Negro and the Nation - G. S. Merriam
For the next twelve years, slavery was in the background of the national stage. But during this period, various influences were converging to a common result, until in 1832-3 the issue was defined with new clearness and thenceforth grew as the central feature in the public life of America.
From the time of the Missouri debate, the slavery interest was consolidated and alert, even while other subjects seemed to fill the public mind. To the North, slavery was habitually a remote matter, but it was perpetually brought home to the business and bosoms of the South. The whole industrial system, a social aristocracy, and political ambition, blended their forces. An instance of the subtle power of the institution was given in a little-marked incident of Adams's generally creditable administration. By three men as high-minded as President Adams, Secretary Clay, and Minister Gallatin, overtures were made to England for a treaty by which the surrender of deserters from her army and navy should be her compensation for surrendering our fugitive slaves! The British government would not listen to the proposal.
The national politics of this period, 1820-32, centred in a group of strong and picturesque personalities,—Clay, Adams, Calhoun, Jackson, and Webster. John Quincy Adams was a sort of exaggeration of the typical New Englander,—upright, austere, highly educated, devoted to the public service, ambitious, yet not to the sacrifice of conscience, but cold, angular, repellant. Says Carl Schurz in his Henry Clay—a book which gives an admirable resum? of a half-century of politics: "He possessed in the highest degree that uprightness which leans backward. He had a horror of demagogy, and lest he should render himself guilty of anything akin to it, he would but rarely condescend to those innocent amenities by which the good-will of others may be conciliated. His virtue was freezing cold of touch, and forbidding in its look." When the Presidential election went into the House in 1824, the influence of Clay—himself a defeated candidate—was decisively thrown for Adams against Jackson, and Clay served as President Adams's Secretary of State. The two men supplemented each other well; Clay less austerely virtuous, but far more lovable; his personal ideals less exacting, but his sympathies wider. The co-operation between them was honorable to both and serviceable to the country; but partisan bitterness stigmatized it as a corrupt alliance; the air was full of suspicion and jealousy toward the cultivated and prosperous class that had hitherto supplied the chiefs of the government, and the rising democratic sentiment found a most congenial hero in Andrew Jackson.
He was a rough backwoodsman; a fighter by nature and a passable soldier; a staunch friend and a patriot at heart; ignorant, wholly unversed in statesmanship, arbitrary in temper, and inclined to judge all subjects from a personal standpoint. He easily defeated Adams for the Presidency in 1828. His election marked the ascendancy, long to continue, of a more ignoble element in the nation's political life. His administration began the employment of the spoils system; and it "handled intricate financial problems as a monkey might handle the works of a watch." Jackson had small regard for the rights of those who got in the way of himself, his party, or his country; he had trampled recklessly on the Indian; and his triumph fell as a heavy discouragement on the quiet but widespread movement to elevate the negro. He treated all questions in a personal way; and the first great battle of his administration was to compel social recognition in Washington for the wife of one of his cabinet members whose reputation scandal had breathed upon, unjustly as Jackson believed. In the revolt against her recognition a leader was the Vice-President, John C. Calhoun, himself a man of blameless morals and an advocate of the highest social standards. He thereby lost at once the favor of Jackson, which was transferred to Martin Van Buren, a wily New York politician, quite ready to call on any lady or support any policy that his chief might approve. The breach between Jackson and Calhoun was widened by the disclosure of an old political secret, probably by Crawford of Georgia, a disappointed Presidential aspirant. Jackson's administration naturally fell more and more into the hands of mediocre men.
Calhoun had already had a long term of distinguished public service; he had been one of the group of young men who came to the front in urging on the war of 1812; he had served with success in the cabinet and twice been chosen to the Vice-Presidency. He was of high personal character; a keen logician and debater; a leader who impressed himself by the strength of his character and depth of his convictions. Adams wrote of him in 1821: "He is above all sectional and factious prejudices, more than any other statesman of this Union with whom I have ever acted." He was ambitious of the Presidency, an ambition which saw itself defeated when Van Buren became the heir-apparent of the Jackson dynasty. A true lover of his country, his predominant devotion came to be given to his own section, and that temper fell in with events to make him the foremost champion of the South.
