TOGETHER WITH PERSONAL MEMORIES OF THE STRUGGLE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
BY JOHN F. HUME
G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS NEW YORK AND LONDON The Knickerbocker press 1905
The opening chapter of this work was prepared during the recent presidential campaign. It was the idea of the author that it should appear in one of the leading newspapers or magazines before the election, but maturer reflection brought about a change of purpose. He realized that its publication at that time, might, not altogether unreasonably, be looked upon as a political move having as its object the election or defeat of a particular candidate for office, whereas he had no desire to play the partisan. His sole aim was to vindicate the character of a portion of the citizens of this country—some living, some dead—whom he had always believed to be most deserving of popular esteem, from what he considered the unmerited aspersions of a man who has since come into a position so conspicuous and so influential that his condemnation necessarily carries with it a damaging effect.
Having gone so far as the preparation of the initial chapter, he concluded that proofs of his assumptions and assertions might at certain points be thought desirable, if not necessary, and that he should so prolong his work as to provide them. His first idea at this point, as his years went back beyond the beginning of the Abolitionist movement in this country, and as he had been from early boyhood identified with this movement, was to contribute such information as his recollection of events would supply. In other words, he decided to write a narrative, the matter of which would be reminiscent, with here and there a little history woven in among the strands of memory like a woof in the warp. It has ended in history supplying the warp, and the reminiscence indifferently supplying the woof.
However, the value of the production is, doubtless, greatly enhanced by the change. A string of pearls—dropping the former simile and adopting another—is estimated according to the gems it contains, and not because of the cord that holds it together. The personal experiences and recollections that are here and there interwoven, by themselves would be of little consequence; but they will be found to carry upon them certain historical facts and inferences—some new in themselves and in their connections—which, as the author hopes and believes, are of profitable quality and abounding interest.
In consequence of the change of plan just explained, the scope of the work is materially affected. What was begun as a magazine article, and continued as a brochure, ends in a volume.
Poughkeepsie, N.Y., July, 1905.
I.—THEODORE ROOSEVELT AND THE ABOLITIONISTS 1
II.—THE ABOLITIONISTS—WHO AND WHAT THEY WERE 15
III.—ONE OF THEIR TRAITS 26
IV.—PRO-SLAVERY PREJUDICE 30
V.—THE POLITICAL SITUATION 41
VI.—ANTI-SLAVERY PIONEERS 49
VII.—SALMON PORTLAND CHASE 59
VIII.—JOHN QUINCY ADAMS 67
IX.—ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETIES 72
X.—WANTED, AN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY 79
XI.—ANTI-SLAVERY ORATORS 88
XII.—LINCOLN AND DOUGLAS 94
XIII.—ANTI-SLAVERY WOMEN 100
XV.—ANTI-SLAVERY MARTYRS 113
XVI.—THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD 121
XVIII.—LINCOLN AND EMANCIPATION 136
XIX.—THE END OF ABOLITIONISM 150
XXI.—MISSOURI (Continued) 174
XXII.—SOME ABOLITION LEADERS 186
XXIII.—ROLLS OF HONOR 201
EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION 211
BORDER SLAVE-STATE MESSAGE 213
"PRAYER OF TWENTY MILLIONS" 214
THEODORE ROOSEVELT AND THE ABOLITIONISTS
The following is an extract from Theodore Roosevelt's biography of Thomas H. Benton in Houghton, Mifflin, & Co.'s American Statesmen Series, published in 1887:
"Owing to a variety of causes, the Abolitionists have received an immense amount of hysterical praise which they do not deserve, and have been credited with deeds done by other men whom, in reality, they hampered and opposed rather than aided. After 1840, the professed Abolitionists formed a small and comparatively unimportant portion of the forces that were working towards the restriction and ultimate destruction of slavery; and much of what they did was positively harmful to the cause for which they were fighting. Those of their number who considered the Constitution as a league with death and hell, and who, therefore, advocated a dissolution of the Union, acted as rationally as would anti-polygamists nowadays if, to show their disapproval of Mormonism, they should advocate that Utah should be allowed to form a separate nation. The only hope of ultimately suppressing slavery lay in the preservation of the Union, and every Abolitionist who argued or signed a petition for the dissolution was doing as much to perpetuate the evil he complained of, as if he had been a slaveholder. The Liberty party, in running Birney, simply committed a political crime, evil in almost all its consequences. They in no sense paved the way for the Republican party, or helped forward the Anti-Slavery cause, or hurt the existing organizations. Their effect on the Democracy was nil; and all they were able to accomplish with the Whigs was to make them put forward for the ensuing election a slaveholder from Louisiana, with whom they were successful. Such were the remote results of their conduct; the immediate evils they produced have already been alluded to. They bore considerable resemblance—except that after all they really did have a principle to contend for—to the political Prohibitionists of the present day, who go into the third party organization, and are, not even excepting the saloon-keepers themselves, the most efficient allies on whom intemperance and the liquor traffic can count.
"Anti-Slavery men like Giddings, who supported Clay, were doing a thousandfold more effective work for the cause they had at heart than all the voters who supported Birney; or, to speak more accurately, they were doing all they could to advance the cause, while the others were doing all they could to hold it back. Lincoln in 1860 occupied more nearly the ground held by Clay than that held by Birney; and the men who supported the latter in 1844 were the prototypes of those who worked to oppose Lincoln in 1860, and only worked less hard because they had less chance. The ultra Abolitionists discarded expediency, and claimed to act for abstract right on principle, no matter what the results might be; in consequence they accomplished very little, and that as much for harm as for good, until they ate their words, and went counter to their previous course, thereby acknowledging it to be bad, and supported in the Republican party the men and principles they had so fiercely condemned. The Liberty party was not in any sense the precursor of the Republican party, which was based as much on expediency as on abstract right, and was, therefore, able to accomplish good instead of harm. To say that extreme Abolitionists triumphed in Republican success and were causes of it, is as absurd as to call Prohibitionists successful if, after countless efforts totally to prohibit the liquor traffic, and after savage denunciations of those who try to regulate it, they should then turn round and form a comparatively insignificant portion of a victorious high-license party. The men who took a great and effective part in the fight against slavery were the men who remained with their respective parties."
No word of praise or approval has Mr. Roosevelt for the men and women—for representatives of both sexes were active sharers in the work performed—who inaugurated, and for a long period carried forward, the movement that led up to the overthrow of African slavery in this country. He has no encomiums to bestow on those same men and women for the protracted and exhausting labors they performed, the dangers they encountered, the insults they endured, the sacrifices they submitted to, the discouragements they confronted in many ways and forms in prosecuting their arduous undertaking. On the contrary, he has only bitter words of condemnation. In his estimation, and according to his dogmatic utterance, they were criminals—political criminals. His words make it very manifest that, if Mr. Roosevelt had been a voter in 1840, he would not have been an Abolitionist. He would not have been one of that devoted little band of political philanthropists who went out, like David of old, to do battle with one of the giant abuses of the time, and who found in the voter's ballot a missile that they used with deadly effect. On the contrary, he would have enrolled himself among their adversaries and assailants, becoming a member—because it is impossible to think of Theodore Roosevelt as a non-partisan—of one of the leading political parties of the day. There were but two of them—the Whigs and the Democrats. In failing to support one or the other of these parties, and giving their votes and influence to a new one that was founded and constructed on Anti-Slavery lines, the Abolitionists, in Mr. Roosevelt's opinion, "committed a political crime."
