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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1863, by


in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.

University Press:

Welch, Bigelow, and Company,



R. BEECHER'S occupations have been so
pressing as to prevent him from any ade-
quate care either in selecting or revising
these Discourses. In fact, it was no suggestion of his
that they should be reprinted. The undersigned is
responsible for the selection of all of them, and for
the revision of all after the eighth. The first eight
were hastily revised by Mr. Beecher.

The title sufficiently expresses the rule by which
the selection was made. That rule was, to choose
discourses on subjects of present interest, and which,
at the same time, should as far as possible so handle
those subjects as to have a more permanent value.
They have also a certain significance from their order
in time.

No other system will be found in the book, except
a systematic purpose always to discuss the subject
apparently most important at the time. Its general
method is, to apply tlie principles of Christianity to
the duties and circumstances of life ; to insist on a


sound and lofty and fearless Christian morality in
whatever men do ; and to show the increased im-
portance of practising that morality in times like
these. It is believed that, in seeking to do this,
these Discourses are consistent and clear in teacliing
God's almighty supremacy and his goodness and wis-
dom, faith in humanity and its future, the absolute
necessity of National Righteousness and of Christian
Equality, the substantial truth and excellence of the
frame of government of the United . States, the sub-
stantial nobility and courage, justice and persever-
ance, of the real democracy of the country, and the
certain and ineffable splendor of our future, if only
we are true to ourselves, to humanity, and to God.

F. B. p.


I)l3C0nRSE Pagb

I. The Nation's Duty to Slavery .... 1

II. Against a Compromise of Principle . . 28

III. Our Blameworthiness 57

IV. The Battle set in Array .... 84
V, The National Flag Ill

VI. The Camp, its Dangers and Duties . . 130

VII. Energy of Administration demanded . .153

VIII. Modes and Duties of Emancipation . . 174

IX. The Church's Duty to Slavery . . . 200

X. The Beginning of Freedom .... 223

XI. The Success of American Democracy . . 248

XII. Christianity in Government .... 270

XIII. Speaking Evil of Dignities .... 294

XIV. National Injustice and Penalty . . . 311
XV. The Ground and Forms of Government . .341

XVI. Our Good Progress and Prospects . . 368

XVII. Liberty under Laws ...... 396

XVIII. The Southern Babylon 420



" Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old
paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for
your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watch-
men over you, saying. Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they
said, We will not hearken. Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, con-
gregation, what is among them. Hear, earth : behold, I will bring evil
upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not
hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it." — Jer. vi.

HIS is a terrible message. It was God's
word of old by the moutli of his prophet,
Jeremiah. The occasion of it was a sudden
irruption upon Judah of victorious enemies.
God sent the prophet to reveal the cause of this disas-
ter. The prophet declared that God was punishing
his people because they were selfish and unjust and

* Preached October 30, 1859, while John BroAvn was in prison awaiting
trial for his doings at Harper's Ferry. John Brown's raid took place while
the country was just organizing for the campaign which resulted in the
election of Mr. Lincoln. It was at once attempted to turn the occurrence
against the cause of liberty, by representing it as a symptom and prema-
ture development of what was intended by the Republican party against
the rights of the South. It was necessary that the friends of liberty
should be vindicated, without at the same time taking part, or seeming
to take part, against those in bonds.



covetous, and because the whole Church, witli its min-
istry, was whehned in the same sins. These mischiefs
had been glossed over and excused and palliated and
hidden, and not healed. There had been a spirit that
demanded union and qu^iet rather than purity and
safety. God, therefore, threatens further afflictions,
because of the hardness of their hearts ; and then, —
for such always is the Divine lenity, — as it were,
giving them another opportunity and alternative, he
commands them to seek after God ; to look for a
BETTER way; to scarch for the old way, the right
way, and to walk in it.

I need not stop to point out the remarkable perti-
nence which these things have, in many respects, to
our nation in the past and to our times in the present.
After a long silence upon this subject, I avail myself
of the state of the public mind to make some observa-
tions on the present state of our land.

