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America: III. (1861–1905). 1906.

Henry Ward Beecher

His Speech in Liverpool

FOR more than twenty-five years I have been made perfectly familiar with popular assemblies in all parts of my country except the extreme south. There has not for the whole of that time been a single day of my life when it would have been safe for me to go south of Mason and Dixon’s line in my own country, and all for one reason: my solemn, earnest, persistent testimony against that which I consider to be the most atrocious thing under the sun—the system of American slavery in a great, free republic. [Cheers.] I have passed through that early period when right of free speech was denied to me. Again and again I have attempted to address audiences that, for no other crime than that of free speech, visited me with all manner of contumelious epithets; and now since I have been in England, altho I have met with greater kindness and courtesy on the part of most than I deserved, yet, on the other hand, I perceive that the Southern influence prevails to some extent in England. [Applause and uproar.] It is my old acquaintance; I understand it perfectly—[laughter]—and I have always held it to be an unfailing truth that where a man had a cause that would bear examination he was perfectly willing to have it spoken about. [Applause.] Therefore, when I saw so much nervous apprehension that, if I were permitted to speak—[hisses and applause]—when I found they were afraid to have me speak—[hisses, laughter, and “No, no!”]—when I found that they considered my speaking damaging to their cause—[applause]—when I found that they appealed from facts and reasonings to mob law—[applause and uproar]—I said. No man need tell me what the heart and secret counsel of these men are. They tremble and are afraid. [Applause, laughter, hisses, “No, no!” and a voice, “New York mob.”]

Now, personally, it is a matter of very little consequence to me whether I speak here to-night or not. [Laughter and cheers.] But one thing is very certain—if you do permit me to speak here to-night you will hear very plain talking. [Applause and hisses.] You will not find a man,—you will not find me to be a man that dared to speak about Great Britain three thousand miles off, and then is afraid to speak to Great Britain when he stands on her shores. [Immense applause and hisses.] And if I do not mistake the tone and the temper of Englishmen, they had rather have a man who opposes them in a manly way—[applause from all parts of the hall]—than a sneak that agrees with them in an unmanly way. [Applause and “Bravo!”] If I can carry you with me by sound convictions, I shall be immensely glad; but if I can not carry you with me by facts and sound arguments, I do not wish you to go with me at all; and all that I ask is simply fair play. [Applause and a voice, “You shall have it, too.”] Those of you who are kind enough to wish to favor my speaking—and you will observe that my voice is slightly husky, from having spoken almost every night in succession for some time past—those who wish to hear me will do me the kindness simply to sit still and to keep still; and I and my friends the Secessionists will make all the noise. [Laughter.]

There are two dominant races in modern history: the Germanic and the Romanic races. The Germanic races tend to personal liberty, to a sturdy individualism, to civil and to political liberty. The Romanic race tends to absolutism in government; it is clannish; it loves chieftains; it develops a people that crave strong and showy governments to support and plan for them. The Anglo-Saxon race belongs to the great German family, and is a fair exponent of its peculiarities. The Anglo-Saxon carries self-government and self-development with him wherever he goes. He has popular GOVERNMENT and popular INDUSTRY; for the effects of a generous civil liberty are not seen a whit more plainly in the good order, in the intelligence, and in the virtue of a self-governing people, than in their amazing enterprise and the scope and power of their creative industry. The power to create riches is just as much a part of the Anglo-Saxon virtues as the power to create good order and social safety. The things required for prosperous labor, prosperous manufactures, and prosperous commerce are three: first, liberty; secondly, liberty; thirdly, liberty—but these are not merely the same liberty, as I shall show you.

First, there must be liberty to follow those laws of business which experience has developed, without imposts or restrictions, or governmental intrusions. Business simply wants to be let alone. [“Hear, hear!”]

