Among the holidays of the year, some portion of our people borrow one from another land. They borrow what they fain would own, since their doing so would increase, not lessen, the joy and prosperity of the present owner. It is a holiday, not to be celebrated, as others are, with boast, and shout, and gay procession, but solemnly, yet hopefully, in humiliation and prayer for much ill now existing—in faith that the God of good will not permit such ill to exist always—in aspirations to become His instruments for its removal.
We borrow this holiday from England. We know not that she could lend us another such. Her career has been one of selfish aggrandizement. To carry her flag every where where the waters flow, to leave a strong mark of her foot-print on every shore that she might return and claim its spoils, to maintain in every way her own advantage, is and has been her object as much as that of any nation on earth. The plundered Hindoo, the wronged Irish—for ourselves we must add the outraged Chinese (for we look on all that has been written as to the right of that war as mere sophistry2), no less than Napoleon, walking up and down in his ‘tarred green coat’ in the unwholesome lodge at St. Helena3—all can tell whether she be righteous or generous in her conquests. Nay! let myriads of her own children say whether she will abstain from sacrificing, mercilessly, human freedom, happiness, and the education of immortal souls, for the sake of gains in money! We speak of Napoleon, for we must ever despise, with most profound contempt, the paltry use she made of her power on that occasion.—She had been the chief means of liberating Europe from his tyranny, and, though it was for her own sake, we must commend and admire her conduct and resolution thus far. But the unhandsome, base treatment of her captive has never been enough contemned. Any private gentleman, in chaining up the foe that had put himself in his power, would at least have given him lodging, food and clothes to his liking, and a civil turnkey—and a great nation could fail in this! Oh, it was shameful, if only for the vulgarity of feeling evinced! All this we say because we are sometimes impatient of England’s brag on the subject of Slavery. Freedom! Because she has done one good act, is she entitled to the angelic privilege of being the Champion of Freedom?
And yet it is true that once, once she nobly awoke to a sense of what was right and wise. It is true that she also acted out that sense; acted fully, decidedly. She was willing to make sacrifices even of the loved money. She has not let go the truth she then laid to heart, and continues the resolute foe of man’s traffic in men. We must bend low to her as we borrow this holy day, the anniversary of the Emancipation of Slaves in the West Indies. We do not feel that the extent of her practice justifies the extent of her preaching, yet we must feel her to be, in this matter, an elder sister, entitled to cry Shame to us. And, if her feelings be those of a sister indeed, how must she mourn to see her next of kin pushing back as far as in her lies the advance of this good cause, binding those whom the old world had awakened from its sins enough to loose! But courage, sister. All is not yet lost. There is here a faithful band determined to expiate the crimes that have been committed in the name of Liberty. On this day they meet and vow themselves to the service, and, as they look in one another’s glowing eyes, they read there assurance that the end is not yet, and that they, forced as they are
And Fear and Falsehood, miserable train,”
Indeed we do not see that they bate a jot of heart or hope, and it is because they feel that the power of the Great Spirit and its peculiar workings in the spirit of this age are with them. There is action and reaction all the time, and though the main current is obvious, there are many little eddies and counter currents. Mrs. Norton writes a poem on the sufferings of the poor, and in it she, as episode, tunefully laments the sufferings of the Emperor of all the Russias for the death of a beloved daughter. And it was a deep grief, yet it did not soften his heart, or make it feel for man. The first signs of his recovered spirits are in new efforts to crush out the heart of Poland, and to make the Jews lay aside the hereditary marks of their national existence, to them a sacrifice far worse than death. But then—Count Apraxin is burnt alive by his infuriate serfs, and the life of a serf is far more dog-like or rather machine-like than that of our slaves. Still the serf can rise in vengeance, can admonish the Autocrat that humanity will yet turn again and rend him.
So with us. The most shameful deed has been done that ever disgraced a nation; because the most contrary to consciousness of right. Other nations have done wickedly, but we have surpassed them all in trampling under foot the principles that had been assumed as the basis of our national existence and our willingness to forfeit our honor in the face of the world.
The following stanzas, written by a friend some time since, on the Fourth of July, exhibit these contrasts so forcibly, that we cannot do better than insert them here:
Salute approaching dawn,
And the deep cannons’ fearful bursts
Announce a Nation’s Morn.
Imposing ranks of freemen stand
And claim their proud birthright,
Impostors! rather, thus to brand
A name they hold so bright.
Let the day see the pageant show!
Float, banners, to the breeze!
Shout Liberty’s great name throughout
Columbia’s lands and seas!
Give open sunlight to the Free!
But for Truth’s equal sake,
When Night sinks down upon the land,
Proclaim dead Freedom’s Wake!
Beat, muffled drums—toll, funeral bell!
Nail every half-mast!
