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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

Bond of Brotherhood October, 1865. — The Side-Working of Great Principles in Pulling down Great Wrongs

page 546

Bond of Brotherhood October, 1865.

The Side-Working of Great Principles in Pulling down Great Wrongs.

The great principles that are so "mighty through God to the pulling down of the strong-holds of Satan," have a wonderful side-working power. In this they show their divine origin and resource. They not only level, they lift, and do both at once. They are constructive as well as destructive. They never make a clean sweep of moral evils, before they begin to rear the fair-proportioned structures of moral good. When a great wrong, centuries old and seemingly as strong as the whole world's will, is to be carried by storm and demolished, nothing but the eternal and unchangeable will avail against it. The ledger of commerce, the text-books of political economy, the axioms and doctrines of expediency with their sliding and shifting scales of action, furnish no weapons that can pierce the admant. They break against it like spears of straw. They are powerful enough when arrayed against the mole-hills of small temporary evils, such as a wrong financial economy, or a bad industrial system, or acts of impolitic legislation. But when a great fabric of iniquity, that has stood the beatings of public opinion for a century or more, has to be assailed, men have to wheel the Bible into action, and point its eternal truths at the enemy's fortress. It becomes the text-books of the press and platform. The discussion is forthwith lifted far above the low level of small and shifting considerations. The community is lifted with it to a higher altitude of thought and sentiment, and thus prepared for a higher aim and end of public life and political action. Nothing will put the side-working of these great moral principles in clearer light than the result of the Anti-Slavery Agitation in America.

For the first quarter of a century of our national being and standing, we had nothing but expediency questions as subjects of public discussion and legislative action. The eternally, universally and unchangeably right and the eternally, universally and unchangeable wrong in all this interval were seldom if ever brought face to face. First came the long and exciting struggle between the Democrats and Federalists as to the amount of power the central government at Washington should possess. This discussion lasted for many years, and party spirit ran very high. We can well remember the time when the Democrat ranked but a little above the downright infidel in the estimation of many good people because he stood up for "State rights," and opposed the consolidation of the American Republic after the French system. There was no room on the arena of this conflict for any high moral arguments. The lids of the Bible were not once opened on the platform by the combatants. The lower text-books of expediency supplied the pros and cons with all the logic they needed.

Then followed a series of kindred questions, which stirred up great page 547 discussion and excitement each in its turn. There was the Protective Tarif, Internal Improvements, National Bank, Sub-Treasury, &c. The two great political parties of the country grappled for power over these questions. Their orators and writers waxed eloquent over them, and brought out things new and old from the treasury of rhetoric in support of their theories. But absolute right and absolute wrong had nothing to do with the discussion. The great battle of Armgeddon, in which these two eternal antagonisms were to grapple with each other in decisive conflict, had not yet been opened even with a skirmish.

In the midst of the din and dust of these merely political excitements a flash of lightning broke in upon Tarif, Bank and Sub-Treasury, and showed their innate littleness in comparison with other questions that had been kept in the background and silenced. "Man cannot hold property in man!" Is not the negro a man and a brother? How do you make that out; you levelling fanatic? fiercely retorted the slaveholder and all who countenanced his crime. It is not in any text-book of political economy; it is not sanctioned nor suggested by custom, nor by the general conscience of mankind. Some of the best of men have been slave-traders and slave-holders. Don't talk to us about a universal conscience, or a universal sentiment of humanity against the system. Both have been in favour of it for two centuries. Bring us higher authority. They did. For the first time in our national life, the Bible was brought upon the political platform; and its eternal principles of right were brought to bear against the great Wrong. All the mall books of worldly wisdom closed their lips while the great authority spake to the people. The questions that had made the country rock and tremble with emotion, now hardly dared to peep or mutter in presence of this ever-expanding moral agitation. The inalienable and inherent rights of man as a being; his place and value in creation; the worth of the soul that is in him, and the precious possibilities of his immortality; the cost of his redemption and salvation—all these considerations were brought into full play in the argument against slavery. Then arose a struggle of desperate determination between the assailants and defenders of the Wrong over the Bible itself. A forlorn hope of the latter endeavoured to carry the Great Book by a coup de main, and turn its authority against the friends of the negro. Theological writers and teachers deeply schooled in metaphysical logic entered upon the work with their keenest acumen. They hunted up and down from Genesis to Revelation, and compiled a new gospel for the slave-holder. All this while the agitation was arising and lifting the nation from one moral level to another. The old Tarif and Bank orators could not get a hearing; questions of temporary expediency, or mere political economy, which once ruled supreme in and out of Congress, now fell in the background and were seldom mentioned. Right or Wrong; Slavery or Freedom. Those were the watchwords that shook the land with their utterance.

