To the Anti-Slavery Society
May 1845 — The American Anti-Slavery Society, Broadway Tabernacle, New York City
Mr. President; I have often arisen to address public assemblies when I have felt that there were others present who might occupy the time much better than myself — but I have never felt this so sensibly as at the present time; and yet I shall not preface my remarks with any apology in regard to incompetency; for I feel that every person, however feeble in intellect or acquirements, may raise his or her voice in the cause of suffering humanity. If we love liberty for ourselves, why deprive us of the privilege of pleading the cause of the oppressed, and should I be so fortunate as to plead the cause of the oppressed, I know that the speaker will be lost sight of in the dignity and importance of the subject.
The speaker who has just taken his seat, has carried Slavery beyond all human forms. He has placed the crime upon the Church. There it belongs. I can read the character of the religious sentiment of the nation in the laws which they have written out, and in the Constitution which they support.
I propose to dwell for a few moments on the nature of the compact which the people of this nation have entered into. This question of the Constitution has been discussed from to time. It has been called an anti-slavery document, and a pro-slavery document. I have recently been in Pennsylvania, where no one scarcely thinks of standing up to defend it as anti-slavery instrument; but as I returned to New-York, my native State, I was reminded of a strong party which vindicates that instrument. It has always been allowed, ever since the ment was instituted, that the Constitution favors Slavery. It has been decided in Courts of Justice, in the Legislative Hall, on the Judges’ Bench, in the Executive Chair, that this people have entered into a compact for the perpetuity of Slavery. Would that the framers of the Constitution had left Slavery where they found it. Before the Constitution was formed, if the slave desired freedom — if he desired to fold his fond wife and press his prattling babes to his bosom, and say they are my children — he had only to move from a slaveholding State to a free State, and he became, in process of time, emancipated by the laws of that State. In process of time he stood up a man, and could claim his property and be protected. But the bloody compact was formed. The Northern States sat down with the Southern, and discussed the question—for freedom had been the great rallying point of the fathers — they discussed the question, and what was the result of their deliberations? Says the South to the North — You are unjust in regard to us: we shall lose our slaves, and they inserted in the Constitution an article saying that “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.
By this they declared that if a man be chatteled in Georgia, when he removed to South Carolina, he should continue a slave. They said that his chains should be perpetual all over the land. They said if our brother should go to the North and seek protection, that none should be given him. They said that if a sister should go to the North and seek protection, none should be given her; but she should be committed again to the care of him who might open anew her wound. This was the compact which was entered into, and all parties were satisfied with the compact. This was the first bargain — but that bargain was renewed every year. The South says to the North, We can’t hold the slave in bondage without your aid. Then, says the North, we’ll help you; we’ll give up the fugitive to the oppressor. God says, “Thou shalt not return the fugitive to his master, which has escaped unto thy house.” The South says you shall return the fugitive; and the North responds — we will; go on, we’ll hold your slaves and plunder them to your heart’s content. But says the South we can’t maintain possession of our slaves; we can’t trade and traffic in the souls of men; we can’t force those asunder whom God has joined together, without your aid. Then, says the North, we’ll help you! go on; make every sixth wife a widow, and every sixth child an orphan: but, says the South, it is sometimes necessary to resort to cruelty, it is sometimes necessary to use the gag, the whip, the branding-iron; we cannot do this without your aid; we cannot tear the palpitating heart from the bosom of our fellow creatures and imbrue our hands in their blood without your aid: Then we’ll help you, says the North, and they solemnly covenant to do so. Then again the entire military aid of the North is pledged to keep the slaves in chains. Yes, the slaves would rise did they not know that a force tenfold greater than themselves — tenfold more barbarous would rise to put them down. Don’t we say, every year, if the slaves rise we’ll crush them. The nation pledge themselves every year to do what they consider a Christian act. They pledge themselves to do what they consider resistance to tyrants. It is resistance to God. You laud your fathers for resisting a three penny tax on tea, and you almost worship him who led your armies to victory, while you would crush those who claim to do the same which they did. Yes, Mr. President, the slaves would rise at once and raise the banner of freedom did they not see the gleaming bayonets of the formed soldiery of the people pointing at their naked breasts. You may say it is not so — that you would not suppress them if they should rise; aye, you have done it — you are doing it now. Who is doing it? The Government? Congress? The President? The Executive? Oh, no: we, the people have done it. We, the people, every November, go to the ballot-box and swear that this army shall be called out whenever the slaves rise. Your compact says if a man will make himself rich in slaves, his votes shall be counted in proportion to the number of them. If a man wants influence in the Government, he must ascend to the very climax of villainy — or political power. He must stand on human hearts, and be floated along on the tide of human blood. This is the agreement which you enter into every November. It is not enough to rob every sixth person of the avails of his industry. It is not enough to break up families, and sever the dearest ties on earth; but they must make this degraded class a stepping-stone to political power. The memory of Elizabeth, imbruing her hands in the blood of Mary Queen of Scotts, and other equally bloody deeds of antiquity, will be cherished with indulgence, compared with the infamy of the demagogues of the present day who thus tread upon the flesh and bones of their fellow-men to obtain political power. Slavery is but one scene of perpetual crucifixion from beginning to end. It was reserved for this people to reward the most high handed of all crimes — for those that put forth the declaration that all men are created free and equal, and endowed with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I know there has been a good deal said about the Preamble of the Constitution — that the Preamble is