In Glasgow on Thursday 23 April, Frederick Douglass participated in two meetings, but his contributions – and those of his companion James Buffum – are not recorded in any detail. The reports dwell on the speeches of Henry Clarke Wright and George Thompson, experienced lecturers on both anti-slavery and peace.
The first was in the afternoon at the Assembly Rooms on Ingram Street, which hosted a meeting of the Glasgow Ladies’ Emancipation Society (or Female Anti-Slavery Society, as it was also styled). One of the activities of the Society was to collect items to be sent to Maria Weston Chapman‘s Anti-Slavery Bazaar, held every Christmas in Boston, Massachusetts, in order to raise funds for the American Anti-Slavery Society.
The second was in the evening at City Hall at a public meeting of the Glasgow Anti-War Society, an organisation in which the secretaries of the Glasgow Emancipation Society, John Murray and William Smeal, along with committee member Andrew Paton, played a leading role.
The speakers affirmed their commitment to peace and condemned recent British military interventions, including the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42), the First Opium War (1839-42) and the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46). They also remarked on the continuing tensions between Britain and the United States over the Oregon Question (1845-46).
For an overview of Frederick Douglass’ activities in Glasgow during the year see: Spotlight: Glasgow.
GLASGOW LADIES’ EMANCIPATION SOCIETY
A meeting of the Glasgow Female Anti-Slavery Society was held in the Assembly Rooms, Ingram Street, on Thursday the 23d instant, Robert Reid, Esq. in the chair. The meeting having been constituted,
The Chairman read the annual report of the proceedings of the Society, from which it appeared that the ladies of Glasgow had transmitted last year to the Anti-Slavery Bazaar, held in the town of Boston, two boxes of goods valued at £191, and that it was desirable that contributions should be sent in this year by the beginning of November, that they might be forwarded by the steamer of the 19th of that month, the Bazaar being held on Christmas week.
Mr Andrew Paton moved the adoption of the report, which was seconded by Mr. Wm. Smeal, and unanimously adopted.
Mr George Thompson then addressed the meeting at considerable length. He said he felt a deep interest in the circumstances in which he was placed to-day. He believed he had something to do with the origin of this society, and he still felt a warm sympathy in its efforts. It was first instituted for the overthrow of Slavery in our own colonies, and then, on a more enlarged basis, for its extirpation over the whole world. After referring to several topics alluded to in the report, to the good which the Ladies’ Emancipation Society of Glasgow had been instrumental in producing in regard to the question of Slavery, and to the position which the question now occupied, he pronounced an earnest and eloquent eulogium upon the character and exertions of William Lloyd Garrison, Mrs. Chapman, Messrs. Wright, Buffum, and Douglass, and other American abolitionists, and concluded by proposing a resolution, pledging the meeting to persevere in the cause of emancipation, till Slavery was consigned to that infamy to which it was destined.
The motion was seconded and agreed to by acclamation.
Another resolution was likewise unanimously adopted to the effect, that the members and friends of the Glasgow Female Anti-Slavery Society cordially approve of the object of the Anti-Slavery Bazaar, held under the direction of the Boston Anti-Slavery Society, and feel it a privilege to know that their sympathy and contributions have proved acceptable to their friends in America, and to assure them that this sympathy and these contributions will be continued until the last chain is broken from the slave.
The meeting was afterwards addressed by Mr. Buffum, Mr. Douglass, Mr. Wright, and the Chairman; and the proceedings altogether were of a very interesting description, but, from a want of space, we find it impossible to extend our report.
A vote of thanks having been given to Mr. Reid for his conduct in the chair, the meeting separated.
Free Church Alliance with Manstealers. Send Back the money. Great Anti-Salaery Meeting in the City Hall, Glasgow, Containing Speeches Delivered by Messrs. Wright, Douglass, and Buffum, from America, and by George Thompson, Esq. of London; with a Summary Account of a Series of Meetings Held in Edinburgh by the Above Named Gentlement (Glasgow: George Gallie, 1846), p. 44.
GREAT ANTI-WAR MEETING
A PUBLIC MEETING of the Glasgow Anti-War Society, and of those friendly to peace principles, was held in the City Hall, on Thursday evening, the 23d current at half-past seven o’clock. The meeting was numerously and respectably attended.
Mr. ANDREW PATON, on the motion of Mr John B. Ross, was called to the chair and said – I beg to acknowledge your kindness in calling me to the chair. From the many talented and eloquent friends who are to address us, any lengthened remarks from me would be out of place. I shall merely state that the Glasgow Anti-War Society seeks to aid in accomplishing objects of the highest importance to mankind – the abolition of all war, and the establishment of universal peace. Kindred societies have been formed, and are now forming in many places of Great Britain, Ireland, and America, and on the Continent of Europe, peace efforts are also commencing. We ask and invite all to help in this cause, which knows no distinction of nation, colour, creed, sect, or party – all are invited to, none are excluded from our platform save the self-excluded, through hostility, or culpable apathy. (Cheers.)
Our opponents are the most of the governing powers and their connections, who think governments cannot stand without armies, – the multitudes, in this and other countries, who look to war as a profession, in which themselves or relatives may attain wealth, station, and fame – so called. The greater part of the religious teachers of the world, and even of Christendom, who call themselves Christian ministers, servants of the Prince of Peace, but having not his spirit of peace and love, are really in their spirit and teaching the priests of war. (Cheers.)
We have opposed to us the prevailing corruption of public opinion regarding war, which if not originated by, is now chiefly upheld and sustained by the influential classes just mentioned. Before us is the task of informing, convincing, changing public opinion. This can only be done by societies such as this, calling public attention to the subject; by meetings such as this, by lectures, books, tracts – inculcating our principles by arguments drawn from the New Testament and reason, from Christianity and humanity. (Cheers.)
Our labours are cheered and encouraged by the gratifying knowledge, that this is an era of searching investigation on every subject, desirous to turn everything to the benefit and elevation of man. In the physical world the results are seen in processes and machines, saving toil, lessening space, bringing mankind together, thereby removing prejudices tending to their alienation; in the moral world, some of the results are seen in Slavery abolished throughout the British dominions, and hastening to its fall throughout the world, and in the advent of free trade. In the uprooting of slavery, one of the direst offsprings of war, the efforts of none have been of more value, or more successful, than those of our friends here present. (Cheers.)
We hail as a favourable omen, that men of their powerful minds and nervous eloquence have seen it their duty also to grapple with the war spirit. The cause of peace is certain, sooner or later, to prevail, for God has declared, that ‘Nation shall not always lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ An important business of this meeting is to send from it a friendly address to the citizens of the United States, imploring them, by our common Christianity, to put away all thoughts of war, and more firmly to cultivate and preserve the bonds of peace, assuring them that we had much rather they would feed than fight us, and allow us in return to clothe them. (Great applause.)
Mr. ROBERT REID, in moving the first resolution, said that the object at which the friends of peace aim, is the entire and speedy abolition of all wars and fightings. How is this object to be accomplished? Not by merely condemning war in the abstract, while we continue to justify it under particular circumstances, but by laying hold of that fighting spirit which pervades our entire social system, and seeking to supplant it by a spirit of forgiveness and peace. (Cheers.)
The idea, that individuals and nations must defend their honour by inficting evil for evil, and demanding compensation for injuries done, must be entirely uprooted from the public mind, before the horrors of war can cease. Now, how has the war spirit obtained that hold on the minds of men that it now possesses? Simply because it has ever been the policy of those interested in fighting to associate these deeds of blood with the religious feelings of those they sought to employ, and then lead them to the perpetration of crimes, from which, in other circumstances, they would have shrunk with horror. (Hear, hear.)
The whole history of territorial plunder will bear out this statement. Men never could have been induced to engage in the wholesale murder of their unoffending brethren had they not been prompted on, and deluded by, the prayers and exhortations of priests. (Hear.)
Recent events in connection with our own army amply illustrate this matter. You must have observed again and again in the newspaper reports of the proceedings connected with the ceremony of presenting new colours to different of her Majesty’s regiments, the solemn prayers offered up by ministers that their arms might still be rendered victorious over their enemies in the day of battle. You must also recollect of the day of thanksgiving appointed by the Governor General of India for the signal victory which had then been achieved over the Sikhs; but not to detain you with these acts of solemn mockery, permit me just to refer to the proceedings at home in connection with these bloody events. In addition to the votes of thanks passed by the Lords and Commons to those who were the instruments of destruction in India, something more must be done to bring peace of mind to the guilty, and convince religious people that this was the doing of the Lord, and ought, therefore, to be marvellous in their eyes.
To accomplish this end, the Archbishop of Canterbury is sent for by her Majesty, and ordered to prepare a form of prayer and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the late victories in India.1 I will make but one extract from this production –
We bless thee, O Merciful Lord, for having brought to a speedy and prosperous issue a war which no occasion had been given by injustice on our part, or apprehension of injury at our hands. To thee, O Lord, we ascribe the glory; it was Thy wisdom which guided the councils, Thy power which strengthened the hands of those whom it pleased Thee to use as Thy instruments in the discomfiture of the lawless aggressor, and the prostration of his ambitious designs.
I will not waste your time by reading further from this blasphemous production. Our language is deficient in terms sufficiently strong to expose the wickedness of those who would thus act. Those who know anything about the state of matters in India know that the Sikhs had every ground to expect that the British would sooner or later find an excuse for taking possession of their territory. Their sagacity revealed to them the impending storm, and involved them in a fruitless attempt to avoid it. (Cheers.)
The real crime of which they were guilty was, their attacking the British instead of allowing the British to attack them. It is bad enough to contemplate at least 30,000 of our brethren, in the course of a few short weeks, sacrificed to man’s ambition for rule, without having our feelings insulted by an attempt to father the iniquity upon God. (Applause.) The same doctrine was maintained by Sir R. Peel in the House of Commons at the beginning of last year. I refer to the speech he made in defence of Lords Ellenborough and Auckland; this was his language:-
With respect to the case of Scinde, it might be easy to condemn the principle of territorial aggrandisement; but, when civilisation and barbarism come into contact, he feared there was some irresistible power which often forced the stronger power to appropriate to itself the territory of the weaker.2
Supposing a band of unlegalised robbers were to find their way into Drayton Manor and vindicate their taking possession, on the ground that they were more powerful than the inmates, would Sir Robert give in to the doctrine? Its tendency evidently is a wicked one, and would justify the rich in appropriating to themselves the property of the poor; it is at antipodes to the sentiment of a pure Christianity – ‘Let the strong support the weak,’ and ‘bear ye one another’s burthens.’ If we would, then, abolish the war system, let us show that the religion which supports it is not the Christian religion, and the priesthood who advocate it, or who fail to condemn it, are not a Christian priesthood. (Cheers.)
Their God is the God of Battles, and their weapons of warfare are swords and guns. Their kingdom is of this world, and therefore do they fight. But the Christian’s God is a God of Love; his Saviour is a Prince of Peace; the weapons of his warfare are not carnal; his is the breastplate of righteousness – the shield of faith – the helmet of salvation – the sword of the spirit. These are the only insturments of warfare that are to be found in the Christian armoury, and they are all-sufficient – destined ere long to accomplish over the hearts of men a bloodless victory. (Loud cheers.)
In advocating non-resistance principles, we are often told that spiritual weapons will do very well when the Millennium has come; but till men’s hearts are changed, we must keep them in subjection by violence. (Hear, hear.)
To such sentiments we answer, that the Millennium never will come till we bring it. God has given us the means of accomplishing this blessed change, and the reason why it has not been consummated long ere this, is simply because we have refused to use the instrumentality he has provided, and the only instrumentality by which the world can be regenerated. (Cheers.)
Christianity is not a system to be applied at some future time – its principles are capable of application now in their fullest extent, but there is a want of faith in the power of these principles; and thus it is that men prefer their own devices to the appointments of God. Christ taught the doctrine of non-resistance in its fullest extent, and, lest we might mistake the import of his teachings, he gave us a practical exemplification of them in his life. If he, then, is the model set up for the Christian’s imitation, why do the professors of that religion refuse to imitate his example. Give our pulpits but one year’s emancipation from doctrinal disputations, and let that year be devoted to the cause of humanity, and the war system will be shaken to its very foundations; but let our clergy continue to exert the mighty influence they possess in fostering the war spirit, instead of seeking to destroy it, and the evil of which we speak will continue for a time longer to rage with unmitigated fury. But we warn them of their departing power; if not better used, it will soon be taken from them, and given to others. The printing press and the platform will, ere long, accomplish for humanity that deliverance from evil, which our churches and clergy have failed in accomplishing. (Loud cheers.)
