Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

XVIII Editors’ Address


THE old men studied magic in the flowers,
And human fortunes in astronomy,
And an omnipotence in chemistry,
Preferring things to names, for these were men,
Were unitarians of the united world,
And, wheresoever their clear eve-beams fell,
They caught the footsteps of the Same. Our eyes
Are armed, but we are strangers to the stars,
And strangers to the mystic beast and bird,
And strangers to the plant and to the mine.
The injured elements say, ‘ Not in us ; ‘
And night and day, ocean and continent,
Fire, plant and mineral say, ‘ Not in us; ‘
And haughtily return us stare for stare.
For we invade them impiously for gain;
We devastate them unreligiously,
And coldly ask their pottage, not their love.
Therefore they shove us from them, yield to us
Only what to our griping toil is due;
But the sweet affluence of love and song,
The rich results of the divine consents
Of man and earth, of world beloved and loved,
The nectar and ambrosia are withheld.

THE American people are fast opening their own destiny. The material basis is of such extent that no folly of man can quite subvert it ; for the territory is a considerable fraction of the planet, and the population neither loath nor inexpert to use their advantages. Add, that this energetic race derive an unprecedented material power from the new arts, from the expansions effected by public schools, cheap post-age and a cheap press, from the telescope, the telegraph, the railroad, steamship, steam-ferry, steam-mill ; from domestic architecture, chemical agriculture, from ventilation, from ice, ether, caoutchouc, and innumerable inventions and manufactures.

A scholar who has been reading of the fabulous magnificence of Assyria and Persia, of Rome and Constantinople, leaves his library and takes his seat in a railroad-car, where he is importuned by newsboys with journals still wet from Liverpool and Havre, with telegraphic despatches not yet fifty minutes old from Buffalo and Cincinnati. At the screams of the . steam-whistle, the train quits city and suburbs, darts away into the interior, drops every man at his estate as it whirls along, and shows our traveller what tens of thousands of powerful and weaponed men, science-armed and society-armed, sit at large in this ample region, obscure from their numbers and the extent of the domain. He reflects on the power which each of these plain republicans can employ ; how far these chains of intercourse and travel reach, interlock and ramify ; what levers, what pumps, what exhaustive analyses are applied to Nature for the benefit of masses of men. Then he exclaims, What a negro-fine royalty is that of Jamschid and Solomon ! What a substantial sovereignty does my townsman possess ! A man who has a hundred dollars to dispose of -a hundred dollars over his bread-is rich beyond the dreams of the Cæsars.

Keep our eyes as long as we can on this picture, we cannot stave off the ulterior question, – the famous question of Cineas to Pyrrhus,1-the WHERE TO of all this power and population, these surveys and inventions, this taxing and tabulating, mill-privilege, roads, and mines. The aspect this country presents is a certain maniacal activity, an immense apparatus of cunning machinery which turns out, at last, some Nuremberg toys. Has it generated, as great interests do, any intellectual power ? Where are the works of the imagination – the surest test of a national genius ? At least as far as the purpose and genius of America is yet reported in any book, it is a sterility and no genius.

One would say there is nothing colossal in the country but its geography and its material activities ; that the moral and intellectual effects are not on the same scale with the trade and production. There is no speech heard but that of auctioneers, newsboys, and the caucus. Where is the great breath of the New World, the voice of aboriginal nations opening new eras with hymns of lofty cheer ? Our hooks and fine arts are imitations ; there is a fatal in-curiosity and disinclination in our educated men to new studies and the interrogation of Nature. We have taste, critical talent, good professors, good commentators, but a lack of male energy. What more serious calamity can befall a people than a constitutional dulness and limitation ? The moral influence of the intellect is wanting. We hearken in vain for any profound voice speaking to the American heart, cheering timid good men, animating the youth, consoling the defeated, and intelligently announcing duties which clothe life with joy, and endear the face of land and sea to men.’ It is a poor consideration that the country wit is precocious, and, as we say, practical ; that political interests on so broad a scale as ours are administered by little men with some saucy village talent, by deft partisans, good cipherers ; strict economists, quite empty of all superstition.

Conceding these unfavorable appearances, it would vet be a poor pedantry to read the fates of this country from these narrow data. On the contrary, we are persuaded that moral and material values are always commensurate. Every material organization exists to a moral end, which makes the reason of its existence. Here are no books, but who can see the continent with its inland and surrounding waters, its temperate climates, its west-wind breathing vigor through all the year, its confluence of races so favorable to the highest energy, and the infinite glut of their production, without putting new queries to Destiny as to the purpose for which this muster of nations and this sudden creation of enormous values is made ?

This is equally the view of science and of patriotism. We hesitate to employ a word so much abused as patriotism, whose true sense is almost the reverse of its popular sense. We have no sympathy with that boyish egotism, hoarse with cheering for one side, for one state, for one town : the right patriotism consists in the delight which springs from contributing our peculiar and legitimate advantages to the benefit of humanity. Every foot of soil has its proper quality ; the grape on two sides of the same fence has new flavors ; and so every acre on the globe, every family of men, every point of climate, has its distinguishing virtues. Certainly then this country does not lie here in the sun causeless ; and though it may not be easy to define its influence, men feel already its emancipating quality in the careless self-reliance of the manners, in the freedom of thought, in the direct roads by which grievances are reached and redressed, and even in the reckless and sinister politics, not less than in purer expressions. Bad as it is, this freedom leads onward and upward, – to a Columbia of thought and art, which is the last and endless end of Columbus’s adventure.

Lovers of our country, but not always approvers of the public counsels, we should certainly be glad to give good advice in politics. We have not been able to escape our national and endemic habit, and to be liberated from interest in the elections and in public affairs. Nor have we cared to disfranchise ourselves. We are more solicitous than others to make our politics clear and healthful, as we believe politics to be nowise accidental or exceptional, but subject to the same laws with trees, earths and acids. We see that reckless and destructive fury which characterizes the lower classes of American society, and which is pampered by hundreds of profligate presses. The young intriguers who drive in bar-rooms and town-meetings the trade of politics, sagacious only to seize the victorious side, have put the country into the position of an overgrown bully, and Massachusetts finds no heart or head to give weight and efficacy to her contrary judgment: In hours when it seemed only to need one just word from a man of honor to have vindicated the rights of millions, and to have given a true direction to the first steps of a nation, we have seen the best understandings of New England, the trusted leaders of her counsels, constituting a snivelling and despised opposition, clapped on the hack by comfortable capitalists from all sections, and persuaded to say, We are too old to stand for what is called a New England sentiment any longer. Rely on us for commercial representatives, but for questions of ethics, – who knows what markets may be opened? We are not well, we are not in our seats, when justice and humanity are to be spoken for.

We have a bad war, many victories, each of which converts the country into an immense chanticleer ; and a very insincere political opposition.’ The country needs to be extricated from its delirium at once. Public affairs are chained in the same law with private ; the retributions of armed states are not less sure and signal than those which come to private felons. The facility of majorities is no protection from the natural sequence of their own acts. Men reason badly, but Nature and Destiny are logical.’

But, whilst we should think our pains well be-stowed if we could cure the infatuation of states-men, and should be sincerely pleased if we could give a direction to the Federal politics, we are far from believing politics the primal interest of men. On the contrary, we hold that the laws and governors cannot possess a commanding interest for any but vacant or fanatical people; for the reason that this is simply a formal and superficial interest ; and men of a solid genius are only interested in substantial things.

The State, like the individual, should rest on an ideal basis. Not only man but Nature is injured by the imputation that man exists only to be fattened with bread, but he lives in such connection with Thought and Fact that his bread is surely involved as one element thereof, but is not its end and aim. So the insight which commands the laws and conditions of the true polity precludes forever all interest in the squabbles of parties. As soon as men have tasted the enjoyment of learning, friendship and virtue, for which the State exists, the prizes of office appear polluted, and their followers outcasts.

A journal that would meet the real wants of this time must have a courage and power sufficient to solve the problems which the great groping society around us, stupid with perplexity, is dumbly exploring. Let it now show its astuteness by dodging each difficult question and arguing diffusely every point on which men are long ago unanimous. Can it front this matter of Socialism, to which the names of Owen and Fourier have attached, and dispose of that question? Will it cope with the allied questions of Government, Nonresistance, and all that belongs under that category ? Will it measure itself with the chapter on Slavery, in some sort the special enigma of the time, as it has provoked against it a sort of inspiration and enthusiasm singular in modern history ? There are literary and philosophical reputations to settle. The name of Swedenborg has in this very time acquired new honors, and the current year has witnessed the appearance, in their first English translation, of his manuscripts. Here is an unsettled account in the book of Fame ; a nebula to dim eyes, but which great telescopes may yet resolve into a magnificent system. Here is the standing problem of Natural Science, and the merits of her great interpreters to be determined ; the ency-clopædical Humboldt, and the intrepid generalizations collected by the author of the Vestiges of Creation. Here is the balance to be adjusted between the exact French school of Cuvier, and the genial catholic theorists, Geoffroy St.-Hilaire, Goethe, Davy and Agassiz. Will it venture into the thin and difficult air of that school where the secrets of structure are discussed under the topics of mesmerism and the twilights of demonology ?

What will easily seem to many a far higher question than any other is that which respects the embodying of the Conscience of the period. Is the age we live in unfriendly to the highest powers ; to that blending of the affections with the poetic faculty which has distinguished the Religious Ages ? We have a better opinion of the economy of Nature than to fear that those varying phases which humanity presents ever leave out any of the grand springs of human action. Mankind for the moment seem to be in search of a religion. The Jewish cultus is declining ; the Divine, or, as some will say, the truly Human, hovers, now seen, now unseen, before us. This period of peace, this hour when the jangle of contending churches is hushing or hushed, will seem only the more propitious. to those who believe that man need not fear the want of religion, because they know his religious constitution, – that he must rest on the moral and religious sentiments, as the motion of bodies rests on geometry. In the rapid decay of what was called religion, timid and unthinking people fancy a decay of the hope of man. But the moral and religious sentiments meet us everywhere, alike in markets as in churches. A God starts up behind cotton bales also. The conscience of man is regenerated as is the atmosphere, so that society cannot be debauched. The health which we call Virtue is an equipoise which easily redresses itself, and resembles those rocking stones which a child’s finger can move, and a weight of many hundred tons can-not overthrow.

