William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 137 of 169)
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has brought much reproach on AboUtkiaiaii,

The motives which have induced me to



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THE ABOLITIONISTS. 621

make this long communicatioQ to you will not, topics on which I should have been glad to

I trust, be misunderstood. I earnestly desire, offer a few remarks. — In expressing my con'

my dear Sir, that you and your associates will viction of the moral worth of the Abolitionists,

hold fast the right of free discussion by speech I wished to say that they are in danger, as

and the press, and at the same time that you a body, of forfeiting this praise. Let them

will exercise it as Christians, and as friends of gather numbers and strength, and they may

your race. That you, Sir, will not fail in these be expected to degenerate. The danger is

duties, I rejoice to believe. Accept ray humble greater now that they have begun to add the

tribute of respect and admiration for your ballot-box, or political action, to their other

disinterestedness, for your faithfulness to your modes of operation. It is one of the evils

convictions, imder the peculiar sacrifices to attending associations, and an argument

which you have been called. It is my prayer against them, that, by growing popular, they

that, by calm, fearless perseverance in well- attract to themselves unworthy menil)ers, lose

doing, you may guide and incite many to a their original simplicity of purpos<\ become

like virtue. aspiring, and fall more and more under the

It may be said that it is easy for one livin|f, control of popular leaders. Intriguers will
as I do, at a distance from danger, living in never be wanting to press them, if possible,
prosperity and ease, to preach exposure and into the service of one or another of the great
suffering to you and your friends. I can only parties which divide the country, and by be-
say in reply, that I lay down no rule for others coming political machines they only increase
which I do not feel to be binding on myself, the confusion of public affairs.
What I should do in the hour of peril may be I have spoken m the letter of " the fettered
uncertain ; but what I ought to do is plain, press " of the country, a subject of much
What I desire to do is known to the Searcher moral interest. The newspaper press is fet-
of all hearts. It is my earnest desire that tered among us by its dependence on sub-
prosperity may not unnerve me, that no suf- scribers, among whom there are not a few
fering mav shake my constancy in a cause intolerant enough to withdraw their patronage
which my heart approves. I sometimes indeed if an editor give publicity to articles which
fear for myself, when I think of untried perse- contradict their cherished opinions, or shock
cutions. I know not what weaknesses the their party prejudices, or seem to clash with
presence of great danger may call forth. But, their interests. In such a state of things, few
m my most deliberate moments, I see nothing newspapers can be expected to afford to an
worth hving for but the divine virtue which unpopular individual or party, however philan-
etidures and surrenders all things for truth, thropic or irreproachable, an opportunity of
duty, and mankind. I look on reproach, being heard by the public. Editors engage
poverty, persecution, and death, as light evils in their vocation, like other men, for a sup-
compared with unfaithfulness to pure and port; and communications which will thin
generous principles, to the spirit of Christ, their subscription-lists will, of course, find
and to the will of God. With these impres- little favour at their hands. Much reproach
sions, I ought not to be deterred by self- is sometimes thrown on them for their want
distrust, or by my distance from danger, from of moral independence ; but the root of the
summoning and cheering others to conflict evil lies in the intolerance of the community,
with evil. Christianity, as I regard it, is One result of this state of things is, that the
designed throughout to fortify us for this newspaper press fails of one of its chief duties,
warfare. Its great lesson is self-sacrifice. Its which is to stem corrupt opinion, to stay the
distinguishing spirit is Divine Philanthi-opy excesses of popular passions. It generally
' suffering on the cross. The Cross, the Cross, swells, seldom arrests, the violence of the
this is the badge and standard of our religion, multitude. The very subjects on which the
I honour all who bear it. I look with scorn public mind may most need to be reformed
on the selfish greatness of this world, and are most likely to be excluded from its
with pity on the most gifted and prosperous columns. Another evil result is, the increase
in the struggle for office and power; but I of the number and violence of parties. Con-
look with reverence on the obscurest man who scientious men, who cannot obtain a hearing
suffers for the right, who is true to a good but through the common newspapers, are com-
pcrsecuted cause. pelled to league for the support of papers of