Now, for what did those parties stand in 1840? Who were their presidential candidates in that year? Martin Van Buren was the candidate of the Democrats. He had been for eight years in the offices of Vice-President and President, and in that time, in the opinion of the Anti-Slavery people of the country, had shown himself to be a facile instrument in the hands of the slaveholders. He was what the Abolitionists described as a "doughface"—a Northern man with Southern principles. As presiding officer he gave the casting vote in the Senate for the bill that excluded Anti-Slavery matter from the United States mails, a bill justly regarded as one of the greatest outrages ever perpetrated in a free country, and as holding a place by the side of the Fugitive Slave Law. True, he afterwards—this was in 1848,—like Saul of Tarsus, saw a new light and announced himself as a Free Soiler. Then the Abolitionists, with what must always be regarded as an extraordinary concession to partisan policy, cast aside their prejudices and gave him their support. Yet Mr. Roosevelt charges them with being indifferent to the demands of political expediency.
General William Henry Harrison, candidate of the Whigs, was a Virginian by birth and training, and an inveterate pro-slavery man. When Governor of the Territory of Indiana, he presided over a convention that met for the purpose of favoring, notwithstanding the prohibition in the Ordinance of '87, the introduction of slavery in that Territory.
These were the men between whom the old parties gave the Abolitionists the privilege of pick and choice. Declining to support either of them, they gave their votes to James G. Birney, candidate of the newly formed Liberty party. He was a Southern man by birth and a slave-owner by inheritance, but, becoming convinced that slavery was wrong, he freed his negroes, giving them homes of their own, and so frankly avowed his Anti-Slavery convictions that he was driven from his native State. His supporters did not expect to elect him, but they hoped to begin a movement that would lead up to victory. They were planting seed in what they believed to be receptive soil.
After 1840, the old parties became more and more submissive to the Slave Power. Conjointly, they enacted those measures that became known as the compromises of 1850, the principal ones being the Fugitive Slave Law and the act repealing the Missouri Compromise. Both of them pronounced these acts to be "a finality," and both of them in national convention declared there should be no further agitation of the subject. They set out to muzzle all the Anti-Slavery voices of the country.
By this time it was perfectly manifest that there was not only nothing the slaveholders might demand which the old parties would not concede, but that there was, so far as the slavery issue was involved, absolutely no difference between them. It is a notable fact that in the eight years following 1840, of the four presidential candidates put in nomination by the two parties, three were slaveholders, the fourth being a Northern "doughface," and both of the two who were elected held slaves.
For the nomination and election of one of these men, whom he describes as "a slaveholder from Louisiana" (General Taylor), Mr. Roosevelt is disposed to hold the Abolitionists accountable. They forced the poor Whigs into those proceedings, he intimates, probably by telling them they ought to do nothing of the kind, that being what they actually did tell them. But as the Abolitionists, four years earlier, in the same way defeated the Whigs when they were supporting a slaveholder from Kentucky (Clay), and a man who, in his time, did more for the upbuilding of slavery than any other person in America, it would appear that the score of responsibility on their part was fairly evened up.
In citing the action of Joshua R. Giddings as an anti-third-party man, Mr. Roosevelt is not altogether fortunate. Subsequent to the presidential campaign of 1844, the third-party Abolitionists held a convention in Pittsburg, in which Giddings was a leading actor. As chairman of the committee on platform, he submitted a resolution declaring that both of the old parties were "hopelessly corrupt and unworthy of confidence."
The Abolitionists could not see that they were under obligation to either of the old parties, believing they could do far better service for the cause they championed by standing up and being counted as candidates honestly representing their principles. They fought both of the old parties, and finally beat them. They killed the Whig party out and out, and so far crippled the Democrats that they have been limping ever since. Their action, in the long run, as attested by the verdict of results, proved itself to be not only the course of abstract right, but of political expediency.
In 1840, the vote of the third-party Abolitionists, then for the first time in the political field, was 7000; in 1844 it was 60,000, and in 1848 it was nearly 300,000. From that time, with occasional backsets, Mr. Roosevelt's "political criminals" went steadily forward until they mastered the situation. From the first, they were a power in the land, causing the older parties to quake, Belshazzar-like, at sight of their writing on the wall.
But according to Mr. Roosevelt, the men of the Liberty-Free-Soil party had no share in fathering and nurturing the Republican party, to which he assigns all the credit for crushing slavery. Says he, "The Liberty party was not in any sense the precursor of the Republican party, which was based as much on expediency as on abstract right." It is very true that many Republicans, especially in the earlier days, were neither Abolitionists nor Anti-Slavery people. A good many of them, like Abraham Lincoln, were sentimentally adverse to slavery, but under existing conditions did not want it disturbed. Many of them, having broken loose from the old parties, had no other place of shelter and cared nothing for slavery one way or the other, some being of the opinion of one of the new party leaders whom the writer hereof heard declare that "the niggers are just where they ought to be." All this, however, does not prove that the third-party people were not the real forerunners and founders of the Republican party. They certainly helped to break up the old organizations, crushing them in whole or part. They supplied a contingent of trained and desperately earnest workers, their hearts being enlisted as well as their hands. And what was of still greater consequence, they furnished an issue, and one that was very much alive, around which the detached fragments of the old parties could collect and unite. Their share in the composition and development of the new party can be illustrated. Out in our great midland valley two rivers—the Missouri and the Mississippi—meet and mingle their waters. The Missouri, although the larger stream, after the junction is heard of no more; but being charged with a greater supply of sedimentary matter, gives its color to the combined flood of the assimilated waters. Abolitionism was merged in Republicanism. It was no longer spoken of as a separate element, but from the beginning it gave color and character to the combination. The whole compound was Abolitionized.
It was not, indeed, the voting strength, although this was considerable, that the Abolitionists brought to the Republican organization, that made them the real progenitors of that party. It is possible that the other constituents entering into it, which were drawn from the Anti-Slavery Whigs, the "Anti-Nebraska" Democrats, the "Barnburner" Democrats of New York, the "Know-Nothings," etc., numbered more in the aggregate than the Abolitionists it included; but it was not so much the number of votes the Abolitionists contributed that made them the chief creators of the Republican party, as it was their working and fighting ability. They had undergone a thorough training. For nearly twenty years they had been in the field in active service. For the whole of that time they had been exposed to pro-slavery mobbing and almost every kind of persecution. They had to conquer every foot of ground they occupied. They had done an immense amount of invaluable preparatory work. To deny to such people a liberal share of the credit for results accomplished, would be as reasonable as to say that men who clear the land, plough the ground, and sow the seed, because others may help to gather the harvest, have nothing to do with raising the crop. But for the pioneer work of the Abolitionists there would have been no Republican party.
There had been Anti-Slavery people in this country before the Abolitionists—conscientious, zealous, intelligent—but somehow they lacked the ability, in the language of the pugilists, to "put up a winning fight." They had been brushed aside or trampled under foot. Not so with the Abolitionists. They had learned all the tricks of the enemy. They were not afraid of opposition. They knew how to give blows as well as to take them. The result was that from the time they organized for separate political action in 1840, they had made steady progress, although this seemed for a period to be discouragingly slow. It was only a question of time when, if there had been no Republican party, they would have succeeded in abolishing slavery without its assistance.
Although, as before remarked, the Republican party was made up of a good many elements besides the Abolitionists, there was among them but little homogeneousness. They were indifferent, if not hostile, to each other, and, if left to themselves, would never have so far coalesced as to make a working party. They had no settled policy, no common ground to stand on. They would have been simply a rope of sand. But the Abolitionists supplied a bond of union. They had a principle that operated like a loadstone in bringing the factions together.
There was another inducement the Abolitionists had to offer. They had an organization that was perfect in its way. It was weak but active. It had made its way into Congress where it had such representatives as John P. Hale and Salmon P. Chase in the Senate, and several brilliant men in the Lower House. It had a complete outfit of party machinery. It had an efficient force of men and women engaged in canvassing as lecturers and stump orators. It had well managed newspapers, and the ablest pens in the country—not excepting Harriet Beecher Stowe's—were in its service. All this, it is hardly necessary to say, was attractive to people without political homes. The Abolitionists offered them not only shelter but the prospect of meat and drink in the future. In that way their organization became the nucleus of the Republican party, which was in no sense a new organization, but a reorganization of an old force with new material added.