With these convictions, a few friends of good letters have thought fit to associate themselves for the conduct of a new journal. We have obeyed the custom and convenience of the time in adopting this form of a Review, as a mould into which all metal most easily runs. But the form shall not be suffered to be an impediment. The name might convey the impression of a book of criticism, and that nothing is to be found here which was not written expressly for the Review ; but good readers know that in-spired pages are not written to fill a space, but for inevitable utterance; and to such our journal is freely and solicitously open, even though everything else be excluded. We entreat the aid of every lover of truth and right, and let these principles entreat for us. We rely on the talents and industry of good men known to us, but much more on the magnetism of truth, which is multiplying and educating advocates for itself and friends for us. We rely on the truth for and against ourselves.

Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

XVI Harvard Commeroration Speech

JULY 21, 1865

” ‘ Old classmate, say
Do you remember our Commencement Day ?
Were we such boys as these at twenty ? ‘ Nay,
God called them to a nobler task than ours,
And gave them holier thoughts and manlier powers, –
This is the day of fruits and not of flowers!
These boys ‘ we talk about like ancient sages
Are the same men we read of in old pages –
The bronze recast of dead heroic ages!
We grudge them not, our dearest, bravest, best, –
Let but the quarrel’s issue stand contest:
‘T is Earth’s old slave-God battling for his crown
And Freedom fighting with her visor down.”

MANY loved Truth, and lavished life’s best oil
Amid the dust of books to find her,
Content at last, for guerdon of their toil,
With the cast mantle she hath left behind her.
Many in sad faith sought for her,
Many with crossed hands sighed for her;
But these, our brothers, fought for her,
At life’s dear peril wrought for her,
So loved her that they died for her,
Tasting the raptured fleetness
Of her divine completeness:
Their higher instinct knew
Those love her best who to themselves are true,
And what they dare to dream of, dare to do;
They followed her and found her
Where all may hope to find,
Not in the ashes of the burnt-out mind,
But beautiful, with danger’s sweetness round her.
Where faith made whole with deed
Breathes its awakening breath
Into the lifeless creed,
They saw her plumed and mailed,
With sweet, stern face unveiled,
And all-repaying eyes, look proud on them in death.” LOWELL, Commemoration Ode.


MR. CHAIRMAN, AND GENTLEMEN : With whatever opinion we come here, I think it is not in man to see, without a feeling of pride and pleasure, a tried soldier, the armed defender of the right. I think that in these last years all opinions have been affected by the magnificent and stupendous spectacle which Divine Providence has offered us of the energies that slept in the children of this country, – that slept and have awakened. 1 see thankfully those that are here, but dim eyes in vain explore for some who are not.

The old Greek Heraclitus said, ” War is the Father of all things.” He said it, no doubt, as science, but we of this day can repeat it as political and social truth. War passes the power of all chemical solvents, breaking up the old adhesions, and allowing the atoms of society to take a new order. It is not the Government, but the War, that has appointed the good generals, sifted out the pedants, put in the new and vigorous blood. The War has lifted many other people besides Grant and Sherman into their true places. Even Divine Providence, we may say, always seems to work after a certain military necessity. Every nation punishes the General who is not victorious. It is a rule in games of chance that the cards beat all the players, and revolutions disconcert and outwit all the insurgents.

The revolutions carry their own points, some-times to the ruin of those who set them on foot. The proof that war also is within the highest right, is a marked benefactor in the hands of the Divine Providence, is its morale. The war gave back integrity to this erring and immoral nation. I t charged with power, peaceful, amiable men, to whose life war and discord were abhorrent. What an infusion of character went out from this and other colleges ! What an infusion of character down to the ranks ! The experience has been uniform that it is the gentle soul that makes the firm hero after all. It is easy to recall the mood in which our young men, snatched from every peaceful pursuit, went to the war. Many of them had never handled a gun. They said, ” It is not in me to resist. I go because I must. It is a duty which I shall never forgive myself if I decline. I do not know that I can make a soldier. I may bevery clumsy. Perhaps I shall be timid ; but you can rely on me. Only one thing is certain, I can well die, but I cannot afford to misbehave.”

In fact the infusion of culture and tender humanity from these scholars and idealists who went to the war in their own despite – God knows they had no fury for killing their old friends and countrymen – had its signal and lasting effect. It was found that enthusiasm was a more potent ally than science and munitions of war without it. ” It is a principle of war,” said Napoleon, ” that when you can use the thunderbolt. you must prefer it to the can-non.” Enthusiasm was the thunderbolt. Here in this little Massachusetts, in smaller Rhode Island, in this little nest of New England re-publics it flamed out when the guilty gun was aimed at Sumter.

Mr. Chairman, standing here in Harvard College, the parent of all the colleges ; in Massachusetts, the parent of all the North ; when I consider her influence on the country as a principal planter of the Western States, and now, by her teachers, preachers, journalists and books, as well as by traffic and production, the diffuser of religious, literary and political opinion ;-and when I see how irresistible the convictions of Massachusetts are in these swarming populations, – I think the little state bigger than I knew. When her blood is up, she has a fist big enough to knock down an empire. And her blood was roused. Scholars changed the black coat for the blue. A single company in the Forty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment contained thirty-five sons of Harvard. You all know as well as I the story of these dedicated men, who knew well on what duty they went, – whose fathers and mothers said of each slaughtered son, ” We gave him up when he enlisted.” One mother said, when her son was offered the command of the first negro regiment, ” If he accepts it, I shall be as proud as if I had heard that he was shot.” 1 These men, thus ten-der, thus high-bred, thus peaceable, were always in the front and always employed. Thev might say, with their forefathers the old Norse Vikings, ” We sung the mass of lances from morning until evening.” And in how many cases it chanced, when the hero had fallen, they who came by night to his funeral, on the morrow returned to the war-path to show his slayers the way to death !

Ah ! young brothers, all honor and gratitude to you, – you, manly defenders, Liberty’s and Humanity’s bodyguard ! We shall not again disparage America, now that we have seen what men it will bear. We see – we thank you for it – a new era, worth to mankind all the treasure and all the lives it has cost ; yes, worth to the world the lives of all this generation of American men, if they had been demanded.1

Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

XV Abraham Lincoln



” NATURE, they say, doth dote,
And cannot make a man
Save on some worn-out plan,
Repeating us by rote:
For him her Old-World moulds aside she threw,
And, choosing sweet clay from the breast
Of the unexhausted West,
‘With stuff untainted shaped a hero new,
Wise, steadfast in the strength of God, and true.
How beautiful to see
Once more a shepherd of mankind indeed,
Who loved his charge, but never loved to lead;
One whose meek flock the people joyed to be,
Not lured by any cheat of birth,
But by his clear-grained human worth,
And brave old wisdom of sincerity!
They knew that outward grace is dust;
They could not choose but trust
In that sure-footed mind’s unfaltering skill,
And supple-tempered will
That bent, like perfect steel, to spring again and thrust.

Nothing of Europe here,
Or, then, of Europe fronting mornward still,
Ere any names of Serf and Peer
Could Nature’s equal scheme deface; . .
Here was a type of the true elder race,
And one of Plutarch’s men talked with us face to face.”
LOWELL, Commemoration Ode.


WE meet under the gloom of a calamity which darkens down over the minds of good men in all civil society, as the fearful tidings travel over sea, over land, from country to country, like the shadow of an uncalculated eclipse over the planet. Old as history is, and manifold as are its tragedies, I doubt if any death has caused so much pain to mankind as this has caused, or will cause, on its announcement ; and this, not so much because nations are by modern arts brought so closely together, as because of the mysterious hopes and fears which, in the present day, are connected with the name and institutions of America.

In this country, on Saturday, every one was struck dumb, and saw at first only deep below deep, as he meditated on the ghastly blow. And perhaps, at this hour, when the coffin which contains the dust of the President sets forward on its long march through mourning states, on its way to his home in Illinois, we might well be silent, and suffer the awful voices of the time to thunder to us. Yes, but that first despair was brief: the man was not so to be mourned. He was the most active and hopeful of men; and his work had not perished: but acclamations of praise for the task he had accomplished burst out into a song of triumph, which even tears for his death cannot keep down.

The President stood before us as a man of the people. He was thoroughly American, had never crossed the sea, had never been spoiled by English insularity or French dissipation ; a quite native, aboriginal man, as an acorn from the oak ; no aping of foreigners, no frivolous accomplishments, Kentuckian born, working on a farm, a flatboatman, a captain in the Black Hawk War, a country lawyer, a representative in the rural legislature of Illinois;– on such modest foundations the broad structure of his fame was laid. How slowly, and yet by happily prepared steps, he came to his place. All of us remember – it is only a history of five or six years – the surprise and the disappointment of the country at his first nomination by the convention at Chicago. Mr. Seward, then in the culmination of his good fame, was the favorite of the Eastern States. And when the new and comparatively unknown name of Lincoln was announced (notwithstanding the report of the acclamations of that convention), we heard the result coldly and sadly. It seemed too rash, on a purely local reputation, to build so grave a trust in such anxious times ; and men naturally talked of the chances in politics as in-calculable. But it turned out not to be chance. The profound good opinion which the people of Illinois and of the West had conceived of him, and which they had imparted to their col-leagues, that they also might justify themselves to their constituents at home, was not rash, though they did not begin to know the riches of his worth.’

A plain man of the people, an extraordinary fortune attended him. He offered no shining qualities at the first encounter ; he did not offend by superiority. He had a face and manner which disarmed suspicion, which inspired confidence, which confirmed good will. He was a man without vices. He had a strong sense of duty, which it was very easy for him to obey. Then, he had what farmers call a long head ; was excellent in working out the sum for him-self; in arguing his case and convincing you fairly and firmly. Then, it turned out that he was a great worker ; had prodigious faculty of performance ; worked easily. A good worker is so rare ; everybody has some disabling quality. In a host of young men that start together and promise so many brilliant leaders for the next age, each fails on trial ; one by bad health, one by conceit, or by love of pleasure, or lethargy, or an ugly temper, – each has some disqualifying fault that throws him out of the career. But this man was sound to the core, cheerful, persistent, all right for labor, and liked nothing so well.

Then, he had a vast good nature, which made him tolerant and accessible to all ; fair-minded, leaning to the claim of the petitioner ; affable, and not sensible to the affliction which the innumerable visits paid to him when President would have brought to any one else.’ And how this good nature became a noble humanity, in many a tragic case which the events of the war brought to him, every one will remember; and with what increasing tenderness he dealt when a whole race was thrown on his compassion. The poor negro said of him, on an impressive occasion, ” Massa Linkum am eberywhere.”

Then his broad good humor, running easily into jocular talk, in which he delighted and in which he excelled, was a rich gift to this wise man. It enabled him to keep his secret; to meet every kind of man and every rank in society ; to take off the edge of the severest decisions ; to mask his own purpose and sound his companion ; and to catch with true instinct the temper of every company he addressed. And, more than all, it is to a man of severe labor, in anxious and exhausting crises, the natural restorative, good as sleep, and is the protection of the overdriven brain against rancor and insanity.