Mr Reid concluded by moving, ‘that those do but mock God who pray for peace, and plead for the rights of war, and who pray that swords may be beaten into ploughshares, and that war may cease, while they live by making and selling deadly weapons, and by studying and practising the art of war; – who pray to God to enable them to love their enemies, while they plead for the right to kill them; and who pray that God would forgive them as they forgive, and who yet plead for the doctrine of blood for blood; – that it is the duty of all who wish to see “peace on earth,” to illustrate the principle of non-resistance, to evil by arms and blood, by an exhibition of that love that is all-confiding, all-hoping, all-forgiving, and all-enduring, and which seeketh not her own.’
The motion was seconded by Mr. Buffum, in an able speech, and on being submitted to the meeting, was adopted by acclamation.
Mr. H. C. WRIGHT, from America, was then introduced, and rewarded with loud and protracted applause, who said – Mr. Chairman – by war, I mean an assumption of the right to kill men, as means of punishment, or of defence. Whoever assumes this right, has declared war, in principle, against human life, and of course, against each and every human being. When individuals or nations kill men, they wage war in practice, and a duel, an execution on the gallows, murder, anarchy, and blood revolutions, battles between armies, piracy, sacking and burning towns, cities, and butching men, women, and children, as at St. Sebastian, Ghuznee, and Cabool, are but the necessary practical results of the principle; and while man assumes the right to kill, and that assumption is sanctioned, so long will such scenes be witnessed.
If war be right, then is the killing of men the most honourable, dignified, and christian employment in which men can engage; and soldiers and hangmen, the most noble and useful of mankind. They should be regarded as the chief men of the world – for nothing brings man so closely into connection with God and eternity, as hanging, shooting, and stabbing men.
I am disgusted with the hypocrisy of those who assume the war principle, advocate it in society, but who shun the blood-stained hangman and soldier, and who shun the toils, sufferings, and dangers of the battle. Especially am I disgusted with the conduct of those ministers, doctors of divinity, bishops, and archibishops, who, by their prayers and preachings, foster the war spirit and principle in the hearts of the people, but who will never act as hangmen and soldiers.
The prayer and thanksgiving to God, for the victories in India, to which a previous speaker alluded, surpasses in daring impiety and blasphemy, and unblushing falsehood, any thing ever heard. The man who could conceive such falsehoods, and utter them in the form of a prayer to a God of truth and love, can neither be an honest man nor a Christian; and debased and destitute of the fear of God, and of regard for man, must be those hirelings, in the garb of priests and ministers, who could repeat that blasphemous mockery of God and truth in the hearing of the people, as the Archibishop of Canterbury and his tools have done. (Great applause.)
They pour out the heart’s blood of men, and give God thanks. They rob and murder, and say – ‘The Lord hath delivered us to do these things – blessed be his name.’ The Archbishop and all war-making minsiters ought to be compelled to carry out their own principles on the gallows and battle-field. (Protracted cheers.)
The Archbishop should be compelled to do all the hanging of the nation with his own reverend hands – (cheers) – and war-making Ministers and Doctors of Divinity ought to be compelled to go out to the battle, and there carry out their bloody principles by shooting or being shot. (Laughter and cheers.)
They ought to be licensed, ordained, and consecrated to the work of hanging, shooting, or of being hun or shot. (Loud applause.)
For I repeat, there is no emplyment so full of sacredness, of sublimity, and magnitude, as that of sending immortal souls to the bar of God. Let all the people insist that all those ministers who advocate defence by arms and blood, shall enlist and do the fighting – (laughter and applause) – for if they are what they profess to be, it would be gain to them to be shot; and if they are not, according to their own doctrine, that the worse criminals ought to die, it would be gain to the world to have them shot. (Laughter and immense applause.)
For who is a greater sinner than he who claims to be the minsiter of the Prince of Peace, yet pleads for war – who says we are bound to love our enemies, and kills them – that we ought to forgive, but yet exact blood for blood – and who pretends that men should always return good for evil, and yet returns evil for evil? Such bloody-minded men cannot be ministers of Christ, and I would not recognise them as the servants of Him who commanded men to love their enemies, to put up their swords, and to learn war no more. They minister at an altar of blood – they are besmeared with a brother’s blood. (Cheers.)
Sir, I am an infidel to a war-making and slave-holding religion; I must be, in order to be a Christian. As Christ was an infidel and a blasphemer in the estimation of those who bowed before the shrines of idolatry, and of the Pharisees and High Priests of his day, so do I wish to be esteemed an enemy to that religion which sanctions or tolerates slavery or war. Sure I am that a religion that can make merchanise of men, preside over battles, give thanks to God for victory, and break the necks of men on a gallows, can never find a lodgment in my soul. I loathe it. Christ is my hope.
To be righteous as he was righteous, to love as he loved, to forgive as he forgave, and in all things to be governed by his spirit, and to walk in his steps – is all I ask. This I desire as the one thing needful to my happiness on earth and in eternity. But the religion which arrays man against man on the field of death has no affinity to Christianity. Here I wish to draw the line. God knoweth the hearts of men – i do not; but this I know, practically, the advocate of war is an enemy to Christ. Who is the infidel – the advocate of war or of anti-war?
I hold that the spirit of Christ never leads men to fight and kill; my opponent holds that the spirit of christ leads men to deeds of human slaughter.
I believe that men should love their enemies – you believe that they may kill them.
I believe that all injuries are to be forgiven – you that some are to be avenged.
Good for evil is my motto, blood for blood is yours.
I believe that no being has power over human life but he who gave it; you believe that man may take away the life of man.
I believe that men should instantly and for ever beat their swords into ploughshares and learn war no more; you believe that they are to make guns and swords, and study the art of war.
I believe that we should hide our lives with Christ in God, and leave the protection of our persons, when assaulted with intent to injure and kill, solely to God; you believe that we should hide our lives with man in the sword, and entrust the defence of person and property to armies and navies.
