William Lloyd Garrison.

Selections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. online

. (page 10 of 33)
Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonSelections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. → online text (page 10 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

by any other name would smell as sweet.' Language
may be misapplied, and so be absurd or unjust — as, for
example, to say that an abolitionist is a fanatic, or that a
slaveholder is an honest man. But to call things by their
right names is to use neither hard nor improper language.
Epithets may be rightly applied, it is true, and yet be uttered
in a bad spirit, or with a malicious design. What then ?
Shall we discard all terms which are descriptive of crime,
because they are not always used with fairness and propriety ?
He who, when he sees oppression, cries out against it —
who, when he beholds his equal brother trodden under foot
by the iron hoof of despotism, rushes to his rescue — who,
when he sees the weak overborne by the strong, takes sides
with the former, at the imminent peril of his own safety —
such a man needs no certificate to the excellence of his



temper, or the sincerity of his heart, or the disinterestedness
of his conduct. It is the apologist of slavery — he who can
see the victim of thieves lying bleeding and helpless on the
cold earth, and yet turn aside, like the callous-hearted priest
and Levite — who needs absolution.

The Anti-Slavery cause is beset by many dangers. But
there is one which we have special reason to apprehend. It
is, that this hollow cant and senseless clamor about ' hard
language,' will insensibly check that free utterance of
•^thought, and close application of the truth, which have char-
acterized abolitionists from the beginning. As that cause
is becoming popular, and many may be induced to espouse
it from motives of policy, rather than from any reverence
for principle, let us beware how we soften our just severity
of speech, or emasculate a single epithet. The whole scope
of the English language is inadequate to describe the horrors
and impieties of slavery, and the transcendent wickedness
of those who sustain this bloody system. Instead, therefore,
of repudiating any of its strong terms, we rather need a
new and stronger dialect. Hard language ! Let us mark
those who complain of its use. In ninety-nine cases out of
a hundred, they will be found to be the most unscrupulous
in their allegations, the most bitter in their spirit, the most
vituperative in their manner of expression, when alluding to
abolitionists. The cry of ' hard language ' has become stale
in my ears. The faithful utterance of that language has, by
the blessing of God, made the Anti-Slavery cause what it is —
ample in resources, strong in numbers, victorious in conflict.
Like the hand-writing upon the wall of the palace, it has
caused the knees of the American Belshazzar to smite
together in terror, and filled with dismay all who follow in his
train. Soft phrases and honeyed accents were tried in vain
for many a year : — they had no adaptation to the subject.
' Canst thou draw out the leviathan, Slavery, with a hook ?


or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down ? Canst
thou put a hook into his nose ? or bore his jaw through with
a thorn ? Will he make many supplications unto thee ?
wilt thou take him for a servant for ever ? Shall not one be
cast down at the sight of him ? Out of his nostrils goeth
smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath
kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth. His
heart is as firm as a stone ; yea, as hard as a piece of the
nether mill-stone. When he raiseth up himself, even the
mighty are afraid. He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as
rotten wood.' O the surpassing folly of those ' wise and
prudent ' men, who think he may be coaxed into a willing-
ness to be destroyed, and who regard him as the gentlest of
all fish — provided he be let alone ! They say it will irritate
him to charge him with being a leviathan ; he will cause the
deep to boil like a pot. Call him a dolphin, and he will not
get angry ! If I should call these sage advisers by their
proper names, no doubt they would be irritated too.

Strong denunciatory language is consistent with gentleness
of spirit, long-sufiering, and perfect charity. It was the God
whose name was Love, who could speak, even to his chosen
people, in the following terms, by the mouth of his prophet
Ezekiel : — ' An end, the end has come upon the four corners
of the land. I will send mine anger upon thee, and wiU
judge thee according to thy ways, and will recompense upon
thee all thy abominations. And mine eye shall not spare,
neither will I have pity.' ' A third part of thee shall die
with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed
in the midst of thee : and a third part shall fall by the sword,
round about thee, and I will scatter a third part into all the
winds, and I will draw out a sword after them.' It was the
Lamb of God who could exclaim, — ' Wo unto you, scribes
and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses,
and for a pretence make long prayers : therefore ye shall


receive the greater damnation. Ye blind guides ! which
strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Ye serpents, ye gen-
eration of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of
hell ? ' It was the martyr Stephen, who, though in his dying
agonies, supplicated forgiveness for his enemies, and, a few
moments before his cruel death, could address his country-
men in the following strain : — ' Ye stiff-necked, and uncir-
cumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy
Ghost : as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the proph-
•ets have not your fathers persecuted ? and ye have slain
them which showed before of the coming of the Just One ;
of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.'

