William Lloyd Garrison.

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

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shall have the consolation of believing that no efforts were
lacking, on my part, to uproot the prejudices of my coun-
trymen, to persuade them to walk in the 'path of duty and
shun the precipice of expediency, to undo the heavy bur-
dens and let the oppressed go free at once, to warn them of


the danger of expelling the people of color from their native
land, and to convince them of the necessity of abandoning
a dangerous and chimerical, as well as unchristian and anti-
republican association. For these efforts I have hitherto suf-
fered reproach and persecution, must expect to suffer, and
am willing to suffer to the end.*

Fifty-three years ago, the Fourth of July was a proud day
for our country. It clearly and accurately defined the rights
of man ; it made no vulgar alterations in the established
usages of society ; it presented a revelation adapted to the
common sense of mankind ; it vindicated the omnipotence
of public opinion over the machinery of kingly government ;
it shook, as with the voice of a great earthquake, thrones
which were seemingly propped up with Atlantean pillars ;
it gave an impulse to the heart of the world, which yet thrills
to its extremities.

It may be profitable to inquire, whether the piety which
founded, and the patriotism which achieved our liberties,
remain unimpaired in principle, undiminished in devotion.
Possibly our Samson is sleeping in the lap of Delilah, with

* Extracted from a pamphlet, published in 1832, entitled
» Thoughts on African Colonization : or an Impartial Exhibition
of the Doctrines, Principles and Purposes of the American Coloni-
zation Society. Together with the Resolutions, Addresses and
Remonstrances of the Free People of Color. By William Lloyd


his locks shorn and his strength departed. Possibly his
enemies have put out his eyes, and bound him with fetters
of brass, and compelled him to grind in the prison-house ;
and if, in his rage and blindness, he find the pillars of the
fabric, woe to those for whose sport he is led forth !

For many years, the true friends of their country have
witnessed the return of this great jubilee with a terror, that
no consolation could remove, and with a grief, that no flat-
tery could assuage. They have seen, that, instead of being
distinguished for rationality of feeling and purity of purpose,
it has exhibited the perversion of reason and the madness of
intemperance. Patriotism has degenerated into mere ani-
mal indulgence ; or, rather, into the most offensive person-
alities. Liberty has gone hand in hand with licentiousness —
her gait unsteady, her face bloated, her robe bedraggled in
the dust. It seems as if men had agreed, by common
consent, that an act, which, on any other day, would impeach
a fair reputation, on this, should help enlarge that reputation.
The love of country has been tested by the exact number
of libations poured forth, the most guns fired, the greatest
number of toasts swallowed, and the loudest professions of
loyalty to the Union, uttered over the wine-cup.

Indeed, so dear is Liberty to many, that they cannot make
too free with her charms : they owe her so much, that they
owe the Most High nothing. It would shock their sensibility,
and tarnish their reputation as patriots, to be caught at a
religious celebration of our national anniversary. The day,
they argue, should be properly appreciated ; and, unless a
man gets gloriously inebriated, either at home or in the
streets, at his own or a public table, in digesting his own good
sayings or those of others — unless he declaims roundly in
praise of freedom, and drinks perdition to tyrants — it shows
that he is either a monarchist or a bigot.

But it is not the direct, palpable, and widely extensive mis-


chief to public morals, which alone makes the Fourth of
July the worst and most disastrous day in the whole three
hundred and sixty-five. There is, if possible, a corruption
more deep — an intoxication more fascinating and deadly. It
is that torrent of flattery, artfully sweetened and spiced,
which is poured out for the thirsty multitude to swallow ; it
is that thriftless prodigality of praise, that presumptuous defi-
ance of danger, that treacherous assurance of security, that
impudent assumption of ignorance, that pompous declama-
tion of vanity, that lying attestation of falsehood, from the
lips of tumid orators, which are poisoning our life-blood.

