William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 154 of 169)
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and in the extermination of the Jews. ^
entered fiilly hito the spirit df the InquisitioB ;
and by her great moral power contributed
more than any other sovereign to the extensioo
of its fearful influence ; and thus the horrible
tortures and murders of that infernal mstita-
tion, in her ill-fated country, lie very much at
her door. Of all the causes which have con-
tributed to the ruin of Spain, the gloomy,
unrelenting spirit of religious bigotry has
wrought most deeply ; so that the illustrious
Isabella, through her zeal for religion and the
salvation of her subjects, sowed the seeds of
her country's ruin. It is remarkable, that
Spain, in her late struggle for freedom, has
not produced one great man; and at this
moment the countir seems threatened with
disorganization ; ancf it is to the almost uni-
versal corruption, to the want of matoal coo*
fidence, to the deep dissimulation and fhrad,
which the spirit ctf the Inquisition, the spitit
of misguided religion, has spread thrmo^
societv, that this degradation must chiefly be
traced. The wrongs, woes, cruelties, inflicted
by the religious, the conscientious, are among
the most important teachings of the past.
Nor has this strange mixture of good and erfl
ceased. Crimes, to which time and nsaee
have given sanction, are sUll found in ndgli-
bourhood with virtue. Examples taken ftott
other countries stagger belief, bot are tme.
Thus, in not a few regions, the infant is cast
out to perish by parents who abound in tender-
ness to their surviving children. Our Ofwm
enormities are to be understood hereafter.
Slavery is not, then, absolved of guilt by the
virtues of its supporters, nor are its wrongs
on this account a whit less tolerable. Tw
Inquisition was not a whit less infernal because
sustained by Isabella. Wazs are not a whit lea
murderous because waged for our coontry*^
glory ; nor was the slave-trade less a compli-
cation of unutterable cruelties becanse oar
fathers brought the African here to make him
a Christian.

The great truth now insisted on, that evil %
evil, no matter at whose door it lies, and that
men acting from consdenc&and religion vomf
do nefarious deeds, needs to be better undw^
stood, that we may not shelter ourselves ^
our institutions under the names of the ncm .
or the good who have passed away. It mmw»
us that, in good company, we may do tll^
work of fiends. It teaches us how importaii
is the culture of our whole moral and 1 ^ ^



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nature, how dangerous to rest on the old and
the established without habitually and honestly
seeking the truth. With these views, I be-
lieve at once that slavery is an atrocious
wrong, and yet that among its upholders may
be found good and pious people. I do not
look on a slave country as one of the pro-
vinces of hell. There, as elsewhere, the
human spirit may hold communion with God,
and it may ascend thence to heaven. Still,
slavery does not lay aside its horrible nature
because of the character of some of its sup-
porters. Persecution is a cruel outrage, no
matter by whom carried on ; and so slavery,
no matter by whom maintained, works fearful
evil to bond and free. It breathes a moral
taint, contaminates young and old, prostrates
the dearest rights, and strengthens the cupi-
dity, pride, love of pmver, and selfish sloth,
on which it is founded. I readily grant that
among slave-holders are to be found upright,
rdigious men, and, especially, pious, gentle,
disinterested, noble-minded women, who sin-
cerely labour to be the guardians and bene-
factors of the slaves, and imder whose kind
cx>ntrol much comfort may be enjoyed. But
we must not on this account shut our eyes on
the evils of the institution, or forbear to ex-
pose them. On the contrary, this is the very
reason for lifting up our voices against it ; for
slavery rests mainly on the virtues of its up-
holders. Without the sanction of good and
great names it would soon die. Were it left
as a monopoly to the selfish, cruel, unprin-
cipled, it could not stand a year. It would
become in men's view as infamous as the
slave-trade, and be ranked among felonies.
It is a solemn di^ty to speak plainly of wrongs
which good men perpetrate. It is very easy
to crv out against crimes which the laws
punish, and which popular opinion has
branded with infamy. What is especially
demanded of the Christian is, a faithful,
honest, generous testimony against enormi-
ties which are sanctioned by numbers, and
fashion, and wealth, and especially by great
and honoured names, and which, thus sus-
tained, lift up their heads to heaven, and
lepav rebuke with menace and indignation.
I know that there are those who consider all
aduiowledgment of the virtues of slave-holders
as treachdy to the cause of freedom. But
truth is truth, and must alwajrs be spoken and
trusted. To be just is a greater work than
to free slaves, or propagate religion, or save
souls. I have faith in no policy but that of
simplicity and godly sincerity. The crimes
of good men in past times, of which I have
spc^en, have sprung chiefly from the disposi-
tion to sacrifice the simple, primary obligations
of truth, justice, and humanity, to some grand
cause, such as religion or country, which has
daszled and bewildered their moral sense. To



