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States. There were fifty in North Carolina, where two thousand slaves
had been freed in 1825, and three-fifths of the whites were reported as
favourable to emancipation. Henry Clay was openly so in 1827; and the
Kentucky Colonisation Society voted in 1830 that the disposition
towards voluntary emancipation was strong enough to make legislation
unnecessary. The abolition of slavery as "the greatest curse that God in
his wrath ever inflicted upon a people" was demanded by a dozen members
of the Virginia Legislature, as well as by the _Richmond Inquirer_, in
1832; and similar efforts were made shortly before 1850 in Kentucky,
Delaware, Maryland, Western Virginia, Western North Carolina, Eastern
Tennessee, and Missouri.

From 1812 to 1845 the Senate was equally divided between free and slave
States; and any transfer, even of Delaware, from one side to the other
would have enabled the North to control the upper House as well as the
lower. The plain duty of a Northern philanthropist was to co-operate
with the Southern emancipationists and accept patiently their opinion
that abolition had better take place gradually, as it had done in New
York, and, what was much more important, that the owner should have
compensation. This had been urged by Wilberforce in 1823, as justice to
the planters in the West Indies; the legislatures of Ohio, Pennsylvania,
and New. Jersey recommended, shortly before 1830, that the nation should
buy and free the slaves; and compensation was actually given by Congress
to loyal owners of the three thousand slaves in the District of Columbia
emancipated in 1862. Who can tell the evils which we should have
escaped, if slavery could have continued after 1830 to be abolished
gradually by State after State, with pecuniary aid from Congress or the
North?

This was the hope of Benjamin Lundy, who passed much of his life in
the South, though he was born in New Jersey. He had advocated gradual
emancipation in nearly every State, visiting even Texas and Missouri,
organising anti-slavery societies, and taking subscriptions to his
_Genius of Universal Emancipation_, which was founded in Tennessee in
1821, but afterwards was issued weekly at Baltimore. He published the
names of nine postmasters among his agents, and copied friendly articles
from more than forty newspapers. One of his chief objects was to prevent
that great extension of slavery, the annexation of Texas.

VI. The election of the first pro-slavery President, Jackson, in 1828,
discouraged the abolitionists; and Lundy was obliged to suspend his
paper for lack of subscribers early next year. When he resumed it in
September, he took an assistant editor, who had declared on the previous
Fourth of July, in a fashionable Boston church: "I acknowledge that
immediate and complete emancipation is not desirable. No rational man
cherishes so wild a vision." Before Garrison set foot on slave soil,
it occurred to him that every slave had a right to instant freedom, and
also that no master had any right to compensation. These two ideas he
advocated at once, and ever after, as obstinately as George the Third
insisted on the right to tax America. Garrison, of course, was a zealous
philanthropist; and he was as conscientious as Paul was in persecuting
the Christians. But he seems to have been more anxious to free his own
conscience than to free the slaves. Immediate emancipation had been
advocated in Lundy's paper at much length, and even as early as
1825, but so mildly as to call out little opposition. Insisting on no
compensation was much more irritating; and Garrison's writings show that
his mind was apt to free itself in bitter words, even against such men
as Whittier, Channing, Longfellow, Douglass, and Sumner. He had been
but three months in Baltimore when he published a censure by name of the
owner and captain of one of the many vessels which were permitted by law
to carry slaves South, as "highway robbers and murderers," who "should
be sentenced to solitary confinement for life," and who deserved "to
occupy the lowest depths of perdition." He was found guilty of libel,
and imprisoned for seven weeks because he could not pay a moderate fine.

The money was given by a generous New Yorker; but Garrison's work in the
South was over, and Lundy's was of little value thenceforth. The man who
brought the libel suit was an influential citizen of Massachusetts; and
Boston pulpits were shut against Garrison on his return. He could not
pay for a hall; but one was given him without cost by the anti-clerical
society, whose leader, Abner Knee-land, was imprisoned thirty days in
1834 for a brief expression of atheism which would not now be considered
blasphemous.

