I've mentioned before that I have the habit of "curbside shopping," i.e., picking things up from the curb. Recently, in a rainstorm, I put a 40-inch flat screen TV into the car. I didn't know if it would still work (even if it had been in working condition when it was set out), but I thought I'd let it dry for a week or two and then take it out on the porch, and plug it in (i.e., just in case it blew up or caught fire). It works fine, and I have it connected to my laptop, now. It's helpful when I'm trying to read from photographs of these old newspapers.
This morning I thought I'd test out a DVD, and I happened to pick up a copy I'd made of a PBS series, "The Abolitionists." I had Part III, and placed the cursor about 10 minutes into the program. Here, they briefly cover the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law, the struggle for Kansas, and then they introduce John Brown. The narrator explains that many had begun to question whether the philosophy of "moral suasion" would ever work, and whether violence wouldn't be necessary, after all.
In the past life I have been studying, of Mathew Franklin Whittier, I was right in the thick of all this. I have researched this very carefully--once again, I am not "blowing smoke," I can back all this up--but not here. Mathew was an undercover agent for William Lloyd Garrison, whose motto was "No Union with Slaveholders." That's right, he wanted to let the South go their own way, and wither economically on the vine, as it were. Mathew was personal friends with many of the key Abolition figures, including Frederick Douglass. He wrote (including at least one piece advocating this position), he traveled, he solicited funds. On a few occasions, he went under cover in the South, and when he got back to Boston from his 1848 trip, he wrote a scathing account of a slave market he had observed in New Orleans. At least once, he escorted a young woman to freedom in Canada, and set her up with Abolitionists who raised money for her, there. He was personal friends with radical black Abolitionist William Lambert, who ran the Underground Railroad in Detroit. He also interviewed slaves in New Orleans, in 1848. Whether or not that work was published by other authors, is a matter of conjecture. He also met with the opposition, at times, powerful heads of state, presumably as a liaison for Garrison. There is a record, for example, of him meeting with Daniel Webster, not long after Webster had helped engineer the Compromise. Garrison would have sent his best man for such a critical mission.
He wrote in both humorous sketches, and in powerful prose arguments, against slavery. I have identified one of his tracts published anonymously in Boston; and there was an anonymous, lengthy review of Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, "Dred," which expressed a great deal of his own opinions in the process. As early as 1837, he and his wife, Abby, were writing strong arguments defending Abolitionism, for their small-town paper.
I don't remember any of this cognitively. I remember it "viscerally," intuitively, and emotionally.
Here is an excerpt of what I wrote on Oct. 21, 1850 about visiting with Daniel Webster. This is presented within the context of a light-hearted travel column. Those in the know, i.e., Garrison's workers, would have read between the lines:
Dear Putnam:--Did n't we say in our last, that we were about starting on a jaunt to the house of the God-like Daniel? Well, we did go, and such a time as we had of it too! After walking a distance of some five miles, we arrived at the elegant mansion, at precisely seven minutes past eight, (we like to be exact about dates) and, as G.P.R. James, the equestrian romancer often remarks in his lectures, "we wish particularly to call your attention to this fact;"--at seven minutes past eight, on Monday morning, October 14th, 1850, Daniel Webster, the ex-pounder, was seated at his breakfast-table, doing justice to what smelt very much--to us in the adjoining room--like beef-steak, highly-seasoned, and rare-done. Being informed that Quails was in waiting, he despatched his savory breakfast with all possible haste, and in a few minutes after, we were cosily seated together in the magnificently-arched ceiling quadrangular receiving-room, deeply engaged in discussing the complicated topics of National Legislation, and the long vexed question of whether colds--especially those settled in the nose--were conducive to health, or whether they were inclined to induce those of temperate habits to occasionally so far forget themselves as to go out on a blow. Each of us being slightly afflicted with the above complaint, we put the vexed question to vote, whether it was either pleasant or profitable, and the noes (nose) had it all their own way.
