What worldwide benefactors these "imprudent" men are! How prudently most men creep into nameless graves; while now and then one or two forget themselves into immortality.
--from his Speech on Lovejoy
May the good Lord ever keep me from wishing to say the last word; and also from assigning ranks or awarding prizes to great men gone. However, it is a joy to get acquainted with a noble, splendid personality, and then introduce him to you, or at least draw the arras, so you can see him as he lived and worked or nobly failed.
And if you and I understand this man it is because we are much akin to him. The only relationship, after all, is the spiritual relationship. Your brother after the flesh may not be your brother at all; you may live in different worlds and call to each other in strange tongues across wide seas of misunderstandings. "Who is my mother and who are my brethren?"
As you understand a man, just in that degree are you related to him. There is a great joy in discovering kinship--for in that moment you discover yourself, and life consists in getting acquainted with yourself. We see ourselves mirrored in the soul of another--that is what love is, or pretty nearly so.
If you like what I write, it is because I express for you the things you already know; we are akin, our heads are in the same stratum--we are breathing the same atmosphere. To the degree that you comprehend the character of Wendell Phillips you are akin to him. I once thought great men were all ten feet high, but since I have met a few, both in astral form and in the flesh, I have found out differently.
What kind of a man was Wendell Phillips?
Very much like you and me, Blessed, very much like you and me.
I think well of great people, I think well of myself, and I think well of you. We are all God's children--all parts of the Whole--akin to Divinity.
Phillips never thought he was doing much--never took any great pride in past performances. When what you have done in the past looks large to you, you have not done much today. His hopes were so high that there crept into his life a tinge of disappointment--some have called it bitterness, but that is not the word--just a touch of sadness because he was unable to do more. This was a matter of temperament, perhaps, but it reveals the humanity as well as the divinity of the man. There is nothing worse than self-complacency--smugosity is sin.
Phillips was not supremely great--if he were, how could we comprehend him?
And now if you will open those folding doors--there! that will do--thank you.
* * * * * * *
When was he born? Ah, I'll tell you--it was in his twenty-fifth year--about three in the afternoon, by the clock, October Twenty-first, Eighteen Hundred Thirty-five. The day was Indian summer, warm and balmy. He sat there reading in the window of his office on Court Street, Boston, a spick-span new law-office, with four shelves of law-books bound in sheep, a green-covered table in the center, three armchairs, and on the wall a steel engraving of "Washington Crossing the Delaware."
He was a handsome fellow, was this Wendell Phillips--it would a' been worth your while just to run up the stairs and put your head in the door to look at him. "Can I do anything for you?" he would have asked.
"No, we just wanted to see you, that's all," we would have replied.
He sat there at the window, his long legs crossed, a copy of "Coke on Littleton" in his hands. His dress was what it should be--that of a gentleman--his face cleanly shaven, hair long, cut square and falling to his black stock. He was the only son of Boston's first Mayor, both to the manor and to the manner born, rich in his own right; proud, handsome, strong, gentle, refined, educated--a Christian gentleman, heir to the best that Boston had to give--a graduate of the Boston Latin School, of Harvard College, of the Harvard Law School--living with his widowed mother in a mansion on Beacon Hill, overlooking Boston's forty-three acres of Common!
Can you imagine anything more complete in way of endowment than all this? Did Destiny ever do more for mortal man?
There he sat waiting for clients. About this time he made the acquaintance of a cockeyed pulchritudinous youth, Ben Butler by name, who was errand-boy in a nearby office. It was a strange friendship--peppered by much cross-fire whenever they met in public--to endure loyal for a lifetime.
Clients are sure to come to the man who is not too anxious about them--sure to come to a man like Phillips--a youth clothed with the graces of a Greek--waiting on the threshold of manhood's morning.
Here is his career: a successful lawyer and leader in society; a member of the Legislature; a United States Senator, and then if he cares for it--well, well, well!
But in the meantime, there he sits, not with his feet in the window or on a chair--he is a gentleman, I said, a Boston gentleman--the flower of a gracile ancestry. In the lazy, hazy air is the hum of autumn birds and beetles--the hectic beauty of the dying year is over all. The hum seems to grow--it becomes a subdued roar.
You have sat behind the scenes waiting for the curtain to rise--a thousand people are there just out of your sight--five hundred of them are talking. It is one high-keyed, humming roar.
The roar of a mob is keyed lower--it is guttural and approaches a growl--it seems to come in waves, a brazen roar rising and falling--but a roar, full of menace, hate, deaf to reason, dead to appeal.