The prominence of the personal element in public affairs was connected with the absence of any clear and deep division upon large questions of policy. There emerged a group of ideas constituting what was called the "American system," of which Clay was the foremost advocate, and which became the basis of the Whig party, as it was organized in the early '30's. Its general principle was the free use of the Federal government's resources for the industrial and commercial betterment of the people; and its prominent applications were a national bank, a system of national highroads and waterways, and a liberal use of the protective principle in tariff laws. "Protection to American industry" was the great cry by which Clay now rallied his followers. The special direction of this protection was in favor of American manufacturers. By very high taxes levied on imported goods, the price of those was necessarily raised to the consumer, and the American maker of clothes, cutlery, and so on, was enabled to raise his own prices correspondingly. Naturally, this result was most gratifying to the manufacturer and his dependents and allies. No less naturally, it was highly objectionable to the consumer. But to the consumer it was pointed out that by thus fostering the "infant industries" of his country they would be strengthened to the point where they could and would supply him with his goods far more cheaply than would otherwise be possible. But this pleasing promise, held out now for some seventy-five years, somehow failed to quite satisfy the consumer; and where whole classes and sections were consumers only, from the tariff standpoint, and saw themselves mulcted for the benefit of classes and sections already richer than they, they grumbled loudly, and did not always stop with grumbling. So when in 1828 a tariff was enacted imposing very high duties on most manufactured articles, and which delighted the hearts of New England and Middle States manufacturers, it was so obnoxious to others that the name was fastened to it of "the tariff of abominations," and history has never changed that name.
There were hopes of relief under Jackson, but in the confusion of party issues, and with the tariff supported by the consolidated strength of the manufacturers—a consolidation powerful enough to make Webster its spokesman in Congress; a consolidation as definite and resolute as that of the slave-holders, and destined to be far longer-lived,—no change in legislation came till 1832, and then the change was immaterial; the "tariff of abominations" was substantially re-enacted. The South had been chafing bitterly, and now South Carolina broke into open revolt. The whole South felt itself aggrieved by the tariff. Its industrial system was not suited to develop manufactures; it lacked the material for skilled labor; it lacked the artisan class who create a demand. Its staple industry was agriculture, the growth of tobacco, rice, sugar, and above all, cotton, and it went to the North and to Europe for its manufactured goods. A system of taxation which doubled the price of its imports without helping its exports, was resented as unjust, and as hostile to the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution.
South Carolina took the lead, and indeed stood alone, in applying a remedy more drastic than the disease—nullification. Calhoun's logic welded and sharpened the weapon which had behind it almost the entire weight of the State. The precise relation of the States to the Union, left indeterminate in the Constitution, and debated in every crisis which had strained the bonds, was now asserted by Calhoun to involve the right of any State to declare null and void any action of the Federal Congress which impaired its rights. South Carolina now put the theory into action. She held near the close of 1832 a convention, which declared the tariff law unconstitutional and void; asserted that the State would no longer pay duties under it, and if coercion was attempted would secede outright.
Congress discussed the matter; and in the most memorable and classic of Senate debates, Hayne of South Carolina vindicated the State's position with logic, passion, and eloquence; while Webster replied with an equal logic, a broader and higher ideal of nationality, a vindication of New England which thrilled all hearts, and a patriotism which gave the keynote to the ultimate triumph of the Union. Hitherto, Massachusetts and South Carolina had each stood stiffly at times for her own way, even at peril of the national bond; but in that hour the individuality of South Carolina was merged in the slave-holding States, and that of Massachusetts in a Union, one and indivisible.
The challenge of South Carolina was promptly answered by Jackson, just re-elected President. He issued a proclamation, proclaiming nullification as political heresy, and threatening to treat its practical exercise as treason. But the situation was not destined to settlement by the high hand. Webster favored such a settlement; he was for no concession. As well make the issue now as ever, he said. The President's friends introduced a bill giving him authority, if nullification were insisted on, to close ports of entry, collect duties by military force, and the like; "the force bill," it was called. But the "tariff of abominations" was not the most satisfactory or promising ground on which to assert the national sovereignty. And Jackson was hardly a desirable man to intrust with indefinite military power. So urged the timid or the moderate, and Clay was again the spokesman of compromise. He brought in a tariff bill, by which all duties above 20 per cent. were to be gradually reduced until in 10 years they reached that figure, at which they were to remain. This bill and the force bill were passed together, and signed the same day. Confronted by the government with the sword in one hand and the olive branch in the other, South Carolina retracted—it was not a capitulation—and repealed the ordinance. Nullification as a theory passed out of sight. But the willingness of the extreme South to push to all lengths its resistance to a hostile policy remained, and was felt in all that followed.
