William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 167 of 169)
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must not be taught to read. The benevolent
Christian, who tries, by giving him the use of
letters, to open to him the Word of God and
other good books, is punished as a criminal.
The slave is hedged round so that philan-
thropy cannot approach him to awaken in
him the intelligence and feelings of a man.
Thus his humanity is trodden under foot.

Again, a Man has the right to form and
enjoy the relations of domestic life. The tie
between the brute and his young endoires but
a few months. Man was made to have a
home, to have a wife and children, to cleave
to them for life, to sustain the domestic rela-
tions in constancy and purity, and through
these holy ties to refine and exalt his nature.
Such is the distinction of a man. But slavery
violates the sanctity of home. It makes the
young woman property, and gives her no pro-
tection from licentiousness. It either disallows
marriage, or m^es it a vain show. It sunders
husband and wife, sells them into distant
regions, and then compels them to break the
sacred tie, and contract new alliances, in order
to stock the plantation with human slaves.
Scripture and nature say, " What God hath
Joined, let not man put asunder ; " but slavery
scorns God's voice in his Word and in the hu-
man heart. Even the Christian church dares
not remonstrate against the wrong, but sanc-
tions it, and encourages the poor ignorant
slave to form a new, adulterous connection,
that he may minister to his master's gain.
The slave-holder enters the hut of his bonds-
man to do the work which belongs only to



death, and to do it with nothing of the con-
solatory, healing influences whicm Christianity
sheds round death. He goes to tear the wife
from the husband, the child from the mother,
to exile them from one another, and to con-
vey them to unknown masters. Is this to see
a man m a slave ? Is not this to place him
beneath humanity ?

Again, it is the right, privilege, and distinc-
tion of a Man, not only to be connected with
a family, but with his race. He is made for
free communion with his fellow-creatures.
One of the sorest evils of life is, to be cut ofjf
from the mass of men, from the social body ;
to be treated by the multitude of our feUow-
creatures as outcasts, as pariahs, as a fallen
race, unworthy to be approached, unworthy
of the deference due to men; and this
infinite wrong is done to the slave. A slave 1
that name severs all his ties except with
beings as degraded as himself. He has no
country, no pride or love of nation, no sym-
pathy with the weal or woe of the land which
gave him birth, no joy in its triumphs, no
generous sorrow for its humiliation, no feel-
ing of that strong unity with those around
him which common laws, a common govern-
ment, and a common history create. He is
not allowed to go forth, as other men are,
and to connect himself with strangers, to
form new alliances by means of trade, busi-
ness, conversation. Society is everywhere
barred against him. An iron wall forbids his
access to his face. The miscellaneous inter-
course of man with man, which strengthens
the feeling of our common humanity, and
perhaps does more than all things to enlaige
the intellect, is denied him. The world is
nothing to him ; he does not hear of t.
The plantation is his world. To him the
universe is narrowed dovm almost wholly tu
the hut where he sleeps, and the fields where
he sweats for another's gain. Beyond these
he must not step without leave ; and even if
allowed to wander, who has a respectful look
or word for the slave? In that name he
carries with him an atmosphere of repul-
sion. It drives men from him as if he were
a leper. However gifted by God, however
thirsting for some mgher use of his powers,
he must hope for no friend be^nd the
ignorant, half-brutalized caste with which
bondage has united him. To him there is
no race, as there is no country. In truth, so
fallen is he beneath S3rmpathy, that multitudes
will smile at hearing him compasdonated for
being bereft of these ties. Still, he suffers
great wrong. Just in proportion as vou sever
a roan from his country and race he ceases
to be a man. The rudest savage, who has
a tribe with which he sympathizes, and for
which he is ready to die, is far exalted above
the slave. How much more exalted is the
poorest freeman in a dvilixed land, who feels



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his relation to a wide community ; ^ho lives
under equal laws, to which the greatest bow ;
whose social ties change and enlarge with the
vicissitudes of life ; whose mind and heart are
open to the quickening, stirring influences of
this various world ! Poor slave ! humanity's
outcast and orphan ! to whom no door is
open, but that of the naked hut of thy de-
graded caste ! Art thou indeed a man ?
Dost thou belong to the humato brotheHiood ?
"What is thy whole life but continued insult ?
Thou meetest no look which does not express
thy hopeless exclusion from human sympa-
thies. Thou mayest, indeed, be pitied in
sickness and pain; and so is the animal.
The deference due to a man, and which keeps
alive a man's spirit, is unknown to thee. The
intercourse which makes the humblest Indi-
vidual in other spheres partaker more or less
in the improvements of his race, thou must
never hope foi". May I not say, then, that
nothing extinguishes humanity like slavery?

