November 9, 1851: Kidnapping of Calvin Fairbank

 

Some abolitionists were criticized for engaging in no-risk criticism from a long distance of slavery.  Such a charge could never have been lodged against abolitionist Calvin Fairbank.  Born in 1816 in New York state, he was converted to the cause of abolitionism in hearing two former slaves testify at a Methodist meeting.  He was licensed by the Methodist Episcopalian Church in 1840 to preach and in 1842 he was ordained by that denomination.  Between 1837 and 1851 he aided some 47 slaves in escaping to freedom.  In 1844 he was arrested in Kentucky for aiding escaping slaves and served time in prison until 1849.  After his release, from southern Indiana, he continued to aid slaves escaping from Kentucky.

On November 9, 1851, with the connivance of the local Indiana sheriff and the Indiana governor, he was kidnapped by Kentucky marshals.  Sentenced in 1852 to fifteen years, he remained in prison until 1864 when he was pardoned by the Union governor of Kentucky.  (He was lucky.  Amazingly, the last man in Kentucky prisons for aiding escaping slaves was not released until 1870, five years after the conclusion of the Civil War.)  His treatment during his two imprisonments had been brutal, and he estimated that over the years he had received 35,000 lashes from his jailers.  In this frequently unjust world, those who suffer for a good cause often do not receive an earthly reward.  Fairbank’s health broken by his imprisonment, he died in poverty in 1898.

Published in: on November 9, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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August 20, 1862: The Prayer of Twenty Millions

Half sage and half quack, Horace Greeley, who in 1841 founded the New York Tribune, was a power to be reckoned with in the United States one hundred and fifty years ago.  On August 20, 1862 he published in his paper an open letter, entitled The Prayer of Twenty Millions,  to President Lincoln demanding the abolition of slavery within the Union.

To ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States

DEAR SIR: I do not intrude to tell you–for you must know already–that a great proportion of those who triumphed in you election, and of all who desire the unqualified suppression of the Rebellion now desolating our country, are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels. I write only to set succinctly and unmistakably before you what we require, what we think we have a right to expect, and of what we complain.

I. We require of you, as the first servant of the Republic, charged especially and preeminently with this duty, that you EXECUTE THE LAWS. Most emphatically do we demand that such laws as have been recently enacted, which therefore may fairly be presumed to embody the present will and to be dictated by the present needs of the Republic, and which, after due consideration have received your personal sanction, shall by you be carried into full effect, and that you publicly and decisively instruct your subordinates that such laws exist, that they are binding on all functionaries and citizens, and that they are to be obeyed to the letter.

II. We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss in the discharge of your official and imperative duty with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new Confiscation Act. Those provisions were designed to fight Slavery with Liberty. They prescribe that men loyal to the Union, and willing to shed their blood in her behalf, shall no longer be held, with the Nations consent, in bondage to persistent, malignant traitors, who for twenty years have been plotting and for sixteen months have been fighting to divide and destroy our country. Why these traitors should be treated with tenderness by you, to the prejudice of the dearest rights of loyal men, We cannot conceive.

III. We think you are unduly influenced by the counsels, the representations, the menaces, of certain fossil politicians hailing from the Border Slave States. Knowing well that the heartily, unconditionally loyal portion of the White citizens of those States do not expect nor desire chat Slavery shall be upheld to the prejudice of the Union–(for the truth of which we appeal not only to every Republican residing in those States, but to such eminent loyalists as H. Winter Davis, Parson Brownlow, the Union Central Committee of Baltimore, and to The Nashville Union)–we ask you to consider that Slavery is everywhere the inciting cause and sustaining base of treason: the most slaveholding sections of Maryland and Delaware being this day, though under the Union flag, in full sympathy with the Rebellion, while the Free-Labor portions of Tennessee and of Texas, though writhing under the bloody heel of Treason, are unconquerably loyal to the Union. So emphatically is this the case, that a most intelligent Union banker of Baltimore recently avowed his confident belief that a majority of the present Legislature of Maryland, though elected as and still professing to be Unionists, are at heart desirous of the triumph of the Jeff. Davis conspiracy; and when asked how they could be won back to loyalty, replied “only by the complete Abolition of Slavery.” It seems to us the most obvious truth, that whatever strengthens or fortifies Slavery in the Border States strengthens also Treason, and drives home the wedge intended to divide the Union. Had you from the first refused to recognize in those States, as here, any other than unconditional loyalty–that which stands for the Union, whatever may become of Slavery, those States would have been, and would be, far more helpful and less troublesome to the defenders of the Union than they have been, or now are. (more…)

“The People of Ohio Don’t Send Cowards Here!”

