William Henry Furness.

England and America : a discourse delivered by W.H. Furness, minister of the First Congregational Unitarian Church, Sunday, December 22, 1861 online

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Online LibraryWilliam Henry FurnessEngland and America : a discourse delivered by W.H. Furness, minister of the First Congregational Unitarian Church, Sunday, December 22, 1861 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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C. Sherman & Son,

Printers, Philads.

[not published.]

Waat. Bea. Si&t. Soe.






In the great voyage upon -which we and all that avc hold
dear are embarked we have suddenly drifted on to a storm-
tossed sea, where the billows rage and battle with one another,
a perfect maelstrom ; for here and now two deep, strong cur-
rents, running in opposite directions, have met, and the foun-
dations of the Avorld are trembling with the violence of the
concussion. The one current clear and sweet with the im-
perishable and life-giving element of Freedom, the other thick
and bitter with the foul corruption of human Bondage, — both
sent forth from the same spring. Two hundred and forty-one
years ago this day, the first company of Christian freemen
landed at the North. Two hundred and forty-one years ago
this very year, the first company of Slaves was brought to the
Virginian shore, and the blessing and the curse came from the
same source. England is the fountain of Northern Freedom
and of Southern Slavery. England is the spring that has sent
forth sweet water and bitter.

This December day is, indeed, a most memorable anniver-
sary. We may well pause and ponder the events which it
recalls, insignificant as they were at the time of their occur-
rence, but momentous in the consequences Avhich are now
flowing from them with such fearful activity as we witness,
involving revolutions, broad and deep, in human affairs, the
extent of which no human wisdom can foresee. We naturally
turn to the events which the day calls to mind and revert to
their origin.

England, I repeat, bestowed these two gifts, Liberty and
Slavery, on this new world. Liberty she gave reluctantly.

The men who brought it hither were driven by persecution
from her shores. And that they were enabled to preserve the
sacred gift amidst the horrors of the wilderness was owinc. to
no fostering help of hers. She cared not if they perished.
Not until they began .to grow in numbers and in streno-th did
she take any notice of them, and then she extended hm- arm
to them only to make them feel its oppressive weight, and to
crush the liberty which her outcast children had brought to
these shores.

But that other and fatal gift of African bondage she fas-
tened on this Northern continent with a willing hand, in oppo-
sition to the wishes, the conscience, and the humanity of these
then infant colonies. In the original draft of the Declaration
of our National Independence, it was formally stated, as you
know, as one of the causes justifying that Declaration, that the
British King had insisted upon establishing this accursed inte-
rest on this soil ; accursed indeed, because, while it brought
material wealth, its inevitable effect was from the very first to
corrupt the hearts of the people by so inflaming the lust of
gain and of power as to deprave their natural sense of justice
and humanity.

Such is briefly the record of the past in regard to the re-
lation to this country of British power acting through its civil
organization. And now, after two centuries and a half, Eng-
land is again, to all appearances, preparing to assume the
position of protecting the bondage of the African in this land.
Plmgmg behind her the great pledges she gave of her obliga-
tions to the Cause of Human Freedom by the Abolition of the
Slave trade more than fifty years ago, and by the Emancipation
of her West Indian colonies thirty years ago, she is commit-
ting herself to an alliance with the flagrant rebellion against
God and man, which threatens, not only the existence of this
nation, but Human Rights everywhere. Already her influ-
ence has wrought to infuse into this atrocious treason against
mankind the strength which alone has enabled it to live to
this hour. Long before this the slaveholders' revolt would

