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The Conflict with Slavery
The Two Processions.

by John Greenleaf Whittier

[1844.]

              "Look upon this picture, and on this."  HAMLET.


Considering that we have a slave population of nearly three millions, and that in one half of the states of the Republic it is more hazardous to act upon the presumption that "all men are created free and equal" than it would be in Austria or Russia, the lavish expression of sympathy and extravagant jubilation with which, as a people, we are accustomed to greet movements in favor of freedom abroad are not a little remarkable. We almost went into ecstasies over the first French revolution; we filled our papers with the speeches of orator Hunt and the English radicals; we fraternized with the United Irishmen; we hailed as brothers in the cause of freedom the very Mexicans whom we have since wasted with fire and sword; our orators, North and South, grew eloquent and classic over the Greek and Polish revolutions. In short, long ere this, if the walls of kingcraft and despotism had been, like those of Jericho, destined to be overthrown by sound, our Fourth of July cannon-shootings and bell- ringings, together with our fierce, grandiloquent speech-makings in and out of Congress, on the occasions referred to, would have left no stone upon another.

It is true that an exception must be made in the case of Hayti. We fired no guns, drank no toasts, made no speeches in favor of the establishment of that new republic in our neighborhood. The very mention of the possibility that Haytien delegates might ask admittance to the congress of the free republics of the New World at Panama "frightened from their propriety" the eager propagandists of republicanism in the Senate, and gave a death-blow to their philanthropic projects. But as Hayti is a republic of blacks who, having revolted from their masters as well as from the mother country, have placed themselves entirely without the pale of Anglo-Saxon sympathy by their impertinent interference with the monopoly of white liberty, this exception by no means disproves the general fact, that in the matter of powder-burning, bell-jangling, speech-making, toast-drinking admiration of freedom afar off and in the abstract we have no rivals. The caricature of our "general sympathizers" in Martin Chuzzlewit is by no means a fancy sketch.

The news of the revolution of the three days in Paris, and the triumph of the French people over Charles X. and his ministers, as a matter of course acted with great effect upon our national susceptibility. We all threw up our hats in excessive joy at the spectacle of a king dashed down headlong from his throne and chased out of his kingdom by his long- suffering and oppressed subjects. We took half the credit of the performance to ourselves, inasmuch as Lafayette was a principal actor in it. Our editors, from Passamaquoddy to the Sabine, indited paragraphs for a thousand and one newspapers, congratulating the Parisian patriots, and prophesying all manner of evil to holy alliances, kings, and aristocracies. The National Intelligencer for September 27, 1830, contains a full account of the public rejoicings of the good people of Washington on the occasion. Bells were rung in all the steeples, guns were fired, and a grand procession was formed, including the President of the United States, the heads of departments, and other public functionaries. Decorated with tricolored ribbons, and with tricolored flags mingling with the stripes and stars over their heads, and gazed down upon by bright eyes from window and balcony, the "general sympathizers" moved slowly and majestically through the broad avenue towards the Capitol to celebrate the revival of French liberty in a manner becoming the chosen rulers of a free people.

What a spectacle was this for the representatives of European kingcraft at our seat of government! How the titled agents of Metternich and Nicholas must have trembled, in view of this imposing demonstration, for the safety of their "peculiar institutions!"

Unluckily, however, the moral effect of this grand spectacle was marred somewhat by the appearance of another procession, moving in a contrary direction. It was a gang of slaves! Handcuffed in pairs, with the sullen sadness of despair in their faces, they marched wearily onward to the music of the driver's whip and the clanking iron on their limbs. Think of it! Shouts of triumph, rejoicing bells, gay banners, and glittering cavalcades, in honor of Liberty, in immediate contrast with men and women chained and driven like cattle to market! The editor of the American Spectator, a paper published at Washington at that time, speaking of this black procession of slavery, describes it as "driven along by what had the appearance of a man on horseback." The miserable wretches who composed it were doubtless consigned to a slave-jail to await their purchase and transportation to the South or Southwest; and perhaps formed a part of that drove of human beings which the same editor states that he saw on the Saturday following, "males and females chained in couples, starting from Robey's tavern, on foot, for Alexandria, to embark on board a slave-ship."

At a Virginia camp-meeting, many years ago, one of the brethren, attempting an exhortation, stammered, faltered, and finally came to a dead stand. "Sit down, brother," said old Father Kyle, the one-eyed abolition preacher; "it's no use to try; you can't preach with twenty negroes sticking in your throat!" It strikes us that our country is very much in the condition of the poor confused preacher at the camp-meeting. Slavery sticks in its throat, and spoils its finest performances, political and ecclesiastical; confuses the tongues of its evangelical alliances; makes a farce of its Fourth of July celebrations; and, as in the case of the grand Washington procession of 1830, sadly mars the effect of its rejoicings in view of the progress of liberty abroad. There is a stammer in all our exhortations; our moral and political homilies are sure to run into confusions and contradictions; and the response which comes to us from the nations is not unlike that of Father Kyle to the planter's attempt at sermonizing: "It's no use, brother Jonathan; you can't preach liberty with three millions of slaves in your throat!"
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