And here would seem to be the proper place for reference to the historical fact that the Republican party, under that name, had but four years of existence behind it when the great crisis came in the election of Lincoln and the beginning of the Civil War—Lincoln's election being treated by the South as a casus belli. The Republican party was established under that name in 1856 and Lincoln was elected in 1860.
Now, the work preparatory to Lincoln's election was not done in four years. The most difficult part of it—the most arduous, the most disagreeable, the most dangerous—had been done long before. Part of it dated back to 1840. Indeed, the performance of the Republican party in those four years was not remarkably brilliant. With the slogan of "Free soil, free men, and Fremont" it made an ostentatious demonstration in 1856—an attempted coup de main—which failed. It would have failed quite as signally in 1860, but for the division of the Democratic party into the Douglas and Breckenridge factions. That division was pre-arranged by the slaveholders who disliked Douglas, the regular Democratic nominee, much more than they did Lincoln, and who hoped and plotted for Lincoln's election because it furnished them a pretext for rebellion.
The change of name from "Free Soil" or "Liberty" to "Republican" in 1856 had very little significance. It was a matter of partisan policy and nothing more. "Liberty" and "Free Soil," as party cognomens, had a meaning, and were supposed to antagonize certain prejudices. "Republican," at that juncture, meant nothing whatever. Besides, it was sonorous; it was euphonious; it was palatable to weak political stomachs. The ready acceptance of the new name by the Abolitionists goes very far to contradict Mr. Roosevelt's accusation against them of being regardless of the claims of political expediency.
The writer has shown, as he believes, that without the preparatory work of the political Abolitionists there would have been no Republican party. He will now go a step further. He believes that without that preliminary service there would not only have been no Republican party, but no Civil War in the interest of free soil, no Emancipation Proclamation, no Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution. There might have been and probably would have been considerable discussion, ending in a protest, more or less "ringing," when slavery was permitted to overstep the line marked out by the Missouri Compromise. There might even have been another "settlement." But no such adjustment would have seriously impeded the northward march of the triumphant Slave Power. Indeed, in that event it is more than probable that ere this the legal representatives of the late Robert Toombs, of Georgia, would, if so inclined, have made good his boast of calling the roll of his slaves at the foot of Bunker Hill monument.
So far we have dealt with Mr. Roosevelt's indictment of the Abolitionists for abandoning the old pro-slavery political parties, and undertaking to construct a new and better one. That, in his judgment, was a political crime. But he charges them with another manifestation of criminality which was much more serious. He accuses them of hostility, to the Union, which was disloyalty and treason. The evidence offered by him in support of his accusation was the Anti-Unionist position taken by William Lloyd Garrison, who branded the Union as a "league with hell," and some of his associates. But Garrison was not a leader, or even a member, of the third or Liberty party. He denounced it almost as bitterly as Mr. Roosevelt.
Garrison was a Quaker, a non-resistant, and a non-voter. He relied on moral suasion. He saw no salvation in politics. The formation of a new Anti-Slavery party excited his fiery indignation. He declared that it was "ludicrous in its folly, pernicious as a measure of policy, and useless as a political contrivance."
Far and away the most potential member and leader of the political Abolitionists was Salmon P. Chase. Instead of denouncing the Constitution as "a league with death and hell," he claimed that it was an Anti-Slavery document and should be so construed. As for the Union, by his services in successfully managing the finances of the country in its great crisis, he did as much to sustain the Union as any other man of that time. To accuse him of hostility and infidelity to the Union, is something that no one can do with impunity. In fact, so clear and so clean, as well as so bold and striking, is the record of Chase and his associates, beginning in 1840 and continuing down until the last shackle was stricken from the last bondsman's limbs, that even the shadow of the White House cannot obscure it.
Nor is Mr. Roosevelt happy in his illustration, when, in his concluding arraignment of the Abolitionists, he seeks to discredit them as an organization of impracticables by comparing them to the political Prohibitionists of to-day. When the latter, if that time is ever to be, shall become strong enough to rout one or both of the existing main political parties, and, taking the control of the Government in their hands, shall not only legally consign the liquor traffic to its coffin, but nail it down with a constitutional amendment, then Mr. Roosevelt's comparison will apply.
THE ABOLITIONISTS—WHO AND WHAT THEY WERE
In selecting those who are to receive its remembrance and its honors, the world has always given its preference to such as have battled for freedom. It may have been with the sword; it may have been with the pen; or it may have been with a tongue that was inflamed with holy rage against tyranny and wrong; but whatever the instrumentality employed; in whatever field the battle has been fought; and by whatsoever race, or class, or kind of men; the champions of human liberty have been hailed as the bravest of the brave and the most worthy to receive the acclaims of their fellows.
Now, if that estimate be not altogether inaccurate, what place in the scale of renown must be assigned to those pioneers in the successful movement against African slavery in this country who have commonly been known as "Abolitionists"—a name first given in derision by their enemies? It should, in the opinion of the writer hereof, be the very highest. He is not afraid to challenge the whole record of human achievements by great and good men (always save and except that which is credited to the Saviour of mankind) for exhibitions of heroism superior to theirs. Nay, when it is remembered that mainly through their efforts and sacrifices was accomplished a revolution by which four million human beings (but for the Abolitionists the number to-day in bondage would be eight millions) were lifted from the condition in which American slaves existed but a few years ago, to freedom and political equality with their former masters; and, at the same time when it is considered what qualities of heart and brain were needed for such a task, he does not believe that history, from its earliest chapters, furnishes examples of gods or men, except in very rare and isolated cases, who have shown themselves to be their equals.
In the matter of physical courage they were unsurpassed, unsurpassable. A good many of them were Quakers and non-resistants, and a good many of them were women, but they never shrank from danger to life and limb, when employed in their humanitarian work. Some of them achieved the martyr's crown.
In the matter of conscience they were indomitable. Life to them was worth less than principle.
In the matter of money they were absolutely unselfish. Those of them who were poor, as the most of them were, toiled on without the hope of financial recompense. They did their work not only without the promise or prospect of material reward of any kind, but with the certainty of pains and penalties that included the ostracism and contempt of their fellows, and even serious risks to property and life.
All these sacrifices were in the cause of human liberty; but of liberty for whom? That is the crucial point. In all ages there have been plenty of men who have honorably striven for liberty for themselves. Some there have been who have risen to higher planes. We have an example in Lafayette. He fought to liberate a people who were foreign in language and blood; but they were of his own color and the peers of his compatriots.
The Abolitionists, however, espoused the cause, and it was for that that they endured so much, of creatures that were infinitely below them; of beings who had ceased to be recognized as belonging to humanity, and were classed with the cattle of the field and other species of "property." So low were they that they could neither appreciate nor return the services rendered in their behalf. For their condition, the Abolitionists were in no sense responsible. They had no necessary fellowship with the unfortunates. They were under no especial obligation to them. They were not of the same family. It was even doubted whether the races had a common origin. And yet, to the end of securing release for these wretched victims of an intolerable oppression, not a few of them dedicated all they possessed—life not excepted.
True it is that they had no monopoly of benevolence. Many noble men and women have gone as missionaries to the poor and benighted, and have sought through numerous hardships and perils to raise up those who have been trodden in the dust. But, as a rule, their services have been rendered pursuant to a secular employment that carried financial compensation, and behind their devotion to the poor and oppressed has been the expectation of personal reward in another world, if not in this. But such motives barely, if at all, influenced the Abolitionists. No element of professionalism entered into their work. They were not particularly religious. They neither very greatly reverenced nor feared the Church, whose leaders they often accused of a hankering for the "flesh-pots" that induced them to lead their followers into Egypt, rather than out of it. They were partly moved by a hatred of slavery and its long train of abuses that was irrepressible, and which to most persons was incomprehensible, and partly by a love for their fellows in distress that was so insistent as to make them forget themselves. Their impulses seemed to be largely intuitive, if not instinctive, and if called upon for a philosophical explanation they could not have given it.