We are a vain people, and our love of praise is inordinate.
We imagine, and are annually taught to believe, that the
republic is immortal ; that its flight, like a strong angePs, has
been perpetually upward, till it has soared above the impu-
rities of earth, and beyond the remotest star; and, having
attained perfection, is forever out of the reach of circum-
stance and change. An earthquake may rock all Europe,
and ingulph empires at a stroke ; but it cannot raise an inch
of republican territory, nor disturb the composure of a plat-
ter on our shelves. The ocean may gather up its forces
for a second deluge, and overtop the tallest mountains ; but
our ark will float securely when the world is drowned. The
storm may thicken around us ; but a smile from the goddess
of Liberty will disperse the gloom, and build a rainbow
wherever she turns her eye. We shall remain ' till the heav-
ens be no more.'

It is this fatal delusion, which so terrifies men of reflection
and foresight ; which makes the Christian shudder at the
prospect before us, and the Patriot weep in despair ; which,
unless the mercy of God interpose, seals the doom of our

When a people become so infatuated as to deny the exist-
ence, and to doubt the possibility of danger; when they


hear the language of reproof with angry emotions, and rid-
icule the remonstrances of wisdom as the croakings of imbe-
cility ; when they imagine every virtue to dwell in mere
liberty, and are content to take the shadow for the substance,
the name for the object, the promise for the possession, there
is no extreme of folly into which they cannot be led, no
vice which they will not patronise, no error which they will
not adopt, no pitfall into which they will not stumble.

At such a crisis, the reason of men becomes more obtuse
than animal instinct. The frugal and industrious ant does
not wait till the cold winds of winter stiffen her legs, before
she stores her provisions ; the bird of passage migrates when
autumn expires ; the deer needs only to hear the bark of the
hounds, and, without waiting for their approach, he tosses
back his broad antlers, and dashes onward with the speed of
an arrow. But a nation of infatuated freemen take no warn-
ing from history ; they learn nothing from experience. To
their vision, the signs of the times are always ominous of
good. Like the inhabitants of Jerusalem, they must hear
the avenger thundering at their gates, and see their destiny
prefigured by dreadful omens in the heavens, before they
will acknowledge that the judgments of God are sure. They
must tread on the cinders of a national coflnagration, and
count the number of smoking ruins, before they will believe
in the combustibleness of the republic.

' Our fate,' says a distinguished essayist, ' is not foretold
by signs and wonders : the meteors do not indeed glare in
the form of types, and print it legibly in the sky : but our
warning is as distinct, and almost as awful, as if it were
announced in thunder by the concussion of all the ele-

I know that this may be viewed as the phantasm of a dis-
ordered imagination. I know, too, it is easy to persuade
ourselves that we shall escape those maladies, which have


destroyed other nations. But, how closely soever a republic
may resemble the human body in its liability to disease and
death, the instance is not on record, where a people expired
on account of excessive watchfulness over their own health,
or of any premature apprehension of decay ; and there is
no national epitaph which says, ' they were well, they wish-
ed to be better, they took physic, and died.'

I speak not as a partisan or an opponent of any man or
measures, when I say, that our politics are rotten to the core.
We boast of our freedom, who go shackled to the polls, year
after year, by tens, and hundreds, and thousands ! We talk
of free agency, who are the veriest machines — the merest
automata — in the hands of unprincipled jugglers ! We prate
of integrity, and virtue, and independence, who sell our
birthright for office, and who, nine times in ten, do not get
Esau's bargain — no, not even a mess of pottage ! Is it
republicanism to say, that the majority can do no wrong ?
Then I am not a republican. Is it aristocracy to say, that
the people sometimes shamefully abuse their high trust }
Then I am an aristocrat. Rely upon it, the republic does
not bear a charmed life : our prescriptions, administered
through the medium of the ballot-box — the mouth of the
political body — may kill or cure, according to the nature of
the disease, and our wisdom in applying the remedy. It is
possible that a people may bear the title of freemen, who
execute the work of slaves. To the dullest observer of the
signs of the times, it must be apparent, that we are rapidly
approximating to this condition. Never were our boasts of
liberty so inflated as at this moment — never were they
greater mockeries. We are governed, not by our sober
judgments, but by our passions : we are led by our ears, not
by our understandings.

Wherein do we differ from the ancient Romans ? What
shall save us from their fate ?