have come to a miserable end had it not been animated by
the hope that with the rich bribe of Southern cotton it
■wouhl soon be able to purchase the powerful help of English
recognition. This was one of the two grounds of reliance
upon which the Southern leaders dared to commit the overt
act of treason. Who believes that they would have ventured
to perpetrate the outrage save in the confident expectation of
Northern sympathy and foreign recognition, the recognition
of England most especially ? The hope of the first, of the
sympathy of a Northern party, was blown to atoms by the
first gun discharged against Fort Sumter. And the hope of the
other, the recognition of England, would have been shivered
in like manner if England, true to her grand position as the
Abolisher of the Slave trade and the Emancipator of Slaves,
had held herself grossly insulted by so much as the faintest
hint of a proposition to recognize as a sister nation a commu-
nity formally planting itself upon the lawfulness of buying
and selling human beings. She should have scorned the idea,
as she would the proposal to reinstate the Algerines or to ac-
knowledge the independence of any colony of buccaneers.
This, and nothing less than this, she owed instantly to her
own fame. Let it be that she had no love for us of the North,
that republican institutions looked weak and vulgar in her
eyes, and that the spectacle of our Northern prosperity had
made no impression upon her ; let it be that she was utterly
insensible to the enthusiastic hospitality with which the whole
people of the Free States had just received her young Prince,
still she owed it to herself, to every event in her great history
which has attested her love of liberty, and which has given
her so commanding a position in the aftairs of mankind, — she
owed it to God and man to repel with instant and crushing
contempt the insulting suspicion that she could give counte-
nance to a movement which, under the thinly woven pretexts,
which any child could see through, of an alleged riglit of
Secession and of the Sovereignty of States, undertakes to re-
verse the Eternal Law of natural Right and to make human


beings, not what God Almighty made them to be, but chattels
and brutes. Had she done so at the very first, had she given
the world to understand at the very first symptom of this out-
break that for no material consideration could the Southern
attempt to nationalize human bondage receive from her any-
thing but her most emphatic condemnation, that attempt
would have been overwhelmed with speedy and signal failure.

Indeed, if, immediately upon the emancipation of her West
Indian colonies, England had made it the condition of the
continuance of her friendly relations with these United States
that we should follow her example and in like manner eman-
cipate our bondsmen, it would only have been in accordance
with the noble stand she had taken as the champion of Human
Rights. But this, I suppose, was too much to be expected.
The least, however, she could do, standing where she stood,
was to see to it that no new efi"ort was made to perpetuate the
bondage of the African. Identified as she was with the Cause
of the Slave, she should have frowned down at once the idea of
receiving into the sisterhood of Christian nations a community
deliberately basing itself on the violated rights of man. And
had she done this the attempt, I repeat, would have been
crushed in the bud.

But this England did not do. On the contrary, at the
breaking out of the Southern Rebellion, wholly untouched by
the fact of twenty millions of people rising up as one man
against the outrage, England at once began to contemplate the
idea of giving the hand of national fellowship) to the slavehold-
ing confederation as something more than a possibility, and
forthwith placed herself in the posture of waiting and watch-
ing for an opportunity to put the idea into execution. And
she has availed herself of the shortcomings of the North to ex-
cuse herself for her own dereliction from the duty which she
owed, not to us, but to herself and to mankind. Because this
Government, instead of closing the Southern ports, blockaded
them, and thus virtually conceded to the Southern conspirators
a belligerent character, England pleaded that^she only followed

our example in regarding tliem in the same light. And because
the Free States have not even yet ventured fully and squarely
to assume the Anti-slavery position, to which the South has
driven them in the great struggle, England and Englishmen ask,
with an air of the greatest innocence, " How can you of the
North expect us to sympathize with you ? You are not, you say
yourselves, contending against slavery." Whatever we of the
North are contending for or against, however imperfectly we
may state our side of the case, there cannot he the shadow
of a doubt as to what the one purpose of the Slave States is.
That purpose is just as plain as it is barbarian. Although the
L English people know nothing else about our part of the world,

^ they cannot be ignorant of that. And if they cannot sympa-

thize with our Northern policy or no-policy, much less can
they sympathize with the aim of the South, that is if they
have a"ny true sympathy to bestow or to withhold. Although
they have no love to give us, they can have nothing but ab-
horrence for the unholy enterprise of the Southern slavemas-
ters if their hatred of Slavery be as strong as they protess,
and'as their whole history justifies us in supposing it to be.

