave-holders,
although all their legal relations remain unchanged.
The meaning which the Abolitionist attaches to his language is this, that
every man is bound to treat his slaves, as nearly as he can, like freemen;
and to use all his influence to bring the system of slavery to an end as soon
as possible. And they allow that when men do this they are free from guilt,
in the matter of slavery, and undeserving of censure.
But men at the North, and men at the South, understand the language used
in its true and proper sense; and Abolitionists have been using these terms
in a new and peculiar sense, which is inevitably and universally misunderstood,
and this is an occasion of much of the strife and alarm which has prevailed
both at the South and at the North. There are none but these defenders of
slavery who maintain that it is a relation justifiable by the laws of the
Gospel, who differ from Abolitionists in regard to the real
thing which is meant. The great mistake of Abolitionists is in using terms
which inculcate the immediate annihilation of the relation, when they only
intend to urge the Christian duty of treating slaves according to the gospel
rules of justice and benevolence, and using all lawful and appropriate means
for bringing a most pernicious system to a speedy end.
If Abolitionists will only cease to teach that all
slave-holding is a sin which ought to be immediately abolished; if they will cease to urge their plan as one of immediate emancipation, and teach simply and exactly that which they
do mean, much strife and misunderstanding will cease. But so long as they
persevere in using these terms in a new and peculiar sense, which will always
be misunderstood, they are guilty of a species of deception and accountable
for the evils that follow.
One other instance of a similar misuse of terms may be mentioned. The word
“man-stealer” has one peculiar signification, and it is no more
synonymous with “slave-holder” than it is with “sheep-stealer.”
But Abolitionists show that a slave-holder, in fact, does very
many of the evils that are perpetrated by a man-stealer, and that the crime
is quite as evil in its nature, and very similar in character, and, therefore,
he calls a slave-holder a man-stealer.
On this principle there is no abusive language that may not be employed
to render any man odious--for every man commits sin of some kind, and
every sin is like some other sin, in many respects, and in certain aggravated
cases, may be bad, or even worse, than another sin with a much more odious
name. It is easy to show that a man who neglects all religious duty is very
much like an atheist, and if he has had great advantages, and the atheist
very few, he may be much more guilty than an atheist. And so, half the respectable
men in our religious communities, may be called atheists, with as much propriety
as a slave-holder can be called a man-stealer. Abolitionists have proceeded
on this principle, in their various publications, until the terms of odium
that have been showered upon slave-holders, would form a large page in the vocabulary of Billingsgate. This method of dealing with those whom
we wish to convince and persuade, is as contrary to the dictates of common
sense, as it is to the rules of good breeding and the laws of the gospel.
The preceding particulars are selected, as the evidence to be presented,
that the character and measures of the Abolition Society are neither peaceful
nor Christian in their tendency; but that in their nature they are calculated
to generate party-spirit, denunciation, recrimination, and angry passions.
If such be the tendency of this institution, it follows, that it is wrong
for a Christian, or any lover of peace, to be connected with it.
The assertion that Christianity itself has led to strife and contention,
is not a safe method of evading this argument. Christianity is a system of persuasion, tending, by kind and gentle influences, to
make men willing to leave off their sins--and
it comes, not to convince those who are not sinners, but to sinners themselves.
Abolitionism, on the contrary, is a system of coercion by public opinion; and in its present operation, its
influence is not to convince the erring, but to convince those who are not
guilty, of the sins of those who are.
Another prominent peculiarity of the Abolitionists, (which is an objection
to joining this association,) is their advocacy of a principle, which is wrong
and very pernicious in its tendency. I refer to their views in regard to what
is called “the doctrine of expediency.” Their difficulty on this
subject seems to have arisen from want of a clear distinction between the
duty of those who are guilty of sin, and the duty of those who are aiming
to turn men from their sins. The principle is assumed, that because certain
men ought to abandon every sin immediately, therefore, certain other men are
bound immediately to try and make them do it. Now
the question of expediency does not relate to what men are bound to do, who
are in the practice of sin themselves--for the immediate relinquishment
of sin is the duty of all; but it relates to the duty of those who are to
make efforts to induce others to break off their wickedness.
Here, the wisdom and rectitude of a given course, depend
entirely on the probabilities of success. If a father
has a son of a very peculiar temperament, and he knows by observation, that
the use of the rod will make him more irritable and more liable to a certain
fault, and that kind arguments, and tender measures will more probably accomplish
the desired object, it is a rule of expediency to try the most probable course.
If a companion sees a friend committing a sin, and has, from past experience,
learned that remonstrances excite anger and obstinacy, while a look of silent
sorrow and disapprobation tends far more to prevent the evil, expediency and
duty demand silence rather than remonstrance.
There are cases also, where differences in age, and station, and character,
forbid all interference to modify the conduct and character of others.
A nursery maid may see that a father misgoverns his children, and ill-treats
his wife. But her station makes it inexpedient for her to turn reprover. It
is a case where reproof would do no good, but only evil.
So in communities, the propriety and rectitude of measures can be decided,
not by the rules of duty that should govern those who are to renounce sin,
but by the probabilities of good or evil consequence.
The Abolitionists seem to lose sight of this distinction. They form voluntary
associations in free States, to convince their fellow citizens of the sins
of other men in other communities. They are blamed and opposed, because their
measures are deemed inexpedient, and calculated to increase, rather than diminish
the evils to be cured.
In return, they show that slavery is a sin which ought to be abandoned
immediately, and seem to suppose that it follows as a correct inference, that
they themselves ought to engage in a system of agitation against it, and that
it is needless for them to inquire whether preaching the truth in the manner
they propose, will increase or diminish the evil. They assume that whenever
sin is committed, not only ought the sinner immediately to cease, but all
his fellow-sinners are bound to take measures to make him cease,
and to take measures, without any reference to the probabilities of success.
That this is a correct representation of the views of Abolitionists generally,
is evident from their periodicals and conversation. All their remarks about
preaching the truth and leaving consequences to God--all their depreciation
of the doctrine of expediency, are rendered relevant only by this supposition.
The impression made by their writings is, that God has made rules of duty;
that all men are in all cases to remonstrate against the violation of those
rules; and that God will take the responsibility of bringing good out of this
course; so that we ourselves are relieved from any necessity of inquiring
as to probable results.
If this be not the theory of duty adopted by this association, then they
stand on common ground with those who oppose their measures, viz: that the
propriety and duty of a given course is to be decided by probabilities as to its results; and these probabilities
are to be determined by the known laws of mind,
and the records of past experience.
For only one of two positions can be held. Either that it is the duty of
all men to remonstrate at all times against all violations of duty, and leave
the consequences with God; or else that men are to use their judgment, and
take the part of remonstrance only at such a time and place, and in such a
manner, as promise the best results.
That the Abolitionists have not held the second of these positions, must
be obvious to all who have read their documents. It would therefore be unwise
and wrong to join an association which sustains a principle false in itself,
and one which, if acted out, would tend to wrath and strife and every evil
word and work.
Another reason, and the most important of all, against promoting the plans
of the Abolitionists, is involved in the main question-- what are the probabilities as to the results of their movements? The
only way to judge of the future results of certain measures is, by the known laws of mind, and the recorded experience of the past.
Now what is the evil to be cured?
SLAVERY IN THIS NATION.
That this evil is at no distant period to come to an end, is the unanimous
opinion of all who either notice the tendencies of the age, or believe in
the prophecies of the Bible. All who act on Christian principles in regard
to slavery, believe that in a given period (variously estimated) it will end.
The only question then, in regard to the benefits to be gained, or the evils
to be dreaded in the present agitation of the subject, relates to the time and the manner of its extinction.
The Abolitionists claim that their method will bring it to an end in the shortest
time, and in the safest and best way. Their opponents believe, that it will
tend to bring it to an end, if at all, at the most distant period, and in
the most dangerous way.
As neither party are gifted with prescience, and as the Deity has made
no revelations as to the future results of any given measures, all the means
of judging that remain to us, as before stated, are the laws
of mind, and the records of the past.
The position then I would aim to establish is, that the method taken by
the Abolitionists is the one that, according to the laws of mind and past
experience, is least likely to bring about the results they aim to accomplish.
The general statement is this.
The object to be accomplished is:
First. To convince a certain community, that they are in the practice of
a great sin, and
Secondly, To make them willing to relinquish it.
The method taken to accomplish this is, by voluntary associations in a
foreign community, seeking to excite public sentiment against the perpetrators
of the evil; exhibiting the enormity of the crime in full measure, without
palliation, excuse or sympathy, by means of periodicals and agents circulating,
not in the community committing the sin, but in that which does not practise
Now that this method may, in conjunction with other causes, have an influence
to bring slavery to an end, is not denied. But it is believed,
and from the following considerations, that it is the least calculated to
do the good, and that it involves the greatest evils.
It is a known law of mind first seen in the nursery and school, afterwards
developed in society, that a person is least likely to judge correctly of
truth, and least likely to yield to duty, when excited by passion.
It is a law of experience, that when wrong is done, if repentance and reformation
are sought, then love and kindness, mingled with remonstrance, coming from
one who has a right to speak, are more successful
than rebuke and scorn from others who are not beloved, and who are regarded
as impertinent intruders.
In the nursery, if the child does wrong, the finger of scorn, the taunting
rebuke, or even the fair and deserved reproof of equals, will make the young
culprit only frown with rage, and perhaps repeat and increase the injury.
But the voice of maternal love, or even the gentle remonstrances of an elder sister, may bring tears of sorrow and contrition.
So in society. Let a man's enemies, or those who have no interest in his
welfare, join to rebuke and rail at his offences, and no signs of penitence
will be seen. But let the clergyman whom he respects and loves, or his bosom
friend approach him, with kindness, forbearance and true sincerity, and all
that is possible to human agency will be effected.
It is the maxim then of experience, that when men are to be turned from
evils, and brought to repent and reform, those only should interfere who are
most loved and respected, and who have the best right to approach the offender.
While on the other hand, rebuke from those who are deemed obtrusive and inimical,
or even indifferent, will do more harm than good.
It is another maxim of experience, that such dealings with the erring should
be in private, not in public. The moment a man is publicly rebuked, shame,
anger, and pride of opinion, all combine to make him defend
his practice, and refuse either to own himself wrong, or to cease from his
The Abolitionists have violated all these laws of mind and of experience,
in dealing with their southern brethren.
Their course has been most calculated to awaken anger, fear, pride, hatred,
and all the passions most likely to blind the mind to truth, and make it averse
They have not approached them with the spirit of love, courtesy, and forbearance.
They are not the persons who would be regarded by the South, as having
any right to interfere; and therefore, whether they
have such right or not, the probabilities of good are removed. For it is not
only demanded for the benefit of the offender, that there should really be
a right, but it is necessary that he should feel that there is such a right.
