William Ellery Channing.

The works of William E. Channing, D.D.: With an introduction online

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and emancipation having such an origin
deserves to be singled out for public

What gave peculiar interest to this
act was the fallen, abject state of the
people on whom freedom was conferred
at such a cost. They were not English-
men. They had no claim founded on
common descent, on common history,
or any national bond. There was
nothing in their lot to excite the im-
agination. They had 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 those
half-naked bodies put up at auction and
sold as cattle, the people of England
saw the lineaments of humanity, saw
fellow-creatures, saw the capacities and
rights and immortal destinies of men,
and in the spirit of brotherhood, and
from reverence for humanity, broke
their chains.

When I look at this act, I do not
stop at its immediate results, at the
emancipation of eight hundred thousand
human beings, nor do I look at the act
as standing alone. I look at the spirit
from which it sprung, and see here a
grand and most cheering foundation 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 Scriptures of a mighty change in
human affairs were not idle words. It
is true that Christianity has done little,
compared with these predictions. The
corruptions of our age who is so blind
as not to see ? But that a new prin-
ciple, 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 respect for human nature, a new
comprehension of human rights, a new
feeling of brotherhood, and new ideas
of a higher social state, have been and
are unfolding themselves under the in-
fluences of Christian truth and Chris-
tian civilization, who can deny ? Society
is not what it once was. Amidst all the
stir of selfish passion, the still voice of
Christianity is heard ; a diviner spirit
mixes, however imperfectly, with the
workings of worlclliness ; and we are
beginning to learn the mighty revolution
which a heavenly faith is to accomplish
here on earth.

Christianity is the hope of the world,
and we ought to regard every conspicuous
manifestation of its spirit and power as
an era in human history. We are daz-
zled by revolutions of empires : we
hope much from the rise or fall of
governments. But nothing but Chris-
tianity can regenerate the eartli ; and
accordingly we should hail with joy
every sign of a clearer comprehension
and a deeper feeling of its truths.
Christianity, truly understood, has a
direct tendency to that renovation of the
world which it foretells. It is not an
abstract system, secluding the disciple
from his kind ; but it makes him one
with his race, breaks down all barriers
between 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 Chris-
tianity is thus viewed and felt by its
followers, the redemption of the world
draws nigh. These views of religion
are making their way. They dawn upon
us, not only in emancipation, but in
many other movements of our age : not
that they have ever been wholly ob-
scured ; but the rank which they hold
in the Christian system, and the vast
social changes which they involve, have
not until the present day been dreamed

All the doctrines of Christianity are
more and more seen to be bonds of close,
spiritual, reverential union between man
and man ; and this is the most cheering
view of our time. Christianity is a
revelation of the infinite, universal pa-
rental love of God towards his human
family, comprehending the most sinful,

descending to the most fallen, and its
aim is to breathe the same love into its
disciples. 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 is destined to this endless life.
The doctrine of the " Word made flesh "
shows us God uniting 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
reverence 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 strik-
ing expressions are still derided in
society. Society still rests on selfish
i principles. Men sympathize still with
! the prosperous and great, not the ab-
! ject and down-trodden. But amidst this
I degradation brighter glimpses of Chris-
I tianity are caught, than before. There
| are deeper, wider sympathies with man-
kind. The idea of raising up the mass
of human beings to intellectual, moral,
and spiritual dignity is penetrating many
minds. Among the signs of a brighter
day perhaps the West Indian emancipa-
tion 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 illu-
sions spring from misinterpretation of
Scripture language. Christ in the New
Testament is said to come, whenever his
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 Jerusa-
lem, which, by subverting the old ritual
law, and breaking the power of the
worst enemies of his religion, insured to
it new victories. He came in the Refor-
mation of the church. He came on this
day, four years ago, when, through his



religion, eight hundred thousand man
were raised from the lowest degradation,
to the rights, and dignity, and fellowship
of men. Christ's outward appearance is
of little moment, compared with the
brighter manifestation of his spirit.
The Christian, whose inward eyes and
ears are touched by God, discerns the
corning of Christ, hears the sound of
his chariot-wheels and the voice of his
trumpet, when no other perceives them.
He discerns the Saviour's advent in the
dawning of higher truth on the world, in
new aspirations of the church after per-
fection, in the prostration of prejudice
and error, in brighter expressions of
Christian love, in more enlightened and
intense consecration of the Christian to
the cause of humanity, freedom, and
religion. Christ comes in the conver-
sion, the regeneration, the emancipation
of the world.

