New York National Anti-Slavery Standard, "Speech of Rev. M.D. Conway," August 9, 1862

    Source citation
    “Speech of Rev. M.D. Conway,” New York National Anti-Slavery Standard, August 9, 1862.
    Newspaper: Publication
    National Anti-Slavery Standard
    Newspaper: Headline
    Speech of Rev. M.D. Conway
    Date Certainty
    Meghan Rafferty, Dickinson College
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as true to the original written document as possible. Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    Speech of Rev. M.D. Conway.

    Mr. Chairman: We have heard it said, until the saying has become trite, that we are now in the midst of the ordeal of Republican government. You will observe the difference that is now being manifested between sham Democracy—or that which calls itself Democracy, and it possibly is worthy of that name—and real Republicanism. Mr. Lincoln is now carrying to its uttermost extent the idea of a simple dictation of the people as to the methods of government. He proceeds upon the idea that the people are to do what they have appointed him to do. He starts with the idea, and acts upon it, that he is there simply as the tool of the people—a tool which the masses are to move: and that the various men throughout the country who make shoes and sell them, who weave, who spin, who farm, actually must be the judges of all the methods of government and of all political action whatever. According to that idea of Democracy, the President is simply eking out the matter until we shall have a Yankee who is smart enough to invent an automaton President, that shall sit there at Washington, and whenever the people can all go to their telegraphs, and touch that President machine, at the White House, it will according as one party or the other touch the most telegraphic wires, veto or approve a particular measure. He is simply staying there and receiving $25,000 a year until he can get a machine that will sign measures; absolutely worse than worthless, because, while the people are being educated, they must be behind their experience; they must come up just in time to be too late. For instance, as the people come forward, their sentiment and feeling must be always represented; that is what is meant by a representative government. A great writes has written a book, upon “Representative Men.” Look at them! Was any one of them a mere follower of majorities? Was any one of them a mere tool of majorities? Was Plato, was Montaigne? No; every one of them was a stemmer of the popular current. Every representative man is an interpreter of the feeling and sentiment of the people; but he does not wait to have the people dictate to him every man he shall appoint a General, and every bill he shall sign. A great representative of the people is an interpreter of the moral sense of the people, who gives them not what they pray for, but what they actually need, and which they find out that they need after he has given it to them. So Plato and Swedenborg are representative men, not because they represent the donkeyism of the people, but their real, deep heart, and their sentiment, which is always setting right. You will observe, therefore, that when the people get a clear method before their eyes and say, “If you will dig ditches and spade in the swamps, you shall have this done by the natural laborers of that country,” it is just too late. They come to it by experience—because it is so plain that no wayfaring man can mistake it. They come to it because they have been scourged to a clear sigh of it. They come to it because the men whom they placed in front to do the work have failed to see it, and they have been forced to turn from their employments of the field and the shop to do what they are paying men large sums to do for them. That is the reason why the people are called upon to do what they have paid the government to think out and do for them while they attend to the trade and business of the country. Observe, when they come to that, it is too late. The President proclaims that the negroes shall be employed to do the labor of the camp. If he had done that himself, before he was forced to it by the sense of the people, as he ought to have done, as an honest President, it would have saved us 65,000 stalwart men who lie buried, struck down by disease, because those natural laborers were not employed. And it will be so throughout the war. The proclamation of emancipation will come, but it will come just like this—too late to be of any practical benefit, so far as the country is concerned. After awhile, the people will force the President to emancipate, just as they forced him to employ negro laborers in the army; but it is not the true idea of our government that the President shall be an automaton, waiting for months until the people, scourged by suffering, shall force him to do what he ought to have done long before.

