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The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson
Chapter III.


BY the dismissal of Rev. E. D. Moore from his pastoral office at Natick, and by his consequent departure from that town, Mr. Wilson lost the daily counsel and encouragement of a sincere and valuable friend, who sympathized with him in his political views, and had confidence in his ultimate success. The kindest social relations still subsist between these two gentlemen; and it is doubtless gratifying in a high degree to Mr. Wilson's earliest living pastor to see his expectations in regard to one of his society in Natick so fully realized.

The Rev. Samuel Hunt, an able minister and a steady advocate of human freedom, succeeded Mr. Mr. Moore in July, 1839, and continued as Mr. Wilson's pastor until 1850. He also felt a profound regard for the spiritual we1fire of his distinguished parishioner, and aided him in his researches. He rejoiced in the noble stand which his friend took against the aggressions of proslaver power, and labored with the clergy and the churches of his association to sustain him, He was well aware of Mr. Wilson's intellectual energy and growth, of his integrity, of his sincere devotion to the cause of freedom; and he predicted his political success. He endeavored so to guide him as to make it sure.

Under the faithful ministry of Mr. Hunt, the mind of Mr. Wilson became seriously impressed with the momentous relations between himself and his Maker, so that he not only listened with profound attention to the instructions of the sacred desk, but sometimes took an active part in religious meetings. He taught for several years a Bible-class in the sabbath school with great acceptance; and the members of that class are now, for the most part, intelligent and progressive members of the church.

On his part, Mr. Wilson encouraged and supported Mr. Hunt in the arduous labors of his ministry: he sympathized with him both in joy and sorrow; and the tie that early bound their hearts together still remains unbroken. On the presentation of a watch to Mr. Hunt at his retirement from his pastorate at Natick, Mr. Wilson made the following beautiful and affectionate address: -

"RESPECTED FRIEND, - The relations which have existed between us for eleven years having now been dissolved, we have assembled here to-night to express our high appreciation of your services as a pastor, our profound respect for your character as a man, and our personal regard for you as a friend. We are here also to pass a few fleeting moments in your society; to exchange with you a few parting words; to take you once more by the hand; and, with hearts overflowing with emotion, to bid you farewell.

Could these friends have controlled events, the chain that bound us together in the relation of pastor and people would have remained unbroken: you would have continued with us and of us. Having passed your days with us in the performance of your duties, participating in our joys and sharing in our sorrows, when your 'race of existence was run,' we would have you repose in the bosom of our mother-earth with the people of your early choice, - in yonder spot, hallowed and consecrated as the last resting- place of this people and their children.

"But it has been ordered otherwise. We must acquiesce in an event we could not avert. You are to leave us to seek other fields of labor, to form new relations, to gather around you other friends. But, sir, wherever you may go, be assured that you will bear with you our warmest wishes that Heaven will shower upon your pathway its choicest blessings. Wherever in the providence of God you may be summoned to labor, may friends - true-hearted, Steadfast friends - cluster around you to cheer you onward in every beneficent effort to advance the cause of religion and humanity!

You will leave behind you, sir, in retiring from the place you have so long filled, many evidences of your deep and abiding interest in our present prosperity and future welfare. The recollection of your many acts of kindness will be cherished by us with unabated affection until the hearts upon which these acts are engraved shall cease to beat forever.

Desirous that you should carry with you some parting token of our friendship, your friends have purchased the watch I hold in my hand, and have commissioned me to present it to you. In their behalf I beg you to accept it. Take it, sir; cherish it, not for its intrinsic worth (for it is of slight value), but as a trifling tribute to your worth, and memento of the respect, esteem, and affection of its donors. As a memorial of our friendship, I trust you will not consider it altogether valueless. It will not beat more accurately the passing moments than will the pulsations of our hearts ever beat responsive to the friendship we entertain for you.

We fondly indulge the hope, sir, that in after-life, amid its pressing cares and duties, it will sometimes remind you of the friends of those

'Earlier days and calmer hours,
When heart with heart delights to blend.'

In the calm and quiet of your study, where the world and its cares are shut out, as the ear shall hear it beat the fleeting seconds, or the eye see it mark the passing hours, may it recall to mind reminiscences of the past! - recollections of these scenes; of this place, where were passed the first years of your ministry; where were spent so many years of your early manhood, - that portion of existence when impressions are most indelibly engraved upon the mind and heart; where your children were born; and where your home was blessed and made joyous by the grace, love, and piety of the wife of your bosom, the pure and gentle being, the loved and lost one, who now sleeps far away amid the scenes of her youth, but whose memory will over be fondly cherished by this people; for

'None knew her but to love her,
Nor named her but to praise.'"

