William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 159 of 169)
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exist between such a being and opium ? Can
we help seeing a distinction between the
nature of a plant and a man which fbcbids
their being confounded under the same
character of property? Is not the distinction
recognited by us in the administmtion of our
laws? When a man from the South brings
hither his watch and trunk, is his right to
them deemed a whit the less sacred because
the laws of his State cease to protect them ?
Do we not recognise them z£ his, as intuitively
and cheerfully as if they belonged to a citixen
of our own State? Are they not his. here
and everywhere? Do we not feel that he
would be wronged were they torn ftom him?
But when he brings a slave, we do not
recognize his property in our feilow-creatuie.
We pronounce the slave free. Whose reason
and conscience do not intuitively pronounce
this distinction between a man and a watch
to be just?

It may be urged, however, that this is a dis-
tinction for moralists, not for governments;
that, if a government establishes property,
however unjustly, in human beings, this is its
own concern, and the concern of no other;
and that articles on board its vessels must be
recognized by other nations as what it declares
them to be, without any question as to the
morality or fitness of its measures. Ofee
nation, we are told, is not to interfere wlA
another. I need not repeat, in reply, what t
have so often said, that a government haA
solemn dudes towards every human befng
entering its ports, duties Which no local .1ft#
about property in another cotutxy can hi ttl(f
degree impair* I would only sa)^. that %
government is not bound in all po»»ibte ^ioft



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to respect the stamp put by another govern*
ment on articles transported in the vessels of
the latter. The comity of nations supposes
that in all such transactions respect is paid to
common sense and common justice. Suppose
a government to declare cotton to be horses,
to write " Horse" on all the bales within its
limits, and to set these down as horses in its
custom-house papers ; and suppose, a cargo of
these to enter a port where the importation of
cotton is forbidden. Will the comity of nations
forbid the foreign nation to question the
character which has been affixed by law to the
bales in the country to which they belong?
Can a law change the nature of things, in the
intercourse of nations? Must officers be
stone-blind through ••comity?" Would it
avail anything to say, that, by an old domestic
institution in the exporting countrv, cotton
was pronounced horse, and that sucn institu-
tion must not be interfered with by foreigners?
Now, in the estimation of England and of
sound morality, it is as hard to turn man into
property as horses into cotton, and this esti-
mation England has eml>odied in its laws.
Can we expect such a country to reverence the
stamp of property on men, because attached
to them by a foreign land ?

The Executive document not only maintains
the obligation of the English authorities to
respect what the South had stamped on the
slave, but maintains earnestly that " the
English authorities had no right to inauire
into the cargo of the vessel, or the condition
of persons on board." Now, it is unnecessary
to dispute about this right ; for the British
authorities did not exercise it — did not need it.
The truth of the case, and the whole truth,
they could not help seeing, even had they
wished to remain bUnd. Master, crew,
passengers, coloured people, declared with
one voice that the latter were shipped as
slaves. Their character was thus forced on
the government, which of course had no
til>erty of action in the case. By the laws of
England, slavery could not be recognized
within its jurisdiction. No human being
could be recognized as property. The autho-
rities had but one question to ask : Are these
poor creatures men ? and to solve this question
no right of search was needed. It solved
itself. A single glance settled the point. Of
course we have no ground to complain of a
busy intermeddUng with cargo and persons,
to determine their character, hy British au-
thorities.

I have thus fmished my examination of the
document, and shall conclude with some
general remarks. And first, I cannot but ex-
press my sorrow at the tone of inhumanity
which pervades it. I have said at the begin-
ning that I should make no personal strictures;
and I have no thought of charging on our



Cabinet any singular want of human feeling.
The document bears witness, not to individual
hardness of heart, but to the callousness, the
cruel insensibility, which has seized the com-
munity at large. Our contact with slavery has
seared in a measure almost all hearts. Were
there a healthy tone of feeling among us, cer-
tain passages in this document would call
forth a burst of displeasure. For example,
what an outrage is offered to humanity in
instituting a comparison between man and
opium, in treating these as having equal rights
and equal sanctity, in degrading an immortal
child of God to the level of a drug, in placing
both equally at the mercy of selfish legislators !
To an unsophisticated man there is not only
inhumanity, but irreligion, in thus treating a
being made in the image of God and infinitely
dear to the Universal Father.

