Although history has rendered Abraham Lincoln the Great Emancipator, his dedication to the anti-slavery cause was questioned by many abolitionists during his first presidential campaign of 1860. H. Ford Douglas, a Virginia-born fugitive slave who lived in Illinois in 1860, correctly saw Lincoln as an advocate of white supremacy and an opponent of equality for African Americans. Although not as well known among abolitionists as Frederick Douglass, H. Ford Douglas had established himself as a strong speaker and debater by 1860. As a black resident of Illinois, Douglas was sought out for his views on Lincoln by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. On July 4 he spoke to a crowd of two thousand at Framingham, attacking the Republican presidential nominee’s views on race and slavery. Douglas’s speech outraged some in the audience, including U.S. Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. During the speech Douglas denounced Wilson for proclaiming African Americans racially inferior in a recent Congressional debate. Wilson rose in response to defend the Republican Party, its nominee, and his own remarks. The Douglas speech appears below.
MR. PRESIDENT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I hope that my friends will not do me the injustice to suppose for a single moment that I have any connection either by blood or politically, with Stephen Arnold Douglas, of Chicago. I am somewhat proud of the name of Douglas. It was once, in the history of dear old Scotia, a tower of strength on the side of free principles; and so firmly did they oppose the usurpations of royal power, that, on one of the kings of Scotland coming to the throne, he issued an edict, expelling from his realm every man who bore that hated name; and I cannot account for the signal departure from the ancient and hereditary principles by one who bears that name, upon any other theory than that of bastard blood.
There are a great many people in this country who seem to be in love with Stephen A. Douglas, and to regard him as a great statesman. It seems to me that there are certain elements necessary to true statesmanship. In the first place, a statesman must have a heart—that is one of the essential elements of statesmanship. Now, who supposes that Stephen A. Douglas has a heart? I cannot account for the existence of so mean a man as Douglas on any other theory than that of the transmigration of souls. It was held by one of the old philosophers of Greece that when a man died, somebody was born, and that the soul of the dead entered the body of the newborn; but when Douglas was born, nobody happened to die! But, ladies and gentlemen, I had no intention of making these remarks. We are here for the purpose of celebrating the Fourth of July. Eighty-four years ago today, this nation had its birth. We stand, to-day, a governmental prodigy, surpassing, in our extraordinary growth, any of the states of ancient or modern times. But nations who seek success amid the possibilities of the future are not measured by the accumulation of wealth or by the breadth of territorial domain; for down beneath the glittering splendor which the jeweled hand of Croesus has lifted up to intoxicate the gaze of the unthinking multitude, there will be found a silent and resistless influence working its way beneath the surface of society and shaping the destiny of men.
When John Adams wrote that this would always be a day of bonfires and rejoicing, he did not foresee the evils which half a century would bring, when his own son, standing in his place amid the legislators of the Republic, would shame posterity into a brave indifference to its empty ceremonies. John Quincy Adams said, twenty years ago, that “the preservation, propagation and perpetuation of slavery is the vital animating spirit of the national government,” and this truth is not less apparent today. Every department of our national life—the President’s chair, the Senate of the United States, the Supreme Court, and the American pulpit—is occupied and controlled by the dark spirit of American slavery. We have four parties in this country that have marshaled themselves on the highway of American politics, asking for the votes of the American people to place them in possession of the government. We have what is called the Union party, led by Mr. Bell of Tennessee; we have what is called the Democratic party, led by Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois; we have the party called the Seceders, or the Slave-Code Democrats, led by John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky and then we have the Republican party, led by Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois. All of these parties ask for your support, because they profess to represent some principle. So far as the principles of freedom and the hopes of the black man are concerned, all these parties are barren and unfruitful; neither of them seeks to lift the Negro out of his fetters and rescue this day from odium and disgrace.
Take Abraham Lincoln. I want to know if any man can tell me the difference between the antislavery of Abraham Lincoln and the antislavery of the old Whig party or the antislavery of Henry Clay? Why, there is no difference between them. Abraham Lincoln is simply a Henry Clay Whig, and he believes just as Henry Clay believed in regard to this question. And Henry Clay was just as odious to the antislavery cause and antislavery men as ever was John C. Calhoun. In fact, he did as much to perpetuate Negro slavery in this country as any other man who has ever lived. Henry Clay once said “That is property which the law declares to be property,” and that “two hundred years of legislation have sanctioned and sanctified property in slaves.” Wherever Henry Clay is today in the universe of God, that atheistic lie is with him, with all its tormenting memories.