In reply to these and other representations
of the wrongs and evils of this institution, we
are told that slaves are well fed, well clothed,
at least better than the peasantry and opera-
tives in many other countries; aqd this is
gravely adduced as a vindication of slavery.
A man capable of offering it ought, if any one
ought, to l?e reduced to bondage. A man
who thiiiks food and raiment a compensation
for liberty, who would counsel men to sell
themselves, to become prop)erty» to give up all
rights and power over themselves, for a daily
mess of pottage, however savoury, is a slave in
heart. He has lost the spirit of a man ; and
would be less wronged than other men if a
slave's collar were welded round his neck.

The domestic slave is well fed, we are told,
and so are the domestic animals. A nobler
man's horse in England is better lodged and
more pampered than the operatives in Man-
chester. The grain whicn the horse consumer
might support a starving family. How sleek
and shining his coat 1 How gay and rich his
caparison! But why is he thus curried, and
pampered, and bedecked? To be bitted and
curbed ; and then to be chounted by his nias-
ter, who arms himself with whip and spUt
to put the animal to his speed; and 1^ an^
accident mar his strength or swiftness, he is
sold from his luxuriant stall to be flayed, over-
worked, and hastened out of life by the mer-
ciless drayman. Suppose the nobletnah should
say to the half-starved, ragged operative of
Manchester, "I will give up my horse, and
feed and clothe you with like sumptuousness,
on condition that I may mount you daily with
lash and spurs, and sell you when I can niak^
a profitable bargain." Would yot| have the
operatives for the sake of good fare iahd clothes,
take the lot of the binte? or, iii othef. \!^ords,
become a slave ? What reply would the heart
01 an Old-England or Ncw-Eriglaiid labourer



make to such a proposal ? An<) yet, if there
be arty soundness in the argument drawn from
the slave" s comforts, he ought to accept it
thankfully ind greedily.

Such arguments for slavery are insults. The
liian fcapable of using them ought to be re-
buked as mean in spirit, hard of heart, and
wanting all true syTnpath^ with his race. I
might reply, if I thought nt, to this account of
the slave" s blessings, that there is ilothing Nxry
enviable in his food and wardrobe, that his
comforts make no approach to those of the
noblemtm's horse, and that a labourer of Neiv
England would prefer the fare of many an
alms-house at home. But I cannot stoop to
such reasoning. Be the comforts of the slave
what they may, they are no compensation for
the degradation, insolence, indignities, igno*
ranee, servilliv, scars, and violations of do-
mestic rights to which he is exposed.

I have spoken of what seems to me the
grand evil of slavery — the outrage it offers to
numap nature. It would be easy to enlarge
on other fatal tendencies and effects of this
institution. But I forbear, not only for want
of time, but because I feel np need of a minute
exposition of its wrongs and miseries to make
it odious. I^ cannot endure to go through a
laboured proof of its iniquitous and injurious
hature. No man wants such proof. He
carries the evidence in his own heart. X
need nothing but the most general view of
slavery to move my indignation towards it
I am more and more accustomed to throw
out of sight its particular evils, its details of
wrong and suffering, and to see in it simply
an institution which deprives men of freedom ;
and when t thus view it, I am taught imme-
diately, by an unerring instinct, that slavery
is an intolerable wrong. Nature cries aloud
for freedom as our proi>er good, our birth-
right, and our end, and resents nothing so
much as its loss. It is true that we are placed
at first Iii subjection to others' wills, and
spend childhood and yoUth under restraint.
But we ate governed at first that we may
learn ' * ...

leadin
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and fi
breast
father
energ)
of a r
efficiei
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store 1
restrai
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such 1
bends
(Jownv
Natur«



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tfie passion for Kberty. Nature stirs tbfe
heart of the child, and profnpts it to throw
out its little limbs in restlessness and joy, and
to struggle against restraint. Nature impels
the youth to leap, to run, to put forth all
his powers, to look with impatience on pre-
scribed bounds, to climb the steep, to dive
into the ocean, to court danger, to spread
himself through the new world which he was
bom to inherit. Nature's life, nature's im-
pulse, nature's joy is Freedom. A greatet"
violence to nature cannot be conceived than
to rob man of liberty.