My accusers impudently assert, that I have seriously
injured the sacred cause of liberty. Much do they care
for the speedy triumph of that cause ! Rather, they care
nothing, fear nothing about it, except that the abolition-
ists will succeed in putting the slave-system down. Will
any man say, that I have overrated the rights, privileges,
enjoyments of liberty ? — that I have eulogized it too strong-
ly, painted its beauties in too glowing colors, represented it
above its true value, advocated its universal prevalence too
earnestly, defended it too vigorously against the assaults of
its enemies .? Who and where is that man ? Is he a man ?
Is he an American, a Republican, a Christian ? Why, I
have been taught from childhood to consider liberty an ines-
timable boon, — as something worth contending for, worth
dying for, above all price, above all earthly considerations !
It has been instilled into me, that

* A day, an hour of virtuous liberty
Is worth a whole eternity of bondage ! '

and I shall be slow to unlearn a lesson that so perfectly har-
monises with all the instincts and aspirations of the soul.


I thought American freemen subscribed to the affirmation,
that it is

'Better to sit in Freedom's hall,
With a cold damp floor and mouldering wall,
Than to bend the neck, or bow the knee.
In the proudest palace of slavery ! '

I thought it was the earnest inquiry in 1776, — ' the times
that tried men's souls,' —

* O, where 's the slave, so lowly,

Condemned to chains unholy.
Who, could he burst his bonds at first.

Would pine beneath them slowly ?

What soul, whose wrongs degrade it,

Would wait till time decayed it.
When thus its wing at once might spring

To the throne of Him w'ho made it ? '

' O Liberty ! O sound once delightful to every Amer-
ican ear ! Once sacred, but now trampled upon ! ' Arise
from the dust, armed with immortal energy, and scatter thy
foes as chaff is driven before the whirlwind ! Knowest thou
not that thou art destined to be the conqueror of the world,
and that no weapon against thee can prosper ? 0, sublime is
the conflict before thee, and right royally shalt thou triumph,
to the joy of all heaven and earth !

That I have estimated a state of freedom too highly is
impossible ! The difficulty is, to appreciate it, in all its
grandeur and glory. Never, never can I be too thankful to
God, that I was not born a slave ; that my wife and little
ones arc secure from the clutches of the kidnapper ; that
my hearth-stone is sacred to purity and love ; that it is not
the horrible fate of myself and family, to be prized as goods
and chattels, and herded with four-footed beasts and creep-
ing things. O, to be free as the winds of heaven ; to be


restrained by nothing but love to God and love to man ; to
go and come, rise up or lie down, labor or rest, just as the
free spirit shall elect ; to stand up in the dignity of manhood,
almost on a level with the angels of God, and find no supe-
rior on earth ; to understand all knowledge, and know the
why and wherefore of ' the brave overhanging sky,' and the
outstretched earth, and pry into the mysteries of creation ;
above all, to be instructed from those Scriptures which
are able to make the seeker wise unto salvation, and which
show what is the perfect will of God, and how w^e may
become free indeed in Christ Jesus ; this is to make life a
blessing, and the reverse of it a curse. I have not, then, at
any time, extolled liberty too highly.