In the same tone, the slaves, who regained
their freedom by a struggle which cost the
life of a white man, and by which one of their
own number perished, are set down as "mu-
tineers and murderers." Be it granted that
their violence is condemned by the Christian
law. Be It granted that the assertion of our
rights must not t>e stained with cruelly ; that
it is better for us to die slaves than to Inflict
death on our oppressor. But is there a man,
having a manly spirit, who cati withhold all
sympathy and admiration from men who,
having grown up under the blighting influence
of slavery, yet nad the courage to put life td
hazard for liberty? Are freemen slow to com-
prehend and honour the impulse which stirs
men to break an imjust and degrading chain?
Would the laws of any free state pronounce
the taking of liAs in such a case "murder?"
Because a man, under coercion, whilst on his
way to a new yoke, and in the act of being
carried by force fh>m wife and children and
home, sheds blood to escape his oppressor, is
he to be confounded with the vilefit criminals?
Does a republic, whose heroic age was the
Revolution of 1776, and whose iUustriousmen
earned their gloiy In a sanguinary conflict for
rights, find no mitigation <m this bloodshed in
the greater wrongs to which the slave Is sub-
jected ? This letter would have lost nothing
of its force— it would at least have shown better
taste — had it consulted humanity enough to be
silent about "opium" and "murder."

I cannot refrain from another view of the
dociunent. This declaration of national prin-
ciples cannot be too nmch lamfented and dis-
apprx>ved for the dishonour it has brought on
our country. It openly arrays us. as a people,
against the cause of human freedom. It
throws us in the way of the progress of liberal
principles through the earth. The grand dis-
tinction of our Revolution wias, that it not
only secured the independence of a single
nation, but asserted the rights of nmnkind.



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It gave to the spirit of freedom an impulse
which, notwithstanding the dishonour cast on
the cause by the excesses of France, is still
acting deeply and broadly on the civilized
world. Since that period a new consciousness
of what is due to a human being has been
working its way. It has penetrated into
despotic states. Even in countries where the
individual has no constitutional means of con-
trolling government, personal liberty has a
sacredness and protection never known before.
Among the triumphs of this spirit of freedom
and humanity, one of the most signal is the
desire to put an end to slavery. The cry for
Emancipation swells and spreads from land
to land. And whence comes the opposing
cry? From St. Petersburg? From Constan-
tinople ? From the gloomy, jealous cabinets
of despotism? No; but from republican
America ! from that country whose Declara-
tion of Independence was an era in human
history I The nations of the earth are begin-
ning to proclaim that slaves shall not breathe
their air, that whoever touches their soil shall
be free. Republican America protests against
this reverence for right and humanity, and
summons the nations to enforce her laws
against the slave. O my country! hailed
once as the asylum of the oppressed, once
consecrated to liberty, once a name pro-
nounced with tears of j]oy and hope I now a
by-word among the nations, the scorn of the
very subjects of despotism I How art thou
fallen, morning star of freedom ! And has it
come to this? Must thy children blush to
pronounce thy name ? Must we cower in the
presence of the Christian world? Must we
be degraded to the lowest place among Chris-
tian nations? Is the sword which wrought
out our liberties to be unsheathed now to
enforce the claims of slavery on foreign states ?
Can we bear this burning shame? Are the
Free States prepared to incur this infamy and
crime?

"Slaves cannot breathe in England." I
learned this line when I was a boy, and in
imagination I took flight to the soil which
could never be tainted by slaves. Through
the spirit which spoke in that line England
has decreed that slaves cannot breathe hi her
islands. Ought we not to rejoice in this new
conquest of humanity ? Ought not the tidings
of it to have been received with beaming eyes
and beating hearts? Instead of this, we
demand that Humanity shall retrace her steps,
and Liberty resign her trophies. We call on
a great nation to abandon its solemnly pro-
nounced conviction of duty, its solemnly
pledged respect for human rights, and to do
what it believes to be unjust, inhuman, and
base. Is there nothing of insult in such a
demand ? This case is no common one. It