In such a struggle for freedom and natural human rights as was carried on by the Abolitionists against tremendous odds and through a term covering many long years, it does seem to the writer of this essay that mortal heroism reached its height.
Nor am I by any means alone in the opinion just expressed. As far back as 1844, when the Abolitionists were few in number and the objects of almost savage persecution in every part of our country, the Earl of Carlisle, who, in his day was one of the most capable leaders of British public opinion, declared that they were engaged "in fighting a battle without a parallel in the history of ancient or modern heroism."
I am moved to write the story of the Abolitionists, partly because it is full of romantic interest, and partly because justice demands it. Those doughty file leaders in the Anti-Slavery fight do not to-day have an adequate acknowledgment of the obligations that the country and humanity should recognize as belonging to them, and they never have had it. Much of the credit that is fairly theirs has been mis-applied. Writers of history—so called, although much of it is simple eulogy—have been more and more inclined to attribute the overthrow of slavery to the efforts of a few men, and particularly one man, who, after long opposition to, or neglect of, the freedom movement, came to its help in the closing scenes of a great conflict, while the earlier, and certainly equally meritorious, workers and fighters have been quite left out of the account. The writer does not object to laborers who entered the field at the eleventh hour, sharing with those who bore the heat and burden of the day; but when there is a disposition to give to them all the earnings he does feel like protesting.
The case of the Abolitionists is not overstated when it is said that, but for their labors and struggles, this country, instead of being all free, would to-day be all slaveholding. The relative importance of their work in creating, by means of a persistent agitation, an opposition to human slavery that was powerful enough to compel the attention of the public and force the machine politicians, after long opposition, to admit the question into practical politics, cannot well be overestimated.
They alone and single-handed fought the opening battles of a great war, which, although overshadowed and obscured by later and more dramatic events, were none the less gallantly waged and nobly won. It is customary to speak of our Civil War as a four years' conflict. It was really a thirty years' war, beginning when the pioneer Abolitionists entered the field and declared for a life-and-death struggle. It was then that the hardest battles were fought.
I write the more willingly because comparatively few now living remember the mad excitement of the slavery controversy in ante-bellum days. The majority—the living and the working masses of to-day—will, doubtless, be gratified to have accurate pictures of scenes and events of which they have heard their seniors speak, that distinguished the most tempestuous period in our national history—the one in which the wildest passions were aroused and indulged. Then it was that the fiercest and bitterest agitation prevailed. The war that followed did not increase this. It rather modified it—sobered it in view of the crisis at hand—and served as a safety-valve for its escape.
For the same reason, the general public has now but slight comprehension of the trials endured by the Abolitionists for principle's sake. In many ways were they persecuted. In society they were tabooed; in business shunned. By the rabble they were hooted and pelted. Clowns in the circus made them the subjects of their jokes. Newspaper scribblers lampooned and libelled them. Politicians denounced them. By the Church they were regarded as very black sheep, and sometimes excluded from the fold. And this state of things lasted for years, during which they kept up a steady agitation with the help of platform lecturers, and regularly threw away their votes—so it was charged—in a "third party" movement that seemed to be a hopeless venture.
Another inducement to the writer to take up the cause of the Abolitionists is the fact that he has always been proud to class himself as one of them. He came into the world before Abolitionism, by that name, had been heard of; before the first Abolition Society was organized; before William Lloyd Garrison founded his Liberator, and before (not the least important circumstance) John Quincy Adams entered Congress. He cannot remember when the slavery question was not discussed. His sympathies at an early day went out to the slave. He informed himself on the subject as well as a farmer boy might be expected to do in a household that received the most of its knowledge of current events from the columns of one weekly newspaper. He cast his first vote for the ticket of the Abolitionists while they were yet a "third party."
The community in which he then lived, although in the free State of Ohio, was strongly pro-slavery, being not far from the Southern border. The population was principally from Virginia and Kentucky. There were a few Abolitionists, and they occasionally tried to hold public meetings, but the gatherings were always broken up by mobs.
The writer very well remembers the satisfaction with which he, as a schoolboy, was accustomed to hear that there was to be another Abolition "turn-out." The occasion was certain to afford considerable excitement that was dear to the heart of a boy, and it had another recommendation. The only room in the village—"town" we called it—for such affairs, except the churches, which were barred against "fanatics," was the district schoolhouse, which, by common consent, was open to all comers, and as the windows and doors, through which missiles were hurled during Anti-Slavery gatherings, were always more or less damaged, "we boys" usually got a holiday or two while the building was undergoing necessary repairs.
As might be surmised, the lessons I learned at school were not all such as are usually acquired at such institutions. My companions were like other children, full of spirit and mischief, and not without their prejudices. They hated Abolitionists because they—the Abolitionists—wanted to compel all white people to marry "niggers." Although not naturally unkind, they did not always spare the feelings of "the son of an old Abolitionist." We had our arguments. Some of them were of the knock-down kind. In more than one shindy, growing out of the discussion of the great question of the day, I suffered the penalty of a bloody nose or a blackened eye for standing up for my side.
The feeling against the negroes' friends—the Abolitionists—was not confined to children in years. It was present in all classes. It entered State and Church alike, and dominated both of them. The Congressional Representative from the district in which I lived in those days was an able man and generally held in high esteem. He made a speech in our village when a candidate for re-election. In discussing the slavery question—everybody discussed it then—he spoke of the negroes as being "on the same footing with other cattle." I remember the expression very well because it shocked me, boy that I was. It did not disturb the great majority of those present, however. They cheered the sentiment and gave their votes for the speaker, who was re-elected by a large majority.
About the same time I happened to be present where a General Assembly of one of our largest religious denominations was in session, and listened to part of an address by a noted divine—the most distinguished man in the body—which was intended to prove that slavery was an institution existing by biblical authority. He spent two days in a talk that was mostly made up of scriptural texts and his commentaries upon them. This was in Ohio, and there was not a slave-owner in the assembly, and yet a resolution commendatory of the views that had just been declared by the learned doctor, was adopted by an almost unanimous vote.
In the neighborhood in which I lived was an old and much respected clergyman who was called upon to preach a sermon on a day of some national significance. He made it the occasion for a florid panegyric upon American institutions, which, he declared, assured freedom to all men. Here he paused, "When I spoke of all men enjoying freedom under our flag," he resumed, "I did not, of course, include the Ethiopians whom Providence has brought to our shores for their own good as well as ours. They are slaves by a divine decree. As descendants of Ham, they are under a curse that makes them the servants of their more fortunate white brethren." Having thus put himself right on the record, he proceeded with his sermon. No one seemed to take exception to what he said.
In the same neighborhood was a young preacher who had shortly before come into it from somewhere farther North. In the course of one of his regular services he offered up a prayer in which he expressed the hope that the good Lord would find a way to break the bands of all who were in bondage. That smacked of Abolitionism and at once there was a commotion. The minister was asked to explain. This he declined to do, saying that his petition was a matter between him and his God, and he denied the right of others to question him. That only increased the opposition, and in a short time the spunky young man was compelled to resign his charge.
About that time there appeared a lecturer on slavery—which meant against slavery—who carried credentials showing that he was a clergyman in good standing in one of the leading Protestant denominations. In our village was a church of that persuasion, whose pastor was not an Abolitionist. As in duty bound, the visiting brother called on his local fellow-laborer, and informed him that on the following day, which happened to be Sunday, he would be pleased to attend service at his church. On the morrow he was on hand and occupied a seat directly in front of the pulpit; but, notwithstanding his conspicuousness, the home minister, who should, out of courtesy, have invited him to a seat in the pulpit, if to no other part in the services, never saw him. He looked completely over his head, keeping his eyes, all through the exercises, fixed upon the back pews, which happened, on that occasion, to be chiefly unoccupied.