Still, the popular cry against me is, that have T spoken of
slavery, and slaveholders, and the apologists of slavery, in
harsh, denunciatory language, so as greatly to injure the
cause I profess to love. This is not only hypercritical, but,
I fear, hypocritical, on the part of my accusers. Who ever
knew men induced to love freedom less, because they w^ere
urged to hate slavery more ? I scoff at such a conclusion !
That my language has been rough, vehement, denunciatory,
is true : but why ? Because the exigency of the times
demanded it ; because any other language would have been
inappropriate and ineffectual ; because my theme was not a
gentle one, about buds, and blossoms, and flowers, and gentle
zephyrs, and starry skies ; but about a nation of boasting re-
publicans and Christians, ruthlessly consigning to chains and
slavery every sixth person born in the land — about a land,

♦ Where the image of God is accounted as base,
And the image of Csesar set up in its place * —

about one vast system of crime and blood, and all imaginable
lewdness and villany — about the robbers of God's poor,



those who keep back the hire of, their laborers by fraud,
those who sin against the clearest hght, and in the most
awful manner. Now, what words shall I use to express the
convictions of an honest soul, in view of such atrocious
impiety, and such unequalled meanness and baseness ?
Shall they be gentle, and carefully selected, arid cautiously
expressed ? Away with such counsel ; it is treason against
the throne of God ! Call things by their right names, and
let the indignant spirit find free utterance.

' On such a theme 't were impious to be calm !
Passion is reason, transport temper here ! '

It may be said, this is all declamation, — why not argue
the matter ? Argue, indeed ! What is the proposition to
be discussed ? It is this : whether all men are created free
and equal, and have an inalienable right to liberty ! I am
urged to argue this with a people, who declare it to be a
self-evident truth ! Why, such folly belongs to Bedlam.
When my countrymen shall burn their Bibles, and rescind
their famous Declaration of Independence, and reduce
themselves to colonial dependence upon the mother countiy,
I will find both time and patience to reason with them on the
subject of human rights. Argument is demanded — to prove
what > Why, that one man has no right to make a chattel
of another ! that he is a thief who picks another man's
pockets, and kidnaps his body and soul ! that an American
citizen, who is a slave-master, and yet pretends to be a
republican or Christian, is an arrant hypocrite ! that to sell
families at auction, like cattle or swine, in lots to suit purchas-
ers, is a crime ! that to forbid the instruction of almost one
half of the Southern population, and also the circulation of
the Iiible, under terrible pains and penalties, is to incur the
displeasure of Heaven! that it would be right, safe, expedi-
ent, to pay a laborer wages, recognise and treat him as a


man, place him under the protection of equal laws, and
cease brutalizing him without a cause ! Are these proposi-
tions to be gravely discussed in the United States, in the
nineteenth century ? Not by me, whatever others may think
proper to do. For there is not a slaveholder in all the land,
who does not as certainly know that he is a thief and a
tyrant, as that he exists, — whether he claims to be a titled
divine, or a Senator in Congress. How do I make good the
assertion ? By condemning him out of his own mouth : for
he acknowledges, that the sentiments contained in his coun-
try's Declaration are true, yet dares to put an equal brother
under his feet ! By appealing to his own nature : for, sooner
than he would suffer himself to be placed in the condition
of his slave, he would choose to encounter death in any
form. No man ever yet hated his own flesh. Therefore,
' thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,' — and ' whatsoever
ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.'
' He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.' The day for
admitting excuses has gone by ! No man may now plead
ignorance of his duty. The motives for immediate action
are overwhelming. More than three millions of men, women
and children already in chains in our midst ; seventy thou-
sand infants, the offspring of slave parents, annually kid-
napped from their birth ; the right of petition trampled in
the dust ; freedom of speech no longer tolerated ; the slave
system defended as a divine institution by the rulers in Church
and State ; and the whole country filled with pollution, vio-
lence, and blood ; behold out situation, and what is to be our
fate, as a people, if we will not amend our ways and our
doings !

