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An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism by Beecher

How much they have been biased by pride


there may be single cases in which we can know that our fellow-men are weak in intellect, or erring in judgment, or perverse in feeling, or misled by passion, or biased by selfish interest, as a general fact we are not competent to decide these matters, in regard to those who differ from us in opinion.

For this reason it is manifestly wrong and irrelevant, when discussing questions of duty or expediency, to bring before the public the character or the motives of the individual advocates of opinions.

But, it may be urged, how can the evil tendencies of opinions or of practices be investigated, without involving a consideration of the character and conduct of those who advocate them? To this it may be replied, that the tendencies of opinions and practices can never be ascertained by discussing individual character. It is _classes_ of persons, or large _communities_, embracing persons of all varieties of character and circumstances, that are the only proper subjects of investigation for this object. For example, a community of Catholics, and a community of Protestants, may be compared, for the purpose of learning the moral tendencies of their different opinions. Scotland and New England, where the principles opposite to Catholicism have most prevailed, may properly be compared with Spain and Italy, where the Catholic system has been most fairly tried. But to select certain individuals who are defenders of these

two different systems, as examples to illustrate their tendencies, would be as improper as it would be to select a kernel of grain to prove the good or bad character of a whole crop.

To illustrate by a more particular example. The doctrines of the Atheist school are now under discussion, and Robert Owen and Fanny Wright have been their prominent advocates.

In agreement with the above principles, it is a right, and the duty of every man who has any influence and opportunity, to show the absurdity of their doctrines, the weakness of their arguments, and the fatal tendencies of their opinions. It is right to show that the _practical_ adoption of their principles indicates a want of common sense, just as sowing the ocean with grain and expecting a crop would indicate the same deficiency. If the advocates of these doctrines carry out their principles into practice, in any such way as to offend the taste, or infringe on the rights of others, it is proper to express disgust and disapprobation. If the female advocate chooses to come upon a stage, and expose her person, dress, and elocution to public criticism, it is right to express disgust at whatever is offensive and indecorous, as it is to criticize the book of an author, or the dancing of an actress, or any thing else that is presented to public observation. And it is right to make all these things appear as odious and reprehensible to others as they do to ourselves.

But what is the private character of Robert Owen or Fanny Wright? Whether they are ignorant or weak in intellect; whether they have properly examined the sources of truth; how much they have been biased by pride, passion, or vice, in adopting their opinions; whether they are honest and sincere in their belief; whether they are selfish or benevolent in their aims, are not matters which in any way pertain to the discussion. They are questions about which none are qualified to judge, except those in close and intimate communion with them. We may inquire with propriety as to the character of a _community_ of Atheists, or of a community where such sentiments extensively prevail, as compared with a community of opposite sentiments. But the private character, feelings, and motives of the individual advocates of these doctrines, are not proper subjects of investigation in any public discussion.

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