The surprise of a whole nation at a recent event is
itself the best evidence of the isolation of that event.
A burning fragment struck the earth near Harper's
Ferry. If the fragment of an exploding aerolite had
fallen down out of the air, while the meteor swept on,
it would not have been more sudden or less apparently
connected either with a cause or an effect !

Seventeen men, white men, without a military base,
without supplies, witliout artillery, without organiza-
tion more than as a squad of militia, attacked a State,
and undertook to release and lead away an enslaved
race I They do not appear to have been called by the
sufferers, nor to have been welcomed by them. They
volunteered a grace, and sought to enforce its accept-
ance. Seventeen white men held two thousand in


duress. They barricaded themselves, and waited until
the troops of two States, the employes of a great rail-
way, and a portion of the forces of tlie Federal gov-
ernment could, travelling briskly night and day, reach
them. Then, at one dash, they were snuffed out !

I do not wonder that Virginians feel a great deal of
mortification ! Everybody is sympathetically ashamed
for them ! It is quite natural that every effort should
be made to enlarge the proportions of this escapade,
that they may hide their weakness and incompetency
behind a smartly upblown horror! No one doubts
the bravery of Virginians ! It needs no praising. But
even brave men have panics. Courage is sometimes
caught at unawares. Certainly it strikes us, at a dis-
tance, as a remarkable thing, that prisoners three to
one more than their captors, and two thousand citi-
zens, should have remained days and nights under the
fear and control of seventeen white men. Northern
courage has been at a discount in the South hitherto.
It ought hereafter to rise in value, at least in Virginia !

The diligence which is now shown on the part of
many public presses to inflame the public mind and
infect it with fear is quite foolish. The inoculation
will not take. The North may not be courageous, but
it certainly is not silly. There is an element of the
ludicrous in this transaction which I think will effect-
ually stop all panic.

Seventeen men terrified two thousand brave Vir-
ginians into two days' submission, — that cannot be
got over ! The common sense of common people will
not fail to see through all attempts to hide a natural
shame by a bungling make-believe that the danger was
really greater than it was ! The danger was nothing,


and the fear very great, and the courage none at all.
And nothing can now change the facts ! All the news-
papers on earth will not make this case appear any
better. Do what you please, — muster a crowd of
supposed confederates, call the roll of conspirators,
include the noblest men of these States, and exhibit
this imaginary army before the people, and, in the end,
it will appear that seventeen white men overawed a
town of two thousand brave Virginians, and held them
captives until the sun had gone laughing twice around
the globe !

And the attempt to hide the fear of these sur-
rounded men by awaking a larger fear will never do.
It is too literal a fulfilment, not exactly of prophecy,
but of fable ; not of Isaiah, but of ^sop.

A fox having been caught in a trap, escaped with
the loss of his tail. He immediately went to his
brother foxes to persuade them that they would all
look better if they too would cut off their tails.
They declined. And our two thousand friends, who
lost their courage in the presence of seventeen men,
are now making an appeal to this nation to lose its
courage too, that the cowardice of the few may be
hidden in the cowardice of the whole community !
It is impossible. We choose to wear our courage for
some time longer!

As I shall not recur to this epic in Virginia history
again to-night, I must say a word in respect to the
head and heart of it. For it all stood in the courage
of one man.

An old man, kind at heart, industrious, peaceful,
went forth, witli a large family of children, to seek a
new home in Kansas. That infant colony held thou-


sands of souls as noble as liberty ever inspired or
religion enriched. A great scowling Slave State, its
nearest neighbor, sought to tread down this liberty-
loving colony, and to dragoon slavery into it by
force of arms. The armed citizens of a hostile State
crossed the State lines, destroyed the freedom of the
ballot-box, prevented a fair expression of public senti-
ment, corruptly usurped law-making power, and or-
dained by fraud laws as infamous as the sun ever saw ;
assaulted its infant settlements with armed hordes,
ravaged the fields, destroyed harvests and herds, and
carried death to a multitude of cabins. The United
States government had no marines for this occasion !
No Federal troops posted by the cars by night and day
for the poor, the weak, the grossly wronged men of
Kansas. There was an army there that unfurled the
banner of the Union, but it was on the side of the
wrong-doers, not on the side of the injured.

