Wendell Phillips.

Eulogy of Garrison. Remarks of Wendell Phillips at the funeral of William Lloyd Garrison online

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Online LibraryWendell PhillipsEulogy of Garrison. Remarks of Wendell Phillips at the funeral of William Lloyd Garrison → online text (page 1 of 2)
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Copyright, 1S84,
By lee and SHEPARD.

All rights reserved.




Funeral of William Lloyd Garrison,

Boston, May 28, 1879.

It has been well said that we are not here to weep, and
neither are we here to praise. No hfc closes without sad-
ness. Death, after all, no matter what hope or what mem-
ories surround it, is ter.ible and a mystery. We never part
hands that have been clasped life-long in loving tonderness
but the hour is sad ; still, we do not come here to weep.
In other moments, elsewhere, we can offer tender and lov-
ing sympathy to those whose roof-tree is so sadly bereaved.
But in the spirit of the great hfe which we commemorate,
this hour is for the utterance of a lesson ; this hour is given
10 contemplate a grand example, a rich inheritance, a noble
life worthily ended. You come together, not to pay tribute,
oven loving tribute, to the friend you have lost, whose feat-
ures you will miss from daily life, but to remember the
grand lesson of that career ; to speak to each other, and to
emphasize what that life teaches, — especially in the hearing
of these young hsteners, who did not see that marvellous


career ; in their hearing to construe the meaning of the great
name which is borne world-wide, and tell them why on both
sides the ocean, the news of his death is a matter of interest
to every lover of his race. As mj- friend said, we have no
right to be silent. Those of us who stood near him, who
witnessed the secret springs of his action, the consistent in-
ward and outward life, have no right to be silent. The
largest contribution that will ever be made by any single
man's life to the knowledge of the working of our institu-
tions will be the picture of his career. He sounded the
depths of the weakness, he proved the ultimate strength, of
republican institutions ; he gave us to know the perils that
confront us ; he taught us to rally the strength that lies bid.
To my mind there are three remarkable elements in his
career. One is rare even among great men. It was his
own moral nature, unaided, uninfluenced from outside, that
consecrated him to a great idea. Other men ripen gradu-
ally. The 3-oungest of the great American names that will
be compared with his was between thirty and forty when
his first anti-slavery word was uttered. Luther was thirty-
four 3'ears old when an infamous enterprise woke him to in-
dignation, and it then took two years more to reveal to him
the mission God designed for him. This man was in jail
for his opinions when he was just twent3'-four. . He had
confronted a nation in the very bloom of his youth. It
could be said of him more than of any other American in
our day, and more than of any gi'eat leader that I chance
now to remember in any epoch, that he did not need cir-
cumstances, outside influence, some great pregnant event
to press him into service, to provoke him to thought, to
kindle him into enthusiasm. His moral nature was as mar-
vellous as was the intellect of Pascal. It seemed to be born
fully equipped, "finely touched." Think of the mere dates ;
think that at some twenty-four years old, while Christian-


ity and "statesman sliip, the experience, the genius of the
land, were wandering in the desert, aghast, amazed, and
confounded over a fi iglitful evil, a great sin, this boy sounded,
found, invented the talisman, "Immediate, unconditional
emancipation on the soil." You ma}' saj' he borrowed it
— true enough — from the lips of a woman on the other
side of the Atlantic ; but he was the only American whose
moral nature seemed, just on the edge of life, so perfectly
open to duty and truth that it answered to the far-off bugle-
note, and proclaimed it instantly as a complete solution of
the problem.

Young men, 3'ou have no conception of the miracle of
that insight ; for it is not given to j-ou to remember with
any vividness the blackness of the darkness of ignorance
and indifference which then brooded over what was called
the moral and religious element of the American people.
When I think of him, as Melancthon said of Luther, "day
by day grows the wonder fresh" at the lipeness of the
moral and intellectual life that God gave him at the very

You hear that boy's lips announcing the statesmanlike
solution which startled politicians and angered church and
people. A year afterwards, with equally single-hearted
devotion, in words that have been so often quoted, with
those dungeon doors behind him, he enters on his career.
In Januar}', 1831, then twenty-five years old, he starts the
publication of "The Liberator," advocating the immediate
abolition of slavery; and, with the sublime pledge, "I will
be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On
this subject I do not wish to speak or write with modera-
tion. I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not
retreat a single inch — and I will be heard."