Then, secondly, there must be liberty to distribute and exchange products of industry in any market without burdensome tariffs, without imposts, and without vexatious regulations. There must be these two liberties—liberty to create wealth, as the makers of it think best according to the light and experience which business has given them; and then liberty to distribute what they have created without unnecessary vexatious burdens. The comprehensive law of the ideal industrial condition of the world is free manufacture and free trade. [“Hear, hear!” A voice, “The Murrill tariff.”]

I have said there were three elements of liberty. The third is the necessity of an intelligent and free race of customers. There must be freedom among producers; there must be freedom among the distributers; there must be freedom among the customers. It may not have occurred to you that it makes any difference what one’s customers are; but it does, in all regular and prolonged business. The condition of the customer determines how much he will buy, determines of what sort he will buy. Poor and ignorant people buy little and that of the poorest kind. The richest and the intelligent, having the more means to buy, buy the most, and always buy the best.

Here, then, are the three liberties: liberty of the producer, liberty of the distributer, and liberty of the consumer. The first two need no discussion—they have been long, thoroughly, and brilliantly illustrated by the political economists of Great Britain, and by her eminent statesmen; but it seems to me that enough attention has not been directed to the third, and, with your patience, I will dwell on that for a moment, before proceeding to other topics.

It is a necessity of every manufacturing and commercial people that their customers should be very wealthy and intelligent. Let us put the subject before you in the familiar light of your own local experience. To whom do the tradesmen of Liverpool sell the most goods at the highest profit? To the ignorant and poor, or to the educated and prosperous? [A voice, “To the Southerner.” Laughter.] The poor man buys simply for his body; he buys food, he buys clothing, he buys fuel, he buys lodging. His rule is to buy the least and the cheapest that he can. He goes to the store as seldom as he can,—he brings away as little as he can—[much laughter]—and he buys for the least he can. Poverty is not a misfortune to the poor only who suffer it, but it is more or less a misfortune to all with whom they deal.

On the other hand, a man well off—how is it with him? He buys in far greater quantity. He can afford to do it; he has the money to pay for it. He buys in far greater variety, because he seeks to gratify not merely physical wants, but also mental wants. He buys for the satisfaction of sentiment and taste, as well as of sense. He buys silk, wool, flax, cotton; he buys all metals—iron, silver, gold, platinum; in short he buys for all necessities and of all substances. But that is not all. He buys a better quality of goods. He buys richer silks, finer cottons, higher grained wools. Now, a rich silk means so much skill and care of somebody’s that has been expended upon it to make it finer and richer; and so of cotton, and so of wool. That is, the price of the finer goods runs back to the very beginning, and remunerates the workman as well as the merchant. Indeed, the whole laboring community is as much interested and profited as the mere merchant, in this buying and selling of the higher grades in the greater varieties and quantities.

The law of price is the skill; and the amount of skill expended in the work is as much for the market as are the goods. A man comes to the market and says, “I have a pair of hands”; and he obtains the lowest wages. Another man comes and says, “I have something more than a pair of hands—I have truth and fidelity”; he gets a higher price. Another man comes and says, “I have something more; I have hands and strength, and fidelity, and skill.” He gets more than either of the others. The next man comes and says, “I have got hands and strength, and skill, and fidelity; but my hands work more than that. They know how to create things for the fancy, for the affections, for the moral sentiments”; and he gets more than any of the others. The last man comes and says, “I have all these qualities, and have them so highly that it is a peculiar genius”; and genius carries the whole market and gets the highest price. [Loud applause.] So that both the workman and the merchant are profited by having purchasers that demand quality, variety, and quantity.

Now, if this be so in the town or the city, it can only be so because it is a law. This is the specific development of a general or universal law, and therefore we should expect to find it as true of a nation as of a city like Liverpool. I know it is so, and you know that it is true of all the world; and it is just as important to have customers educated, intelligent, moral, and rich, out of Liverpool as it is in Liverpool. [Applause.] They are able to buy; they want variety, they want the very best; and those are the customers you want. That nation is the best customer that is freest, because freedom works prosperity, industry, and wealth. Great Britain, then, aside from moral considerations, has a direct commercial and pecuniary interest in the liberty, civilization, and wealth of every people and every nation on the globe. [Loud applause.]