free the slave, let tis not wrong his master. Let
us rather find comfort in the thought that
there is no unmixed evil, that a spirit of good-
ness mixes more or less with the worst usages,
and that even slavery is illumined by the virtues
of the bond and free.

I have now finished my remarks on Mr.
Gumey's book, and in doin^ so I join with
many readers in thanking him for the good
news he has reported, and in repeating his
prayers for the success of emancipation. I
now proceed to a different order of considera-
tions of great importance, and which ought
always to be connected with such discussions
as have now engaged us. The subject before
us is not one of mere speculation. It has a
practical side. There are Duties which belong
to us, as Individuals, and as Free States, in re-
gard to slavery. To these I now ask attention.

I begin with individuals; and their duty is,
to be faithful in their testimony against this
great evil, to speak their minds freely and
fully, and thus to contribute what they may
to the moral power of public opinion. It is
not enough to think and feel justly. Senti-
ments not expressed slumber, and too often
die. Utterance, in some form or other, is a
principal duty of a social being. The chief
good which an enlightened, virtuous mind can
do is to bring itself forth. Not a few among
us have refrained from this duty, have been
speechless in regard to slavery, through dis-
approbation of what they have called the
violence of the Abolitionists. They have said
that in this rage of the elements it was fit to
be still. But the storm is passing away.
Abolitionism, in obedience to an hiesistible
law of our nature, has parted with much of its
original vehemence. All noble enthusiasms
pass through a feverish stage, and grow wiser
and more serene. Still more, the power of the
Anti-slavery Association is not a little broken
by internal divisions, and by its increasing
reliance on political action. It has thrown
away its true strength, that is, moral influence,
in proportion as it has consented to mix in the
frays of party. Now then, when associations
are waning, it is time for the individual to be
heard, time for a free, solemn protest against
wrong.

It is often said that all moral efforts to for-
ward the abolition of slavery are futile ; that to
expect men to sacrifice interest to duty is a
proof of insanity ; that, as long as slavery is
a good pecuniary speculation, the South will
stand by it to the death; that whenever slave
labour shallprove adrug, it will be abandoned,
and not before. It is vain, we are told, to
talk, reason, or remonstrate. On this ground
some are anxious to bring East India cotton
into competition with the Southern that, by
driving the latter from the market, the exces-
sive stm)ulus to slave-breeding and the profits



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EMANCIPATION.



of slave-labour may cease. And is this true?
Must men be starved into justice and humanity?
Have truth, and religion, and conscience no
power? One thing we know, that the insanity
of opposing moral influence to deep-rooted
evils has, at least, great names on its side.
The Christian faith is the highest form of this
madness and folly, and its history shows that
' ' the foolishness of God is stronger than men."
What an insult is it on the South, and on
human nature, to believe that millions of slave-
holders, of all ages, sexes, and conditions, in
an age of freedom, intelligence, and Christian
faith, are proof against all motives but the
very lowest ! Even in the most hardened,
conscience never turns wholly to stone.
Humanity never dies out among a people.
After all, the most prevailing voice on earth
is that of truth. Could emancipation be ex-
torted only by depreciation of slave-labour,
it would, indeed, be a good; but how much
happier a relation would the master establish
with the coloured race, if, from no force but
that of principle and kindness, he should set
them free? Undoubtedly, at the South, as
elsewhere, the majoritv are selfish, mercenary,
corrupt ; but St would be easy to find there
more than '^ten righteous," to find a multi-
tude of upright, compassionate, devout minds,
which, if awakened from the long insensi-
bility of habit to the evils of slavery, would
soon overpower the influences of the merely
selfish slave-holder.

