When, therefore, it was decided that an Anti-Slavery movement should be inaugurated in Boston, the proper thing to do, according to all the standards of the place, was to organize a society. But the thing was more easily resolved upon than done. It required the concurrence of several parties of like-mindedness. Boston was a pretty large place, but Anti-Slavery people were scarce. The number (doubtless selected because it was Apostolic) assumed to be necessary was twelve. Fifteen people of somewhat similar views were at last brought together. After much discussion nine favored an organization and six opposed it. So far the operation was a failure. But at last, after much canvassing, twelve men were found who promised their co-operation—twelve and no more. Although respectable people, they were not of Boston’s “first citizens” by any means. It is said that if they had been called upon for a hundred dollars each, not over two of them could have responded without bankruptcy.
The twelve came together at night and in the basement of an African Baptist Church, the room being used in the daytime to accommodate a school for colored children. It was in an obscure quarter of Boston known as “Nigger Hill.” The conference was in the month of December, and the night is thus described by Oliver Johnson, who was one of the twelve: “A fierce northeast storm, combining rain, snow, and hail in about equal proportions, was raging, and the streets were full of slush. They were dark, too, for the city of Boston in those days was very economical of light on Nigger Hill.”
Both nature and man seemed to be in league against those plucky pioneers of an unpopular cause. They, however, were not dismayed nor disheartened. It was as they were stepping out into the gloomy night, that Mr. Garrison, who, it is scarcely necessary to say, was one of the twelve, remarked to his associates: “We have met to-night in this obscure schoolhouse; our numbers are few, and our influence limited, but mark my prediction. Faneuil Hall shall ere long echo to the principles we have set forth.”
What those principles were is shown by the declaration adopted by that handful of confederates, and which, in view of the time and circumstances of its formulation, was certainly a most remarkable document. Its essential proposition was: “We, the undersigned, hold that every person of full age and sound mind has a right to immediate freedom from personal bondage of whatsoever kind, unless imposed by the sentence of the law for the commission of some crime.”
The Declaration of Independence, which was produced with no little theatrical effect amid the pomp and circumstance of a national conclave that had met in the finest hall in the country, was unquestionably a remarkable and memorable pronouncement. It was for the time and situation a radical utterance. It was the precursor of a revolution that gave political freedom to several million people.