You have heard the roar of the mob in "Julius Cæsar," and stay! once I heard the genuine article. It was in Eighty-four--goodness gracious, I am surely getting old!--it was in a town out West. I saw nothing but a pushing, crowding mass of men, and all I heard was that deep guttural roar of the beast. I could not make out what it was all about until I saw a man climbing a telegraph-pole.
He was carrying a rope in one hand. As he climbed higher, the roar subsided. The climber reached the arms that form the cross. He swung the rope over the crossbeam and paid it out until the end was clutched by the uplifted hands of those below.
The roar arose again like an angry sea, and I saw the figure of a human being leap twenty feet into the air and swing and swirl at the end of the rope.
The roar ceased.
The lawyer laid down the brand-new book, bound in sheep, and leaned out of the window--men were running down the thoroughfare, some hatless, and at Washington Street could be seen a black mass of human beings--beings who had forsaken their reason and merged their personality into a mob.
The young lawyer arose, put on his hat, locked his office, followed down the street. His tall and muscular form pushed its way through the mass.
Theodore Lyman, the Mayor, was standing on a barrel importuning the crowd to disperse. His voice was lost in the roar of the mob.
From down a stairway came a procession of women, thirty or so, walking by twos, very pale, but calm. The crowd gradually opened out on a stern order from some unknown person. The young lawyer threw himself against those who blocked the way. The women passed on, and the crowd closed in as water closes over a pebble dropped into the river.
The disappearance of the women seemed to heighten the confusion: there were stones thrown, sounds of breaking glass, a crash on the stairway, and down the narrow passage, with yells of triumph, came a crowd of men, half-dragging a prisoner, a rope around his waist, his arms pinioned. The man's face was white, his clothing disheveled and torn. His resistance was passive--no word of entreaty or explanation escaped his lips. A sudden jerk on the rope from the hundred hands that clutched it threw the man off his feet--he fell headlong, his face struck the stones of the pavement, and he was dragged for twenty yards. The crowd grabbed at him and lifted him to his feet--blood dripped from his face, his hat was gone, his coat, vest and shirt were in shreds. The man spoke no word.
"That's him--Garrison, the damned abolitionist!" The words arose above the din and surge of the mob: "Kill him! Hang him!"
Phillips saw the colonel of his militia regiment, and seizing him by the arm, said, "Order out the men to put down this riot!"
"Fool!" said the Colonel, "don't you see our men are in this crowd!"
"Then order them into columns, and we will protect this man."
"I never give orders unless I know they will be obeyed. Besides, this man Garrison is a rioter himself--he opposes the government."
"But, do we uphold mob-law--here, in Boston!"
"Don't blame me--I haven't anything to do with this business. I tell you, if this man Garrison had minded his own affairs, this scene would never have occurred."
"And those women?"
"Oh, they are members of the Anti-Slavery Society. It was their holding the meeting that made the trouble. The children followed them, hooting them through the streets!"
"Yes; you know children repeat what they hear at home--they echo the thoughts of their elders. The children hooted them, then some one threw a stone through a window. A crowd gathered, and here you are!"
The Colonel shook himself loose from the lawyer and followed the mob. The Mayor's counsel prevailed: "Give the prisoner to me--I will see that he is punished!"
And so he was dragged to the City Hall and there locked up.
The crowd lingered, then thinned out. The shouts grew less, and soon the police were able to rout the loiterers.
The young lawyer went back to his law-office, but not to study. The law looked different to him now--the whole legal aspect of things had changed in an hour.
It was a pivotal point.
He had heard much of the majesty of the law, and here he had seen the entire machinery of justice brushed aside.
Law! It is the thing we make with our hands and then fall down and worship. Men want to do things, so they do them, and afterward they legalize them, just as we believe things first and later hunt for reasons. Or we illegalize the thing we do not want others to do.
Boston, standing for law and order, will not even allow a few women to meet and discuss an economic proposition!
Abolition is a fool idea, but we must have free speech--that is what our Constitution is built upon! Law is supposed to protect free speech, even to voicing wrong ideas! Surely a man has a legal right to a wrong opinion! A mob in Boston to put down free speech!
This young lawyer was not an Abolitionist--not he, but he was an American, descended from the Puritans, with ancestors who fought in the War of the Revolution--he believed in fair play.
His cheeks burned with shame.
* * * * * * *
Seen from Mount Olympus, how small and pitiful must seem the antics of Earth--all these churches and little sects--our laws, our arguments, our courts of justice, our elections, our wars!
Viewed across the years, the Abolition Movement seems a small thing. It is so thoroughly dead--so far removed from our present interests! We hear a Virginian praise John Brown, listen to Henry Watterson as he says, "The South never had a better friend than Lincoln," or brave General Gordon, as he declares, "We now know that slavery was a gigantic mistake, and that Emerson was right when he said, 'One end of the slave's chain is always riveted to the wrist of the master.'"
