William Ellery Channing.

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

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this subject I may speak from knowledge.
In Ejigland, many years ago, I met the patri-
archs of the anti-slavery cause. I was present
at a meeting of the abolition committee, a
body which has won an imperishable name
in history. I saw men and women, eminent
for virtue and genius, who had abstained fiom
the products of slave-labour to compel the
government to suppress the traffic in men.
If ever Christian benevolence wr o ug ht a
triumph, it was in that struggle; and rtie
efforts of the nation from that day to this
have been hallowed by the same g e nc Au us
feeling. Alas ! the triumphs of humanity are
not so numerous that we can afford to psit
with this. History records but one example
of a nation fighting the battle of the oppresaed
with the sympathy, earnestness, and sacrifices
of a generous individual; and we will not
give up our faith in this. And now is our
country prepared to throw itself in the wnf of
these holy efforts ? Shall our flag be stataed
with the infamy of defending the slave^tnde
against the humanity of other countria?
Better that it should disappear friom tte
ocean than be so profaned.

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It must not be said that the slave-trade
cannot be annihilated. The prospect grows
brighter. One of its chief marts. Cuba, is
now closed. The ports of Brazil, we trust,
will next be shut against it ; and these mea-
sures on land, aided by well-concerted ope-
rations at sea, will do much to free the world
from this traffic. 1 1 must not find its last shelter
under the American flag. We must not talk
of difficulties. Let the nation's heart be
opened to the cry of humanity, to the voice
of religion, and difficulties will vanish. In
every good work for the freedom and meliora-
tion of the world we ought to bear our part.
We ought to be found in the front rank of
the war against that hideous traffic which we
first branded as piracv. God save us from
suffering our flag to be spread as a screen
between the felon, the pirate, the kidnapper,
the murderer, and the ministers of justice, of
humanity, sent forth to cut short his crimes !
We have thus considered the most impor-
tant of our difficulties with Mexico and
England which have been thought to threaten
war. With a spirit of justice and peace, it
seems impossible that we should be mvolved
in hostilities. The Duties of the Free States,
and of all the States, are plain. We should
cherish a spirit of humanitv towards all coun-
tries. We should resist the false notions of
honour, the false pride, the vindictive feel-
ings, which are easily excited by supposed
injuries from foreign powers, and are apt to
spread like a pestilence from breast to breast,
tiU they burst forth at length in a flerce, un-
controllable passion for war.

I have now flnishcd my task. I have con-
sidered the Duties of the Free States in rela-
tion to slavery, and to other subjects of great
and immediate concern. In this discussion
I have constantly spoken of Duties as more
important than Interests ; but these in the
end will be found to agree. The energy by
which men prosper is fortified by nothing so
much as by the lofty spirit which scorns to
prosper through abandonment of duty.

I have beoi called by the subjects here
discussed to si>eak much of the evils of the
times and the dangers of the country; and
in treating of these a writer is almost neces-
sarily betrayed into what may seem a tone of
despondence. His anxiety to save his country
from crime or calamity leads him to use un-
consciously a language of alarm which may
excite the apprehension of inevitable misery.
But I would not infuse such fears. I do not
^mpathize with the desponding tone of the
day. It may be that there are fearful woes
in store for this people ; but there are many
promises of good to give spring to hope and
effort ; and it is not wise to open our eyes and
ears to ill omens alone. It is to be lamented
that men who boast of courage in other trials
should shrink so weakly from public difficul-

