Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence/The Duty and Responsibility of the Anglo-Saxon

Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence
The Duty and Responsibility of the Anglo-Saxon
W. Justin Carter

W. Justin Carter of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Extract[ed] from an address delivered before the Eureka Literary Society at Penbrooke, PA, December 16, 1904.

Mr. Chariman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am going to speak to you tonight of what your race has contributed and is contributing to this great stream on whose bosom is borne the freighted destiny of the human race, and whose currents wash every shore.

More than two and one half centuries of progress and achievement, on this continent alone may well vaunt your pride and give you the resolution which belongs to the children themselves of dignity.

Exult copiously, if you will, over the triumphal march of a great material civilization, the marvelous expansion of your territory, your wonderful development of hidden resources, your power and dignity at home or abroad, but invite not, nor condone that spirit of listless satiety, nor sink into that national egotism which lets the dagger steal to the heat of the nation while your reveling conceals the presence of the foe. For, remember, pomp and splendor, wealth, ease, and power's pride and heraldry's boast once echoed "Through haughty Rome's imperial street."

If American citizenship contains a hope and promise, a wealth, a blessing, and a content, aye! and immorality and just renown, it lives to-day in hearts, and not in stone; it lives in feelings and not in lands; it resides in aspirations and not in coffers, it lives in ideals and not in vaunt and splendor.

It is yours to fulfill its duties; to meet well its responsibilities; it is what your fathers builded out of heat and soul, out of love, compassion, and generous fellowship; and not out of love, compassion, and generous fellowship, and not out of blood and brawn; it is humanity's own; yours be it to study and repeat, if need be, the sacrifices of those who planted its first seeds with the sword, nourished them with their blood and suffering, and with wisdom, blessed by Heaven, consecrated by heroic sacrifices and sanctified by prayer, left it to you and to all of us, more wisely fashioned, more glittering in its prospect and more alluring to our fancy that anything political wisdom ever offered to human hope.

But in order to know and feel what there is of universal interest which we have to do, what there is for humanity's glory and wheal we have to preserve; what is the task set to us, as our work in forwarding the current of human life and liberty, we must look to the past, and learn what fundamental, essential truths have grown from its toil and achievement. Many such the American idea of citizenship contains; but if one let us speak.

The American ideal of citizenship and its ideal, its aims, possibilities, and destiny, had its origin and enshrinement in that Anglo-Saxon spirit of freedom which has been the peculiar characteristic of a race whose civil and judicial development in the remotest and darkest days of its history distanced all rival clans and, from Alfred to William III, from tribe to Empire, has cherished and sustained a system of civil and religious liberty, which, intolerant of every form of oppression has made the English language the vernacular of liberty.

In the earliest periods of these peoples' history we ding the germal elements of those great charters of liberty which are to become the chief corner-stone of free government and mighty guarantees of personal liberty.

A philosophical review of the evolution of these early ideas of personal liberty to their full growth into a free constitutional government would make an instructive and interesting study; but I lack the learning and the ability for such disquisitions. I must therefore content myself with the purpose of unfolding the duties and destinies of American citizenship, to review but historically, how from simple communities seeking to free themselves from the rule of individuals or classes, to govern themselves by law, and make the law supreme in every exigency, great charters were established and the reign of law instead of the rule of princes permanently established.

Even in the establishing of their free system of public administration, the Anglo-Saxon aim and purpose was to secure the most absolute guarantees of personal security. The liberty of the individual unit of society secured in the exercise of the largest liberty consistent with the public welfare, and that liberty protected by the just and righteous administration of public laws, was the ideal of the Anglo-Saxon state.

In their religion, philosophy, poetry, oratory, and literature they have always confessed that oppression was venal and wrong. If selfishness, greed, or pride have allured them for a while from that royal path of national rectitude and honor, they have in the final test returned conquering to their true and higher selves. Their inborn hate oppression, their magnanimous and tolerant spirit of freedom gloriously in the ascendant.

Thus it is that the free institutions of Great Britain and American have grown and towered in strength, and in their onward march startled the world by their progress, and appalled the very lips of prophecy by their bold and daring sweep. They will not stop, for liberty is fearless and the current of freedom is irresistible.

But in the early Anglo-Saxon Commonwealth, the rights, liberties and privileges of the citizen were not as broad and full as we find them today. The spirit of liberty was weak at first, but her demands grew apace with her strength. Neither by the generosity of princes, nor by the wisdom of legislation, were the ordinary English rights of free citizenship enlarged and established. Nor are the first and elemental principles of free government which we find springing up on English soil after the conquests, and whose history in the re-establishment of political liberty we shall trace through countless struggles and repressions, the original of that divine idea of freedom which it has been the mission of the Anglo-Saxon race to give the world.

