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FIRE AND HAMMER
SIN OF SLAVERY.
SPEECH OF George B. CHEEVER, D.D., AT THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE AMERICAN ABOLITION SOCIETY, MAY, 1858,
Goodell Anti-Slavery Collection No. 90 PRESENTED TO
OBERLIN COLLEGE BY THE HEIRS OF
The whole work is posted in page images by the Making of America project, at http://www.umdl.umich.edu/cgi-bin/moa/sgml/moa-idx?notisid=ABJ4913
Bowdoin's Class of 1825 included Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, of enduring literary fame, as well as John Stevens Cabot Abbott (1805-1877), a very prolific writer of popular history, (the brother of Jacob Abbott, who has appeared several times in these pages).
George Barrell Cheever (1807-1890) was yet another member of this fascinating cohort. He was a man of impressive literary gifts, a campaigner for Calvinist orthodoxy and temperance, and later for Abolition (and also, curiously, very vocally against abolishing capital punishment). After Bowdoin, he studied to become an orthodox (Calvinist) Congregationalist minister at the Andover Theological Seminary, and for a few years in the early 1830s, he preached in Salem, where Hawthorne lived without interruption from 1825 until the late 1830s.
In Salem, Cheever made quite a splash, denouncing the Unitarians, and most notably attacking one Unitarian church deacon who owned a distillery; drawing a fanciful picture of a distillery worked by demonic imps, and causing the barrells of liquor, when they ended up in a tavern or grocery, to blazen forth "Weeping, Wailing, and Glashing of Teeth: Inquire at Deacon Giles' Distillery". Giles was not the man's true name, but the piece clearly aimed at a real Deacon, who eventually brought charges for libel, costing Cheever $1,000 and 30 days in jail. And before that, he had been cow-hided in the streets of Salem.
He is said to have been the author of some 20 books and 50 pamphlets.
Note that following the copyright page, is the following price list for
the anti-slavery pamphlet made from the speech, which gives some insight
into how such pamplets got diffused among the population (in many cases
some zealous person would buy buy a dozen or a hundred to give away as
their contribution to the cause).
PRICES OF DR. CHEEVER'S SPEECH.
UNCOVERED-2 cents per single copy. 20 cents per dozen. $1.50 per hundred.IN TRACT FORM-Same prices.
COVERED-3 cents per single copy.
30 cents per dozen.
$2.25 per hundred.
POSTAGE-for either kind, 1 cent each.
MR. PRESIDENT: We are driven this day to God. Apart from his word, and his grace to make his word effectual, and to keep it even in the hearts of his children from perversion, there is no hope in the heart of any political party, nor any Christian party, for the poor slave. We have seen, that men of professed piety, men of age, gray hairs, experience, eloquence, can plead the very authority of the word of God for concealing and denying that word; can call upon Christ to bear witness that their first Christian duty is to take down his light from the candlestick and to put it under a bushel; can deliberately in the name of God, so pervert the salt of Christian truth, as to make it nothing but an additional corrupting element on the dunghill of the world's corruptions. We have seen an eloquent Bishop, with silver locks, pleading for silence on the sin of Slavery, and justifying the Executive Committee of the Tract Society, as possessing an indestructible negative against the instructions of their constituents, and in opposition to the will and word of God, by virtue of being the managers of a great Circumlocution Office, the perfection of whose sagacity and strength is in the art, how not to do it. We can not but remember the answer of God, "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin;" and the judgment of the Lord Jesus: "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me."
