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William Lloyd Garrison - On the Death of John Brown

William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison

John Brown of Kansas was a militant abolitionist who attempted to use force to free the slaves in the South.

On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown and a small band of followers seized the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The weapons were to be used by his "army of emancipation." They took 60 hostages and held out against the local militia, but were then attacked by U.S. Marines under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee (who would later command the Confederate Armies).

Two of Brown's sons and ten others were killed in the fighting. Brown was wounded and taken prisoner. He was tried by the Commonwealth of Virginia and convicted of treason, murder and inciting slaves to rebellion. He was sentenced to death and hanged on December 2, 1859. On that day in Boston, America's best known Abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, delivered this highly charged tribute honoring Brown by advocating that the North should secede from the South to end slavery.

God forbid that we should any longer continue the accomplices of thieves and robbers, of men-stealers and women-whippers! We must join together in the name of freedom.

As for the Union--where is it and what is it?

In one-half of it no man can exercise freedom of speech or the press--no man can utter the words of Washington, of Jefferson, of Patrick Henry--except at the peril of his life; and Northern men are everywhere hunted and driven from the South if they are supposed to cherish the sentiment of freedom in their bosoms.

We are living under an awful despotism--that of a brutal slave oligarchy. And they threaten to leave us if we do not continue to do their evil work, as we have hitherto done it, and go down in the dust before them!

Would to heaven they would go! It would only be the paupers clearing out from the town, would it not? But, no, they do not mean to go; they mean to cling to you, and they mean to subdue you. But will you be subdued?

I tell you our work is the dissolution of this slavery-cursed Union, if we would have a fragment of our liberties left to us! Surely between freemen, who believe in exact justice and impartial liberty, and slaveholders, who are for cleaning down all human rights at a blow, it is not possible there should be any Union whatever. "How can two walk together except they be agreed?"

The slaveholder with his hands dripping in blood--will I make a compact with him? The man who plunders cradles--will I say to him, "Brother, let us walk together in unity?" The man who, to gratify his lust or his anger, scourges woman with the lash till the soil is red with her blood--will I say to him: "Give me your hand; let us form a glorious Union?" No, never--never! There can be no union between us: "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" What union has freedom with slavery? Let us tell the inexorable and remorseless tyrants of the South that their conditions hitherto imposed upon us, whereby we are morally responsible for the existence of slavery, are horribly inhuman and wicked, and we cannot carry them out for the sake of their evil company.

By the dissolution of the Union we shall give the finishing blow to the slave system; and then God will make it possible for us to form a true, vital, enduring, all-embracing Union, from the Atlantic to the Pacific--one God to be worshipped, one Saviour to be revered, one policy to be carried out--freedom everywhere to all the people, without regard to complexion or race--and the blessing of God resting upon us all! I want to see that glorious day!

Now the South is full of tribulation and terror and despair, going down to irretrievable bankruptcy, and fearing each bush an officer! Would to God it might all pass away like a hideous dream! And how easily it might be!

What is it that God requires of the South to remove every root of bitterness, to allay every fear, to fill her borders with prosperity? But one simple act of justice, without violence and convulsion, without danger and hazard. It is this: "Undo the heavy burdens, break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free!" Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy darkness shall be as the noonday. Then shalt thou call and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say: "Here I am."

"And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places; thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in."

How simple and how glorious! It is the complete solution of all the difficulties in the case. Oh, that the South may be wise before it is too late, and give heed to the word of the Lord! But, whether she will hear or forbear, let us renew our pledges to the cause of bleeding humanity, and spare no effort to make this truly the land of the free and the refuge of the oppressed!

"Onward, then, ye fearless band,
Heart to heart, and hand to hand;
Yours shall be the Christian's stand,
Or the martyr's grave."

William Lloyd Garrison - December 2, 1859

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