The Women’s Loyal National League
May 14, 1863 — Meeting of the Woman’s Loyal National League, Church of the Puritans, New York City
Women of the Republic:— In giving our pledge of loyalty to the Government, let us remember that true patriotism is not summed up in the motto, ” Our Country Right or Wrong” — a narrow, base sentiment, unworthy citizens of a true republic; rather let us, ever loyal to principle and God, choose that better motto, ” Freedom AND OUR Country.” We have assembled at this time, to exalt the purpose for whicli our grand army now bleeds and dies, and to move the hearts of the women of the nation in higher, holier channels than they have been wont to flow. Inasmuch as to woman, by common consent, is assigned the moral and rehgious sjphere of action, it is ever her duty to urge the national mind up to eternal principles; hence her post, with the white flag of purity and truth, is ever in the van.
As the inspired Joan of Arc led the French armies to victory, so the women of this Republic, scorning mere worldly wisdom, and unitedly demanding freedom for all, by an unwavering faith in the God of truth, would nerve the strong arms in the field, and clear the confused, conflicting counsels in our Capitol.
The nation, foundered in the mists of statesmanship, diplomacy and policy, precedents and authorities, must be brought back to simple principles by a new generation of teachers — those who walk by faith — who place the Golden Rule above all creeds and codes and constitutions. The lesson of the hour, that every mother should teach her son, is to do justice and love mercy. The women of the Republic have something more to do than stand silent spectators of the awful tragedy now passing before us; the time has come to all for thought and action, — let no one stand idly gazing into vacancy. Our homes, our altars, and our country demand the best word and work of every head and heart and hand. Our care to watch the sick and dying in camp and hospital; to lighten the dark valley and shadow of death, as our fair-haired boys pass through, with the thought that in these present sufferings we behold the birth of universal liberty. At home, too, we must do double duty now. We must study the arts of finance and economy, for the creators of our wealth and luxuries have been slain by thousands on the battle-field. The time may not be distant when, by our own creative skill, we must supply even the bare necessities. The question is not now of woman’s sphere, but woman’s bread.
Hundreds of fatherless families at this hour look to her for support. Sad men, the maim, the halt, the blind, the wreck of war, lean on woman for comfort and the means of life. The army, in its hardships and reverses, falls back on those at home for fresh inspiration, for words of hope and cheer. What grace and energy it needs to meet these varying claims! God help us to be great enough for the duties of this solemn hour! God give us a holy charge of those brave men who yet may strike stout blows for freedom! May they be ever present in our thoughts! In the midst of peace and plenty, may we not forget the peril of their lives! The women of a nation mold its morals, religion, and politics; not by the sermons they preach, but by the lives they live. It needs more than a strict observance of forms and proprieties to plow up a nation’s heart, and sow the seed of a true and lasting greatness. “Woman’s influence is omnipotent! If not ennobling by example and precept, urging the race up to the practice of the highest virtues, she has the power to enfeeble and pervert the best gifts of heaven. All admit that the fanaticism of Southern women in their homes has done as much to keep the rebellion alive as their men in the battle-field. If mere pride of race and class can raise woman to such hights of self-denial, endurance, and revenge, — if, to maintain their barbarous institutions, they so willingly sacrifice life and every comfort, what shall we not do and suffer to maintain the best government on the earth? To strengthen the love we feel for our free institutions, we cannot too often recount the pecuhar blessings of our form of government, as compared with every other on the globe. Consider for a moment the grand principles of equality and freedom we have declared, and by the elective franchise secured to every citizen of the Republic. That these privileges are not exercised by all, is no fault of our declared principles, but in direct opposition to the genius of a true republicanism. Consider how we have dignified manhood and labor! ever loyal to good men and true, no matter where they were born, or what road they took to distinction. We feel more pride in our learned blacksmith, than England in her heir-apparent to the throne. To those who are strugghng up, a rail-splitter in the “White House is a great fact; would that he had as much skill in cutting down rebels as he is said to have had in cutting down trees. Look at our free schools, free press, free homes. The Homestead Bill, by future generations, will be regarded as one of the pyramids of our national glory. We are too near it to see the magnitude of its proportions. But the foreigner coming here, and for the first time owning the land he tills, and having a voice in public affairs, by the wild joy and license he manifests, shows us the transforming power of our free institutions. The chief glory in a republican government is the individual development it brings. Where all share its responsibilities, each man feels the necessity of some knowledge of the laws and Constitution under which he lives.
On this principle of equality, barbarous nations and selfish classes of men have ever made war, and ever will, till all are Christianized; but each turn of the wheel of civilization is ever in the direction of more enlarged liberty, and through these bloody revolutions nations rise to higher planes of thought and action.
Our consolation in this present struggle is that from these sufferings every American must learn that there is nothing more sacred in the universe than the rights of man. In the XlXth century we might have hoped that the pen, the pulpit, and the polls would be the true weapons of success; but as the mass of Southern barbarians could neither read nor write, and had never heard the Gospel of Freedom, the North was forced to meet them on their own ground, and use the weapons they had chosen. All that now remains for us to do is to fight it out to a triumphant end. Let there be no more talk of peace or compromise. The Northern neck must never bow again to the yoke of slavery. We must fight on, and conquer. When we have scattered their armies, killed their snakes and crocodiles, ditched their swamps — for which McClellan may be in requisition once more — distributed their lands among our soldiers, black and white, the best thing we can then do is to colonize the chivalry, with a body-guard of Northern Copperheads, to the coast of Liberia, as missionaries to civilize and Christianize the entire African race — a work for which they have proved themselves so pre-eminently successful for the last century!!
