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An Address Delivered At The Centennial Anniversary Of The Pennsylvania Society For Promoting The Abolition Of Slavery





BY JOHN MERCER LANGSTON

[Note 11: Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 14, 1875.]


Ladies and Gentlemen:

The history of this Association, owing to its objects and achievements,
sweep in an interest that is not confined to any class: an interest that
is not confined to any people, and whose scope and consequences cannot
be foretold by human inspiration. It affects the emancipation of a whole
race; and in that it touches the progress and character of all who are
brought in contact with that race, the forms of government over the
world and the world's progress in all departments. There was a recent
time in American history when no man, in all its length and breadth,
could read the Declaration of Independence and say that he possessed all
of his civil and political liberties. Garrison could not speak in New
Orleans, nor could the silver-tongued Phillips address an audience south
of Mason and Dixon's line. Nor was it expedient for John C. Calhoun to
address his arguments in Independence Hall, or for Davis and Yulee and
Mason to propound theirs in Faneuil Hall. Speech was itself in thrall,
and bound to the section in which it found voice. When Garrison and
Phillips had been invited to speak in Cincinnati, they were counseled by
their friends not to do so. There was danger that the mobs of Covington
and Cincinnati would assassinate them publicly; and it is notorious that
the opposing arguments that reached Washington from the North and from
the South advanced no further in either direction. This impugned and
belied the very freedom declared in the Declaration and Constitution;
and made both the mockery of Europe. The contradiction is reconciled;
the taunt is silenced; speech is legally free and protected over all the
Union, and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society has done more than any
other agency--more than all other agencies combined--to vitalize the
Constitution and give being to the Declaration. This society fought for
the glowing assertion of all the centuries: That men are born free and
equal, and are endowed with inalienable right to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness. It kept the contrast between the declaration and
its practise in a clear light. It repeated the assertion and reasserted
it. It argued the justice with the very facts and reasons that had been
presented to the Congress by whom the Declaration was framed.
Undisturbed by ridicule, unchecked by hostility, undaunted by
persecution, it has kept the law in the van of the fight; sustained it
by reserves of humane reason; by appeals to national strength and
welfare, and growth, and influence, and wealth; it disseminated the
truth in churches, at the polls, in lyceums, by the press; it was
unanswerable because its claim was founded in equity, and recognized in
religion, and had ineradicable place in the great muniment of national
being. It appealed to the individual conscience as well as to pride,
patriotism, piety, and interest, and it won, and now celebrates a
victory immeasurably greater than that of Yorktown or Waterloo or
Marathon. Those were the victories of nation over nation, or at the
utmost of a principle of limited application. We celebrate the
successful battle of the grandest principle in human organization; that
is confined to no race, limited to no country, cramped by no
restriction, but is as broad as the world, as applicable as humanity
itself and as enduring as time. The sentiment which elected Abraham
Lincoln was contained in an address delivered before the Pennsylvania
Abolition Society by Benjamin Rush, one of its earliest and most honored
members. It was: "Freedom and slavery cannot long exist together!"

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Abolition Society, those who see the
American citizens of African descent one hundred years hence will be
proud of them, and convinced that the great century struggle that won
their enfranchisement was worth infinitely more than it cost. We are now
leaving politics. We have gained through them the rights and
opportunities they conferred, that could be secured in no other way. We
are devoting ourselves to learning and industry; the attainment of
wealth and manufacture of character. We shall never leave our home.
There are but two facts to be recognized. We are here. The white race is
here. Both share the same rights; make and obey the same laws; struggle
for progress under the same conditions. The logical conclusion of our
birthright and of our proclaimed and perfected equality before the law
is that we shall remain, and remaining strive with equal advantages with
our white fellow citizens for our own good and the nation's welfare.





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