Benjamin Brawley.

A Social History of the American Negro Being a History of the Negro Problem in the United States. Including A History and Study of the Republic of Liberia online

. (page 21 of 38)
Online LibraryBenjamin BrawleyA Social History of the American Negro Being a History of the Negro Problem in the United States. Including A History and Study of the Republic of Liberia → online text (page 21 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

plan, and the effort that he put forth resulted in what has since become
the Tremont Temple Baptist Church.

Into all this proscription, burlesque, and crime, and denial of the
fundamental principles of Christianity, suddenly came the program of the
Abolitionists; and it spoke with tongues of fire, and had all the vigor
and force of a crusade.

2. _The Challenge of the Abolitionists_

The great difference between the early abolition societies which
resulted in the American Convention and the later anti-slavery movement
of which Garrison was the representative figure was the difference
between a humanitarian impulse tempered by expediency and one that had
all the power of a direct challenge. Before 1831 "in the South the
societies were more numerous, the members no less earnest, and the
hatred of slavery no less bitter,... yet the conciliation and persuasion
so noticeable in the earlier period in twenty years accomplished
practically nothing either in legislation or in the education of public
sentiment; while gradual changes in economic conditions at the South
caused the question to grow more difficult."[1] Moreover, "the evidence
of open-mindedness can not stand against the many instances of absolute
refusal to permit argument against slavery. In the Colonial Congress,
in the Confederation, in the Constitutional Convention, in the state
ratifying conventions, in the early Congresses, there were many vehement
denunciations of anything which seemed to have an anti-slavery tendency,
and wholesale suspicion of the North at all times when the subject was
opened."[2] One can not forget the effort of James G. Birney, or that
Benjamin Lundy's work was most largely done in what we should now call
the South, or that between 1815 and 1828 at least four journals which
avowed the extinction of slavery as one, if not the chief one, of
their objects were published in the Southern states.[3] Only gradual
emancipation, however, found any real support in the South; and, as
compared with the work of Garrison, even that of Lundy appears in the
distance with something of the mildness of "sweetness and light." Even
before the rise of Garrison, Robert James Turnbull of South Carolina,
under the name of "Brutus," wrote a virulent attack on anti-slavery; and
Representative Drayton of the same state, speaking in Congress in 1828,
said, "Much as we love our country, we would rather see our cities in
flames, our plains drenched in blood - rather endure all the calamities
of civil war, than parley for an instant upon the right of any power,
than our own to interfere with the regulation of our slaves."[4] More
and more this was to be the real sentiment of the South, and in the
face of this kind of eloquence and passion mere academic discussion was

[Footnote 1: Adams: _The Neglected Period of Anti-Slavery, 1808-1831_,

[Footnote 2: _Ibid_., 110.]

[Footnote 3: William Birney: _James G. Birney and His Times_, 85-86.]

[Footnote 4: Register of Debates, _4,975_, cited by Adams, 112-3.]

The _Liberator_ was begun January 1, 1831. The next year Garrison was
the leading spirit in the formation of the New England Anti-Slavery
Society; and in December, 1833, in Philadelphia, the American
Anti-Slavery Society was organized. In large measure these organizations
were an outgrowth of the great liberal and humanitarian spirit that by
1830 had become manifest in both Europe and America. Hugo and Mazzini,
Byron and Macaulay had all now appeared upon the scene, and romanticism
was regnant. James Montgomery and William Faber wrote their hymns,
and Reginald Heber went as a missionary bishop to India. Forty years
afterwards the French Revolution was bearing fruit. France herself had a
new revolution in 1830, and in this same year the kingdom of Belgium was
born. In England there was the remarkable reign of William IV, which
within the short space of seven years summed up in legislation reforms
that had been agitated for decades. In 1832 came the great Reform Bill,
in 1833 the abolition of slavery in English dominions, and in 1834 a
revision of factory legislation and the poor law. Charles Dickens and
Elizabeth Barrett Browning began to be heard, and in 1834 came to
America George Thompson, a powerful and refined speaker who had had much
to do with the English agitation against slavery. The young republic
of the United States, lusty and self-confident, was seething with new
thought. In New England the humanitarian movement that so largely began
with the Unitarianism of Channing "ran through its later phase in
transcendentalism, and spent its last strength in the anti-slavery
agitation and the enthusiasms of the Civil War."[1] The movement was
contemporary with the preaching of many novel gospels in religion, in
sociology, in science, education, and medicine. New sects were formed,
like the Universalists, the Spiritualists, the Second Adventists,
the Mormons, and the Shakers, some of which believed in trances and
miracles, others in the quick coming of Christ, and still others in the
reorganization of society; and the pseudo-sciences, like mesmerism and
phrenology, had numerous followers. The ferment has long since subsided,
and much that was then seething has since gone off in vapor; but when
all that was spurious has been rejected, we find that the
general impulse was but a new baptism of the old Puritan spirit.
Transcendentalism appealed to the private consciousness as the sole
standard of truth and right. With kindred movements it served to quicken
the ethical sense of a nation that was fast becoming materialistic and
to nerve it for the conflict that sooner or later had to come.

