The Conflict with Slavery, Part 1, from Volume VII, The Works of Whittier: the Conflict with Slavery, Politics and Reform, the Inner Life and Criticism

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IT may be inquired of me why I seek to agitate the subject of Slavery in New England, where we all acknowledge it to be an evil. Because such an acknowledgment is not enough on our part. It is doing no more than the slave-master and the slave-trader. "We have found," says James Monroe, in his speech on the subject before the Virginia Convention, "that this evil has preyed upon the very vitals of the Union; and has been prejudicial to all the states in which it has existed." All the states in their several Constitutions and declarations of rights have made a similar statement. And what has been the consequence of this general belief in the evil of human servitude? Has it sapped the foundations of the infamous system? No. Has it decreased the number of its victims? Quite the contrary. Unaccompanied by philanthropic action, it has been in a moral point of view worthless, a thing without vitality, sightless, soulless, dead.

But it may be said that the miserable victims of the system have our sympathies. Sympathy the sympathy of the Priest and the Levite, looking on, and acknowledging, but holding itself aloof from mortal suffering. Can such hollow sympathy reach the broken of heart, and does the blessing of those who are ready to perish answer it? Does it hold back the lash from the slave, or sweeten his bitter bread? One's heart and soul are becoming weary of this sympathy, this heartless mockery of feeling; sick of the common cant of hypocrisy, wreathing the artificial flowers of sentiment over unutterable pollution and unimaginable wrong. It is white-washing the sepulchre to make us forget its horrible deposit. It is scattering flowers around the charnel-house and over the yet festering grave to turn away our thoughts "from the dead men's bones and all uncleanness," the pollution and loathsomeness below.

No! let the truth on this subject, undisguised, naked, terrible as it is, stand out before us. Let us no longer seek to cover it; let us no longer strive to forget it; let us no more dare to palliate it. It is better to meet it here with repentance than at the bar of God. The cry of the oppressed, of the millions who have perished among us as the brute perisheth, shut out from the glad tidings of salvation, has gone there before us, to Him who as a father pitieth all His children. Their blood is upon us as a nation; woe unto us, if we repent not, as a nation, in dust and ashes. Woe unto us if we say in our hearts, "The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see?"

But it may be urged that New England has no participation in slavery, and is not responsible for its wickedness.

Why are we thus willing to believe a lie? New England not responsible! Bound by the United States constitution to protect the slave-holder in his sins, and yet not responsible! Joining hands with crime, covenanting with oppression, leaguing with pollution, and yet not responsible! Palliating the evil, hiding the evil, voting for the evil, do we not participate in it?

     [Messrs. Harvey of New Hampshire, Mallary of Vermont, and Ripley of
     Maine, voted in the Congress of 1829 against the consideration of a
     Resolution for inquiring into the expediency of abolishing slavery
     in the District of Columbia.]

Members of one confederacy, children of one family, the curse and the shame, the sin against our brother, and the sin against our God, all the iniquity of slavery which is revealed to man, and all which crieth in the ear, or is manifested to the eye of Jehovah, will assuredly be visited upon all our people. Why, then, should we stretch out our hands towards our Southern brethren, and like the Pharisee thank God we are not like them? For so long as we practically recognize the infernal principle that "man can hold property in man," God will not hold us guiltless....