We are told, indeed, by the South, that
slavery is no concern of ours, and conse-
quently that the less we say of it the better.
What ! shall the "WTong-doer forbid lookers-on
to speak, because the affair is a private one,
in which others must not interfere? Who-
ever injures a man binds all men to remon-
strate, especially when the injured is too
weak to speak in his own behalf. Let none
imagine that, by seizing a fellow-creature
and setting him apart as a chattel, they can
sever his ties to God or man. Spiritual con-
nections are not so easily broken. You may
carry your victim ever so far, you may seclude
him on a plantation or in a cell ; but you
cannot transport him beyond the sphere of
human brotherhood, or cut him off from his
race. The great bond of humanity is the last
to be dissoh-ed. Other ties, those of family
and civil society, are severed by death. This,
founded as it is on what is immortal in our
nature, has an everlasting sacredness, and is
never broken ; and every man has a right,
and, still more, is bound, to lift up his voice
against its violation.

Hiere are many whose testimony against
slavery is very much diluted by the fact of its
having been so long sanctioned, not only by
usage, but by law, by public force, by the
forms of civil authority. They bow bcibre



numbers and prescriptioii. Bat in an age of
inquiry and innovation, when other institu-
tions must make good their title to con-
tinuance, it is a suspicious tenderness which
fears to touch a heavy yoke because it has
grown by time into the necks of our fellow-
creatures. Do we not know that uojost
monopolies, cruel prejudiees, barbartHis pun-
ishments, oppressive institutions, have been
upheld l^ law for ages ? Majorities are prone
to think that they can create right by \-ote.
and can legalize gainful crimes by calling the
forms of justice to th«r support. But these
conspiracies against humanity, these insulls
offered to the majesty and immutablcness of
truth and rectitude, are the last forms cf
wickedness to be spared. Selfish men, by
combining into a majority, cannot change
tyranny into right. The whole earth may
cry out that this or that man was made to
be owned and used as a chattel, or a brute,
by his brother. But his birthright as a man,
as a rational creature of God, cleaves to Yam
untouched by the clamour. Crimes, exalted
into laws, become therefore the more odi<»is;
just as the false gods Qf heathenism, wbea
set up of old on the altar of Jehovah, shocked
his true worshippers the more by usurping so
conspicuously the honours due to hint alone;
It is important that we diould, each of
us, bear oiu* conscientious testimony against
slavery, not only to swell that tide of public
opinion which is to sweep it away, b^ that
we may save ourselves from sinking into
silent, unsuspected acquiescence in tl^ eviL
A constant resistance is needed to this down-
ward tendency, as is proved by the tone of
feeling in the Free States. What is more
common among ourselves than a courteous,
apologetic disapprobation of slavery, which
differs little from taking its part? This is
one of its worst influences. It taints the
whole country. The existence, the perpetual
presence, of a great, prosperotis, unrestraiiKd
system of wrong in a community, is one ol
the sorest trials to the moral sense of die
people, and needs to be earnestly withstood.
The idea of justice becomes unconsckni^
obscured in our minds. Our hearts become
more or less seared to wrong. The South
says that slavery is nothing to us at the Noftfc.
But through our trade we axe brought into
constant contact with it; we grow fann&ff
with it ; still more, we thrive by it ; aod tfee
next step is easy, to consent to the sacrifioe
of human beings by whom we prosper. The
dead know not their want of life ; and AO a
people, whose moral sentiments ate pdtt«d
by the interweaving of all their interests ^Mfth
a system of oppression, become ciu^nwl»f
without suspecting it. In canseq/a^aeak of
this connection with slave oountties^ lii^ita
of Human R^bt% that grtat Mte «f mt

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age, and on which we profess to build our
institutions, is darkened, weakened, among
us, so as to be to many little more than a
sound. A country 01 licensed, legalized
wrongs is not the atmosphere in which the
sentiment of reverence for these rights can
exist in full power. In such a community
there may be a respect for the arbitrary rights
which law creates and may destroy, and a
respect for historical rights which rest on
usa^e. But the fundamental rights which
inhere in man as man, and which lie at the
foundation of a just, equitable, beneficent,
noble polity, must be imperfectly compre-
hended. This depression of moral sentiment
in a people is an evil the extent of which is
not easily apprehended. It affects and de-
grades every relation of life. Men in whose
sigf It human natiwe is stripped of all its rights
and dignity, cannot love or honour any who
possess it, as they ought. In offering these
remarks T do not forget, what I rejoice to
know, that there is much moral feehng among
us in regard to slavery. But still, there is a
strong tendency to indifiFerence, and to some-
thing worse; and on this account we owe it
to our own moral health, and to the moral
life of society, to express plainly and strongly
our moral abhorrence of this institution.

