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Henry David Thoreau - Slavery in Massachusetts

Henry David Thoreau - Slavery in Massachusetts

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Published by shastafir
Henry David Thoreau - Slavery in Massachusetts
Henry David Thoreau - Slavery in Massachusetts

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Published by: shastafir on Mar 10, 2010
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Slavery in Massachusetts
by Henry David Thoreau
[1] I Lately attended a meeting of the citizens of Concord, expecting, as one among many, to speak on the subject of slaery in !assachusetts" but I #as surprised and disappointed to find that #hat had called my to#nsmen together #as the destiny of $ebraska, and not of !assachusetts, and that #hat I had to say  #ould be entirely out of order% I had thought that the house #as on fire, and not the prairie" but though seeral of the citizens of !assachusetts are no# in prison for attempting to rescue a slae from her o#n clutches, not one of the speakers at that meeting expressed regret for it, not one een referred to it% It #as only the disposition of some #ild lands a thousand miles off #hich appeared to concern them% &he inhabitants of Concord are not prepared to stand by one of their o#n bridges, but talk only of taking up a position on the highlands beyond the 'ello#stone (ier% )ur *uttricks and +aises and osmers are retreating thither, and I fear that they #ill leae no Lexington Common bet#een them and the enemy% &here is not one slae in $ebraska" there are perhaps a million slaes in !assachusetts%[-] &hey #ho hae been bred in the school of politics fail no# and al#ays to face the facts% &heir measures are half measures and makeshifts merely% &hey put off the day of settlement indefinitely, and mean#hile the debt accumulates% &hough the .ugitie /lae La# had not been the subject of discussion on that occasion, it #as at length faintly resoled by my to#nsmen, at an adjourned meeting, as I learn, that the compromise compact of 10- haing been repudiated by one of the parties, 2&herefore,%%% the .ugitie /lae La# of 103 must be repealed%2 *ut this is not the reason #hy an ini4uitous la# should be repealed% &he fact #hich the politician faces is merely that there is less honor among thiees than #as supposed, and not the fact that they are thiees%[5] 6s I had no opportunity to express my thoughts at that meeting, #ill you allo# me to do so here7[8] 6gain it happens that the *oston Court9 ouse is full of armed men, holding prisoner and trying a !6$, to find out if he is not really a /L6:;% +oes any one think that justice or <od a#aits !r% Loring=s decision7 .or him to sit there deciding still, #hen this 4uestion is already decided from eternity to eternity, and the unlettered slae himself and the multitude around hae long since heard and assented to the decision, is simply to make himself ridiculous% >e may be tempted to ask from #hom he receied his commission, and #ho he is that receied it" #hat noel statutes he obeys, and #hat precedents are to him of authority% /uch an arbiter=s ery existence is an impertinence% >e do not ask him to make up his mind, but to make up his pack%[3] I listen to hear the oice of a <oernor, Commander9in9Chief of the forces of !assachusetts% I hear only the creaking of crickets and the hum of insects #hich no# fill the summer air% &he <oernor=s exploit is to reie# the troops on muster days% I hae seen him on horseback, #ith his hat off, listening to a chaplain=s prayer% It chances that that is all I hae eer seen of a <oernor% I think that I could manage to get along #ithout one% If he is not of the least use to preent my being kidnapped, pray of #hat important use is he likely to be to me7 >hen freedom is most endangered, he d#ells in the deepest obscurity% 6 distinguished clergyman told me that he chose the profession of a clergyman because it afforded the most leisure for literary pursuits% I #ould recommend to him the profession of a <oernor%[?] &hree years ago, also, #hen the /ims tragedy #as acted, I said to myself, &here is such an officer, if not such a man, as the <oernor of !assachusetts@#hat has he been about the last fortnight7 as he had as much as he could do to keep on the fence during this moral earth4uake7 It seemed to me that no keener satire could hae been aimed at, no more cutting insult hae been offered to that man, than just #hat happened@the absence of all in4uiry after him in that crisis% &he #orst and the most I chance to kno# of him is that he did not improe that opportunity to make himself kno#n, and #orthily kno#n% e could at
 
