William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 168 of 169)
Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 168 of 169)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the West Indies. Ought not the emancipation
of nearly a million of human beings, so
capable of progress as the African race, to
have sent a thrill of joy through a nation of
freemen ? But this great event was received
in our country with indifference. Humanity,
justice. Christian sympathy, the love of liberty,
found but few voices here. Nearly a million
of men, at no great distance from our land*
passed from the most degrading bondage into
the ranks of freedom with hardly a welcome
from these shores.

Perhaps you will say that we are bound to
wait for the fruits of emancipation, before we
celebrate it as a great event in history. I
think not so. We ough t to rejoice immediately,
without delay, whenever an act of justice is
done, especially a grand pubUcact, subverting
the oppression of ages. We ought to triumph,
when the right prospers, without waiting for
consequences. We ought not to doubt about
consequences when men, in obedience to
conscience, and in the exercise of their best
wisdom, redress a mighty wrong. If God
reigns, then the subversion of a vast crime,
then the breaking of an unrighteous yoke,
must in its final results be good. U ndoubtedlv
an old abuse, which has sent its roots through
society, cannot be removed without inconve-
nience or suffering. Indeed, no great social
change, however beneficial, can occur without
partial, temporary pain. But must abuses be
sheltered without end, and human progress

g'ven up in despair, because some who have
ttened on wrongs will cease to prosper at the
expense of their brethren? Undoubtedly
slavery cannot be broken up without deranging
in a measure the old social order. Must,
therefore, slavery be perpetual? Has the
Creator laid on any portion of his children
the necessity of everlasting bondage ? Must
wrong know no end? Has oppression a
charter from God, which is never to grow old?
What a libel on God. as well as on man, is
the supposition that society cannot subsist
without perpetuating the degradation of %

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Address on the anniversary ob

large portion of the race I Is this indeed the
law of the creation, that multitudes must be
oppressed ? that stales can subsist and prosper
only through crime? Then there is no God.
Then an Evil Spirit reigns over the universe.
It is an impious error to believe that injustice
is a necessity under the government of the
Most High. It is disloyalty to principle,
treachery to virtue, to suppose that a
righteous, generous work, conceived in a
sense of duty, and carried on with deliberate
forethought, can issue in misery, in ruin. To
this want of faith in rectitude society owes its
woes, owes the licensed frauds and crimes of
statesmen, the Ucensed frauds of trade, the
continuance of slavery. Once let men put
faith in rectitude, let them feel that justice is
strength, that disinterestedness is a sun and a
shield, that selfishness and crime are weak
and miserable, and the face of the earth
would be clianged, the groans of ages would
tease. We ought to shout for joy, not
shrink like cowards, when, justice and hu-
manity triumph over established wrongs.

The emancipation of the British Islands
CHight, then, to have called forth acclamation
at its birth. Much more should we rejoice in
it now, when time has taught us the foUy of
the fears and the suspicions which it awakened,
and taught us the safety of doing right. Eman-
cipation has worked well. By this I do not
mean that it has worked miracles. I have no
glowing pictures to exhibit to vou of the
West Indian Islands. An Act of the British
Parliament declaring them free has not
changed them into a paradise. A few
strokes of the pen cannot reverse the laws
of nature, or conquer the almost omnipotent
power of early and long-continued habit.
Even in this country, where we breathe the
air of freedom from our birth, and where we
have grown up amidst churches and school-
houses, and under ^ise and equal laws, even
here we find no paradise. Here are crime
and poverty and woe ; and can you expect a
poor ignorant race, bom to bondage, scarred
with the lash, uneducated, and imused to all
the mc^ves which stimulate industry, can you
expect these to tmleam in a day the lessons of
years, and to furnish all at once themes for
eloquent description? Were you to visit
those islands, you would find a slovenly agri-
culture, much ignorance, and more sloth than
you see at home ; and yet emancipation works
well— £ar better than could have been antici-
pated. To me, it could hardly have worked
otherwise than well. It banished slavery, that
wrong and curse not to be borne. It gave
freedom, the dear birthrigfat of himianity;
and had it done nothing more, I should have
found in it cause for joy. Freedom, simple
freedom, is '• in my estimation just, iiar prized
above aU price." I do not stop to ask if the
emancipated are better fed and clothed than

formerly. They are Free; and that one woid
contains a world of good unknown to the
most pampered slave.

