In January 1856, Sara G. Stanley, representing the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society of Delaware, Ohio, addressed the all-male Convention of Disfranchised Citizens of Ohio who met at the Columbus City Hall. She called upon the forty delegates who included among their ranks John Mercer Langston, Peter H. Clarke and Charles H. Langston, to relentlessly pursue full citizenship rights. Her address appears below.
To the Convention of Disfranchised Citizens of Ohio:
Gentlemen:—Convened as you are in the Capital City of our State—A State great in wealth, power, and political influence, an avowed devotee of Freedom, and a constituent part of a Christian Democratic Confederacy—to concoct measures for obtaining those rights and immunities of which unjust legislation has deprived you, we offer this testimonial of our sympathy and interest in the cause in which you are engaged—a cause fraught with infinite importance—and also express our earnest hope that such determination and invincible courage may be evinced by you in assembly as are requisite to meet the exigencies of the times.
Truth, Justice and Mercy, marshaling their forces, sounds the tocsin which summon the warrior in his burnished armor to the conflict against Error and Oppression. On earth’s broad arena—through Time’s revolving cycles—this warfare has been continuous; and now here, in this most brilliant star in the galaxy of nations, where Christianity and civilization, with their inestimable accompaniments and proclivities, have taken their abode and add their benign light to her stellate brightness—bands of her offspring, in very truth her own, despised, persecuted and crushed, assemble in scattered fragments to take the oath of fealty to Freedom, and swear eternal enmity to Oppression; to enter into a bond sacred and inviolable, ever to wage interminable intellectual and moral war against the demon,, and to demand the restoration of their birthright, Liberty—kindred of Deity. Nor is the path to victory strewn with flowers; obstacles formidable, and apparently insurmountable, arise ominously before even the most hopeful and ardent.
As the Alpine avalanche sweeps tumultously [sic] adown the mountain, overwhelming the peasant and his habitation, so the conglomeration of hatred and prejudice against our race, brought together by perceptible accumulation, augmented and fostered by religion and science united, sweeps with seeming irresistible power toward us, menacing complete annihilation. But, should these things exercise a retarding influence upon our progressive efforts? Let American religion teach adoration to the demon Slavery, whom it denominates God: at the end, the book of record will show its falsity or truth. Let scientific research produce elaborate expositions of the inferiority and mental idiosyncrasy of the colored race; one truth, the only essential truth, is incontrovertible:—The Omnipotent, Omniscient God’s glorious autograph—the seal of angels—is written on our brows, that immortal characteristic of Divinity—the rational, mysterious and inexplicable soul, animates our frames.
Then press on! Manhood’s prerogatives are yours by Almighty fiat. These prerogatives American Republicanism, disregarding equity, humanity, and the fundamental principles of her national superstructure, has rendered a nonentity, while on her flag’s transparencies and triumphal arches, stood beautifully those great, noble words: Liberty and Independence—Free Government—church and State! And still they stand exponents of American character—her escutcheon wafts them on its star-spangled surface, to every clime—each ship load of emigrants from monarchical Europe, shout the words synonymous with Americans, their first paean in “the land of the free.” Briery mountain, sparkling water, glassy lake, give back the echoes, soft and clear as if the melody was borrowed from the harps of angels. But strange incongruity! As the song of Freedom verberates and reverberates through the northern hills, and the lingering symphony quivers on the still air and then sinks away into silence, a low deep wail, heavy with anguish and despair, rises from the southern plains, and the clank of chains on human limbs mingles with the mournful cadence.
What to the toiling millions there, is this boasted liberty? What to us is this organic body—this ideal reduced to reality—this institution of the land?—A phantom, shadowy and indistinct—a disembodied form, impalpable to our sense or touch. In the broad area of this Republic there is no spot, however small or isolated, where the colored man can exercise his God-given rights. Genius of America! How art thou fallen, oh Lucifer, son of the morning how art thou fallen!
In view of these things, it is self-evident, and above demonstration that we, as a people, have every incentive to labor for the redress of wrongs. On our native soil, consecrated to freedom, civil liberties are denied us, and we are by compulsion subject to an atrocious and criminal system of political tutelage deleterious to the interest of the entire colored race, and antagonistical to the political axioms of the Republic.
Intuitively, then, we search for the panacea for the manifold ills which we suffer. One, and only one, exists; and when each individual among us realizes the absolute impossibility for him to perform any work of supererogation in the common cause, the appliances will prove its own efficacy; it is embodied in one potent word—ACTION. Let unanimity of action characterize us; let us reject the absurd phantasy of non-intervention; let us leave conservatism behind, and substitute a radical, utilitarian spirit, let us cultivate our moral and mental faculties, and labor to effect a general diffusion of knowledge, remembering that “ascendancy naturally and properly belongs to intellectual superiority.”
Let “Excelsior” be our watchword; it is the inspiration of all great deeds, and by the universal adoption of this policy we will soon stand triumphantly above the ignorance and weakness of which slavery is the inevitable concomitant—will soon reach that apex of civilization and consequent power to which every earnest, impassioned soul aspires.
Continued and strenuous effort is the basis of all greatness, moral, intellectual, and civil. “Work, man,” says Carlyle, “work! Work! Thou has all eternity to rest in.”
To you, gentlemen, as representatives of the oppressed thousands of Ohio, we look hopefully. This convening is far from being nugatory or unimportant. “Agitation of thought is the beginning of truth,” and furthermore, by pursuing such a line of policy as you in your wisdom may deem expedient, tending toward that paramount object, the results may transcend those attending similar assemblies which have preceded it. Sure, you are numerically small; but the race is not always gained by the swift, nor the battle by the strong, and it has become a truism that greatness is the legitimate result of labor, diligence, and perseverance.
It was a Spartan mother’s farewell to her son, “Bring home your shield or be brought upon it.” To you we would say, be true, be courageous, be steadfast in the discharge of your duty. The citadel of Error must yield to the unshrinking phalanx of your duty. The citadel of Error must yield to the closets, we kneel in tearful supplication in your behalf. As Christian wives, mothers and daughters, we invoke the blessing of the King, Eternal and Immortal, “who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, who made the heavens with all their host,” to rest upon you, and we pledge ourselves to exert our influence unceasingly in the cause of Liberty and Humanity.
Again we say, be courageous; be steadfast; unfurl your banner to the breeze—let its folds float proudly over you, bearing the glorious inscription, broad and brilliant as the material universe: “God and Liberty!” SARA G. STALEY,
In behalf of the Delaware Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society.