When put into position in which I must kill or be killed, I believe that Christ would have me die, and leave vengeance to God; you believe that Christ would have you kill and take vengeance into your own hands.
Who is the infidel – the non-resistant, or the armed-resistant? Who the enemy of Christ, the man who loves his enemies, and thinks it his duty and privilege to die rather than injure them, or the man, to save and benefit himself, kills his enemies? Who of these two is the Christian? Who of them has the mind of Christ, and walks in his steps?
I am willing to leave the decision of this question to the Prince of Peace, when we shall appear before him to give account of the deeds done in the body. It is not upon the besotted soldier that I place the chief responsibility of the blood shed in war, but upon those who advocate the war principle, and diffuse the war spirit in society. The blood of the innocent victims of British power in India will be required at the hands of those who give tone to society in this matter.
First of all, these cruel murders will be required at the hands of those ministers who maintain the Christianity of defence by arms and blood, and give God thanks for their success in the work of human slaughter. The day is not distant when men will no more enlist as soldiers than as highway robbers and assassins. A soldier is a mere hireling at the trade of shooting and stabbing men. He has no more choice as to whom, for what, or when, he shall kill than the gun with which he shoots, or the sword with which he thrusts. He must kill at the bidding of his employers, without regard to the guilt or innocence of those whom he is to kill.
As you would save men from the sin and the wrath of God, warn them never to enlist. If rulers and bishops wish to kill men, let them go and do their bloody work with their own bloody hands. (Great cheering.)
It is said that social institutions cannot exist without war. Then let the social institutions be destroyed. Institutions for men, not men for institutions, is my watchword; and I would as soon cut off the head to save the hat as to kill men to save institutions. Cease to reverence institutions and customs in church and state, and reverence God and regard man. Never kill men to protect an institution. Bow not to crowns, sceptres, or titles; honour man as he comes from the hand of God, not as he comes from the hand of the tailor or the jeweller. (Great applause.)
Sir, with me, the following are self-evident truths: What is wrong in an individual, is wrong in a nation. An act that is branded and punished as robbery and murder in individuals should be branded as robbery and murder when perpetrated by a nation. What it is a sin to do without a commission from Government, it is a sin to do by any one acting under the authority of such a commission.
Would soldiers dare to commit the deeds, as individual men, which they daily perpetrate as soldiers? As soldiers, they throw bombshells into nurseries, parlours, and kitchens, to burst amid scenes of domestic love and innocence. Would they dare to do this as private men? They burn and sack towns and cities – drive out men, women, and children, to perish – and they spread desolation and sorrow around the land. Would they do this as individuals? They would be branded as robbers and murderers if they did.
When you take a commission from Government, first ask – What are the duties required? If you find them such as you could not do without such a commission, touch it not. To act on such a commission would be to array yourself against the great Sovereign of the Universe. Go, cast your commissions at the feet of those from whom they came, if they require you to do what your conscience would not allow you to do without the commissions. You cannot carry that big of paper, to file it in the court of Heaven, to screen you there.
Think not to throw the responsibility of the innocent blood shed by you upon the nation. The nation is an abstraction; – an intangible nonentity cannot account for the robbery and murder of a living man. You must appear before God to give account of yourself. The responsibility of all the innocent victims of war – of the blood of the men, women, and children, who have been murdered by British swords and guns – must rest primarily on those who plead for war, and who seek to place Christ at the head of the war establishment of this world. What shall be said of these Doctors of Divinity who stir up people to demand satisfaction at the cannon’s mouth?
Sure I am they do not preach Christianity, for that is forgiveness. Those do not preach the Gospel of Christ who do not preach non-resistance to evil by arms and blood. I have no conception of man’s redemption – of Christ as the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world – aside from love to enemies and forgiveness of injuries. I have no idea of love and forgiveness, in connection with armed resistance to evil. The Gospel of Christ is not preached, when non-resistance is not preached. Those who do not preach that men are at once to put up their swords and learn war no more – that they are to be armed with the mind of Christ and not with the sword – and that they are to suffer and die rather than inflict suffering and death upon their enemies – do not preach Christ and Him crucified.
Let us cease to talk about war as an abstraction, and hold it up to the reprobation of mankind, as it is personified in the soldier and the hangman, and in the ministers, doctors of divinity, and bishops, who sanction it by their prayers and sermons, or by their silence and indifference (Great applause.)
If war is an enemy to Christianity, then are soldiers and all who advocate war the enemies of Christ. If Christ is the Prince of Peace, then all who advocate war are hostile to the spirit, precepts, and objects of Christ. Christ says, put up the sword – they say, draw it; Christ says, my disciples cannot fight – they deny that Christ tells the truth, and affirm that they can. While we renounce war as anti-Christian, let us reject their pretensions to be followers and ministers of Christ who justify war, for theirs is not the faith of Christ, but faith in words; they are not clothed with Christ’s righteousness, but with garments rolled in blood.
Mr. Wright closed amid great applause, and by offering the following resolutions:–
- That whatever is a sin in an individual, is a sin in a nation; and that whatever is opposed to christianity, when done by a man, without a commission from government, is opposed to it, when done by a man acting under such a commission; and, therefore, men should never accept a commission from Government which required them to do what they think would be wrong for them to do, acting alone, and on individual responsibility; and it is our duty to hold men responsible to some eternal principles of right, when they act as organised bodies, and as individuals.
- That any human institution or custom, which cannot exist without killing or enslaving men, ought to be reformed or destroyed; and that all who have enlisted under the bloodless banner of the Prince of Peace, should eek to show the superiority of love and forgiveness, over violence and blood, as the foundation principles of social and civil customs and institutions.
- That we can see no distinction between the principles and practices of the soldier’s profession, and those of the hired assassin; and, that it is the duty of professed ministers, and followers of the Prince of Peace, and of all who are concerned to save themselves and their friends from individual violence and blood, to set themselves against robbery and murder, when committed by Governments – and to warn the people against enlisting as soldiers, to kill men at the bidding of a nation, as they do against hiring themselves out to commit murder, at the bidding of an individual.
Mr. JOHN MURRAY seconded the resolutions proposed by Mr. Wright, which were unanimously agreed to.