I know Abraham Lincoln, and I know something about his antislavery. I know the Republicans do not like this kind of talk, because, while they are willing to steal our thunder, they are unwilling to submit to the conditions imposed upon that party that assumes to be antislavery. They say that they cannot go as fast as you antislavery men go in this matter; that they cannot afford to be uncompromisingly honest, or so radical as you Garrisonians; that they want to take time; that they want to do the work gradually. They say, “We must not be in too great a hurry to overthrow slavery; at least, we must take half a loaf, we cannot get the whole.” Now, my friends, I believe that the very best way to overthrow slavery in this country is to occupy the highest possible antislavery ground. Washington Irving tells a story of a Dutchman who wanted to jump over a ditch, and he went back three miles in order to get a good start, and when he got up to the ditch he had to sit down on the wrong side to get his breath. So it is with these political parties; they are compelled, they say, when they get up to the ditch of slavery, to stop and take breath.
I do not believe in the antislavery of Abraham Lincoln, because he is on the side of this slave power of which I am speaking, that has possession of the federal government. What does he propose to do? Simply to let the people and the territories regulate their domestic institutions in their own way. In the great debate between Lincoln and Douglas in Illinois, when he was interrogated as to whether he was in favor of the admission of more slave states in the Union, he said, that so long as we owned the territories, he did not see any other way of doing than to admit those states when they made application, with or without slavery.
Now, that is Douglas’ doctrine; it is stealing the thunder of Stephen A. Douglas. In regard to the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, Abraham Lincoln oc-cupies the same position that the old Whig party occupied in 1852. They asserted then, in their platform, that they were not in favor of the repeal of that law, and that they would do nothing to lessen its efficiency. What did he say at Freeport Why, that the South was entitled to a Fugitive Slave Law; and although he thought the law could be modified a little, yet, he said, if he was in Congress, he would have it done in such a way as not to lessen its efficiency! Here, then, is Abraham Lincoln in favor of carrying out that infamous Fugitive Slave Law, that not only strikes down the liberty of every black man in the United States, but virtually the liberty of every white man as well; for, under that law, there is not a man in this presence who might not be arrested today upon the simple testimony of one man, and, after an ex parte trial, hurried off to slavery and to chains. Habeas corpus, trial by jury—those great bulwarks of freedom, reared by the blood and unspeakable woe of your English ancestors, amidst the conflicts of a thousand years—are struck down by this law; and the man whose name is inscribed upon the Presidential banner of the Republican party is in favor of keeping it upon the statute book!
Not only would I arraign Mr. Lincoln in regard to that law, for his proslavery character and principles, but when he was a member of the House of Representatives, in 1849, on the tenth day of January, he went through the District of Columbia and consulted the prominent proslavery men and slaveholders of the District, and then went into the House of Representatives and introduced, on his own responsibility, a fugitive-slave law for the District of Columbia. It is well known that the law of 1793 did not apply to the District, and it was necessary, in order that slaveholders might catch their slaves who sought safety under the shadow of the Capitol, that a special law should be passed for the District of Columbia; and so Mr. Lincoln went down deeper into the proslavery pool than ever Mr. Mason of Virginia did in the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Here, then, is the man who asks for your votes and for the votes of the antislavery people of New England; who, on his own responsibility, without any temptation whatever, introduced into the District of Columbia a fugitive-slave law! That is a fact for the consideration of antislavery men. Then, there is another item which I want to bring out in this connection. I am a colored man; I am an American citizen, and I think that I am entitled to exercise the elective franchise. I am about twenty-eight years old, and I would like to vote very much. I think I am old enough to vote, and I think that, if I had a vote to give, I should know enough to place it on the side of freedom. No party, it seems to me, is entitled to the sympathy of antislavery men, unless that party is willing to extend to the black man all the rights of a citizen. I care nothing about that antislavery which wants to make the territories free, while it is unwilling to extend to me, as a man, in the free states, all the rights of a man. In the state of Illinois, where I live—my adopted state—I have been laboring to make it a place fit for a decent man to live in. In that state, we have a code of black laws that would disgrace any Barbary State, or any uncivilized people in the far-off islands of the sea. Men of my complexion are not allowed to testify in a court of justice where a white man is a party. If a white man happens to owe me anything, unless