He is the author of a multitude of good sayings, so disguised as pleasantries that it is certain they had no reputation at first but as jests ; and only later, by the very acceptance and adoption they find in the mouths of millions, turn out to be the wisdom of the hour. I am sure if this man had ruled in a period of less facility of printing, he would have become mythological in a very few years, like Aesop or Pilpay, or one of the Seven Wise Masters, by his fables and proverbs. But the weight and penetration of many passages in his letters, messages and speeches, hidden now by the very closeness of their application to the moment, are destined hereafter to wide fame. What pregnant definitions ; what unerring common sense ; what fore-sight ; and, on great occasion, what lofty, and more than national, what humane tone! His brief speech at Gettysburg will not easily be surpassed by words on any recorded occasion. This, and one other American speech, that of John Brown to the court that tried him, and a part of Kossuth’s speech at Birmingham, can only be compared with each other, and with no fourth.

His occupying the chair of state was a triumph of the good sense of mankind, and of the public conscience. This middle-class country had got a middle-class president, at last. Yes, in manners and sympathies, but not in powers, for his powers were superior. This man grew according to the need. His mind mastered the problem of the day ; and as the problem grew, so did his comprehension of it. Rarely was man so fitted to the event. In the midst of fears and jealousies, in the Babel of counsels and parties, this man wrought incessantly with all his might and all his honesty, laboring to find what the people wanted, and how to obtain that. It cannot be said there is any exaggeration of his worth. If ever a man was fairly tested, he was. There was no lack of resistance, nor of slander, nor of ridicule. The times have allowed no state secrets ; the nation has been in such ferment, such multitudes had to be trusted, that no secret could be kept. Every door was ajar, and we know all that be-fell.

Then, what an occasion was the whirlwind of the war. Here was place for no holiday magistrate, no fair-weather sailor ; the new pilot was hurried to the helm in a tornado. In four years, – four years of battle-days, – his endurance, his fertility of resources, his magnanimity, were sorely tried and never found wanting. There, by his courage, his justice, his even temper, his fertile counsel, his humanity, he stood a heroic figure in the centre of a heroic epoch. He is the true history of the American people in his time. Step by step he walked before them ; slow with their slowness, quickening his march by theirs, the true representative of this continent ; an entirely public man ; father of his country, the pulse of twenty millions throbbing in his heart, the thought of their minds articulated by his tongue.

Adam Smith remarks that the axe, which in Houbraken’s portraits of British kings and worthies is engraved under those who have suffered at the block, adds a certain lofty charm to the picture. And who does not see, even in this tragedy so recent, how fast the terror and ruin of the massacre are already burning into glory around the victim? Far happier this fate than to have lived to be wished away ; to have watched the decay of his own faculties; to have seen – perhaps even he – the proverbial ingratitude of statesmen; to have seen mean men preferred. Had he not lived long enough to keep the greatest promise that ever man made to his fellow men, – the practical abolition of slaver? He had seen Tennessee, Missouri and Maryland emancipate their slaves. He had seen Savannah, Charleston and Richmond surrendered ; had seen the main army of the rebellion lay down its arms. He had conquered the public opinion of Canada, England and France. Only Washington can compare with him in fortune.

And what if it should turn out, in the unfolding of the web, that he had reached the term ; that this heroic deliverer could no longer serve us ; that the rebellion had touched its natural conclusion, and what remained to be done required new and uncommitted hands, – a new spirit born out of the ashes of the war ; and that Heaven, wishing to show the world a completed benefactor, shall make him serve his country even more by his death than by his life? Nations, like kings, are not good by facility and complaisance. ” The kindness of kings consists in justice and strength.” Easy good nature has been the dangerous foible of the Republic, and it was necessary that its enemies should outrage it, and drive us to unwonted firmness, to secure the salvation of this country in the next ages.

The ancients believed in a serene and beautiful Genius which ruled in the affairs of nations; which, with a slow but stern justice, carried for-ward the fortunes of certain chosen houses, weeding out single offenders or offending families, and securing at last the firm prosperity of the favorites of Heaven. It was too narrow a view of the Eternal Nemesis. There is a serene Providence which rules the fate of nations, which makes little account of time, little of one generation or race, makes no account of disasters, conquers alike by what is called defeat or by what is called victory, thrusts aside enemy and obstruction, crushes everything immoral as in-human, and obtains the ultimate triumph of the best race by the sacrifice of everything which resists the moral laws of the world.’ It makes its own instruments, creates the man for the time, trains him in poverty, inspires his genius, and arms him for his task. It has given every race its own talent, and ordains that only that race which combines perfectly with the virtues of all shall endure.

Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

XIV The Emancipation Proclamation



TO-DAY unbind the captive,
So only are ye unbound;
Lift up a people from the dust,
Trump of their rescue, sound!

Pay ransom to the owner
And fill the bag to the brim.
Who is the owner ? The slave is owner,
And ever was. Pay him.

O North ! give him beauty for rags,
And honor, 0 South! for his shame;
Nevada! coin thy golden crags
With freedom’s image and name.

Up! and the dusky race
That sat in darkness long,-
Be swift their feet as antelopes,
And as behemoth strong.

Come, East and West and North,
By races, as snow-flakes,
And carry my purpose forth,
Which neither halts nor shakes.

My will fulfilled shall be,
For in daylight or in dark,
My thunderbolt has eyes to see
His way home to the mark.


IN so many arid forms which states encrust themselves with, once in a century, if so often, a poetic act and record occur. These are the jets of thought into affairs, when, roused by danger or inspired by genius, the political leaders of the day break the else insurmountable routine of class and local legislation, and take a step forward in the direction of catholic and universal interests. Every step in the history of political liberty is a sally of the human mind into the untried Future, and has the interest of genius, and is fruitful in heroic anecdotes. Liberty is a slow fruit. It comes, like religion, for short periods, and in rare conditions, as if awaiting a culture of the race which shall make it organic and permanent. Such moments of expansion in modern history were the Confession of Augsburg, the plantation of America, the English Commonwealth of 1648, the Declaration of American Independence in 1776, the British emancipation of slaves in the West Indies, the passage of the Reform Bill, the re-peal of the Corn-Laws, the Magnetic Ocean Telegraph, though yet imperfect, the passage of the Homestead Bill in the last Congress, and now, eminently, President Lincoln’s Proclamation on the twenty-second of September. These are acts of great scope, working on a long future and on permanent interests, and honoring alike those who initiate and those who receive them. These measures provoke no noisy joy, but are received into a sympathy so deep as to apprise us that mankind are greater and better than we know.1 At such times it appears as if a new public were created to greet the new event. It is as when an orator, having ended the compliments and pleasantries with which he conciliated attention, and having run over the superficial fitness and commodities of the measure he urges, suddenly, lending himself to some happy inspiration, announces with vibrating voice the grand human principles involved ; – the bravos and wits who greeted him loudly thus far are surprised and overawed ; a new audience is found in the heart of the assembly, – an audience hitherto passive and unconcerned, now at last so searched and kindled that they come forward, every one a representative of mankind, standing for all nationalities.

The extreme moderation with which the President advanced to his design, – his long-avowed expectant policy, as if he chose to be strictly the executive of the best public sentiment of the country, waiting only till it should be unmistakably pronounced, -so fair a mind that none ever listened so patiently to such extreme varieties of opinion,-so reticent that his decision has taken all parties by surprise, whilst yet it is just the sequel of his prior acts, – the firm tone in which he announces it, without inflation or surplusage, – all these have be-spoken such favor to the act that, great as the popularity of the President has been, we are beginning to think that we have underestimated the capacity and virtue which the Divine Providence has made an instrument of benefit so vast. He has been permitted to do more for America than any other American man. He is well entitled to the most indulgent construction. Forget all that we thought shortcomings, every mistake, every delay. In the extreme embarrassments of his part, call these endurance, wisdom, magnanimity ; illuminated, as they now are, by this dazzling success.

When we consider the immense opposition that has been neutralized or converted by the progress of the war (for it is not long since the President anticipated the resignation of a large number of officers in the army, and the secession of three states, on the promulgation of this policy), – when we see how the great stake which foreign nations hold in our affairs has recently brought every European power as a client into this court, and it became every day more apparent what gigantic and what remote interests were to be affected by the decision of the President, – one can hardly say the deliberation was too long. Against all timorous counsels he had the courage to seize the moment ; and such was his position, and such the felicity attending the action, that he has replaced government in the good graces of mankind. ” Better is virtue in the sovereign than plenty in the season,” say the Chinese. ‘T is wonderful what power is, and how ill it is used, and how its ill use makes life mean, and the sunshine dark. Life in America had lost much of its attraction in the later years. The virtues of a good magistrate undo a world of mischief, and, because Nature works with rectitude, seem vastly more potent than the acts of bad governors, which are ever tempered by the good nature in the people, and the incessant resistance which fraud and violence encounter. The acts of good governors work a geometrical ratio, as one midsummer day seems to repair the damage of a year of war.

A day which most of us dared not hope to see, an event worth the dreadful war, worth its costs and uncertainties, seems now to be close before us. October, November, December will have passed over beating hearts and plotting brains : then the hour will strike, and all men of African descent who have faculty enough to find their way to our lines are assured of the protection of American law.

It is by no means necessary that this measure should be suddenly marked by any signal results on the negroes or on the rebel masters. The force of the act is that it commits the country to this justice, – that it compels the innumerable officers, civil, military, naval, of the Republic to range themselves on the line of this equity. It draws the fashion to this side. It is not a measure that admits of being taken back. Done, it cannot be undone by a new administration. For slavery overpowers the disgust of the moral sentiment only through immemorial usage. It cannot be introduced as an improvement of the nineteenth century. This act makes that the lives of our heroes have not been sacrificed in vain. It makes a victory of our defeats. Our hurts are healed ; the health of the nation is repaired. With a victory like this, we can stand many disasters. It does not promise the redemption of the black race ; that lies not with us : but it relieves it of our opposition. The President by this act has paroled all the slaves in America; they will no more fight against us : and it relieves our race once for all of its crime and false position. The first condition of success is secured in putting ourselves right. We have recovered ourselves from our false position, and planted ourselves on a law of Nature : –

” If that fail,
The pillared firmament is rottenness,
And earth’s base built on stubble.”

