July 5, 1852

Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens

Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about

this day. The simple story of it is, that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British

subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not then

born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as

the home government and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know,

although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental

prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in

its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper.

But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of

government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home

government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints.

They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust,

unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I

scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of

your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part, would not be worth much to

anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might have taken, had I lived

during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong,

is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can

flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable

to do so; but there was a time when, to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause

of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of

mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with

the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the

merit, and the one which, of all others, seems un fashionable in our day. The cause of liberty

may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.

Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated, by the home government, your fathers, like

men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and

remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was

wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves

treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were not

the men to look back.

As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the

cause of your fathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure.

The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest eloquence of

the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the

unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red sea,

the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of.

The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but, we fear the

lesson is wholly lost on our present rulers.

Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad,

they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous

wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy

for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was

born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The

timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of course, shocked and

alarmed by it.

Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet;

and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to be

attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it,) may be calculated with as much precision as can

be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this

sort of change they are always strongly in favor.

These people were called tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably,

conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less

euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.

Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their

terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on,

and the country with it.

On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and

the worshippers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national

sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions,

drawn up in our day, whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and

help my story if I read it.

Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent

States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political

connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.

Citizens, your fathers Made good that resolution. They succeeded; and today you reap the

fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly

celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history—the

very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in

perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the RINGBOLT to

the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that

instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions,

in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy

billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That

bolt drawn, that chain, broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day—cling to it, and to its

principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.

The coining into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides

general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this

republic an event of special attractiveness.

The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.

The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions.

The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and

the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination,

such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline.

From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and

innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and


Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the

Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too—great enough to give

fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number

of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly the

most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration.

They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they

contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the

highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is

exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his

country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives,

their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of

liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They

were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed

forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of

tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and

humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such

men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more

as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the

politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched

away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a

glorious example in their defence. Mark them!

Fully appreciating the hardships to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause,

honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to

attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to

assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this

republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a

sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep, the corner-stone of the

national super-structure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations

of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and penants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of

business, too, is hushed. Even mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-

piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand

church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this

day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the

hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and

universal interest—a nation’s jubilee.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary.

Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That

is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your

speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have

never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at

your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are

as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and


I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which

make in in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait—perhaps a national

weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans,

and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering

Americans, if I say I think the Americans can side of any question may be safely left in

American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have

been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!

The Present

My business, if I have any here today, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his

cause is the ever-living now.

“Trust no future, however pleasant, Let the dead past bury its dead; Act, act in the living

present, Heart within, and God overhead.”

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To

all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But

now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work,

and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have

no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be

blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your

fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom

and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is

not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was

fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to

our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s faith and spirit. That people contented

themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great name, while they repudiated the deeds

which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this

country today? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of

the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die till he

had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood,

and the traders in the bodies and souls of men, shout, “We have Washington to ‘our father.’

Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.

“The evil that men do, lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What

have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles

of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence,

extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national

altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from

your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully

returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful.

For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and

dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits?

Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s

jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a

case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I

am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only

reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice,

are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and

independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that

brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours,

not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated

temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery

and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? If

so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the

example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of

the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive

lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We

hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away

captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us

one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee,

O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue

cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions!

whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the

jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding

children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue

cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to

chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would

make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN

SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view.

Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not

hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never

looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past,

or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and

revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be

false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I

will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the

name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call

in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to

perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not

excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape

me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a

slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and

your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you

argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would

be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit where all is plain there is nothing to be argued.

What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject

do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man?

That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slave-holders themselves acknowledge

it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish

disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia,

which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the

punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like

punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and

responsible being. The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that

Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and

penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws,

in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave.

When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when

the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a

brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man .

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not

astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical

tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron,

copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks,

merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors,

editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises

common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding

sheep and cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as

husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God,

and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove

that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his

own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a

question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a

matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice,

hard to be understood? How should I look today, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and

subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it

relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself

ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the

canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work

them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them

with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with

dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their

flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a

system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No I will not. I have

better employment for my time and strength, than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish

it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is

inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I

cannot. The time for such argument is past.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability,

and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule,

blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but

fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the

earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must

be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be

exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more

than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant

victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your

national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your

denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow

mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious

parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—

a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation

on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these

United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of

the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have

found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every day practices of this nation, and you will

say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a


The Internal Slave Trade

Take the American slave-trade, which we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just