It is but a part of that great race spirit which the Conqueror could not conquer; the lingering spirit of freedom which the iron heel of despotic usurpation could not stamp out, the memory of a lost freedom ranking in the hearts of men determined to restore in their island home those ancient rights which no man dared to question in the days of the Saxon.

The condition of the early Saxon as it was raised by the wisdom and benevolence of good King Alfred, and as it remained until the end of the reign of the unfortunate Harold, was that of a freeman, a freeman not merely in the sense of being his own master, but "he was a living unit in the State." He held his lands in his own right. He attended the courts, and entered in their deliberations. He bore arms and, but authority of law, could use them in his own defense. The animating principle of Anglo-Saxon government was local sovereignty. Matters from the smallest to the greatest were vested in the local power.

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The establishment, after the granting of the Magna Carta, thus firmly of the liberties of England has been accomplished by bitter and fierce struggled; the obstructive forces were strong, but yielded in the end to the onward sweep of liberty directed by the aggressive spirit of intelligence, manhood, and humanity. At the end of the sixteenth century this much had been gained for freedom. The principles of liberty, which had been constantly acknowledged in written documents or had been established by precedents and examples (some of which were the remains of their ancient liberties) had been embodied as a part of the fundamental law of the land; those local institutions, which while we found among the free Saxons, and even now pregnant with the seeds of liberty, -- the jury, the right of holding public meetings, of bearing arms, and finally the Parliament itself had become a part of the common law of England.

Then came the Reformation and its demand for religious freedom. Against the claim of a divinely ordained Kingly power, the Caviler was found ready to revolt. The Puritans writhed under their religious restraint. The Puritan and the Cavalier joined their cause; political liberty invoked the aid of Faith, and Faith hallowed and strengthened the crusade of human liberty. The struggle increased against absolute power, spiritual and political, now concentrated in kingly hands. Giants they were who took up the quarrel of liberty in those dark days of civil strife. Men they were who inherited the blood of the saintly Langton and of his lordly Barons. Five centuries of heroic strife against oppression sanctified the name of liberty. they were mad with the hatred of tyranny, and centuries of bitter, heart-rendering experience had made them wise and valorous for the fray. Liberty is now about to win on Saxon soil, but not there alone, for those of her yeomanry, who were hardiest for the fight and cherished the broadest foundation of a new Empire, which then and forever should be untrammeled by the conservation of princes and unabashed by the sneers of monarch. They rejected primogeniture and the other institutions of the Middle Ages, and adopted the anti-feudal custom of equal inheritance. They brought themselves the safeguard of Anglo-Saxon liberty purified and burned by those years of oppression. They transplanted Saxon England freed from the dross of Norman rule and feudal aristocracy. Liberty and law are henceforth to work out the destinies of men, and who contemplating the manner of men and whence they derived their faith, their hopes and fears, can quibble about the aims and purposes of the founders of this Republic? The fathers did not borrow their political ideals from the juriscounsuls of Rome; not from the free democracy of Greece; nor did they fuse into their system the feudal aristocratic imperialism of Europe.

To govern themselves by law, and secure therewith the largest liberty with the greatest security of individual rights and property, was their ideal of statecraft, and this idea, inseparable from the principles they laid down, must endure while the fabric lasts.

I have told you that the government of the fathers planted was Anglo-Saxon in law; but it was Anglo-Saxon too in religion and spirit. Nothing has been so conquering in its influence as the Anglo-Saxon spirit; it has assimilated wherever it has gone, and like the leaven that leaveneth the whole, homogeneity has followed in its fierce wake of progress with not a white lost of its great and fearless impulse of law and freedom.

No race has been so domineering, none stronger and with a more exclusive spirit of caste, none which a more contemptuous dislike of inferiority, none more violent in prejudice once formed, or dislikes once engendered; yet doth the spirit and impulse of freedom "in the chambers of their soul", raising them finally above those hated obliquities, conquering their repugnance, enfeebling and vanishing their hates. Thus one by one grave wrongs inflicted upon weaker races by the cold, calculating hand of greed have arrested and blotted about in the hold name of right. Thus it is, and has been, that nations, sects and creeds coming to these shores lose, in the fascination of free institutions and the august majesty of liberty, the distinctive qualities of their old allegiance, and thus it is that over a broad land composed of all nations, sects, and creeds there reigns once grand homogeneity and a single patriotic impulse of faith and destiny. Few there are of Americans who can today trace even the faintest spark of their lineage to an English or even a Norman source. yet the spirit of the Anglo-Saxon is the presiding genius of our destiny. Its spirit is the spirit of our law, and its religious is the the evangel of our political faith.

Inheritors of this great circumstance of ower and rule, need I remind you that, though you sacrifice your labor and toil, though you may have brought forth this jewel of liberty regulated by law, you cannot keep it unless you share it with the world. They evils which in days past men had to wipe out in tears and blood will rise again and precipitate convulsions in which liberty may expire.

