Chapter 24


In the very year and month in which, in the Congress of the United States, valiant old John Quincy Adams was fighting his sturdiest for that right of petition which was the privilege and birthright of every American, a young knight of freedom, in Faneuil Hall in Boston, buckled on his armor and fought as gallantly as ever did champion of old, and against overwhelming odds. It is one of the dramatic scenes in American history.

His name was Wendell Phillips. Rich, handsome, well-born, highly educated, refined, a gifted and cultured son of the "bluest blood" of the Old Bay State, this young Boston lawyer, but newly married and with a splendid future prophesied for him by a host of admiring friends, strolled into Faneuil Hall one December day in the year 1837, drawn there partly by curiosity and partly by interest.

An antislavery man had been murdered in Illinois. A martyr to the right of free speech, because he dared to speak out against a negro-burning mob, Elijah P. Lovejoy, a New England minister, had been brutally killed by a mob in Alton. Lovers of free speech in Boston protested against this act of barbarism. They




called for an indignation meeting in Faneuil Hall, that historic "cradle of liberty," and when the meeting was held the old hail was crowded. Some of the throng were in sympathy with the object of the meeting, but more were opposed; for in 1837 even Boston was not favorable to "agitators and abolitionists," as all were called who dared speak out against slavery.

William Ellery Channing, well styled the "apostle of liberty," offered resolutions condemning the Alton mob, and pleading for free speech and a free press. But the attorney-general of Massachusetts opposed the resolution, and made a speech that captured the crowd. He said that to free the negro was like letting loose the hyena, that the mob which murdered Lovejoy was as patriotic as that which threw overboard the tea in Boston harbor, and he cast sneers and gibes at those who dared to stand against slavery.

His supporters applauded wildly. The wavering and uncertain stampeded to the popular side. The friends of free speech were left in a sad minority, expecting to see Dr. Channing’s resolutions voted down, and censure turned into glorification.

Young Wendell Phillips, with no thought of speaking, stood on the crowded floor, watchful and interested; his sympathies went out toward the losing side of freedom. Could no one sway that throng and bring it back to reason, justice, and right?

Suddenly the inspiration came to him to attempt that very thing,—to strike one blow for freedom, and champion the cause of the defeated and oppressed. Without a moment’s hesitation, he leaped to the stage,



flung aside his overcoat, and faced that shouting, swaying, unfriendly mass.

Calm-faced, clear-eyed, dignified, unruffled, determined, he stood an instant, —the very picture of a young knight superbly fronting his foes. Then he spoke. His melodious voice, wonderful in tone and attractiveness, stilled the clamor for an instant, but with his first words it broke out afresh, seeking to silence him. But he would not be silenced, and then he made a speech such as had not been heard in Boston since the day when James Otis, in old Statehouse, flamed out for revolution, and lighted the path for Massachusetts to resistance and liberty.

"The drunken murderers of Lovejoy compared to those patriot fathers who threw the tea overboard " he exclaimed. " Fellow-citizens, is this Faneuil Hall doctrine ? The mob at Alton were met to wrest from a citizen his just rights,—met to resist the laws. We have been told that our fathers did the same. . . . Our



State archives are loaded with arguments of John Adams to prove taxes laid by the British Parliament unconstitutional,—beyond its power It was not till this was made out that the men of New England rushed to arms. . . . To draw the conduct of our ancestors into a precedent for malice, for a right to resist laws we ourselves have enacted, is an insult to their memory.

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" (here he pointed to the portraits in the hall) "would have broken into voice to rebuke the recreant American, the slanderer of the dead!

The hall rang with cheers. The doubters rallied again to the side of right. Mob law was in the minority. The young knight’s lance had shivered the attorney-general’s shield. Then he ran at his antagonist full tilt, and unhorsed him with this splintering charge:

"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!"

The supporters of the overthrown attorney-general rallied to his aid. With yells and howls, and force of fist and elbow, they endeavored to create a riot and break up the meeting. But their shouts were drowned in the cheers of the increasing majority; their efforts toward force were quelled; and when again that calm, convinc



ing voice fell upon their ears, even the hostile cries were hushed as hostile ears drank in the compelling words:

"Imprudent to defend the liberty of the press! Why? Because the defense was unsuccessful? Does success gild crime into patriotism, and want of it change heroic self-devotion to independence? . . . With what scorn would that Tory have been received who, after the battle of Bunker Hill, 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’! " (Both of these things the attorney-general had charged against Lovejoy.) "But if success be, indeed, the only criterion of prudence, wait till the end."

Thus he went on, while the crowded hail hung upon his words. But when he boldly asserted that the principle for which Lovejoy died was above even that which provoked the Revolution—taxation without representation—the smoldering disapproval of the mob burst into flame, and again the brave young fighter stood at bay.