least hae resigned himself into fame% It appeared to be forgotten that there #as such a man or such an office% 'et no doubt he #as endeaoring to fill the gubernatorial chair all the #hile% e #as no <oernor of mine% e did not goern me%[A] *ut at last, in the present case, the <oernor #as heard from% 6fter he and the Bnited /tates goernment had perfectly succeeded in robbing a poor innocent black man of his liberty for life, and, as far as they could, of his Creator=s likeness in his breast, he made a speech to his accomplices, at a congratulatory supper[0] I hae read a recent la# of this /tate, making it penal for any officer of the 2Common#ealth2 to 2detain or aid in the%%% detention,2 any#here #ithin its limits, 2of any person, for the reason that he is claimed as a fugitie slae%2 6lso, it #as a matter of notoriety that a #rit of replein to take the fugitie out of the custody of the Bnited /tates !arshal could not be sered for #ant of sufficient force to aid the officer%[D] I had thought that the <oernor #as, in some sense, the executie officer of the /tate" that it #as his business, as a <oernor, to see that the la#s of the /tate #ere executed" #hile, as a man, he took care that he did not, by so doing, break the la#s of humanity" but #hen there is any special important use for him, he is useless, or #orse than useless, and permits the la#s of the /tate to go unexecuted% Eerhaps I do not kno# #hat are the duties of a <oernor" but if to be a <oernor re4uires to subject one=s self to so much ignominy #ithout remedy, if it is to put a restraint upon my manhood, I shall take care neer to be <oernor of !assachusetts% I hae not read far in the statutes of this Common#ealth% It is not profitable reading% &hey do not al#ays say #hat is true" and they do not al#ays mean #hat they say% >hat I am concerned to kno# is, that that man=s influence and authority #ere on the side of the slaeholder, and not of the slae@of the guilty, and not of the innocent@of injustice, and not of justice% I neer sa# him of  #hom I speak" indeed, I did not kno# that he #as <oernor until this eent occurred% I heard of him and  6nthony *urns at the same time, and thus, undoubtedly, most #ill hear of him% /o far am I from being goerned by him% I do not mean that it #as anything to his discredit that I had not heard of him, only that I heard #hat I did% &he #orst I shall say of him is, that he proed no better than the majority of his constituents #ould be likely to proe% In my opinion, be #as not e4ual to the occasion%[1] &he #hole military force of the /tate is at the serice of a !r% /uttle, a slaeholder from :irginia, to enable him to catch a man #hom he calls his property" but not a soldier is offered to sae a citizen of !assachusetts from being kidnapped Is this #hat all these soldiers, all this training, hae been for these seenty9nine years past7 ae they been trained merely to rob !exico and carry back fugitie slaes to their masters7[11] &hese ery nights I heard the sound of a drum in our streets% &here #ere men training still" and for  #hat7 I could #ith an effort pardon the cockerels of Concord for cro#ing still, for they, perchance, had not been beaten that morning" but I could not excuse this ruba9 dub of the 2trainers%2 &he slae #as carried back by exactly such as these" i%e%, by the soldier, of #hom the best you can say in this connection is that he is a fool made conspicuous by a painted coat%[1-] &hree years ago, also, just a #eek after the authorities of *oston assembled to carry back a perfectly innocent man, and one #hom they kne# to be innocent, into slaery, the inhabitants of Concord caused the bells to be rung and the cannons to be fired, to celebrate their liberty@and the courage and loe of liberty of their ancestors #ho fought at the bridge% 6s if those three millions had fought for the right to be free themseles, but to hold in slaery three million others% $o#adays, men #ear a fool=s9cap, and call it a liberty9cap% I do not kno# but there are some #ho, if they #ere tied to a #hipping9post, and could but get one hand free, #ould use it to ring the bells and fire the cannons to celebrate their liberty% /o some of my to#nsmen took the liberty to ring and fire% &hat #as the extent of their freedom" and #hen the sound of
 