[Footnote 1: Henry A. Beers: _Initial Studies in American Letters_,
95-98 passim.]

In his salutatory editorial Garrison said with reference to his
position: "In Park Street Church, on the Fourth of July, 1829, in
an address on slavery, I unreflectingly assented to the popular but
pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this opportunity to
make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly to ask pardon
of my God, of my country, and of my brethren, the poor slaves, for
having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice, and
absurdity.... I am aware that many object to the severity of my
language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as
truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish
to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose
house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately
rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to
gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen;
but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present! I am in
earnest. I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a
single inch - AND I WILL BE HEARD." With something of the egotism
that comes of courage in a holy cause, he said: "On this question my
influence, humble as it is, is felt at this moment to a considerable
extent, and shall be felt in coming years - not perniciously, but
beneficially - not as a curse, but as a blessing; and POSTERITY WILL BEAR

All the while, in speaking to the Negro people themselves, Garrison
endeavored to beckon them to the highest possible ground of personal and
racial self-respect. Especially did he advise them to seek the virtues
of education and co√ґperation. Said he to them:[1] "Support each
other.... When I say 'support each other,' I mean, sell to each other,
and buy of each other, in preference to the whites. This is a duty: the
whites do not trade with you; why should you give them your patronage?
If one of your number opens a little shop, do not pass it by to give
your money to a white shopkeeper. If any has a trade, employ him as
often as possible. If any is a good teacher, send your children to him,
and be proud that he is one of your color.... Maintain your rights, in
all cases, and at whatever expense.... Wherever you are allowed to vote,
see that your names are put on the lists of voters, and go to the polls.
If you are not strong enough to choose a man of your own color, give
your votes to those who are friendly to your cause; but, if possible,
elect intelligent and respectable colored men. I do not despair of
seeing the time when our State and National Assemblies will contain a
fair proportion of colored representatives - especially if the proposed
college at New Haven goes into successful operation. Will you despair
now so many champions are coming to your help, and the trump of jubilee
is sounding long and loud; when is heard a voice from the East, a voice
from the West, a voice from the North, a voice from the South, crying,
_Liberty and Equality now, Liberty and Equality forever_! Will you
despair, seeing Truth, and Justice, and Mercy, and God, and Christ, and
the Holy Ghost, are on your side? Oh, no - never, never despair of the
complete attainment of your rights!"

[Footnote 1: "An Address delivered before the Free People of Color in
Philadelphia, New York, and other cities, during the month of June,
1831, by Wm. Lloyd Garrison. Boston, 1831," pp. 14-18.]

To second such sentiments rose a remarkable group of men and women,
among them Elijah P. Lovejoy, Wendell Phillips, Theodore Parker, John
Greenleaf Whittier, Lydia Maria Child, Samuel J. May, William Jay,
Charles Sumner, Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John
Brown. Phillips, the "Plumed Knight" of the cause, closed his law
office because he was not willing to swear that he would support the
Constitution; he relinquished the franchise because he did not wish to
have any responsibility for a government that countenanced slavery; and
he lost sympathy with the Christian Church because of its compromising
attitude. Garrison himself termed the Constitution "a covenant with
death and an agreement with hell." Lydia Maria Child in 1833 published
an _Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans_,
and wrote or edited numerous other books for the cause, while the
anti-slavery poems of Whittier are now a part of the main stream of
American literature. The Abolitionists repelled many conservative men by
their refusal to countenance any laws that recognized slavery; but they
gained force when Congress denied them the right of petition and when
President Jackson refused them the use of the mails.