I can prove it by the testimony of a white man, I cannot collect the debt. Now, two years ago, I went through the state of Illinois for the purpose of getting signers to a petition asking the legislature to repeal the “Testimony Law,” so as to permit colored men to testify against white men. I went to prominent Republicans, and among others, to Abraham Lincoln and Lyman Trumbull, and neither of them dared to sign that petition, to give me the right to testify in a court of justice! In the state of Illinois, they tax the colored people for every conceivable purpose. They tax the Negro’s property to support schools for the education of the white man’s children, but the colored people are not permitted to enjoy any of the benefits resulting from that taxation. We are compelled to impose upon ourselves additional taxes in order to educate our children. The state lays its iron hand upon the Negro, holds him down, and puts the other hand into his pocket and steals his hard earnings, to educate the children of white men; and if we sent our children to school, Abraham Lincoln would kick them out, in the name of Republicanism and antislavery! I have, then, something to say against the antislavery character of the Republican party. Not only are the Republicans of Illinois on the side of slavery, and against the rights of the Negro but even some of the prominent Republicans of Massachusetts are not acceptable to antislavery men in that regard. In the Senate of the United States, some of your Senators from the New England states take special pains to make concessions to the slave power, by saying that they are not in favor of bringing about Negro equality; just as Abraham Lincoln did down in Ohio two years ago. When he went there to stump that state, the colored people were agitating the question of suffrage in that state. The Ohio Statesman, a paper published in Columbus, asserted, on the morning of the day that Mr. Lincoln made his speech, that he was in favor of Negro equality; and Mr. Lincoln took pains at that time to deny the allegation, by saying that he was not in favor of bringing about the equality of the Negro race; that he did not believe in making them voters, in placing them in the jury box, or in ever bringing about the political equality of the races. He said that so long as they lived here, there must be an inferior and superior position, and that he was, as much as anybody else, in favor of assigning to white men the superior position.
There is a good deal of talk in this country about the superiority of the white race. We often hear, from this very platform, praise of the Saxon race. Now, I want to put this question to those who deny the equal manhood of the Negro: What peculiar trait of character do the white men of this country possess, as a mark of superiority, either morally or mentally, that is not also manifested by the black man, under similar circumstances? You may take down the white and black part of the social and political structure, stone by stone, and in all the relations of life, where the exercise of his moral and intellectual functions is not restricted by positive law, or by the arbitrary restraints of society, you will find the Negro the equal of the white man in all the elements of head and heart. Of course, no one pretends that all men are mentally equal, or morally equal, any more than we do that all men are of the same weight, or equal in physical endowments. Here in this country, under the most favorable circumstances, we have idiots and fools, some in the lunatic asylum, and others, in the high places of government, who essay to be statesmen, who ought to be there. You say to the German, the Hungarian, the Irishman, as soon as he lands here, “Go out on the highway of the world’s progress, and compete with me, if you can, in the race for empire and dominion.” You throw no fetters upon that ever-restless sea of energies that chafes our shores, saying, “Thus far shalt thou go, but no further.” No, with all that magnanimity which must be ever-present in the true soul, you say to the foreigner, whose liberty has been cloven down upon some disastrous European battlefield, whose fortune has been wrecked and lost amid the storms of adversity abroad, “Come here and better your condition, if you can!” I remember that a few years ago, when a Hungarian refugee—not an American citizen; he had only declared his intention to become one—was arrested in the harbor of Smyrna, for an offense against the Austrian government, Captain Ingraham, of the American warship St. Louis, demanded, in the name of the federal government, his instant release, and under the cover of her guns, the shackles of Austrian bondage melted from his limbs, and Martin Kozta walked the deck of that vessel a free man, as proud of his adopted country as we were of the gallant deed. That poor Hungarian, in the hour of his misfortune, could look at the American flag as it gleamed in the sunlight of the Austrian sky, and as he looked at its stars, that symbolized a constellation of republican states, he could feel all the poetic inspiration of Halleck when he sang,
Flag of the seas! on Ocean’s wave Thy stars shall glitter o’er the brave! When death, careering on the gale, Sweeps darkly ’round the bellied sail, And frighted waves rush wildly back Before the broadside’s reeling rack, The dying wanderer of the sea, Shall look at once to heaven and thee, And smile to see thy splendors fly, In triumph o’er his closing eye.