But emancipation has brought nuoe than
naked liberty. The emancipated are mddng
progress in intdligence, comforts, purity; and
progress is the great good of life. No matter
where men are at any givoi moment; the
great question about them is. Are they going
forward ? do they improve ? Slavery was im-
movable, hopeless degradation. It is the
glory of hberty to favour progress, and this
great blessing emancipation has bestowed.
We were told, indeed, that emancipation was
to turn the green islands of the West Indies
into deserts; but they still rise from the
tropical sea as blooming and verdant as
before. We were told that the slaves, if set
free, would break out in universal massacre ;
but, since that event, not a report -has reached
us of murder perpetrated by a coloured man
on the white population. We were told that
crimes would multiply ; but theyarediminished
in every emancipated island, and very greatly
in most We v^re told that the freed slave
would abandon himself to idleness ; azkd this
I did anticipate, to a considerable degree, as
the first result. .Men on whom industry bad
been forced by the lash, and who had been
taught to regard sloth as their master's dilrf
good, were strongly tempted to surrender the
first days of freedom to indolent indulgence.
But in this respect the evil has been so small
as to fill a r^ecting man with admiration.
In truth, no race but the African could have
made the great transition with so little harm
to themselves and others. In general, they
resumed their work after a short burst of joy.
The desire of property, of bettering their lot,
at once sprang up within them in sufficient
strength to counterbalance the love of ease.
Some of them have become proprietors of the
soil. New villages have grown up under their
hands; their huts are more comfortable; their
dress more decent, sometimes too expensive.
When I tell you that the price of real estate
in these islands has risen, and that the imports
from the mother country, e^)ecially those for
the laboiuer's use, have increased, you wiS
jtidge whether the liberated slaves are living as
drones. Undoubtedly the planter has some-
times wanted workmen, and the staple pro-
duct of the islands, sugar, has decreased. Bat
this can be explained without much reprcubdi
to the emancipated. The labourer, who In
slavery was over-tasked in the cane-^d matSi
sugar-mill, is anxious to buy or hire land soffi-
cient for Us support, and to work for >*im«^
instead of hiring himself to another. A
planter from British Guiana informed me, m
£sw weeks ago, that a company of ookvazed
men had x>aid down seventy thousand Tifrlltft
for a tract of land in the roost valuable pnt
of that colony. It is not sloths so xnuflihMa

Digitized by VjOOQIC



it cf mmly indepeodence, wb|ch has wUb-

awn the lapourer from the plantation ; and
this evil, if so it must be called, has been in-
creased by his imwiUingness to subject his
fviie and daughter to the toils of the field
which they used to bear in the days of Slaveiv.
Undoubtedly the coloured population might
do more, but they do enougo to earn a better
lot than they ever enjoyed, and the work of
improvement goes on amopg them.

i pass to a still brighter view. The spirit
of education has sprung up among the people
to an extent worthy of admiration. We
despise them ; and yet there is reason to be-
lieve that a more general desire to educate
their children is to be found among them than
exists among large portions of the white popu-
lation in the Slave States of the South. They
have learned that their ignorance is the great
barrier between them and the white men, and
this they are in earnest to postrate. It h^
been stated that, in one island, not a child
above ten years of age was unable to read. Hu-
man history probably furnishes no parallel of an
equal progress in a half-civilized commimity.

To this must be added their interest in reli-
gious institutions. Their expenditures for the
support of these are such as should put to
shame the backwardness of multitudes in
countries calling themselves civilized. They
do more than we, in proportion to their means.
Some of them have even subscribed funds for
the diffusion of the Gospel in Africa, an in-
stance of their zeal, rather than their wisdom ;
fr • they undoubtedly need all they can spare
for their own instruction. Their conceptions
of reb'gion are, of course, narrow and rude,
but their hearts have been touched by its
simpler truths ; and love is the key to higher
knowledge. To this let me add, that mar-
riage is acquiring sanctity in their e^es, that
domestic life is putting on a new refinement,
and you will see that this people have all the
elements of social progress. Property, mar-
riage, and religion have been called the pillars
of society, 'and of these the liberated slave has
learned the value.