It was a distinct tradition among Calhoun's followers after his death—and they followed him till Appomattox—that he privately gave as a reason for making the first battle on the tariff question rather than on slavery, that on the first the world's sympathies would be with them, and on slavery against them. The same tradition ascribed to Calhoun the prediction that the Northern influence would become predominant in the Union about 1860. Whether or not Calhoun said these things, the tariff issue certainly was brought on by the North; and the "compromise" on it was a substantial victory gained by South Carolina for the South. The final verdict of history may be that it was a just victory, won by unjust means. Calhoun now stood forth the recognized leader of his section, while it soon became apparent that of that section slavery was the special bond, and was to be its avowed creed.
Almost unobserved for a time amid these exciting events, the debate over slavery had been going on, transferred mainly from the political field to the minds and consciences of individuals. Once in State politics it came to an issue. Illinois, a free State without question at its admission in 1818, had a majority of its early immigrants from the South, and a determined effort was made to introduce slavery by law. It met a still more vigorous resistance, in which the Methodist and Baptist clergy, mainly Southern men, took a leading part. The opposition was led by a Southerner, Gov. Edward Coles, one of the forgotten heroes. Inheriting in Virginia some hundreds of slaves, and hindered by the State laws from emancipating them, he took them all to Illinois, gave them their freedom, supplied them with land, cabins, stock, and tools, and watched and befriended them till they became self-supporting. In each deed of emancipation he gave his testimony: "Whereas, I do not believe a man can have a right of property in his fellow men . . . I do therefore . . . restore to the said —— that inalienable liberty of which they have been deprived." He led the fight against the introduction of slavery into Illinois to a decisive victory in 1824. A few more such men throughout the South, and history would have been different.
A quiet advocacy of anti-slavery went on throughout the country, except the extreme South. It was in sympathy with the general revival of religious activity which began about 1815—a form of the new national life, disentangled from European complications, and free for home conquests and widening achievements. Three great evils aroused the spirit of reform—intemperance, slavery, and war. The general assembly of the Presbyterian church, representing the whole country, in 1818, by a unanimous vote, condemned slavery as "a gross violation of the most sacred and precious rights of human nature, and utterly inconsistent with the law of God, which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves." In 1824-7 the Legislatures of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey passed resolutions calling on Congress to provide for compensated emancipation, and expressing willingness that their States should pay their share of the burden. This last sentiment was a rare one; the self-sacrifice it demanded from the non-slave-holding States was very little in evidence during the long contest that followed; men would speak and vote for freedom; when angry enough they would fight—to defeat the master and incidentally to free the slave—but to pay, in cold blood, and in heavy measure, for the ransom of the slaves, was a different matter; and few were they who, like Lincoln, favored that way out. The action of those three Legislatures marked the height of the early anti-slavery tide, and prompted a hope which was never fulfilled.
In the decade 1820-30, more than 100 anti-slavery societies were established in slave States (see James G. Birney and His Times, an admirable exposition of the conservative anti-slavery movement). The Manumission Society of North Carolina in 1825 took a kind of census of the State, and concluded that of its people 60 in 100 favored emancipation in some form. In the same year a pamphlet published in Charleston, S. C., on "The Critical Situation and Future Prospects of the Slave-Holding States," bitterly declared that the whole book and newspaper press of the North and East teemed with articles on slavery. In Maryland, an anti-slavery party in 1826 elected two members to the House of Delegates; but this movement disappeared on the election of Jackson two years later. In Alabama, Birney, a man of a fine type, and growing toward leadership, secured in 1827 the passage of a law forbidding the importation of slaves as merchandise; but this was repealed two years later. So the wave flowed and ebbed, but on the whole it seemed to advance.