The government has assured itself of the best constituency in the world : every spark of intellect, every virtuous feeling, every religious heart, every man of honor, every poet, every philosopher, the generosity of the cities, the health of the country, the strong arms of the mechanic, the endurance of farmers, the passionate con-science of women, the sympathy of distant nations, – all rally to its support.

Of course, we are assuming the firmness of the policy thus declared. It must not be a paper proclamation. We confide that Mr. Lincoln is in earnest, and as he has been slow in making up his mind, has resisted the importunacy of parties and of events to the latest moment, he will be as absolute in his adhesion. Not only will he repeat and follow up his stroke, but the nation will add its irresistible strength. If the ruler has duties, so has the citizen. In times like these, when the nation is imperilled, what man can, without shame, receive good news from day to day without giving good news of himself? What right has any one to read in the journals tidings of victories, if he has not bought them by his own valor, treasure, personal sacrifice, or by service as good in his own department? With this blot removed from our national honor, this heavy load lifted off the national heart, we shall not fear henceforward to show our faces among mankind. We shall cease to be hypocrites and pretenders, but what we have styled our free institutions will be such.’

In the light of this event the public distress begins to be removed. What if the brokers’ quotations show our stocks discredited, and the gold dollar costs one hundred and twenty-seven cents? These tables are fallacious. Every acre in the free states gained substantial value on the twenty-second of September. The cause of disunion and war has been reached and begun to be removed. Every man’s house-lot and garden are relieved of the malaria which the purest winds and strongest sunshine could not penetrate and purge. The territory of the Union shines to-day with a lustre which every European emigrant can discern from far; a sign of inmost security and permanence. Is it feared that taxes will check immigration ? That depends on what the taxes are spent for. If they go to fill up this yawning Dismal Swamp, which engulfed armies and populations, and created plague, and neutralized hitherto all the vast capabilities of this continent, – then this taxation, which makes the land wholesome and habitable, and will draw all men unto it, is the best investment in which property-holder ever lodged his earnings.

Whilst we have pointed out the opportuneness of the Proclamation, it remains to be said that the President had no choice. He might look wistfully for what variety of courses lay open to him ; every line but one was closed up with fire. This one, too, bristled with danger, but through it was the sole safety. The measure he has adopted was imperative. It is wonderful to see the unseasonable senility of what is called the Peace Party, through all its masks, blinding their eyes to the main feature of the war, namely, its inevitableness. The war existed long before the cannonade of Sumter, and could not be postponed. It might have begun otherwise or elsewhere, but war was in the minds and bones of the combat-ants, it was written on the iron leaf, and you might as easily dodge gravitation. If we had consented to a peaceable secession of the rebels, the divided sentiment of the border states made peaceable secession impossible, the insatiable temper of the South made it impossible, and the slaves on the border, wherever the bofder might be, were an incessant fuel to rekindle the fire. Give the Confederacy New Orleans, Charleston, and Richmond, and they would have demanded St. Louis and Baltimore. Give them these, and they would have insisted on Washington. Give them Washington, and they would have assumed the army and navy, and, through these, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. It looks as if the battle-field would have been at least as large in that event as it is now. The war was formidable, but could not be avoided. The war was and is an immense mischief, but brought with it the immense benefit of drawing a line and rallying the free states to fix it impassably, – pre-venting the whole force of Southern and influence throughout the North from distracting every city with endless confusion, detaching that force and reducing it to handfuls, and, in the progress of hostilities, disinfecting us of our habitual proclivity, through the affection of trade and the traditions of the Democratic party, to follow Southern leading.’

These necessities which have dictated the con-duct of the federal government are overlooked especially by our foreign critics. The popular statement of the opponents of the war abroad is the impossibility of our success. ” If you could add,” say they, ” to your strength the whole army of England, of France and of Austria, you could not coerce eight millions of people to come under this government against their will.” This is an odd thing for an Englishman, a Frenchman or an Austrian to say, who remembers Europe of the last seventy years, – the condition of Italy, until 1859, – of Poland, since 1793, – of France, of French Algiers,-of British Ireland, and British India. But granting the truth, rightly read, of the historical aphorism, that ” the people always conquer,” it is to be noted that, in the Southern States, the tenure of land and the local laws, with slavery, give the social system not a democratic but an aristocratic complexion ; and those states have shown every year a more hostile and aggressive temper, until the instinct of self-preservation forced us into the war. And the aim of the war on our part is indicated by the aim of the President’s Proclamation, namely, to break up the false combination of Southern society, to destroy the piratic feature in it which makes it our enemy only as it is the enemy of the human race, and so allow its reconstruction on a just and healthful basis. Then new affinities will act, the old repulsion will cease, and, the cause of war being removed, Nature and trade may be trusted to establish a lasting peace.

We think we cannot overstate the wisdom and benefit of this act of the government. The malignant cry of the Secession press within the free states, and the recent action of the Con-federate Congress, are decisive as to its efficiency and correctness of aim. Not less so is the silent joy which has greeted it in all generous hearts, and the new hope it has breathed into the world. It was well to delay the steamers at the wharves until this edict could be put on board. It will be an insurance to the ship as it goes plunging through the sea with glad tidings to all people. Happy are the young, who find the pestilence cleansed out of the earth, leaving open to them an honest career. Happy the old, who see Nature purified before they depart. Do not let the dying die : hold them back to this world, until you have charged their ear and heart with this message to other spiritual societies, announcing the melioration of our planet :–

” Uncertainties now crown themselves assured, And Peace proclaims olives of endless age.” ‘

Meantime that ill-fated, much-injured race which the Proclamation respects will lose some-what of the dejection sculptured for ages in their bronzed countenance, uttered in the wailing of their plaintive music, – a race naturally benevolent, docile, industrious, and whose very miseries sprang from their great talent for usefulness, which, in a more moral age, will not only defend their independence, but will give them a rank among nations.2

Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

XIII American Civilization


To the mizzen, the main, and the fore
Up with it once more! –
The old tri-color,
The ribbon of power,
The white, blue and red which the nations adore!
It was down at half-mast For a grief- that is past!
To the emblem of glory no sorrow can last!

USE, labor of each for all, is the health and virtue of all beings. Ich dien, I serve, is a truly royal motto. And it is the mark of nobleness to volunteer the lowest service, the greatest spirit only attaining to humility. Nay, God is God because he is the servant of all. Well, now here comes this conspiracy of slavery, – they call it an institution, I call it a destitution, – this stealing of men and setting them to work, stealing their labor, and the thief sitting idle himself; and for two or three ages it has lasted, and has yielded a certain quantity of rice, cotton and sugar. And, standing on this doleful experience, these people have endeavored to reverse the natural sentiments of man-kind, and to pronounce labor disgraceful, and the well-being of a man to consist in eating the fruit of other men's labor. Labor : a man coins himself into his labor; turns his day, his strength, his thought, his affection into some product which remains as the visible sign of his power ; and to protect that, to secure that to him, to secure his past self to his future self, is the object of all government. There is no interest in any country so imperative as that of labor; it covers all, and constitutions and governments exist for that, — to protect and insure it to the laborer. All honest men are daily striving to earn their bread by their industry. And who is this who tosses his empty head at this blessing in disguise, the constitution of human nature, and calls labor vile, and insults the faithful workman at his daily toil? I see for such madness no hellebore, – for such calamity no solution but servile war and the Africanization of the country that permits it.

At this moment in America the aspects of political society absorb attention. In every house, from Canada to the Gulf, the children ask the serious father, -" What is the news of the war to-day, and when will there be better times? " The boys have no new clothes, no gifts, no journeys; the girls must go without new bonnets ; boys and girls find their education, this year, less liberal and complete.' All the little hopes that heretofore made the year pleasant are deferred. The state of the country fills us with anxiety and stern duties. We have attempted to hold together two states of civilization: a higher state, where labor and the tenure of land and the right of suffrage are democratical ; and a lower state, in which the old military tenure of prisoners or slaves, and of power and land in a few hands, makes an oligarchy : we have attempted to hold these two states of society under one law. But the rude and early state of society does not work well with the later, nay, works badly, and has poisoned politics, public morals and social intercourse in the Republic, now for many years.

The times put this question: Why cannot the best civilization be extended over the whole country, since the disorder of the less-civilized portion menaces the existence of the country ? Is this secular progress we have described, this evolution of man to the highest powers, only to give him sensibility, and not to bring duties with it? Is he not to make his knowledge practical? to stand and to withstand? Is not civilization heroic also? Is it not for action? has it not a will? "There are periods," said Niebuhr, "when something much better than happiness and security of life is attainable." We live in a new and exceptionable age. America is another word for Opportunity. Our whole history appears like a last effort of the Divine Providence in behalf of the human race ; and a literal, slavish following of precedents, as by a justice of the peace, is not for those who at this hour lead the destinies of this people. The evil you contend with has taken alarming proportions, and you still content yourself with parrying the blows it aims, but, as if enchanted, abstain from striking at the cause.1

If the American people hesitate, it is not for want of warning or advices. The telegraph has been swift enough to announce our disasters. The journals have not suppressed the extent of the calamity. Neither was there any want of argument or of experience. If the war brought any surprise to the North, it was not the fault of sentinels on the watch-tower, who had furnished full details of the designs, the muster and the means of the enemy. Neither was anything concealed of the theory or practice of slayery. To what purpose make more big books of these statistics ? There are already mountains of facts, if any one wants them. But people do not want them. They bring their opinion into the world. If they have a comatose tendency in the brain, they are pro-slavery while they live; if of a nervous sanguineous temperament, they are abolitionists. Then interests were never persuaded. Can you convince the shoe interest, or the iron interest, or the cotton interest, by reading passages from Milton or Montesquieu? You wish to satisfy people that slavery is bad economy. Why, the Edinburgh Review pounded on that string, and made out its case, forty years ago. A democratic statesman said to me, long since, that, if he owned the state of Kentucky, he would manumit* all the slaves, and be a gainer by the transaction. Is this new ? No, every-body knows it. As a general economy it is admitted. But there is no one owner of the state, but a good many small owners. One man owns land and slaves ; another owns slaves only. Here is a woman who has no other property, – like a lady in Charleston I knew of, who owned fifteen sweeps and rode in her carriage. It is clearly a vast inconvenience to each of these to make any change, and they are fretful and talkative, and all their friends are ; and those less interested are inert, and, from want of thought, averse to innovation. It is like free trade, certainly the interest of nations, but by no means the interest of certain towns and districts, which tariff feeds fat ; and the eager interest of the few overpowers the apathetic general conviction of the many. Banknotes rob the public, but are such a daily convenience that we silence our scruples and make believe they are gold. So imposts are the cheap and right taxation ; but, by the dislike of people to pay out a direct tax, governments are forced to render life costly by making them pay twice as much, hidden in the price of tea and sugar.