What is the end and essence of Hffe ? It
is to estpand all our faculties and affections.
It is to grow, to gain by exercise new energy,
new intellect, nfew love. It is to hope, to
strive, to bring out what is within us, to presi
towards what is above us. In other words,
it is to be Free. Slavery is thus at war with
the true life of human naturfe. Undoubtedly
there is a power in the soul which the loss
of freedom cannot always subdue. There
have been men doomed to perpetual bondage
who have still thought and felt nobly, looked
up to God with trust, and learned by experi-
ence that even bondage, like all other evils,-
may be made the occasion of high virtue.
But these are exceptions. In the main, our
nature is too weak to grow under the weight
of chains.

To illustrate the supreme importance of
Freedom, I would offer a remark which may
sound like a paradox, but will be found to bfe
true. It is this, that even Despotism is en-
durable only because it bestows a degree of
freedom. Despotism, bad as it is. supplants
a greater evil, and that is anarchy; and an-
archy is worse, chiefly because it is more en-
slaving. In anarchv all restraint is plucked
from the strong, who make a prey of the
weak; subduing them by terror, seiring on
their property, and treading every right undet
foot. When the laws are prostrated, arbi-
trary, passionate, lawless will, the will of the
strongest, exasperated by opposition, must
prevail ; and under this the rights of person
as well as property are cast down, and a palsy-
ing fear imposes on men's spirits a heavier
chain than was ever fbrged by an organised
despotism. In the whole history of tyranny
in France, liberty was never so crushed as in
the Reign of Terror in the Revolution, when
mobs and lawless combinations usurped the
power of the state. A despot, to be safe,
mtist establish a degree of order, and this
implies laws, tribunak, and sortie administra-
tion of justice, however rude ; and, still more,
he has an interest in protecting industry
and property to- some degree, in order thai
he may extort the more from his people's
earnings .tinder thfe name of revehue. Thus
despotism is im advance towards liberty; and
fit this its strength very much lies; for the



people have a secret consciousness that their
rights suffer less under one than under many
tyrants, under an organized absolutism than
under wild, lawless, passionate force ; and on
this conviction, as truly as on armies, rests
the despot's throne. Thus freedom and rights
are ever cherished goods of human nature.
Man keeps them in sight even when most
crushed ; and just hi proportion as civilization
and intelligence advance he seciures thefti
more and more. This is infallibly true, not-
withstanding opposite appearances. The old
forms of despotism may, indeed, continue in
a progressive civilization, but their force de-
clines ; and bublic opinion, the will of ihte
community, silently estabhshes a sway over
what seems and is denominated absoliite
power. We have a striking example of this
truth in Prussia, where the king seems un-
checked, but where a code of wise and eqdal
Taws ensures to every man his rights to a de-
gree experienced in few other countries, and
where the administration of jUsticfe cjtnnot
safely be obstructed by the wiU of the sove-
reign. Thus freedom, man's dearest birth-
right, is the good towards which civil insti-
tutions tend. It is at once the sign and the
means, the cause and the effect of human
progress. It exists in a measure undet*
tyrannical governments, and gives them their
strength. Nowhere is it wholly broken down
but under domestic slavery. Under this, man
is made Property. Here lies the datnning^
taint, the accUrsed, blighting power, the
infinite evil of bondage;

On this day, four years ago, eight hundred
thotisand human beings were set free from
the terrible evil of which 1 havfc given a ftiint
sketch. Eight hundred thousand of our
brethren, who had lived in darkness and the
shadow of death, were visited with the light
of liberty. Instead of the tones df absolute,
debasing command, a new voice broke on
their ears, calling them to come forth to be
free. They \Vere undoubtedly too rude, too
ignoranti to comprehend the greatness of the
blessing conferred on them this day. Free-
dom to them undoubtedly seemed niuch what
it is not. Children in intellect, they seized on
it as a child on a holiday. But slaver)' had'
not wholly stifled in them the instincts, feel-
ings, judgments of men. Tliey felt on this
day that the whip of the brutal oVefscer was
broken; and was that no cause for exulting^
joy? They felt that wife and child could no
longer be insulted or scourged in their Sight,
and they tie denied the privilege of lifting up
a voice in their behalf. Was that no boon ?
They felt that henceforth they were to work
fhim their own wills, for their own good, that
they tnight earn, perhaps, a hut which they
might call their own, and Which the fbbl of si
master could not profane, nor a master's in*
tercst lay waste. Can you hot conceive how
q c 2



