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13 January, 2012
The Conflict with Slavery
Formation of the American Antislavery Society.
by John Greenleaf Whittier
A letter to William Lloyd Garrison, President of the Society.
AMESBURY, 24th 11th mo., 1863.
MY DEAR FRIEND,--I have received thy kind letter, with the accompanying
circular, inviting me to attend the commemoration of the thirtieth
anniversary of the formation of the American Anti-Slavery Society, at
Philadelphia. It is with the deepest regret that I am compelled, by the
feeble state of my health, to give up all hope of meeting thee and my
other old and dear friends on an occasion of so much interest. How much
it costs me to acquiesce in the hard necessity thy own feelings will tell
thee better than any words of mine.
I look back over thirty years, and call to mind all the circumstances of
my journey to Philadelphia, in company with thyself and the excellent Dr.
Thurston of Maine, even then, as we thought, an old man, but still
living, and true as ever to the good cause. I recall the early gray
morning when, with Samuel J. May, our colleague on the committee to
prepare a Declaration of Sentiments for the convention, I climbed to the
small "upper chamber" of a colored friend to hear thee read the first
draft of a paper which will live as long as our national history. I see
the members of the convention, solemnized by the responsibility, rise one
by one, and solemnly affix their names to that stern pledge of fidelity
to freedom. Of the signers, many have passed away from earth, a few have
faltered and turned back, but I believe the majority still live to
rejoice over the great triumph of truth and justice, and to devote what
remains of time and strength to the cause to which they consecrated their
youth and manhood thirty years ago.
For while we may well thank God and congratulate one another on the
prospect of the speedy emancipation of the slaves of the United States,
we must not for a moment forget that, from this hour, new and mighty
responsibilities devolve upon us to aid, direct, and educate these
millions, left free, indeed, but bewildered, ignorant, naked, and
foodless in the wild chaos of civil war. We have to undo the accumulated
wrongs of two centuries; to remake the manhood which slavery has well-
nigh unmade; to see to it that the long-oppressed colored man has a fair
field for development and improvement; and to tread under our feet the
last vestige of that hateful prejudice which has been the strongest
external support of Southern slavery. We must lift ourselves at once to
the true Christian altitude where all distinctions of black and white are
overlooked in the heartfelt recognition of the brotherhood of man.
I must not close this letter without confessing that I cannot be
sufficiently thankful to the Divine Providence which, in a great measure
through thy instrumentality, turned me away so early from what Roger
Williams calls "the world's great trinity, pleasure, profit, and honor,"
to take side with the poor and oppressed. I am not insensible to
literary reputation. I love, perhaps too well, the praise and good-will
of my fellow-men; but I set a higher value on my name as appended to the
Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833 than on the title-page of any book.
Looking over a life marked by many errors and shortcomings, I rejoice
that I have been able to maintain the pledge of that signature, and that,
in the long intervening years,
"My voice, though not the loudest, has been heard Wherever Freedom
raised her cry of pain."
Let me, through thee, extend a warm greeting to the friends, whether of
our own or the new generation, who may assemble on the occasion of
commemoration. There is work yet to be done which will task the best
efforts of us all. For thyself, I need not say that the love and esteem
of early boyhood have lost nothing by the test of time; and
I am, very cordially, thy friend,
JOHN G. WHITTIER