Archibald H. Grimke.

William Lloyd Garrison The Abolitionist online

. (page 6 of 27)
Online LibraryArchibald H. GrimkeWilliam Lloyd Garrison The Abolitionist → online text (page 6 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


such a paper. But what he found was a sad lack of interest in the slave.
Everywhere he went he encountered what appeared to him to be the most
monstrous indifference and apathy on the subject. The prejudices of the
free States seemed to him stronger than were those of the South. Instead
of receiving aid and encouragement to continue the good work of himself
and coadjutor, and for the doing of which he had served a term of seven
weeks in prison, men, even his best friends sought to influence him to
give it up, and to persuade him to forsake the slave, and to turn his
time and talents to safer and more profitable enterprises nearer home.
He was informed by these worldly wise men and Job's counselors that his
"scheme was visionary, fanatical, unattainable." "Why should he make
himself," they argued, "an exile from home and all that he held dear on
earth, and sojourn in a strange land, among enemies whose hearts were
dead to every noble sentiment?" Ah! he himself confessed that all were
against his return to Baltimore. But his love of the slave was stronger
than the strength of the temptation. He put all these selfish objections
behind him. As he has recorded the result of this experience:
"Opposition served only to increase my ardor, and confirm my purpose."
Strange and incomprehensible to his fellows is the man who prefers
"persecution, reproach, and poverty" with duty, to worldly ease and
honor and riches without it. When a man appears in society who is not
controlled by motives which usually govern the conduct of other men he
becomes at first an object of pity, then of contempt, and, lastly, of
hate. Garrison we may be sure at the end of this visit had made rapid
transit from the first to the second of these stages in the esteem of
his generation.

His experience was not all of this deplorable kind. He left Baltimore
without the money required to pay his way North, depending literally
upon the good God to provide for him the necessary means to complete his
journey. And such help was more than once providentially afforded the
young apostle of liberty. At New York, when he did not know how he was
to go farther for want of means, he met a Mr. Samuel Leggett who gave
him a pass on the "splendid steamboat _President_." It seems that this
friend in his need had read with indignation the story of his trial. The
bread which he had scattered from his prison on the waters of public
sentiment had thus returned to him after many days in the timely
assistance of a sympathetic soul. And then, again, when he was in Boston
in sore distress for a little money, suddenly, beautifully, the desire
of his heart was satisfied. But let him tell the incident in his own
touching way. His face was turned toward Baltimore: "But how was I to
return?" he asks. "I had not a dollar in my pocket, and my time was
expired. No one understood my circumstances. I was too proud to beg, and
ashamed to borrow. My friends were prodigal of pity, but of nothing
else. In the extremity of my uneasiness, I went to the Boston
post-office, and found a letter from my friend Lundy, inclosing a draft
for $100 from a stranger and as a remuneration for my poor inefficient
services in behalf of the slaves!" The munificent stranger was Ebenezer
Dole, of Hallowell, Maine. Money thus acquired was a sacred trust to
this child of Providence. "After deducting the expenses of traveling,"
he goes on to say, "the remainder of the above-named sum was applied in
discharging a few of the debts incurred by the unproductiveness of the
_Genius_."

Garrison returned to Baltimore, but he did not tarry long in that
slave-ruled city. Todd's suit against him was tried after his departure,
and the jury soothed the Newburyport merchant's wounded pride with a
verdict for a thousand dollars. He never attempted, however, to enforce
the payment of the same being content probably with the "vindication,"
which his legal victory gave him.

Before the reformer left Baltimore he had definitely abandoned the plans
looking to a revival of his interest in the _Genius_. He determined
instead to publish a sheet devoted to the abolition of slavery under his
sole management and control. This paper he proposed to call the _Public
Liberator_, and to issue from Washington. The prospectus of this
journalistic project bearing date, August, 1830, declares in its opening
sentence its "primary object" to be "the abolition of slavery, and the
moral and intellectual elevation of our colored population." "I shall
spare no efforts," he pledged himself, "to delineate the withering
influence of slavery upon our national prosperity and happiness, its
awful impiety, its rapid extension, and its inevitable consequences if
it be suffered to exist without hindrance. It will also be my purpose to
point out the path of safety, and a remedy for the disease." This
comprehensive and aggressive plan of campaign signalized the rise of an
Abolitionism wholly unlike the Abolitionism of any previous time in the
history of the country. It did in fact date the opening of a new era in
the slavery struggle in America.