But instead of manifesting any opposition to the Southern
movement, instead of evincing the slightest repugnance to it,
England takes without a blush the ground of neutrality; a
ground which, in a contest like the present, is an absolute im-
possibility. Neutrality between Freedom and Bondage! That
L in plain words, England, that she may get the cotton that
she has learned how to turn into bread, claims to be neither
for God nor for the Devil. Oh, friends, it is no more possible
for nations, though they have ruled the seas for a thousand
« years and girdled the globe with the ensigns of their power, - -i

i i no more possible for them than it is for individual men to take

neutral gro'und between freedom such as ours, and te inhuman
bondage for which the South contends; between the Etena
:: of^Natural Justice and the violation of that law wi ou
incurring the guilt of complicity with the violator. A\boso
not for the Ilight,..^hich is now so ruthlessly assailed, is against

it. And England may profess and protest as much as she
chooses, her influence is working, and will continue to work
as it has already worked, to strengthen the bloodstained
hands which are striving to rend in pieces the God-written
charter of Human Rights. In form, she may stand aloof; in
fact, she is making herself an accomplice in the crime.
Blinded by her commercial interests, she has taken a false
and most perilous step, perilous to her own character ; a step
which it will be no easy thing for her to retrace, because as it
is with individuals, so is it with nations : when once they
commit themselves to a position, their pride instantly blind-
folds them to their error, binds them to it as with chains of
iron, and then goes before them and drags them to their fall.

That we should see things as they are is the imperative
necessity of the hour, and therefore, for the sake of the truth,
to which, now when everything else threatens to fail us, we
can alone look for guidance, the position of that nation, our
amicable relations with which are in peril of being interrupted,
must be seen and understood. We must not be misled. We
must not be blind. We must see things as they are.

In what I am saying, I have not the shadow of a desire to
stir up any animosity against our mother country. I have never
yet heard of any other people from whom I could wish in pre-
ference that we had been descended. I have and can have no
national prejudice to gratify. I share in common with mil-
lions of the people of the North in the sentiment of venera-
tion for England, which we drew in with our mothers' milk,
and which one lineage, and one language, and one priceless
literature have tended to strengthen with our growth.

Neither have I the slightest disposition, in view of the pre-
sent state of our relations with England, to act the part of an
alarmist. I do not believe that the great majority of the
people of this country have any desire but to remain at peace
vfith. every other nation. I do not believe that one particle
of disrespect towards the flag of England had share in the act
which has just kindled the Old Country into a flame ; and

tterefore, I do not believe that anything that has yet occurred
will be accounted or appealed to as a justifying cause of war.
But I cannot help seeing that England has taken a false posi-
tion, false to her own honor, a position nominally neutral, but
in fact and from the necessity of things, committing her to an
alliance with a rebellion against the Rights of Humanity. She
has placed herself, however vehemently she may disclaim it,
in an attitude hostile to the North. It forces her at this mo-
ment to be the protector of rebels and slaveholders. Had she
taken the high ground upon which it was due to her own
history that she should stand, no rebel commissioners would
have dared to set foot upon a deck of hers ; or when they had,
and had been taken as they have been, she would have shared
our satisfaction in the seizure of traitors to God and man, and
made a special acknowledgment to our Government for the
rescue of her flag from dishonor. Thus false, I say, is her
position, that she is forced, whether with her will or against it,
to take sides with this great treason. Although nothing that
has as yet occurred may be considered to justify war, so long
as England stands where she is, there is perpetual danger that
we shall.be brought into bloody collision with her.

Notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, up to the
present hour there has existed far and wide throughout these
Free States, a love of England, strong and deep, second only
to the love we bear our country. How could it be otherwise ?
England is the native soil, the birthplace of this American
nation. Thence, as from its original fountain, we drew our
national life. Our intellectual being has been built up out of
the strong and costly material of English thought. The soil
of that country is our classic ground.