now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He

mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of

American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one half of this

confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year, by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several

states, this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign

slave-trade) “the internal slave-trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it

the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been

denounced by this government, as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words, from

the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this

nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Every-where, in this

country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade, as a most inhuman traffic, opposed

alike to the laws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by

our DOCTORS OF DIVINITY. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented

that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish

themselves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact, that, while so much

execration is poured out by Americans, upon those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the

men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their

business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained

by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women, reared like

swine, for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They

inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the

nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh jobbers, armed

with pistol, whip and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children,

from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold

singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field, and the deadly sugar-

mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives

them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-chilling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted

captives! There, see the old man, with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please,

upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears

falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes!

weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily.

Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like

the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are

saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul! The crack

you heard, was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard, was from the woman you

saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that

gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the

auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed

to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated for ever;

and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me citizens,

WHERE, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but

a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the

United States.

I was born amid such sights and scenes. To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality.

When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot Street,

Fell’s Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves, the slave ships in the Basin,

anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to

waft them down the Chesapeake. There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at the

head of Pratt Street, by Austin Woldfolk. His agents were sent into every town and county in

Maryland, announcing their arrival, through the papers, and on flaming “hand-bills,” headed

CASH FOR NEGROES. These men were generally well dressed men, and very captivating in

their manners. Ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has

depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms

of its mother, by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness.

The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general

depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered,

for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Or-leans. From the slave

prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the anti-slavery

agitation, a certain caution is observed.

In the deep still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead heavy footsteps,

and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish

heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress in the morning, to

hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of the chains,

and the heart-rending cries. I was glad to find one who sympathized with me in my horror.

Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In

the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the

bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-

markets where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine, knocked off to the

highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and

rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.

“Is this the land your Fathers loved, The freedom which they toiled to win? Is this the earth

whereon they moved? Are these the graves they slumber in?”

But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented.

By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its

most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New

York has be-come as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women and children,

as slaves, remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole

United States. The power is co-extensive with the star-spangled banner, and American

Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is

not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human

decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is

hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men

guilty of no crime. Your law-makers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this

hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, your lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics,

enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do

this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans, have, within the past two years, been

hunted down, and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to

slavery, and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on

them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey, stands

superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included!

For black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, nor religion.

The Fugitive Slave Law makes MERCY TO THEM, A CRIME; and bribes the judge who tries


and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black

enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of

slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of

American justice is bound, by the law to hear but one side; and that side, is the side of the

oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world,

that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of

justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribes, and

are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, to hear only his accusers!

In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in

cunning arrangement to entrap the defenceless, and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave

Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation. I doubt if there be another nation on

the globe, having the brass and the baseness to put such a law on the statute-book. If an

man in this assembly thinks differently from me in this matter, and feels able to disprove my

statements, I will gladly confront him at any suitable time and place he may select.

Religious Liberty

I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the

churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent,

they, too, would so regard it.

At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty,

and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are

utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it

utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise and

cummin,”—abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any

of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A

general shout would go up from the church, demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal! And it

would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without

inscribing this motto on his banner. Further, if this demand were not complied with, another

Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old covenanters

would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door, and heard

from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox, to the

beautiful, but treacherous Queen Mary of Scotland. The fact that the church of our country,

(with fractional exceptions,) does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war

against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship,

an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and

good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing;

solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons

who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the

naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a

blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, pharisees, hypocrites,

who pay tithe of mint, anise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law,

judgment, mercy and faith.”

The Church Responsible

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually

takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the

shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines, who stand as the very

lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion, and the bible, to the

whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of

master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is

clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is

palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in

preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of

religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels,

in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put

together, have done? These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having

neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its

beauty, and leave the throne of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for

oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which

is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and

good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich

against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two

classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor,

oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and

enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race,

and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be

true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation—a religion, a

church and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an

abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well

addressed, “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons

and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with it is iniquity, even the solemn

meeting. Your new moons, and your appointed feasts my soul hatest. They are a trouble to

me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes

from you. Yea! when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF

BLOOD; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge for the

fatherless; plead for the widow.”

The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold

slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish


The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but

uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case

will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could

sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”

Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great

ecclesiastical, missionary, bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers

against slavery, and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be

scattered to the winds, and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful

responsibility of which the mind can conceive.

