William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 169 of 169)
Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 169 of 169)
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ansHOus forebodings. On every side voices of
fear and despondency reach us. Let us re-
spond to them with a voice of faith and hope.
Let us not shut our eyes ungratefully on the
good already wrought in our times; and,
seeing in thb the pledge of higher blessings,
let us arm ourselves with manly resolution to



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762



ADDliESS ON THE ANNIVERSARY OP



do or suffer, each in his o<m sphere, what-
ever may ser^'e to prepare the way for a
holier and happier age. It may be, as some
believe, that this age is to be preceded by
fearful judgments, by "days of vengeance,"
by purifying fire; but the triumphs of Chris-
tianity, however deferred, are not the less surely
announced by what it has already achieved.

I have now given the more general views
which belong to this occasion ; but I cannot
close this Address without coming nearer
home, and touching, however slightly, some
topics of a more f)ersonal character, and in
which we have a more particular interest.

1 am a stranger among you ; but, when I
look round, I feel as if the subject of this
Address peculiarly befitted this spot. Where
am I now pleading the cause and speaking
the praises of liberty ? Not in crowded cities,
where, amidst men's works, and luxuries, and
wild speculations, and eager competitions for
gain, the spirit of liberty often languishes;
but amidst towering mountains, embosoming
peaceful vales. Amidst these vast works of
God the soul naturally goes forth, and cannot
endure the thought of a chain. Your free
air, which we come to inhale for health,
breathes into us something better than health,
even a freer spirit. Mountains have always
been famed for nourishing brave souls and
the love of liberty. At Thermopylae, in many
a fastness of Switzerland, in the gorges of
mountains, the grand battles of lltxirty have
been fought. Even in this country slavery
hardlv sets foot on the mountains. Sne curses
the plain ; but as soon as you begin to ascend
the highlands of the South slavery begins to
disappear. West Virginia and East Ten-
nessee are cultivated chiefly by the muscles
of freemen; and could these districts be
erected into States, they would soon clear
themselves of the guilt and shame of enslaving
their brethren. Men of Berkshire I whose
nerves and souls the mountain air has braced,
you surely will respond to him who speaks of
the blessings of freedom and the misery of
bondage. I feel as if the feeble voice whicl;
now addresses you must find an echo amidst
these forest-crowned heights. Do they not
impart something of their own power and
loftiness to men's souls ? Should our Com-
monwealth ever be Invaded by Victorious
armies, freedom's last asylum would be here.
Here may a free spirit, may reverence for all
human rights, may sympathy for all the
oppressed, may a stem, solemn purpose to
give no sanction to oppression take stronger
and stronger possession of men's minds, and
from these mountains may generous impulses
spread far and wide I

The joy of this occasion is damped by one
thought. Our own country is, In part, the
land of slavery; and slavery becomes more
twacous here than anywhere elsq by It§ con-



trast with Ofur free institutions. It is de-
formity married to beauty. It is as if a flame
from hell were to burst forth in the regions of
the blessed. No other evil in onr countrf
but this should alarm us. Our other difBcm-
ties are the mists, dimming our prospects for
a moment. This is a dark cloud, scowling
over our whole land ; and within it the pro-
phetic ear hears the low muttering of the
angry thunder. We in the Free States try
to escape the reproach which falls on America
by saying that this institution is not oors, that
the foot of the slave never pressed ortr soil :
but we cannot fly from the shame or guilt of
the institution as long as we give it any sup-
port. Most unhappily, there are proviaons
of the Constitution binding us tcf give it
support. Let us resolve to frefe ourselves
from these. Let us say to the South. •• We
shall use no force to subvert your slavery;
neither will we use it to uphold the evil."
Let no temptations, no love of gain, seduce
us to abet or sanction this wrong. There is
something worse than to be a slave. It Is, to
make other men slaves. Better be ttunlpled
in the dust than trample on a fellow-creature.
Much as I shrink from the evils inflicted by
bondage on the millions who bear it, I would
sooner endure them than inflict them on a
brother. Freemen of the mountains ! as far
as you have power, remove from yotirsclves,
from our dear and venerable ttiother, the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and from
all the Free, States, the baseness and g«ilt of
ministering to slavery, of acting as the slave-
holder's police, of lending him arms and
strength to secure his victim. I deprecate aB
political action on slavery except for one end,
and this end i$ to release the Free States
from all connection with this oppressfrc io«
stitution, to sever slavery wholly from the
national government, to make it exclusively
the concern of the State* In which it exists.
For this end memorials should be poured is
upon Congress to obtain from that body such
modifications of the laws, and such proposi-
tions to amend the Constitution, ds will s«
us free froni oblitration to sancrion sL^rM-r



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EMANCIPATION IN THE BRITISH WEST INDIES,



