Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson
Chapter V.


OPPOSITION TO THE ANNEXATION OF TEXAS. -CARRIES PETITIONS TO WASHINGTON. - SPEECH IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 1846.

ON the death of Mr. Harrison, April 4, 1841, the slave-power found in Mr. Tyler, his successor, a willing advocate of its extension; and then brought forward with unblushing front the gigantic scheme of annexing Texas to the Union. This said Gen. Hamilton, would "give a Gibraltar to the South." "The Madisonian," the organ of the administration, declared that it would have the most salutary influence upon slavery, and that "it must be done soon, or not at all;" and Mr. Upshur asserted in January, 1844, that, "if Texas should not be attached to the United States, she cannot maintain that institution [slavery] ten years, and probably not half that time." Stormy debates occurred in Congress on the question; the Whigs, in general, opposing the annexation while "Texas, or disunion!" became the watchword of the South. The question was carried into the presidential election of 1844; and James K. Polk thus came into the chief executive chair.

In the State Senate Mr. Wilson took an active part against the Texan scheme. He moved an amendment to the resolutions against annexation, "requesting Massachusetts senators in Congress to prevent, if possible, the consummation of that slaveholding scheme." The resolution implied a rebuke for their timid action; and he commented freely on what he characterized as their want of spirit. He wished to call their attention to the fact, that, upon the question of slavery, the legislature was in sober earnest; that it wished "them to feel, to think, and to act as Massachusetts men, who have been reared under the institutions of the Pilgrim Fathers, should think, feel, and act." His amendment was unanimously adopted by the Senate; and, though amended in the House by the insertion of the words "representatives in Congress," it had the desired effect upon our senators in that body. Mr. Wilson spoke eloquently and earnestly in the Senate-chamber against annexation, maintaining that, "if Texas should he admitted by a legislative act, that act could and ought to be repealed at the earliest possible moment." In order to develop and concentrate public sentiment on this question, he drew up a paper calling a convention of the State. Many eminent men of the Whig party in the General Court declined to sign the paper. This was the entering wedge in the division of the Whig party of Massachusetts in respect to slavery, which resulted in open rupture three years afterwards, and, finally, in complete extinction. Glorying in its past record, and intimidated by the effrontery of the South, that party failed to see the "logic of events," and wore away until it received from its distinguished leader, Daniel Webster, in his speech on the seventh day of March, 1850, its final death-blow. The world was moving: not to move with it was to perish.

The State convention was held in Faneuil hall upon the 29th of January; and its discussions were characterized by earnestness, vigor, and determination. An address, in part drawn up by Mr. Webster, and declaring that "Massachusetts denounces the iniquitous project [of annexation] in its inception, and in every stage of its progress, its means, and its ends, and all the purposes and pretences of its authors," was unanimously adopted, and widely circulated. "Thoughtful men," says Mr. Wilson, "filled the hall; speakers and hearers partook of a common sentiment: they realized as never before the imminence of the impending calamity, the gravity of the occasion, and the pregnant issues of the hour."

"The true reformer," says some writer, "is the man upon whose mind the light of great truths has fallen before it has reached the mass of his fellow-men, and who feels called of God to shed it abroad in the darkness." The declarations of Mr. Wilson at this period show that he distinctly saw the "impending crisis," the upheaving of the moral power of the nation, and the downfall of the deep- rooted institution of human servitude.

Although a treaty of annexation had been signed by the president, and Texas had accepted the conditions, she was not yet a State of the Union. Efforts were therefore strenuously made by antislavery men against her admission as a State. On the anniversary (Aug. 1, 1845) of the West-India emancipation, a large meeting was held at Waltham, Mass., where eloquent speeches were made by William Henry Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Weiss, and Henry Wilson, in which the usurpations and iniquities of the slaveholding power were forcibly set forth.

"The calamity and disgrace of annexation," said Mr. Wilson, "had come upon the country through the treachery of Northern men: even the representative of Concord and Lexington had proved recreant." To the question, "What should be done?" he said, "Act, hold meetings in every district, town, and county in the State. Oppose the admission of Texas into the Union as a slaveholding State, and appeal to the people of the free States to arrest the consummation of the great iniquity. Say to the men of the South, 'You are warring against civilization, against humanity, against the noblest feelings of the heart, the holiest impulses of the human soul, and the providence of God; and the conflict must ultimately end in your defeat.'

Mr. Wilson soon after obtained the signatures of a large number of influential men for a convention to be held at Concord on the twenty-second day of September, 1845, which, as set forth in the call, was to "take into consideration the encroachments of the slave-power, and recommend such action as justice and patriotism shall dictate to resist those encroachments, and arrest the progress of events so rapidly tending to that fearful consummation when slavery shall have complete control over the policy of the government and the destinies of the country." Men of all parties, sects, and pursuits, were invoked to "devote one day to the country and the oppressed." "Let old age," he said, "with its garnered treasures of wisdom and experience, be there, let manhood in its maturity and vigor be there, let youth with its high hopes and aspirations be there, to devise such measures and awaken such a spirit as shall free the country from the dominion, curse, and shame of slavery."

