William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 147 of 169)
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countries fall into great errors. Not long are bound to their owners — stronger than
ago, a speech was made in Boston, in which what they bear to their own race— and we
the slaves were compared to wild beasts, shall see that the danger of a servile war is
thirsting for blood ; and the good people not great enough to embitter life or deserve
were told that the master locks his doors at much sympathy.

night, not knowing but that in the morning Rome had servile wars; but her slaves had
he shall find the throats of his wife and chil- been freemen. Among tliem were fierce bar-
dren cut from ear to ear; and there were barians, whose native wildernesses had in-
found among us some who, in the simplicity fused an indomitable love of liberty; and
of their hearts, believed the tale. One would there were civilized men, who groaned in
have thought that, in hearing the fearftil story, spirit and gnashed their teeth at the de-
they would have asked themselves how it grading, intolerable yoke whicH was crushing
happens that our Southern brethren give five them. But in this country there are no ma-
hnndred or a thousand dollars for one of terials for servile war— at least in times of
these beasts of prey ? how it is that they are peace. In war, indeed, whether civil or
anxious to fill their houses and plantations, foreign, an army marching with " Emancipa-
and surround their wives and children, with tion" on its banner, might stir up the palsied
assassins ? Hun^an nature, if this account be spirit of the oppressed to terrible retribution
true, is a different thing at the South from for their wrongs. But very little is to be
what it is at the North. Here we should go feared in ordinary times. Were the slave
mad, and should lose life as well as reason, if more dangerous, T should feel less for his
the murderous blade were glaring before our yoke. Were a greater portion of the spirit
eyes night and day; and, still more, we should of a man left him, I should not think him so
be most grateful to our neighbours who wronged. But what is to be feared from
should be anxious to free us from the curse, a man who stands by and sees wife and
instead of rejecting their " meddling inters child lacerated without cause, and is driven
ference" with threats and execrations. But by no impulse to interpose for their defence?
amongthe hearers of the speech referred to, The strongest sensibilities of nature cannot
there seemed not a few to whom these diffi- sting him to do for his child what the hen
cullies did not occur. They even forgot to in- does for her chicken, or the trembling hare
quire how the fearful account was to be recon- for her young.

died with the assurances from the South of The slave, as far as I have known him, is
the happiness of the slave and the blessings not a being to be feared. The iron has eaten
of the institution ; and, in their sympathy into his soul, and this is worse than eating
with the South, they fro>vned fiercely enough into the flesh. The tidings that there are
on such of us as, by our writings, are stirring people here who would set him free will do
up the coloured race to murder. To tran- little harm. He withstands a far greater
quillize these compassionate people, I will temptation than this ; I mean the presence
tell them that the picture which terrified of the free negro. One would think that the
them was a work of fancy. There is no sight of his own race enjoying liberty would,
such terror in slave-holding countries. In if anything, stir him up to the assertion of
mylongresidcnces among slaves, I have used his rights; but it fails. Liberty is a word
fewer precautions at night than in this good not indeed to be heard without awakening



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desire; but It rouses no resistance. The
Colonizationist holds out to the slaves an
elysium, where they are to be free, and rich,
and happy, and a great people ; thus teaching
them that there is nothing in their nature
which forbids them the enjoyment of all
human rights ; and the master, so far from
dreading the doctrines of this society, will
become its President. No. Slaveiy has done
its work— has broken the spirit. So little is
the slave incUned to violence, that it is
affirmed, and I presunoe truly, that there are
fewer murders by their hands than by an
equal number of white men at the Nortb.
We hear, indeed, of atrocious deeds, assas*
sinations, bloody combats at the South. But
these are the deeds of white men. Pistols
and Bowie-knives are not worn by the
coloured race. Slavery produces horrible
multiphed murders at the South, not by
infusing rage, revenge into the man who
bears the yoke, but by nursing proud, un-
forgiving, bloodthirsty propensities in the
master.

