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Anti-Slavery Anniversary

May 11, 1853 — 19th Annual Meeting, American Anti-Slavery Society, New-York City


Edmund Quincy:  . . .  This society has always recognised the right of any of its members, of whatever sex or complexion, to open his or her lips for those in bonds.

Shall we behold, unheeding,
Life’s holiest feelings crushed?
When woman’s heart is bleeding,
Shall woman’s voice be hushed?

If any woman desires to plead the cause of the enslaved, we bid her God-speed, and desire to hear what she has to say. I now have the pleasure of introducing to you, Miss LUCY STONE, of Massachusetts.

Lucy Stone: To my mind it does not need the poet’s utterance to give woman a claim to speak on an anti-slavery platform, while there are “Casseys” scattered by thousands all over this broad land; for, so long as their wail comes to the ear of woman, how is it possible for her to keep silent? Whether we find in the pen of the poet, or any other source, an endorsement in the great promptings of our nature, which we cannot, if we would, hush.

The Anti-Slavery Anniversary, as it recurs year by year, brings to those who are engaged or interested in it, a survey of what has come to give us cheer in the year that is gone, and also what has come to show us the strength and purpose of Slave Power. Within the last year, much to make the heart beat with highest hope has come clustering in the way of the abolitionists. We have had new voices speaking, and fresh and friendly hearts beating. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” strong and true, has gone the length and breadth of the world, winning hearts that did not fuel one throb of pity, calling forth deep gushings of sympathy that we hope will never die out. Other causes of rejoicing have come to us; but I purpose rather, in the brief space of time I occupy, to look at some of the manifestations of pro-slavery. And I will not make an apology for speaking of political parties, from the fact that I am a woman. I need to make no apology. I believe in the political right of everybody, man or woman, not only to think, but to speak on this question. If a political party puts itself in the way of the slavey, then let anybody and everybody, disfranchised or not, speak in rebuke of what is done.

Our Chairman remarked, that since our last anniversary, the Baltimore platforms had been put forth. Yes, and not only put forth, but they have been adopted too. When the Democratic Convention at Baltimore had written out its creed — a creed so infamous that I never attempt to describe it, fro I have no language that is adequate — when it had put forth the platform, pledging itself plainly and unmistakably to return the fugitive slave, and when Franklin Pierce, in accepting the nomination, said, “I accept it, not because you expect it from me, but because it harmonizes with my conviction,” and when he had pointed to his career in Congress, glorying in deeds that ought to have bee his shame, to prove that his sentiments were in harmony with that platform, the the people rose up like a cloud over the length and breadth of the land, and gave their suffrage to that man and for that party, knowing well what slavery is. The people who are not chattels, into whose souls the iron of slavery has not pierced, know, as far as language can speak it, what slavery is; and those who acted with the political parties knew it. And yet, with their eyes wide open, they went and pledged themselves to return the panting fugitive.

In that month of June, when the Convention met, there were fleeing from the Republic, so named, and “a model Republic,” too, a mother and her little child, a babe sleeping in her bosom. As she passed across the State of Indiana, having got halfway through it, she dreamed that, having passed so far from the line that divides the non-slaveholding from the slaveholding States, it might do for a woman, seeking her liberty and the liberty of her little one, to talk as mid-day; and so, with the sun above and the green earth under her, she went on, hoping that she was safe. At mid-say, she was startled by the loud cry of the kidnapper behind her, demanding that she should stop, and, if she did not, threating that she should be shot on the instant. That mother, instead of pausing at the bidding of those who were pursuing her in harmony with the Fugitive Slave Law, in harmony with the platform of the Democratic party, in harmony with the convictions of Franklin Pierce, took her babe from her bosom, placed it on her shoulders, and as she grasped its little hand with hers, she ran with all the speed that fear could lend to her feet. The kidnappers, who cared not whether they brought her back dead or alive, drew his pistol, and sot as deliberately as though the game before him had been a deer. Ay, it was dear in more senses than one. He fired; the ball went through the head of that infant, and through the ear of its mother, leaving the scattered brains and blood upon the cheeks of that mother, who, when she perceived that the little one had found its freedom with God, let go her grasp of its hands, not to stop, as you, mothers, when your little ones die, to dress their bodies neatly for the grave, to lay them where you can plant flowers and go to weep over the treasure of the love they gave you — not to stop, I say, but leaving it all unburied on the plains of Indiana, that mother fled for liberty dearer than her life — and found it, thank God, on the shores of Canada; no thanks to the Baltimore platform for it.

