For years there had ran through my head the words, “Open thy mouth for the dumb, plead the cause of the poor and needy.” The streams sang them, the winds shrieked them, and now a trumpet sounded them, but the words could not mean more than talking in private. I would not, could not, believe they meant more, for the Bible in which I read them bid me be silent. My husband wanted me to lecture as did Abbey Kelley, but I thought this would surely be wrong. The church had silenced me so effectuately, that even now all my sense of the great need of words could not induce me to attempt it; but if I could “plead the cause” through the press, I must write. Even this was dreadful, as I must use my own name, for my articles would certainly be libelous. If I wrote at all, I must throw myself headlong into the great political maelstrom, and would of course be swallowed up like a fishing-boat in the great Norway horror which decorated our school geographies; for no woman had ever done such a thing, and I could never again hold up my head under the burden of shame and disgrace which would be heaped upon me. But what matter? I had no children to dishonor; all save one who had ever loved me were dead, and she no longer needed me, and if the Lord wanted some one to throw into that gulf, no one could be better spared than I.
The Pittsburg Commercial Journal was the leading Whig paper of western Pennsylvania, Robert M. Riddle, its editor and proprietor. His mother was a member of our church, and I thought somewhere in his veins must stir anti-slavery blood. So I wrote a letter to the Journal, which appeared with an editorial disclaimer, “but the fair writer should have a hearing.” This letter was followed by another, and they continued to appear once or twice a week during several months.
I do not remember whom I attacked first, but from first to last my articles were as direct and personal as Nathan’s reproof to David. Of slavery in the abstract I knew nothing. There was no abstraction in tying Martha to a whipping-post and scourging her for mourning the loss of her children. The old Kentucky saint who bore the torture of lash and brine all that bright Sabbath day, rather than “curse Jesus,” knew nothing of the abstraction of slavery, or the finespun theories of politeness which covered the most revolting crimes with pretty words. This great nation was engaged in the pusillanimous work of beating poor little Mexico—a giant whipping a cripple. Every man who went to the war, or induced others to go, I held as the principal in the whole list of crimes of which slavery was the synonym. Each one seemed to stand before me, his innermost soul laid bare, and his idiosyncrasy I was sure to strike with sarcasm, ridicule solemn denunciations, old truths from Bible and history and the opinions of good men. I had a reckless abandon, for had I not thrown myself into the breach to die there, and would I not sell my life at its full value?