Massachusetts anti-slavery society.om old cata.

An address to the abolitionists of Massachusetts, on the subject of political action (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryMassachusetts anti-slavery society.om old cataAn address to the abolitionists of Massachusetts, on the subject of political action (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)
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AN

& IE) W 2E H S S

TO THE

ABOLITIONISTS of MASSACHUSETTS,

OK THE SUBJECT OF

POLITICAL ACTION.



By the Board of Managers of the Mass- A. S. .Society.



To the Abolitionists cf Massachusetts —

The Board of Managers of the Massachusetts
Anti-Slavery Society, desire to offer you a few
suggestions, on the course recommended to you
by duty and a wise policy, in relation to the ex-
ercise of your political privileges.

The uncompromising character of the early
adherents to our cause, compelled the respect of
the conscientious and reflecting part of the com-
munity. They stood firm, announcing the most
thorough principles, not yielding one jot to the
•most plausible or popular prejudices. Men at
first were startled by the boldness of their posi-
tion, but they had at length the satisfaction of
seeing public sentiment slowly turn in their fa-
vor. The mighty re-action is felt, and we are
now going forward with wind and tide. The
grandeur of the principles developed, — the con-
stancy with which they were maintained,
through odium and danger, — the magnitude of
the interests -contended for, — these things ap-



2



8



pealed to every man in the land, who had a
spark of heroism or heavenly enthusiasm in his
nature. Our cause has gathered into its ranks
in the short space of seven years, its hundreds
of thousands; and numbers, among its friends,
the most fearless, and God-devoted spirits in the
land.

We mention these things, not as an idle boast,
but that you may lay to heart the responsibili-
ties, that grow out of your present position.
Your duty, as citizens of the State, more than
ever demands your serious attention and thought.
We pray you to consider what we shall say to
you on this subject.

There are those who disapprove of every form
of political action, on the part of abolitionists.
They contend that our cause should be present-
ed exclusively under its religious and philan-
thropic aspect; that it will be degraded and en-
feebled at the North, by connecting it with po-
litics, — while, at the South, our political efforts
will rouse a more united and determined resist-
ance to our objects.

We cannot yield to this reasoning. It pro-
ceeds, we think, upon a narrow view of the sub-
ject. Politics, rightly considered, is a branch of
morals, and cannot be deserted innocently. Our
moial convictions must follow us to the ballot-
box. . They are not less imperative on us as cit-
izens, than as members of the church, or fathers
of families. In each, we have nothing to do,
but to carry out our highest idea, simply and
fearlessly. If the public mind is misled or vi-
tiated on the subject of politics, — if politics has
come to be considered as a game played by the
desperate and unprincipled for power or emolu-
ment, it must not therefore be abandoned to
them. The worldly and corrupt would like no-
thing better, than that the good should retire, in



fear or disgust, from this wide sphere of action.
It seems to be our mission to substitute, in the
minds of men, a new set of associations with the
subject of politics. We believe that the tenden-
cy of the abolition efforts has. visibly, been to
infuse more comprehensive principles into polit-
ical bodies, and suggest to them purer motives
of action, than have prevailed heretofore. Look
at the dignified tone oi the Reports and Resolves
on Slavery and the Right of Petition, in several
of the State Legislatures. Mark the high reli-
gious and moratstand assumed by Adams, Slade,
Morris and others, in Congress. It is worth
noting that the abolitionists form the only great
party, in our age, who, aiming at a wide so-
cial reform, and operating on and through social
institutions, yet rest their efforts and their hopes
professedly on religious ground ; — on faith in
God, and faith in the God-like in man. That
slavery is a sin against God, has been our ral-
lying-cry from the beginning; heard not merely
from the pulpit, but in the courts of justice, the
popular assembly, and the halls of government.
Our strength lies, and we well know it, in the
religious sentiment of men, recognizing a Chris-
tian" brother in the crushed slave, and at once
stimulating, emboldening and sanctifying the ef-
forts for his deliverance.

To think of purposely keeping such a ques-
tion — a question of essentially moral and reli-
gious character, but having important public
bearings, — out of politics, is like the view some
persons have, that religion belongs to the tem-
ple and the Sabbath, but is out of place in week-
day life. Religion runs the risk of being sadly
profaned, adulterated, caricatured, counterfeited,
in encountering or mixing with the common bu-
siness or amusements of men ; but we never-
theless press it in among them. This is, after



all, but a question of time. The subject of sla-
very must, obviously, sooner or later, enter deep-
ly, into general politics. Slavery is itself the
creature of law, that is of political action. It can
only be finally destroyed, by the same power
that gave it being.

We, however, value political action, chiefly as
a means of agitating the subject. The great
support of slavery, — without which it could not
stand in the United States, two years, — is a cor-
rupt public sentiment, among those wiio are not
slaveholders. The current doctrine of the North
is, that slavery is, indeed, an evil, and if south-
ern society were to be reconstructed, slavery
should, by no means, be introduced as an ele-
ment ; but that in present circumstances, and
with a view to -probable consequences, it cannot
reasonably be expected of slaveholders to give
up their slaves. This is what we suppose to be
meant, by people's being opposed to slavery ''in
the abstract.'

Now, our first object is to replace these views,
by an earnest conviction, embracing the heart
and understanding of every man, woman and
child we can reach, that duty and interest do
now require of every slaveholder, the immedi-
ate emancipation of his slaves. We would
make the public sentiment of the North a tonic,
instead of an opiate to southern conscience ; we
would unite and concentrate it, until it shall tell,
in a manner perfectly irresistible.upon the sense
of right, the pride of social standing and char-
acter, even upon the interest of the slaveholder;
until it shall help to make real to his mind, and
he shall feel, in the air around him, the guilt,
the danger, the deep disgrace, the ruinous im-
policy of the relation he sustains. We believe
this course to be enjoined by Christianity, free
from all constitutional objections, and consecra-



ted by the example of our elder abolitionists,
Franklin, Jay, Rush, and other revered foun-
ders of the Republic. Such have, indeed, ever
been the appointed means for the removal of
great social abuses. These means will not lack
their accustomed power, in a country whose in-
stitutions are so emphatically the exponents of
the popular will.

Another objection originating- in a less friend-
ly spirit, but resting on political grounds, is
gravely put forth. We are told that our feeling
for our fellow man, (at least if he be colored,)
must be defined by geographical lines ; that we
have no rijrht to plead for an oppressed brother
if he stands outside of our own political enclo-
sure. To this is added the certainly novel the-
ory, that it is the nature of sin to reform itself,
and that the oppression of the slaveholder would
soon cease, if we would only withdraw all open
sympathy from the injured, to bestow it on the
oppressor. However absurd and revolting these
sophisms may appear to you, they are reiterat-
ed with great confidence and frequency. To
state them distinctly seems all that is necessa-
ry to expose them to the contempt they merit.

All. we need for the overthrow of slavery is to
gain the ear of the people. This is done by agi-
tation ; and never is agitation so thorough and
effectual, as when it begins in the halls of leg-
islation. We laugh to scorn the pomp and cir-
cumstance with which Mr. Calhoun, or Mr.
Clay, or some other great slaveholding states-
man, annually proclaims a final victory over
fanaticism. Do they not see that our very de-
feats are triumphs to us? Have they yet to
learn that revolutions never roll backwards?
That our opposers are but erecting paper-ram-
parts, against the surges of an inswelling Atlan-
tic ? That their resolutions are but words 1



6

That a breath unmakes them, as a breath has
made ? They are only doing our work. The
country has learned more of "the dangerous ten-
dencies of slavery, and of the desperate charac-
ter and designs of its supporters, by the discus-
sions in Congress, than we could have instilled
directly for years. Again, in the mere process
of signing a petition,— the simplest form of po-
litical action, — strength and clearness are added
to the convictions of "thousands. So much force
and definiteness do our principles and feelings
acquire, by expression ; so much moral vigor
does a man gain, by openly taking his side. °

We cannot be justified in abandoning any
wide field of action, be it moral, social, religious
or political. There can be no vantage ground
for the wrong side. The slavery question can-
not, and ought not, we think, to be kept wholly
disjoined from politics. It should not be made
a mere political question, but the religious and
moral sense of the people must speak out, on
the subject, with precision and authority, to their
political representatives.