Such facts were being written in letters of blood all over the Union, and the Democratic party knew it. They knew what was the root of the evil. They knew what it was that caused the helpless mothers to flee out of this Union. They knew it all; and yet Franklin Pierce and his party said, “The Fugitive Slave Law shall be sustained, and we will resist all agitation on the subject.” They virtually declared, “No man, or woman, or child, shall open the lip against it: they shall be dumb; the heart shall cease to beat, and the infernal system shall be allowed to continue.” And when the people knew that such deeds were constantly being done, not less did they rush to ratify what their leaders had done. The voters of New York city rushed to the polls, and cast their ballots for Franklin Pierce by an overwhelming majority.

Men, fathers, Democrats! how could you do it? You, who are proud to take your own little boys and girls on your knees, and know that you are backed and protected by law which is strong enough to guard you in any emergency, when you knew that millions of fathers and mothers who have no protection are hunted like partridges on the mountain, how could you do it? How could you go and give your suffrages for candidates that pledged themselves that every such father’s heart should bleed, and every such mother should have her soul wrung with intense anguish? How could you do it? You know why you did it; I know why you did it. Will not your children’s children find their cheeks tingling with shame at the remembrance of the deeds their fathers have done?

The Whig party did just what the Democratic party did. They had a platform just like the Democrats. Nobody knew which belonged to which, they were so alike in spirit. The Whigs, what there were of them, and General Scott, freely gave their adherence to the platform, and all went as far as they were able to accomplish the same infamous purpose that the Democratic party accomplished. Not coming into power, the Whig party escaped the necessity of being used as the tool of the Slave Power to do whatever it was bid. The Whig party was not ignorant, any more than the Democratic party, of what slaveholding was and is.

A slave fugitive father and mother, with their two children, came to the Ohio river last summer. It was during the very time of the campaign. The father and mother had borne in their own persons all the cruelties that slavery inflicts. They had endured, and perhaps would have continued to endure, its inflictions, had there not wok up in their souls a new-born love of the little ones as they looked with mournful forebodings over the future of those children. They saw that there was not a single ray of sun-light to gladden that future. They looked upon that future, not as you look on the future of your children, knowing that some place of usefulness, of honor, or of profit, may be theirs. To that slave father and mother, the future was one pit of blackness. There was no school-house for their children. Into the very presence-chamber of the Eternal, they would be obliged to go without a single ray of light to guide them there. With their children they attempted to make their escape from your model Republic. They came trembling down the Ohio bank, on the Northern side. A man with tones of kindness told them if they were fugitives, they need not tremble so. They were on the soil of Ohio, and God’s clear sunlight was looking down upon them, and yet they trembled, guilty of no crime, charged with none, unless it be a crime that there swells in the human soul the love of liberty which neither waters nor floods can quench. This man said, “You need not tremble so; if you want to hide, here is an old boat under which you can go.” The father and mother and little ones went and hid themselves under that boat till the sun should go down, and the North Star come out. Very soon after they were concealed, a man who, in mockery of his Maker, claimed ownership in the body and soul of his brother man, came. The villain that told them where to hide, had told the owner where they were hidden. He came, uplifted the boat, revealed the poor victims trembling before his gaze, and demanded their surrender. That father came out of his hiding-place, and did as most of you would have done. He put his wife behind him and one little one, and taking the other on his arm, with the other he fought with all the desperation that a man could, knowing that on the issues of that hour were hung not merely life to him and to his, but liberty and life. He drove back his assailants. The men went over the river, procured helpers, and, with bowie-knives and pistols in their hands, they came back and attacked him, still standing with his babe in his arms. The pistol-shots riddled the body of that father and his child, till they were literally a clot of gore. The father fell, exhausted by the loss of blood, the man-hunters pounced upon him and his, and while we are here in the city of New York speaking for outraged humanity, the poor man is where no tongue can speak in his defence. While this very deed was being done, and thousands like it, the Whig and Democratic parties were going up and down the length of the land, urging every body — except women, — to give their votes for men who were pledged that just such deeds as that should be done, and done perpetually, and that we should not have Ohio, Indiana, nor one single State where a slave father or slave mother can stand and take their children by the hand, and say, “They are mine.” And when the leaders of the Whig and Democratic parties were saying that, the men of the party were assenting and giving their sanction to platforms that they knew were ready to bind ,hand and foot, and bury in eternal night, the last spark of liberty that should glow in the soul of any slave; and not only that, but to gag the mouths of any who dared to speak a word for downtrodden humanity, if they could hinder it. Thank God, they could not.