You have also an interest in this, because you are a moral and a religious people. [“Oh, oh!” Laughter and applause.] You desire it from the highest motives, and godliness is profitable in all things, having the promise of the life that is, as well as of that which is to come; but if there were no hereafter, and if man had no progress in this life, and if there were no question of moral growth at all, it would be worth your while to protect civilization and liberty, merely as a commercial speculation. To evangelize has more than a moral and religious import—it comes back to temporal relations. Wherever a nation that is crushed, cramped, degraded under despotism, is struggling to be free, you, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Paisley, all have an interest that that nation should be free. When depressed and backward people demand that they may have a chance to rise—Hungary, Italy, Poland—it is a duty for humanity’s sake, it is a duty for the highest moral motives, to sympathize with them; but besides all these there is a material and an interested reason why you should sympathize with them. Pounds and pence join with conscience and with honor in this design.

Now, Great Britain’s chief want is—what? They have said that your chief want is cotton. I deny it. Your chief want is consumers. [Applause and hisses.] You have got skill, you have got capital, and you have got machinery enough to manufacture goods for the whole population of the globe. You could turn out fourfold as much as you do, if you only had the market to sell in. It is not therefore so much the want of fabric, tho there may be a temporary obstruction of that; but the principal and increasing want—increasing from year to year—is, where shall we find men to buy what we can manufacture so fast? [Interruption over a voice, “The Murrill tariff.” Applause.]

There is in this a great and sound principle of political economy. If the South should be rendered independent——

Well, you have had your turn; now let me have mine again. [Loud applause and laughter.] It is a little inconvenient to talk against the wind; but, after all, if you will just keep good-natured—I am not going to lose my temper; will you watch yours? Besides all that, it rests me, and gives me a chance, you know, to get my breath. [Applause and hisses.] And I think that the bark of those men is worse than their bite. They do not mean any harm; they do not know any better. [Loud applause, hisses and continued uproar.]

What will be the result if this present struggle shall eventuate in the separation of America, and making the South—[loud applause, hooting and cries of “Bravo!”]—a slave territory exclusively—[cries of “No, no!” and laughter]—and the North a free territory; what will be the first result? You will lay the foundation for carrying the slave population clear through to the Pacific Ocean. That is the first step. There is not a man who has been a leader of the South any time within these twenty years, that has not had this for a plan. It was for this that Texas was invaded, first by colonists, next by marauders, until it was wrested from Mexico. It was for this that they engaged in the Mexican War itself, by which the vast territory reaching to the Pacific was added to the Union. Never have they for a moment given up the plan of spreading the American institution, as they call it, straight through toward the West, until the slave who has washed his feet in the Atlantic shall be carried to wash them in the Pacific. [Cries of “Question” and uproar.] There! I have got that statement out, and you can not put it back. [Laughter and applause.]

Now, let us consider the prospect. If the South become a slave empire, what relation will it have to you as a customer? [A voice, “Or any other man.” Laughter.] It would be an empire of twelve millions of people. Of these, eight millions are white and four millions black. [A voice, “How many have you got?”] Consider that one-third of the whole are the miserably poor, unbuying blacks. You do not manufacture much for them. You have not got machinery coarse enough. [Laughter and “No.”] Your labor is too skilled by far to manufacture bagging and linsey-woolsey. [A Southerner, “We are going to free them every one.”] Then you and I agree exactly. One other third consists of a poor, unskilled, degraded white population; and the remainder one-third, which is a large allowance, we will say, intelligent and rich. Now here are twelve millions of people, and only one-third of them are customers that can afford to buy the kind of goods that you bring to market. [Interruption and uproar.]