' It is remarkable,' says a writer, to whom all history was
as familiar as his alphabet, ' it is remarkable that Cicero,
with all his dignity and good sense, found it a popular sea-
soning of his harangue, six years after Julius Ca)sar had
established a monarchy, and only six months hefore Octavius
totally subverted the commonwealth, to say : " It is not pos-
sible for the people of Rome to be slaves, whom the gods
have destined to the command of all nations. Other nations
may endure slavery, but the proper end and business of the
Roman people is liberty." '

But there is another evil, which, if we had to contend
against nothing else, should make us quake for the issue.
It is a gangrene preying upon our vitals — an earthquake
rumbling under our feet — a mine accumulating materials for
a national catastrophe. It should make this a day of fasting
and prayer, not of boisterous merriment and idle pageantry
— a day of great lamentation, not of congratulatory joy. It
should spike every cannon, and haul down every banner.
Our garb should be sackcloth — our heads bowed in the
dust — our supplications, for the pardon and assistance of

Last week, this city was made breathless by a trial of
considerable magnitude. The court chamber was inundated
for hours, day after day, with a dense and living tide, which
swept along like the rush of a mountain torrent. Tiers of
human bodies were piled up to the walls, with almost mirac-
ulous condensation and ingenuity. It seemed as if men
abhorred a vacuum equally with Nature : they would suspend
themselves, as it were, by a nail, and stand upon air with
the aid of a peg. Although it was a barren, ineloquent sub-
ject, and the crowd immense, there was no perceptible want
of interest — no evidence of impatience. The cause was
important, involving the reputation of a distinguished citizen.
There was a struggle for mastery between two giants — a


test of Strength in tossing mountains of law. The excite-
ment was natural.

I stand up here in a more solemn court, to assist in a far
greater cause ; not to impeach the character of one man,
but of a whole people — not to recover the sum of a hundred
thousand dollars, but to obtain the liberation of two millions
of wretched, degraded beings, who are pining in hopeless
bondage — over whose sufferings scarcely an eye weeps, or a
heart melts, or a tongue pleads either to God or man. I
regret that a better advocate had not been found, to enchain
your attention, and to warm your blood. Whatever fallacy,
however, may appear in the argument, there is no flaw
in the indictment ; what the speaker lacks, the cause will

Sirs, I am not come to tell you that slavery is a curse,
debasing in its effect, cruel in its operation, fatal in its con-
tinuance. The day and the occasion require no such reve-
lation. I do not claim the discovery as my own, ' that all
men are born equal,' and that among their inalienable rights
are ' life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' Were I
addressing any other than a free and Christian assembly, the
enforcement of this truth might be pertinent. Neither do I
intend to analyze the horrors of slavery for your inspection,
nor to freeze your blood with authentic recitals of savage
cruelty. Nor will time allow me to explore even a furlong
of that immense wilderness of suffering, which remains
unsubdued in our land. I take it for granted that the exist-
ence of these evils is acknowledged, if not rightly under-
stood. My object is to define and enforce our duty, as
Christians and Philanthropists.

On a subject so exhaustless, it will be impossible, in the
moiety of an address, to unfold all the facts which are neces-
sary to its full development. In view of it, my heart
wells up like a living fountain, which time cannot exhaust.


for it is perpetual. Let this be considered as the preface of
a noble work, which your inventive sympathies must elabo-
rate and complete.

I assume, as distinct and defensible propositions,

I. That the slaves of this country, whether we consider
their moral, intellectual or social condition, are pre-eminently
entitled to the prayers, and sympathies, and charities of the
American people ; and that their claims for redress are as
strong as those of any Americans could be, in a similar con-

II. That, as the free States — by which I mean non-slave-
holding States — are constitutionally involved in the guilt of
slavery, by adhering to a national compact that sanctions it ;
and in the danger, by liability to be called upon for aid in
case of insurrection ; they have the right to remonstrate
against its continuance, and it is their duty to assist in its

III. That no justificative plea for the perpetuity of slavery
can be found in the condition of its victims ; and no barrier
against our righteous interference, in the laws which author-
ize the buying, selling and possessing of slaves, nor in the
hazard of a coUision with slaveholders.