the bells died a#ay, their liberty died a#ay also" #hen the po#der #as all expended, their liberty #ent off  #ith the smoke%[15] &he joke could be no broader if the inmates of the prisons #ere to subscribe for all the po#der to be used in such salutes, and hire the jailers to do the firing and ringing for them, #hile they enjoyed it through the grating%[18] &his is #hat I thought about my neighbors%[13] ;ery humane and intelligent inhabitant of Concord, #hen he or she heard those bells and those cannons, thought not #ith pride of the eents of the 1Dth of 6pril, 1AA3, but #ith shame of the eents of the 1-th of 6pril, 1031% *ut no# #e hae half buried that old shame under a ne# one%[1?] !assachusetts sat #aiting !r% Loring=s decision, as if it could in any #ay affect her o#n criminality% er crime, the most conspicuous and fatal crime of all, #as permitting him to be the umpire in such a case% It #as really the trial of !assachusetts% ;ery moment that she hesitated to set this man free@eery moment that she no# hesitates to atone for her crime, she is conicted% &he Commissioner on her case is <od" not ;d#ard <% <od, but simply <od%[1A] I #ish my countrymen to consider, that #hateer the human la# may be, neither an indiidual nor a nation can eer commit the least act of injustice against the obscurest indiidual #ithout haing to pay the penalty for it% 6 goernment #hich deliberately enacts injustice, and persists in it, #ill at length een become the laughing9stock of the #orld%[10] !uch has been said about 6merican slaery, but I think that #e do not een yet realize #hat slaery is% If I #ere seriously to propose to Congress to make mankind into sausages, I hae no doubt that most of the members #ould smile at my proposition, and if any belieed me to be in earnest, they #ould think that I proposed something much #orse than Congress had eer done% *ut if any of them #ill tell me that to make a man into a sausage #ould be much #orse@#ould be any #orse@than to make him into a slae@than it #as to enact the .ugitie /lae La#, I #ill accuse him of foolishness, of intellectual incapacity, of making a distinction #ithout a difference% &he one is just as sensible a proposition as the other%[1D] I hear a good deal said about trampling this la# under foot% >hy, one need not go out of his #ay to do that% &his la# rises not to the leel of the head or the reason" its natural habitat is in the dirt% It #as born and bred, and has its life, only in the dust and mire, on a leel #ith the feet" and he #ho #alks #ith freedom, and does not #ith indoo mercy aoid treading on eery enomous reptile, #ill ineitably tread on it, and so trample it under foot@and >ebster, its maker, #ith it, like the dirt9bug and its ball%[-] (ecent eents #ill be aluable as a criticism on the administration of justice in our midst, or, rather, as sho#ing #hat are the true resources of justice in any community% It has come to this, that the friends of liberty, the friends of the slae, hae shuddered #hen they hae understood that his fate #as left to the legal tribunals of the country to be decided% .ree men hae no faith that justice #ill be a#arded in such a case% &he judge may decide this #ay or that" it is a kind of accident, at best% It is eident that he is not a competent authority in so important a case% It is no time, then, to be judging according to his precedents, but to establish a precedent for the future% I #ould much rather trust to the sentiment of the people% In their ote you #ould get something of some alue, at least, ho#eer small" but in the other case, only the trammeled judgment of an indiidual, of no significance, be it #hich #ay it might%[-1] It is to some extent fatal to the courts, #hen the people are compelled to go behind them% I do not  #ish to beliee that the courts #ere made for fair #eather, and for ery ciil cases merely" but think of leaing it to any court in the land to decide #hether more than three millions of people, in this case a sixth part of a nation, hae a right to be freemen or not *ut it has been left to the courts of justice, so

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