Among local societies in the Northern States, one may be instanced in New Haven, Ct., in which, in 1825, five young men associated themselves; among them were Edward Beecher, Leonard Bacon, and Theodore D. Woolsey. They were highly practical; their immediate aims were: First to elevate the black population of New Haven; secondly, to influence public sentiment in the city and State; and thirdly, to influence the theological students in Yale college. So faithful were their labors in their own city for its black population—described as in most wretched condition, which seems to have been the case with most of the blacks at the North in this period—that six years later Garrison pronounced them more comfortable and less injured by prejudice than in any other place in the Union. The young men of the New Haven and Andover seminaries united in a project of a college for the blacks; strong support was obtained; but the fierce wave of reaction following Nat Turner's revolt swept it away. Lane seminary at Cincinnati, a Presbyterian stronghold, became a center of enthusiastic anti-slavery effort, with the brilliant young Theodore D. Weld as its foremost apostle; he was welcomed and heard in the border slave States. The authorities of the college, alarmed by the audacity of their pupils, tried to restrain the movement, and the result was a great secession of students.
The seceders proposed to form a theological department at Oberlin College (established two years before) if they could have Charles G. Finney, the famous revivalist, as their teacher. But Finney declined to take the place until the conservative trustees consented to admit colored youths to the College; and thus Oberlin became an anti-slavery stronghold.
As the anti-slavery movement developed, the call for immediate liberation became more insistent and imperative. The colonization method lost credit. Slavery was coming to be regarded by its opponents not merely as a social evil to be eradicated, but as a personal sin of the slave-holder, to be renounced as promptly as any other sin. John Wesleys words were a keynote: "Instantly, at any price, were it the half of your goods, deliver thyself from blood-guiltiness!" A Virginia minister, Rev. George Bourne, published in 1816 Slavery and the Book Irreconcilable, in which he said: "The system is so entirely corrupt that it admits of no cure but by a total and immediate abolition." Two other Southern ministers, James Duncan and John Rankin, wrote to the same effect. In England, the abolition of slavery in the West India colonies was being persistently urged; the impulse was a part of the philanthropic movement that went along with the evangelical revival, and Wilberforce was its leader. These English abolitionists were coming to "immediatism" from 1824, and their influence told in America.
Among the most unselfish and devoted laborers for the slave was Benjamin Lundy. He was a Quaker by birth and training; he overtaxed his strength and permanently impaired his hearing by prematurely trying to do a man's work on his father's farm in New Jersey, and settled at the saddler's trade in Wheeling, Va., in 1808. With the outlawing of the African slave trade, there was beginning the sale of slaves from Virginia to the Southern cotton-fields, and the sight of the sorrowful exiles moved Lundy's heart to a lifelong devotion of himself to pleading the cause of the slave. Infirm, deaf, unimpressive in speech and bearing, trudging on long journeys, and accepting a decent poverty, he gave all the resources of a strong and sweet nature to the service of the friendless and unhappy. He supported himself by his trade, while he lectured and wrote. He established in 1821 a weekly Genius of Universal Emancipation, at Mt. Pleasant, O., starting without a dollar of capital and only six subscribers; and at first walking twenty miles every week to the printing press, and returning with his edition on his back. Four years later he moved his paper to Baltimore. Anti-slavery agitation was still tolerated in the border States, though once Lundy was attacked by a bully who almost murdered him. When the impending election of Jackson in 1828 came as a chill to the anti-slavery cause, the waning fortunes of his paper sent Lundy to Boston to seek aid. There he found sympathy in a number of the clergy, though fear of arousing the hostility of the South kept them cautious. Dr. Channing wrote to Daniel Webster, expressing the fullest sympathy with Lundy's devotion to freedom, but also the gravest apprehension that unless the slaveholders were approached in a spirit of friendliness rather than denunciation, there would result a sectional strife fraught with the greatest danger. We should say to the South, wrote Channing, "Slavery is your calamity and not your crime"; and the whole nation should assume the burden of emancipation, meeting the expense by the revenue from the sale of public lands. In this brief letter of Channing's there is more of true statesmanship than in all the utterances of the politicians of his day.
