Born into slavery on December 23, 1815, Henry Highland Garnet was a minister, abolitionist, orator and educator. Read the anti-slavery speech of the first black man to speak in the U.S. Capitol.
Escaping slavery with his family at a young age, Garnet grew to become widely known for his eloquence as a minister and a fierce anti-slavery advocate who encouraged enslaved blacks to take up arms to fight for their freedom. As a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Garnet often spoke at gatherings.
On February 12, 1865, days after Congress had passed the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, Garnet was invited to deliver a sermon in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., making him the first African American to speak at that place.
A pastor of the of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. at that time, Garnet’s sermon was titled “Let the Monster Perish” and it touched on the vices of slavery.
Read it below:
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be
IN THIS CHAPTER, of which my text is a sentence, the Lord Jesus addressed his
Such was their conduct in the Church and in the state. We have modern Scribes and Pharisees, who are faithful to their prototypes of ancient times.
With sincere respect and reverence for the instruction, and the warning given by our Lord, and in humble dependence upon him for his assistance, I shall speak this morning of the Scribes and Pharisees of our times who rule the state. In discharging this duty, I shall keep my eyes upon the picture which is painted so faithfully and lifelike by the hand of the Saviour.
Allow me to describe them. They are intelligent and well-informed, and can never say, either before an earthly tribunal or at the bar of God, “We knew not of ourselves what was right.” They are acquainted with the principles of the law of nations. They are proficient in the knowledge of Constitutional law. They are teachers of common law, and frame and execute statute law. They acknowledge that there is a just and impartial God, and are not altogether unacquainted with the law of Christian love and kindness. They claim for themselves the broadest freedom. Boastfully they tell us that they have received from the court of heaven the Magna Charta of human rights that was handed down through the clouds and amid the
But others, their fellow men, equal before the Almighty and made by Him of the same blood, and glowing with immortality, they doom to lifelong servitude and chains. Yes, they stand in the most sacred places on earth, and beneath the gaze of the piercing eye of Jehovah, the universal Father of all men, and declare that “the best possible condition of the Negro is slavery.”
In the name of the Triune
What is slavery? Too well do I know what it is. I will present to you a bird’s eye view of it
Let us view this demon, which the people have worshipped as a God. Come forth, thou grim monster, that thou mayest be critically examined! There he stands. Behold him, one and all. Its work is to
It tears the crown of glory from his head and as far as possible obliterates the image of God that is in him. Slavery preys upon man, and man only. A brute cannot be made a slave. Why? Because a brute has
But slavery attempts to make a man a brute. It treats him as a beast. Its terrible work is not finished until the ruined victim of its lusts and pride and avarice and hatred
Proud Nimrod first the bloody chase began, A mighty hunter he; his prey was man.
The caged lion may cease to roar, and try no longer the strength of the bars of his prison, and lie with his head between his mighty paws and snuff the polluted air as though he heeded not. But is he contented? Does he not instinctively long for the freedom of the forest and the plain? Yes, he is a lion still. Our poor and forlorn brother whom thou hast
Slavery commenced its dreadful work in kidnaping unoffending men in a foreign and distant land, and in piracy on the seas. The plunderers were not the followers of Mahomet, nor the devotees of Hinduism, nor benighted pagans, nor idolaters, but people called Christians, and thus the ruthless traders in the souls and bodies of men fastened upon Christianity a crime and stain at the sight of which it shudders and shrieks.
It is guilty of the most heinous iniquities ever perpetrated upon helpless women and innocent children. Go to the shores of the land of my forefathers, poor bleeding Africa, which, although she has been bereaved and robbed for centuries, is nevertheless beloved by all her worthy descendants wherever dispersed. Behold a single scene that there
Why do they weep? Ah, Lord God, thou knowest! Their babes have been torn from their bosoms and cast upon the plains to die of
This commerce in human beings has been carried on until three hundred thousand have been dragged from their native land in a single year. While this foreign trade has been pursued, who can calculate the enormities and extent of the domestic traffic which has flourished in every slave State, while the whole country has been open to the hunters of
It is the highly concentrated essence of all conceivable wickedness. Theft, robbery, pollution, unbridled passion, incest, cruelty, cold-blooded murder, blasphemy, and defiance of the laws of God. It teaches children to disregard parental authority. It tears down the marriage altar and tramples its sacred ashes under its feet. It creates and nourishes polygamy. It feeds and pampers its hateful handmaid, prejudice.
It has divided our national councils. It has engendered deadly strife between brethren. It has wasted the treasure of the Commonwealth and the lives of thousands of brave
It seals up the Bible and mutilates its sacred truths, and flies into the face of the Almighty, and impiously asks, “Who
When inconsistencies similar in character, and no more glaring, passed beneath the eye of the Son of God, no wonder he broke forth in
Let us here take up the golden rule, and adopt the self-application mode of reasoning to those who hold these erroneous views. Come, gird up thy loins and answer like a man, if thou canst. Is slavery, as it is seen in its origin, continuance and end, the best possible condition for thee? Oh, no! Wilt thou bear that burden on thy shoulders, which thou wouldst lay upon thy fellow man? No. Wilt thou bear a part of it, or remove a little of its weight with one of thy fingers? The sharp and indignant answer is no, no! Then how, and when, and where, shall we apply to thee the golden rule, which says, “Therefore all things that ye would that others should do to you, do ye even so unto them, for this is the law of the prophets.” Let us have the testimony of the wise and great of ancient and modern times:
Sages who wrote and warriors who bled.
