Speech of Joseph Barker (Part 2)

Citation Information:

“Speech of Joseph Baker,” (Part 2) Proceedings of the American-Anti-Slavery Society at its second decade. New York, 1854. Twelfth Anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

At this point, WENDELL PHILLIPS, of Boston, entered the hall, which fact the President (MR. GARRISON) announced, remarking that “his appearance was as cheering as the unveiled face of the sun after a long storm.” (Loud applause.)

JOSEPH BARKER said that he perfectly agreed with Mr. Quincy, that Slavery is the lowest condition of Humanity, and that slaveholding is the greatest crime in the catalogue of sins; but what he had contended for was this that in substance and in tendency the two systems were one, and that their effects were much more alike, than one who had not felt the weight of the European system would be disposed to believe; and that, indeed, under certain circumstances, the effect of the Aristocratic system in Great Britain and Ireland was more deplorable, in some respects, than the effect of the slaveholding system in this country. In illustration of this position, Mr. Barker cited the starvation which had been produced, not only in Ireland, but also in England, to a fearful extent, by the efforts of the landlords to maintain a monopoly of the grain market, and thus secure a higher price for their lands form the tenant farmers. By this system, within two years, the population of Ireland had been reduced, through absolute starvation, one and a half to two millions. In no case had the slaveholding system produced such a deplorable and frightful result.

He (Mr. B.) acknowledged the force of Mr. Quincy’s remark, that the people of Great Britain could run away, that they were at liberty, if they chose, to leave that country, and come to this. It was also true, that there was no law expressly passed to prevent the people from learning to read; but, by a tax of eight cents on every newspaper, so that one could not be bought for less than thirteen or fifteen cents, by levying a tax of thirty-six cents on every advertisement, though it were but a line, and by a burdensome tax on paper, the number of books and newspapers was kept down, and the ability to obtain them limited to the higher and middle classes of the people. Let his audience imagine books kept at a high price, the people prevented from having more than one half the needful amount of employment, and then obliged to pay two thirds of all their earnings in taxes, (the Aristocracy did not pay one fiftieth part of the their income in taxes,) and they would have as cunningly a devised scheme as the world had ever beheld, for extracting the very last drop of life-blood and energy from the working classes, and leaving them as low, as abject, as poor, as hopeless, as they could well be.

It was true, Mr. Barker said, that the people had the right to run away; but, in many cases, they had not the requisite means to avail themselves of this mode of escape from the tyranny that oppressed them. There were millions in Great Britain and Ireland, at this time, who could not run away; and many of them waited until their friends in this country sent them the means to pay their passage here. Millions were sent over from the United States to Great Britain every year for this purpose. He was aware, as Mr. Quincy had said, that the conduct of the Irish and English Aristocracy is sometimes thrown in the way of the Abolitionist, as an objection to the Anti-Slavery movement; and when he presented his views on this subject, he know what abuse might be made of them by pro-slavery parties in this country. He knew it was possible that some pro-slavery man might, by mistake, say to him, —”That’s’ right, Barker! You do right to denounce the Aristocracy across the ocean.” It was possible that such a man might do this once-not twice! (Laughter and cheers.) But, on the other hand, if they refused to allow that the English and Irish Aristocracy are the company of unbearable creatures they really are—how did that operate on the Irish emigrants? They would say—”If these men don’t know any more about Slavery than they know about England and Ireland, we shan’t believe them when they tell us of the condition of the slaves. We have suffered from the Aristocracy and land monopolists in England; we know how they operate; we know it is not possible for the slaves physically to be in a worse condition than he laws of the Aristocracy and land monopolists of Great Britain and Ireland have brought upon the laboring population of those countries; and if they will not concede the truth when speaking on this subject, we are not prepared to acknowledge what they have to say on the question of Slavery.”

Mr. Barker concluded—My own impression is, that the course I have taken in venturing to express my feelings and judgment on this subject, will do far more good, by its influence upon English emigrants, than it could possible do harm by appearing, for a time, to strengthen a certain objection employed by slaveholders and their sycophantic adherents. (Applause.) But, whatever be the effect of this course of procedure, for a time, one thing is certain, I can only vindicate liberal principles in my own way, and use such illustrations as my reading and experience supply; and I will trust the effect of a free, honest, benevolent utterance of my own thoughts, and my own feelings, further than I can see. And when we do utter our feelings and sympathies, and convictions of truth, and our wishes for improvement, and when we do contribute our labors for the good of mankind, I am thoroughly persuaded, as I am that I exist, that the effect must be good, though some individuals may seek to make a bad use of it. However, we are all agreed, that while we live in America, it is with American institutions and American abuses that we have especially to deal. Our work is to create and extend the sentiment in favor of impartial Freedom, and against that most accursed of all institutions, American Slavery. I say, here we are agreed, and here we speak our minds, and contribute our efforts to this one great object,—to wipe away the stain from the American character, to abolish that institution which rests like an incubus upon American enterprise and improvement; and, surely, we can bear to hold differences of opinion in minor matters, so long as we are perfectly agreed in hating American Slavery, in opposition to the American slaveholder, and in our efforts elevate every human being to a position of equality of rights and a fair chance of doing well for himself, both in body and soul, in his own person and in his posterity, through the length and breadth of this great county, and through he countless ages which are to witness its growing destiny. (Loud cheers.)