We can scarcely comprehend that fifty years ago the trinity of money, fashion and religion combined in the hot endeavor to make human slavery a perpetuity; that the man of the North who hinted at resisting the return of a runaway slave was in danger of financial ruin, social ostracism, and open rebuke from the pulpit. The ears of Boston were so stuffed with South Carolina cotton that they could not hear the cry of the oppressed. Commerce was fettered by self-interest, and law ever finds precedents and sanctions for what commerce most desires. And as for the pulpit, it is like the law, in that Scriptural warrant is always forthcoming for what the pew wishes to do.
Slavery, theoretically, might be an error, but in America it was a commercial, political, social and religious necessity, and any man who said otherwise was an enemy of the State.
William Lloyd Garrison said otherwise. But who was William Lloyd Garrison? Only an ignorant and fanatical freethinker from the country town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. He had started four or five newspapers, and all had failed, because he would not keep his pen quiet on the subject of slavery.
New England must have cotton, and cotton could not be produced without slaves. Garrison was a fool. All good Christians refused to read his vile sheet, and businessmen declined to advertise with him or to subscribe to his paper.
However, he continued to print things, telling what he thought of slavery. In Eighteen Hundred Thirty-one, he was issuing a periodical called, "The Liberator."
I saw a partial file of "The Liberator" recently at the Boston Public Library. They say it is very precious, and a custodian stood by and tenderly turned the leaves for me. I was not allowed even to touch it, and when I was through looking at the tattered pages, they locked it up in a fireproof safe.
The sheets of different issues were of various sizes, and the paper was of several grades in quality, showing that stock was scarce, and that there was no system in the office.
There surely was not much of a subscription-list, and we hear of Garrison's going around and asking for contributions. But interviews were what he really wished, as much as subscribers. He let the preachers defend the peculiar institution--to print a man's fool remarks is the most cruel way of indicting him. Among those Garrison called on was Doctor Lyman Beecher, then thundering against Unitarianism.
Garrison got various clergymen to commit themselves in favor of slavery, and he quoted them verbatim, whereas on this subject the clergy of the North wished to remain silent--very silent.
Doctor Beecher was wary--all he would say was, "I have too many irons in the fire now!"
"You had better take them all out and put this one in," said the seedy editor.
But Doctor Beecher made full amends later--he supplied a son and a daughter to the Abolition Movement, and this caused Carlos Martyn to say, "The old man's loins were wiser than his head."
Garrison had gotten himself thoroughly disliked in Boston. The Mayor once replied to a letter inquiring about him, "He is a nobody and lives in a rat-hole."
But Garrison managed to print his paper--rather irregularly, to be sure, but he printed it. From one room he moved into two, and a straggling company, calling themselves "The Anti-Slavery Society," used his office for a meeting-place.
And now, behold the office mobbed, the type pitched into the street, the Society driven out, and the fanatical editor, bruised and battered, safely lodged in jail--writing editorials with a calm resolution and a will that never faltered.
And Wendell Phillips? He was pacing the streets, wondering whether it was worth while to be respectable and prosperous in a city where violence took the place of law when logic failed.
To him, Garrison had won--Garrison had not been answered: only beaten, bullied, abused and thrust behind prison-bars.
Wendell Phillips' cheeks burned with shame.
* * * * * * *
Garrison was held a prisoner for several days.
The Mayor would have punished the man, Pilate-like, to appease public opinion, but there was no law to cover the case--no illegal offense had been committed. Garrison demanded a trial, but the officials said that they had locked him up merely to protect him, and that he was a base ingrate. Official Boston now looked at the whole matter as a good thing to forget. The prisoner's cell-door was left open, in the hope that he would escape, just as, later, George Francis Train enjoyed the distinction of being the only man who was literally kicked down the stone steps of the Tombs.
Garrison was thrust out of limbo, with a warning, and a hint that Boston-town was a good place for him to emigrate from.
But Garrison neither ran away nor went into hiding--he calmly began a canvass to collect money to refit his printing-office. Boston had treated him well--the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church--he would stay. Men who fatten on difficulties are hard to subdue. Phillips met Garrison shortly after his release, quite by chance, at the house of Henry G. Chapman. Garrison was six years older than Phillips--tall, angular, intellectual, and lacked humor. He also lacked culture. Phillips looked at him and smiled grimly.
But in the Chapman household was still another person, more or less interesting--a Miss Ann Terry Greene. She was an orphan and an heiress--a ward of Chapman's. Young Phillips had never before met Miss Greene, but she had seen him. She was one of the women who had come down the stairs from "The Liberator" office, when the mob collected. She had seen the tall form of Phillips, and had noticed that he used his elbows to good advantage in opening up the gangway.