And while the political parties were doing this, the Church was lending itself an ally to the parties all over the land. In my own State of Massachusetts, the Congregational ministers met in that very month of June. O! how many deeds of infamy were committed in that month of June! The ministers of all the Congregational churches in Massachusetts met in Association at Lowell, and there came up to that body a man who had just returned from the meeting of the General Assembly of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church at Charleston, South Carolina. They had met where before them and all around them was to be heard the sound of the slave-whip, and where were to be seen the auction-block and the slave-pen. They had sat there to talk about what? Those who help God’s poor and oppressed? About imitating Him who came “to preach deliverance to the captive”? No. They sat there to talk about “church extension.” The slave-gang marched before their face, and they had no protest; and when they at last adjourned, they appointed as a delegate to go and attend the Association of Congregational ministers, the Rev. Mr. Fitch. The ministers of Massachusetts, from Barnstable to Berkshire, met in Lowell; all the Associations were represented; and when they came to have their communion, according to their custom — when they spread their table and put on it the bread and wine to commemorate the death of Him who came to “break every yoke and let the oppressed go free,” and when they wanted some one to assist at the breaking of the bread and pouring of the wine, they chose this very delegate, who had come with his lips all gory from that communion with slaveholders. And there he stood among the ministers, and performed his part, and there was not a clergyman there at that meeting who made any protest. And when I read in the Congregationalist the account of their meeting, I hoped to find in some part of it a protest; but there was none. And then I listened to Massachusetts pulpits, to hear if there should not come from some one of them, some earnest condemnation of his Christian character, or the Christian character of those who came from that union of slaveholders, but listened in vain. And as we stood back, looking at that sacrament with horror, and asked, “Just God and holy, are these they who minister at thine altar — is this thy church which lends strength to the spoiler?” and as we beheld them joining hands with each other and with religionists all over the country, and asked if this could be in the church of God, they said, “You are infidels.” But I can say to them, as Sallie Holley said, “Let them call us infidels, if they please; but, O! I don’t let them call themselves Christians.

There is not time to look over the religious phase of what has come to us the past year. The support of slaveholding has been so open, that none of you can fail to see it. But while the Church and the Government take hold of hands with each other, and only here and there a pulpit remembers the slave, not the less shall we remember him. Let them brand us as infidels, if they please, we can afford to hear it. The works that we do bear witness of us, and, without abating one jot of our hope, we take hold on one side of the hand of Him from whom the Higher Law comes, and on the other, the hand of the slave, and we shall not let go the one or the other. It does not matter to us if we are driven from one city, and find no refuge in another.

We will still find human hearts to which we can speak, and hearts that can feel. We will sit down by the mother in her little country home, and, while she holds her infant in her lap, we will wake up in her soul a sympathy for the mother whose baby is not hers. And when the father who lives back in the woods looks proudly upon his daughter, we will tell him of the father who cannot take care of or protect his daughter, and we will solder anew the link in that father’s heart which binds him to every other father, and his arm shall be moved to be a co-worker with us in this cause, which needs the consecrated energies of every son of Adam.

Lamartine said of Wilberforce, that “he wen tup to the throne of God with millions of broken fetters in his hands, as evidence of a life well spent.” If we would give evidence of a life well spent, if we would be sure to do those things that will commend us to Him who is “of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” let it be our business to take in our hands the broken fetters, and stand in the great day alongside of the slave, before our common Father, and let him bear testimony there, that to our faithful efforts  was due the loosening of the fetters from his limbs, and from his spirit too.



Source: The Liberator, May 27, 1853, Vol. 23, Issue 21, p. 1-2.