not a question of poliqr, not an ordinary



diplomatic concern. A whole people, from
no thought of policy, but planting itself on
the ground of justice and of Christianity,
sweeps slaverv from its soil, and dedares tbat
no slave shall tread there. This profound
religious conviction, in which all Christian
nations are joining her, we come in conflict
with, openly and without shame. Is this an
enviable position for a country which would
respect itself or be respected by the worid?
It IS idle, and worse than idle, to say, as is
sometimes said, that England has no motxre
but policy in her movements about slaveiy.
He who says so talks ignorantly or recddessly.
I have studied abolitionism in England enough
to assure those who have neglected it tbat it
was the act, not of the politician, but c^ the
people. In this respect it stands aloase in
nistory. It was a disinterested movement
of a Christian nation in behalf <^ oppressed
strangers, beginning with Christians, car*
ried through by Christians. The government
resisted it for years. The government was
compelled to yield to the voice of the people.
No act of the English nation was ever so
national, so truly the people's act« as this.
And can we hope to conquer the conscience
as well as the now solemnly adopted policy
of a great nation ? Were England to con-
cede this point, she would prove herself faUse
to known, acknowledged truth azid duty.
Her freshest, proudest laurel would wither.
The toils and prayers of her Wilbexforces,
Clarksons, and a host of holy men, which
now invoke God's blessing 'on her, woukl be
turned to her reproach and shame, and caQ
down the vengeance of Heaven.

In bearing this testimony to the spirit of
the E<nglish people in the abolition of the
slave-trade and of slavery, nothing is larger
from ray mind than a disposition to defend
the public policy or institutions of that coun-
try. In this case, as in roost others, the
people are better than their rulers. F-«g»Mwi
IS one of the last countries of which I am
ready to become a partisan. There roust be
something radically wrong in the policy, in-
stitutions, and spirit of a nation which all
other nations regard with jealousy and dis-
like. Great Britain, with all her progress in
the arts, has not learned the art of ins{»ring
confidence and love. She sends forth her
bounty over the earth, but, pohtically con-
sidered, has roade the world her foe. Her
Chinese war, and her wild extension of doiui*
nion over vast regions which she canitot rale
well or retain, give reason to fear that she is
falling a prey to the disease under whidi great
nations have so often perished.

To a roan who looks with sympathy and
brotherly regard on the mass of the people,
who is chiefly interested in the "lower
classes," England must present much which



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is repulsive. Though a monarchy in name,
she IS an aristocracy in fact ; and an aristo-
cratical caste, however adorned by private
virtue, can hardly help sinking an mfinite
chasm between itself and the multitude of
men. A privileged order, possessing the chief
power of the state, cannot but rule in the
spirit of an order, cannot respect the mass of
the people, cannot feel that for ik^m govern-
ment chiefly exists, and ought to be adminis-
tered, and that for f^m the nobleman holds
his rank as a trust. The condition of the
lower orders at the present moment is a
mournful commentary on English institutions
and civilization. The multitude iu^ depressed
in that country to a degree of ignorance,
want, and misery which must touch every
heart not made of stone. In the civilized
world there are few sadder spectacles than
the contrast, now presented in Great Britain,
of unbounded wealth and luxury with the
starvation of thousands and ten thousands,
crowded into cellars and dens without ventila-
tion or light, compared with which the wig-
wam of the Indian is a palace. Misery, famine,
brutal degradation, in the neighbourhood and
presence of stately mansions which ring with
gaiety and dazzle with pomp and unbotmded
profusion, shock us as no other wretchedness
does; and this is not an accidental, but an
almost necessary effect of the spirit of aris-
tocracy and the spirit of trade acting intensely
together. It is a striking fact that the private
charity of England, though almost incredible,
makes little impression on this mass of misery;
thus teaching the rich and titled to be *' just
before being generous," and not to look to
private munificence as a remedy for the evils
of selfish institutions.

