The anniversary of the famous ‘Jerry Rescue’ was duly celebrated at Syracuse, (N. Y.,) on the 1st inst., by a public meeting, at which GERRIT SMITH presided, and read the following Address which he had written for the occasion.
REPORTED BY GERRIT SMITH
To the Jerry Rescue Convention, held in Syracuse, October 1, 1857.
The rescue of Jerry! What a preacher of righteousness! To tell what is right is good preaching, but to do what is right is better. The best of pulpits preaches but in words: the rescue of Jerry preaches in deeds. The abolition school teaches the lesson that the slave should be delivered: the rescuers of Jerry put the lesson in practice.
And then, what a touchstone of character is the rescue of Jerry! Not a man can disapprove that rescue, and yet be a Christian. For not a man can disapprove it, and yet be honest. But honesty, in its comprehensive sense, –in the sense of doing unto others as we would have others do unto us, –is the soul and substance , and total sum of Christianity. Since there lives not a man who, if in the circumstances that poor Jerry was in, would not like to be delivered from them, then lives there not the man who can be a Christian, and yet be opposed to his deliverance. We do not deny that there are Christians who disapprove what has been imposed upon their credulity as the rescue of Jerry–who disapprove their own false conceptions of it; but the reality–the thing itself–no man can disapprove, and yet be a Christian. If we admit that a man can be a Christian, who defends what he mistakenly deems to be slavery, it nevertheless does not follow that we admit him to be a Christian, who justifies the reality of slavery, and endorses the very thing which is the highest crime against God and man.
A great touchstone of character did we call the rescue of Jerry. Wherever there is a Church which refuses to sanction that transaction, there we may be sure is not a Church of Jesus Christ. Dishonesty, and not honesty, is its chief characteristic. An honest man in such a Church is entirely out of place, and he should hasten to betake himself to better company.
The question often arises, whether the Methodist Church at the North; the New School Presbyterian Church; the Free-Will and Seventh Day and Close and Open Baptist Churches at the North; the Unitarians, and Universalists, and Lutherans, and Congregationalists, at the North, are right in regard to slavery. Not a moment need be wasted in finding an answer to it. Are they right in regard to the rescue of Jerry? The answer to this question involves the answer to the other. If they are willing to identify themselves openly with the rescue, that is enough. If they are not, nothing else nor all else can be enough.
The Episcopal and Old School Presbyterian Churches, like the American Tract Society, are past all need of being tested. Their great pride is to have no heart for the slave, and to keep their sensibilities so high up in the region of everlasting snows as to be quite out of reach of all those vulgar agitations in behalf of humanity.
The Roman Catholic Church seems not yet so much as even to have heard of the four millions of tortured American slaves. Now, however, since it has settled the great question about a dead woman, it may perhaps find time and heart to open its ears to the cries of living women, and of living men also.
All American clergymen should be tested with the question, whether their piety has risen up to the ‘Jerry level.’ None are ambassadors of Jesus Christ whose piety falls below it.
Compared with the rescue of Jerry, all the boasted tests of doctrine are of no value.
‘I believe,’ says one, ‘in the Bible.’ But do you believe in humanity? Vain is all your faith in the Bible, so long as the poor Jerries of earth fail to touch your heart. To tell us that you believe in the Bible, whilst you can look unmoved upon the slave, is but to tell us either that the Bible is wicked, or that your interpretation of it is false.
‘I believe,’ says our Orthodox brother, ‘in original sin.’ Yes, good brother, but do you believe that the kidnapping of Jerry was sin, and that his rescue was righteousness? If you do not, then, however far you may go back to get the origin of sin, and even though you believe in the very teetotalism of total depravity, your faith is but a guilty delusion.
‘I believe,’ continues our Orthodox brother, ‘in Jesus Christ.’ Yes, good brother, but if you do not see Him in every poor Jerry, and feel a faith that impels you to rescue him, then is your faith in Jesus Christ but superstition or hypocrisy. The Christ who was crucified more than eighteen centuries ago, is reproduced in every despised Jerry–in every oppressed and crushed brother. The common impression, that it suffices to let our hearts flow out to the ‘man of sorrows’ in Judea, is but a common delusion. The Jerry of to-day is the Christ of to-day: and if we have not the anointed vision to discern it, then are we still blind to the original Christ, and all our faith in Him is vain. Not to recognize the Savior of the world when we meet Him in His suffering ones, and in His ‘least’ ones, is to prove that we never knew Him, and never felt the significance of His life or death. Rarely, alas how very rarely! is He known, either within or without the churches! Never did you know Him, who can pass His poor by.
‘I believe,’ adds our Orthodox brother, ‘in vicarious sacrifice.’ It is right that you do. But you do not, if you cannot consent to give up ease, and reputation, and wealth, and social and political advantages, and to risk even liberty and life, for the sake of helping a Jerry out of the hands of his kidnappers. Belief in the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ is on the lips of millions; but it is in the hearts of none that are not willing to suffer for others–yes, and in the place of others. The readiness of men on the night of the first of October, 1851, to put themselves in the place of Jerry, and lose their own liberty for the sake of restoring his, was of its single self a far greater evidence of likeness to Christ than it was possible for any man to give, however full of professions and prayers he might be, if, nevertheless, he refused to sympathize with Jerry, and to suffer for his sake.