With" these sentiments, I subscribe myself their own, and, in speaking through these

your sincere friend, organs, they are tempted to an extravagance

William E. Channing. and bitterness which they would liave shunned

Boston, N<nf, 1, 1836. had they used other vehicles. It may be

■ doubted whether Abolitionism would have

Note. — As the preceding letter was pre- taken the form of organized and affiliated

pared for a newspaper, I was obliged, by the societies if the subject of slavery could have

narrowness of my limits, to pass over some been discussed in the common papers with



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623



THB ABOIJTJONISTS.



the same freedom as other topics. That
Abolitionism has owed not a little of its
asperity to its having been proscribed from
the beginning, and to its having l)een denied
the common modes of addressing the public
mind, I cannot doubt. Toleration seems to
be the last virtue which individuals or com-
munities learn. One would think that expe-
rience had sufficiently taught men that perse-
cution is not the way to put down opinions.
The selfish may indeed be disheartened by
opposition ; but conscientious men are
strengthened by it in their convictions. Per-
secution drives and knits them together ; and
when formed into a party by this bond, their
zeal becomes more intense, their prejudices
more inveterate, their opinions more extrava-
gant, their means more violent, than if they
had continued to be scattered through the
commimity. If Abolitionism should con-
vulse the country, as some seem to fear, a
large share of the blame will belong to that
intolerance which has heaped on the most
respectable men every epithet of scorn and
vituperation, and has driven them to assume
a separate and belligerent attitude in the
community.

I cannot easily conceive of a greater good
to a city than the establishment of a news-
paper by men of supenor ability and moral
independence, who should judge all parties
and public measures by the standard of the
Christian law, who should uncompromisingly
speak the truth and adhere to the Right, who
should make it their steady aim to form a just
and lofty public sentiment, and who should at
the same time give to upright and honourable
men an opportunity of making known their
opinions on matters of general interest, how-
ever opposed to the opinions and passions of
the day. In the present stage of society,



when newspapers form the reading of aU
classes, and the chief reading of multitudes,
the importance of the daily press cannot be
overrated. It is one of the mightiest instru-
ments at work among us. It may and should
take rank among the most effectual means of
social order and improvement It is a power
which should be wielded by the best minds in
the community. The office of editor is one
of solenm responsibility, and the comnnunity
should encourage the most gifted and virtuous
men to assiune it. by liberally recompensing
their labour, and by according to thena that
freedom of thought and speech, without which
no mind puts forth all its vigour, and whidi
the highest minds rank among their dearest
rights and blessings.

In speaking of the unworthy exponents of
Abolitionism in the preceding letter, I pro-
posed to say something of those imhappy
men who, in one part of our country, have
proclaimed Slavery to be a good, a domestic
blessing, and an essential support or condition
of free institutions. But I felt that J could
not easily speak on this point in measured
terms ; and in such cases I prefer silence,
unless a clear conviction of duty forbids it.
Happily, this detestable doctrine needs no
effort to expose it ; for it carries its refiitatioo
in its own absurdity, and in its repugnance to
all moral and religious feeling, lite Southern
States would be grievously wronged by being
made responsible for this insane estimate ol
Slavery. It is confined, I trust, to a small
number, who have been hardy enough to set
at defiance the judgment of the Christian and
civilized world, and whom nothing but oblivion
can screen from that condemning sentence
V which future times will pass more and moce
sternly on the advocates of oppression, oatbe
foes of freedom and human rights.



A LETTER TO THE HON, HENRY CLAY,
On the Annexation of Texas to the United States.



My Dear Sir, — I trust that you will excuse
the liberty which I take in thus publicly
addressing you. If you could look into my
heart, I am sure you would not condemn me.
You would discover the motives of this act
in my respect for your eminent powers, and
in my confidence that you are disposed to use
them for the honour and happiness of your
country. Were you less distinguished, or
less worthy of distinction, I should not trouble
you with this letter. I write you because I
am persuaded that your great influence, if
exerted in promoting just views on the subject



of this commimication, would accomplish a
good, to which, perhaps, no other man in the
coimtry is equal. I am bound, m frankness,
to add another reason for addressing you. I
hope that yoiu- name, prefiLxed to this lettei;
may secure to it an access to some, perhaps
to many, who would turn away were its
thoughts presented in a more general fonn.
Perhaps by this aid it may scale the bariwr
which now excludes from the South a certttin
class of the writings of the North. I «d
sure your hospitality would welcome me t)9
Kentucky ; and your well-known genen»it|;



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ON THE ANNEXATION OF TEXAS.