But no colored man can feel any of this inspiration. We are denied all participation in the government; we remember that the flag only covers us as slaves, and that our liberties are only respected and our rights only secured to us, when, escaping from the beak of the American eagle, we can nestle in the shaggy mane of the British lion; and feeling this, we can feel no inspiration when we look at the American flag. But I was speaking in reference to the gratuitous concessions of some of our Republican leaders. Some three or four months ago a bill was under consideration in the Senate of the United States for the purpose of establishing a school for the education of free colored children in the District of Columbia. The matter created some discussion in the Senate, and, under the lash of Senator Mason, and other slave-drivers of the South, your own Senator, Mr. Wilson caved in on this question and admitted, in the presence of the Senate, and with all Massachusetts to read his words, that the Negro was inferior. Now, I do not believe that the Negro is inferior. Man’s ability wholly depends upon surrounding circumstances. You may take all of those races that have risen from the lowest estate of degradation to the highest eminence of intellectual and moral splendor, and you will discover that no race has ever yet been able, by any internal power and will of its own, to lift itself into respectability, without contact with other civilized tribes. Rome served as the scaffolding for the erection of the tribes of Western Europe into that huge political constellation whose drumbeats follow the sun round the world. When Julius Caesar landed in Britain, he found the ancestors of this boasted English race a miserable set of barbarians, bowing down to stocks and stones, and painting their bodies in fantastic colors. They were carried to Rome by the soldiers of Caesar and sold in the streets for five dollars; and so thoroughly brutalized were they that Cicero, the great Roman orator, said that the meanest slaves in Rome came from Great Britain; and, writing to his friend Atticus, he advised him not to buy the worthless wretches. Emerson says that it took many generations to trim and comb and perfume the first boatload of Norse pirates into royal highnesses and most noble knights of the garter; and yet, every spark and ornament of regal splendor dates back to the twenty thousand thieves that landed at Hastings. You will find, after that, I think, that there is no truth in the assertion that the Negro is inferior. The men who justify slavery upon the assumed inferiority of the Negro race, are very slow to admit these facts. They are just as tardy in admitting that the remains of ancient grandeur, which have been exhumed from beneath the accumulated dust of forty centuries, were wrought by the ingenuity and skill of the Negro race, ere the Saxon was known in history. We are informed that the scepter of the world passed from the colored to the white race at the fall of Babylon. I know ethnological writers tell us we do not look like the Egyptian. They dig up an Egyptian mummy that has been dead and buried three thousand years, that once tripped “the light fantastic toe” amid the gilded halls of the Pharaohs, over whose grave the storms of thirty or forty centuries have swept, and because it doesn’t look just like a Mississippi Negro of today, set it down that there is a difference in species between them! I admit that centuries of oppression, under a vertical sun, may have worked marvelous changes not only in the physical, but in the intellectual characteristics of the race—I know it has. All other races are permitted to travel over the wild field of history and pluck the flowers that blossom there, to glean up the heroes, philosophers, sages and poets, and put them into a galaxy of brilliant genius and claim all the credit to themselves; but if a black man attempts to do so, he is met at the threshold by the objection, “You have no ancestry behind you.” Now, friends, I am proud of the Negro race, and I thank God today that there does not course in my veins a single drop of Saxon blood. The blood that I boast was immortalized in Scotland’s song and story at a time when the Saxon was wearing an iron collar, with the name of his Norman master written thereon. There was never such a subjugated race in the world as were the Saxons in the days of William the Conqueror. So thoroughly humbled and degraded were they, that Macaulay says it was considered as disgraceful for a Norman to marry a Saxon as it is now for a white person to marry a negro. I am proud of the Negro race. I think that Negro looks just as well on paper and sounds just as sweetly to the ear as Saxon; and I believe that by education, by wealth, by religion, the Negro may make that name as honorable as ever was that of Saxon, while the Saxon, by the practice of the opposite vices, may drag himself down as low as the Negro. I believe that man, like certain productions of the vegetable kingdom, will grow better in some soils than in others. God has given us a goodly land in which to build up an empire of thought; it ought also to be an empire of freedom. The anti-slavery men of the country intend to make this truly ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave,’ by coming to such meetings as these on gala days. When Boston conservatism goes down to the Music Hall to air itself in Everett’s lying eulogy, we mean to come here and criticise the various political parties, in order to rescue this day from priestly cant and from political mockery. Oh, no, friends; we colored men may well feel proud of our ancestors. Why, we were held in very high esteem by the ancient Greeks. There is a Grecian fable that we descended from the gods. Virgil says that Jupiter, in his aerial chariot, sailing through the skies, went so near the sun that it burnt his face black; and on that hypothesis they account for the existence of the colored race! The father of Grecian poetry, standing away back in the gray dawn of history, has struck some noble lines from his lyre, in praise of our ancestors of the sunny clime.
