The Oberlin Evangelist
May 11, 1859
[Speaking of Charles Langston]
The author of the foregoing discourse, besides the interest he feels in common with many others as a Christian and a freeman, in the Rescue Case, owns an interest peculiar to himself growing out of the many relations he providentially sustains to the parties and the places concerned. No other person touches this complicated case at so many points. He was born and bred within ten miles of the spot whence the fugitive John escaped, and where his reputed owner Bacon, and his pursuers Jennings and Mitchell live, and himself forsook that region to escape from the evils of slavery which afflict the white scarcely less than the black inhabitants. Fleeing from the House of bondage he came northward as John and his pursuers did, till he reached Oberlin, where he sojourned from some years. Soon after coming to Ohio, in 1835, with the ardor of a convert to freedom as the birthright of every man glowing in his youthful breast, and with the story of the sufferings of the slave and the atrocities of the slave system, and with the glad tidings then fresh of the emancipation of his father’s slaves, pressing on his lips for utterance, he embarked on a campaign of lecturing, with slavery and emancipation for his theme. Among other places in Ohio he lectured in Canton, Stark Co. There he met with the now District Attorney Belden, then a young man just entering on his profession. He was interested in the views presented, he was a constant attendant on the lectures, and moreover he spent many evenings with the lecturer in animated conversation on the subject matter, and gave evidence of deep conviction, if not of sound conversion, to the doctrines that were preached. On leaving the place, the lecturer carried with him the sanguine hope that young Belden would ere long be numbered among the fruits of his labors in the anti-slavery cause. Had either party, the young lecturer, or the young lawyer, then been told that in twenty-four years the latter would have been prosecuting and persecuting unto imprisonment the friends of freedom, neither would have credited the prediction, and the subject of it would have indignantly said, “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this things?” But alas! The young man was only almost persuaded to be an abolitionist. From that time to this, the writer has heard nothing of his then temporary disciple. Parting when they two seemed like brothers, they now meet, after the lapse of a quarter of a century, if it can be called meeting, as wide asunder in position, spirit and aims, as it is possible for two men to be.
During a residence of twelve years in Oberlin, the writer, maintaining ever his anti-Slavery principles and avowing them whenever occasion was, may be supposed to have contributed somewhat to that anti-slavery tone which characterizes the place and people, and which was the main-spring in the recent rescue action. He hopes at least that he had some remote agency in infusing the spirit, which actuated that noble deed. Among the actors in it were some of his dearest personal friends, brethren nearest to his heart, and nearer than ever now as the have become sufferers for righteousness’ sake. For a part of the time of the writer’s residence in Oberlin, he ministered to a Christian church in Wellington, and was wont to preach hard by the spot where the crowd gathered to rescue the negro, and he finds among the accused and imprisoned, Christian brethren who waited on his ministry and one whose hospitality he has often shared, and in whose heroic heart he may have strengthened those principles of right which now sustain the prisoner in his lingering incarceration.
Finally, the writer is a resident of the city where these several and contrarious parties from Kentucky, Canton, Oberlin and Wellington are now brought together, where his native and his adopted States are brought into collision, in a moral contest, the issues of which are incalculable. In these parties and these sections, the writer has a lively interest; such, perhaps, as no other one man can have, yet he is not thereby divided in his judgment, nor is he tempted to be by any conflicting attachments personal or local since he clearly perceives that there is no real contrariety of interests, but that the triumph of Freedom in this trial would promote the welfare of all the parties concerned. He watches the progress of the prosecution with unspeakable interest, and he fervently and frequently prays that God would give liberty and humanity a glorious triumph by his ordering of this case. He will not conceal that what little interest he has at the throne of grace is used importunately on the side of the defense; although it may be said to be in favor of the Judge for whom wisdom from on high is implored. In behalf of the District Attorney, the writer’s past acquaintance with him forbids much believing prayer; and he frankly confesses that s the prosecutor began his late plea in the case of Bushnell, he, the writer, found himself mentally ejaculating to heaven that the lord would let him foam out his rage, and render himself hateful as the representative of a hateful cause; and that ejaculation kept up with increasing intensity, until the divine restraints were so removed that the Attorney appeared like an incarnate fiend, and shrieked out his malignity with such unearthly tones and outrageous terms, and such accompaniments of horrid grimace and spasmodic violence as constituted a spectacle altogether unique and hardly human.
Judge Belden in 1859 reviling the Oberlin saints, presents a broad contrast with young Belden in 1835 sitting at the feet of one of the least of the Oberlin saints, drinking in the doctrines he now so madly opposes. It may be that the next meeting of these two, after the present scenes are past, will be at that dread Tribunal where each will be judged for the deeds done in the body. Will that be a meeting of still wider extremes?
[J.A. Thome, whose previous discourse was
The Sermon: Caesar and Christ: Or, the Higher Law.]