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Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Slavery in America

This speech was given during the Twenty-seventh Anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society at the Cooper Institute in 1860. The large hall was well filled at the commencement of the exercises, and before the close of the session the number was largely increased, the hall being nearly full.

Mrs. Stanton, on rising, was greeted with loud and hearty applause. She read the following resolution, as containing the thought which she was anxious to urge upon the attention of those whom she was about to address.

Resolved, That the crowning excellence and glory of the anti-slavery enterprise is that, while its first grand design is the redemption of the Ethiopian of the South from chattel bondage, it is also, through the genius and power of Eternal Truth, liberating and elevating universal humanity above all the behests of custom, creed, conventionalism or constitution, wherever they usurp unrighteous authority over the individual soul; and thus, while our first care is the emancipation of the Southern slave, we are, under the Divine economy, at the same time working out our own salvation, and hastening the triumph of Love and Liberty over all forms of oppression and cruelty, throughout the earth.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Address (Abridged)

MR. PRESIDENT, AND GENTLEMEN AND LADIES: This is generally known as the platform of one idea—that is negro slavery. In a certain sense this may be true, but the most casual observation of this whole anti-slavery movement, of your lives, conventions, public speeches and journals, shows this one idea to be a great humanitarian one. The motto of your leading organ, “The world is my country and all mankind my countrymen,” proclaims the magnitude and universality of this one idea, which takes in the whole human family, irrespective of nation, color, caste or sex, with all their interests, temporal and spiritual—a question of religion, philanthropy, political economy, commerce, education and social life, on which depends the very existence of this republic, of the state, of the family, the sacredness of the lives and property of Northern freemen, the holiness of the marriage relation, and the perpetuity of the Christian religion. Such are the various phases of the question you are wont to debate in your conventions.

But in settling the question of the negro’s rights, we find out the exact limits of our own, for rights never clash or interfere; and where no individual in a community is denied his rights, the mass are the more perfectly protected in theirs; for whenever any class is subject to fraud or injustice, it shows that the spirit of tyranny is at work, and no one can tell where or how or when the infection will spread. The health of the body politic depends on the sound condition of every member. Let but the finest nerve or weakest muscle be diseased, and the whole man suffers; just so the humblest and most ignorant citizen cannot be denied his rights without deranging the whole system of government.

National Anti-Slavery Standard was the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society, an abolitionist society founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan to spread their movement across the nation with printed materials. Frederick Douglass was a key leader of this society and often addressed meetings at its New York City headquarters.

It was thought a small matter to kidnap a black man in Africa, and set him to work in the rice swamps of Georgia; but when we look at the panorama of horrors that followed that event, at all the statute laws that were enacted to make that act legal, at the perversion of man’s moral sense and innate love of justice in being compelled to defend such laws; when we consider the long, hard tussle we have witnessed here for near a century between the spirit of Liberty and Slavery, we may, in some measure, appreciate the magnitude of the wrong done to that one lone, friendless negro, who, under the cover of darkness and the star-spangled banner, was stolen from his African hut and lodged in the hold of the American slaver. That one act has, in its consequences, convulsed this Union. It has corrupted our churches, our politics, our press; laid violent hands on Northern freemen at their own firesides; it has gagged our statesmen, and stricken our Northern Senators dumb in their seats; yes, beneath the flag of freedom, Liberty has crouched in fear.

I shall never forget our champions in the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention; how nobly Phillips did speak, and how still more nobly Garrison would not speak, because woman was there denied her rights. Think of a World’s Convention, and one-half the world left out! Shame on the women of this nation, who help to swell the cry of “INFIDEL” against men like these! All time would not be long enough to pay the debt of gratitude we owe these noble men, who spoke for us when we were dumb, who roused us to a sense of our own rights, to the dignity of our high calling.

No, the mission of this Radical Anti-Slavery Movement is not to the African slave alone, but to the slaves of custom, creed and sex, as well; and most faithfully has it done its work. To appreciate the magnitude and benevolence of its mission, look but a moment at what fear has done from the beginning—at what an abject, hopeless slave man has ever been to this worst of tyrants! Behold how long, through ignorance, he crouched before the wonders of the solar system—the sun, the moon, the stars, the elements, the convulsions of nature, the accidents by sea and land, pestilence and famine; how long, in the follies and vices of man, he has seen the finger of God.

It is all-important, in a republican government, that our laws be always on the side of justice. Here, where we have neither Pope nor King, no royal family, crown or sceptre, no nobility, rank or class, nothing outward to cultivate or command our veneration, Law, the immutable principles of right, are all and everything to us.

See to it, you who have the best interests of our republic in your care, that your laws keep pace with public sentiment. If you would have us teach our sons a sacred reverence for law, so frame your constitutions and your codes that, in yielding obedience to their requirements, they are not false to the holy claims of humanity—that they degrade not the mothers who gave them life. No one can be more awake than I am to all the blessings of a republican form of government, nor, as a mother, more apprehensive lest her sons should confound liberty with license. Here, where individual responsibilities are so great, and the influence of one so all-powerful, I fain would have them lovers of law and order, and meekly to suffer wrong themselves, if need be, to preserve it; but when the panting fugitive throws himself on our generosity and hospitality, I dare not check the noble, God-given impulses of their natures to place the man above all law. Yes, I must ever teach them that man alone is divine; his words and works are fallible; his institutions, however venerable with age and authority, his constitutions, laws and interpretations of Holy Writ may all prove false. That alone is sacred that can fully meet the wants of the immortal soul—that can stand the test of time and eternity.

Source: National Anti-Slavery Standard, May 12, 1860

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