Mar 5, 1862
The Baker Oration: A Hungry Idol
Whipple ends her feat of mediumship by chastising her audience for holding up a mere piece of paper as an idol worthy of thoughtless devotion.
As she spoke to the mystics, nationalists, and mystical-nationalists gathered at Platt’s Hall, San Francisco on March 5, 1862, Frances Whipple did so with her own voice and her own ideas. Yes, she claimed to be delivering a speech dictated to her by the spirit of Colonel E. D. Baker; but these radical abolitionist sentiments and this humane understanding of history were always key components in her own life. Then, of course, there was the fact that this was not—properly speaking—a case of possession. She was acting as medium for Baker, yes, but in no way did he take control of her body or mind. In fact, in the Oration’s preface, Whipple made sure to explain (as carefully as possible) that she and Baker discussed his speech thoroughly to make sure that none of the ideas were lost in translation. She was writing his oration, sure, but not necessarily in his words. Once there in the Hall, in front of her audience, Whipple was doing something typical of her own life—she was using her own agency to advance the radical agenda, to revolutionize and transform society, and to touch the hearts of her fellow beings. Fantastical as were the supposed origins of this speech, it was all familiar territory for Frances.
Our first portion ended with a slew of quotes from Revolutionary heroes about the inhumanity and injustice of holding slaves. The rest of the speech rests on the claim that the Founders were indisputably antislavery, and the Revolution itself was an antislavery movement. Stripped of Frances’ locofoco, Young-American romanticism, of course, this claim is ridiculous and completely false. But, in her hands, it became the ultimate weapon for their times. After first convincing her audience that antislavery was the predominant work of the Founding generation, Whipple turned on the evening’s real enemy: the Constitution. Though she seems friendly to Lysander Spooner’s idea that the Constitution was in reality an antislavery document, Whipple was far more concerned to chastise her audience for being so slavishly devoted to a piece of paper. In the United States, the great religion was not Christianity, of the Catholic or Protestant variety, nor Unitarianism, nor Deism, nor even Fanny Whipple’s Spiritualism. The Great American Idol was the Union, and in March 1862 people everywhere were witnessing their god’s curses unleashed. The Unionists’ Baal, once unleashed, was a particularly hungry demon that devoured a generation of worshippers and heretics by the end. The Civil War was a self-imposed disaster—people driven to folly by a stupid devotion to politicians. Whipple’s funeral oration ends with a call for a new sort of human compassion that truly helps us transcend the endless pursuit of our own narrow self-interests—a plea for human beings more concerned with maximizing one another’s liberty than they are with amassing personal prosperity.
It may well be asked, how could our Revolutionary Fathers have been anything else than Anti-Slavery men? Had they been so, they would have been asserting a narrow and already time-worn fact, instead of a broad, invincible, and eternal principle. Do you think that they made any mental reservations in the Declaration of Independence? Suppose that on the memorable Fourth of July, 1776, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World, for the rectitude of their intentions, had declared this truth to be self-evident—that “all men are created equal” except Negroes. Would it not have converted the whole movement into a farce—a sham? And yet, desperately in earnest as they were, how could they have stood there, with their hearts open to God, and their heads bare to the world, and declared anything more or less than the truth? How could they have looked each other in the face, when they mutually pledged their lives, their fortune, and their sacred honor, in support of the Declaration, if they had felt, in their inmost souls, that it was a base and craven lie?
Could they have claimed protection on the ground of Natural Right, if they had intended to include a clause that would abrogate all right? Could they have complained of the infringement of Trial by Jury, and the abuse of Common Law, if they had intended, in any given case, to annul all law? Could they have complained of Taxation without Representation, or any other high-handed and despotic measures, if they had secretly resolved to disfranchise, and dehumanize, a large and unoffending class of mankind—if they had supposed that their future Constitution, by any construction, could be made to sanction Slavery, and all the enormities it includes?
And if Dr. Stiles, Dr. Hopkins, or any other respectable churchman of those times, had introduced into his usual prayer for liberty, a similar clause, for the exception of frizzed hair, flat noses, or prominent heels—what would have become of his power, his popularity, his place? He would have been in as tittlish a position as every really honest preacher has been most of the time since.