In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare

the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of

our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church. and ministry of the country, in

battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to

know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the

Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American theology have

appeared—men, honored for their so called piety, and their real learning. The LORDS of

Buffalo, the SPRINGS of New York, the LATHROPS of Auburn, the COXES and SPENCERS of

Brooklyn, the GANNETS and SHARPS of Boston, the DEWEYS of Washington, and other great

religious lights of the land, have, in utter denial of the authority of Him, by whom they

professed to be called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example of the

Hebrews, and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, they teach that we ought to obey

man’s law before the law of God.

My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing

types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In

speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the

great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God

that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom

Henry Ward Beecher, of Brooklyn, Samuel J. May, of Syracuse, and my esteemed friend on

the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that, upon these men lies the duty

to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission

of the slave’s redemption from his chains.

Religion in England and Religion in America

One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the

anti-slavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in England towards a similar

movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating,

and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the

West Indian slave, and restored him to his liberty. There, the question of emancipation was a

high religious question. It was demanded, in the name of humanity, and according to the law

of the living God. The Sharps, the Clarksons, the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, the Burchells and

the Knibbs, were alike famous for their piety, and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery

movement there, was not an anti-church movement, for the reason that the church took its

full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in this country will

cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a

favorable, instead of a hostile position towards that movement.

Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly

inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure

Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation, (as embodied in the two great

political parties, is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three

millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of

Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves

consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You

invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet

them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your

money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land, you advertise, hunt, arrest,

shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement, and your universal education; yet you maintain a

system as barbarous and dreadful, as ever stained the character of a nation—a system begun

in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary,

and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till

your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but,

in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest

silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the

subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for

Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America.

You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very

essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery,

to throw off a three-penny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard earned farthing from the

grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God

made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men,

everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred,) all men

whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood

by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created

equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain, inalienable rights; and that, among

these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”; and yet, you hold securely, in a

bondage, which according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which

your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of

slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base

pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad it corrupts your

politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a

bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing

that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of

improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes

vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it

were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled

up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your

youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and

let the weight of twenty millions, crush and destroy it forever!

The Constitution

But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact,

guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that, the right to hold,

and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this

Republic. Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped,

basely stooped. “To palter with us in a double sense: And keep the word of promise to the ear,

But break it to the heart.”

And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest

imposters that ever practiced on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there

is no escape; but I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the

Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe.

There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length; nor have I the ability to

discuss it as it ought to be discussed. The subject has been handled with masterly power by

Lysander Spooner, Esq., by William Goodell, by Samuel E. Sewall, Esq., and last, though not

least, by Gerritt Smith, Esq. These gentlemen have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the

Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour.

Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed

themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the

Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the

hateful thing; but interpreted, as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS

LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it

at the gateway? or is it in the temple? it is neither. While I do not intend to argue this

question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the

Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument,

why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be

thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of

Rochester to a track of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain

rules of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are

well established. They are plain, common-sense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can

understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that

the question of the constitutionality, or unconstitutionality of slavery, is not a question for the

people. I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution,

and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the

prevailing one. With out this right, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as

that of a Frenchman. Ex-Vice-President Dallas tells us that the constitution is an object to

which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further

says, the constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred,

unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien tells us that the

Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties,

which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of

Senator Breese, Lewis Cass, and many others that might be named, who are everywhere

esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not

presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument.

Now, take the constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a

single proslavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and

purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.

I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail

myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of

the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which

must inevitably, work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the

doom of slavery is certain.

I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from “the

Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains, and the genius of American

Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not

now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut

itself up, from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers

without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of

hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social

impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude

walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind.

Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away

the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It

makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and

lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From

Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts

expressed on one side of the Atlantic, are distinctly heard on the other.

The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the

mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet

spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself

from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in

contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall

stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and

let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee The wide world o’er! When from their galling chains set free, Th’

oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee, And wear the yoke of tyranny Like brutes no more. That

year will come, and freedom’s reign, To man his plundered rights again Restore. God speed

the day when human blood Shall cease to flow! In every clime be understood, The claims of

human brotherhood, And each return for evil, good, Not blow for blow; That day will come all

feuds to end, And change into a faithful friend Each foe. God speed the hour, the glorious

hour, When none on earth Shall exercise a lordly power, Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower; But

all to manhood’s stature tower, By equal birth! THAT HOUR WILL COME, to each, to all, And

from his prison-house, the thrall Go forth. Until that year, day, hour, arrive, With head, and

heart, and hand I’ll strive, To break the rod, and rend the gyve, The spoiler of his prey deprive

So witness Heaven! And never from my chosen post, Whate’er the peril or the cost, Be driven.

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