Birth and Ancestry of Wendell Phillips—His Education and Social Advantage—The Lovejoy Murder—Speech in Faneuil Hall—The Murder Justified—Mr. Phillips' First Speech—He Defends the Liberty of the Press—His Ideality—He Joins the Garrisonian Abolitionists'—Gives up the Law and Becomes a Reformer—His Method and Style of Oratory—Abolitionists' Blamed for the Boston Mob—Heroism of the Early Abolitionists'—His Position in Favor of "Woman's Rights"—Anecdote of His Lecturing—His Services in the Cause of Temperance—Extract with His Argument on Prohibition—His Severity towards Human Nature—His Course During and Since the War—A Change of Tone Recommended.

Wendell Phillips was born in Boston, Mass., Nov. 29, 1811.

He is son of John Phillips, first Mayor of Boston. The Phillips family justly rank among the untitled aristocracy of Massachusetts. Liberal views, noble manners, love of learning and benevolent liberality have become in that state associated with the name.

John Phillips, the grand uncle of Wendell Phillips, was the founder of Exeter Academy, in New Hampshire. Besides this he endowed a professorship in Dartmouth College, and contributed liberally to Princeton College, and gave $31,000 to Phillips Academy in Andover.

His nephew Samuel Phillips, planned, founded and organized Phillips Academy in Andover. He was a member of the provincial Congress during the Revolutionary war—a member of the convention to form the United States Constitution in 1779, and a State Senator for twenty years following the adoption of the constitution, and for fifteen years was president in the Senate, and was from first to last the particular and trusted friend of Gen. Washington. If there be such a thing in America as a just and proper aristocracy it inheres in families in whom public virtues and services have been as eminent as in this case.

Wendell Phillips was a graduate of Harvard College in 1831, and at the Cambridge law school in 1833, and was admitted to the Suffolk bar in 1834.

A precise and elegant scholar, gifted with all possible advantages of family, position, and prestige, Wendell Phillips began life with every advantage. But the very year after his admission to the bar, he was a witness of the mob in which Garrison was dragged disgracefully through Boston, for the crime of speaking his conscientious opinions.

The spirit of his Puritan fathers was strong within him—and he was acting in accordance with all his family traditions when he at once espoused the cause of Liberty.

His earliest public speech was made on an occasion befitting a son of old Massachusetts.

On November 7, 1837, the Rev. E. P. Lovejoy, was shot by a mob at Alton, Illinois, while attempting to defend his printing press from destruction. When news of this event was received in Boston, Dr. Channing headed a petition to the Mayor and Aldermen asking the use of Faneuil Hall for a public meeting. It will scarcely be credited by the present generation that a request so reasonable and so natural, headed by a name so commanding as that of Dr. Channing, should have been flatly refused. The Mayor and Aldermen of Boston in those days trembled before the rod of southern masters, and however well disposed towards their own distinguished citizens, dared not encourage them in the expression of any sentiments which might possibly be disagreeable to the South. It is true that this was the third printing press which Lovejoy had attempted to defend. It is true that he had a perfect legal right in his own state of Illinois to print whatever he chose. It is true also that the rioters who came from Missouri and attacked his house and shot him, were the vilest and profanest scum of society which a slave state can breed; but for all that, the State of Massachusetts at that time could scarcely find a place or a voice to express indignation at the outrage. Dr. Channing, undismayed by the first rebuff, addressed an impressive letter to his fellow citizens which resulted in a meeting of influential gentlemen at the old court room. Here measures were taken to secure a much larger number of names to the petition. This time the Mayor and Aldermen consented.

The meeting was held on the 8th of December, and organized with the Hon. Jonathan Phillips for chairman. Dr. Channing opened the meeting with an eloquent address, and resolutions drawn up by him were read and offered.