ties and dangers, and should spend in un-
manly reproaches or complaints the strength
which they ought to give to their coimtry's
safety. But this ought not to surprise us in
the present case ; for our lot until of late has
been singularly prosperous, and great pros-
perity enfeebles men's spirits, and prepares
them to despond when it shall have passed
away. The country, we are told, is " ruined."
What! the country ruined, when the mass
of the population have hardly retrenched a
luxury? We are indeed paying, and we ought
to pay, the penalty of reckless extravagance,
of wild and criminal speculation, of general
abandonment to the passion for sudden and
enormous gains. But how are we ruined?
Is the kind, nourishing earth about to become
a cruel step-mother? Or is the teeming soil
of this magnificent country sinking breath
our feet? Is the ocean dried up? Are our
cities and villages, our schools and churches,
in ruins? Are the stout muscles which have
conquered sea and land palsied? Are the
earnings of past 3rears dissipated, and the skill
which gathered them forgotten ? I open my
eyes on this ruined country, and I see around
me fields fresh with verdure, and behold on
all sides the inteUigent countenance, the
sinewy limb, the kindly look, the free and
manly bearing, which indicate anything but
a fallen people. Undoubtedly we have much
cause to humble ourselves for the vices which
our recent prosperity warmed into being, or
brought out from the depths of men's souls.
But in the reprobation which these vices
awaken have we no proof that the fountain
of moral life in the nation's heart is not ex-
hausted ? In the pro|[ress of temperance, of
education, and of religious sensibility in our
land, have we no proof that there b among us
an impulse towards improvement which no
temporary crime or calamity can overpower?
I shall be pointed undoubtedly to our poli-
tical corruptions, to the inefficiency and party
passion which dbhonour our presentCongress,
and to the infamy brought on the country by
breach of faith and gross dishonesty in other
legislatures. In sight of this an American
must indeed "blush, and hang his head."
Still it is true, and the truth should be told,
that, in consequence of the long divorce be-
tween morality and politics, public men do
not represent the character of the people; nor
can we argue from profligacy in pubhc afl^drs
to a general want of private virtue. Besides,
we fiUl know that it is through errors, sins,
and sufferings that the individual makes pro-
gress ; and so does a people. A nation can-
not learn to govern itself in a day. New
institutions coi^erring great power on a people
open a door to many and great abuses, from
which nothing but the slow and painful dis-
cipline of experience can bring deliverance.
Alter all, there is a growing intelligence in

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this commtmity ; there i» much domestic vir-
tue; there is a deep working of Christianity ;
there is going on a struggle of higher truths
with narrow tredidons, and of a wider bene*
volence with social erils ; there is a spirit of
freedom, a recognition of the equal rights of
men; there are profound impulses received
from our history, from the virtues of our
fathers, and especially fh>m our revolutionary
cxmflict ; and there is an indomitaM^ energy,
which, after rearing an empire in the wilder*
tiess, is fresh for new achievements. Such a
people are not ruined because Congress leaves
the treasury bankrupt for weeks and months,
and exposes itself to scorn by vulgar manners
and niifiian abuse. In that very body, how
many men may be found of honour, integrity,
and wisdom, who watch over their country
with sorrow, but not despair, and who meet
an answer to their patriotism in the breasts of
thousands of their countrymen I

There is one Duty of the Free States of
which I have not spoken ; It is the duty of
Faith in the intellectual and moral energies
of the country, in its high destiny, and in the
good Providence which has guided it through
so many trials and perils to its present great*
ness. We indeed suffer much, and deserve
to suffer more. Many dark pages are to be
written In our history. But generous seed is
■till sown in this nation's mind. Noble im*
pulses are working here. We are called to
be witnesses to the world of a freer, more
equal, more humane, more enlightened social
existence than has yet been known. May
•God raise us to a more thorough comprehen-
sion of our work 1 May He give us faith in
the good which we are summoned to achieve 1
May He strengthen us to buiW up a prosperity
not tainted by slavery, selfishness, or any
wrong; but pure, innocent, righteous, and
overflowing, through a just and generous
intercourse, on all the nations of the earth 1


Note ^.— To the preceding remarks it is m
vain to oppose *'the comity of nations."
England, in hefr public acts having pro-
nounced slavery unjust, pronounces also that
"comity" cannot prevail against justice.
And is not this right and true? Can a nation
be bound by comity to rccogniee within its
borders, and to carry into effect by its judicial
or executi^'C machinery, the laws of anoth«?r
country which it holds to be violations of thfe
law of nature or of God ? Would not our
own courts indignantly refuse to enforce a
tx>ntract or relation between foreigners here,
which, however valid in their own land where
it was made, is contrary to our own institu-
tions, or to the acknowledged precepts of
morality and religion ?