Mr. Wilson had the pleasure of seeing a large, enthusiastic convention, and of reporting a preamble and resolutions; the former of which had been prepared by his pastor, the Rev. Samuel Hunt, who, he observes, "had always, in the pulpit, in religious and political organizations, and at the ballot-box, acted for the slave, and against the domination of his master."

"We solemnly announce our purpose to the South," said the resolutions; "and to the execution of that purpose we pledge ourselves to the country and before heaven, that, rejecting all compromise, without restraint or hesitation, in our private relations and in our political organizations, by our voices and our votes, in Congress or out, we will use all practicable means for the extinction of slavery on the American continent." Letters were received from Charles Francis Adams, and John G. Whittier the poet and eloquent speeches were made by William Lloyd Garrison, Stephen C. Philllip's and other antislavery men. The resolutions were unanimously adopted.

At an adjourned meeting of the convention, held in Cambridge on the 21st of October, Mr. Wilson presided, and, on taking the chair, made an earnest appeal for prompt and fearless action; in which he said, "Let us at once take an advanced step against the slave-power. Let us act, and, as far as we have the constitutional right, go in favor of emancipation. Let us make it the cardinal doctrine of our creed, the sun of our system. Let us inscribe, in letters of light, emancipation on the banners under which we rally. Let us go to the country on that issue. We shall reach the heart and conscience of the people. They will come to the rescue, and we shall lay the foundations of an enduring triumph.''

A. committee appointed at this convention prepared an address to the people, and received in response petitions, signed by sixty-five thousand names, against the admission of Texas as a State into the Union. Mr. Wilson and John G. Whittier were chosen to present this remonstrance of the people of this State to Congress. On the tenth day of December, Mr. Adams laid these petitions before the House of Representatives, and moved that they be referred to a select committee; but the House by a large majority laid them on the table, and Texas soon became a State of the Union. But, though the Southern power was thus augmented, there were forces rising and combining which portended "irrepressible conflict."

While at Washington, Mr. Wilson was invited to dine with John Q. Adams; and, when wine was urged upon him at table, held himself, as did Daniel at the court of Babylon, to his principles of temperance, and declined to taste it. Surrounded by fashion, and moved by the example of the great and gifted, as he was, he has since spoken of this as one of the strongest temptations, in respect to total abstinence, of his life. Mr. Adams afterwards heartily commended him for his consistency.

In 1840, Mr. Wilson, who had declined being a candidate for the State Senate, held a seat in the House of Representatives, and, as usual, took a leading part in the deliberations of the session; ever casting the weight of his influence upon the side of humanity and progress. He introduced a resolution on the third day of February, declaring "the unalterable hostility of Massachusetts to the further extension and longer existence of slavery in America, and her fixed determination to use all constitutional and legal means for its extinction." This resolution he supported in a speech of signal power, evincing profound research and a complete mastery of his subject. He met with stern opposition from some leading men of the Whig party, with which he was still acting; though none could answer his strong and lucid argument. Of this speech "The Liberator" said, "This is unquestionably the best antislavery speech that has ever been delivered in any legislative assembly in this country, - more direct, more comprehensive, more important;" and "The Boston Courier" truly averred that "the spirit of independence is manifest in every paragraph." Inasmuch as Mr. Wilson, in this appeal for freedom, fearlessly discloses his opinions as a legislative champion of antislavery, clearly states the issues between the parties, ably answers the objections to his own position, marks out his future course, and prophetically announces coming events, we introduce it, with few omissions, to the reader : -

SPEECH ON SLAVERY IN THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 1846.