Notwithstanding my admiration of the
course of England in reference to slavery, I
see as plainly as any the wrongs and miseries
under which her lower classes groan. I do
not on tliis accoimt, however, subscribe to a
doctrine very common in this country, that
the poor Chartists of England are more to be
pitied than our slaves. Ah, no I Misery is
not slavery; and.'were it greater than it is, it
would afford the slave-houder no warrant for
trampling on the rights and the souls of his
fellow-creatures. The Chartist, depressed as
he is, is not a slave. The blood would rush
to his cheek, and the spirit of a man swell
his emaciated form, at the suggestion of
relieving his misery bv reducing him to bon-
dage ; and this sensibility shows the immea-
surable distance between him and the slave.
He has rights, and knows them. He pleads
his own cause, and just and good men plead
it for him. According to the best testimony,
intelligence is spreading among the Chartists;
so is temperance ; so is self-restraint. They
feel themselves to be men. Their wives and
children do not belong to another. They



meet together for free discussion, and their
speeches are not wanting in strong sense and
strong expression. Not a few among them
have seized on the idea of the elevation of
their class by a new intellectual and moral
culture, and here is a living seed, the promise
of immeasurable good. Shall such men, who
aspire after a better lot, and among whom
strong and generous spirits are springing up,
be confounded with slaves, whose lot admits
no change, who must not speak of wrongs or
think of redress, whom it is a crime to teach
to read, to whom even the Bible is a s&iled
book, who have no future, no hope on this
side death ?

I have spoken freely of England ; yet I do
not forget our debt or the debt of the world
to her. She was the mother of our freedom.
She has been the bulwark of Protestantism.
What nation has been more fruitful in great
men, in men of genius ? What nation can
compare with her in munificence? What
nation but must now acknowledge her un-
rivalled greatness? That little island sways
a wider empire than the Roman, and has a
power of blessing mankind never before con-
ferred on a people. Would to God she could
learn — ^what nation never yet learned— so to
use power as to inspire confidence, not fear, so
as to awaken the world's gratitude, not its
jealousy and revenge 1

But whatever be the claims of England or
of any other state, I must cling to my own
country with strong preference, and cling to
it even now, in this dark day, this day of her
humiliation, when she stands before the world
branded, beyond the truth, with dishonesty,
and, too truly, with the crime of resisting the
progress of freedom on the earth. After all,
she has her glory. After all, in these Free
States a man is still a Man. He knows his
rights, he respects himself, and acknowledges
the equal claim of his brother. We have
order without the display of force. We have
government without soldiers, smes, or the
constant presence of coercion. The rights of
thought, of speech, of the press, of con-
science, of worship, are enjoyed to the full
without violence or dangerous excess. We
are even distinguished by kindliness and good
temper amidst this unbounded freedom. The
individual is not lost in the mass, but has a
consciousness of self-subsistence, and stands
erect. That character which we call Man-
liness is stamped on the multitude here as
nowhere else. No aristocracy interferes with
the natural relations of men to one another.
No hierarchy weighs down the intellect, and
makes the church a prison to the soul, from
which it ought to break every chain. I make
no boast of my country's progress, marvellous
as it has been. I feel deeply her defects.
But, in the language of Cowper, I can say
to her,—

3 A



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THE DUTY OP THE FREE STATES.



" Vet, being free, I love thee ; for the sake
Of that one fcatufe can be well content.
Disgraced as \ hou hast been, poor as thou art.
To seek no sublunary rest beside."

