The GOSPEL TRUTH
THEODORE WELD: CRUSADER FOR FREEDOM
BENJAMIN P. THOMAS
ONCE MORE IN ANTISLAVERT HARNESS
The cloistered life at Eagleswood was not altogether unruffled by the turbulence that rocked the country in the fifties. All of Weld's distinguished visitors at Eagleswood were aggressively antislavery, and some of them, like Greeley and Bryant, occupied strategic posts of leadership in Republican inner circles. Gerrit Smith came up to visit Weld while serving a term in Congress, and could enlighten him on events and tendencies in Washington. Garrison, withdrawn from politics but apperceptive as a weathervane, sometimes came to Eagleswood from Boston. Augustus Wattles, Weld's friend of the crusading days, was now an editor of the Herald of Freedom at Lawrence, Kansas, and his wife Susan was in constant correspondence with Sarah Grimké
With the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 and the subsequent outbreak of bushwhacking in Kansas, the disorders and afflictions of that far-off territory were a source of conversation and concern at Eagleswood. Sarah was now convinced that "the lurid torch of slavery" could only be quenched in blood, and she hoped the end would come quickly before too many lives were lost. She still believed the slave would have his freedom in her lifetime, but the festerings of racial hate would take generations to heal.
As more blood was spilled in Kansas, the Eagleswood household worried for fear Wattles might meet foul play. They rejoiced when he assured them he was safe, had never thought it needful to carry arms, and was doing all in his power to compose the vengeful spirit on both sides. Perth Amboy organized to collect a Kansas fund, but the chairman was so dilatory that Weld lost patience and proposed at one of the Sunday meetings that the children be sent out to solicit. Little twelve-year-old Sarah Weld and her friends not only canvassed the community but also knitted, sewed, and pasted to make knickknacks to be sold for the benefit of free-soil emigrants to Kansas.
With the Dred Scott Decision in 1857 it seemed that the battle was lost; slavery was now entitled to protection in the Territories like any other form of property. Sarah Grimké concluded that nothing less than a slave market in the city of Boston would rouse the Northern populace to a realization of its cowardice. She rejoiced in the Supreme Court's decision, she wrote to Susan Wattles, and she would rejoice to see Kansas come into the Union as a slave state. "Rejoice," she affirmed in bitter submission, "because I believe the more heavily the North is ironed with the chains of slavery, the sooner she will shake off the bonds & rise up in the majesty of Freedom. The question is now assuming the dread importance that belongs to it. It has brought a sword into our country & it cannot be sheathed until Liberty waves her banner over the Free States. It seems to me that it must end in disunion."
Weld was engrossed with the problems of his school all through these years and apparently wrote few letters, so we have no record of his opinions; but Sarah's views were not dissimilar to Garrison's. To be sure, she did not preach disunion as he did, but she saw no hope for peace except in separation. The North had no right to coerce the slave states. They, in their turn, could not "compel us to sustain an institution so abhorrent to the genius of the age." The South had sealed itself in medieval obscurantism and refused to face the realities of modern thought.
In March, 1860, Eagleswood was jolted out of its routine when two corpses in pine boxes were brought up from Virginia to be interred. They were the bodies of two of John Brown's men, executed at Charlestown for complicity in Brown's attempt to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and instigate a slave revolt. Weld had never met John Brown, though he saw him once in Boston; but Weld's friend Gerrit Smith was so intimately involved with the venerable zealot that fear of being implicated in his harebrained escapade drove Smith transiently insane. And Mrs. Marcus Spring, who had frequently corresponded with John Brown from Eagleswood, had such compassion for the old man and his courageous if foolhardy band that she went to Charlestown to minister to the wounded men in their prison; and on the eve of their execution she offered Aaron D. Stevens, who took six bullet wounds at Harpers Ferry, and Albert Hazlett a place of honorable burial at Eagleswood.
It was an anxious time at Eagleswood as Brown awaited his fate. Angelina took to her bed. Sarah called the misguided patriarch the John Huss of the United States. Here was a man prepared to write his antislavery testament in his life's blood, and she could not put him from her, even in her dreams. "Last night," she wrote to Sarah Douglass, her Philadelphia Negro friend, "I went in spirit to the martyr. It was a privilege to enter into sympathy with him; to go down, according to my measure into the depths where he has travailed, and feel his past exercises, his present sublime position."