"I am not, sir, a political abolitionist; or, rather, I am not a Liberty-party map. I have no connection whatever with that party as a party. I am an abolitionist, and have been a member of an abolition society for nearly ten years. I am proud of the name of' abolitionist: I glory in it. l am willing to bear my full share of the odium that may now or hereafter be heaped upon it. I had far rather be one of the humblest in that little band which rallies around the glorious standard of emancipation than to have been the favorite marshal of Napoleon, and have led the Old Guard over a hundred fields of glory and renown. I have, here and in the other branch, always advocated and supported all measures that tend to the freedom and elevation of the colored portion of our countrymen. At all times and on all occasions, in public and in private, I have endeavored, according to the convictions of my judgment, to advance the cause of emancipation. I have been a candidate for seven years in succession for this House or the Senate, and have never, to my knowledge, received the vote of a solitary political abolitionist; and, should I ever again be a candidate for public office (which I do not anticipate), never expect to receive from one a vote. I hope, therefore, that no more insinuations will be thrown out that I only wish to court and please 'a little knot of political abolitionists.' At any rate, I shall not shrink from the performance of duty from any such insinuations here or elsewhere. I have said that I have no connection with the Liberty party; yet I am free to say that I am ready to forget the past, to let bygones be bygones, and to act with any set of men - Whigs,. Democrats, Liberty men, or old organizationists - in all lawful and constitutional measures that shall tend to arrest the extension, and overthrow the entire system, of slavery in America. It is time for the friends of freedom to bury minor differences of opinion, and march shoulder to shoulder, with lock-step, against the slave-power. How stands Massachusetts at this time? What is her position in reference to slavery? As long ago as 1838, during the presidency of Mr. Van Buren, an effort was made to bring Texas into the Union. The subject was brought before the legislature; and the late lamented James C. Alvord of Greenfield, then a member of the Senate, made a very able report on the subject, concluding with resolutions against the admission of Texas, which were unanimously adopted as the sense of the people of the Commonwealth. And in 1843, when the Democratic party had the control of the State government, a resolution was likewise unanimously passed, setting forth the evils of annexation, and declaring that under 'no circumstances whatever would Massachusetts consent to it.' In 1844, when rumors were rife that the administration of John Tyler, - which has been aptly called a 'gigantic joke,' - casting about for popular themes which should give it a chance for a renewed term, had pitched upon this project of annexation, the legislature, by nearly a unanimous vote, passed resolutions that such annexation would be a 'palpable violation of the Constitution, a deliberate assault upon its compromises.' I know very well, and everybody knows very well, that the Democracy have abandoned the position we all then assumed. . . . But the deed has been done. The last act in this great drama of national guilt and infamy has been performed. Texas has been admitted. She is now a sister State. She has been admitted in violation of the Constitution, and under circumstances winch leave but little doubt that the measure was carried by corruption, - by a free use of the patronage of the executive. Men who had committed themselves against it, and whose constituents were strongly opposed to it, also voted for it, and have since received their reward by appointment to places of honor and emolument.

"We must now act. We are in a position where we can not stand still with honor and dignity. We can adopt three courses of' action, - say and do nothing; stand just where we now are, and win, as win we should, the unenviable reputation of talking loud beforehand; and, when the act is finally accomplished, shutting our mouths in silence, and submitting to the wrong without a murmur. Such a position is one of shame and humiliation, unworthy of old Massachusetts.

"We may declare that this gross outrage of the General Government is an entire revolution, which will justify Massachusetts in dissolving all connection with the government. We may declare our independence, withdraw our delegation from Congress, exercise exclusive jurisdiction over our territory, and maintain it by force. Very few will recommend such a course of action. Such a step would doubtless lead to bloodshed, which few can contemplate without horror. Were the people ready and prepared for it, the circumstances would not, could not, justify such action. What then, can we do? We can pledge all the moral, social, and political power of the Commonwealth against slavery, and for freedom. We will remain in the Union ; but we remain there to fight the battles of freedom. We will stand by the Constitution: but we stand by it to rescue and defend it from the slave-power; to exercise all its just powers for the overthrow of slavery. We can dedicate ourselves to freedom, and wage eternal hostility to slavery and its power. This is, in my judgement, the only true course for Massachusetts to take. Her duty to the country, and her own honor and dignity, demand that she should take that position, and maintain it with unfaltering devotion."

Having forcibly discussed the allegations of the preamble to the resolution, he continued:-

"Sir, this republic was based upon the grand idea of the freedom and equality of all men; and yet now, in the middle part of the nineteenth century, in this age of light and knowledge illuminating our pathway, it has committed itself against freedom, and for slavery. And so it stands committed before all nations, and before Him who has declared that 'righteousness exalteth a nation, and sin is a reproach to any people.' Our position before the world is now one of disgrace and shame; and there is no true American, who cares any thing for the fame and glory of his country, that does not blush for his native land. We are drawing upon ourselves the scorn and derision of the universe. With the friends of freedom abroad we are fast losing sympathy and character. It is the universal sentiment all over the civilized world, that we are false and recreant to the principles of our own Constitution. Even the great and good Lafayette declared, a short time before his death, to Clarkson, that he never would have drawn his sword for America if he had known he was aiding to found a slaveholding republic.

"At the present time, Mr. Speaker, slavery governs the country: it holds possession of the government, and its vast power is everywhere seen and felt. Its eye is fixed upon California, and turned towards Cuba; and Mr. Calhoun has even gone so far as to send a secret and special agent to Hayti to stir up a rebellion for the purpose of crushing the negro republic. Slavery has its sleepless eye upon the rich provinces of the Mexican republic. Our own gifted Prescott may yet live to write again 'The Conquest of Mexico,' not by the Spanish, but by the Anglo-Saxon race; and for what? Simply, solely, and singly, for the extension of negro slavery over those fair and rich fields.

