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An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism by Beecher

If he impeaches the character or motives of opponents


there are certain prominent maxims which every woman can adopt as peculiarly belonging to her, as the advocate of charity and peace, and which it should be her especial office to illustrate, enforce, and sustain, by every method in her power.

The first is, that every person ought to be sustained, not only in the right of propagating his own opinions and practices, but in opposing all those principles and practices which he deems erroneous. For there is no opinion which a man can propagate, that does not oppose some adverse interest; and if a man must cease to advocate his own views of truth and rectitude, because he opposes the interest or prejudices of some other man or party, all freedom of opinion, of speech, and of action, is gone. All that can be demanded is, that a man shall not resort to falsehood, false reasoning, or to attacks on character, in maintaining his own rights. If he states things which are false, it is right to show the falsehood,--if he reasons falsely, it is right to point out his sophistry,--if he impeaches the character or motives of opponents, it is right to express disapprobation and disgust; but if he uses only facts, arguments, and persuasions, he is to be honoured and sustained for all the efforts he makes to uphold what he deems to be right, and to put down what he believes to be wrong.

Another maxim, which is partially involved in the first, is, that every man ought to allow his

own principles and practices to be freely discussed, with patience and magnanimity, and not to complain of persecution, or to attack the character or motives of those who claim that he is in the wrong. If he is belied, if his character is impeached, if his motives are assailed, if his intellectual capabilities are made the objects of sneers or commiseration, he has a right to complain, and to seek sympathy as an injured man; but no man is a consistent friend and defender of liberty of speech, who cannot bear to have his own principles and practices subjected to the same ordeal as he demands should be imposed on others.

Another maxim of peace and charity is, that every man's own testimony is to be taken in regard to his motives, feelings, and intentions. Though we may fear that a fellow-man is mistaken in his views of his own feelings, or that he does not speak the truth, it is as contrary to the rules of good breeding as it is to the laws of Christianity, to assume or even insinuate that this is the case. If a man's word cannot be taken in regard to his own motives, feelings, and intentions, he can find no redress for the wrong that may be done to him. It is unjust and unreasonable in the extreme to take any other course than the one here urged.

Another most important maxim of candour and charity is, that when we are to assign motives for the conduct of our fellow-men, especially of those who oppose our interests, we are obligated to put the best, rather than the worst construction, on all they say and do. Instead of assigning the worst as the probable motive, it is always a duty to _hope_ that it is the best, until evidence is so unequivocal that there is no place for such a hope.

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