Unquestionably that voice is to go forth, com-
manding the use of all moral, lawful and con-
stitutional means to overthrow slavery. We
believe the question of abolition is one, perhaps
the only one, on which the North can be brought
to unite. Our cause is, we think, destined^to
increase so rapidly, as to threaten political ex-
tinction to every public man here, who arrays
himself against it. Instructions will j7 forth
from the constituent bodies, that will command
the obedience of northern representatives in Con-
gress. When this is done, slavery must cease
in the metropolis of the nation, and slavery in
the States cannot long survive. We doubt not,
before five years are gone, it will be the South'
instead of the North, that will be disunited and



vacillating. It does not belong to the character
of their cause, or of the age and country we
live in, that the South can long keep their ranks
unbroken. Even now, there is no real unity ot
interest or opinion, between the fanning and
planting slave States.

Political action doubtless brings temptations
and hazards; but so does any successful action.
Success is itself dangerous. What then 1 shall
we not aim at success ? Shall a man seclude
himself from the world, lest the world prove too
strong for his virtue? As practical men we
cannot proceed on these scruples. We cannot
consent to forego the power to do good, from the
apprehension that its possession may tempt us
to use it for evil.

Is it then our purpose to recommend to abo-
litionists the formation of a distinct political par-
ty? So far from this, we think such a policy-
would be in the highest degree dangerous, if
not fatal to the efficiency of our organization. —
Our most intelligent friends, throughout the
country, deprecate our assuming the character
of a third political party. Such a course would
be opposed to the well" settled policy and wise
example of the English abolitionists, who have
always kept the political aspect of their cause
subordinate to the religious. Remember that
abolition was carried in England, mainly as a
religious question.

If we were a political party, the struggle for
places of power and emolument would render
our motives suspected, even if it did not prove
too strong a temptation to our integrity.

Make our cause mainly political, and it would
be at once excluded from nearly every pulpit in
the land.

If we were a distinct party, every mem-
ber of it must vote for its candidates, however



8

he might! disagree with them on other important
points of public policy. This would involve two
great evils. The sacrifice thus demanded, be-
ing greater than we can reasonably expect most
men to make, accessions to our party would be
greatly retarded ;— and, what is a more serious
difficulty, divisions would inevitably arise a-
mong ourselves, growing out of the struggles of
different sections of our own party, to secure the
nomination of candidates of their peculiar senti-
ments. Whig abolitionists would ask for a;
whig candidate: the democrats of our party
would insist on our nominating a democrat.

Experience seems to show, that under a free
government, there cannot be at one time, more
than two powerful political parties. The parties
that now divide the country are active, zealous
and strong. Years must elapse, if we should
organize politically, before we could be any
thing but an uninfluential minority.
_ Our position, as a small minority party in pol-
itics would be hazardous and perplexing-.
There is danger that low considerations of
expediency would intrude upon our sense of
eternal right.

> Political adventurers, loud in their profes-
sions, unscrupulous in their means, would at-
tach themselves to us. Disappointed men, who
have been disowned by other parties, would
come among us to use us as tools for their per-
sonal advancement, to disgrace us by their in-
consistency, to lower our hitherto high stand-
ard of principle, and perhaps sacrifice us in the
day of trial.

Belonging, as we now do, to the various po-
litical parties, we can readily work our principles
m, among them. Our present political ties and
sympathies give us a strong hold over our po-
litical associates. We should lose all this mode



9

of influence, by withdrawing from them. Our
withdrawal would be held equivalent to a dec-
laration of war.

A new political organization would have, of
course, the combined hostility of the old parties.
It is now the interest of each to conciliate us,
for the sake of our votes. Were those votes
pledged 10 our own candidates, the other parties
would have a common interest in crushing us.