"The effects of slavery upon the whites and the blacks, upon the moral, social, and intellectual condition of the people, are visible to the most casual observer. It has left its impress upon man, upon institutions and society, and upon the face of Nature. Like the fabled upas-tree, it blasts, withers, and consumes all of life that comes within the circle of its influence. Of the five millions of white population in the slave States, only about three hundred thousand are slaveholders; the great mass of the population being poor ignorant, and degraded, many of them but little, if any, above the slaves: and slavery has reduced them to that condition. The soil is cut up into vast estates, owned by a few aristocrats who disdain labor, and despise the laborer. Common schools, the glory of New England, hardly exist; and education is almost unknown by the mass of the people. It is our boast in New England that our soil is divided into small estates; that its cultivators stand upon their own acres, which they till; and that education is accessible to all our people. These are the main supports of our republican institutions. What are the results of the two systems? One system has, for example, made Massachusetts the pattern State of the Union: the other has made old Virginia, the mother of States and of statesmen, a poor and drivelling commonwealth, with a broken-down and proud aristocracy (mere pensioners upon the government for menial and petty offices), and a helpless and dissipated people. Such is the legitimate result of slavery everywhere; and nothing can be more preposterous than the idea of sustaining republican institutions in a land of slavery. It has ever been the bane of empires. It corrupted and destroyed the ancient republics. It has retarded the progress of the race. It destroyed the Roman republic; it corrupted her aristocracy; it annihilated the democracy, impoverished the masses, and converted them into paupers that were fed from the public crib. We talk of Ceasar's crossing the Rubicon, and prostrating the liberties of his country: Roman liberty had perished forever before Ceasar returned from his Northern conquests. When Tiberius Gracchus, seeing and comprehending the tendencies of slavery, attempting to arrest its corrupting influence by dividing the public domain into small estates, - thus creating an independent yeomanry that should preserve and perpetuate the liberties of the commonwealth, —fell with three hundred of his followers in the Forum beneath the blows of the slaveholding aristocracy, and his body was thrown into the Tiber, that day the liberties of Rome went down, to rise no more forever. We talk of the Northern barbarians despoiling Italy. Before the Scythians left their rude huts in the North, and crossed the Alps, the rich fields of Italy had been converted into barrenness and desolation by the barbarism of slavery, so that those once fertile fields would only yield one-third as much as our own cold, sterile soil of New England. Look at the once proud monarchy of Spain. For three centuries the gold and the silver of the New World were poured into her coffers. It seems now that the hand of God was upon her, avenging the wrongs of the black and red man.

"The issue is now clearly made up. Slavery assumes to direct and control the nation. The friends of freedom must meet the issue. Freedom and slavery are now arrayed against each other. We must destroy slavery, or it will destroy liberty. The path of duty is plain. We are bound to exert our utmost efforts to restore our government to its original and pristine purity. The contest is a glorious one; and let us be cheered by the fact that the bold and daring efforts of the slave-power to arrest the progress of free principles have awakened and aroused the country. True, that power has won a brilliant victory in the acquisition of Texas; yet it is only one victory in her series of victories over the constitution and liberties of the country. Other fields are to be fought; and if we are true to the country, to freedom, and to man, the future has yet a Waterloo in store for the supporters of this unholy system. The tendencies of the age we live in are all against slavery; the progress of literature and science is against it; every thing that is beautiful and holy in the works of God is against it; God himself is against it; and, sooner or later, fall it must. Let us not be the last to engage in the good work.

"Sir, I wish for the adoption of this resolution, because thereby Massachusetts would take an entirely new and noble position. It is clear, distinct, and plain in its terms, and is based upon the aggressions of slavery itself upon freedom, the liberties, the rights, of the people of the country. It pledges Massachusetts to resist to the utmost all extension of the accursed institution, and to use all her just powers for the entire extinction of the whole system. Let her adopt this sentiment, and act in accordance with it. I wish that it could be written, in the words of Daniel Webster, 'in letters of light on the blue arch of heaven, between Orion and the Pleiades,' so that every one might see and read it, and ponder upon it. But I am not one to believe that our whole duty will have been discharged by the adoption of a resolution of this character. We must make its principles a living faith. We must sustain it at any cost and at any sacrifice. We must send to the halls of Congress men ready and willing at all times to support it. We must carry it into every department of our government, and bring the whole moral force and power of the State to bear in favor of it; and in doing this we shall at last inevitably succeed.