Plato declared that “Slavery is a system of complete injustice.” Socrates wrote that “Slavery is a system of outrage and robbery.” Cyrus said, “To fight in order not to be a slave is noble.”
If Cyrus had lived in our land a few years ago he would have been arrested for using incendiary language, and for inciting servile insurrection, and the royal fanatic would have been hanged on a gallows higher than Haman. But every man is fanatical when his soul is warmed by the generous fires of liberty. Is it then truly noble to fight in order not to be a slave? The Chief Magistrate of the nation, and our rulers, and all truly patriotic men think so; and so think legions of black men, who for a season were scorned and rejected, but who came quickly and cheerfully when they were at last invited, bearing a heavy burden of proscriptions upon their shoulders, and having faith in God, and in their generous fellow-countrymen, they went forth to fight a double battle. The foes of their country were before them, while the enemies of freedom and of their race surrounded them.
Augustine, Constantine, Ignatius, Polycarp, Maximus, and the most illustrious lights of the ancient church denounced the sin of slave-holding.
Thomas Jefferson said at a period of his
The sainted Washington said, near the close of his mortal career, and when the light of eternity was beaming upon him, “It is among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country shall be abolished by law. I know of but one way by which this can be done, and that is by legislative action, and so far as my vote can go, it shall not be wanting.”
The other day, when the light of Liberty streamed through this marble pile, and the hearts of the noble band of patriotic statesmen leaped for joy, and this our national capital shook from foundation to dome with the shouts of a ransomed people, then methinks the spirits of Washington, Jefferson, the Jays, the Adamses, and Franklin, and Lafayette, and Giddings, and Lovejoy, and those of all the mighty, and glorious dead, remembered by history, because they were faithful to truth, justice, and liberty, were hovering over the august assembly. Though unseen by mortal eyes, doubtless they joined the angelic choir, and said, Amen.
Pope Leo X testifies, “That not only does the Christian religion, but nature herself, cry out against a state of slavery.”
Patrick Henry said, “We should transmit to posterity our abhorrence of slavery.” So also thought the Thirty-eighth Congress.
Lafayette proclaimed these words: “Slavery is a dark spot on the face of the nation.” God be praised, that stain will soon be wiped out.
Jonathan Edwards declared “that to hold a man in slavery is to be every day guilty of robbery, or of
Rev. Dr. William Ellery Channing, in a Letter on the Annexation of Texas in 1837, writes as follows: “The evil of slavery speaks for itself. To state is to condemn the institution. The choice which every freeman makes of death for his child and for every thing he loves in preference to slavery, shows what it is. The single consideration that by slavery one human being is placed powerless and defenceless in the hands of another to be driven to whatever labor that other may impose, to suffer whatever punishment he may inflict, to live as his tool, the instrument of his pleasure, this is all that is needed to satisfy such as know the human heart and its unfitness for irresponsible power, that of all conditions slavery is the most hostile to the dignity, self-respect, improvement, rights, and happiness of human beings. . . . Every principle of our government and religion condemns slavery. The spirit of our age condemns it. . . . Is there an age in which a free and Christian people shall deliberately resolve to extend and perpetuate the evil? In so doing we cut ourselves off from the communion of nations; we sink below the civilization of our age; we invite the scorn, indignation, and abhorrence of the world.”
Moses, the greatest of all lawgivers and legislators, said, while his face was yet radiant with the light of Sinai: “Whoso stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he
The Representatives of the nation have bowed with reverence to the Divine edict, and laid the axe at the root of the tree, and thus saved succeeding generations from the guilt of oppression, and from the wrath of God.
Statesmen, Jurists, and Philosophers, most renowned for learning, and most profound in every department of science and literature, have testified against slavery. While oratory has brought its costliest, golden treasures, and laid them on the altar of God and of freedom, it has aimed its fiercest lightning and loudest thunder at the strongholds of tyranny, injustice, and despotism.
From the days of Balak to those of Isaiah and Jeremiah, up to the times of Paul, and through every age of the Christian Church, the sons of thunder have denounced the abominable thing. The heroes who stood in the shining ranks of the hosts of the friends of human progress, from Cicero to Chatham, and Burke, Sharp, Wilberforce, and Thomas Clarkson, and Curran, assaulted the citadel of despotism. The orators and statesmen of our own land, whether they belonged to the past, or to the present age, will live and shine in the annals of history, in proportion as they have dedicated their genius and talents to the defence of Justice and man’s God-given rights.
All the poets who live in sacred and profane history have charmed the world with their most enchanting strains, when they have tuned their lyres to the praise of Liberty. When the Muses can no longer decorate her altars with their garlands, then they hang their harps upon the willows and weep.