Is there a political party that is unwilling to put the seal of its approbation upon the rescue of Jerry?–then has an honest man nothing to do with such a party but to oppose it. Until American slavery is abolished, a Resolution endorsing the rescue of Jerry should be brought into every political meeting in the land, Republican, Democratic, Native American, or of whatever name.
It is said that when the measure of emancipation was under discussion in England, the Quaker voters would try the candidates for Parliament by thrusting the image of a kneeling slave into their faces, and asking them, ‘Canst thou go that?’ American voters should pursue a similar course, and should ask all candidates, from pathmaster to President, whether they can go the rescue of Jerry?
The Republican party claims to be anti-slavery party; but if it is unwilling to be known as a Jerry-rescue party, we are to be unwilling to belong to it.
The Native American party claims in some sections of the country to be anti-slavery; but, so long as ‘Rescue of Jerry’ is not among the mottoes which cover its banners, so long must we oppose it.
Into the relations of the Democratic party to the bleeding slave, we are saved all necessary of inquiry. It laughs at him, as well as at ‘bleeding Kansas’ and ‘bleeding Sumner.’ It studies not to conceal, but boasts of its contempt of justice and mercy, and of the claims of God and man. It ‘declares its sin as Sodom, and hides it not.’ Whatever its other ambitions, it is not perhaps too much to say, that the one great ambition of the Democratic party is to beat the devil himself.
So, too, but for an entirely opposite reason, we are saved from inquiring into the relations of the Garrison party and the Radical Abolition party to the poor Jerries. The righteousness of these parties is as palpable as the unrighteousness of the Democratic party. William Lloyd Garrison and William Goodell have never faltered in their fidelity to the slave. They have never consented to weigh judicial, legislative, or even Constitutional authority against his right to liberty. And they, who sympathize and act with these noble leaders in the cause of American Liberty, know no law for slavery, but all law for rescuing him.
A new party is springing up. It advocates the dissolution of the Union. What is its heard toward the slave? A party may be for the Union, or it may be against the Union–and yet be all wrong in regard to the slave. Is it for the rescue of all the Jerries, and for the punishment of all their kidnappers? This is the question.
And another new party is springing up. There has recently been a National Convention at Cleveland, composed, for the most part, of respectable conservative gentlemen. They call on their countrymen to help improve the pecuniary circumstances of the slaveholder in the event of his emancipating his slaves. That, however, does not prove them right. They may bestow all their goods to feed the slaveholders. But what will they do for the slaves?–for the poor Jerries? We address these respectable conservative gentlemen, and indeed all other men, in the very lines, save the change of a single word, written by good old John Newton:–
‘What think you of Jerry’s? the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of him.’
We need to be incessantly on our guard. The Republican party, which we read some of its papers, and listen to some of its speeches, seems to be the real friend of freedom. Nevertheless, it may prove to be her most effective and deadly enemy. There is no fear that the Democratic party will corrupt any of the lovers of freedom. In their eyes, its abominations and devilisms have no attractions. Upon their spirit, its example can never pour contagious influences. But the Republican party has succeeded in absorbing the anti-slavery sentiment of the country, and in alluring to its ranks nearly all the abolitionists. How immense, then, its damage to the cause of freedom and of human rights, should it be found to wield its accumulated power, not against slavery, but for it–not for the black man, but against him!
If the Republican party enjoys the confidence of the abolitionists, it is nevertheless not too much to say that it has not yet earned it. The recent Constitutional proscription of the black man in Iowa was owing to Republican as well as to Democratic votes. Minnesota, in her Republican as well as in her Democratic Constitutional Convention, proscribed the black man. The Republican party of Wisconsin has also sadly disappointed us. In its late nominating Convention, it did not dare to pledge the protection of the State to all the innocent men, black or white, who shall stand upon her soil. And the Republican party of our own State, in its Convention held last week in this city, failed also at this very point. It is true that the Convention,–thanks to such bold men as Briggs, and Snow, and Nye,–refused to say (though such poor cowards as Field and Grover wished it said) that our fathers agreed to cast back into the hell of slavery their poor guiltless brother, who might escape from it. But, though the Convention refused to say this wrong thing, it did not add to its negative merit the positive merit of saying the right thing. It did not go on to say that, come what will, the State of New York will shelter from his pursuers every slave who is so fortunate as to get within its limits.
By the way, how disgraceful and ruinous to a party to have such men as Field and Grover among its leaders! It should drum them out of camp. Ever and anon they get upon their feet, and assert as gravely as if the bald lie were an undoubted truth, that the Constitution provides for the recapture of fugitive slaves. What, however, if it does? Are we to admit that the Constitution has power to compel us to inflict the deepest wrong upon our brother, and to damn our own souls? Reloading a man with the chains of slavery is worse than murder; and if he, who has a part in the diabolical work, does not bring damnation upon himself, then there is no damnation.
