The Speech "An Address to the Slaves of the United States"

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This speech was delivered at the National Negro Convention which was held in the state of Buffalo in 1843. The day was taken by the speech “An address to the slaves of the United States” which was delivered by a Presbyterian pastor Henry Highland Garnet who also worked as a newspaper editor (Pasternak and Martin 35). The speech captured the attention of all the delegates present, young rising African leaders, such as William Wells Brown, Charles L. Redmond, Frederick Douglass, and Charles B. Ray. At only twenty-seven years he made the history. Nonetheless, the speech failed to obtain an endorsement from the convention by one vote.

The address was meant to be an eye opener that would enable the millions of slaves across the United States to see the reality of their lives. As seen at the beginning of the speech, Henry acknowledges that they have got used to the planned annual conventions where they gather and sympathize among themselves as they wept for the sad conditions in which their fellow brothers and sisters lived in.  The few enlightened that Africans have been comfortable with mourning and sitting still hoping that before the days’ end liberty will be restored. But all hope is in vain. Years have passed by, and still more children are being brought into a world full of hate, tears, and despair of an oppressed people. Henry stands before his fellow brothers to let them know that the bond that holds them together goes far deeper than common humanity. It is a connection that goes deep in to the tender relations among friends and family. This speech was meant to spark a fire in the minds and hearts of the black people. The speech had the purpose of reminding the black people of the horrors of the past, the horrors that are troubling the black people in the present, and the need to fight hard to make sure this would not be the fate faced by the future generations.

Two hundred and twenty-seven years of slavery have created a deep gulf between the white and the black people which has created a deep hatred between the two races that have to share and build a nation together. The speech was addressed to an angry people who have suffered years of mistreatment and shame. It was addressed to those who were taken from their home land against their will and consent and shipped off to a land not of promise or hope of a good life to enjoy the blessings of the fruitful American soil but to unnecessarily labor and experience of profound humiliation. The following generation inherited the chains. Millions of black souls were born, lived, and died in slavery forever tarnished by this curse. The colonialist blamed her mother land England for all the evil that they had done and promised to rid themselves of this vice. After a few years the colonialist grew strong enough to break away from England, and they took their place among other sovereign nations. Unfortunately, after the control of government was theirs, they did not break the chain. They added more links to the chain. They were not ignorant people and understood the meaning of liberty, yet they chose to deny the black society of the United States of America; the same principles they themselves used and loudly advocated for as they perused freedom from her sovereign mother England.

Henry Garnet delivered this speech with the oppressed slaves in mind, the white oppressors themselves, the government, and the international community that surrounded them. At the beginning of the speech he starts by acknowledging the presence of his fellow brethren and the other citizens who were present in the convention. He wanted to shine a light on the troubles that the black population experienced every day. He addressed the government by shining a light on the public opinions and laws that prohibited the black population from pursing various opportunities that were available for the white people. His audience was the international community that stood by and watched in silence as an entire race was oppressed for years.He also wanted them to know that they needed to fight for the right to be free. As generations born on the American soil, they deserved the same rights as other citizens in that country. They needed to fight and be willing to lose their lives if the situation demanded it. It was better to die on your feet than live on your knees as a slave (Barns 21).

Mr. Highland needed the black people to rise and fight, to defend what is theirs and stand against the years of slavery that still define the African people. In his speech we see him turn to the Bible, to Christianity, the religion that binds all Americans. He states that slavery went against all the almighty stood  because he wanted people to love each other, children be raised together learning the holy scriptures. Slavery destroys all this, hence it went against God. It was by itself an insult to God. This meant that being born white did not give you any superior advantage over a native American since the Almighty made you all equal. Mr. Garnet wanted the black people to know that neither God nor his Angels wanted us to suffer even for second. It is your duty to employ any means available and necessary that will offer success in the pursuit of true freedom. Were all we equal in the eyes of the law with the same rights as any other individual protected by laws of the land ?

Henry as a black man who has witnessed the horrors of slavery chooses a sympathetic tone because he understands the scars that slavery leaves upon the soul of a man. As a man of God himself he uses the Bible to defend their right to freedom. He lets the black people know that not even God himself condones such behavior and defiance to his teachings. As a people, they needed to rise up and fight for what they believed in and standed for. He uses examples of great individuals who took brave action to emancipate their fellow brothers and sisters, such as Joseph Cinque who was able to overpower their captors and return back to Africa and Madison Washington who emancipated an entire ship full of slaves that was headed for New Orleans where there was a massive slave market. The vessel was carried into Nassau instead.  Henry justifies his claim for freedom by pointing out that the nations of the planet earth are rallying for universal freedom. The entire continent of Europe has publically disapproved and condemned African slave trade. As a race, the black people had the support of the international community to pursue and push for freedom and equality.

Works Cited

Barnes, L. Diane. ““Only a Moral Power”. African Americans, Reformers, and the Repeal of Ohio’s Black Laws” Ohio History 124.1 (2017): 7-21.

Henry Highland Garnet Address to Slaves in the United Satates .http// Accessd 21 Feb. 2018.

Pasternak, Martin B. Rise Now and Fly to Arms: The Life of Henry Highland Garnet. Diss. University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2015.

August 21, 2023

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