Slavery in Massachusetts - Wikisource, the free online library (2023)

Slavery in Massachusetts (1854)
by Henry David Thoreau

Delivered at an Anti-Slavery Celebration, at Framingham, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1854, after the conviction in Boston of fugitive slave Anthony Burns.

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I LATELY ATTENDED a meeting of the citizens of Concord, expecting,as one among many, to speak on the subject of slavery inMassachusetts; but I was surprised and disappointed to find thatwhat had called my townsmen together was the destiny of Nebraska,and not of Massachusetts, and that what I had to say would be entirelyout of order. I had thought that the house was on fire, and not theprairie; but though several of the citizens of Massachusetts are nowin prison for attempting to rescue a slave from her own clutches,not one of the speakers at that meeting expressed regret for it, notone even referred to it. It was only the disposition of some wildlands a thousand miles off which appeared to concern them. Theinhabitants of Concord are not prepared to stand by one of their ownbridges, but talk only of taking up a position on the highlands beyondthe Yellowstone River. Our Buttricks and Davises and Hosmers areretreating thither, and I fear that they will leave no LexingtonCommon between them and the enemy. There is not one slave in Nebraska;there are perhaps a million slaves in Massachusetts.

They who have been bred in the school of politics fail now andalways to face the facts. Their measures are half measures andmakeshifts merely. They put off the day of settlement indefinitely,and meanwhile the debt accumulates. Though the Fugitive Slave Lawhad not been the subject of discussion on that occasion, it was atlength faintly resolved by my townsmen, at an adjourned meeting, asI learn, that the compromise compact of 1820 having been repudiated byone of the parties, "Therefore,... the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 mustbe repealed." But this is not the reason why an iniquitous lawshould be repealed. The fact which the politician faces is merely thatthere is less honor among thieves than was supposed, and not thefact that they are thieves.

As I had no opportunity to express my thoughts at that meeting, willyou allow me to do so here?

Again it happens that the Boston Court-House is full of armed men,holding prisoner and trying a MAN, to find out if he is not really aSLAVE. Does any one think that justice or God awaits Mr. Loring'sdecision? For him to sit there deciding still, when this question isalready decided from eternity to eternity, and the unlettered slavehimself and the multitude around have long since heard and assented tothe decision, is simply to make himself ridiculous. We may betempted to ask from whom he received his commission, and who he isthat received it; what novel statutes he obeys, and what precedentsare to him of authority. Such an arbiter's very existence is animpertinence. We do not ask him to make up his mind, but to make uphis pack.

I listen to hear the voice of a Governor, Commander-in-Chief ofthe forces of Massachusetts. I hear only the creaking of cricketsand the hum of insects which now fill the summer air. The Governor'sexploit is to review the troops on muster days. I have seen him onhorseback, with his hat off, listening to a chaplain's prayer. Itchances that that is all I have ever seen of a Governor. I thinkthat I could manage to get along without one. If he is not of theleast use to prevent my being kidnapped, pray of what important use ishe likely to be to me? When freedom is most endangered, he dwells inthe deepest obscurity. A distinguished clergyman told me that he chosethe profession of a clergyman because it afforded the most leisure forliterary pursuits. I would recommend to him the profession of aGovernor.

Three years ago, also, when the Sims tragedy was acted, I said tomyself, There is such an officer, if not such a man, as the Governorof Massachusetts- what has he been about the last fortnight? Has hehad as much as he could do to keep on the fence during this moralearthquake? It seemed to me that no keener satire could have beenaimed at, no more cutting insult have been offered to that man, thanjust what happened- the absence of all inquiry after him in thatcrisis. The worst and the most I chance to know of him is that hedid not improve that opportunity to make himself known, and worthilyknown. He could at least have resigned himself into fame. Itappeared to be forgotten that there was such a man or such anoffice. Yet no doubt he was endeavoring to fill the gubernatorialchair all the while. He was no Governor of mine. He did not govern me.

But at last, in the present case, the Governor was heard from. Afterhe and the United States government had perfectly succeeded in robbinga poor innocent black man of his liberty for life, and, as far as theycould, of his Creator's likeness in his breast, he made a speech tohis accomplices, at a congratulatory supper!

I have read a recent law of this State, making it penal for anyofficer of the "Commonwealth" to "detain or aid in the...detention," anywhere within its limits, "of any person, for the reasonthat he is claimed as a fugitive slave." Also, it was a matter ofnotoriety that a writ of replevin to take the fugitive out of thecustody of the United States Marshal could not be served for want ofsufficient force to aid the officer.