You here see why it is that I rejoice
in the great event which this day com-
memorates. To me this event does not
stand alone. It is a sign of the triumph
of Christianity, and a presage and her-
ald of grander victories of truth and hu-
manity. Christianity did not do its last
work when it broke the slave's chain.
No ; this was but a type of what it is to
achieve. Since the African was eman-
cipated the drunkard has been set free.
We may count the disenthralled from
intemperance by hundreds of thousands,
almost by millions, and this work has
been achieved by Christian truth and
Christian love. In this we have a new
proof of the coming of Christ in his
kingdom ; and the grand result of these
and other kindred movements of our
times should be to give us a new faith
in what Christianity is to accomplish.
We need this faith. We are miserably
wanting in it. We scarcely believe what
we see of the triumphs of the cross.
This 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 is a sad-
der sight. It is 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 Christ 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 this 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, in-
deed, 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 existed ? Can
great truths, after having been once de-
veloped, 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 is to accomplish in
the world ? The present day is, indeed,
a day of distrust, complaint, and anxious
forebodings. On every side voices of
fear and despondency reach us. Let us
respond to them with a voice of faith
and hope. Let us not shut our eyes un-
gratefully on the good already wrought
in our times ; and, seeing in this the
pledge of higher blessings, let us arm
ourselves with manly resolution to do or
suffer, each in his own sphere, whatever
may serve to prepare the way for a
holier and happier age. It may be, as
some believe, that this age is to be pre-
ceded by fearful judgments, by " days of
vengeance," by purifying fire ; but the
triumphs of Christianity, however de-
ferred, 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, how-
ever slightly, some topics of a more per-
sonal character, and in which we have a
more particular interest.

I am a stranger among you ; but,
when I look round, I feel as if the sub-
ject 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 competi-
tions for gain, the spirit of liberty often
languishes ; but amidst towering moun-
tains, 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 bet-
ter 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 liberty
have been fought. Even in this country
slavery hardly sets foot on the moun-
tains. She curses the plain ; but as soon
as you begin to ascend the highlands of
the South slavery begins to disappear.
West Virginia and East Tennessee are
cultivated chiefly by the muscles of free-
men ; 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 ! whose nerves and souls the
mountain air has braced, you surely will
respond to him who speaks of the bless-
ings of freedom and the misery of
bondage. I feel as if the feeble voice
which 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 Common-
wealth ever be invaded by victorious
armies, freedom's last asylum would be
here. Here may a free spirit, may rev-
erence for all human rights, may sympa-
thy for all the oppressed, may a stern,
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 !

The joy of this occasion is damped
by one thought. Our own country is,
in part, the land of slavery : and slavery
becomes more hideous here than any-
where else by its contrast with our free
institutions. It is deformity 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 our country
but this should alarm us. Our other
difficulties are the mists, dimming our
prospects for a moment. This is a dark
cloud, scowling over our whole land ;
and within it the prophetic 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 ours,
that the foot of the slave never pressed
our soil ; but we cannot fly from the
shame or guilt of the institution as long
as we give it any support. Most unhap-
pily, there are provisions of the Consti-

tution binding us to give it support.
Let us resolve to free ourselves from
| these. Let us say to the South, " We
shall use no force to subvert your sla-
very ; 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 trampled 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 yourselves, from ou.- dear
and venerable mother, the Common-
wealth of Massachusetts, and from all
the free States, the baseness and guilt
of ministering to slavery, of acting as
the slave-holder's police, of lending him
arms and strength to secure his victim.
I deprecate all political action on sla-
very except for one end, and this end is
to release the free States from all con-
nection with this oppressive institution,
to sever slavery wholly from the national
government, to make it exclusively the
concern of the States in which it exists.
For this end memorials should be poured
in upon Congress to obtain from that
body such modifications of the laws, and
such propositions to amend the Consti-
tution, as will set us free from obligation
to sanction slavery. This done, politi-
cal action on the subject ought to cease.
We shall then have no warrant to name
slavery in Congress, or any duty to per-
form with direct reference to it, except by
that moral influence which every man is
bound to exert against every form of evil.
There are some people here, more
kind than wise, who are unwilling that
any action or sensibility on the subject
of slavery should spring up at the North
from their apprehensions of the danger
of emancipation. The danger of eman-
cipation ! this parrot-phrase, caught from
the South, is thought by many a sufficient
answer to all the pleas that can be urged
in favor of the slave. But the lesson of
this day is, the safety of emancipation.
The West Indian Islands teach us this
lesson with a thousand tongues. Eman-
cipation can hardly take place under
more unfavorable circumstances than it
encountered in those islands. The mas-
ter 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 bond-
man. In those islands the slaves were
eight or ten times more numerous than
the whites. Yet perfect order has fol-
lowed emancipation. Since this event
the military force has been reduced, and
the colored men, instead of breaking
into riot, are among the soldiers by
whom it is to be suppressed. In this
country, the white population of the
South exceeds in number the colored ;
and who that knows the two classes can
apprehend danger from 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
colored, should be withheld by fear from
setting them free. If the alarm be real,
it can be explained only by the old ob-
servation, that the injurious are prone
to fear, that men naturally suspect and
dread those whom they wrong. All
tyrants are jealous, and persuade them-
selves that, were they to loosen the
reins, lawlessness, pillage, murder, would
disorganize society. But emancipation
conferred deliberately and conscien-
tiously is safe. So say facts, and rea-
son says the same. Chains are not the
necessary bonds of society. 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 way to keep
men from cutting your throats is, not
to put them under the lash, to extort
their labor by force, to spoil them of
their earnings, to pamper yourselves out
of their compelled toil, and to keep them
in brutal ignorance. Do not, do not
believe this. Believe, if you will, that
seeds of thistles will yield luxuriant
crops of wheat ; believe that drought
will fertilize your fields ; but do not
believe that you must rob and crush
your fellow-creatures, to make them
harmless, to keep the state in order and
peace. Oh, do not imagine that God
has laid on any one the necessity of
doing wrong ; tliat He, who secures the
blessed harmony of the universe by wise
and beneficent laws, has created a world
in which all pure and righteous laws
must be broken to preserve the show of

