essays

This is part of a series

1845

Liberty Chimes: Some Light Treason

Whipple’s Liberty Chimers were a radical bunch, for sure—and she used that flame to ignite a deep and lasting opposition to the Slave Power.

Editor’s Note

Liberty Chimes is a radical book, without a doubt. In our last number, we heard from Richard Hildreth, who argued that women in fact shape history in ways not normally perceived through male-dominated narratives of the past. A full three years before Seneca Falls, Hildreth and other abolitionists were regularly welcoming women speakers to events, making room for them to help lead the movement, and perhaps above all else, positively reorienting their conceptions of history and social progress by incorporating the female perspective. As Hildreth shows, history is entirely upended and reorganized once one recognizes that the past was not simply a long string of battles, legislations, and Great Thinkers. In fact, most of the past happened in the lone family homestead, often dominated by strong female figures who exercised tremendous—if  unrecorded—influence over human affairs. In the final chapter from our last number, author C. K. Whipple went so far as to openly declare for treason! After all, the Dorrites were “treasonous,” and the worst they got for it were short stays in the state jail and a high-profile conviction for their leader. If freedom for the slave was at stake and a war with Mexico was impending, then surely treason was worth the risks—nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all—and Frances Whipple’s sentiment would no doubt go a long way toward converting ex-Dorrites to Rhode Island’s remaining radical movement: abolitionism.

Our editor hoped Liberty Chimes would help heal the divisions within Rhode Island’s abolition movement that opened during the Dorrite People’s Convention over their constitution’s “whites only” clause. By embracing the Dorrites’ radical political message (which she did from the start) and fusing it with the abolitionists’ radical social message (which she also held from the start), Whipple believed she could reset the state’s radical politics and refocus everyone’s energies on the proper target. After all, it was widely believed that Dorrism was stunted by its associations with abolitionism as early as April 1842, when Charter governor King declared martial law and requested support from the national government. President John Tyler (a Virginia slaveholder), his Cabinet, and several prominent members of the House and Senate all believed Dorrism gave southern slaves a dangerous precedent. If a majority of the population could legitimately reform the state’s government on their own authority, how soon before South Carolina or Louisiana became black republics? Tyler’s government pronounced Dorrism “A Tremendous Abolition Plot” and sent “advisors” to aid the King government. Even this weak show of force was enough to discourage most otherwise-militant suffragists, and after a series of farcical “battles” the movement dissolved. The average suffragist blamed Tyler the man, saying he was too easily influenced by corrupt advisors like Secretary of State Daniel Webster, Massachusetts’s arch-Whig. But for abolitionists, the real causes of Dorrism’s failure were clear: the southern Slave Power reached its tentacles all the way from the Deep South, through Washington, and around Rhode Islanders’ throats. Slaveholders would not let Rhode Islanders have a government of their own making if it meant giving inspiration to the slave. It was up to Whipple and her Liberty Chimers, then, to put the case for universal, equal freedom boldly before the people.

Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

Liberty Chimes

Ed. Frances Whipple

Providence: Providence Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. 1845.

The Bond-Woman Prayer

By Eliza Store

Sobs went up on the still night air,
The cracking flames shot high,
And darkly circled their smoky breath
Against the summer sky,-

Wild shrieks of torture, fierce and keen,-
A woman’s frantic cry,
Of quivering flesh, and scorching limb,
And mad’ning pangs to die.

A groan of mortal agony,-
A voice of mighty prayer,-
The anguish of a soul, pressed close,
The thick and stifling air.

“God of Egypt’s bondmen,
Avenger of their wrong,
For thy suffering children,
Thine arm, O God, strong!”

But shrieks, and groans, and prayers grew faint-
The glaring flames roar’d on
Till brightly o’er the mouldering pile,
Arose the morning sun.

The burthen of that Spirit’s curse-
And has it pined away,
The curse, that human agony
Wrung from those lips of clay?