Still, envy, and effrontery, and falsehood, and Jesuitism,
accuse me of hindering the work of emancipation! The
Southern advocates of perpetual slavery, who fear and hate
me exceedingly, make oath that I have prolonged the bond-


age of their slaves at least one century. The same charge
is (inconsistently enough !) brought against me by the North-
ern supporters of the bloody slave-system, who dread noth-
ing so much as the liberation of the slaves. They who fear
not God and regard not the black man, who riotously assem-
ble together to destroy freedom of speech and of the
press, whose only arguments are curses, brickbats and rotten
eggs, who are anxious to give a coat of tar and feathers to
every man who pities the oppressed, who offer rewards for
my abduction and murder ; these publicly howl and mourn
because I am an insurmountable obstacle to the deliverance
of their oppressed colored brethren and sisters ! The
men of wolf-like ferocity, who are multiplying the stripes
upon the bodies of their victims, and making their yokes
heavier and their chains more galling, and revelling in their
blood, and basely withholding their wages, and excluding
every ray of knowledge from their minds, and claiming a
heaven-derived title to their bodies and souls, — these eagerly
and unitedly affirm, that I am not only accountable for this
new infliction of their cruelty, but positively rivetting those
fetters which they themselves would gladly break, — at a
more convenient season, — were I out of the way ! In short,
all who swear eternal hostility to the colored population ; all
who impiously maintain that the prejudices against them are
natural, invincible, and beyond the power of religion to sub-
due ; all who aim to banish them to a strange and barbarous
land ; all who implore that they may have a little more
sleep and a little more slumber ; all who are greedy of the
gains of oppression ; and all who fear the threats of the
oppressor more than they do the judgments of the Almighty,
whatever may be their other differences of opinion, are sin-
gularly agreed upon this one thing — that I am greatly hin-
dering the emancipation, elevation and happiness of my
enslaved countrymen ! Aside from other evidence, these


declarations furnish conclusive proofs that my course is
straight and direct, and that I am successfully doing the
very thing that ought to be done for the overthrow of ' that
most execrable villany,^ American slavery. When such
men, continuing in their prejudices or oppressions, shall
begin to approve of my course, and to recognise me as a
co-worker, I shall then know to a certainty that I am as cor-
rupt, as cruel, and as dishonest as they would fain make me
appear. As rationally might it be said, that Fulton, by his
application of steam power, has injured navigation ; or that
the multiplication of rail-roads obstructs the transportation
of goods, and diminishes the public travel. When the Prince
of Evil vociferously declares, that you are not fighting
to advantage against him, that you are wasting your powder
and balls, and that you do not manage aright to dethrone
him ; nay, that by your labors you are only building up,
instead of subverting his dark kingdom ; and when he offers
to show you how to lie in ambush, how to place your can-
non, and how to carry on the siege against him, rely upon it,
that he is still ' a liar from the beginning,' and that he feels
his supremacy to be in danger.

But let the unparalleled and glorious change wrought in
public sentiment, since the establishment of the Liberator,
through the potency of truth, determine whether my labors
have been injurious or beneficial. Before the review is
commenced, let it be premised, that the slave-system is
one of the strongholds of the devil — perhaps the strong-
est ; that it has been strengthening and enlarging itself for
more than two hundred years ; that it is a combination of
almost every conceivable crime against God or man — such
as robbery, cruelty, lewdness, adultery, blasphemy, oppres-
sion, soul-murder, &c. &c. ; and that the necessary conse-
quences of a righteous and vigorous attack upon it must be
a stirring up of the fury and resistance of the oppressors,


and a shaking of tlie nation that has so long tolerated it.
A few years ago, was not the land slumbering in the lap of
moral death, upon this subject? Who did not deride or
oppose the doctrines that I then promulgated ? Where was
there one society organized with the doctrine of ' immediate
emancipation ' as its basis ? Who wished me God-speed ?
How many stood by me, — how many encouraged me, —
how many patronized the Liberator ? What agents occu-
pied the field, and dispensed light to the people ? Look
back only two years ago, and see how mighty has been the
growth of our cause during that brief period ! Since the
days of Luther, has the world witnessed so rapid a transfor-
mation in public sentiment, amidst equal difficulties, trials
and sacrifices ? It was with difficulty that a small body of
men could then defray their expenses to Philadelphia, to
form an Anti-Slavery Convention ! They were opulent in
faith, but without money in their purse. Yet they assembled
together, and were a gazing-stock to the nation. They
prayed, and pleaded, and resolved, as did they of old, of
whom the world was not worthy ; and they enunciated truths
that have shaken the system of slavery to its foundation.
W^here now is that other monster, who lifted his proud crest
to heaven, seemingly invincible in his strength, — the Ameri-
can Colonization Society? Struggling in the agonies of
dissolution ! Look, now, at that powerful association, the
American Anti-Slavery Society ! Look at seven flourishing
State Societies ! Look at one thousand auxiliary societies,
and see them multiplying daily ! Look at the flood of our
publications sweeping through the land, and carrying joy,
and hope, and life, and fertility, wherever they go ! See
how many presses have espoused our cause ! See how
many agents are in the field, how many pens employed, how
many tongues loosed, how many prayers oftcred ! And the
stream of sympathy still rolls on — its impetus is increasing;


