William Ellery Channing
Chapter VIII. Duties.
A few words remain to be spoken in relation to the duties of the Free States. These need to feel the responsibilities and dangers of their present position. The country is approaching a crisis on the greatest question which can be proposed to it, a question not of profit or loss, of tariffs or banks, or any temporary interests, but a question involving the First Principles of freedom, morals, and religion. Yet who seems to be awake to the solemnity of the present moment? Who seems to be settling for himself the great fundamental truths, by which private efforts and public measures are to be determined?
The North has duties to perform towards the South and towards itself. Let it resolve to perform them faithfully, impartially; asking first for the Right, and putting entire confidence in well-doing. The North is bound to frown on all attempts of its citizens, should such be threatened, to excite insurrection at the South, on all attempts to tamper with and to dispose to violence the minds of the slaves. The severest laws, which the Constitutions of the different States admit, may justly be resorted to for this end, and they should be strictly enforced. I believe, indeed, that there is no special need for new legislation on the subject. I believe that there was never a moment, when the Slave-holding States had so little to apprehend from the Free, when the moral feeling of the community in regard to the crime of instigating revolt was so universal, thorough, and inflexible, as at the present moment. Still, if the South needs other demonstrations than it now has of the moral and friendly spirit which in this respect pervades the North, let them be given to the full extent which the spirit and provisions of our respective Constitutions allow. Still more; it is the duty of the Free States to act by opinion, where they cannot act by law, to discountenance a system of agitation on the subject of slavery, to frown on passionate appeals to the ignorant, and on indiscriminate and inflammatory vituperation of the slave-holder. This obligation, also, has been and will be fulfilled. There was never a stronger feeling of responsibility in this particular than at the present moment.
There are, however, other duties of the Free States, to which they MAY prove false, and which they are too willing to forget. They are bound, not in their public, but individual capacities, to use every virtuous influence for the abolition of slavery. They are bound to encourage that manly, moral, religious discussion of it, through which strength will be given to the continually increasing opinion of the civilized and Christian world in favor of personal freedom. They are bound to seek and hold the truth in regard to human rights; to be faithful to their principles in conversation and conduct, never, never to surrender them to private interest convenience, flattery, or fear.
The duty of being true to our principles is not easily o be performed. At this moment an immense pressure is driving the North from its true ground. God save it from imbecility, from treachery to freedom and virtue! I have certainly no feelings but those of good-will towards the South; but I speak the universal sentiment of this part of the country, when I say, that the tone which the South has often assumed towards the North has been that of a superior, a tone unconsciously borrowed from the habit of command to which it is unhappily accustomed by the form of its society. I must add, that this high bearing of the South has not always been met by a just consciousness of equality, a just self-respect at the North. The causes I will not try to explain. The effect, I fear, is not to be denied. It is said, that some, who have represented the North in Congress, have not always represented its dignity, its honor; that they have not always stood erect before the lofty bearing of the South. Here lies our danger. The North will undoubtedly be just to the South. It must also be just to itself. This is not the time for sycophancy, for servility, for compromise of principle, for forgetfulness of our rights. It is the time to manifest the spirit of Men, a spirit which prizes, more than life, the principles of liberty, of justice, of humanity, of pure morals, of pure religion.
Let it not be thought that I would recommend to the North, what in some parts of our country is called "Chivalry," a spirit of which the duelling pistol is the best emblem, and which settles controversies with blood. A Christian and civilized man cannot but be struck with the approach to barbarism, with the insensibility to true greatness, with the incapacity of comprehending the divine virtues of Jesus Christ, which mark what is called "chivalry." I ask not the man of the North to borrow it from any part of the country. But I do ask him to stand in the presence of this "chivalry" with the dignity of moral courage and moral independence. Let him, at the same moment, remember the courtesy and deference due to the differing opinions of others, and the sincerity and firmness due to his own. Let him understand the lofty position which he holds on the subject of slavery, and never descend from it for the purpose of soothing prejudice or disarming passion. Let him respect the safety of the South, and still manifest his inflexible adherence to the cause of human rights and personal freedom.