"It was a little like a cane-rush--your campus practise served you in good stead," said the lady, and smiled.
And Phillips listened, perplexed--that a young woman like this, frail, intellectual, of good family, should mix up in fanatical schemes for liberating black men. He could not understand it!
"But you were there--you helped get us out of the difficulty. And if worse had come to worst, I might have appealed to you personally for protection!"
And the young lawyer stammered, "I should have been only too happy," or something like that. The lady had the best of the logic, and a thin attempt to pity her on account of the unfortunate occurrence went off by the right oblique and was lost in space.
These Abolitionists were a queer lot!
Not long after that meeting at the Chapmans, the young lawyer had legal business at Greenfield that must be looked after. Now, Greenfield is one hundred miles from Boston, but then it was the same distance from tidewater that Omaha is now--that is to say, a two-days' journey.
The day was set. The stage left every morning at nine o'clock from the Bowdoin Tavern in Bowdoin Square. A young fellow by the name of Charles Sumner was going with Phillips, but at the last moment was detained by other business. That his chum could not go was a disappointment to Phillips--he paced the stone-paved courtway of the tavern with clouded brow. All around was the bustle of travel, and tearful friends bidding folks good-by, and the romantic rush of stagecoach land.
The ease and luxury of travel have robbed it of its poetry--Ruskin was right!
But it didn't look romantic to Wendell Phillips just then--his chum had failed him--the weather was cold, two days of hard jolting lay ahead. And--"Ah! yes--it is Miss Greene! and Miss Grew, and Mr. Alvord. To Greenfield? why, how fortunate!"
Obliging strangers exchanged seats, so that our friends could be together--passengers found their places on top or inside, bundles and bandboxes were packed away, harness-chains rattled, a long whip sang through the air, and the driver, holding a big bunch of lines in one hand, swung the six horses, with careless grace, out of Bowdoin Square, and turned the leaders' heads toward Cambridge. The post-horn tooted merrily, dogs barked, and stableboys raised a good-by cheer!
Out past Harvard Square they went, through Arlington and storied Lexington--on to Concord--through Fitchburg, to Greenfield.
It doesn't take long to tell it, but that was a wonderful trip for Phillips--the greatest and most important journey of his life, he said forty years later.
Miss Grew lived in Greenfield and had been down to visit Miss Greene. Mr. Alvord was engaged to Miss Grew, and wanted to accompany her home, but he couldn't exactly, you know, unless Miss Greene went along.
So Miss Greene obliged them. The girls knew the day Phillips was going, and hastened their plans a trifle, so as to take the same stage--at least that is what Charles Sumner said.
They didn't tell Phillips, because a planned excursion on the part of these young folks wouldn't have been just right--Beacon Hill would not have approved. But when they had bought their seats and met at the stage-yard--why, that was a different matter.
Besides, Mr. Alvord and Miss Grew were engaged, and Miss Greene was a cousin of Miss Grew--there!
Let me here say that I am quite aware that long after Miss Grew became Mrs. Alvord, she wrote a most charming little book about Ann Terry Greene, in which she defends the woman against any suspicion that she plotted and planned to snare the heart of Wendell Phillips, on the road to Greenfield. The defense was done in love, but was unnecessary. Ann Terry Greene needs no vindication. As for her snaring the heart of Wendell Phillips, I rest solidly on this: She did.
Whether Miss Greene coolly planned that trip to Greenfield, I can not say, but I hope so.
And, anyway, it was destiny--it had to be.
This man and this woman were made for each other--they were "elected" before the foundations of Earth were laid.
The first few hours out, they were very gay. Later, they fell into serious conversation. The subject was Abolition. Miss Greene knew the theme in all of its ramifications and parts--its history, its difficulties, its dangers, its ultimate hopes. Phillips soon saw that all of his tame objections had been made before and answered. Gradually the horror of human bondage swept over him, and against this came the magnificence of freedom and of giving freedom. By evening, it came to him that all of the immortal names in history were those of men who had fought liberty's battle. That evening, as they sat around the crackling fire at the Fitchburg Tavern, they did not talk--a point had been reached where words were superfluous--the silence sufficed. At daybreak the next morning the journey was continued. There was conversation, but voices were keyed lower. When the stage mounted a steep hill they got out and walked. Melancholy had taken the place of mirth. Both felt that a great and mysterious change had come over their spirits--their thought was fused. Miss Greene had suffered social obloquy on account of her attitude on the question of slavery--to share this obloquy seemed now the one thing desirable to Phillips. It is a great joy to share disgrace with the right person. The woman had intellect, education, self-reliance--and passion. There was an understanding between them. And yet no word of tenderness had been spoken. An avowal formulated in words is a cheap thing, and a spoken proposal goes with a cheap passion. The love that makes the silence eloquent and fills the heart with a melody too sacred to voice is the true token. O God! we thank thee for the thoughts and feelings that are beyond speech!
