“Does not the cause of the slave hang on the issue in Congress?”
“I think it does.”
“Is not Mr. Webster’s influence all against it?”
“Yes, of course!”
“Would not that influence be very much less if the public knew just what he is?”
“Of course it would, but you cannot afford to tell them. You have no idea what his friends would say, what they would do. They would ruin you.”
I thought a moment, and said:
“I will publish it, and let God take care of the consequences.”
“Good!” exclaimed Mrs. Julian, clapping her hands. “I would if I were in your place.”
But when I went to post the letter, I hesitated, walked back and forth on the street, and almost concluded to leave out that paragraph. I shuddered lest Mr. Julian’s prediction should prove true. I was gratified by my position on the Tribune—the social distinction it gave me and courtesy which had been shown me. Grave Senators went out of their way to be polite, and even pro-slavery men treated me with distinguished consideration. My Washington life had been eminently agreeable, and I dreaded changing popularity for public denunciation. But I remembered my Red Sea, and my motto—“Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.” The duty of destroying that pro-slavery influence was plain. All the objections were for fear of the consequences to me. I had said God should take care of these, and mailed the letter, but I must leave Washington. Mr. Greeley should not discharge me. I left the capitol the day after taking my seat in the reporter’s gallery, feeling that that door was open to other women.
The surprise with which the Webster statement was received was fully equalled by the storm of denunciation it drew down upon me. The New York Tribune regretted and condemned. Other secular papers made dignified protests. The religious press was shocked at my indelicacy, and fellows of the baser sort improved their opportunity to the utmost. I have never seen, in the history of the press, such widespread abuse of any one person as that with which I was favored; but, by a strange fatality, the paragraph was copied and copied. It was so short and pointed that in no other way could its wickedness be so well depicted as by making it a witness against itself.
I had nothing to do but keep quiet. The accusation was made. I knew where to find the proof if it should be legally called for, and until it was I should volunteer no evidence, and my witnesses could not be attacked or discredited in advance. By and by people began to ask for the contradiction of this “vile slander.” It was so circumstantial as to call for a denial. It could not be set aside as unworthy of attention.
What did it mean? Mr. Webster was a prominent candidate for President. Would his friends permit this story to pass without a word of denial? Mr. Julian was right; no one would dare deny the charge. He was, however, wrong in saying it would ruin me. My motive was too apparent, and the revelations too important, for any lasting disgrace to attach to it. On all hands it was assured that the disclosure had had a telling effect in disposing of a formidable power which had been arrayed against the slave, as Mr. Webster failed to secure the nomination.