If politicians had expressed anything of this—anything short of absolute, unconditional freedom for all mankind, what would have become of the Revolution? I tell you, sirs, it WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN. It would have fallen to the ground, for want of one pivotal idea—the Omnipotent Sense of Right. Soldiers may fight like wolves or tigers, from an excited instinct of ferocity; but they nowhere fight like MEN, unless they verily believe that God and Justice are on their side.
Could the great cry of Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death!” have been uttered so, if he had demanded freedom only for himself, as a white man—as an American? No; it was the Soul of the Race that spoke there. It was the spirit of the MAN that hurtled and thrilled in that cry, and sent it with such terrific force against the naked heart of the World. Nor can it ever die. But its immortal echoes will boom over the revolving ages so long as freedom is known, or honored among men. And the Slave shall come out of his slavery, and the Tyrant out of his tyranny, when they truly hear it.
It is a remarkable fact, that all the ancient Governments, including, also, the Democracies and Republics, were founded on the principle of Supremacy in the State. To centralize and strengthen that, by every possible means, was the grand object. The American Government was the first, in all the ages, that was founded on the Supremacy of Man.
When our Fathers spread out the foundations, and reared the pillars of this broad and beautiful Republic, the world looked on with amazement. It seemed as if a sun had suddenly dropped down out of heaven, shedding a new light on Human Affairs. Old Aristocracy turned pale. Royalty clutched his prerogative. Thrones shook. Sceptres shivered. Tyrants Trembled. Men awoke. And suffering Humanity began to look up out of its crowded ways—out of its mean and sorrowful places—and inquire what was the matter, never hoping for help—never dreaming of deliverance, till the first blinding light was over. And philanthropists—lovers of mankind—everywhere, waited and wondered, watched and wept—as on reverent, bended knees, they prayed that it might be true.
This, then, was the work of our Fathers. Nothing was ever seen before it—nothing shall ever come after it; more sublime and Godlike than this great Temple of Human Liberty, whose pillars stretch from sea to sea—whose platform is the heart of the American Continent, and whose roof is the boundless sky.
But do you still say that the American Constitution admits or sanctions Slavery? The movers of the Revolution were authors and supporters of that Instrument; and several of them defended it and urged its acceptance, on the ground of its being adapted to the wants of a Republican people—that is a people where the rights of all classes were equally represented. Madison did this most strenuously, while, at the same time, he boldly uttered Anti-Slavery sentiments worthy of a modern Garrisonian. “It is wrong,” said he, “to admit into the Constitution the idea that there can be property in man.”
La Fayette, who had lived on intimate terms with Washington and other Revolutionary Leaders, and must have known their sentiments, afterwards expressly declares: “I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of American Liberty, if I could have conceived that, thereby, I was founding a land of Slavery.”
That the Constitution nowhere gives any direct sanction to Slavery, all will admit. The remarkable clause of Article IV, Section II, in regard to the return of Fugitives from Labor, speaks of them as persons. By the local law of Slavery, slaves are not persons. Besides, it is well known that, on motion of Edmund Randolph, this very clause was amended—the word “servitude” being stricken out, and the word “service” put instead, because the first did, and the latter did not, express conditions of Slavery.
The only constitutional support claimed by the advocates of Slavery is, a construction—an implied understanding. That the power of this document has been made more elastic, and strained further, than its authors and supporters ever dreamed of, cannot be questioned. Whatever its power is, either direct or implied, it has been made to cover a multitude of sins. It has not only bound the Southern Negro, but is has enslaved us. We have bowed down abjectly—we have worshipped insanely, a piece of parchment. It is time now to see that the Instrument, itself, provides for its own amendment. If it is equivocal, make it clear. If it is wrong, make it right. If it supports injustice, it is not, and cannot be, binding on us, or others. The highest legal testimony of the world declares this.
“If any human law shall allow or require us to commit crime, we are bound to transgress that human law, or else we must offend both the natural and the divine.”
Hugo Grotius says:
“The fundamental law of nature being the preservation of mankind, no human law can be good, or valid, against it.”
