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The Overthrow of Slavery

December 4, 1863 — Annual American Anti-Slavery Convention, Concert Hall, Philadelphia PA


I agree with almost everything that has been said here this morning in relation to the present aspects of our case and our present duty. Yet there is one thing that remains for us to be reminded of. Although we all feel and know that, of necessity, there must have been an immense change in the public sentiment, in consequence of the action of this anti-slavery society, yet we should not be too confident as to the character of the wonderful change since the war commenced. Although brought up in the Orthodox Church, I do not believe exactly in the doctrine of instantaneous conversion; but I believe in the fall from grace. I want to remind you that we had labored for twenty-seven years previous to the terrible mobs of 1830. Do we remember the fall of 1860 and the winter of 1860 and ’61? Do we remember that never was a more bloodthirsty mob organized in the city of Boston than was organized in the fall of 1860?

Charles C. Burleigh: When the Devil came down in great wrath, because he knew he had but a short time.

Mrs. Foster: Let us see whether he knew he had but a short time. Have we forgotten that bloodthirsty spirit which went from Boston, all along through Albany, on the line of the Central Railroad, through the entire West; which came down here into Pennsylvania, and pervaded every part of the North — the spirit of determination that free speech should utterly be crushed out? — a spirit that responded to what was proposed by the Peace Convention at Washington, viz: that we should give slavery free course to run and be glorified through this country; that, notwithstanding our twenty-seven years of anti-slavery agitation, free speech should be crushed, as we know it must be, if those peace resolutions had bene accepted by the South. If they had been, we should truly have been crushed out, as we believed, at that period. Truly would free speech have been trampled under foot, and slavery would have been triumphant, but for the fact that the slaveholders would not accept the offer. No thanks to the governing masses of the North that that consummation of diabolism did not succeed So, no. Did slavery think it had but a short time to live? No, it was blind. Sin is always blind. The North did not dream it; politicians did not dream it. They believed that, notwithstanding the flood of light, they could crush us all down, and that Slavery could have a longer lease of life, not for its own sake, but to promote what they believed to be their pecuniary and political wellbeing.

And now, whence comes this sudden change? A Pentecost, forsooth! Is it by the pouring out of the Holy Ghost, or the pouring out of human blood? Is it because the great mass of the people has come to believe, and have received grace into their hearts? God knows I do not willingly stand here to bring scorn, opposition, contempt or hatred upon those who have turned right-about-face, when I charge that it is not from the highest but from the lowest motives, and that therefore it is not from motives upon which we can rely, and which should make us jubilant. They have taken this course, as every body knows — the government takes it and the commercial man takes it — because it is their only safety. Senator Wilson knows that the government proposed, and the Secretary of State issued letters of instruction to all our ministers plenipotentiary abroad, declaring that the rebellion would be put down tithing changing the status of an individual. It was the intention and determination to do so. We have not Secretary Seward to thank, we have not President Lincoln to thank, we have not the govt of the United States to thank, we have not the commercial men nor the churches to thank; but we have Jeff Davis and the terrible persistency of the rebels to than, that there has been this change of conduct in the North. It was a matter of military necessity, and therefore we have it. And having been induced by military necessity, for the sake of self-preservation, we cannot rely upon it. It has been said by a leading paper that if the rebels should lay down their arms to-day, Secretary Seward — although his Gettysburg speech different somewhat from his Auburn speech, because his language is the echo of public sentiment always, as far as it goes and he can get it, and the one was made before and the other after the last election in Pennsylvania, and the other states which were so “doubtful” would gladly, and the government would gladly, receive them back like the prodigal’s son, and kill for them the fatted calf, and Jeff Davis might be candidate for next president of the United States. I trust he will never will, because I trust that the rebels will still persist. I believe that they are given over to a reprobate mind, to believe a lie, and their damnation is sealed; and their damnation being sealed, the salvation of the country may be secured. 

If in 1860 there could be such a spirit manifested throughout the length and breadth of the North, I do not believe that the change since that time has been any thing more than the result of selfishness, and therefore unreliable. It is only by labor, incessant labor, in season and out of season, that we can create such a public sentiment as we need; and we never could have attained it, if success had attended the Union arms. I was thankful for Meade’s disaster, as it is called “his withdrawal.” I should be sorry to have too much success; we want just little enough to keep up North to the Sticking point, until it shall be obliged to go on and abolish slavery for its own safety.

Our friend May says that he can count upon his fingers all those who think the mission of the Anti-Slavery Society is finished. I cannot do that. I know that one state anti-slavery society was disbanded, ostensibly for other reasons, but from private conversation I know that that society was abandoned, and their anti-slavery paper was put down because their leading and most self-sacrificing men thought that we had done our work in the anti-slavery cause. At the time that Fort Sumter was attached, they declared that the mission of the anti-slavery cause was fulfilled and that South Caroline was now doing the work we had formerly done. Count on my fingers? No. This house would not contain the numbers of them have laid down their lives upon the battlefield. They thought the army was doing the world of the anti-slavery society. From Pennsylvania, hundreds of young men have gone to the battlefield with that conviction; and I know there are old men and elderly women, who have labored for thirty years in the anti-slavery cause, who have that conviction, and therefore have laid down their arms.

Let us not, therefore, be too confident. Do not let us dwell too much on what has been done. Napoleon spoke a great truth, when, receiving the congratulations of his generals on the eve of his invasion of Russia, he said, “I want you to remember that nothing is done while anything remains to be done.” St. Helena witnessed the truth of that sentiment, nothing is done while anything remains to be done, so far as the death of American slavery is concerned. Not that I believe that one iota of moral truth that has ever been uttered, any more than one atom of physical matter that has ever been created, can be lost. But, so far as the accomplishment o the overthrow of slavery is concerned, were success to attend the federal arms today, I feel confident that slavery would linger, God knows how long; and I am willing, therefore, to wait another ten years, if need be, in order to insure its destruction now.



Source: Thirtieth Anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society. (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1863), pp. 70-73.


Also: The Liberator, January 15, 1864, pp. 2-3.