623



I believe, will consent that I should use your
name, to ^n a hearing in that and the
neighbouring States.

It is with great reluctance that I enter on
the topic of this letter. My tastes and habits
incline roe to very difierent objects of thought
and exertion. I had hoped that I should
never again feel myself called to take part in
the agitations and exciting discussions of the
day, especially in those of a political cha-
xHcter. I desire nothing so much as to
devote what remains of life to the studyr and
exposition of great principles and universal
truths. But the subject of Texas weighs
heavily on my mind, and I cannot shake it
off. To me, it is more than a political
question. It belongs eminently to morals
and religion. I have hoped that the atten-
tion of the public would be called to it by
some more powerful voice. I have post-
]K>ned writing until the national legislature is
about to commence the important session in
which, it is thought, this subject may be
decided. But no one speaks, and therefore I
cannot be silent. Should Texas be annexed
to our country, I feel that I could not forgive
myself if. with my deep, solemn impressions,
I should do nothing to avert the evil. I can-
not easily believe that this disastrous measure
is to be adopted, especially at the present
moment. The annexation of Texas, under
existing circumstances, would be more than
rashness ; it would be madness. That op-
position to it must exist at the South, as well
as at the North, I cannot doubt. Still, there
is a general impression that great efibrts will
be made to acconipUsh this object at the
approaching session of Congress, and that
nothing but strenuous resistance can prevent
their success. I must write, therefore, as if
the danger were real and imminent ; and if
any should think that I am betrayed into
undue earnestness by a false alarm, they
will remember that there are circumstances
in which excess of vigilance is a virtue.

In the course of ti]^ discussion, I shall be
forced to speak on one topic which can hardly
be treated so as to give no ofience. I am
satisfied that in this, as in all cases, it is best,
safest, as well as roost right and honourable,
to sp>eak freely and plainly. Nothing is to
be gained by caution, circumlocution, plau-
sible softenings of language, and other arts,
which, in destroying confidence, defeat their
own end. In discussions of an irritating
natiu%, the true way of doing good is, to
purify oiiTselves from all imworthy motives,
to cherish disinterested sentiments and unaf-
fected good-will towards those from whom
we differ, and then to leave the mind to
utter itself naturally and spontaneously. How
far I have prepared myself for my work by
this self-punfication, it becomes not me to say ;



but this I may say, that I am not conscious
of the slightest asperity of feeling towards
any party or any individual. I have no pri-
vate interests to serve, no private passions to
gratify. The strength of my conviction may
be expressed in strong, perhaps unguarded
language ; but this want of caution is the re-
sult of the consciousness that I have no pur-
pose or feeling which I need conceal.

I shall in one respect depart from the free-
dom of a letter. I shall arrange my thoughts
under distinct heads; and I shall do this
because I wish to put my reader in full
possession of my views. I wish to use no
vague declamation, to spread no vague alarm,
but to bring out as clearly as possible the
precise points of objection to the measure I
oppose.*

I. We have a strong argument against
annexing Texas to the United States in the
Criminality of the revolt which threatens to
sever that country from Mexico. On this
point our citizens need light. The Texan
insurrection is seriously regarded by many
among us as a struggle of the oppressed for
freedom. The Texan revolution is thought
to resemble qmx own. Oiir own is contami-
nated by being brought into such relation-
ship, and we owt to our fathers and ourselves
a disclaimer of afiinity with this new republic.
The Texan revolt, if regarded in its causes
and its means of success, is criminal ; and
we ought in no way to become partakers in
its guilt. You, I doubt not, are familiar with
its history ; but for the benefit of some, into
whose hands this letter may fall, I will give
the leading facts.