“The law of nature stands as an eternal rule—to Legislators, as well as others. The rules that they make for other men’s actions, must, as well as their own, be conformable to the law of nature—that is, to the Will of God, of which it is a declaration.”
“What the Parliament doth shall be holden for nought, whenever it shall enact what is contrary to the rights of nature.”
“The essence of all law is justice. What is not justice, is not law; and what is not law, ought not to be obeyed.”
“There is a law above all the enactments of human codes, the same throughout the world—the same in all times. It is the law written by the finger of God on the hearts of men; and by that law, unchangeable and eternal, while men despise fraud, and loathe rapine, and abhor blood—they shall reject, with indignation, the wild and guilty fantasy, that man can hold property in man.”
It has been a grand error of our people, that they have regarded protective documents, which are the work of finite human beings, as irreversible and final. They have been invested with a sanctity which does not belong to them. Constitutions and laws may represent the ultimate of wisdom—at any given time and place, set free; but there is no more obligation to keep and follow, when we have outgrown them, than there is to keep the old spinning-wheel, or sickle, or stage-coach, when machinery and steam are ready to come in and multiply the old unit of hand and horse-power, by hundreds and by thousands.
This blind subservience to written documents has in it, indeed, a taint of the old time, when the Supreme State was the grand Idol, on whose bloody altar Humanity was immolated. It is contrary to the whole spirit of American Institutions, whose original aim and scope—whose fundamental spirit and power—were all intended to unfold, and cherish, and protect the MAN.
And you, who are to be actors in the impending crisis, remember this. Every telling blow you strike, must be for something broader and deeper than the American Union. It must be for the principle, on which not only the Union, but all true Government, rests. It must not be for yourselves, because you are Americans—nor even because your Fathers were Movers of the Revolution, and Authors of the Declaration of Independence; but because the Revolution, and the Declaration of Independence, THEMSELVES, were true. Our Fathers did, indeed, build up the most glorious structure ever yet erected by human genius—a broad and compact Republic. And you should defend it, not altogether because it was theirs, or is yours, but because the whole spirit of its institutions, in their legitimate presence and power, has been consecrated to Human Liberty; and because those Institutions, themselves, are the grandest palladium of Human Right ever yet established on the Earth.
What if they have been nullified? What if they have been sold and venally prostituted? Are you not all the more bound to redeem and restore? Do you not owe it to your Country—to yourselves? Come up to the rescue, like men, as you are. Walk up square to the mark and say, without flinching or any attempt to shirk the question, whether a Republic ought, or even can, foster Slavery. Say whether we can have one measure of equity for ourselves, and another for our neighbors. Say whether Might makes Right. Say whether the Declaration of Independence, and the Sentiment of the Revolution, sanction man-stealing, and all the wrongs it includes. These questions must be answered; these points must be adjusted. Settle them, and you will not only have something to fight for, but something worth fighting for. Until this is done, you will make no essential progress.
By whatever power you have—by whatever light of the mind—by whatever feeling of the heart—come up to this work. Wash out the great blot from your national escutcheon. Clean your hands. Shrive your conscience. Purify yourselves altogether. Reassert your own freedom. Reaffirm your own manhood. Arm yourselves on the impregnable Rock of Truth—and, standing unabashed in the face of the whole world, look God in the eye and demand his help, on the ground of your true allegiance. Then you will be inspired with more than Spartan courage. Then you will conquer; and then victory will be glorious indeed.
But if you do not, as a Nation, attain to this point, whatever force you may use, you strike in vain. Restore your Institution to their primeval significance and power. Reinvest them with their original authority. Let their freedom be no longer a cloak for tyranny. Let their protection of Right be no longer wrested to the use of Wrong. This work is to be done. It may be put off, but it cannot be put aside. The Age will wait for it, for they cannot go forward till it is accomplished.
You must go down to the very root of the tree of Liberty, and cut and cauterize, before you try to heal. You must kill the worm that is gnawing there, with its poisonous fangs infecting the whole growth. You must crush its many heads. You must burn it on the spot. You must gather up its very ashes, and cast them into the depths of the deepest sea, lest, by some horrible necromancy, they be restored to life and bring forth a new brood of curses.
