THE SLAVE POWER
EDITED WITH NOTES by JAMES K. HOSMER
AMERICAN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION
25 BEACON STREET
This electronic edition has been prepared for the Antislavery Literature Project, Arizona State University, a public education project working in cooperation with the English Server, Iowa State University. Digitazation by Joe Lockard. All rights reserved by the Antislavery Literature Project. Permission for non-commercial educational use is granted.
[unnumbered page i]
The present volume, containing anti-slavery papers written by Theodore Parker between the years 1841 and 1852, does not present all that he wrote upon this topic during the period. In many essays and sermons he refers to slavery in passages sometimes brief and sometimes extended. In particular the discourse on the death of Daniel Webster in 1852 abounds in references to this theme. For such papers the reader is referred to other volumes of this series. In the papers presented here, however, Parker's battle against slavery may be studied in its entire development. While the sermon of 1841 is unimpassioned, as from a heart not deeply stirred, the address of 1852 is almost frenzied in its heat, an utterance in which fire could not burn more fiercely. In the documents between may be traced the gradual deepening of earnestness.
Fifty years ago the present editor, as a youth, often heard the voice of Theodore Parker and was among the thousands over whom his spell was powerful. Coming again to him after an interval so long and so charged with events of vast moment, he is again deeply affected by the force and sincerity of the prophet. Where have we seen better courage, a greater singleness of purpose, a more active humanity, a fiercer invective -- applied to the wrong-doer, a better equipment in the champion of a cause?
Nevertheless, looking after a half century at Parker's positions, there is much in them to find fault with. Though professing patriotism, he scoffs bitterly at the "Union-savers," and Mr. Chadwick cites him as de-
[unnumbered page ii]
claring: "I have thought if any State wished to go she had a perfect right to do so."-- (I. Theodore Parker, p. 260.)
However Parker may have expressed himself in private, there is little in his public utterances to show that he saw in African slavery an evil out of which good might come. But Booker T. Washington, accepted now everywhere as the best spokesman of the colored race, asserts:
"We must acknowledge that notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or their ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the world."
Parker's denunciation was directed especially at the men, among whom Daniel Webster was chief, who to save the Union were willing to postpone for a time the grapple with slavery. Yet in this company stood Abraham Lincoln, in Parker's time unrevealed as yet in his greatness, but whom his countrymen were soon to regard as the best and wisest American of his century. He was the arch "temporizer"; he announced with all definiteness that his purpose to save the Union was paramount; he was willing to execute the Fugitive Slave Law and not at all impelled by his conscience to interfere with slavery where it existed. Under him it came about as an incident, not at all as an end sought for, that slavery fell. Had Parker lived into the wartime, Lincoln scarcely less than Webster would perhaps have been the object of his scorn.
* Up from Slavery, p. 16.
[unnumbered page iii]
The truth is that Parker, with all his fine scholarship blinked somewhat the facts as to human slavery.
His moral sense was impatient and the calamities consequent upon civil war and the disruption of the nation were in his mind not to be compared with suffering slavery to exist a moment longer. Webster no doubt had many frailties, but his love for the Union was consuming, and his conviction fixed that the welfare of men required its preservation,-- a conviction which Americans to-day adhere to universally as a fundamental principle. Webster felt the evil of slavery, but thought that to save the Union, the struggle with it might be postponed. Says the latest historian who has considered his period: "The mission which he felt the circumstances of his era had committed to him was to defend the Union till the bonds had grown too strong to break. The anti-slavery crusade must fall to the men of a younger generation, whose work, had it come sooner, would have placed American nationality in deadlier peril than was brought by the Civil War." George Frisbie Hoar, too, ascribed Webster's hesitation in the anti-slavery path upon which in earlier years he so distinctly entered, not to sordid ambition but to superior prescience, which in 1850 foresaw a catastrophe to which Parker and his friends were blind. The conservatives felt that reform must proceed gradually. Slavery had existed from the beginning of the human race. No evil that afflicts society is more inveterate; there is no evil to the enormity of which the moral sense of mankind awakened more slowly. In vast masses of Americans, even in the North, the conscience was still silent when slavery was held up as a
* Garrison, American Nation, vol. XVIL, p. 327.
