William Lloyd Garrison.

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

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« Have ye chosen, O my people, on whose party ye shall stand,
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes its dust against our

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the Truth alone is strong,
And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.'

Of all the reformers who have appeared in the world —
whether they were prophets, the Son of God, apostles, mar-
tyrs or confessors ; whether assailing one form of popular
iniquity or another ; whether impeaching the rulers in the
State, or the teachers in the Church ; not one of them has
been exempt from the charge of dealing in abusive language,
of indulging in coarse personalities, of libelling the cliarac-
ters of great and good men, of aiming to subvert time-hon-


ored and glorious institutions, of striking at the foundations
of the social fabric, of being actuated by an irreligious spirit.
The charge has ever been false, malicious, the very reverse
of the truth ; and it is only the reformer himself who has
been the victim of calumny, hatred and persecution. His
accusations are denied, his impeachments are pronounced
libellous, simply because the giant iniquity which he assails
has subdued to its own evil purposes all the religious and
political elements of the land, and everywhere passes cur-
rent as both necessary and reputable. Of Jesus it was said,
' This man is not of God ; he keepeth not the Sabbath day.'
' He is a blasphemer ; he hath a devil.' Of the Apostles it
was said, ' They are pestilent and seditious fellows, who go
about seeking to turn the world upside down.' And Paul
declares that they were treated as the offscouring of all
things. Luther and his coadjutors were represented as the
monsters of their times. Those excellent and wonderful
men, Penn, Fox, Barclay, with the early Friends, suffered
every kind of reproach, and experienced great tribulation,
as infidel emissaries and fanatical disorganizers. Before the
abolition of the African slave trade, Wilberforce and Clark-
son were vehemently denounced as interfering with vested
rights, and seeking to cripple the prosperity of England ;
and a murderous attempt was made to drown the latter in
the river Mersey, at Liverpool. It is needless to ask how
those heroic and unfaltering pioneers of our race are now
regarded. The mid-day sun, shining in the fullness of its
strength, is not brighter — the firm-set earth is not more
solid, than their fame ; and down through all coming time
shall they be hailed by countless processions of new-born
generations as among the saviors of their race. There will
be none to distrust their disinterestedness, none to question
their sanity, none to scofi" at their testimony.


' For Humanity sweeps onward ; where to-day the martyr stands,
On the morrow crouches Judas with the silver in his hands ;
Far in front the Cross stands ready, and the crackling faggots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into History's golden urn.

' Careless seems the great Avenger ; history's pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the

Word ;
Truth for ever on the scaffold, Wrong for ever on the throne, —
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.'

In taking a retrospect of the past, the present stands osten-
sibly amazed and shocked at the treatment of those glorious
old reformers. It sees nothing in the sternest language of
the prophets to condemn ; it hails Jesus as the true Messiah,
and weeps over his crucifixion ; it venerates the memories
of the apostles and martyrs ; it places Luther, Calvin, Penn,
in the calendar of saints. It mourns that all these were
beyond its countenance and succor, and takes infinite credit
to itself, that it is animated by a far higher and nobler spirit.
All this is spurious virtue and mock piety ; it is a cheap
mode of being heroic and good, for it costs nothing. The
corrupt rulers, false prophets, and cunning priests, whom
Isaiah and Jeremiah rebuked, and who visited upon the
heads of these martyr-witnesses a terrible retribution, are all
in their graves, and can neither bribe nor overawe us ; nor
have we any interests in common with them ; and we there-
fore sit in judgment between them and their accusers with a
clear vision, a steady pulse, and an unbiased judgment.
The chief priests, scribes and pharisees, with the rabble who
cried out, ' Release not this man, but Barrabbas,' and ended
by crucifying Jesus between two thieves, are gone, with all
their official splendor, their religious authority, their brutal
ruffianism, their power to kill. We fear them not ; wc read


