William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 134 of 169)
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society has been proved by legal investiga-
tion to have tampered with the slaves ; and,



after the stronglv pronounced and unanimous
opinion of the Free States on the subject, this
danger mav be considered as having passed
away. Stiu a mode of action requiring these
checks is open to strong objections, and ought
to be abandoned. Happy will it be if the
disapprobation of friends, as well as of foes,
should give to Abolitionists a caution and
moderation which would secure the acqui-
escence of the judicious, and the sympathies
of the friends of mankind 1 Let not a good
cause find its chief obstruction in its defenders.
Let the truth, and the whole truth, be spoken
without paltering or fear ; but so spoken as
to convince, not inflame, as to give no alarm
to the wise, and no needless exaqwration to
the selfish and passionate.

I know it is said that nothing can be done
but by excitement and vehemence ; that the
zeal which dares everything is the only power
to oppose to long-rooted abuses. But it is
not true that God has committed the great
work of reforming the workl to passion.
Love is a minister of good only when it gives
energy to the intellect, and allies itself with
wisdom. The Abolitionists often sp^ of
Luther's vehemence as a model to future
reformers. But who that has read history
does not know that Luther's refcxmation was
accompanied by tremendous miseries and
crimes, and that its progress was soon ar-
rested? And is there not reason to fear that
the fierce, bitter, persecuting spirit which he
breathed into the work, not only tarnished its
glory, but hmited its power? One great
principle, which we should lay down as im-
movably true is, that if a good work cannot
be carried on by the calm, self-controlled,
benevolent spirit of Christianity, then the
time for doing it has not come. God asks
not the aid of our vices. He can overrule
them for good, but they are not the chosen
instruments of human happiness.

We, indeed, need zeal— Krvent zeal— such
as will fear no man's power, and shrink before
no man's frown—such as will sacrifice life to
truth and freedom. But this energy of will
ought to be joined with dehberate wisdom
and universal charity. It ought to regard
the whole in its strenuous efforts for a part.
Above all, it ought to ask, first, not what
means are most effectual, but what means
are sanctk>ned by the Moral Law and by
Christian Love. We ought to think much
more of walking in the right path than of
reaching our end. We should desire virtue
more than success. If by one wrong deed vre
could accomplish the hberation of millions,
and in bo other way, we ought to fed that
this good, for which, perhaps, we had prayed
with an agony of desire, was denied us by
Grod, was reserved for other times and other
hands. The first object of a true seal is, not



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that we may prosper, but that we may do
right, that we may keep ourselves unspotted
from every evil thought, word, and deed.
Under the inspiration of such a zeal, we
shall not find in the greatness of an enter-
prise an apology for intrigue or for violence.
We shall not need immediate success to spur
us to exertion. We shall not distrust God
because He does not yield to the cry of
human impatience. We shall not forsake a
good vrork because it does not advance with
a rapid step. Faith in truth, virtue, and
Almighty Goodness will save us alike from
rashness and despair.

In lamentingtheadoptionby the Abolitionists
of the system of agitation or extensive excite-
ment, I do not mean to condemn this mode
of action as only evil. There are cases to
which it is adapted; and, in genernl, the
impulse which it gives is better than the sel-
fish, sluggish indifference to good objects
into which the multitude so generally fall.
But it must not supersede or be compared
with Individual action. The enthusiasm of
the Individual in a good cause is a mighty
power. The forced, artificially excited enthu-
siasm of a multitude, kept together by an
organization which makes them the instru-
ments of a few leading minds, works super-
ficially, and often injuriously. I fear that the
native, noble-minded enthusiast often loses
that single-heartedness which is his greatest
power, when once he strives to avail himself
of the machinery of associations. The chief
strength of a Reformer lies in speaking truth
purely from his own soul, without changing
one tone for the purpose of managing or en-
larging a party. Truth, to be powoiul, must
speak in her own words, and in no other's ;
must come forth with the authority and spon-
taneous energy of inspiration, from the depths
of the soul. It is the voice of the Individual
giving utterance to the irrepressible convic-
tions of his own thoroughly moved spirit,
and not the shout of a crowd, which carries
truth far into other souls, and ensures it a
stable empire on earth. For want of this,
most which is now done is done superficially.
The progress of society depends chiefly on
the honest inquiry of the Individual into the
particular work ordained him by God, and on
his simplicitv in following out his convictions.
This moral independence is mightier, as well
as holler, than the practice of getting warm
in crowds, and of waiting for an impure from
multitudes. The moment a man parts with
moral independence ; the moment he judges
of duty, not from the inward voice, but ftom
the interests and will of a party; the moment
he commits himself to a leader or a body,
and winks at evil, because division would
hurt the cause; the moment he shakes off
his particular responsibility, because he is but