My friends, I saw a man once, who was a little late at a railway station, chase an express train. He did not catch it. If you are going to stop this meeting, you have got to stop it before I speak; for after I have got the things out, you may chase as long as you please—you will not catch them. But there is luck in leisure; I’m going to take it easy. Two-thirds of the population of the Southern States to-day are non-purchasers of English goods. You must recollect another fact—namely, that this is going on clear through to the Pacific Ocean; and if by sympathy or help you establish a slave empire, you sagacious Britons—if you like it better, then, I will leave the adjective out—are busy in favoring the establishment of an empire from ocean to ocean that should have fewest customers and the largest non-buying population. [“No, no!” A voice, “I thought it was a happy people that population parted.”]

Now, for instance, just look at this—the difference between free labor and slave labor to produce cultivated land. The State of Virginia has 15,000 more square miles of land than the State of New York; but Virginia has only 15,000 square miles improved, while New York has 20,000 square miles improved. Of unimproved land Virginia has about 23,000 square miles, and New York only about 10,000 square miles. These facts speak volumes as to the capacity of the territory to bear population. The smaller is the quantity of soil uncultivated, the greater is the density of the population; and upon that their value as customers depends. Let us take the States of Maryland and Massachusetts. Maryland has 2,000 more square miles of land than Massachusetts; but Maryland has about 4,000 square miles of land improved, Massachusetts has 3,200 square miles. Maryland has 2,800 unimproved square miles of land, while Massachusetts has but 1,800 square miles unimproved. But these two are little States,—let us take greater States: Pennsylvania and Georgia. The State of Georgia has 12,000 more square miles of land than Pennsylvania. Georgia has only about 9,800 square miles of improved land; Pennsylvania has 13,400 square miles of improved land, or about 2,300,000 acres more than Georgia. Georgia has about 25,600 square miles of unimproved land, and Pennsylvania has only 10,400 square miles, or about 10,000,000 acres less of unimproved land than Georgia. The one is a slave State and the other is a free State. I do not want you to forget such statistics as those, having once heard them.

Now, what can England make for the poor white population of such a future empire, and for her slave population? What carpets, what linens, what cottons can you sell to them? What machines, what looking-glasses, what combs, what leather, what books, what pictures, what engravings? [A voice, “We’ll sell them ships.”] You may sell ships to a few, but what ships can you sell to two-thirds of the population of poor whites and blacks? A little bagging and a little linsey-woolsey, a few whips and manacles, are all that you can sell for the slave. [Great applause and uproar.] This very day, in the slave States of America there are eight millions out of twelve millions that are not, and can not be your customers from the very laws of trade.

Do you sympathize with the minority in Rome or the majority in Italy? [A voice, “With Italy.”] To-day the South is the minority in America, and they are fighting for independence! For what? [Uproar. A voice, “Three cheers for independence!” Hisses.] I could wish so much bravery had a better cause, and that so much self-denial had been less deluded; that the poisonous and venomous doctrine of State rights might have been kept aloof; that so many gallant spirits, such as Jackson, might still have lived. [Great applause and loud cheers, again and again renewed.] The force of these facts, historical and incontrovertible, can not be broken, except by diverting attention by an attack upon the North. It is said that the North is fighting for the Union, and not for emancipation. The North is fighting for the Union, for that ensures emancipation. [Loud cheers, “Oh, oh!” “No, no!” and cheers.]

A great many men say to ministers of the Gospel: “You pretend to be preaching and working for the love of the people. Why, you are all the time preaching for the sake of the Church.” What does the minister say? “It is by means of the Church that we help the people,” and when men say that we are fighting for the Union, I, too, say that we are fighting for the Union. [“Hear, hear!” and a voice, “That’s right.”] But the motive determines the value; and why are we fighting for the Union? Because we never shall forget the testimony of our enemies. They have gone off declaring that the Union in the hands of the North was fatal to slavery. [Loud applause.] There is testimony in court for you. [A voice, “See that!” and laughter.]

