Trial of Margaret Garner
February 13, 1856 — After the conclusion of formal proceedings, from the judge’s desk, final day of proceedings in the Margaret Garner trial, Cincinnati OH
I have been informed that Mr. Chambers has spoken this morning of my having offered to the poor woman now under examination a knife. I wish to explain in the right place, where the matter has been spoken of, what I said, and the motives that led me to say what I did.
I did not ask of Deputy Marshal Brown the privilege of giving a knife. If Mr. Brown were here, he would acknowledge as much. I have been out of town ever since the commencement of this examination, until yesterday, or I should have been here ever day, doing what I could to show my sympathy with my afflicted sister.
As I spoke to her of liberty, her eye beamed with the dull light of despair, the tear of anguish trickled down her cheek, her lip quivered in silent agony as I took her hand and expressed my sympathy. I thought, as I looked upon her unexpressed grief, that if ever there was a time when it was a good deed to give a weapon to those who fought the battle of liberty on Bunker’s Hill — if those patriots had the right to use the arms supplied to them — she who said: “Let us go to God rather than go back to slavery,” had the same right. Impelled by my feelings, I turned to Mr. Brown, and expressed my wish that she could have a knife to deliver herself, dreading as she did slavery to such an extent that she had taken the life of her dear child rather than return to it.
Who that knows the depth of a mother’s love does not estimate the sacrifice she had made? If she had a right to deliver her child, she had a right to deliver herself. So help me heaven! I would tear from myself my life with my teeth, before I would be a slave!
I asked no privilege of the marshal — I beg my rights of none. I had a right to put a dagger in the woman’s hand — the same right that those who had seized their weapons to fight about a paltry tax on tea. I hoped to see her liberty rendered her — I hope it still. I do not know the Commissioner of this court, but I doubt not he is accessible to the cry of the oppressed. He should act true to his conscience, true to right, true to heaven, and deliver this victim from the hands of oppression.
I make no apology to this Court, or to any one, for wishing to give this woman a dagger. I apologize to nobody; I exercised the same right as those who distributed weapons to the combatants on Bunker’s Hill. God gave this woman the love of liberty, and she has a soul worthy of the gift; if she prefers liberty with God to oppression with man, if she desires for her children the guardianship of angels rather than the scorn and lash of slavery, let her have them, and find in immortality a refuge from wrong and insult. I told him who claims her — I do not say her owner, for God has made no man the owner of another, I told him that this was a historic period: that the deeds now doing would employ the pen of genius, and be handed down to future generations; that his name would be connected with the events now occurring; with execration, if he continued to enslave one capable of such deeds as this woman; but with honour, if he gave the freedom that was her right. As I looked into his kindly face, his mildly beaming eye, I thought he had a generous heart; and so it proved. He kindly said when he had her back in Kentucky under his own care, he would render her liberty. I hope he will fulfill his promise.
I give all notice here, and say it in the hearing of my sisters who are present, that whenever and wherever I have an opportunity of offering opposition to the Fugitive Slave-law, and thwarting its operation, whatever may be the consequence, I will do it!
[As the lady concluded her address, which was listened to in uninterrupted silence, there was considerable applause, mingled with hisses, the apples predominating.]
Source: The Liberator, February 29, 1856, p. 1.
Also: Chambers Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, Vol. 25, No. 117, Saturday, March 29, 1856 (Edinburgh: W. and R. Chambers) pp. 207-208.