A^<»fe^.—" It is saM that the alleged intcr-
fermceby the British authorities was contrary

to the comity of nations, and that therefore
the British government is boimd toh>demnify
the owners of the slaves. But indemnity for
what? for their asserted property in these
men? But that government does not recognire
property in men. Suppose the slaves were dis-
persed by reason of its interference ; yet the
master and owner^received nodamagethereby,
for they had no title to the slaves. Their pro-
perty had ceased when these men came under
the benign influence of English law.*

Note C. — I have spoken of the great
majority in Our country who have no partid-
patiod whatever in slavery. Indeed, it is
little saispected at home, any more than
abroad, how small is the number of sU\'e-
holdert here. I leani from a judidoas cor-
respondent at the South, that the slave-holders
in that region cannot be rated at more than
300,000. Some make them less. Supp>osing
each of them to be the head of a family, and
each family \6 consist of five members ; then
there will be 1,500,000 having a direct interest
in slaves as property. This ts about ofu^
eleventh of the population of the United
States. The 300,000 actual slave-holders are
about a Jl/fy-severrth fnrt of our whole popu-
lation. These govern the South cntrrcly, by
acting in concert, and by the confinement dL
the best educatibn to their ranJcs ; and, still
more, to a constderable extent they have
governed the whole country. Their cry rises
above all other sounds in the land. Few as
they are, their voices well-nigh drown the
quiet reasonings and remonstrances of tfic
North in, the House of Representatives.

Note b. — In the first part of these remarks
I SMd that the freedom of speech and of the
press -was fully enjoyed in this country. I
overlooked the persecutions to which the
Abolitionists have been exposed for express-
ing their opinions. That i should have for-
gotten this is the more strange, because my
■sympathy wth these much-imured person's
■has been one motive to me lor writing on
slavery. The Free States, as far as they
have violated the rights of the Abolittontst^,
have ceased to be fully free. They have
acted as the tools of slavery, and have warred
against freedom in its nc^lest form. No
matter what other liberties are conceded, ff
liberty of speech and the press be denied vs.
We are robbed of our most pre<dotis il^fht,
of that without which all other rights are tm-
protected and inseehi^.

Note -£.— Since the publication of the frst
edition of this Tract, I have been sorry to
learn that this paragraph has been considered
by some as showing^ an insensfclMty to tbe
depraving influences of slavery. My pmume
was. to be just to the South; and I didlidl
dream that in dohig this I was thro«iQ||f %
veil o\-er the defonmly of Its iimitittioiMi 1
feel deeply, what I have again aaid vqpifai

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fcaid, tfa^' slavery does and must exert an
exceedingly depraving influence. So wrong-
ft^ an etercise of power cannot but injiire the
character. All who sustain the relation are
the worse for it But it is a pl^n fact,
taught by all history and experience, that
under depraving institutions much virtue may
exist ; and were not this the case, the condition
of our race would be hopeless indeed, for
everywhere such institutions are found. The
character is not determined by a single rela<
tion or circumstance in our lot. Most of us
believe that Roman Catholicism exerts many
influences hostile to true Christianity, and yet
how many sincere Christians have grown up
xxnder that system ! la the midst of feudal
barbarism, in the palaces of despotism, noble
characters have been formed. Slavery, I be-
lieve, <k)ef incalculable harm to the slave*
holders. It spreads licentiousness of mannetv

to a fearful extent ; and in the case of the
good it obsciures their percepdon of those most
important teachings of Christianity which
unfold the intimate relations of man to man,
and which enjoin universal love. Still, it can-
not be denied that, under all these disad-
vantages, God hnds true worshippers within
the bounds of slavery, that many deeds of
Christian love are performed there, and that
there are not wanting exampries of eminent
virtue. This is what I meant to say. I am
bound, however, to add, that the more I
become acquainted with the Slave-holding
States, the more I am impressed with the
depraving mfiuence of slavery ; and I shall
grieve if my desire to be just to the South,
and my Joy at witnessing virtue there, should
be construed as a negative testimony in
fatourof this corrupting institution.