To form a political party, on anti-slavery
grounds, would involve a needless abandon-
ment of our other political preferences, and
therefore would imply, not merely that abo-
lition is the first, but that it is the only public
object, in which abolitionists feel interested.
This is not true, and to produce such a state of
feeling is as undesirable, as it would be imprac-
ticable

To conclude this part of the subject, our true
policy is not to turn party politicians, but in
politics as elsewhere to stand firm by our prin-
ciples, and let the politicians come to us.

Of each of the three forms of political action,
petitioning, the interrogating of candidates for
office, and suffrage, we have a few words to ad-
dress to you.

We pray you not to weary in the work of pe-
titioning the national and state legislatures. It
is the anti-slavery petitions, mainly, that have
unlocked the lips of our legislatures, on the sub-
ject of abolition, and slowly compelled the news-
paper-press to recognize, and unwillingly to aid,
our movements. The agitation, caused by the
rejection of our petitions, has spread into every
village. This simple mode of action marks our
growing strength ; indicates, definitely the peo-
ple's will ; enlightens our adversaries with the
knowledge of our numbers ; and is felt, by our



10

representatives, as a great support in the dis-
charge of their duty. Depend upon it, the
time has come when the members of Congress,
from this State, feel relieved, under their great
responsibility, by their constituents holding a
decided — aye, even a peremptory tone, on the
subject of slavery.

We hope women will pour in their petitions
to Congress, at its next session, in redoubled
numbers. Let them thank God, and take new
courage, for they have done great good. We
feel deeply the value of the earnest labours of
women, in our cause. All admit slavery is to
be overthrown by a reformed public opinion;
but public opinion is not composed of the opinion
of either sex exclusively. In every christian
and civilized community, self-devoted, intel-
ligent women are among the most important
sources of moral and religious influence. Grie-
vously do they err, who deem lightly of the
fact, that in the moral strife between "freedom
and slavery, the women of the North are with
the abolitionists.

Your representatives in the next State Leg-
islature, and for the Congress of 1839, are to be
chosen the coming autumn. They should be sea-
sonably interrogated, as to their opinions on the
the most important matters connected with our
cause, on which they may probably be called to
act. After some consideration, the Board have
concluded to recommend, that the interrogatories
to candidates be limited, for the present year,
to the two following subjects : — The immediate
abolition of Slaverym the District of Columbia ;
and the admission of new States into the union,
whose Constitutions tolerate slavery.

Our Legislature, at its last session, resolved
1 that Congress ought to take measures for the
abolition of slavery, in the District.' This



11

vague language can satisfy no one. When
ought Congress to take these ' measures ' 1 —
what are the ' measures ' that Congress ought to
take ? and how long a time are these ' mea-
sures ' to occupy, before the slave is to be free 1
Remember, that the Senate and the House
both refused to assert that Congress ought to
immediately abolish slavery in the District,
though this proposition was moved as an amend-
ment. The resolution of the Legislature, as
passed, would be accorded to, even by some
slaveholders. It may mean apprenticeship, —
it may import colonization. This State owes
it to herself to speak out distinctly, that none
may misunderstand or gainsay. She will be
shorn of a portion of her moral power, till this
is done.

The application of Florida, to be admitted
as a slaveholding member of the Union is to be
acted on, at no distant day — probably at the next
session of Congress. You ought, therefore, to
see to it that remonstrances against its admis-
sion as a slaveholding State, are presented early
in the session. Our northern statesmen should
be seasonably taught, that they must not in fu-
ture misrepresent and betray the rights and
principles of New England, as was done in the
recent admission of Arkansas.

We request the officers of County Societies,
within their respective limits, to see that the
candidates for Congress and for the State Sen-
ate and House of Representatives are duly in-
terrogated and their answers published in the
local newspapers.

The questions should, of course, be in writing;
and it seems belter that they should be written
and signed, not by the officers of societies
as such, but, as far as practicable, by individual
electors, political friends of the candidate inter-



12

rotated. It is not advisable to ask any pledge
from the candidate, but simply to inquire his
present opinions. The questions to the State
candidate may be, substantially, thus :

'Are you in favor of the passage of a resolution,
by the State Legislature, declaring that Con-
gress ought immediately to abolish" slavery, in
the District of Columbia?
< ' Are you in favor of the passage of a resolu-
tion, declaring that no new State ought to be
admitted into the Union, whose Constitution
tolerates slavery ? '

The questions to candidates for Congress
should run thus:

' Are you in favor of the passage of an act of
Congress for the immediate abolition of slavery,
in the District of Columbia ?

