A Memorial Discourse
BY REV. HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET
HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET, who at the time of the delivery of this speech
was in charge of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington,
D. C., was one of the foremost figures in the great anti-slavery
movement in New York. He was the first colored man to speak in the
Matthew xxiii-4. "For they bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be
borne, and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves will
not move them with one of their fingers."
[Note 13: Delivered in the Hall of the House of Representatives,
Washington, D. C., at the request of the Chaplain, Rev. William H.
In this chapter, of which my text is a sentence, the Lord Jesus
addressed his disciples, and the multitude that hung spell-bound upon
the words that fell from his lips. He admonished them to beware of the
religion of the Scribes and Pharisees, which was distinguished for great
professions, while it succeeded in urging them to do but a little, or
nothing that accorded with the law of righteousness.
In theory they were right; but their practices were inconsistent and
wrong. They were learned in the law of Moses, and in the traditions of
their fathers, but the principles of righteousness failed to affect
their hearts. They knew their duty but did it not. The demands which
they made upon others proved that they themselves knew what things men
ought to do. In condemning others they pronounced themselves guilty.
They demanded that others should be just, merciful, pure, peaceable, and
righteous. But they were unjust, impure, unmerciful--they hated and
wronged a portion of their fellowmen, and waged a continual war against
the government of God.
* * * * *
Such was their conduct in the Church and in the State. We have modern
Scribes and Pharisees, who are faithful to their prototypes of ancient
With sincere respect and reverence for the instruction, and the warning
given by our Lord, and in humble dependence upon him for his assistance,
I shall speak this morning of the Scribes and Pharisees of our times who
rule the State. In discharging this duty, I shall keep my eyes upon the
picture which is painted so faithfully and life-like by the hand of the
Allow me to describe them. They are intelligent and well-informed, and
can never say, either before an earthly tribunal or at the bar of God,
"We knew not of ourselves what was right." They are acquainted with the
principles of the law of nations. They are proficient in the knowledge
of Constitutional law. They are teachers of common law, and frame and
execute statute law. They acknowledge that there is a just and impartial
God, and are not altogether unacquainted with the law of Christian love
and kindness. They claim for themselves the broadest freedom. Boastfully
they tell us that they have received from the court of heaven the Magna
Charta of human rights that was handed down through the clouds, and
amid the lightnings of Sinai, and given again by the Son of God on the
Mount of Beatitudes, while the glory of the Father shone around him.
They tell us that from the Declaration of Independence and the
Constitution they have obtained a guaranty of their political freedom,
and from the Bible they derive their claim to all the blessings of
religious liberty. With just pride they tell us that they are descended
from the Pilgrims, who threw themselves upon the bosom of the
treacherous sea, and braved storms and tempests, that they might find in
a strange land, and among savages, free homes, where they might build
their altars that should blaze with acceptable sacrifice unto God. Yes!
they boast that their fathers heroically turned away from the precious
light of Eastern civilization, and taking their lamps with oil in their
vessels, joyfully went forth to illuminate this land, that then dwelt in
the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death. With hearts
strengthened by faith they spread out their standard to the winds of
heaven, near Plymouth rock; and whether it was stiffened in the sleet
and frosts of winter, or floated on the breeze of summer, it ever bore
the motto, "Freedom to worship God."
But others, their fellow-men, equal before the Almighty, and made by him
of the same blood, and glowing with immortality, they doom to life-long
servitude and chains. Yes, they stand in the most sacred places on
earth, and beneath the gaze of the piercing eye of Jehovah, the
universal Father of all men, and declare, "that the best possible
condition of the Negro is slavery."
In the name of the Triune God I denounce the sentiment as unrighteous
beyond measure, and the holy and the just of the whole earth say in
regard to it, Anathema-maranatha.
What is slavery? Too well do I know what it is. I will present to you a
bird's-eye view of it; and it shall be no fancy picture, but one that is
sketched by painful experience. I was born among the cherished
institutions of slavery. My earliest recollections of parents, friends,
and the home of my childhood are clouded with its wrongs. The first
sight that met my eyes was a Christian mother enslaved by professed
Christians, but, thank God, now a saint in heaven. The first sounds that
startled my ear, and sent a shudder through my soul, were the cracking
of the whip and the clanking of chains. These sad memories mar the
beauties of my native shores, and darken all the slave-land, which, but
for the reign of despotism, had been a paradise. But those shores are
fairer now. The mists have left my native valleys, and the clouds have
rolled away from the hills, and Maryland, the unhonored grave of my
fathers, is now the free home of their liberated and happier children.