An heritage of blood and tears,
Of all untasted woe,
Into our country’s brimming cup,
Must from her bondmen flow.

A blasting, scorching breath goes up,
From all her suffering ones,
The shadow of a coming wrath,
Fast settles round her sons.

BOSTON, MASS

Is Christianity, The Religion of Peace, Adapted to the World?

By S.E Coues

Is it safe to forgive enemies, to love them, to return them good for evil? Can the meek inherit the earth? Is Christianity, the religion of peace, adapted to the world? An answer is given to these questions by the bayonet and the sword, by the pomp of military array; the answer is heard in the beat of the drum, in the roar of the cannon; it is spoken by the statesman in his vaunt of national strength, by the soldier in his aspiration for fame, by every one who maintains the necessity for the appeal to arms. This answer is No! emphatically No! We cannot love our enemies; we cannot do good to those who injure us; we cannot return good for evil. The meek cannot inherit the earth. Christianity is not adapted to the world.

The reasoning of men gives the same answer. The spirit of Jesus Christ, who, when smitten, submitted, when reviled, reviled not again, who was led as a lamb to the slaughter—this spirit of meekness and self-sacrifice is not proper for man! We have duties to discharge to others as well as ourselves which demand the opposite traits of character. If we did not resist evil, it would be an encouragement to evil doers; if we submitted to fraud, injustice, or rebellion, the result would be that confusion and bloodshed would every where prevail. If a nation were to bear one insult with Christian humility, it would open the way for further manifestation of contempt; if an aggression were humbly submitted to, it would be repeated; if one inch of territory were given up, the whole would be claimed. Life, property, and welfare depend upon the sword, for there are many nations living in peace and security, without Christianity, but who ever heard of a civilized people, which did not recognize the appeal to arms for defence? It is the garrison, not the pulpit—the soldier, not the priest—boldness not humility—the power to injure others, not the disposition to endure wrong, which minister to the happiness of the world. We depend on the trumpet-tone of war, not on the whispered words of kindness. We are preserved by the law of force, not by the law of love. We put our trust in the strength of the right arm, not in the promises of God. A religion of peace is not adapted to the world.

There is no common ground, no meeting point, no comingling together of the spirit of Christ and the spirit of the solider; we cannot bring them together in the same heart. A man can at best but choose between them; he can only decide when he will be humble, when self-confident—when he will submit, when rebel—when he will be mild and forbearing, when harsh and revengeful—when he will be peaceable, when warlike. It is impossible to combine these conflicting traits of character, these opposite purposes; what! A valiant soldier, smitten upon one cheek, turning the other to the foe—a meek Christian read to meet injury with injury, blood with blood!

We know that it has been by some pretended that the law of love is not intended to go into full operation until some lapse of time; that the binding effect of the gospel is put off to some future day, to some indefinite period, when the whole world shall become converted and Christianized; then there will be no necessity for the fight, no need of recourse to the sword. We can all be meek then, and safely too.  But surely, a religion, which commands love to enemies, is not adapted to a world, where there are no enemies to be loved. What becomes of our present duties as followers of the Prince of Peace, here, in the present state now, at this very time, when there are enemies to be loved and wrongs to be borne? It has been said too, that the great and paramount office of Christianity is to save men’s souls; that it is a personal affair between God and the individual conscience, that it takes no special cognizance of the political or social relations, having in all its laws reference to the eternal interests, the peculiar inner good of every man, the salvation of the soul. Be it so. It is not he, who sayeth, Lord! Master! but he, who doeth his will, who imbibes his spirit—it is he, who is saved. Now, the will of our Savior is, that we be good to our enemies; the spirit of our Master is, to yield up even life itself for their safety.