IV. That education and freedom will elevate our colored
population to a rank with the whites — making them useful,
intelligent and peaceable citizens.

In the first place, it will be readily admitted, that it is the
duty of every nation primarily to administer relief to its own
necessities, to cure its own maladies, to instruct its own chil-
dren, and to watch over its own interests. He is ' worse
than an infidel,' who neglects his own household, and squan-
ders his earnings upon strangers ; and the policy of that
nation is unwise, which seeks to proselyte other portions of
the globe at the expense of its safety and ha{)[)iness. Let
me not be misunderstood. My benevolence is neither con-


tracted nor selfish. I pity that man whose heart is not larger
than a whole continent. I despise the littleness of that patri-
otism which blusters only for its own rights, and, stretched
to its utmost dimensions, scarcely covers its native territory ;
which adopts as its creed, the right to act independently,
even to the verge of licentiousness, without restraint, and to
tyrannize wherever it can with impunity. This sort of patri-
otism is common. I suspect the reality, and deny the pro-
ductiveness of that piety, which confines its operations to a
particular spot — if that spot be less than the whole earth;
nor scoops out, in every direction, new channels for the
waters of life. Christian charity, while it ' begins at home,'
goes abroad in search of misery. It is as copious as the sun
in heaven. It does not, like the Nile, make a partial inun-
dation, and then withdraw ; but it perpetually overflows, and
fertilizes every barren spot. It is restricted only by the
exact number of God's suffering creatures. But I mean to
say, that, while we are aiding and instructing foreigners, we
ought not to forget our own degraded countrymen ; that
neither duty nor honesty requires us to defraud ourselves, that
we may enrich others.

The condition of the slaves, in a religious point of view,
is deplorable, entitling them to a higher consideration, on our
part, than any other race ; higher than the Turks or Chinese,
for they have the privileges of instruction ; higher than the
Pagans, for they are not dwellers in a gospel land ; higher
than our red men of the forest, for we do not bind them with
gyves, nor treat them as chattels.

And here let me ask, what has Christianity done, by direct
effort, for our slave population ? Comparatively nothing.
She has explored the isles of the ocean for objects of com-
miseration ; but, amazing stupidity ! she can gaze without
emotion on a multitude of miserable beings at home, large
enough to constitute a nation of freemen, whom tyranny has


heathenized by law. In her public services, they are seldom
remembered, and in her private donations they are forgotten.
From one end of the country to the other, her charitable
societies form golden links of benevolence, and scatter their
contributions like rain-drops over a parched heath ; but they
bring no sustenance to the perishing slave. The blood of
souls is upon her garments, yet she heeds not the stain. The
clankings of the prisoner's chains strike upon her ear, but
they cannot penetrate her heart.

I have said, that the claims of the slaves for redress are
as strong as those of any Americans could be, in a similar
condition. Does any man deny the position ? The proof,
then, is found in the fact, that a very large proportion of our
colored population were born on our soil, and are therefore
entitled to all the privileges of American citizens. This is
their country by birth, not by adoption. Their children pos-
sess the same inherent and unalienable rights as ours ;
and it is a crime of the blackest dye to load them with

Every Fourth of July, our Declaration of Independence is
produced, with a sublime indignation, to set forth the tyranny
of the mother country, and to challenge the admiration
of the world. But what a pitiful detail of grievances does
this document present, in comparison with the wrongs which
our slaves endure ! In the one case, it is hardly the pluck-
ing of a hair from the head ; in the other, it is the crushing
of a live body on the wheel ; the stings of the wasp con-
trasted with the tortures of the inquisition. Before God, I
must say, that such a glaring contradiction, as exists between
our creed and practice, the annals of six thousand years
cannot parallel. In view of it, I am ashamed of my coun-
try. I am sick of our unmeaning declamation in praise of lib-
erty and equality ; of our hypocritical cant about the unalien-
able rights of man. I could not, for my right hand, stand ,


up before a European assembly, and exult that 1 am an
American citizen, and denounce the usurpations of a kingly
government as wicked and unjust ; or, should I make the
attempt, the recollection of my country's barbarity and des-
potism would blister my lips, and cover my cheeks with
^ burning blushes of shame.