We have also seen venerable and Christian men not shrinking to denounce the declaration that American Slavery is sin, as ultra and inexpedient, and exposing the cause of righteousness to defeat and ruin. Paul rejoiced, in his day, that he had not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God. The professed followers of Paul in our day, do not shun to rebuke such declaration as fanatical and rash. Before such developments, were it not that our trust is in God and not man, we should have no more any strength, or life, or courage left in us. There is no hope, apart from God's word, and from the full and faithful application of it. There is wanting the element of conscientious, stubborn, heart-felt, eternal hostility against Slavery as sin, as reprobated and forbidden of God in the same catalogue with lying, perjury, murder, whoremongering, piracy, man-stealing, and guilt, that, by the law not of God only, but man, is worthy of death. Where shall such an element be found? How shall it be created, quickened, trained? Not in the school of political self-seeking and expediency; not under obedience to fugitive-slave laws; not under proclamations and assertions of allegiance to Dred Scott decisions; not in the school of unrighteous and oppressive statutes; not under the law of silence on the word of God--silence in the pulpit-silence in the Tract House; but under the law of fire and thunder in the manifestation of the truth to every man's conscience in the sight of God--by revealing the wrath of God from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men, and against this stupendous iniquity as foremost and most germinating in enormity and malignity, most sweeping and accumulating in the habits and materials of sin and misery, the elements and securities of national ruin. Our only hope is in the revived, living, faithful religion of a free, out-spoken, consistent Church, and a fearless, unmuzzled, faithful ministry. Our only hope is in a conscience fastened to the word of God, and a heart flaming with its sacred fire; a popular Church and ministry, holding forth the word of life, and giving themselves up to its supremacy, in such an unrestricted abandonment of all things to its sovereignty, (not the popular sovereignty, but God's sovereignty,) that it may have free course, and be glorified.
The intensity of the plague with us, the exasperation and strength of the iniquity and the evil, are in the provisions for its perpetuity and the insurances of its increase. Not content with enduring it ourselves, for one generation, we have by law entailed it upon others; and the generations to come, as God distributes the consequences, must inevitably rise up and call each preceding generation accursed. If this sin had a possible death, like that of intemperance in the grave of the present drunkard, and were not propagated by a legal fatalism forbidding it to die out, or to be renounced, or the will to be broken--a legal fatalism and missionary zeal united, providing future victims for it in the fastest ratio of increase in human population-then would the evil be comparatively trifling, and the sin would speedily come to an end. But there is no such limit, no such natural consumption or wearing out, no such release by death; the evil and the sin are carefully secured against death, and injected, as the heart's blood, into the veins of the next generation, and any attempt to stop the process, throws the whole system into convulsions.
We practise the iniquity upon children, innocent children, the natives of our own land, unbought, unsold, unpaid for, without consultation or consent of father or mother, or the shadow of a permission from the Almighty; and they, the new-born babes of this system, are the compound interest year by year added to the sin and its capital, which thus doubles upon us in the next generation, and must treble in another. We make use of the most sacred domestic affections, of maternal, filial, and, I was going to say, connubial love-but the system forbids, and I have to say contubernal-for such rapid and accumulating production of the iniquity, as shall be in some measure adequate to the demand. The whole family relation, the whole domestic state, is prostituted, poisoned, turned into a misery-making machine for the agent of all evil. What God meant should be the source and inspiration of happiness, becomes the fountain of sin and woe. The sacred names of husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, babe, become the exponents of various forces and values in the slave-breeding institute. And the whole perfection, completeness, and concentration of this creative power in this manufacturing interest, descends like a triphammer on the children, beating them from the birth into marketable articles, and stamping and sealing them as chattels, foredoomed and fatalized to run till they wear out, as living spindles, wheels, activities of labor and productiveness in the same horrible system.
And each generation of immortal marketable stuff is as exactly fashioned in these grooves, moulds, channels, wefted, netted, and drawn through, to come out the invariable product, as the yards of carpeting are cut from the loom to be trodden on, or as the coins drop from the die for the circulation of society. This is the peculiarity of the sin of Slavery in the foremost Christian country on the face of the earth. In this branch of native industry and manufacture we are self-reliant. Disavowing a protective policy in almost every thing else, we are proudly patriotic for the security, superiority, and abundance of this most sacred native product of domestic manufacture, and for neither the raw material nor the bleaching of it, will we depend on any other country in the world.