I had thought that the Governor was, in some sense, the executiveofficer of the State; that it was his business, as a Governor, tosee that the laws of the State were executed; while, as a man, he tookcare that he did not, by so doing, break the laws of humanity; butwhen there is any special important use for him, he is useless, orworse than useless, and permits the laws of the State to gounexecuted. Perhaps I do not know what are the duties of a Governor;but if to be a Governor requires to subject one's self to so muchignominy without remedy, if it is to put a restraint upon mymanhood, I shall take care never to be Governor of Massachusetts. Ihave not read far in the statutes of this Commonwealth. It is notprofitable reading. They do not always say what is true; and they donot always mean what they say. What I am concerned to know is, thatthat man's influence and authority were on the side of theslaveholder, and not of the slave- of the guilty, and not of theinnocent- of injustice, and not of justice. I never saw him of whomI speak; indeed, I did not know that he was Governor until thisevent occurred. I heard of him and Anthony Burns at the same time, andthus, undoubtedly, most will hear of him. So far am I from beinggoverned by him. I do not mean that it was anything to his discreditthat I had not heard of him, only that I heard what I did. The worst Ishall say of him is, that he proved no better than the majority of hisconstituents would be likely to prove. In my opinion, be was not equalto the occasion.

The whole military force of the State is at the service of a Mr.Suttle, a slaveholder from Virginia, to enable him to catch a man whomhe calls his property; but not a soldier is offered to save acitizen of Massachusetts from being kidnapped! Is this what allthese soldiers, all this training, have been for these seventy-nineyears past? Have they been trained merely to rob Mexico and carry backfugitive slaves to their masters?

These very nights I heard the sound of a drum in our streets.There were men training still; and for what? I could with an effortpardon the cockerels of Concord for crowing still, for they,perchance, had not been beaten that morning; but I could not excusethis rub-a-dub of the "trainers." The slave was carried back byexactly such as these; i.e., by the soldier, of whom the best youcan say in this connection is that he is a fool made conspicuous bya painted coat.

Three years ago, also, just a week after the authorities of Bostonassembled to carry back a perfectly innocent man, and one whom theyknew to be innocent, into slavery, the inhabitants of Concord causedthe bells to be rung and the cannons to be fired, to celebrate theirliberty- and the courage and love of liberty of their ancestors whofought at the bridge. As if those three millions had fought for theright to be free themselves, but to hold in slavery three millionothers. Nowadays, men wear a fool's-cap, and call it a liberty-cap.I do not know but there are some who, if they were tied to awhipping-post, and could but get one hand free, would use it to ringthe bells and fire the cannons to celebrate their liberty. So someof my townsmen took the liberty to ring and fire. That was theextent of their freedom; and when the sound of the bells died away,their liberty died away also; when the powder was all expended,their liberty went off with the smoke.

The joke could be no broader if the inmates of the prisons were tosubscribe for all the powder to be used in such salutes, and hirethe jailers to do the firing and ringing for them, while theyenjoyed it through the grating.

This is what I thought about my neighbors.

Every humane and intelligent inhabitant of Concord, when he or sheheard those bells and those cannons, thought not with pride of theevents of the 19th of April, 1775, but with shame of the events of the12th of April, 1851. But now we have half buried that old shameunder a new one.

Massachusetts sat waiting Mr. Loring's decision, as if it could inany way affect her own criminality. Her crime, the most conspicuousand fatal crime of all, was permitting him to be the umpire in sucha case. It was really the trial of Massachusetts. Every moment thatshe hesitated to set this man free, every moment that she nowhesitates to atone for her crime, she is convicted. The Commissioneron her case is God; not Edward G. God, but simply God.

I wish my countrymen to consider, that whatever the human law maybe, neither an individual nor a nation can ever commit the least actof injustice against the obscurest individual without having to paythe penalty for it. A government which deliberately enactsinjustice, and persists in it, will at length even become thelaughing-stock of the world.

Much has been said about American slavery, but I think that we donot even yet realize what slavery is. If I were seriously to proposeto Congress to make mankind into sausages, I have no doubt that mostof the members would smile at my proposition, and if any believed meto be in earnest, they would think that I proposed something muchworse than Congress had ever done. But if any of them will tell methat to make a man into a sausage would be much worse- would be anyworse- than to make him into a slave- than it was to enact theFugitive Slave Law- I will accuse him of foolishness, ofintellectual incapacity, of making a distinction without a difference.The one is just as sensible a proposition as the other.