Such incidents, of themselves, were of no great importance. Their significance was in the fact that they all occurred on the soil of a free State. They showed the state of feeling that then and there existed.
ONE OF THEIR TRAITS
The writer has spoken of the courage of the Abolitionists. There is another trait by which they were distinguished that, in his opinion, should not be passed over. That was their extreme hopefulness—their untiring confidence. No matter how adverse were the conditions, they expected to win. They never counted the odds against them. They trusted in the right which they were firmly persuaded would prevail some time or another. For that time they were willing to wait, meanwhile doing what they could to hasten its coming.
Benjamin Lundy, the little Quaker mechanic, who was undeniably the Peter-the-Hermit of the Abolitionist movement, when setting out alone and on foot, with his printing material on his back, to begin a crusade against the strongest and most arrogant institution in the country, remarked with admirable naivete, "I do not know how soon I shall succeed in my undertaking."
William Lloyd Garrison, when the pioneer Anti-Slavery Society was organized by only twelve men, and they people of no worldly consequence, the meeting for lack of a better place being held in a colored schoolroom on "Nigger Hill" in Boston, declared that in due time they would meet to urge their principles in Faneuil Hall—a most audacious declaration, but he was right.
The writer, when a boy, was witness to an exhibition of the same spirit. A kinsman of his was a zealous Abolitionist, although not particularly gifted with controversial acumen. He and his minister, as often happened, were discussing the slavery question. The minister, like many of his cloth at that time, was a staunch supporter of "the institution," which, according to his contention, firmly rested on biblical authority.
"How do you expect to destroy slavery, as it exists in Kentucky, by talking and voting abolition up here in Ohio?" asked the clergyman.
"We will crush it through Congress when we get control of the general government," said my kinsman.
"But Congress and the general government have, under the Constitution, absolutely no power over slavery in the States. It is a State institution," replied the clergyman.
It is unnecessary to follow the discussion, but, one after another, the quicker-witted and better-informed preacher successfully combated all the propositions advanced by my relative in trying to give a reason for the faith that was in him, until he was completely cornered. "Well," said he at last, "the good Lord has not taken me into His confidence, and I don't know what His plans for upsetting slavery are, but He will be able to manage it somehow."
My kinsman lived long enough to see the day when there was not a slave on American soil, and the minister lived long enough to become a roaring Abolitionist.
It was doubtless their confidence in ultimate triumph, a result of their absolute belief in the righteousness of their cause, that, as much as anything else, armed and armored the Abolitionists against all opposition. It was one main element of their strength in the midst of their weakness. Without it they could not have persisted, as they did, in their separate or "third party" political action, that cleared the way and finally led up to a victorious organization. Year after year, and for many years, they voted for candidates that had no chance of election. Their first presidential ticket got only seven thousand votes in the whole country. The great public, which could not see the use of acting politically for principle alone, laughed at their simplicity in "throwing away their votes." "Voting in the air" was the way it was often spoken of, and those who were guilty of such incomprehensible folly were characterized as "one idea people." They, however, cared little for denunciation or ridicule, and kept on regularly nominating their tickets, and as regularly giving them votes that generally appeared in the election returns among the "scattering." They were not abashed by the insignificance of their party.
"They were men who dared to be the right with two or three,"
according to the poet Lowell.
In the county in which I lived when a boy, there was one vote polled for the first Abolitionist presidential ticket. The man who gave it did not try to hide his responsibility—in fact, he seemed rather proud of his aloneness—but he was mercilessly guyed on account of the smallness of his party. His rejoinder was that he thought that he and God, who was, he believed, with him, made a pretty good-sized and respectable party.
The intensity—perhaps density would be a better word in this connection—of the prejudice that confronted the Abolitionists when they entered on their work is not describable by any expressions we have in our language. In the South it was soon settled that no man could preach Anti-Slaveryism and live. In the North the conditions were not much better. Every man and woman—because the muster-roll of the Abolition propagandists was recruited from both sexes—carried on the work at the hazard of his or her life. Sneers, scowls, hootings, curses, and rough handling were absolutely certain. One incident throws light on the state of feeling at that time.
When Pennsylvania Hall, which the Abolitionists of Philadelphia—largely Quakers—had erected for a meeting place at a cost of forty thousand dollars was fired by a mob, the fire department of that city threw water on surrounding property, but not one drop would it contribute to save the property of the Abolitionists.
Why was it that this devotion to slavery and this hostility to its opposers prevailed in the non-slaveholding States? They had not always existed. Indeed, there was a time, not so many years before, when slavery was generally denounced; when men like Washington and Jefferson and Henry, although themselves slave-owners, led public opinion in its condemnation. Everybody was anticipating the day of universal emancipation, when suddenly—almost in the twinkling of an eye—there was a change. If it had been a weather-cock—as to a considerable extent it was, and is—public opinion could not have more quickly veered about.
Slavery became the popular idol in the North as well as in the South. Opposition to it was not only offensive, but dangerous. It was sacrilege.
So far as the South was concerned the revolution is easily accounted for. Slavery became profitable. A Yankee magician had touched it with a wand of gold, and from being a languishing, struggling system, it quickly developed into a money-maker.
Whitney, the Connecticut mechanical genius, by the invention of the cotton-gin, made the production of cotton a highly lucrative industry. The price of negroes to work the cotton fields at once went up, and yet the supply was inadequate. Northernly slave States could not produce cotton, but they could produce negroes. They shared in the golden harvest. Such cities as Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Wheeling, and Louisville became centers of a flourishing traffic in human beings. They had great warehouses, commonly spoken of as "nigger pens," in which the "hands" that were to make the cotton were temporarily gathered, and long coffles—that is, processions of men and women, each with a hand attached to a common rope or chain—marched through their streets with faces turned southward.
The slave-owners were numerically a lean minority even in the South, but their mastery over their fellow-citizens was absolute. Nor was there any mystery about it. As the owners of four million slaves, on an average worth not far from five hundred dollars each, they formed the greatest industrial combination—what at this time we would call a trust—ever known to this or any other country. Our mighty Steel Corporation would have been a baby beside it. If to-day all our great financial companies were consolidated, the unit would scarcely come up to the dimensions of that one association. It was not incorporated in law, but its union was perfect. Bound together by a common interest and a common feeling, its members—in the highest sense co-partners in business and in politics, in peace and in war—were prepared to act together as one man.
But why, I again ask, were the Northern people so infatuated with slavery? They raised no cotton and they raised no negroes, but many of them, and especially their political leaders, carried their adulation almost to idolatry.
When Elijah P. Lovejoy was shot down like a dog, and William Lloyd Garrison was dragged half naked and half lifeless through the streets of Boston, and other outrages of like import were being perpetrated all over the North, it was carefully given out that those deeds were not the work of irresponsible rowdies, but of "gentlemen"—of merchants, manufacturers, and members of the professions. They claimed the credit for such achievements. There were reasons for such a state of things—some very solid, because financial.
The North and the South were extensively interlaced by mutual interests. With slave labor the Southern planters made cotton, and with the proceeds of their cotton they bought Northern machinery and merchandise. They sent their boys and girls to Northern schools. They came North themselves when their pockets were full, and freely spent their money at Northern hotels, Northern theatres, Northern race-tracks, and other Northern places of entertainment.
Then there were other ties than those of business. The great political parties had each a Southern wing. Religious denominations had their Southern members. Every kind of trade and calling had its Southern outlet.
But social connections were the strongest of all, and probably had most to do in making Northern sentiment. Southern gentlemen were popular in the North. They spent money lavishly. Their manners were grandiose. They talked boastfully of the number of their "niggers," and told how they were accustomed to "wallop" them.
Then there were marriage ties between the sections. Many domestic alliances strengthened the bond between slavery and the aristocracy of the North.