Mr. Webster was very sociable and entertaining, and did all in his power to make our visit a happy and agreeable one, and if we could have conversed without looking at him, we should have enjoyed our visit extremely well, but 't was no use, we could n't do it. There is a deep, care-devil, unfathomable La-Roy-Sunderland-expression about his eyes, that fairly, or rather, unfairly, compels a person to look at them in spite of himself. Although the indigent circumstances of Mr. Webster have long been known and talked of, we rather think that his extreme poverty is not, as a general thing, known. Be sure his little farm--what there is of it--is one of the best managed and profitable in the State, but then he has of these free-soil principles--in this section at least--only fifteen hundred acres! Taking a walk in his well-regulated and beautiful garden, we strolled along among the flower-beds, talked on a variety of light subjects, and kept up the interest of the occasion by a frequent resort to the great abundance of pears, peaches, apples, and luscious grapes. Mr. Webster remains here but a few days, when he will probably return to the "City of Notions."
I have mentioned, before, that if you look up "Quails," you will see that his travelogue is attributed to entertainer Ossian Dodge. This was a ruse, which Mathew appears to have played along with to deepen his cover. There are some historical references in the above I have clarified in my book--I won't go into them, here. Just bear in mind that with Webster's help, the Compromise of 1850 had been passed just the previous month; and that William Lloyd Garrison has now despatched Mathew to speak with him post-haste. Mathew then reports of the meeting in his anonymous public column, such that only Garrison and his men will understand its deeper significance.
All my life, I have felt that the Civil War was a sad, disgusting disaster, which I could hardly bring myself to read or view anything about. Mathew, and those committed to moral suasion, probably did think of it that way.
What just occurred to me, is, violence can get quick reults. But it doesn't address the root of the problem. It is moral decay which creates an atmosphere in which these things can grow, in the first place. Violence chops down the weed, but leaves the root strong. Have we eliminated slavery, today? Hardly. Unless you call minimum wage a "living." Who is working at Kentucky Fried Chicken down the street? Here, in South Carolina, it is one white manager and a crew of young black people. Many of the black people seem quite intelligent to me. If they have to do that kind of work, they should at least be paid for it. I'm pretty sure they aren't.
But mostly it's what I never seem to be able to convey, here--the poignancy of feeling the memory of having lived these events. I'll tell you what it's like. I'm 63 years old in this life. I lived through the 1960's and '70's. I was a hippie, of sorts, though I didn't embrace the entire philosophy (especially "free love") and hence was not a "card-carrying" hippie. Still, when I see historical accounts of this era, it is a very odd feeling, because I lived it, and it doesn't seem that long ago.
I have exactly the same visceral sense when it comes to the events surrounding Abolitionism in the 19th century.
Maybe violence was necessary, under the circumstances. I suppose it would depend on who you were at the time. But what was, and is, really needed is a change of heart. On the other hand, sometimes I think what Society needs is a form of massive cognitive therapy. There are toxic, deep assumptions which cause otherwise normal citizens to go crazy and do awful things. The assumption of white superiority was one such. This can be taken apart logically (but if you see a photograph of a bunch of white men lynching a black man, what more do you need? It certainly doesn't make me, as a white man, feel particularly proud of my race). There are many other similarly toxic assumptions, which go largely unquestioned. For example, Mathew also worked for the cause of Spiritualism. There, one fights two toxic assumptions--the set which has attached itself to traditional Christianity, and Materialism. Materialism, for example, has allowed Society to embrace Charles Darwin's materialistic rehashing of the ancient concept of evolution, rather than that of his contemporary, Alfred Russel Wallace. Darwin's take on evolution opened the door to Social Darwinism, which provided a ready rationalization for class exploitation.
To encapsulate one major problem, here, the development of consciousness is what drives evolution (at least, according to my Guru)--not, primarily, survival of the fittest. If that were understood, perhaps people would be eagerly pursuing more enlightened consciousness, instead of pushing each other down to survive.
Today, with this website, my documentary (viewed by over half a million people online) and my book (read by almost nobody, so far), I fight the deep assumption of Materialism. I fight it with moral suasion, and logic. I joust at this giant continually, with seemingly no measurable result. Slavery in various forms is still there, but I am not involved in that fight, now. I see the loss of genuine spirituality, and the heedless embracing of Materialism, as the more crucial and central problem.
I am easy to dismiss, and to marginalize, and to deflect. Someday you are going to wake up and realize that everything I was saying was substantially correct.
Then comes an earthquake in consciousness...
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd," sung by Richie Havens,
from the album, Songs of the Civil War