* * * * * * *
When it became known that Wendell Phillips, the most promising of Boston's young sons, had turned Abolitionist, Beacon Hill rent its clothes and put ashes on its head.
On the question of slavery, the first families of the North stood with the first families of the South--the rights of property were involved, as well as the question of caste.
Let one of the scions of Wall Street avow himself an anarchist and the outcry of horror would not be greater than it was when young Phillips openly declared himself an Abolitionist. His immediate family were in tears; the relatives said they were disgraced; cousins cut him dead on the street, and his name was stricken from the list of "invited guests." The social-column editors ignored him, and worst of all, his clients fled.
The biographers are too intensely partisan to believe, literally; and when one says, "He left a large and lucrative practise that he might devote himself," etc., we'd better reach for the Syracuse product.
Wendell Phillips never had a large and lucrative practise, and if he had, he would not have left it. His little law business was the kind that all fledglings get--the kind that big lawyers do not want, and so they pass it over to the boys. Doctors are always turning pauper patients over to the youngsters, and so in successful law-offices there is more or less of this semi-charitable work to do. Business houses also have fag-end work that they give to beginners, as kind folks give bones to Fido. Wendell Phillips' law-work was exactly of this contingent kind--big business and big fees only go to big men and tried.
Law is a business, and lawyers who succeed are businessmen. Social distinction has its pull in all professions and all arts, and the man who can afford to affront society and hope to succeed is as one in a million.
Lawyers and businessmen were not so troubled about Wendell Phillips' inward beliefs as they were in the fact that he was a fool--he had flung away his chances of getting on in the world. They ceased to send him business--he had no work--no callers--folks he used to know were now strangely nearsighted.
Phillips didn't quit the practise of law, any more than he withdrew from society--both law and society quit him. And then he made a virtue of necessity and boldly resigned his commission as a lawyer--he would not longer be bound to protect the Constitution that upheld the right of a slave-owner to capture his "property" in Massachusetts.
He and Ann talked this over at length--they had little else to do. They excommunicated society, and Wendell Phillips became an outlaw, in the same way that the James boys became outlaws--through accident, and not through choice. Social disgrace is never sought, and obloquy is not a thing to covet--these things may come, and usually they mean a smother-blanket to all worldly success. But Ann and Wendell had their love; and each had a bank-account, and then they had a pride that proved a prophylactic 'gainst the clutch of oblivion.
On October Twelfth, Eighteen Hundred Thirty-seven, the outlaws, Ann and Wendell, were married. It was a quiet wedding--guests were not invited because it was not pleasant to court cynical regrets, and kinsmen were noticeable by their absence.
Proscription has its advantages--for one thing, it binds human hearts like hoops of steel. Yet it was not necessary here, for there was no waning of the honeymoon during that forty-odd years of married life.
But scarcely had the petals fallen from the orange-blossoms before an event occurred that marked another milestone in the career of Phillips.
At Saint Louis, the Reverend E. P. Lovejoy, a Presbyterian clergyman, had been mobbed and his printing-office sacked, because he had expressed himself on the subject of slavery. Lovejoy then moved up to Alton, Illinois, on the other side of the river, on free soil, and here he sought to re-establish his newspaper.
But he was to benefit the cause in another way than by printing editorials. The place was attacked, the presses broken into fragments, the type flung into the Mississippi River, and Lovejoy was killed.
A tremor of horror ran through the North--it was not the question of slavery--no, it was the right of free speech.
A meeting was called at Faneuil Hall to consider the matter and pass fitting resolutions. There was something beautifully ironical in Boston interesting herself concerning the doings of a mob a thousand miles away, especially when Boston, herself, had done about the same thing only two years before.
Boston preferred to forget--but somebody would not let her. Just who called the meeting, no one seemed to know. The word "Abolition" was not used on the placards--"free speech" was the shibboleth. The hall had been leased, and the assembly was to occur in the forenoon. The principal actors evidently anticipated serious trouble if the meeting was at night.
The authorities sought to discourage the gathering, but this only advertised it. At the hour set, the place--the "Cradle of Liberty"--was packed.
The crowd was made up of three classes, the Abolitionists--and they were in the minority--the mob who hotly opposed them, and the curious and indifferent people who wanted to see the fireworks.
Many women were in the audience, and a dozen clergymen on the platform--this gave respectability to the assemblage. The meeting opened tamely enough with a trite talk by a Unitarian clergyman, and followed along until the resolutions were read. Then there were cries of, "Table them!"--the matter was of no importance.