A Colonization Society has been the Utopian dream of this nation; and now here is a practical work to do: to get rid of a class of men that have always proved themselves worse than useless, instead of a docile laboring population, is certainly, in a political economic point of view, a far more sensible and tangible project. The saddest spectacle at this hour is that of an American woman who knows not where to stand, who has no sympathy with either side, who loves not slavery or liberty, who would not have a blow struck to destroy the one, or save the other.
We can respect the women of the South; their fervent zeal for what they love is worthy of our praise. The women of the North, loyal to freedom, have cherished principles to which they, too, are true. But what shall we say of those who, breathing the pure air of our Northern hiUs, feel in their souls no pride of country, no anguish at the desecration of its flag; who coolly smirk at our reverses, and taunt the green graves of our sons with rebel victories? What cold and narrow natures must they have! What a mean type of manhood must they reflect! Of all the men who have figured in public life, the most contemptible have been the “Northern men with Southern principles,” who for the love of gain and office have bowed the knee to slavery; but for women who sympathize with men like these, we have a more profound contempt, by just so far as we look to woman for purer, higher motives of action, than to those who are swallowed up in ambition. How faithless have Northern women been to the priceless heritage left them by the Fathers! We might learn lessons of wisdom from the untiring care and assiduity of the mothers of the South. How sedulously at every point have they guarded slavery, and trained their youth to love and honor the institutions of the South. No Southern boy e’er dreamed it was a sin to hold a slave; and if he did, he dare not tell his dream. Expurgated editions (with all peans to liberty left out) of school-books, poems, plays, stories, and sermons were always carefully prepared for the Southern market. And they would have got out an expurgated edition of the Bible, too, had it not been easier to create doctors of divinity, without souls or principle, who could cunningly misinterpret and misconstrue those pages that glow with freedom from Genesis to Revelations.
They have perverted the commandments given in Sinai, blasphemed Jesus, nullified the Gospel of humanity, and made its apostles defenders of tyranny and oppression. Yes, at the fireside, in the school-house, in the pulpit, in legislative halls, in courts of justice, at their festive gatherings and solemn fasts, everywhere, they have permitted only those to speak who were sound on the question of slavery.
And what have we done for the tree of liberty, struggling for life on the rock-bound coast of New England?
Have we dug about its roots, enriched its soil with the best gifts of earth, watered it with tears of joy and thanksgiving, and taught our children to worship it as the only sacred thing on this continent? Have we insisted that in our schools, colleges, churches, lyceums, legislative halls, none should speak or hold office but those who believed in the commandments of God, in the doctrines of Jesus, in the declaration of the Fathers, in freedom to all? No, no. Having driven the British from our shores, we crowned Cotton King, and turned our thoughts to commerce, wealth, and ease — enriched the world with our manufactures, filled our coffers with gold, built palace homes, and bade our souls rest satisfied. In the meantime, the South educated our sons as well as their own. True, it was all done in Northern schools, colleges, churches, by our daily journals, monthly periodicals, in our poHtical campaigns and Fourth-of-July orations, in our courts of justice and legislative halls; but the South molded all our teachers, editors, authors, doctors of divinity, orators, statesmen, and pohticians, and taught our wise men that the “limits of human responsibility” were outside the domain of slavery. The South made such rare discoveries in tlie sciences of jurisprudence, morals, and theology, that our great men and scholars modestly retired from the whole field of ethics, and accepted law from them. Thus have they given us our teachers, civil and military officers, and governed the country with slave creeds and codes from Maine to Louisiana.
What wonder that the Northern mind is darkened and befogged on all questions of morals! What wonder that our free States have passed laws excluding black men from their borders! that our cities have witnessed such disgraceful riots and outrages on unoffending laborers; and that in the avenues of our metropolis we exclude them from our cars, and publish our national disgrace up and down the streets in great letters, “Colored People ALLOWED IN THIS CAR!” The right of every man to himself, is the A, B, C of Christianity; and yet we have boys and girls on all sides, educated in so-called Christian families, churches, and Sunday-schools, who would be startled with the declaration that slavery is a sin against God; that no Christian can be a slaveholder. They know it is a sin to steal a horse, a watch, a loaf of bread; but they do not know that it is a sin to steal a man. Where have the high priests of the loving God hid themselves, that the people has been left thus to follow idols? Our altars draped with the nation’s flag, are significant of the future union of church and state. A sad divorce it has been that they who have claimed to train the moral nature of the race should separate themselves from all the affairs of Hfe, where they could best learn the lessons they should teach. But that day has passed. Our bishops now advise the state. We do not hear so much in the pulpit even of Abraham’s seed and sacrifice and faith, as Abraham’s Cabinet, his army, and his need of strength to fight the battles of the Lord.
The people have never been taught that the essential essence of Christianity is humanity. “Love thy neighbor as thyself;” “God made of one blood all the nations of the earth;” “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them: this is the law and the Gospel.” Had all Northern mothers taught these great truths to their sons as sedulously as Southern mothers have the lessons of slavery, we should have crowded slavery into the Gulf long ago, with the almighty power of our free institutions. And here, O woman of the XlXth century! is your work for the future. The nation is to be educated to-day in the first principles of human rights — a hopeless task for man alone, never to be accomplished until the mothers of the Republic be galvanized into a new life of religious earnestness and noble purpose, until the eternal principles of justice and mercy hare crystallized in their inner souls.
As I look forward to the true Republic that will surely rise from this shattered Union, I behold the future woman in harmony with
its grand proportions, crowned with new virtue and strength, honor and majesty, adorning the niche it is her destiny to fill.
Source: Proceedings of The Meeting of the Loyal Women of the Republic Held in New York, May 14, 1863 (New York: Phair & Co, Printers) 1863, p. 22.