Few opponents of slavery prior to the Civil War in Congress were more outspoken or more courageous than Joshua Giddings.  Born on October 6, 1795. Giddings moved with his family to Ashtabula County, Ohio in 1806, part of the Western Reserve in Northeastern Ohio.  Living in a sparsely settled pioneer region, Giddings had little formal education, but spent a great deal of time as he grew reading and studying.  In 1821 he was admitted to the Ohio bar.  From 1838-1859 he served in the House of Representatives.

He quickly became known as a fierce opponent of slavery, taking every opportunity to attack it.  He came to national notice in 1842 when he defended in Congress the slaves who had mutinied aboard the brig Creole.  Sailing to Nassau, the slaves were freed by the British.  The American government demanded the return of the slaves on the grounds that they were property.  The British refused to return the slaves.  Giddings proposed resolutions in Congress defending the right of the slaves to rebel and regain their God-given right to liberty.  This aroused a furor among pro-slavery members of Congress and Giddings was censured by the House. Nothing daunted, he resigned from the House, and was re-elected by his constituents with a large majority.

Unlike most abolitionists, Giddings had no problem calling for violence to be used to free the slaves.  He constantly called for slave insurrections, and stated that the people of the North had a moral duty to assist such insurrections.

Naturally this made him a marked man.  In the House in 1846 he was threatened by a representative from Georgia with a pistol and a sword cane.  Giddings yelled out to him, Come on! The People of Ohio don’t send cowards here! (more…)

Published in: on October 20, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Cassius Marcellus Clay

If he is remembered at all today, Cassius Marcellus Clay is recalled solely because that was the name of Muhammad Ali, the boxer, before he converted to the Nation of Islam and changed his name.  Ali had been named after his father who was also named Cassius Marcellus Clay in honor of the man who freed his great-grandfather.

Cassius Marcellus Clay, called Cash by his intimates, was a Kentucky abolitionist.  A cousin of Henry Clay, Cassius Marcellus Clay was born on March 19, 1810 to Green Clay, one of the wealthiest plantation owners and slave masters in the Blue Grass state.  His father’s wealth ensured that he was well educated, first at Transylvania University and then Yale.  While at Yale in 1832 he heard the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison speak and was converted to the anti-slavery cause.  Going back to Kentucky he served three terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives, his political career being cut short, due to the unpopularity of his anti-slavery views. (more…)

Published in: on March 19, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Cassius Marcellus Clay  
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Murder of Elijah Lovejoy

My home state of Illinois has a colorful, and not infrequently tragic, history.  An example of both is the murder of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy.  Born on November 9, 1802 in Maine, Lovejoy became a Presbyterian minister.  Publisher of The Observer newspaper, he was anti-Jackson and anti-slavery, neither of which were popular stances in Missouri in the 1830s.  After pro-slavery mobs destroyed his press for the third time, he moved his newspaper across the Mississippi to Alton, Illinois.  Illinois was a free state, and presumably Lovejoy thought it would be safe to publish an anti-slavery newspaper there.  Unfortunately Alton had been largely settled by Southerners and was a center of pro-slavery sentiment in Illinois.

On November 7, 1837, a pro-slavery mob destroyed Lovejoy’s press.  Lovejoy attempted to stop the destruction and was gunned down and killed by the mob.  The mob through his printing press in the river.  A prosecution was attempted for the murder, but none of the murderers were convicted.  The murder of Lovejoy deeply moved 28 year old Illinois state representative Abraham Lincoln.  In a speech entitled On the Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions given by Lincoln to the Young Mens’ Lyceum in Springfield on January 27, 1838, Lincoln condemned mob violence.  The Lovejoy murder was all the talk of Illinois, so his listeners knew what Lincoln was referring to when he said:

Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last. By such things, the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it; and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak, to make their friendship effectual. At such a time and under such circumstances, men of sufficient talent and ambition will not be wanting to seize the opportunity, strike the blow, and overturn that fair fabric, which for the last half century, has been the fondest hope, of the lovers of freedom, throughout the world.

