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(1857) Frances Ellen Watkins, “Liberty For Slaves”

Frances Ellen Watkins was born of free parents in Baltimore in 1825. After teaching in New York and Pennsylvania Watkins became a full-time abolitionist speaker for the Maine Anti-Slavery Society. By the 1850s she was one of the most noted speakers on that subject as well as a highly acclaimed novelist and poet. In the address below she eloquently calls for the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Could we trace the record of every human heart, the aspirations of every immortal soul, perhaps we would find no man so imbruted and degraded that we could not trace the word liberty either written in living characters upon the soul or hidden away in some nook or corner of the heart. The law of liberty is the law of God, and is antecedent to all human legislation. It existed in the mind of Deity when He hung the first world upon its orbit and gave it liberty to gather light from the central sun.

Some people say, set the slaves free. Did you ever think, if the slaves were free, they would steal everything they could lay their hands on from now till the day of their death—that they would steal more than two thousand millions of dollars? (applause) Ask Maryland, with her tens of thousands of slaves, if she is not prepared for freedom, and hear her answer: “I help supply the coffee-gangs of the South.” Ask Virginia, with her hundreds of thousands of slaves, if she is not weary with her merchandise of blood and anxious to shake the gory traffic from her hands, and hear her reply: “Though fertility has covered my soil, through a genial sky bends over my hills and vales, though I hold in my hand a wealth of water-power enough to turn the spindles to clothe the world, yet, with all these advantages, on of my chief staples has been the sons and daughters I send to the human market and human shambles.” (applause) Ask the farther South, and all the cotton-growing States chime in, “We have need of fresh supplies to fill the ranks of those whose lives have gone out in unrequited toil on our distant plantations.”

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