In this national crisis, it is not argument that we want, but that rare courage which dares commit itself to a principle, believing that Nature is its ally, and will create the instruments it re-quires, and more than make good any petty and injurious profit which it may disturb. There neyer was such a combination as this of ours, and the rules to meet it are not set down in any history. We want men of original perception and original action, who can open their eyes wider than to a nationality, namely, to considerations of benefit to the human race, can act in the interest of civilization. Goyernment must not be a parish clerk, a justice of the peace. It has, of necessity, in any crisis of the state, the absolute powers of a dictator. The existing administration is entitled to the utmost candor. It is to be thanked for its angelic virtue, compared with any executive experiences with which we have been familiar. But the times will not allow us to indulge in compliment. I wish I saw in the people that inspiration which, if government would not obey the same, would leave the government behind and create on the moment the means and executors it wanted. Better the war should more dangerously threaten us, – should threaten fracture in what is still whole, and punish us with burned capitals and slaughtered regiments, and so exasperate the people to energy, exasperate our nationality. There are Scriptures written invisibly on men's hearts, whose letters do not come out until they are enraged. They can be read by war-fires, and by eyes in the last peril.

We cannot but remember that there haye been days in American history, when, if the free states had done their duty, slavery had been blocked by an immovable barrier, and our recent calamities forever precluded. The free states yielded, and every compromise was surrender and invited new demands. Here again is a new occasion which heaven offers to sense and virtue. It looks as if we held the fate of the fairest possession of mankind in our hands, to be saved by our firmness or to be lost by hesitation.

The one power that has legs long enough and strong enough to wade across the Potomac offers itself at this hour ; the one strong enough to bring all the civility up to the height of that which is best, prays now at the door of Congress for leave to move. Emancipation is the demand of civilization. That is a principle ; everything else is an intrigue. This is a progressive policy, puts the whole people in healthy, productive, amiable position, puts every man in the South in just and natural relations with every man in the North, laborer with laborer.

I shall not attempt to unfold the details of the project of emancipation. It has been stated with great ability by several of its leading advocates. I will only advert to some leading points of the argument, at the risk of repeating the reasons of others. The war is welcome to the Southerner ; a chivalrous sport to him, like hunting, and suits his semi-civilized condition. On the climbing scale of progress, he is just up to war, and has never appeared to such advantage as in the last twelvemonth. It does not suit us. We are advanced some ages on the war-state, – to trade, art and general cultivation. His laborer works for him at home, so that he loses no labor by the war. All our soldiers are laborers ; so that the South, with its inferior numbers, is almost on a footing in effective war-population with the North. Again, as long as we fight without any affirmative step taken by the government, any word intimating forfeiture in the rebel states of their old privileges under the law, they and we fight on the same side, for slavery. Again, if we conquer the enemy, – what then ? We shall still have to keep him under, and it will cost as much to hold him down as it did to get him down. Then comes the summer, and the fever will drive the soldiers home ; next winter we must begin at the beginning, and conquer him over again. What use then to take a fort, or a privateer, or get possession of an inlet, or to capture a regiment of rebels ?

But one weapon we hold which is sure. Congress can, by edict, as a part of the military de-fence which it is the duty of Congress to provide, abolish slavery, and pay for such slaves as we ought to pay for. Then the slaves near our armies will come to us ; those in the interior will know in a week what their rights are, and will, where opportunity offers, prepare to take them. Instantly, the armies that now confront you must run home to protect their estates, and must stay there, and your enemies will disappear.

There can be no safety until this step is taken. We fancy that the endless debate, emphasized by the crime and by the cannons of this war, has brought the free states to some conviction that it can never go well with us whilst this mischief of slavery remains in our politics, and that by concert or by might we must put an end to it. But we have too much experience of the futility of an easy reliance on the momentary good dispositions of the public. There does exist, perhaps, a popular will that the Union shall not be broken, – that our trade, and there-fore our laws, must have the whole breadth of the continent, and from Canada to the Gulf. But since this is the rooted belief and will of the people, so much the more are they in danger, when impatient of defeats, or impatient of taxes, to go with a rush for some peace ; and what kind of peace shall at that moment be easiest attained, they will make concessions for it, – will give up the slaves, and the whole torment of the past half-century will come back to be endured anew.

Neither do I doubt, if such a composition should take place, that the Southerners will come back quietly and politely, leaving their haughty dictation. It will be an era of good feelings. There will be a lull after so loud a storm ; and, no doubt, there will be discreet men from that section who will earnestly strive to inaugurate more moderate and fair administration of the government, and the North will for a time have its full share and more, in place and counsel. But this will not last ;- not for want of sincere good will in sensible Southerners, but because Slavery will again speak through them its harsh necessity. It cannot live but by injustice, and it will be unjust and violent to the end of the world.'
The power of Emancipation is this, that it alters the atomic social constitution of the Southern people. Now, their interest is in keeping out white labor; then, when they must pay wages, their interest will be to let it in, to get the best labor, and, if they fear their blacks, to invite Irish, German and American laborers. Thus, whilst Slayery makes and keeps disunion, Emancipation remoyes the whole objection to union. Emancipation at one stroke elevates the poor-white of the South, and identifies his interest with that of the Northern laborer.

Now, in the name of all that is simple and generous, why should not this great right be done ? Why should not America be capable of a second stroke for the well-being of the human race, as eighty or ninety years ago she was for the first, – of an affirmative step in the interests of human civility, urged on her, too, not by any romance of sentiment, but by her own extreme perils ? It is very certain that the statesman who shall break through the cobwebs of doubt, fear and petty cavil that lie in the way, will be greeted by the unanimous thanks of mankind. Men reconcile themselves very fast to a bold and good measure when once it is taken, though they condemned it in advance. A week before the two captive commissioners were surrendered to England, every one thought it could not be done : it would divide the North. It was done, and in two days all agreed it was the right action.' And this action, which costs so little (the parties injured by it being such a handful that they can very easily be indemnified), rids the world, at one stroke, of this degrading nuisance, the cause of war and ruin to nations. This measure at once puts all parties right. This is borrowing, as I said, the omnipotence of a principle. What is so foolish as the terror lest the blacks should be made furious by freedom and wages ? It is denying these that is the outrage, and makes the danger from the blacks. But justice satisfies everybody,-white man, red man, yellow man and black man. All like wages, and the appetite grows by feeding.

But this measure, to be effectual, must come speedily. The weapon is slipping out of our hands. " Time," say the Indian Scriptures, " drinketh up the essence of every great and noble action which ought to be performed, and which is delayed in the execution." '

I hope it is not a fatal objection to this policy that it is simple and beneficent thoroughly, which is the tribute of a moral action. An unprecedented material prosperity has not tended to make us Stoics or Christians. But the laws by ,which the universe is organized reappear at every point, and will rule it. The end of all political struggle is to establish morality as the basis of all legislation. It is not free institutions, it is not a republic, it is not a democracy, that is the end, – no, but only the means. Morality is the object of government.2 We want a state of things in which crime shall not pay. This is the consolation on which we rest in the darkness of the future and the afflictions of to-day, that the government of the world is moral, and does forever destroy what is not. It is the maxim of natural philosophers that the natural forces wear out in time all obstacles, and take place : and it is the maxim of history that victory always falls at last where it ought to fall ; or, there is perpetual march and progress to ideas. But in either case, no link of the chain can drop out. Nature works through her appointed elements ; and ideas must work through the brains and the arms of good and brave men, or they are no better than dreams.

Since the above pages were written, President Lincoln has proposed to Congress that the government shall cooperate with any state that shall enact a gradual abolishment of slavery. I n the recent series of national successes, this message is the best. It marks the happiest day in the political year. The American Executive ranges itself for the first time on the side of freedom. If Congress has been backward, the President has advanced. This state-paper is the more interesting that it appears to be the President's individual act, done under a strong sense of duty. He speaks his own thought in his own style. All thanks and honor to the Head of the State ! The message has been received throughout the country with praise, and, we doubt not, with more pleasure than has been spoken. If Congress accords with the President, it is not yet too late to begin the emancipation ; but we think it will always be too late to make it gradual. All experience agrees that it should be immediate.1 More and better than the President has spoken shall, perhaps, the effect of this message be, – but, we are sure, not more or better than he hoped in his heart, when, thoughtful of all the complexities of his position, he penned these cautious words.

* manumit: to set free

Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

XII Theodore Parker



“HERE comes Parker, the Orson of parsons, a man
Whom the Church undertook to put under her ban.–

There’s a background of God to each hard-working feature,
Every word that he speaks has been fierily furnaced
In the blast of a life that has struggled in earnest:
There he stands, looking more like a ploughman than priest,
If not dreadfully awkward, not graceful at least;

But his periods fall on you, stroke after stroke,
Like the blows of a lumberer felling an oak,
You forget the man wholly, you’re thankful to meet
With a preacher who smacks of the field and the street,
And to hear, you ‘re not over-particular whence,
Almost Taylor’s profusion, quite Latimer’s sense.”
– LOWELL, A Fable for Critics.


AT the death of a good and admirable per-son we meet to console and animate each other by the recollection of his virtues.

I have the feeling that every man’s biography is at his own expense. He furnishes not only the facts but the report. I mean that all biography is autobiography. It is only what he tells of himself that comes to be known and believed. In Plutarch’s lives of Alexander and Pericles, you have the secret whispers of their confidence to their lovers and trusty friends. For it was each report of this kind that impressed those to whom it was told in a manner to secure its being told everywhere to the best, to those who speak with authority to their own times and therefore to ours. For the political rule is a cosmical rule, that if a man is not strong in his own district, he is not a good candidate else-where.

