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I.propose to look back a little to-night over that great period of decadence with which so many of us are too familiar, but which must not be forgotten, lest the lesson which it teaches should also perish.
The beginnings of our land, as you remember, were eminently religious. Our fathers came hither to establish a new and notable dispensation, seeking to lay it upon foundations of righteousness. For generations they succeeded; and here was developed that consummate form of liberty which carried out, as it could not be carried out in antiquity, the idea of the freedom of the whole people.
lt was here that France lit her torch; but she knew not how to follow our example. To a large extent it was from this land that liberty derived in Europe its modern impetus. We ourselves derived the seed of liberty from Holland and from England; but we planted it here under a free sky and upon a noble soil; and from this seed which we brought hither we reared a harvest; and we sent back and resowed in France, in Germany, and throughout Europe, it would seem now, the same blessed truths which have emancipated us.
But when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan came also among them;" and when our institutions were framed for liberty and for righteousness, there was permitted to be twined among them an element false in morals, corrupt in political economy, and utterly subversive of all rights and doctrines of human liberty; and there came to be developed a procedure which, while it gave partial benefit to a favored class, corrupted the whole system of industry, not alone in the immediate field where this procedure was established-namely, in the slaveholding States of the Union-but indirectly, and by the circulation, as it were, in the whole body politic. For slavery is essential treason to free labor, and to the rights of the working man, the world over. It is esteemed bad enough for labor to be indebted to capital; but it was worse a thousand times when capital owned not only labor but the laborer too; and that was the condition of labor and political economy over the fairest portion of this continent.
Organized into our affairs, the principle of slavery influ
enced national history in such a way as to inevitably produce antagonism, clash, and grating of interests. When the Mississippi and the Missouri come together, and their waters push each other every whither, and their face is covered with eddies and wrinkles, it is in vain for the Mississippi to re proach the Missouri; and it is in vain for the eastward-com. ing river to reproach the southward-coming river. It is not the fault of either of them that they scowl upon each other. There is a law that makes it unavoidable. So, that democ racy which developed freedom in labor, and that aristocracy which developed bondage in labor, in the same government, could not keep their hands off from each other. They were born antagonists, and conflict between them was a necessity.
There was, then, this latent principle of antagonism which threatened our existence. In the conflict which ensued, and which increased as the elements of liberty and slavery ripened into full expression in rational life, there was more and more a corrupting of the morals and the conscience of the whole nation. The entire South was corrupted by perversion; for that which the fathers believed was a permissible evil, to be done away in the course of time, their descendants, when it became profitable in the fields of both money and politics, turned and justified. Although in the early days the opponents of slavery were eminently the ablest men of the South, in the more recent days all the leading men of the South-her scholars, her poets, her publicists, and her ministers-all joined in one great outcry to justify slavery, and to make it the very foundation of national life, as well as the very philosophy of national thrift. So the whole South went wrong, under the influence of slavery; and it was taught in her schools and in her colleges, until a whole generation had been brought up from the cradle in the doctrine of its essential beneficence, and of its wisdom in political economy. It is in vain to say that the people of the South did not believe this doctrine. The younger men of the South did believe it. It came to them almost with their growth. But none the less were they perverted and corrupted by it.
The North was yet more corrupted, because her interests
led her largely to placate and defer to the South. Nothing can be more melancholy, particularly for the Eastern part of our land, than to remember the public sentiment which existed in churches, when it was made an offense that almost ostracised a man to plead in a prayer-meeting for slaves; when men bated their breath in speaking of human rights; when pulpits not only were dumb, but were employed very largely in the defense or palliation of slavery, or only admitted in an underbreath that it was an evil-an evil which must be borne with patiently. If there was not apology for slavery, there was at least a guilty silence concerning it during a long period in the pulpits of the North.