the woes pronounced against them by the faithful Nazarene,
and feel no indignation at his strong language ; we regard
that generation with abhorrence. So, too, they who hunted,
like wild beasts, the reformers of the 15th and 16th centu-
ries, are crumbled to dust, and we stand upon their ashes,
and brand them freely and bravely as a band of cowards
and persecutors. Why should we not ? We have no trade
at stake ; our reputation is not in peril ; the fires of Smith-
field are quenched ; we are living in the nineteenth century ;
and dead men cannot harm us. But what are we doing in
regard to the impostures, the crimes, the wrongs of our
own times, and our own country ? Are we grappling with
them, with any thing like the boldness of those whose sep-
ulchres we are proud to build, whose memories we almost
adore ? Are we striving to do for posterity what they did
for us, and thus honestly discharging that great debt ? Or
are we basely bowing the knee to a corrupt public sentiment,
hurrying with the multitude to do evil, and leaving those
responsibilities which God has imposed upon us, to be met
by those who shall come after us ? If not ourselves acting
as the moral pioneers of our times, what are we saying of
those who are willing to be made of no reputation for Truth's
sake, and who are receiving a share of the persecution that
was meted out to Jesus and his disciples ? Are we joining
with the enslavers of their fellow-men, with designing priests
and profligate demagogues, with the infuriated and lawless
mob, in raising the cry, * Fanatics ! traitors ! infidels ! '

If so, how much better, then, are we, than those old Jew-
ish murderers of our Lord, who built the tombs of the proph-
ets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous, and said,
' If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not
have been partakers with them in the blood of the proph-
ets ? ' To them the language of Jesus was, ' Wherefore
ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are children of them


which killed the prophets, and of you shall be required all
the blood that has been shed, from the blood of Abel unto
the blood of Zacharias.' If we are treading in their foot-
steps ; if we are as recreant to truth, as false to right, as
hostile to liberty, in our day, as they were in theirs ; if we
are unwilling to suffer in our reputation or worldly prosperity,
to look tyrants and impostors serenely in the face, and bid
them defiance while we unmask them ; if we ask, concern-
ing those who are perishing, or grinding in the prison-house
of bondage, ' Are we our brother's keepers? ' — then may
we not sing the praises of Christ as our exemplar and guide,
nor profess to honor his apostles, nor pretend to be animated
by the love of God. We must be associated — nay, if we
persevere in such a course, we shall be associated hereafter,
by posterity — with those whom we now admit were the
enemies of their race.

But let it not be so with us. Let us prove ourselves
worthy of the great and good who have gone before us.
Truth needs our help ; let her have it. Right is cloven
down in the land ; let us come to the rescue. Liberty is
hunted with bloodhounds, and lynch law is threatened to her
advocates ; let us form a body-guard around her, and bare
our bosom to the shafts that are aimed at her. Christianity,
as exemplified in the life of its great Founder, is tarnished,
modified, perverted to the sanctioning of enormous crimes,
to the justification of sinners of the first rank ; let us
endeavor to remove its stain, to hold it up in its pristine
purity, as against all wrong, all injustice, all tyranny, and
embracing all mankind in one common brotherhood. Mil-
lions of our countrymen are in chains, crying to us for
deliverance ; on the side of their oppressors there is power ;
let us rally for their emancipation, and never retire from the
conflict, until victory or death be ours. The demon spirit of
War is driving his chariot-wheels over the bodies of pros-


trate thousands, and kindling the flames of hell throughout
our borders ; let us be volunteers in the cause of peace, and
give no countenance whatever to the spirit of violence. To
do all this, it will cost us something ; we must think no more
of the bubble reputation of the hour than did Jesus ; we
must have entire faith in God, and be baptized into the divine
spirit of love ; we must see of the travail of our souls, and
be satisfied ; we must be strengthened and consoled by the
thought, that, in addition to the sweet approval of our own
consciences, we shall secure the gratitude of a redeemed
posterity, and the smiles of God ; we must possess that
indomitable spirit which led John Adams to exclaim, on
signing the Declaration of Independence, ' Sink or swim,
live or die, I give my hand and my heart to this Declara-
tion ! '

' Then to side with Truth is noble, when we share her wretched
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and 'tis prosperous to be just ;
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.'