I hear a good deal said about trampling this law under foot. Why,one need not go out of his way to do that. This law rises not to thelevel of the head or the reason; its natural habitat is in the dirt.It was born and bred, and has its life, only in the dust and mire,on a level with the feet; and he who walks with freedom, and doesnot with Hindoo mercy avoid treading on every venomous reptile, willinevitably tread on it, and so trample it under foot- and Webster, itsmaker, with it, like the dirt- bug and its ball.

Recent events will be valuable as a criticism on theadministration of justice in our midst, or, rather, as showing whatare the true resources of justice in any community. It has come tothis, that the friends of liberty, the friends of the slave, haveshuddered when they have understood that his fate was left to thelegal tribunals of the country to be decided. Free men have no faiththat justice will be awarded in such a case. The judge may decide thisway or that; it is a kind of accident, at best. It is evident thathe is not a competent authority in so important a case. It is no time,then, to be judging according to his precedents, but to establish aprecedent for the future. I would much rather trust to the sentimentof the people. In their vote you would get something of some value, atleast, however small; but in the other case, only the trammeledjudgment of an individual, of no significance, be it which way itmight.

It is to some extent fatal to the courts, when the people arecompelled to go behind them. I do not wish to believe that thecourts were made for fair weather, and for very civil cases merely;but think of leaving it to any court in the land to decide whethermore than three millions of people, in this case a sixth part of anation, have a right to be freemen or not! But it has been left to thecourts of justice, so called- to the Supreme Court of the land- and,as you all know, recognizing no authority but the Constitution, it hasdecided that the three millions are and shall continue to be slaves.Such judges as these are merely the inspectors of a pick-lock andmurderer's tools, to tell him whether they are in working order ornot, and there they think that their responsibility ends. There wasa prior case on the docket, which they, as judges appointed by God,had no right to skip; which having been justly settled, they wouldhave been saved from this humiliation. It was the case of the murdererhimself.

The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make thelaw free. They are the lovers of law and order who observe the lawwhen the government breaks it.

Among human beings, the judge whose words seal the fate of a manfurthest into eternity is not he who merely pronounces the verdictof the law, but he, whoever he may be, who, from a love of truth,and unprejudiced by any custom or enactment of men, utters a trueopinion or sentence concerning him. He it is that sentences him.Whoever can discern truth has received his commission from a highersource than the chiefest justice in the world who can discern onlylaw. He finds himself constituted judge of the judge. Strange thatit should be necessary to state such simple truths!

I am more and more convinced that, with reference to any publicquestion, it is more important to know what the country thinks of itthan what the city thinks. The city does not think much. On anymoral question, I would rather have the opinion of Boxboro' than ofBoston and New York put together. When the former speaks, I feel as ifsomebody had spoken, as if humanity was yet, and a reasonable beinghad asserted its rights- as if some unprejudiced men among thecountry's hills had at length turned their attention to the subject,and by a few sensible words redeemed the reputation of the race. When,in some obscure country town, the farmers come together to a specialtown-meeting, to express their opinion on some subject which is vexingthe land, that, I think, is the true Congress, and the mostrespectable one that is ever assembled in the United States.

It is evident that there are, in this Commonwealth at least, twoparties, becoming more and more distinct- the party of the city, andthe party of the country. I know that the country is mean enough,but I am glad to believe that there is a slight difference in herfavor. But as yet she has few, if any organs, through which to expressherself. The editorials which she reads, like the news, come fromthe seaboard. Let us, the inhabitants of the country, cultivateself-respect. Let us not send to the city for aught more essentialthan our broadcloths and groceries; or, if we read the opinions of thecity, let us entertain opinions of our own.

Among measures to be adopted, I would suggest to make as earnestand vigorous an assault on the press as has already been made, andwith effect, on the church. The church has much improved within afew years; but the press is, almost without exception, corrupt. Ibelieve that in this country the press exerts a greater and a morepernicious influence than the church did in its worst period. We arenot a religious people, but we are a nation of politicians. We donot care for the Bible, but we do care for the newspaper. At anymeeting of politicians- like that at Concord the other evening, forinstance- how impertinent it would be to quote from the Bible! howpertinent to quote from a newspaper or from the Constitution! Thenewspaper is a Bible which we read every morning and everyafternoon, standing and sitting, riding and walking. It is a Biblewhich every man carries in his pocket, which lies on every table andcounter, and which the mail, and thousands of missionaries, arecontinually dispersing. It is, in short, the only book which Americahas printed and which America reads. So wide is its influence. Theeditor is a preacher whom you voluntarily support. Your tax iscommonly one cent daily, and it costs nothing for pew hire. But howmany of these preachers preach the truth? I repeat the testimony ofmany an intelligent foreigner, as well as my own convictions, when Isay, that probably no country was ever rubled by so mean a class oftyrants as, with a few noble exceptions, are the editors of theperiodical press in this country. And as they live and rule only bytheir servility, and appealing to the worse, and not the better,nature of man, the people who read them are in the condition of thedog that returns to his vomit.

