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as leader, not only against the Slave-Trade, but also against Slavery itself, so that he was hailed “Father of the cause in England," and was placed at the head of the illustrious committee by which it was conducted, though his rare modesty prevented him from taking the chair to which he was unanimously elected. But no modesty could check his valiant soul in conflict with wrong: Not content with his warfare in court, he addressed Lord North, the Prime Minister, warning him in the most earnest manner to take measures for the immediate abolition of Slavery in all the British dominions, as utterly irreconcilable with the principles of the British Constitution and the established religion of the land, and solemnly declaring that “it were better for the nation that their American dominions had never existed, or even that they had sunk in the sea, than that the kingdom of Great Britain should be loaded with the horrid guilt of tolerating such abominable wickedness.” 1 With similar boldness, in an elaborate work, he arraigned the doctrine of Passive Obedience, advanced now in favor of judicial tribunals, as once in favor of kings, and he openly affirmed, as unquestionable truth, that every public ordinance contrary to reason, justice, natural equity, or the written word of God, must be promptly rejected. Other things, too, I might mention ; but I am admonished that I must draw to a close. Pardon me, if I touch yet one other shining point in his career.
The news of the Battle of Bunker Hill, which reached London at the end of July, 1775, found him at his desk, still a clerk in the Ordnance Office, and by position obliged to participate in the military preparations now required. He was unwilling to be concerned, even thus distantly, in what he regarded as “that unnatural business”; and though a close attendance on his office for seventeen years, to the neglect of all other worldly opportunities, made it important to him as a livelihood, yet he resolved to sacrifice it. Out of regard to his great worth and the respect he had won, he was indulged at first with leave of absence; but when hostilities in the Colonies advanced beyond any prospect of speedy accommodation, then he vacated his office. This man of charity, who lived for others, was now left without support. But he was happy in the testimony he had borne to his principles: nor was he alone. Lord Effingham, and also the eldest son of Lord Chatham, threw up commissions in the army rather than serve on the side of injustice. They were all clearly right. It is vain to suppose that any human ordinance, whether from King, Parliament, or Judicial Tribunal, can vary our moral responsibilities, or release us from obedience to God. And since no man can stand between us and God, it belongs to each conscience for itself to determine its final obligations, and where pressed to an unrighteous act, - as if to slay, or, what is equally bad, to enslave, a fellowman charged with no crime, – then at every peril to disobey the mandate. The example of Granville Sharp on this occasion is not the least among the large legacies of wisdom and fidelity which he has left to mankind.
1 Memoirs, pp. 78-80. 2 The Law of Passive Obedience, p. 82, note.
All these are especially commended to us, as citizens of the United States, by the early and constant interest which he manifested in our country. By pen and personal intercession he vindicated our political rights, and when independence was secured, his sympathies did
not abate, as witness his correspondence with Adams, Jay, Franklin, and America's earliest Abolitionist, Anthony Benezet. His name became an authority here, at the South as well as the North, - and the colleges, including Brown University, Harvard University, and William and Mary, of slaveholding Virginia, vied with each other in conferring upon him their highest academic honors. But the growing numbers of the Episcopal Church had occasion for special gratitude, only to be repaid by loyal regard for his character and life. On separation from the mother country, they were left without Episcopal head. To repair this deprivation, Granville Sharp, in published writings extensively circulated, proposed the election of bishops by the churches, and their subsequent consecration in England, as congenial to the usage of early Christians, and, after much correspondence and many impediments, enjoyed the satisfaction of presenting two bishops elect from America - one of whom was the exemplary Bishop White, of Philadelphia --- to the Archbishop of Canterbury, by whom the Christian rite of laying on of hands was performed; and thus was the English Episcopacy communicated to this continent. I know not that the powerful religious denomination befriended by him in its infancy has ever sympathized with the great effort by which his name is exalted ; but they should at least repel the weak imputation, so often levelled against all who are steadfast against Slavery, that their benefactor
a man of one idea.”
Mr. President, I have striven to keep within the open field of history and philanthropy, on neutral ground; but you would not forgive me, if, on this occasion, I forbore to adduce the most interesting testimony of Granville Sharp touching that much debated clause in our National Constitution which has been stretched to the surrender of fugitive slaves. Anterior to the Constitution, even during colonial days, he wrote, that any law which orders the arrest or rendition of fugitive slaves, or in any way tends to deprive them of legal protection, is to be deemed “a corruption, null and void in itself"; and at a later period, in an elaborate communication to the Abolition Society of Maryland, - mark, if you please, of slaveholding Maryland, - which was printed and circulated by this society, as “the production of a great and respectable name," calculated to relieve persons “ embarrassed by a conflict between their principles and the obligations imposed by unwise and perhaps unconstitutional laws,” he exposed the utter “illegality” of Slavery, and especially of “taking up slaves that had escaped from their masters.”! But, in a remarkable letter to Franklin, dated January 10, 1788,a short time after the Constitution had left the hands of the Convention, and some months before its final adoption by the people, -- and which has never before been adduced, even in the thorough discussion of this question, the undaunted champion, who had not shrunk from conflict with the Chief Justice of England, openly arraigned the National Constitution. Here are his words.
Having been always zealous for the honor of free governments, I am the more sincerely grieved to see the new Federal Constitution stained by the insertion of two most exceptionable clauses : the one in direct opposition to a most humane
1 Letter to the Maryland Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, (Baltimore, 1793,) pp. 2, 3.
article, ordained by the first American Congress to be perpetually observed” (referring to the sufferance of the slave-trade till 1808); "and the other, in equal opposition to an express command of the Almighty, not to deliver up the servant that has escaped from his master,' &c. Both clauses, however, (the 9th section of the 1st article, and the latter part of the 2d section of the 3d [4th] article,) are so clearly null and void by their iniquity, that it would be even a CRIME to regard them as law."
It does not appear that Franklin ever answered this letter, in the short term of life which remained to him. But, in justice to his great name, I desire to express my
viction here, of course without argument, that this patriot philosopher never attributed to the clause, which simply provides for the surrender of fugitives from “service or labor," without the mention of slaves, any such meaning as it has since been made to assume. And Granville Sharp himself, in putting upon it the interpretation he did, forgot the judgment he had extorted from Lord Mansfield, affirming that any law out of which Slavery is derived must be construed strictly ; and, stranger still, he forgot his own unanswerable argument, that the word SLAVES is nowhere to be found in the British Constitution. The question under the fugitive clause of our Constitution is identical with that happily settled in England.
In works and contemplations like these was the life of our philanthropist prolonged to a generous old age, cheered by the esteem of the good, informed by study, and elevated by an enthusiastic faith, which always saw the world as the footstool of God; and when, at last, in
1 Memoirs, p. 253.