Yet, even then, the opposition of the Garrisonians was most persistent. There was a large anti-slavery element among the original settlers of Minnesota, but it was mostly of the Garrisonian or non-voting type, and had lain dormant under pro-slavery rule. To utilize this element at the polls was my special desire. The ground occupied by them was the one I had abandoned, i.e., the ground made by the Covenanters when the Constitution first appeared. They pronounced it “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell,” and would not vote or hold office under it; would not take an oath to support it. So firmly had Garrison planted himself on the old Covenanter platform, that it is doubtful whether he labored harder for the overthrow of slavery or political anti-slavery; whether he more fiercely denounced slave-holders or men who voted against slave-holding. Once after a “flaming” denunciation of political abolitionists, some one said to him:
“Mr. Garrison, I am surprised at the ground you take! Do you not think James G. Birney and Gerrit Smith are anti-slavery?”
He hesitated, and replied:
“They have anti-slavery tendencies, I admit.”
Now, James G. Birney, when a young man, fell heir to the third of an Alabama estate, and arranged with the other heirs to take the slaves as his portion. He took them all into a free State, emancipated them, and left himself without a dollar, but went to work and became the leader of political abolitionists, while Gerrit Smith devoted his splendid talents and immense wealth to the cause of the slave. When their mode of action was so reprehensible to Mr. Garrison, we may judge the strength of his opposition to that plan of action which resulted in the overthrow of slavery. His non-resistance covered ballots as well as bullets, and slavery, the creation of brute force and ballots, must not be attacked by any weapon, save moral suasion. So it was, that Garrisonianism, off the line of the underground railroad, was a rather harmless foe to slavery, and was often used by it to prevent the casting of votes which would endanger its power.
From the action of the slave power, it must by that time have been apparent to all, that adverse votes was what it most dreaded; but old-side Covenanters, Quakers, and Garrisonians could not cast these without soiling their hands by touching that bad Constitution. But that moral dilettanteism, which thinks first of its own hands, was not confined to non-voting abolitionists; for the “thorough goers” of the old Liberty Party, could not come down from their perch on platforms which embraced all the moralities, to work on one which only said to slavery “not another foot of territory.”
Both these parties attacked me. The one argued that I, of necessity, endorsed slavery every where by recognizing the Constitution; the other that I must favor its existence where it then was, by working with the Republican party, which was only pledged to prevent its extension. To me, these positions seemed utterly untenable, their arguments preposterous, and I did my best to make this appear. I claimed the Constitution as anti-slavery, and taught the duty of overthrowing slavery by and through it, but no argument which I used did half the service of an illustration which came to me: