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An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism by Beecher

This was in the summer of 1785


[1] History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

"'As it is usual to read these essays publicly in the senate-house soon after the prize is adjudged, I was called to Cambridge for this purpose. I went, and performed my office. On returning, however, to London, the subject of it almost wholly engrossed my thoughts. I became at times very seriously affected while upon the road. I stopped my horse occasionally, and dismounted, and walked. I frequently tried to persuade myself in these intervals that the contents of my Essay could not be true. The more, however, I reflected upon them, or rather upon the authorities on which they were founded, the more I gave them credit. Coming in sight of Wade's Mill, in Hertfordshire, I sat down disconsolate on the turf by the road-side, and held my horse. Here a thought came into my mind, that if the contents of the Essay were true, it was time some person should see these calamities to their end. Agitated in this manner, I reached home. This was in the summer of 1785.

"'In the course of the autumn of the same year I experienced similar impressions. I walked frequently into the woods, that I might think on the subject in solitude, and find relief to my mind there. But there the question still recurred, 'Are these things true?' Still the answer followed as instantaneously,--'They are.' Still the result accompanied it; 'Then, surely, some person should interfere.' I then began

to envy those who had seats in parliament, and who had great riches, and widely extended connexions, which would enable them to take up this cause. Finding scarcely any one at that time who thought of it, I was turned frequently to myself. But here many difficulties arose. It struck me, among others, that a young man of only twenty-four years of age could not have that solid judgment, or knowledge of men, manners, and things, which were requisite to qualify him to undertake a task of such magnitude and importance: and with whom was I to unite? I believed also, that it looked so much like one of the feigned labours of Hercules, that my understanding would be suspected if I proposed it. On ruminating, however, on the subject, I found one thing at least practicable, and that this was also in my power. I could translate my Latin Dissertation. I could enlarge it usefully. I could see how the public received it, or how far they were likely to favour any serious measures, which should have a tendency to produce the abolition of the slave-trade. Upon this, then, I determined; and in the middle of the month of November, 1785, I began my work.'

"Such is the characteristic and ingenuous account given by Clarkson of his introduction to that work to which the energies of his life were devoted, and in reference to which, and to the account whence the foregoing extract has been made, one of the most benevolent and gifted writers of our country[2] has justly observed,--

[2] Coleridge.

"'This interesting tale is related, not by a descendant, but a cotemporary; not by a distant spectator, but by a participator of the contest; and of all the many participators, by the man confessedly the most efficient; the man whose unparalleled labours in this work of love and peril, leave on the mind of a reflecting reader the sublime doubt, which of the two will have been the greater final gain to the moral world,--the removal of the evil, or the proof, thereby given, what mighty effects single good men may realize by self-devotion and perseverance.'


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