Undoubtedly there are exposures to mas-
sacre in slave countries, as there are to mobs,
partial insurrections in all countries. But
outbreaks at the South will be found, perhaps
always, to have their cause in local circum-
stances, not in influences from abroad.
I do not say that there is no danger in
slaveiy. Systems founded in wrong want
stability, and are every day growing more
and more insecure, with the progress of in-
telligence and moral sentiment in the world.
Unexpected explosions may take place at
the South. Secret causes may be at work on
the spirit of the slave. Foreign invasion
would be a death-btow to the sjrstem. I
Vfhexa only to say, that there is no danger
from the discussion of slavery at the North,
or only that indirect distant danger, which
we are always encountering, and which no
man thinks of flying from, in human affairs.
The stormiest day of abolitionism has passed,
and yet not a spnptom of insurrection has
appeared at the South. It is morally impos-
sible that there should be danger in the
calmer days which are to follow.

I now proceed to the second objection to
the agitation of slavery at the North. We
are told that the Union will be thus en-
dangered. "Danger to the Union" is so
old a ciy, that it ceases to startle you or
myself; and yet so much sensitiveness to it
remains, that the topic ought not to be lightly
dismissed. And I begin with saying, that
were the Union as weak as these clamours
suppose, were it capable of being dissolved
by any of the hundred causes which are said
to threaten it, then it would not be worth the
keeping. The bonds which hold a nation
K>Bether, if not exceedingly strong, are of no



ON THE SLAVERY QUESTION.



use. They will snap in the botir of need.
But our Union is not so weak as our alarmists
imagine. It has stood many storms, and
will stand many more. It is not, as many
may think, a creature of a day. Its founda-
tions were laid at the first settlement of these
States, and their whole history was silently
preparing them to become one great people.
There is not a conmiunity on earth whidi
has so distinct a conviction of the blessings
of national union, and of the evils of s&pA-
ration, as this country ; and, in the present
age of the world, such a conviction may avail
almost or quite as much as the txaditional
prejudices and habits of other nations. The6
our Union does not rest only on the dear
perception of the good it confers. It rests
on sentiment as well as interest, and on a
higher sentiment than binds any other people.
We are charged. I know, with being given to
boasting; but this reproach must not deter
me firom speaking of the deep foundation of
our Union in the claims of our couotzy on
our love and reverence. No other people
can look back to such founders as we. No
other people has done as much in an equal
time for civilization and freedom. Two hun-
dred years have hardly passed over us, and
we have redeemed from savage wildness a
realm compared with which European king-
doms are dwarfed into provinces; and, throu^
every period of our history, we have been
pressing forwards to an equsdity of rights and
a freedom of institutions nowhere else known
in past or present times. The deliberate con-
struction of a civil poUty, in which the idea of
liberty is realized to a degree not dreamed of
in other countries, is one of the grandest
achievements of history. Other governments,
the creatures of chance, and obstructed l^
abuses of barbarous dmes, bear no such
testimony to the energy and elevation of the
public mind. Through this clear, bright,
practicaldevelopmentoftheprinciple of liberty,
these United States, an infant country, grow-
ing up in a distant wilderness, have moved
and quickened the civilized world. Tlus
country has been called by Providence to a
twofold work. — ^to spread civilization over a
new continent, and to give a new impulse to
the cause of human rights and freedom. A
higher destiny has been granted to no people ;
and, with all our imperfections (exceeding
g^reat, I acknowledge), we have accomplishad
our task with a force of thought and will as-
surpassed in hnman history. Add to thii^
that we have produced what no other counti^f
can boast of, a ^)otless revolutionary leadtt;
a chief who, in a season of storm and chjl
strife, amidst unbounded popularity, amidll
the temptations of severe hardship and flf
briUiant success, never, in a single intwifl^
grasped at power, forgot his daty to »



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coantzy, or wavered in bis loyalty to freedom.
In one form of greatness we (e%\ ourselves
unrivalled. The annals of no people furnish
a patriot and friend of liberty so pure, so
disinterested as Washington. That a people
having such a history should be bound by
sentiment to the national Union, is a necessary
result of the laws of human nature; and
accordingly the people as far as I know
them, are, on this point, of one heart and one
mind.