When proslavery sympathizers in Perth Amboy made loud threats to throw the bodies of Stevens and Hazlett overboard when they were unloaded at the wharf, the Eagleswood community girded for a fight. Peace was restored at Eagleswood; but over the country the war drums resounded ever louder as both North and South prepared for a showdown at arms.
Perhaps it was avoidable, as some historians insist--who can be sure? In any event, there is one lesson to be learned: namely, that when a controversy becomes a moral issue wherein opponents each see right and justice as altogether on their side, then there is no further hope of compromise. As long as slavery could be dealt with as a constitutional, an economic, or a political issue, there was always room for give and take. But as the North was won to the abolition view of slavery as a sin, its resolve became more stubborn and more grim; for with sin one must not compromise. On the other hand, as more and more persons in the South were willing to believe that slavery and the Southern way of life were a positive good for all concerned, and that those who would disturb these things were evil bigots, then the South likewise became inflexible. With no further possibility of compromise, war came.
Weld must have exulted that Oberlin, still fecund with the antislavery seed that he had planted, was in it early with a company--the Monroe Rifles, assigned to the 7th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Other Oberlin recruits would join other companies and regiments later, and Oberlin blood would wet the battlefields of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and Lookout Mountain. Out of 151 enrolled at Oberlin, thirty-three would die, sixty-eight would suffer wounds, and forty would be taken prisoner. The Monroe Rifles were the only company in their regiment to report not a single deserter. Oberlin College and communitv also furnished twenty-one men for the first Northern colored regiment, the 54th Massachusetts.
We should like to know the full war record of the abolitionists, but such a study is beyond our scope. Among the old-line abolitionists whose names have appeared in these pages, however, the following had sons, grandsons, or sons-in-law in Union service: Arthur and Lewis Tappan, Gerrit Smith, Joshua Leavitt, John Rankin, Samuel J. May, Simeon S. Jocelyn, Charles Follen, Joshua R. Giddings, and William Slade. Two of James G. Birney's sons rose to the rank of major general, two others, a captain and a colonel respectively, died of wounds and disease, and a grandson was a captain of cavalry. Harriet Beecher Stowe's son Fred left Harvard to enlist and suffered a head wound at Gettysburg that impaired his reason. When Henry Ward Beecher's son asked his father if he could join the army, the bellicose preacher said he would disown him if he did not. A number of abolitionists became officers of colored regiments, positions of uncommon danger inasmuch as the Confederate government decreed that white officers of colored regiments who were captured should suffer death.
With the relatives and offspring of his former fellow workers flocking to the colors, Weld was pained that his own son, Charles Stuart, now a student at Harvard, was a conscientious objector, resolved not to enlist himself nor to hire a substitute if drafted. The father could do no more than reason with him, and Charles rode out the war in safety. But Weld, now in his fifty-eighth year, resolved to do something if he could. Levi Coffin, "president" of the Underground Railroad, and James M. McKim, corresponding secretary of the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society, found places in the Freedmen's Bureau, and this would seem to have been a situation well suited to Weld by reason of his former work and intimacy with Negroes. More appealing to him, however, was hospital or health work, and in the summer of 1861 he wrote to his friend Henry W. Bellows, who was working to organize the United States Sanitary Commission, in the hope of obtaining a place as an inspector. Soon after the receipt of Weld's letter, Mrs. Bellows expIained that her husband "did go to Washington & felt round for a handle for you; but it turns out that in the Inspection of Camps with reference to matters of Health, that the officers are very jealous of any but strictly Medical advice & in this way some of the most useful & energetic men have found they could not work to any advantage."
Several of Weld's friends urged him again to take up public speaking; a man of his oratorical ability could help inspirit the Northern people to a greater effort and turn the people's minds to the necessitw of making the war a crusade against slavery. Sarah Grimké prayed "that some good spirit may send Theodore again into the field to plead for the poor & the dumb." She and Angelina were busy circulating antislavery petitions, and Angelina wrote "A Declaration of War on Slavery." Like many other abolitionists, even while they deplored the horrible bloodletting, they did not want the war to end too soon. The Lincoln administration seemed reluctant to touch slavery except as a last recourse, and a quick end might leave it intact. Like the sisters, Weld found the war reverses hard to bear, "but without them slavery will never fall," he wrote. "So every reverse is a victory."