763



The West Indian Islands teach us this lesson
with a thousand tongues. Emancipation can
hardly take place under more unmvourable
circumstances than it encountel-ed in those
islands. The master abhorred it, repelled it
as long as possible, submitted to it only from
force, and consequently did little to mitigate
its evils, or to conciliate the freed bondman.
In those islands the slaves were eight or ten
times more numerous than the Nvhites, Yet
perfect order has followed ematncipation.
Since this event the military force has been
reduced, and the coloured men, Instead of
breaking into riot, are among the soldiers by
whom it is to be suppressed. In this coimtry
the white population of the South exceeds in
number the coloured; and who that knows
the two classes can apprehend danger frohi
the former In case of emancipation ? Holding
all the property, all the intellectual, the civil,
the military power, and distinguished by
courage, it seems incredible that the white
race should tremble before the Coloured,
should be withheld by fear from setting them
free. If the alarm be real, it can be ex-

})laiRed only by the old observation, that the
njurious are prone to fear, that men natu-
rally suspect and dread those whom they
wrong. All tyrants are jealous, and persuade
themselves that, were they to loosen the
reins, lawlessness, pillage, murder, would
disorganize society. But emancipation con-
ferred deliberately and conscientiously is safe.
So say facts, and reason says the same.
Chains are not the necessary bonds of so-
ciety. Oppression is not the rock on which .
states rest. To keep the peace, you need
not make the earth a province of Satan ; in
other words, you need not establish wrong
and outrage by law. The Mray to keep men
from cutting your throats Is, not to put then^
under the lash, to extort their laboiir by
force, to spoil them of their earnings, to
pamper yourselves out of theii: compelled
toil, and to keep them in brutal ignorance.
Do not, do not believe this. Believe, if yoii
will, that seeds of thistles will yield luxuriant
crops of wheat ; believe that drought will
fertilize yoiir fields ; but do not bebeve that
you must rob and crush your fellow-crea-
tures to make them harmless, to keep the
state in order and peace. On, do not ima-
gine that God has laid on any one the neces-
sity of doing wrong ; that He, who secures
the blessed harmony of the universe by wisjB
and beneficent laws, has created a world in
which all pure and righteous laws must be
broken to preserve the show of peace ! I
honour free inquiry, and willingly hear my
cherished opinions questioned; but there
are certain truths which I can no more
doubt than my own existence. That God
is just and good, and that justice and
goodness are his la^, and are ^t once the



safety and glory of his creatures, I can as
little question as that the whole is greater
than the part. When I am told that society
can only subsist by robbing men of their
dearest rights, my reason is as much in-
sulted as if I were gravely taught that effects
requite no cause, or that it Is the nature of
yonder beautiful stream to ascend these
motmtains, or to return to its source. The
doctrine that violence, oppression, inhuman-
ity, is an essential element of society, is sd
revolting, that, did I believe it, I would say,
let society perish, let man and his works be
swept away, and the earth be abandoned td
the brutes. Better that the globe should be
tenanted by brutes than brutalize men. No I
it is safe to be just, to respect men's rights,
to treat our neighbours as ourselves; and
any doctrine hostile to this is bom of the
Evil One. Men do not need to be crushed.
A wise kindness avails with them more than
force. Even the insane are disarmed by
kihdness. Once the madhouse, with its
dens, fetters, strait-waistcoats, whips, horri-
ble punishments, at which humanity how
shudders and the blood boils with indigna-
tion, was thought just as necessary as slaveiy
is now deemed at the South. But we have
learned at last that human nature, even when
robbed of reason, can be ruled, calmed, re-
stored, by wise kindness ; that it was only
maddened and made more desperate by the
chains imposed to keep it from outrage and
murder. Treat men as men, and they will
not prove wild beasts. We fiirst rob them of
their htmianity, and then chain them because
they are not liuman. What a picture of sla-
very Is given by the common argument for
its continuance ! The slaves, we are told,
must be kept under the lash, or they will
turn murderers. Two millions and a half of
our fellow-creatures at the South, we are
assured, have the seeds of murder in their
hearts, and must be stripped of all human
rights fot the safety of their neighbours. If
such be a slave-country, the sooner it is de-
populated the better. But it is not true. A
more innocent race than the African does not
exist on the earth. They are less given to
violence and murder than we Anglo-Saxons;
But when did wrong ever want excuse?
Whbn did oppression ever fail to make out a
good cause in its own eyes ?