Taking a superficial view, it may be thought that the present war, which is, confessedly, for the support of sectional interests, would indicate retrogression, rather than progress. And so it may, within a limited period, but not in the long run.
There are diseases in the Individual System, that cannot be cured without the knife. So there are cancerous sores in the National Body, that demand the sword. We had departed from the faith of our Fathers. We had violated the fundamental principles of the Union. We had repudiated the sanctity of Human Freedom. We had alienated, as far as possible, the inalienable right of Human Happiness.
I speak of our people as a whole body, the one part willing and acting, the other part aiding and consenting to the wrongs. With the name of Freedom ever on our lips, with the blood of Slavery crimson on our hands, we had become a world-wide scorn. The most atrocious Freedom-Haters hissed at us for our hypocrisy.
Under the broad shield of Institutions, which, in the presence of Almighty God, our Fathers had solemnly dedicated to Human Liberty, we were nourishing a hydra-headed Despotism of the foulest, the most revolting character. We were gorged to fulness with the excess of good things. We had become plethoric. The high tide of our National successes did not bear us up into high individual aims, powers and purposes. Our strong right hand was branded with the mark of greed. The spirit of monopoly took full possession of us. Everywhere we built up high walls to shut out the unfortunate. We shortened, or kept back, the pay of the laborer. We tempted the poor with bribes; and, in buying others, we sold ourselves. We bartered away our inheritance for a lump of sugar. We fell down on our faces and, with abject prostrations, we worshipped our unshapely and senseless Idol, the Cotton Bag. We laid on its bloody altar the heart of the hunted slave. We crushed back the self-liberated Man into the dumb and miserable Chattel.
And with all our sensitiveness on the subject, WE broke the Constitution by repeated infringements; yet we have seemed as innocent of the fact as so many white-hearted babies. In sustaining the Fugitive Slave Bill, we never seemed to know that with every step it took, it trampled on that positive Constitutional provision of Art. V, which requires that no person “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Witness the Dred Scott case and other decisions.
If Slavery wanted anything, the Constitution was her most obedient humble servant; but if Freedom asked for the simplest right, even in the submissive form of favor, there was a general alarm, and a rush for the rescue of the Constitution, until at length Slavery was invested with full power and prerogative, as a naturalized citizen, while Freedom was almost an alien in her own soil. Strange as it may seem, we were abahsed by the presence of the Slave Power, and constantly terrified with the idea of being forsaken by it, though we well knew the poor thing could not stand alone—could not live without our help. In order to show our loyalty to the pet Dragon, we put out our hands to its dirty work; and, emulating the blood-hounds themselves, we set our free-born noses to the ground, and yelled fiercely with the yelping pack. We silenced Discussion by Mob Law. We burnt Printing Offices. We destroyed property; and when the hunted Slave was taken back to his master, WE paid the expenses. We suspended the old English rights of Habeas Corpus and Trial by Jury. We paid premiums for perjury and kidnapping.
I speak plainly; but here, is we would, we CANNOT
“Palter in a double sense.”
We are removed from all the finesse of policy—from all the debasing temptations of popularity; and we must be vile, indeed, to choose evil for its own sake.
“In the corrupted currents of the world,
Offense’s gilded hand may shove by justice;
}And oft ‘tis seen the wicked prize itself,
Buys out the law; but ‘tis not so above:
THERE is no shuffling; THERE the action lies
In its true nature; and we, ourselves, compelled,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence.”
In the above a few of our own misdeeds have been recited. And what has the Slave Power done? It has alienated from the pale of Humanity, and outlawed, a whole Race; and this, also, not altogether a stranger race, but one that is very largely mingled with our own blood. It holds in the most cruel bondage more than 3,000,000 of human beings. It foredooms their posterity to perpetual slavery. It invests the master with irresponsible and absolute power. It annuls marriage. It denies education. It annihilates manhood. It tramples of the Law of Nature. It violates the Law of Nations. It scourges. It maims. It kills.
