gave this speech on July 5, 1852 at an event commemorating the signing
of the Declaration of Independence, held at Corinthian Hall in Rochester,
Fellow Citizens, I
am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers
of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men,
too great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen
to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The
point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most
favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than
admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good
they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you
to honor their memory....
pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day?
What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?
Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice,
embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I,
therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar,
and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings
resulting from your independence to us?
Would to God, both
for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully
returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden
easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation's sympathy
could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude,
that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so
stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs
of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from
his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently
speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."
But such is not the
state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between
us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high
independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings
in which you, this 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. The sunlight that brought light and healing
to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth 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 speak to-day? If so, there
is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous
to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were
thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable
ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten
"By the rivers
of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We
hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they
that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted
us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How
can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my
tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."
your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose
chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable
by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully
remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right
hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!"
To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with
the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and
would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens,
is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics
from the slave's point of view. Standing there identified with the American
bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all
my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker
to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of
the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation
seems equally hideous and revolting. America.is false to the past, false
to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.
Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion,
I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty
which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which
are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce,
with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate
slavery Ñ the great sin and shame of America! "I will not
equivocate; I will not excuse"; I will use the severest language
I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose
judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder,
shall not confess to be right and just.
But I fancy I hear
some one of my audience say, "It is just in this circumstance that
you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression
on the public mind. Would you argue more, an denounce less; would you
persuade more, and rebuke less; your cause would be much more likely to
succeed." But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be
argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue?
On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light?
Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded
already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it
in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when
they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two
crimes in the State of Virginia which, if committed by a black man (no
matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while
only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment.
What is this but the acknowledgment that the slave is a moral, intellectual,
and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted
in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding,
under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or
to write. When you can point to any such laws in reference to the beasts
of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When
the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on
your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall
be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with
you that the slave is a man!
For the present, it
is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing
that, while we are ploughing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of
mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships,
working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while
we are reading, writing and ciphering, acting as clerks, merchants and
secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors,
editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner
of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing
the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living,
moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives
and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian's
God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave,
we are called upon to prove that we are men!
Would you have me
argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of
his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness
of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by
the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty,
involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to
be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Amercans,
dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural
right to freedom? speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively
and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to
offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the
canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.
What, am I to argue
that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to
work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their
fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash,
to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at
auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their
flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their mastcrs?
Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution,
is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength
than such arguments would imply.
What, then, remains
to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish
it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the
thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such
a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument
At a time like this,
scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability,
and could reach the nation's ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream
of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke.
For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower,
but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The
feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation
must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy
of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must
be proclaimed and denounced.
What, to the American
slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more
than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which
he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted
liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity;
your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of
tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality,
hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings,
with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast,
fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes
which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the
earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people
of the United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may,
search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms
of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse,
and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday
practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting
barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival....
...Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I
have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair
of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work
the downfall of slavery. "The arm of the Lord is not shortened,"
and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began,
with hope. While drawing encouragement from "the Declaration of Independence,"
the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions,
my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations
do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages
ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot
round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time
was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character
could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social
impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few,
and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come
over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable.
The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence
is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway
over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning
are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together.
From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively
annihilated. -- Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly
heard on the other.
The far off and almost
fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire,
the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, "Let
there be Light," has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage
whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading
light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen in contrast
with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. 'Ethiopia,
shall, stretch. out her hand unto Ood." In the fervent aspirations
of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:
God speed the year
The wide world o'er!
When from their galling chains set free,
Th' oppress'd shall vilely bend the knee,
And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom's reign,
To man his plundered rights again
God speed the day
when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end,
And change into a faithful friend
God speed the hour,
the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant's presence cower;
But to all manhood's stature tower,
By equal birth!
That hour will come, to each, to all,
And from his Prison-house, to thrall
Until that year,
day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I'll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive --
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate'er the peril or the cost,