No amount of homage paid to the past is a sure indica-
tion of living virtue. On the contrary, the more profusely
it is bestowed, the more clearly it will be seen that it is de-
signed as a cloak to cover moral cowardice or arrant apos-
tacy. Nothing is easier, nothing more common, than to
honor ' Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ' ; to build and garnish
the tombs of the old prophets ; to celebrate the deeds of
Jesus and his Apostles. Nothing is more difficult, nothing
more rare, than to walk in their footsteps and imitate their
example ; to live, in our day, as they did in theirs, without
reputation, hated, despised, persecuted, for righteousness'
sake. Generally speaking, I care not how highly any one


praises the dead, or how great may be his professed venera-
tion for Luther or Calvin, for Whitefield or Wesley, for
David or Moses, for Jesus or Paul. As, at this day, all this
is popular, and is everywhere well received, it gives me
no evidence of any vital appreciation of the character of
those intrepid reformers, on the part of the encomiast. The
cowardly and time-serving, the hypocritical and pharisaical,
are always prompt to appear as the special champions of all
departed, canonized worth. The last persons in the world
who ought to profess admiration of the bold dissenter, the
upright heretic, the righteous agitator, the heaven-inspired
fanatic of the past, are they who dread to be found in a
minority ; who are ever consulting the vane of public opin-
ion ; who shrink from grappling with prevailing iniquity ;
who tremble at the 'thought of perilling their reputation ;
and whose aim is to pass through life without the slightest
connection with any thing deemed extravagant or fanatical.
Heaven save me from the folly of descanting about the
merits and sacrifices of the dead, unless my own life bear
some little resemblance to theirs, in manly contempt of what
is merely fashionable, in cheerful readiness to endure
reproach, in bold aggression upon systematic wrong, in
wrestling against ' principalities, and powers, and spiritual
wickedness in high places.'

To every great reform, the same objections, substantially,
are urged, until it triumphs. First — That it is against
the Scriptures. Second — That it disturbs the peace and
endangers the safety of the Church. Third — That it is
generally discarded by the priesthood, who, being divinely
appointed, must know all about it. Fourth — That it is
contrary to long-established precedent and venerated author-
ity. Fifth — That it lacks respectability and character ;
those who espouse it are generally obscure, uninflucntial,
and none of the rulers believe on it. Sixth — It is sheer


fanaticism, and its triumph would be the overthrow of all
order in society, and chaos would come again. Lastly —
Its advocates are vulgar in speech, irreverent in spirit, per-
sonal in attack, seeking their own base ends by bad means,
and presumptuously attempting to dictate to the wise, the
learned, and the powerful.

Be not intimidated by any of these outcries. They are
* full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' Or, rather,
they indicate the standard around which it is your duty and
my duty to rally ; and that is, the standard of Right, whether
storm or sunshine is to be our portion, or whatever may be
the consequences.

First of all, let us maintain freedom of speech; let us
encourage honest and fearless inquiry in all things. Let us
recognise no higher standard than that of Reason, and dare
to summon to its bar all books, customs, governments, insti-
tutions and laws, that we may prove them, and render our
verdict accordingly. Whatever in this great universe is
above our reason, with that we need have no controversy,
nor should it give us any anxiety ; whatever is contrary to
our reason, that let us promptly reject, though a thousand
books deemed sacred should declare it to be true — though
ten thousand councils should affirm it to be right — though
all nations should pronounce us to be guilty of a terrible
'heresy in rejecting it. If God does not address us as rea-
sonable beings, he cannot address us as accountable beings,
and hence we are absolved from every moral obligation to
him : we take our place with the beasts of the field, with
the fowls of the air, with stocks and stones. But he has
created us in his great and glorious image : and

• In our spirit doth His spirit shine,
As shines the sunbeam in a drop of dew.'

' Come, now, let us reason together, saith the Lord.' To


resort to reason, then, is godlike ; to discard it, to be afraid
of it, to set something else above it, is to make ourselves
weak and foolish, as well as criminal and worthless. ' Why-
judge ye not of yourselves what is right ? ' said Jesus to
the Jews. He appealed to their reason, and by so doing,
implied that he could make no higher appeal. 'It is a small
thing to be judged of man's judgment,' said Paul. 'Let
every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.' ' Prove all
things ; hold fast that which is good.'