From Moses to Terrence and Homer, from thence to Milton and Cowper, Thomson and Thomas Campbell, and on to the days of our own bards, our Bryants, Longfellows, Whittiers, Morrises, and Bokers, all have presented their best gifts to the interests and rights of man.
Every good principle and every great and noble power have been made the subject of the inspired verse and the songs of poets. But who of them has attempted to immortalize slavery? You will search in vain the annals of the world to find an instance. Should any attempt the sacrilegious work, his genius would fall to the earth as if smitten by the lightning of heaven. Should he lift his hand to write a line in its praise, or
Could we array in one line, representative of all the families of men, beginning with those lowest in the scale of being, and should we put to them the question, Is it right and desirable that you should be reduced to the condition of slaves, to be registered with chattels, to have your persons and your lives and the products of your labor subjected to the will and the interests of others? Is it right and just that the persons of your wives and children should be at the disposal of others and be yielded to them for the purpose of pampering their lusts and greed of gain? Is it right to lay heavy burdens on other men’s shoulders which you would not remove with one of your fingers? From the rude savage and barbarian the negative response would come, increasing in power and significance as it rolled up the line. And when those should reply, whose minds and hearts are illuminated with the highest civilization and with the spirit of Christianity, the answer deep-toned and prolonged would thunder forth, no, no!
With all the moral attributes of God on our side, cheered as we are by the voices of universal human nature–in view of the best interests of the present and future generations–animated with the noble desire to furnish the nations of the earth with a worthy example, let the verdict of death which has been brought in against slavery by the Thirty-eighth Congress be affirmed and executed by the people. Let the gigantic monster perish. Yes, perish now and perish forever!
Down let the shrine of Moloch sink, And leave no traces where it stood; No longer let its idol drink, His daily cup of human blood. But rear another altar there, To truth, and love, and mercy
It is often asked when and where will the demands of the reformers of this and coming ages end? It is a fair question, and I will answer.
When all unjust and heavy burdens shall be removed from every man in the land. When all invidious and proscriptive distinctions shall be blotted out from our laws, whether they be constitutional, statute or municipal laws. When emancipation shall be followed by enfranchisement, and all men holding allegiance to the government shall enjoy every right of American citizenship. When our brave and gallant soldiers shall have justice done unto them. When the men who endure the sufferings and perils of the battlefield in the defense of their country, and in order to keep our rulers in their places, shall enjoy the well-earned privilege of voting for them. When in the army and navy, and in every legitimate and honorable occupation, promotion shall smile upon merit without the slightest regard to the complexion of a man’s face. When there shall be no more class legislation and no more trouble concerning the black man and his rights than there is in regard to other American citizens. When, in every respect, he shall be equal before the law, and shall be left to make his own way in the social walks of life.
We ask, and only ask, that when our poor, frail barks are launched on life’s ocean,
Bound on a voyage of awful length And dangers little known,
that, in common with others, we may be furnished with rudder, helm and sails and charts and compass. Give us good pilots to conduct us to the open seas; lift no false lights along the dangerous coasts, and if it shall please God to send us propitious winds or fearful gales, we shall survive or perish as our energies or neglect shall determine. We ask no special
If slavery has been destroyed merely from necessity, let every class be enfranchised at the dictation of justice. Then we shall have a Constitution that shall be
Great sacrifices have been made by the people; yet, greater still
The great day of the nation’s judgment has come, and who shall be able to stand? Even we, whose ancestors have suffered the afflictions which are inseparable from a condition of slavery, for the period of two centuries and a half, now pity our land and weep with those who weep.
Upon the total and complete destruction of this accursed sin
Let slavery die. It has had a long and fair trial. God himself has pleaded against it. The enlightened nations of the earth have condemned it. Its death warrant is signed by God and man. Do not commute its sentence. Give it no respite, but let it be ignominiously executed.
The nation has begun its exodus from worse than Egyptian bondage
Hear ye not how, from all high points of Time,— From peak to peak
Out from old forms and dead idolatries; From fading myths and superstitious dreams: From Pharisaic rituals and lies, And all the bondage of the life that seems! Out—on the pilgrim path, of heroes trod, Over earth’s wastes, to reach forth after God!
The Lord hath bowed his heaven, and come down! Now, in this latter century of time, Once more his tent is pitched on Sinai’s crown! Once more in clouds must Faith to meet him climb! Once more his thunder crashes on our doubt And fear and sin—”My people! come ye out!
From false ambitions and base luxuries; From puny aims and indolent self-ends; From cant of faith, and shams of liberties, And mist of ill that Truth’s pure day-beam bends: Out, from all darkness of the Egypt-land, Into my sun-blaze on the desert sand!
Show us our Aaron, with his rod in flower! Our Miriam, with her timbrel-soul in tune! And call some Joshua, in the Spirit’s power, To poise our sun of strength at point of noon! God of our fathers! over sand and sea, Still keep our struggling footsteps close to thee!