On the twenty-eighth day of October, 1840, Mr. Wilson was united in marriage, by the Rev. Mr. Hunt, with Miss Harriet Malvina Howe of Natick. She was the daughter of Mr. Amasa and Mrs. Mary (Toombs) Howe, and was descended on her mother's side from Mr. Daniel Toombs, an early settler of the town of Hopkinton. She was a lady of good education, refined in sentiment, gentle in manner, and remarkable for the sweetness of her disposition. By her unostentatious way of' doing good, she made religion lovely. Her thoughts were noble; and her influence upon the society in which she moved was like the fragrance of flowers. She could not but make her home happy; and her husband had a just appreciation of her excellence. For him, in his toils and trials, her clear voice was an inspiration. In her he beheld a pattern of true womanhood, and for her sake he longed to deserve well of his country. To her sweet influence over him may be in part attributed that delicate and profound respect which he entertains for woman, that sincere regard which he manifests for her intellectual and social elevation. His ideal of' womanly virtue and devotion was realized in her pure and lovely life of trust and duty.

Three or four years subsequent to his marriage, Mr. Wilson built on Central Street, in Natick, the neat and commodious dwelling-house which he has since occupied. It is furnished with republican simplicity, yet with elegance and taste. To its hospitalities his friends and neighbors always find a cordial welcome; and the absence of luxury and parade is more than compensated by smiles of cheerfulness, and words of good will. On the eleventh day of' November, 1846, the hearts of the parents were gladdened by the birth of a son, whom they named Henry Hamilton. He was their only child.

In principle and in practice, Mr. Wilson has always been opposed to the use of intoxicating liquors as a beverage; and to his strictly temperate habits may in part be ascribed that robust health and physical strength which he now so eminently possesses. As early as 1831 he joined a temperance society in Farmington; and in public and in private he has ever exerted his influence to dissuade his fellow-men from the use of stimulating drink.

In a speech in Tremont Temple, Boston, April, 1867, he said, -

"I shall strive ever and always to promote and advance that great cause of our common humanity. It is no merit in me that has made rue a life-long friend of temperance. God in his providence gave me no taste, no desire, for intoxicating liquors; and every day of my life, as I grow older and see the measureless evils of drunkenness, I thank my God that he gave me no desire for that which degrades and levels down our common humanity.

"From my cradle to this hour I have seen, felt, realized the curse of intemperance. When my eyes first saw the light, when I came to recognize any thing, I saw and felt some of the evils of intemperance; and all my life long to this hour, and now, my heart has been burdened with anxieties for those of my kith and kin that I loved dearly. With no desire for the intoxicating cup, with the evils of intemperance about and around me, and with a life burdened with anxieties for dear and loved ones, it is no wonder, ladies and gentlemen, that I have abhorred drunkenness, while I have loved and pitied its victims."

Aware of his regard for temperance, and having confidence in his ability as a thinker, his friends in Natick, advocating what was known as the "Fifteen-gallon Law," presented his name in 1839 as a candidate for the General Court. He failed by a very few votes of an election, and continued quietly manufacturing shoes, and studying the condition of his country. No representative was sent that year from Natick; and the party in opposition to that law placed Marcus Morton in the executive chair of the State.

In 1840 occurred the celebrated presidential campaign, in which William Henry Harrison, ''the hero of the Thames and the Tippecanoe," was brought forward by the Wings in opposition to Mr. Van Buren, then president. The experiments of the government upon the currency had embarrassed the financial operations of the country, and had seriously affected the industrial interests of the North, and reduced the wages of the working-people. Hard times came on. The laboring-classes murmured against the measures of the government, and keenly criticised the course of the president and his cabinet. Mr. Wilson, ever on the side of the working-men, felt the pressure, and saw the ruinous tendency of Mr. Van Buren's financial policy and, although he had hitherto sympathized with the Democratic party, now came prominently forward with the Whigs, and espoused the cause of Mr. Harrison. "Having entered life on the working-man's side," says the author of "Men of our Times," "and having known by by his experience the working -man's trials, temptations, and hard struggles, he felt the sacredness of a poor man's labor, and entered public life with a heart to take the part of the toiling and the oppressed."