This is no fable—no guess work. In the noble words of Horace Mann, uttered on a similar occasion,
“I speak of eternal verities, before whose massive force the heart trembles, and bows itself, as a reed before the tempest.”
If you are doubtful in regard to this matter, look at the decision of Judge Ruffin, of North Carolina, that
“The power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect.”
What man, let me ask, have you ever seen who is good enough to be trusted with irresponsible power. There is no temptation so great as that which incites to the abuse of unbridled authority. Conceive of it, if you can, and shudder to think of the wrongs you assent to by your silence. This principle, alone, involves a whole volume of wrongs.
If you require more or stronger testimony, see the Southern Advertisements, where the truant chattels are generally described by scars and mutations: missing teeth and eyes, and frequently by the fairness of their complexions. Look at the Slave Laws. It has been truly said, that there is not under the sun any code, even among the most barbarous people, so horribly cruel and despotic.
Look now at particular facts and see what Slavery has done. It has corrupted public sentiment. It has made the very breath of Freedom noxious, and her name a scorn. It murdered Charles Torrey. It shot Lovejoy. It insulted the venerable John Quincy Adams. It struck down Sumner on the floor of Congress. It mobbed Casius M. Clay—and it stretched our beloved Broderick on his bloody bier.
This last wrong did, indeed, come home to us,—but did we take the lesson in its full significance?
I fear not. Was Broderick, noble and beautiful as he was, any more precious than the children that are torn from the weeping mother, and sold away from her?—than the wife that is violated in the very presence of the helpless husband?—than his own hands to the Laborer?—than freedom to the Man—than the MAN TO HIMSELF? No. Humanity—bleeding at every pore—strung and tortured in every nerve—thunders back the indignant negation. Dear as our friend was, he was no dearer than the very humblest of these outraged and defenceless ones.
Look at the disabilities of the Slave. He is robbed of his right, in toto. He cannot bear testimony in a Court of Law. He cannot bring suit in any case. He cannot contract a legal marriage. He cannot hold property, or make legal contracts. To teach him to read and write, is as high a crime as to knock out his teeth, cut out his tongue, or pluck out his eyes. He is doomed to live without knowledge. He cannot seek his own happiness. Personally, he has no legal protection. His only defence is in his property value. His wife, his children, his very hands, are not his own. He does not belong to himself. All that he most values may be infringed, invaded, outraged, and he has no help. In a word, he is to be considered “a chattel personal in the hands of his owner, to all intents, constructions, and purposes, whatsoever.” So are his daughters, his sisters, and his wife.
Will you say that any Law, or Constitution, or any written document, whatsoever, could sanction even the least of these? I deny it. Human Nature revolts.
“Not claim hereditary, not the trust
Of frank election.
Not even the high, anointing hand of Heaven
Can authorize oppression; give a law
For lawless power; wed faith to violation;
On reason build misrule; or justly bind
Allegiance to Injustice. Tyranny
Absolves all faith; and who invades our right—
Howe’er his own commence, can never be
But a usurper.”
Would it not be supposed that if such a state of things should be discovered—I will not say in Christendom—but anywhere on the face of the Earth, that there would be a general revulsion of dismay and horror. And yet to us this is a stale story; and these incredible conditions are among the very tritest of common-places. It was said by an ancient writer, that the Gods bestowed on us a fearful power, when they gave us the faculty of becoming accustomed to things. And this to us is not only a sorrowful, but a shameful, truth. We have been beguiled. We have been paralyzed. We have been led by unwise and unworthy motives. And now we are paying the penalty of our week and insane stupidity. We are paying it in rivers of blood, in floods of fire.
And the fact that we are able to pay it, is not due to the policy of leaders—to Statesmen or Politicians—but to the great Heart of the American People. This, amid all corruptions, has yet retained enough of Truth to save it—enough of Humanity and Manhood to move and control it. Ay, and it is this that must conquer. It is this that must wear forever the laurels of unfading Freedom.