Mr. DOUGLASS, who was received with applause, then proposed, in an eloquent address, the next resolution, which was as follows:
That whatever will be opposed to Christianity in any future period of the world, is opposed to it now, and is to be regarded as the enemy of all righteousness; and, that as it is admitted that Christianity will ultimately do away all war, as its antagonist, therefore, it is the duty of all now, to put up their swords, and learn war no more.
Councillor TURNER, in seconding the motion, said he believed the soldier might become a Christian, but he believed that no man under the influence of Christianity, could become a soldier.
Mr. GEORGE THOMPSON rose amidst great cheering and said – Mr. Chairman, at the commencement of a meeting like this I generally desire to be the last speaker, because I feel as though I could say nothing; but it frequently happens, as now, that while listening to others the mind becomes excited on the subject, and when called upon to rise and speak, the difficulty is to compress what is in one’s thoughts within the limit of the time allotted. At this late hour I must, in the language of Sir Robert Peel, ‘cast myself on the indulgence of the house. ‘(Laughter.) I will make a long speech, a short speech, or a middling-sized speech, just as you please. (Cheers, and cries of ‘a long speech.’) Well, Sir, thus encouraged, I will say a few words; but in so doing, I feel that the time for argument is gone, and that a fact, an anecdote, or an illustration, will be more in place than a dry disquisition.
First, let me sincerely thank my dear friend Henry Wright, for the manner in which he has discharged his duty to-night. He has gone to the core of this question – he has laid bare its foundations – he has revealed the principles upon which our opposition to the taking of human life must rest. He has properly stigmatised the legalised murders committed under the name of war, and in virtue of what is called a Government commission. He has shown that which we call legal is unlawful; and that the commissions under which the dreadful crimes of murder are perpetrated are wholly unauthorised – since there does not exist in the individual, and cannot therefore be given to rulers, the rightful power of destroying human life. (Cheers.)
Believing, as I do, that the position he has this night taken a sound one, and in perfect unison with both the spirit and precepts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I can most cordially support his views; and I would entreat those who have listened to the speech of my friend to fling away their preconceived opinions, and to sit down to the calm, the impartial, and the prayerful consideration of the fundamental principles of this great question. If you would come to a right conclusion on this subject, you must approach it with childlike simplicity and humble teachableness. You must be willing to be led in the right way, though you should be compelled to abandon the notions of expediency and necessity which you have hitherto cherished; and then, I believe, you will be brought to see the beauty, the power, the sublimity, and the divinity, of the principle of non-resistance. I am individually convinced that nothing short of this principle will satisfy the demands of that law of love, under which the follower of Christ is required to live.
Embracing this principle, you will at once perceive the simplicity, the symmetry, the completeness, the perfection, and the moral omnipotence of the Gospel. You will find your feet upon a rock. The mists which education , prejudice, passion, custom, and priestcraft have thrown around the actions and occupations of men, will be dispelled by the glorious beams of the Sun of Righteousness and Peace, and you will look with profound pity upon those who think that any of the righteous plans of man, or any of the holy purposes of God, can be fitly wrought out, or assisted by the weapons of violence, or by the shedding of blood – that blood which is the life of man – whose life is the sole property of his Maker.
You will find, too, that this principle of non-resistance not only guards the life of man as sacred, but enters into and controls the whole conduct and deportment of him who sincerely adopts it. He goes to a heavenly armoury for all the weapons he employs, in his efforts to pull down the strongholds of Satan – he lives in an atmosphere of love – he has forsaken the beggarly elements of the world – he has abandoned the defences of stone walls, and muskets, and swords; and, with weapons of heavenly temper, he seeks only to penetrate the hearts and understandings of his fellow-men, and to conquer them by reason, by persuasion, by argument, and by the force of truth and love, Such is the principle of non-resistance, which, though misrepresented and reviled, finds its source, I believe, in the spirit of the Gospel, and in the heart of the Redeemer.
If these things be true, how is it that armies and their diabolical deeds find admirers and defenders among the millions of this country who call themselves Christians? The answer is this – The Church has corrupted her way upon the earth. The days are gone when the followers of Christ arrayed themselves in the spotless garments of innocence and peace – when a Christian was a man who would submit to crucifixion rather than deny his Master, by carrying a sword. The Church has harnessed herself for battle – the chariot of the Gospel has been yoked behind the flaming steeds of war – the milk-white flag of peace has been exchanged for the bloody banners of destruction, intended to be waved over the bleeding, groaning, and mutilated bodies of hosts of men, hewed down and butchered to gratify the ambition of worldly-minded and wicked statesmen, who sit at home in silken security , and promote their schemes of aggrandisement and revenge, by sacrificing thousands of their fellow-creatures on the field of slaughter.
Sir, I take all the horrors, and all the guilt, and all the damnation of war, and lay them at the door of a fallen and practically apostate Church. The full demon of destruction to whom the cries of the dying are music, and whose nectar is blood, has found his most potent auxiliary to be the Church – the Church whose bishops consecrate banners, whose archbishop makes the God who sent his Son into the world to preach, that men should ‘love their enemies,’ THE GOD OF BATTLES, and gives Him thanks, that he has assisted our troops to butcher thirty thousand of the human race – the Church whose chaplains lay their prayer-books upon the drum-head within sight of those who are to be massacred on the morrow, and pray, ‘Give peace in our time, O Lord, because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God,’ – the Church whose abbeys and cathedrals are filled, not with the statues of the saints and philanthropists who have blessed the world by the preaching of the Gospel, and their deeds of mercy and benevolence, but with profligate warriors, who, while their souls were steeped in the pollution of adultery, and every species of debauchery, were constantly reeking with the gore of their fellow-creatures, and having their horses’ hoofs in the clotted blood of these whose souls by their impious and inhuman mandates, had been dismissed in the act of murder from the red field of slaughter to the bar of God; – the Church, too, many of whose ministers care not whether their sons obtain through simony a living in the Establishment, or purchase a Commission in the Army, and with it a license to be the butchers of their race,
Sir, if such things be done in the green, tree, what will be done in the dry? If such be the state of the Church, can we wonder at the state of the world? If deacons, Priests, Rectors, Vicars, Prebends, Deans, Arch-deacons, and Archbishops, convert the God of the Bible into a being, the very counterpart of that horrid deity whom the Hindoos worship as the goddess of blood – if they identify God with all the deception and drunkenness of the recruiting system – if they make him the Commander-in Chief of an army, made up of graceless Englishmen; prodigal sons, who have broken the hearts of their parents – worthless husbands, who have forsaken their families, and licentious officers whose ordinary pastime, in many instances, is gambling and seduction – an army that never moves in India but it carries in its train half as many prostitutes as soldiers – an army, too, that is composed chiefly of those who either call upon Mahomet to help them, or upon Juggernaut and Halee,3 and the host of deities who are the personifications of sin, and whose rites are lust and murder – if, I say, the Ministers of the religion of Christ in Britain can identify God with such an army, make Him its leader, give him thanks for its butcheries, and ask him to reward its institution, can we wonder that there is joy in bell and that war continues must to desolate, and scourge, and curse the world?