This is the manner, these are the principles, on which we obey the precepts and fulfill the glories of the 72d Psalm. Instead of obeying God in delivering the children of the needy from deceit and violence, we foredoom them to all the oppression endured by their fathers; instead of judging the poor with righteousness, and the children of the oppressed with equity, we deliberately and solemnly give them over to oppression, as incapable of brotherhood and citizenship, and having no rights that white men are bound to respect. Instead of removing every yoke, we predestinate them for the yoke, and perpetuate the yoke for them, as a fixture prepared from the birth-the controlling, governing, supreme domestic law-the guiding institution and policy of the house, the State, the nation.
By thus laying our grasp on an unborn race; by saying beforehand to immortal beings, the work of the Creator, You can not come into God's world but as infant slaves, articles of property and merchandise, but with a curse of our national justice and equity branding you for the slave-pen, and separating you firom the manhood of all mankind; by this robbery from God and man we become a nation of men-stealers a community of baptized Thugs for the kidnapping of the children of four millions of people, and the assassination of their personality.
If this were done now, for the first time, to a nation by themselves; if we made a descent upon Africa, China, India, or elsewhere, and carried off into hopeless slavery the children of four millions, the universe would utter a roar of terror and indignation at such a crime. But organize it into a system--make this robbery and moral assassination a fixture of law and policy from generation to generation, and set up its support as the watchword of a powerful political party, the test of faithfulness and patriotism, and the security of an unlimited command of the whole patronage of the United States Government, and forthwith the sanction and sustaining of it become the shining virtue of compromise and expediency, and he is the dangerous man and the mad-man in the community who undertakes to disturb this arrangement, or to agitate the conscience in regard to it. Forthwith, it is no longer the sin which is regarded with astonishment and horror, but the denunciation of it as sin! It is no longer the perpetrators of such a crime, and its supporters, who are to be the objects of reproach and condemnation, but those who cause the truth to burn against the crime -those who call it by the name with which God has branded it, and visit it with the reprobation that God has laid upon it.
And especially the political world and the Pharisees of political Churches stand in horror of the very bad spirit, the unchristian spirit, of those who denounce this wickedness with the direct application of the word of God. It is a subject which must be excluded from the pulpit, because it is a sin enthroned in state, a political sin, to be treated only by political quacks, with political drenches, platforms, cataplasms, and compromises, which the only duty of the Church and the ministry is quietly to indorse and sanction, for the sake of peace.
The system of Slavery is now at length asserted to be the chosen missionary institute of the Lord Almighty. And, admitting it to be such, we are certainly foremost of all the nations in carrying forward the great missionary work. If the appointed work to be done for the children of the needy is that of branding and training them as chattels and brute beasts for the market, we have no rivals in this honor. This is, in fact, the greatest, vastest, most persevering missionary work that we perform. Our instrumentality in binding down in hopeless bondage the children of four millions of immortal beings, guilty of a skin not colored like our own, is our largest instrumentality, thus far, in the glories of the millenium.
By our laws providing that the slave and its increase shall be deemed and doomed our personal chattels forever, we constitute for them a millennium of sin and misery. We convert them into a community, in which it is impossible that the fundamental laws of Christianity should be recognized and obeyed, or the most commonly acknowledged and most sacred institutions of the Christian state be regarded. The laws of God for husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, children, can not be applied, can not be obeyed, in such a community. "Husbands, love your wives," is a divine injunction. But for those most miserable outcasts of humanity, the American slaves, there can be no such law, but an admonition against it. God's claims, so expressed, interfere with man's property in man. Husbands, beware of imagining that you have any rights, any authority, in regard to the chattels you are permitted to live with; beware of ever so loving them as to be unwilling to sacrifice them at a moment's warning to the avarice, the need, or the passions of your owners. Ye are not permitted to love, but only in subjection to the price of the market, the necessities of your master, and the grand rule of your domestic institution, the slave and its increase.