He whose voice will not be heard here again could well afford to tell his experiences ; they were all honorable to him, and were part of the history of the civil and religious liberty of his times. Theodore Parker was a son of the soil, charged with the energy of New England, strong, eager, inquisitive of knowledge, of a diligence that never tired, upright, of a haughty independence, yet the gentlest of companions ; a man of study, fit for a man of the world; with decided opinions and plenty of power to state them ; rapidly pushing his studies so far as to leave few men qualified to sit as his critics.’ He elected his part of duty, or accepted nobly that assigned him in his rare constitution. Wonderful acquisition of knowledge, a rapid wit that heard all, and welcomed all that came, by seeing its bearing. Such was the largeness of his reception of facts and his skill to employ them that it looked as if he were some president of council to whom a score of telegraphs were ever bringing in reports ; and his information would have been excessive, but for the noble use he made of it ever in the interest of humanity. He had a strong understanding, a logical method, a love for facts, a rapid eye for. their historic relations, and a skill in stripping them of traditional lustres. He had a sprightly fancy, and often amused himself with throwing his meaning into pretty apologues ; yet we can hardly ascribe to his mind the poetic element, though his scholar-ship had made him a reader and quoter of verses. A little more feeling of the poetic significance of his facts would have disqualified him for some of his severer offices to his generation. The old religions have a charm for most minds which it is a little uncanny to disturb. ‘T is sometimes a question, shall we not leave them to decay without rude shocks? I remember that I found some harshness in his treatment both of Greek and of Hebrew antiquity, and sympathized with the pain of many good people in his auditory, whilst I acquitted him, of course, of any wish to be flippant. He came at a time when, to the irresistible march of opinion, the forms still retained by the most advanced sects showed loose and lifeless, and he, with something less of affectionate attachment to the old, or with more vigorous logic, rejected them. ‘T is objected to him that he scattered too many illusions. Perhaps more tenderness would have been graceful ; but it is vain to charge him with perverting the opinions of the new generation.

The opinions of men are organic. Simply, those came to him who found themselves ex-pressed by him. And had they not met this en-lightened mind, in which they beheld their own opinions combined with zeal in every cause of love and humanity, they would have suspected their opinions and suppressed them, and so sunk into melancholy or malignity – a feeling of loneliness and hostility to what was reckoned respect-able. ‘T is plain to me that he has achieved a historic immortality here ; that he has so woven himself in these few years into the history of Boston, that he can never be left out of your annals. It will not be in the acts of city councils, nor of obsequious mayors ; nor, in the state-house, the proclamations of governors, with their failing virtue – failing them at critical moments – that coming generations will study what really befell ; but in the plain lessons of Theodore Parker in this Music Hall, in Faneuil Hall, or in legislative committee rooms, that the true temper and authentic record of these days will be read. The next generation will care little for the chances of elections that govern governors now, it will care little for fine gentlemen who behaved shabbily ; but it will read very intelligently in his rough story, fortified with exact anecdotes, precise with names and dates, what part was taken by each actor ; who threw himself into the cause of humanity and came to the rescue of civilization at a hard pinch, and who blocked its course.

The vice charged against America is the want of sincerity in leading men. It does not lie at his door. He never kept back the truth for fear to make an enemy. .But, on the other hand, it was complained that he was bitter and harsh, that his zeal burned with too hot a flame. It is so difficult, in evil times, to escape this charge ! for the faithful preacher most of all. It was his merit, like Luther, Knox and Latimer, and John Baptist, to speak tart truth, when that was peremptory and when there were few to say it. But his sympathy for goodness was not less energetic. One fault he had, he overestimated his friends, – I may well say it,- and sometimes vexed them with the importunity of his good opinion, whilst they knew better the ebb which follows unfounded praise. He was capable, it must be said, of the most unmeasured eulogies on those he esteemed, especially if he had any jealousy that they did not stand with the Boston public as highly as they ought. His commanding merit as a reformer is this, that he insisted beyond all men in pulpits – I cannot think of one rival – that the essence of Christianity is its practical morals ; it is there for use, or it is nothing; and if you combine it with sharp trading, or with ordinary city ambitions to gloze over municipal corruptions, or private intemperance, or successful fraud, or immoral politics, or unjust wars, or the cheating of Indians, or the robbery of frontier nations, or leaving your principles at home to follow on the high seas or in Europe a supple complaisance to tyrants, – it is a hypocrisy, and the truth is not in you ; and no love of religious music or of dreams of Swedenborg, or praise of John Wesley, or of Jeremy Taylor, can save you from the Satan which you are.

His ministry fell on a political crisis also ; on the years when Southern slavery broke over its old banks, made new and vast pretensions, and wrung from the weakness or treachery of North-ern people fatal concessions in the Fugitive Slave Bill and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Two days, bitter in the memory of Boston, the days of the rendition of Sims and of Burns, made the occasion of his most remark-able discourses. He kept nothing back. In terrible earnest he denounced the public crime, and meted out to every official, high and low, his due portion.’ By the incessant power of his statement, he made and held a party. It was his great service to freedom. He took away the reproach of silent consent that would otherwise have lain against the indignant minority, by uttering in the hour and place wherein these outrages were done, the stern protest.

But whilst I praise this frank speaker, I have no wish to accuse the silence of others. There are men of good powers who have so much sympathy that they must be silent when they are not in sympathy. If you don’t agree with them, they know they only injure the truth by speaking. Their faculties will not play them true, and they do not wish to squeak and gibber, and so they shut their mouths. I can readily forgive this, only not the other, the false tongue which makes the worse appear the better cause. There were, of course, multitudes to censure and defame this truth-speaker. But the brave know the brave. Fops, whether in hotels or churches, will utter the fop’s opinion, and faintly hope for the salvation of his soul; but his manly enemies, who despised the fops, honored him ; and it is well known that his great hospitable heart was the sanctuary to which every soul conscious of an earnest opinion came for sympathy-alike the brave slave-holder and the brave slave-rescuer. These met in the house of this honest man – for every sound heart loves a responsible person, one who does not in generous company say generous things, and in mean company base things, but says one thing, now cheerfully, now indignantly, but always because he must, and because he sees that, whether he speak or refrain from speech, this is said over him ; and history, nature and all souls testify to the same.

Ah, my brave brother ! it seems as if, in a frivolous age, our loss were immense, and your place cannot be supplied. But you will already be consoled in the transfer of your genius, knowing well that the nature of the world will affirm to all men, in all times, that which for twenty-five years you valiantly spoke ; that the winds of Italy murmur the same truth over your grave ; the winds of America over these bereaved streets ; that the sea which bore your mourners home affirms it, the stars in their courses, and the inspirations of youth; whilst the polished and pleasant traitors to human rights, with perverted learning and disgraced graces, rot and are forgotten with their double tongue saying all that is sordid for the corruption of man.

The sudden and singular eminence of Mr. Parker, the importance of his name and influence, are the verdict of his country to his virtues. We have few such men to lose ; amiable and blameless at home, feared abroad as the standard-bearer of liberty, taking all the duties he could grasp, and more, refusing to spare himself, he has gone down in early glory to his grave, to be a living and enlarging power, wherever learning, wit, honest valor and independence are honored.

Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

XI John Brown–Speech at Salem


A MAN there came, whence none could tell,
Bearing a touchstone in his hand,
And tested all things in the land
By its unerring spell.

A thousand transformations rose
From fair to foul, from foul to fair:
The golden crown he did not spare,
Nor scorn the beggar’s clothes.

Then angrily the people cried,
The loss outweighs the profit far;
Our goods suffice us as they arc:
We will not have them tried.’

And since they could not so avail
To check his unrelenting quest,
They seized him, saying, ‘ Let him test
How real is our jail!’

But though they slew him with the sword,
And in the fire his touchstone burned,
Its doings could not be o’erturned,
Its undoings restored.

And when, to stop all future harm,
They strewed its ashes to the breeze,
They little guessed each grain of these
Conveyed the perfect charm.”

MR. CHAIRMAN: I have been struck with one fact, that the best orators who have added their praise to his fame,-and I need not go out of this house to find the purest eloquence in the country, – have one rival who comes off a little better, and that is JOHN BROWN. Everything that is said of him leaves people a little dissatisfied ; but as soon as they read his own speeches and letters they are heartily contented,-such is the singleness of purpose which justifies him to the head and the heart of all. Taught by this experience, I mean, in the few remarks I have to make, to cling to his history, or let him speak for himself.

John Brown, the founder of liberty in Kansas, was born in Torrington, Litchfield County, Connecticut, in 1800. When he was five years old his father emigrated to Ohio, and the boy was there set to keep sheep and to look after cattle and dress skins ; he went bareheaded and bare-footed, and clothed in buckskin. He said that he loved rough play, could never have rough play enough ; could not see a seedy hat without wishing to pull it off. But for this it needed that the playmates should be equal ; not one in fine clothes and the other in buckskin ; not one his own master, hale and hearty, and the other watched and whipped. But it chanced that in Pennsylvania, where he was sent by his father to collect cattle, he fell in with a boy whom he heartily liked and whom he looked upon as his superior. This boy was a slave ; he saw him beaten with an iron shovel, and otherwise maltreated ; he saw that this boy had nothing better to look forward to in life, whilst he himself was petted and made much of; for he was much considered in the family where he then stayed, from the circumstance that this boy of twelve years had conducted alone a drove of cattle a hundred miles. But the colored boy had no friend, and no future. This worked such indignation in him that he swore an oath of resistance to slavery as long as he lived. And thus his enterprise to go into Virginia and run off five hundred or a thou-sand slaves was not a piece of spite or revenge, a plot of two years or of twenty years, but the keeping of an oath made to heaven and earth forty-seven years before. Forty-seven years at least, though I incline to accept his own account of the matter at Charlestown, which makes the date a little older, when he said, ” This was all settled millions of years before the world was made.”

He grew up a religious and manly person, in severe poverty ; a fair specimen of the best stock of New England; having that force of thought and that sense of right which are the warp and woof of greatness. Our farmers were Orthodox Calvinists, mighty in the Scriptures; had learned that life was a preparation, a ” probation,” to use their word, for a higher world, and was to be spent in loving and serving mankind.1

Thus was formed a romantic character absolutely without any vulgar trait; living to ideal ends, without any mixture of self-indulgence or compromise, such as lowers the value of benevolent and thoughtful men we know ; abstemious, refusing luxuries, not sourly and reproachfully, but simply as unfit for his habit; quiet and gentle as a child in the house. And, as happens usually to men of romantic character, his fortunes were romantic. Walter Scott would have delighted to draw his picture and trace his adventurous career. A shepherd and herdsman, he learned the manners of animals, and knew the secret signals by which animals communicate.2 He made his hard bed on the mountains with them; he learned to drive his flock through thickets all but impassable; he had all the skill of a shepherd by choice of breed and by wise husbandry to obtain the best wool, and that for a course of years. And the anecdotes preserved show a far-seeing skill and conduct which, in spite of adverse accidents, should secure, one year with another, an honest reward, first to the farmer, and after-wards to the dealer. If he kept sheep, it was with a royal mind ; and if he traded in wool, he was a merchant prince, not in the amount of wealth, but in the protection of the interests confided to him.