one of a thousand or mQlkm by whom the
evil is done; that moment be parts with his
moral power. He is shorn of the eneigy of
single-hearted fiuth in the Right and the
True. He hopes from man's policy what
nothing but loyalty to God can accompHsh.
He substitutes coarse weapons forged by
man's wisdom for celestial power.

The adoption of the common system of
agitation by the Abolitionists has not been
justified by success. From the beghming
it created alarm in the considerate, and
strengthened the sympathies of the Free States
with the slave-holder. It made converts of
a few individuals, but alienated multitudes.
Its influence at the South has been almost
wholly eviL It has stirred up bitter passions
and a fierce fanaticism, which have shut
every ear and every heart against its argu-
ments and persuasions. These cfllects are
more to be deplored, because the hope <^
freedom to the slave lies chiefly in the dispo-
sitions of his master. The Abolitiofiists pro-
posed, indeed, to convert the slaw-hokfers;
and for this end he approached them with
vituperation, and exhausted on them the
vocabulary of reproach. And be has reaped
as he sowed. His vehement pleadtngs fbr
the slaves have been answered by wilder
tones from the slave-holder; and. what is
worse, deliberate defences of slavery have
been sent forth, in the spirit of the dark ages,
and in defiance of the moral convictions and
feelings of the Christian and dviltaed world.
Thus, with good purposes, nothing seems to
have been gained. Perhaps (though I am anx-
ious to repel the thought) soraethii^ has bees
lost to the cause of freedom and humanity.

I earnestly desire that Abolitiotusm may
lay aside the form of public agitation, and
seek its end by wiser and milder means. I
desire as earnestly, and more earnestly, that
it may not be put down by Lawless Force.
There is a worse evil than Abolitionism, and
that is the suppression of it by lawless Ibftie.
No evil greater than this can exist in ttie
state, and this is never needed. Be it grHBtcd
that it is the desig^n, or direct, palpable tc*'
dency of AboUtionism to stir up insuxrectkitt
at the South, and that no existing laws ciA
meet the exigency. It b the solemn duty of
the chief magistrate of the state to asse '^
immediately the l^:islative bodies, aixl
duty immediately to apply the remeidy of I
Let every friend of freedom, let evenr fgooA
man, lift up his voice against mobs. Throo^
these lies our road to tyranny. It is tfaOlt
which have spread the <^pinion, so ooomM
at the South, that the Fk«e States otflMC'
long sustain republican institutions. NoMlft
seems awake to their inconsistenq^ «iil
liberty. Our whole phraseology is in Aide*
Mobs call themselves, and ai« odM^' tlia



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609



Pcopkt ^vhen in truth they assail immediately
the sovereignty of the People, when they
involve the guilt of usurpation and rebellion
against the People. It is the fundamental
principle of our institutions, that the People
is Sovereign. But by the People we mean
not an individual here and there, not a knot
of twenty or a hundred or a thousand indi-
viduals in this or that spot, but the commu-
nity formed into a body politic, and expressing
and executing its will through regularly ap-
pointed organs. There is but one expression
of the will or sovereignty of the People, and
that is I AW. Law is the voice, the living act,
of the people. It has no other. When an
individual suspends the operation of Law,
resists its established ministers, and forcibly
substitutes for it his own will, he is a usurper
and rebel. The same guilt attaches to a
combination of individuals. These, whether
many or few, in forcibly superseding public
law and establishing their own, rise up
against the People as truly as a single
usurper. The People should assert its in-
sulted majesty, its menaced sovereignty, in
one case as decidedly as in the other. The
difference between the mob and the individual
is, that the usurpation of the latter has a
permanence not easily given to the tumul-
tuary movements of the former. The dis-
tinction is a weighty one. Little importance
is due to sudden bursts of the populace,
because they so soon pass away. But when
mobs are organized, as in the French Revolu-
tion, or when they are delitwrately resolved
on and systematically resorted to, as the
means of putting down an odious party, they
lose this apology. A conspiracy exists against
the Sovereignty of the People, and ought to
be suppres^, as among the chief evils of
the state.