But Lundy (himself not given to denunciation) made one convert of a very different temper from Channing's or his own—William Lloyd Garrison, a young man educated in a printing-office, fearless, enthusiastic, and energetic in the highest degree. Quickly won to the emancipation idea, and passing soon to full belief in immediate and uncompensated liberation, he allied himself with Lundy as the active editor of the Genius, while the older man devoted himself to traveling and lecturing. The Genius at once became militant and aggressive. The incidents which constantly fell under Garrison's eye—slave auctions and whippings—fanned the fire within him. One day, for example, a slave came into the office, told his story, and showed the proofs. His master had lately died, leaving him his freedom, which was to be legally effected in a few weeks; but in the meantime the overseer under whom he worked, displeased at his way of loading a wagon, flogged him with a cowhide so severely that his back showed twenty-seven terrible gashes. Garrison appealed to the master's heirs for redress, but was repelled with contumely. Presently he assailed an old fellow-townsman in Newburyport, Mass., because a ship he owned had been employed to transport a cargo of slaves from Baltimore to New Orleans. The denunciation was unmeasured; the ship-owner brought suit, and as some points in the article were not sustained by the evidence, Garrison was fined $100. Unable to pay he went to jail, bearing his captivity with courage and high cheer, till Arthur Tappan, a New York merchant and a leader in the anti-slavery cause, paid his fine and released him. The Genius being ruined, Garrison transferred his field of labor to Boston, where, at the beginning of 1831, he started the weekly Liberator. He and his partner, Isaac Knapp, did all the work of every kind, living principally on bread and water, and with only six hours a week, and those at midnight, for Garrison to write his articles. The paper's motto was: "Our country is the world, our countrymen are all mankind." In his salutatory Garrison wrote: "I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think or speak or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen,—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retract a single inch—and I will be heard!"
While Garrison's language was constantly such as to arouse passion to the boiling point, he was always in theory a supporter of peace, opposed to war under any conditions, and even to resistance of force by force. But in 1829 there appeared a pamphlet of a different tenor; an Appeal, by Walker, a Boston negro, addressed directly to the slaves. It was a fiery recital of their wrongs and an incitement to forcible redress. Its appearance in the South caused great excitement. The Governors of Virginia and Georgia sent special messages to their Legislatures about it. Garrison wrote of it, in the Genius: "It breathes the most impassioned and determined spirit. We deprecate its publication, though we cannot but wonder at the bravery and intelligence of its author." Garrison's biographers—his sons—speak of Walker as "a sort of John the Baptist to the new anti-slavery dispensation." It was well for the Baptist that his head was out of Herod's reach. The Georgia Legislature passed in a single day a bill forbidding the entry of free negroes into the State, and making "the circulation of pamphlets of evil tendency among our domestics" a capital offense.
Large as these events loom in the retrospect, they were comparatively little noticed in their time. Virginia held in 1830 a convention for the revision of her constitution; among its members were Madison, Monroe, and Randolph; and emancipation was not even mentioned. Jefferson was dead, and the spirit of Jefferson seemed dead. Then the unexpected happened. There was a negro preacher, a slave named Nat Turner. He was a man of slight figure, reputed among his people a sort of prophet, addicted to visions and rhapsodies. He planned in 1831 an uprising of the slaves. He circulated among them a document written in blood, with cabalistic figures, and pictures of the sun and a crucifix. One night he and a group of companions set out on their revolt. Others joined them voluntarily or by impressment till they numbered forty. They began by killing Turner's master and his family; then they killed a lady and her ten children; they attacked a girls' boarding-school and killed all the inmates. Houses stood open and unguarded, and most of the white men were away at a camp-meeting. From Sunday night till Monday noon the band went on its way unchecked, and killed sixty persons. Then the neighborhood rallied and overcame them; slew several on the spot; but held the rest for trial, which was held regularly and fairly, and thirteen were executed. The origin of the outbreak remained mysterious. Turner said on his trial that he had not been unkindly treated, and there was no evidence of provocation by special abuse. There was no trace of any instigation from the North in any form. It seemed not a stroke for freedom by men worthy to be free; not even a desperate revolt against intolerable wrong; but more like an outbreak of savagery, the uprising of the brute in man, thirsty for blood. The fear at first prevailed that there existed a widespread conspiracy, and various legislation for protection and repression was enacted or discussed.