In the circles in which these things were going on, it was the fashion to denounce the Abolitionists. Women were the most bitter. The slightest suspicion of sympathy with the "fanatics" was fatal to social ambition. Mrs. Henry Chapman, the wife of a wealthy Boston shipping merchant who gave orders that no slaves should be carried on his vessels, was a brilliant woman and a leader in the highest sense in that city. But when she consented to preside over a small conference of Anti-Slavery women, society cut her dead, her former associates refusing to recognize her on the street. The families of Arthur and Lewis Tappan, the distinguished merchants of New York, were noted for their intelligence and culture, but when the heads of the families came to be classified as Abolitionists the doors of all fashionable mansions were at once shut against them. They in other ways suffered for their opinions. The home of Lewis Tappan was invaded by a mob, and furniture, books, and bric-a-brac were carried to the street and there burned to ashes.
The masses of the Northern people were, however, led to favor slavery by other arguments. One of them was that the slaves, if manumitted, would at once rush to the North and overrun the free States. I have heard that proposition warmly supported by fairly intelligent persons.
Another argument that weighed with a surprisingly large number of people, was that civil equality would be followed by social equality. As soon as they were free, negro men, it was said, would marry white wives. "Do you want your son or your daughter to marry a nigger?" was regarded as a knockout anti-Abolitionist argument. The idea, of course, was absurd. "Is it to be inferred that because I don't want a negro woman for a slave, I do want her for a wife?" was one of the quaint and pithy observations attributed to Mr. Lincoln. I heard Prof. Hudson, of Oberlin College, express the same idea in about the same words many years before.
And yet there were plenty of Northern people to whom "Amalgamation"—the word used to describe the apprehended union of the races—was a veritable scarecrow. A young gentleman in a neighborhood near where I lived when a boy was in all respects eligible for matrimony. He became devoted to the daughter of an old farmer who had been a Kentuckian, and asked him for her hand. "But I am told," said the old gentleman, "that you are an Abolitionist." The young man admitted the justice of the charge. "Then, sir," fairly roared the old man, "you can't have my daughter; go and marry a nigger."
But what probably gave slavery its strongest hold upon the favor of Northern people was the animosity toward the negro that prevailed among them. Nowhere was he treated by them like a human being. The "black laws," as those statutes in a number of free States that regulated the treatment of the blacks were appropriately called, were inhuman in the extreme. Ohio was in the main a liberal State. She was called a free State, but her negroes were not free men. Under her laws they could only remain in the State by giving bonds for good behavior. Any one employing negroes, not so bonded, was liable to a fine of one hundred dollars. They could not vote, of course. They could not testify in a case in which a white man was interested. They could not send their children to schools which they helped to support. The only thing they could do "like a white man" was to pay taxes.
The prejudice against the poor creatures in Ohio was much stronger than that they encountered on the other side of the Ohio River in the slave State of Kentucky. Here—in Kentucky—they were property, and they generally received the care and consideration that ownership ordinarily establishes. The interest of the master was a factor in their behalf. In many instances there was genuine affection between owner and slave. "How much better off they would be if they only had good masters," was a remark I very often heard in Ohio, as the negroes would go slouching by with hanging heads and averted countenances. There is no doubt that at this time the physical condition of the blacks was generally much better in slavery than it was in freedom. What stronger testimony to the innate desire for liberty—what Byron has described as "The eternal spirit of the chainless mind"—than the fact that slaves who were the most indulgently treated, were constantly escaping from the easy and careless life they led to the hostilities and barbarities of the free States, and they never went back except under compulsion.
"O carry me back to old Virginy, To old Virginy's shore,"
was the refrain of a song that was very popular in those days, and which was much affected by what were called "negro minstrels." It was assumed to express the feelings of colored fugitives from bondage when they had time to realize what freedom meant in their cases, but I never heard the words from the lips of a man who had lived in a state of servitude.
I have elsewhere referred to the fact that women were often the most bitter in their denunciations of the Abolitionists. In the neighborhood in which I passed my early days was a lady who was born and raised in the North, and who probably had no decided sentiment, one way or the other, on the slavery question; but who about this time spent several months in a visit to one of the slave States. She came back thoroughly imbued with admiration for "the institution." She could not find words to describe the good times that were enjoyed by the wives and daughters of the slave-owners. They had nothing to do except to take the world easy, and that, according to her account, they did with great unanimity. The slaves, were, she declared, the happiest people in the world, all care and responsibility being taken from their shoulders by masters who were kind enough to look out for their wants.
But one day she unwittingly exposed a glimpse of the reverse side of the picture. She told the story of a young slave girl who had been accused of larceny. She had picked up some trifling article that ordinarily no one would have cared anything about; but at this time it was thought well to make an example of somebody. The wrists of the poor creature were fastened together by a cord that passed through a ring in the side of the barn, which had been put there for that purpose, and she was drawn up, with her face to the building, until her toes barely touched the ground. Then, in the presence of all her fellow-slaves, and with her clothing so detached as to expose her naked shoulders, she was flogged until the blood trickled down her back.
"I felt almost as bad for her," said the narrator, "as if she had been one of my own kind."
"Thank God she was not one of your kind!" exclaimed a voice that fairly sizzled with rage.
The speaker who happened to be present was a relative of the author and a red-hot Abolitionist.
Then came a furious war of words, the two enraged women shouting maledictions in each other's faces. As a boy, I enjoyed the performance hugely until I began to see that there was danger of a collision. As the only male present, it would be my duty to interfere in case the combatants came to blows, or rather to scratches and hair-pulling. I did not like the prospect, which seemed to me to be really alarming, and was thinking of some peaceable solution, when the two women, looking into each other's inflamed faces, suddenly realized the ridiculousness of the situation and broke into hearty peals of laughter. That, of course, ended the controversy, not a little to the relief of the writer.
If the influence of a great majority of the women of that day was thrown on the side of slavery, as was undoubtedly the case, the minority largely made up for the disparity of numbers by the spunk and aggressiveness of their demonstrations. A good many of the most indomitable and effective Abolition lecturers were women—such as Mrs. Lucretia Mott, the Grimke sisters, Abby Kelly, and others whose names are here omitted, although they richly deserve to be mentioned. Of all that sisterhood, the most pugnacious undoubtedly was Abby Kelly, a little New England woman, with, as the name would indicate, an Irish crossing of the blood. I heard her once, and it seemed to me that I never listened to a tongue that was so sharp and merciless. Her eyes were small and it appeared to me that they contracted, when she was speaking, until they emitted sparks of fire. Although she went by her maiden name, she was a married woman, being the wife of Stephen Foster, a professional Abolitionist agitator and lecturer. Although himself noted for the bitterness of his speech, when it came to hard-hitting vituperation he could not begin to "hold a candle" to his little wife.
The two traveled together and spoke from the same platforms. They were constantly getting into hot water through the hostility of mobs, which they seemed to enjoy most heartily. Foster's life was more than once in serious danger, but they kept right on and never showed the slightest fear. The only meeting addressed by them that I attended, though held on the Sabbath, was ended by the throwing of stones and sticks and addled eggs.
But if the current of public opinion in the North suddenly turned, and for a long time ran with overwhelming force in favor of slavery, it changed about almost as suddenly and ran with equal force in the opposite direction. The county in which I lived when a boy, that furnished only one vote for the first Abolitionist presidential ticket, became a Republican stronghold. It was in what had been a Whig district, and when the Whig party went to pieces, the most of its debris drifted into the Republican lines.
On the occasion of one of the pro-slavery mobs I elsewhere tell about, when a supply of eggs with which to garnish the Abolitionists, was wanted, and the money for their purchase was called for, the town constable—the peace officer of the community—put his hand in his pocket and supplied the funds.
A few years thereafter, on my return to the village after a considerable absence, I found that I had come just in time to attend a Republican rally which was that day to be held in a near-by grove. When I reached the scene of operations a procession to march to the grove was being formed. There was considerable enthusiasm and noise, but by far the most excited individual was the Grand Marshal and Master of Ceremonies. Seated on a high horse, he was riding up and down the line shouting out his orders with tremendous unction. He was the constable of the egg-buying episode.