There could be no question as to the directness of their attack. They
held up the slaveholder to scorn. They gave thousands of examples of the
inhumanity of the system of slavery, publishing scores and even hundreds
of tracts and pamphlets. They called the attention of America to the
slave who for running away was for five days buried in the ground up
to his chin with his arms tied behind him; to women who were whipped
because they did not breed fast enough or would not yield to the lust of
planters or overseers; to men who were tied to be whipped and then left
bleeding, or who were branded with hot irons, or forced to wear iron
yokes and clogs and bells; to the Presbyterian preacher in Georgia who
tortured a slave until he died; to a woman in New Jersey who was "bound
to a log, and scored with a knife, in a shocking manner, across her
back, and the gashes stuffed with salt, after which she was tied to
a post in a cellar, where, after suffering three days, death kindly
terminated her misery"; and finally to the fact that even when slaves
were dead they were not left in peace, as the South Carolina Medical
College in Charleston advertised that the bodies were used for
dissection.[1] In the face of such an indictment the South appeared more
injured and innocent than ever, and said that evils had been greatly
exaggerated. Perhaps in some instances they were; but the South and
everybody also knew that no pen could nearly do justice to some of the
things that were possible under the iniquitous and abominable system of
American slavery.

[Footnote 1: See "American Slavery as it is: Testimony of a Thousand
Witnesses. By Theodore Dwight Weld. Published by the American
Anti-Slavery Society, New York, 1839"; but the account of the New Jersey
woman is from "A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery in the United States,
by Jesse Torrey, Ballston Spa, Penn., 1917," p. 67.]

The Abolitionists, however, did not stop with a mere attack on
slavery. Not satisfied with the mere enumeration of examples of Negro
achievement, they made even higher claims in behalf of the people now
oppressed. Said Alexander H. Everett:[1] "We are sometimes told that all
these efforts will be unavailing - that the African is a degraded member
of the human family - that a man with a dark skin and curled hair is
necessarily, as such, incapable of improvement and civilization, and
condemned by the vice of his physical conformation to vegetate forever
in a state of hopeless barbarism. I reject with contempt and indignation
this miserable heresy. In replying to it the friends of truth and
humanity have not hitherto done justice to the argument. In order to
prove that the blacks were capable of intellectual efforts, they have
painfully collected a few specimens of what some of them have done in
this way, even in the degraded condition which they occupy at present
in Christendom. This is not the way to treat the subject. Go back to an
earlier period in the history of our race. See what the blacks were and
what they did three thousand years ago, in the period of their
greatness and glory, when they occupied the forefront in the march of
civilization - when they constituted in fact the whole civilized world of
their time. Trace this very civilization, of which we are so proud, to
its origin, and see where you will find it. We received it from our
European ancestors: they had it from the Greeks and Romans, and the
Jews. But, sir, where did the Greeks and the Romans and the Jews get it?
They derived it from Ethiopia and Egypt - in one word, from Africa.[2]
... The ruins of the Egyptian temples laugh to scorn the architectural
monuments of any other part of the world. They will be what they are
now, the delight and admiration of travelers from all quarters, when the
grass is growing on the sites of St. Peter's and St. Paul's, the present
pride of Rome and London.... It seems, therefore, that for this very
civilization of which we are so proud, and which is the only ground of
our present claim of superiority, we are indebted to the ancestors
of these very blacks, whom we are pleased to consider as naturally
incapable of civilization."

[Footnote 1: See "The Anti-Slavery Picknick: a collection of Speeches,
Poems, Dialogues, and Songs, intended for use in schools and
anti-slavery meetings. By John A. Collins, Boston, 1842," 10-12.]

