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Wendell Phillips
by [?]

“That’s him–Garrison, the damned abolitionist!” The words arose above the din and surge of the mob: “Kill him! Hang him!”

Phillips saw the colonel of his militia regiment, and seizing him by the arm, said, “Order out the men to put down this riot!”

“Fool!” said the Colonel, “don’t you see our men are in this crowd!”

“Then order them into columns, and we will protect this man.”

“I never give orders unless I know they will be obeyed. Besides, this man Garrison is a rioter himself–he opposes the government.”

“But, do we uphold mob-law–here, in Boston!”

“Don’t blame me–I haven’t anything to do with this business. I tell you, if this man Garrison had minded his own affairs, this scene would never have occurred.”

“And those women?”

“Oh, they are members of the Anti-Slavery Society. It was their holding the meeting that made the trouble. The children followed them, hooting them through the streets!”


“Yes; you know children repeat what they hear at home–they echo the thoughts of their elders. The children hooted them, then some one threw a stone through a window. A crowd gathered, and here you are!”

The Colonel shook himself loose from the lawyer and followed the mob. The Mayor’s counsel prevailed: “Give the prisoner to me–I will see that he is punished!”

And so he was dragged to the City Hall and there locked up.

The crowd lingered, then thinned out. The shouts grew less, and soon the police were able to rout the loiterers.

The young lawyer went back to his law-office, but not to study. The law looked different to him now–the whole legal aspect of things had changed in an hour.

It was a pivotal point.

He had heard much of the majesty of the law, and here he had seen the entire machinery of justice brushed aside.

Law! It is the thing we make with our hands and then fall down and worship. Men want to do things, so they do them, and afterward they legalize them, just as we believe things first and later hunt for reasons. Or we illegalize the thing we do not want others to do.

Boston, standing for law and order, will not even allow a few women to meet and discuss an economic proposition!

Abolition is a fool idea, but we must have free speech–that is what our Constitution is built upon! Law is supposed to protect free speech, even to voicing wrong ideas! Surely a man has a legal right to a wrong opinion! A mob in Boston to put down free speech!

This young lawyer was not an Abolitionist–not he, but he was an American, descended from the Puritans, with ancestors who fought in the War of the Revolution–he believed in fair play.

His cheeks burned with shame.

* * * * *

Seen from Mount Olympus, how small and pitiful must seem the antics of Earth–all these churches and little sects–our laws, our arguments, our courts of justice, our elections, our wars!

Viewed across the years, the Abolition Movement seems a small thing. It is so thoroughly dead–so far removed from our present interests! We hear a Virginian praise John Brown, listen to Henry Watterson as he says, “The South never had a better friend than Lincoln,” or brave General Gordon, as he declares, “We now know that slavery was a gigantic mistake, and that Emerson was right when he said, ‘One end of the slave’s chain is always riveted to the wrist of the master.'”

We can scarcely comprehend that fifty years ago the trinity of money, fashion and religion combined in the hot endeavor to make human slavery a perpetuity; that the man of the North who hinted at resisting the return of a runaway slave was in danger of financial ruin, social ostracism, and open rebuke from the pulpit. The ears of Boston were so stuffed with South Carolina cotton that they could not hear the cry of the oppressed. Commerce was fettered by self-interest, and law ever finds precedents and sanctions for what commerce most desires. And as for the pulpit, it is like the law, in that Scriptural warrant is always forthcoming for what the pew wishes to do.