Up to that period, no political campaign in this country had so aroused the enthusiasm of the people. Mass-meetings were held in churches, halls, and groves; log-cabins were erected, and sometimes mounted on wheels, and drawn from town to town; banners with mottoes were unfolded, and immense processions of all ranks and classes bearing torchlights were formed. The ablest speakers took the stand; and eloquence and patriotic songs set forth the virtues and exploits of "the hero of North Bend" before the people.

"Tippecanoe and Tyler too" rang as a war-cry through the Union. Mr. Wilson shared in the enthusiasm. He studied well the course of legislation as presented in "The Washington Globe," and made his first campaign-speech in the Methodist meeting-house at Natick in opposition to Mr. Amasa Walker, who was an advocate of a specie currency and of the general policy of the national administration. The ability of Mr. Wilson as a public speaker was at once acknowledged. He was invited to discuss the questions of the day in many other places; and, during the campaign, made more than sixty speeches in the neighboring towns and cities. In Charlestown, Cambridge, Roxbury, Lowell, Lynn, Taunton, and other towns and cities, he addressed large and enthusiastic audiences with telling effect; so that the general exclamation was, "How came this Natick shoemaker to know so much more than we do on national questions?"

The answer might have been, "This Natick shoemaker was studying 'The Federalist' and the proceedings of Congress while you were asleep.

In some instances, attempts were made to interrupt him in his speaking; but holding himself steadily to the point in question, and to his good nature, of which the fund seemed inexhaustible, he manfully maintained his ground, and carried his audiences with him. He spoke extemporaneously, but never without careful preparation. He read the best models of American eloquence, - such as Adams, Everett, Otis, Channing, Webster; and, after committing parts of his speeches to memory, he would sometimes retire to Deacon Coolidge's old oak-grove, and there rehearse them to himself alone. He is remembered by those who heard him in this campaign as a young mail lithe and agile form, of an intellectual cast of countenance, clear complexion, earnest, searching voice, and sparkling eyes. He usually bent over the desk in speaking, as if to come as closely in contact with his audience as he could. His object seemed to be to reveal the thought of his hearer to himself; and herein lies one secret of a speaker's power. He also defended his positions by a very frequent appeal to facts; and one who well remembers him at that time avers, "He had a very winning way in presenting them."

At the close of the campaign, he had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Harrison, for whom he had spoken so many times, elected to the presidential chair by a large majority, two hundred and thirty-four to Mr. Van Buren's sixty electoral votes, - while he himself was chosen a representative from the town of Natick to the General Court of Massachusetts. The legislative hall is now his academy; the constitution is his text-book, and liberty his teacher.

When he entered the House of Representatives, he observed that an honest farmer, twenty years his senior, had drawn one of the most eligible seats in the hall; and he at once offered him three dollars for an exchange. The farmer gladly took the money; for one seat to him who never spoke was just as good as another. But, some time afterwards, he referred to the circumstance as revealing the pride of the young member. "No," said one who better knew his spirit: it reveals his foresight. He gave you three dollars for your seat in order that he might be in the best position to hear the arguments of other members, and also to present his own with most effect. This style of doing things, if carried on, will give him influence here." It was carried on. He entered upon his legislative career with the determination of bestowing his whole time and attention upon the business coming before him. With sleepless vigilance he watched every transaction, listened to every speaker, and followed every question. He was a working-man; he entered the legislative hall to work; he did not fail to work; and workers win.

It is noticeable that his first legislative speech was in favor of the working-man. It was delivered Jan. 25, 1841, on a bill to exempt laborers' wages from attachment in certain cases. He said the honest poor of the State would deprecate the passage of such a law: it would protect dishonesty. The class of men who lived upon the earnings of others were daily increasing. There were many men, too, who judged of morality by law alone. Such a law would impair the credit of the poor man. He hoped this bill would be considered on its merits alone, with no intermixture of party-spirit, he sympathized with the poor men with whom he had been reared, and with whom he now was. He moved to strike out the enacting clause.