With Northern indifference and apathy on the subject of emancipation,
Garrison's previous visit to the North had acquainted him. Their
existence he saw interposed the main obstacle to the success of his new
venture in journalism. "The cause of this callous state of feeling," he
believed, "was owing to their exceeding ignorance of the horrors of
slavery." He accordingly made up his mind to throw the light which he
possessed into the midst of this darkness. He had written in prison
three lectures on "Slavery and Colonization." What better could he now
do than to deliver those lectures at the North? If the good people and
their religious leaders knew what he knew, they would presently feel as
he did on the question. He was loath to leave Baltimore without giving
this testimony against slavery. But unable to procure a room for this
purpose was finally compelled to content himself with the witness he had
already borne in the _Genius_ and in prison in behalf of the slave. In
Philadelphia he well-nigh failed to obtain a hall for his lectures, but
did finally succeed in getting the Franklin Institute, where, to small
audiences, he lifted up his voice against the iniquity of the times. He
repeated his lectures in New York, New Haven, and Hartford. But not many
came out to hear him. The nation, its churches, and politicians had
thrust their fingers in their ears to every cry coming up from the
slave. Why should they go to sup with a madman on horrors, with which as
patriotic people they were forbidden to concern themselves. And so for
the most part Garrison could do nothing with communities, which had
eyes, but obstinately refused to see with them upon any subject relating
to the abominations of slavery. In his own town of Newburyport, officers
of Christian churches not only refused to hear his message themselves,
but debarred others from listening to the woes and wrongs of
fellow-creatures in bondage. As Mr. Garrison truly said at the time: "If
I had visited Newburyport to plead the cause of twenty white men in
chains, every hall and every meeting-house would have been thrown open,
and the fervor of my discourses anticipated and exceeded by my
fellow-townsmen. The fact that two millions of colored beings are
groaning in bondage, in this land of liberty, excites no interest nor
pity." If these damning facts are remembered sixty years after their
occurrence to the shame of the trustees of the two churches, viz., the
Presbyterian Church on Harris street and the Second Congregational
Church, it is also remembered to the honor of the two pastors, Rev. Dr.
Daniel Dana, and the Rev. Dr. Luther F. Dimmick, that they had thrown
open to the prophet the doors of their meeting-houses, which the
trustees afterward slammed in his face.

In Boston the same hard luck followed him. In all that city of Christian
churches he could not obtain the use of a single meeting-house, "in
which to vindicate the rights of TWO MILLIONS of American citizens, who
are now groaning in servile chains in this boasted land of liberty; and
also to propose just, benevolent, and constitutional measures for their
relief." So ran an advertisement in the Boston _Courier_ of the sorely
tried soul. For two weeks he had gone up and down the town in search of
a room free of cost, in which to deliver his message. The door of every
sanctuary was locked against his cause. It was then, as a final
recourse, that he turned to the _Courier_, and made his last appeal to
the Christian charity of the city. The prayer of the prophet was
answered from an unexpected quarter. It was that ecclesiastical dragon
of the times, Abner Kneeland, and his society of "blasphemers," who
proved afresh the truth of that scripture which says: "Not every one
that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;
but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." It was they
that gave to liberty a hearing, to the prophet of righteousness a chance
to deliver his message. It was in their meeting-house, in Julian Hall,
that Garrison gave his lectures, giving the first one on the evening of
October 15, 1830.