[unnumbered page iv]
To Webster and the other conservative spirits who stood with him, the Compromise of 1850, of which the Fugitive Slave Law was the feature most repugnant, seemed, with good reason, necessary to avert civil war. Had civil war come at that time, it can scarcely be doubted that the destruction of the country would have resulted. The North in 1850 was far less able to make a good fight than ten years later. Its resources were much smaller, the foreign immigration which reinforced so effectively the anti-slavery strength was in its halfway stage; the work of railroads was only beginning, transit was comparatively slow and difficult; the great Northwest, dependent for its trade upon watercourses, was bound far more closely to the South than in the following decade. Even in 1861, under vastly improved conditions, the North had the narrowest possible escape from defeat. The "temporizing" policy at which Parker cast so much scorn, probably saved the national life.*
I have said that if Theodore Parker had lived he would perhaps have assailed Lincoln with no less bitterness than he assailed Webster. In 1848 both men sat in Congress, one in the Senate the other in the House, old line Whigs not far apart. Though Lincoln favored and Webster rejected the Wilmot Proviso, that made no important chasm between them. Both men favored the exclusion of slavery from the territories, but while Lincoln thought an enactment might be necessary, Webster believed that natural conditions made slavery in the new territory impossible. Why "re-enact the will of God"? Again in 1860, though Webster was gone, the statesmen who carried on his
* James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise o f 1850, vol. I., 193.
[unnumbered page v]
tradition did not find an entire ally in their old associate Abraham Lincoln. He was willing to accept the nomination to the Presidency of a "sectional party," whereas they desired "to know no North and no South." But these were comparatively trifling differences. In the main Lincoln's ideas were those of his old Whig associates. Like them he thought slavery wrong and desired its restriction within limits, but nothing was farther from his purpose than to attack it within those limits. To save the Union he was quite ready to execute the Fugitive Slave Law. He clearly repudiated the idea that the war was for emancipation; he strove simply and solely to save the Union. "My paramount purpose in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it. What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save the Union, and what I forbear I forbear because I do not believe it will help to save the Union."* When the Emancipation Proclamation came its announced purpose was to cripple the Union-threatening enemy, any design of benefiting the negro thereby was secondary in Lincoln's thought.
Theodore Parker mocked at "Union-saving" with great bitterness. The threats of the South he contemned, as "the barking of a dog that will not bite." The Union to him was not a paramount consideration. As it stood, it was a thing intolerable; it had better be done away with if slavery must persist in it. So thought generally the more zealous abolitionists. So did not think the masses of their countrymen. A
* Lincoln's Works, (ed. of 1894), vol. II, p. 227.
[unnumbered page vi]
champion came forth from the camp which they ridiculed and denounced, who pursued a policy of patience and tact suffering long himself and teaching the multitudes, both white and black, also to suffer long, until at last, discerning the right moment, he struck at once and with power. The Union was saved and throughout its entire extent the shackles fell from the bondmen.
Unmistakably slavery was a terrible wrong. To deprive men of freedom, unless that freedom is used to the detriment of society as in the case of criminals, or stands in the way of proper training as in the case of children, must always and everywhere be injustice. When in the past the strong have imposed bonds upon the weak it has almost invariably been for selfish ends, and it was never more selfish than when the American slave-holders imposed bonds upon the African. A vast wrong was committed, and as the universe is constituted, it must necessarily be followed by its penalty. Upon whom in the order of Providence ought the penalty to fall? Certainly not upon the innocent victim, but upon the guilty enslaver. Accordingly we see in antiquity the rotting out of the master-races, however strong and brilliant, while the barbarians they held in subjection, though for a time tortured and distressed, emerged at length from the harsh schooling to become in turn conquerors with the world at their feet. Has American experience gone counter to that of former times? Those among us whose immediate fathers were slaves, speaking through the voice of the man of their race best qualified to represent them, declare that they have been lifted through bondage above the savagery in which their race has been for ages involved. If it be asked, on the other hand, where among white civil-
[unnumbered page vii]
ized races ignorance is most rife, homicide most prevalent, law in general least respected, it must be sadly answered that all this is found in that part of our country where until lately slavery prevailed. That is the sharp penalty which the descendants of an arbitrary master-class must pay for the evil which their fathers so long maintained and strove so strenuously to make permanent.
Though it was not the leadership of Parker and his friends which brought us out of our strait it would be quite wrong to declare that they did no good in their time. One of the group is said to have gloried in the name fanatic, confessing that his positions were extreme even in his own eyes, maintaining that in a great movement some should be extravagant, perhaps even frantic, as a counterpoise to the recalcitrants. No such avowal as this could have come from Theodore Parker. He was not conscious that he was extreme. He thought himself centered upon justice, in the only place it was possible for a true man to stand. He was fervid, perfervid, in his abolitionism, and it was that per-fervidness which, when the fire had smouldered long, at length evoked the conflagration. In spite of the cost of our Civil War,-- more than a million lives and the loss to the North alone of perhaps five billions of treasure,* as the world feels to-day, it is well that it came when it did. It had to come, and though the memory of all its agonies is a most solemn shadow within our consciousness, few will say to-day that the result was not worth all it cost. We are thankful then to those who fought it through from whatever camp they came,-- to the conservative spirits who forebore until after long wait
* American Nation, vol. XXI., Outcome of the Civil War, p. 304.
[unnumbered page viii]
ing the right moment came to act; and also to the impatient consciences that leaped before, dragging into the arena those who were holding back too long.
JAMES K. HOSMER.
[unnumbered page ix]