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ADDRESS aV THE ANNIVERSARY OF



they stretched out their limbs, and looked on
\ them with a new joy, saying, • ' These are our
own?" Can you not conceive how they
leaped with a new animation, exulting to put
forth powers which were from that day to be
"their own?" Can you not conceive how
they looked round them on the fields and
hills, and said to themselves, "We can go
now where we will? " and how they continued
to live in their huts with new content, because
they could leave them if they would? Can
vou not conceive how dim ideas of a better
lot dawned on their long-dormant minds ;
how the future, once a blank, began to
brighten before them ; how hope began to
spread her unused pinions ; how the faculties
and feelings of men came to a new birth
within them? The father and mother took
their child to their arms and said, " Nobody
can sell you from us now." Was not that
enough to give them a new life? The hus^
band and wife began to feel that there was an
inviolable sanctity in marriage; and a glimpse,
however faint, of a moral, spiritual bond
began to take place of the loose sensual tie
wmch had hdd them together. Still more,
and what deserves special note, the coloured
man raised his eyes on this day to the white
man, and saw the infinite chasm between
himself and the white race growing narrower ;
saw and felt that he, too, was a Man; that
he, too, had rights ; that he belonged to the
common Father, not to a frail, selfish creature ;
that, under God, he was his own master. A
rude feeling of dignity, in strange contrast with
the abjectness of the slave, gave new courage
to that look, gave a firmer tone, a manlier
tread. This, had I been there, would have
interested me especially. The tumult of joy-
ful feeling bursting forth in the broken
language which slavery had taught I should
have sympathized with. But the sight of the
dave rising into a man, looking on the white
xace with a steady eye, with the secret con-
sciousness of a common nature, and beginning
to comprehend his heaven-descended, inalien-
able rights, would have been the crowning joy.
It was natural to expect that the slaves, on
the first of August, receiving the vast, in-
comprehensible gift of freedom, would^have
rushed into excess. It would not have sur-
prised me had I heard of intemperance,
tumult, violence. Liberty, that mighty boon,
for which nations have shed rivers of their
best blood, for which they have toiled and
suffered for years, perhaps for ages, was given
to these poor, ignorant creatures in a day, and

S'ven to them after lives of cruel bondage,
1 measurably more cruel than any political
Impression. Would it have been wonderful
it they had been intoxicated by the sudden
vast transition? if they had put to shame the
authors of their freedom by an immediate
abuse of It ? Happily, the poor negroes had



enjoyed one privilM^e in their bondage. TTiey
had learned something of Christianity; very
little indeed, yet enough to teach than that
lit)erty was the gift of God. That mighty
power, religion, had begun a work within
them. The African nature seems singulariy
susceptible of this principle. Benevolent mis-
sionaries, whom the anti-slavery spirit fA
England had sent into the colonies, nad for
some time been working on the degraded
minds of the bondmen, and not wholly in
vain. The slaves, whilst denied the rank of
men by their race, had caught the idea of
their relation to the Infinite Father. That
mat doctrine of the Universal, Impartial
Love of God, embracing the most obscure,
dishonoured, oppressed, haddawr>ed on them.
Their new freedom thus became associated
with religion, the mightiest principle on earth,
and by this it was not merely saved from excess,
but made the spring of immediate elevation.

Little did I imagine that the emancipation
of the slaves was to be invested with holiness
and moral sublimity. Little did I expect that
my heart was to be touched by it as by few
events in history. But the emotions with
which I first reaA the narrative of the great
gift of liberty in Antigua are still fresh in my
mind. Let me read to you the story ; none, I
think, canhearituimioved. It is the testimony
of trustworthy men, who visited the West
Indies to observe the effects of emancipation.

"To convey to the reader some account xA
the way in which the great crisis passed, we
here give the substance of several accounts
which were related to us in different parts of
the island by those who witnessed them.