The sire of Gods, and all the ethereal train On the warm limits of the farthest main, Now mix with mortals, nor disdain to grace The feast of Ethiopia’s blameless race.
Friends, I have no idea that those men who talk about the inferiority of the Negro race really believe it. They think it is absolutely necessary, for the success of their party, to cater to the dark spirit of slavery. But, after all, I say that the Negro is a man, and has all the elements of manhood, like other men; and by the way, I think that, in this country, he has the highest element of manhood. Certainly he has developed here its highest element. I do not believe that the highest element of manhood is the ability to fight. If he is the noblest man who can do the most fighting, then you ought to elect John C. Heenan, the ‘Benecia Boy,’ as President of the United States. If muscle is evidence of the highest manhood, you will find any of the ‘short boys’ of New York, any of the ‘plug-uglies’ and ugly plugs of Tammany Hall, better qualified to be President of the United States than Abraham Lincoln. The negro is emphatically a Christian man; patient under long suffering, as ready to forgive an injury as the Saxon is to inflict one; he would rather ‘bear the ills he has, than fly to others that he knows not of.’ You may dwarf his manhood by the iron of bondage, you may dry up the fountain of his intellectual life, but you can never destroy his faith in God, and the ultimate triumph of His almighty purpose. Over a sea of blood and tears, he catches, in every lull of the midnight storm that breaks around him, the small voice that bids him ‘Hope on, hope ever!’ He constitutes the very oxygen of civilization, potent in that arterial action that imparts life and health to the permanent and successful achievements of the human race. Therefore, I do not like these gratuitous admissions on the part of men who go to Congress from New England with an anti-slavery purpose in their hearts.
But, my friends, I must bring my remarks to a close; and I say, that in view of the fact that the influence of slavery is dominant in every department of the government, I would rather curse than bless the hour that marked the fatal epoch in American history, when we threw off the yoke of a decent despotism, to become, in turn, the slaves of a mean and arrogant democracy.
Mark Antony said over the dead body of the old Roman, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Four million of my countrymen in chains today, ground between these two huge lies—like the upper and nether millstone—the Constitution of the United States and the Fourth of July, send me to the platform to bury the memory of that hour that witnessed the separation of these colonies from the mother country; for had we remained lined to her by political and social ties, we should inevitably have marched to freedom and equality, as she has done. England stands to-day with the trophies of a thousand years clustering around her head, as young and as vigorous in all the elements that promise future physical and intellectual development, as when, upon the fields of Cressy and Agincourt, her sons shattered, as with an iron mace, the embattled legions of France. She stands today, and has stood for a quarter of a century, upon the side of freedom; while here in republican America we have, for the last eighty-three years, been constantly tending toward a despotism baser and blacker than anything that history has yet recorded. I say, then, I would rather curse than bless the day that marked the separation. Hunkerism, every where, as I said before, will go out to-day to be glorified in the sunlight of lying eulogy poured upon the dead fathers, whose faithlessness to every principle of freedom will yet cause their names to become a hissing and a byword to the ages yet to come. “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof” is the inscription upon the bell that hangs in “Independence Hall,” in Philadelphia; but the old bell, more modest than the people, cracked the first time it was rung, because it had not brass enough to tell the lie again!