Anti-Slavery — that the Constitution should be construed according to the Preamble, and that they meant to establish a union — a union with what? A union between Freedom and Slavery, between sin and righteousness, between the slaveholder and the slave, and with ruthless hands the framers of the Constitution burst the bonds which bound them. I know there can be union between thieves and robbers, between pirates and murderers, and that was the kind of union which was formed in the country, and which exists now. It is no other than a slaveholding Union, and I say that he who is in favor of the American Union, is a slaveholder — he keeps the slave in his present condition. The people, therefore, are either slaveholders or disunionists. The framers of the Constitution established just such a union as the wolf establishes with the lamb which he is devouring. But they say that they intended to establish justice. Tell me that the Cannibal, who serves up an Englishman for supper, and a Frenchman for breakfast, intends to be just; but don’t suffer yourselves to be deceived with the idea that the framers of the Constitution of the United States, with all the light and knowledge which a three-penny tax on tea — so oppressive that they were called upon to oppose it — could afford — don’t believe they intended to be just! They took from the poor slave not merely three pence, but pence, pocket, life, body, soul, and all; and will you say that they intended to be just? Think for a moment of the horrors of the African Slave-Trade. Witness those slavers, fitting out from the young Republic, for the African coast! How many families were broken up during that twenty years, to supply the United States with slaves! How many dwellings were fired! How many helpless children were consumed by the devouring flames! Those who escaped the flames, were packed into a slaver, as you would pack together bales of cotton or other merchandise. Think too of the hunger, thirst, and starvation which they endured! But I cannot describe the horrors of the African Slave-Trade. If we would know how to feel for them, we must be burned from the house of our birth, and be thrust into the hold of a slaver — our lips must be parched with thirst, and our tongues swollen with pain. Our eyes must be distorted with the fiery fever, and our minds be overwhelmed with anguish. We must feel that life is pining away, and the death gurgle of the groaning captive must be ours; we must feel the horrid monsters of the deep, devouring us while life exists, if we would know for ourselves, the tortures which they endure. And those whose lives were spared, were brought to this country, and placed on the soil which had just been bathed with blood, shed for the cause of liberty. This crime of the African Slave-Trade, covers the framers of the Constitution of the United States with a stain which the present generation can never obliterate. If you say that those men loved liberty, — I know that they loved it for themselves, — to say that they had any love for it, in itself considered, would be insulting the understanding of mankind. I say that tyranny of the blackest dye, despotism of the vilest character, oppression of the most hellish nature, constituted the chief elements in their character. Wouldn’t you say so, Mr. President, if you were the victim of that oppression? But what would any man say should they fire his dwelling to-night, take him, manacle him, and thrust him into the hold of a slaver, carry him to a foreign country, and thrust him into chains and slavery for life? Would n’t he say that the man who did it was a tyrant, an oppressor? What names, then, I ask, would you apply to those who framed the law under which the deed was done? For he who framed the law is assuredly more guilty than he who, in the heat of excitement, commits the deed. No words in our language can adequately describe the character of those who made this covenant with hell. When I consider that it was done deliberately and calmly, the crime grows blacker and blacker. Had they done it in the heat of the moment, we could have thrown the veil of charity around them. But the Constitution of the United States was not framed under such circumstances. I know that there was hesitation about adopting the articles favoring the slaveholder. Don’t understand me to say that there was none. There was hesitation when they wrote out that article. They hesitated about signing the compact, when they wrote out the articles pledging the entire military strength of the nation; they hesitated again and again, when they wrote out a long article giving increased political power to him who should hold slaves as chattels; and when they wrote out the article giving toleration to the Slave-Trade, they demurred. They had not strength enough: but they hesitated as the thief hesitates when he is about to plunder his brother — as the murderer hesitates when he is about to thrust the dagger into the bosom of his friend—aye, yes, into the bosom of friends. The framers of the Constitution knew full well that the slaves were their friends. They knew that they would help them fight their battles and gain their liberties. But they had not power to enter into the compact. What was to be done? Benjamin Franklin proposed prayer, but to whom did they pray? Certainly not to God, for he had no attribute which could take side with the oppressor. They prayed to Satan, to the Father of lies, and from the bottomless pit he nerved them up to do the deed; and they placed their names to the bond. It is no agreeable task to descend into the dark tomb — into the graves of the fathers, and call up their black and bloody deeds; but I know the people of this country have confidence in these men; and because they have confidence in these men, therefore I want to expose their character. I have said no more than every individual in this house would have said, had he been a victim of oppression. But though their deeds are foul and dark, they are less dark, foul, and fiendish, than the deeds of the people of the present day. There is far more light and knowledge in the world now, and the principles of liberty are better understood. The people sin against greater light. But they said in the preamble that they designed to promote the general welfare. Then the general welfare is promoted. Your welfare would be promoted by stripping you of everything, and crushing you to the earth, and plundering your property. But I’ll not talk any more of the Constitution — the bloody compact, only fit to be scattered to the four winds — to be trampled under foot. I ask, who is there here that will next November renew that compact, and bargain to return my poor sister to her cruel master, in case she comes up to the North to seek a place of safety? Who will thrust my poor brother into chains? Is there one? I hope not. I trust not.
[Miss Hitchcock concluded her eloquent address by reciting a piece of poetry, and sat down amidst loud applause.]
Source: The National Anti-Slavery Standard, May 15, 1845, p. 198, and May 22, 1845.