Two weeklies, which were unpopular from the first, began to be published
at Boston early in 1831. Kneeland's _Investigator_ was pledged "to
contend for the abolition of slavery" and "advocate the rights of
women." It was friendly to labour reform as well as to scientific
education, and opposed capital punishment, imprisonment for debt, and
legislation about religion; but its predominant tone has been skeptical
to the present day. Garrison was too orthodox in 1831 to favour the
emancipation of women; he was in sympathy with other reforms; but his
chief theme was the "pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition." The
next mistake of his _Liberator_ was the prominence given to negro
insurrection and other crimes against whites. The Southerners were
naturally afraid to have such subjects mentioned, even in condemnation;
and guilty consciences made slave-holders think the danger much greater
than it was. The first number of the _Liberator_ contained Garrison's
verses about the horrors of the revolt which might bring emancipation.
He announced at the same time that he was going to review a recent
pamphlet which he described thus: "A better promoter of insurrection was
never sent forth to an oppressed people." His contributors spoke often
of the right of slaves to resist, and asked, "In God's name, why should
they not cut their masters' throats?" Many women and children were
massacred by rebel slaves in Virginia that autumn; and Garrison promptly
declared that the assassins "deserve no more blame than our fathers did
for slaughtering the British," and that "When the contest shall have
again begun, it must again be a war of extermination." Similar language
was often used in the _Liberator_ afterwards.

Garrison was too firm a non-resistant to go further than this; but
the majority of Northerners would have agreed with the Reverend Doctor
Wayland, President of Brown University, who declared slavery "very
wicked," but declined to have the _Liberator_ sent him, and wrote to
Mr. Garrison that its tendency was to incite the slaves to rebellion.
Of course this was not the editor's intention; but history deals mainly
with causes and results.

The consequences were especially bad at the South. Calhoun and other
Democrats were striving to unite all her people in resistance to
emancipation, as well as to protectionism. They appealed to the
insurrection in 1831, and to the treatment of this subject in the
_Liberator_, as proofs that abolitionism was incendiary; and the feeling
was so intense in Georgia, that the Governor was authorised by the
Legislature, before the end of 1831, to offer five thousand dollars
for the head of the editor or of any of his agents in that State.
Southerners were generally provoked at such comparisons of slave-holders
to thieves as were often made in the _Liberator_ and were incorporated
into the formal declaration made by Garrison and the other founders of
the New England Anti-Slavery Society at Boston early in 1832. Planters
friendly to emancipation were discouraged by Garrison's insisting that
they ought not to have compensation, an opinion which was adopted by
the American Anti-Slavery Society at its organisation at Philadelphia
in 1833. Such protests on moral grounds were of great use to politicians
who opposed any grant of money for emancipation, because they wished to
preserve slavery. The national Constitution provided that emancipation
should not take place in any State which did not give its consent;
and this was much less attainable in 1835 than it had been ten years
earlier.

So fierce was the hatred of anti-slavery periodicals, that many pounds
of them were taken from the Charleston post-office and burned by the
leading citizens in July, 1835; and this action was praised by a public
meeting, which was attended by all the clergy. The papers were printed
in New York, and do not seem to have been destroyed on account of their
own mistakes, but of those made by the Liberator. Southern postmasters
refused after this to deliver any anti-slavery matter; and their conduct
was approved by the Postmaster-General, as well as by the President. The
legislatures of North Carolina and Virginia demanded, in the session of
1835 and 1836, that all such publications be suppressed legally by the
Northern States.

South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama took the same course; and it was
agreed everywhere that abolitionists were to be lynched. Loyalty
to slavery was required of all preachers and editors; no other
qualification for every office, in the service either of the nation
or of the State, was exacted so strictly; other controversies lost
interest; and men who would have gained greatly from the introduction
of free labour helped the slave-holders silence those intelligent
Southerners who knew what urgent need there was in their section of
emancipation for the general welfare.