"One word, gentlemen," he said, waving back the disturbance. "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 hail 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."

Again the hail rang with cheers, and hostility sank, baffled, while the young orator proceeded.

"The question that stirred the Revolution," he said, 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 instruction of the pulpit and the progress of our faith."

How true a prophet was this miracle-made young orator the future was to show. For wrapped up in the cause that he so fearlessly championed were the life of the republic and the test of patriotism.

Thus he fought on to a finish, with one last spear thrust carrying away the prize for which he had sprung into the lists.

I am glad, sir," he said, "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 for 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."

He closed amid a storm of applause. The chairman put the resolutions; they were carried by an overwhelming vote. The young knight of freedom had won his spurs in an unequal fight, and the fame of Wendell Phillips as an orator was laid in that wonderful and magnetic victory.

He championed a weak, unpopular, detested cause; for the people woke but slowly to the real wickedness of a condition with which they had always been familiar, and which had existed in America from earliest years.



To be sure, Massachusetts recognized almost in its very beginning the injustice of slavery. Section 91 of the "Body of Liberties," adopted by the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1641, expressly decreed that" there shall never be any bond slavery, villanage, or captivity among us, unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars ;" and a certain enterprising sea captain who had brought over a cargo of captured Africans as a speculation was imprisoned, while the kidnapped negroes were at once sent home at the colony’s expense.

But the chances for money-making in this unlawful pursuit, and the existence of slavery in other colonies, proved too much for the enterprising Yankee of the Bay colony; in 1700 the slave trade was a recognized Boston industry, and slavery was permitted in Massachusetts.

But the Puritan conscience was against it; the custom of slaveholding was not really suited to Massachusetts soil; it gradually declined, and when the new State of Massachusetts was formed, the courts held that this first article in the Constitution of Massachusetts abolished slavery in the State: " All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties."

So died slavery in Massachusetts. But when the agitation for its abolition in all the States of the Union was begun, people were slow to respond. They thought it looked too much like interfering in their neighbors’ business, and no American likes to do that.

But gradually the people of Massachusetts grew to think more seriously about this increasing evil, and to feel



that if slavery were a blot on the fair name of America, all the States had equal interest in having the stain removed.

The cause of abolition enlisted the sympathies of many wise and good and justice-loving people; but so, too, was it espoused by unwise, fanatical, and reckless folk. These gave it a bad name; but it grew, in spite of its overzealous friends, and triumphed finally, not from the acts of the fanatic, but because of the stern and the republic—men who, like Abraham Lincoln, saw that slavery was sapping the strength of the nation, and so, when the time came, put an end to it.

But in that stern, unceasing, bitter, and relentless fight against slavery Massachusetts led, because Massachusetts stood for and was pledged to equal rights.

And in the van, fighting ever with his face toward the foe, often far outstripping his fellow-soldiers,



was the young knight of freedom who won his spurs in Faneuil Hall—Wendell Phillips of Boston.

Fearless, though often hot-headed; valiant, though often relentless; with a tongue that was as sharp as a sword, and a wit that was as ready as a spear; often doing things that those who admired him coul4 not approve; defeated, but never dispirited; cast down, but never dismayed; fighting, fighting, fighting still, until he grew gray in the service,—at last Wendell Phillips saw victory perch upon the banners of his hope, and freedom established in America.

And when, at last, the work begun by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was completed by the Fifteenth Amendment, under Grant, in 1870, Wendell Phillips telegraphed to a friend who had fought beside him in, that forty years’ war:

"Let me exchange congratulations with you. Our long work is sealed at last. The nation proclaims equal liberty. Today is its real birthday. ‘Io! Triomphe!’ Thank God."

Thereupon the American Antislavery Society, of which Wendell Phillips was president, died because it had nothing to do. Following the dauntless lead of Wendell Phillips, it had fought its way to victory; then it dissolved. And Massachusetts had been the bone and sinew of that famous organization.

"When I read a sublime fact in Plutarch," said Phillips, at the final meeting of his society, "an unselfish deed in a line of poetry, or thrill beneath some heroic legend, it is no longer fairyland; I have seen it matched,"

"Wolfe died in the arms of victory," Charles Sumner



of Massachusetts wrote to him, "and such is the fortune of your noble society." 

Today in Essex Street, Boston, a tablet marks the site of the home of Wendell Phillips—the brave Bostonian who championed an unpopular cause and turned  protest into victory.

And the republic, now that the strife is past and old1 sores are healed, forgets the faults and errors of those stirring days, and, recognizing the fervor of the reformer rather than of the fanatic, thanks God alike for Wendell Phillips, the Antislavery Society, and the firm front of Massachusetts.