"The Wesleyans kept ' watch-night' in all
their chapels on the night of the 31st July.
One of the Wesleyan missionaries gave us an
account of the watch-meeting at the chapri in
St. John's. The spacious house was filled
with the candidates for liberty. All was
animation and eagerness. A mighty chorus
of voices swelled the song of expectation and
joy ; and as they united in prayer, the voice
of the leader was drowned in the universal
acclamation of thanksgiving, and praise, and
blessing, and honour, and glory to God. who
had come down for their deliverance. In
such exercises the evening was spent until the
hour of twelve approached. The missionary
then proposed that, when the clock on the
cathedral should begin to strike, the whote
congregation should fall upon their knees,
and receive the boon of fireedom in silenoe.
Accordingly, as the loud bell tolled its fet
note, the immense assembly fell prostrate en
their knees. All was silence, save the qotver^
ing, half-stifled breath of the struggling wpU^
The slow notes of the dodi fell upon ib»
multitude ; peal on peal, peal on pe%l« foQid
over the prostrate throng, in tones at mffH
voices, thrilling among the desolate a"



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(Uid weary beart-strings. Scarce had the
clock sounded its last note* when th<5 light-
ning flashed vividly around, and a loud peal
of thunder roared along the sky—God's pillar
of fire and trump of jubilee 1 A moment of
profoimdest silence passed, — then came the
durst,— i3acf broke forth in prayer; they
shouted, they sang, 'Glory!' 'Alleluia!' they
clapped their hands, leaped up, fell down,
clasped each other in their free arms, cried,
laughed, and went to and fro, tossing upward
their mifettered hands; but high above the
whole there was a mighty sound which ever
and anon swelled up ; it was the utterings, in
broken Negro dialect, of gratitude to God.

"After this gush of excitement had spent
itself, and the congregation became calm, the
religious exercises were resumed, and the
remainder of the night was occupied in
singing and prayer, in reading the Bible, and
in addresses from the missionaries, explaining
the nature of the freedom just received, and
exhorting the free people to be industrious,
steady, obedient to the laws, and to show
themselves in all things worthy of the high
boon which God had conferred upon them.

"The first of August came on Friday, and
a release was proclaimed from all work until
the next Monday. The day was chiefly spent,
by the great mass of negroes, in the churches
and chapels. Thither they flocked in clouds,
and as doves to their windows. The clergy
and missionaries throughout the island were
actively engaged, seizing the opportunity in
order to enlighten the pec^le on all the duties
and responsibilities of their new situation,
and. above all, urging them to the attainment
of that higher Oberty with which Christ
maketh his children free. In every quarter
we were, assured that the day was like a
Sabbath.' Work had ceased ; the hum of
business was still ; and noise and tumult were
unheard in the streets. Tranquillity pervaded
the towns and country. A Sabbath indeed !
when the wicked ceased from troubling, and
the weary were at rest, and the slave was
freed from the master ! The planters informed
us that they went to the clu^)els where
their own people were assembloj, greeted
them, shook hands with them, and exchanged
most hearty good wishes." •

Such is the power of true religion on the
rudest minds. . Such the deep fountain of
feeling in the African soul. Such the
race of men whom we are trampling in the
dust. How few of our assembUes, with all
our intelligence and refinement, offer to God
this overflowing gratitude, this profound,
tender, rapturous homage ! True, the slaves
I>oured out their joy with a child-like violence ;
but we see a childhood full of promise. And
why do we place this race beneath us ? Be-

* See " Eauodpation ba tlie West Indies," bf Thome
and Kinten.



cause nature has burnt on them a darker hue.
But does the essence of humanity live in
colour? Is the black man less a man than
the white ? Has he not htmian powers, human
rights? Does his colour reach to his soul?
Is reason in him a whit blacker than in us ?
Have his conscience and affections been dipped
in an inky flood ? To the eye of God are his
pure thoughts and kind feelings less fair than
our own ? We are apt to think this prejudice
of coloiu: fotmded in nature. But in the most
enlightened countries in Europe the man of
African descent is received into the society of
the great and good as an equal and friend.
It is here onty that this prejudice reigns ; and
to this prejudice, strengthened by our subjec-
tion to Southern influence, must be ascribed
our indifference to the progress of liberty in



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 167 of 169)