I am not a little surprised at the easy effrontery with which political gentlemen, in and out of Congress, take it upon them to say that there are not a thousand men in the North who sympathize with John Brown. It would be far safer and nearer the truth to say that all people, in proportion to their sensibility and self-respect, sympathize with him. For it is impossible to see courage, and disinterestedness, and the love that casts out fear, without sympathy. All women are drawn to him by their predominance of sentiment. All gentlemen, of course, are on his side. I do not mean by “gentlemen,” people of scented hair and perfumed handkerchiefs, but men of gentle blood and generosity, ” fulfilled with all nobleness,” who, like the Cid, give the outcast leper a share of their bed ; like the dying Sidney, pass the cup of cold water to the dying soldier who needs it more. For what is the oath of gentle blood and knighthood ? What but to protect the weak and lowly against the strong oppressor ?

Nothing is more absurd than to complain of this sympathy, or to complain of a party of men united in opposition to slavery. As well complain of gravity, or the ebb of the tide. Who makes the abolitionist ? The slave-holder. The sentiment of mercy is the natural recoil which the laws of the universe provide to protect man-kind from destruction by savage passions. And our blind statesmen go up and down, with committees of vigilance and safety, hunting for the origin of this new heresy. They will need a very vigilant committee indeed to find its birthplace, and a very strong force to root it out. For the arch-abolitionist, older than Brown, and older than the Shenandoah Mountains, is Love, whose other name is Justice, which was before Alfred, before Lycurgus, before slavery, and will be after it.’

Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

X John Brown–Speech at Boston



“JOHN BROWN in Kansas settled, like a steadfast Yankee farmer,
Brave and godly, with four sons-all stalwart men of might.
There he spoke aloud for Freedom, and the Border strife grew warmer
Till the Rangers fired his dwelling, in his absence, in the night;
And Old Brown,
Osawatomie Brown,
Came homeward in the morning to find his house burned down.

Then he grasped his trusty rifle, and boldly fought for Freedom;
Smote from border unto border the fierce invading band: And he and his brave boys vowed – so might Heaven help and speed ’em –
They would save those grand old prairies from the curse that blights the land;
And Old Brown,
Osawatomie Brown,
Said, ‘ Boys, the Lord will aid us!’ and he shoved his ram rod down.”


MR. CHAIRMAN, AND FELLOW CITIZENS : I share the sympathy and sorrow which have brought us together. Gentlemen who have preceded me have well said that no wall of separation could here exist. This commanding event which has brought us together, eclipses all others which have occurred for a long time in our history, and 1 am very glad to see that this sudden interest in the hero of Harper’s Ferry has provoked an extreme curiosity in all parts of the Republic, in regard to the details of his history. Every anecdote is eagerly sought, and I do not wonder that gentlemen find traits of relation readily between him and themselves. One finds a relation in the church, another in the profession, another in the place of his birth. He was happily a representative of the American Republic. Captain John Brown is a farmer, the fifth in descent from Peter Brown, who came to Plymouth in the Mayflower, in 162o. All the six have been farmers. His grandfather, of Simsbury, in Connecticut, was a captain in the Revolution. His father, largely interested as a raiser of stock, became a contractor to supply the army with beef, in the war of 1812, and our Captain John Brown, then a boy, with his father was present and witnessed the surrender of General Hull. He cherishes a great respect for his father, as a man of strong character, and his respect is probably just. For himself, he is so transparent that all men see him through. He is a man to make friends wherever on earth courage and integrity are esteemed, the rarest of heroes, a pure idealist, with no by-ends of his own. Many of you have seen him, and every one who has heard him speak has been impressed alike by his simple, artless goodness, joined with his sublime courage. He joins that perfect Puritan faith which brought his fifth ancestor to Plymouth Rock with his grandfather’s ardor in the Revolution. He believes in two articles, – two instruments, shall I say ? – the Golden Rule and the Declaration of Independence ; and he used this expression in conversation here concerning them, ” Better that a whole generation of men, women and children should pass away by a violent death than that one word of either should be violated in this country.” There is a Unionist, – there is a strict constructionist for you. He believes in the Union of the States, and he conceives that the only obstruction to the Union is Slavery, and for that reason, as a patriot, he works for its abolition. The governor of Virginia has pronounced his eulogy in a manner that discredits the moderation of our timid parties. His own speeches to the court have interested the nation in him. What magnanimity, and what innocent pleading, as of childhood! You remember his words : ” If I had interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or any of their friends, parents, wives or children, it would all have been right. But I believe that to have interfered as I have done, for the despised poor, was not wrong, but right.”1

It is easy to see what a favorite he will be with history, which plays such pranks with temporary reputations. Nothing can resist the sympathy which all elevated minds must feel with Brown, and through them the whole civilized world; and if he must suffer, he must drag official gentlemen into an immortality most undesirable, of which they have already some disagreeable forebodings. Indeed, it is the reduction ad absurdum of Slavery, when the governor of Virginia is forced to hang a man whom he declares to be a man of the most integrity, truthfulness and courage he has ever met. Is that the kind of man the gallows is built for ? It were bold to affirm that there is within that broad commonwealth, at this moment, another citizen as worthy to live, and as deserving of all public and private honor, as this poor prisoner.’

But we are here to think of relief for the family of John Brown. To my eyes, that family looks very large and very needy of relief. It comprises his brave fellow sufferers in the Charlestown Jail ; the fugitives still hunted in the mountains of Virginia and Pennsylvania; the sympathizers with him in all the states ; and, I may say, almost every man who loves the Golden Rule and the Declaration of Independence, like him, and who sees what a tiger’s thirst threatens him in the malignity of public sentiment in the slave states. It seems to me that a common feeling joins the people of Massachusetts with him.

I said John Brown was an idealist. He believed in his ideas to that extent that he existed to put them all into action ; he said ‘he did not believe in moral suasion, he believed in putting the thing through.’ He saw how deceptive the forms are. We fancy, in Massachusetts, that we are free ; yet it seems the government is quite unreliable. Great wealth, great population, men of talent in the executive, on the bench, – all the forms right, – and yet, life and freedom are not safe. Why ? Because the judges rely on the forms, and do not, like John Brown, use their eyes to see the fact behind the forms. They assume that the United States can protect its witness or its prisoner. And in Massachusetts that is true, but the moment he is carried out of the bounds of Massachusetts, the United States, it is notorious, afford no protection at all ; the government, the judges, are an envenomed party, and give such protection as they give in Utah to honest citizens, or in Kansas ; such protection as they gave to their own Commodore Paulding, when he was simple enough to mistake the formal instructions of his government for their real meaning.’ The state judges fear collision between their two allegiances ; but there are worse evils than collision ; namely, the doing substantial injustice. A good man will see that the use of a judge is to secure good government, and where the citizen’s weal is imperilled by abuse of the federal power, to use that arm which can secure it, viz., the local government. Had that been done on certain calamitous occasions, we should not have seen the honor of Massachusetts trailed in the dust, stained to all ages, once and again, by the ill-timed formalism of a venerable bench. If judges cannot find law enough to maintain the sovereignty of the state, and to protect the life and freedom of every inhabitant not a criminal, it is idle to compliment them as learned and venerable. What avails their learning or veneration ? At a pinch, they are no more use than idiots. After the mischance they wring their hands, but they had better never have been born.’ A Vermont judge, Hutchinson, who has the Declaration of Independence in his heart ; a Wisconsin judge, who knows that laws are for the protection of citizens against kidnappers, is worth a court-house full of lawyers so idolatrous of forms as to let go the substance. Is any man in Massachusetts so simple as to believe that when a United States Court in Virginia, now, in its pre-sent reign of terror, sends to Connecticut, or New York, or Massachusetts, for a witness, it wants him for a witness ? No ; it wants him for a party ; it wants him for meat to slaughter and eat. And your habeas corpus is, in any way in which it has been, or, I fear, is likely to be used, a nuisance, and not a protection ; for it takes away his right reliance on himself, and the natural assistance of his friends and fellow citizens, by offering him a form which is a piece of paper.

But I am detaining the meeting on matters which others understand better. I hope, then, that, in administering relief to John Brown’s family, we shall remember all those whom his fate concerns, all who are in sympathy with him, and not forget to aid him in the best way, by securing freedom and independence in Massachusetts.

Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

IX Speech on Affairs in Kansas

AND ye shall succor men;
‘T is nobleness to serve;
Help them who cannot help again:
Beware from right to swerve.


I REGRET, with all this company, the absence of Mr. Whitman of Kansas, whose narrative was to constitute the interest of this meeting. Mr. Whitman is not here; but knowing, as we all do, why he is not, what duties kept him at home, he is more than present. His vacant chair speaks for him. For quite other reasons, I had been wiser to have stayed at home, unskilled as I am to address a political meeting, but it is impossible for the most recluse to extricate himself from the questions of the times.

There is this peculiarity about the case of Kansas, that all the right is on one side. We hear the screams of hunted wives and childrenanswered by the howl of the butchers. Thetestimony of the telegraphs from St. Louis and he border confirm the worst details. Theprinted letters of border ruffians avow the facts. hen pressed to look at the cause of the mis?chief in the Kansas laws, the President falters and declines the discussion; but his support? ers in the Senate, Mr. Cass, Mr. Geyer, Mr. Hunter, speak out, and declare the intolerable atrocity of the code. It is a maxim that all party spirit produces the incapacity to receive natural impressions from facts ; and our recent political history has abundantly borne out the maxim. But these details that have come from Kansas are so horrible, that the hostile press have but one word in reply, namely, that it is all exaggeration, ‘t is an Abolition lie. Do the Coinmittee of Investigation say that the outrages have been overstated ? Does their dismal catalogue of private tragedies show it ? Do the private letters? Is it an exaggeration, that NI r. Hopps of Somerville, Mr. Hoyt of Deerfield, Mr. Jennison of Groton, Mr. Phillips of Berk-shire, have been murdered? That Mr. Robin-son of Fitchburg has been imprisoned ? Rev. Mr. Nute of Springfield seized, and up to this time we have no tidings of his fate ?

In these calamities under which they suffer, and the worst which threaten them, the people of Kansas ask for bread, clothes, arms and men, to save them alive, and enable them to stand against these enemies of the human race. They have a right to be helped, for they have helped themselves.

This aid must be sent, and this is not to be doled out as an ordinary charity ; but bestowed up to the magnitude of the want, and, as has been elsewhere said, ” on the scale of a national action.” I think we are to give largely, lavishly, to these men. And we must prepare to do it. We must learn to do with less, live in a smaller tenement, sell our apple-trees, our acres, our pleasant houses. I know people who are making haste to reduce their expenses and pay their debts, not with a view to new accumulations, but in preparation to save and earn for the benefit of the Kansas emigrants.