A portly figure was seen making its way to the platform.
It was the Honorable James T. Austin, Attorney-General of the State. He was stout, florid, ready of tongue--a practical stump speaker and withal a good deal of a popular favorite. The crowd cheered him--he caught them from the start. His intent was to explode the whole thing in a laugh, or else end it in a row--he didn't care which.
He pooh-poohed the whole affair, and referred to the slaves as a menagerie of lions, tigers, hyenas--a jackass or two--and a host of monkeys, which the fool Abolitionists were trying to turn loose. He regretted the death of Lovejoy, but his taking-off should be a warning to all good people--they should be law-abiding and mind their own business. He moved that the resolutions be tabled.
The applause that followed showed that if a vote were then taken the Attorney-General's motion would have prevailed.
"Answer him, Wendell, answer him!" whispered Ann, excitedly, and before the Attorney-General had bowed himself from the platform, Wendell Phillips had sprung upon the stage and stood facing the audience. There were cries of, "Vote! Vote!"--the mobocrats wanted to cut the matter short. Still others shouted: "Fair play! Let us hear the boy!" The young man stood there, calm, composed--handsome in the strength of youth. He waited until the audience came to him and then he spoke in that dulcet voice--deliberate, measured, faultless--every sentence spaced. The charm of his speech caught the curiosity of the crowd. People did not know whether he was going to sustain the Attorney-General or assail him. From compliments and generalities he moved off into bitter sarcasm. He riddled the cheap wit of his opponent, tore his logic to tatters, and held the pitiful rags of reason up before the audience. There were cries of: "Treason!" "Put him out!" Phillips simply smiled and waited for the frenzy to subside. The speaker who has aroused his hearers into a tumult of either dissent or approbation has won--and Phillips did both. He spoke for thirty minutes and finished in a whirlwind of applause. The Attorney-General had disappeared, and those of his followers who remained were strangely silent. The resolutions were passed in a shout of acclamation.
The fame of Wendell Phillips as an orator was made. Father Taylor once said, "If Emerson goes to hell, he will start emigration in that direction." And from the day of that first Faneuil Hall speech Wendell Phillips gradually caused Abolitionism in New England to become respectable.
* * * * * * *
Phillips was twenty-seven years old when he gave that first, great speech, and for just twenty-seven years he continued to speak on the subject of slavery. He was an agitator--he was a man who divided men. He supplied courage to the weak, arguments to the many, and sent a chill of hate and fear through the hearts of the enemy. And just here is a good place to say that your radical--your fire-eater, agitator, and revolutionary who dips his pen in aqua fortis, and punctuates with blood--is almost without exception, met socially, a very gentle, modest and suave individual. William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Horace Greeley, Fred. Douglas, George William Curtis, and even John Brown, were all men with low, musical voices and modest ways--men who would not tread on an insect nor harm a toad.
When the fight had been won--the Emancipation Proclamation issued--there were still other fights ahead. The habit of Phillips' life had become fixed.
He and Ann lived in that plain little home on Exeter Street, and to this home of love he constantly turned for rest and inspiration.
At the close of the War he found his fortune much impaired, and he looked to the Lyceum Stage--the one thing for which he was so eminently fitted.
It was about the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty that a callow interviewer asked him who his closest associates were. The answer was: "My colleagues are hackmen and hotel-clerks; and I also know every conductor, brakeman and engineer on every railroad in America. My home is in the caboose, and my business is establishing trains."
I heard Wendell Phillips speak but once. I was about twelve years of age, and my father and I had ridden ten miles across the wind-swept prairie in the face of a winter storm.
It was midnight when we reached home, but I could not sleep until I had told my mother all about it. I remember the hall was packed, and there were many gaslights, and on the stage were a dozen men--all very great, my father said. One man arose and spoke. He lifted his hands, raised his voice, stamped his foot, and I thought he surely was a very great man. He was just introducing the real speaker.
Then the Real Speaker walked slowly down to the front of the stage and stood very still. And everybody was awful quiet--no one coughed, nor shuffled his feet, nor whispered--I never knew a thousand folks could be so still. I could hear my heart beat--I leaned over to listen and I wondered what his first words would be, for I had promised to remember them for my mother. And the words were these--"My dear friends: We have met here tonight to talk about the Lost Arts."... That is just what he said--I'll not deceive you--and it wasn't a speech at all--he just talked to us. We were his dear friends--he said so, and a man with a gentle, quiet voice like that would not call us his friends if he wasn't our friend.