The Liberator and the Commonwealth were the only papers in Boston,as far as I know, which made themselves heard in condemnation of thecowardice and meanness of the authorities of that city, as exhibitedin '51. The other journals, almost without exception, by theirmanner of referring to and speaking of the Fugitive Slave Law, and thecarrying back of the slave Sims, insulted the common sense of thecountry, at least. And, for the most part, they did this, one wouldsay, because they thought so to secure the approbation of theirpatrons, not being aware that a sounder sentiment prevailed to anyextent in the heart of the Commonwealth. I am told that some of themhave improved of late; but they are still eminently time-serving. Suchis the character they have won.

But, thank fortune, this preacher can be even more easily reached bythe weapons of the reformer than could the recreant priest. The freemen of New England have only to refrain from purchasing and readingthese sheets, have only to withhold their cents, to kill a score ofthem at once. One whom I respect told me that he purchasedMitchell's Citizen in the cars, and then throw it out the window.But would not his contempt have been more fatally expressed if hehad not bought it?

Are they Americans? are they New Englanders? are they inhabitants ofLexington and Concord and Framingham, who read and support theBoston Post, Mail, Journal, Advertiser, Courier, and Times? Arethese the Flags of our Union? I am not a newspaper reader, and mayomit to name the worst.

Could slavery suggest a more complete servility than some of thesejournals exhibit? Is there any dust which their conduct does not lick,and make fouler still with its slime? I do not know whether the BostonHerald is still in existence, but I remember to have seen it about thestreets when Sims was carried off. Did it not act its partwell-serve its master faithfully! How could it have gone lower onits belly? How can a man stoop lower than he is low? do more thanput his extremities in the place of the head he has? than make hishead his lower extremity? When I have taken up this paper with mycuffs turned up, I have heard the gurgling of the sewer throughevery column. I have felt that I was handling a paper picked out ofthe public gutters, a leaf from the gospel of the gambling-house,the groggery, and the brothel, harmonizing with the gospel of theMerchants' Exchange.

The majority of the men of the North, and of the South and Eastand West, are not men of principle. If they vote, they do not send mento Congress on errands of humanity; but while their brothers andsisters are being scourged and hung for loving liberty, while- I mighthere insert all that slavery implies and is- it is the mismanagementof wood and iron and stone and gold which concerns them. Do what youwill, O Government, with my wife and children, my mother andbrother, my father and sister, I will obey your commands to theletter. It will indeed grieve me if you hurt them, if you deliver themto overseers to be hunted by bounds or to be whipped to death; but,nevertheless, I will peaceably pursue my chosen calling on this fairearth, until perchance, one day, when I have put on mourning forthem dead, I shall have persuaded you to relent. Such is the attitude,such are the words of Massachusetts.

Rather than do thus, I need not say what match I would touch, whatsystem endeavor to blow up; but as I love my life, I would side withthe light, and let the dark earth roll from under me, calling mymother and my brother to follow.

I would remind my countrymen that they are to be men first, andAmericans only at a late and convenient hour. No matter how valuablelaw may be to protect your property, even to keep soul and bodytogether, if it do not keep you and humanity together.

I am sorry to say that I doubt if there is a judge inMassachusetts who is prepared to resign his office, and get his livinginnocently, whenever it is required of him to pass sentence under alaw which is merely contrary to the law of God. I am compelled tosee that they put themselves, or rather are by character, in thisrespect, exactly on a level with the marine who discharges hismusket in any direction he is ordered to. They are just as much tools,and as little men. Certainly, they are not the more to be respected,because their master enslaves their understandings and consciences,instead of their bodies.