On this point I must insist, because I see the North giving way to the vehemence of the South. In some, perhaps many, of our recent "Resolutions," a spirit has been manifested, at which, if not we, our children will blush. Not long ago there were rumors that some of our citizens wished to suppress by law all discussion, all expression of opinion on slavery, and to send to the South such members of our community as might be claimed as instigators of insurrection. Such encroachments on rights could not, of course, be endured. We are not yet so fallen. Some generous inspirations, some echoes of the old eloquence of liberty, still come down to us from our fathers. Could such encroachments be borne, would not the soil of New England, so long trodden by freemen, quake under the steps of her degenerate sons? We are not prepared for these. But a weak, yielding tone, for which we seem to be prepared, may be the beginning of concessions which we shall one day bitterly rue.
The means used at the South to bring the North to compliance, seem to demand particular attention. I will not record the contemptuous language which has been thrown on the money-getting habits of New England, or the menaces which have been addressed to our cupidity, for the purpose of putting us to silence on the subject of slavery. Such language does in no degree move me. I only ask that we may give no ground for its application. We can easily bear it if we do not deserve it. Our mother-country has been called a nation of shopkeepers, and New England ought not to be provoked by the name. Only let us give no sanction to the opinion that our spirit is narrowed to our shops; that we place the art of bargaining above all arts, all sciences, accomplishments, and virtues; that, rather than lose the fruits of the slave's labor, we would rivet his chains; that, sooner than lose a market we would make shipwreck of honor; that, sooner than sacrifice present gain, we would break our faith to our fathers and our children, to our principles and our God. To resent or retaliate reproaches would be unwise and unchristian. The only revenge worthy of a good man is, to turn reproaches into admonitions against baseness, into incitements to a more generous virtue. New England has long suffered the imputation of a sordid, calculating spirit, of supreme devotion to gain. Let us show that we have principles, compared with which the wealth of the world is light as air. It is a common remark here, that there is not a community under heaven, through which there is so general a diffusion of intelligence and healthful moral sentiment as in New England. Let not the just influence of such a society be impaired by any act, which would give to prejudice the aspect of truth.
The Free States, it is to be feared, must pass through a struggle. May they sustain it as becomes their freedom! The present excitement at the South can hardly be expected to pass away, without attempts to wrest from them unworthy concessions. The tone in regard to slavery in that part of our country is changed. It is not only more vehement, but more false than formerly. Once slavery.was acknowledged as an evil. Now it is proclaimed to be a good. We have even~, been told, not by a handful of enthusiasts in private life, but by men in the highest station and of widest influence at the South, that slavery is the soil into which political freedom strikes its deepest roots, and that republican institutions are never so secure as when the laboring class is reduced to servitude. Certainly, no assertion of the wildest Abolitionist could give such a shock to the slave- holder, as this new doctrine is fitted to give to the people of the North. Liberty, with a slave for her pedestal and a chain in her hand, is an image, from which our understandings and hearts alike recoil. A doctrine, more wounding or insulting to the mechanics, farmers, laborers of the North than this strange heresy, cannot well be conceived. A doctrine more irreverent, more fatal to republican institutions, was never fabricated in the councils of despotism. It does not, however, provoke us. I recall it only to show the spirit in which slavery is upheld, and to remind the Free States of the calm energy which they will need, to keep themselves true to their own principles of liberty.