Sir, is such a nation as ours warranted to expect that she will be made the instrument of converting the world? Dose not Britain herself need to be converted from a religion of war to a religion of peace? Can her ministers have in them the mind that was in Christ, when they are found supporting a system that sends annually tens of thousands of victims to the bottomless pit? – a system that begins in sin – that annihilates the freedom and responsibility of man – that trains myriads of men to the profession of deliberate murderers – that carries havoc and desolation into the fairest regions of the earth – that multiplies widows and orphans – that substitutes the command of a General for the law of God, and is, in fact, a standing proof of the practical atheism of those by whom it is supported!
Sir, as far as I am acquainted with our recent wars, I am prepared to say, that we have in all respects fallen short of the heathen, with whom we have been fighting, in regard, to honour, good faith, and humanity.
Take one or two examples: what was the Affghan war but one, on our part, of causeless aggression – destitute altogether of excuse, even according to the maxima of those who uphold wars? We were threatened with no danger. The people against whom we marched our army were not enemies, but friends. It was not to redeem them from slavery – for they were as free, and more so, than the people of India, or than we are in this country. The ruler we sought to depose was not a tyrant, but on the contrary, ruled with the approbation and love of the people. (Great applause.)
The man we sought to place upon the throne, was a man who was hated by the people, and had been expelled thirty years before, in consequence of his despotic vices. Into this country, we marched our army – passing our own natural frontier, and crossing deserts, rivers, and mountains to invade it. We butchered the people – we blew up their fortresses we enslaved their chiefs – we occupied their cities – we hurled their ruler from his throne – we set up an execrated and imbecile tyrant; and we handed over the whole region to political agents, revenue collectors, and military officers, who carried on intrigues, ground the people to the dust by their exactions, and revelled in licentiousness among the women of the country.
Remember, I am saying no more than I can prove by the most undeniable evidence. At last, the monarch whom we had set up was assassinated. The depraved conduct of some of our principal functionaries disgusted the people, and inflamed them, with hatred and revenge at this juncture, Akbar Khan, son of the popular ruler, Dost Mahomed, whom we had sent two thousand miles away into captivity and exile, gathered around him some of the chiefs of the country and their tribes, and it was resolved that an effort should be made to drive out the invaders.
The season of the year favoured the plans of the patriots. They seized a number of our countrymen and soldiers, and held them as hostages for the restoration of the banished prince. They forced our army to evacuate the capital, and you all know that many thousands of our soldiers and their followers perished amidst the snows of the Khyber Pass in the ill-fated retreat from Cabul.
Well what then came to pass? Forced to treat with the victorious Akbar Khan, we at length restored his father, and resolved to leave the country. The prisoners who had been taken by Akbar Khan were delivered up, and bore uniform and unhesitating testimony to the kindness, the respect, and the scrupulously delicacy with which they had been treated during their captivity. What was our final act? The troops of Candahar and Jellalabad having formed a junction, and being on the point of leaving the country, determined to act upon the instructions of Lord Ellenborough, who had directed that some signal act of vengeance should be perpetrated ere Affghanistan was quitted forever. Bear in mind, that every prisoner had been delivered up, without the injury of a single hair of any one of their heads, and without the infliction of a single insult. How did we reward this treatment of our countrywomen and soldiers? Why, by setting to work like demons, and destroying the Bazaar of Cabul, one of the finest places of the kind in Asia – by demolishing the grand mart in which the peaceful merchants of the country, who had done nothing to offend us, but furnish our supplies and negotiate our bills) had deposited their goods, and were wont to carry on their trade. (Great sensation, and cries of ‘Shame.’)
Now, sir, contrast the conduct of these barbarous Affghans – these followers of Mahomet, which the conduct of the civilised English, the professed followers of Jesus, and tell me which of the two most illustrated the spirit and morality of the Christian religion. (Hear, hear.) Tell me, too, what you think of the return made for the safe delivery into our hands of every captive that had been taken by these Affghans. What is the consequence? We have turned tribes of men who might have been retained as friends, into bitter enemies; and we have brought into contempt and detestation the name of Christianity, throughout a country where our peaceful influence and pure example might have scattered boundless blessings, and diffused the saving knowledge of the truth.
Now set over against the conduct of the British in Cabul, the conduct of the Chinese. We went to war with the Chinese solely in consequence of the refusal of the Government of that empire to allow of a pernicious and contraband trade in opium. During that war the Europeans who had lived in the immediate vicinity of Canton had fled for safety to other places, under the protection of some friendly flag. On the conclusion of the peace between Great Britain and China, they returned, and found that, while we had been perpetrating the unspeakable horrors of Chusan, and blowing up towns and cities on the coast, the houses and property which these merchants had left to the mercy of the Chinese had been sacredly guarded, and that they were again in possession of what they land left behind them. (Loud cheers.)
A work has recently been published, relating to the Punjab. It is from the pen of the present political agent in that country, Major Lawrence. That officer records a conversation which he once had with a Mohamedan, who had been for nearly thirty years the principal minister of Runjeet Singh. It was on the subject of religion, and in the course of it the aged Mohamedan expressed his surprise that the English should live without any appearance of a belief in God. Major Lawrence assured him that the English did believe in God – that they had a religion – and that he would ascertain such to be the fact if he sent to Loodianah and consulted the missionary there, who would also produce the book in which the English believed.