In dealing with their brethren, too, they have not tried silent, retired,
private measures. It has been public denunciation of crime and shame in newspapers,
addressed as it were to by-standers, in order to arouse the
In reply to this, it has been urged, that men could not go to the South--that
they would be murdered there--that the only way was, to convince the
North, and excite public odium against the sins of the South, and thus gradually
conviction, repentance, and reformation would ensue.
Here is another case where men are to judge of their duty, by estimating
probabilities of future results; and it may first be observed, that it involves
the principle of expediency, in just that form to which Abolitionists object.
It is allowed that the immediate abolition of slavery is to be produced
by means of “light and love,” and yet it is maintained as right
to withdraw personally from the field of operation, because of consequences; because of the probable danger of approaching. “If
we go to the South, and present truth, argument, and entreaty, we shall be slain, and therefore we are not under obligation to go.”
If this justifies Abolitionists in their neglect of their offending
brethren, because they fear evil results to themselves, it also justifies
those who refuse to act with Abolitionists in their measures, because they
fear other evil results.
But what proof is there, that if the Abolitionists had taken another method,
the one more in accordance with the laws of mind and the dictates of experience,
that there would have been at the South all this violence? Before the abolition
movement commenced, both northern and southern men, expressed their views
freely at the South. The dangers, evils, and mischiefs of slavery were exhibited
and discussed even in the legislative halls of more than one of the Southern
States, and many minds were anxiously devising measures, to bring this evil
to an end.
Now let us look at some of the records of past experience. Clarkson was
the first person who devoted himself to the cause of Abolition in England.
His object was to convince the people of England that they were guilty of
a great impolicy, and great sin, in permitting the slave-trade.
He was to meet the force of public sentiment, and power, and selfishness,
and wealth, which sustained this trafic, in that nation. What were his measures?
He did not go to Sweden, or Russia, or France, to awaken public sentiment
against the sins of the English.-- He began by first publishing an inquiry
in England whether it was right to seize men, and make them slaves. He went
unostentatiously to some of the best and most pious men there, and endeavoured
to interest them in the inquiry.
Then he published an article on the impolicy of the slave-trade, showing
its disadvantages. Then he collected information of the evils and enormities
involved in the traffic, and went quietly around among those most likely to
be moved by motives of humanity and Christianity. In this manner he toiled
for more than fourteen years, slowly implanting the leaven among the good
men, until he gained a noble band of patriots and Christians, with Wilberforce
at their head.
The following extract from a memoir of Clarkson discloses
the manner and spirit in which he commenced his enterprise, and toiled through
to its accomplishment.
“In 1785 Dr. Peckhard, Vice-Chancellor of the University, deeply
impressed with the iniquity of the slave-trade, announced as a subject for
a Latin Dissertation to the Senior Bachelors of Arts: `Anne liceat invitos in servitutem dare?' `Is it right to make slaves
of others against their will?' However benevolent the feelings of the Vice-Chancellor,
and however strong and clear the opinions he held on the inhuman traffic,
it is probable that he little thought that this discussion would secure for
the object so dear to his own heart, efforts and advocacy equally enlightened
and efficient, that should be continued, until his country had declared, not
that the slave-trade only, but that slavery itself should cease.
“Mr. Clarkson, having in the preceding year gained the first prize
for the Latin Dissertation, was naturally anxious to maintain his honourable
position; and no efforts were spared, during the few intervening weeks, in
collecting information and evidence. Important facts were gained
from Anthony Benezet's Historical Account of Guinea, which Mr. Clarkson hastened
to London to purchase. Furnished with these and other valuable information,
he commenced his difficult task. How it was accomplished, he thus informs
“ `No person,' he states,*
`can tell the severe trial which the writing of it proved to me. I had expected
pleasure from the invention of the arguments, from the arrangement of them,
from the putting of them together, and from the thought, in the interim, that
I was engaged in an innocent contest for literary honour. But all my pleasure
was damped by the facts which were now continually before me. It was but one
gloomy subject from morning to night. In the day-time I was uneasy; in the
night I had little rest. I sometimes never closed my eyelids for grief. It
became now not so much a trial for academical reputation, as for the production of a work which might be useful to injured Africa. And keeping
this idea in my mind ever after the perusal of Benezet, I always slept with
a candle in my room, that I might rise out of bed, and put down such thoughts
as might occur to me in the night, if I judged them valuable, conceiving that
no arguments of any moment should be lost in so great a cause. Having at length
finished this painful task, I sent my Essay to the Vice-Chancellor, and soon
afterwards found myself honoured, as before, with the first prize.
“ `As it is usual to read these essays publicly in the senate-house
soon after the prize is adjudged, I was called to Cambridge for this purpose.
I went, and performed my office. On returning, however, to London, the subject
of it almost wholly engrossed my thoughts. I became at times very seriously
affected while upon the road. I stopped my horse occasionally, and dismounted,
and walked. I frequently tried to persuade myself in these intervals that
the contents of my Essay could not be true. The more, however,
I reflected upon them, or rather upon the authorities on which they were founded,
the more I gave them credit. Coming in sight of Wade's Mill, in Hertfordshire,
I sat down disconsolate on the turf by the road-side, and held my horse. Here
a thought came into my mind, that if the contents of the Essay were true,
it was time some person should see these calamities to their end. Agitated
in this manner, I reached home. This was in the summer of 1785.
“ `In the course of the autumn of the same year I experienced similar
impressions. I walked frequently into the woods, that I might think on the
subject in solitude, and find relief to my mind there. But there the question
still recurred, `Are these things true?' Still the answer followed as instantaneously,--`They
are.' Still the result accompanied it; `Then, surely, some person should interfere.'
I then began to envy those who had seats in parliament, and who had great
riches, and widely extended connexions, which would enable them to take up
this cause. Finding scarcely any one at that time who thought
of it, I was turned frequently to myself. But here many difficulties arose.
It struck me, among others, that a young man of only twenty-four years of
age could not have that solid judgment, or knowledge of men, manners, and
things, which were requisite to qualify him to undertake a task of such magnitude
and importance: and with whom was I to unite? I believed also, that it looked
so much like one of the feigned labours of Hercules, that my understanding
would be suspected if I proposed it. On ruminating, however, on the subject,
I found one thing at least practicable, and that this was also in my power.
I could translate my Latin Dissertation. I could enlarge it usefully. I could
see how the public received it, or how far they were likely to favour any
serious measures, which should have a tendency to produce the abolition of
the slave-trade. Upon this, then, I determined; and in the middle of the month
of November, 1785, I began my work.'
“Such is the characteristic and ingenuous account given by Clarkson
of his introduction to that work to which the energies of his
life were devoted, and in reference to which, and to the account whence the
fore-going extract has been made, one of the most benevolent and gifted writers
of our country* has justly observed,--
“ `This interesting tale is related, not by a descendant, but a cotemporary;
not by a distant spectator, but by a participator of the contest; and of all
the many participators, by the man confessedly the most efficient; the man
whose unparalleled labours in this work of love and peril, leave on the mind
of a reflecting reader the sublime doubt, which of the two will have been
the greater final gain to the moral world,--the removal of the evil,
or the proof, thereby given, what mighty effects single good men may realize
by self-devotion and perseverance.'
“When Mr. Clarkson went to London to publish his book, he was introduced
to many friends of the cause of Abolition, who aided in giving it extensive
circulation. Whilst thus employed, he received an invitation,
which he accepted, to visit the Rev. James Ramsay, vicar of Teston, in Kent,
who had resided nineteen years in the island of St. Christopher.
“Shortly afterwards, dining one day at Sir Charles Middleton's, (afterwards
Lord Barham,) the conversation turned upon the subject, and Mr. Clarkson declared
that he was ready to devote himself to the cause. This avowal met with great
encouragement from the company, and Sir C. Middleton, then Comptroller to
the Navy, offered every possible assistance. The friends of Mr. Clarkson increased,
and this encouraged him to proceed. Dr. Porteus, then Bishop of Chester, and
Lord Scarsdale, were secured in the House of Lords. Mr. Bennet Langton, and
Dr. Baker, who were acquainted with many members of both houses of parliament;
the honoured Granville Sharpe, James and Richard Phillips, could be depended
upon, as well as the entire body of the Society of Friends, to many of whom
he had been introduced by Mr. Joseph Hancock, his fellow-townsman.
Seeking information in every direction, Mr. Clarkson boarded a number of
vessels engaged in the African trade, and obtained specimens of the natural
productions of the country. The beauty of the cloth made from African cotton,&
c. enhanced his estimate of the skill and ingenuity of the people, and
gave a fresh stimulus to his exertions on their behalf. He next visited a
slave-ship; the rooms below, the gratings above, and the barricade across
the deck, with the explanation of their uses, though the sight of them filled
him with sadness and horror, gave new energy to all his movements. In his
indefatigable endeavours to collect evidence and facts, he visited most of
the sea-ports in the kingdom, pursuing his great object with invincible ardour,
although sometimes at the peril of his life. The following circumstance, among
others, evinces the eminent degree in which he possessed that untiring perseverance,
on which the success of a great enterprise often depends.
“Clarkson and his friends had reason to fear that slaves brought
from the interior of Africa by certain rivers, had been kidnapped;
and it was deemed of great importance to ascertain the fact. A friend one
day mentioned to Mr. Clarkson, that he had, above twelve months before, seen
a sailor who had been up these rivers. The name of the sailor was unknown,
and all the friend could say was, that he was going to, or belonged to, some
man-of-war in ordinary. The evidence of this individual was important, and,
aided by his friend Sir Charles Middleton, who gave him permission to board
all the ships of war in ordinary, Mr. Clarkson commenced his search:--beginning
at Deptford, he visited successfully Woolwich, Chatham, Sheerness, and Portsmouth;
examining in his progress the different persons on board upwards of two hundred
and sixty vessels, without discovering the object of his search. The feelings
under which the search was continued, and the success with which it was crowned,
he has himself thus described:--
“ `Matters now began to look rather disheartening.--I mean as
far as my grand object was concerned. There was but one other
port left, and this was between two and three hundred miles distant. I determined,
however, to go to Plymouth. I had already been more successful in this tour,
with respect to obtaining general evidence, than in any other of the same
length; and the probability was, that as I should continue to move among the
same kind of people, my success would be in a similar proportion, according
to the number visited. These were great encouragements to me to proceed. At
length I arrived at the place of my last hope. On my first day's expedition
I boarded forty vessels, but found no one in these who had been on the coast
of Africa in the slave-trade. One or two had been there in king's ships; but
they never had been on shore. Things were now drawing near to a close; and
notwithstanding my success, as to general evidence, in this journey, my heart
began to beat. I was restless and uneasy during the night. The next morning
I felt agitated again between the alternate pressure of hope and fear; and
in this state I entered my boat. The fifty-seventh vessel I boarded was the Melampus frigate.--One person belonging to it, on examining
him in the captain's cabin, said he had been two voyages to Africa; and I
had not long discoursed with him, before I found, to my inexpressible joy,
that he was the man. I found, too, that he unravelled the question in dispute
precisely as our inferences had determined it. He had been two expeditions
up the river Calabar, in the canoes of the natives. In the first of these
they came within a certain distance of a village: they then concealed themselves
under the bushes, which hung over the water from the banks. In this position
they remained during the day-light; but at night they went up to it armed,
and seized all the inhabitants who had not time to make their escape. They
obtained forty-five persons in this manner. In the second, they were out eight
or nine days, when they made a similar attempt, and with nearly similar success.
