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There is no question to-day in American politics more unsettled than the negro question; nor has there been a time since the adoption of the Federal Constitution when this question has not, in one shape or another, been a disturbing element, a deep-rooted cancer, upon the body of our society, frequently occupying public attention to the exclusion of all other questions. It appears to possess, as no other question, the elements of perennial vitality.
The introduction of African slaves into the colony of Virginia in August, 1619, was the beginning of an agitation, a problem, the solution of which no man, even at this late date, can predict, although many wise men have prophesied.
History -- the record of human error, cruelty and misdirected zeal -- furnishes no more striking anomaly than the British Puritan fleeing from princely rule and tyranny and dragging at his heels the African savage, bound in servile chains; praying to a just God for freedom, and at the same time riveting upon his fellow-man the gyves of most unjust and cruel slavery. A parallel for such hypocrisy, such sacrilegious invocation, is not matched in the various history of peoples.
It did not matter to the early settlers of the American colonies that, in the memorable struggle for the right to be represented if taxed, a black man -- Crispus Attucks, a full-blooded Negro -- died upon the soil of Massachusetts, in the Boston massacre of 1770, in common with other loyal, earnest men, as the first armed protest against an odious tyranny; it did not matter that in the armies of the colonies, in rebellion against Great Britain, there were (according to the report of Adjutant General Scammell), on the 24th day of August, 1778, 755 regularly enlisted negro troops; it did not matter that in the second war with Great Britain, General Andrew Jackson, on the 21st day of September, 1814, appealed to the "free colored people of Louisiana" as "sons of freedom," who were called upon to defend our most inestimable blessing," the right to be free and sovereign, and to "rally around the standard of the eagle, to defend all which is dear in existence;" it did not matter that in each of these memorable struggles the black man was called upon, and responded nobly, to the call for volunteers to drive out the minions of the British tyrant. When the smoke of battle had dissolved into thin air; when the precious right to be free and sovereign had been stubbornly fought for and reluctantly conceded; when the bloody memories of Yorktown and New Orleans had passed into glorious history, the black man, who had assisted by his courage to establish the free and independent States of America, was doomed to sweat and groan that others might revel in idleness and luxury. Allured, in each instance, into the conflict for National independence by the hope held out of generous reward and an honest consideration of his manhood rights, he received as his portion chains and contempt. The spirit of injustice, inborn in the Caucasian nature, asserted itself in each instance. Selfishness and greed rode roughshod over the promptings of a generous, humane, Christian nature, as they have always done in this country, not only in the case of the African but of the Indian as well, each of whom has in turn felt the pernicious influence of that heartless greed which overleaps honesty and fair play, in the unmanly grasp after perishable gain.
The books which have been written in this country -- the books which have molded and controlled intelligent public opinion -- during the past one hundred and fifty years have been written by white men, in justification of the white man's domineering selfishness, cruelty and tyranny. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, down to the present time, the same key has been struck, the same song as been sung, with here and there a rare exception -- as in the case of Mrs. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Judge Tourgée's A Fool's Errand, Dr. Haygood's Our Brother in Black, and some others of less note. The white man's story has been told over and over again, until the reader actually tires of the monotonous repetition, so like the ten-cent novels in which the white hunter always triumphs over the red man. The honest reader has longed in vain for a glimpse at the other side of the picture so studiously turned to the wall.
Even in books written expressly to picture the black man's side of the story, the author has been compelled to palliate, by interjecting extenuating, often irrelevant circumstances, the ferocity and insatiate lust of greed of his race. He has been unable to tell the story as it was, because his nature, his love of race, his inborn prejudices and narrowness made him a lurking coward.
And so it has been with the newspapers, which have ever been the obsequious reflex of distempered public opinion, siding always with the strong and powerful; so that in 1831, when the Liberator (published in Boston by the intrepid and patriotic Garrison) made its appearance, it was a lone David among a swarm of Goliaths, any one of which was willing and anxious to serve the cause of the devil by crushing the little angel in the service of the Lord. So it is to-day. The great newspapers, which should plead the cause of the oppressed and the down-trodden, which should be the palladiums of the people's rights, are all on the side of the oppressor, or by silence preserve a dignified but ignominious neutrality. Day after day they weave a false picture of facts -- facts which must measurably influence the future historian of the times in the composition of impartial history. The wrongs of the masses are referred to sneeringly or apologetically.
The vast army of laborers -- men, women, and even tender children -- find no favor in the eyes of these Knights of the Quill. The Negro and the Indian, the footballs of slippery politicians and the helpless victims of sharpers and thieves, are wantonly misrepresented -- held up to the eyes of the world as beings incapable of imbibing the distorted civilization in the midst of which they live and have their being. They are placed in the attic, only to be aired when somebody wants an "issue" or an "appropriation."
There are no Liberators to-day, and the William Lloyd Garrisons have nearly all of them gone the way of all the world.
The part played by the ministry of Christ in the early conflict against human slavery in this country would be enigmatical in the extreme, utterly beyond apprehension, if it were not matter of history that the representatives of the Christian Church, in conflicts with every giant wrong, have always been the strongest supporters, the most obsequious tools of money power and the political sharpers who have imposed their vile tyrannies upon mankind. They have alternately supplicated and domineered, crawled in the dust or mounted the house-top, as occasion served, from Gregory to the Smiths and Joneses of the present time. So that it has passed into a proverb, that the ministers of the gospel may be always counted upon to take sides with the strongest party -- always seeking to conciliate "King Cotton," "King Corporation," "King Monopoly," and all the other "Kings" of modern growth -- swaying, like the reed in the wind, to the powers that be, whether of tyranny reared upon a thousand years of usurpation, military despotism of a day's growth, or presumptuous wealth accumulated by robbery, hypocrisy and insidious assassination. Instead of leading in the reformation of leviathan wrongs, the ministry waits for the rabble to applaud before it commends. It was not in this manner that the great Christ set the world in motion, sowed broadcast the dynamite which uprooted long-established infamies, and prepared the way for the ultimate redemption of the world from sin and error.
If the Christian ministry of the United States did at last recognize the demoralization and iniquity of slavery, it was because the heroic band, headed by William Lloyd Garrison, first fired the heart of the people and forced the ministry to take sides with the righteous cause. I speak not of the few heroic exceptions, but of the mass of the American clergy. If in the evangelization of the black man since the rebellion, the ministry have largely furthered the work, they have done so because there were hundreds and thousands of brave men and women ready to give their time and money to the upbuilding of outraged humanity and the cause of Christ. They have simply put in operation movements conceived and nurtured by the genius and philanthropy of others, and no one of them will claim that he has not reaped an abundant pecuniary harvest for his labors. Yet, I would accord to the ministry of the United States full meed of praise for all that they have done as the agents of the humane, intelligent and philanthropic opinions of the times; and, too, there have been good men who fought the good fight simply because the cause was just.
copyright © 2007 by Simon and Schuster