May 7, 1867 — 34th Annual meeting, American Anti-Slavery Society, Steinway Hall, New York City
I recognize thoughtfully the disadvantage under which any must labor in speaking after the very eloquent address they had heard from the gentleman who had just spoken. I realize pre-eminently the almost necessity of saying nothing on a subject so thoroughly discussed and canvassed; but a few words I will say on a phase of the question which presents itself to me. I beg you will listen patiently at least till these few words are spoken.
No one needs at this day to be told the indications which say we must fight or surrender. The events of the last six years pre-eminently demonstrate the fact that the great party of the republic, if it once turns backwards, will leap into its grave; and for it to stand still would be to await disintegration, gradual dissolution and final death; and to go forward was to scale height after height of victory, liberty and power, and the work of the republican party would close.
No historian of to-day would take up his pen and write down on the age of its story, as final, at its close, what its sublime record ought to be. With many wrongs righted, with many chains broken, civilization transformed; for oppression, justice; for slavery, liberty; for despotism and tyranny, democracy; and through it all humanity shining with justice and liberty, with courage and self-sacrifice irradiating it all as never before in the annals of time.
This party recognizing the onward march of human rights with the noble and enduring lessons of truth, for the help of the nations. So much done, great and marvellous as it is, more remains behind.
The republican party has established and decreed liberty. Again and again the party has been charged for the last six years that what it did for justice and liberty it did to save itself. What it did for the black man, it did not from a sense of right and justice to him; not because it favored the good nor cared for the man, but because simply the race troubled it, and it thus avenged it.
Again and again it is charged that the party went forward simply because it was forced to go on. To-day the question ever is presented to it, which, if properly answered, can forever brand the statement as a lie, and put it to rest to the end of time.
The march of events has at length brought us face to face with the question which cannot be said to be one of public expediency and of military necessity. To-day the question presented to us is one of abstract right and wrong. The republican party must proclaim as its watchword universal liberty if it ever hopes to win, and if it ever repudiates that watchword it must die. And repudiation can be as successfully accomplished by silence as by words.
An Oriental legend story says that a poor man sat down before the gates of pearl, and waited season after season, and year after year, through a thousand turnings of the season, to see if they would open. After the close of a thousand years, wearing and exhausted, for an hour he dropped asleep, and in that single hour the gates of pearl swung open and the sleeper awoke only to see them close again. So the republican party, after bearing the heat and burden of the day, and after the sweat and blood of a long and wearisome march, and after its heroic struggle and sublime fighting, after its unparalleled victories, if it sleeps now, it will waken to find the earth sliding from under its feet and the gates of pearl and of victory closing before it.
To-day, with the black man deprived of his rights in almost every Northern city; to-day in our midst, with a party who says to the South, repeating the invitation of the French officers, who, on going into battle, exclaimed to their adversaries, “Gentlemen, fire first.”
Looking at them from a selfish standpoint, I say we cannot afford this. The whole history of the past, from the firing on Fort Sumter, forbids it. The leaders of the South, more astute than we, with statesmen wiser and politicians shrewder than the shrewdest Yankee, they have always beat us where diplomacy was concerned. They have beaten us in fair field with the sword, and again they have beaten us and restored themselves to their old position, and are about to fight the old battle with us on the old field of diplomacy. Let us see to it that the lessons of the past are not wasted, and let us not repudiate the past for the present. The papers, democratic and Southern, every day tell us of the affiliation of the old masters with their slaves, and of the kind feeling existing between them. we read of frank and generous words that these Southern masters now speak to their one time chattels. Every democratic paper declares that these same old masters will hold their influence over their four millions of ex-slaves, and will march them to the polls. It will not be the fault of the republican parry if they do not I recognize the fact, however, that gratitude must lead these sometime slaves right in the future as in the past.
I recognize, through all the din and smoke of battle, through all the lies told, through all the wavering and hesitancy of the South a year ago, that these blacks know who is their friend, and know, too, that the Stars and Stripes should be their flag. I believe that those whom they turned to as their friends in time of war they will turn to as their friends in time of peace, and give them the benefit of their ballots.
You do not need to be told of the ignorance of those people. Slavery is a poor school teacher. No one denies that these men must, to a great extent, are in the condition of the prisoners of St. Mark, who, after being long imprisoned in the dark and filthy dungeons for months and years, ten, twenty and thirty years, when brought into the great square of St. Mark, and standing in the sunshine so long shut out from their eyes, they stood stricken blind for ever. It is not strange that these slaves, freed from the dungeons and caverns of slavery, brought into the full blaze of light, into the bright sunlight of liberty should be dazzled and lose their eyesight at least for a little time, and confound friends with foes. The negroes’ vote will be an element of strength in the future if properly handled and directed, and with it we shall defeat our adversaries with their own weapons. With a little education and proper qualification these men can be made to vote intelligently.
They say in the South the republican party has given you the ballot here in our midst while they deny it to your comrades in New Jersey, New York, Ohio and in Michigan. I recognize it as one of the marvels of the age that these men act as intelligently as they do. Look at Beauregard and a host of others speaking to these freedmen from high places, and with authority in the eyes and ears of the nation. These men present the spectacle of the lions facing the throne of gold and ivory of Solomon, of whom we read in the Bible, not recumbent and defiant, but with bound heads and tails between their legs, as becomes their position.
I recognize that this should be the case, but it is not. These men of the South have quickness and keenness and cunning to make the most of our shortcomings. If we love justice for the sake of justice and prefer liberty for its own sweet sake, then indeed we stand covered with the armor of purity. To repudiate the spirit of justice and liberty, save as a power for us, and though we stand with helmet and breastplate, with shield and buckler, and with spear in hand, with the emancipation proclamation of liberty established, of citizenship granted to hundreds and thousands of the South, if we falter on the plain abstract question of right we have opened a vulnerable pint, the Achilles’ heel through which our enemies can stab us to the death. Said the great King of the French to his son, “My son, you must seem to love your people;” and the son asked, “How shall I seem to love them?” “You must love them,” was the answer.
Now we must seem to love justice and liberty; but no man, North or South, black or white, can ever be deceived, and if we are not guided by justice and liberty this majestic organization will drop off piece by piece to destruction.
It is true, however, and every man and woman knows it, that any political party or organization that dares for a single moment of time to doubt its own purposes, that instant it commences to die, from heart and roots.
Our history, the history of our fathers, who to a man loved liberty yet sustained slavery, who prayed that justice might be established in the time to come yet secured the oppression of the present, and who said the men who come after us will secure it.
They added State after State, and in our day we have added State to State, and Territory to Territory, supported our power and secured our strength as it seems, while behind us followed with awful and even pace, Time, the avenger. All we want to-day is to have the temple erected to liberty perfect and entire. There is but one way for the right to go, that is straight ahead, whatever may stand in our way.
Source: New York Herald, May 8, 1867, p. 3.