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Banquet to the Honorable Carl Schurz/Speech of Professor William M. Sloane

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“THE CHAMPION OF THE SLAVE.”


SPEECH OF PROFESSOR WILLIAM M. SLOANE, OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.


It is a wise saying that words are the shadow of deeds. In celebrating Mr. Schurz as the champion of the slave mine could be neither few nor light as they must be, were it not for his own, which remain as a historic record of the first importance. The speeches which he delivered throughout the period bounded by the years 1858 and 1864 are the only account which thus far he has seen fit to give of his activities in the eventful struggle. These, with his famous studies of Lincoln and Clay, afford, however, quite sufficient material wherewith to gain conviction of the writer's character, and to justify the sentiment of which I speak.

If you will carefully read these few volumes you will get a brilliant light on the anti-slavery struggle. You will see it in all its social aspects, how the curse was gnawing at the vitals of the family, demoralizing the church, and threatening the life of the State. The picture will be one to fill you with awe, yet it will call forth your powers of admiration as few others drawn on the canvas of history, because you will get a vision of moral agitation on a vast scale, of the appeal to war, not for the love of contest but as the last and only arbiter, and of the fraternity which did not disappear even amid bloodshed and the shock of battle, but persisted to the end and made possible the quick reconciliation which took place when the decision was reached. [Applause.]

Among the prominent figures on the scene stands, or rather works, the man in whose honor we are here. [Applause.] Throughout the period of agitation, paralleled in our annals only by that from 1766 to 1776, his weapons are those of the reason. Born on the banks of the Rhine, he is for that very circumstance a better American than many born on the banks of the Hudson, because he has enjoyed a long perspective of history, and sees events in their just proportion. To him the coming conflict is to determine the fate not only of his dear adopted country but of humanity.

His double citizenship makes him thrice armed, and, sweeping aside all accidents and incidents, he goes straight to the true issue. Gifted with youth, with education, and with insight he cares little, or not at all, for the epithets hurled upon him by bitter foes, and fights right on with his merciless logic and cutting speech. He is, indeed, a troublesome fellow. Quite possibly men said as much eighteen centuries earlier of a certain angel: you will recall that before even the pool of Bethesda could do its healing work, the waters were profoundly troubled by a great reformer sent from God.

But Mr. Schurz's role was far more important than that of overthrowing evil, great as that function is, for he was already a constructive statesman. He saw, as but very few others saw clearly, that there could be no war for the Union without a war against slavery. Humane he was and philanthropic, a lover of his kind even when their skins were black, and for this reason he sought the emancipation of the slaves: that they might enter into some enjoyment, however limited, of their hitherto despised manhood. But his vision went further, his insight deeper; he knew and said that as an institution slavery could never keep fellowship with democracy, not even with aristocracy, in the true meaning of the word; its only companion piece in the State must be oligarchy, with all the tyranny that term implies, and the consequent division and jangling which must follow. The black man must have his rights, that the white may keep his; that was his cry, and in a high sense it was his own, because he said it better and louder, and more convincingly, than the rest of his fellows. [Applause.]

Again, you will see how bold the man was, even then scorning expediency, laughing at the fetich of manifest destiny, that watchword of those who shirk responsibility and of the self-seeking. There is a moral courage which resides in men whose physical courage is but small. Our guest, however, had both in the highest degree, like the other great protagonists of the anti-slavery struggle. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, who was proud of the glorious inconsistency that he was also a Garrisonian abolishionistabolitionist, would that I could recall for you the horrors of that sad time. To champion the slave meant social ostracism, to be pointed at with the finger, to be pelted with opprobrious epithets, to be a victim of riot and murder. These are no imaginings, for with many others in this room, my ears have heard, my eyes have seen, my heart has been wrung, mere boy as I was at the time. Without the scene thus clear before your imagination, you cannot know the courage, moral and physical, of the man, who, on platform and stump, told the truth and the whole truth as Carl Schurz did to men who did not want to hear it; of his fine career amid the din of arms, another will speak far better than I could, but it was no finer than that in the forum. [Applause.]

Finally, it is much for us that we have the evidence for what we say, both from the lips of men here present, and from the pens of those who have joined the majority. But, even without it, no discriminating man can read Schurz's Lincoln or Clay, without conviction. Thackeray said of Washington, that his words were not idle as ours are but grave and strong, ready on occasion to do their duty. This quality of language is always the mark of the thinker, who is the same, I take it, as the reformer, of the statesman and of the man of action. In closing, therefore, I call to mind that in the interpretation of Clay and Lincoln, which Schurz has given us as an abiding possession, those Titans of the slavery struggle have spoken to posterity in all the strength of their own qualities, by the words of the one who was fit to delineate their character by reason of his own. [Applause.]

There is a familiar proverb, that "Whom the gods love die young." That saying is not always rightly understood. What it means is, that those whom the gods love stay young until they die. In that sense, how well it applies to our distinguished guest. [Applause.]