Our country is free ; this is its glory. How
deeply to be lamented is it that this glory is
obsciired by the presence of slavery m any
part of our territory 1 The distant foreigner,
to whom America Is a point, and who com-
municates the taint of a part to the whole,
hears with derision our boast of liberty, and
points with a sneer to our ministers in London
not ashamed to pl^ad the rights of slavery
before the civilized world. He ought to learn
that America, which shrinks in his mind into
a narrow unity, is a league of sovereignties
stretching from the Bav of Fundy to the
Gulf of Mexico, and clestined, unless dis-
united, to spread from ocean to ocean ; that a
great majority of its citizens hold no slaves ;
that a vast proportion of its wealth, com-
merce, manufactures, and arts belongs to the
wide region not blighted by this evil ; that
we of the Free States cannot touch slavery,
where it exists, with one of our fingers ; that
it exists without and against our will ; and
that our necessity is not our choice and crime. *
Still, the cloud hangs over us as a people — the
only dark and menacing cloud. Can it not
be dispersed ? Will not the South, so alive to
honour, so ardent and fearless, and containing
so many elements of greatness, resolve on the
destruction of what does not profit and cannot
but degrade it? Must slavery still continue
to exist, a firebrand at home and our shame
abroad? Can we of the Free States brook
that it should be thrust perpetually by our
diplomacy on the notice of a reproving world?
that it should become our distinction among
the nations? that it should place us behind
all? Can we endure that it should control
our public Councils, that it should threaten
war, should threaten to assert its claims in the
thunder of our artillery ? Can we endure that
our peace should be broken, oiur country ex-
posed to invasion, our cities stormed, our
fields ravaged, our prosperity withered, our
progress arrested, our sons slain, our homes
turned into deserts, not for rights, not for
liberty, not for a cause which humanity smiles
on and God will bless, but to rivet chains on
fellow-creatures, to extend the law of slavery
throughout the earth ? These are great ques-
tions for the Free States. I must defer the
answer of them to another time. The duties
of the Free States in relation to slavery de-
serve the most serious regard. Let us implore
Him who was the God of our fathers, and
who has shielded us in so niany perils, to open
our minds and hearts to what is true and just
and good, to continue our union at home and
our peace abroad, and to make our country
a living witness to the blessings of freedom,
of Reverence for Right on our own shores and
in our intcreourse with all nations.

» See Note C at end of this article.



Part IL
The first part of this Tract was devoted to
an examination of the affair of the Creole.
Its object, however, as the reader may ea^Iy
discern, was not so much to determine the
merits of a particular case as to set forth
general principles of justice and humanity
which have been too much overlooked in the
intercourse of individuals and nations. I shall
keep the same object in \iew in the second
part of my remarks, which will have oo
reference to the CreoU, but be devoted to
the consideration of the Duties of the Free
States. My great aim in what I have writtGi
and now write on matters of public interest
is. to reunite politics and morality; tobrin^
Into harmony the law of the land and the law
of God. Among the chief causes of the
miseries of nations is the divorce which has
taken place bet^^een politics and morality;
nor can we hope for a better day, till this
breach be healed. Men entrusted with go-
vernment have always been disposed to regard
themselves as absolved from the laws of jus-
tice and humanity. Falsehoods and frauds
are allowed them for their country or their
party. To maintain themselves against their
opponents they may even involve nations in
war ; and the murders and robberies which
follow this crime are not visited on their
heads by human justice. In all times govern-
ment has been the grand robber, the grand
miurderer, and has yet escaped the deep re-
probation which br^s forth against private
guilt. Such profligacy oervades the sphere
of political action, that ^e confidence of the
people is well-nigh withdrawn from public
men ; and a virtuous statesman is involved in
the suspicions which his unprincipled asso-
ciates have drawn upon bis vocation. Pub^:
life is thought to release men not only finom
the obligations of justice, but from the re-
straints of good manners ; and acoordingiy
the debates of Congress are too often pol-
luted bv vulgar abuse, threats, and brawls. So
low is the standard of political life, that a man
is smiled at/or his simphcity who [talks of in-
troducing religion into the condtict of public
afiairs. Religion, it is thought, belongs to Sab-
baths and churches, and would be as much oat
of place in cabinets or balls of legislation ss a
delicate lady on a field of battle. A stranger
might be tempted to think that the Scrjeaat-
at-arms was stationed at the doors of legisla-
tive chambers to forbid entrance to tl» ever-
lasting law of God, and that nothio^ but
man's impotence prevents the fyrhnann of
Him whose holy presence fills the univeno.

Nothing is so needed as to revive, i]i cidfin
and rulers, the conviction of the TiinwiinH>y
of the moral. Christian law. Could tbiitiK
done, the earth would cease to be 1 ~
measure it now is, the image of '
would begin to grow green again



t wi&'&Q



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plants of paradise. Religion, the only true
giiide of life, the guardian and inspirer of
all the virtues, should especially reign over
the deliberations of governments, by which



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 159 of 169)