Wives, be obedient to your husbands. What? Obedience from a chattel to a chattel? Wives ye are none, and this divine law belongs not to you, but for the profit of your masters. Your obedience and your increase belong to them, and to none else.
Children, obey your parents. But slaves have no children, and their children have no parents, except only as the bales of cotton have a parent in the gin and the factory, where they were shaped and bonded for the market. These commands and precepts are all and only for the masters, not the slaves. Slaves have no ties, no affections, no duties, no obligations, no belongings, but for their owners, whose property they are, and for whom and at their bidding, every faculty, capacity, emotion, must be devoted, occupied, tasked, improved, sold at the highest premium to the highest bidder whenever, however, and wherever the owner's interest requires it.
And it is not isolated beings that we devote thus, for a mere lifetime, to such degradation and cruelty, but we create a perpetual, unfailing, and self-renewing spring of this wickedness. It is not a transitory shower of blistering drops that we cause to pass over the land, but an Artesian well that we sink, of domestic shame and misery for future generations. In the word of God it is said, referring to the glory and blessedness of the establishment of righteousness and freedom as the fundamental fixtures of society: "If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations." But we, by foredooming unborn children to the yoke, and preparing it for them, are securing a succession of curses and crimes, crimes and curses, as the heritage of the social state. We have no more right to enact by law that the offspring of slaves shall be slaves, than we have to make a law that the offspring of the free whites shall be slaves. If such a law were passed in the State of New York, a law that the children of those engaged in manual labor should from the birth be taken and held as chattels, to be bought and sold as the property of those capitalists for whom their parents have been laboring, could such a law sanction such a crime? Could it make it any other thing than man-stealing? Could it be pleaded that it is not man-stealing, because it is children-stealing? What is it when these children grow up?
And if they have children, does the fact that their parents were stolen before them give the stealers of the parents any claim upon the next generation? Does the fact that their parents were stolen before them take away their rights as human beings, and turn the stealing of them into a natural and just claim of property? Nothing can transmit the right of theft; no law can sanction it; even if we had a right to steal the parents from themselves, this could give no right to steal the children from the parents and from God. This is the deep damnation of our guilt. The offense cries up to heaven. By stealing children from the birth, we are A NATION OF MEN-STEALERS, and we renew, perpetuate and increase the guilt from generation to generation. We perpetuate the sin and the cruelty upon five times the number that our ancestors did, and insure its being perpetrated by five times more, and then thank God for the success of this providential missionary institution.
The guilt is increasing, but all the while the conscience in regard to it is diminishing and being seared. The sin, by being enlarged in surface and in quantity, seems lessened in intensity. We are more guilty than our fathers in the practice of it, and yet we contrive to make ourselves imagine that we are less guilty and more pious than they. The iniquity is a moral cancer that is eating at the vitals of our piety, while the only treatment we tolerate is increased doses of chloroform, till the whole system is stupefied under its influence. When a new outrage is committed, we just send to the apothecaries for more laudanum, or swallow, through our representatives, a Lecompton drench and sweat, or suffer Congress to administer an English swindle. Never was a sick and groaning victim more completely at the mercy of unprincipled quacks. Every six months some new experiment of fraud, despotism, bribery, unprincipled and ignorant political surgery, and we are hauled and tossed about, and cut and skinned as if we were a dead body in the dissecting-room, and Congress nothing but a class of raw, headstrong, roaring medical students with their knives in their hands and Dunglison's Anatomy in their pockets. The body does not wince, does not kick, does not even protest; and so they keep cutting and carving, no outrage as yet attempted being so monstrous as to have gone beyond the people's tame endurance.