    Well, down in Washington, where I have been spending two weeks, trying to cut some red tape, I got an idea, and it is important to announce, because that is a thing which is rarely grown in that region of country (laughter). The ancients had a fable, that the world rested on an elephant, and the elephant on a tortoise. Now, the ancients had a vision of this country when they said that. The elephant is our army, and the only disagreeable fact about it is that the army rests on Abraham Lincoln; and if he is not a tortoise, there never was one made by God Almighty! It is impossible for Abraham Lincoln to move faster than a tortoise; he has tried it, and it is “no go” (laughter and applause). He has got a heavy shell upon his back. He got it at his birth, for that is the kind of animal that grows in Kentucky. Creation stopped in that State when it got to the tortoise. There it sticks; it is the nature of the man; and it is of no use to try and make a rapid military genius out of the President; and if any man expects to make a leader of him, who will free the country in the only way in which it can be freed, I give him fair warning that it is impossible—I bid him despair. “All hope abandon ye who enter here.” See the men he has called around him! McClellan has gone down to the Peninsula, and what has he done? Look at his position! He stands on the banks of the James River, on a small neck of land, between a swamp and the river. I have been there and know. At that point, the river is deep enough to admit a narrow line of gunboats. About ten miles below, it deepens and widens; but for ten miles, the river is so situated that it would be impossible for McClellan to make a safe retreat. There he is, and there he has got to stand and meet his doom. He cannot retreat, for if he were to attempt to send off the army in detachments, those who were left, while some went away in ships, would be instantly captured by the rebels. Neither can the army be halved, and one-half sent away for the remaining half would be in immediate danger. Moreover, if he could get transports for the whole army, he could not carry them down the river those ten miles, for the rebels would sink every ship, as they have got all their light artillery on the river bank. He is absolutely isolated. He has chosen that bad plan, that foolish plan, to enter Richmond, he has got there, and there he must stay. He is not strong enough to reach Richmond in that way. What is the hope? Of course we hare hoping that Pope may make such an attack upon the other side of Richmond that McClellan may have a better chance on his side; but the rebels have made their entrenchments so perfect on that side, that even if he had more men than they, he could not advance upon Richmond from that point? Why is that? Because, as Senator Chandler said, he went and sat down in a big swamp, and began ditching. The President finds a third of his army gone. He looks about for help. Where will he find it? He takes the man who has sat down before Corinth, half his army sick with dysentery, who refused to allow a single negro within his lines to work on those trenches, who sat there until the enemy’s army left, satisfied he was not going to make an attack, in order to assist their fellow-rebels in another place. Sixty-three thousand men were lost from that army, by sickness and the battle of Shiloh. The President calls that man to Washington, to crown the work of McClellan, sitting in the swamp of the Chickahominy. How, why has the President done this? Because he is sailing in the same boat with McClellan and Halleck. He is just as slow as they are. His policy is ditching and spading—digging us into freedom. He goes on politically precisely as Halleck and McClellan do strategetically, and like them, has got only to a political Chickahominy swamp.
    You know that Halleck and McClellan act in this way precisely as if they has been stealing forts from the South, and the South was trying to get them back; as if they were trenching and digging everywhere, and saying, “You shall not have your forts back.” I saw this man Halleck the other day at Harrisburg, and it is enough to look on his face to know what sort of a man he is. He has the look of a Gradgrind about him. His nose—which is always a characteristic feature, and the guage of vigor in a human being—is what the French call “the suicide nose”; that is, it is joined to a temperament morose and desperate, and that does not place much of an estimate on himself or anybody else. He reminds me of what Montaigne thought, that there were not six men alive who ought not to have been hanged six times, and he did not care to except himself form the number (laughter). A nose with an excessively acute angle! Napoleon selected his Marshals with reference to their noses—several of his most distinguished ones, at least. That was his habit. He sat in a room, and had all the men who were mentioned for promotion pass through the room. They came in at one door, and went out at the other. When they came in, they bowed, and he pointed to the door, saying not a word—men whom he had never seen before, or had never examined, with reference to their qualifications. But when a particular man came in, he would say: “There is my man; put him down; he has got the right nose” (laughter). Now, Gen. Halleck has got just the kind of nose that makes a hard, selfish, morose, melancholy man. He has got a narrow brain, and a hard, selfish eye. He is the impersonation of Order No. 3—that is the most I can say for him.

    Then there is Mr. Stanton. I had some conversation with him the other day, and found that he was a man nervous, quick, and very talkative, but not a man of power, and a man of no vision whatever. The most important thing that was impressed upon my mind, from conversation both with Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stanton was this; they do not see anything at all in the slavery question but a troublesome thing. You remember that when the Progressive Friends called on the President, he said that officeholding was the most troublesome thing he had to deal with, and next to that was slavery. He and Stanton do not seem to look at it in the light of a great military advantage—in the light of a great weapon, the brightest in all their armory, with which they can, at any moment, strike down the rebellion; they look at it simply as a dreadful vexation. That is fatal. Mr. Stanton is disposed to treat the contrabands of the South well, but it never occurs to him that he has any military advantage in connection with them. His idea is simply to have them properly educated, and finally make them owners of the land; and perhaps, away off in the future, arm them. He does not see, the President does not, that, in these circumstances, he can wield slavery with tremendous effect, and the man who has not the sense to see that, what can he do in this country in the present emergency?