The first grant of land in Texas to our
citizens was made under the Royal Govern-
ment; and. in accepting it, the obligation
was expressly inctured c^ submission to the

• It may be ««n to state the principal atttborities on
which I rdy for the sutentenu in this leXtcr. I am most
indebted, perhaps, to an article on Mexico and Texas In
the July number « the North Amtruan Review for the
year 1836. This article, as I tinderstooa at the time, was
written by an enlightened and respected citizen of the
South. The quoutions in the first head of this letter, without
a marginal reference, are tmken from this tiaa. with a few
unimportant exceptions. I have also made use of a
pamphlet bearinf^ the title of the " War in Texas." written
by Mr. Benjamin Ltmdy. a man of unimpeachable character,
and who professes to have given particular attention to the
subject. With Ills reasonings and opinions I have nothing
to do : but hb statement of facts has been represented to
me as worthy of full credit. I have also consuUed a " His*
tory of Texas, by David B. Kdwards." I know not that
this has fbmished me anything of importance. But. by its
tmdesigned coincidence, it corroborates the preceding arti*
des. My chief reliance, however, is not on books, but on
the notoriety of the facts here given, which mav be con*
sidered as a testimony borne to Uiem by the whole people.
This is a singularly tmexceptionable testimony in the pre*
sent case ; because it is well known that the advocates of
the Texan revolt have had possession, to a great degree, of
the press of the country, and unfavourable accoimts could
not have obtained general currency without a foundation
in truth. Lfet me sdd that, by "the Nonb." I ondcrttand

. ....._ .. - Slates, and by ' the South." all

aly



In tl^ letter all the Free States, and bv ' the Soutli
the Slave-hoMing Sutes except where toe tenns trap
restriaed by the connection.



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624



ON THE ANNEXATION OF TEXAS



civil and religions despotism which then
crushed the country. It was understood that
the settlers were to adopt the Catholic faith,
and to conform in all other respects to the
institutions of Mexico. Under the revolu-
tionary governments, which succeeded the
fall of the Spanish power, the original grant
was confirmed, and new ones made, on con-
dition of subjection to the laws of the land.
The terms were very liberal, except that
adherence to the Catholic religion was re-
quired as the condition of setdement. These
facts will help us to understand the reason-
ableness of some of the complaints under
which the colonists seek to shelter their
revolt.

Mexico, on declaring her independence on
the mother country, established a republican
government, and was unfortunately betrayed
by her admiration of this country into the
adoption of a Federal system, for which no
foundation had been laid in her previous
history. From this cause, added to her
inexperience in self-government, and to the
want of intelligence among the mass of
her population, her institutions have yielded
very imperfectly the fruits of freedom. The
country has been rent by factions, the capital
convulsed by revolutions, and the chief office
of the state been secured by the military to
popular chieftains. The emigrants from this
country to Texas went with open eyes, with
full knowledge of the unsettled state of
affairs, into this region of misrule and
agitation. Happily, their distance from the
seat of government prevented their being
drawn into the whirlpool of civil contests,
which threatened at times the destruction of
the metropolis. Whilst the city of Mexico
was pillaged or laid under martial law,
Texas found security in her remoteness ;
and, had her colonists proved loyal citizens,
this security might have been undisturbed.

Complaints of one another soon sprang up
between the General Government and Texas.
Mexico complained of the gross infraction of
her laws, and Texas of the violence of the
means by which it was attempted to enforce
them. That both parties had ground of
reproach, we cannot doubt ; nor is it easy to
strike the balance between them, or to say
where the chief blame lies. The presump-
tion is ^strong, that the fault began with the
colonists. We of this country, receiving our
accounts of the controversy from Texans, are
in danger of being warped in our judgments.
But we liave for our guidance our knowledge
of human nature, which helps us to construe
the testimony of interested witnesses, and
which, in the present case, cannot easily
deceive us. If we consider the distance of
Texas from the scat of government, her
scattered population, her vicinity to a slave