Our iniquitous and cruel career against the African race came to its climax in the Dred Scott decision; for when iniquity takes the place of national law, and is enthroned in the tribunal of justice, it can not well go higher; and now that decision, unresisted, uncorrected, is producing its fruits. It is like the star wormwood cast upon all fountains of waters, and men drink and die. Our public officials of justice and of policy, from the highest to the lowest, every time they are about to enact a new violence against the oppressed, only have to refer to the Dred Scott decision, and the basest, meanest, most detestable acts of fraud and cruelty are converted into righteousness.
From the Secretary of State down through files of marshals, judges, bailiffs, lawyers, to the conductor of the street rail-car, the word passes, and the policy is established, and it is officially announced, and the judicial dictum is reverberated and applauded and applied, that black men have no rights that white men are bound to respect. This dictum is fast being welded into chains, into political precedents sealed and made sure, and snare after snare in the iron net is woven on by lies, by perversions of the Constitution and of history, by new measures of usurpation unresisted, by presumptuous, unauthorized interpretations of law, till the very breath of the black man is almost beaten out of his body, and he is refused the privilege of expanding his lungs in a Republican atmosphere. Our judges, Cabinet ministers, attorneys, general and local, and Secretaries of State are hunting up examples of old injustice, for precedents of new villainy. They thus set immorality and cruelty in the fountains of justice, infecting all its elements with death, just as vile assassins poison the wells of their neighbors by throwing dead dogs into them, or the carcases of cats and skunks.
As God declared in a case fearfully similar, they have turned judgment into gall and wormwood, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock. They hunt every man his brother with a net. That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire, and so they wrap it up. The best of them is as a briar; the most upright is sharper than a thorn-hedge; they trust in vanity and speak lies; they conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity; they hatch cockatrice's eggs and weave the spider's web; he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper. There is no judgment in their goings; they have made them crooked paths, speaking oppression, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood, so that judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off. They are never so happy as when they conceive absolute mischief, the dregs of profound social ignorance, prejudice, and depravity, framing mischief by a law which thence forward they impose as the supreme political and moral state god. They set up the sin of Slavery as law, enforce it by the Constitution under judicial opinions, to which they swear allegiance, and if they can not discover precedents, they make them.
The Secretary of State dares publicly to affirm that no black man ever
received a passport, and can not, as a citizen, receive one, and shall
not. The Dred Scott decision has prepared this lid for the black man's
living sepulchre, and Secretary Cass acts the undertaker for the body,
and screws down the coffin with an incontrovertible falsehood. Then the
Secretary of the Treasury declares that a free negro can not receive a
register for his own'vessel, nor be master of his ewn vessel, nor, as such,
have any title to his own property by United States marine papers: for
by the Dred Scott decision he is no citizen, and can be none, and to be
the rightful owner and master of his own maritime property, a man must
be a citizen. As he has none of the rights of a citizen, any seafaring
man may own him, but he can not himself be the owner of so much as a plank
or a nail in his own vessel. Then comes, on the heels of this outrage,
the United States Land Commissioner, and from the General Land Office,
with the same despotic authority under the same infernal act, declares
that persons of color have no right of purchase and ownership in the public
lands, that privilege also being restricted by positive law to citizens
of the United States, or those that intend to become such; and by the,
Dred Scott decision a man with a colored skin neither is, nor can become,
nor can without treason intend to become, a citizen. So, by this decision,
and these magisterial interpretations and enforcements of it, the human
being with a skin not colored like our own, is alienated and expelled from
land and sea--is an exile every where, and even on the great highway of
nations no better than a log, or a snag, or a shred of drifting sea-weed,
over which the keel of a Christian civilization plunges, with all on board
grinning approbation of the cruelty. And certainly, if God's word be not
thundered against such crimes, the Church and the ministry do, by their
silence, set the seal of a Christian approbation to all this. Our revivals
of religion become accessory to it, if a fawning, clinging, whining piety,
trembling in the fear of man, refuses, to bear testimony against such wickedness.
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