In the first place I am ashamed to confess that such was the thoughtlessness—[interruption]—such was the stupor of the North—[renewed interruption]—you will get a word at a time; to-morrow will let folks see what it is you do not want to hear—that for a period of twenty-five years she went to sleep, and permitted herself to be drugged and poisoned with the Southern prejudice against black men. [Applause and uproar.]

Now as to those States that had passed “black” laws, as we call them; they are filled with Southern emigrants. The southern parts of Ohio, the southern part of Indiana, where I myself lived for years, and which I knew like a book, the southern part of Illinois, where Mr. Lincoln lives—[great uproar]—these parts are largely settled by emigrants from Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina, and it was their vote, or the Northern votes pandering for political reasons to theirs, that passed in those States the infamous “black” laws; and the Republicans in these States have a record, clean and white, as having opposed these laws in every instance as “infamous.” Now as to the State of New York; it is asked whether a negro is not obliged to have a certain freehold property, or a certain amount of property, before he can vote. It is so still in North Carolina and Rhode Island for white folks—it is so in New York State. [Mr. Beecher’s voice slightly failed him here, and he was interrupted by a person who tried to imitate him. Cries of “Shame!” and “Turn him out!”]

No man can unveil the future; no man can tell what revolutions are about to break upon the world; no man can tell what destiny belongs to France, nor to any of the European powers; but one thing is certain, that in the exigencies of the future there will be combinations and recombinations, and that those nations that are of the same faith, the same blood, and the same substantial interests, ought not to be alienated from each other, but ought to stand together. [Immense cheering and hisses.] I do not say that you ought not to be in the most friendly alliance with France or with Germany; but I do say that your own children, the offspring of England, ought to be nearer to you than any people of strange tongue. [A voice, “Degenerate sons,” applause and hisses; another voice, “What about the Trent?”] If there had been any feelings of bitterness in America, let me tell you that they had been excited, rightly or wrongly, under the impression that Great Britain was going to intervene between us and our own lawful struggle. [A voice, “No!” and applause.] With the evidence that there is no such intention all bitter feelings will pass away. [Applause.]

We do not agree with the recent doctrine of neutrality as a question of law. But it is past, and we are not disposed to raise that question. We accept it now as a fact, and we say that the utterance of Lord Russell at Blairgowrie—[applause, hisses, and a voice, “What about Lord Brougham?”]—together with the declaration of the government in stopping war-steamers here—[great uproar and applause]—have gone far toward quieting every fear and removing every apprehension from our minds. [Uproar and shouts of applause.] And now in the future it is the work of every good man and patriot not to create divisions, but to do the things that will make for peace. [“Oh, oh!” and laughter.] On our part it shall be done. [Applause and hisses, and “No, no!”]

On your part it ought to be done; and when in any of the convulsions that come upon the world, Great Britain finds herself struggling single-handed against the gigantic powers that spread oppression and darkness—[applause, hisses, and uproar]—there ought to be such cordiality that she can turn and say to her first-born and most illustrious child, “Come!” [“Hear, hear!” Applause, tremendous cheers, and uproar.] I will not say that England can not again, as hitherto, single-handed manage any power—[applause and uproar]—but I will say that England and America together for religion and liberty—[a voice, “soap, soap,” uproar, and great applause]—are a match for the world. [Applause; a voice, “They don’t want any more soft soap.”] Now, gentlemen and ladies—[a voice, “Sam Slick”; and another voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you please!”]—when I came I was asked whether I would answer questions, and I very readily consented to do so, as I had in other places; but I will tell you it was because I expected to have the opportunity of speaking with some sort of ease and quiet. [A voice, “So you have.”]

I have for an hour and a half spoken against a storm—[“Hear, hear!”]—and you yourselves are witnesses that, by the interruption, I have been obliged to strive with my voice, so that I no longer have the power to control this assembly. [Applause.] And altho I am in spirit perfectly willing to answer any question, and more than glad of the chance, yet I am by this very unnecessary opposition to-night incapacitated physically from doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, I bid you good evening.