The Holding of Property in Man
December 4, 1863 — 30th Decade Celebration, American Anti-Slavery Society, Concert Hall, Philadelphia PA
Among the early lessons which I learned upon the abolition platform was this: That it was our distinctive work to educate the heart of the people of this nation into a full recognition of the humanity of the black man; that we were to so educate the people of the North that they would refuse to aid the Government in holding the black man in chains; and I suppose that is precisely our work-today. I remember that I had thought fugitive-slave work was very important and really anti-slavery; and I also remember that one of the first lessons I had to learn was, that the fugitive slave would be aided by common philanthropy and benevolence, and that we, who called ourselves Radical Abolitionists, should give our attention, our thought, our efforts, to the removal of the cause which compelled the fugitive, with bleeding feet, to cross the Free States of the North to the British domain. It seems to me that the Sanitary Commission work, the Freedmen’s Association, the Freedman’s Educational work, are to-day common charity, common benevolence, and the world will look after it. Here, in this third decade of the American Anti-Slavery Society, are assembled, from different parts of the Free States, the representatives of a little handful of men and women over the country, who have for these thirty years been working to undermine the law of the nation which allows the holding of property in man. Precisely this is the work which I think we should abide by at this hour. Leaving to the grand masses of the world, whose attention is now called to the question of liberty — to the question of saving this nation, to the question of emancipation even — leaving it to them to take care of the freedmen, to take care of the sick and wounded upon the battle-field. Let us go on with our primitive and fundamental work of removing the laws which allow of the existence of slavery.
That is the specific work to which the Association of which I have been a member for the last six months (the Woman’s Loyal League) has specially devoted itself. We aim to circulate through the entire North a petition, to be presented to the next Congress, asking that body to enact a law of Universal Emancipation. As women, we felt that it was especially fitting for us to work in this way, because as women we could have no voice as to what should be the basis of reconstruction of this government, save through the one right which the nation has left to us, the right of petition. Women can neither take the ballot nor the bullet to settle this question; therefore, to us, the right to petition is the one sacred right which we ought not to neglect. I appeal to women here to-day to set themselves about this work when they shall return to their homes; to circulate this emancipation petition themselves, and to urge upon their neighbors and friends to engage in the work.
I know there are women here who would like to know something of the progress of this petition movement. I am sorry not to be able to make an enthusiastic and encouraging report; but the fact is, that wherever our petitions have been sent, from vastly too many places the responses have come back, “What do you mean by asking us to circulate a petition for emancipation? Is not the work already done? Has not the President proclaimed freedom? Is he not doing the work as fast as he can?” This has been the one great obstacle, the one great discouragement, which we have had to meet. Those who have hitherto occupied the highest places in our estimation have seemed the most indifferent, and to feel as if this was really an unnecessary work. Why should we, who have been at work for these long years, endeavoring to move slavery out of the way, when it has been the cause of all the national disasters and national strifes and discords which we have had, be afraid, in this last struggle, of doing too much?
The petitions to-day are being returned rapidly. Day before yesterday, one mail brought four or five thousand signatures. I only hope that the people, at this hour, will begin to feel that there is need of a public expression. There is an important question to come before the next Congress — the question of reconstruction. I have no doubt that Senator Wilson himself would say to you this morning, if he were to speak, that the signatures of a million of the men and women of the North, poured in upon Congress, will do much to encourage the members to stand fast by their principles. The Congress needs to know that the people, their constituencies, stand by them, and will demand of them the strictest faithfulness to freedom, and will not abide the slightest compromise of principle. It is for us to make them feel this.
Source: Proceedings of the American Anti-Slavery Society, at its Third Decade, Held in the city of Philadelphia, Dec. 3d and 4th, 1864 (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society) 1864, pp. 73-75.
Also: The Liberator, January 15, 1864, p.3.