The judges and lawyers- simply as such, I mean- and all men ofexpediency, try this case by a very low and incompetent standard. Theyconsider, not whether the Fugitive Slave Law is right, but whetherit is what they call constitutional. Is virtue constitutional, orvice? Is equity constitutional, or iniquity? In important moral andvital questions, like this, it is just as impertinent to ask whether alaw is constitutional or not, as to ask whether it is profitable ornot. They persist in being the servants of the worst of men, and notthe servants of humanity. The question is, not whether you or yourgrandfather, seventy years ago, did not enter into an agreement toserve the Devil, and that service is not accordingly now due; butwhether you will not now, for once and at last, serve God- in spite ofyour own past recreancy, or that of your ancestor- by obeying thateternal and only just CONSTITUTION, which He, and not any Jefferson orAdams, has written in your being.

The amount of it is, if the majority vote the Devil to be God, theminority will live and behave accordingly- and obey the successfulcandidate, trusting that, some time or other, by some Speaker'scasting-vote, perhaps, they may reinstate God. This is the highestprinciple I can get out or invent for my neighbors. These men act asif they believed that they could safely slide down a hill a littleway- or a good way- and would surely come to a place, by and by, wherethey could begin to slide up again. This is expediency, or choosingthat course which offers the slightest obstacles to the feet, that is,a downhill one. But there is no such thing as accomplishing arighteous reform by the use of "expediency." There is no such thing assliding up hill. In morals the only sliders are backsliders.

Thus we steadily worship Mammon, both school and state and church,and on the seventh day curse God with a tintamar from one end of theUnion to the other.

Will mankind never learn that policy is not morality- that itnever secures any moral right, but considers merely what is expedient?chooses the available candidate- who is invariably the Devil- and whatright have his constituents to be surprised, because the Devil doesnot behave like an angel of light? What is wanted is men, not ofpolicy, but of probity- who recognize a higher law than theConstitution, or the decision of the majority. The fate of the countrydoes not depend on how you vote at the polls- the worst man is asstrong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind ofpaper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind ofman you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.

What should concern Massachusetts is not the Nebraska Bill, northe Fugitive Slave Bill, but her own slaveholding and servility. Letthe State dissolve her union with the slaveholder. She may wriggle andhesitate, and ask leave to read the Constitution once more; but shecan find no respectable law or precedent which sanctions thecontinuance of such a union for an instant.

Let each inhabitant of the State dissolve his union with her, aslong as she delays to do her duty.

The events of the past month teach me to distrust Fame. I see thatshe does not finely discriminate, but coarsely hurrahs. Sheconsiders not the simple heroism of an action, but only as it isconnected with its apparent consequences. She praises till she ishoarse the easy exploit of the Boston tea party, but will becomparatively silent about the braver and more disinterestedlyheroic attack on the Boston Court-House, simply because it wasunsuccessful!

Covered with disgrace, the State has sat down coolly to try fortheir lives and liberties the men who attempted to do its duty for it.And this is called justice! They who have shown that they can behaveparticularly well may perchance be put under bonds for their goodbehavior. They whom truth requires at present to plead guilty are,of all the inhabitants of the State, preeminently innocent. Whilethe Governor, and the Mayor, and countless officers of theCommonwealth are at large, the champions of liberty are imprisoned.

Only they are guiltless who commit the crime of contempt of such acourt. It behooves every man to see that his influence is on theside of justice, and let the courts make their own characters. Mysympathies in this case are wholly with the accused, and whollyagainst their accusers and judges. Justice is sweet and musical; butinjustice is harsh and discordant. The judge still sits grinding athis organ, but it yields no music, and we hear only the sound of thehandle. He believes that all the music resides in the handle, andthe crowd toss him their coppers the same as before.

Do you suppose that that Massachusetts which is now doing thesethings- which hesitates to crown these men, some of whose lawyers, andeven judges, perchance, may be driven to take refuge in some poorquibble, that they may not wholly outrage their instinctive sense ofjustice- do you suppose that she is anything but base and servile?that she is the champion of liberty?

Show me a free state, and a court truly of justice, and I will fightfor them, if need be; but show me Massachusetts, and I refuse her myallegiance, and express contempt for her courts.