Much as he would like to help, Weld hesitated to return to public speaking. He was all too mindful of his former trouble with his throat, and he feared that the accumulated rust of seventeen years might have deadened the old fire. As for his school, he was quite ready to give it up, for the war had posed burdensome financial problems and he had scant resources to tide him over. But a complicating problem was his younger son, almost an invalid from birth, who needed constant care.
It was Garrison who finally brought Weld to the firing line again, shortly after Lincoln issued his preliminary edict of emancipation in September, 1862--Garrison the former pacifist, disunionist, non-voter, and "no-government" man, now a staunch if critical supporter of Lincoln's administration. For the war brought new alignments in the abolition ranks. Most voting abolitionists had been in the Republican Party almost since its inception; they now made up its radical wing, seeking to control it and to make the issue of the war the extirpation of slavery as opposed to Lincoln's design to save the Union with or without slavery.
Contending with Garrison for leadership of the abolition extremists was Wendell Phillips, who denounced the Lincoln administration unsparingly and saw no good in anything it did. Garrison, however, gave the President the benefit of the doubt, and sought to persuade his followers to cooperate with him. Postponing the annual meeting of the American Antislavery Society in May, 1861, Garrison called for patience, pleading that "nothing be done, at this solemn crisis, needlessly to check or divert the mighty current of popular feeling which is now sweeping southward with the strength and impetuosity of a thousand Niagaras." And to his coworker Oliver Johnson he wrote that what was needed now was Northern unity. "We need great circumspection and consummate wisdom in regard to what we say and do, under these unparalleled circumstances. We are rather, for the time being, to note the events transpiring, than seek to control them. There must be no needless turning of popular violence upon ourselves, by any false step of our own."
Garrison was still a man of peace, but with war upon the nation he was for seeing it through, even though his toleration of arms-bearing required some rationalization. Yet, as the months passed and Lincoln made no move for freedom, he could not be altogether mute. When, in September, 1861, Lincoln rescinded General Fremont's proclamation of emancipation within his military district, Garrison printed Lincoln's order between heavy black lines and declared the President guilty of "a serious dereliction of duty." When, in December, 1861, Lincoln's annual message to Congress proposed as a palliative to border-state Unionists that Congress consider colonization as a means of disposing of the Negroes who were flocking to Northern camps, Garrison wrote to Johnson: "He has evidently not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins; and he seems incapable of uttering a human or generous sentiment respecting the enslaved millions in our land." Still Garrison's strictures were no harsher than those of Gerrit Smith, who, while adhering to the Republican Party, lost no opportunity to call attention to the administration's shortcomings, describing parts of Lincoln's annual message as "twaddle and trash," denouncing Lincoln's "worship" of the Constitution and his efforts to act within its bounds, and declaring the Constitution to be no more a proper guide for the conduct of a war than some old almanac.
With the assembling of Congress in December, 1861, Garrison drew up a memorial that was extensively circulated and signed by the abolition brotherhood, appealing for use of the war power for the immediate and unconditional emancipation of the slaves of secessionist masters, and, "while not recognizing the right of property in man," allowing compensation to loyal masters. It was a long stride for Garrison to favor compensation, and to seek to restrain men like Phillips and Stephen Foster when they tried to commit the abolitionists to a resolution to refuse the government all support and to "heap upon it that obloquy which naturalIy attaches to all who are guilty of the crime of enslaving their fellow men." And since Garrison was anxious to have Weld lift his voice again, we may judge that the two men's thinking was along closely parallel lines.
Even while he fulminated, Garrison conceded that Lincoln could not act decisively until unity of sentiment was achieved. "I am willing to believe," he said, "that something of this feeling weighs in the mind of the President and the Cabinet, and that there is some ground for hesitancy, as a mere matter of political expediency." But he thought Lincoln should do his duty, come what might, and if others betrayed him, let the blame be theirs.