We must have aid from individuals,-we must also have aid from the state. I know that the last legislature refused that aid. I know ,that lawyers hesitate on technical grounds, and wonder what method of relief the legislature will apply. But I submit that, in a case like is, where citizens of Massachusetts, legal voters here, have emigrated to national territory kinder the sanction of every law, and are then set on by highwaymen, driven from their new homes, pillaged, and numbers of them killed and scalped, and the whole world knows that this is no accidental brawl, but a systematic war to the knife, and in defiance of all laws and liberties, – I submit that the governor and legislature should neither slumber nor sleep till they have found out how to send effectual aid and comfort to these poor farmers, or else should resign their seats to those who can. But first let them hang the halls of the state-house with black crape, and order funeral service to be said for the citizens whom they were unable to defend.

We stick at the technical difficulties. 1 think there never was a people so choked and stultified by forms. We adore the forms of law, instead of making them vehicles of wisdom and justice. I like the primary assembly. I own I have little esteem for governments. I esteem them only good in the moment when they are established. I set the private man first. He only who is able to stand alone is qualified to be a citizen. Next to the private man, I value the primary assembly, met to watch the government and to correct it. That is the theory of the American State, that it exists to execute the will of the citizens, is always responsible to them, and is always to be changed when it does not. First, the private citizen, then the primary assembly, and the government last.

In this country for the last few years the government has been the chief obstruction to the common weal. Who doubts that Kansas would have been very well settled, if the United States had let it alone? The government armed and led the ruffians against the poor farmers. I do not know any story so gloomy as the politics of this country for the last twenty years, centralizing ever more manifestly round one spring, and that a vast crime, and ever more plainly, until it is notorious that all promotion, power and policy are dictated from one source, – illustrating the fatal effects of a false position to demoralize legislation and put the best people always at a disadvantage ; – one crime always present, always to be varnished over, to find fine names for ; and we free statesmen, as accomplices to the guilt, ever in the power of the grand offender.

Language has lost its meaning in the universal cant. Representative Government is really misrepresentative ; Union is a conspiracy against the Northern States which the Northern States are to have the privilege of paying for ; the adding of Cuba and Central America to the slave marts is enlarging the area of Freedom. Manifest Destiny, Democracy, Freedom, fine names for an ugly thing. They call it otto of rose and lavender,-I call it bilge-water. They call it Chivalry and Freedom ; I call it the stealing all the earnings of a poor man and the earnings of his little girl and boy, and the earnings of all that shall come from him, his children’s children forever.

But this is Union, and this is Democracy ; and our poor people, led by the nose by these fine words, dance and sing, ring bells and fire can-non, with every new link of the chain which is forged for their limbs by the plotters in the Capitol.

What are the results of law and union ? There is no Union. Can any citizen of Massachusetts travel in honor through Kentucky and Alabama and speak his mind ? Or can any citizen of the Southern country who happens to think kidnapping a had thing, say so ? Let Mr. Underwood of Virginia answer. Is it to be sup-posed that there are no men in Carolina who dissent from the popular sentiment now reigning there ? It must happen, in the variety of human opinions, that there are dissenters. They are silent as the grave. Are there no women in that country, – women, who always carry the conscience of a people ? Yet we have not heard one discordant whisper.

In the free states, we give a snivelling support to slavery. The judges give cowardly interpretations to the law, in direct opposition to the known foundation of all law, that every immoral statute is void. And here of Kansas, the President says : ” Let the complainants go to the courts ; ” though he knows that when the poor plundered farmer comes to the court, he finds the ringleader who has robbed him dismounting from his own horse, and unbuckling his knife to sit as his judge.

The President told the Kansas Committee that the whole difficulty grew from ” the factious spirit of the Kansas people respecting institutions which they need not have concerned them-selves about.” A very remarkable speech from a Democratic President to his fellow citizens, that they are not to concern themselves with institutions which they alone are to create and determine. The President is a lawyer, and should know the statutes of the land. But I borrow the language of an eminent man, used long since, with far less occasion : If that be law, let the ploughshare be run under the foundations of the Capitol ; ” – and if that be Government, extirpation is the only cure.

I am glad to see that the terror at disunion and anarchy is disappearing. Massachusetts, in its heroic day, had no government – was an anarchy. Every man stood on his own feet, was his own governor ; and there was no breach of peace from Cape Cod to Mount Hoosac. California, a few years ago, by the testimony of all people at that time in the country, had the best government that ever existed. Pans of gold lay drying outside of every man’s tent, in perfect security. The land was measured into little strips of a few feet wide, all side by side. A bit of ground that your hand could cover was worth one or two hundred dollars, on the edge of your strip ; and there was no dispute. Every man throughout the country was armed with knife and revolver, and it was known that instant justice would be administered to each offence, and perfect peace reigned. For the Saxon man, when he is well awake, is not a pirate but a citizen, all made of hooks and eyes, and links himself naturally to his brothers, as bees hook themselves to one another and to their queen in a loyal swarm.

But the hour is coming when the strongest will not be strong enough. A harder task will the new revolution of the nineteenth century be than was the revolution of the eighteenth century. I think the American Revolution bought its glory cheap. If the problem was new, it was simple. If there were few people, they were united, and the enemy three thousand miles off. But now, vast property, gigantic interests, family connections, webs of party, cover the land with a network that immensely multiplies the dangers of war.’

Fellow citizens, in these times full of the fate of the Republic, I think the towns should hold town meetings, and resolve themselves into Committees of Safety, go into permanent sessions, adjourning from week to week, from month to month. I wish we could send the sergeant-at-arms to stop every American who is about to leave the country. Send home every one who is abroad, lest they should find no country to return to. Come home and stay at home, while there is a country to save. When it is lost it will be time enough then for any who are luckless enough to remain alive to gather up their clothes and depart to some land where freedom exists.

Complete Works of RWE XI - Miscellanies

VIII The Assault Upon Mr. Sumner

MAY 26, 1856

His erring foe,
Self-assured that he prevails,
Looks from his victim lying low,
And sees aloft the red right arm
Redress the eternal scales.


MR. CHAIRMAN : I sympathize heartily with the spirit of the resolutions. The events of the last few years and months and days have taught us the lessons of centuries. I do not see how a barbarous community and a civilized community can constitute one state. I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom. Life has not parity of value in the free state and in the slave state. In one, it is adorned with education, with skilful labor, with arts, with long prospective interests, with sacred family ties, with honor and justice. In the other, life is a fever ; man is an animal, given to pleasure, frivolous, irritable, spending his days in hunting and practising with deadly weapons to defend himself against his slaves and against his companions brought up in the same idle and dangerous way. Such people live for the moment, they have properly no future, and readily risk on every passion a life which is of small value to themselves or to others. Many years ago, when Mr. Webster was challenged in Washington to a duel by one of these mad-caps, his friends came forward with prompt good sense and said such a thing was not to be thought of ; Mr. Webster's life was the property of his friends and of the whole country, and was not to be risked on the turn of a vagabond's ball. Life and life are incommensurate. The whole state of South Carolina does not now offer one or any number of persons who are to be weighed for a moment in the scale with such a person as the meanest of them all has now struck down. The very conditions of the game must always be, – the worst life staked against the best. It is the best whom they desire to kill. It is only when they cannot answer your reasons, that they wish to knock you down. If, there-fore, Massachusetts could send to the Senate a better man than Mr. Sumner, his death would be only so much the more quick and certain. Now, as men's bodily strength, or skill with knives and guns, is not usually in proportion to their knowledge and mother-wit, but oftener in the inverse ratio, it will only do to send foolish persons to Washington, if you wish them to be safe.

The outrage is the more shocking from the singularly pure character of its victim. Mr. Sumner's position is exceptional in its honor. He had not taken his degrees in the caucus and in hack politics. It is notorious that, in the long time when his election was pending, he refused to take a single step to secure it. He would not so much as go up to the state house to shake hands with this or that person whose good will was reckoned important by his friends. He was elected. It was a homage to character and talent. In Congress, he did not rush into party position. He sat long silent and studious. His friends, I remember, were told that they would find Sumner a man of the world like the rest ; ' 'tis quite impossible to be at Washington and not bend; he will bend as the rest have done.' Well, he did not bend. He took his position and kept it. He meekly bore the cold shoulder from some of his New England col-leagues, the hatred of his enemies, the pity of the indifferent, cheered by the love and respect of good men with whom he acted ; and has stood for the North, a little in advance of all the North, and therefore without adequate support. He has never faltered in his maintenance of justice and freedom. He has gone beyond the large expectation of his friends in his in-creasing ability and his manlier tone. I have heard that some of his political friends tax him with indolence or negligence in refusing to make electioneering speeches, or otherwise to bear his part in the labor which party organization requires. I say it to his honor. But more to his honor are the faults which his enemies lay to his charge. I think, sir, if Mr. Sumner had any vices, we should be likely to hear of them. They have fastened their eyes like microscopes for five years on every act, word, manner and movement, to find a flaw,-and with what result ? His opponents accuse him neither of drunkenness nor debauchery, nor job, nor speculation, nor rapacity, nor personal aims of any kind. No ; but with what? Why, beyond this charge, which it is impossible was ever sincerely made, that he broke over the proprieties of debate, I find him accused of publishing his opinion of the Nebraska conspiracy in a letter to the people of the United States, with discourtesy. Then, that he is an abolitionist; as if every sane human being were not an abolitionist, or a believer that all men should he free. And the third crime he stands charged with, is, that his speeches were written before they were spoken; which, of course, must be true in Sumner's case, as it was true of Webster, of Adams, of Calhoun, of Burke, of Chatham, of Demosthenes; of every first-rate speaker that ever lived. It is the high compliment he pays to the intelligence of the Senate and of the country. When the same reproach was cast on the first orator of ancient times by some caviller of his day, he said, " I should be ashamed to come with one unconsidered word before such an assembly." Mr. Chairman, when I think of these most small faults as the worst which party hatred could allege, I think I may borrow the language which Bishop Burnet applied to Sir Isaac Newton, and say that Charles Sumner " has the whitest soul I ever knew."

Well, sir, this noble head, so comely and so wise, must be the target for a pair of bullies to beat with clubs. The murderer's brand shall stamp their foreheads wherever they may wander in the earth. But I wish, sir, that the high respects of this meeting shall be expressed to Mr. Sumner; that a copy of the resolutions that have been read may be forwarded to him. I wish that he may know the shudder of terror which ran through all this community on the first tidings of this brutal attack. Let him hear that every man of worth in New England loves his virtues ; that every mother thinks of him as the protector of families ; that every friend of freedom thinks him the friend of freedom. And if our arms at this distance cannot defend him from assassins, we confide the defence of a life so precious to all honorable men and true patriots, and to the Almighty Maker of men.'