Why Do We Rejoice To-day?
August 1, 1846 — Oberlin College, Oberlin OH
We rejoice today, not simply because the genius of freedom is now presiding and scattering blessings where eight years ago, the Demon of Slavery brooded, nor merely that where ignorance and heathenism then prevailed, the light of science and christianity is now dawning. — nor yet because today is the anniversary, of the moral, and political birthday of eight hundred thousand human beings; — but we rejoice in the grander fact, that in one of the largest, and most influential kingdoms of the world, a public sentiment exists which [?] the slave, and lets the oppressed go free, which practically recognizes the equal brotherhood, and inalienable rights of man.
Not that every heart does not thrill with deep emotion, and leap for very gladness, in view of long lost rights restored, — of family ties renewed — of the rich though wrecked hearts wealth returned, and of the blessings that cluster around the improved condition of the slave that was, of the man that is. He who does not rejoice with exceeding great joy, on account of these things, has no right to claim kindred with humanity. — But we rejoice more in the grander fact, because its influence not confined to the British West India Islands will have a lasting influence in behalf of universal freedom.
The doom of slavery everywhere, is sealed, in that public sentiment which caused England to reach out her hand over the broad Atlantic, and lift up from his deep degradation, and make conscious of his manhood, the bondman pining there. The influence of that event will be wide as the world, and longer than the stream of time. Like light radiating from a common centre, it will move onward, and onward dispelling on every hand, the darkness and mist of oppression, until the glad sunlight of freedom, shall find acceptance to every heart.
By it, the moral pulse corrected, will send it healthful throbbings, through society’s whole frame until the fearful paralysis, which now so fatally benumbed all its power, shall be removed, and then, the true friends of God and man with steady hand, and clear moral visions, may apply themselves, sure of success, to the execution of their holy purpose in behalf, of human freedom.
A rectified public sentiment always has been and must ever be, the sovereign remedy for existing evils. — it matters not though the strong arm of the law, may be around systems of wrong nor though they may be as hoary with age, as with guilt. Let but the indigent form a virtuous public be concentrated upon them, and they must inevitable perish. Thus have false systems of religion been destroyed. Thus was the monster intemperance crushed, and thus will the foul spirit of slavery, with its long train of worshippers be banished.
The scroll of history is full of facts, which reveal the omnipotence of public opinion, — It has but to speak, and it is done. It has but to stretch out its scepter, and unnumbered millions bow before it.
Is there not occasion then, for us to rejoice today, when the lessons of the past. — the spirit of the age, and the signs of the times, give promise, that this power is coming into the great moral battlefield on the side of right?
Though the warriors are now comparatively few, though alone in the contest, they need not be dismayed, for truth, and justice are on their side, and around them, unseen by moral eyes, are “chariots of fire and horsemen of fire. led on by Him, who has said, that “the battle is not to the strong,”
James Russell Lowell, the beautifully and truly said that
“Mankind is one in spirit” — that
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity’s vast frame.
Through its ocean sundered fibers feels the gush of joy or shame
In the game of life of one race all the rest have equal claim.”
Such being the case when an event like that which we today celebrate occurs. — when a nation dehumanized, beautified, stands up on Humanity’s broad platform, — a new bond of common interests, and common hopes, unites them to us.
Instead of [?] with “four footed beasts and creeping things,” they may never claim God as their father, and man, made only a “little lower than the angels” as an equal brother, — and feel that his gain or loss is theirs.
Instead of seeing in the grave, the last home, and resting place, alike of themselves, and the beasts that perish, they may look forward to an end life existence, and to an inheritance in a world where man cannot be made a brute.
If we except [sic] the scene of Calvary, the event, which brought redemption to a world, what other can compare with that, which eight years ago at the still hour of midnight, released from the thralldom of man, eight hundred thousand human beings?
Then indeed, no earthquake trembled underneath. — no temple vail was rent. — no dead issued from their graves. — but slavery’s dark pall was torn in twain, and the great soul of man from, its moral charnel house, arose, and mingled its loud amen, with God’s approving voice, and was heard in the deep rolling thunder, echoing from island to island.
Place beside this event, the wars for extent of territory, the struggles for political preferment. With whose ineffable loathing do we contemplate them.
Place beside it the freedom contested at the point of the sword, and found by wading through seas of blood. Does it not sin in insignificance?Is it not covered with infamy?
Well may those for whom so great a boon, was so peacefully obtained, send up their long loud shout of joy today.
No wonder that the fires of freedom there burn brighter and more unquenchably.
No wonder that the slave upon our southern border, is animated with the living spirit of Liberty.
The ocean indeed surges wildly between him, and the islands of the free, but in its deep roar he hears the knell of slavery and nerves his soul, to bear nobly up yet a little longer.
While we mingle our heartfelt rejoicing with the bond and the free, to whom, this day is one of no ordinary interest, we will also, unite with theirs, our thanksgiving, and praise, to him through whom, alone, we are enabled to celebrate so glorious an event.
With theirs, we will united our supplications before the throne of the Eternal, that from our own slavery cursed country the chain may be broken. — that every trammel to body, or mind, the wide world over, may be sundered, and that the time may soon come when the grand chorus which today swells up, so freely from the islands of the ocean, may find a response in every heart.
Is it not fitting that here too, while our hearts are encouraged, and our hands strengthened, we should pledge ourselves anew, each to the other, and all to God, that esteeming no toil too arduous, or danger too perilous, we will labor to introduce a correct public sentiment, on the great question of human rights? And that we will do it as the instrumentality, by which the day of jubilee for the slave, shall be hastened, and that we will not abate one jot or tittle from our efforts, so long as our fetter remains unbroken?
Source: Blackwell Family Papers, Lucy Stone Papers, US Library of Congress, mss1288001965-2.