The Sikh minister then apologized for his error, and said he recollected one Englishman who had deeply impressed him with a conviction of his goodness and his piety. Major Lawrence inquired who the Englishman was, upon which Azizudeen said his name was Ferguson, and he would relate under what circumstances he had become convinced of his piety. – Mr. Ferguson, while on business at Lahore, was attacked by some fanatical Sikhs, called Akalees, and wounded; upon which Runjeet Singh directed Azizudeen to wait upon the English gentleman, and express his sorrow for what had happened, and his determination to punish the offenders. ‘l fully expected,’ said the Mahomedan, ‘to find him smeared with blood, and anxious for revenge. Instead of the this, I found him on his couch, covered with a clean sheet, with a pale but sweetly-forgiving countenance, reading a book. On seeing me he said, ‘Ah! My friend, you find me wounded and weak, but still very happy; I am deriving rich consolation from this holy volume.’ I gave him the message of Runjeet Singh, and told him that his assailants would be punished; upon which he said, that he had forgiven them, and he hoped Runjeet Singh would also pardon their offence. Oh! he was a good man! The sheets around him were white, but not so spotless as his gentle heart. The memory of Mr. Ferguson is sweet. He was a good man.’ (Loud cheers.)
See, in the simple story, the mighty influence of the example of one man, redeeming the nation to which be belonged from condemnation, as without religion, and leaving an impression upon a casual beholder, which the lapse of years had been unable to efface. (Cheers.) Would there were more Fergusons in India; then, should we not have to send the inquirer to the missionary station, to ascertain the fact of our really having a religion a bible, and a God.
Sir, amidst the dreadful occurrences which have recently taken place on the banks of the Sutlej, there has been one of a most pleasing description. We are told, that an English soldier who has been severely wounded, was left for dead on the field of battle. In this state he lay, helpless and bleeding, with a fractured limb, unable to move. He was exposed to the chilling damps of the night, and the burning sun of the following day. He was dying of thirst, but could obtain no water. In these circumstances, he was found by a man who was looking among the slain for some friend whom he had lost. This man no sooner found that there was life still remaining in our countryman, than he went to the river and brought water to refresh him. He then bound up his shattered limb, and then took him on his back, to carry him to the British camp, which was seven miles distant, across a plain of deep and heavy sand. Having carried him for more than three miles, he had to lay down his burden in order that be might rest. While they were thus halting, a party of British soldiers came up, and seeing one of their countryman thus circumstanced, offered to place him on a litter, and send him in. The wounded man, however, replied, ‘No, I will again mount the back of my good Samaritan, who shall finish the kind work he has begun, and deliver me up to the Commander-in-Chief’ The stranger, therefore, again took up his load, and kindly deposited the soldier safely in the British camp. (Loud cheers.)
Now, sir, who was the man to who our countryman was indebted for his deliverance and his life? He was a SIKH! (Great cheering.) He was one of those with whom we had been at war – thirty thousand of whose countrymen we had slain – some of them most brutally; for, not content with defeating the Sikhs, and driving thousands of them into the river, we fired grape and musket shot among them while they were struggling with the torrent; and we have the testimony of Lord Gough, the Commander-in-Chief, that, in the whole course of his experiences as a soldier, he never beheld so terrific a sight, as that presented during the time when volleys of destructive shot were being poured upon the helpless multitude, who were trying to reach the opposite bank of the river. (Great sensation.) Now, let me ask, who imitated our blessed Saviour in the midst of these bloody transactions? Was it not that humane Sikh, who carried our wounded countryman safely into camp? (Great applause.)
Sir, I have recently attended two meetings at the India House, called for the purpose of returning thanks to the army of the Sutlej, and on these occasions I have felt it to be my duty to enter my protest against the profanity and blasphemy of coupling the name of the holy and ever blessed God with the victory we have obtained. (Loud applause.) I have also been recently at Reading delivering lectures, and I have felt happy in the opportunity afforded me, of identifying myself with those who petitioned parliament to withhold their thanks from men who had been engaged in the horrid work of wholesale destruction. (Cheers.)
If I am not wearying you – (Cheers, and cries of ‘Go on.’) – I will say a word upon the Oregon question. (Cheers.) We have heard many rumours of war with the United States, and there are some, both in this country and on the other side of the water, who would not scruple to plunge the two nations into a sanguinary conflict. The majorities in both countries are, I believe, in favour of present, continued, and perpetual peace. (Cheers. )
Oh, it would indeed be a horrid spectacle to see nations like Great Britain and America at war with each other! – to see men who have sprung from the same stock, who claim the same ancestry, who speak the same language, who profess the same religion, and have been engaged in common efforts to enlighten and save the world, employed in cutting each others’ throats! May God save us from beholding so fearful a scene as this!
We who are assembled here to-night have it in our power to do something to avert this threatened calamity. I have been called upon by the Committee to move, that a friendly address from this meeting be sent to our brethren on the other side of the water, assuring them of our earnest desire to dwell at peace with them – (Cheers.) – and to draw still closer the bonds of friendship and good-will that bind as together. (Loud cheers.)
I perceive that this measure has your entire approbation. (Applause.) I believe that your feelings are the feelings of the people of Great Britain generally. (Hear, hear.) I have attended many meetings since the fears of a rupture with the United States first became prevalent, and I have been delighted to find, that at all these, the people of our country have been unanimously and enthusiastically in favour of peace.
In London, recently, I attended one of the Concerts of those charming singers the Hutchinson Family – a band of minstrels who are doing as much good as an army of peace lecturers, by wedding the doctrines of peace and freedom to the harmony of their sweet voices, and the words of their touching melodies. I shall never forget the rapture with which some lines which they sung to the tunes of ‘God save the Queen,’ and ‘Yankee Doodle,’ were received by a crowded audience in the Queen’s Concert Room in London. I hope they will visit Glasgow, and delight you here as they have delighted thousands elsewhere.