This duty is rendered more urgent by the
depraving tendency of our political connec-
tions and agitations. It has oeen said, much
too sweepingly, but with some approximation
to truth, that in this country we have hosts of
politicians, but no statesmen ; meaning by
the latter term, men of comprehensive, far-
reaching views, who study the permanent
good of the community, and hold fast, under
all changes, to the great principles on which
its salvation rests. The generality of our
public men are mere politicians, purblind to
the future, fevered by the present, merging
patriotism in party spirit, intent on carrj'ing
a vote or election, no matter what means they
use or what precedents they establish, and
holding themselves absolved from a strict
morality in public affairs. A principal object
of political tactics is, to conciliate and gain
over to one or another side the most impor-
tant interests of the country ; and of conse-
quence the slave interest, is propitiated with
no small care. No party can afford to lose
the South. The masters vote is too precious
to be hazarded by sympathy with the slaves.
Accordingly parties and office-seekers wash
(heir hands of Abolitionism as if it were
treason, and, without committing themselves
to slavery, protest their inndcence of hostility
to it. How far they would bow to the slave
power, were the success of a great election to
depend on soothing it, cannot be foretold,
especially since we have seen the party most
i jealous of popular rights surrendering to this



power the right of petition. In this state of
things the slave-holding interest has the floor
of Congress very much to itself. Now and then
a man of moral heroism meets it with erect
front and a tone of conscious superiority.
But political life does not abound in men of
heroic mould. Military heroes may be found
in swarms. Thousands die fearlessly on the
field of battle, or the field of "honour." But
the moral courage which can stand cold
looks, frowns, and contempt, which asks
counsel of higher oracles than people or
rulers, and cheerfully gives up preferment
to a just cause, is rare enough to be canon-
ized. In such a country the tendency to
corruption of moral sentiment in regard to
slavery is strong. Many are tempted to
acquiescence in it ; and of consequence the
good man, the friend of humanity and his
country, should meet the danger by strong,
uncompromising reprobation of this great
wrong.

I would close this topic with observing,
that there is one portion of the community to
which I would especially commend the cause
of the enslaved, and the duty of open
testimony against this form of oppression;
and that is, our women. To them, above
all others, slavery should seem an intolerable
evil, because its chief victims are women.
In their own country, and not very far from
them, there are great multitudes of their sex
exposed to dishonour, held as property by
man, unprotected by law, driven to the field
by the overseer, and happy if not consigned
to infinitely baser uses, denied the rights of
wife and mother, and liable to be stripp«i
of husband and child when another's pleasure
or interest may so determine. Such is the lot
of hundreds of thousands of their sisters ;
and is there nothing here to stir up woman's
sympathy, nothing for her to remember,
when she approaches God's throne or opens
her heart to her fellow-creatures? Woman
should talk of the enslaved to her husband,
and do what she can to awaken, amongst his
ever-thronging worldly cares, some manly
indignation, some interest in human freedom.
She should breathe into her son a deep sense
of the wrongs which man inflicts on man,
and send him forth from her arms a friend of
the weak and injured. She should look on
her daughter, and shudder at the doom of so
many daughters on her own shores. When
she meets with woman, she should talk with
her of the ten thousand homes which have no
defence against licentiousness, against viola-
tion of the most sacred domestic ties; and
through her whole intercourse, the fit season
should be chosen to give strength to that deep
moral conviction which can alone overcome
this tremendous evil.

I know it will be said that, m thus doing.