But, besides this generous sentiment, we
have characteristic feelings, as a people, which
bind us together. One of ouz; national passions
is^pride in a vast extent of territory. From
the circumstance of our history and location,
we are accustomed to think and talk of im-
mense r^ons, and to scour remote tracts of
sea and land; and we should experience a
sense of confinement in the boundaries which
satisfy other states. An American has %
passion for belonging to a great country. A
witty foreigner observed of the city of Wash-
inij^on, that it had one merit, if no other; it
was a city of " magnificent distances." For
this kind of magnificence our people have a
decided taste. We look with something like
scorn on the kingdoms of the old world ; and
our mother country seems to us but a speck on
the ocean* We travel a distance equal to the
whole length of Great Britain in two days or
]es&, and feel as if we had but begun our
journey. Our great men desire to connect
their names with this vast country; and
humble individuals, whether wisely or not,
derive from it a feeling of importance. The
poor man, in voting, feels thAt be is exercisinf .
in part, the sovereignty of an immense realm.
There is more of the imagination than of the
heart in the sentiment now unfolded ; but it
is real, and it is no frail bond of national
union.

Another cause of Union may appear to
foreigners less serious than it r^iUy is. We
hold together, because we know not where to
break offl Neighboiuing States are too much
allied in feelii^ and interests and domesdc
bonds for separation, and no State is wriUing
to occupy the position of a frontier.

Our union is every day gaining strength br
the increased facilities of intercourse which
place distant parts of the country side by side,
and are interweaving almost as closely the
interests and aiTections of remote States as
of those which border on each other. The
subtle steam, made up of mutually repelling
porticles. and melting in a moment into air,
lias become to this country a oord stronger
than adamant. Providence seems to intend
to give us the physical means of binding to-
gether ft wider region than was ever bdfore
blessed with one beneficent sway.

It also deserres ottentioQ, that the cause



which has hitherto chiefly disturbed our
Union, is diminishing, if it has not passed
away. I refer to the disposition of the national
legislature to interfere with local interests, or
to extend itself beyond the bounds of strict
necessity ; thus awakening the jealousy of
different sections, and giving them the notion
of separate interests. 1 his disposition is yield-
ing, not only to the resistance of different
States, but to an impossibility of its exercise
founded on the nature of iree institutions.
Under these, government is a slowly moving
machine. Its wheels seem to be clogged more
and more. Diversities of interests, collisions
of passion, party spirit, and endless varieties
of opinion, throw almost insuperable obstacles
in the way of legislation. (Jongress, after a
long session, separates, having hardly passed
laws enough to keep the government in
operation. All Free States at home and
abroad feel this difficulty; and, evil as it
seems, it has no small advantages. It abates
that worse nuisance, excess of legislation.
By this cause. Congress is compelled to keep
itself within its bounds; for in these it finds
more work than it can do. The government
must be in reality what it is in name. General,
and must be as simple as consists with public
safety ; and, thus qualified, why may it not
hold together a mighty realm ?

Foreigners expect disunion from the extent
of our territory, but in this we see safety, as
well as danger ; for it not only flatters, as we
have seen, the national pride, but multiplies
the bonds of mutual interest, renders free
exchange of productions and friendly inter-
course vastly more profitable, and, at the same
time, checks despotic power of party leaders,
those simultaneous excitements, those pas-
sionate movements, that concentration of all
the energies and feelings of the people on a
single point of controversy, by which free
states of narrower dimensions are convulsed.

From these remarks it will be seen that I
partake liule of the nervous sensitiveness of a
portion of the people on the subject of the
Union. Undoubtedly it is exposed to perils,
which may turn these hopes and prophecies
into illusions. The experience of life teaches
Its to be prepared for the worst. Our present
prosperity seems too unparalleled to endure.
But loose, vague fears ought not to disturb
us ; nor should they be propagated, because
they often serve to fulfil themselves. TThe
truth is, that we are a peopte singularly given
to alarm, and very much on the ground on
which the rich fear most about property.
The greatness of our blessings makes us
timid. As far as my knowledge of this com-
munity extends, the Union is most dear. It
may be said of this, as of other social tics,
that its strength cannot l>e fiilly known till we
are aeriously called to dissolve it