This life is not however a preparation for heaven only. God’s will is, that there should be law, order, peace, security, even here. This world was not created as a mere three-score-and-ten of anarchy and confusion, as a dreary prison house to hold the captives until ready for trial. This is God’s truth! He attests to it himself in the magnificence and open-handed profusion of his gifts to men. His creative energy has been exerted—as may well appear to us—to its utmost range. Look upon this glorious theatre of present life, our beautiful world, rolling continually through almost illimitable space, that the sun afar off may warm and cheer every part of its surface, that the rays of each star of heavenly host may be drunk in by every eye, making even “darkness transparent” and beautiful. It is delight to breathe in such a world, to eat of its fruit, to drink at its chyrstal springs, to have the cheek bathed in its balmy winds, the senses soothed by its colors and shapes, its fragrance and melody; its varied surface and its changes. Its order, its permanence, all these, all, pertaining to the time vesture of God, prove that the world is not a mere appendage of little value in itself, but that it is a part of eternity, and that the welfare of man here in this life is the aim and object of the Almighty God.

He, then, who is commissioned to declare the will of our Father in Heaven, and to ordain laws upon the earth, will make known those truths, and establish that government which sympathizes with nature, and which will minister to the happiness of man and the welfare of society. A revelation from Heaven will contain an element of social order, will guard our lives, our rights, our happiness upon the earth.

The world has not found this element of social order in meek Christianity. It dares not to carry out into the social relations, the mild, merciful and self-sacrificing spirit. It has pronounced its judgement that the religion of peace, which would strike from its hand the sword, is not adapted to the order, security and happiness of man. What then is to be done? Surely if the thorough and complete obedience to the letter and spirit of Christ’s teachings, “when smitten upon one cheek, turn ye the other also,” would give full scope to evil—overthrow all authority—expose the christian  to every species of crime—deluging the earth with blood, so that neither the wives of our bosoms, nor the children of our hearts, neither the young in their innocency, nor the old in their feebleness, could be safe, should we not abjure it at once, boldly and fearlessly, and not continue to profess it with the lips, when almost every act is a denial of its authority?

This startling question to ask in this land, where outward respect at least is claimed for the religion of peace. It is however but a distinct utterance of a very prevalent doubt; it is but the putting into words the skepticism of many hearts; it is but giving a tongue to men’s actions, language, to the conduct of the world! Why shrink you when we demand that you be honest men, and with straight forward integrity of soul either abandon the sword or that religion which saith, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth?”

We for ourselves entertain no doubts upon this subject; we are prepared to come at once to the standard of Christianity; to give up the sword, and let the oppressed go free!

If this gospel made a slight change only in social relations, if it only modified existing customs, we should have great reason to doubt of its being from God. It is the characteristic of human legislation to form halfway expedients; to tolerate also imperfection; to rest satisfied with evil, if there be good mingled with it; to sanction injury to some, if others are delivered from violence. Directly opposite is the principle which comes of God. This changes at once and altogether the relations of men. It assumes a higher purpose. It acts by opposite means. If,-we repeat the idea, if the gospel were intended only to check or diminish the evil, if it cast but some sweet upon the gall of bitterness, if it but restrained the use of the sword, if it had a measure for the proper degree of violence, if it permitted hatred to burn in the human heart for any purpose whatever, if it consented that love should be quenched by any evil that can be inflicted, it might be the invention of some wise man, not the revelation from God. But the gospel utters a law, firm, fixed, unyielding; a law which can ever be made to minister selfishness; a law which admits of no exception or excuse. It forbids us to do any evil to others for our good. It puts the axe at the root of the tree. It takes at once from all wars and fightings the sanction of God. Nothing short of this full, clear, explicit law could come from the Prince of Peace, nothing short of this can extend his reign over the earth.

PORTSMOUTH, N.H.

The Pledge and Prospect of Peace

By Elihu Burritt

There is a fellowship in a common suffering and a common joy, which makes brothers of millions, irrespective of name or nation. And there are millions in this country and the British empire who have just recognized this common bond of peace, and shaken hands in perpetual amity. Without asking leave of their governments, they have signed the same pledge of peace—the pledge of total abstinence. With hearts throbbing with the common sympathies of their nature, they have put their hands to an instrument that makes them brethren. By a united struggle, they have broken the thraldom of one common and dreadful enemy; and will they think of mutual slaughter, while mingling in a common jubilee over their independence?