Nothing more decisively reveals the deep interest we have
in England than our extreme sensitiveness to English opi-
nions of us. Men care little for judgments passed upon them
by those whom they neither respect nor love, to whom they
are wholly indifferent. What travellers from other countries,



France or Germany, coming among us, say or write about us,
receives little of our regard, however wise and just it may be.
But the remarks of English travellers instantly attract our
attention, and an importance is attached to them out of all
proportion to their worth. It is true we have become a little
hardened against English criticism, as it was very desirable
we should be. The time has been when it seemed as if the
American character were losing all pretensions to any dignity
or self-respect, so sensitive were we to what Englishmen and
Englishwomen said of us, and into such unmanly exhibitions
of chagrin and indignation were we driven by any w^ord of
slight or ridicule from English lips. It seemed at one time as
if we depended for our very existence upon what was thought
of us in that quarter. I do not think that in all history can
be found any parallel to the strong affection of the people of
this free North for England. It is native to us. Two wars
and occasional misunderstandings, such as will sometimes occur
among the nearest of kin, have not been able to extinguish it.
And of late years we have been insensibly growing in the
belief that the affection Ave have so long and so fervently
cherished for the old country was reciprocated ; that, as we
had so long looked with admiring eyes upon England, England
was beginning to regard this country with a new and kind-
ly interest. We flattered ourselves that our rapid growth
and unexampled prosperity, and the many and valuable con-
tributions which this country has made to the arts of life were
beginning to tell in our favor, and win for us her cordial re-
spect, and that she Avas really learning to regard us with some-
thing of the affection which we cherished for her ; that she
was finding out that life in this quarter of the world Avas not
altogether mean and vulgar. And Avhen she sent her young
Prince to visit us, Ave took it as a signal token of her respect.
With what heartiness he Avas received you all freshly remem-
ber. So far as his reception by our people Avas concerned,
there was nothing, until he entered a sla\'e State, to remind
him that he had passed the boundaries of the dominions of


his mother. Indeed, so hearty was that reception, that some
of us were so romantic as to expect that the Prince and his
attendants would carry back such a report of the goodwill to-
wards England, so cordially expressed by these Nortliern
States, that a marked advance would instantly be made by
the people of the old country in their regard for us, and that
we should soon thereafter find that they were at least improvincr
in their geographical knowledge, and were finding out where
Washington stands, and New York and Boston. But it seems
now that the Prince and his attendant noblemen took all our
attentions as the due of their rank, and never interpreted them
as the signs, which they simply were, of our veneration, not
for their tinsel stars and ribbons, but for the great Enirlish
nation, whose representatives these persons were. In fact
some of the leading political writers of England sneeringly
attributed the enthusiasm with which the Prince was welcomed
here, not to any regard for England, but to an American fond-
ness for shows.

Not only the slight impression Avhich the warmth of that
welcome made upon the English mind, but much that has
occurred since : the interpretation of our legislation, as if it
were intended to put an afi"ront upon her, and as if England,
m all her laws of trade, had always been studiously careful of
the interests of other nations; and particularly her bearino-
towards us since the breaking out of our present great trouble,
forces upon us the mortifying conviction that England does not
love us, that she has never dreamed of reciprocating our fer-
vent regards. While our evident and rapidly growing power
has awed her into bating her breath in the expression' of her
contempt, she has not been able to conceal not only that she
has not loved us, but that she regards us with secret dislike.
She has not been able to hide her desire that this Republic
should be broken up.

We need not have waited for a state of things like the pre-
sent, to disclose to us the feelings with which the English
people have looked upon us. We might very safely have in-


ferred their dislike of us from the ignorance in which they have
persisted in wrapping themselves up in regard not only to our
political institutions, but even to the most obvious facts of our
geography. When we have committed any offence against
good manners, and betrayed any vulgarity, they have been
quick to note and to publish it, but English eyes have been stu-
diously averted from the map of the United States. They
have been too much annoyed by its size to bear to examine its
details, or to take note of those features of it which, with our
institutions, and our blood, make it the map of One Nation,
One and Indivisible. The English are pre-eminently an en-
lightened people. They ransack every department of human
knowledge. What is there that escapes them ? Their gross
ignorance of this country, then, can be accounted for only
u'pon the supposition that it is a subject for which they have
no fondness but a positive aversion.