By a happy coincidence--for Garrison had no foreknowledge of Lincoln's purpose--the same day that Lincoln proclaimed preliminary emancipation, on September 22, 1862, the Liberator declared that every obstacle to constitutional emancipation had been removed and the government, to be true to itself, must be for liberty; and that such a government was worthy of the support of every abolitionist, whether in a moral or military point of view. Not long afterward Garrison's eldest son accepted a second lieutenancy in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, the second colored regiment to be organized, and his formerly pacifist father did not try to hold him back.
It was ten days after Lincoln warned the South of his intention to free their slaves that Garrison wrote to Weld, inviting him to speak in Music Hall in Boston, the former rostrum of Theodore Parker, and to be his guest during his visit. Weld took four days to decide: he feared his voice might fail in such a large hall; and he was so out of practice that he dared not speak extemporaneously. If he accepted, he must read his speech, and "keep my finger on the line!" It would be like doing something entirely new and not a little distasteful. But at last he decided to accept. "The responsibility of saying something about these teeming times presses me," he wrote, "and I shall not be indolent." If the Music Hall experiment was successful, Weld would accept other speaking appointments throughout the state of Massachusetts. The Welds planned to close their school on November 6. The ailing younger son was sent to a sanitarium in upper New York State. "If Theodore finds that he can use his voice as a lecturer," Sarah informed a friend, "& any field of usefulness opens for him Nina & myself will joyfully & gratefully resign him. The slave! The slave! is holding out his wounds & his chains & pleading in dumb eloquence that he may be rescued ....Who then that has an offering to lay upon the altar of liberty will not rejoice to place it there? We surely will. The people need Truth more than armies. We are dying by inches a coward's death, because we will obstinately & impiously reject the means of our redemption. But it is well. I see in disaster and defeat, in Lincoln & McClennan [sic}, the ministers of Jehovah to afflict & to humble. Had we by our own right arm conquered the South & marched with rapid strides to victory & flaunted our stars & stripes over the revolted states, we should if possible have been more inflated with pride than we were before the rebellion. But our faltering government, our traitor generals, are leading us by slow steps along the painful path of repentance .... I am frequently asked Are you not weary of this war? Weary, no! I trust weariness & discontent will not come until I see some signs of repentance in the nation .... People think the elections are going wrong, I am sure they are going right, going so as to answer the purposes of God. This contest is world wide in its bearings. Humanity is its watchword .... The duty of every government is to combat false ideas & to direct the public mind to the contemplation of Truth by placing itself boldly in the van in the great conflict with error. Ours has failed to do so."
Weld's speech was set for Sunday morning, November 9, 1862, and it so happened that a raging storm kept many persons from attending. Still Music Hall was fairly well filled, and Weld spoke for an hour and twenty minutes without discomfort. He had chosen a fighting theme--"The Conspirators--their False Issues and Lying Pretences"--and the National Antislavery Standard reported that he was heard without difficulty in all parts of the hall as he gave "a masterly refutation of the Calhoun doctrine of State rights, and an eloquent vindication of the supremacy and sovereignty of the Federal government; closing with a scathing satire of the secession appeal to the Declaration of Independence for justification and defence."
Emboldened and encouraged by his success, Weld planned an extensive speaking tour. On the way home to prepare for it, he spoke at Lynn, Massachusetts, and Orange, New Jersey. On November 22 he was back at the Music Hall for another Sunday service, and from there his route led west to Feltonville, Fitchburg, Leominster, and Worcester, then to the Cape Cod region, where he spoke at Manchester.
At Essex, where he spoke before the Essex County Antislavery Society, he fell in with Parker Pillsbury, a bearded, brown, broadshouldered veteran of the early days, and the two men worked together through Danvers, Abington, Plymouth, Milford, and South Reading. For the most part they spoke in churches, and to sympathetic audiences. It was not like the old days that they both so well remembered when an antislavery lecturer risked his life. There were no stones or brickbats, no spitballs or tobacco quids, and nothing at all similar to an experience that Pillsbury had once had with Stephen Foster when the two men came out of a meetinghouse to discover that the upholstery of their buggy, the whip, the reins, and even their valises had been daubed with a pungent unguent furnished by a gluttonous grass-fed cow.