The result of all thesie 'various improve-
ments is what every wise friend of humanity
^ust rejoice in. Their social position is
changed. Th^ey have taken rank among men.
They are no longer degraded by being looked
on as degraded. They no longer live under
that withering curse, the contempt of their
fellow-beings. The tone in which they are
spoken to no longer expresses their infinite
and hopeless depression. They are treated as
men ; some of them engage in lucrative pur-
suits ; all the paths of honour as well as of
gain are open to them ; they are found in the
legislatures ; they fill civil offices ; they have
roiUtary appointments; and in all these con-
ditions acquit themselves honourably. Their
humanity is recognized; and without thj?

recognition men inneand had better bereft to

I have no thought of painting these islands
as - Edens. That great ignorance prevails
among the emancipated people, that they want
our energy, that the degradation of slavery has
not vauished all at once with the name, this I
need not tell you. Nq miracle has been
wrought on them. But their present lot com-
pared with slavery is an immense good ; and
when we consider that as yet we have seeii
comparatively nothing of the blessed influ-
ences of freedom, we ought to thank God with
something of their own fervour for the vast
deliverance which He hath vouchsafed them.

We conunemorate with transport the re-
demption of a nation from political bondage;
but this is a Ught burden compared with per-
sonal slavery. The oppressipn which these
United States threw off by our revolutionary
struggle was the perfection of freedom, when
placed by the side of the galling, crushing,
mtolerable yoke which bowed the African to
the dust. Thank God it is broken 1 Thank
God, our most injured brethren have risen to
the rank of men ! Thank God, eight hundred
thousand human beings have been made free !

These are the natural topics suggested by
this day ; but there are still higher views to
which I invite your attention. There are
Other groimds on which this first of August
should be hailed with gratitude by the Chris-
tian. If I saw in the Emancipation which we
celebrate only the redemption of eight hundred
thousand fellow-creatures ^m the greatest
wrong on earth, I should indeed rejoice; but I
know not that I should commemorate it by pub-
lic^olemnities. This particular result moves roe
less than other views, which, though less obvious*
are far more significant and full of promise.

Whep I look at West Indian emancipation,
what strikes me most forcibly and most joy-
fully is. the spirit in which it had its origin.
What broke the slaves' chain ? Did a foreign
invader simimon them to his standard, and
reward them with freedom for their help in
conquering thdr masters? Or did they owe
liberty to their own exasperated yalour; to
courage maddened by despair; to massacre
and unsparing revenge ? Or did calculations
of the superior profit of free labour persuade
the owner to emancipation, as a means of
superior gain 7 No I West Indian emancipa-
tion was the fruit of Christian principle acting
on the mind and heart of a great people. The
liberator of those slaves was Jesus Christ.
That voice which rebuked disease and death,
and set their victims free, broke the heavier
chain of slavery. The conflict against slavery
began in England about fifty years ago. It
began with Christians. It was at its birth a
Christian enterprise. Its power was m the
consciences and generous sympathy of men
who had been trained in the school of Christ.

Digitized by V^OOQIC



It was resisted bjr prejudice, custom, interest,
opulence, pride, and the dvil power. Almost
the whole weight of the commercial class was
at first thrown into the opposite scale. The
politician dreaded the effects of abolition on
the wealth and revenue of the nation. The
king did not disguise his hostility; and I need
not tell you that it found little favour with the
aristocracy. The titled and proud are not the
first to sympathize with the abject. The cause
had nothing to rdy on but the spirit of the
English people; and that people did respond
to the reasonings, pleadings, rebukes of Chris-
tian philanthropy as nation never did before.
The history of this warfare cannot be read
without seeing that, once at least, a great
nation was swmd by high and disinterested
principles. Men of the world deride the
notion of influencing human afDairs by any
but selfish motives ; and it is a melancholy
truth, that the movements of nations have
done much to confirm the darkest views of
human nature. What a track of crime,
desolation, war. we are called by history to
travel over! Still, history is lighted up by
great names, by noble deeds, by patriots and
martyrs ; and especially in Emancipation we
see a great nation putting forth its power and
making great sacrifices for a distant, degraded
race of men, who had no claims but those of
wronged and suffering humanity. Some, and
not a few, have blamed as superfluous the
compensation given by England to the planter
for die slaves. On one account I rejoice at
it. It is a testimony to the disinterested
motives of the nation. A people groaning
under a debt which would crush any other
people, borrowed twenty milUon pounds ster-
ling — a hundred million of dollars— and paid
it as the price of the slaves' freedom. This
act stands alone in the page of history; and
Emancipation having such an origin deserves
to be singled out for public commemoration.