And when we pause over this English dislike of us, the
reason of it soon becomes apparent. Although it^ may be
creditahle to our good nature, it is mortifying to our 'sagacity
that we should ever have overlooked it. How could it pos-
sibly have been otherwise, than that England should regard
us as she has done ? The existence of a populous and pros-
perous Republic,— of a great successful country, without a
throne, without a nobility, without an established church,—
how could we ever have been so foolish as to imagine that such
a spectacle could be pleasing in the eyes of those, in whose
very blood it is to believe that without kings, lords, and
bishops, any decent civilization is impossible ?

My friends, the prosperity, the existence of this country, with
its free, democratic institutions, is a standing menace to every
form of monarchical government in Christendom, and it fur-
nishes all living under such forms, who feel their oppressive
power with an impregnable ground of opposition. Why, if it
were not for the horrible bondage which we have cherished within
our borders, the like of which for barbarity exists in no other
Christian country even the most despotic, and which has palsied


our influence, we sliould long since have revolutionized every na-
tion m Europe ; and this not by any active interference in their
affairs, but by the bare fact of our existence. What oppres-
sive mode of government could have stood before the fact
of millions of human beings, living here in such freedom and
unprecedented activity and rare harmony as our social insti-
tutions foster? Is it any wonder that England does not like
us? How thoughtless in us to imagine that she should; or
that the prospect of our overthrow could fail to give her
satisfaction ! Of all the nations of the earth, she is most
susceptible of our influence, because we both have one language
and are of one blood. It is impossible that she should regard
us with the cordiality which she would be sure to feel for us,
were we upholding a form of society like her own. The more
we have loved and revered England, thus showing that neither
wars nor differences of any sort have been able to extinguish
our goodwill towards her, and in this respect proving that our
liberal institutions do not encourage the growth of national
prejudices, the more difficult has it been for her to return our

I have dwelt thus somewhat at length upon the relations in
which we stand to our mother country, because the perils and
portents of the hour render them deeply interesting. It is
well to know our friends. We are threatened with war by
England. It would be a great calamity. And although, as I
have already remarked, I do not believe that the special cir-
cumstances that occasion the threat, are sufficient to justify its
execution, it is needful that we should understand the temper
of that country towards us. England occupies, as we have seen,
a false position towards these Free Northern States. And
m relation to us, as we have also seen, she has no goodwill to
spare. That she has, with all her mighty armament, a grow-
ing aversion to war we may believe. If such a long and ter-
rible experience of bereavement and debt as she has had in
the bloody art has been lost upon her, we may well despair of
the education of nations. At least that England will not pre-
cipitate a war, we may reasonably trust. But we are not per-




mitted to put any reliance upon her kindly feeling towards
us It will become our Government to use the utmost caution,
because we can count upon no goodwill of hers to put the best
construction upon any indiscreet word. Having no love for
us England will be slow to believe that we can have any con-
sideration for her. Already the English Press is talking as if
we had an intention of picking a quarrel with her I as if, what-
ever might be our intentions at other times, we could entertain
such unutterable folly now, or have any but the most anxious
desire, at this most painful juncture, to maintain friendly rela-
tions with all foreign governments. Such being the spirit of
the English people, although the present cloud may pass, God
only knows how soon another and darker cloud may arise, es-
pecially in such a stormy time, and so long as England main-
tains her present ground, which, however strenuously she may


Online LibraryWilliam Henry FurnessEngland and America : a discourse delivered by W.H. Furness, minister of the First Congregational Unitarian Church, Sunday, December 22, 1861 → online text (page 1 of 2)