Let us view this demon, which the people have worshiped as a God. Come
forth, thou grim monster, that thou mayest be critically examined! There
he stands. Behold him, one and all. Its work is to chattelize man; to
hold property in human beings. Great God! I would as soon attempt to
enslave Gabriel or Michael as to enslave a man made in the image of God,
and for whom Christ died. Slavery is snatching man from the high place
to which he was lifted by the hand of God, and dragging him down to the
level of the brute creation, where he is made to be the companion of the
horse and the fellow of the ox.
It tears the crown of glory from his head, and as far as possible
obliterates the image of God that is in him. Slavery preys upon man, and
man only. A brute cannot be made a slave. Why? Because a brute has not
reason, faith, nor an undying spirit, nor conscience. It does not look
forward to the future with joy or fear, nor reflect upon the past with
satisfaction or regret. But who in this vast assembly, who in all this
broad land, will say that the poorest and most unhappy brother in chains
and servitude has not every one of these high endowments? Who denies it?
Is there one? If so, let him speak. There is not one; no, not one.
But slavery attempts to make a man a brute. It treats him as a beast.
Its terrible work is not finished until the ruined victim of its lusts,
and pride, and avarice, and hatred, is reduced so low that with tearful
eyes and feeble voice he faintly cries, "I am happy and contented--I
love this condition."
"Proud Nimrod first the bloody chase began,
A mighty hunter he; his prey was man."
The caged lion may cease to roar, and try no longer the strength of the
bars of his prison, and lie with his head between his mighty paws and
snuff the polluted air as though he heeded not. But is he contented?
Does he not instinctively long for the freedom of the forest and the
plain? Yes, he is a lion still. Our poor and forlorn brother whom thou
hast labelled "slave," is also a man. He may be unfortunate, weak,
helpless, and despised, and hated, nevertheless he is a man. His God and
thine has stamped on his forehead his title to his inalienable rights in
characters that can be read by every intelligent being. Pitiless storms
of outrage may have beaten upon his defenseless head and he may have
descended through ages of oppression, yet he is a man. God made him
such, and his brother cannot unmake him. Woe, woe to him who attempts to
commit the accursed crime.
Slavery commenced its dreadful work in kidnapping unoffending men in a
foreign and distant land, and in piracy on the seas. The plunderers were
not the followers of Mahomet, nor the devotees of Hindooism, nor
benighted pagans, nor idolaters, but people called Christians, and thus
the ruthless traders in the souls and bodies of men fastened upon
Christianity a crime and stain at the sight of which it shudders and
It is guilty of the most heinous iniquities ever perpetrated upon
helpless women and innocent children. Go to the shores of the land of my
forefathers, poor bleeding Africa, which, although she has been
bereaved, and robbed for centuries, is nevertheless beloved by all her
worthy descendants wherever dispersed. Behold a single scene that there
meets your eyes. Turn not away neither from shame, pity, nor
indifference, but look and see the beginning of this cherished and
petted institution. Behold a hundred youthful mothers seated on the
ground, dropping their tears upon the hot sands, and filling the air
with their lamentations.
Why do they weep? Ah, Lord God, thou knowest! Their babes have been
torn from their bosoms and cast upon the plains to die of hunger, or to
be devoured by hyenas or jackals. The little innocents would die on the
"Middle Passage," or suffocate between the decks of the floating
slave-pen, freighted and packed with unparalleled human woe, and the
slavers in mercy have cast them out to perish on their native shores.
Such is the beginning, and no less wicked is the end of that system
which Scribes and Pharisees in the Church and the State pronounce to be
just, humane, benevolent and Christian. If such are the deeds of mercy
wrought by angels, then tell me what works of iniquity there remain for
devils to do?
* * * * *
It is the highly concentrated essence of all conceivable wickedness.
Theft, robbery, pollution, unbridled passion, incest, cruelty,
cold-blooded murder, blasphemy, and defiance of the laws of God. It
teaches children to disregard parental authority. It tears down the
marriage altar, and tramples its sacred ashes under its feet. It creates
and nourishes polygamy. It feeds and pampers its hateful handmaid,
It has divided our national councils. It has engendered deadly strife
between brethren. It has wasted the treasure of the Commonwealth, and
the lives of thousands of brave men, and driven troops of helpless women
and children into yawning tombs. It has caused the bloodiest civil war
recorded in the book of time. It has shorn this nation of its locks of
strength that was rising as a young lion in the Western world. It has
offered us as a sacrifice to the jealousy and cupidity of tyrants,
despots, and adventurers of foreign countries. It has opened a door
through which a usurper, a perjured, but a powerful prince, might
stealthily enter and build an empire on the golden borders of our
southwestern frontier, and which is but a stepping-stone to further and
unlimited conquests on this continent. It has desolated the fairest
portions of our land, "until the wolf long since driven back by the
march of civilization returns after the lapse of a hundred years and
howls amidst its ruins."