For, though we fought the battle well,
We’re traitors at the last.
Let the whole nation join in one
Procession to appear,
We and our sons lead on the front,
Our slave bring up the rear.
America is rocked within
Thy cradle, Liberty,
By Africa’s poor palsied hand,
We’ve dug one grave, as deep as Death,
For Tyranny’s black sin,
And dug another at its side
To thrust our brother in.
We challenge all the world aloud,
“Lo! Tyranny’s deep grave!”
And all the world points back and cries—
“Then, fool!—behold thy Slave!”
“Yes, rally, brave America,
Thy noble hearts and free,
Around the Eagle, as he soars
Upward in majesty.
“One half thy emblem is the bird,
Out-facing thus the day;
But, wouldst thou make him wholly thine,
Give him a helpless prey.”
This should be sung in Charleston at 9 o’clock in the evening, when the drums are heard proclaiming “dead Freedom’s Wake,” as they summon to their homes, or to the custody of the police, every human being with a black skin who is found walking without a pass from the white. Or it might have been sung to advantage the night after Charleston had shown her independence and care of domestic institutions by expulsion of the venerable envoy of Massachusetts! Its expression would seem even more forcible than now, when sung so near the facts, when the eagle soars so close above his prey.
How deep the shadow, yet cleft by light! There is a counter-current that sets toward the deep. We are inclined to weigh as of almost equal weight with all we have had to trouble us as to the prolongation of slavery, the hopes that may be gathered from the course taken by such a man as Cassius Clay. A man open to none of the accusations brought to diminish the influence of Abolitionists in general, for he has eaten the bread wrought from slavery, and has shared the education that excuses the blindness of the slaveholder. He speaks as one having authority; no one can deny that he knows where he is. In the prime of manhood, of talent, and the energy of a fine enthusiasm, he comes forward with deed and word to do his devoir in this cause, never to leave the field till he can take with him the wronged wretches rescued by his devotion.
Now he has made this last sacrifice of the prejudices of “Southern chivalry,” more than ever will be ready to join the herald’s cry, “God speed the right.” And we cannot but believe his noble example will be followed by many young men in the slave-holding ranks, brothers in a new sacred band vowed to the duty not merely of defending, but far more sacred, of purifying their homes.
The event of which this day is the anniversary, affords a sufficient guaranty of the safety and practicability of strong measures for this purification. Various accounts are given to the public of the state of the British West Indies, and the foes of emancipation are of course constantly on the alert to detect any unfavorable result which may aid them in opposing the good work elsewhere. But through all statements these facts shine clear as the Sun at noonday, that the measure was there carried into effect with an ease and success, and has shown in the African race a degree of goodness, docility, capacity for industry and self-culture, entirely beyond or opposed to the predictions which darkened so many minds with fears. Those fears can never again be entertained or uttered with the same excuse. One great example of the safety of doing right exists; true, there is but one of the sort, but volumes may be preached from such a text.
We, however, preach not; there are too many preachers already in the field, abler, more deeply devoted to the cause. Endless are the sermons of these modern crusaders, those ardent “sons of thunder,” who have pledged themselves never to stop or falter till this one black spot be purged away from the land which gave them birth. They cry aloud and spare not; they spare not others, but then, neither do they spare themselves, and such are ever the harbingers of a new advent of the Holy Spirit. Our venerated friend, Dr. Channing, sainted in more memories than any man who has left us in this nineteenth century, uttered the last of his tones of soft, solemn, persuasive, convincing eloquence on this day and on this occasion. The hills of Lenox laughed and were glad as they heard him who showed in that last address, an address not only to the men of Lenox, but to all men, for he was in the highest sense the Friend of Man, the unsullied purity of infancy, the indignation of youth at vice and wrong, informed and tempered by the mild wisdom of age. It is a beautiful fact, that this should have been the last public occasion of his life.
Last year a noble address was delivered by R. W. Emerson, in which he broadly showed the juste milieu views upon this subject in the holy light of a high ideal day. The truest man grew more true as he listened, for the speech, though it had the force of fact and the lustre of thought, was chiefly remarkable as sharing the penetrating quality of the “still, small voice,” most often heard when no man speaks. Now it spoke through a man, and no personalities, or prejudices, or passions, could be perceived to veil or disturb its silver sound.
These speeches are on record, little can be said that is not contained in them. But we can add evermore our aspirations for thee, O our Country, that thou mayest not long need to borrow a holy day, not long have all thy festivals blackened by falsehood, tyranny, and a crime for which neither man below nor God above can much longer pardon thee. For ignorance may excuse error, but thine, it is vain to deny it, is conscious wrong and vows thee to the Mammon whose wages are endless torment or final death.*
“First of August, 1845.” New-York Daily Tribune, 1 August 1845, p. 1.