The very spectacle of seeming grandeur and the outward cast of luxury and splendor invite the enemies' quest and fans into blood-red heat his latent ire, while pride, vanity, and hate surround the heart with the humor of death-breeding slime into which the corroding worm is spawned.

I care nothing for the shell; the fleshy parts are no longer food for the living but the pearl contained in this Anglo-Saxon mollusk has for me an irresistible charm. The pure spirit of its lofty ideals, distilled from his life and struggles, and living in quickening tough with human thought and aspiration, like the exaltation which lingers after some Hosanna chorus; his sublimated actions and deeds, whose swelling flood of cadence throb with the heart-beat of universal man, -- these I love with inexpressible devotion; these are worth preserving. All else, cast int he rubbish heap with past delusions.

Mr. Chariman, men are great and small, they roam the vast wilderness of the stars, and soar the very empyrean of thought and action, and they fear and crouch and kneel; and in their quaking fears and driveling doubts seem like puny things crawling on the ground; they are saints and sinners; sometimes emissaries of light and love, and yet again harbingers of ill, and sometimes the very Nemesis of hate; but in the composite elements of their human thinking, throbbing energies of heart and mind, they are as but a single soul, governed by one law, imbued with one spirit, hearkening to one voice, touched by the one sympathy, inspired by one hope, and in trend aspiration, love and ideal, impelled by the onward flux of one great life-struggle and purpose.

What, then, are you and I but sentient units in one great evolving process of life-activity and thought; and yet so circumvolved in that process and the impulse, which we irradiate from the point of our single past particular seat of energy and feeling, thrills through the bast spheres of human purpose and endeavor, and raises the standard of truth or forwards the advance of enlighted order like each rhythmic melody is gathered in the mightier confluence of chime and strain to swell the torrent of a mighty symphony.

The work we have to do is not outside, but deep down in the teeming flow of struggling human souls, think of them as your other self, and your own souls will interpret the meaning of their complaints, the quality of their striving, and the measure of their justice.

You will then behold the race of men as I have beheld them once when my single soul seemed which sympathy winged and I sat with the lowly outcast and felt his outrage and his shame; I brooded with him over all his wrongs; I felt within my breast and the poison shaft of hate, and clinched like him my fist, scowled, and vengeance swore on them who drove my despair and misery to crime by scoff and rancor and unforgiving hate.

I stood amidst a motley throng and felt my brain bereft of noble thought; I lived in a squalid home and despised the pity which the disdainful cast upon my lot; laughed at ribald jests and quaffed the liquid flame, and the dark hued nectar which concealed the serpent beneath its foam; I held my head aloft to seem with pride imbued; I gibed at fortune's whim and grinned a soulless sneer at my fate to conceal a deep despair.

I roamed with the savage Indians across the arid plains, stood with them in the lonely worship of the great and dropped like him a silent tear for the woodlands gone; the fleet footed game no longer at his door; his father's dust, scattered by winds over consecrated and hallowed battle plains.

I stood beside the enchanted Nile and wondered at the mystery of the Sphinx; I feld the lure, the wanderlust of the mysterious arid plains and laid my body down on the desert sand to sleep, a weapon by my side; I arose to greet the rising sun and, with "Allah" on my tongue, bowed my head in solemn worship towards Mecca's distant domes.

I wandered through Africa's torrid forest and scorching plains and sat naked before a bamboo hut; I feld the savage's freedom and his ease; I learned the songs of the birds, the shriek of beasts, the omens of the moons, and kenned the dread and sacred lore which tradition single tongue had brought from ages past and gone.

I walk beside the Ganges' sacred shores, worshiped at the shrine of might gods and felt the spirit of the mighty all vibrate through my being. I chanted the songs whose authors are forgot, and studies strange philosophies of sages passed; I starved and hungered on his arid plains; I felt the whips and scorn of cast; the curse of fated birth and the iron rule of oppression's heartless greed.

I was a slave, and by fortune scorned; I felt the whip cut into my quivering flesh and my blood rush hot to the gaping wound; I knew the agony of unrequited toil, and with aching limbs dragged my hopeless body to my hut, to think, but not to sleep.

I learned to dream and hate, and at Nemesis' bloody altar immolated in thought and hope the whole detested tribe of the human oppressors and cried Content.

And thus I know the bondage which men endure, the realty and the delusion in what they think and feel and the subtlety and strength of those evil forces which color his disposition and becloud his prospect.

And I stand amidst his turbulent fortunes and above the storm and rage of his contentions and despairs to proclaim the divinity of his soul, and to herald a new awakening under which his quickened energies all yet surge forward in mighty waves of better things.

If the Republic is true to the great principles of liberty and justice which it proclaims; if you have learned the lesson of your history, and appropriated the experience coined out of your own struggles, then will Anglo-Saxon genius and achievement glow like a mighty flame to light the path of struggling men, and Anglo-Saxon glory light angles restore the rights of men.