"It is asked what we of the North can do. Sir, we can prevent slavery from ever gaining a foothold in the vast Territories of the republic; and we can abolish it in the District of Columbia. And, in regard to this point, we of Massachusetts are just as responsible for the existence of slavery there as are the people of any State in the Union: and are more guilty than some; for we sin against our own convictions. In that District the prisons of our own government are converted into slave-pens; and side by side with our national public edifices are private persons, where our fellow-beings are immured, and kept for sale like cattle. I have visited one, and have seen crowds of slaves awaiting purchasers, thence to be sent to the cotton-fields and sugar-plantations of the far South-west. One of our own representatives told me that he saw at the railroad depot a poor negro woman torn away from her children, shrieking in the bitterness of her agony, and reproaching her owner for the violation of his promise that she should not be separated from her offspring. A distinguished member of Congress from South Carolina was his companion at the time, and exclaimed, 'Great God! what a sight is here! no wonder that you of the North are abolitionists! We can't stop this in the District of Columbia, and abolish throughout the country this vile inter-state slave-traffic; and the world and God will hold us to a fearful responsibility until we do it.

"Then the revenue force of the government is now used to prevent the escape of fugitive slaves; the garrisons are used for prisons, and the army is the mere body-guard of slavery; the navy, if not created, is used almost wholly (at least the home squadron), for the protection of the domestic slave-trade. The General Government can correct all this; and, were that government to exercise its constitutional right and power, slavery would die. The free States, and Massachusetts among them, are responsible for this; for they have the power to do it, and do not exercise it. They can bring the whole force and power of the government to bear in favor of liberty. They can change the provisions of the Constitution and the laws which now protect slave-property. As the Constitution now stands, a slave escaping here has no refuge, no protection; and the soil of our own State has long been the slave holder's hunting-ground. The panting and fleeing fugitive, with bloodhounds at his heels, may enter Fanenil Hall, and he is still a slave. He may cast himself down under the shadow of yonder monument, and he is still a slave, he may come into this very chamber, or penetrate to the council-chamber of the executive for protection, and he is still a slave, and his master can drag him away into bondage. The law and the Constitution that allow this can be changed, as well, also, as that provision which allows a representative of slave-property in the national councils. This subject was once acted upon by this legislature; and, though then unsuccessful, repeated and constant effort will enable us to accomplish the end. But we are met with the assertion that the slaveholders have rights under the Constitution, and that the existence of their property was guaranteed by that instrument. Now, I undertake to say that the Constitution was made for a free people. The whole history of the country from 1774 to the adoption of the Constitution proves this. The first Congress which met in 1774 declared, -

"'That they would not import or purchase any slaves that they would not be concerned in the trade themselves and that they would neither purchase slaves, use ships in the slave-trade, or sell their commodities and manufactures to those engaged in that traffic.'

The Congress of 1774 declared, 'God never intended a part of the human race to hold an absolute property in, and an unbounded power over, others.'

The ordinance of 1787 for the government of the North-west Territory, drawn up by a distinguished son of Massachusetts, expressly and forever prohibited slavery throughout that vast region. From 1775 to 1789, six of the States abolished slavery within their limits. If we look at the Madison papers, and into the debates of the several State conventions for the adoption of the Constitution, we shall find it established as clear as noonday light, that the framers of the Constitution never entertained the idea of the long continuance, far less the spread, of this great wrong; but the universal opinion was that slavery would soon die out, and be forever extinguished. Such was the opinion of the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Madisons, Henrys, Masons, and Martins of the South; of the Jays, Gerrys, Hancocks, Rushes, Adamses, Franklins, and Hamiltons of the North. They thought that everywhere the institution would soon pass away under the influence of our higher civilization and larger liberty. The whole concurrent testimony of all these great men, some of whom were among the purest and best characters the world has ever produced, proves that they all held this opinion and held this belief. We had no statesmen then who believed that 'slavery was the corner-stone of the republican edifice.'