Then began an agitation which for the marvel of its
origin, the majesty of its purpose, the earnestness, unself-


ishness and ability of its appeals, the vigor of its assault,
the deep national convulsion it caused, the vast and benefi-
cent changes it Avrought, and its wide-spread, indirect in-
fluence on all kindred moral questions, is without a parallel
in history since Luther. This boy created and marshalled
it. His converts held it up and carried it on. Before this,
all through the preceding century-, there had been among
us scattered and single abolitionists, earnest and able men ;
sometimes, like Wythe of Virginia, in high places. The
Quakers and Covenanters had never intermitted their testi-
mony against slavery. But Garrison was the first man to
begin a movement designed to annihilate slavery. He an-
nounced the principle, arranged the method, gathered the
forces, enkindled the zeal, started the argument, and finally
niai'shalled the nation for and against the S3-stem in a con-
flict that came near rending the Union.

I marvel again at the iustinctive sagacity which discerned
the hidden forces fit for such a movement, called them forth,
and wielded them to such prompt I'esults. Archimedes said,
" Give me a spot and I will move the world." O'Connell
leaned back on three millions of Irishmen, all on fire with
sympathy. Cobden's hands were held up by the whole
manufacturing interest of Great Britain ; his treasury was
the wealth of the middle classes of the country, and behind
him also, in fair proportion, stood the religious convictions
of P^ngland. Marvellous was their agitation ; as you gaze
upon it in its successive stages and analyze it, you are as-
tonished at what they invented for tools. But this bo}'
stood alone ; utterly alone, at first. There was no s^'mpathy
anywhere ; his hands were empty ; one single penniless
comrade was his only helper. Starving on bread and water,
he could command the use of types, that was all. Trade
endeavored to crush him ; the intellectual life of America
disowned him.


My friend Weld has said the church was a thick bank
of black cloud looming over him. Yes. But no sooner did
the church discern the im})etuous boy's purpose than out
of that dead, sluggish cloud thundered and lightened a ma-
lignity which could not find words to express its Jiate. The
very pulpit where I stand saw this apostle of liberty and
justice sore beset, always in great need, and often in deadly
peril ; yet it never gaA'e him one word of approval or sym-
pathy. During all his weaiT struggle, Mr. Garrison felt
its v,-eight iu the scale against him. In those j-ears it led
the sect which arrogates to itself the name of Liberal. If
this was the bearing of so-called Liberals, what bitterness
of opposition, judge ye, did not the others show? A mere
boy confronts church, commerce, and college ; a boy with
neither training nor experience ! Almost at once the as-
sault tells ; the whole country is hotly interested. AVhat
created such life under those ribs of death? AVhence came
that instinctive knowledge? Where did he get that sound
common-sense? Whence did he summon that almost un-
erring sagacity which, starting agitation on an untried field,
never committed an error, provoking year by year addi-
tional enthusiasm ; gathering, as he advanced, helper after
helper to his side ! I marvel at the miraculous bo}'. He
had no means. Where he got, whence he summoned, how
he created, the elements which changed 1830 into 1835
— 1830 apatity, indiffei-ence. ignorance, icebergs, into 1835,
everj' man intelligent!}' hating him, and mobs assaulting
bim in every city — is a marvel which none but older men
than I can adequately analyze and explain. He said to a
friend who remonstrated with him on the heat and severity
of his language, '• Brother, I have need to be all on fire, for
I have mountains of ice about me to melt." Well, that
dungeon of 1830, that universal apathy, that deadness of
soul, that contempt of what called itself intellect, in ten


years he changed into the whole country aflame. He made
every single home, press, i)ulpit, and senate-chamber a de-
bating societ}', with his right and wrong for the subject.
And as was said of Luther, " God honored him by making
all the worst men his enemies."