He had found out some wonderful things and he had just come to tell us about them; about how thousands of years ago men worked in gold and silver and ivory; how they dug canals, sailed strange seas, built wonderful palaces, carved statues and wrote books on the skins of animals. He just stood there and told us about these things--he stood still, with one hand behind him, or resting on his hip, or at his side, and the other hand motioned a little--that was all. We expected every minute he would burst out and make a speech, but he didn't--he just talked. There was a big, yellow pitcher and a tumbler on the table, but he didn't drink once, because you see he didn't work very hard--he just talked--he talked for two hours. I know it was two hours, because we left home at six o'clock, got to the hall at eight, and reached home at midnight. We came home as fast as we went, and if it took us two hours to come home, and he began at eight, he must have been talking for two hours. I didn't go to sleep--didn't nod once.
We hoped he would make a speech before he got through, but he didn't. He just talked, and I understood it all. Father held my hand: we laughed a little in places, at others we wanted to cry, but didn't--but most of the time we just listened. We were going to applaud, but forgot it. He called us his dear friends.
I have heard thousands of speeches since that winter night in Illinois. Very few indeed can I recall, and beyond the general theme, that speech by Wendell Phillips has gone from my memory. But I remember the presence and attitude and voice of the man as though it were but yesterday. The calm courage, deliberation, beauty and strength of the speaker--his knowledge, his gentleness, his friendliness! I had heard many sermons, and some had terrified me. This time I had expected to be thrilled, too, and so I sat very close to my father and felt for his hand. And here it was all just quiet joy--I understood it all. I was pleased with myself; and being pleased with myself, I was pleased with the speaker. He was the biggest and best man I had ever seen--the first real man.
It is no small thing: to be a man!
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In Eighteen Hundred Fifty-three, Emerson said the reason Phillips was the best public speaker in America was because he had spoken every day for fourteen years.
This observation didn't apply to Phillips at all, but Emerson used Phillips to hammer home a great general truth, which was that practise makes perfect.
Emerson, like all the rest of us, had certain pet theories, which he was constantly bolstering by analogy and example. He had Phillips in mind when he said that the best drill for an orator was a course of mobs.
But the cold fact remains that Phillips never made a better speech, even after fourteen years' daily practise, than that reply to Attorney-General Austin, at Faneuil Hall.
He gave himself, and it was himself full-armed and at his best. All the conditions were exactly right--there was hot opposition; and there also was love and encouragement.
His opponent, with brag, bluster, pomposity, cheap wit, and insincerity, served him as a magnificent foil. Never again were wind and tide so in his favor.
It is opportunity that brings out the great man, but he only is great who prepares for the opportunity--who knows it will come--and who seizes upon it when it arrives.
In this speech, Wendell Phillips reveals himself at his best--it has the same ring of combined courage, culture and sincerity that he showed to the last. Clear thinking and clear speaking marked the man. Taine says the style is the man--the Phillips style was all in that first speech, and here is a sample:
To draw the conduct of our ancestors into a precedent for mobs, for a right to resist laws we ourselves have enacted, is an insult to their memory. The difference between the excitement of those days and our own, which this gentleman in kindness to the latter has overlooked, is simply this: the men of that day went for the right, as secured by laws. They were the people rising to sustain the laws and the constitution of the province. The rioters of our day go for their own wills, right or wrong. Sir, when I heard the gentleman lay down principles which place the murderers of Alton side by side with Otis and Hancock, with Quincy and Adams, I thought those pictured lips [pointing to the portraits in the hall] would have broken into voice to rebuke the recreant American--the slanderer of the dead!
The gentleman said he should sink into insignificance if he condescended to gainsay the principles of these resolutions. For the sentiments he has uttered, on soil consecrated by the prayers of Puritans and the blood of patriots, the earth should have yawned and swallowed him up!
Allusion has been made to what lawyers understand very well--the "conflict of laws." We are told that nothing but the Mississippi River runs between Saint Louis and Alton; and the conflict of laws somehow or other gives the citizens of the former a right to find fault with the defender of the press for publishing his opinions so near their limits. Will the gentleman venture that argument before lawyers? How the laws of the two States could be said to come into conflict in such circumstances, I question whether any lawyer in this audience can explain or understand. No matter whether the line that divides one sovereign State from another be an imaginary one or ocean-wide, the moment you cross it, the State you leave is blotted out of existence, so far as you are concerned. The Czar might as well claim to control the deliberations of Faneuil Hall, as the laws of Missouri demand reverence, or the shadow of obedience, from an inhabitant of Illinois.