It was in this field that Brown received his impulse.
A tender father, whose life "was in his son's life, he
saw his first-born seized like a felon, chained, driven
across the country, crazed by suffering and heat, beaten
like a dog by the officer in charge, and long lying at
death's door ! Another noble boy, without warning,
without offence, unarmed, in open day, in the midst
of the city, was shot dead ! No justice sought out the
murderers ; no United States attorney was despatched
in hot haste ; no marines or soldiers aided the wronged
and weak !

The shot that struck the child's heart crazed the
father's brain. Revolving his wrongs, and nursing
his hatred of that deadly system that breeds such
contempt of justice and humanity, at length his


phantoms assume a slender reality, and organize such
an enterprise as one might expect from a man whom
grief had bereft of good judgment. He goes to the
heart of a Slave State. One man, — and with sixteen
followers ! he seizes two thousand brave Virginians,
and holds them in duress !

When a great State attacked a handful of weak col-
onists, the government and nation were torpid, but
when seventeen men attacked a sovereign State, then
Maryland arms, and Virginia arms, and the United
States government arms, and they three rush against
seventeen men.

Travellers tell us that the Geysers of Iceland —
those singular boiling springs of the North — may be
transported with fury by plucking up a handful of
grass or turf and throwing it into the springs. The
hot springs of Virginia are of the same kind! A
handful of men was thrown into them, and what a
boiling there has been !

But, meanwhile, no one can fail to see that this
poor, child-bereft old man is tlie manliest of them all.
Bold, unflinching, honest, without deceit or evasion,
refusing to take technical advantages of any sort, but
openly avowing his principles and motives, glorying
in them in danger and death, as much as when in
security, — that wounded old father is the most re-
markable figure in this whole drama. The Governor,
the officers of the State, and all the attorneys are
pygmies compared with him.

I deplore his misfortunes. I sympathize with his
sorrows. I mourn the hiding or obscuration of his
reason. I disapprove of his mad and feeble schemes.
I shrink from the folly of the bloody foray, and I


shrink likewise from all the anticipations of that judi-
cial bloodshed which doubtless erelong will follow, —
for when was cowardice ever magnanimous ? If they
kill the man, it will not be so much for treason as for
the disclosure of their cowardice !

Let no man pray that Brown be spared. Let Yir-
ginia make him a martyr. Now, he has only blun-
dered. His soul was noble ; his work miserable. But
a cord and a gibbet would redeem all that, and round
up Brown's failure with a heroic success.

One word more, and that is as to the insecurity of
those States that carry powder as their chief cargo.
Do you suppose that if tidings had come to New York
that the United States armory in Springfield had been
seized by seventeen men. New Haven, and Hartford,
and Stamford, and Worcester, and New York, and
Boston, and Albany would have been thrown into a
fever and panic in consequence of the event ? "We
scarcely should have read the papers to see what be-
came of it. We should have thought that it was a
matter which the Springfield people could manage.
The thought of danger would not have entered into
our heads. There would not have been any danger.
But in a State where there is such inflammable stufi" as
slavery, there is danger, and the people of the South
know it ; and they cannot help it. I do not blame
them so much for being afraid : there is cause for
fear where they have such a population as they have
down at the bottom of society. But what must be the
natvire of State and domestic institutions which keep
brave men at the point of fear all their life long ?