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But, it Is said, the South is passionate, and
threatens to secede if we agitate this subject
of slavery. Is this no cause of alarm? To
this argument I would offer two answers.
First, the South, passionate as it may be, is
not insane. Does not the South know that,
in abandoning us on the ground of slavery,
it would take the surest step towards convert-
ing the Free^tates to intense and overwhelm-
ing abolitionism ? Would not slavery become
from that moment the grand distinctive idea
of the Southern Republic ? And would not
its Northern rival, by instinct and necessitr,
found itself on the Antagonist principle ? In
such an erent, there would be no need of anti*
slavery societies, of abolition agitations, to
convert the North. The blow that would
sever the Union for this cause, would pro-
duce an instantaneous explosion to shake
the whole land. The moral sentiment
against slavery, now kept down by the in-
terests and duties which grow out of union,
would burst its fetters, and be reinforced by
the whole strength of the patriotic principle,
as well as by all the prejudices and local pas-
sions which would follow disunion. Does
not the South see that our exemption from
the taint of slavery would, in this case, be-
come our main boast? that we should cast
the reproach of this institution into her teeth,
in very different language from what is now
used? that what is now tolerated in sister
States would be intensely hated in separate,
rival communities? iJet disunion on this
ground take place, and then the North may
become trulv dangerous to the South. Then
real incendiaries, veiy different from those
who now bear the name, might spring up
among us. Then fanaticism would Ix^row
force and protection from national feeling.
Then, in the unfriendly relations between
the two communities, which would soon be
created, and in the self-regarding policy
which we should adopt, we should take into
account the weakness which a servile popu-
lation would bring on our adversaries. We
should feel that we have an ally in our
rival's bosom ; nor would that ally forget to
look Northward for liberation. I say the
South is not insane. Nothing but a pal-
pable necessity could induce it to break off
from the Free States on the groiuid of slavery.

This leads me to observe, in the next place,
that there is, and can be, no kind of necessity
or warrant for separation furnished to the
South by the discussion of slavery at the
North. This topic will indeed be agitated,
and more and more freely; but no discussion,
no agitation of slavery, no form of abolition,
can produce such an excitement on the sub-
ject in the Free States as will furnish the
Slave States with any motive to encounter
the terrible evils of separation. This subject



deserves some coosideratioi). Abolitioiuni
may be viewed in two lights ; first, as the
organized array of societies against slaveiy;
and next, as an individual sentiment, scattered
through the whole population. In neither
view can it drive the South to disunion, at
least for a long time to come. Regarded as
an organized body. Abolitionism will subsist
and will influence opinion, but it will never
gain an ascendency in the Free States. On
Uiis point my mind has never wavered. It
nowhere carries with it the mass of the peo-
ple, or the weight of opinion. It has brought
no religious or political body under its in-
fluence. Fashion, wealth, sectarian prejudice,
and political ambition are, for the most pan.
opposed to it. That the South sbouM be
driven by it to desperation, is impossible.
Many of the obstades to the asoendency of
this first form of Abolitionism win naturally
be presented in my views of the second. I
will here only observe, that, with the intd-
ligence and state of feeling prevalent at the
North, puUic opinion cannot be defennined
by associations, especially by one which takes
Agitation for its motto. Agiution may ba
useful in producing a speedy movement in
favour of an object of dear utility, and about
which opinions do not greatly diffN-. For
example, in the case of Tomperance, where
men are generally of one mind, where opinion
is fixed, where exdtement is the great ohyeet
to be accomplished, where men are to be
roused to resist habits which they know to be
wrong; in such a case, an array of nombcn^
a system of fdedges, and multiplied pabKe
ineetings, may do good. But on a sufaiect
involving many practical difficulties aid
solemn consequences, and coming, as xDMiy
think, into collision with great pablle ia*
terests, agitation will not now avaiU. Men
distrust it, fear it, and resent as a wroDg the
violence with which the opinions of xealoas
men are forced on the oooununity. A^italioB
may canv such a country as Ireland, when
the people, beskies being ignorant, are all In-
flamed with one sense of wron^, and esey
heart responds to the Agitator's cry. So a
carried the British Act of Enuuudpatiao, lor
the nation was ripe for action, and for tbe
most part had no hostile prejudices to or-
render. But an intelligent people, dividad fe
opinion and feeling on a grrat subject, caaaot
be carried by storm, or be swept awa^^-kf a
fervent association. The ardent ttdvooates
even of a good cause, if marshalled infeo «a
army, and joined in vehement onset or 1dm
prejudices of such a community. ^^Mifrt tat
awaken reaction and obstinate repulsioiK ; tpi
will, too often, put themselves in the vanf
by passionate movements, of which tholkMia
sure to profit. I now speak o£ aBaodl
ngitatioa. Let the individual enthustert« i