Garrison, meantime, made both friends and enemies at the North. He had
the support of nearly four hundred anti-slavery societies in 1835; but
some of these had been founded in Ohio by Lundy on the principle of
gradual emancipation, and others in New York by Jay, whose main objects
were repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act and emancipation in the District
of Columbia. Agitation for immediate abolition without compensation was
nowhere active at that time, except in New England. The highest estimate
of its partisans in 1840 was only two hundred thousand; most of them had
already renounced the leadership of Garrison; and there is no reason to
believe that the number of his thorough going followers ever reached one
hundred thousand.

Most of the original abolitionists were church members; and the
agitation was never opposed, even at first, by so large a proportion of
the clergy at the North as of the people generally. Several ministers
joined Garrison at once; 125 enrolled their names for publication as
abolitionists in 1833; and two years later he had the open support of
the New England Methodist Conference, the Maine Baptist Convention, and
the Detroit Presbytery, as well as of many Congregationalists, and
of most of the Quakers, Unitarians, and Free-Will Baptists. Preaching
against slavery was not common in denominations where the pastor was
more liable to be gagged by ecclesiastical superiors.

One reason that this authority, as well as that of public opinion in
the Northern cities, was directed against agitation, was the pressure
of business interests. The South sent most of her products, especially
cotton, to manufacturers or merchants in Philadelphia, New York, and
New England. This region in return supplied her with clothes, tools,
and furniture. Much of her food came from the Western farmers; and these
latter were so unable to send grain or cattle eastward until after 1850,
that the best road for most of them to market was the Mississippi.
The slave-holders were such good customers, that people along the Ohio
River, as well as in Eastern seaports and factory towns, were slow to
see how badly the slaves were oppressed.

Enlightenment on this subject, as well as about capacity for free
labour, was also delayed by prejudices of race and colour, while there
was much honest ignorance throughout the North. What was best understood
about slavery was that it was merely a State institution, not to be
abolished or even much ameliorated by the national Government. The main
responsibility rested accordingly upon the Southern States; and the
danger that these might be provoked to secede could not be overlooked.
These considerations prevented the majority of the Northerners, and
especially the leading members of every sect, from opposing slavery as
actively as they would otherwise have been glad to do.

The most active partisan of the slave-holders was the politician who
knew they had votes in Congress and in the electoral college for all the
whites in the South and also for three-fifths of the coloured people.
The views of the Democratic party about the tariff, the bank, and State
rights had made it in 1832 victorious everywhere south of Maryland and
Kentucky; and its preponderance in the cotton States, as well as in
Virginia, enabled it long to resist the growing disaffection at the
North. The Whigs went far enough in the same course for their own
destruction; and the principle of individual liberty found few
champions.

VII. Politicians and merchants worked together in getting up the series
of mobs against abolitionists, which began in 1833, under the lead of
a Methodist bishop in New York, and kept breaking out in that city,
Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Boston, and less important places, until they
culminated in the burning of Pennsylvania Hall in 1838. After that year,
they were neither frequent nor violent. The worst crime of the rioters
was murdering a clergyman named Lovejoy in 1837 for trying to save
his printing-press. Most of the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian
preachers and editors were now doing what they could to suppress the
agitation; but the riots called out no indignation like that which had
poured forth from all the churches in 1828 against Sunday mails.

There was little freedom of speech for unpopular opinions in America
in 1835, when Channing declared that the mob against Garrison had made
abolitionism "the cause of Freedom." There were many readers, even in
the South, for the little book in which he insisted that "Slavery ought
to be discussed." He protested against depriving the slave of his
right to improve and respect himself, and vindicated "the sacredness of
individual man." He was the first to appeal from the Fugitive Slave
Law to that "everlasting and immutable rule of right revealed in
conscience." And few other clergymen gave such help to John Quincy
Adams, who was then asserting the right of petition and of discussion
in Congress. Memorials with a hundred and fifty thousand signatures
had been presented against the annexation of Texas, and in favour of
emancipation in the District of Columbia, when it was voted by all
the Southern Representatives, as well as by the Northern Democrats, in
January, 1837, that all petitions relating to slavery "shall be laid on
the table and no action taken thereon." The ex-President, who was then
a Representative from Massachusetts, protested indignantly, as did other
Whigs, and they continued to plead for the constitutional rights of
the North until 1844, when the gag-rule was abolished. On July 4, 1837,
Adams told the people that "Freedom of speech is the only safety-valve
which, under the high pressure of slavery, can preserve your political
boiler from a fearful explosion." The number of names, including many
repetitions, signed in the next two years to anti-slavery petitions was
two millions.