The attorney general of Massachusetts appeared now as the advocate of the rioters. He compared the slaves to a menagerie of wild beasts, and the Alton rioters to the orderly mob who threw the tea overboard in 1773—talked of the "conflict of laws" between Missouri and Illinois, declared that Lovejoy was presumptuous and imprudent and died as the fool dieth. Then with direct and insulting reference to Dr. Channing, he asserted that a clergyman with a gun in his hand, or one mingling in the debates of a popular assembly, were equally out of place. This speech produced, as was natural, a sensation in Faneuil Hall, and Wendell Phillips who had come without expecting to speak, rose immediately to his feet and amid the boisterous efforts of the mobocratic party in the house to drown his voice made his first public speech.

Mr. Phillip's style of oratory is peculiarly solemn and impressive. The spirit of whole generations of Puritan ministers seems to give might to it. There is no attempt to propitiate prejudice—none to throw out popular allurements—it is calm, intense, and commanding.

"Sir," he said, in the course of this speech, "when I heard the gentleman lay down principles which place the murderers of Alton side by side with Otis and Hancock, with Quincy and Adams, I thought those precious lips, (pointing to the portraits in the hall) would have broken into voices to rebuke the recreant American; the slanderer of the dead. * * * Sir, for the sentiments that he has uttered, on soil consecrated by the prayers of the Puritans and the blood of patriots, the earth should have yawned and swallowed him up."

A storm of mingled applause and hisses interrupted the bold young orator—with cries of "take that back—take that back." The uproar became so great for a time that he could not be heard. One or two gentlemen came to Mr. Phillips' side while the crowd still continued to shout. "Make him take that back—he sha'nt go on till he takes that back." Mr. Phillips came forward to the edge of the platform, and looking on the excited multitude with that calm, firm, severe bearing-down glance which seems often to have such mesmeric effects, said solemnly:

"Fellow citizens, I cannot take back my words. Surely the attorney general so long and well known here, needs not the aid of your hisses against one so young as I am—my voice, never before heard in your walls." After this the young orator was heard to the end of his speech without interruption. In this first speech, which was wholly unpremeditated, he showed all that clearness, elegance of diction, logical compactness, and above all, that weight of moral conviction which characterized all his subsequent oratory.

In allusion to the speech of the attorney general he said: "Imprudent! to defend the liberty of the press! Why? Because the defence was unsuccessful! Does success gild crime into patriotism and the want of it change heroic self-devotion into imprudence? Was Hampden imprudent when he drew the sword and threw away the scabbard? Yet he, judged by that single hour, was unsuccessful. After a short exile the race he hated sat again upon the throne.

"Imagine yourselves present when the first news of Bunker Hill battle reached a New England town. The tale would have run thus: 'The patriots are routed—the red coats victorious—Warren lies dead upon the field.' With what scorn would that Tory have been received who should have charged Warren with imprudence, who should have said that 'bred a physician, he was out of place, and died as the fool dieth.' How would the intimation have been received that Warren and his successors should have waited a better time?'

"Presumptuous! to assert the freedom of the press on American ground! Is the assertion of such freedom before the age? So much before the age as to leave no one a right to make it because it displeases the community? Who invented this libel on his country? It is this very thing which entitled Lovejoy to greater praise. The disputed right which provoked the revolution was far beneath that for which he died. (Here was a strong and general expression of disapprobation.) One word, gentlemen. As much as thought is better than money, so much is the cause in which Lovejoy died nobler than a mere question of taxes. James Otis thundered in this hall when the King did but touch his pocket. Imagine if you can, his indignant eloquence if England had offered to put a gag on his lips. Mr. Chairman, from the bottom of my heart I thank that brave little band at Alton for resisting. We must remember that Lovejoy had fled from city to city—suffering the destruction of three printing presses patiently. At length he took counsel with friends, men of character, of tried integrity, of wide views of Christian principle. They thought the crisis had come—that it was full time to assert the laws. They saw around them, not a community like our own, of fixed habits and character, but one in the gristle, not yet hardened in the bone of manhood. The people there, children of our older States, seem to have forgotten the blood-tried principles of their fathers, the moment they lost sight of New England hills. Something was to be done to show them the priceless value of freedom of the press, to bring back and set right their wandering and confused ideas. He and his advisers looked on a community, struggling like a drunken man, indifferent to their rights and confused in their feelings. Deaf to argument, haply they might be stunned into sobriety. They saw that of which we cannot judge, the necessity of resistance. Insulted law called for it. Public opinion, fast hastening on the downward course, must be arrested. Does not the event show they judged rightly? Absorbed in a thousand trifles, how will the nation all at once come to a stand? Men begin as in 1776 and 1640 to discuss principles and weigh characters, to find out where they are. Haply we may awake before we are borne over the precipice."

