Most dramatic orator in the American antislavery movement

The Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society announced that on October 21, 1835 George Thompson would be speaking at their annual meeting, Anti-Slavery Hall, 46 Washington Street. Pro-slavery goons posted some 500 notices around Boston saying, "A purse of $100 has been raised by a number of patriotic citizens to reward the individual who shall first lay violent hands on Thompson, so that he may be brought to the tar kettle before dark." After Garrison appeared at the hall, a lynch mob gathered, and he escaped through a back window and hid in a carpenter's shop on Wilson's Lane. The mob found him, threw a noose around his neck and dragged him away. Fortunately, several big men intervened and took him to the Leverett Street Jail, about a mile away, where he might be safe.

One who witnessed this attempted lynching was 24-year-old Wendell Phillips, watching from his law office on Court Street. His father John Phillips had been a prosecutor, State Senator, Member of the House of Representatives, judge in the Court of Common Pleas and Mayor of Boston. Phillips' mother Sally Walley was the daughter of a Boston merchant. Wendell Phillips grew up in the family mansion at Beacon and Walnut streets, and reportedly his oratorical career began at age 5 when he began giving speeches about the Bible to his family. He attended Boston Latin School, Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Phillips' professor of rhetoric and oratory, Edward T. Channing, criticized the fashionable flowery style, used by speakers like Daniel Webster, and urged the value of plain talk. Phillips took it to heart.

According to biographer Ralph Korngold, he was "six feet tall, deep-chested, broad-shouldered and with a soldierly bearing. His complexion was ruddy. His reddish-brown hair waved back from a high, domed forehead. His gray-blue eyes, small and piercing, had a kindly twinkle. His aquiline nose gave force and dignity to his countenance. His well-formed lips, which he was in the habit of compressing, and his firm rounded chin spoke of resolution."A college friend, one Dr. Buckingham, described him as "the most beautiful person I had ever seen, handsome, indeed, in form and feature...a young Apollo."

Watching the mob attack Garrison, he recalled later, "I did not understand anti-slavery then; that is I did not understand the country in which I lived. My eyes were sealed, so that, although I knew the Adamses and Otises of 1776, and the Mary Dyers and Ann Hutchinsons of older times, I could not recognize the Adamses and Otises, the Dyers and Hutchinsons, whom I met in the street of '35."

Phillips horrified his family when he joined the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. "My good, noble, dear mother, we differed utterly on the matter of slavery," he remarked. There were efforts to have him confined to a lunatic sanitarium.

A tragic event in Alton, Illinois propelled him to the front ranks of the abolitionist movement. Elijah P. Lovejoy, a Presbyterian minister from Maine, had moved to St. Louis where he edited a religious newspaper. He saw Garrison give a speech, and it convinced him to abandon his gradualist views and support immediate emancipation. After he condemned the lynching of a black man, a pro-slavery mob broke into his offices, destroyed his printing press and nearly tarred and feathered him. He moved about 30 miles north to Alton, Illinois where he ordered a new printing press. But as the boat arrived with it, a pro-slavery mob seized it and threw it into the Mississippi. Lovejoy ordered two more printing presses, and they too were thrown into the river. Lovejoy's house was pelted with stones almost every night. On November 7, 1837, local people learned that a fourth printing press had been delivered to Lovejoy's house. They broke in, destroyed it and shot him five times.

News of his murder outraged people in Boston. There were petitions to hold a meeting at Fanueil Hall which could accommodate about 5,000 people. It had been given to the city in 1742 by Peter Faneuil, a merchant who had prospered in the slave trade, as a forum for discussing issues of the day. It had become known as the "Cradle of Liberty" because during the American Revolution, Sam Adams, John Hancock and James Otis had given speeches there. City officials denied the petitions, arousing influential people like William Ellery Channing who pleaded: "Are our fellow citizens to be murdered in the act of defending their property and of asserting the right of free discussion; and is it unsafe in the metropolis, once the refuge of liberty, to express abhorrence of the deed?"

The Fanueil Hall meeting was held. Channing spoke, and motions were presented to uphold freedom of speech and freedom of the press -- there wasn't any reference to slavery. Then Massachusetts Attorney General James Trecothick Austin denounced Lovejoy as "presumptuous and impudent." Austin was cheered when he compared the murderers to heroes of the American Revolution, and then he stalked out of the hall.