Fastened on that daily life was a malignant attention and
criticism such as no American has ever endured. I will
not call it a criticism of hate ; that word is not strong
enough. INIalignity searched him with candles from the
moment he uttered that God-given sokition of the prob-
lem to the moment when he took the hand of the nation
and wrote out the statute which made it law. Malignity
searched those forty years with candles, and yet even ma-
lignity has never lisped a suspicion, much less a charge —
never lisped a suspicion of anything mean, dishonorable,
dishonest. Ko man, however mad with hate, however fierce
in assault, ever dai'ed to liint that there was anything low
in motive, false in assertion, selfish in purpose, dishonest in
method — never a stain on the thought, the word, or the

Now contemplate this boy entering such an arena, con-
fronting a nation and all its forces, utterly poor, with no
sympathy from any quarter, conducting an angrv, wide-
spread, and profound agitation for ten, twent}*, forty j^ears,
amid the hate of everything strong in American life, and
the contempt of everything influential, and no stain, not the
slightest shadow of one, rests on his escutcheon ! Summon
me the public men, the men who have put their hands to
the helm of the vessel of state since 1789, of whom that
can be said, although love and admiration, which almost
culminated in worship, attended the steps of some of them.

Then look at the work he did. My friends have spoken
of his influence. What American ever held his hand so
long and so powerfully on the helm of social, intellectual.


and moral America? There have been giants in our day.
Great men God has granted in widely different spheres;
earnest men, men whom public admiration lifted earlj' into
power. I shall venture to name some of them. Perhaps
3'ou will say "it is not usual on an occasion lilie this, but
long- waiting truth needs to be uttered in an hour when
this great example is still absolutely indispensable to in-
spire the effort, to guide the steps, to cheer the hope, of the
nation not yet arrived in the promised land. I want to
show j'ou the vast breadth and depth that this man's name
signifies. We have had "Webster in the Senate ; we have
had Lyman Beecher in the pulpit ; we have had Calhoun
at the head of a section ; we have had a philosopher at Con-
cord with his inspiration penetrating the 3'oung mind of the
Northern States. They are the four men that history, per-
haps, will mention somewhere near the great force whose
closing in this scene we commemorate to-day. Remember
now not merely the inadequate means at this man's con-
trol, not simply the bitter hate that he confronted, not the
vast work that he must be allowed to have done, — surely
vast, when measured by the opposition he encountered and
the strength he held in his hands, — but dismissing all those
considerations, measuring nothing but the breadth and depth
of his hold, his gi'asp on American character, social change,
and general progress, what man's signet has been set so deep,
planted so forever on the thoughts of his epoch? Trace
home intelligent!}-, trace home to their sources, the changes
social, political, intellectual and religious, that have come
over us during the last fifty years, — the volcanic convulsions,
the storm}' waves which have tossed and rocked our genera-
tion, — and you will find close at the sources of the Mis-
sissippi this boy with his proclamation !

The great part}" that put on record the statute of freedom
was made up of men whose conscience he quickened and


whose intellect he inspired, and they long stood the tools of
a public opinion that he created. The grandest name be-
side his in the America of our times is that of John Brown.
Brown stood on the platform that Garrison built ; and Mrs.
iStowe herself charmed an audience that he gathered for
her, with wprds which he inspired, from a heart that he
kindled. Sitting at his feet were leaders born of " The Lib-
erator," the guides of public sentiment. I know whereof I
affirm. It was often a pleasant boast of Charles Sumner
that he read "The Liberator" two 3'ears before I did, and
among the great men who followed his lead and held up his
hands in Massachusetts, where is the intellect, where is the
heart that does not trace to this printer-bo}^ the first pulse
that bade him serve the slave ? For mj'self, no words can
adequately tell the measureless debt I owe him, the moral
and intellectual life he opened to me. I feel like the old
Greek, who, taught himself by Socrates, called his own
scholars "the disciples o< ocrates."