In this part of the country our abhorrence
of mobs is lessened by the fact that they
were thought to do good service in the b&*
ginning of the Revolution. They probably
were useful then; and why? The work of
that day was Revolution. To subvert a
government was the fearful task to which
our fathers thought themselves summoned.
Their duty, they believed, was Insurrection.
In such a work mobs had their place. The
government of the State was in the hands
of its foes. The people could not use the
regular organs of administration, for these
were held and employed by the power which
they wished to crush. Violent, irregular
efforts belonged to that day of convulsion.
To resist and subvert institutions is the work
of mobs; and when these institutions are
popular, when their sole end is to express
and execute the vnll of the people, then mobs
are rebellion against the people, and as such
should be understood and suppressed. A



people b never more insulted than when a
mob takes its name. Abolition must not be
put down by lawless force. The attempt so
to destroy it ought to fail. Such attempts
place abolitionism on a new ground. They
make it, not the cause of a few enthusiasts,
but the cause of freedom. They identify it
with all our rights and popular institutions.
If the Constitution and the laws cannot put
it down, it must stand ; and he who attempts
its overthrow by lawless force is a rebel and
usurper. The Supremacy of Law and the
Sovereignty of the People are one and indi-
visible. To touch the one is to violate the
other. This should be laid down as a first
principle, an axiom, a fundamental article of
faith which it must be heresy to question. A
newspaper, which openly or by innuendoes
excites a mob, should be regarded as sounding
the tocsin of insurrection. On this subject
the public mind slumbers, and needs to be
awakened, lest it sleep the sleep of death.

How obvious is it, that pretexts for mobs
^•ill never be wanting, if this disorganizing
mode of redressing evils be in any case al-
lowed I We all recollect that, when a recent
attempt was made on the life of the President
of the United -States, the cry broke forth
from his friends " that the assassin was insti-
gated by the continual abuse poured forth on
Uiis distinguished man, and especially by the
violent speeches uttered daily in the Senate
of the United States." Suppose, now, that
his adherents, to save the Chief Magistrate
from murder, and to guard his constitutional
advisers, had formed themselves into mobs,
to scatter the meetings of his opponents. And
suppose that they had resolved to put to
silence the legislators who, it was said, had
abused their freedom of speech to blacken
the character and put in peril the life of the
Chief Magistrate. Would they not have had
a better pretext than mobs against abolition ?
Was not assassination attempted? Had not
the President received letters threatening his
life unless his measures were changed ? Can
a year or a month pass which will not afford
equally grave reasons for insurrections of the
populace ? A system of mobs and a free go-
vern men t cannot stand together. The men
who incite the former, and especially those
who organize them, are among the worst
enemies of the state. Of their motives I do
not speak. They may think themselves doing
service to their country, for there is no limit
to the delusions of the times. I speak only
of the nature and tendency of their actions.
They should be put dovm at once by law,
and by the moral sentiment of an insulted
people.

In addition to all other reasons, the honour
of our nation, and the cause of free institu-
tions, shoukl plead with us to defend the

