In such a struggle for freedom and natural human rights as was carried on by the Abolitionists against tremendous odds and through a term covering many long years, it does seem to the writer of this essay that mortal heroism reached its height.
Nor am I by any means alone in the opinion just expressed. As far back as 1844, when the Abolitionists were few in number and the objects of almost savage persecution in every part of our country, the Earl of Carlisle, who, in his day was one of the most capable leaders of British public opinion, declared that they were engaged “in fighting a battle without a parallel in the history of ancient or modern heroism.”
I am moved to write the story of the Abolitionists, partly because it is full of romantic interest, and partly because justice demands it. Those doughty file leaders in the Anti-Slavery fight do not to-day have an adequate acknowledgment of the obligations that the country and humanity should recognize as belonging to them, and they never have had it. Much of the credit that is fairly theirs has been mis-applied. Writers of history—so called, although much of it is simple eulogy—have been more and more inclined to attribute the overthrow of slavery to the efforts of a few men, and particularly one man, who, after long opposition to, or neglect of, the freedom movement, came to its help in the closing scenes of a great conflict, while the earlier, and certainly equally meritorious, workers and fighters have been quite left out of the account. The writer does not object to laborers who entered the field at the eleventh hour, sharing with those who bore the heat and burden of the day; but when there is a disposition to give to them all the earnings he does feel like protesting.
The case of the Abolitionists is not overstated when it is said that, but for their labors and struggles, this country, instead of being all free, would to-day be all slaveholding. The relative importance of their work in creating, by means of a persistent agitation, an opposition to human slavery that was powerful enough to compel the attention of the public and force the machine politicians, after long opposition, to admit the question into practical politics, cannot well be overestimated.
They alone and single-handed fought the opening battles of a great war, which, although overshadowed and obscured by later and more dramatic events, were none the less gallantly waged and nobly won. It is customary to speak of our Civil War as a four years’ conflict. It was really a thirty years’ war, beginning when the pioneer Abolitionists entered the field and declared for a life-and-death struggle. It was then that the hardest battles were fought.