What gave peculiar interest to this act was
the fallen, abject state of the people on whom
freedom was conferred at sudi a cost. They
were not ^glishmen. They had no claim
founded on common descent, on common
history, or any national bond. There was
nothing in their lot to excite the imaginadon.
They tutd done nothing to draw regard. They
weighed nothing in human affairs. They
belonged to no nation. They were hardly
recognized as men. Humanity could hardly
wear a more abject form. But under all this
abjectness, under that black skin, under those
scars of the lash, under th^se half-naked
bodies put up at auction and sold as cattle,
the people of Eneland saw the lineaments of
humanity, saw feuow-creatures, saw the ci^-
cities and rights and immortal destinies of
men, and Jn the spirit of brotherhood, and from
reverence for humanity, broke their chains.

When I k)ok at Oils act, I do not stop at

its immediate results, at the emandpatioii of
eight hundred thousand human bemgs, nor
do I look at the act as standing alone. I
look at the spirit from which it sprang, and
see here a grand and most cheering founda-
tion of human hope. I see that Christianity
has not come into the world in vain. I see
that the blood of the cross was not shed in
vain. I see that the prophecies in the Scrip-
tures of a mighty change in human affiiirs
were not idle words. It is true that Chris-
tianity has done little compared with these
predictions. The corruptions of our age
who is so blind as not to see? But that a
new principle, derived from Christianity and
destined to renovate the earth, is at work
among these various elements; that, silently,
a new spirit of humanity, a new f c^pc u for
human nature, a new comprehenskm of
human rights, a new feeling of brotherhood,
and new ideas of a higher social state, have
been and are unfokling themselves under the
influences of Christian truth and Christian
civilization, who can deny? Society is not
what it once was. Amidst all the stir of
selfish passion, the still voice of Cbristiaxiity
is heaid; a diviner spirit mixes, however
imperfectly, with the workings of worldliness ;
and we are beginning to team the mighty
revolution which a heavenly liadth is to ac-
complish here on earth.

Christianity is the hope of the world, and
we ought to regard every conspicuous mani-
festation of its spirit and power as an era in
human histoiy. We are dazzled by xevohi-
tions of empires; we hope much from die
rise or fall of governments. But nothing
but Christianity can regenerate the earth,
and accordingly we should hail with joy every
sign of a clearer comprehension and a deeper
feeling of its truths. Christianity, tiuiy
imderstood, has a direct tendency to that
renovation of the world which it foretells. It
is not an abstract system, secluding the dis-
ciple from his kind ; but it makes him one
with his race, breaks down all barriers be-
tween him and his brethren, arms him with
a martyr's spirit in the cause of humanity,
sends him forth to be a saviour of the lost ;
and just as far as Christianity is thus viewed
and felt by its followers, the redemption eC
the worid draws nigh. These views of xe-
ligion are making their way. TImj dawn
upon us, not only in Emancipation, but la
many other movements of our age; not di^
they have ever been wholly obscured; htft
the rank which they hold in the rtiilntaii
s^tem, and the vast social changes Yvftioh
they involve, have not until the present liny
been dreamed of.