From this time Wendell Phillips was identified with the radical abolitionists.

His nature is characterized by an extreme ideality. He is essentially in all things a purist. Had he not thus early in life been absorbed by the exigencies of a moral conflict, Mr. Phillips would have shown himself one of the most thorough and carefully cultivated men of literature in our country. The demand for perfection is one of the most rigorous in his nature, and would have shown itself in an exacting precision in style, orthography, rhetoric and pronunciation. In regard to all these things his standard is that of an idealist. But the moral nature derived from his Puritan ancestry, was stronger than every other portion of him, and his ideality became concentrated upon the existing conflict in American society. His nature led him at once to take the most strenuous and rigorous ground side by side with William Lloyd Garrison.

Tried by his severe standard, the constitution of the United States, by an incidental complicity with slavery, had become a sinful compact: a covenant with death and an agreement with hell—and with the unquestioning consistency which belonged to his Puritan blood, he did not hesitate to sacrifice to this belief his whole professional future.

He abandoned his legal practice and took leave of the Suffolk bar, because he could not conscientiously take the oath to support the Constitution of the United States. What things were gain to him he counted loss.

Henceforth there was no career open to him but that of the agitator and popular reformer. He brought to the despised and unfashionable cause not only the prestige of one of the most honored Massachusetts names, and the traditions of a family which was among orthodox circles as a Hebrew of the Hebrews, but the power of decidedly the first forensic orator that America has ever produced. His style was so dazzling, so brilliant, his oratory so captivating, that even the unpopularity of his sentiments could not prevent the multitudes from flocking to hear him. He had in a peculiar degree that mesmeric power of control which distinguishes the true orator, by which he holds a multitude subject to his will, and carries them whither he pleases.

His speeches were generally extempore, and flowed on with a wonderful correctness, and perfect finish of language, without faltering, without the shadow of an inelegance—his sentences succeeding one another with a poised and rhythmical fullness, and his illustrations happily running through the field of ancient and modern history, and with the greatest apparent ease selecting whatever he needed from thence for the illustration of his subject. In invective no American or English orator has ever surpassed him. At the bar of his fervid oratory he would arraign, try and condemn with a solemn and dignified earnestness that might almost have persuaded the object of his attack of his own guilt. Warren Hastings is said to have judged himself to be the basest of men while he listened to the denunciations of Burke, and something of the same experience may have befallen those who were arraigned by Phillips.

There was need enough at this time for a man thus endowed to come to the help of liberty in America, for the creeping influence of the despotic South, lulling, caressing, patronizing, promising, threatening and commanding, had gone very nigh to take away the right of free inquiry and free speech through the whole Northern States.

The few noble women, who formed the original Boston Anti-Slavery Society, were a mark everywhere spoken against. Even after the stormy and scurrilous attack of the mob which drove them out from their meeting, and which almost took the life of Garrison, there was not a newspaper in Boston, except the Liberator, which did not, in giving an account of the matter, blame the abolitionists instead of the rioters. It was the old story that the lamb had troubled the wolf, and ought to be eaten up forthwith. The Advertiser spoke of the affair, "not so much as a riot, as the prevention of a riot," and "considered the whole matter as the triumph of law over lawless violence, and the love of order over riot and confusion." The Christian Register recommended to the ladies to imitate the early Christians of Trajan's day, and meet in secret, adding, with a sneer, "if the vanity of the ladies would allow."

A leading orthodox divine shortly after preached a sermon to illustrate and defend the doctrine that no man has a right to promulgate any opinion distasteful to the majority of society where he lives. All, in short, seemed to be going one way—newspapers, pulpits, bar and bench, and the gay world of fashion, were alike agreed that if discussing the condition and rights and wrongs of the slave, was disagreeable to southern people it ought to be put a stop to at once and everywhere, and that the Abolitionists were a pestilent sect, who turned the world upside down.

