Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
|CHAPTER VII. -- FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT.|
A REMARKABLE effort of this still more remarkable man is remembered, from which unmistakable evidences of the character of the individual, and that of his future line of conduct, are drawn.
It was on the occasion of the passage of that crowning triumph of the slave power, conceded by the obsequious North to them, remembered as the atrocious Fugitive Slave Act.
While this bill was under consideration, as in other dishonorable political enactment's affecting the interests of the colored people, there were many persons, who, either from a desire to have peace between the two sections at any sacrifice of national honor, or from a superabundance of faith in the decisions of our lawmakers, were advising the blacks to remain passive; endeavoring to impress the belief upon them that the act could never pass, as it was too atrocious and unjust in its provisions, and that the American people would not tolerate the men who would dare vote to sanction so great an outrage on any portion of the people as that contemplated. The colored people, who never failed to enter their protest against these unjust enactment's, called for public meetings.
Martin Delany, painfully alive to the magnitude of the occasion, rose in proportion to it, and, while he was not able to turn the course of the event in his favor, entered a protest which gave sublimity to his defeat. At the first appearance of the bill, with his usual foresight he saw further humiliation in store for his race--the trampling out of the sacred rights of manhood and womanhood, the total annihilation of domestic tranquillity, and the inevitable desecration of all that was sacred to them, accompanying it in its stride. This was verified by the Dred Scot decision, which followed in its wake but a few short years after. He said that never as yet, in the history of the country, failed to secure by legislation that which she demanded at the hands of the North. He held that the scheme was nothing less than a virtual rendition to slavery of every free black person in the country; or, in fact, a rendition of the free states into slavery, with the difference that while the blacks could be enslaved in the free states, they must be taken away to be held. He was instrumental in calling public meetings, and endeavored to urge, with all the strength of his fiery eloquence, the devising of some means to avert the impending danger. Forcible and truthful as his arguments were many derided him, accusing him of being frightened; this, too, from men of experience and wisdom, whose confidence in the honor of the administration exceeded his own.
At these meetings white speakers often addressed them, some of whom advised them against being misled by rash, inconsiderate persons, who were alarmed
The bill was passed, followed by an excitement throughout the North only equalled since by that evinced at the firing on Fort Sumter. Never in the history of civilization was humanity more outraged than in that act; the Dred Scot decision was but a fitting Sequel to it; one would have been incomplete without the other. "For every drop of blood drawn by the lash, the sword has avenged," said Abraham Lincoln; and for every attempt to ignore the rights of humanity there is a retributive demand awaiting individuals and nations.
There were mass meetings held throughout the North. At the first great meeting, held on the public square of Pittsburgh, among the speakers loudly called for was Martin Delany. His predictions being too bitterly realized, he designedly evaded their cries, desiring some of the leading white men present first to commit themselves. This being Saturday evening, they adjourned to meet the following Monday at Allephany City, Pa. At this meeting the mayor presided, supported by many distinguished citizens, among them the Hon. William Robinson, Jr. an ex-foreign commissioner, and the Rev. Charles Avery, the eminent philanthropist. Among the speakers who addressed them on that memorable occasion were the Hon. T. H. how, the recent member of Congress from Alleghany, and Hon. Charles A. Naylor, member of Congress from
It was generally conceded that this was one of the most powerful and impressive speeches of that memorable occasion. We extract the following from it. Said he, "Honorable mayor, whatever ideas of liberty I may have, have been received from reading the lives of your revolutionary fathers. I have therein learned that a man has a right to defend his castle with his life, even unto the taking of life. Sir, my house is any castle; in that castle are none but my wife and my children as free as the angels of heaven, and whose approaches that house in search of a slave,-- I care not who he may be whether constable or sheriff, magistrate or even judge of the Supreme Court--let, it be he who sanctioned this act to become a law, surrounded by his cabinet as his body-guard, with the Declaration of Independence waving above his head as his banner, and the constitution of his country upon his breast as his shield,--if he crosses the threshold of my door, and I do not lay him a lifeless corpse at my feet, I hope the grave may refuse my body a resting place, and righteous Heaven my spirit home. O, no! he cannot enter that house and we both live."
Such is a portion of the speech, remembered for its singular pathos and boldness, wrung from the lips of one whose soul was kindled with the sense of the outrages heaped upon his helpless race by a people maddened by success.