This is only anothei i-btance added to the roll of the
Washingtons and the Hampdens, whose root is not ability,
but character; that influence which, like the great Mas-
ter's of Judea (humanly speaking), spreading through the
centuries, testifies that the world suffers its grandest changes
not by genius, but by the more potent coati'ol of character.
His was an earnestness that would take no denial, that
consumed opposition in the intensity of its convictions, that
knew nothing but right. As friend after friend gathered
slowl}', one by one, to his side, in that very meeting of a
dozen heroic men, to form the New England Anli-Slavery
Societ}', it was his compelling hand, his resolute unwilling-
ness to temper or qualify the utterance, that finally dedi-
cated that first organized movement to the doctrine of im-
mediate emancipation. He seems to have understood — this
boy without experience — he seemT to have understood by


instinct that righteousness is the onlj' thing which will
finally compel submission ; that one, with God, is always a
majority. He seems to have known it at the very outset,
taught of God, the herald and champion, God-endowed and
God-sent to arouse a nation, that only by the most absolute
assertion of the uttermost truth, without qualification or
compromise, can a nation be waked to conscience or sti'englh-
ened for duty. No man ever understood so thoroughly —
not O'Connell, nor Cobden — the nature and needs of that
arjitation which alone, in our da}', reforms states. In the
darkest hour he never doubted the omnipotence of con-
science and the moral sentiment.

And then look at the unquailing courage with which he
faced the successive obstacles that confronted him ! Modest,
believing at the outset that America could not be as cor-
rupt as she seemed, he waits at the door of the churches,
importunes leading clergymen, begs for a voice from the
sanctuary, a consecrated protest 9pa the pulpit. To his
utter amazement, he learns, by t*tj. ■• probing it, that the
church will give him no help, but, on the contrary, surges
into the movement in opposition. Serene, though astounded
by the unexpected revelation, he simpl}' turns his footsteps,
and announces that "a Christianity which keeps peace
with the op[n'essor is no Christianity'," and goes on his way
to supplant the religious element which the church had
allied with sin by a deeper religious faith. Yes. he sets
himself to work, this stripling with his sling confronting the
angry giant in complete steel, this solitary' evangelist, to
make Christians of twenty millions of people ! I am not ex-
aggerating. You know, older men, who can go back to that
period ; I know that when one, kindred to a voice that you
have heard to-day, whose pathway Garrison's bloody feet
had made easier for the treading, when he uttered in a pul-
pit in Boston only a few strong words, injected in the course


of a sermon, his venerable father, between seventy and
eighty ^-ears, was met the next morning and his hand
shaken by a much moved friend. " Colonel, j'ou have my
sympathy. I cannot tell you how much I pity you."
" What," said the brusque old man, "what is your pit}'?"
"Well, I hear your son went crazy at 'Church Green'
yesterday." Such was the utter indifference. At that time,
bloody feet had smoothed the pathway for other men to
tread. Still, then and for years afterwards, insanity was
the only kind-hearted excuse that partial friends could find
for sympathy with such a madman !

If anything strikes one more prominently than another in
this career — to your astonishment, young men, you may say
— it is the plain, sober common-sense, the robust English
element which underlay Cromwell, which explains Hamp-
den, which gives the color that distinguishes 1640 in Eng-
land from 1790 in France. Plain, robust, well-balanced
' common-sense. Nothing erratic ; no enthusiasm which had
lost its hold on firm earth ; no mistake of method ; no
unmeasured confidence ; no miscalculation of the enemy's
strength. Whoever mistook. Garrison seldom mistook.
Fewer mistakes in that long agitation of fiftj^ 3"ears can be
charged to his account than to any other American. Erratic
as men supposed him, intemperate in utterance, mad in judg-
ment, an enthusiast gone craz}^ the moment you sat down
at his side, patient in explanation, clear in statement, sound
in judgment, stud3-ing carefully every step, calculating every
assault, measuring the force to meet it, never in haste, al-
ways patient, waiting until the time ripened, — fit for a
great leader. Cull, if 3'ou please, from the statesmen who
obeyed him, whom he either whipped into submission or
summoned into existence, cull from among them the man
whose career, fairly examined, exhibits fewer miscalcula-
tions and fewer mistakes than this career which is just ended.