Weld alternated between his speech on "The Conspirators--their False Issues and Lying Pretences" and his old discourse on "Truth's Hindrances," which he had refurbished to fit the issues of the times. Both speeches were read, and the antislavery press noted that his appeal was more to the intellect than to the emotions. Still the old magnetism was not lacking, and his years in educational work had increased rather than diminished his persuasive powers. "Mr. Weld's speech and manner are in the highest degree impressive," the Liberator observed. "Both his thought and style evince high culture, yet refinement has not taught him to discard energy of expression, nor the most thorough plainness of speech. He is able to interest and instruct any audience, whether in city or country, and though his discourse is read, it receives such aid from voice, countenance and gesture as to produce the effect of an animated extemporaneous speech.
Angelina was overjoyed at Weld's success. "He is doing the very thing my heart wants him to do," she wrote to Gerrit Smith. "Now is the accepted time and the day of Salvation from Slavery." What a day of Jubilee there would be on January 1, 1863, if Lincoln did not lose heart and fail to issue the definitive edict of emancipation as he had promised! She waited in fear and trembling lest the President falter and prayed for him to stand firm and for the nation and the army to sustain him. "You see how warlike I have become," she said. "O, yes--war is better than Slavery."
As Weld worked his way through eastern Massachusetts, then turned south to give two speeches at Providence, Rhode Island, things did not go well with the Union cause. The Army of the Potomac failed to follow up its victory at Antietam, and early in December suffered a staggering defeat at Fredericksburg. The Republicans received a serious setback in the fall congressional elections. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and even the President's home state of Illinois, all of which had gone for Lincoln in 1860, now returned Democratic majorities to Congress. Weld's own state of New Jersey went Democratic, and Wisconsin's delegation was evenly divided. The Democrats made impressive gains in several Northern state legislatures. Not a little of the blame for these reverses was heaped upon the abolitionists because of the antislavery pressure they exerted upon Lincoln. But other factors were the military deadlock, new calls for troops, the threat of a wholesale draft, and arbitrary arrests of some of the more noisy and dangerous dissentients. It was a crucial period, and the Union party could not endure many more severe reverses.
The election in New Hampshire, scheduled for March 10, 1863, promised to be close. The Democrats had nominated Ira Eastman for governor, together with a strong slate of congressional candidates. The Republicans had nominated Joseph H. Gilmore, superintendent of the Concord Railroad, an able businessman with political ambitions but few personal attractions. Quite a number of persons left the nominating convention with the idea of supporting some other candidate, and since the War Democrats were also displeased with Eastman because he opposed the Emancipation Proclamation, a third candidate was put forward in the person of Walter Harriman.
In this contingency Weld wrote to James M. McKim that "the friends of the slave & the govt." were urgent that he should visit New Hampshire to do what he could to promote the Republican cause. When Weld was seeking antislavery agents in New England in 1836 he had found no more friendly spirit than Dr. Nathan Lord, president of Dartmouth College at Hanover, New Hampshire. Since then, however, Lord had become convinced that slavery was sanctioned by the Bible, and he was now among the bitterest critics of the abolitionists. Lately he had written "A True Picture of Abolition," which appeared first in the Boston Courier and was then circulated widely in New Hampshire to aid the Democrats. "No marvel," observed the Liberator of Lord's proslavery activities, "that New Hampshire was so long the pliant tool and active accomplice of the Southern band of men-stealers and cradle-plunderers; nor is it surprising that she is with difficulty kept from virtual rebellion at this awful crisis in the life of the nation, through the prevalence of a most venomous 'copperhead' spirit in all her towns and villages.''
The crisis in New Hampshire was the sort of challenge Weld would have welcomed in his younger days, and he did not shrink from it now. Mid-January found him in the thick of the political campaign, traveling in the dead of winter, speaking once and sometimes twice a day, visiting Concord, Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth, and many smaller places. For three weeks he stumped the state, adding to his previous repertoire a lecture on "The Issues of the Times," and pressing his campaign on Dr. Lord's home grounds with a speech in the Dartmouth College chapel on February 14. "President Lord will, I learn, fight shy of my meeting," he wrote to James M. McKim.
