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This is one of the most remarkable volumes of the century. Its publication has only been made possible by a combination of circumstances which seldom attend the birth of a book. Before emancipation, and while the bane of slavery was on the country, the thrilling facts of this volume could not have been made public. Peace and the blessing of freedom permit their publication, free circulation and unmolested reading.
Of all the thousands who favored freedom for the slaves, who gloried in the odium attached to anti-slaveryism, who witnessed the frequent efforts of the bondsmen to escape, who aided them in their quest for liberty, few dared to take notes of what they witnessed, and fewer still dared to preserve them, lest they should be turned into witnesses against them.
But one man, and that the author of this book, is known to have succeeded in preserving anything like a full account of the workings of the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, as it was called before emancipation. These records grew on his hands during the years he acted as Chairman of the Philadelphia Branch of that celebrated corporation, until they reached the extent of the present volume. They are made up of letters received, of interviews held, of narratives taken down at the time, of real reminiscence and authentic biography. Nothing imaginative enters into the composition of the volume. It is simply succinct history, always startling, sometimes bloody. The annals of no time since the Inquisition are so full of daring ventures for life and liberty or heroic endurance under most trying circumstances.
As a history of the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, the work is most curious and valuable. It tells of an ingenuity and faithfulness on the part of the officials of the road which seems well-nigh marvellous. As its pages reveal the methods by which aid was given to the escaping slave, one is compelled to wonder almost as if he were facing a revelation. The secrets of Masonry are not more mysterious than were the ways of these officials who clothed, fed and comforted the fugitive, while they apparently never knew his name or whereabouts. Even those who never believed in the existence of an UNDERGROUND RAILWAY, or who, believing, cursed its existence, will read its history, at this time, with the relish of astonishment and the zest of discoverers.
But the book has a higher meaning and use. It is curious and hitherto unprinted history to the white race. To the black race, and especially that part of it once slave, it is more than a history of a time of peril. It is for them what Exodus was to the fugitives from Egypt, a history and an inspiration as well. They may learn from it of their heroes and how deeply the love of liberty was implanted in their bosoms. The Swiss never tire of the story of their Tell, nor the Welsh of that of their Glendower. Every nation has its exemplar, whose bravery and virtues