I do not propose, at this time, to express my opin-
ion upon the general subject of slavery. I have else-


where, and often, deliberately uttered my testimony.
Reflection and experience only confirm my judgment
of its immeasurable evils. It is double-edged evil,
that cuts both ways, wounding master and slave ;
a pest to good morals ; a consumption of the indus-
trial virtues ; a burden upon society in its commercial
and economic arrangements ; a political anomaly ;
and a cause of inevitable degradation in religious
ideas, feelings, and institutions. All other causes of
trouble derived from the weakness or the wickedness
of men put together are not half so mischievous to
our land as is this gigantic evil.

But it exists in our land, and with a wide-spread
and a long-established hold. The extent of our duties
toward the slave and toward the master is another
and separate question. Our views upon the nature
of slavery may be right, and our views of duty to-
ward it may be wrong. At this time it is peculiarly
necessary that all good men should be divinely led to
act with prudence and efficient wisdom.

Because it is a great sin, because it is a national
curse, it does not follow that we have a right to say
anything or do anything about it that may happen to
please us. We certainly have no right to attack it in
any manner that may gratify men's fancies or pas-
sions. It is computed that there are four million
colored slaves in our nation. These dwell in fifteen
different Southern States, with a population of ten
million whites. These sovereign States are united to
us not merely by federal ligaments, but by vital inter-
ests, by a common national life. And the question
of duty is not simply what is duty toward the blacks,
not what is duty toward the whites, but what is


duty to each and to both united. I am bound by
the great law of loye to consider my duties toward
the slave, and I am bound by the great law of love
also to consider my duties toward the white man,
who is his master ! Both are to be treated with
Christian wisdom and forbearance. We must seek to
benefit the slave as much as the white man, and the
white man as really as the slave. We must keep in
mind the interest of every part, — of the slaves them-
selves, of the white population, and of the whole
brotherhood of States federated into national life.
And while the principles of liberty and justice are
one and the same, always and everywhere, the wisest
method of conferring upon men the benefit of liberty
and justice demands great consideration, according
to circumstances.

How to apply an acknowledged principle in practi-
cal life is a task more difficult than the defence of the
principle. It is harder to define what would be just
in certain emergencies than to establish the duty,
claims, and authority of justice.

Can any light be thrown upon this difficult path ?
Some light may be shed ; but the difficulties of duty
can never be removed except by the performance of
duty. But some things may be known beforehand,
and guide to practical solutions.

I shall proceed to show the wrong way and the
right way.

1. First, we have no right to treat the citizens of
the South with acrimony and bitterness, because they
are involved in a system of wrong-doing. Wrong is
to be exposed. But the spirit of rebuke may be as
wicked before God as the spirit of the evil rebuked.


Simplicity and firmness in truth are more powerful
than any vehement bitterness. Speaking the truth in
love is the Apostle's prescription. Some men so love
that they will not speak painful truth, and some men
utter truth so bitterly as to destroy love ; and both
are evil-doers. A malignant speech about slavery will
not do any good ; and, most of all, it will not do
those any good who most excite our sympathy, — the
children of bondage. If we hope to ameliorate the
condition of the slave, the first step must not be taken
by setting the master against him. We may be sure
that God will not employ mere wrath for wisdom ;
and that he will raise up and send forth, when his
day comes, fearless men, who shall speak the truth
for justice, in the spirit of love. Therefore it is a
matter not merely of political and secular wisdom,
but of Christian conscience, that those that have at
heart the welfare of the enslaved should maintain a
Christian spirit. This can be done without giving up
one word of truth or one principle of righteousness.
A man may be fearless and plain-spoken, and yet give
evidence of being sympathetic and kind-hearted and

2. The breeding of discontent ^mong the bondmen
of our land is not the way to help them. Whatever
gloomy thoughts the slave's own mind may brood, we
are not to carry disquiet to him from without.