There is a great dread in this part of the country, that the union of the States may be dissolved by the conflict about slavery. To avert this evil, every sacrifice should be made but that of honor, freedom, and principle. No one prizes the Union more than myself. Perhaps I may be allowed to say, that I am attached to it by no common love. Most men value the Union as a Means; to me it is an End. Most would preserve it for the prosperity of which it is the instrument; I love and would preserve it for its own sake. Some value it as favoring public improvements, facilities of commercial exchange, &c.; I value these improvements and exchanges chiefly as favoring union. I ask of the General Government to unite us, to hold us together as brethren in peace; and I care little whether it does any thing else. So dear to me is union. Next to liberty, it is our highest national interest. All the pecuniary sacrifices which it can possibly demand should be made for it. The politicians in some parts of our country, who are calculating its value, and are willing to surrender it because they may grow richer by separation, seem to me bereft of reason. Still, if the Union can be preserved only by the imposition of chains on speech and the press, by prohibition of discussion on a subject involving the most sacred rights and dearest interests of humanity, then union would be bought at too dear a rate; then it would be changed from a virtuous bond into a league of crime and shame. Language cannot easily do justice to our attachment to the Union. We will yield every thing to it but Truth, Honor, and Liberty. These we can never yield.
Let the Free States
be firm, but also patient, forbearing, and calm. From the slave-holder
they cannot look for perfect self-control. From his position he would be
more than man, were he to observe the bounds of moderation. The consciousness
which tranquilizes the mind can hardly be his. On this subject he has always
been sensitive to excess. Much exasperation is to be expected. Much should
be borne. Every thing may be surrendered but our principles and our rights.
The work, which I proposed to myself, is now completed. I ask and hope for it the Divine blessing, as far as it expresses Truth, and breathes the spirit of Justice and Humanity. If I have written any thing under the influence of prejudice, passion, or unkindness to any human being, I ask forgiveness of God and man. I have spoken strongly, not to offend or give pain, but to produce in others deep convictions corresponding to my own. Nothing could have induced me to fix my thoughts on this painful subject, but a conviction, which pressed on me with increasing weight, that the times demanded a plain and free exposition of the truth. The few last months have increased my solicitude for the country. Public sentiment has seemed to me to be losing its healthfulness and vigor. I have seen symptoms of the decline of the old spirit of liberty. Servile opinions have seemed to gain ground among us. The faith of our fathers in free institutions has waxed faint, and is giving place to despair of human improvement. I have perceived a disposition to deride abstract rights, to speak of freedom as a dream, and of republican governments as built on sand. I have perceived a faint- heartedness in the cause of human rights. The condemnation, which has been passed on Abolitionists, has seemed to be settling into acquiescence in slavery. The sympathies of the community have been turned from the slave to the master. The impious doctrine, that human laws can repeal the Divine, can convert unjust and oppressive power into a moral right, has more and more tinctured the style of conversation and the press. With these sad and solemn views of society, I could not be silent; and I thank God, amidst the consciousness of great weakness and imperfection, that I have been able to offer this humble tribute, this sincere though feeble testimony, this expression of heart- felt allegiance, to the cause of Freedom, Justice, and Humanity.
Having stated the circumstances which have moved me to write, I ought to say, that they do not discourage me. Were darker omens to gather round us, I should not despair. With a faith like his, who came to prepare the way for the Great Deliverer, I feel and can say, "The Kingdom of Heaven," the Reign of Justice and Disinterested Love, "is at hand, and All Flesh shall see the salvation of God." I know, and rejoice to know, that a power, mightier than the prejudices and oppression of ages, is working on earth for the world's redemption, the power of Christian Truth and Goodness. It descended from Heaven in the person of Christ. It was manifest in his life and death. From his cross it went forth conquering and to conquer. Its mission is, "to preach deliverance to the captive, and to set at liberty them that are bound." It has opened many a prison-door. It is ordained to break every chain. I have faith in its triumphs. I do not, cannot despair.
IT was my purpose to address a chapter to the South, but I have thought fit to omit it. I beg, however, to say, that nothing which I have written can have proceeded from unkind feeling towards the South; for in no other part of the country have my writings found a more gratifying reception; from no other part hare I received stronger expressions of sympathy. To these I am certainly not insensible. My own feelings, had I consulted them, would have led me to stifle every expression, which could give pain to those from whom I have received nothing but good-will.
