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Speech of Rev. Mr. Conway
I do not stand here, this afternoon, because I expected to stand here; nor because I take precisely the views which have been expressed by the last speaker; nor because I have any union with any particular association of any kind, religious or social. I profess only to be a worker in the sphere in which it seems to me God has put me, down in my own little church of some four or five hundred persons at Washington. There we have gone in our own way, doing what seemed to us the best; and I have not come to Boston to make speeches or attend any anniversaries. I have come to Boston because our church in Washington has given way—physically, not spiritually, not vitally. The walls, which had been standing some thirty five years, gave way, just as our church was getting strong, inwardly; and I may add, that if any of you are disposed to take the hint, my address is at Little & Brown’s. We have found that we have lost the purse of the church by taking anti-slavery ground, having shed eight or ten of the richest men in the society with their families, by our course on that matter.
But, sir, I came here to say, what may be obvious to all of us, that the country on which our eyes opened this morning, is not the country on which our eyes closed last night. The country we lived in last week was not the country we live in now—not by any means. I have always been willing to say, that so long as I could see that there was any force acting in this country which might redeem it, any force which we might exercise as individuals, which should not be at all checked or restrained by any outward political associations, we might have hope;--that so long as government force did not at all checkmate the full and free exercise of the individual strength of any one in the government, I was always willing to say, that I did not care even to discuss the question of the Union, or of political action. TO do the duty that lay next to us seemed the best policy, trusting, like the great German, that light would rise on the next.
What is the news that comes to our reluctant ears today? Why, most probably, that Lawrence lies in ashes, that the only true men that represent the whole Northern power, all its authority, all the force that the North has, --I do not mean all the force that the North has, simply, but that the anti-slavery men of the world have to represent them in the capital of this nation,--all that force is destroyed under the heel of the Administration. What is to be the result of putting down all the anti-slavery action and power that there is there, which is thus eradicated? Why, just so surely as you, sir, sit there, and I stand here, the result is to introduce new slave States into the Union, with all their representatives—with Congressional powers greater, far greater, that New England has ever had. Just conceive of all the power that New England has ever had. Just conceive of all the power that New England has to resist slavery being instantly checkmated by the superior power of the Slave States,--all that vast region of country to enter, as it will now, inevitably, as slave States;--what shall be the result of that? Why, there are men who, so long as they could look forward to the possibility of obtaining a majority in Congress that should resist slavery, who should stand there as Charles Sumner has stood there, were ready to act without respect to taking such ground as now seems to be almost necessary to many minds. I will say, for one, that I never could. I trust you will allow me my frankness, my freedom, on this platform. I cannot see the consistency, quite—I do not say others do not—I know it is meant with perfect consistency, and is taken with great sincerity—I say I cannot quite see the action, every paying taxes to the State that supports the Union. I say that if we, as men, finding there is before us, for five centuries, inevitably, the dominion of the Slave Power,--with all Kansas subjected to slavery, with a slave representation in Congress laughing at its ease with a majority for five centuries ahead,--then I would say that individual force, which in Luther broke the institution that had gathered up in its folds the strength of ten centuries,--individual force, which spoke with the authority of Hampden and Sydney,--that that force should again be brought to bear. We should gather together, every man that looks upon hostility to wrong as a more sacred duty than anything else; who respects nothing, however venerable, or strong, or wealthy, even though it be a country, that stands in the way of their personal truthfulness to rectitude. Let the men who thus feel gather together, look into each other’s eyes, and say, What is to be done? We must not do wrong. When we contribute to the treasury of the State, when we support our State government, we are supporting that which, as a State, supports a Union that is irretrievably given over to the spirit of slavery, beyond hope of redemption. And I do believe, on my soul, that a few men,--I do believe that ten or twenty men, whose character is upright, who are faultless in their community, who have friends who love them, who have influence, coming together as the Quakers of old, when they stood against war, and allowed their cattle and furniture to be sold without stint, and would not consent to support it,--I believe that if such men would take that stand [illegible], their influence would be so strong that the whole world would come round to them. I believe that this volcanic power never was resisted. I believe that almost any one man, taking that position, would shake the whole community; and that a large number of men, a number that I know can be got taking that position, would be utterly irresistible. That is the action we will have to take at last. We will personally secede. (Cheers) It is an awful fact, that this country has reached a condition that now writes this dreadful word on every heart, as it comes with pain and blood from Washington. With pen of flame, the Kansas iniquity writes on our hearts the word—We must not do wrong! We must stand firm. The country verges on a danger so awful that the imagination faints as she looks into the future, and calculates the events of coming years. If it must come, let us be brave, true-hearted, and faithful to our duty. If we are irretrievably bound, as individuals, then must we balance our individual soul and sense of right against the whole world. The hydrostatic paradox will hold here, wherein the smallest capillary tube of water balances a whole ocean. A single soul, resting firmly on the laws of God, by that same hydrostatic power, balances the whole world. Nothing can resist it.