"But, say some, the abolition of slavery and the agitation of the subject will lead to dissolution of the Union. Now, sir, I profess to be, and am, as strongly attached as any man to the union of these States. From boyhood I have been taught to regard disunion - in the words of Daniel Webster - as plunging the country into 'the gulf of fire and blackness.' I wish to see the whole country, from North to South, from the shores of the Atlantic to those of the Pacific, one country, great, glorious, and free, - an example for all the nations. I am for "liberty and union" but it must be 'liberty and union.' At all events, I am for liberty; and if dissolution of the Union must be the result of the abolition of slavery, or of lawful and constitutional action, why, then, let that dissolution come. Let the Union go; the sooner, the better. Better have liberty without union than union without liberty. But let me ask of these grave and conservative gentlemen who deprecate the agitation of this question, who would keep the subject of slavery out of sight forever, lest its discussion should hazard the perpetuity of the Union, or change or modify existing institutions, would they, if living at the time, have been found among the small flock gathered around Brewster and Robinson on the wild, barren heaths of Lincolnshire? Would they have been on board 'The Mayflower'? Would they have gathered with them in council to lay in prayers the foundation of a Christian commonwealth? Would they have been among the choice spirits rallying around and supporting Adams and Hancock? Would they have followed Warren to Bunker Hill? No, sir; no! They would have preached moderation. They would have kept aloof from the contests, if possible; have left the country rather than meet the crisis; and, if compelled to take a decisive part, would probably have been found arrayed against liberty, and on the side of the stronger power. They worship the past, gild their fathers' sepulchres, but crucify all that is noble of the present. Such men as these now call themselves conservators of our institutions, and oppose all attempts to agitate the momentous question of the abolition of slavery. Away with such stuff! I am sick of it. He alone is the true conservative who takes his stand on the foundation of justice and right, and maintains that position to the last.

"Our opponents seek to portray in vivid colors the terrible dangers that would attend the abolition of slavery. But look at this a moment. Eight of our States have emancipated all the slaves within their borders, and no difficulty whatever has followed. None of these dreadful evils have occurred; but, on the contrary, everything has worked well, and to the greatly-increased prosperity of such States. And we have a more recent example in the British West-India islands, where circumstances were infinitely more unfavorable to the success of emancipation than they are with us; where the planters to a man were deadly opponents of the scheme; where the blacks and slaves were as nearly ten to one of the whites free. Yet the project was carried out, and no harm has been the result: so far from it, indeed, that, whereas nearly all the planters were bankrupt before the abolition, their condition is now vastly more prosperous; and whereas the slaves were then dying off at the rate of five thousand per year, under the pressure of the lash, to save the island from bankruptcy, the health and condition, moral, social, and intellectual, of the colored race, now free, has greatly, almost wonderfully, improved. All this is established by irrefragable testimony; and it far outweighs all the arguments and fears, real or pretended, of the opponents of emancipation.

"This emancipation of the West-India slaves was conceived and carried out, not by the planters and owners of the slaves, but by England. This very act is the brightest gem in her diadem of glory, it will live forever in the remembrance of mankind, even if the memory of her arms, literature, and arts, the achievements of her Nelson and Wellington, the works of her Shakspeare and Milton, should pass away into oblivion. If her power should be broken forever, and if she should tomorrow sink beneath the ocean, and the waves of the Atlantic roll over the place where she now stands, still the renown of this great work, by which she taxed her own people a hundred millions of dollars, and gave liberty to eight hundred thousand men three thousand miles away sunk in the lowest depths of degradation, will endure through all time, and be quoted and commended by the lovers of freedom. Sir, it was the saying of a famous Athenian that the glory of his rival would not permit him to sleep. I trust that the glory England has acquired by this measure will not suffer us of America to slumber till we have emulated her example. I love not England; I am not dazzled by her power: but I envy her the glory of that great achievement.

"But we are again met with the argument that we are a commercial people, and cannot afford to disturb our relations with the rest of the country. Now, it is a notorious fact that the slave States do not pay dollar for dollar what they purchase from us. I know what I say; for I have examined the subject. There are many manufacturing towns and villages in our State that have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by their dealings with the South: my own town has large business-connections there, and has been one of the sufferers. Our prosperity, so universally diffused among us, is the result of ceaseless and untiring industry. Slavery, sir, cannot support itself. The slave-holding power draws its living from the heart's blood of the slave, and the toil and the sweat of the hard-handed free laborer of the North. Our mariners brave the dangers and endure the tempests of the deep; our farmers till a hard and barren soil for a scanty subsistence; our mechanics and artisans labor all their days at their forges and in their work-shops; and a great part of the fruit of their honest toil is drawn from them to support the slave aristocracy of the Southern States. What they cannot whip out of their negroes they cheat out of us. I would rather that our noble ships that now whiten every sea should go down to their graves beneath the dark rolling billows of the deep, and our manufacturing villages be levelled with the dust, so that a squadron of cavalry could gallop over them unimpeded as the wild steeds sweep over the ruined cities of the desert, than that Massachusetts should forget her duty, forsake her principles, and bow down and crawl and grovel at the feet of the slave-power. Better, far better, that her sons should till her cold and barren soil, and cast their nets into the deep for a poor subsistence, than that her coffers should be filled with gold soiled and dimmed by the blood and tears of the bondman.