[Footnote 2: It is worthy of note that this argument, which was long
thought to be fallacious, is more and more coming to be substantiated by
the researches of scholars, and that not only as affecting Northern
but also Negro Africa. Note Lady Lugard (Flora L. Shaw): _A Tropical
Dependency_, London, 1906, pp. 16-18.]

In adherence to their convictions the Abolitionists were now to give
a demonstration of faith in humanity such as has never been surpassed
except by Jesus Christ himself. They believed in the Negro even before
the Negro had learned to believe in himself. Acting on their doctrine of
equal rights, they traveled with their Negro friends, "sat upon the same
platforms with them, ate with them, and one enthusiastic abolitionist
white couple adopted a Negro child."[1]

[Footnote 1: Hart: _Slavery and Abolition_, 245-6.]

Garrison appealed to posterity. He has most certainly been justified by
time. Compared with his high stand for the right, the opportunism of
such a man as Clay shrivels into nothingness. Within recent years a
distinguished American scholar,[1] writing of the principles for which
he and his co-workers stood, has said: "The race question transcends any
academic inquiry as to what ought to have been done in 1866. It affects
the North as well as the South; it touches the daily life of all of
our citizens, individually, politically, humanly. It molds the child's
conception of democracy. It tests the faith of the adult. It is by no
means an American problem only. What is going on in our states, North
and South, is only a local phase of a world-problem.... Now, Whittier's
opinions upon that world-problem are unmistakable. He believed, quite
literally, that all men are brothers; that oppression of one man or
one race degrades the whole human family; and that there should be the
fullest equality of opportunity. That a mere difference in color should
close the door of civil, industrial, and political hope upon any
individual was a hateful thing to the Quaker poet. The whole body of
his verse is a protest against the assertion of race pride, against the
emphasis upon racial differences. To Whittier there was no such thing
as a 'white man's civilization.' The only distinction was between
civilization and barbarism. He had faith in education, in equality
before the law, in freedom of opportunity, and in the ultimate triumph
of brotherhood.

'They are rising, -
All are rising,
The black and white together.'

This faith is at once too sentimental and too dogmatic to suit those
persons who have exalted economic efficiency into a fetish and who
have talked loudly at times - though rather less loudly since the
Russo-Japanese War - about the white man's task of governing the backward
races. _But whatever progress has been made by the American Negro since
the Civil War, in self-respect, in moral and intellectual development,
and - for that matter - in economic efficiency, has been due to fidelity
to those principles which Whittier and other like-minded men and women
long ago enunciated_.[2] The immense tasks which still remain, alike for
'higher' as for 'lower' races, can be worked out by following Whittier's
program, if they can be worked out at all."

[Footnote 1: Bliss Perry: "Whittier for To-Day," _Atlantic Monthly_,
Vol. 100, 851-859 (December, 1907).]

[Footnote 2: The italics are our own.]

3. The Contest

Even before the Abolitionists became aggressive a test law had been
passed, the discussion of which did much to prepare for their coming.
Immediately after the Denmark Vesey insurrection the South Carolina
legislature voted that the moment that a vessel entered a port in the
state with a free Negro or person of color on board he should be seized,
even if he was the cook, the steward, or a mariner, or if he was a
citizen of another state or country.[1] The sheriff was to board the
vessel, take the Negro to jail and detain him there until the vessel was
actually ready to leave. The master of the ship was then to pay for the
detention of the Negro and take him away, or pay a fine of $1,000 and
see the Negro sold as a slave. Within a short time after this enactment
was passed, as many as forty-one vessels were deprived of one or more
hands, from one British trading vessel almost the entire crew being
taken. The captains appealed to the judge of the United States District
Court, who with alacrity turned the matter over to the state courts. Now
followed much legal proceeding, with an appeal to higher authorities, in
the course of which both Canning and Adams were forced to consider the
question, and it was generally recognized that the act violated both the
treaty with Great Britain and the power of Congress to regulate trade.
To all of this South Carolina replied that as a sovereign state she had
the right to interdict the entry of foreigners, that in fact she had
been a sovereign state at the time of her entrance into the Union and
that she never had surrendered the right to exclude free Negroes.
Finally she asserted that if a dissolution of the Union must be the
alternative she was quite prepared to abide by the result. Unusual
excitement arose soon afterwards when four free Negroes on a British
ship were seized by the sheriff and dragged from the deck. The captain
had to go to heavy expense to have these men released, and on reaching
Liverpool he appealed to the Board of Trade. The British minister now
sent a more vigorous protest, Adams referred the same to Wirt, the
Attorney General, and Wirt was forced to declare South Carolina's act
unconstitutional and void. His opinion with a copy of the British
protest Adams sent to the Governor of the state, who immediately
transmitted the same to the legislature. Each branch of the legislature
passed resolutions which the other would not accept, but neither voted
to repeal the law. In fact, it remained technically in force until the
Civil War. In 1844 Massachusetts sent Samuel Hoar as a commissioner to
Charleston to make a test case of a Negro who had been deprived of his
rights. Hoar cited Article II, Section 2, of the National Constitution
("The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and
immunities of citizens in the several states"), intending ultimately to
bring a case before the United States Supreme Court. When he appeared,
however, the South Carolina legislature voted that "this agent comes
here not as a citizen of the United States, but as an emissary of a
foreign Government hostile to our domestic institutions and with the
sole purpose of subverting our internal police." Hoar was at length
notified that his life was in danger and he was forced to leave the
state. Meanwhile Southern sentiment against the American Colonization
Society had crystallized, and the excitement raised by David Walker's
_Appeal_ was exceeded only by that occasioned by Nat Turner's

[Footnote 1: Note McMaster, V, 200-204.]

When, then, the Abolitionists began their campaign the country was
already ripe for a struggle, and in the North as well as the South there
was plenty of sentiment unfavorable to the Negro. In July, 1831, when an
attempt was made to start a manual training school for Negro youth in
New Haven, the citizens at a public meeting declared that "the founding
of colleges for educating colored people is an unwarrantable and
dangerous interference with the internal concerns of other states, and
ought to be discouraged"; and they ultimately forced the project to be
abandoned. At Canterbury in the same state Prudence Crandall, a young
Quaker woman twenty-nine years of age, was brought face to face with the
problem when she admitted a Negro girl, Sarah Harris, to her school.[1]
When she was boycotted she announced that she would receive Negro girls
only if no others would attend, and she advertised accordingly in the
Liberator. She was subjected to various indignities and efforts were
made to arrest her pupils as vagrants. As she was still undaunted, her
opponents, on May 24, 1833, procured a special act of the legislature
forbidding, under severe penalties, the instruction of any Negro from
outside the state without the consent of the town authorities. Under
this act Miss Crandall was arrested and imprisoned, being confined to a
cell which had just been vacated by a murderer. The Abolitionists came
to her defense, but she was convicted, and though the higher courts
quashed the proceedings on technicalities, the village shopkeepers
refused to sell her food, manure was thrown into her well, her house
was pelted with rotten eggs and at last demolished, and even the
meeting-house in the town was closed to her. The attempt to continue the
school was then abandoned. In 1834 an academy was built by subscription
in Canaan, N.H.; it was granted a charter by the legislature, and the
proprietors determined to admit all applicants having "suitable moral
and intellectual recommendations, without other distinctions." The
town-meeting "viewed with abhorrence" the attempt to establish the
school, but when it was opened twenty-eight white and fourteen Negro
scholars attended. The town-meeting then ordered that the academy be
forcibly removed and appointed a committee to execute the mandate.
Accordingly on August 10 three hundred men with two hundred oxen
assembled, took the edifice from its place, dragged it for some distance
and left it a ruin. From 1834 to 1836, in fact, throughout the country,
from east to west, swept a wave of violence. Not less than twenty-five
attempts were made to break up anti-slavery meetings. In New York in
October, 1833, there was a riot in Clinton Hall, and from July 7 to 11
of the next year a succession of riots led to the sacking of the house
of Lewis Tappan and the destruction of other houses and churches. When
George Thompson arrived from England in September, 1834, his meetings

Online LibraryBenjamin BrawleyA Social History of the American Negro Being a History of the Negro Problem in the United States. Including A History and Study of the Republic of Liberia → online text (page 21 of 38)