Hypocrisy is not a growth peculiar to American soil, but it has reached the most hateful development here. American slavery, the worst form of despotism ever imposed upon any people, is endorsed by Church and state as a great missionary institution. Eighty-four years ago today, your fathers, true to the impulses that brought them from the father land, spoke this nation into existence, breathed into it the breath of life, by asserting the selfhood of every human being. They had descended from men who, for two hundred years, had battled for freedom of conscience against the despotism of the bloody Stuarts; and when, in 1765, the British government passed the Stamp Act, and attempted to enforce it by British bayonets, against the will and wishes of the American people, the Roundhead and the Cavalier went up to Bunker Hill, and entered their bleeding protest against George the Third, ‘by the Grace of God.’ In this, I say, they were true to their manly impulses. They declared that “all men are created equal”; and brave men from beyond the Rhine, and from the Rhine, and from the vine-clad hills of France, viewing from a distance that sublime struggle for the establishment of a free government, threw themselves at once into the conflict, and by their noble devotion to our cause, gave their names to history as a part of the glories of the Republic. But what did the fathers do to justify the expectations of these gallant strangers? Let four millions of slaves in our land answer the question! The liberty that Lafayette fought for, our fathers, in an hour of compromise, forgot, and went into a convention and sold the liberty of the black man, in order to form this guilty “covenant with death and agreement with hell”; and I say, that so long as that compromise exists, we are bound to stand outside the government and to commit ourselves to the dark spirit of slavery and to the political expediency of the hour. The Constitution of the United States is the Janus of the American Capitol, looking both ways, assuming any color, according as we turn the political kaleidoscope. This is the one redeeming feature in it—that we cannot understand its carefully concealed purpose without the aid of contemporary history. Goethe says that no work is complete, unless it involves some mystery. I believe that the Constitution, in that respect, may be tortured into a virtuous instrument. It does involve a great mystery. But, as anti-slavery men, seeking the overthrow of slavery in the shortest possible way, we have to deal with the facts of the government as the fathers made it and construed it, while they lived. I am willing, for one, to accept the unbroken testimony of three-quarters of a century against the anti-slavery character of the American Constitution, and not dodge behind its equivocal phrases for the purpose of cheating the slaveholder, and saving the memory of our dishonest and time-serving fathers from the gibbet of impartial history. Achilles, the hero of the Illiad, is introduced by Homer as saying these memorable words: “I detest, as the very gates of hell, the wretch who has the baseness to say one thing, and mean another.” I do not believe that the fathers wrote that Constitution, intending it to serve the purposes of freedom, and then turned round and construed it on the side of despotism and slavery. If they did, then were they a mean set of contemptible hypocrites, and deserving of the scathing denunciation of every friend of humanity. I do not believe it. My friends, you may think this is a little radical, and you may, on this account, be unwilling to receive some of the other truths that I have been trying to impress upon you. There is some danger of anti-slavery men saying too much. I remember an anecdote that illustrates this very well. In a little town in the State of New York, there lived a very pious family—a father and mother, and two children, a son and daughter. They all belonged to the village church, except the son. He was rather a wild young man; but during a revival of religion in the village, he was induced by his parents to make application to the church for admission to membership. The deacon was somewhat of an old fogy, and did not believe in receiving him without first putting him through the catechism, to find out what his opinions were in regard to religion. So the first question he thought he would put to him was this: ‘Do you believe that Jonah was swallowed by the whale, and that he was three days and three nights in the whales’s belly?’ ‘Does father believe that?’ asked the young man. ‘Yes,’ said the deacon. ‘And mother, too?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And the church, too?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well,’ says he, ‘I believe it.’ ‘Well, sir, do you believe that Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, and that those ferocious lions refused to eat Daniel, but as soon as his accusers were thrown in, they devoured them?’ ‘Does father believe it?’ ‘Yes,’ ‘And mother?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And the church?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, I believe it, then.’ ‘Well,’ says the deacon, ‘do you believe that Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter than was necessary, and that those Hebrew children passed through the flames, and came out without so much as the smell of fire upon their garments’ ‘Does the church believe it?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And father, too?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And mother?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well,’ says he, ‘I’ll be d—–d if I believe it, nor the fish story either!’ You see, friends, there is danger of saying too much! But what shall I say, in closing my imperfect remarks? I know very well how imperfectly I have said my say. What can I say, then, as a black man, other than to thank the men and the women of New England who have so nobly stood by the rights and liberties of my unfortunate race during these long years of suffering and sorrow, feeling, as their only compensation, that every wrong and every outrage which we suffer
‘In the hot conflict of the right, shall be A token and a pledge of victory’?