"We are often told, sir, that this agitation of slavery can do no good; that it has thrown back emancipation for half a century. This is all sheer nonsense. Emancipation is not only nearer in point of time, but it is nearer in point of preparation. We often hear the same sage and profound observations upon the great and kindred cause of temperance, and with just as much reason. The press, at least in the free States, now often utters its voice for the slave; faint and feeble, it is true. Ten years ago it was dumb, or sided with the oppressor. Religious societies and associations are discussing and deciding upon it. The cause of the slave is now advocated in most of our Northern pulpits: the religious sentiment of the land is setting in favor of the poor bondman, recognizing him as a man and a brother. The friends of freedom can utter their sentiments now without being beaten down by mobs of 'gentlemen of property and standing.' A great change has also taken place in the slave States. Ten years ago it was dangerous to utter a word against slavery in the capital of the nation: now one can speak of slavery out of the halls of Congress with freedom. It can be established by the records and reports of the religious societies of the Southern States that more has been accomplished for the improvement of the slave than at any similar time in our history. We are told that we shall stand alone. I have no objection to that if we stand in the right. Massachusetts is used to standing alone. The gentleman from Stockbridge (Mr. Byington), upon another question the other day, said that Massachusetts exerted a vast influence on the new States of the confederacy, and that many of her sons went forth to mould and fashion her institutions. It is all true: and yet, notwithstanding she has long been the pattern State of the Union, she is under the ban of the empire; she is regarded with a jealous eye, and as little better than a conquered province. Her people are almost ostracized by the government. An occasional sop is now and then thrown out to some of them if they are false to her, and true to the peculiar institution; and, from one, I wish that not a single individual of her people could be found willing to take office under the National Government while wedded to slavery. Let us have one of Cromwell's self-denying ordinances while the government remains as it now is. If it be her destiny to stand alone in support of the right, alone let her stand, - alone, sir, in the language of one of her sons who now sleeps by the banks of the Connecticut, - ALONE LET HER STAND IN SOLITARY GRANDEUR. When the passions of the hour shall be hushed, I desire that the historic pen that shall record in letters of light for the study of after-ages the acts of this great struggle shall record the glorious fact, that there was one State, one free Commonwealth, that was faithful among the faithless to the teachings of the founders of the republic.

"But she will not stand alone if she does her duty. Look at the present condition of affairs in the former Gibraltar of the slave-power of the North, and behold a proof of this. Not Georgia, nor even South Carolina herself, has ever been more subservient and obsequious to the will of the slave-holding portion of the country than has New Hampshire; yet her granite hills are shaking and trembling today to the earthquake-voice of her citizens, aroused at last to a conviction of their duties and their rights. So will it be elsewhere.

"Let Massachusetts but do her duty, and other States will rally round her, and she will lead them on to the rescue of the constitution and the government from the slave-power. Her high and lofty principles, her stern and lofty purposes, may be sneered at and derided; timid friends may chide her: but the stout-hearted and true all over the land will will gather round her. Standing on the broad and elevated platform of equal rights, living out and illustrating her own great principles, she will speak to her sister States with a thousand tongues. She will come to the rescue. She will be the standard-bearer in the contest. She led the van in the great struggle for independence: then the post of danger was hers. She has a right to lead now. Her descent from the sturdy old Puritan stock, her free labor and her free schools, all point her out as the leader in the great struggle between freedom and slavery. South Carolina has placed herself in advance as the leader of the cohorts of slavery. Let the descendants of the old Cavaliers and Puritans meet once more, not as their fathers met on the fields of Naseby and Worcester, but in the stern conflict of opinion. I have no fears for the issue. Every thing will be with us: the free impulses of the age will be with us; civilization will be with us; the wild and generous impulses of the human heart will be with us; and God will be with us. Cassius M. Clays will arise in all the slave States, pointing them to our example.

Our country was the child of hope and expectation when our fathers launched our government upon the tide, the prayers, hopes, and sympathies of the friends of liberal institutions throughout the globe were with us. The oppressed began to hope for self-government; and they looked hither with trembling anxiety to see how we should carry out in practice our sublime declaration of the equality and freedom of all men. We have not, perhaps, lived in vain. Had America been true to herself, to her own sublime principles, the friends of religious, social, and civil liberty everywhere would have taken courage from her example, and the oppressors of our race would have loosed their hold upon unjust power: there is hardly a throne upon the globe but would now be tottering to its fall. Ours is the duty, be ours the glory, to rescue our country from the 'dominion, curse, and shame of slavery, and make her great and glorious among the nations.' The past with its crowded memories of the tears and labors of the martyrs of truth who have perished on the field, the scaffold, and in the dungeon, the present with its warm and generous sympathies, and the future with its high hopes and brilliant expectations, all cheer us onward in the path of duty and of glory.