In Wendell Phillips, at last, the scornful world met its match, for he was fully capable of meeting scorn with superior scorn, and retorting on contempt with contempt, and he stood as high above the fear of man that bringeth a snare, as any of the most unworldly of his Puritan grandfathers.

The little band of Abolitionists that gathered around him and Garrison, men and women, were every one of them heroes. They were of the old revolutionary stock of Boston, and every way worthy of their lineage, and there was need enough it should be so, for the struggle was no inconsiderable one—it was for life and death. Cast out of society, looked on as the off-scouring of the earth, hemmed in everywhere with slanders, often alienated from friends once the dearest and most admiring, laboring almost alone with an incessant and exhausting zeal, some of more delicate organization sunk under the trial, and may be said to have given their lives to the cause.

Wendell Phillips speaks of them feelingly in one of his later speeches, delivered on the anniversary of the Boston Mob:

"Many of those who met in this hall at that time are gone. They died as Whittier well says—

'Their brave hearts breaking slow,
But self-forgetful to the last,
In words of cheer and bugle glow,
Their breath upon the darkness past.'

"In those days, as we gathered around their graves, and resolved that the narrower the circle became the closer we would draw together, we envied the dead their rest. Men ceased to slander them in that sanctuary; and as we looked forward to the desolate vista of calamity and trial before us, and thought of the temptations which beset us on either side, from worldly prosperity which a slight sacrifice of principle might secure, or social ease so close at hand, by only a little turning aside, we almost envied the dead the quiet sleep to which we left them—the harvest reaped, and the seal set beyond the power of change."

The career of Phillips in those days was often amid threats of personal violence. Assassination, the favorite argument of slavery, was held up before him, and the recent death of Lovejoy showed that the threat was not an empty one. At home, his house, in turn with that of other leading abolitionists, was threatened with incendiary violence, notwithstanding it was the shelter of an invalid wife, whose frail life often seemed to hang on a thread. From that shaded and secluded invalid chamber, however, came no weak prayers or faltering purposes, for a braver, higher heart was never given to human being than the one that beat there. In the darkest and most dangerous hours, from that sick room came words of hope and cheer and inspiration, prompt ever to bid him go where the cause called for him, and strengthening him by buoyant fearlessness and high religious trust. Such women are a true inspiration to men.

It is not wonderful that with such rare experience of how noble a being woman may be, and with such superior women for friends and associates, that Wendell Phillips should have formed a high ideal of womanhood, and become early one of the most enthusiastic supporters of all reforms in which the interest of woman is concerned.

On the 15th and 16th of October, 1857, he offered at a convention held in Worcester a series of resolutions in relation to the political rights of women which cover all the ground contended for by modern reformers. His speech on this subject is one of the most able and eloquent on record, and forms a part of the permanent literature of the movement.

He speaks of womanhood with a solemn and religious earnestness, with the fervor of knightly times, and pleads against all customs and laws which bear hardly upon her delicate organization, which mislead her from following her highest aspirations.

An anecdote in circulation about him shows that he not only held such theories, but that he was helpful in practice. It is so in keeping with his general character as to be extremely probable. Notwithstanding the unpopularity of his abolition sentiments, Mr. Phillips' power as an orator was such that when lecturing on ordinary subjects he commanded the very highest prices in the literary market. On one of his tours he met in the cars a woman who was seeking a self-supporting career as a lecturer. Mr. Phillips inquired into her success, and found that independent of her expenses she made at the rate only of five dollars a time. He declared that such an inequality with his own success was an injustice, and added that he must beg her to allow him to equalize the account for once, by accepting the proceeds of his last lecture.

Mr. Phillips had a way of making his fame and reputation gain him a hearing on the unpopular subject which he had most at heart. Committees from anxious lyceums used to wait on him for his terms, sure of being able to fill a house by his name.

"What are your terms, Mr. Phillips?"

"If I lecture on anti-slavery, nothing. If on any other subject one hundred dollars."

