In the matter of physical courage they were unsurpassed, unsurpassable. A good many of them were Quakers and non-resistants, and a good many of them were women, but they never shrank from danger to life and limb, when employed in their humanitarian work. Some of them achieved the martyr’s crown.
In the matter of conscience they were indomitable. Life to them was worth less than principle.
In the matter of money they were absolutely unselfish. Those of them who were poor, as the most of them were, toiled on without the hope of financial recompense. They did their work not only without the promise or prospect of material reward of any kind, but with the certainty of pains and penalties that included the ostracism and contempt of their fellows, and even serious risks to property and life.
All these sacrifices were in the cause of human liberty; but of liberty for whom? That is the crucial point. In all ages there have been plenty of men who have honorably striven for liberty for themselves. Some there have been who have risen to higher planes. We have an example in Lafayette. He fought to liberate a people who were foreign in language and blood; but they were of his own color and the peers of his compatriots.
The Abolitionists, however, espoused the cause, and it was for that that they endured so much, of creatures that were infinitely below them; of beings who had ceased to be recognized as belonging to humanity, and were classed with the cattle of the field and other species of “property.” So low were they that they could neither appreciate nor return the services rendered in their behalf. For their condition, the Abolitionists were in no sense responsible. They had no necessary fellowship with the unfortunates. They were under no especial obligation to them. They were not of the same family. It was even doubted whether the races had a common origin. And yet, to the end of securing release for these wretched victims of an intolerable oppression, not a few of them dedicated all they possessed—life not excepted.
True it is that they had no monopoly of benevolence. Many noble men and women have gone as missionaries to the poor and benighted, and have sought through numerous hardships and perils to raise up those who have been trodden in the dust. But, as a rule, their services have been rendered pursuant to a secular employment that carried financial compensation, and behind their devotion to the poor and oppressed has been the expectation of personal reward in another world, if not in this. But such motives barely, if at all, influenced the Abolitionists. No element of professionalism entered into their work. They were not particularly religious. They neither very greatly reverenced nor feared the Church, whose leaders they often accused of a hankering for the “flesh-pots” that induced them to lead their followers into Egypt, rather than out of it. They were partly moved by a hatred of slavery and its long train of abuses that was irrepressible, and which to most persons was incomprehensible, and partly by a love for their fellows in distress that was so insistent as to make them forget themselves. Their impulses seemed to be largely intuitive, if not instinctive, and if called upon for a philosophical explanation they could not have given it.