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669



acts from his own soul, agitate as much as
he wiB. I would not say a word to stifle
the full, bursting heart. But premeditated,
organized agitation is another thing. Be-
sides the difficulty already stated, it is apt to
degenerate into noise and show, and to fall
under suspicion of pretence, and on this
accoimt is less forgiven for what is deemed
excess. I see, therefore, very serious obsta-
cles to the triumphs of organized Abolitionism
in a community like ours. It has, indeed,
done good. Under all its disadvantages, it
has roused many minds, but it cannot carry
with it the people.

As to Abobtionism in its more general
form, or regarded as an individual principle
of settled, earnest opposition to slavery, this
has taken deep root, and must grow and
triumph. It is in harmony with our institu-
tions, and with all the tendencies of modem
civilization. It triumphs in Europe, and will
flow in upon us from abroad more and more
fireely, in consequence of those improvements
of intercourse which place Europe almost at
our door. Still, it is far from being universal
among us. There are obstacles as well as
aids to its progress, in consequence of which
it is to make its way calmly, gradually, so
that there is no possibility of any violent
action from the freest discussion of slavery.
There is uo danger of an anti-slavery fever
here which will justify the South to itself in
encountering the infinite hazards of disunion.
The prevalent state of feeling in the Free
States in regard to slavery is indifference ; an
indificrence strengthened by the notion of
great difficulties attending the subject. The
fact is painful, but the trutti should be spoken.
The majority of the people, even yet, care
little about the matter. A i>ainful proof of
this insensibility was furnished about a year
and a half ago, when the English West
Indies were emancipated. An event sur-
passing this in moral grandeur is not recorded
in history. In one day, half a million, pro-
bably seven hundred thousand of human
beings, were rescued from bondage, to full,
unqualified freedom. The consciousness of
wrongs, in so many breasts, was exchanged
into rapturous, grateful joy. What shouts of
thanksgiving broke forth from those liberated
crowds 1 What new sanctity and strength
were added to the domestic ties 1 What new
hopes opened on future generations! The
crowning glory of this day was the fact that
the work of emancipation was wholly due to
the principles of Christianity. The West
Indies were freed, not by force, or human
policy, but by the reverence of a great people
for justice and humanity. The men who
began and carried on this cause were Chris-
tian philanthropists ; and they prevailed by
spieading their own spirit through a nation.



In this respect the emancipation of the West
Indies was a grander work tbau the redemp-
tion of the Israelites from bondage. This
was accomplished by force, by outward mira-
cles, by the violence of the elements. That
was achieved by love, by moral power, by
God, working not in the stormy seas, but in
the depths of the human heart. And how
was this day of Emancipation-— one of the
most blessed days which ever dawned on the
earth— received in this country? Whilst in
distant England a thrill of gratitude and joy
pervaded thousands and millions, we, the
neighbours of the West Indies, and who
boast of our love of liberty, saw the stm of
that day rise and set with hardly a thought
of the scenes on which it was pouring its
joyful light. The greatest part of our news-
papers did not refer to the event. The gr^t
majority of the people had foigotten it.
Such was the testimony we gave to our con-
cern for the poor slave ; and is it from dis-
cussions of slavery among such a people that
the country is to be overturned ?

It will imdoubtedly be said that oiu* uncer-
tainty as to the issues of West Indian Eman-
cipation prevented our rejoicing in it. But does
tmcertainty so act where the heart is deeply
moved ? Is it a part of human nature to wait
for assurance before it exults at events in which
its affections are involved ? Does the new-bom



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 147 of 169)