peace ! I honor free inquiry, and will-
ingly hear my cherished opinions ques-
tioned ; 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
laws, and are at 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 insulted as if I were gravely taught
that effects require no cause, or that it
is the nature of yonder beautiful stream
to ascend these mountains, or to return
to its source. The doctrine that vio-
lence, oppression, inhumanity, is an es-
sential element of society, is so revolting,
that, did I believe it, I would say, let
society perish, let man and his works
be swept away, and the earth be aban-
doned to the brutes. Better that the
globe should be tenanted by brutes than
brutalized men. No! it is safe to be
just, to respect men's rights, to treat our
neighbors as ourselves ; and any doc-
trine hostile to this is born of the Evil
One. Men do not need to be crushed.
A wise kindness avails with them more
than force. Even the insane are dis-
armed by kindness. Once the madhouse,
with its dens, fetters, strait-waistcoats,
whips, horrible punishments, at which
humanity now shudders and the blood
boils with indignation, was thought just
as necessary as slavery is now deemed
at the South. But we have learned, at
last, that human nature, even when
robbed of reason, can be ruled, calmed,
restored, 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 first rob them of their humanity,
and then chain them because they are
not human. What a picture of slavery
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 for the
safety of their neighbors. If such be a
slave-country, the sooner it is depopu-
lated 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 ? When did oppres-
sion ever fail to make out a good cause
in its own eyes ?

The truth is, that slavery is perpetu-
ated at the South, not from the fear of
massacre, but from a stronger principle.
A respected slave-holder said to me not
long ago, "The question 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, I think,
twelve hundred millions of dollars,
and smiles at the thought of calling
men to surrender such a mass of prop-
erty. It is not because they are so
fierce, but so profitable, that they are
kept in chains. Were they meek angels
from God's throne, imprisoned for a
while in human frames, and were they
at the same time worth twelve hundred
millions of dollars in the market, com-
paratively 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 gen-
erous exceptions to the spirit of slavery
as now portrayed ; but this spirit in the
main is mercenary. I know that otber
considerations than this of property,
that considerations of prudence and
benevolence, help to confirm the slave-
holder in his aversion to emancipation.
There are mixed motives for perpetu-
ating slavery, as for almost all human
actions. But the grand motive is gain,
the love of money, the unwillingness to
part with property ; and were this to
yield to justice and humanity, the dread
of massacre would not long retard

My friends, your compassion is often
called forth by predictions of massa-
cre, of butchered children, of violated
women, in case of emancipation. But do
not waste your sympathies on possible
evils, which wisdom and kindness may
avert. Keep some of your 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, by blood-hounds, and shot
down, if he outstrips his pursuers. For
the universe, I would not let loose mas-
sacre 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. Undoubtedly
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 slavery to an
end ; and we are sure that this will
devise a safe and happy way of exercis-
ing justice and love.

Am I asked what is the duty 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 obliga-
tions to uphold slavery. In the next
place, we must give free and strong ex-
pression to our reprobation of slavery.
The North has but one weapon, moral
force, the utterance of moral judgment,
moral feeling, 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 mo-
tives, from various impulses, and slavery
is to fall through various causes. But
among these a high place will belong to
the general conviction of its evils and
wrongs. Opinion is stronger than kings,
mobs, Lynch laws, or any other laws for
repressing thought and speech. Who-
ever spreads through his circle, be it
wide or narrow, just opinions and feel-
ings in regard to slavery, hastens its fall.

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe works of William E. Channing, D.D.: With an introduction → online text (page 172 of 174)