Massachusetts in Mourning (XHTML)
in Mourning! Massachusetts
, on Sunday, June 4, 1854 Worcester
Thomas Wentworth Higginson,
Minister of the
Free Church. Worcester
Reprinted, by request, from the
Daily Spy. Worcester
James Munroe and Company.
[unnumbered page 2]
Press of Prentiss and Sawyer,
No. 19 Water Street.
[unnumbered page 3]
Shall the iron break the Northern iron and the steel? — Jeremiah xv.12
You have imagined my subject beforehand, for there is but one subject on which I could preach, or you could listen, to-day. Yet how hard it is to say one word of that! You do not ask, at a funeral, that the bereaved mourners themselves should speak, but you call in one a little farther removed, to utter words of comfort, if comfort there be. But today is, or should be, to every Congregation in
Yet, even in this gloom, the faculty of wonder is left; as at funerals, men ask in a low tone, around the coffin, what was the disease that smote this fair form. And are we safe from the infection? So we now ask, what is lost and how have we lost it, and what have we left? Is it all gone, (men say,) that old
I am thankful for all this. Words are nothing — we have been surfeited with words for twenty years. I am thankful that this time there was action also ready for Freedom. God gave men bodies, to live and work in; the powers of those bodies are the first things to be consecrated to the Right. He gave us higher powers, also, for weapons, but in using those, we must not forget to hold the lower ones also ready; else we miss our proper manly life on earth, and lay down our means of usefulness before we have outgrown them. "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." [Matthew 22:21] Our souls and bodies are both God's, and resistance to tyrants is obedience to Him.
If you meet men whose souls are contaminated, and have time enough to work on them, you can deal with them by the weapons of the soul alone; but if men array brute force against Freedom — pistols, clubs, drilled soldiers, and stone walls — then the body also has to do its part in resistance. You must hold yourself above men, I own, yet not too far above to reach them.
I do not like even to think of taking life, only of giving it; but physical force that is forcible enough acts without bloodshed. They say that with twenty more men at hand, that Friday night, at the Boston Court House, the slave [Anthony Burns] might have been rescued, without even the death of that one man — who was perhaps killed by his frightened companions, then and there. So you see, force may not mean bloodshed; and calm irresistible force, in a good cause, becomes sublime. The strokes on the door of that Court House that night for instance — they may perchance have disturbed some dreamy saint from his meditations (if dreamy saints abound in Court Square) — but I think they went echoing from town to town,
That first faint throb of
I remember the great trades-procession in
axes, politicians, and ministers.” So the last new implements for her use were to be exhibited now. There were twenty-one specimens of
I mean no personality. The men who occupy these offices, are men who (I have always thought) did them honor. I suppose that neither would own a slave, nor (personally) catch one. No doubt they favorably represent the average of
then, demanding more of them than their education gives them manliness to meet, — use them, crush them, and drop them, into the dishonor with which these hitherto honored men are suddenly overwhelmed to-day.
If such be the influence of our national organization, what good do our efforts do? Our labor to reform the North, with the whole force of nationalized slavery to resist, is like the effort of Sir John Franklin, on his first voyage, to get north by traveling on the ice. He traveled toward the pole for six weeks, no doubt of that; but at the end of the time he was 200 miles farther from it than when he started. The ice had floated southward — and our ice floats southward also. And so it will be, while this
Here, for instance, is the Nebraska Emigration Society; it is indeed, a noble enterprise, and I am proud that it owes its origin to a Worcester man — but where is the good of emigrating to Nebraska, if Nebraska is to be only a transplanted Massachusetts, and the original Massachusetts has been tried and found wanting? Will the stream rise higher than its source? Settle your Nebraska ten years, and you will have your New England harvest of corn and grain, more luxuriant in the virgin soil; — ah, but will not the other Massachusetts crop come up also, of political demagogues and wire-pullers, and a sectarian religion, which will ensure the passage of the greatest hypocrite to heaven, if he will join the right church before he goes? And give the emigrants twenty years more of prosperity, and then ask them, if you dare, to break law
and disturb order, and risk life, merely to save their state from the shame that has just blighted
In view of these facts, what stands between us and a military despotism? "Sure guarantees," you say. So has every nation thought until its fall came. "The outward form of Roman institutions stood uninjured till long after Caligula had made his horse consul." What is your safeguard? Nothing but a parchment constitution, which has been riddled through and through, whenever it pleased the slave power; which had not been able to preserve to you the oldest privileges of freedom, Habeas Corpus, and Trial by Jury! Stranger, still, that men should think to find a security in our material prosperity, and our career of foreign conquest, and our acquisition of gold mines, and forget that these have been precisely the symptoms which have prophesied the decline of every powerful commercial state:
In the third century after the birth of Jesus, Tertullian painted that brilliant picture of the Roman power, which describes us, as if it were written for us:
"Certainly," says he, "the world becomes more and more our tributary, none of its secret recesses have remained inaccessible, all are known, frequented, and all have become the scene or the object of traffic. Who now dreads an unknown island? Who trembles at a reef? Our ships are sure to be met with everywhere — everywhere is a people, a state, everywhere is life. We crush the world beneath our weight — onerosi sumus mundo."
