Irish Sympathy with the Abolition Movement (XHTML)
An 1842 speech by Wendell Phillips concerning Irish support for the antislavery movement in the United States. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
Irish Sympathy with the Abolition Movement
At a meeting in favor of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, held in Faneuil Hall, Boston, Friday evening, January 28, 1842, the chairman presented an Irish address to the Irish residents of the United States signed by Daniel O’Connell, Father Mathew, and sixty thousand other Irishmen, calling upon all Irish men in America to espouse the Antislavery cause. Mr. Phillips then offered the following resolutions, which after his advocacy were adopted by acclamation: —
Resolved, That we rejoice that the voice of O’Connell, which now shakes the three kingdoms, has poured across the waters a thunder-peal for the cause of liberty in our own land; and that Father Mathew, having lifted with one hand five millions of his own countrymen into moral life, has stretched forth the other — which may Heaven make equally potent — to smite off the fetters of the American slave.
Resolved, That we receive with the deepest gratitude the names of sixty thousand Irishmen who, in the trial-hour of their own struggle for liberty, have not forgotten the slave on this side [of] the water; that we accept with triumphant exultation the address they have forwarded to us, and pledge ourselves to circulate it through the length and breadth of our land, till the pulse of every man who claims Irish parentage beats true to the claims of patriotism and humanity.
Mr. Phillips said: —
I hold in my hand, Mr. Chairman, a resolution expressive of our thanks to the sixty thousand Irishmen who have sent us that token of their sympathy and interest, and specially to those high and gallant spirits who lead the noble list. I must say that never have I
stood in the presence of an audience with higher hopes of the rapid progress and success of our cause than now. I remember with what devoted earnestness, with what unfaltering zeal, Ireland has carried on so many years the struggle for her own freedom. It is from such men, whose hearts lost no jot of their faith in the grave of Emmett; over whose zeal the loss of Curran and Grattan could throw no damp; who are now turning the trophies of one field into weapons for new conquest; whom a hireling press and prejudiced public could never sever a moment from O’Connell’s side, — it is from the sympathy of such men that we have a right to hope much.
The image of the generous Isle not only comes to us “crowned with the spoil of every science, and decked with the wreath of every muse,” but we cannot forget that she lent to Waterloo the sword which cut the despot’s “shattered sceptre through;” and to American ears, the crumbled walls of St. Stephen’s yet stand to echo the eloquence of her Burke, when at the foot of the British throne he took his place side by side with the immortal rebel [pointing to the picture of Washington]. From a priest of the Catholic Church we might expect superiority to that prejudice against color which freezes the sympathies of our churches, when Humanity points to the slave. I remember that African lips may join in the chants of the Church, unrebuked even under the proud dome of St. Peter’s; and I have seen the colored man in the sacred dress pass with priest and student beneath the frowning portals of the College of Propaganda at Rome, with none to sneer at his complexion, or repulse him from society. I remember that a long line of Popes, from Leo to Gregory, have denounced the sin of making merchandise of men; that the voice of Rome was the first to be heard against the slave-trade;
and that the bull of Gregory XVI., forbidding every true Catholic to touch the accursed thing, is yet hardly a year old.
Ireland is the land of agitation and agitators. We may well learn a lesson from her in the battle for human rights. Her philosophy is no recluse; she doffs the cowl, and quits the cloister, to grasp in friendly effort the hands of the people. No pulses beat truer to liberty and humanity than those which in Dublin quicken at every good word from abolition on this side the ocean; there can be no warmer words of welcome than those which greet the American Abolitionists on their thresholds.
Let not any persuade us, Mr. Chairman, that the question of slavery is no business of ours, but belongs entirely to the South. Northern opinion, the weight of Northern power, is the real slave-holder of America. Their presence in the Union is the Carolinians’ charter of safety, — the dread of the Northern bayonet is their real police. Without it the whole South were but the deck of a larger “Creole,” and the physical strength of the bondman, as on board that vessel, would sweep the oppressor from his presence. This very fact, that our hands rivet the fetters of the slave, binds us to raise our voice the more earnestly on his side. That Union which takes from him the power of physical resistance is bound to exert for him all the weight of a correct public opinion, — to stir in his behalf all the depths of the heart of
humanity. Every lover of peace, every one who hates bloodshed, must rejoice that it is in the power of Northern opinion to say to slavery, cease, — and it ceases; that the Northern Church can break every yoke and bid the oppressed go free, at her pleasure.
I trust in that love of liberty which every Irishman brings to the country of his adoption, to make him true to her cause at the ballot-box, till he throws no vote without asking if the hand to which he is about to trust political power will use it for the slave. When an American was introduced to O’Connell in the lobby of the House of Commons, he asked, without putting out his hand, “Are you from the South?” “Yes, sir.” “A slave-holder, I presume?” “Yes, sir.” “Then,” said the great liberator, “I have no hand for you!” and stalked away. Shall his countrymen trust that hand with political power which O’Connell deemed it pollution to touch? [Cheers.]
We remember, Mr. Chairman, that when a jealous disposition tore from the walls of the city hall of Dublin the picture of Henry Grattan, the act did but endear him the more to Ireland. The slaveocracy of our land thinks to expel thinks to expel that “old man eloquent,” with the dignity of seventy winters on his brow [pointing at the picture of John Quincy Adams], from the halls of Congress. They will find him only the more lastingly fixed in the hearts of his countrymen. [Tremendous and continued cheers.]
Mr. Chairman, we stand in the presence of at least the name of Father Mathew; we remember the millions who pledge themselves to temperance from his lips. I hope his countrymen will join me in pledging here eternal hostility to slavery. Will you ever return to his master the slave who once sets foot on the soil of Massachusetts? [No, no, no!] Will you ever raise to office
or power the man who will not pledge his utmost effort against slavery? [No, no, no!]
Then may not we hope well for freedom? Thanks to those noble men who battle in her cause the world over, the “ocean of their philanthropy knows no shore.” Humanity has no country; and I am proud, here in Faneuil Hall, — fit place to receive their message, — to learn of O’Connell fidelity to freedom, and of Father Mathew love to the real interests of man. [Great applause.]
 The brig “Creole,” of Richmond, Va., left Norfolk for New Orleans, October 30, 1841, with a cargo of tobacco and 135 slaves on board. November 7, the slaves took possession of the boat, killed the second mate in the struggle, and wounded some others who resisted, but otherwise inflicted no personal injury. They then turned the boat toward Nassau, New Providence. The ring-leaders were there arrested and held for mutiny and murder, and the rest of the slaves set free. The British government refused to extradite the prisoners, or restore the slaves to their masters.