It seals up the Bible, and mutilates its sacred truths, and flies into
the face of the Almighty, and impiously asks, "Who art thou that I
should obey thee?" Such are the outlines of this fearful national sin;
and yet the condition to which it reduces man, it is affirmed, is the
best that can possibly be devised for him.
When inconsistencies similar in character, and no more glaring, passed
beneath the eye of the Son of God, no wonder he broke forth in language
of vehement denunciation. Ye Scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites! Ye
blind guides! Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he
is made ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Ye
are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful without,
but within are full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness!
Let us here take up the golden rule, and adopt the self-application mode
of reasoning to those who hold these erroneous views. Come, gird up thy
loins and answer like a man, if thou canst. Is slavery, as it is seen in
its origin, continuance, and end the best possible condition for thee?
Oh, no! Wilt thou bear that burden on thy shoulders, which thou
wouldest lay upon thy fellow-man? No. Wilt thou bear a part of it, or
remove a little of its weight with one of thy fingers? The sharp and
indignant answer is no, no! Then how, and when, and where, shall we
apply to thee the golden rule, which says, "Therefore all things that ye
would that others should do to you, do ye even so unto them, for this is
the law and the prophets."
Let us have the testimony of the wise and great of ancient and modern
"Sages who wrote and warriors who bled."
Plato declared that "Slavery is a system of complete injustice."
Socrates wrote that "Slavery is a system of outrage and robbery."
Cyrus said, "To fight in order not to be a slave is noble."
If Cyrus had lived in our land a few years ago he would have been
arrested for using incendiary language, and for inciting servile
insurrection, and the royal fanatic would have been hanged on a gallows
higher than Haman. But every man is fanatical when his soul is warmed by
the generous fires of liberty. Is it then truly noble to fight in order
not to be a slave? The Chief Magistrate of the nation, and our rulers,
and all truly patriotic men think so; and so think legions of black men,
who for a season were scorned and rejected, but who came quickly and
cheerfully when they were at last invited, bearing a heavy burden of
proscriptions upon their shoulders, and having faith in God, and in
their generous fellow-countrymen, they went forth to fight a double
battle. The foes of their country were before them, while the enemies of
freedom and of their race surrounded them.
Augustine, Constantine, Ignatius, Polycarp, Maximus, and the most
illustrious lights of the ancient church denounced the sin of
Thomas Jefferson said at a period of his life, when his judgment was
matured, and his experience was ripe, "There is preparing, I hope, under
the auspices of heaven, a way for a total emancipation."
The sainted Washington said, near the close of his moral career, and
when the light of eternity was beaming upon him, "It is among my first
wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country shall
be abolished by law. I know of but one way by which this can be done,
and that is by legislative action, and so far as my vote can go, it
shall not be wanting."
The other day, when the light of Liberty streamed through this marble
pile, and the hearts of the noble band of patriotic statesmen leaped for
joy, and this our national capitol shook from foundation to dome with
the shouts of a ransomed people, then methinks the spirits of
Washington, Jefferson, the Jays, the Adamses, and Franklin, and
Lafayette, and Giddings, and Lovejoy, and those of all the mighty, and
glorious dead, remembered by history, because they were faithful to
truth, justice, and liberty, were hovering over the august assembly.
Though unseen by mortal eyes, doubtless they joined the angelic choir,
and said, Amen.
Pope Leo X. testifies, "That not only does the Christian religion, but
nature herself, cry out against a state of slavery."
Patrick Henry said, "We should transmit to posterity our abhorrence of
slavery." So also thought the Thirty-Eighth Congress.
Lafayette proclaimed these words: "Slavery is a dark spot on the face of
the nation." God be praised, that stain will soon be wiped out.
Jonathan Edwards declared "that to hold a man in slavery is to be every
day guilty of robbery, or of man stealing."
Rev. Dr. William Ellery Channing, in a Letter on the Annexation of Texas
in 1837, writes as follows: "The evil of slavery speaks for itself. To
state is to condemn the institution. The choice which every freeman
makes of death for his child and for every thing he loves in preference
to slavery shows what it is. * * * "Every principle of our government
and religion condemns slavery. The spirit of our age condemns it. The
decree of the civilized world has gone out against it."
* * * * *
Moses, the greatest of all lawgivers and legislators, said, while his
face was yet radiant with the light of Sinai: "Whoso stealeth a man, and
selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to
death." The destroying angel has gone forth through this land to execute
the fearful penalties of God's broken law.
The representatives of the nation have bowed with reverence to the
Divine edict, and laid the axe at the root of the tree, and thus saved
succeeding generations from the guilt of oppression, and from the wrath
Statesmen, jurists, and philosophers, most renowned for learning, and
most profound in every department of science and literature, have
testified against slavery; while oratory has brought its costliest,
golden treasures, and laid them on the altar of God and of freedom, it
has aimed its fiercest lightning and loudest thunder at the strongholds
of tyranny, injustice, and despotism.
From the days of Balak to those of Isaiah and Jeremiah, up to the times
of Paul, and through every age of the Christian Church, the sons of
thunder have denounced the abominable thing. The heroes who stood in the
shining ranks of the hosts of the friends of human progress, from Cicero
to Chatham, and Burke, Sharp, Wilberforce, and Thomas Clarkson, and
Curran, assaulted the citadel of despotism. The orators and statesmen of
our own land, whether they belong to the past, or to the present age,
will live and shine in the annals of history, in proportion as they have
dedicated their genius and talents to the defence of Justice and man's
All the poets who live in sacred and profane history have charmed the
world with their most enchanting strains, when they have tuned their
lyres to the praise of Liberty. When the muses can no longer decorate
her altars with their garlands, then they hang their harps upon the
willows and weep.
From Moses to Terence and Homer, from thence to Milton and Cowper,
Thomson and Thomas Campbell, and on to the days of our own bards, our
Bryants, Longfellows, Whittiers, Morrises, and Bokers, all have
presented their best gifts to the interests and rights of man.
Every good principle, and every great and noble power, have been made
the subjects of the inspired verse, and the songs of poets. But who of
them has attempted to immortalize slavery? You will search in vain the
annals of the world to find an instance. Should any attempt the
sacrilegious work, his genius would fall to the earth as if smitten by
the lightning of heaven. Should he lift his hand to write a line in its
praise, or defence, the ink would freeze on the point of his pen.
Could we array in one line, representatives of all the families of men,
beginning with those lowest in the scale of being, and should we put to
them the question, Is it right and desirable that you should be reduced
to the condition of slaves, to be registered with chattels, to have your
persons, and your lives, and the products of your labor, subjected to
the will and the interests of others? Is it right and just that the
persons of your wives and children should be at the disposal of others,
and be yielded to them for the purpose of pampering their lusts and
greed of gain? Is it right to lay heavy burdens on other men's shoulders
which you would not remove with one of your fingers? From the rude
savage and barbarian the negative response would come, increasing in
power and significance as it rolled up the line. And when those should
reply, whose minds and hearts are illuminated with the highest
civilization and with the spirit of Christianity, the answer deep-toned
and prolonged would thunder forth, no, no!
With all the moral attributes of God on our side, cheered as we are by
the voices of universal human nature,--in view of the best interests of
the present and future generations--animated with the noble desire to
furnish the nations of the earth with a worthy example, let the verdict
of death which has been brought in against slavery, by the Thirty-Eighth
Congress, be affirmed and executed by the people. Let the gigantic
monster perish. Yes, perish now, and perish forever!
It is often asked when and where will the demands of the reformers of
this and coming ages end? It is a fair question, and I will answer.
When all unjust and heavy burdens shall be removed from every man in the
land. When all invidious and proscriptive distinctions shall be blotted
out from our laws, whether they be constitutional, statute, or municipal
laws. When emancipation shall be followed by enfranchisement, and all
men holding allegiance to the government shall enjoy every right of
American citizenship. When our brave and gallant soldiers shall have
justice done unto them. When the men who endure the sufferings and
perils of the battle-field in the defence of their country, and in order
to keep our rulers in their places, shall enjoy the well-earned
privilege of voting for them. When in the army and navy, and in every
legitimate and honorable occupation, promotion shall smile upon merit
without the slightest regard to the complexion of a man's face. When
there shall be no more class-legislation, and no more trouble
concerning the black man and his rights, than there is in regard to
other American citizens. When, in every respect, he shall be equal
before the law, and shall be left to make his own way in the social
walks of life.