and it must ere long sweep away the pollutions of slavery.
What then ? Do I boast of this as my work ? God forbid !
To Him be all the glory and renown. But, as an instrument,
he has honored my labors ; he has induced a great multitude
of wise and good men, and holy women, to adopt my views
and principles ; and he has thus confounded those who would
fain make it appear, that I have labored worse than in vain.
The work is his — the cause is his — and his shall be the vic-
tory. ' Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name, O Lord,
be the glory ! '

The sins of abolitionists are those of omission, rather than
of commission. We do not yet reason, and feel, and act,
precisely as if our wives and daughters were given over to
the tender mercies of lewd and brutal wretches, or our chil-
dren were liable to be sold to the slave speculators at any
moment, or the chains were about to be fastened upon our
own free limbs. They who accuse us of being uncharitable
in spirit, harsh in speech, personal in denunciation, have no
sympathy with the oppressed, and therefore are disqualified
to sit in judgment upon our conduct. They do not regard
the negro race as equal to the Anglo-Saxon ; hence it is
impossible for them to resent a wrong or an outrage done to
a black man as they would to a white. In regard to their
own rights and enjoyments, they are sensitively alive to the
slightest encroachments upon them. Touch but their inter-
ests, however lightly, conflict with their prerogatives, how-
ever gently, injure their persons, however triflingly, and see
how they will flame, and denounce, and threaten! Such
men are condemned out of their own mouths. Let no heed
be given to what they say of our principles and measures.
Their criticism is as false as their philanthropy is spurious.
They make great pretensions to prudence, which means
moral cowardice ; to gentleness of spirit, which means
total insensibility ; to moderation, which means stony-heart-


edness ; to candor and impartiality, which mean favoritism
and spleen ; to evangelical piety, which means cant and

But I will not enlarge upon this point. If Southern slave-
holders, and their apologists, cannot endure our rebukes,
how will they be able to bear the awful retributions of
Heaven, w^hich must inevitably overwhelm them, unless they
speedily repent ? I am ready to make a truce witli the
South : if she will give up her stolen property, I will no
longer brand her as a thief; if she will desist from driving
woman into the field, like a beast, under the lash of a brutal
overseer, — from stealing infants, from trafficking in human
flesh, from keeping back the hire of the laborer by fraud —
I will agree not to call her a monster ; if she will honor the
marriage institution, and sacredly respect the relations of
life, and no longer license incest, pollution and adultery, I
will not represent her as Sodomitish in spirit and practice ;
if she will no longer prevent the unobstructed circulation of
the Scriptures, and the intellectual and religious educa-
tion of her benighted population, I will not stigmatize her
as practically atheistical. In short, if she will abolish her
cruel slave-system, root and branch, at once and for ever,
we will instantly disband all our anti-slavery societies, and
no longer agitate the land. But, until she thus act, we shall
increase, instead of relaxing our efforts — multiply, instead of
diminishing our associations — and make our rebukes more
terrible than ever !

' If wc have whispered truth,

Whisper no longer ;
But speak as the tempest docs,

Sterner and stronger ! '



lung nf tljie atnlitinnist

I AM an Abolitionist !

I glory in the name ;
Though now by Slavery's minions hissed,

And covered o'er with shame :
It is a spell of light and power —

The watchword of the free : —
"Who spurns it in the trial-hour,

A craven soul is he !


I am an Abolitionist !

Then urge me not to pause ;
For joyfully do I enlist

In Freedom's sacred cause :
A nobler strife the world ne'er saw,

Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonSelections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. → online text (page 10 of 33)