How simple the acts of our tragedy may be. Let another fugitive slave case occur, and more blood be spilt (as might
happen another time;) let Massachusetts be declared insurrectionary, and placed under martial law, (as it might;) let the President be made Dictator, with absolute power; let him send his willing Attorney General to buy up officers of militia, (which would be easy,) and frighten officers of state, (which would be easier,) — let him get half the press, and a quarter of the pulpits, to sustain his usurpation, under the name of "law and order"; let the flame spread from New England to New York, from New York to Ohio, from Ohio to Wisconsin — and how long would it take for some future Franklin Pierce to stand where Louis Napoleon stands now? How much would the commercial leaders of the East resist, if an appeal were skillfully made to their pockets? — or to the political demagogues of the West. If an appeal were made to their ambition? It seems inconceivable! Certainly — so did the coup d'état of Louis Napoleon, the day before it happened!
"Do not despair of the Republic," says some one, remembering the hopeful old Roman motto. But they had to despair of that one, in the end, and why not of this one also? Why, when we are going on, step by step, as older Republics have done, should we expect to stop just as we reach the brink of
We talk of the Anti-Slavery sentiment as being stronger; but in spite of your free soil votes, your Uncle Tom's Cabin, and you New York Tribunes, here is the simple fact: the South beats us more and more easily every time. So chess-players, when they have once or twice, overcome a weak antagonist, think it safe next time, to give up to him a half-dozen pieces by way of odds; — and after all gain the victory. Compare this
No wonder that this excitement is turning Whigs and Democrats into Free Soilers, and Free Soilers into disunionists. But this is only the eddy, after all; the main current sets the wrong way. The nation is intoxicated and depraved. It takes all the things you count as influential, — all the "spirit of the age," and the "moral sentiment of Christendom," and the best eloquence and literature of the time, — to balance the demoralization of a single term of Presidential patronage. Give the offices of the nation to be controlled by the slave power, and I tell you that there is not one in ten, even of professed Anti-Slavery men, who can stand the fire in that furnace of sin; and there is not a plot so wicked
but it will have, like all its predecessors, a sufficient majority when the time comes.
Do you doubt this? Name, if you can, a victory of Freedom, or a defeat of the Slave Power, within twenty years, except on the right of petition, and even that was only a recovery of lost ground. Do you say the politicians are false, but the people mark the men who betray them! True, they mark them, but as merchants mark goods, with the cost price, that they may raise the price a little, when they want to sell the same article again. You must go back to the original Missouri Compromise, if you wish to prove that even
For myself, I do not expect to live to see that law repealed by the votes of politicians at
repealed by ourselves, upon the soil of
At any rate my word of counsel to you is to learn this lesson thoroughly — a revolution is begun! not a Reform but a Revolution. If you take part in politics henceforward, let it be only to bring nearer the crisis which will either save or sunder this nation — or perhaps save in sundering. I am not very hopeful, even as regards you; I know the mass of men will not make great sacrifices for Freedom, but there is more need of those who will. I have lost faith forever in numbers; I have faith only in the constancy and courage of a "forlorn hope." And for aught we know, a case may arise, this week, in
Let us speak the truth. Under the influence of Slavery, we are rapidly relapsing into that state of barbarism in which every man must rely on his own right hand for protection. Let any man yield to his instinct of Freedom, and resist oppression, and his life is at the mercy of the first drunken officer who orders his troops to fire. For myself, existence looks
worthless under such circumstances; and I can only make life worth living for, by becoming a revolutionist. The saying seems dangerous; but why not say it if one means it, as I certainly do. I respect law and order, but as the ancient Persian sage said, "always to obey the laws, virtue must relax much of her vigor." I see now that while slavery is national, law and order must constantly be on the wrong side. I see that the case stands for me precisely as it stands for Kossuth and Mazzini, and I must take the consequences.
Do you say that ours is a Democratic Government, and there is a more peaceable remedy? I deny that we live under a democracy. It is an oligarchy of Slaveholders, and I point to the history of a half century to prove it. Do you say that oligarchy will be propitiated by submission? I deny it. It is the plea of the timid in all ages. Look at the experience of our own country. Which is most influential in Congress —
I do not discourage more peaceable instrumentalities; would to God that no other were ever needful. Make laws if you can, though you have State processes already, if you had officers to enforce them; and, indeed, what can any State process do, except to legalize nullification? Use politics, if you can make them worth using, though a coalition administration proved as powerless, in the Sims case, as a Whig administration has proved now. But the disease lies deeper than these remedies can reach. It is all idle to try to save men by law and order, merely, while the men themselves grow selfish and timid, and are only ready to talk of
even their hearts, are left untrained; they learn only (as a French satirist once said,) the fear of God and the love of money; they are taught that they owe the world nothing, but that the world owes them a living, and so they make a living, but the fresh, strong spirit of
May God help us so to redeem this oppressed and bleeding State, and to bring this people back to that simple love of liberty, without which it must die amidst its luxuries, like the sad nations of the elder world. May we gain more iron in our souls, and have it in the right place; — have soft hearts and hard wills, not as now, soft wills and hard hearts. Then will the iron break the Northern iron and the steel no longer; and "God save the