I wished to suggest to the slave-holders that the excitement now prevalent among themselves is incomparably more perilous, more fitted to stir up insurrection, than all the efforts of Abolitionists, allowing these to be ever so corrupt. I also wished to remind the men of principle and influence in that part of the country, of the necessity of laying a check on lawless procedures, in regard to the citizens of the North. We have heard of large subscriptions at the South for the apprehension of some of the Abolitionists in the Free States, and for the transportation of them to parts of the country where they would meet the fate, which, it is said, they deserve. Undoubtedly, the respectable portion of the slave-holding communities are not answerable for these measures. But does not policy, as well aa principle, require such men steadily to discountenance them? At present, the Free States have stronger sympathies with the South than ever before. But can it be supposed that they will suffer their citizens to be stolen, exposed to violence, and murdered by other States? Would not such an outrage rouse them to feel and act as one man? Would it not identify the Abolitionists with our most sacred rights? One kidnapped, murdered Abolitionist would do more for the violent destruction of slavery than a thousand societies. His name would be sainted. The day of his death would be set apart for solemn, heart-stirring commemoration. His blood would cry through the land with a thrilling voice, would pierce every dwelling, and find a response; in every heart. Do men, under the light of the present day, need to be told, that enthusiasm is not a flame to be quenched with blood? On this point, good and wise men, and the friends of the country at the North and South, can hold but one opinion; and if the press, which, I grieve to say, has kept an ominous silence amidst the violations of law and rights, would but speak plainly and strongly, the danger would be past.
The views and principles, supported in this short work, will, of course, provoke much opposition, and, what I greatly lament, they will excite the displeasure not only of the selfish and violent, but of good and honorable men, whose unfavorable position hardly admits an impartial judgment of slavery, and renders them excessively sensitive to every exposition of it. I shall not, however, be anxious to defend what I have written. The principles, here laid down, if true, will stand. I should anticipate little good from engaging in controversies with individuals. The selfish passions, awakened by such collisions, too often prevail over the love of truth; and without this, the truth cannot be worthily maintained. In regard to slavery, it is peculiarly important, that discussion should be calm, general, unmixed with personalities. In this way, I trust that the subject will be better understood by all parties. I should rejoice to be convinced, that slavery is a less debasing influence than I have affirmed. How welcome would be brighter views of life and of mankind! Still, we must see things as they are, and not turn away from the most painful truth.
I have only to add, that I alone am responsible for what I have now written. I represent no society, no body of men, no part of the country. I have written by no one's instigation, and with no one's encouragement, but solely from my own convictions. If cause of offence is given, the blame ought to fall on me alone.
NOTE FOR THE FOURTH EDITION.
IN commencing the chapter on Abolitionism, I have expressed my respect for the few Abolitionists whom I have known. I am bound to say, that, in consequence of hearing and seeing more of this body, I have an increasing persuasion of the purity of purpose, and the moral worth of its members generally. I have spoken freely of their errors; but these ought not to blind us to their virtues and sacrifices, and especially ought not to prejudice us against the truths which they contend for. We must not abandon great principles, because asserted unwisely. We must not grow cold to a good cause, because reproach is brought on it by defenders who have more zeal than discretion. Its dangers should attach us to it more closely, and we should do what we can to lead its friends to the use of means corresponding to its dignity, and fitted to insure its success.
In the chapter on the Means of removing Slavery, I have expressed my fears as to the result of the experiment now going on in the English West Indies. I rejoice to say, that recent accounts from those islands have diminished my apprehensions. It is stated, that in some of the islands real estate has risen in value since the emancipation, and that imports are considerably increased. I have just heard, that a West Indian planter residing in this country, who was strenuously opposed to the Act of Emancipation, speaks now of his estate as more productive than formerly. That no disturbance of the peace has followed this great change, is well understood, and this is the essential point. Undoubtedly the experiment is not yet decided, and reports are to be received with caution; but the success of the measure has as yet surpassed the expectations of all except the Abolitionists. As yet they have proved the truest prophets. May events set the seal of truth on all their predictions! This country is interested in nothing more than in the success of emancipation in the West Indies. With this example before us, the destruction of slavery would be as speedy as it is sure.