    Now, all we can get during the reign of Lincoln is some education of the people. That is all we can get until our time of revolution comes. You have no idea how fast, in the West, this education is going on. A negro man, on a Western car, lay, in the middle of the night, coiled up on a seat in the cars, fast asleep. A nicely dressed white man came in, and looked around trying to find a seat. He went to this negro, and shoved him and said, “Wake up here!” “What’s the matter?” “I want a seat.” “I am a nigger’ you don't want to sit by me do you?” “I don’t care whether you are a nigger or not; I want a seat.” That is a sign. When a man is willing to sit down with a negro rather than stand up all night in a railroad car, it indicates a great change (laughter). By and by I expect to see the United States willing to live with the negro, and have him ditch and spade for them, rather than die. You have no idea how much is to be done in Washington, Baltimore, and in all the Border States. The other day, William Henry Channing, the faithful minister at Washington, was walking in the street, and he saw a man with brass buttons on his coat—and I suppose he was a solider who was about to knock a negro down with a paving-stone. “What are you going to do?” says Channing, seizing him by the arm. “That nigger struck a white man; I am not going to stand by and see a white man struck by a d—d nigger.” “Didn’t the white man strike him first?” “Yes, he did; but isn’t he a nigger?” Channing said—“This is a land of equal rights.” The man looked at him utterly paralyzed. The stone fell from his hand, and with a gasp for breath he walked away (laughter and applause). Now, two thirds of the people of the United States are just in that state of mind; and as soon as we seize them by the arm, rather roughly, and tell them, “Equal rights with this d-d nigger?” I am sure we shall paralyze them with astonishment, at least.

    Washington, as I cam out of it, seemed to me a mad and doomed city; and I felt as though I could take off my shoes, and shake from them every particle of dust that belonged to it. It seemed to me to be the representative, the symbol, of a state of things that must pass away, and is passing away. It seemed to me to be the representative of a past stratum of this country, a sign, like some old Saurian, of an era that can never return; and I felt, that with the epoch which it represents, Washington city must pass away; pass into the fossil condition; be embedded with the past, so that upon its ruins we can lay the corner-stone of a free republic (applause). It seemed to me that its doom was written all over it and all around it. In Maryland, which borders Washington city, the spirit of the people, even of the Unionists, is so determinedly proslavery, they do so hug to their hearts the viper that is stinging them to death, they are so resolved that harm shall not come to the dragon that devours them, that I fear that they will have to pass along to their graves together. I was trying to get some negroes through Baltimore. It took me about two weeks to get those thirty one negroes into Ohio, where I wished to take them. There they were in the District—contrabands. If I had left them there, each of them would have had to receive an army ration from the government; each of them would have been in the hands of the government; so much money gone; and yet so powerful was red tape, that nobody seemed to know who could give any permission to those contrabands to go North, or to go out of the District. Mr. Stanton scratched his head over it, and turned and twisted over it, and almost stood on his head over it (laughter), and he wanted to give some money to help get them off; but I would not take any money. I did not want his money; I wanted his authority. Well, he could not give it. And Mr. Lincoln, he unwound himself to a very great length (laughter), and then wound himself up again over it; he appreciated the state of the case a great deal, but did not seem to see what he could do about it. So we went from one to another. Finally, we had a consultation in Mr. Sumner’s room, to try and devise some plan by which these contrabands could be got away, and everybody failed—even Mr. Sumner could not see and everybody failed—even Mr. Sumner could not see the way clear. There was one man there—I forget his name—who sat very profoundly cogitating how we could get these negroes out to Ohio. The difficulty was to get them across Baltimore from one railroad to another, and so North, for the Baltimore railroads will not allow any negro to go over their roads unless he gives bonds to a fabulous extent. As I said, there was one man at Mr. Sumner’s room, who sat cogitating over this subject; he did not say anything at first, but scratched his head and looked very profound; and we all began to feel that that man, when he spoke, would have a profound idea. We looked for it, we expected it, and finally we got a little nervous, as people will who expect a sharp flash of lightning, and it does not come. At last, that man raised his head and said—“You want to take those negroes through Baltimore, through Maryland?” “Yes, that is what I desire.” “There is but one way to do it. You buy fifty feet of rope, and tie every buggar’s hands behind him, and all Baltimore will bow down to you. They will be sure you are a big slaveholder, taking your slaves through Baltimore into Harford County to keep them from being freed in Washington.” That man hit the nail on the head. I did not have courage to carry out his suggestion, but I have no doubt it illustrated the real feeling of Baltimore; for I felt, when we did at last get through that city, that nothing on earth but the signature of a Major-General, backed by the bayonets of Northern soldiers, kept the mob spirit from overwhelming us. We went through that city for a mile and half, and stopped at the depot for three hours, and nothing but that little bit of paper protected us from the muttering crowd around.