THE POLITICAL SITUATION
In several of his addresses before his election to the Presidency, Mr. Lincoln gave utterance to the following language: "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this Government cannot permanently remain half slave and half free. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it to cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other thing."
The same opinion had been enunciated several years before by John Quincy Adams on the floor of Congress, when, with his accustomed pungency, he declared, "The Union will fall before slavery or slavery will fall before the Union."
But before either Adams or Lincoln spoke on the subject—away back in 1838—the same idea they expressed had a more elaborate and forcible presentation in the following words:
"The conflict is becoming—has become—not alone of freedom for the blacks, but of freedom for the whites. It has now become absolutely necessary that slavery shall cease in order that freedom may be preserved in any portion of our land. The antagonistic principles of liberty and slavery have been roused into action, and one or the other must be victorious. There will be no cessation of the strife until slavery shall be exterminated or liberty destroyed."
The author of the words last above quoted was James Gillespie Birney, who was the first Abolitionist, or "Liberty party," candidate for the Presidency, and of whose career a brief sketch is elsewhere given.
That the slaveholders reached the same conclusion that Birney and Adams and Lincoln announced, viz., that the country was to be all one thing or all the other thing, is as manifest as any fact in our history. It is equally certain that they had firmly resolved to capture the entire commonwealth for their "institution," and had laid their plans to that end. They were unwilling to live in a divided house, particularly with an occupant who was stronger in population and wealth than they were.
They saw the danger in such association. Northern sentiment toward slavery was complacent enough, even servilely so, but it might change. The South thought it had too much at stake to take the chances when the opportunity for absolute safety and permanent rule was within its reach. It resolved to make the whole country, not only pro-slavery, but slaveholding. If, through any mischance, it failed in its calculation, the next step would be to tear down the house and from its ruins reconstruct so much of it as might be needed for its own occupancy. That it would be able in time to possess itself of the whole country, however, for and in behalf of its industrial policy, it did not for an instant doubt. It was not empty braggadocio on the part of the celebrated Robert Toombs, of Georgia, when he uttered his famous boast. He voiced the practically unanimous opinion of his section.
 See page 13.
Nor was there anything seemingly very presumptuous in that anticipation. So far, the South had been invariably victorious. In what appeared to be a decisive battle in the test case of admitting Missouri into the Union as a slave State, it had won. So pronounced was its triumph that whatever Anti-Slavery sentiment survived the conflict appeared to be stunned and helpless. All fight was knocked out of it. Its spirit was broken. While the South was not only compact and fully alive, but exultingly aggressive, the North was divided, fully one half of its population being about as pro-slavery as the slaveholders themselves, and the rest, with rare exceptions, being hopelessly apathetic. The Northern leaders of both of the old political parties—Whig and Democratic—were what the Abolitionists called "dough-faces," being Northern men with Southern principles. The Church was "a dumb dog," and the press simply drifted with the tide. It was not at all strange that the slaveholders expected to go on from conquest to conquest.
There were two policies they could adopt. One was to attack the enemy's citadel; or rather, the several citadels it possessed in its individual States, and force them to open their doors to the master and his human chattels. The other was to flank and cover, approaching the main point of attack by way of the Territories. These, once in possession of the slaveholders, could be converted into enough slave States to give them the control of the general government, from which coigne of advantage they could proceed in their own time and way to possess themselves of such other free States as they might want.
In the matter of the Territories they had a great advantage. The North was up against a stone wall at the Canadian border. In that direction it could not advance a step, while the South had practically an unlimited field on its side from which to carve possessions as they might be wanted, very much as you would cut a pie.
In pursuance of its territorial policy—being the line of action it first resolved upon—the first movement of the South was to annex Texas—a victory. The next was to make war on Mexico, and (a joke of the day) conquer a "piece" from it large enough to make half a dozen States, all expected to be slaveholding—another victory.
By a curious irony the filching of land for slavery's uses from a neighbor, and on which the foot of a slave had never pressed, was exultingly spoken of at the time by its supporters as "an extension of the area of freedom." The act was justified on the ground that we needed "land for the landless," which led Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio to assert on the floor of the United States Senate, with as much truth as wit, that it was not land for the landless that was wanted, but "niggers for the niggerless."
Then came the battle over Kansas. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in Congress, although involving a breach of good faith on the part of the South, was hailed as another victory for that section. It was a costly victory. It was followed by defeat not only disastrous but fatal. The result in Kansas was really the turning-point in the great struggle. It broke the line of Southern victories. It neutralized the effect of the whole territorial movement up to that point. It completely spoiled the slaveholders' well-laid plans. We will always give Grant and his men all praise for victories leading up to Appomatox, but, in some respects, the most important victory of the great conflict was won on the plains of Kansas by John Brown of Ossawattomie and his Abolition associates.
The most sagacious Southern leaders saw in that result conclusive proof that the scale was turned. They realized that they were beaten within the lines of the Union, and they began to arrange for going out of it. They helped to elect a Republican President by dividing the Democratic party in 1860 between two candidates—Douglas and Breckenridge—in order that they might have a plausible pretext for secession.
But the slaveholders had not abandoned the other policy to which reference has been made—that of carrying their institution, by main force, as it were, into some, if not all, of the free States. To that end they had, in sporting parlance, a card up their sleeves which they proceeded to play. That card was the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case, upon which they relied to give them the legal power to take and hold their slaves in all parts of the land. Up to the date of that decision, the current of judicial rulings had been that slavery, being a municipal institution, was local, while freedom was national. Hence, when a master took his slave into a free State, at that instant he became a free man. The Dred Scott decision was intended to reverse the rule. Practically it held that slave ownership, wherever the Constitution prevailed, was both a legal and a natural right. It, as Benton forcibly expressed it, "made slavery the organic law of the land and freedom the exception"; or, as it was jocularly expressed at the time, it left freedom nowhere.
Although at the time of its promulgation, it was claimed by some of the more conservative pro-slavery leaders that the Dred Scott dictum applied only to the Territories, giving the masters the legal authority to enter them with their slaves, that position was clearly deceptive. The principle involved, as laid down by the Court, was altogether too broad for that construction. In effect it put the proprietorship of human beings upon the same footing with other property rights, and claimed for it the same constitutional protection. The bolder men of the South, like Toombs of Georgia, did not hesitate to give that interpretation to the Court's pronouncement, and to insist on it with brutal frankness. If they were wrong, the Court was putty in their hands and they could easily have had a supplemental ruling that would have gone to any extent.
If the Dred Scott decision had been promulgated by our highest court, and the slaveholders had insisted upon the license it was intended to give them for taking their slave property into free territory, at the time that Garrison was being dragged by a mob through Boston's streets; when Birney's printing-press in Cincinnati was being tumbled into the Ohio River; when Pennsylvania Hall, the Quaker Abolitionists' forty-thousand-dollar construction, was ablaze in Philadelphia; when Lovejoy, the Abolition martyr, was bleeding out his life in one of the streets of Alton, Illinois—when, in fact, the whole land was swayed by a frenzied hatred of the men and women who dared to question slavery's right to supremacy, the writer believes the movement would have been successful. Public opinion was so inclined in States like Indiana and Illinois, and even in Ohio, that they might have been easily toppled over to the South. Indeed, at that time it is a problem how Massachusetts would have voted on a proposition to "slaveryize" her soil. The surprising thing, as we look back to that period, is that slavery did not get a foothold in some of the free States, if not in all of them.