Samuel J. May, who was present, has preserved his impressions of the
lecture and lecturer. "Never before," he records many years afterward,
"was I so affected by the speech of man. When he had ceased speaking I
said to those around me: 'That is a providential man; he is a prophet;
he will shake our nation to its center, but he will shake slavery out of
it. We ought to know him, we ought to help him. Come, let us go and give
him our hands.' Mr. Sewall and Mr. Alcott went up with me and we
introduced each other. I said to him, 'Mr. Garrison, I am not sure that
I can indorse all you have said this evening. Much of it requires
careful consideration. But I am prepared to embrace you. I am sure you
are called to a great work, and I mean to help you.' Mr. Sewall
cordially assured him of his readiness also to cooperate with him. Mr.
Alcott invited him to his home. He went and we sat with him until twelve
that night, listening to his discourse, in which he showed plainly that
_immediate, unconditional emancipation, without expatriation, was the
right of every slave, and could not be withheld by his master an hour
without sin_. That night my soul was baptised in his spirit, and ever
since I have been a disciple and fellow-laborer of William Lloyd
Garrison." A new force had arisen in our history, and a new epoch had
broken bolts for humanity.





CHAPTER IV.



THE HOUR AND THE MAN.


The providential man was not yet twenty-five. In personal appearance he
was quite the reverse of his friend Lundy. Garrison was gifted with a
body that matched his mind, strong, straight, sound in every part, and
proportioned in every member. As he stood he was much above the medium
height. His dark hair had already partially left the crown of the high
dome-shaped head. His forehead combined height with breadth, which,
taken in connection with the brown eyes covered with the now habitual
glasses, lent to his countenance a striking air of moral serenity and
elevation. Force, firmness, no ordinary self-reliance and courage found
masterly expression in the rest of the face. There was through the whole
physical man a nice blending of strength and delicacy of structure. The
impression of fineness and finish was perhaps mainly owing to the
woman-like purity and freshness of skin and color, which overspread the
virile lines and features of the face from brow to chin. What one saw in
that face was the quality of justice made flesh, good-will to men
personified.

This characterization of the reformer's countenance may be considered
absurd by some readers. But absurd it is not. People who had read his
stern denunciations of slave-holding and slaveholders, and who had
formed their image of the man from his "hard language" and their own
prejudices could not recognize the original when they met him. His
manner was peculiarly winning and attractive, and in personal
intercourse almost instantly disarmed hostility. The even gentleness of
his rich voice, his unfailing courtesy and good temper, his quick eye
for harmless pleasantries, his hearty laugh, the Quaker-like calmness,
deliberateness, and meekness, with which he would meet objections and
argue the righteousness of his cause, his sweet reasonableness and
companionableness were in strange contrast to popular misconceptions and
caricatures of him. No one needed to be persuaded, who had once
conversed with him, that there was no hatred or vindictiveness in his
severities of language toward slaveholders. That he was no Jacobin, no
enemy of society, was perceived the moment one looked into his grave,
kind face, or caught the warm accents of his pacific tones, or listened
to the sedate intensity, and humanity of his discourses on the enormity
of American slavery as they fell from him in conversations between man
and man. Here is a case in point, a typical incident in the life of the
reformer; it occurred, it is true, when he was twenty-seven, but it
might have occurred at twenty-five quite as well; it is narrated by
Samuel J. May in his recollections of the anti-slavery conflict: On his
way from New York to Philadelphia with Garrison, Mr. May fell into a
discussion with a pro-slavery passenger on the vexed question of the
day. There was the common pro-slavery reasoning, which May answered as
well as he was able. Presently Mr. Garrison drew near the disputants,
whereupon May took the opportunity to shift the anti-slavery burden of
the contention to his leader's shoulders. All of his most radical and
unpopular Abolition doctrines Garrison immediately proceeded to expound
to his opponent. "After a long conversation," says Mr. May, "which
attracted as many as could get within hearing, the gentleman said,
courteously: 'I have been much interested, sir, in what you have said,
and in the exceedingly frank and temperate manner in which you have
treated the subject. If all Abolitionists were like you, there would be
much less opposition to your enterprise. But, sir, depend upon it, that
hair-brained, reckless, violent fanatic, Garrison, will damage, if he
does not shipwreck, any cause.' Stepping forward, I replied, 'Allow me,
sir, to introduce you to Mr. Garrison, of whom you entertain so bad an
opinion. The gentleman you have been talking with is he.'"