I know what I claim. As Mr. TVeld has said, I am
speaking to-da}- to men who judge b}" theii- ears, by rumors ;
who see, not with their 6368, but with their prejudices, llis-
tor}', fifty years hence, dispelling your prejudices, will do
justice to the grand sweep of the orbit which, as my friend
said, to-day we are hardly in a position, or mood, to meas-
ure. As Coleridge avers, "The truth-haters of to-morrow
will give the right name to the truth-haters of to-day, for
even such men the stream of time bears onward." I do not
fear that if mj* words are remembered by the next gener-
ation they will be thought unsupported or extravagant.
When history seeks the sources of New England character,
when men begin to open up and examine the hidden springs
and note the convulsions and the throes of American life
within the last half centur}', the}* will remember Parker,
that Jupiter of the pulpit ; they will remember the long
unheeded but measureless influence that came to us from
the seclusion of Concord ; they will do justice to the mas-
terly statesmanship which guided, during a part of his life,
the efforts of Webster, but the}' will recognize that there
was only one man north of Mason and Dixon's line who
met squarely, with an absolute logic, the else impregnable
position of John C. Calhoun ; only one brave, far-sighted,
keen, logical intellect, which discerned that there were only
two moral points in the universe, right and wrong; that
when one was asserted, subterfuge and evasion would be
sure to end in defeat.

Here lies the brain and the heart "; here lies the statesman-
like intellect, logical as Jonathan Edwards, brave as Lu-
ther, which confronted the logic of South Carolina with an
assertion direct and broad enough to make an issue and
necessitate a conflict of two civilizations. Calhoun said,
Slavery is right. Webster and Clay shrunk from him and
evaded his assertion. Garrison, alone at that time, met


him face to face, proclaiming slavery a sin and daring all
the inferences. It is true, as New Orleans complains to-day
in her journals, that this man brought upon America every-
thing they call the disaster of the last twenty years ; and it
is equally true that if 3'ou seek through the hidden causes
and unheeded events for the hand that wrote "'emancipa-
tion " on the statute-book and on the flag, it lies still there

I have no time to number the man}' kindred reforms to which
he lent as profound an earnestness and almost as large aid.

I hardly dare enter that home. There is one other
marked, and, as it seems to me, unprecedented, element in
this career. His was the happiest life I ever saw. No
need for pity. Let no tear fall over his life. N6 man
gathered into his bosom a fuller sheaf of blessing, delight,
and joy. In his seventy years, there were not arrows enough
in the whole quiver of the church or state to wound him.
As Guizot once said from the tribune, "Gentlemen, 3'ou
cannot get high enough to reach the level of my contempt."
So Garrison, from the serene level of his daily life, from the
faith that never faltered, was able to say to American hate,
"You cannot reach up to the level of my home mood, my
daily existence." I have seen him intimately for thirty
years, while raining on his head was the hate of the com-
raunit}', when by ever}' possible form of expression malig-
nity let him know that it wished him all sorts of harm. I
never saw him unhappy ; I never saw the moment tiiat se-
rene, abounding faith in the rectitude of his motive, the
soundness of his method, and the certainty of his success did
not lift him above all possibility of being reached by any
clamor about him. Every one of his near friends will agree
with me that this was the happiest life God has granted
in our day to any American standing in the foremost rank
of influence and effort.


Adjourned from the stormiest meeting, where hot de-
bate had roused all his powers as near to anger as his
nature ever let him come, the music of a dozen voices —
even of those who had just opposed him — or a piano, if
the house held one, changed his mood in an instant,
and made the hour laugh with more than content ; unless
indeed, a baby and plaj-ing with it proved metal even more

To champion wearisome causes, bear with disordered in-
tellects, to shelter the wrecks of intemperance and fugitives
whose pulse trembled at every touch on the door-latch —
this was his home ; keenly alive to human suffering, ever


Online LibraryWendell PhillipsEulogy of Garrison. Remarks of Wendell Phillips at the funeral of William Lloyd Garrison → online text (page 1 of 2)