"A COMMANDING PRESENCE IN THE HISTORY OF THE NATION'S STRUGGLES TO OVERCOME RACIAL AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE": FIRST EDITION OF WENDELL PHILLIPS' BOLD 1845 ASSERTION OF A PROSLAVERY CONSTITUTION, CAN ABOLITIONISTS VOTE OR TAKE OFFICE UNDER THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION
(PHILLIPS, Wendell). Can Abolitionists Vote or Take Office under the United States Constitution? New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1845. Octavo, half calf-gilt, marbled boards; pp. (1-3), 4-39 (1). $1500.
First edition of the provocative abolitionist's fierce attack on the Constitution—proclaiming it "an irredeemably proslavery document"—declaring its legacy implicates "all Americans in the crimes of slaveholding," and caused the American flag to be weighed "heavy with blood."
An eloquent writer and orator, abolitionist Wendell Phillips was the "most important ally" of William Lloyd Garrison, who famously contended the Constitution was a "covenant with death" and "an agreement with Hell." As Garrison's "deepest source of inspiration," Phillips saw the "abolitionist as the catalyst for revolution." In this seminal work, he contends "that the U.S. Constitution was an irredeemably proslavery document… [and] abolitionists must withdraw support from the political system because it implicated all Americans in the crimes of slaveholding" (ANB). He notes herein that since the ratification of the Constitution, Americans witnessed "slaves trebling in numbers—slaveholders monopolizing the offices and dictating the policy of the Government… making the courts of the country their tools."
A citizen's vote, Phillips declares, is "an oath to support the Constitution—the whole of it… a contract with the whole nation" (emphasis in original). He cites key clauses, quotes statements made by James Madison and others during its ratification, and counters a series of 16 objections to the Garrisonian/Phillips position. In answering "the question of slavery," he states: "we are not dealing with extreme cases… every sixth man is a slave… the national banner clings to the flag-staff heavy with blood… If the Constitution is not what history, unbroken practice, and the courts prove that our fathers intended to make it, and what too, their descendants… say they did make it and agree to uphold—who shall decide what the Constitution is?" Scholar Paul Finkelman points out that while there now seems certain failure in the Garrisonian/Phillips position that the Constitution "logically led to the conclusion that the free states should secede from the union… in the 1830s and 40s, the idea of a northern secession, as a way of destroying slavery, made some sense… what would happen if the Garrisonians accomplished their goal, and the North left the Union to form a nation based on freedom instead of slavery? It would be like moving the Canadian border to the Mason-Dixon line. Suddenly, slavery would be threatened in Kentucky and Virginia because slaves could now escape to a free country just by crossing the Ohio River" (Making a Covenant). Phillips is widely esteemed as "a commanding presence in the history of the nation's struggles to overcome racial and economic injustice" (ANB). First edition, first printing: No. 13, The Anti-Slavery Examiner. '"Introduction" signed in print, "Wendell Phillips. Boston, Jan. 15, 1845." With "Extracts from J.Q. Adams" at rear. Sabin 81919.
Text very fresh, tiny gutter-edge-pinholes from original stitching, handsomely bound.