The benevolent associations of the North-especially those men who were relied upon to carry out the essential parts of their work—were wrapt up in complicity with this great mischief, and refused to bear their testimony. I will not go into detail; but you will remember how pitiful was the position of the great missionary and publishing societies of the Christian community in the North. Following their lead, the commercial publishers took out of their publications of every kind those great truths which had been the meat of generations before; and in their reading-books nothing was said of liberty that could be construed as condemning American slavery. In none of their books for the use of schools was there anything that could offend the South. So fashion, commerce, religion, and politics throughout the North were lowered in tone; and they did obeisance to slavery. In politics, if possible, it was worse than anywhere else, by reason of ambition and political aspiration. From the peculiar position of affairs, no man in the North who hoped for preferment dared to speak on the subject of liberty. Do you not remember when every young lawyer was warned not to give way to intemperate enthusiasm in favor of freedom, because it would certainly block up all hope of his advancement? Do you not remember when no man could hope to go to the Legislature of the State, and certainly not to the national Legislature, if he dared to utter an honest sentiment of liberty? Men were marked; and if they desired ready advancement, not simply must they be silent in
regard to the sacredness of freedom, but they must say some kind and conciliatory things for slavery. When they did this, they were sound.
Therefore, it came to pass that there was bred a generaation of men of whom the fathers in the upper sphere were ashamed. There were men in the North who were corrupted by the bribes which were presented to them by slavery. There were political eunuchs, emasculated men, fearing, calculating, tergiversating. We never had a period of more profound national humiliation than that between 1830 and 1860.
I myself came into public life about the year 1837, and I was a witness of this condition of things; so that I speak from my own knowledge. The great struggle at that time, I remember full well, was for liberty of thought and of expression. I was tutored. I had friends in high places who took me aside, and whispered in my ear, saying, "Prudence; caution; you have opportunity; good society is open to you: do not blight your prospects. There is a chance for you in public life: do not spoil your opportunity of ascending by rash speaking. Wait; consider; let your thoughts ripen." Muzzling and suffocation were the order of the day. I remember distinctly when Birney's press was mobbed, in Cincinnati, and dragged through the streets, and thrown into the Ohio River. I remember perfectly the night when I patrolled the streets, armed, to defend the houses of the poor colored people in that city. I remember when no prayer-meeting or church-gathering allowed men to speak on the subject of liberty. I remember when in Presbytery and Synod it was considered a heresy to advocate freedom. I remember when it was regarded as next to treason in politics for a man to be an avowed advocate of national liberty.
The battle began in the North on the question of whether liberty of thought, liberty of speech, and liberty of printing, should be maintained; and we went through days when the birds of fate laid addled eggs-and we had all we wanted of them; days of darkness and humiliation and disgrace.
The condition of Washington from 1830 to 1860 was worse than the court of Pharaoh while he held the Israelites in
bondage. I speak not of its want of thrift; I speak not of its slatternly condition; I speak not of its lack of enterprise; I speak not of the smothering there of every element of prosperity: I speak of the moral degradation that prevailed there, and of the rod of iron which was held over the heads of all the men who went there. Aggressive politics was there the order of the day. Among the movements in this direction was the passage of that blessed infamy, the Fugitive Slave Law. I say blessed, because that, perhaps, marked the time when reaction really set in. It was the most cruel insult, and the most needless that was ever offered by men given over by fate to fatuity, to the conscience of Northern men. There was no necessity for it. It was a defiance thrown in the face of Northern men.
Then came the Kansas struggle. Then came the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Then came preparations for the nationalization of slavery. Then came the scheme for allowing slaves to go in transitu through the Northern States. Changes in the Constitution were contemplated by which slavery should be as national as liberty.
Those were the elements to which we had come when the war surprised us. Dark times were upon us then. I remember them full well. I had drunk in the love of liberty with the breath of my life. I do not remember an hour, in my very boyhood, in which my soul was not on fire for the rights of men. I never wavered. I never bent. Although I had the same desire for kindness and consideration and sympathy which every generous and unperverted heart has, I never saw the moment when I would buy popularity or position in society by yielding one hair's-breadth of my feeling of enthusiastic conscience for human rights, and for rights that were sacred in proportion as they were denied to men, and in proportion as men were poor, and crude, and unhelpful of themselves.
I very well remember groaning and travailing in spirit through all those dark days. I did not altogether give up hope; but, from the year 1856 to the year 1860, events trod so fast on each other that I confess to so much relinquishment of hope that I feared that perhaps God meant to break