I know that this view may not strike you as a true one. We are very much given to a certain round of thought. We have them in theology, we have them in politics. But the facts of to-day call to us with a strong voice, which we cannot resist. When a great crime, hitherto unknown on the page of history, rises up before us, such as this against Kansas, which gives a death-blow to all the hopes we had cherished, it calls for a new treatment altogether, and that a new force be exerted. There is need now that some new power shall dart down into our hearts,--that there shall be an entirely new entrance of feeling and force into the Anti-Slavery enterprise. We must look to it that we give our whole souls to the great fact that we must personally true to ourselves; that we cannot be clogged and weighed down, as individuals, whose duty in this universe is to seek perfection, and development of our minds and hearts, by this fact of slavery. Why, up here in the North, what do you get? People at a distance see that is like dry rot in wheat. It comes forth in the North, and you see and noblest men falling before it. What men think on this question of slavery is the test of the moral honesty of all. Yet slavery is not here, it is in the South; and yet, it is more of a test question here than at the South. This is the terrible power that hangs over all of us, as individuals. I say that no man can reach the individual development in this country that he would if he were a free man. As long as one man is a slave in this land, we are all slaves, to a certain extent. We are all afraid of something. We are all afraid of some prejudice, some feeling against color, or animosity of some kind—with great and grand exceptions, many of which I see around me. We must feel that man cannot reach the truest and noblest perfection under a system which, at the same time, produces slavery. Look down at the old geological periods, and see those vast electric currents, --see those great monsters down there before man appeared on this earth;--and we decide that such things as were there—the transition rock, the primeval forest, --could no, in their very nature, have produced man. Man was to be the associate of higher stages of vegetation and animal life—these lower strata could not have produced them. And I say, the presence of slavery here, the apathy I find even in Boston, when a Massachusetts Senator is struck down by a coward hand in the Senate Chamber at Washington, the existence of that feeling which does not realize that slavery is wrong, and really, in its heart, chuckles over this outrage,--I say, all this indicates a sort of lower strata of life, a primitive formation, and such a primitive formation cannot produce the best men and women. So it is for each man to feel this, that in freeing the slave, he is really freeing himself; he is asserting his own individual force, and his right to live in the country, and take things on the same terms with all other men, and not have anything which is selfishly had, and which his brother cannot have.
I know that there are many persons in the country who have a disposition to be quite on this question. Even among Anti-Slavery people down at Washintgon, I am afraid that many things that are charged upon them by what are termed the Garrisonian Abolitionists, are too true. They want to nominate Col. Fremont for President. What is the reason? I believe Col. Fremont is opposed to slavery. He is a romantic young man; an ambitious specimen of young America; a noble-hearted, chivalrous man—if that word has any meaning now. (Laughter and cheers.) But I have yet to see the first word he has said that commits him to any principle on this subject. It is true, he does sympathize with the struggle to make Kansas a free State, and with Gove. Robinson. I know the effort is being made to induce him to commit himself to some principle on this subject, and it may be successful. But many anti-slavery people think that men at Washington cannot be trusted on this question. They cannot. There is too much corruption in the air there, too many influence are brought to bear on men to make them yield on this question. Individuals who come down to Washington with strong Anti-slavery feelings, find this out in a way that should astound even the most superstitious of you. Why, Senator Sumner himself has told me that the influence was so great that he had no idea of it. The way in which Southern men would slip their hands in the arm, and walk along, and beg whoever it is not to waste his tremendous talents, his great learning, his brilliant prospects, on this question!—(laughter)—to wait awhile, and see how it was;--and the man would scarcely know where he was. I do believe that there is a taste of blood that a man gets in office that is very corrupting. It is like the taste of blood that a tiger gets, which he never forgets. There is a power of corruption all around men at Washington, and throughout the country, in regard to this matter of slavery, because there are great proprietory interests at stake. And these men all get their individual development subject to those influences and you depend on them, and they depend on you; and unless each person,--which is my point,--unless each person, man or woman, feels that it is against his or her true development, that this thing should exist; unless he or she takes it to heart, and tries to count the cost—how much bitterness it has cost, how much it has injured the serenity of his or her soul, how much has been yielded, in youth, in manhood, or old age, to the influence of slavery, he or she will not be properly sprung on this question; and we all need that now. We need that there should be a great and noble enthusiasm rise within us in view of the new and thrilling events of the day, and call us to fresh endeavors. I, for one, am willing to stand for ever, and give my heart and soul to all that will be for the good of the poor down-trodden slave, as well as for the good of the whites, and also of this country. (Loud cheers.) I tell you, my friends, it is a dreadful thing that I see in the city of Boston. I am a stranger here, almost. Although I livered here a year or so before I went to Washington, I really did not get at the minds of the people. But I say, the first thing that strikes one is, that, with the exception of a few, the people here have no idea, that the remotest, of what slavery is. They do not realize it. They have a certain thing called liberty, which they believe to be right, and they believe that slavery, in the abstract, is wrong,--but the idea of the immense practical evil that slavery inflicts on the country seems never to have affected them at all. That great evil has been feebly portrayed in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’; some of its most deplorable results have been proclaimed by the poet Whittier; but no tongue has yet been shaped which can truly write on the hearts of the people, who do not know it and who have not seen it, lived in its midst, the awful evil of American slavery;--(applause)—that vast domestic corruption, which led a noblewoman of Virginia to once say to me, with tears in her eyes, though she had descended from a long line of slaveholding ancestors, ‘No, I never would have you compromise an inch with it!’ (Cheers.) She had seen her children, her nephews, grow up in this atmosphere of slavery, with the great power which God has seen fit to make that institution capable of,--warmed out, like a nest of vipers, by this intense heat,--this great evil, and she would not have me make terms with it. The evil of it! I would tell you some things I know, but I cannot—I cannot. All I can say is, that I have never met a man who hated it too much. (Cheers.) I have never yet met the heart that throbbed too strongly against it. I wish to say, that if those who do think slavery wrong will examine this question more deeply, they will find that they do not realize half its enormity. They will become, not men of one idea, but I think they will have a great many ideas they never had before. The more they examine its history, its bearing on social life, the more they will find out its evil effects; and I do wish that there was some system by which Southern newspapers could be spread abroad at the North. I know the ‘Refuge of Oppression’ in the Liberator does a great deal; but I know there is much that does not come to your ears. There is certainly a literature of modern times,--I think the most superior literature of this country,--the biographies of fugitive slaves,--a literature which can never fail to have readers where there are any hearts,--which show them to be the only heroes of the age; glorious men, who have braved all things,--risked life, property, health,--who have put themselves on the chase before the deadly bloodhounds, human and canine,--and all for what? For this abstraction that we call liberty! (Applause.) If that is not heroism, what is heroism? That whish is impassion with a noble idea, that which forgets all fear of death, of any thing, a passion for liberty, a passion for the heart’s best love, that is heroism, and these are the men who represent it this day. (Loud cheers.)
I wish to say a word more in reference to such books. I wish to say, that the people of the North should enter more deeply into them, and then, when they have realized what this oppression is personally, when they have put themselves in the same circumstances, they will begin to feel what slavery is; and when they have asked themselves how much better they would feel if they had done their duty to God and man, if there were no slavery at the South, and how much easier it would be to do their duty to God and man if there were no slaves at the South, they will begin to feel whether they are nobler in the midst of slavery, whether they are really men and women so long as there are slaves in the land. I know that men are possible in this world, as well as reptiles and monsters. I know that there have been men, and since Christ, who by the way, was the first to feel conscious that he had such a manhood; but I do say, that the mass of people are fundamentally ignoble on this subject; that they do not reach their people height as men; that they cannot, as long as they allow this great crime to exist in their midst, and with which they themselves are connected by political and moral ties; that the neglect of a single moment wherein a testimony might have been uttered that would have reached any ear, makes tem less men, because they are not lovers of men, because they are not free, because they are indolent, and any such moment you may put down in your life as just as much lost as if in that moment you had been dead.
Let us, then, be true on this subject, whatever else fails. This is not time for apathy; this is no time for speaking any thing but that which is on our hearts. However much we may differ as regards methods, that is no fault. It is time for us to offer our opinion frankly, honestly—saying just what we feel. I have told you that I believe we are to take some new, decided action, now that we find that this country is irretrievably sold to the Slave Power for five centuries before us. I tell you, I am not willing to live in a country which is tied for five centuries, by the admission of Kansas, to the dominion of slavery.
It was on my mind when I left Washington to talk to men on this subject, to see whether individual force could be brought to bear on this country, such as has been brought to bear in times past and has shattered ancient churches, has raised up new powers of life, simply by men standing still and waiting for the salvation of God; standing still in the midst of all,--not helping the government or authority in any way,--but standing still and waiting the result, whether it be their martyrdom, their imprisonment, or whether it be to see the powers themselves trembling and crumbling to pieces before the simple truth which ages ago announced to the world,--what so few of us believe,--that under such circumstances, ‘one can chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight.’ (Loud applause.)
Mr. Billings, of Illinois, said that some call the idea of liberty an abstraction; but such it was not. It was not so with our puritan forefathers, nor with the Revolutionary patriots. They loved liberty, and labored to establish it throughout the land; and they never would have compromised with slavery as they did could they have foreseen the fatal results. He also insisted that eminent humanity is eminent Christianity; and that this humanity or Christianity is destined to triumph over every thing opposed to it.
J.B. Swasey, Esp., on coming forward remarked that he happened to come from that dark corner of the State which is disgraced by being the residence of Caleb Cushing! And in that place—Newburyport—multitudes of men are found to apologize for the late dastardly attack upon Mr. Sumner! In Boston—in all parts of Massachusetts—we find numbers of the same kind of men. But he nevertheless recognized a power in the land,--it was to be found in the present Convention,--from which the revolution that is to come may be surely augured.