In the meantime, I will try if I can remember the words they sung, which, though simple in themselves, struck a chord in every heart, and produced an effect such as I never before witnessed –
Oh! may the human race Heaven's Message soon embrace – 'Goodwill to Man.' (Cheers.) Hush'd be the Battle's sound; And, o'er the Earth around, May Love and Peace abound, Through every land. (Cheers) ---- Oh! then shall come the glorious day, When swords and spears shall perish; And Brothers John and Jonathan, The kindest thoughts shall cherish. (Cheers.) When Oregon no more shall fill, With poisoned darts our quiver; But Englishmen with Yankees dwell, On the great Columbia River. Then let us haste these bonds to knit, And in the work be handy, That we may blend 'God save the Queen,' With 'Yankee Doodle Dandy,' (Loud cheers)
It is gratifying to perceive how very generally the periodical literature of this country is impregnated with the doctrines of peace. (Cheers.) On my way here, I passed a part of my time in reading the last number of Douglas Jerrold‘s Magazine – a publication not more remarkable for its talent, than for its honest advocacy of the cause of the people, and the claims of humanity all over the world. This number contains a letter to that great and good man, Elihu Burritt, of Worcester, Massachusetts – (cheers) – who is devoting the powers of his extraordinary intellect to the promulgation of the doctrines of peace, and scattering his Olive Leaves over the entire face of the country. (Cheers.) In this letter, Douglas Jerrold bestows a well merited castigation on John Quincy Adams. He says:–
Your Leaf fell into my hands just after I had read Mr. Adams’s speech in Congress, where he stands upon the Bible for his right to Oregon, and would cut throats according to his notion of Genesis! Foolish old gentleman! he can’t have many years’ mortal breath in him, and therefore it is sad to see him puffing and puffing to blow the embers of war into a blaze – to see him , as I may say, ramming down murderous bullets, and wadding muskets with leaves from the Bible! But there’s a sort of religion that would sharpen the sword itself on the stone tables of Moses.
This is as just in sentiment as it is withering in sarcasm. He then launches upon the recent votes of thanks, and the prayer of thanksgiving drawn up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, giving the glory of the horrid slaughters in India to the God and Father of the Prince of Peace, and says:–
And so, according to these people, the Army of Martyrs should be an army with forty-two pounders and a rocket brigade. Their Christianity is Christiamity humbly firing upon one knee. Their incense for the altar is not myrrh and frankincense, but charcoal and saltpetre. Our Sir Robert Harry lnglis, for instance – who in the House of Commons speaks for pious Oxford – he was quite delighted that the Governor-General of India had put so much religion into the bulletin that published the slaughter of nine thousand Sikhs, as they call ’em. They were all killed – according to Sir Robert – not by the cold iron of the English infantry, but by a heavenly host; the bayonet, in truth, did not do the work; no, it was the fiery words of the angels, and praise were to be sung to them accordingly. And this is the Christianity of the Gazette; though I can’t find it in the New Testament.
This is really very good. But the cream of the letter, in my opinion, is the part in which he deals with poor Mr. Adams, for his unfortunate reference to Genesis to justify the seizure of the whole country beyond the Rocky mountains. Hear what he says:
And Mr. Adams, friend Ellihu, will go to his Bible to settle this matter of disputed land. Now the first dispute of the sort mentioned in ‘The Book,’ was arranged, certainly not after the fashion of Mr. Adams ; for here’s the original ‘Oregon question’ disposed of in Genesis in a manner quite forgotten by the Adams of America:–
And there was a strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle, and the Canaanite and Perezzite dwelled then in the land.
And Abram said unto Lot Let there be strife, I pray thee between me and thee, and between my herdsman and they herdsman for we be brethren.
Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself I pray thee, from me; if then wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.’ (loud applause,)
And so, Ellhu, Gunpowder Adams is answered out of his own Genesis!
But I must conclude. Let us from this day forth labour to disabuse the minds of those around us on the subject of war. Let us strip it of its false glory, and exhibit it in its native deformity and guilt, as a system of murder and blood. Let us arm ourselves from the word of God with arguments to meet those who, on the subject of war as well as slavery, condemn the thing in the abstract, but plead for it in the concrete. Let us examine and weigh the arguments of my friend Wright, and if we find that he has taken a sound view of the subject, as in my conscience and understanding I believe he has, let us support him in his holy mission of preaching against the systems that are deluging the earth with blood, and peopling the
regions of woe with the victims offered to this modern Moloch. Let us not mock God by praying for peace, while we are practically diffusing the doctrines of murder; but, be individually such, as mankind will be universally, when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
I now move that a Memorial to the people of the United States be adopted and forwarded to the Friends of Peace in America, for publication throughout the country. My friend Mr. Reid will lay that memorial before you, and my friend William Smeal, who has been so long known for his unceasing exertions in the cause of human freedom and universal peace, will second its adoption. May God in his goodness grant that this humble effort may prove in some degree successful in bringing the friends of peace in the two countries together; and may the time never come that there will be any other strife between us than the holy emulation of each other in love and good works – each labouring to excel the other in efforts to scatter the blessings of peace, and freedom, and pure Christianity over the face of the whole earth! (Mr. Thompson sat down amidst continued cheers.)
Mr. ROBERT REID then read and moved the adoption of a Memorial, addressed to the people of America, calling upon them to join with the people of of this country in preserving peace.
The memorial was seconded by Mr. WILLIAM SMEAL, and unanimously adopted.
A vote of thanks was then given to Mr. Paton for his conduct in the chair, and the meeting separated.
Glasgow Argus, 30 April 1846
- ‘On 6 April the Queen ‘ordered … that his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury do prepare a Form of Prayer and Thanksgiving to Almighty God, for the repeated and signal victories obtained by the troops of Her Majesty and by those of the Honourable East India Company, in the vicinity of the Sutledge, whereby the unjust and unprovoked aggression of the Sikhs was gloriously repelled, and their armies totally discomfited; and that such Form of Prayer and Thanksgiving be used in all churches and chapels in England and Wales, and in the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, upon Sunday the 12th of this instant April, or the Sunday after the Ministers of such churches and chapels shall respectively receive the same.’ London Gazette, 10 April 1846. The Prayer was quoted sarcastically in Mrs Wentworth, ‘Glorious War!’, The People’s Journal 17 (25 April 1846), pp. 230–32.
- Selective paraphrases from Robert Peel’s contribution to the debate on ‘The Ameers of Scinde’, House of Commons Debates, 8 February 1844, cc. 442–450.
- Thompson here draws on prevailing Victorian conceptions of Hindu religious practices, whence the English loan-word juggernaut derives. ‘Halee’ may refer to the goddess Kali, usually rendered ‘Kalee’ in contemporary British sources.