R R



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laws from insult, and social order from sub-
version. The moral influence and reputation
Df our country are fast declining abroad. A
letter, recently received from one of the most
distinguished men of the continent of Europe,
expresses the universal feeling on the other
tide of the ocean. After speaking of the late
sncroachments on liberty m France, he sajrs,
•' On your side of the Atlantic you contribute,
ilso, to put in peril the cause of liberty. We
did take pleasure in thinking that there was,
U least in the New World, a country where
liberty was well understood, where all rights
were guaranteed, where the people was prov-
ing itself wise and virtuous. For some time
past the news we receive from America is
discouraging. In all your large cities we see
mobs aner mobs, and all directed to an
odious purpose. When we speak of liberty,
its enemies reply to us by pcinting to
America" The persecuted Abolitionists
have the sympathies of the civilized world.
The country which persecutes them is cover-
ing itself with disgrace, and filling the he<irts
of the friends of freedom with fear and gloom.
Already despotism is beginning to rejoice in
the fulfilment of its prophecies in our pros-
trated laws and dying liberties. Lit)erty is,
indeed, threatened with death in a country
where any class of men are stripped with
impunity of their constitutional rights. All
rights feel the blow. A community giving
up any of its citizens to oppression and
violence is preparing for itself the same fate.
It invites chains for itself, in suffering them to
be imposed on any whom it is bound to
protect.



Chapter VIII.
Duties',
A FEW words remain to be spoken in relation
to the duties of the Free States. These need
to feel the responsibilities and dangers of
their present position. The country is ap-
proaching a crisis on the greatest question
which can be proposed to it— a question not
of profit or loss, of tariffii or banks, or any
temporary interests, but a question involving
the First Principles of freedom, morals, and
reUgion. Yet who seems to be awake to the
solemnity of the present moment ? Who
seems to be settling for himself the great
fundamental truths by which private efforts
and public measures are to be determined ?

The North has duties to perform towards
the South and towards itself. Let it resolve
to perform them faithfully, impartially; asking
first for the Right, andputting entire con-
fidence in well-doing. The North is bound
to frown on all attempU of iu dtisens, should
such be threatened, to exoUe insurrection at



the South, on all attempts to tamper vith
and to dispose to violence the minds oC the
slave. The severest laws whidi the Consti-
tutions of the different States admit, ntay
jusdy be resorted to for this end, and thef
should be strictly enforced. I believe, indeed*
that there is no special need for new legis-
lation on the subject. I believe that there
was never a nK>ment when the Slavc^iokiing
Sutes had so little to apprehend fiom the Free,
when the moral feeling of the commmiity in
regard to the crime of instigating revolt was
so universal, thorough, and inflexible, as at
the present moment. Still, if the South needs
other demonstrations than it now has dL the
moral and friendly spirit which in this respect
pervades the North, let them be given to the
full extent which the spirit and provisions of
our respective Coostitutions allow. SdUmore:
it is the duty of the Free States to net by
opinion, where they cannot act by law, to dis-
countenance a system of agitation on the
subject of slavery, to frown on passionale
appeals to the ignorant, and on indiscriminate
and inflammatory vituperation of the slave-
holder. This obligation also has been and
will be fulfilled. There was ncrcr a stronger
feeUng of responsibihty in this particular than
at the present mcnnent

There are, however, other duties of the
Free States, to which they may prove false,
and which they are too willing to fiorget.
They are boimd, not in their public, but in-
dividual capacities, to use every virtuous in-
fluence for the abolition of slaveiy. They are
bound to encourage that manly moral, re-
ligious discussion of it. through which strength
will be given to the continually increasing
opinion of the civilised and Christian workl
in favour of personal fireedom. They axe
bound to seek and hold the truth in regard to
human rights, to be f^thful to their principles
in conversation and conduct, never, never to
surrender them to private interest, conveni-
ence, flattery, or fear.

The duty of being true to our principles is
not easily to be performed. At thb moment
an immense pressure is driving the North
from its true groimd. God save it from im-
becility, from treachery to freedom and viitne 1
I have certainly no feelings but those of good*
will towards the South ; but I speak the '
universal sentiment of this part of the oounliy,
when I say that the tone which the Sovth
has often assumed towards the North hna
been that of a superior — a tone imooaMioaii^
borrowed from the habit of command to
which it is unlu^^y accustomed by the iaim
of its society. I must add, that tins W^
bearing of the South has not always ben OKI
by a just consciousness of equality, a JaMMlf*
respect at the North. The oansci jafllaait
try to ex|^n. The effect, I few, itflottoli^



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denied. It is said that some who have ve-
presented the North in Congress have not
always represented its dignity, its honour;
that they have not always stood erect before
the lofty bearing of the South. Here lies our
danger. The North will undoubtedly be just
to the South. It must also be just to itsel£
This is not the time for sycophancy, for ser-
vility, for compromise of principle, for for-
getfuhiess of our rights. It is the time to
manifest the spirit of Men — a spirit which
prizes more than Ufe the principles of liberty,
of justice, of humanity, of pure morals, of
pure religion.