Phillips climbed onto the speaker's platform. His commanding presence silenced the crowd. He ridiculed Austin's efforts to associate the mob with Revolutionary heroes. He attacked "the tyranny of this many-headed monster, the mob, where we know not what we may do or say, till some fellow-citizen has tried it, and paid for the lesson with his life...[the mob] deprives not only the individual and the minority of their rights, but the majority also, since the expression of their opinion may sometimes provoke disturbance from the minority...Presumptuous to assert the freedom of the press on American ground? Who invents this libel on his country? It is this the very thing which entitles Lovejoy to greater praise." Phillips was greeted with tumultuous applause. Linking emancipation with freedom of speech and freedom of the press proved a breakthrough.

Garrison gained his most important associate, and the abolitionist movement gained its greatest orator. Reviewing the texts of his antislavery speeches, Korngold noted that "Ninety per cent of the words he uses are two syllables or less. His average sentence is composed of twenty-three words and conveys the thought it was meant to convey as unmistakably as a rifleshot."

Similar links on this topic:

See the text of Phillips' speech on the murder of Lovejoy.

Additional articles:

Wall Street Journal calls The Triumph of Liberty -
"a literary achievement"

Voices for liberty in the ancient world
The first yearnings to be free were expressed in Greek epics, tragedies and comedies

The man who helped finance the American Revolution
During desperate years, merchant Robert Morris came through with money and munitions so that George Washington could win

Ancient Roman contributions to private property rights
The Romans replaced tribal property with private property and worked out the details about how ownership should be proven and transferred.

How toleration developed in modern Europe and America
Courageous individuals defied the terrors of the Inquisition and denounced religious wars.

The story of Magna Carta
King John's wars and taxes stirred England's barons to protect their interests by rebelling against him, and they set an enormously important precedent for liberty which benefited everyone.

The best of H.L. Mencken, witty American defender of liberty
This prolific newspaperman and literary critic still entertains and enlightens us today.

How private enterprise created modern Japan
The government's railroads, shipping, silk-reeling and other ventures all lost money. Private entrepreneurs achieved wonders.

Runaway slaves!
Far from being contented and docile, American slaves dreamed of liberty, and thousands rebelled or ran away. Inspiring resistance to oppression.

The strange battle for the U.S. Bill of Rights
Those who initially wanted it ended up voting against it, and those who never wanted it made it happen

Why has liberty thrived in the West?
This is where enough people stuck out their necks for liberty.

"Honor is a harder master than the law"
At 58 and in ailing health, Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) was plunged $94,000 in debt by business failures. True to his word, he repaid everybody.

Liberty as a woman
Throughout history, liberty has been depicted as a woman on coins, in engravings, paintings, statues and more. Here are illustrations from ancient Rome, France and America.

Private initiative spurred vital discoveries throughout history
Language, geography, science and other essentials of civilization were diffused around the globe by private initiative.Political liberty impossible without economic liberty
The life and times of F.A. Hayek. The New Yorker called the twentieth century "the Hayek century."

Political liberty impossible without economic liberty
The life and times of F.A. Hayek. The New Yorker called the twentieth century "the Hayek century."

Thomas Jefferson in perspective
How can friends of liberty still defend him after the relentless attacks of historians and biographers during the last quarter century?

How markets nurtured our civilization
Many people seem to imagine that markets and commerce are only about money, yet they made civilization possible. They brought people into contact with new ideas and things. Civilization has flourished where commerce has flourished.

Most dramatic orator in the American antislavery movement
Although Wendell Phillips isn't as well known today as William Lloyd Garrison, the pioneering journalist for abolishing slavery, or Frederick Douglass who provided the most compelling testimony, Phillips was more effective than anyone else stirring crowds against slavery.

Socialism's greatest enemy
How this great Austrian economist recognized the fatal flaws of a government-run economy 7 decades before the collapse of the Soviet Union made it obvious to all that he was right.

They created the first modern agenda for liberty
Dubbed the "Levellers" by their adversaries, these mid-17th century English rebels championed private property, religious toleration, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free trade, a rule of law, a separation of powers, a written constitution, and they opposed military conscription.

William S. Gilbert's wicked wit for liberty
Most quotable lines by the dramatist whose comic operas, created with composer Arthur Sullivan, are still going strong after more than a century (reportedly performed more than the work of any other songwriting team except the Beatles). Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken enjoyed Gilbert's barbs at bureaucrats and politicians.

Further Links:

Great Thinkers
Dynamic Connections
Epic Debates
Things to See
Best from Web
About Jim Powell
Q&A with Jim Powell
Powell at Cato video
Discussion Board

Other Links and Categories:

Coming soon.
© Copyright libertystory.net. All Rights Reserved.