How much he influenced the outcome of the election it is impossible to say. Eastman, the Democrat, polled 32,833 votes; Gilmore, the Republican, 29,035; and Harriman, the candidate of the War Democrats and the disgruntled Republicans, received 4,372, enough to prevent Eastman's having a majority and to throw the election into the legislature. Here the Republicans had a clear majority, and they elected Gilmore with 192 votes to Eastman's 133 and Harriman's one. The congressional races were extremely close, but the Republicans captured two of the three seats.
Weld's last New Hampshire speech was scheduled for February 28, and he informed Angelina that he would be home four days later. She was relieved to learn that he was well and that he had been speaking to crowded meetings. "Really I think it must be delightful for you to experience this kind of resurrection," she wrote, "and to feel that you are beginning once again to feel among the heart strings of the people as you did twenty years ago." Weld had told her he would be home only two days, and would then start for the West. Two days seemed very short, she said, but she would be thankful for the least favor now that he was in the field again. She hoped he could keep on till peace was won. She trusted some day to hear him speak in Charleston, "for after the war is over, I believe many true souls will hunger & thirst after the truth which has been so long withheld from them, & I pray God that you dearest, may one day have a mission in my native state & my birth city."
After two days' rest at home Weld was on his way again, speaking at Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on March 7, and then in Spring Garden Hall in Philadelphia on the eighth and ninth. The antislavery Unitarian clergyman William Furness wrote to Garrison that he sat entranced while Weld talked for two hours, marveling the while at "his intimate knowledge of the whole letter and spirit of the Pro Slavery iniquity." The man's words were like music. They must contrive to make him better known. For if they could bring him to the fore, "our Union Leagues, even with Edward Everetts at the head of them, will listen with delight to such men as Theodore D. Weld."
Weld made a one-day stop at Cleveland, then spoke five times in four days at Oberlin, where the News, announcing his arrival, declared that such an announcement, made twenty years ago, would have brought out every man, woman, and child in the town. The editor missed the extempore bursts of eloquence that so thrilled Weld's audiences in the old days, but there was "the same profound perception of his subject, the close thought, the masterIy marshallings of argument, and the marvellous sweep of language." To the older people Weld's visit was a sort of "Auld Lang Syne." Their cause had now become the nation's; "their harvest, God be praised, is ripening."
But eighteen weeks of steady speaking were beginning to take their toll from Weld. He wrote to his son that the incessant talking and the excitement of renewing acquaintance with old friends had quite used up his throat, and he was obliged to cancel a lecture engagement in Cleveland. After four days' rest, however, he spoke in Cleveland's First Congregational Church, where his friend and Lane classmate, James A. Thome, was pastor. Then he was off on a swing through upstate New York, with lectures at Rochester, Syracuse, and Cazenovia, and finally a visit at Peterboro with the Gerrit Smiths. Then came a sojourn with his invalid son at Pompey Hills, New York, and at last, in early April, he was home again. "You will be glad to know," he wrote to Garrison, "that my throat did me good service during my Western tour tho constantly hoarse as it probably always will be. Yet it failed me entirely but once, when I was forced to recall some appointments. A week of silence came to the rescue and brought my voice back again."
On May 12, Weld yielded to Garrison's entreaties to attend the annual meeting of the American Antislavery Society in New York City, much as he still loathed the trappings and vacuity of conventions. At the first session at the Church of the Puritans he sat on the platform with Garrison, Wendell Phillips, the Negro orator Frederick Douglass, Samuel May, and other veterans of the antislavery movement, and even consented to speak, holding forth for three-quarters of an hour on the political life of John C. Calhoun, whom he compared to Robespierre as a man whose high ideals and noble principles were rotted and subverted when he allowed himself to become the oracle of a system having its philosophical base in arbitrary power.
As the elections of 1863 approached, Weld received a letter from his former mentor, Professor John Morgan, telling how much he had enjoyed Weld's Oberlin visit and entreating him to come once more to Ohio, where the arrest and banishment to the Confederacy of the incendiary Clement L. Vallandigham had put the Democrats in such high fever that in a spontaneous outburst of resentment they had nominated the disloyal Vallandigham for governor. Another stunning Northern defeat at Chancellorsville brought encouragement to Peace Democrats and Southern sympathizers; and all over Ohio, but especially in the southern counties, the Copperheads were rampant, with violence breaking out in several places.