They seized men, women, and children, as they could find them in the huts.
They then bound their arms, and drove them before them to the canoes. The
name of the person thus discovered on board of the Melampus
was Isaac Parker. On inquiring into his character, from the master of the
division, I found it highly respectable. I found also afterward that he had
sailed with Captain Cook, with great credit to himself, round the world. It
was also remarkable, that my brother, on seeing him in London, when he went
to deliver his evidence, recognized him as having served on board the Monarch,
man-of-war, and as one of the most exemplary men in that ship.'
“Mr. Clarkson became, early in his career, acquainted with Mr. Wilberforce.
At their first interview, the latter frankly stated, `that the subject had
often employed his thoughts, and was near his heart,' and learning his visiter's
intention to devote himself to this benevolent object, congratulated him on
his decision; desired to be made acquainted with his progress, expressing
his willingness, in return, to afford every assistance in his power. In his
intercourse with members of parliament, Mr. Clarkson was now frequently associated
with Mr. Wilberforce, who daily became more interested in the
fate of Africa. The intercourse of the two philanthropists was mutually cordial
and encouraging; Mr. Clarkson imparting his discoveries in the custom-houses
of London, Liverpool, and other places; and Mr. Wilberforce communicating
the information he had gained from those with whom he associated.
“In 1788, Mr. Clarkson published his important work on the Impolicy
of the Slave-Trade.
“In 1789, this indefatigable man went to France, by the advice of
the Committee which he had been instrumental in forming two years before;
Mr. Wilberforce, always solicitous for the good of the oppressed Africans,
being of opinion that advantage might be taken of the commotions in that country,
to induce the leading persons there to take the slave-trade into their consideration,
and incorporate it among the abuses to be removed. Several of Mr. Clarkson's
friends advised him to travel by another name, as accounts had arrived in
England of the excesses which had taken place in Paris; but
to this he could not consent. On his arrival in that city he was speedily
introduced to those who were favourable to the great object of his life; and
at the house of M. Necker dined with the six deputies of colour from St. Domingo,--who
had been sent to France at this juncture, to demand that the free people of
colour in their country might be placed upon an equality with the whites.
Their communications to the English philanthropist were important and interesting;
they hailed him as their friend, and were abundant in their commendations
of his conduct.
“Copies of the Essay on the Impolicy of the Slave-Trade, translated
into French, with engravings of the plan and section of a slave ship, were
distributed with apparent good effect. The virtuous Abbé Gregoire,
and several members of the National Assembly, called upon Mr. Clarkson. The
Archbishop of Aix was so struck with horror, when the plan of the slave ship
was shown to him, that he could scarcely speak; and Mirabeau ordered a model
of it in wood to be placed in his dining-room.
“The circulation of intelligence, although contributing to make many
friends, called forth the extraordinary exertions of enemies. Merchants, and
others interested in the continuance of the slave-trade, wrote letters to
the Archbishop of Aix, beseeching him not to ruin France; which they said
he would inevitably do, if, as the president, he were to grant a day for hearing
the question of the abolition. Offers of money were made to Mirabeau, if he
would totally abandon his intended motion. Books were circulated in opposition
to Mr. Clarkson's; resort was had to the public papers, and he was denounced
as a spy. The clamour raised by these efforts pervaded all Paris, and reached
the ears of the king. M. Necker had a long conversation with his royal master
upon it, who requested to see the Essay, and the specimens of African manufactures,
and bestowed considerable time upon them, being surprised at the state of
the arts there. M. Necker did not exhibit the section of the slave ship, thinking
that as the king was indisposed, he might be too much affected by
it. Louis returned the specimens, commissioning M. Necker to convey his
thanks to Mr. Clarkson, and express his gratification at what he had seen.
“No decided benefit appears at this time to have followed the visit:
but though much depressed by his ill success in France, Mr. Clarkson continued
his labours, till excess of exertion, joined to repeated and bitter disappointments,
impaired his health, and, after a hard struggle, subdued a constitution, naturally
strong and vigorous beyond the lot of men in general, but shattered by anxiety
and fatigue, and the sad probability, often forced upon his understanding,
that all might at last have been in vain. Under these feelings, he retired
in 1794 to the beautiful banks of Ulleswater; there to seek that rest which,
without peril to his life, could no longer be delayed.
“For seven years he had maintained a correspondence with four hundred
persons; he annually wrote a book upon the subject of the abolition, and travelled
more than thirty-five thousand miles in search of evidence,
making a great part of these journeys in the night. `All this time,' Mr.
Clarkson writes, `my mind had been on the stretch; it had been bent too to
this one subject; for I had not even leisure to attend to my own concerns.
The various instances of barbarity, which had come successively to my knowledge
within this period, had vexed, harassed, and afflicted it. The wound which
these had produced was rendered still deeper by the reiterated refusal of
persons to give their testimony, after I had travelled hundreds of miles in
quest of them. But the severest stroke was that inflicted by the persecution
begun and pursued by persons interested in the continuance of the trade, of
such witnesses as had been examined against them; and whom, on account of
their dependent situation in life, it was most easy to oppress. As I had been
the means of bringing them forward on these occasions, they naturally came
to me, as the author of their miseries and their ruin. These different circumstances, by acting together,
had at length brought me into the situation just mentioned; and I was, therefore,
obliged, though very reluctantly, to be borne out of the field where I had
placed the great honour and glory of my life.' ”
It was while thus recruiting the energies exhausted in the conflict, that
Clarkson, and the compatriot band with which he had been associated in the
long and arduous struggle, were crowned with victory, and received the grateful
reward of their honourable toil in the final abolition of the slave-trade
by the British nation, in 1807, the last but most glorious act of the Grenville
The preceding shows something of the career of Clarkson while labouring
to convince the people of Great Britain of the iniquity of their own trade, a trade which they had the power to abolish. During
all this time, Clarkson, Wilberforce, and their associates slavery. They knew that one
thing must be gained at a time, and they as a matter of expediency, avoided
discussing the duty of the British nation in regard to the system of slavery
in their colonies which was entirely under their own control. During all the
time that was employed in efforts to end the slave-trade, slavery was existing
in the control of the British people, and yet Clarkson and Wilberforce decided
that it was right to let that matter entirely alone.
The following shows Clarkson's proceedings after the British nation had
abolished the slave-trade.
“By the publication of his Thoughts on the Abolition of Slavery,
Mr. Clarkson showed that neither he nor those connected with him, considered
their work as accomplished, when the laws of his country clasped with its
felons those engaged in the nefarious traffic of slaves. But the efforts of
Mr. Clarkson were not confined to his pen. In 1818, he proceeded to Aix la
Chapelle, at the time when the sovereigns of Europe met in congress. He was received with marked attention by the Emperor of Russia,
who listened to his statements (respecting the slave-trade,) and promised to use his influence with the assembled monarchs, to secure
the entire suppression of the trade in human beings, as speedily as possible.
Describing his interview with this amiable monarch, in which the subject of
peace societies, as well as the abolition of the slave-trade was discussed,
Mr. Clarkson, in a letter to a friend, thus writes:
“ `It was about nine at night, when I was shown into the emperor's
apartment. I found him alone. He met me at the door, and shaking me by the
hand, said, `I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance at Paris.' He
then led me some little way into the room, and leaving me there, went forward
and brought me a chair with his own hand, and desired me to sit down. This
being done, he went for another chair, and bringing it very near to mine,
placed himself close to me, so that we sat opposite to each other.
“ `I began the conversation by informing the emperor that as I supposed
the congress of Aix la Chapelle might possibly be the last congress of sovereigns
for settling the affairs of Europe, its connexions and dependencies, I had
availed myself of the kind permission he gave me at Paris, of applying to
him in behalf of the oppressed Africans, being unwilling to lose the last
opportunity of rendering him serviceable to the cause.
“ `The emperor replied, that he had read both my letter and my address
to the sovereigns, and that what I asked him and the other sovereigns to do,
was only reasonable.
“ `Here I repeated the two great propositions in the address--the
necessity of bringing the Portuguese time for continuing the trade (which
did not expire till 1825, and then only with a condition,) down to the Spanish
time, which expired in 1820; and secondly, when the two times should legally
have expired, (that is, both of them in 1820,) then to make any farther continuance piracy. I entreated him not to be deceived by any other
propositions; for that Mr. Wilberforce, myself, and others,
who had devoted our time to this subject, were sure that no other measure
would be effectual.
“ `He then said very feelingly in these words, `By the providence
of God, I and my kingdom have been saved from a merciless tyranny, (alluding
to the invasion of Napoleon,) and I should but ill repay the blessing, if
I were not to do every thing in my power to protect the poor Africans against
their oppression also.'
“ `The emperor then asked if he could do any thing else for our cause.
I told him he could; and that I should be greatly obliged to him if he would
present one of the addresses to the Emperor of Austria, and another to the
King of Prussia, with his own hand. I had brought
two of them in my pocket for the purpose. He asked me why I had not presented
them before. I replied that I had not the honour of knowing either of those
sovereigns as I knew him; nor any of their ministers; and that I was not only
fearful lest these addresses would not be presented to them, but even if they
were, that coming into their hands without any recommendation,
they would be laid aside and not read; on the other hand, if he (the emperor,)
would condescend to present them, I was sure they would be read, and that
coming from him, they would come with a weight of influence, which would secure
an attention to their contents. Upon this, the emperor promised, in the most
kind and affable manner, that he would perform the task I had assigned to
“ `We then rose from our seats to inspect some articles of manufacture,
which I had brought with me as a present to him, and which had been laid upon
the table. We examined the articles in leather first, one by one, with which
he was uncommonly gratified. He said they exhibited not only genius but taste.
He inquired if they tanned their own leather, and how: I replied to his question.
He said he had never seen neater work, either in Petersburg or in London.
