Page images


Gentlemen of the Convention: REPUBLICAN and a free man I came into this convention; by the grace of God a Republican and a free man will I go out of this convention. Twentyfour years ago I was here in Chicago. Twenty-four years ago I took part with the men of this country who nominated the man who bears the most illustrious name in the Republican party, and the brightest ray in whose halo of glory and immortality is that he was the great emancipator. In that convention, sir, a resolution was offered in amendment of the platform. It introduced into that platform certain words from the Declaration of Independence. That man was voted down in that convention, and Joshua R. Giddings, of Ohio, rose from his seat and was passing out of the convention. As he went to pass by my chair, I, well nigh a boy and unknown to him, reached out my hand and said: “Sir, where are you going?” He said to me: “Young man, I am going out of this convention, for I find there is no place in a Republican convention for an original anti-slavery man like me.” Well, gentlemen, after this he stopped and again took his seat, and before the convention concluded the Republican party declared no word, no deed, no sign should ever be made in a Republican convention that in the slightest degree reflected upon the honor or the loyalty of the men who took part in that convention, and upon their adhesion to liberty. The gentleman who was last upon the floor dared any one upon this floor to vote against that resolution. I say to him in reply that the presentation of such a resolution in such a convention as this is a stigma, an insult, upon every man who stands here. The question is no question at all. Precisely the same motion was brought up at the last convention, and a man from West Virginia (I honor his name!) said in the face of the roaring galleries: “I am a Republican who carries his sovereignty under his own hat.” Now, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Campbell's position in that convention agreed with the wise reflection, the afterthought of the Republican convention of 1880, under the direction of that great leader whose face fronts us there, James A. Garfield, of Ohio. Under the lead of Garfield, I remind you, my friend from California, that convention, taking its action, induced the gentleman who presented the resolution to withdraw it from consideration. Now, sir, in the light of the character of the Republican party; in the light of the action of the last Republican convention, the first convention I have known in which such a pledge was required of the members; I ask this convention, mindful of all that hangs upon the wisdom, the moderation, the tolerance, and ‘the patriotism of our action—mindful of it all I beg this convention to remember Lincoln, to remember Garfield, to remember the most vital principle of the Republican party, and assume that every man here who is an honorable man will vote this resolution down, as something which should never have appeared in a Republican convention, and as unworthy to be ratified by the concourse of free men I see before me.

* Delivered in the Republican National Convention, at Chicago, June 4, 1884, on the resolution offered by Mr. Hawkins, of Tennessee: “Resolved, As the sense of this convention, that every member of it is bound in honor to support its nominee, whoever that nominee may be, and that no man should hold a seat here who is not ready to so agree.”



HEN the war ended, and the specific purpose of his relentless agitation was accomplished, Phillips was still in the prime of his life. Had his mind recurred to the dreams of earlier years, had he desired, in the fulness of his fame and the maturity of his powers, to turn to the political career which the hopes of the friends of his youth had forecast, I do not doubt that the Massachusetts of Sumner and of Andrew, proud of his genius and owning his immense service to the triumphant cause, although a service beyond the party line, and often apparently directed against the party itself, would have gladly summoned him to duty. It would, indeed, have been a kind of peerage for this great Commoner. But not to repose and peaceful honor did this earnest soul incline. “Now that the field is won,” he said gayly to a friend, “do you sit by the camp-fire, but I will put out into the underbrush.” The slave, indeed, was free, but emancipation did not free the agitator from his task. The client that suddenly appeared before him on that memorable October day was not an oppressed race alone; it was wronged humanity; it was the victim of unjust systems and unequal laws; it was the poor man, the weak man, the unfortunate man, whoever and whatever he might be. This was the cause that he would still plead in the forum of public opinion. “Let it not be said,” he wrote to a meeting of his old Abolition friends, two months before his death, “that the old Abolitionist stopped with the negro, and was never able to see that the same principles claimed his utmost effort to protect all labor, white and black, and to further the discussion of every claim of humanity.” Was this the habit of mere agitation, the restless discontent that followed great achievement? There were those who thought so. But they were critics of a temperament which did not note that with Phillips agitation was a principle, and a deliberately chosen method to definite ends. There were still vast questions springing from the same root of selfishness and injustice as the question of slavery. They must force a hearing in the same way. He would not adopt in middle life the career of politics, which he had renounced in youth, however seductive that career might be, whatever its opportunities and rewards, because the purpose had grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength, to form public opinion rather than to represent it, in making or in executing the laws. To form public opinion upon vital public questions by public discussion, but by public discussion absolutely fearless and sincere, and conducted with honest faith in the people to whom the argument was addressed—this was the service which he had long performed, and this he would still perform, and in the familiar way. His comprehensive philanthropy had made him, even during the anti-slavery contest, the untiring advocate of other great reforms. His powerful presentation of the justice and reason of the political equality of women, at Worcester, in 1857, more than any other single impulse launched that question upon the sea of popular controversy. In the general statement of principle, nothing has been added to that discourse. In vivid and effective eloquence of advocacy it has never been surpassed. All the arguments for independence echoed John Adams in the Contimental Congress; all the pleas for applying the American principle of representation to the wives and mothers of American citizens echo the eloquence of Wendell Phillips at Worcester. His, also, was the voice that summoned the temperance voters of the Commonwealth to stand up and be counted; the voice which resolutely and definitely exposed the crime to which the busy American mind and conscience are at last turning—the American crime against the Indians. Through him the sorrow of Crete, the tragedy of Ireland, pleaded with America. In the terrible experience of the early anti-slavery debate, when the Church and refined society seemed to be the rampart of slavery, he had learned profound distrust of that conservatism of prosperity which chills human sympathy and narrows the conscience. So the vast combinations of capital, in these later days, with their immense monopolies and imperial power, seemed to him sure to corrupt the government and to obstruct and threaten the real welfare of the people. He felt, therefore, that what is called the respectable class is often really, but unconsciously and with a generous purpose, not justly estimating its own tendency, the dangerous class. He was not a party politician; he cared little for party or for party leaders. But any political party which in his judgment represented the dangerous tendency was a party to be defeated in the interest of the peace and progress of all the people. But his judgment, always profoundly sincere, was it not sometimes profoundly mistaken? No nobler friend of freedom and of man than Wendell Phillips ever breathed upon this continent, and no man's service to freedom surpasses

« PreviousContinue »