The success of his celebrated lecture on the Lost Arts, which has been perhaps more than a thousand times repeated, is only a chance specimen of what he might have done in this department of lecturing, could he have allowed himself that use of his talent.

Mr. Phillips is far from being a man of one idea. Energetic as was his abolition campaign, he has found time and strength to strike some of the heaviest and most victorious blows for temperance. He has been a vigorous defender of the interests of the Maine Law, endangered in Massachusetts by the continual compliances of rank and fashion. His letter to Judge Shaw and President Walker is a specimen of unfearing and unflinching exposure and rebuke of those practices and concessions of public men, which cast contempt on the execution of law. His oration on Metropolitan Police has powerful arguments in favor of the policy of legislative prevention of intemperance.

We have selected his argument on the subject, both as a good example of his style and manner, and as a powerful presentation of a much needed argument.

"Some men look upon this temperance cause as whining bigotry, narrow asceticism, or a vulgar sentimentality, fit for little minds, weak women, and weaker men. On the contrary, I regard it as second only to one or two others of the primary reforms of this age, and for this reason. Every race has its peculiar temptation; every clime has its specific sin. The tropics and tropical races are tempted to one form of sensuality; the colder and temperate regions, and our Saxon blood, find their peculiar temptation in the stimulus of drink and food. In old times our heaven was a drunken revel. We relieve ourselves from the over-weariness of constant and exhaustive toil by intoxication. Science has brought a cheap means of drunkenness within the reach of every individual. National prosperity and free institutions have put into the hands of almost every workman the means of being drunk for a week on the labor of two or three hours. With that blood and that temptation, we have adopted democratic institutions, where the law has no sanction but the purpose and virtue of the masses. The statute-book rests not on bayonets, as in Europe, but on the hearts of the people. A drunken people can never be the basis of a free government. It is the corner-stone neither of virtue, prosperity, nor progress. To us, therefore, the title-deeds of whose estates and the safety of whose lives depend upon the tranquillity of the streets, upon the virtue of the masses, the presence of any vice which brutalizes the average mass of mankind, and tends to make it more readily the tool of intriguing and corrupt leaders, is necessarily a stab at the very life of the nation. Against such a vice is marshalled the Temperance Reformation. That my sketch is no mere fancy picture, every one of you knows. Every one of you can glance back over your own path, and count many and many a one among those who started from the goal at your side, with equal energy and perhaps greater promise, who has found a drunkard's grave long before this. The brightness of the bar, the ornament of the pulpit, the hope and blessing and stay of many a family,—you know, every one of you who has reached middle life, how often on your path you set up the warning, "Fallen before the temptations of the streets!" Hardly one house in this city, whether it be full and warm with all the luxury of wealth, or whether it find hard, cold maintenance by the most earnest economy, no matter which,—hardly a house that does not count, among sons or nephews, some victim of this vice. The skeleton of this warning sits at every board. The whole world is kindred in this suffering. The country mother launches her boy with trembling upon the temptations of city life; the father trusts his daughter anxiously to the young man she has chosen, knowing what a wreck intoxication may make of the house-tree they set up. Alas! how often are their worst forebodings more than fulfilled! I have known a case—and probably many of you can recall some almost equal to it—where one worthy woman could count father, brother, husband, and son-in-law, all drunkards,—no man among her near kindred, except her son, who was not a victim of this vice. Like all other appetites, this finds resolution weak when set against the constant presence of temptation. This is the evil. How are the laws relating to it executed in this city? Let me tell you.