It was a time of dangerous tension, and Morgan pleaded with Weld to lend a hand. Was his voice all right? he asked. And if so, would he not renew his old battle on the old battleground by stumping the state in the ensuing campaign? "Perhaps among our copperheads there might be danger enough to renew the old sensations," he challenged. "I am sure it would be most interesting to blow the anti-slavery trumpet where you first waked the echoes with it near thirty years ago. It is apparent you left something to be done in southern Ohio. Is the trumpet cracked or ready for new blasts?"
But Weld was pretty well used up. He made a few more speeches near Philadelphia and in New York City, but they were before small audiences where his voice was not unduly taxed.
The Welds and Sarah Grimké moved to West Newton, Massachusetts, in the autumn of 1863; and in March, 1864, they moved again, to Fairmount. From Charleston, South Carolina, they had been receiving arrogant letters from Angelina and Sarah's sisters, Mary and Eliza, who, rebels to the core, boasted that they were safe and happy. But their tone changed as the blockade tightened, and they did not refuse the articles their Northern sisters managed to forward to them through the strangling ring of Northern ships. Their slaves deserted them, their money declined in value, and with the coming of Sherman's army they lived on little more than hominy and water for several weeks. Still they professed their willingness to die for slavery and the Southern cause, and Sarah mourned that thousands like them were worshipfag a false god of their own creation. As soon as hostilities were over, Angelina and Sarah sent money to their sisters and invited them to come North and share their home.
Weld seems to have taken no part in the presidential election of 1864; he was apparently played out. But he and the sisters rejoiced at Lincoln's reelection, not so much, it seems, from admiration of the man as at the triumph of the forces of freedom. Sarah wrote: "That she [the country] has had the courage & the strength to place Lincoln at the head of her government augurs well for the future. True he has not come to the rescue of the negro with a heart full of sympathy for him, with that deep sense of justice, which would enable him to see that Human Rights belong equally to the black & the white .... This divine unction of love Lincoln lacks toward the negro, but when we compare him with his corrupt, traitorous & hypocritical predecessor we may well thank God & take courage, hoping that four more years of agony may give birth to a Ruler, as much above Lincoln as he transcends Buchanan."
At long last came victory, and on April 14, 1865, a joyful ceremony was enacted in Charleston, South Carolina, as the Stars and Stripes were raised again at Fort Sumter. Garrison was an invited guest of the government and a lion of the occasion. But Weld was not among the speakers in Angelina's native city, as she had hoped he would one day be. As might have been expected, he preferred to celebrate under less spectacular auspices, and in August he set out for the commencement exercises at Oberlin. The old antislavery stronghold was in high fettle as tidal currents of alumni surged up and down the college walks, eddied into the bookstores and around the corners, stopping to shake hands with old acquaintances and recall the combats and contentions of the crusading days. "Even the least discerning could see that 1865 put a period to an epoch in the history of the nation and of Oberlin," reported the Lorain County News. "The aging Theodore Weld returned to join in the reunion of the Lane Rebels and, under the auspices of the men's literary societies to deliver a 'Grand Oration' . . . to thousands of delighted hearers . . . which, though nearly two hours long, held the audience spell-bound."
Weld would have been something less than human not to have enjoyed the adulation he received. Yet more pleasing to him was a letter from his daughter Sarah, now twenty-one years old, that stirred the depths of memory. "How nice it must be for you to go through the old places and see the people that used to hear your lectures," she wrote. "Have you seen any of the men that mobbed you? I am especially interested in the one that blew the horn in your ear whenever you were approaching a rhetorical climax. I think that proceeding evinced real genius. I haven't the same respect for those who used rotten eggs as the most telling arguments. Have you been anywhere near Alum Creek? I think you said that the people who saved you were either dead or had moved farther out West. I wish I could be with you to see the ford you tried to cross and the bank you lodged upon. Do you suppose that the alder bushes are still there that you climbed up into?"
James A. Thome's daughter wrote to Sarah Weld that she was sorry Sarah and her mother could not be present to hear her father speak. He would have stirred their souls and won their pride. "I can assure you that the Lane Seminary Boys who were present were proud of their Chief .... And our people were much pleased with his discourse delivered here on the Higher Law."
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