(1857) Charles Lenox Remond, “An Anti-Slavery Discourse”

Charles Lenox Remond (1810-1873)
Public Domain Image, Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society

By 1857 “Bleeding Kansas’ and the Dred Scott Decision had intensified sectional tensions over slavery and moved the nation closer to civil war. Against that backdrop, Charles Lenox Remond, on July 10, 1857, addressed the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society where he joined a growing chorus of abolitionists led by William Lloyd Garrison who called the dissolution of the Union with slaveholders. His address appears below.

Mr. President, and Ladies and Gentlemen: I hardly need inform those who are gathered together here to-day, that I take some satisfaction in responding to the kind invitation of the Committee of Massachusetts A. S. Society, for more reasons, perhaps, than would at first appear to many who are present. We have been informed, by the gentleman who preceded our respected president (Mr. Jackson), that this is a repetition of eighty years’ standing of the demonstration of the American people on the side of liberty and independence. The reason why I, above all others, take pleasure in coming to this platform, is not to exhibit, if I may so express myself, the commonplace idea of a colored man’s speaking in public, nor is it the grateful associations that may appear to other minds, on another account, or for other reasons, but it is that I may have the satisfaction of saying, in a word, that I hold all demonstrations on this day, outside of the gatherings similar to the one of which we form a part, as so many mockeries and insults to a large number of our fellow-countrymen. To-day there are, on the Southern plantations, between three and four millions, to whom the popular Fourth of July in the United States of America is a most palpable insult; and to every white American who has any sympathy whatever with the oppressed, the day is also a mockery. Why, sir, I have been informed, since I came into this grove, that on this platform sit one or two men recently from Virginia, known and owned there as slaves. I ask you, Mr. Chairman, and I ask this audience, what must be the emotion of these men, who are now on their way from Virginia, through the free State of Massachusetts, to Canada, where alone they can be free, happy, or out of danger? I ask you if I say too much when I say, that to the slave, the popular Fourth of July in the United States is an insult? And hence I was glad to hear our esteemed friend, Francis Jackson, inquire if we are willing to take our places here to-day upon the glorious motto of “No Union with Slaveholders”; if we are willing to subscribe to the declaration that shall affirm our purpose to be to dissolve this slaveholding Union. I do not know how others may feel; I do not expect to get a hearty response to that expression; but the time is coming when a larger number than is gathered here to-day will subscribe to the idea of a dissolution of the Union as the only means of their own safety, as well as the emancipation of the slave.

Sir, I do not care, so far as I am concerned, to view even the deeds committed by the greatest men of the Revolution, nor the purposes which they achieved. I do not care whether the statue recently erected to commemorate the deeds of Joseph Warren be deserved or not; I do not care whether the great majority of the reminiscences that cluster around the history of this day be veritable or not; I do know, in my heart, that every slave, on every plantation, has the right from his God and Creator to be free, and that is enough to warrant me in saying, that we cannot come here for a better or a nobler purpose than to help forward the effort to dissolve the American Union, because, if the Union shall be dissolved, if for no other purpose than for the emancipation of the slave, it will be glory enough for me to engage in it. Hence, sir, I do not feel, as many may feel today, to make an appeal over the prostrate form of some slave mother; nor do I care to repeat the sayings of some noble slave father; nor do I ask the men on my right what they have to say. I have only to speak for myself; to speak for freedom for myself; to determine for freedom for myself; and in doing so, I speak and determine for the freedom of every slave on every plantation, and for the fugitives on my right hand; and in so speaking, I speak for those before me as emphatically as I can for the blackest man that lives or suffers in our country. I subscribe, Mr. Chairman, to the remark made by our esteemed friend, Mr. Foss, in the cars, while coming here to-day; that I have not a word to say about the evils of American slavery, as they are detailed on the one hand, and retailed on the other. The time has come for us to make the ground upon which we stand to-day sacred to the cause of liberty; and when we make the ground of Framingham thus sacred, we do away with the necessity for the disgraceful underground railroad of our country, that transports such men as these fugitives to the dominions of the British Queen, in order that they may secure their inalienable rights; we do away with the dishonor that now gathers around and over the State of Massachusetts, which makes it necessary for any man or woman to pass beyond our border before he or she can be free. Talk to me of Bunker Hill, and tell me that a fugitive passed through Boston to-day! Talk about Lexington, and tell me a slave mother must be kept secreted in Boston! Talk to me of commemorating the memory of Joseph Warren, while thirty thousand fugitive slaves are in Canada! I will scout the memory of the Revolution, the memory of Washington, and Adams, and Hancock, until the soil of Massachusetts shall be as free to every fugitive, and as free to me, as it is to the descendants of any of them. And until we shall do this, we talk in vain, and celebrate in vain.

O, sir, I long to see the day when Massachusetts, and every New England State, shall be the only Canada needful to the American slave. I see CHARLES SUMNER, on the one hand, in Europe, trying to recover from illness and physical prostration, the result of American slavery; on the other hand, I see Kansas prostrate and bleeding, the result of American slavery. Before me, I see HORACE GREELEY, kicked and cuffed in the city of Washington, as the result of slavery. I look at Massachusetts, and I see our State, as an entire State, silently acquiescing in the recent disgraceful decision given by Judge Taney in the United States Supreme Court, whereby it is declared that the black man in the United States has no rights which the white man is bound to respect! Shame on Judge Taney! Shame on the United States Supreme Court! Shame on Massachusetts, that she does not vindicate herself from the insult cast upon her through my own body, and through the body of every colored man in the State! My God and Creator has given me right which you are as much bound to respect as those of the whitest man among you, if I make the exhibitions of a man. And black men did make the exhibition of manhood at Bunker Hill, and Lexington, and Concord, as I can well testify. But in view of the ingratitude of the American people, in view of the baseness of such men as Judge Taney, in view of the dough-face character that degrades our State, I regret exceedingly that there is one single drop of blood in my own veins that mingle with the blood of the men who engaged in the strife on Bunker Hill and Lexington. Better that any such man had folded his hands and crossed his knees, during the American Revolution, if this is the reward we are to derive from such hypocrites, such cowards, such panders to American slavery, as Judge Taney and his co-operators.

Mr. Chairman, I will not dwell upon this them. I am not the man to speak to a white audience on the Fourth of July. I am reminded by everything over me, beneath me, and all around me, of my shame and degradation; and I shall take my seat on this occasion by starting to every white man present, who does not feel that the time has come when the rights of the colored man should be restored to him, that I am among the number who would embrace this day, this moment, to strike the last fetter from the limbs of the last slaver, if it were in my power to do so, and leave, the consequences to those at whose instigation it has been fastened upon them.

I look around the country, and behold one other demonstration, and with the mention of that, I shall take my seat. During the last year, not a few exhibitions have been made, in various parts of our country, of the purposes of American slavery the year to come; but there was no stronger demonstration than that made during the late Presidential canvass by the American people; and whatever may have been said prior to that time of the general sentiment of our country, the election of James Buchanan to the Presidency has placed that question beyond doubt and cavil, and has determined that the American people, by an overwhelming majority, are on the side of slavery, with all its infernalism. Now, sir, it belongs to the true friends who are present to go forward, determined that this state of things shall be altered, and it can only be altered by the largest application and the freest promulgation of the doctrine set forth by the American and Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Societies. I am glad, therefore, to utter my testimony from a platform where they are represented; and let me say, friends, whether you believe it or not, that If the cause of universal liberty shall ever be established in our country, within our day and generation, it can only be by the promulgation to the country of the most radical type of Anti-Slavery, known as the “Garrison doctrine.”