    After all, I could not help feeling that there was some advantage in having things as they are, because the time was when I could not have got that name on a little bit of paper, when I could not have got those people through Baltimore at all. The time had come when at least thirty-one human beings could be carried straight though the heart of a slave State into liberty (applause); and although that did not reflect much glory on the government, or afford much prospect of its success, it did show, that despite the clouds with which weak men would blind us this is the Golden Hour for the land.

    Now, my friends, I think you Northern people are cursed with loyalty—loyalty, I mean, to forms and technicalities. We Southern people do not care so much about that. I never did myself. You Northern people will follow, follow, and follow. There is Mr. Sumner’s letter about President Lincoln. I am very sorry he wrote it. It gives the people a false idea, a false hope, which will lead them into an abyss if they follow it. Mr. Lincoln will never save this country. We shall be happy if we can, from month to month, keep ourselves from going to wreck under this Administration for a year or two, and then we shall know what we shall do. If we can succeed, through boldness, through moral courage, through stalwart determination and standing by our principles, in keeping the ship together for a year or so, then either we shall elect a Democratic President, who will put the nation under the heel of Jeff Davis, or we shall have Fremont in the Presidential chair, and Gen. Hunter will be Secretary of war (loud applause). We must go one way or the other. We must elect one or the other. We are either to be saved or ruined. Perhaps, looking at the case of the nation now, we are disposed to limit the great work of God. Perhaps we think so much of the United States alone, that we would be glad to limit the is revolution. There are indications, my friends, that this revolution is to be world wide before it is ended. There are indications that all nations are to be sucked in this maelstrom, and that when we are free the world will be free too (applause). I can interpret in no other way the ineffable stupidity of our rules. I can in no other way interpret the fact, that in this great emergency we have a tortoise for President, except that, through the dreary length of a long war, gradually France, England, Russia, all monarchies and absolutisms are to be drawn into this controversy that sweeps over the land, the elements will melt with fervent heat, and the whole world be baptized with a fiery baptism and be redeemed. Let them come on! I say to the tyrants of the Old World, “What thou doest, do quickly!” I hope that England and France will intervene. Let them! It will only bring us shoulder to shoulder. Even the Democrats will be in favor of abolishing slavery to hold the South, while we attend to Europe; because, much as they love slavery, the Democrats, especially the Irish, would rather whop England than do anything else on the face of the earth. If they intervene, it will save us, but it will be by a great and sweeping purification of this world; and we ought not to be so selfish, since God had given us stupid men to lead us in this war, as to say that it ought to be settled up quick. It would be agreeable to our feelings, it would be pleasant to see the death-blow of the rebellion struck at once, for when slavery is struck, the rebellion lies dead; but we ought to remember that there are other hearts that groan throughout the world, besides the slaves that there are other beings, all through Europe, all through the North and the South, who groan under monarchies and despotisms, and that these, too, must be redeemed; and the signs of the times are that this revolution is to be world-wide, and that Humanity is to rejoice in the fruits thereof (applause).

    [Wendell Phillips was the next speaker, but the report of his remarks was received as so late an hour that we are reluctantly compelled to defer it till next week. The afternoon meeting was held in the grove, where addresses were deliver by “Father Foster,” Rev C.G. Ames of Bloomington, Ill., Rev. Samuel Green (lately released from the Maryland Penitentiary, where he was imprisoned five years for having in his possession a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Henry C. Brown Write, Rev G. W. Stacy, and William Wells Brown.]

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