He then looked at a dagger and its scabbard or sheath. I said the sheath was
intended as a further, but more beautiful specimen of the work
of the poor Africans in leather; and the blade of their dagger as a specimen
of their work in iron. Their works in cotton next came under our notice. There
was one piece which attracted his particular notice, and which was undoubtedly
very beautiful. It called from him this observation, `Manchester,' said he,
`I think is your great place for manufactures of this sort--do you think
they could make a better piece of cotton there?' I told him I had never seen
a better piece of workmanship of the kind any where. Having gone over all
the articles, the emperor desired me to inform him whether he was to understand
that these articles were made by the Africans in their own country, that is,
in their native villages, or after they had arrived in
America, where they would have an opportunity of seeing European manufactures,
and experienced workmen in the arts? I replied that such articles might be
found in every African village, both on the coast and in the interior, and
that they were samples of their own ingenuity, without any connexion with
Europeans. 'Then,' said the emperor, `you astonish me--you
have given me a new idea of the state of these poor people. I was not aware
that they were so advanced in society. The works you have shown me are not
the works of brutes--but of men, endued with rational and intellectual
powers, and capable of being brought to as high a degree of proficiency as
any other men. Africa ought to have a fair chance of raising
her character in the scale of the civilized world.' I replied that it
was this cruel traffic alone, which had prevented Africa from rising to a
level with other nations; and that it was only astonishing to me that the
natives there had, under its impeding influence, arrived at the perfection
which had displayed itself in the specimens of workmanship he had just seen.'
Animated by a growing conviction of the righteousness of the cause in which
he was engaged, and encouraged by the success with which past endeavours had
been crowned, Mr. Clarkson continued his efficient co-opetion with the friends
of Abolition, advocating its claims on all suitable occasions.
It would be superfluous to recount the steps by which, even before the
venerated Wilberforce was called to his rest, this glorious event was realized,
and Clarkson beheld the great object of his own life, and those with whom
he had acted, triumphantly achieved. The gratitude cherished towards the Supreme
Ruler for the boon thus secured to the oppressed--the satisfaction which
a review of past exertions afforded, were heightened by the joyous sympathy
of a large portion of his countrymen.
The History of the Abolition of the Slave-trade, by Clarkson himself, presents
a more detailed account of his own labours and of the labours of others, and
whoever will read it, will observe the following particulars in which this
effort differed from the Abolition movement in America.
In the first place, it was conducted by some of the wisest and most talented
statesmen, as well as the most pious men, in the British nation.
Pitt, Fox, and some of the highest of the nobility and bishops in England,
were the firmest friends of the enterprise from the first. It was conducted
by men who had the intellect, knowledge, discretion, and wisdom demanded for
so great an enterprise.
Secondly. It was conducted slowly, peaceably, and by eminently judicious
Thirdly. It included, to the full extent, the doctrine of expediency denounced
One of the first decisions of the “Committee for the Abolition of
the Slave-trade,” which conducted all Abolition movements, was that slavery should not be attacked, but only the slave-trade; and Clarkson expressly says, that it was owing to this,
more than to any other measure, that success was gained.
Fourthly. Good men were not divided, and thrown into contending parties.--The
opponents to the measure, were only those who were personally interested in
the perpetuation of slavery or the slave-trade.
Fifthly. This effort was one to convince men of their own obligations, and not an effort to arouse public sentiment
against the sinful practices of another community over which they had no control.
I would now ask, why could not some southern gentleman, such for example
as Mr. Birney, whose manners, education, character, and habits give him abundant
facilities, have acted the part of Clarkson, and quietly have gone to work
at the South, collecting facts, exhibiting the impolicy and the evils, to
good men at the South, by the fire-side of the planter, the known home of
hospitality and chivalry. Why could he not have commenced with the most vulnerable
point, the domestic slave-trade, leaving emancipation
for a future and more favourable period? What right has any one to say that
there was no southern Wilberforce that would have arisen, no southern Grant,
Macaulay or Sharpe, who, like the English philanthropists, would have stood
the fierce beating of angry billows, and by patience, kindness, arguments,
facts, eloquence, and Christian love, convinced the skeptical, enlightened
the ignorant, excited the benevolent, and finally have carried the
day at the South, by the same means and measures, as secured the event
in England? All experience is in favour of the method which the Abolitionists
have rejected, because it involves danger to themselves. The cause they have selected is one that stands alone.-- No case
parallel on earth can be brought to sustain it, with probabilities of good
results. No instance can be found, where exciting the public sentiment of
one community against evil practices in another, was ever made the means of
eradicating those evils. All the laws of mind, all the records of experience,
go against the measures that Abolitionists have taken, and in favour of the
one they have rejected. And when we look still farther ahead, at results which
time is to develope, how stand the probabilities, when we, in judging, again
take, as data, the laws of mind and the records of experience?
What are the plans, hopes, and expectations of Abolitionists, in reference
to their measures? They are now labouring to make the North a great Abolition
Society,--to convince every northern man that slavery at the
South is a great sin, and that it ought immediately to cease. Suppose they
accomplish this to the extent they hope,--so far as we have seen, the
more the North is convinced, the more firmly the South rejects the light,
and turns from the truth.
While Abolition Societies did not exist, men could talk and write, at the
South, against the evils of slavery, and northern men had free access and
liberty of speech, both at the South and at the North. But now all is changed.
Every avenue of approach to the South is shut. No paper, pamphlet, or preacher,
that touches on that topic, is admitted in their bounds. Their own citizens,
that once laboured and remonstrated, are silenced; their own clergy, under
the influence of the exasperated feelings of their people, and their own sympathy
and sense of wrong, either entirely hold their peace, or become the defenders
of a system they once lamented, and attempted to bring to an end. This is
the record of experience as to the tendencies of Abolitionism, as thus far
developed. The South are now in just that state of high exasperation,
at the sense of wanton injury and impertinent interference, which makes the
influence of truth and reason most useless and powerless.
But suppose the Abolitionists succeed, not only in making northern men
Abolitionists, but also in sending a portion of light into the South, such
as to form a body of Abolitionists there also What is the thing that is to
be done to end slavery at the South? It is to alter the
laws, and to do this, a small minority must begin a long, bitter, terrible
conflict with a powerful and exasperated majority. Now if, as the Abolitionists
hope, there will arise at the South such a minority, it will doubtless consist
of men of religious and benevolent feelings,-- men of that humane, and
generous, and upright spirit, that most keenly feel the injuries inflicted
on their fellow men. Suppose such a band of men begin their efforts, sustained
by the northern Abolitionists, already so odious. How will the exasperated
majority act, according to the known laws of mind and of experience? Instead
of lessening the evils of slavery, they will increase them. The
more they are goaded by a sense of aggressive wrong without, or by fears
of dangers within, the more they will restrain their slaves, and diminish
their liberty, and increase their disabilities. They will make laws so unjust
and oppressive, not only to slaves, but to their Abolitionist advocates, that
by degrees such men will withdraw from their bounds. Laws will be made expressly
to harass them, and to render them so uncomfortable that they must withdraw.
Then gradually the righteous will flee from the devoted city. Then the numerical
proportion of whites will decrease, and the cruelty and unrestrained wickedness
of the system will increase, till a period will come when the physical power
will be so much with the blacks, their sense of suffering so increased, that
the volcano will burst,--insurrection and servile wars will begin. Oh,
the countless horrors of such a day! And will the South stand alone in that
burning hour? When she sends forth the wailing of her agonies, shall not the
North and the West hear, and lift up together the voice of wo? Will not fathers
hear the cries
Such apprehensions many would regard as needless, and exclaim against such
melancholy predictions. But in a case where the whole point of duty and expediency
turns upon the probabilities as to results, those probabilities ought to be
the chief subjects of inquiry. True, no one has a right to say with confidence
what will or what will not be; and it has often amazed and disturbed my mind
to perceive how men, with so small a field of vision,--with so little
data for judging,--with so few years, and so little experience, can pronounce
concerning the results of measures bearing upon the complicated relations
and duties of millions, and in a case where the wisest and best are dismayed
and baffled. It sometimes has seemed to me that the prescience of Deity alone
should dare to take such positions as are both carelessly assumed, and pertinaciously
defended, by the advocates of Abolitionism.
But if we are to judge of the wisdom or folly of any measures on this subject,
it must be with reference to future results. One course of
measures, it is claimed, tends to perpetuate slavery, or to end it by scenes
of terror and bloodshed. Another course tends to bring it to an end sooner,
and by safe and peaceful influences. And the whole discussion of duty rests
on these probabilities. But where do the laws of mind and experience oppose
the terrific tendencies of Abolitionism that have been portrayed? Are not
the minds of men thrown into a ferment, and excited by those passions which
blind the reason, and warp the moral sense? Is not the South in a state of
high exasperation against Abolitionists? Does she not regard them as enemies,
as reckless madmen, as impertinent intermeddlers? Will the increase of their
numbers tend to allay this exasperation? Will the appearance of a similar
body in their own boundaries have any tendency to soothe? Will it not still
more alarm and exasperate? If a movement of a minority of such men attempt
to alter the laws, are not the probabilities strong that still more unjust
and oppressive measures will be adopted?--measures that
will tend to increase the hardships of the slave, and to drive out of the
community all humane, conscientious and pious men? As the evils and dangers
increase, will not the alarm constantly diminish the proportion of whites,
and make it more and more needful to increase such disabilities and restraints
as will chafe and inflame the blacks? When this point is reached, will the
blacks, knowing, as they will know, the sympathies of their Abolition friends,
refrain from exerting their physical power? The Southampton
insurrection occurred with far less chance of sympathy and success.
If that most horrible of all scourges, a servile war, breaks forth, will
the slaughter of fathers, sons, infants, and of aged,--will the cries
of wives, daughters, sisters, and kindred, suffering barbarities worse than
death, bring no fathers, brothers, and friends to their aid, from the North
And if the sympathies and indignation of freemen can already look such
an event in the face, and feel that it would be the slave, rather than the
master, whom they would defend, what will be the probability,
after a few years' chafing shall have driven away the most christian and humane
from scenes of cruelty and inhumanity, which they could neither alleviate
nor redress? I should like to see any data of past experience, that will show
that these results are not more probable than that the South will, by the
system of means now urged upon her, finally be convinced of her sins, and
voluntarily bring the system of slavery to an end. I claim not that the predictions
I present will be fulfilled. I only say, that if Abolitionists go on as they
propose, such results are more probable than those
they hope to attain.
I have not here alluded to the probabilities of the severing of the Union
by the present mode of agitating the question. This may be one of the results,
and, if so, what are the probabilities for a Southern republic, that has torn
itself off for the purpose of excluding foreign interference, and for the
purpose of perpetuating slavery? Can any Abolitionist suppose that, in such
a state of things, the great cause of emancipation is as likely to
progress favourably, as it was when we were one nation, and mingling on those
fraternal terms that existed before the Abolition movement began?
The preceding are some of the reasons which, on the general view, I would
present as opposed to the proposal of forming Abolition Societies; and they
apply equally to either sex. There are some others which seem to oppose peculiar
objections to the action of females in the way you would urge.
To appreciate more fully these objections, it will be necessary to recur
to some general views in relation to the place woman is appointed to fill
by the dispensations of heaven.
It has of late become quite fashionable in all benevolent efforts, to shower
upon our sex an abundance of compliments, not only see what they have done,
but also for what they can do; and so injudicious and so frequent, are these
oblations, that while I feel an increasing respect for my countrywomen, that
their good sense has not been decoyed by these appeals to their vanity and
ambition, I cannot but apprehend that there is some need of
inquiry as to the just bounds of female influence, and the times, places,
and manner in which it can be appropriately exerted.