We ask, and only ask, that when our poor frail barks are launched on
"Bound on a voyage of awful length
And dangers little known,"
that, in common with others, we may be furnished with rudder, helm, and
sails, and charts, and compass. Give us good pilots to conduct us to the
open seas; lift no false lights along the dangerous coasts, and if it
shall please God to send us propitious winds, or fearful gales, we shall
survive or perish as our energies or neglect shall determine. We ask no
special favors, but we plead for justice. While we scorn unmanly
dependence; in the name of God, the universal Father, we demand the
right to live, and labor, and to enjoy the fruits of our toil. The good
work which God has assigned for the ages to come, will be finished, when
our national literature shall be so purified as to reflect a faithful
and a just light upon the character and social habits of our race, and
the brush, and pencil, and chisel, and lyre of art, shall refuse to lend
their aid to scoff at the afflictions of the poor, or to caricature, or
ridicule a long-suffering people. When caste and prejudice in Christian
churches shall be utterly destroyed, and shall be regarded as totally
unworthy of Christians, and at variance with the principles of the
gospel. When the blessings of the Christian religion, and of sound,
religious education, shall be freely offered to all, then, and not till
then, shall the effectual labors of God's people and God's instruments
If slavery has been destroyed merely from necessity, let every class
be enfranchised at the dictation of justice. Then we shall have a
Constitution that shall be reverenced by all: rulers who shall be
honored, and revered, and a Union that shall be sincerely loved by a
brave and patriotic people, and which can never be severed.
Great sacrifices have been made by the people; yet, greater still are
demanded ere atonement can be made for our national sins. Eternal
justice holds heavy mortgages against us, and will require the payment
of the last farthing. We have involved ourselves in the sin of
unrighteous gain, stimulated by luxury, and pride, and the love of power
and oppression; and prosperity and peace can be purchased only by blood,
and with tears of repentance. We have paid some of the fearful
installments, but there are other heavy obligations to be met.
The great day of the nation's judgment has come, and who shall be able
to stand? Even we, whose ancestors have suffered the afflictions which
are inseparable from a condition of slavery, for the period of two
centuries and a half, now pity our land and weep with those who weep.
Upon the total and complete destruction of this accursed sin depends the
safety and perpetuity of our Republic and its excellent institutions.
Let slavery die. It has had a long and fair trial. God himself has
pleaded against it. The enlightened nations of the earth have condemned
it. Its death warrant is signed by God and man. Do not commute its
sentence. Give it no respite, but let it be ignominiously executed.
Honorable Senators and Representatives! Illustrious rulers of this great
nation! I cannot refrain this day from invoking upon you, in God's name,
the blessings of millions who were ready to perish, but to whom a new
and better life has been opened by your humanity, justice, and
patriotism. You have said, "Let the Constitution of the country be so
amended that slavery and involuntary servitude shall no longer exist in
the United States, except in punishment for crime." Surely, an act so
sublime could not escape Divine notice; and doubtless the deed has been
recorded in the archives of heaven. Volumes may be appropriated to your
praise and renown in the history of the world. Genius and art may
perpetuate the glorious act on canvass and in marble, but certain and
more lasting monuments in commemoration of your decision are already
erected in the hearts and memories of a grateful people.
The nation has begun its exodus from worse than Egyptian bondage; and I
beseech you that you say to the people, "that they go forward." With the
assurance of God's favor in all things done in obedience to his
righteous will, and guided by day and by night by the pillars of cloud
and fire, let us not pause until we have reached the other and safe side
of the stormy and crimson sea. Let freemen and patriots mete out
complete and equal justice to all men, and thus prove to mankind the
superiority of our Democratic, Republican Government.
Favored men, and honored of God as his instruments, speedily finish the
work which he has given you to do. Emancipate, enfranchise, educate, and
give the blessings of the gospel to every American citizen.
Then before us a path of prosperity will open, and upon us will descend
the mercies and favors of God. Then shall the people of other countries,
who are standing tip-toe on the shores of every ocean, earnestly looking
to see the end of this amazing conflict, behold a Republic that is
sufficiently strong to outlive the ruin and desolations of civil war,
having the magnanimity to do justice to the poorest and weakest of her
citizens. Thus shall we give to the world the form of a model Republic,
founded on the principles of justice, and humanity, and Christianity, in
which the burdens of war and the blessings of peace are equally borne
and enjoyed by all.
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