Or take Harriet Martineau's first impressions on seeing him. "His aspect
put to flight in an instant what prejudices his slanderers had raised in
me. I was wholly taken by surprise. It was a countenance glowing with
health, and wholly expressive of purity, animation and gentleness. I did
not wonder at the citizen who, seeing a print of Garrison at a shop
window without a name to it, went in and bought it, and framed it as the
most saintlike of countenances."

The appearance of such a man on the stage of our history as a nation, at
this hour, was providential. His coming was in the fulness of time. A
rapid review of events anterior to the advent of Garrison will serve to
place this matter more clearly before the general reader. To begin,
then, at the beginning we have two ships off the American coast, the one
casting anchor in Plymouth harbor, the other discharging its cargo at
Jamestown. They were both freighted with human souls. But how different!
Despotism landed at Jamestown, democracy at Plymouth. Here in the germ
was the Southern idea, slave labor, slave institutions; and here also
was the Northern idea, free labor, free institutions. Once planted they
grew, each seed idea multiplying after its kind. In course of time there
arose on one side an industrial system in which the plantation
principle, race-rule and race-slavery, were organic centers; and, on the
other, a social system in which the principle of popular power and
government, the town meeting, and the common school were the ganglia of
social expansion. Contrary ideas beget naturally enough contrary
interests and institutions. So it is no matter for surprise that the
local interests and institutions of the thirteen revolted colonies
lacked homogeneity and identity. What was calculated to promote the
general welfare of the Northern one, it was quite possible might work a
totally opposite result in the Southern. For, indeed, while there were
slaves in them all, the slave system had taken root in Southern soil
only; and while on the other hand the spirit of freedom was existent in
each, free labor had rooted itself in Northern ground solely.

As the war of the Revolution was an uprising against arbitrary power,
and for the establishment of political liberty, it pushed easily into
the foreground the larger subject of human rights. Most of the leading
actors felt the inconsistency of keeping some men in bondage, when they
were fighting to rid themselves of a tyranny which, in comparison to the
other, was a state of honorable freedom. Their humanity condemned
African slavery, and they earnestly desired its extinction. The
Declaration of Independence proves to how high a level the tide of
freedom rose in the colonies. The grand truths by it proclaimed the
signers of that instrument did not restrict in their application to some
men to the exclusion of other men. They wrote "All men," and they meant
exactly what they wrote. Too simply honest and great they were to mean
less than their solemn and deliberate words.

On political as well as on moral grounds they desired emancipation. But
there was a difficulty which at the time proved insuperable. The
nation-making principle, the idea of country, was just emerging out of
the nebulous civil conditions and relations of the ante-Revolutionary
epoch. There was no existent central authority to reach the evil within
the States except the local governments of the States respectively. And
States in revolt against the central authority of the mother country
would hardly be disposed to divest themselves of any part of their newly
asserted right to govern themselves for the purpose of conferring the
same upon any other political body. To each State, then, the question
was necessarily left for settlement.

The war, during its continuance, absorbed the united resources and
energies of the people and their leaders. The anti-slavery movement made
accordingly but small progress. Reforms thrive only when they get a
hearing. Public attention is the food on which they thrive. But precious
little of this food was the Abolition cause able to snatch in those
bitter years. It could not grow. It remained in the gristle - hardly more
than a sentiment. But the sentiment was a seed, the promise and potency
of kindlier times. With the close of the long struggle other questions
arose; got the people's ears; fixed the attention of the leaders. Scant
notice could emancipation extort from men who had to repair the ravages
of an exhausting war, reconstruct shattered fortunes, restore civil
society in parts tumbling into ruinous disorder. The instinct of
self-preservation was altogether too masterful for the moral starveling.
It succumbed to circumstances, content to obtain an occasional sermon,
an annual address, a few scattered societies to keep a human glow in the
bosom of the infant Confederacy.