Inured as he had been to hard and unremitting labor, and with sympathies alive to human suffering, it was natural that Mr. Wilson should be opposed to the whole system of domestic servitude. His mind revolted at the wrongs the bondman bore in a boasted land of liberty: he keenly felt the cruelty of that code of laws that held him subject, and without redress, to the caprice of an insolent and hard-hearted master. The instincts of a noble nature, the teachings of the gospel, the training he himself had undergone, the philanthropic spirit of the age, the opinions of the founders of the Constitution, all conspired to lead him to abominate the traffic in human blood, and the tyranny of subjecting innocent men and women to servile labor. The more he thought upon it, the more iniquitous appeared the system: it despoiled the slave of his just rights; it demoralized the master; it impoverished his country. At the same time, he saw that the slave-power, ever intolerant and exacting, had long held ascendency in Congress; had by the craftiest plans extended its territory so as to maintain that ascendency; and, while menacing the North, had contaminated the source of political power, and brought the free States, to a great extent, into subserviency to its schemes of aggression.

Such, it is believed, were Mr. Wilson's views and sentiments at this period; and, if he did not enter the abolition ranks, it was not because he was opposed to their leading principles, but because he hoped to exert a stronger influence towards the ultimate redemption of the slave by acting with the progressive men in the Whig part. In the legislature his voice was ever heard, his vote was ever cast, on behalf of the rights of those in bondage. In the House of Representatives, in 1841, he advocated the repeal of the law, which has been termed the last of the slave code in this State, forbidding the intermarriage of blacks and whites; and, in the next session, made another strong speech in opposition to the law, maintaining that it was founded on inequality and caste. He declared "that the bill was not inspired by political, but by humane motives and, though it might be defeated then, it would ultimately be enacted. It was only a question of time." This obnoxious law was repealed at the next session of the legislature. In November, 1842, Mr. Wilson was a candidate for the State Senate; but the Whig party was that year defeated in his county, as it was in the State. There being no election of governor by the people, the legislature, in January, 1848, elected Marcus Morton for a second term. In 1844 Mr. Wilson obtained a senatorial seat, and took all part in the deliberations of that body, ever ranging himself upon the side of' progress and reform. He made an elaborate report on military affairs, and carried it through the Senate.

He was again a member of the same body in 1845, where he again labored successfully for the improvement of the military system of the State, and also to improve the condition of the colored people. He strenuously advocated the right of negroes to seats in the railroad-car, from which they had in several cases been insolently ejected; and also their right to admission to our public schools, from which prejudice had excluded them.

A bill reported to the Senate, providing that any child unlawfully excluded from the public schools should be entitled to recover damages, had been rejected. Moving the next day a reconsideration of this vote, Mr. Wilson made all speech in behalf of the bill, in which he said that he considered it the most important one which had come up that session.. "It concerned," said he, "the rights and feelings of a large but humble portion of our people, whose interests should be watched over and cared for by the legislature; whose imperative duty it was, when complaints were made of the invasion or the rights of the poorest and the humblest, to provide a remedy that should be full and ample to secure and guard all his rights." He said the common-school system, the pride and glory of Massachusetts, was based upon the principle of perfect equality, and that the distinction set up at Nantucket aimed a blow at its very existence. The colored people said, and rightly, that their feelings were trifled with, and their rights disregarded. Denouncing the spirit that excluded colored children from the full and equal benefits of common schools, he said, "It is the same which has drenched the world with blood for six thousand years, made a slave- holder in South Carolina, and a slave-pirate on the coast of Africa." He said that those whose rights he wished to guard and secure had but little influence or power; while those who opposed them had both, and were only too willing to use them for their own aggrandizement. It was more popular to keep along with the current of prejudice, than, by resisting it, to be denounced as a "radical or abolitionist." "In retiring from the legislature," he said, "I am sustained by the consciousness that I have never uttered a word or given a vote against the rights of any human being. I had far rather have the warm and generous thanks of one poor orphan-boy down on the Island of Nantucket, that I may never see, nor even know, than to have the approbation of every man in the Commonwealth, whether in this chamber or out of it, who would deny to any child the full and equal benefits of our public schools."

Such sentiments are creditable to the senator's heart. They had their effect on the Senate. Mr. Wilson's motion was adopted by a large majority: the bill was committed to the judiciary committee, which reported a similar bill that became the law of the State. Thus slowly, through the influence of the friends of freedom, Massachusetts came to see and to acknowledge the rights of a long abused and shamefully-neglected race of people. Between the lofty and the lowly there was need of a mediator, who by his intellect could reach the one, and by his band of toil the other; and such was Henry Wilson.

"Then on! for this we live, -
To smite the oppressor with the words of power;
To bid the tyrant give
Back to his brother Heaven's allotted hour."

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