And what should be said of Institutions, that could mature and bring up to this grand level of freedom and intelligence, the common heart—the common mind—of a great and growing Nation? What, but that they are essentially good and true? Where else on the face of the Earth, either in the Past or in the Present, could you find the like? With all our mistakes—with all our crimes—we have achieved what no other people have yet done. We have nursed in the Nation’s inmost heart, a high-souled and free Democracy, that will yet give to others all that it claims for itself. I concede this sentiment, to a considerable extent, to the South as well as to the North. It is not the People, but the Politicians, who are TRAITORS.
I have dwelt longer than might seem warrantable on the abuses of our Institutions. But do not even these show their capacity and power? If they can do all this under such a fearful load of wrongs and sufferings, what may they not do when this unnatural pressure is taken away?
And this it is, which must restore and save you. You must sanction and protect the great sentiment of Freedom that lives in the heart of the common people. You must return to the Declaration of Independence. That platform is broad and strong enough to support all who are ready to stand there.
You must relieve both the letter and the spirit of your Constitutions from all possible misconstruction; you must embody in them the spirit of an immaculate love. You must inspire them with the divine wisdom of the Golden Rule. You must fix your pillars deep and strong in the Rock of unassailable Truth. You must crown them with the features of invincible Justice. You must bind them with the laurels of inviolable Freedom.
Be not discouraged. Though evils have crept in, you shall find in the long march, that they gradually unfold out of themselves the amelioarating power. Wait for the dawning of Truth. Watch the suspicious moment, and STRIKE HOME.
The great hope of human nature is in its capability of reaction. We have seen it in one hour, violated, abashed, plundered, helpless, prostrate and dumb, on the grave of the crucified man; and the next, it has risen. It stands erect. It vindicates itself. It is endowed with a matchless eloquence. It pleads its cause before the world, and reclaims its own.
The Spartan, the Grecian, and Roman Republics, perished and passed away because they were not founded on the broad principles of Humanity and Justice. And so must ultimately be dissolved all Governments, that do not recognize the absolute Sovereignty of Man, and the INVIOLABLE SANCTITY OF HUMAN RIGHT. They have invoked their fate. Hour by hour they hasten to their doom.
The most stupendous drama in the history of time, is now unfolding. The world is the stage; the Nations are actors; and it may be that the scenes will be centuries, and the acts, ages. But be it longer or shorter, it must be played out. All the powers of Human Nature and Human Destiny, will there meet, not only shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh, but thought to thought and soul to soul.
And so long as Slavery is able to stand against Freedom, Error against Truth, or Wrong against Right, so long will the contest continue.
The Sacred Books of almost all people teach the final subjugation of the Powers of Evil. There is a grand truth in this doctrine, and now the World rapidly hastens toward its fulfillment. Remember that in the coming contest, nothing but the genuine armor of Right will sustain you. Everything will be tested by severest trial, and no shams will then pass muster.
And now I leave you to your fine instincts, as Americans, as men. Be true to all the principles that have made you what you are. Be true to the old English Laws; to the memory of the Mayflower; to the Democracy of the British Colonies; to the Fathers and Principles of the Revolution; to Humanity and yourselves, the Present and the Future, your Country and your God.
Do this bravely, conscientiously, promptly, and the pillars of the American Republic shall never be shaken while time exists.
“Sons of the sires, who bound their faith
Upon the naked breast,
And, following Freedom’s flitting wrath,
Turned boldly to the West—
The Fathers who, mid sore distress,
Beheld the distant goal,
And perished in the wilderness
For FREEDOM OF THE SOUL.
The light that shone trough cloud and storm,
To quell the raging sea,
‘Till every manly breast grew warm
With its own liberty,
Glows in your filial bosoms still,
With an intenser glow,
Showing the same unconquered WILL;
Can tyrants quench it? No.
The voice that with its call divine,
Pealed in the tempest’s roar,
That bowed the Oak and rocked the Pine,
Upon old Plyouth’s Shore—
That shook with storms the wintry wood,
And swelled the booming sea,
Telling that awful solitude
HUMANITY IS FREE—
You hear! God help us! You obey
Straight forward as you go!
That voice, which knoweth stop nor stay—
Can Slavery silence? No!
Further Reading: O’Dowd, Sarah. A Rhode Island Original: Frances Harriet Whipple Green McDougall. Hanover: The University Press of New England. 2004.