One Arch Only is Wanting
May 8, 1866 — 33rd Annual Convention, American Anti-Slavery Society
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: You have listened with applauding sympathy to the eloquent appeals of this morning. I come to you for something more than applause. This meeting was convened, not ultimately to give you a few hours of pleasure, not ultimately to thrill your souls with the highest emotions which can move the human soul — sympathy in sublime truths and great thoughts. It was convened in order that those emotions might crystalize into deeds, and that they who talk together this morning might for the year to come work together. Our friend, Mrs. [Lucretia] Mott, who would have stood in this place at this moment, but for our misfortune that a cold has deprived her of the use of her voice, begs me to say to you for her, that she would have you take heed to the statement made in the speech this morning, so justly called a profound analysis of our cause, and to the statement of the great amount of funds contributed to the National Freedmen’s Association. She wants you to bear in mind how freely money has been poured out to feed and clothe and educate the American on our Southern soil, and while learning a lesson from the liberality and generosity of those contributing to its funds, she asks you to remember that the treasury of this Society has not a tenth part as may contributors, and that it needs, at this moment, help, far more than any other association which has pressed its demands upon you. She would have you imitate the munificence which has filled those coffers.
I heard it said not long ago in Philadelphia, and I dare say you hear it said every day, that if we could go before the people and say we have this or that specific work to do, we could raise money enough; but that in fact we have nothing to do; that our work is done, and we do not know it; that the Temple of Liberty is built, and we do not see it. We who for thirty years and more have labored in this organization, who have wrought out whatever there is of anti-slavery sentiment in the land, we who have watched from its earliest beginning the growth of the anti-slavery enterprise, look back to-day upon those times when, at the peril of our lives, we met in obscure halls, a handful of men and women, looking about to see what we could do against the mighty force of this great nation, and we stand here to-day, and do not know what has been done! We who have given thanks for every victory; who have bowed in humble adoration for everything which God’s power enabled us to win for the slave, do not know what has been done!
Because all is not done, do we say that nothing has been gained? This Temple of Liberty — who by God’s grace reared it? We who have watched its stones as we piled one upon another, who consecrated in prayer and thanksgiving every column as it rose, every arch as it was spanned, who hailed the glorious light of heaven as it streamed through its painted windows — do we not know that the Temple of Liberty, built upon the foundation of a rock, is uplifted in this land? But it is all unroofed to-day; and millions of emancipated ones are crowding into it for shelter. We want to roof it. Will you give us the money?
It has been well and wisely said by one who has labored faithfully and long in our Southern land, under the auspices of the Freedmen’s Association, that the work of the Abolitionist is like the building of a bridge. It is finished, all but one span. One arch only is wanting But that while that arch is wanting, of what avail is the bridge? Very much, as work done in the past, and not now needing to be done. But as we look at it we see those negroes of the South, or clients for whom we have labored long, crowding its parapets rushing over the bridge, standing upon its hither end, reaching forward, and stretching out their arms, and calling upon us to build fast and put up that missing arch that they may come over to the land of perfect freedom. Did we not give thanks for every stone, from its foundation to its topmost parapets? When so little remains to be done, would we show our gratitude better by sitting down and doing no more? Then indeed might we say that the past is lost; but now when the labor which the future demands will complete the labor of the past, the work of the past cannot be lost.
Now what is the remaining work which we ask you to help us to do? It is to secure the personal freedom of the emancipated millions by giving them the suffrage, by making them American citizens indeed and in truth. We appeal to every man who glories in his citizenship, and who feels a pride and joy as he holds the ballot in his hand as a symbol of that citizenship, to give, by every means in his power, that right to his colored brother which he values for himself. Knowing what it is to you, knowing what it would cost you to be deprived of it, we appeal to you to do all you can to give it to every black man in the land.
We appeal to every woman too who knows its value by the injustice which denies it to her, to work diligently and faithfully to give it to every black man in the land. Aye, work as you would to obtain it for yourselves, for his sake, for the sake of justice, and to save the nation of which you are a part.
Until this work is done, until absolute security is obtained for the personal liberty of the colored race in this country the work of the American Anti-Slavery Society is not completed. A great deal of this work may well be done by others, and we may help to do it; but this our own work, who shall do it if we do not?
One other thought I would press upon you. There are around us a thousand plans of benevolence for the poor and the aged, white and black orphans, homeless, outcast, all sort of distress, — a thousand associations pressing their claims upon us in the name of Christianity. Would to God we could respond to all these claims with the munificence they deserve. But as we cannot, is it not our duty as Abolitionists, in this hour of the special need of the black man, in this critical hour of our nation, to give more largely and generously to this cause than to any other? I would not say, Withhold the mite or the abundance which God in his providence enables you to give to the poor; but should you not, in this hour when so much turns upon the accomplishment of this one work, give more largely and generously t it than to all other claims upon your benevolence? Give generously, sparing what you can from your luxury, from your convenience, for your comfort even, for your brother’s necessity, for your nation’s need; and God shall return to you good measure, pressed down and running over.
Source: National Anti-Slavery Standard, May 19, 1866, Vol. 27, Issue 9, p. 4.