It is the grand feature of the Divine economy, that there should be different
stations of superiority and subordination, and it is impossible to annihilate
this beneficent and immutable law. On its first entrance into life, the child
is a dependent on parental love, and of necessity takes a place of subordination
and obedience. As he advances in life these new relations of superiority and
subordination multiply. The teacher must be the superior in station, the pupil
a subordinate. The master of a family the superior, the domestic a subordinate--the
ruler a superior, the subject a subordinate. Nor do these relations at all
depend upon superiority either in intellectual or moral worth. However weak
the parents, or intelligent the child, there is no reference to this, in the
immutable law. However incompetent the teacher, or superior the pupil, no
alteration of station can be allowed. However unworthy the master or worthy
the servant, while their mutual relations continue, no change
in station as to subordination can be allowed. In fulfilling the duties of
these relations, true dignity consists in conforming to all those relations
that demand subordination, with propriety and cheerfulness. When does a man,
however high his character or station, appear more interesting or dignified
than when yielding reverence and deferential attentions to an aged parent,
however weak and infirm? And the pupil, the servant, or the subject, all equally
sustain their own claims to self-respect, and to the esteem of others, by
equally sustaining the appropriate relations and duties of subordination.
In this arrangement of the duties of life, Heaven has appointed to one sex
the superior, and to the other the subordinate station, and this without any
reference to the character or conduct of either. It is therefore as much for
the dignity as it is for the interest of females, in all respects to conform
to the duties of this relation. And it is as much a duty as it is for the
child to fulfil similar relations to parents, or subjects to rulers. But while
woman holds a subordinate relation in society to the other
sex, it is not because it was designed that her duties or her influence should
be any the less important, or all-pervading. But it was designed that the
mode of gaining influence and of exercising power should be altogether different
It is Christianity that has given to woman her true place in society. And
it is the peculiar trait of Christianity alone that can sustain her therein.
“Peace on earth and good will to men” is the character of all
the rights and privileges, the influence, and the power of woman. A man may
act on society by the collision of intellect, in public debate; he may urge
his measures by a sense of shame, by fear and by personal interest; he may
coerce by the combination of public sentiment; he may drive by physical force,
and he does not outstep the boundaries of his sphere. But all the power, and
all the conquests that are lawful to woman, are those only which appeal to
the kindly, generous, peaceful and benevolent principles.
Woman is to win every thing by peace and love; by making
herself so much respected, esteemed and loved, that to yield to her opinions
and to gratify her wishes, will be the free-will offering of the heart. But
this is to be all accomplished in the domestic and social circle. There let
every woman become so cultivated and refined in intellect, that her taste
and judgment will be respected; so benevolent in feeling and action; that
her motives will be reverenced;--so unassuming and unambitious, that
collision and competition will be banished;--so “gentle and easy
to be entreated,” as that every heart will repose in her presence; then,
the fathers, the husbands, and the sons, will find an influence thrown around
them, to which they will yield not only willingly but proudly. A man is never
ashamed to own such influences, but feels dignified and ennobled in acknowledging
them. But the moment woman begins to feel the promptings of ambition, or the
thirst for power, her ægis of defence is gone. All the sacred protection
of religion, all the generous promptings of chivalry, all the poetry of romantic
gallantry, depend upon woman's retaining her place as dependent
and defenceless, and making no claims, and maintaining no right but what are
the gifts of honour, rectitude and love.
A woman may seek the aid of co-operation and combination among her own
sex, to assist her in her appropriate offices of piety, charity, maternal
and domestic duty; but whatever, in any measure, throws a woman into the attitude
of a combatant, either for herself or others--whatever binds her in a
party conflict--whatever obliges her in any way to exert coercive influences,
throws her out of her appropriate sphere. If these general principles are
correct, they are entirely opposed to the plan of arraying females in any
Abolition movement; because it enlists them in an effort to coerce the South
by the public sentiment of the North; because it brings them forward as partisans
in a conflict that has been begun and carried forward by measures that are
any thing rather than peaceful in their tendencies; because it draws them
forth from their appropriate retirement, to expose themselves
to the ungoverned violence of mobs, and to sneers and ridicule in public
places; because it leads them into the arena of political collision, not as
peaceful mediators to hush the opposing elements, but as combatants to cheer
up and carry forward the measures of strife.
If it is asked, “May not woman appropriately come forward as a suppliant
for a portion of her sex who are bound in cruel bondage?” It is replied,
that, the rectitude and propriety of any such measure, depend entirely on
its probable results. If petitions from females will operate to exasperate;
if they will be deemed obtrusive, indecorous, and unwise, by those to whom
they are addressed; if they will increase, rather than diminish the evil which
it is wished to remove; if they will be the opening wedge, that will tend
eventually to bring females as petitioners and partisans into every political
measure that may tend to injure and oppress their sex, in various parts of
the nation, and under the various public measures that may hereafter be enforced, then it is neither appropriate nor wise, nor right,
for a woman to petition for the relief of oppressed females.
The case of Queen Esther is one often appealed to as a precedent. When
a woman is placed in similar circumstances, where death to herself and all
her nation is one alternative, and there is nothing worse to fear, but something
to hope as the other alternative, then she may safely follow such an example.
But when a woman is asked to join an Abolition Society, or to put her name
to a petition to congress, for the purpose of contributing her measure of
influence to keep up agitation in congress, to promote the excitement of the
North against the iniquities of the South, to coerce the South by fear, shame,
anger, and a sense of odium to do what she has determined not to do, the case
of Queen Esther is not at all to be regarded as a suitable example for imitation.
In this country, petitions to congress, in reference to the official duties
of legislators, seem, IN ALL CASES, to fall entirely
without the sphere of female duty. Men are the proper persons
to make appeals to the rulers whom they appoint, and if their female friends,
by arguments and persuasions, can induce them to petition, all the good that
can be done by such measures will be secured. But if females cannot influence
their nearest friends, to urge forward a public measure in this way, they
surely are out of their place, in attempting to do it themselves.
There are some other considerations, which should make the American females
peculiarly sensitive in reference to any measure, which should even seem to draw them from their appropriate relations in society.
It is allowed by all reflecting minds, that the safety and happiness of
this nation depends upon having the children educated,
and not only intellectually, but morally and religiously. There are now nearly
two millions of children and adults in this country who cannot read, and who
have no schools of any kind. To give only a small supply of teachers to these
destitute children, who are generally where the population is sparse, will demand thirty thousand teachers; and six thousand more will be needed every year, barely to
meet the increase of juvenile population. But if we allow that we need not
reach this point, in order to save ourselves from that destruction which awaits
a people, when governed by an ignorant and unprincipled democracy; if we can
weather the storms of democratic liberty with only one-third of our ignorant
children properly educated, still we need ten thousand teachers at this moment, and an addition of two thousand
every year. Where is this army of teachers to be found? Is it at all
probable that the other sex will afford even a moderate portion of this supply?
The field for enterprise and excitement in the political arena, in the arts,
the sciences, the liberal professions, in agriculture, manufactures, and commerce,
is opening with such temptations, as never yet bore upon the mind of any nation.
Will men turn aside from these high and exciting objects to become the patient
labourers in the school-room, and for only the small pittance that rewards
such toil? No, they will not do it. Men will be educators
in the college, in the high school, in some of the most honourable and lucrative
common schools, but the children, the little children of this nation must, to a wide extent, be taught by females,
or remain untaught. The drudgery of education, as it is now too generally
regarded, in this country, will be given to the female hand. And as the value
of education rises in the public mind, and the importance of a teacher's office
is more highly estimated, women will more and more be furnished with those
intellectual advantages which they need to fit them for such duties.
The result will be, that America will be distinguished above all other
nations, for well-educated females, and for the influence they will exert
on the general interests of society. But if females, as they approach the
other sex, in intellectual elevation, begin to claim, or to exercise in any
manner, the peculiar prerogatives of that sex, education will prove a doubtful
and dangerous blessing. But this will never be the result. For the more intelligent
a woman becomes, the more she can appreciate the wisdom of
that ordinance that appointed her subordinate station, and the more her taste
will conform to the graceful and dignified retirement and submission it involves.
An ignorant, a narrow-minded, or a stupid woman, cannot feel nor understand
the rationality, the propriety, or the beauty of this relation; and she it
is, that will be most likely to carry her measures by tormenting, when she
cannot please, or by petulent complaints or obtrusive interference, in matters
which are out of her sphere, and which she cannot comprehend.
And experience testifies to this result. By the concession of all travellers,
American females are distinguished above all others for their general intelligence,
and yet they are complimented for their retiring modesty, virtue, and domestic
faithfulness, while the other sex is as much distinguished for their respectful
kindness and attentive gallantry. There is no other country where females
have so much public respect and kindness accorded to them
as in America, by the concession of all travellers. And it will ever be so,
while intellectual culture in the female mind, is combined with the spirit
of that religion which so strongly enforces the appropriate duties of a woman's
But it may be asked, is there nothing to be done to bring this national
sin of slavery to an end? Must the internal slave-trade, a trade now ranked
as piracy among all civilized nations, still prosper in our bounds? Must the
very seat of our government stand as one of the chief slave-markets of the
land; and must not Christian females open their lips, nor lift a finger, to
bring such a shame and sin to an end?
To this it may be replied, that Christian females may, and can say and
do much to bring these evils to an end; and the present is a time and an occasion
when it seems most desirable that they should know, and appreciate, and exercise the power which they do possess for so desirable
And in pointing out the methods of exerting female influence for this object,
I am inspired with great confidence, from the conviction that
what will be suggested, is that which none will oppose, but all will allow
to be not only practicable, but safe, suitable, and Christian.
To appreciate these suggestions, however, it is needful previously to consider
some particulars that exhibit the spirit of the age and the tendencies of
our peculiar form of government.
The prominent principle, now in development, as indicating the spirit of
the age, is the perfect right of all men to entire freedom of opinion. By
this I do not mean that men are coming to think that “it is no matter
what a man believes, if he is only honest and sincere,” or that they
are growing any more lenient towards their fellow-men, for the evil consequences
they bring on themselves or on others for believing wrong.
But they are coming to adopt the maxim, that no man shall be forced by
pains and penalties to adopt the opinions of other minds, but that every man
shall be free to form his own opinions, and to propagate them
by all lawful means.
At the same time another right is claimed, which is of necessity involved
in the preceding,--the right to oppose, by all lawful means, the opinions
and the practices of others, when they are deemed pernicious either to individuals
or to the community, Facts, arguments and persuasions are, by all, conceded to be lawful means to employ in propagating
our own views, and in opposing the opinions and practices of others.