Such are not the injunctions given us by modern teachers.
They beg us not to be inquisitive ; they attempt to frighten
us from a searching investigation of the things which they
assume to be sacred ; they desire us to be satisfied with the
discoveries of the past ; they point us to the interpretations,
readings and decisions of the ancient fathers ; they declare
dissent to be a heresy that will endanger the eternal safety
of the soul; they cry — 'Prove nothing' — it has been
already proved by others ; they enjoin us to ' hold fast that
which t5,' whether it be good or bad. Such are moral
cowards, false teachers, or wolves in sheep's clothing ;
from such, turn away.

Thank God, the Past is not the Present. For its oppor-
tunities and deeds, we are not responsible. It is for us to
discharge the high duties that devolve on us, and carry our
race onward. To be no better, no wiser, no greater than
the Past, Is to be little, and foolish, and bad ; it is to misap-
ply noble means, to sacrifice glorious opportunities for the
performance of sublime deeds, to become cumberers of the
ground. We can and must transcend our predecessors, in
their efforts to give peace, joy, liberty to the world.

' Xcw occasions teach new duties ; Time makes ancient good

uncouth ;
They must upward, still, and onward, who would keep abreast of

Truth : —


Lo ! before us gleam her camp-fires ! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate

winter sea,
Nor attempt the Future's portal with the Past's blood-rusted key.'

The history of the world presents no period so interesting
or so sublime as the one in which we are called to be actors.
It furnishes scope for the noblest ambition, for the exercise
of the mightiest intellect, for the indulgence of the most
philanthropic spirit, for the achievement of the most benefi-
cent purposes.

The extremity in which we find our country, at the pres-
ent crisis, should induce us to forget our party feuds, our
sectarian rivalries, and our personal variances. A common
danger should make us one, to conspire for our safety, and
the maintenance of the Right. We have in our midst,
occupying two thirds of our national territory, a system,
which, in all that vast section, allows no man to examine it,
to speak his mind freely in regard to it, — especially, to
labor for its overthrow. The very fact, that it will not
submit to examination, strikes down freedom of speech
and of the press, and the right of petition, demonstrates it
to be incurably wicked and horribly offensive. That system
is slavery ; and, like a cancer, it is eating out the vitals of
the republic. We are under the absolute dominion of the
Slave Power — a Power, which, like the grave, is never
satisfied — and, like the horse-leech, is ever crying, ' Give !
give ! ' It is ruling us with a rod of iron ; and it is con-
stantly lengthening its cords and strengthening its stakes.
Before we ourselves can know what freedom is, and what
it can do for us, — before freedom of speech and free inqui-
ly can be safely enjoyed on our soil, — we have, first of all,
to grapple with that unhallowed Power, and to decree its


(Kn aitf /ir3t-15nrn.

Heaven's long-desired gift ! my first-born child I

Pledge of the purest love ! my darling son !

Now do I feel a father's bliss begun, —
A father's hopes and fears, — babe undefiled !
Shouldst thou be spared, I could be reconciled

Better to martyrdom, — so may be won

Freedom for all, and servile chains undone.
For if, amid this conflict, fierce and wild,
With the stout foes of God and man, I fall,

Then shalt thou early fill my vacant post,
And, pouring on the winds a trumpet-call.

Charge valiantly Oppression's mighty host ;
So captive millions thou shalt disenthral,

And, through the mighty God, of victory boast.


Remember, when thou com'st to riper years,

That unto God, from earliest infancy,

Thy grateful father dedicated thee.
And sought His guidance through this vale of tears.
Fear God — then disregard all other fears ;

Be, in His Truth, erect, majestic, free ;

Abhor Oppression — cling to Liberty —
Nor recreant prove, though horrid Death appears.
I charge thee, in the name of Him who died

On Calvary's cross, — an ignominious fate, —
If thou wouldst reign with the Great Crucified,

Thy reputation and thy life to hate :
Thus shalt thou save them both, nor be denied

A glittering crown and throne of heavenly state I


Flesh of my flesh ! now that I see thy form,
And catch the starry brilliance of thine eyes,
And hear — sweet music ! thy infantile erics.