"First, there has been great discussion of this evil,—wide, earnest, patient discussion, for thirty-five years. The whole community has been stirred by the discussion of this question. Finally, after various experiments, the majority of the State decided that the method to stay this evil was to stop the open sale of intoxicating drink. They left moral suasion still to address the individual, and set themselves as a community to close the doors of temptation. Every man acquainted with his own nature or with society knows that weak virtue, walking through our streets, and meeting at every tenth door (for that is the average) the temptation to drink, must fall; that one must be a moral Hercules to stand erect. To prevent the open sale of intoxicating liquor has been the method selected by the State to help its citizens to be virtuous; in other words, the State has enacted what is called the Maine Liquor Law,—the plan of refusing all licenses to sell, to be drunk on the spot or elsewhere, and allowing only an official agent to sell for medicinal purposes and the arts. You may drink in your own parlors, you may make what indulgence you please your daily rule, the State does not touch you there; there you injure only yourself, and those you directly influence; that the State cannot reach. But when you open your door and say to your fellow-citizens, 'Come and indulge,' the State has a right to ask, 'In what do you invite them to indulge? Is it in something that helps, or something that harms, the community?'"

* * * * *

In our recent war it is scarcely needful to say that Mr. Phillips has always been a counsellor for the most thorough, the most intrepid and most efficient measures.

During the period of comparative vacillation and uncertainty, when McClellan was the commander-in-chief, and war was being made on political principles, Mr. Phillips did his utmost in speeches and public addresses in the papers, to stir up the people to demand a more efficient policy.

Since the termination of the war and the emancipation of the slave, Mr. Phillips seems to show that the class of gifts and faculties adapted to rouse a stupid community, and to force attention to neglected truths are not those most adapted to the delicate work of reconstruction. The good knight who can cut and hew in battle, cannot always do the surgeon's work of healing and restoring. That exacting ideality which is the leading faculty of Mr. Phillips' nature leads him constantly to undervalue what has been attained, and it is to be regretted that it deprived him of the glow and triumph of a victory in which no man than he better deserved to rejoice.

Garrison hung up his shield and sword at a definite point, and marked the era of victory with devout thankfulness; and we can but regret, that the more exacting mind of Phillips was too much fixed on what yet was wanting to share the well earned joy.

When there is strong light there must be shadow, and the only shadow we discern in the public virtues of Mr. Phillips is the want of a certain power to appreciate and make allowances for the necessary weaknesses and imperfections of human nature.

He has been a teacher of the school of the law rather than that of the Gospel; he has been most especially useful because we have been in a state where such stern unflinching teachings have been indispensable.

Mr. Phillips' methods indeed, of dealing with human nature, savor wholly of the law and remind us forcibly of the pithy and vigorous account which John Bunyan puts into the mouth of his pilgrim.

"I saw one coming after me swift as the wind, and so soon as the man overtook me, it was but a word and a blow, for down he knocked me and laid me for dead. But when I was a little come to myself I asked him wherefore he served me so. He said because of my secret inclining to Adam the first, and with that he struck me another deadly blow on the breast, and beat me down backward, and so I lay at his foot as dead as before. So when I came to myself, I cried him mercy; but he said, I know not how to show mercy, and with that he knocked me down again. He had doubtless made an end of me but that one came by and bid him forbear.

Who was he that bid him forbear? I did not know him at first but as he went by, I perceived the holes in his hands and his side."

There is a time for all things, and this stern work of the land had to be done in our country. Almighty God seconded it by awful providences, and pleaded against the oppressor in the voice of famine and battle, of fire and sword.

The guilty land had been riven and torn, and in the language of scripture, made an astonishment and a desolation!

May we not think now that the task of binding up the wounds of a bruised and shattered country, of reconciling jarring interests thrown into new and delicate relationships, of bringing peace to sore and wearied nerves, and abiding quiet to those who are fated to dwell side by side in close proximity, may require faculties of a wider and more varied adaptation, and a spirit breathing more of Calvary and less of Sinai?

It is no discredit to the good sword gapped with the blows of a hundred battle fields, to hang it up in all honor, as having done its work.

It has made place for a thousand other forces and influences each powerless without it, but each now more powerful and more efficient in their own field.

Those who are so happy as to know Mr. Phillips personally, are fully aware how entirely this unflinching austerity of judgment, this vigorous severity of exaction, belong to his public character alone, how full of genial urbanity they find the private individual. We may be pardoned for expressing the hope that the time may yet come when he shall see his way clear to take counsel in public matters with his own kindly impulses, and that those genial traits which render his private intercourse so agreeable, may be allowed to modify at least his public declarations.

Henry Ward Beecher

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