But the larger mind of Virginia was moved toward a radical treatment of the disease itself, instead of its symptoms. In the next session of the Legislature, 1831-2, proposals for a general emancipation were brought forward, and the whole subject was canvassed in a long and earnest debate. For slavery on its merits hardly a word of defense was spoken. The moral condemnation was not frequent or strong, but the economic mischief was conceded by almost all. It was recognized that labor was debased; manufactures and immigration were discouraged; the yeomanry were leaving the State. One bold speaker declared that the masters were not entitled to compensation, since property condemned by the State as a nuisance brings no award of damages to the owner. But the general agreement was that emancipation should be compensated and gradual, and that the blacks must be removed from the State. One plan was that they should be deported in a body to Africa; another, that the increase—about 6000 a year—should be so deported; while Thomas Jefferson Randolph urged a plan which recalled that framed by his uncle, Thomas Jefferson, half a century before. He proposed that the owner should maintain the slave-child till the age of eighteen or twenty-one, his labor for the last six or eight years being regarded as compensation for the expense of infancy; and that the slave should then be hired out till he had earned his passage to Africa. But, whatever the method, let decisive action be taken, and taken now! The Legislature, it is said, was largely made up of young and inexperienced men. Would not the courage and hopefulness of Virginia youth essay this great deliverance? Older voices bade them to the task. Said the Richmond Enquirer (edited by the elder Ritchie), January 7, 1832: "Means, sure but gradual, systematic but discreet, ought to be adopted for reducing the mass of evil which is pressing upon the South, and will still more press upon her the longer it is put off. We say, now, in the utmost sincerity of our hearts, that our wisest men cannot give too much of their attention to this subject, nor can they give it too soon." It was one of the decisive hours of history:
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side.
But the task was too great, or the life-long habit of the slave-owner had been too enervating. The apparent expense, the collision of different plans, the difficulty in revolutionizing the whole industrial system, the hold of an aristocracy affording to its upper class a fascinating leisure and luxury—these, and the absence of any high moral inspiration in the movement, brought it to naught. Instead of decreeing emancipation, the Legislature fell back on the policy of stricter repression. It enacted that the advocacy of rebellion by writing or printing should be a penitentiary offense, and to express the opinion that masters had no rights to their slaves was made punishable by a fine of $500 and one year in jail. To advise conspiracy was treason and its punishment death. It had been enacted a year before that no white man be allowed to assemble slaves to instruct them in reading and writing; and to this it was now added that neither slaves nor free negroes be allowed to preach.
And so Virginia abdicated her old-time leadership in the cause of human rights, and the primacy of the South passed to South Carolina and to Calhoun, the champion of slavery.
In the meantime the organization of the radical anti-slavery force went on at the North. In 1832 Garrison, Oliver Johnson and ten others constituted themselves the New England Anti-slavery Society. Almost its first attack was directed against the Colonization Society, Garrison being always as fierce against half-way friends as against pronounced foes. In 1833 a little group of more moderate but resolute men organized a local association in New York city, and under their call the American Anti-slavery Society held its first meeting in Philadelphia, in December. Among the New York leaders were Arthur and Lewis Tappan, merchants of high standing and men of well-balanced and admirable character; with them were associated Joshua Leavitt and Elizur Wright. Among the Massachusetts recruits was Whittier. The sixty-four members were largely made up of merchants, preachers, and theological students. Almost all were church members; twenty-one Presbyterians or Congregationalists, nineteen Quakers, and one Unitarian,—Samuel J. May. There was a noticeable absence of men versed in public affairs. The constitution was carefully drawn to safeguard the society against the imputation of unconstitutional or anarchic tendencies. It declared that the right to legislate for the abolition of slavery existed only in the Legislature of each State; that the society would appeal to Congress to prohibit the interstate slave trade, to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia and the territories, and to admit no more slave States; and that the society would not countenance the insurrection of slaves. Garrison, who had been visiting the Abolitionists in England, was not among the signers of the call to the convention, and the constitution was hardly in the line of his views; but he wrote a declaration of principles which after some debate was adopted. It was impassioned and unsparing; pictured the woes of the slaves and the essential wickedness of the system; denounced compensation and colonization; declared that "all laws admitting the right of slavery are before God utterly null and void" and "ought instantly to be abrogated"; and called for a universal and unresting agitation.