Elijah Lovejoy’s brother Owen was also an abolitionist, and became a close friend and political ally of Lincoln.  He was elected to Congress from Illinois in 1856 and served in Congress until his death in 1864.

Five days before his death, Elijah Lovejoy made a speech in Alton, Illinois.  This passage should be remembered by all friends of human freedom: (more…)

Published in: on June 10, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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The Abolitionist and the Liberator

 

Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist of 19th century America and Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, who led the fight to gain the right to vote for Irish Catholics in 19th century Ireland, have always been two of my heroes.  Most Americans tend to be unaware of the connection between them.

Throughout his life Daniel O’Connell had been an opponent of slavery, and made his sentiments known at every opportunity, calling upon Irish-Americans to attack the “Peculiar Institution”.  He was frequently quoted by opponents of slavery in the United States.  While a boy and a slave, Douglass had heard one of his masters curse O’Connell for attacking slavery, and Douglass knew that he must love O’Connell if his master hated him so.  In 1846 Douglass went to Ireland for four months and went on a speaking tour.  O’ Connell was seventy-one and had just one more year to live.  Douglass was a mere twenty-eight.  However, a firm friendship quickly sprung up between them.  O’Connell, perhaps the finest orator of a nation known for oratory, heard the eloquent Douglass speak in Dublin and proclaimed him the “Black O’Connell”.

The wretched condition of most of the Irish moved and shocked Douglass as this passage he wrote in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison on March 27, 1846 reveals:

The spectacle that affected me most, and made the most vivid impression on my mind, of the extreme poverty and wretchedness of the poor of Dublin, was the frequency with which I met little children in the street at a late hour of the night, covered with filthy rags, and seated upon cold stone steps, or in corners, leaning against brick walls, fast asleep, with none to look upon them, none to care for them. If they have parents, they have become vicious, and have abandoned them. Poor creatures! they are left without help, to find their way through a frowning world—a world that seems to regard them as intruders, and to be punished as such. God help the poor! An infidel might ask, in view of these facts, with confusing effect—Where is your religion that takes care for the poor—for the widow and fatherless—where are its votaries—what are they doing? The answer to this would be, if properly given, wasting their energies in useless debate on hollow creeds and points of doctrine, which, when settled, neither make one hair white nor black. In conversation with some who were such rigid adherents to their faith that they would scarce be seen in company with those who differed from them in any point of their creed, I have heard them quote the text in palliation of their neglect, “The poor shall not cease out of the land”! During my stay in Dublin, I took occasion to visit the huts of the poor in its vicinity—and of all places to witness human misery, ignorance, degradation, filth and wretchedness, an Irish hut is pre-eminent. It seems to be constructed to promote the very reverse of every thing like domestic comfort. If I were to describe one, it would appear about as follows: Four mud walls about six feet high, occupying a space of ground about ten feet square, covered or thatched with straw—a mud chimney at one end, reaching about a foot above the roof—without apartments or divisions of any kind—without floor, without windows, and sometimes without a chimney—a piece of pine board laid on the top of a box or an old chest— a pile of straw covered with dirty garments, which it would puzzle any one to determine the original part of any one of them—a picture representing the crucifixion of Christ, pasted on the most conspicuous place on the wall—a few broken dishes stuck up in a corner—an iron pot, or the half of an iron pot, in one corner of the chimney—a little peat in the fireplace, aggravating one occasionally with a glimpse of fire, but sending out very little heat—a man and his wife and five children, and a pig. In front of the door-way, and within a step of it, is a hole three or four feet deep, and ten or twelve feet in circumference; into this hole all the filth and dirt of the hut are put, for careful preservation. This is frequently covered with a green scum, which at times stands in bubbles, as decomposition goes on. Here you have an Irish hut or cabin, such as millions of the people of Ireland live in. And some live in worse than these. Men and women, married and single, old and young, lie down together, in much the same degradation as the American slaves. I see much here to remind me of my former condition, and I confess I should be ashamed to lift up my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over. He who really and truly feels for the American slave, cannot steel his heart to the woes of others; and he who thinks himself an abolitionist, yet cannot enter into the wrongs of others, has yet to find a true foundation for his anti-slavery faith.

It is a tribute both to Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell that their compassion was not limited to people like them, but extended to victims of injustice far removed from them.

In his memoirs published in 1882, Douglass recalled O’Connell: (more…)

Published in: on January 15, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Abolitionist and the Liberator  
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