But by the time the South was ready to play its trump card, it was too late. The game was lost. Public opinion had become revolutionized throughout the North. The leaven of Abolitionism had got in its work. The men and women, few in number and weak in purse and worldly position as they were, who had enlisted years before in the cause of emancipation, and had fought for it in the face of almost every conceivable discouragement, had at last won a great preliminary victory. Slavery, through their exertions, had become impossible, both in the Territories and in the free States of the North, the United States Supreme Court and all the forces of the slave power to the contrary notwithstanding. Then came to the South a not unanticipated, and to many of her leaders a not unwelcome political Waterloo, in the election of Lincoln. This gave the argument for secession that was wanted. The South had then to yield—which she had no idea of doing—or to go into rebellion. She went out of the Union very much as she would have gone to a frolic. She had no thought that serious fighting was to follow. She did not believe, as one of the Southern leaders expressed it, that the Northern people would go to war for the sake of the "niggers."
The early Abolitionists were denounced as fanatics, or "fan-a-tics," according to the pronunciation of some of their detractors. They were treated as if partially insane. The writer when a boy attended the trial of a cause between two neighbors in a court of low grade. It was what was called a "cow case," and involved property worth, perhaps, as much as twenty dollars. One of the witnesses on the stand was asked by a lawyer, who wanted to embarrass or discredit him, if he were not an Abolitionist. Objection came from the other side on the ground that the inquiry was irrelevant; but the learned justice-of-the-peace who presided held that, as it related to the witness's sanity, and that would affect his credibility, the question was admissible. It is not, perhaps, so very strange that in those days, in view of the disreputableness of those whose cause they espoused, and the apparently utter hopelessness of anything ever coming out of it, the supporters of Anti-Slaveryism should be suspected of being "out of their heads."
Although Don Quixote, who, according to the veracious Cervantes, set out with his unaided strong right arm to upset things, including wind-mills and obnoxious dynasties, has long been looked upon as the world's best specimen of a "fanatic," he would ordinarily be set down as a very Solomon beside the man who would undertake single-handed to overthrow such an institution as American slavery used to be. Such a man there was, however. He really entered on the job of abolishing that institution, and without a solitary assistant. Strange to say, he was neither a giant nor a millionaire.
According to Horace Greeley, "Benjamin Lundy deserves the high honor of ranking as the pioneer of direct and distinctive Anti-Slaveryism in America."
He was slight in frame and below the medium height, and unassuming in manner. He had, it is said, neither eloquence nor shining ability of any sort.
At nineteen years of age he went to Wheeling, Virginia, to learn the trade of a saddler. He learned more than that. Wheeling, as he tells us, was then a great thoroughfare for the traffickers in human flesh. Their coffles passed through the place frequently. "My heart," he continues, "was grieved at the great abomination. I heard the wail of the captive, I felt his pang of distress, and the iron entered into my soul."
But much as Lundy loathed the business of the slave-dealers and slave-drivers, he then had no idea of attempting its abolishment. He married and settled down to the prosecution of his trade, and had he been like other people generally he would have been content. But he could not shut the pictures of those street scenes in Wheeling out of his mind and out of his heart.
The first thing in the reformatory line he did was to organize a local Anti-Slavery society in the village in which he was then living in Ohio; at the first meeting of this society only five persons were present.
About this time Lundy made some important discoveries. He learned that he could write what the newspapers would print, and give expression to words that the people would listen to. He was quick to realize the fact that the best way to reach the people of this country was through the press. He started a very small paper with a very large name. It was ambitiously nominated The Genius of Universal Emancipation. He began with only six subscribers and without a press or other publishing material. Moreover, he had no money. He was not then a practical printer, though later he learned the art of type-setting. At this time he had his newspaper printed twenty miles from his home, and carried the edition for that distance on his back.
But insignificant as Lundy's paper was, it had the high distinction of being the only exclusively Anti-Slavery journal in the country, and its editor and proprietor was the only professional Abolition lecturer and agitator of that time.
Afterwards, in speaking of his journalistic undertaking, Mr. Lundy said: "I began this work without a dollar of funds, trusting to the sacredness of the cause." Another saying of his was that he did not stop to calculate "how soon his efforts would be crowned with success."
As Lundy spent the greater part of his time in traveling from place to place, procuring subscriptions to his journal and lecturing on slavery, he could not issue his paper regularly at any one point. In some instances he carried the head-rules, column-rules, and subscription-book of his journal with him, and when he came to a town where he found a printing-press he would stop long enough to print and mail a number of his periodical. He traveled for the most part on foot, carrying a heavy pack. In ten years in that way he covered twenty-five thousand miles, five thousand on foot.
He decided to invade the enemy's country by going where slavery was. He went to Tennessee, making the journey of eight hundred miles, one half by water, and one half on foot. That was, of course, before the day of railroads.
He continued to issue his paper, although often threatened with personal violence. Once two bullies locked him in a room and, with revolvers in hand, tried to frighten him into a promise to discontinue his work. He did not frighten to any extent.
Seeking what seemed to be the most inviting field for his operations, he decided to move his establishment to Baltimore, going most of the way on foot and lecturing as he went whenever he could find an audience.
His residence in Baltimore came near proving fatal. A slave-trader, whom he had offended, attacked and brutally beat him on the street. The consolation he got from the court that tried the ruffian, who was "honorably discharged," was that he (Lundy) had got "nothing more than he deserved." Soon afterwards his printing material and other property was burned by a mob.
He went to Mexico to select a location for a projected colony of colored people. He traveled almost altogether afoot, observing the strictest economy and supporting himself by occasional jobs of saddlery and harness mending. In his journal he tells us that he often slept in the open air, the country traversed being mostly new and unsettled. He was in constant danger from panthers, alligators, and rattlesnakes, while he was cruelly beset by gnats and mosquitoes. His clothes in the morning, he tells us, would be as wet from heavy dews as if he had fallen into the river.
Intellectually, Lundy was not a great man, but his heart was beyond measurement. The torch that he carried in the midst of the all but universal darkness of that period emitted but a feeble ray, but he kept it burning, and it possessed the almost invaluable property of being able to transmit its flame to other torches. It kindled the brand that was wielded by William Lloyd Garrison, and which possessed a wonderful power of illumination.
Garrison was beyond all question a remarkable man. In the qualities that endow a successful leader in a desperate cause he has never been surpassed. He had an iron will that was directed by an inflexible conscience. "To him," says James Freeman Clarke, "right was right, and wrong was wrong, and he saw no half lights or half shadows between them." He was a natural orator. I never heard him talk, either on or off the platform, but I have heard those who had listened to him, speak of the singular gift he possessed in stating or combating a proposition. One person who had heard him, often compared him, when dealing with an adversary, to a butcher engaged in dissecting a carcass, and who knew just where to strike every time,—a homely, but expressive illustration. His addresses in England on a certain notable occasion, which is dealt with somewhat at length elsewhere, were declared by the first British orators to be models of perfect eloquence.
Lundy and Garrison met by accident. They were boarding at the same house in Boston, and became acquainted. Lundy's mind was full of the subject of slavery, and Garrison's proved to be receptive soil. They decided to join forces, and we have the singular spectacle of two poor mechanics—a journeyman saddler and a journeyman printer—conspiring to revolutionize the domestic institutions of half of the country.
They decided to continue the Baltimore newspaper. Garrison's plain-spokenness, however, soon got him into trouble in that city. He was prosecuted for libelling a shipmaster for transporting slaves, was convicted and fined fifty dollars. The amount, so far as his ability to pay was involved, might as well have been a million. He went to prison, being incarcerated in a cell just vacated by a man who had been hanged for murder, and there he remained for seven weeks. At the end of that time Arthur Tappan, the big-hearted merchant of New York, learning the facts of the case, advanced the money needed to set Garrison free.
Undeterred by his experience as a martyr, Garrison—who had returned to Boston—resolved to establish a journal of his own in that city, which was to be devoted to the cause of the slave. The Liberator appeared on the 1st of January, 1831.
In entering upon this venture, Garrison had not a subscriber nor a dollar of money. Being a printer, he set up the type and struck off the first issue with his own hands.