I shall never forget his first speech at the convention--the extraordinary emotion it excited in my own mind--the powerful impression it created upon a crowded auditory, completely taken by surprise--the applause which followed from the beginning to the end of his felicitous remarks. I think I never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment; certainly, my perception of the enormous outrage which is inflicted by it, on the godlike nature of its victims, was rendered far more clear than ever. There stood one, in physical proportion and stature commanding and exact--in intellect richly endowed--in natural eloquence a prodigy--in soul manifestly "created but a little lower than the angels"--yet a slave, ay, a fugitive slave,--trembling for his safety, hardly daring to believe that on the American soil, a single white person could be found who would befriend him at all hazards, for the love of God and humanity! Capable of high attainments as an intellectual and moral being--needing noting but a comparatively small amount of cultivation to make him an ornament to society and a blessing to his race--by the law of the land, by the voice of the people, by the terms of the slave code, he was only piece of property, a beast of burden, a chattel personal, nevertheless!
--Wm. Lloyd Garrison in preface to 1845 edition
West Indian Emancipation has borne a singular testimony to the noble elements of the Negro character. It may be doubted, whether any other race would have borne this trial, as well as they. Before the day of freedom came, the West Indies and this country foreboded fearful consequences from the sudden transition of such a multitude from bondage to liberty. Revenge, massacre, unbridled lust, were to usher in the grand festival of Emancipation, which was to end in the breaking out of a new Pandemonium on earth. Instead of this, the holy day of liberty was welcomed by shouts and tears of gratitude. The liberated negroes did not hasten as Saxon serfs in like circumstances might have done, to haunts of intoxication, but to the house of God. Their rude churches were thronged. Their joy found utterance in prayers and hymns. History contains no record more touching, than the account of the religious, tender thankfulness which this vast boon awakened in the negro breast. And what followed? Was this beautiful emotion an evanescent transport, soon to give way to ferocity and vengeance? It was natural for masters, who had inflicted causeless stripes, and filled the cup of the slaves with bitterness, to fear their rage after liberation. But the overwhelming joy of freedom having subsided, they returned to labor. Not even a blow was struck in the excitement of that vast change. No violation of the peace required the interposition of the magistrate. The new relation was assumed easily, quietly, without an act of violence; and, since that time, in the short space of two years, how much have they accomplished? Beautiful villages have grown up. Little freeholds have been purchased. The marriage tie has become sacred. The child is educated. Crime has diminished. There are islands, where a greater proportion of the young are trained in schools, than among the whites of the slave states. I ask, whether any other people on the face of the earth, would have received and used the infinite blessing of liberty so well. pp. 55-56, The Anti-Slavery Picknick
I look over this country at the present time, and I see Educational Societies, Sanitary Commissions, Freedmen's Associations, and the like,- all very good: but in regard to the colored people there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. (Applause.) The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us. Gen. Banks was distressed with solicitude as to what he should do with the negro. Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, "What shall we do with the negro?" I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten to the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature's plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone,--don't disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner-table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot-box, let him alone,--don't disturb him! (Applause.) If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone, - your interference is doing him a positive injury. . . . Let him fall if he cannot stand alone!
"The Blessings in which you, his day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. . . This fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens to mock me, by asking me to speake to-day?"
But we claim no affinity with Africa. This is our home. We have beheld no other sun save that piercing the clouds that tip our noble Alleghenies-- which glistens on our own rolling Hudson, and gives vegetation and life to the green fields, where our fathers lie--"The land of our forefathers."
What more this to us than to all other
Americans? Go ye "home to the places your fathers voluntarily left;
our forefathers were forced there; their sons will not be forced away."
further, we do not trace our ancestry to Africa alone. We trace it to Englishmen,
Irishmen, Scotchmen; to Frenchmen; to the German; to the Asiatic as well
as to Africa. "The best blood of Virginia courses through our veins."
We sympathize deeply with poor benighted Africa. We wish her disenthralment
from the deep superstition and idolatry in which she is sunk. We would see
her regenerated--civilized. "We do not love Caesar less, but Rome more."
We have been persecuted. Despite of it--despite of all that has been visited
upon us by our fellow countrymen--we "love our country still."
We would defend her honor while we mourn our shame. A fair destiny awaits
her--a destiny shadowed in the landing of the pilgrim Fathers--our glorious
Declaration of Independence--in the present times. What else is it but that
it should be reserved unto her to establish complete the idea of universal
brotherhood--including even the despised and abused, the rejected, the cast
down. How the fact will be yielded to that effect--the fact that the first
martyr, Wm. Attuck, the first man that fell in the Revolutionary struggle,
fighting in vindication of the fact of the equality of man, and in defence
of the rights of man, in favor of the idea of brotherhood, was a black man;
gloried be his name? What else could have created the passiveness which
has been remarkable in the persecuted and outraged colored man? What else
have disconcerted the many movements of the slaves to be free or to die
gloriously? It is the finger of God. He purposes a glorious destiny--our
Union will be preserved. . . .
We are not to be forced or enticed from our native land. Nay, if they finish their steamships with even more splendor, and make their tables groan with viands more rare, than those found in our steam palaces, yet they will
ere they will be regarded as an inducement for us to leave our homes. The Ebony line is an idea to lull, to satisfy, to cover over, to smother the sympathy for us, and against the fugitive slave law;but it will signally fail. . . .
We have not as yet secured for ourselves a character--reputation. We are but the immediate descendants of those who have been reared under all manner of depressing influences, in ignorance, in an ignorant section of the country, and Southern plantations; we have not had a fair trial; our position has been a stooping one. We are beginning to feel the necessity of standing erect. We have too generally occupied menial positions, which has been urged against us. This must be changed; this is being changed. Our children--the children of those who occupy menial positions--are being educated to a more refined taste. Not however, to discard honorable labor. They will possess all the requisites to success and advancement. They inherit a spirit of endurance, a virtue necessary to success. They are sensitive, which creates perception. They have strength, being the descendants of muscular frames. They are being educated, let their children be as oppressed as they are. Keep them oppressed, cast down, as we have and our fathers have been, and you have accomplished that which to us seems physically and morally impossible. They will be respected here socially and politically. Believing this and admiring the principles of our Government; believing that the country is by nature, blest with advantages far beyond those afforded in Africa, or anywhere else, how can anyone expect, even Horace Greeley himself, that the colored man will leave this country? . . . .Not that there will be some cases of individual emigration; this may be expected. It betakes of a spirit of enterprise in keeping with the progress of our people from their country, to a disconnection of interests, responsibilities and hopes, with other Americans.
. . . .Your committee would recommend our people to remain firm, in the face of all threats and inducements, to their oft-repeated resolve, to live, die, and be buried in the graves of their fathers; to remove to the country to become tillers of the soil; that if any one be determined upon emigrating from the country, that they emigrate to Jamaica, and not to Liberia; that persons emigrating to Jamaica, or other places, to engage wherever they can in commercial trade with those they leave behind.