These fundamental principles of liberty have in all past ages been restrained
by coercive influences, either of civil or of ecclesiastical power. But in
this nation, all such coercive influences, both of church and state, have
ceased. Every man may think what he pleases about government, or religion,
or any thing else; he may propagate his opinions, he may contrevert opposite
opinions, and no magistrate or ecclesiastic can in any legal way restrain
But the form of our government is such, that every measure that bears upon
the public or private interest of every citizen, is decided
by public sentiment. All laws and regulations in civil,
or religious, or social concerns, are decided by the majority
of votes. And the present is a time when every doctrine, every principle,
and every practice which influences the happiness of man, either in this,
or in a future life, is under discussion. The whole nation is thrown into
parties about almost every possible question, and every man is stimulated
in his efforts to promote his own plans by the conviction that success depends
entirely upon bringing his fellow citizens to think as he does. Hence every
man is fierce in maintaining his own right of free discussion, his own right
to propagate his opinions, and his own right to oppose, by all lawful means,
the opinions that conflict with his own.
But the difficulty is, that a right which all men claim for themselves,
with the most sensitive and pertinacious inflexibility, they have not yet
learned to accord to their fellow men, in cases where their own interests
are involved. Every man is saying, “let me have full
liberty to propagate my opinions, and to oppose all that I deem wrong and
injurious, but let no man take this liberty with my opinions and practices.
Every man may believe what he pleases, and propagate what he pleases, provided
he takes care not to attack any thing which belongs to me.”
And how do men exert themselves to restrain this corresponding right of
their fellow men? Not by going to the magistrate to inform, or to the spiritual
despot to obtain ecclesiastical penalties, but he resorts to methods, which,
if successful, are in effect the most severe pains and penalties that can
restrain freedom of opinion.
What is dearer to a man than his character, involving
as it does, the esteem, respect and affection of friends, neighbours and society,
with all the confidence, honour, trust and emolument that flow from general
esteem? How sensitive is every man to any thing that depreciates his intellectual
character! What torture, to be ridiculed or pitied for such deficiencies!
How cruel the suffering, when his moral delinquencies are held up
to public scorn and reprehension! Confiscation, stripes, chains, and even
death itself, are often less dreaded.
It is this method of punishment to which men resort, to deter their fellow-men
from exercising those rights of liberty which they so tenaciously claim for
themselves. Examine now the methods adopted by almost all who are engaged
in the various conflicts of opinion in this nation, and you will find that
there are certain measures which combatants almost invariably employ.
They either attack the intellectual character of opponents, or they labour
to make them appear narrow-minded, illiberal and bigoted, or they impeach
their honesty and veracity, or they stigmatize their motives as mean, selfish,
ambitious, or in some other respect unworthy and degrading. Instead of truth,
and evidence, and argument, personal depreciation, sneers, insinuations, or
open abuse, are the weapons employed. This method of resisting freedom of
opinions, by pains and penalties, arises in part from the natural selfishness
of man, and in part from want of clear distinctions as to
the rights and duties involved in freedom of opinion and freedom of speech.
The great fundamental principle that makes this matter clear, is this,
that a broad and invariable distinction should ever be preserved between the opinions and practices that are
discussed, and the advocates of these opinions and
It is a sacred and imperious duty, that rests on every human being, to
exert all his influence in opposing every thing that he believes is dangerous
and wrong, and in sustaining all that he believes is safe and right. And in
doing this, no compromise is to be made, in order to shield country, party,
friends, or even self, from any just censure. Every man is bound by duty to
God and to his country, to lay his finger on every false principle, or injurious
practice, and boldly say, “this is wrong--this is dangerous--this
I will oppose with all my influence, whoever it may be that advocates or practises
it.” And every man is bound to use his efforts to turn public sentiment
against all that he believes to be wrong and injurious, either
in regard to this life, or to the future world. And every man deserves to
be respected and applauded, just in proportion as he fearlessly and impartially,
and in a proper spirit, time and manner, fulfils this duty.
The doctrine, just now alluded to, that it is “no matter what a man
believes, if he is only honest and sincere,” is as pernicious, as it
is contrary to religion and to common sense. It is as absurd, and as impracticable,
as it would be to urge on the mariner the maxim, “no matter which way
you believe to be north, if you only steer aright.” A man's character,
feelings, and conduct, all depend upon his opinions. If a man can reason himself
into the belief that it is right to take the property of others and to deceive
by false statements, he will probably prove a thief and a liar. It is of the
greatest concern, therefore, to every man, that his fellow-men should believe right, and one of his most sacred duties is to
use all his influence to promote correct opinions.
But the performance of this duty, does by no means involve the necessity
of attacking the character or motives of the advocates of false opinions, or of holding them up, individually, to
Erroneous opinions are sometimes the consequence of unavoidable ignorance,
or of mental imbecility, or of a weak and erring judgment, or of false testimony
from others, which cannot be rectified. In such cases, the advocates of false
opinions are to be pitied rather than blamed; and while the opinions and their
tendencies may be publicly exposed, the men may be objects of affection and
In other cases, erroneous opinions spring from criminal indifference, from
prejudice, from indolence, from pride, from evil passions, or from selfish
interest. In all such cases, men deserve blame for their pernicious opinions,
and the evils which flow from them.
But, it may be asked, how are men to decide, when their fellow-men are
guilty for holding wrong opinions; when they deserve blame, and when they
are to be regarded only with pity and commiseration by those who believe them
to be in the wrong? Here, surely, is a place where some correct
principle is greatly needed.
Is every man to sit in judgment upon his fellow-man, and decide what are
his intellectual capacities, and what the measure of his judgment? Is every
man to take the office of the Searcher of Hearts, to try the feelings and
motives of his fellow-man? Is that most difficult of all analysis, the estimating
of the feelings, purposes, and motives, which every man, who examines his
own secret thoughts, finds to be so complex, so recondite, so intricate; is
this to be the basis, not only of individual opinion, but of public reward
and censure? Is every man to constitute himself a judge of the amount of time
and interest given to the proper investigation of truth by his fellow-man?
Surely, this cannot be a correct principle.
Though there may be single cases in which we can know that our fellow-men
are weak in intellect, or erring in judgment, or perverse in feeling, or misled
by passion, or biased by selfish interest, as a general fact we
are not competent to decide these matters, in regard to those who differ
from us in opinion.
For this reason it is manifestly wrong and irrelevant, when discussing
questions of duty or expediency, to bring before the public the character
or the motives of the individual advocates of opinions.
But, it may be urged, how can the evil tendencies of opinions or of practices
be investigated, without involving a consideration of the character and conduct
of those who advocate them? To this it may be replied, that the tendencies
of opinions and practices can never be ascertained by discussing individual
character. It is classes of persons, or large communities, embracing persons of all varieties of character
and circumstances, that are the only proper subjects of investigation for
this object. For example, a community of Catholics, and a community of Protestants,
may be compared, for the purpose of learning the moral tendencies of their
different opinions. Scotland and New England, where the principles opposite
to Catholicism have most prevailed, may properly be compared with
Spain and Italy, where the Catholic system has been most fairly tried. But
to select certain individuals who are defenders of these two different systems,
as examples to illustrate their tendencies, would be as improper as it would
be to select a kernel of grain to prove the good or bad character of a whole
To illustrate by a more particular example. The doctrines of the Atheist
school are now under discussion, and Robert Owen and Fanny Wright have been
their prominent advocates.
In agreement with the above principles, it is a right, and the duty of
every man who has any influence and opportunity, to show the absurdity of
their doctrines, the weakness of their arguments, and the fatal tendencies
of their opinions. It is right to show that the practical adoption of their principles indicates a want of common sense, just
as sowing the ocean with grain and expecting a crop would indicate the same
deficiency. If the advocates of these doctrines carry out their principles
into practice, in any such way as to offend the taste, or
infringe on the rights of others, it is proper to express disgust and disapprobation.
If the female advocate chooses to come upon a stage, and expose her person,
dress, and elocution to public criticism, it is right to express disgust at
whatever is offensive and indecorous, as it is to criticise the book of an
author, or the dancing of an actress, or any thing else that is presented
to public observation. And it is right to make all these things appear as
odious and reprehensible to others as they do to ourselves.
But what is the private character of Robert Owen or Fanny Wright? Whether
they are ignorant or weak in intellect; whether they have properly examined
the sources of truth; how much they have been biased by pride, passion, or
vice, in adopting their opinions; whether they are honest and sincere in their
belief; whether they are selfish or benevolent in their aims, are not matters
which in any way pertain to the discussion. They are questions about which
none are qualified to judge, except those in close and intimate communion
with them. We may inquire with propriety as to the character
of a community of Atheists, or of a community where
such sentiments extensively prevail, as compared with a community of opposite
sentiments. But the private character, feelings, and motives of the individual
advocates of these doctrines, are not proper subjects of investigation in
any public discussion.
If, then, it be true, that attacks on the character and motives of the
advocates of opinions are entirely irrelevant and not at all necessary for
the discovery of truth; if injury inflicted on character is the most severe
penalty that can be employed to restrain freedom of opinions and freedom of
speech, what are we to say of the state of things in this nation?
Where is there a party which does not in effect say to every man, “if
you dare to oppose the principles or practices we sustain, you shall be punished
with personal odium?” which does not say to every member of the party,
“uphold your party, right or wrong; oppose all that is adverse to your
party, right or wrong, or else suffer the penalty of having
your motives, character, and conduct, impeached?”
Look first at the political arena. Where is the advocate of any measure
that does not suffer sneers, ridicule, contempt, and all that tends to depreciate
character in public estimation? Where is the partisan that is not attacked,
as either weak in intellect, or dishonest in principle, or selfish in motives?
And where is the man who is linked with any political party, that dares to
stand up fearlessly and defend what is good in opposers, and reprove what
is wrong in his own party?
Look into the religious world. There, even those who take their party name
from their professed liberality, are saying, “whoever shall adopt principles
that exclude us from the Christian church, and our clergy from the pulpit,
shall be held up either as intellectually degraded, or as narrow-minded and
bigoted, or as ambitious, partisan and persecuting in spirit. No man shall
believe a creed that excludes us from the pale of Christianity, under penalty
of all the odium we can inflict.”
So in the Catholic controversy. Catholics and their friends practically
declare war against all free discussion on this point. The decree has gone
forth, that “no man shall appear for the purpose of proving that Catholicism
is contrary to Scripture, or immoral and anti-republican in tendency, under
penalty of being denounced as a dupe, or a hypocrite, or a persecutor, or
a narrow-minded and prejudiced bigot.
On the contrary, those who attack what is called liberal Christianity,
or who aim to oppose the progress of Catholicism, how often do they exhibit
a severe and uncharitable spirit towards the individuals whose opinions they
controvert. Instead of loving the men, and rendering to them all the offices
of Christian kindness, and according to them all due credit for whatever is
desirable in character and conduct, how often do opposers seem to feel, that
it will not answer to allow that there is any thing good, either in the system
or in those who have adopted it. “Every thing about my party is right,
and every thing in the opposing party is wrong,” seems to be
the universal maxim of the times. And it is the remark of some of the most
intelligent foreign travellers among us, and of our own citizens who go abroad,
that there is no country to be found, where freedom of opinion, and freedom
of speech is more really influenced and controlled by the fear of pains and
penalties, than in this land of boasted freedom. In other nations, the control
is exercised by government, in respect to a very few matters; in this country
it is party-spirit that rules with an iron rod, and shakes its scorpion whips
over every interest and every employment of man.