On t/ie First of Angus t, 1842, being the Anniversary of
Emancipation in the British West Indies,

I HAVE been encouraged to publish the
following Address by the strong expressions of
sympathy with which it was received. I do
not, indeed, suppose that those who listened
to it with interest, and v^o have requested its
publication, accorded with me in every opinion
which it contains. Such entire agreement is
Hot to be expected among intelligent men,
•who judge for themselves. But I am sure that
the spirit and substance of the Address met a
hearty response. Several paragraphs, which
I wanted strength to deliver,are now publislied,
and for these of course I am alone responsible.
I dedicate this Address to the Men and
Women of Berkshire. I have found so
much to delight me in the magnificent
scenery of this region, in its peaceful and
prosj)erou3 villages, and in the rare intelligence
and virtues of the friends whose hosjjitality I
have here enjoyed, that I desire to connect this
little work with this spot. I cannot soon fot^
^i the beautiful nature and the generous
spirits with which I have been privileged to
commune in the Valley of the Housatonic—
Lenox, Mass., Avg. 9, 1842.

TMts day is the anniversary of one of the
great events of modem times, the Emancipa-
tion of the Slaves in the British' West Indii
Islands. This emancipation began August
ist, 1834, but it was not completed until
August ist, 1838. The event, indeed, has
excited little attention in our country, partly
because we are too much absorbed in private

Interests and local excitements to be alive to
the triumphs of humanity at a distance^
partly because a moral contagion has spread
from the South through the North, and
deadened our sympathies with the oppressed.
But West India emancipation, though re-
ceived here so coldly, is yet an era in the
annals of philanthropy. The greatest events
do not always draw most attention at the
moment. When the Mayfimver, in the dead
of winter, landed a fbw pilgrims on the ice-
bound, snow-buried rocks of Plymouth, the
occurrence made no noise. Nobody took
note of it, and yet how much has that land-
ing done to change the face of the civilized
world ! Our fathers came to establish a pure
church ; they little thought of revolutionizing
nations. The emancipation in the West
Indies, whether viewed in itself, or in its im-
mediate results, or in the spirit from which it
grew, or in the light of hope which it sheds
on the future, deserves to be commemorated.
In some respects it stands alone in human
history. I therefore invite to it your serious
•attention. '

Perhaps I ought to begin with some apo-
logy for my appearance in this place ; for I
$tand here unasked, unin\*ited. I can plead
ho earnest solicitation from few or many for
the service I now render. • I come to you
simply from an impulse in my own breast ;
and, in truth, had I been solicited, I pro-
bably should not Imve consented to speak.
Had I found here a general desire to cele-
brate this day, I should have felt that another

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speaker might be enlisted in the cause, and I
should have held my peace. But finding that
no other voice would be raised, I was im-
pelled to lift up my own, though too feeble
for any ^reat exertion. I trust you will
accept with candour what I have been
obliged to prepare in haste, and what may
have little merit but that of pure intention.

I have said that I speak only from the im-
pulse of m^ own mind. I am the organ of
no association, the representative of no feel-
ings but my own. But I wish it to be under-
stood that I speak from no sudden impulse,
from no passionate zeal of a new convert,
but fh>m deliberate and lon^-cherished con-
viction. In truth, my attention was directed
to slavery fifty years ago— that is. before roost
of you were bom; and the first impulse came
from a venerable man, formerly of great re-
putation in this part of our country and in
all our churches, the Rev. Dr. Hopkins,
who removed more than a century ago from
Great Barrington to my native town, and
there bore open and strong testimony against
the slave-trade, a principal branch of the
traffic of the place. I am reminded bv the
spot where I now stand of another incident
which may show how long I have taken an
interest in this subject. More than twenty
years ago I had an earnest conversation with
that noble-minded man and fervent philanthro-
list, Henry Sedgwick, so well and honourably
nown to most who hear me, on which occa-
sion we deplored the insensibility of the North
to the evils of slavery, and inquired by what
means it might be removed. The circumstance
which particularly gave my mind a direction
to this subject was a winter^ s residence in a
West Indian island more than eleven years
ago. I lived there on a plantation. The
piazza in which I sat and x^-alked almost from
morning to night overlooked the negro village
belonging to the estate. A few steps placed
me in the midst of their huts. Here was a
volume on slavery opened always before my
eyes, and how could 1 help learning some oit
its lessons? The gang on this estate (for
such is the name given to a company of
slaves) was the best on the island, and among
the best in the West Indies. The proprietor
had laboured to collect the best materials for
it. His gang had been his pride and boast.
The fine proportions, the graceful and some-
times dignified bearing of these people, could
hardly l^ overlooked. Unhappily, misfortune
had reduced the owner to bankruptcy. The
estate had been mortgaged to a stranger, who
could not personally superintend it; and I
found it under the care of a passionate and
licentious manager, in whom tne poor slaves
found a sad contrast to the kindness of former
days. Th^ sometimes came to the house
where I resided, with their mournful or In-
dignant complaints ; but were told that no