Sir, as I understand this affair, it was not an individual protecting his property; it was not one body of armed men assaulting another, and making the streets of a peaceful city run blood with their contentions. It did not bring back the scenes in some old Italian cities, where family met family, and faction met faction, and mutually trampled the laws underfoot. No; the men in that house were regularly enrolled under the sanction of the mayor. There being no militia in Alton, about seventy men were enrolled with the approbation of the mayor. These relieved each other every other night. About thirty men were in arms on the night of the Sixth, when the press was landed. The next evening it was not thought necessary to summon more than half that number; among these was Lovejoy. It was, therefore, you perceive, Sir, the police of the city resisting rioters--civil government breasting itself to the shock of lawless men. Here is no question about the right of self-defense. It is, in fact, simply this: Has the civil magistrate a right to put down a riot? Some persons seem to imagine that anarchy existed at Alton from the commencement of these disputes. Not at all. "No one of us," says an eye-witness and a comrade of Lovejoy, "has taken up arms during these disturbances but at the command of the mayor." Anarchy did not settle down on that devoted city till Lovejoy breathed his last. Till then the law, represented in his person, sustained itself against its foes. When he fell, civil authority was trampled underfoot. He had "planted himself on his constitutional rights"--appealed to the laws--claimed the protection of the civil authority--taken refuge under "the broad shield of the Constitution. When through that he was pierced and fell, he fell but one sufferer in a common catastrophe." He took refuge under the banner of liberty--amid its folds; and when he fell, its glorious stars and stripes, the emblem of free constitutions, around which cluster so many heart-stirring memories, were blotted out in the martyr's blood.
If, Sir, I had adopted what are called peace principles, I might lament the circumstances of this case. But all of you who believe, as I do, in the right and duty of magistrates to execute the laws, join with me and brand as base hypocrisy the conduct of those who assemble year after year on the Fourth of July, to fight over battles of the Revolution, and yet "damn with faint praise," or load with obloquy, the memory of this man, who shed his blood in defense of life, liberty, and the freedom of the press!
Imprudent to defend the freedom of the press! Why? Because the defense was unsuccessful? Does success gild crime into patriotism, and want of it change heroic self-devotion to imprudence? Was Hampden imprudent when he drew the sword and threw away the scabbard? Yet he, judged by that single hour, was unsuccessful. After a short exile, the race he hated sat again upon the throne.
Imagine yourself present when the first news of Bunker Hill battle reached a New England town. The tale would have run thus: "The patriots are routed; the redcoats victorious; Warren lies dead upon the field." With what scorn would that Tory have been received, who should have charged Warren with imprudence! who should have said that, bred as a physician, he was "out of place" in the battle, and "died as the fool dieth!" [Great applause.] How would the intimation have been received that Warren and his associates should have waited a better time? But, if success be indeed the only criterion of prudence, "Respice finem"--wait till the end.
Presumptuous to assert the freedom of the press on American ground! Is the assertion of such freedom before the age? So much before the age as to leave one no right to make it because it displeases the community? Who invents this libel on his country? It is this very thing which entitles Lovejoy to greater praise: the disputed right which provoked the Revolution--taxation without representation--is far beneath that for which he died. [Here there was a strong and general expression of disapprobation.] One word, gentlemen! As much as Thought is better than Money, so much is the cause in which Lovejoy died nobler than a mere question of taxes. James Otis thundered in this hall when the king did but touch his Pocket. Imagine, if you can, his indignant eloquence had England offered to put a gag upon his Lips. [Great applause.]
The question that stirred the Revolution touched our civil interests. This concerns us not only as citizens, but as immortal beings. Wrapped up in its fate, saved or lost with it, are not only the voice of the statesman, but the instructions of the pulpit and the progress of our faith.
Is the clergy "marvelously out of place" where free speech is battled for--liberty of speech on national sins? Does the gentleman remember that freedom to preach was first gained, dragging in its train freedom to print? I thank the clergy here present, as I reverence their predecessors, who did not so far forget their country in their immediate profession as to deem it duty to separate themselves from the struggle of Seventy-six--the Mayhews and the Coopers--who remembered they were citizens before they were clergymen....
I am glad, Sir, to see this crowded house. It is good for us to be here. When liberty is in danger, Faneuil Hall has the right, it is her duty, to strike the keynote of these United States. I am glad, for one reason, that remarks such as those to which I have alluded have been uttered here. The passage of these resolutions, in spite of this opposition, led by the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, will show more clearly, more decisively, the deep indignation with which Boston regards this outrage.
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SO HERE ENDETH "LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF EMINENT ORATORS," BEING VOLUME SEVEN OF THE SERIES, AS WRITTEN BY ELBERT HUBBARD: EDITED AND ARRANGED BY FRED BANN; BORDERS AND INITIALS BY ROYCROFT ARTISTS, AND PRODUCED BY THE ROYCROFTERS, AT THEIR SHOPS, WHICH ARE IN EAST AURORA, ERIE COUNTY, NEW YORK, MCMXXII.
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