1 Are you opposed to the admission of any-
new State into the Union, whose Constitution
tolerates slavery? '

A large school in politics, both in Great
Britain and America, deny the right of instruc-
tion ; principally on the ground, 'that if carried
out, it would destroy the deliberative charac-
ter of the representative body, and convert it
into a mere instrument to register the edicts of
the people. The practice, of exacting pledges
from candidates, may be considered liable to
similar objections. It is, however, sufficient to
advert to the fact, that the presidential electors
of all parties are uniformly chosen under an ex-
press pledge to vote for particular condidates,in
order to shew, that no party has, in practice,
scrupled to pledge its candidates. But in order
to avoid any doubt or cavil on this point, we
think it best to confine your inquiries, as we
have already intimated, to the mere opinion for
the time being, of the candidate. This you



13

have a right to know ; as without such know-
ledge it may often happen, that you crnnot ex-
ercise intelligently your right of suffrage. It
may be said, that a simple expression of opinion
would, under the circumstances, be equivalent to
a pledge. We deny that such is the fact, or that
the thing is so understood. A pledge binds in all
events. A previous expression of present opin-
ion is not incompatible with keeping the mind
still open to conviction, on listening to the op-
posing arguments. It is true, that a represent-
ative who should vote contrary to his previous
professions, would find it necessary, before the
next election, to satisfy his constituents that he
came honestly by his new opinions; but this is
certainly a very wholesome obligation, and one
from which no honest man would desire ex-
emption.

If it be objected, that these interrogatories
may tempt candidates to belie their consciences
for the sake of gaining votes, we reply, that to
men of this easy virtue the whole action of so-
ciety is full of temptation, but it cannot be sus-
pended for their sakes. If the further objection
be urged, that there is an indecorum in submit-
ting to be thus questioned on the eve of an elec-
tion, it is enough to reply, first, that as candi-
dates are not usually nominated until the eve of
an election, inquiries can be made at no other
time; and, secondly, that inquiries of this na-
ture, as they clearly imply confidence and not
distrust, must be regarded rather as complimen-
tary, than as derogatory to the candidate. "VVe
address him as an honest, straight-forward citi-
zen, and no man of genuine dignity of charac-
ter will feel himself degraded, either in public
or private life, by giving a plain answer to a
plain question, where the inquirer has a right
to the information asked. As to the fear of in-



14



decorum, like most overstrained modesty, it will
be usually found symptomatic of conscious cor-
ruption within. Suppose you were about to en-
gage a commander for your ship, a superintend-
ent of your farm, an agent for your factory, and
were to inquire his views as to the principles or
details of the employment he was to undertake.
Would you endure his insolence if he were to
reply, ' I consider it undignified and improper to
satisfy you on these points. You are at liberty
to gain what information you can of my history
and reputation, and then:3 to infer what are my
views on the matter in question V You would
think, and probably but too justly, that he meant
to cheat you. Will you bear such language
from your political servants? No public man
in this country is strong enough to sustain him-
self lono:. in this mode of defying the popular
will. No party can do it. The right of the elect-
ors, to call for a frank disclosure of the opinions
of candidates, on all subjects which may come
within the scope of their official duties, has been
expressly admitted by Martin Van Buren, Hen-
ry Clay, William H. Harrison. William Wirt,
Edward Everett, and Marcus Morton, and by a
host of other eminent statesmen. It is too late
to question its validity. No man of plain integ-
rity would shrink from the ordeal. The prac-
tice is eminently republican and useful. It is
calculated to promote political honesty and open
dealing, and to put an end to that double-faced
and non-committal policy, by which politicians,
of inferior abilities and low arts, sometimes crawl
into power.

Your duties as voters are mainly negative.


1

Online LibraryMassachusetts anti-slavery society.om old cataAn address to the abolitionists of Massachusetts, on the subject of political action (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)