And feel in thee the life-blood beating warm,
Strange thoughts within me generate and swarm ;

Streams of emotion, overflowing, rise ;

Such joy thy birth affords, and glad surprise,
O nursling of the sunshine and the storm !
Bear witness. Heaven ! do I hate Slavery less, —

Do I not hate it more, intensely more, —
Now this dear babe I to my bosom press ?

My soul is stirred within me — ne'er before
Have horrors filled it with such dire excess.

Nor pangs so deep pierced to its inmost core !


Bone of my bone ! not all Golconda's gold

Is worth the value of a hair of thine !

Yet is the Negro's babe as dear as mine —
Formed in as pure and glorious a mould :
But, ah ! inhumanly 'tis seized and sold !

Thou hast a soul immortal and divine,

My priceless jewel ! — In a sable shrine
Lies a bright gem, < bought with a price ' untold !
A little lower than th' angelic train

Art thou created, and a monarch's power,
My potent infant ! with a wide domain,

O'er beast, bird, fish, and insect, is thy dower :
The Negro's babe with thee was made to reign —

As high in dignity and worth to tower !


O, dearest child of all this populous earth !

Yet no more precious than the meanest slave !

To rescue thee from bondage, I would brave
All dangers, and count life of little worth.
And make of stakes and gibbets scornful mirth !

Am I not perilling as much to save.

E'en now, from bonds, a race who freedom crave ?
To bless the sable infant from its birth ?
Yet I am covered with reproach and scorn,

And branded as a madman through the land !


But, loving thee, free one, my own first-born,

I feel for all who wear an iron band : —
So Heaven regard my son when I am gone,

And bless and aid him with a liberal hand !

(Dntljs unit SlfflrmntinHS.

A SHORT time since, I was summoned as a witness in a
civil suit, in the Court of Common Pleas. On being told to
hold up my hand and take the oath, I declined doing so, as
a matter of conscience. Fortunately for me, my testimony
was not indispensably necessary ; but, if it had been, or if
the Court had chosen to inflict the penalty, I might have
been torn from my family, and confined like a felon in jail.
Every hour, I am living under this distressing liability ; and
there are many others, who, on account of conscientious
scruples, are placed in similar peril. I am fully persuaded
that the people only need to have their attention called to
this subject, to make them demand the abolition of all oaths
and affirmations, at least, in all cases where there are con-
scientious scruples against taking them.

If, in one instance, conscience may be trampled upon, it
may be in all others. It is not a more arbitrary stretch of
power to make it penal to believe in one God, than it is to
punish, as a crime, an unwillingness to testify in a manner
which the conscience believes is contrary to the will of God.
It is in vain to pretend, that the safety of property or the
welfare of society requires this legal form of giving testi-
mony ; for this is to say, in other words, that the enjoyment
of individual liberty is not compatible with the public good,


and, therefore, that the rights of the minority are not abso-
lute but conditional — dependant upon the sovereign will
and pleasure of the majority. It is yet to be proved, that
legal forms are of any real benefit to society. That, in a
multitude of cases, they are useless, vexatious, oppressive,
is a fact too notorious to need any proof.

Every judge is bound to see that the laws of the State are
duly enforced. Whether those laws are right or wrong, it
is not for him to set them aside. If convinced that they
are barbarous or unchristian, he can only say, ' I am very
sorry that the laws are so made ' — ' The only remedy is to
apply to the Legislature — that is a matter for them, not for
me ' — 'If the courts of law are not conformable to Chris-
tianity, it may be proper to bring the subject before the Le-
gislature.' He does not know, and it would be treason for
him to know, any higher power than the Legislature of
Massachusetts, subordinate to the Constitution. He is bound
to know and obey no other God. The enactments of the
Legislature are his standard of justice and mercy, and
beyond these he must not go one hair\s breadth, at the peril
of impeachment. He must be ever ready to change with
the vacillating legislation of the Commonwealth. If, to-day,
it makes that a criminal act, which yesterday was inno-
cent, he must expound and enforce the law accordingly,

Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonSelections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. → online text (page 20 of 33)