Emancipation in the District of Columbia was out of the question, if
only because the South chose half the Senate. The North was strong
enough in the House of Representatives to prevent any pro-slavery
legislation; and the annexation of Texas was actually postponed until
1845, in consequence partly of the petitions and partly of remonstrances
from the legislatures of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio,
and other States. These bodies also protested against the neglect of
petitions in Congress. The subsidence of mobs after 1838 was due to
a general feeling at the North, not only that the rioters were too
violent, but also that the South was too dictatorial in gagging
Congress, in tampering with the mails, in asking Northern legislatures
to suppress public meetings, and in trying to annex Texas.

VIII. On all these points the Whigs were so far in advance of the
Democrats in 1840, as to receive much support from abolitionists. These
last, however, were widely and unfortunately divided among themselves.
Many of the men still called themselves Democrats; for the old party
which had been founded by Jefferson had liberal members, who had
formerly been called "Fanny Wright men," and were now known as
"Loco Focos." A few abolitionists took the Gospel aphorisms about
non-resistance so blindly as to say it would be a sin for them to vote.
Garrison renounced the franchise "for conscience" sake and the slave's;
but it is hard to see precisely what any slave gained by his friends'
refusing to vote for Adams, Sumner, or Lincoln. The most consistent
abolitionists voted regularly, and selected a candidate for his work in
the cause, without regard to his party record.

The Democrats took decided ground in the national convention of 1840 and
afterwards against abolitionism. Their nominee, Van Buren, was then at
the head of a corrupt administration. The Whig candidate, Harrison, was
in favour of free speech and honest government. He had been chosen in
preference to Clay, because of the latter's attacking the abolitionists.
Another slave-holder who wanted to lynch them, had, however, been
nominated by acclamation for Vice-President at the Whig convention; and
the party had no platform.

It is hard to see what ought to have been done under these circumstances
by abolitionists. Some who were afterwards known as "Liberty men" set up
an independent ticket, headed by a martyr to the cause. They had quite
as much right to do this as Garrison had to refuse to vote. He had
hitherto taken little responsibility for the proceedings of the national
society; but when the annual meeting was held at New York in May, 1840,
he brought on more than five hundred of his own adherents from New
England, in order to pack the convention. Thus he secured the passage
of a declaration that the independent nominations were "injurious to the
cause" and ought not to be supported. Garrison has justly been compared
to Luther, and this was like Luther at his worst.

Most of the officers and members seceded and organised a rival society
which did good work in sympathy not only with the Liberty men but with
the Free Soilers; and these parties gained most of the new converts
to abolitionism. In 1847 the _Liberator_ published without comment an
estimate that it did not represent the views of one active abolitionist
in ten; and a coloured clergyman of high ability, Dr. Garnett, declared
in 1851 that the proportion was less than one per cent. Most of the
clergymen who were friendly to Garrison before 1840 were thenceforth
against him. So many pulpits were suddenly closed against the agitators,
that one of them, named Foster, kept insisting on speaking in meeting
without leave in various parts of New England. He was usually dragged
out summarily, and often to the injury of his coat-tails, though never
of his temper. Boston was one of the most strongly anti-slavery cities;
but twenty pastors out of forty-four refused to asked the people to pray
for a fugitive slave who was imprisoned illegally in 1842. Those who
complied had comparatively little influence. The rural clergy in New
England, New York, Michigan, and Northern Ohio, had much more sympathy
with reform than their brethren to the southward, especially in large
cities. Garrison's personal unpopularity in the churches had been
much increased by his violent language against them, and also by his
asserting the injustice of Sunday laws, as well as the right of women
to speak for the slave. His position on these points will be considered
later.