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woman will wander be]rond her sphere, and
forsake her proper work. What ! do I hear
such language id a civilized age, and in a
land of Christians? What, let me ask. is
woman's work? It is, to be a minister of
Christian love. It is, to sympathize with
human misery. It is, to breathe sympathy
into man's heart. It is, to keep alive in
society some feeling of human brotherhood.
This is her mission on earth. Woman's
sphere, I am told, is home. And why is
home instituted ? Why are domestic relations
ordained ? These relations are for a day ;
they cease at the grave. And what is their
great end? To nourish a love which will
endure for ever, to awaken universal sym-
pathy. Our ties to our parents are to bind
us to the Universal Parent Our fraternal
bonds, to help us to see in all men our
brethren Home is to be a nursery of
Christians; and what is the end of Chris-
tianity, but to awaken in all souls the prin-
ciples of universal justice and universal
charit)r? At home we are to learn to love
our neighbour, our enemy, the stranger, the
poor, the oppressed. If home do not train
us to this, then it is wofully perverted. If
home counteract and quench the spirit of
Christianity, then we must remember the
Divine Teacher, who commands us to forsake
fother and mother, brother and sister, wife
and child, for his sake, and for the sake of
his truth. If the walls of home are the bul-
warks of a narrow, clannish love, through
which the cry of human miseries and wrongs
cannot penetrate, then it is mockery to talk of
their sacredness. Domestic life is at present
too much in hostihty to the spirit of Christ.
A family should be a community of dear
friends, strengthening one another for the
service of their fellow-creatures. Can we
give the name of Christian to most of our
families? Can we give it to women who have
no thoughts or sympathies for multitudes of
their own sex, distant only two or three dajrs'
journey from their doors, and exposed to out-
rages from which they would pray to have
their own daughters snatched, though it were
by death?

Having spoken of the individual, I proceed
to speak of the duties of the Free States, in
their political capacity, in regard to slavery ;
and these may be reduced to two heads, both
of them negative. The first is, to abstain as
rigidly from the use of political power against
slavery in the States where it is established as
from exercising it against slavery in foreign
communities. The second is, to free our-
selves from all obUgation to use the powers of
the National or State governments in any
manner whatever for the support of slavery.

The first duty is clear. In regard to slavery
tbe Southern States stand on the ground of



foreign communities. They are not subject
or responsible to us more than these. No
State sovereignty can intermeddle with the
institutions of another. We might as legiti-
mately spread our legislation over the schoc^
churches, or persons of the South as orer
their slaves. And in regard to the Genenl
Government, we know that it was not in-
tended to confer any power, direct or indirect,
on the Free over the Slave States. Any ppp-
tension to such power on the part of the Noitli
would have dissolved immaiiately the con-
vention which framed the Constitution. Any
act of the Free States, when assemtded ia
Congress, for the abolition of slavery in other
States, would be a violation of the natiood
compact, and would be just cause of cooh
plaint.

On this account I cannot but regret the
disposition of a part of our Abolitionists to
organize themselves into a political |»t^.
Were it. indeed, their simple purpose to fm.
the North from all obligation to give support
to slavery, I should agree with tlxan in their
end, though not in their means. By lookii^.
as they do, to political organizatioa as a
means of putting down the institution in other
States, they lay themselves open to reproa K h .
I know, indeed, that excellent men are
engaged in this movement, and I acquit then
of all disposition to transcend the limits of
the Federal Constitution. But it b to be
feared that they may construe this instm-
ment too literally ; that, forgetting its spii^
they may seek to use its powers for purp o s e s
very remote from its original design. Ttm
failure is almost inevitable. By exten^qg
their agency beyond its true bounds, th^
ensure its defeat m its legitimate sphere. %r
assuming a political character, they lose 1^
reputation of honest enthusiasts, and cone
to be considered as hypocritical seekers ate
place and power. Should they, in o ppo sHio a
to all probability, become a formidable party,
they would unite the Slave-holdhi^ States as
one man ; and the South, always able, wien
so united, to link with itself a party at tiK
North, would rule the country as before.

No association, like the AbotttioaS9l&
formed for a particular end, can, by iM">*nw|^iar
a political organization, rise to power, tf t
can contrive to perpetuate itself, it will nw^
voke contempt by the disproportion celts
means to its ends ; but the probability it^^dit
it will be swallowed up in the whirlpoQl of
one or the other of the great national pefkl
from whose fury hardly anvthing escuRl
These mighty forces sweep all lesser pol^Qrt



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 154 of 169)