redress could be found from the hands of
their late master. In this case of a pIaBtatk>n
passing into strange hands, I saw that the
mildest form of slavery might at any time be
changed into the worst. On returning to this
country I deUvered a discourse on Slavcfy,
giving the main views which I have since
communicated ; and this was done before the
cry of Abolitionism was heard among us. I
seem, then, to have a pcKndiar warrant for
now addressing you. I am giving you, not
the ebullitions of new, v^diement fiedings, but
the results of long and patient reflection ; not
the thoughts of o^ers, but my own indepen-
dent judgments. I stand alone; I speak in
the name of no party. I liave no connection,
but that of friendship and respect, with the op-
posers of slavery in this country or abroad. Do
not mix me up with other men, good or bad;
but listen to me as a separate witness, standing
on my own ground, and desirous to express
with all plainness what seems to be the trodi.
On this day, a few years ago, eight hundied
thousand human beings were set free irnm
slavery ; and to comprehend the greatness of
the deUverance, a few words must fixst be
said of the evil from which they were rescued.
You must know slavery to know emancipa-
tion. But in a single discourse how can I set
before you the wrongs and abomioatioos of
this detestable institution ? I must pass over
many of its features, and will select one whkh
is at present vividly impressed on my mind.
Different minds are impressed with difierent
evils. Were I asked, what strikes roe as the
greatest evil inflicted by this system, I should
say, it is the outrage offered by slaveiy to
human nature. Slaveiy does all that 1»k in
human power to unmake men, to rob than of
their humanity, to degrade men into bmtes ;
and this it does by declaring them to be Pro-
perty. Here is the master eviL Dedaie a
man a chattel, something which you may own
and may turn to vour use, as a htxrsc or a
tool ; strip him of all right over himself <rf
all right to use his own powers, except what
you concede to him as a favour and deem
consistent with your own profit; and you
cease to look on him as a man. Yoa may
call him such; but he is not to you a brother,
a fellow-being, a partaker of vonr nature,
and your equAl in the sight of God. Yoo
view him, you treat him, vou speak to biai« as
infinitely beneath you, as belongii^ to BBoClier
race. You have a tone and a look towuds
him which you never use towards a Man.
Your relation to him demands that yon teat
him as an inferior creature. Yoa fmnmn/tt il
you would, treat him as a Man. That teinay
answer your end, that he mav consent *» Jh» a
slave, his spirit must be broken, bia <
crushed ; he must fear )rou.
deep inferiority must be bin
The idea of his rights must Iie.aaMBUI Sa

broken. Iila oomge
ou. Afniitlifcrtws
> burnt iitoWMQittL

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bim bf the blood of bis lashed and lacerated
t>ody. Here is the damning evil of slavery.
It destroys the spirit, the consciousness of a
man. I care little, in comparison, for his hard
outward lot, his poverty, his unfurnished
bouse, his coarse fare; the terrible thing in
slavery is the spirit of a slave, the extinction
of the spirit of a man. He feels himself
owned, a chattel, a thing bought and sold,
and held to sweat for another's pleasure at
another's will, under another's lash, just as an
ox or horse. Treated thus as a brute, can he
take a place among men ? A slave 1 Is there
a name so degraded on earth, a name which
so separates a man from his kind? And to
this condition millions of our race are con-
demned in this land of liberty.

In what is the slave treated as a Man?
The great right of a Man is, to use, improve,
expand his powers, for his own and others'
^ood. The slave's powers belong to another,
and are hemmed in, kept down, not cherished,
or suffered to unfold. If there be an infernal
system, one especially hostile to humanity, it
is that which deliberately wars against the
expansion of men's faculties; and this enters
into the essence of slavery. The slave cannot
be kept a slave, if helped or allowed to im-
prove his intellect and higher •nature. He

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 166 of 169)