Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Defence of the North
By Henry Ward Beecher (18131887)
[From his Speech in Exeter Hall, London, 20 October, 1863.Patriotic Addresses. Edited by John R. Howard. 1887.]
THE RELIGIOUS-MINDED among our people feel that in the territory committed to us there is a high and solemn trusta national trust. We are taught that in some sense the world itself is a field, and every Christian nation acknowledges a certain responsibility for the moral condition of the globe. But how much nearer does it come when it is ones own country! And the Church of America is coming to feel more and more that God gave us this country, not merely for material aggrandizement, but for a glorious triumph of the Church of Christ. Therefore we undertook to rid the territory of slavery. Since slavery has divested itself of its municipal protection, and has become a declared public enemy, it is our duty to strike down the slavery which would blight this fair western land. When I stand and look out upon that immense territory as a man, as a citizen, as a Christian minister, I feel myself asked, Will you permit that vast country to be overclouded by this curse? Will you permit the cries of bondmen to issue from that fair territory, and do nothing for their liberty? What are we doing? Sending our ships round the globe, carrying missionaries to the Sandwich Islands, to the islands of the Pacific, to Asia, to all Africa. And yet, when this work of redeeming our continent from the heathendom of slavery lies before us, there are men who counsel us to give it up to the devil, and not try to do anything with it. Ah! independent of pounds and pence, independent of national honor, independent of all merely material considerations, there is pressing on every conscientious Northerners mind this highest of all considerationsour duty to God to save that country from the blast and blight of slavery. Yet how many are there who up, down, and over all England are saying, Let slavery golet slavery go? It is recorded, I think, in the biography of one of the most noble of your own countrymen, Sir T. Fowell Buxton, that on one occasion a huge favorite dog was seized with hydrophobia. With wonderful courage he seized the creature by the neck and collar, and against the animals mightiest efforts, dashing hither and thither against wall and fence, held him until help could be got. If there had been Englishmen there of the stripe of the Times, they would have said to Fowell Buxton, Let him go; but is there one here who does not feel the moral nobleness of that man, who rather than let the mad animal go down the street biting children and women and men, risked his life and prevented the dog from doing evil? Shall we allow that hell-hound of slavery, mad, mad as it is, to go biting millions in the future? We will peril life and limb and all we have first. These truths are not exaggeratedthey are diminished rather than magnified in my statement; and you cannot tell how powerfully they are influencing us unless you were standing in our midst in America; you cannot understand how firm that national feeling is which God has bred in the North on this subject. It is deeper than the sea; it is firmer than the hills; it is serene as the sky over our head, where God dwells.
But it is said, What a ruthless business this war of extermination is! I have heard it stated that a fellow from America, purporting to be a minister of the gospel of peace, had come over to England, and that that fellow had said he was in favor of a war of extermination. Well, if he said so he will stick to it;but not in the way in which enemies put these words. Listen to the way in which I put them, for if I am to bear the responsibility it is only fair that I should state them in my own way. We believe that the war is a test of our institutions; that it is a life-and-death struggle between the two principles of liberty and slaverythat it is the cause of the common people all the world over. We believe that every struggling nationality on the globe will be stronger if we conquer this odious oligarchy of slavery, and that every oppressed people in the world will be weaker if we fail. The sober American regards the war as part of that awful yet glorious struggle which has been going on for hundreds of years in every nation between right and wrong, between virtue and vice, between liberty and despotism, between freedom and bondage. It carries with it the whole future condition of our vast continentits laws, its policy, its fate. And standing in view of these tremendous realities we have consecrated all that we haveour children, our wealth, our national strengthwe lay them all on the altar and say, It is better that they should all perish than that the North should falter and betray this trust of God, this hope of the oppressed, this Western civilization. If we say this of ourselves, shall we say less of the slaveholders? If we are willing to do these things, shall we say, Stop the war for their sakes? If we say this of ourselves, shall we have more pity for the rebellious, for slavery seeking to blacken a continent with its awful evil, desecrating the social phrase National Independence by seeking only an independence that shall enable them to treat four millions of human beings as chattels? Shall we be tenderer over them than over ourselves? Standing by my cradle, standing by my hearth, standing by the altar of the church, standing by all the places that mark the name and memory of heroic men who poured out their blood and lives for principle, I declare that in ten or twenty years of war we will sacrifice everything we have for principle. If the love of popular liberty is dead in Great Britain, you will not understand us; but if the love of liberty lives as it once lived, and has worthy successors of those renowned men that were our ancestors as much as yours, and whose example and principles we inherit as so much seed-corn in a new and fertile land, then you will understand our firm, invincible determinationto fight this war through, at all hazards and at every cost .
But I hear a loud protest against war. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Chairman,there is a small band in our country and in yoursI wish their number were quadrupledwho have borne a solemn and painful testimony against all wars, under all circumstances; and although I differ with them on the subject of defensive warfare, yet when men that rebuked their own land, and all lands, now rebuke us, though I cannot accept their judgment, I bow with profound respect to their consistency. But excepting them, I regard this British horror of the American war as something wonderful. Why, it is a phenomenon in itself! On what shore has not the prow of your ships dashed? What land is there with a name and a people, where your banner has not led your soldiers? And when the great resurrection reveillé shall sound, it will muster British soldiers from every clime and people under the whole heaven. Ah! but it is said, This is a war against your own blood. How long is it since you poured soldiers into Canada, and let all your yards work night and day to avenge the taking of two men out of the Trent? Old England shocked at a war of principle! She gained her glories in such wars. Old England ashamed of a war of principle! Her national ensign symbolizes her historythe cross in a field of blood. And will you tell uswho inherit your blood, your ideas, and your high spirits, that we must not fight? The child must heed the parents, until the parents get old and tell the child not to do the thing that in early life they whipped him for not doing. And then the child says, Father and Mother are getting too old; they had better be taken away from their present home and come to live with us. Perhaps you think that the old island will do a little longer. Perhaps you think there is coal enough. Perhaps you think the stock is not quite run out yet; but whenever England comes to that state that she does not go to war for principle, she had better emigrate, and we will give her room.