From this mighty source spring constant detraction, gossiping, tale-bearing,
falsehood, anger, pride, malice, revenge, and every evil word and work.
Every man sets himself up as the judge of the intellectual character, the
honesty, the sincerity, the feelings, opportunities, motives, and intentions,
of his fellow-man. And so they fall upon each other, not with swords and spears,
but with the tongue, “that unruly member, that setteth
on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell.”
Can any person who seeks to maintain the peaceful, loving, and gentle spirit
of Christianity, go out into the world at this day, without being bewildered
at the endless conflicts, and grieved and dismayed at the bitter and unhallowed
passions they engender? Can an honest, upright and Christian man, go into
these conflicts, and with unflinching firmness stand up for all that is good,
and oppose all that is evil, in whatever party it may be found, without a
measure of moral courage such as few can command? And if he carries himself
through with an unyielding integrity, and maintains his consistency, is he
not exposed to storms of bitter revilings, and to peltings from both parties
between which he may stand?
What is the end of these things to be? Must we give up free discussion,
and again chain up the human mind under the despotism of past ages? No, this
will never be. God designs that every intelligent mind shall be governed,
not by coercion, but by reason, and conscience, and truth.
Man must reason, and experiment, and compare past and present results, and
hear and know all that can be said on both sides of
every question which influences either private or public happiness, either
for this life or for the life to come.
But while this process is going on, must we be distracted and tortured
by the baleful passions and wicked works that unrestrained party-spirit and
ungoverned factions will bring upon us, under such a government as ours? Must
we rush on to disunion, and civil wars, and servile wars, till all their train
of horrors pass over us like devouring fire?
There is an influence that can avert these dangers--a spirit that
can allay the storm-- that can say to the troubled winds and waters,
“peace, be still.”
It is that spirit which is gentle and easy to be entreated, which thinketh
no evil, which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, which
is not easily provoked, which hopeth all things, which beareth all things.
Let this spirit be infused into the mass of the nation, and then truth may
be sought, defended, and propagated, and error detected, and
its evils exposed; and yet we may escape the evils that now rage through this
nation, and threaten us with such fiery plagues.
And is there not a peculiar propriety in such an emergency, in looking
for the especial agency and assistance of females, who are shut out from the
many temptations that assail the other sex,--who are the appointed ministers
of all the gentler charities of life,-- who are mingled throughout the
whole mass of the community,--who dwell in those retirements where only
peace and love ought ever to enter,--whose comfort, influence, and dearest
blessings, all depend on preserving peace and good will among men?
In the present aspect of affairs among us, when everything seems to be
tending to disunion and distraction, it surely has become the duty of every
female instantly to relinquish the attitude of a partisan, in every matter
of clashing interests, and to assume the office of a mediator, and an advocate
of peace. And to do this, it is not necessary that a woman should in any manner
relinquish her opinion as to the evils or the benefits, the
right or the wrong, of any principle or practice. But, while quietly holding
her own opinions, and calmly avowing them, when conscience and integrity make
the duty imperative, every female can employ her influence, not for the purpose
of exciting or regulating public sentiment, but rather for the purpose of
promoting a spirit of candour, forbearance, charity, and peace.
And there are certain prominent maxims which every woman can adopt as peculiarly
belonging to her, as the advocate of charity and peace, and which it should
be her especial office to illustrate, enforce, and sustain, by every method
in her power.
The first is, that every person ought to be sustained, not only in the
right of propagating his own opinions and practices, but in opposing all those
principles and practices which he deems erroneous. For there is no opinion
which a man can propagate, that does not oppose some adverse interest; and
if a man must cease to advocate his own views of truth and rectitude, because
he opposes the interest or prejudices of some other man or
party, all freedom of opinion, of speech, and of action, is gone. All that
can be demanded is, that a man shall not resort to falsehood, false reasoning,
or to attacks on character, in maintaining his own rights. If he states things
which are false, it is right to show the falsehood,--if he reasons falsely,
it is right to point out his sophistry,--if he impeaches the character
or motives of opponents, it is right to express disapprobation and disgust;
but if he uses only facts, arguments, and persuasions, he is to be honoured
and sustained for all the efforts he makes to uphold what he deems to be right,
and to put down what he believes to be wrong.
Another maxim, which is partially involved in the first, is, that every
man ought to allow his own principles and practices to be freely discussed,
with patience and magnanimity, and not to complain of persecution, or to attack
the character or motives of those who claim that he is in the wrong. If he
is belied, if his character is impeached, if his motives are assailed, if
his intellectual capabilities are made the objects of sneers
or commiseration, he has a right to complain, and to seek sympathy as an injured
man; but no man is a consistent friend and defender of liberty of speech,
who cannot bear to have his own principles and practices subjected to the
same ordeal as he demands should be imposed on others.
Another maxim of peace and charity is, that every man's own testimony is
to be taken in regard to his motives, feelings, and intentions. Though we
may fear that a fellowman is mistaken in his views of his own feelings, or
that he does not speak the truth, it is as contrary to the rules of good breeding
as it is to the laws of Christianity, to assume or even insinuate that this
is the case. If a man's word cannot be taken in regard to his own motives,
feelings, and intentions, he can find no redress for the wrong that may be
done to him. It is unjust and unreasonable in the extreme to take any other
course than the one here urged.
Another most important maxim of candour and charity is, that when we are
to assign motives for the conduct of our fellow-men, especially
of those who oppose our interests, we are obligated to put the best, rather
than the worst construction, on all they say and do. Instead of assigning
the worst as the probable motive, it is always a duty to hope that it is the best, until evidence is so unequivocal that there
is no place for such a hope.
Another maxim of peace and charity respects the subject of retaliation. Whatever may be said respecting the literal construction
of some of the rules of the gospel, no one can deny that they do, whether
figurative or not, forbid retaliation and revenge; that they do assume that
men are not to be judges and executioners of their own wrongs; but that injuries
are to be borne with meekness, and that retributive justice must be left to
God, and to the laws. If a man strikes, we are not to return the blow, but
appeal to the laws. If a man uses abusive or invidious language, we are not
to return railing for railing. If a man impeaches our motives and attacks
our character, we are not to return the evil. If a man sneers and ridicules,
we are not to retaliate with ridicule and sneers. If a man
reports our weaknesses and failings, we are not to revenge ourselves by reporting
his. No man has a right to report evil of others, except when the justification
of the innocent, or a regard for public or individual safety, demands it.
This is the strict law of the gospel, inscribed in all its pages, and meeting
in the face all those unchristian and indecent violations that now are so
common, in almost every conflict of intellect or of interest.
Another most important maxim of peace and charity imposes the obligation
to guard our fellow-men from all unnecessary temptation. We are taught daily
to pray, “lead us not into temptation;” and thus are admonished
not only to avoid all unnecessary temptation ourselves, but to save our fellow-men
from the danger. Can we ask our Heavenly Parent to protect us from temptation,
while we recklessly spread baits and snares for our fellow-men? No, we are
bound in every measure to have a tender regard for the weaknesses and liabilities
of all around, and ever to be ready to yield even our just rights,
when we can lawfully do it, rather than to tempt others to sin. The generous
and high-minded Apostle declares, “if meat make my brother to offend,
I will eat no flesh while the world standeth;” and it is the spirit
of this maxim that every Christian ought to cultivate. There are no occasions
when this maxim is more needed, than when we wish to modify the opinions,
or alter the practices of our fellow-men. If, in such cases, we find that
the probabilities are, that any interference of ours will increase the power
of tempation, and lead to greater evils than those we wish to remedy, we are
bound to forbear. If we find that one mode of attempting a measure will increase
the power of temptation, and another will not involve this danger, we are
bound to take the safest course. In all cases we are obligated to be as careful
to protect our fellow-men from temptation, as we are to watch and pray against
it in regard to ourselves.
Another maxim of peace and charity requires a most scrupulous regard to
the reputation, character, and feelings of our fellow-men,
and especially of those who are opposed in any way to our wishes and interests.
Every man and every woman feels that it is wrong for others to propagate their
faults and weakness through the community. Every one feels wounded and injured
to find that others are making his defects and infirmities the subject of
sneers and ridicule. And what, then, is the rule of duty? “As ye would
that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” With this rule before
his eyes and in his mind, can a man retail his neighbour's faults, or sneer
at his deficiencies, or ridicule his infirmities, with a clear conscience?
There are cases when the safety of individuals, or public justice, demands
that a man's defects of character, or crimes, be made public; but no man is
justified in communicating to others any evil respecting any of his fellow-men,
when he cannot appeal to God as his witness that he does it from benevolent
interest in the welfare of his fellow-men--from a desire to save individuals
or the public from some evil --and not from a malevolent or gossiping
propensity. Oh, that this law of love and charity could find
an illustration and an advocate in every female of this nation! Oh, that every
current slander, and every injurious report, might stand abashed, whenever
it meets the notice of a woman!
These are the maxims of peace and charity, which it is in the power of
the females of our country to advocate, both by example and by entreaties.
These are the principles which alone can protect and preserve the right of
free discussion, the freedom of speech, and liberty of the press. And with
our form of government, and our liabilities to faction and party-spirit, the
country will be safe and happy only in proportion to the prevalence of these
maxims among the mass of the community. There probably will never arrive a
period in the history of this nation, when the influence of these principles
will be more needed, than the present. The question of slavery involves more
pecuniary interests, touches more private relations, involves more prejudices,
is entwined with more sectional, party, and political interests, than any
other which can ever again arise. It is a matter which, if
discussed and controlled without the influence of these principles of charity
and peace, will shake this nation like an earthquake, and pour over us the
volcanic waves of every terrific passion. The trembling earth, the low murmuring
thunders, already admonish us of our danger; and if females can exert any
saving influence in this emergency, it is time for them to awake.
And there are topics that they may urge upon the attention of their friends,
at least as matters worthy of serious consideration and inquiry.
Is a woman surrounded by those who favour the Abolition measures? Can she
not with propriety urge such inquiries as these?