The Confederation failed. The formation of a more perfect union was
demanded and undertaken. This transcendent task straightway thrust into
the background every other enterprise and interest. The feeble activity
of the freedom-making principle was checked, for the time being, by the
energy of the nation-making power. They were not antagonistic
forces - only in the natural order of things, the earliest stages in the
evolution of the former had to come after the first steps were taken in
the development of the latter. Before there could start a general
movement against American slavery there must needs be an American
nation. An American nation was, in the year 1787, in process of
successful development. With the adoption of the Constitution, the
national principle entered on a period of marvelous expansion and
activity.

Let it not, however, be hastily concluded that freedom meanwhile was in
total eclipse, that the anti-slavery sentiment was absolutely without
influence. For it unquestionably inspired the Ordinance of 1787. The
Northwest Territory, out of which were subsequently organized the States
of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, was thereby,
forever secured to the Northern idea, and free labor. Supplementary to
this grand act was the Constitutional prohibition of the African
slave-trade after the year 1808. Together they were intended to
discourage the growth of slavery - the first by restricting its
territorial extension, the second, by arresting its numerical increase.
And without doubt they would have placed the evil in the way of ultimate
extinction had other and far reaching causes not intervened to produce
adverse social and political conditions.

The first of these causes, in point of time, were certain labor-saving
inventions in England, which vastly enhanced the demand for raw cotton.
Arkwright's invention of the spinning machine about twenty years prior
to the adoption of the Constitution, perfected by the spinning-jenny of
Hargreaves, and the mule of Crompton, "turned Lancashire," the historian
Green says, "into a hive of industry." The then rapid demand for cotton
operated in time as a stimulus to its production in America. Increased
productivity raised the value of slave property and slave soil. But the
slow and tedious hand method of separating the fiber of the cotton bulb
from the seed greatly limited the ability of the Cotton States to meet
and satisfy the fast growing demand of the English manufacturers, until
Eli Whitney, in 1793, by an ingenious invention solved the problem of
supply for these States. The cotton gin was not long in proving itself
the other half - the other hand of the spinning machine.

From that year the slave interests of the South rose in market value,
and its industrial system assumed unexpected importance in the economic
world. The increased production of cotton led directly to increased
demand for slave labor and slave soil. The increased demand for slave
labor the Constitutional provision relating to the African slave trade
operated in part to satisfy. The increased demand for slave soil was
likewise satisfied by the cession to the United States by Georgia and
North Carolina of the Southwest Territory, with provisos practically
securing it to slavery. Out of this new national territory were
subsequently carved the slave States of Tennessee, Mississippi, and
Alabama.

Slave soil unlike free soil, is incapable of sustaining a dense
population. Slave labor calls for large spaces within which to multiply
and prosper. The purchase of Louisiana and the acquisition of Florida
met this agrarian necessity on the part of the South. Immense, unsettled
areas thus fell to the lot of the slave system at the crisis of its
material expansion and prosperity. The domestic slave-trade under the
impetus of settling these vast regions according to the plantation
principle, became an enormous and spreading industry. The crop of slaves
was not less profitable than the crop of cotton. A Southern white man
had but to buy a score of slaves and a few hundred acres to get "rich
beyond the dreams of avarice." So at least calculated the average
Southern man.

This revival of slavery disappointed the humane expectation of its
decline and ultimate extinction entertained by the founders of the
republic. It built up instead a growing and formidable slave class, and
interest in the Union. With the rise of giant slave interests, there
followed the rise of a power devoted to their encouragement and
protection.

Three far-reaching concessions the slave States obtained in the
convention of 1787, viz., the right to import slaves from Africa until
1808; the rendition of fugitive slaves escaping into the free States,
and the three-fifths slave representation clause of the
Constitution - all of which added vastly to the security and value of
this species of property, and as a consequence contributed to the slave
revival.

The equality of the States in the upper branch of the National
Legislature, taken in connection with the right of the slave States to
count five slaves as three freemen in the apportionment of
representatives to the lower House of Congress, gave the Southern
section an almost immediate ascendency in the Federal Government. To the
South was thus opened by an unexpected combination of circumstances a



Online LibraryArchibald H. GrimkeWilliam Lloyd Garrison The Abolitionist → online text (page 6 of 27)