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The Liberator (Boston, Massachusetts),

September 3, 1831


The Insurrection


        What we have so long predicted,--at the peril of being stigmatized as an alarmist and declaimer,--has commenced its fulfillment. The first step of the earthquake, which is ultimately to shake down the fabric of oppression, leaving not one stone upon another, has been made. The first drops of blood, which are but the prelude to a deluge from the gathering clouds, have fallen. The first flash of the lightning, which is to smite and consume, has been felt. The first wailings of a bereavement, which is to clothe the earth in sackcloth, have broken upon our ears.


[p. 81]

        In the first number of the Liberator, we alluded to the hour of vengeance in the following lines:


                                    Wo if it come with storm, and blood, and fire,

                                          When midnight darkness veils the earth and sky!

                                    Wo to the innocent babe—the guilty sire—

                                           Mother and daughter—friends of kindred tie!

                                           Stranger and citizen alike shall die!

                                    Red-handed Slaughter his revenge shall feed,

                                           And Havoc yell his ominous death-cry,

                                    And wild Despair in vain for mercy plead—

                                    While hell itself shall shrink and sicken at the deed!


        Read the account of the insurrection in Virginia, and say whether our prophecy be not fulfilled. What was poetry—imagination—in January, is now a bloody reality. “Wo to the innocent babe—to mother and daughter!” Is it not true? Turn again to the record of slaughter! Whole families have been cut off—not a mother, not a daughter, not a babe left. Dreadful retaliation! “The dead bodies of white and black lying just as they were slain, unburied”—the oppressor and the oppressed equal at last in death—what a spectacle!”


        True, the rebellion is quelled. Those of the slaves who were not killed in combat, have been secured, and the prison is crowded with victims destined for the gallows!


                                    Yet laugh not in your carnival of crime

                                    Too proudly, ye oppressors!


You have seen, it is to be feared, but the beginning of sorrows. All the blood which has been shed will be required at your hands. At your hands alone? No—but at the hands of the people of New England and of all the free states. The crime of oppression is national. The south is only the agent in this guity traffic. But, remember! the same causes are at work which must inevitably produce the same effects; and when the contest shall have begun, it must be again a war of extermination. In the present instance, no quarters have been asked or given.


        But we have killed and routed them now—we can do it again and again—we are invincible! A dastardly triumph, well becoming a nation of oppressors. Detestable complacency, that can think, without emotion, of the extermination of the blacks! We have the power to kill all—let us, therefore, continue to apply the whip and forget new fetters!


        In his fury against the revolters, who will remember their wrongs! What will it avail them, though the catalogue of their sufferings, [p. 82] dripping with warm blood fresh from their lacerated bodies, be held up to extenuate their conduct? It is enough that the victims were black—that circumstance makes them less precious than the dogs which have been slain in our streets! They were black—brutes, pretending to be men—legions of curses upon their memories! They were black—God made them to serve us!


        Ye patriotic hypocrites! ye panegyrists of Frenchmen, Greeks, and Poles! ye fustian declaimers for liberty! ye valiant sticklers for equal rights among yourselves! ye haters of aristocracy! ye assailants of monarchies! ye republican nullifiers! ye treasonable disunionists! be dumb! Cast no reproach upon the conduct of the slaves, but let your lips and cheeks wear the blisters of condemnation!


        Ye accuse the pacific friends of emancipation of instigating the slaves to revolt. Take back the charge as a foul slander. The slaves need no incentives at our hands. They will find them in their stripes—in their emaciated bodies—in their ceaseless toil—in their ignorant minds—in every field, in every valley, on every hill-top and mountain, wherever you and your fathers have fought for liberty—in your speeches, your conversations, your celebrations, your pamphlets, your newspapers—voices in the air, sounds from across the ocean, invitations to resistance above, below, around them! What more do they need? Surrounded by such influences, and smarting under their newly made wounds, is it wonderful that they should rise to contend—as other “heroes” have contended—for their lost rights? It is not wonderful.


        In all that we have written, is there aught to justify the excesses of the slaves? No. Nevertheless, they deserve no more censure than the Greeks in destroying the Turks, or the Poles in exterminating the Russians, or our fathers in slaughtering the British. Dreadful, indeed, is the standard erected by worldly patriotism!


        For ourselves, we are horror-struck at the late tidings. We have exerted our utmost efforts to avert the calamity. We have warned our countrymen of the danger of persisting in their unrighteous conduct. We have preached to the slaves the pacific precepts of Jesus Christ. We have appealed to Christians, philanthropists and patriots, for their assistance to accomplish the great work of national redemption through the agency of moral power—of public opinion—of individual duty. How have we been received? We have been threatened, proscribed, vilified and imprisoned—a laughing stock and a reproach. Do we falter, in view of these things? Let time answer. If we have been hitherto urgent, and bold, and denunciatory in our efforts,--hereafter we shall grow vehement and active with the increase of danger. We shall cry, in trumpet tones, night and day,--Wo to this guilty land, unless she speedily repent of her evil doings! The blood of millions of her sons cries aloud for redress! IMMEDIATE EMANCIPATION can alone save her from the vengeance of Heaven, and cancel the debt of ages!


Eric Foner, editor, Nat Turner (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971), 80-83.

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