Is not slavery to be brought to an end by free discussion, and is it not
a war upon the right of free discussion to impeach the motives and depreciate
the character of the opposers of Abolition measures? When the opposers of
Abolition movements claim that they honestly and sincerely believe that these
measures tend to perpetuate slavery, or to bring it to an end by servile wars,
and civil disunion, and the most terrific miseries--
when they object to the use of their pulpits, to the embodying of literary
students, to the agitation of the community, by Abolition agents--when
they object to the circulation of such papers and tracts as Abolitionists
prepare, because they believe them most pernicious in their influence and
tendencies, is it not as much persecution to use invidious insinuations, depreciating
accusation and impeachment of motive, in order to intimidate, as it is for
the opposers of Abolitionism to use physical force? Is not the only method
by which the South can be brought to relinquish slavery, a conviction that
not only her duty, but her highest interest, requires her to do it? And is not calm,
rational Christian discussion the only proper method of securing this
end? Can a community that are thrown into such a state of high exasperation
as now exists at the South, ever engage in such discussions, till the storm
of excitement and passion is allayed? Ought not every friend of liberty and
of free discussion, to take every possible means to soothe exasperated feelings,
and to avoid all those offensive peculiarities that in their
nature tend to inflame and offend?
Is a woman among those who oppose Abolition movements? She can urge such
inquiries as these: Ought not Abolitionists to be treated as if they were
actuated by the motives of benevolence which they profess? Ought not every
patriot and every Christian to throw all his influence against the impeachment
of motives, the personal detraction, and the violent measures that are turned
upon this body of men, who, however they may err in judgment or in spirit,
are among the most exemplary and benevolent in the land? If Abolitionists
are censurable for taking measures that exasperate rather than convince and
persuade, are not their opponents, who take exactly the same measures to exasperate
Abolitionists and their friends, as much to blame? If Abolitionism prospers
by the abuse of its advocates, are not the authors of this abuse accountable
for the increase of the very evils they deprecate?
It is the opinion of intelligent and well informed men, that a very large
proportion of the best members of the Abolition party were
placed there, not by the arguments of Abolitionists, but by the abuse of their
opposers. And I know some of the noblest minds that stand there, chiefly from
the influence of those generous impulses that defend the injured and sustain
the persecuted, while many others have joined these ranks from the impression
that Abolitionism and the right of free discussion have become identical interests.
Although I cannot perceive why the right of free discussion, the right of
petition, and other rights that have become involved in this matter, cannot
be sustained without joining an association that has sustained such injurious
action and such erroneous principles, yet other minds, and those which are
worthy of esteem, have been led to an opposite conclusion.
The South, in the moments of angry excitement, have made unreasonable demands
upon the non-slave-holding States, and have employed overbearing and provoking
language. This has provoked re-action again at the North, and men, who heretofore
were unexcited, are beginning to feel indignant, and to say,
“Let the Union be sundered.” Thus anger begets anger, and unreasonable
measures provoke equally unreasonable returns.
But when men, in moments of excitement rush on to such results, little
do they think of the momentous consequences that may follow. Suppose the South
in her anger unites with Texas, and forms a Southern slave-holding republic,
under all the exasperating influences that such an avulsion will excite? What
will be the prospects of the slave then, compared with what they are while
we dwell together, united by all the ties of brotherhood, and having free
access to those whom we wish to convince and persuade?
But who can estimate the mischiefs that we must encounter while this dismemberment,
this tearing asunder of the joints and members of the body politic, is going
on? What will be the commotion and dismay, when all our sources of wealth,
prosperity, and comfort, are turned to occasions for angry and selfish strife?
What agitation will ensue in individual States, when it is to be decided
by majorities which State shall go to the North and which to the South, and
when the discontented minority must either give up or fight! Who shall divide
our public lands between contending factions? What shall be done with our
navy and all the various items of the nation's property? What shall be done
when the post-office stops its steady movement to divide its efforts among
contending parties? What shall be done when public credit staggers, when commerce
furls her slackened sail, when property all over the nation changes its owners
and relations? What shall be done with our canals and railways, now the bands
of love to bind us, then the causes of contention and jealousy? What umpire
will appear to settle all these questions of interest and strife, between
communities thrown asunder by passion, pride, and mutual injury?
It is said that the American people, though heedless and sometimes reckless
at the approach of danger, are endowed with a strong and latent
principle of common sense, which, when they fairly approach the precipice,
always brings them to a stand, and makes them as wise to devise a remedy as
they were rash in hastening to the danger. Are we not approaching the very
verge of the precipice? Can we not already hear the roar of the waters below?
Is not now the time, if ever, when our stern principles and sound common sense
must wake to the rescue?
Cannot the South be a little more patient under the injurious action that
she feels she has suffered, and cease demanding those concessions from the
North, that never will be made? For the North, though slower to manifest feeling,
is as sensitive to her right of freedom of speech, as the South can be to
her rights of property.
Cannot the North bear with some unreasonable action from the South, when
it is remembered that, as the provocation came from the North, it is wise
and Christian that the aggressive party should not so strictly
hold their tempted brethren to the rules of right and reason?
Cannot the South bear in mind that at the North the colour of the skin
does not take away the feeling of brotherhood, and though it is a badge of
degradation in station and intellect, yet it is oftener regarded with pity
and sympathy than with contempt? Cannot the South remember their generous
feelings for the Greeks and Poles, and imagine that some such feelings may
be awakened for the African race, among a people who do not believe either
in the policy or the right of slavery?
Cannot the North remember how jealous every man feels of his domestic relations
and rights, and how sorely their Southern brethren are tried in these respects?
How would the husbands and fathers at the North endure it, if Southern associations
should be formed to bring forth to the world the sins of Northern men, as
husbands and fathers? What if the South should send to the North to collect
all the sins and neglects of Northern husbands and fathers, to retail them
at the South in tracts and periodicals? What if the English
nation should join in the outcry, and English females should send forth an
agent, not indeed to visit the offending North, but to circulate at the South,
denouncing all who did not join in this crusade, as the defenders of bad husbands
and bad fathers? How would Northern men conduct under such provocations? There
is indeed a difference in the two cases, but it is not in the nature and amount
of irritating influence, for the Southerner feels the interference of strangers
to regulate his domestic duty to his servants, as much as the Northern man
would feel the same interference in regard to his wife and children. Do not
Northern men owe a debt of forbearance and sympathy toward their Southern
brethren, who have been so sorely tried?
It is by urging these considerations, and by exhibiting and advocating
the principles of charity and peace, that females may exert a wise and appropriate
influence, and one which will most certainly tend to bring to an end, not
only slavery, but unnumbered other evils and wrongs. No one
can object to such an influence, but all parties will bid God speed to every
woman who modestly, wisely and benevolently attempts it.
I do not suppose that any Abolitionists are to be deterred by any thing
I can offer, from prosecuting the course of measures they have adopted. They
doubtless will continue to agitate the subject, and to form voluntary associations
all over the land, in order to excite public sentiment at the North against
the moral evils existing at the South. Yet I cannot but hope that some considerations
may have influence to modify in a degree the spirit and measures of some who
are included in that party.
Abolitionists are men who come before the public in the character of reprovers. That the gospel requires Christians sometimes
to assume this office, cannot be denied; but it does as unequivocally point
out those qualifications which alone can entitle a man to do it. And no man
acts wisely or consistently, unless he can satisfy himself that he possesses the qualifications for this duty, before he assumes it.
The first of these qualifications is more than common exemption from the
faults that are reproved. The inspired interrogatory, “thou therefore
which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” enforces this principle;
and the maxim of common sense, that “reprovers must have clean hands,”
is no less unequivocal. Abolitionists are reprovers for the violation of duties
in the domestic relations. Of course they are men who are especially bound
to be exemplary in the discharge of all their domestic duties. If a man cannot
govern his temper and his tongue; if he inflicts that moral castigation on
those who cross his will, which is more severe than physical stripes; if he
is overbearing or exacting with those under his control; if he cannot secure
respect for a kind and faithful discharge of all his social and relative duties,
it is as unwise and improper for him to join an Abolition Society, as it would
be for a drunkard to preach temperance, or a slave-holder Abolitionism.
Another indispensable requisite for the office of reprover is a character
distinguished for humility and meekness. There is nothing more difficult than
to approach men for the purpose of convincing them of their own deficiencies
and faults; and whoever attempts it in a self-complacent and dictatorial spirit,
always does more evil than good. However exemplary a man may be in the sight
of men, there is abundant cause for the exercise of humility. For a man is
to judge of himself, not by a comparison with other men, but as he stands
before God, when compared with a perfect law, and in reference to all his
peculiar opportunities and restraints. Who is there that in this comparison,
cannot find cause for the deepest humiliation? Who can go from the presence
of Infinite Purity after such an investigation, to “take his brother
by the throat?” Who rather, should not go to a brother, who may have
sinned, with the deepest sympathy and love, as one who, amid greater temptations
and with fewer advantages, may be the least offender of the
two? A man who goes with this spirit, has the best hope of doing good to
those who may offend. And yet even this spirit will not always save a man
from angry retort, vexatious insinuation, jealous suspicion, and the misconstruction
of his motives. A reprover, therefore, if he would avoid a quarrel and do
the good he aims to secure, must be possessed of that meekness which can receive
evil for good, with patient benevolence. And a man is not fitted for the duties
of a reprover, until he can bring his feelings under this control.
The last, and not the least important requisite for a reprover, is discretion. This is no where so much needed as in cases
where the domestic relations are concerned, for here is the place above all
others, where men are most sensitive and unreasonable. There are none who
have more opportunities for learning this, than those who act as teachers,
especially if they feel the responsibility of a Christian and a friend, in
regard to the moral interests of pupils, A teacher who shares
with parents the responsibilities of educating their children, whose efforts
may all be rendered useless by parental influences at home; who feels an affectionate
interest in both parent and child, is surely the one who might seem to have
a right to seek, and a chance of success in seeking, some modifications of
domestic influences. And yet teachers will probably testify, that it is a
most discouraging task, and often as likely to result in jealous alienation
and the loss of influence over both parent and child, as in any good. It is
one of the greatest compliments that can be paid to the good sense and the
good feeling of a parent to dare to attempt any such measure. This may show
how much discretion, and tact, and delicacy, are needed by those who aim to
rectify evils in the domestic relations of mankind.
The peculiar qualifications, then, which make it suitable for a man to
be an Abolitionist are, an exemplary discharge of all the domestic duties;
humility, meekness, delicacy, tact, and discretion, and these should especially
be the distinctive traits of those who take the place of leaders in devising measures.
And in performing these difficult and self-denying duties, there are no
men who need more carefully to study the character and imitate the example
of the Redeemer of mankind. He, indeed, was the searcher of hearts, and those
reproofs which were based on the perfect knowledge of “all that is in
man,” we may not imitate. But we may imitate him, where he with so much
gentleness, patience, and pitying love, encountered the weakness, the rashness,
the selfishness, the worldliness of men. When the young man came with such
self-complacency to ask what more he could do, how kindly he was received,
how gently convinced of his great deficiency! When fire would have been called
from heaven by his angry followers, how forbearing the rebuke! When denied
and forsaken with oaths and curses by one of his nearest friends, what was
it but a look of pitying love that sent the disciple out so bitterly to weep?
When, in his last extremity of sorrow, his friends all fell
asleep, how gently he drew over them the mantle of love! Oh blessed Saviour,
impart more of thy own spirit to those who profess to follow thee!