All the doctrines of Christianity i
and more seen to be bonds (^dose^ t
reverential union between man and]
this is the most cheering Tieir of <

Digitized by VjOOQ IC



Christianity b a revelation of the infinite,
universal, parental love of God towards his
human family, comprehending the most sin-
ful, descending to the most fallen, and its
aim is to breathe the same love into its dis-
ciples. It shows us Christ tasting death for
every man, and it summons us to take his
cross, or to participate of his sufferings, in
the same cause. Its doctrine of Immortality
gives infinite worth to every human being ;
for every one b destined to this- endless life.
The doctrine of the "Word made flesh"
shows us God imiting Himself most intimately
with our nature, manifesting Himself in a
human form, for the very end of making us
partakers of his own perfection. The doctrine
of Grace, as it is termed, reveals the Infinite
Father imparting his Holy Spirit — the best
gift He can impart— to the humblest human
being who implores it. Thus love and reve-
rence for human nature, a love for man
stronger than death, is the very spirit of
Christianity. Undoubtedly this spirit is
faintly comprehended by the best of.us.
Some of its most striking expressions are
still derided in socie^. Society still rests on
selfish principles. Nien sympathize stiU with
the prosperous and great, not the abject and
down-trodden. But amidst this degradation
brighter glimpses of Christianity are caught
than before. There are deeper, wider sym-
pathies with mankind. The idea of raising
up the mass of human beings to intellectual,
moral, and spiritual dignity is penetrating
many minds. Among the signs df a brighter
day perlu^ the West Indian emancipation is
the most conspicuous; for in this the rights of
the most despised men have been revered.

There are some among us at the present
moment who are waiting for the speedy coming
of Christ. They expect, before another year
closes, to see him in the clouds, to hear his
voice, to stand before his judgment-seat. These
iUusions springfirom misinterpretation of Scrip-
ture language. Christ in the New Testament
b said to come, whenever hb religion breaks
out in new glory, or gains new triumphs.
He came in the Holy Spirit on the day of
Pentecost. He came in the destruction of
Jerusalem, which, by subverting the old ritual
law, and breaking the power of the worst ene-
mies of hb religion, ensured to it new victories.
He came in the Reformation of the church.
He came on this day four years ago, when,
through hb religion, eight hundred thousand
men were raised firom the lowest degradation,
to the rights, and dignity, and fellowship of
men. Christ's outward appearance is of little
moment, compared with the brighter mani-
festation of hb spirit The Christian, whose
inward eyes and ears are touched by God,
discerns the coming of Christ, hears the sound
of his chariot-wheeb and the voice of his
tnimpet, when no other perceives them. He

discerns the Saviour's advent in the dawning
of higher truth on the world, in new aspira-
tions of the church after perfection, in the
prostration of prejudice and error, in brighter
expressions of Christian love, in more enlight-
ened and intense consecration of the Christian
to the cause of humanity, freedom, and reli-
gion. Christ comes in the conversion, the
regeneration, the emancipation of the world.
You here see why it b that I rejoice in the
great event which this day commemorates.
To me thb event does not stand alone. It b
a sign of the triumph of Christianity, and a
presage and herald of grander victories of
truth and humanity. Christianity did not do
its last work when it broke the slave's chain.
No ; thb was but a type of what it b to achieve.
Since the African was emancipated the drunk-
ard has been set free. We may count the dis-
enthralled from intemperance by hundreds of
thousands, almost by millions, and this work
has been achieved by Christian truth and
Christian love. In thb we have a new proof
of the coming of Christ in hb kingdom; and
the graild result of these and other kindred
movements of our times should be to give us
a new faith in what Christianity b to accom-
plish. We need this faith. We are miserably
wanting in it. We scarcely believe what we
see of the triumphs of the cross. Thb is the
most disastrous unbelief of our times. I am
pointed now and then to an infidel, as he is
called — a man who denies Christianity. But
there b a sadder sight. Itb that of thousands
and millions who profess Christianity, but
have no faith in its power to accomplish the
work to which it is ordained, no faith in the
power of Chrbt over the passions, prejudices,
and corrupt institutions of men, no faith in
the end of his mission, in the regenerating
energy of his spirit and truth. Let thb day,
my friends, breathe into all our souls a new
trust in the destinies of our race. Let us look
on the future with new hope. I see, iiideed,
numberless obstructions to the regeneration
of the world. But is not a deep feeling of the
corruptions of the world fermenting in many
breasts? Is there not a new thirst for an
individual and social life more in harmony
with Jesus Christ than has yet exbted ? Can
great truths, after having been once deve-
loped, die ? Is not the human soul opening
itself more and more to the divine perfection
and beauty of Christ's character? And who
can foretell what this mighty agency b to
accomplbh in the world? The present day
b, indeed, a day of dbtrust, complaint, and

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 168 of 169)