I know that, as anti-slavery men, occupying the high vantage ground of right, entering our earnest protest against government and church, there are many difficulties yet to be overcome before men shall fully realize the grandeur of our position. As our dear good friend, GERRIT SMITH, has said, ‘The cause is too sublime, in its all-embracing purpose, for the hypocrisy and cowardice of the age.’ But the martyr spirit that inaugurated this movement to free a deeply wronged and injured people is not dead. As Romeo says,—
‘Beauty’s ensign yet Is crimson in thy lips, and in thy cheeks, And Death’s pale flag is not advanced there.’
What an army of brave men the moral and political necessities of twenty-five years ago pushed upon this platform to defend, with more than Spartan valor, this last Thermopylae of the New world! Then it was that our friend MR. GARRISON could, with inspiration not of earth, brave a Boston mob, in defence of his convictions of right, in words of consuming fire from the dastardly, mean and craven cowards that thirsted for his blood. THEODORE D. WELD, then in the freshness of youth, full of hope in ultimate success, his lips touched with a live coal from the altar of God, such as inspired the Hebrew prophet, plead like an angel, trumpet-tongued, against the deep damnation of human slavery. Then it was that the noble BERIAH GREEN, with a logic as strong as the concatenations of an almighty purpose, was preaching himself out of every pulpit in New England. Then it was that ELIJAH P. LOVEJOY, whose mantle now covers a noble brother, gave to the cause the printed sheet and the spoken word within the very sight of the fortress of the evil doer. These were brave men. Then, too, it was that that other good friend, WENDELL PHILLIPS, brought to the Anti-Slavery platform the rare gifts of scholarly culture and a magnificent rhetoric, to meet the rounded periods of New England’s hunkerism in Faneuil Hall. Then it was that such men as QUINCY and HOVEY and ELLIS GRAY LORING placed themselves upon the Anti-Slavery platform, as offering upon the altar of Freedom. Oh, it costs men something to take such a stand! The men who go out into the desert of old institutions, and attempt to tear down the rotten customs of society clothed in purple and fine linen, will find the ‘property and standing’ and gilded respectability of the age passing them by on the other side. As James Russell Lowell has sung—
‘Then to side with Truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust, 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.’
At that time, colored men had not demonstrated to the American people any of that ability which has since cropped out and developed itself, as a living testimony against the argument of the natural inferiority of the colored race. Many who have since added fresh trophies to American oratory were then in their chains. HENRY HIGHLAND GARNETT had scarcely begun to give an earnest of that splendid ability which has since manifested itself in the orator and the gentleman; the trumpet-notes of my namesake, FREDERICK DOUGLASS, had not yet stirred the intellectual sea of two continents to the enormities of this country; neither had there flashed over the Bay state the fiery and impetuous eloquence of CHARLES LENOX REMOND. Great changes have been wrought in the character of this antislavery work in thirty years. ALVAN STEWART is dead; JAMES G. BIRNEY is dead; ELIJAH P. LOVEJOY sleeps in a martyr’s grave on the banks of the father of waters; ELLIS GRAY LORING is dead; THEODORE PARKER is dead. All these, and many other noble workers, have gone; as Whittier says—
‘They died—their brave hearts breaking slow,— But, self-forgetful to the last, In words of cheer and bugle-glow, Their breath upon the darkness passed.’
But, friends, while the busy fingers of our memories are gathering flowers to bestrew the graves of the sainted dead, let us not forget one other name-one other of those ‘immortal names, that are not born to die.’ We are standing to-day by the fresh-made grave of JOHN BROWN. He has been gathered to his Father’s bosom from a Virginia scaffold. Lamartine, the great French orator, said once that Wilberforce went up to Heaven with a million of broken fetters in his hand, as evidence of a life well spent. JOHN BROWN has gone to join the glorious company of ‘the just made perfect’ in the eternal adoration of the living God, bearing in his right hand the history of an earnest effort to break four millions of fetters, and ‘proclaim liberty throughout all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.’