The truth is, that slavery is perpetuated at
^he South, not from the fear of massacre, but
from a stronger principle. A respected slave*
holder said to me not long ago, "The que»»
tion of slavery is a question of Property, and
property is dearer to a man than life." The
master holds fast his slave because he sees in
him, not a wild beast, but a profitable chattel.
Mr. Clay has told us that the slaves are
worth in the market, 1 think, twelve hundred
miliiQQS of dollars, and smiles at the thought



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764 ADDRESS ON EMANCIPATION IN THE WEST INDIES.



of calling men to surrender such a mass of
property. It is not because they are so fierce,
but so profitable, that they are kept in chains.
Were they meek angels from Gods throne,
imprisoned for a while in human frames, and
were they at the same time worth twelve
hundred millions of dollars in the market,
comparatively few, I fear, would be suffered
to return to their native skies, as long as the
chain could fetter them to the plantation.
I know that there are generous exceptions
to the spirit of slavery as now portrayed ;
but this spirit, in the main, is mercenary.
I know that other considerations than this
of property, that considerations of prudence
and benevolence, help to confirm the slave-
holder in his aversion to emancipa.tion. There
are mixed motives for perpetuating slavery,
as for almost all human actions. But the
grand motive is Gain, the love of Money,
Uie unwillingness to part with Property ; and
were this to yield to justice and humanity,
the dread of massacre would not long retard
emancipation.

My friends, your compassion is often called
forth by predictions of massacre, of butchered
chiklren, of violated women, in case of eman-
cipation. But do not waste your sympathies
on possible evils, which wisdom and kindness
may avert. Keep some of vour tears and
tenderness for what exists ; for the poor girl
whose innocence has no protection ; for the
wife and mother who may be widowed and
made childless before night by a stroke of the
auctioneer's hammer ; for the man subjected
to the whip of a brutal overseer, and hunted,
if he flies, bv bloodhounds, and shot down if
he outstrips nis pursuers. For the universe, I
would not let loose massacre on the Southern
States, or on any population. Sooner would
I have all the slaves perish than achieve their
freedom by promiscuous carnage. But I
see no necessity of carnage. I am sure
that to treat men with justice and humanity
is not the way to turn them into robbers or
assassins. U ndoubtedly wisdom is to be used
in conferring this great good. We ask no
precipitate action at the South; we dictate
no mode of conferring freedom. We ask only
a settled purpose to bring slavenr to an end ;
and we are sure that this will devise a safe
and happy way of exercising justice and love.

Am Tasked what is the duly of the North
in regard to slavery ? On this subject I have
lately written ; I will only say I recommend
no crusade against slavery, no use of physical
or legislative power for its destruction, no
irruption into the South to tamper with the
slave, or to repeal or resist the laws. Our
duties on this subject are plain. First, we



must free ourselves, as I have said, from all
constitutional or legal obligations to uphold
slavery. In the next place, we must give free
and strong expression to our reprobation of
slavery. The North has but one weapon —
moral force, the utterance of moral judg-
ment, moral feeUng, and religious conviction.
I do not say that this alone is to subvert
slavery. Providence never accomplishes its
ends by a 'Single instrument. All social
changes come from mixed motives, from
various impulses, and slavery is to fall
through various causes. But among these
a high place will belong to the general con-
viction of its evils and wrongs. Ooinion is
stronger than kings, mobs, lynch laws, or
any other laws for repressing thought and
speech. Whoever spreads through his circle,
be it wride or narrow, just opinions and feel-
ings in r^^ard to slavery, hastens its fall.
There is one point on which your moral in-
fluence may be exerted with immediate effect.
Should a slave -hunter ever profane these
mountainous retreats by seeking here a flying
bondman, regard him as a legalised robber.
Oppose no force to him ; you need not do it.
Your contempt and indignation will be enough
to disarm the "man-stealer" of the unholy
power conferred on him by unrighteous laws.
I began this subject in hope, and in hope I
end. I have turned aside to siseak of the
great stain on our countxy which makes us
the by-word and scorn of the nations ; but I
do not despair. Mighty powers are at work
in the worid. Who can stay them ? God's
word has gone forth, and " it cannot return
to him void." A new comprehension of the
Christian spirit, — a new reverence for hu-
manity, a new feeling of brotherhood, and of
all men's relation to the common Father, —
this is among the signs of our times. We see
it ; do we not feel it ? Before this all oppres-
sions are to fall. Society, silently pervaded
by this, is to change its aspect of universal war-
fare for peace. The power of selfishness, all-
grasping and seemingly invincible, is to yield
to this diviner energy. The song of angels.
" On Earth Peace," will not always sound as
fiction. O come, thou kingdom of Heaven,
for which we daily pray ! Come. Friend and
Saviour of the race, who didst shed thy blood
on the cross to reconcile man to man. and
earth to Heaven! Come, ye predicted ages
of righteousness and love, for which the i
faithful have so long yearned ! Come. Father I
Almighty, and crown with thine omnipotence
the humble strivings of thy children to sub-
vert oppression and wrong, to spread Ught
and freedom, peace and joy. the truth and
spirit of thy Son, through the whole earth I



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