The effect of a good government is to make life more valuable- ofa bad one, to make it less valuable. We can afford that railroad andall merely material stock should lose some of its value, for that onlycompels us to live more simply and economically; but suppose thatthe value of life itself should be diminished! How can we make aless demand on man and nature, how live more economically in respectto virtue and all noble qualities, than we do? I have lived for thelast month- and I think that every man in Massachusetts capable of thesentiment of patriotism must have had a similar experience- with thesense of having suffered a vast and indefinite loss. I did not know atfirst what ailed me. At last it occurred to me that what I had lostwas a country. I had never respected the government near to which Ilived, but I had foolishly thought that I might manage to live here,minding my private affairs, and forget it. For my part, my old andworthiest pursuits have lost I cannot say how much of theirattraction, and I feel that my investment in life here is worth manyper cent less since Massachusetts last deliberately sent back aninnocent man, Anthony Burns, to slavery. I dwelt before, perhaps, inthe illusion that my life passed somewhere only between heaven andhell, but now I cannot persuade myself that I do not dwell whollywithin hell. The site of that political organization calledMassachusetts is to me morally covered with volcanic scoriae andcinders, such as Milton describes in the infernal regions. If there isany hell more unprincipled than our rulers, and we, the ruled, Ifeel curious to see it. Life itself being worth less, all thingswith it, which minister to it, are worth less. Suppose you have asmall library, with pictures to adorn the walls- a garden laid outaround- and contemplate scientific and literary pursuits anddiscover all at once that your villa, with all its contents is locatedin hell, and that the justice of the peace has a cloven foot and aforked tail- do not these things suddenly lose their value in youreyes?

I feel that, to some extent, the State has fatally interfered withmy lawful business. It has not only interrupted me in my passagethrough Court Street on errands of trade, but it has interrupted meand every man on his onward and upward path, on which he had trustedsoon to leave Court Street far behind. What right had it to remindme of Court Street? I have found that hollow which even I had reliedon for solid.

I am surprised to see men going about their business as if nothinghad happened. I say to myself, "Unfortunates! they have not heardthe news." I am surprised that the man whom I just met on horsebackshould be so earnest to overtake his newly bought cows running away-since all property is insecure, and if they do not run away again,they may be taken away from him when he gets them. Fool! does he notknow that his seed-corn is worth less this year- that all beneficentharvests fail as you approach the empire of hell? No prudent manwill build a stone house under these circumstances, or engage in anypeaceful enterprise which it requires a long time to accomplish. Artis as long as ever, but life is more interrupted and less availablefor a man's proper pursuits. It is not an era of repose. We haveused up all our inherited freedom. If we would save our lives, we mustfight for them.

I walk toward one of our ponds; but what signifies the beauty ofnature when men are base? We walk to lakes to see our serenityreflected in them; when we are not serene, we go not to them. Whocan be serene in a country where both the rulers and the ruled arewithout principle? The remembrance of my country spoils my walk. Mythoughts are murder to the State, and involuntarily go plottingagainst her.

But it chanced the other day that I scented a white water-lily,and a season I had waited for had arrived. It is the emblem of purity.It bursts up so pure and fair to the eye, and so sweet to the scent,as if to show us what purity and sweetness reside in, and can beextracted from, the slime and muck of earth. I think I have pluckedthe first one that has opened for a mile. What confirmation of ourhopes is in the fragrance of this flower! I shall not so soondespair of the world for it, notwithstanding slavery, and thecowardice and want of principle of Northern men. It suggests what kindof laws have prevailed longest and widest, and still prevail, and thatthe time may come when man's deeds will smell as sweet. Such is theodor which the plant emits. If Nature can compound this fragrancestill annually, I shall believe her still young and full of vigor, herintegrity and genius unimpaired, and that there is virtue even in man,too, who is fitted to perceive and love it. It reminds me thatNature has been partner to no Missouri Compromise. I scent nocompromise in the fragrance of the water-lily. It is not a NymphaeaDouglasii. In it, the sweet, and pure, and innocent are whollysundered from the obscene and baleful. I do not scent in this thetime-serving irresolution of a Massachusetts Governor, nor of a BostonMayor. So behave that the odor of your actions may enhance the generalsweetness of the atmosphere, that when we behold or scent a flower, wemay not be reminded how inconsistent your deeds are with it; for allodor is but one form of advertisement of a moral quality, and iffair actions had not been performed, the lily would not smell sweet.The foul slime stands for the sloth and vice of man, the decay ofhumanity; the fragrant flower that springs from it, for the purity andcourage which are immortal.

Slavery and servility have produced no sweet-scented flowerannually, to charm the senses of men, for they have no real life: theyare merely a decaying and a death, offensive to all healthynostrils. We do not complain that they live, but that they do notget buried. Let the living bury them: even they are good for manure.

Slavery in Massachusetts - Wikisource, the free online library (3)

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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