Let it not be thought that I would recom-
mend to the North, what in some parts of our
coimtry is called "Chivalry," a spirit of which
the duelling pistol is the best emblem, and
which settles controversies with blood. A
Christian and civilized man cannot but be
struck with the approach to barbarism, with
the insensibility to true greatness, with the
incapacity of comprehending the divine virtues
of Tesus Christ, which mark what is called
" chivalry." I ask not the man of the North
to borrow it from any part of the country.
But I do ask him to stand in the presence of
this "chivalry" with the dignity of moral
courage and moral independence. Let him,
at the same moment, remember the courtesy
and deference due to the differing opinions €»
others, and the sincerity and firmness due to
his own. Let him understand the lofty
position which he holds on the subject of
slavery, and never descend from it for the
purpose of soothing prejudice or disarming
passion. Let him respect the safety of the
South, and still manifest his inflexible ad-
herence to the cause of human rights and
personal freedom.

On this point I must insist, because I see
the North giving way to the vehemence <rf
the South. In some, perhaps many, of our
recent "Resolutions, " a spirit has been mani-
fested at which, if not we, our children will
blush. Not long a|^o there were rumours
that some of our citizens wished to suppress
by law all discussion, all expression of opinion
on slavery, and to send to the South such
members of our community as might be
clamied as instigators of insurrection. Such
encroachments on rights could not, of course,
1)6 endured. We are not yet so fallen. Some
generous inspirations, some echoes of the old
eloquence of liberhr, still oome down to us
from our fathers. Could such encroachments
ba borne ; would not the soil of New Eng-
Lmd, so long trodden by freemen, quake
under the steps of her degenerate sons ? We
are not prepared for these. But a weak,
yielding tone, for which we seem to be pre-
pared, may be the beginning of concessions
which we shall one day bitterly rue.



The means used at the South to bring the
North to compliance seem to demand par-
ticular attention. I will not record the con-
temptuous language which has been thrown
on the money-getting habits of New Eng-
land, or the menaces which have been ad-
dressed to our cupidity, for the purpose oC
putting us to silence on the subject of slavery.
Such language does in no degree move me.
I only ask that we may give no ground for
its apf>lication. We can easily bear it if we
do not deserve it. Our mother-country has
been called a nation of shopkeepers, and
New England ought not to be provoked by
the name. Only let us give no sanction to
the opinion that our spirit is narrowed to our
shops ; that we place the art of bargaining
above all arts, all sciences, accomplishments,
and virtues; that, rather than lose the fruits
of the slave's labour, we would rivet his
chains; that, sooner than lose a market, we
would make shipwreck of honour ; that, sooner
than sacrifice present gain, we would break
our faith to our fathers and our children,
to our principles and our God. To resent
or retaliate reproaches would be unwise and
unchristian. The only revenge worthy of a
good man is to turn reproaches into admo-
nitions against baseness, into incitements to
a more generous virtue. New England has
long suffered the imputation of a sordid, cal-
culating spirit, of supreme devotion to gain.
Let us show that we have principles, com-
pared with which the wealth of the world is
light as air. It is a common remark here,
that there is not a community under heaven
through which there is so general a dif^ion
of intelligence and healthful moral sentiment
as in New England. Let not the just in-
fluence of such a society be impaired by any
act which would give to prejucuce the aspect
of truth.

The Free States, it is to be feared, must
pass through a struggle. Maythey sustain it
as becomes their fr^om ! The present ex-
citement at the South can hardly be expected
to pass away without attempts to wrest from
them unworthy conc^ons. The tone in
regard to slaveipr in that part of our country
is changed. It is not only more vehement,
but more false than formerly. Once slavery
was acknowledged as an evil. Now it is pro-
claimed to be a good. We have even been
told,* not by a handliil of enthusiasts in pri-
vate life, but by men in the highest station
and of widest influence at the South, that
slavery is the soil into which" political freedom
strikes its deepest roots, and that republican



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 134 of 169)