Will this be termed a rhetorical flourish ? Will any man
coldly accuse me of intemperate zeal ? I will borrow, then,
a ray of humanity from one of the brightest stars in our
American galaxy, whose light will gather new effulgence to
the end of time. ' This, sirs, is a cause, that would be dis-
honored and betrayed, if I contented myself with appealing
only to the understanding. It is too cold, and its processes
are too slow for the occasion. I desire to thank God, that,
since he has given me an intellect so fallible, he has impress-
ed upon me an instinct that is sure. On a question of shame
and honor — liberty and oppression — reasoning is sometimes
useless, and worse. 1 feel the decision in my pulse : if
it throws no light upon the brain, it kindles a fire at the

Let us suppose that endurance has passed its bounds, and
that the slaves, goaded to desperation by the cruelty of their
oppressors, have girded on the armor of vengeance. Let
us endeavor to imagine the appeal which they would publish
to the world, in extenuation of their revolt. The preamble
might be taken from our own Declaration of Independence,
with a few slight alterations. Then what a detail of wrongs
would follow ! Speaking at first from the shores of Africa,
and changing their situation with the course of events, they
would say :

' They, (the American people,) arrogantly styling them-
selves the champions of freedom, for a long course of years
have been guilty of the most cruel and protracted tyranny.
They have invaded our territories, depopulated our villages,


and kindled among us the flames of an exterminating war.
They have wedged us into the holds of their ' floating hells,'
with suflbcating compactness, and without distinction of age
or sex — allowing us neither to inhale the invigorating air of
heaven, nor to witness the cheering light of the sun, neither
wholesome food nor change of raiment — by which treatment
thousands have expired under the most horrible sufferings.
They have brought us to a free and Christian land, (so call-
ed,) and sold us in their market-places like cattle — even in
the proud Capital of their Union, and within sight of their
legislative halls, where Tyranny struts in the semblance of
Liberty. They have cruelly torn the wife from her husband,
the mother from her daughter, and children from their
parents, and sold them into perpetual exile. They have
confined us in loathsome cells and secret prisons — driven us
in large droves from State to State, beneath a burning sky,
half naked, and heavily manacled — nay, retaken and sold
many, who had by years of toil obtained their liberation.
They have compelled us ' to till their ground, to carry them,
to fan them when they sleep, and tremble when they wake,'
and rewarded us only with stripes, and hunger, and naked-
ness. They have lacerated our bodies with whips, and
brands, and knives, for the most innocent and trifling offen-
ces, and often solely to gratify their malignant propensities ;
nor do they esteem it a crime worthy of death to murder us
at will. Nor have they deprived us merely of our liberties.
They would destroy our souls, by endeavoring to deprive us
of the means of instruction — of a knowledge of God, and
Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and a way of salvation :
at the same time, they have taxed the whole country (our own
labor among other things) to instruct and enlighten those
who are at a great remove from them, whom they never fet-
tered nor maimed, whose condition is not so dark or piti-
able as our own. They have '


But why need I proceed ? My powers of description are
inadequate to the task. A greater than Jefferson would fail.
Only the pen of the recording angel can declare their man-
ifold wrongs and sufferings ; and the revelation will not be
made till the day of judgment.

We say, that the disabilities imposed upon our fathers, by
the mother country, furnished just cause for rebellion ;
that their removal was paramount to every other considera-
tion ; and that the slaughter of our oppressors was a justifi-
able act ; for we should resist unto blood to save our liberties.
Suppose that to-morrow should bring us tidings that the slaves
at the South had revolted, en inasse, and were spreading
devastation and death among the white population. Should
we celebrate their achievements in song, and justify their
terrible excesses.? And why not, if our creed be right.''
Their wrongs are unspeakably grievous, and liberty is the
birthright of every man.

We say, that France was justified in assisting our fathers
to maintain their independence ; and that, as a nation, we

Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonSelections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. → online text (page 4 of 33)