And there are other millions, on both sides of the Atlantic, who have recently signed a more extensive and solemn treaty of peace. They have formed a vast “Home League” with all the attributes of God, nature and humanity, to restore the millions of human beings who have been expatriated from the great brotherhood of mankind. The light of the Gospel has revealed on Archimedian points of rest; and they have got a lever under the slave; a lever whose longer arm reaches into Heaven, and is now descending beneath the weight of God’s eternal throne and all his angels of light. O, they will raise him! they will raise him! without the aid or consent of human legislation. And think you those swelling millions will leap from that descending lever to fight a national duel, and soil their souls with the blood of fratricide?

Ye men of war, there is treason in your camp; There are a hundred thousand “Hartford Conventions” holding their simultaneous sessions, once a week, all over Christendom, on purpose to frustrate your belligerent projects. A secret coalition of people of all languages and tongues, is now on foot to transfer your empire to a foreign power which you have refused to acknowledge. Multitudes of your countrymen are first and foremost in this deep-laid plot. A new but long predicted Kingdom is about to be established, which shall embrace, the whole continent of humanity. Its great Founder, the Prince of Peace, has already been crowned King of Kings, His coronation was celebrated in the courts of heaven long before the creation of man. The promise that he should reign King of nations as he does King of saints, is as old as eternity, strong as the pillars of his Father’s throne. His government is organized; his officers are appointed; and thousands in America have taken rank in his Legion of Honour, and bear about in their bosoms the Bethlehem Star of their heavenly knighthood. The code of his immutable laws has been published. He himself read the last proof sheet and sealed it with his blood, when he cried on Calvary, “it is finished! It is finished!!” With his dying breath he made it the test of allegiance to carry his statute book to the uttermost corners of the earth and read it in the ears of every human being. Thousands and thousands of the most patriotic sons of America and the most loyal subjects of Britain have taken the oath of that covenant and received that heavenly commission. Six times a year, in solemn convocation, they renew the sublime terms of their fealty, and swear upon the altar of their God and King, that, whether the experiment of American Republic succeed or fail, they and their children and their children’s children, will adhere to the letter of their covenant with the Prince of Peace. The Christians of the Anglo-Saxon race have been singled out as kings and priests unto God, as co-workers with him in the redemption of mankind. And think you they will prove recreant to their heavenly calling? Will they exchange the badge of Jesus for the tri-colored cockade of some bloody faction? Will they throw away their august commission for one in your armies and navies? No! they signed a commercial treaty with eternity; a treaty of eternal peace.

And let me say in conclusion, that in the recent treaty with Great Britain, the two great Anglo-Saxon nations have at last recognized these mighty and multifarious bonds of peace. Look on Bunker Hill! There stands the GRAVE STONE of WAR! Through all the remaining ages of the race, a consecrated halo of heaven ‘s purest light will encircle its august and lofty brow. Sweeter than strains of fabulous melody, the perennial music of peace will breathe from its every granite pore, awakening responding symphonies in the hearts of a thousand generations. The myriads that recently gathered around that hill, felt all their heart fibres thrilling within them, when that great man concentrated all power of his enchaining eloquence upon the prediction, that in a future age, he who leaned against that monument would thank hid God that he, also, was an American. Methinks that future ages will disclose a higher destiny for that towering column; that it will suggest a loftier theme of exultation! Let me tell the great Webster, and his English coadjutor in this conquest of peace, that it will be part of their eternal reward, to have hastened the age when the term “American” shall convey no prerogative of freedom not enjoyed by every being that wears God’s image upon earth; when not only the American, but the African, when he comes to stand within the peaceful penumbra of that obelisk, shall say, with tears of grateful exultation: “I thank my God that I also, am a MAN—A MAN!”

ELMWOOD, MASS

This is part of a series