We add, that the morals of the people of the State of New York escaped immeasurable damage by the failure of Field and Grover, and their fellows, to induce the Convention to declare the returning of the fugitive slave to be a Constitutional duty. Such declaration would have done more to debauch the public conscience, and render powerless the principles of humanity and the spirit of Christ, than was ever done by any declaration of any party or any church that has existed in our State.
There is one thing in praise of this Republican Convention which we cannot refrain from adverting to. With our lamentations over its short-comings, we mingle our great joy at its selection of a candidate for Judge of the Court of Appeals. Timothy Jenkins is one of those few lawyers, who always look to the right of the case for the law of the case. Hence, as he finds nothing right in slavery, he finds no law for slavery. If the people of New York should, as we have no doubt they will, elect Mr. Jenkins, they will then have at least one Judge, who will never confound any piracy, and, least of all, the pre-eminent piracy of slavery, with scared, obligatory law.
The friends of temperance may which to learn of us, the neighbors of Mr. Jenkins, what kind of temperance law he would regard as constitutional, and what kind as unconstitutional. On this point we can give no precise information. Assured, however, they may be that his judgment will not be swayed by his appetite–as it is nearly a quarter of a century since he drank intoxicating liquors.
Fellow-rescuers of Jerry, and fellow-endorsers of his rescue!–freely have we been examining and sifting others; as freely let us examine and sift ourselves. Let us apply to ourselves the very test which we have applied to others. Do we ourselves believe in his rescue? Do we apprehend all its import? Do we subscribe to all the principles wrapped up in it, and go along with them practically to their utmost scope? In a word, are such our relations o God and man–is such our love of him, who is the great Common Father of Jerry and ourselves–is such our prompt recognition of all the claims of human brotherhood, as to bring us into the fullest harmony with the rescue of Jerry? If not, then is our own faith in his rescue deficient; and then do we not yield up ourselves anew to the high teachings and blessed influences of that great event.
Most emphatically would we ask whether we all recognize the obligation to rescue every Jerry–or, to use another word, every slave. It devolved on the people who were assembled in this city to rescue Jerry. As truly does it devolve on the whole people of the North to rescue all the slaves of the South. But Jerry was rescued by violence!–and would we have all the slaves rescued by violence? No–we would not:–and we add, that it would be wicked to do so. Wicked, however, it would be, only because unnecessary–only because there is a better way to rescue them. Could we, on the night of the first of October, 1851, have voted Jerry out of the hands of his kidnappers, then would we have had no excuse for taking him out by force. It is in our power to vote the slaves of the South free–and hence, it would be a crime for us to free them by force. We have but to vote the Federal Government into the hands of the abolitionists, and every chain would fall peacefully from every slave. Very rampant are the slaveholders now, because now the political reins are in their own hands. But very submissive will they be when the political rights shall have passed into the hands of the abolitionists.
It is the abolitionists, who, we said, must acquire the control of the Federal Government. We did not say this of the Republicans; for, whatever may be their merit in opposing the extension of slavery, we are not such simpletons as to look for its abolition by a party which refuses to oppose slavery where it is, and opposes it only where it is not. A mighty and prevailing party will the abolitionists be, when they shall have done forever with the folly of putting their cause into the hands of its enemies, and shall trust, under God, none but themselves.
Our words for this sixth anniversary of the rescue of Jerry are now ended. Why is it that so little has been accomplished, during these six years, for the overthrow of slavery? It is because so few have dared to identify themselves with that rescue, and to espouse the great principle which underlies it–the principle that there is no law, and can be no law, for slavery. The men who rescued Jerry did not pause to inquire into the terms and terrors of the Fugitive Slave Act. Enough was it for them to know that no statutes, no decrees, nor even constitutions, pile them up ever so high, can create a law for slavery. They went straight-forward to the work of mercy, because their minds were unembarrassed by the nonsense–the very guilty nonsense–that he, whom God has made a man, man can turn into a chattel; that he, whom God made to own property, is himself property; that he, whom God made ‘a little lower than the angles, and crowned with glory and honor,’ is to be classed with horses and hogs.
Whether political parties, which do but go against the extension of slavery–whether Disunion Conventions or Compensation Conventions–whether all these, or any of these, can or cannot contribute somewhat to the downfall of slavery–sure is it that its bloodless, peaceful end will never be reached until the friends of freedom shall have mounted ‘the Jerry level,’ and branded the whole system of American slavery as a piracy and outlaw. When they shall have done this, then will that infernal system come down and then, we add, will the monument to the rescuers of Jerry go up. For the present, these brave men are laughed at and defamed. The conception of their noble deeds, and the broad and blessed results that are to follow it, cannot be grasped by vulgar minds and little souls. But then, when juster views shall have obtained, no marble will be found too white, and no shaft too tall, to render to the immortal rescuers of Jerry that great honor which a regenerated public sentiment will call for.