IX. His worst mistake was the demand, which he published in the
_Liberator_, in May, 1842, for "a repeal of the Union between
Northern Liberty and Southern Slavery." This he called "essential" for
emancipation. In January, 1843, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society
passed the resolution which was afterwards published regularly in the
_Liberator_ as the Garrisonist creed. It declared the Union "a covenant
with death and an agreement with hell" which "should be immediately
annulled." This position was held by Garrison, Phillips, and their
adherents until 1861. It was largely due, like their refusal to vote,
to indignation at the support given to slavery by the national
Constitution, the Fugitive Slave Act, and some recent legislation
at Washington. Garrison was also confident, as he said at a Disunion
convention in 1857, that if the South were to secede, she would not "be
able to hold a single slave one hour after the deed is done." Phillips,
too, declared that "All the slave asks of us is to stand out of his
way." "Let no cement of the Union bind the slave, and he will right
himself." It is true that secession brought on emancipation; but
it would not have done so if Phillips and Garrison had succeeded in
quenching love of the Union in the North. That patriotic feeling burst
out in a fierce flame; and it was the restoration of the Union which
abolished slavery. Another important fact is that the chief guilt
of slavery rested on the South. The national Government was only an
accessory at worst. No Northerner was responsible for any clause in the
Constitution which he had not sanctioned, or for any action of Congress
which he had done his best to prevent.

The best work against slavery which could be done in 1843 and 1844 was
to defeat a new attempt to annex Texas. This scheme was avowedly for the
extension of slavery over a great region where it had been prohibited by
Mexico. There would probably be war with that country; and success would
increase the power of the slave-holders in the Senate. One half of its
members were from the slave States in 1844; but annexation was rejected
in June by a vote of two to one; and the House of Representatives was
plainly on the same side, though otherwise controlled by the Democrats.

Public warning of the danger to liberty had been given by Adams and
other Whigs in Congress early in 1843; but little heed was taken either
by the clergy or by the Garrisonists. Both were too busy with their own
plans. Channing died in 1842; and Parker went to Europe in September,
1843. It was not until two months later that the _Liberator_ found room
for Texas. Garrison never spoke against annexation until too late; and
it was scarcely mentioned in the May meetings of 1843 at New York and
Boston, in the one hundred anti-slavery conventions which were held that
summer in Western New York, Ohio, and Indiana, with the powerful aid of
Frederick Douglass, or in the one hundred conventions in Massachusetts
early in 1844. At the May meeting in New York, Foster said he should
rejoice to see Texas annexed; and Phillips exulted in the prospect that
this would provoke the North to trample on the Constitution. Annexation
had been opposed by three candidates for the presidency: Birney, who had
already been selected by the "Liberty men"; Van Buren, who was rejected
soon after on this account by the Democrats; and Clay, who had already
been accepted by the Whigs. All three were formally censured, under
various pretexts, in company with John Quincy Adams, at this and other
gatherings of the Garrisonians. Their convention soon after in
Boston voted ten to one for disunion, and closed on June 1st with the
presentation to Garrison of a red flag bearing on one side the motto,
"No Union with Slave-holders," and on the other an eagle wrapped in the
American flag and trampling on a prostrate slave. Two months later,
and three before the election, this banner was carried through gaily
decorated streets in Hingham, amid ringing of church bells, to a meeting
attended by several thousand disunionists. The Garrisonians thought so
much about getting out of the Union, that they had nothing to say in
favour of keeping out Texas.

Among the few abolitionists who saw the duty of the hour were Whittier
and Lowell. The full force of their poetry was not much felt before
1850; but among the stirring publications early in 1842 was a
_Rallying-Cry for New England against the Annexation of Texas_, which
Lowell sent forth anonymously. It was reprinted in _Harper's Weekly_ for
April 23, 1892, but not in the earlier editions of the poems. Among the
most striking lines are these:

"Rise up New England, buckle on your mail of proof sublime,


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Online LibraryFrederic May HollandLiberty in the nineteenth century → online text (page 6 of 16)