The Nation Shall Be Redeemed
March 30, 1863 — Meeting of the Loyal Women of the Republic, New York City
When our leading journals, orators, and brave men from the battle-field, complain that Northern women feel no enthusiasm in the war, the time has come for us to speak — to pledge ourselves loyal to freedom and our country.
Thus far, there has been no united expression from the women of the North as to the policy of the war. Here and there one has spoken and written nobly. Many have vied with each other in acts of generosity and self-sacrifice for the sick and wounded in camp and hospital. But we have, as yet, no means of judging where the majority of Northern women stand.
If it be true that at this hour the women of the South are more devoted to their cause than we are to ours, the fact lies here. They see and feel the horrors of the war; the foe is at their firesides; while we, in peace and plenty, live as heretofore. There is an inspiration, too, in a definite purpose, be it good or bad. The women of the South know what their sons are fighting for. The women of the North do not. They appreciate the blessings of slavery; we not the blessings of liberty. We have never yet realized the glory of those institutions in whose defence it is the privilege of our sons to bleed and die. They are aristocrats, with a lower class, servile and obsequious, intrenched in feudal homes. We are aristocrats under protest, who must go abroad to indulge our tastes, and enjoy in foreign despotisms the customs which the genius of a Republic condemns.
But, from the beginning of the Government, there have been women among us who, with the mother of the immortal John Quincy Adams, have lamented the inconsistencies of our theory and practice, and demanded for all the people the exercise of those rights that belong to every citizen of a republic.
The women of a nation mold its morals, religion, and politics. The Northern treason, now threatening to betray us to our foes, is hatched at our own firesides, where traitor snobs, returned from Europe and the South, out of time and tune with independence and equality, infuse into their sons the love of caste and class, of fame and family, of wealth and ease, and baptize it all in the name of Republicanism and Christianity.
Let every woman understand that this war involves the same principles that have convulsed the nations of the earth from Pharaoh to Lincoln — liberty or slavery — democracy or aristocracy — Christianity or barbarism — and choose, this day, whether our republican institutions shall be placed on an enduring basis, and an eternal peace secured to our children, or whether we shall leap back through generations of light and experience, and meekly bow again to chains and slavery.
Shall Northern freemen yet stand silent lookers-on when through Topeka, St. Paul, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and New York, men and women, little boys and girls, chained in gangs, shall march to their own sad music, beneath a tyrant’s lash? On our sacred soil shall we behold the auction-block — babies sold by the pound, and beautiful women for the vilest purposes of lust; where parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, shall be torn from each other, and sent East and West, North and South? Shall our free presses and free schools, our palace homes, colleges, churches, and stately capitols all be leveled to the dust? Our household gods be desecrated, and our proud lips, ever taught to sing peans to liberty, made to swear allegiance to the god of slavery? Such degradation shall yet be ours, if we gird not up our giant freemen now to crush this rebellion, and root out forever the hateful principle of caste and class. Men who, in the light of the nineteenth century, believed that God made one race all booted and spurred, and another to be ridden; who would build up a government with slavery for its corner-stone, can not live on the same continent with a pure democracy.
To counsel grim-visaged war seems hard to come from women’s lips; but better far that the bones of our sires and sons whiten every Southern plain, that we do their rough work at home, than that liberty, struck dumb in the capital of our Republic, should plead no more for man. Every woman who appreciates the grand problem of national life must say war, pestilence, famine, anything but an ignoble peace.
We are but co-workers now with the true ones of every age. The history of the past is but one long struggle upward to equality. All men, born slaves to ignorance and fear, crept through centuries of discord — now one race dominant, then another — but in this ceaseless warring, ever wearing off the chains of their gross material surroundings of a mere animal existence, until at last the sun of a higher civilization dawned on the soul of man, and the precious seed of the ages, garnered up in the Mayflower, was carried in the hollow of God’s hand across the mighty waters, and planted deep beneath the snow and ice of Plymouth Rock with prayers and thanksgivings. And what grew there? Men and women who loved liberty better than life. Men and women who believed that not only in person, but in speech should they be free, and worship the God who had brought them thus far according to the dictates of their own conscience. Men and women who, like Daniel of old, defied the royal lion in his den. Men and women who repudiated the creeds and codes of despots and tyrants, and declared to a waiting world that all men are created equal. And for rights like these, the Fathers fought for seven long years, and we have no record that the women of that Revolution ever once cried, “hold, enough,” till the invading foe was conquered, and our independence recognized by the nations of the earth.
And here we are, the grandest nation on the globe. By right no privileged caste or class. Education free to all. The humblest digger in the ditch has all the civil, social, and religious rights with the highest in the land. The poorest woman at the wash-tub may be the mother of a future President. Here all are heirs-apparent to the throne. The genius of our institutions bids every man to rise, and use all the powers that God has given him.
It cannot be, that for blessings such as these, now twice baptized in blood, the women of the North do not stand ready for any sacrifice.
A sister of Kossuth, with him an exile to this country, in conversation one day, called my attention to an iron bracelet, the only ornament she wore. In the darkest days of Hungary, said she, our noble women threw their wealth and jewels into the public treasury, and clasping iron bands around their wrists, pledged themselves that these should be the only jewels they would wear till Hungary was free.
If darker hours than these should come to us, the women of the North will count no sacrifice too great. What are wealth and jewels, home and ease, sires and sons, to the birthright of freedom, secured to us by the heroes of the Revolution — liberty to universal man? Shall a priceless heritage like this be wrested now from us by Southern tyrants, and Northern women look on unmoved, or basely bid our freemen sue for peace? No! No! The vacant places at our firesides, the void in every heart says No!! Such sacrifices must not be in vain!! The cloud that hangs o’er all our Northern homes is gilded with the hope that through these present sufferings the nation shall be redeemed.
Source: New York Tribune, 1863.
Also: Proceedings of the Meeting of the Loyal Women of the Republic Held in New York, May 14, 1863 (New York: Phair & Co, Printers, 1863), pp. i-iv.