country, the general character of the first
settlers in a wilderness, and the difficulty of
subjecting them to regular tribunals *, can ¥re
doubt, for a moment, that Mexico had cause
for the complaints, which she urged, of the
gross infractions and evasions of her lavs
in Texas, especially of the laws relating to
revenue, and to the exclusion of slaves ? On
the other hand, if we consider the circum-
stances of Mexico, can we doubt that the
military force sent by her to Texas, and
needed there to enforce the laws, abuasd its
power more or less? That lawless men
should be put down by lawless means, espe-
cially in a country swept by the spirit of revo-
lution, is an effect too common and natural to
excite wonder. The wonder is, that Texas
escaped with so little injury. Whether she
would have suffered at all, had she submitted
in good fauth to the laws which she had {iJedged
herself to obey, may be fairly questioned. I
ask you, Sir, whether it is not your dehberate
conviction, that Mexico, from the beginning-
of her connection with the colonists, has been
more sinned against than sinning. But allow-
ing that the violent means used by Mexico
for enforcing her authority were less provoked
than we beUeve them to have been, did not
the Texans enter the country with a full
knowledge of its condition? Did they not
become citizens of a state just escaped from
a grinding despotism, just entered into the
school of freedom, which had beoi inured
for ages to abuses of military power, and
whose short republican history had been
made up of civil agitation? In swearing
allegiance to such a state, did they not con-
sent to take their chance of the evils through
which it miut have been expected to pass in
its way to firm and free institutions? Was
there, or could there be in so unsettled a
society, that deliberate, settled, inflexible
purpose of spoiling the colonists of their
rights, which alone absolves a violation of
allegiance from the guilt of treason?

Some of the grounds on which the Texans
justify their conflict for independence aie so
glaringly deficient in truth and reason, that
it is hard to avoid suspicion of every defience
set up for their revolt. They complain of
being denied the right of worshipping God
nccordiug to the dictates of their consciences ;
and this they do, though they entered the
country and swore allegiance to its govern^
ment, with full knowledge that the ^iholic
religion was the religk>n of the state, and
alone tolerated by the constitution. What
increases the hollowness and criminality of
the ptretence is, that notwithstanding t}ie
provision of the constitution, Protestant sects
had held their meetings tmdisturbed in Texas^
and no persecution had ever taken plaoe^it.
account of difference of creed.



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Aliother |;nevance by which they justify
their revolt is, that the trial by jury had been
withheld; and this complaint they have the
courage to make, although they were fully
aware, before becoming the adopted citizens
of the country, that this mode of trial was
utterly imknown to its jurisprudence, and
though, in the constitution of the State of
Coahuila and Texas, the following article
had been introduced: — "One of the prin-
cipal subjects for the attention of Congress
[State Legislature] shall be to establish in
criminal cases the trial by jury, extending it
gradually, and even adopting it in civil cases,
m p roportion as the advantages of this precious
institution may be practically developed."

One of the greatest grievances in the eyes
of Texas was the change of the Mexican
government from a Federal to a Central or
Consolidated form. But this change, how-
ever violently brought about, was ratified by
the National Congress according to the rules
prescril>ed by the constitution, and was sanc-
tioned by the Mexican people. The decree of
Congress, introducing this "reform" of the
national institutions, declares the system of
government "republican, popular, and repre-
sentative," and provides all the organs by
which such a government is characterized.
What also deserves our consideration, in esti-
mating this measure, is, that the whole his-
tory of Mexico has proved the necessity of
substituting a Central for a Federal govern-
ment. Liberty and order can be reconciled
and preserved to that country by no process
but by the introduction of more simple and
efficient institutions. And yet the Texans, a
handful of strangers, raised the standard of
revolt, because the government was changed
by a nation of nine millions vrithout their
consent.

I have spoken of the Texans as a handful
of people. At the breaking out of the insur-
rection they were about twenty thousand, in-
cluding women and children. They were, of
course, whoUy unable to achieve or maintain
national independence ; so that one condition
which is required to authorize revolution,
namely, the ability to sustain a government,
to pmorm the duties of sovereignty, they
could not pretend to fulfil. Twenty thousand



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 137 of 169)