Now, when, at the end and as the issue of such a moral agitation, a great Wrong comes to the ground, that overthrow is so complete and so glorious that the world is apt to lose sight of other results embraced in the victory. The direct consummation is enough to reward a page 548 thousand-fold all the efforts put forth to realise it. Certainly this is true. But it is equally true that the moral forces brought into action against a great wrong do not evaporate nor sink into the ground when their special work is accomplished. Nor is their whole motive power concentrated upon that work before it is finished. No; far from it. The single bolt that rends the oak does not absorb into itself all the electric currents that are abroad in the heavens from the same cloud. These are clearing the air of impure vapors, and making it bright and healthy, while the thunder hurls its red javelin at the gnarled trunk, or at the jutting crag. No one can ever measure the side-working in Great Britain of the principles and arguments and sentiments put forth among the people against slavery in the West Indies. Many of the sharp-bitted satirists and caricaturists of the day tried to make a mockery of the familiar image of the kneeling African raising his fettered hands and asking, "Am I not a man and a brother?" But a thousand Carlyles could not laugh, or write out that image and that sentiment from the mind of the masses. They live and breathe in the heart of the nation more vitally than before the slave was unfettered from his bondage. The image and the sentiment have taken a wider expansion and application. For nearly a quarter of a century, it was the black man that asked on his knees, "Am I not a man and a brother?" When he was raised from the ground by such moral effort and association as the world had never seen before, those who lifted him to his feet saw other images kneeling by the wayside, in the low pent courts of crowded cities,—the forms of hungry, haggard men and women and inning children, with their blue lips moving with the same question. Then commenced in earnest the efforts to elevate these depressed classes of the people. What was the Temperance Movement in Great Britain before the majority of the people had recognised a man and a brother in the enslaved African? It would be safe to say that nearly all the philanthropic movements set on foot in England for the rescue and salvation of these home victims of vice, ignorance and poverty have grown out of the doctrine and sentiment of human brotherhood so long preached in behalf of the negro. They emanate from the side-working of the moral principles arrayed against a great wrong.

Now, then, here is another aspect of the Mission of Great Wrongs. In the first place, they do not go out or come down "except by prayer and fasting." As in ancient warfare, a lofty embattled tower could only be taken by raising against its walls a counter tower of equal height, on which the assailants might fight their foes on the same level, so in pulling down one of the strongholds of Satan, the people have to raise themselves, by prayer and fasting and other exercises of an enlightened conscience and faith, to a higher moral level, whence their weapons become mighty and irresistible. Nor is this a temporary elevation. It is no shaky scaffolding of hay, wood and stubble. It becomes to them a broad and solid standing, from which they may demolish other wrongs of the same stature, with the very arms that broke down the first. This is one of the most beneficent arrangements of Divine Providence, "that where sin abounds grace shall much more abound "that the moral forces brought to bear against a great wrong page 549 shall live on forever after it has come to the ground; that they shall work on, outward and upward, generating or strengthening new organisations of philanthropy. Thus the destruction of a great Wrong becomes the greatest work of construction that can be wrought in society. You can see the side-working of these principles, or their collateral results, in the political opinion and legislative action of the country. The standard of both is raised to a higher moral level, on several important questions, once thought belonging only to lower grounds of consideration. Now you hear more about right than expediency. We would touch lightly upon political matters; but they illustrate also the points we are endeavouring to develop. The politician and the aspirant to a seat in Parliament sees an image by the road-side on his way to the hustings. It has the form and face of a countryman, yet it suggests some resemblance to the kneeling negro, uttering the same old question which half the world pretends to be tired of. It is "a man and a brother" who asks for the right to vote for him or for some one else of equal virtue and intelligence. He is embarrassed. He finds himself face to face with the right and the wrong. There is no discharge for him from that condition. The low ground of expediency is cut away from under his feet. Is the possession of a vote the right of a man who has been excluded from it? The right is the question to be discussed and decided. Gradually the most distinguished leaders in and out of Parliament arise to the height of this great argument. Gradually the national legislature arises to a higher level of opinion and action. They and their laws are lifted up to a new standing by the side-working of the principles we have noticed.

We have merely glanced at the Mission of Great Wrongs, presenting only a few aspects of the subject. We hope, however, we have suggested more thoughts than we have expressed; and that those who have read our successive articles, will be induced to pursue the train of reflection Ave have indicated.

E. B.