The Death of John Brown

by Frank Lloyd Garrison (1805 - 1879)

1859

 

 

This speech, by one of the nation's most famous and influential abolitionists, best known as the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and president of the American Antislavery Society from 1843-65, was delivered in Boston a few weeks after John Brown was hanged in Charles Town, Virginia (now in West Virginia).

 


 

God forbid that we should any longer continue the accomplices of thieves and robbers, of men-stealers and women-whippers! We must join 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 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 slave-holders, who are for cleaving 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 slave-holder 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 can not 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 worshiped, one Savior 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!"

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 stand,
Or the martyr's grave."

 



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