"I do not wish to 'allude to parties;' and yet I cannot well avoid it. I have recommended that the State should take a bold stand against slavery; and I am willing that the majority here shall be held responsible for it, as they will surely be. It is alike undeniable and notorious, that, during the struggles of the last ten years, the party now in the majority here has generally been arrayed on the side of liberty on all the incidental questions that have arisen. It has gone just far enough to lose the confidence and sympathy of the South, and to encounter defeat in almost every thing; but it has not gone far enough to gain the entire confidence and obtain the support of the free impulses of the North. On the other hand, our opponents, the party here in the minority, it is equally notorious and undeniable, have usually sided with the slave-power on all the questions connected with the interests of slavery and they stand in that posture to-day, committed - fully and entirely committed - to slavery and the slave-power.

"Thus fur they have reaped all the advantages of such subserviency; but hereafter, when, in the contests of the future, a day of retribution shall come, - as come it surely will, - they will find themselves by their own folly placed in a position of shame, defeat, and disgrace, as opponents of the progress of liberty, enlightenment, and civilization.

"Sir, I wish to have 'Emancipation' inscribed on banners under which we rally, in characters of living light, and also that we go for 'the protection of man.' We go for the protection of his labor: let us give security, first to himself, and afterwards to his labor. That is the true ground we must take; and, if it be taken boldly and manfully, I am willing to risk myself, and all that I have or hope for, on the issue, confident that in five years our cause will sweep through the country like a tornado. We shall carry every free State with a whirlwind: it will go like the fire over the prairies of the West. If not, we are accustomed to defeat; and it is far better to be in the right than to hold the reins of government, and roll in wealth and power. I say without hesitation, that the stand I have spoken of we must take. We cannot resist so doing if we would. It is our 'manifest destiny.' Even were we base enough to desire it, we could not regain our influence with the slaveholding South by any means; no, not by the veriest servile and wretched truckling to all her arrogant demands. I would not regain it if we could. Then, in Heaven's name, let us go on in the right. If victory come, let us hail and improve it: if, on the contrary, defeat be our lot, it will be a glorious defeat; for we shall have been right, and shall have deserved success. At any rate, we shall do something for our race, something for liberty, which will secure for us the confidence and the respect of the good and the true. A single word, Mr. Speaker, of a personal character, and I shall have done. I have ever been and am a party man; and I shall always go with my party in what I think right and best: but I am determined never to be either driven or kicked out of any party with which I may choose to act; and it is my pride to believe that four-fifths of the party now in the majority in this State concur in the view I take of this subject, and are anxious that we should commit Massachusetts against slavery. It is so especially with regard to the young men, - those who are shortly to hold the reins of power. The city influence is, I know, the other way; but, sir, 'the gods of the valleys are not the gods of the hills.'

For one, I am ready to stand with any man, or set of men, —Whig, Democrat, Abolitionist, Christian, or Infidel, - who will go with me in the cause of emancipation.

It is unpleasant to me to say what I have now said; it is painful to differ from esteemed and respected friends whose good opinion we value. I know the feelings of many who hear me. All sorts of unworthy motives will be ascribed to me, and my judgment and discretion questioned. Sir, I have no personal motive: I see nothing to be gained, and something to be lost. At any rate, I know I shall lose the good opinion of some friends, who will doubtless regard me as a fanatic. But I have made up my mind, after some little reflection, that we must either destroy slavery, or slavery will destroy our government and our liberties; and I had far rather act according to the dictates of duty and of patriotism than to receive the approving smiles of friends. I shall go for the abolition of slavery at all times and on all occasions, now and hereafter. I loathe, detest, and abhor it. It is at war with Nature and Nature's God.

"I have no apologies to make for it; and no hope of political reward, no fear of ridicule or reproach, shall ever deter me from using all the moral and political influence I possess, in such a manner as my judgment shall approve, to accomplish the entire extinction of slavery, and to make my native land, which I love with the affection of a son, what it should be, - glorious and free, and an example to all nations."

This resolution, so ably advocated, was, after much discussion and excitement, adopted in the House by ninety-three majority: in the Senate, which was more conservative, it was lost by four votes. In the minds of the people it lived, inspiring noble hearts, and calling to the rescue of the bondman.

Mr. Wilson was no revolutionist, except through constitutional and legal means. He loved the Union: had no desire in any event, as an aggressor, to appeal to arms. He believed, that, under the Constitution, Southern men had no right to extend slavery over our territorial domains; and on that ground he would meet the question. When, on the 3d of March, he presented to the House a memorial from Francis Jackson for the withdrawal from Congress of the Massachusetts delegation, and the consequent dissolution of the Union, he declared that he held the right of petition sacred; that he was for the abolition of slavery: but, continued he, "it must be accomplished under, by, and through the Constitution;" not by violence, but by "sovereign law," the "collected will " of the people, which

"O'er thrones and globes elate,
Sits empress, crowning good, repressing ill."


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast