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David J. (David Josiah) Brewer.

Crowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) online

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withdrawing from temptation; let us then withdraw from these
wretched Africans those temptations to fraud, violence, cruelty,
and injustice, which the slave trade furnishes. Wherever the sun
shines, let us go round the world with him, diffusing our benefi-
cence; but let us not traffic, only that we may set kings against



WILLIAM W7LBERFORCE 25 1

their subjects, subjects against their kings, sowing discord in
every village, fear and terror in every family, setting millions
of our fellow-creatures a-hunting each other for slaves, creating
fairs and markets for human flesh through one whole continent
of the world, and, under the name of policy, concealing from our-
selves all the baseness and iniquity of such a traffic. Why may
we not hope, ere long, to see Hans-towns established on the coast
of Africa as they were on the Baltic ? It is said the Africans are
idle, but they are not too idle, at least, to catch one another;
seven hundred to one thousand tons of rice are annually bought
of them ; by the same rule why should we not buy more ? At
Gambia one thousand of them are seen continually at work; why
should not some more thousands be set to work in the same
manner ? It is the slave trade that causes their idleness and
every other mischief. We are told by one witness: <^They sell
one another as they can**; and while they can get brandy b^;
catching one another, no wonder they are too idle for any regular
work.

I have one word more to add upon a most material poin'
but it is a point so self-evident that I shall be extremely short.
It will appear from everything which I have said, that it is not
regulation, it is not mere palliatives, that can cure this enormous
evil. Total abolition is the only possible cure for it. The Jamaica
report, indeed, admits much of the evil, but recommends it to
us so to regulate the trade, that no persons should be kidnaped
or made slaves contrary to the custom of Africa. But may they
not be made slaves unjustly, and yet by no means contrary to
the custom of Africa? I have shown they may; for all the cus-
toms of Africa are rendered savage and unjust through the in-
fluence of this trade; besides, how can we discriminate between
the slaves justly and unjustly made ? or, if we could, does any
man believe that the British captains can, by any regulation in
this country, be prevailed upon to refuse all such slaves as have
not been fairly, honestly, and uprightly enslaved ? But granting
even that they should do this, yet how would the rejected slaves
be recompensed ? They are brought, as we are told, from three
or four thousand miles off, and exchanged like cattle from one
hand to another, until they reach the coast. We see then that
it is the existence of the slave trade that is the spring of all this
internal traffic, and that the remedy cannot be applied without
abolition. Again, as to the middle passage, the evil is radical



252



WILLIAM WILBERFORCE



there also; the merchant's profit depends upon the number that
can be crowded together, and upon the shortness of their allow-
ance. Astringents, escarotics, and all the other arts of making
them up for sale, are of the very essence of the trade; these
arts will be concealed both from the purchaser and the legisla-
ture; they are necessary to the owner's profit, and they will be
practiced. Again, chains and arbitrary treatment must be used
in transporting them; our seamen must be taught to play the
tyrant, and that depravation of manners among them (which
some very judicious persons have treated of as the very worst
part of the business) cannot be hindered, while the trade itself
continues. As to the slave merchants, they have already told
you that if two slaves to a ton are not permitted, the trade can-
not continue; so that the objections are done away by themselves
on this quarter; and in the West Indies, I have shown that the
abolition is the only possible stimulus whereby a regard to popu-
lation, and consequently to the happiness of the negroes, can be
effectually excited in those islands.

I trust, therefore, I have shown that upon every ground the
total abolition ought to take place. I have urged many things
which are not my own leading motives for proposing it, since I
have wished to show every description of gentlemen, and partic-
ularly the West India planters, who deserve every attention, that
the abolition is politic upon their own principles also. Policy,
however, sir, is not my principle, and I am not ashamed to say
it. There is a principle above everything that is political; and
when I reflect on the command which says : *^ Thou shalt do no
murder,'^ believing the authority to be Divine, how can I dare to
set up any reasonings of my own against it ? And, sir, when we
think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human
conduct, what is there in this life that should make any man
contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice,
the laws of religion, and of God. Sir, the nature and all the cir-
cumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no
longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is now an object
placed before us, we cannot pass it; we may spurn it, we may
kick it out of our way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid
seeing it; for it is brought now so directly before our eyes that
this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, and
to their own consciences, the rectitude of the grounds and prin-
ciples of their decision. A society has been established for the



WILLIAM WILBERFORCE



^S^



abolition of this trade, in which Dissenters, Quakers, Churchmen —
in which the most conscientious of all persuasions have all
united, and made a common cause in this great question. Let
not Parliament be the only body that is insensible to the princi-
ples of national justice. Let us make reparation to Africa, so far
ts we can, by establishing a trade upon true commercial princi-
ples, and we shall soon find the rectitude of our conduct re-
warded by the benefits of a regular and a growing commerce.




JOHN WILKES

(1727-1797)

John Wilkes, one of the most effective agitators against the
Tory policies of the eighteenth century, was born at Clerk-
enwell, London, October 17th, 1727. His father, a rich dis-
tiller, educated him at the University of Leyden, where he became
proficient in the classical languages and where supposably he lost
the restraining influence of the English scholastic tradition. At any
rate, when he entered public life as a Member of Parliament in 1757,
and journalism a little later as editor of the North Briton, he devel-
oped such power as no other Englishman had ever shown to disturb
and exasperate the conservative and aristocratic classes. He was im-
prisoned in the Tower because of a criticism of the king's message
published in the North Briton, April 23d, 1763, and in November of
the same year, on motion of Lord North, the Administration majority
in the House of Commons ordered that number of the paper to be
publicly burned. On January 19th, 1764, he was expelled from the
House of Commons, and on February 21st convicted in default in the
King's Bench. At this time he was living in Paris, and for several
years he remained on the continent, supported by contributions from
the English Whigs. In 1768 he returned to England, ran for Parlia-
ment, and, on his election from Middlesex, was expelled by the Tories,
February 3d, 1769. Middlesex re-elected him, and, when the Tories
refused to seat him, re-elected him a third and a fourth time. When
finally Wilkes's opponent, whom he had defeated by vote of more
than four to one, was declared lawfully elected, the indignation of
the Whigs was intense. Wilkes was in jail at the time under the
old judgment, and his cell became, for the time being, headquarters
for the Whig party. Money was liberally subscribed and issues were
forced, until he was released from prison and elected alderman, sheriff,
and finally Lord Mayor of London. In 1782 the resolutions invalidat-
ing his election to Parliament were expunged, and he served until
1790. During the period of Tory activity which forced the war with
America, he uttered strenuous warnings against the policy which
finally lost the colonies and created the United States. "The Amer-
icans will triumph !^> he said in 1775; **the whole continent of North
America will be dismembered from England and the wide arch of
the raised empire fall.^* He died September 20th, 1797, after having

lived to see his prophecy fulfilled.

254



JOHN WILKES 35s

A WARNING AND A PROPHECY
(Delivered in the House of Commons, February 6th, 1775)

I AM, indeed, surprised that in a business of so much moment
as this before the House, respecting the British colonies in
America, a cause which comprehends almost every question
relative to the common rights of mankind, almost every question
of policy and legislation, it should be resolved to proceed with so
little circumspection, or rather with so much precipitation and
heedless imprudence. With what temerity are we assured that
the same men who have been so often overwhelmed with praises
for their attachment to this country, for their forwardness to
grant it the necessary succors, for the valor they have signalized
in its defense, have all at once so degenerated from their ancient
manners as to merit the appellation of seditious, ungrateful, im-
pious rebels! But if such a change has, indeed, been wrought in
the minds of this most loyal people, it must at least be admitted
that affections so extraordinary could only have been produced
by some very powerful cause. But who is ignorant, who needs
to be told of the new madness that infatuates our ininisters ? —
who has not seen the tyrannical counsels they have pursued for
the last ten years ? They would now have us carry to the foot
of the throne a resolution stamped with rashness and injustice,
fraught with blood, and a horrible futurity. But before this be
allowed them, before the signal of civil war be given, before the]'
are permitted to force EngHshmen to sheath their swords in the
bowels of their fellow-subjects, I hope this House will consider
the rights of humanity, the original ground and cause of the
present dispute. Have we justice on our side ? No ; assuredly
no. He must be altogether a stranger to the British Constitution
who does not know that contributions are voluntary gifts of the
people; and singularly blind not to perceive that the words « lib-
erty and property, » so grateful to English ears, are nothing
better than mockery and insult to the Americans, if their prop-
erty can be taken without their consent. And what motive can
there exist for this new rigor, for these extraordinary measures ?
Have not the Americans always demonstrated the utmost zeal
and liberality whenever their succors have been required by the
mother country ?

In the last two wars they gave you more than you asked for,
and more than their facilities warranted; they were not only lib-
eral towards you, but prodigal of their substance. They fought



2 5-5 JOHN WILKES

gallantly and victoriously by your side, with equal valor, against
our and their enemy, the common enemy of the liberties of
Europe and America, the ambitious and faithless French, whom
now we fear and flatter. And even now, at a moment when you
are planning their destruction, when you are branding them with
the odious appellation of rebels, what is their language, what
their protestations ? Read, in the name of heaven, the late pe-
tition of the Congress to the King, and you will find "they are
ready and willing, as they ever have been, to demonstrate their
loyalty by exerting their most strenuous efforts in granting sup-
plies and raising forces when constitutionally required.** And yet
we hear it vociferated by some inconsiderate individuals that the
Americans wish to abolish the Navigation Act; that they intend
to throw off the supremacy of Great Britain. But would to God
these assertions were not rather a provocation than the truth!
They ask nothing, for such are the words of their petition, but
for peace, liberty, and safety. They wish not a diminution of the
royal prerogative; they solicit not any new right. They are
ready, on the contrary, to defend this prerogative, to maintain
the royal authority, and to draw closer the bonds of their con-
nection with Great Britain. But our ministers, perhaps to punish
others for their own faults, are sedulously endeavoring, not only
to relax these powerful ties, but to dissolve and sever them for-
ever. Their address represents the Province of Massachusetts as
in a state of actual rebellion. The other Provinces are held out
to our indignation, as aiding and abetting. Many arguments
have been employed by some learned gentlemen among us to
comprehend them all in the same offense, and to involve them
in the same proscription.

Whether their present state is that of rebellion, or of a fit
and just resistance to unlawful acts of power, to our attempts to
rob them of their property and liberties, as they imagine, I shall
not declare. But I well know what will follow, nor, however
strange and harsh it may appear to some, shall I hesitate to an-
nounce it, that I may not be accused hereafter of having failed
in duty to my country, on so grave an occasion, and at the
approach of such direful calamities. Know, then, a successful
resistance is a revolution, not a rebellion: Rebellion, indeed, ap-
pears on the back of a flying enemy, but revolution flames on
the breastplate of the victorious warrior. Who can tell, whether,
in consequence of this day's violent and mad address to his Maj-
esty, the scabbard may not be thrown away by them, as well as



JOHN WILKES 2^'J

by us; and whether, in a few years, the independent Americans
may not celebrate the glorious era of the Revolution of 1775, as
we do that of 1668 ? The generous effort of our forefathers for
freedom heaven crowned with success, or their noble blood had
dyed our scaffolds, like that of Scottish traitors and rebels; and
the period of our history which does us the most honor would
have been deemed a rebellion against the lawful authority of the
prince, not a resistance authorized by all the laws of God and
man, not the expulsion of a detested tyrant.

But suppose the Americans to combat against us with more
unhappy auspices than we combated James, would not victory
itself prove pernicious and deplorable ? Would it not be fatal to
British as well as American liberty ? Those armies which should
subjugate the colonists would subjugate also their parent state.
Marius, Sylla, Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, did they not oppress
Roman liberty with the same troops that were levied to maintain
Roman supremacy over subject provinces ? But the impulse once
given, its effects extended much further than its authors expected;
for the same soldiery that destroyed the Roman republic sub-
verted and utterly demolished the imperial power itself. In less
than fifty years after the death of Augustus, the armies destined
to hold the provinces in subjection proclaimed three emperors at
once, disposed of the empire according to their caprice, and raised
to the throne of the Caesars the object of their momentary favor.

I can no more comprehend the policy than acknowledge the

justice of your deliberations. Where is your force, what are your

armies, how are they to be recruited, and how supported ? The

single Province of Massachusetts has, at this moment, thirty

thousand men, well trained and disciplined, and can bring, in

case of emergency, ninety thousand into the field; and, doubt not,

they will do it, when all that is dear is at stake, when forced to

defend their liberty and property against their cruel oppressors.

The right honorable gentleman with the blue riband assures us

that ten thousand of our troops and four Irish regiments will

make their brains turn in the head a little, and strike them

aghast with terror. But where does the author of this exquisite

scheme propose to send his army? Boston, perhaps, you may lay

in ashes, or it may be made a strong garrison; but the Province

will be lost to you. You will hold Boston as you hold Gibraltar

in the midst of a country which will not be yours; the whol.

American continent will remain in the power of your enemies

The ancient story of the philosopher Calanus and the Indian hide
10 — 17



g JOHN WILKES

will be verified; where you tread, it will bfe kept down; but it
will rise the more in all other parts. Where your fleets and armies
are stationed, the possession will be secured while they continue;
but all the rest will be lost. In the great scale of empire, you
will decline, I fear, from the decision of this day; and the Ameri-
cans will rise to independence, to power, to all the greatness of
the most renowned states, — for they build on the solid basis of
general public liberty.

I dread the effects of the present resolution; I shudder at our
injustice and cruelty; I tremble for the consequences of our im^
prudence. You will urge the Americans to desperation. They
will certainly defend their property and liberties, with the spirit
of freemen, with the spirit our ancestors did, and I hope we
should exert on a like occasion. They will sooner declare them-
selves independent, and risk every consequence of such a contest,
than submit to the galling yoke which administration is prepar-
ing for them. Recollect Philip II., King of Spain; remember the
Seven Provinces, and the Duke of Alva. It was deliberated in
the coimcil of the monarch what measures should be adopted re-
specting the Low Countries; some were disposed for clemency,
others advised rigor; the second prevailed. The Duke of Alva
was victorious, it is true, wherever he appeared; but his cruelties
sowed the teeth of the serpent. The beggars of the Briel, as
they were called by the Spaniards, who despised them as you
now despise the Americans, were those however, who first shook
the power of Spain to the centre. And, comparing the proba-
bilities of success in the contest of that day, with the chances in
that of the present, are they so favorable to England as they
were then to Spain ? This none will pretend. You all know, how-
ever, the issue of that sanguinary conflict — how that powerful
empire was rent asunder, and severed forever into many" parts.
Profit, then, by the experience of the past, if you would avoid a
similar fate. But you would declare the Americans rebels; and
to your injustice and oppression you add the most opprobrious
language and the most insulting scoffs. If you persist in your
resolution all hope of a reconciliation is extinct. The Americans
will triumph — the whole continent of North America will be dis-
membered from Great Britain, and the wide arch of the raised
empire fall. But I hope the just vengeance of the people will
overtake the authors of these pernicious counsels, and the loss of
the first Province of the empire be speedily followed by the loss
of the heads of those ministers who first invented them.




WILLIAM WIRT

(1772-1834)

iiLLiAM Wirt, an American lawyer, orator, and author, cele-
brated for his prosecution of Aaron Burr, for his 'Life of
Patrick Henry,' and for his essays and addresses, was born
at Bladensburg, Maryland, November 8th, 1772, and educated there in
the local grammar school and by private tutors. After studying law he
settled in Virginia in 1795, beginning his professional career in a vil-
lage near Charlottesville. Removing to Richmond in 1799, he became
clerk of the House of Delegates and Chancellor of the eastern district
of Virginia. During this period of his career, he achieved his first lit-
erary celebrity as a contributor to the Richmond Enquirer, and as the
author of the 'Letters of the British Spy' in the Virginia Argus. In
1807 he assisted at the prosecution of Aaron Burr for treason, and in
the same year was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Between
1816 and 1829 he served as United States Attorney for Virginia, and
for three successive terms as Attorney-General of the United States.
During the anti-Masonic agitation of 1832 he allowed the anti-Masonic
party to use his name at the head of their presidential ticket, and the
electoral vote of Vermont was cast for him. He died February i8th,
1834. His essays are likely to keep their place as representative of the
American literature of his time, but his work of most permanent im-
portance is, no doubt, the 'Sketches of the Life and Character of
Patrick Henry.'

DEATH OF JEFFERSON AND ADAMS
(Peroration of an Address Delivered at Washington, October 19th, 1826)

THOSS who surrounded the death-bed of ]\lr. Jefferson report
that in the few short intervals of delirium that occurred,
his mind manifestly relapsed to the age of the Revolution.
He talked in broken sentences of the committees of safety, and
the rest of that great machinery which he imagined to be still
in action. One of his exclamations was : "Warn the committee
to be on their guard" ; and he instantly rose in his bed, with
the help of his attendants, and went through the act of writing

259



, WILLIAM WIRT

a hurried note But these intervals were few and short. His
reason was almost constantly upon her throne, and the only as-
piration he was heard to breathe was the prayer that he might
live to see the Fourth of July. When that day came, all that he
was heard to whisper was the repeated ejaculation — Nunc Dom-
i7ie dimittas — ** Now, Lord, let thy servant depart in peace!"
And the prayer of the patriot was heard and answered.

The patriarch of Quincy, too, with the same certainty of death
before him, prayed only for the protraction of his life to the
same day. His prayer was also heard; and when a messenger
from the neighboring festivities, unapprised of his danger, was
deputed to ask him for the honor of a toast, he showed the ob-
ject on which his dying eyes were fixed and exclaimed with en-
ergy : " Independence forever ! " His country first, his country
last, his country always!

<^0 save my country — Heaven! he said — and died!>^

Hitherto, fellow-citizens, the Fourth of July had been cele-
brated among us, only as the anniversary of our independence,
and its votaries had been merely htiman beings. But at its last
recurrence, — the great jubilee of the nation — the anniversary, it
may well be termed, of the liberty of man, — heaven, itself, min-
gled visibly in the celebration, and hallowed the day anew by a
double apotheosis. Is there one among us to whom this lan-
guage seems too strong ? Let him recall his own feelings, and
the objection will vanish. When the report first reached us of
the death of the great man whose residence was nearest, who
among us was not struck with the circumstance that he should
have been removed on the day of his own highest glory ? And
who, after the first shock of the intelligence had passed, did not
feel a thrill of mournful delight at the characteristic beauty of
the close of such a life. But while our bosoms were yet swell-
ing with admiration at this singularly beautiful coincidence, when
the second report immediately followed of the death of the great
sage of Quincy on the same day, — I appeal to yourselves, — is
there a voice that was not hushed, is there a heart that did not
quail, at this close manifestation of the hand of heaven in our
affairs ? Philosophy, recovered of her surprise, may affect to
treat the coincidence as fortuitous. But philosophy herself was
mute, at the moment, under the pressure of the feeling that
these illustrious men had rather been translated than had died.



WILLIAM WIRT 261

It is in vain to tell us that men die by thousands every day in
the year, all over the world. The wonder is not that two men
have died on the same day, but that two such men, after having
performed so many and such splendid services in the cause of
liberty, — after the multitude of other coincidences which seem to
have linked their destinies together — after having lived so long
together the objects of their country's joint veneration — after
having been spared to witness the great triumph of their toils
at home — and looked together from Pisgah's top on the sublime
effect of that grand impulse which they had given to the same
glorious cause throughout the world, — should, on this fiftieth an-
niversary of the day on which they had ushered that cause into
light, be both caught up to heaven together, in the midst of
their raptures! Is there a being, of heart so obdurate and skep-



Online LibraryDavid J. (David Josiah) BrewerCrowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) → online text (page 25 of 56)