If I could have my way, every man on the globe
should be a freeman, and at once ! But as they can-
not be, will not be, for ages, is it best that bitter dis-
content should be inspired in them, or Christian quiet-
ness and patient waiting ? If restlessness would bring
freedom, they should never rest. But I firmly believe


that moral goodness in the slave is the harbinger of
liberty ! The influence of national freedom will grad-
iially reach the enslaved, it will surely inspire that
restlessness which precedes development. Germina-
tion is the most silent, but most disturbing, of all
natural processes. Slaves cannot but feel the uni-
versal summer of civilization. In this way they must
come to restless yearnings. We cannot help that,
and would not if we' could. It is God's sign that
spring has come to them. The soul is coming up.
There must be room for it to grow. But this is a
very different thing from surly discontent, stirred up
from without, and left to rankle in their unenlight-
ened natures. The time is rapidly coming when the
Southern Christian will feel a new inspiration. We
are not far removed from a revival of the doctrines
of Christian manhood and the divine rights of men.
When this pentecost comes, the slaves will be stirred
by their own masters. We must work upon the
master. Make him discontented with slavery, and he
will speedily take care of the rest. Before this time
comes, any attempt to excite discontent among the
slaves will work mischief to them, and not good. And
my experience — and I have had some experience in
this matter — is, that men who tamper with slaves
and incite them to discomtent are not themselves to be
trusted. They are not honest men, unless they are
fanatical. If they have their reason, they usually
have lost their conscience. I do not know why it is
so, but my experience has taught me that men who
do such things are crafty, and untrustworthy. Con-
spirators, the world over, are bad men. And if I
were in the South, I should, not from fear of the mas-


ter, but from the most deliberate sense of the injuri-
ous effects of it to the slave, never by word nor act do
anything to excite discontent amoiig those who are in
slavery. The condition of the slave must be changed,
but the change cannot go on in one part of the com-
munity alone. There must be change in the law,
change in the Church, change in the upper classes,
change in the middle and in all classes. Emancipa-
tion, when it comes, will come either by revolution or
by a change of public opinion in the whole commu-
nity. No influences, then, are adequate to the relief
of the slave, which are not of a proportion and power
sufficient to modify the thought and the feehng of tlie
whole community. The evil is not partial. It cannot
be cured by partial remedies. Our plans must in-
clude a universal change in policy, feeling, purpose,
theory, and practice in the whole nation. The appli-
cation of simple remedies to single spots in this great
body of disease will serve to produce a useless irrita-
tion : it will merely fester the hand, but not cure the
whole body.

3. No relief will be afforded to the slaves of the
South, as a body, by any individual ; or by any organ-
ized plan to carry them off, or to incite them to ab-

The more enlightened and liberty-loving among
the Southern slaves bear too much of their masters'
blood not to avail themselves of any opening to es-
cape. It is their right; it will be their practice.
Free locomotion is an incident of slave property,
which the master must put up with. Nimble legs
are of much use in tempering the severity of slavery.
If, therefore, an enslaved man, acting from the yearn-


iugs of his own heart, desires to run away, who shall
forbid him ? In all tlie earth, wlierever a human
being is held in bondage, lie has a right to slougli his
burden and break his yoke if he can. If he wishes
liberty, and is willing to dare and suffer for it, let
him ! If by his manly courage he achieves it, ho
ought to have it. I honor such a man !

Nay, if he has escaped and comes to me, I owe
him shelter, succor, defence, and God-speed to a final
safety. If there were as many laws as there are
lines in the Fugitive Slave Law, and as many officers
as there were beasts in Daniel's lions'-den, I would
disregard every law but God's, and help the fugitive !
A man whose own heart has inspired a courage suffi-
cient to achieve what he desired, shall never come to
my door, and not be made as welcome as my own
child. I will adopt him for God's sake, and for the
sake of the Christ who broods over the weak and
perishing. Nor am I singular in such feelings and
purposes. Ten thousand men, even in the South,
would feel and do the same. A man who would not
help a fellow-creature flying for his liberty must be
either a villain or a politician.

I stand on the outside of this great cordon of dark-

Online LibraryHenry Ward BeecherFreedom and war → online text (page 1 of 31)