No part of my book on Slavery seems to have given so much offence as that in which I have spoken of conjugal infidelity on the part of the master as increased by slavery. Of the abuse heaped on me for this opinion I shall, of course, say nothing. Had I received nothing but abuse, the remarks now to be made would not be offered to the public; but a gentleman of high character, Mr. Leigh of Virginia, has solemnly protested against my statement in the senate of the United States, and I should do him great wrong were I to confound him with the vulgar politicians, too common in Congress as well as out of it, who are ready to say any thing and every thing which may serve their cause. Mr. Leigh expresses his deliberate conviction, that conjugal fidelity is not more respected in any part of the country than in the Slave-holding States. It will be observed, in recurring to my book, that I said nothing of the Slave-holding States, but of slave countries generally, and that I argued not from reports or documents, but from the principles of human nature and from the very nature of slavery. I feel as if much reasoning could not deceive me; but I will now say, what I forbore to say in the first instance, that I should not have brought this charge against slavery, had not the general argument, drawn from human nature, been corroborated by all the evidence which the case will well admit. In that part of my work, I expressed not my own opinion alone, but the common, and perhaps I should say the universal opinion of the North, and, still more, the public opinion of the civilized world. During my whole life, I have not met an individual, who has questioned, whether slavery exerts a disastrous influence on the domestic relations. I do not believe, that, among the well informed at the North, an individual is to be found, who supposes that the obligations of marriage are as much respected in the Slave- holding States as in the Free. On reading Mr. Leigh's speech, I determined to make inquiries, with the purpose of retracting my error in the face of the world, if I should find reason to charge myself with rashness. I have obtained the opinions of those, whose authority in such a case seems to me most worthy of confidence, and in every instance I have been assured that I have uttered only the truth. I know not how many have spoken to me on this point in the most undoubting tone. In my book, I have only given expression to the public sentiment of the North, and I as little expected to hear my correctness questioned, as to hear the existence of slavery denied. I do not, of course, intend to impute the least unfairness to Mr. Leigh, who is known among us only as a virtuous man, who does honor to his country I presume, that, in the comparison which he made between the Slave-holding States and other parts of the country, he spoke without a sufficient knowledge of the latter. I cannot, therefore, I dare not, expunge from my book the offensive passage, though in the revised edition I have somewhat changed its form. If I know my own heart, I should rejoice to be able to expunge it.
I have regretted, that a passage, which I prepared for this work at the time of its composition, was not inserted. In the chapter of Explanations, after speaking of the examples of moral and religious excellence to be found in the Slave-holding States, I expressed, in a few sentences, my deep sense of the virtues, as well as the accomplishments of the women of the South. I wrote this passage with a fervent heart, because it was dictated, in a measure, by the grateful recollection of unwearied kindnesses received from woman during a residence in that part of the country in my youth. I should be glad to publish it now, had it not been destroyed with the manuscript of which it formed a part, for it expressed feelings which time has only strengthened. After much deliberation I omitted it in the first edition, and did so from considerations which I cannot now approve. I feared that what I had written would be set down by strangers as a common- place of flattery. I feared that I might seem desirous to expiate by this praise the censures contained in other parts of the book, desirous to shield myself from the obloquy to which I was exposing myself in publishing unpopular truth. I did on this occasion what I have too often done. In shrinking from the appearance of vices which I abhor, I was unjust to my convictions and affections. The reader will excuse this reference to myself, when he learns that I have been shamelessly accused of casting reproach on the purity of the women at the South. I should not, however, have noticed this calumny, had not the preceding part of this note almost compelled me to refer to it. I feel too much about the great subject on which I have written, to be very solicitous about what is said of myself. I feel that I am nothing, that my reputation is nothing, in comparison with the fearful wrong and evil, which I have labored to expose; and I should count myself unworthy the name of a man or a Christian, if the calumnies of the bad, or even the disapprobation of the good, could fasten my thoughts on myself and turn me aside from a cause, which, as I believe, truth, humanity, and God call me to maintain.
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