The Oberlin Evangelist
May 25, 1859
“Judge not that Ye be not Judged.”
A great case, like the Rescue Case, involving many transactions, gives occasion for various opinions touching the wisdom of this or that measure; and people will not be slow to pronounce judgment and to express regrets and to suggest what should have been done. These persons in their freedom of animadversion do not reflect that they expose themselves to severer strictures as being guilty of the folly of censuring others for not displaying in a sudden and exciting exigency all the deliberation, which they can exercise when the crisis has passed. Neither do they consider what they themselves might have done under the same pressure. And least of all does it enter their thoughts that the action they sit in judgment on, may have been instigated by the Spirit of God. Some good people no doubt regret that Bushnell and others interfered as they are said to have done with the recapture of the fugitive John. It was madness, think some, to set at defiance the Fugitive Slave law; they might have foreseen the consequences. Say others, it was a reproach to a Christian community for the inhabitants and leading citizens, church members and ministers, to muster a company of rescuers and pursue the abductors. One fugitive slave, or free negro, as the case might be, was not worth so much ado! We have to say that no one is to be envied either for the head or the heart he owns, who indulges in such reflections, or who deprecates the consequences of the rescue. It is well to have the Fugitive Slave Act thoroughly tested in Ohio, it must be tested somewhere and at some time; and it could not have been brought to the trial under better auspices. The rescue movement is therefore to be regarded as providential, ordered of God; and the time, and place, and men and measures as pre-arranged, and the programme of action devised by Him who seeth the end from the beginning; and who is tempted to provocation by the criticisms of his own short sighted and too carnally minded children. O let the people of God see light in his light, and rejoice in is wonderful works, whose ways are not as our ways. As to the sentiment that one runaway negro is not worth such an expensive demonstration, it is an atrocious sentiment. If the liberties of one man are not worth preserving, those of the nation are not. Any one human being, whether white or black, great or small, has all the rights that any other has; and human rights as such cannot be held sacred, cannot be maintained, if they are violated in any solitary person without remonstrance and resistance. It is an alarming indication of the low valuation at which liberty is held in the community, when men give utterance to such mercenary ideas. If there were no other reason that demanded that the lovers of impartial freedom should put their own liberties and lives in jeopardy to rescue a brother man from human blood hounds, this was reason enough that such a noble testimony was needed to shame that calculating expediency which counts the value of liberty in bank notes and sets over against the virtue of resistance to wrong, the evils of a prosecution under a nefarious law.
Others who think the rescuers did right in delivering the captive, deem their course unwise and unfortunate in undertaking a defense at the high tribunal before which they were arraigned as criminals. They would have counseled them to plead guilty to the indictment, and throw themselves on the magnanimity of the Court, or submit with good grace to the penalty of the law they violated. How can any enlightened citizen think for a moment such a course preferable to the one that has been taken? Is it kindness toward the accused, which dictates this policy? Or is it dislike of agitation and excitement? Whether the rescuers would have been more comfortably situated to-day had they pursued the method suggested cannot be certainly known; but admitting this to be true, neither they nor their best friends should place their personal convenience in the scale with those momentous interests of humanity which are involved in this case. And however the lovers of peace and order may deprecate the collision that has ensured, and which now wears a threatening aspect, yet those who “in their hearts just estimation” place individual rights above private comfort and public order, must and will rejoice in every agitation which may serve to exalt and vindicate the birthrights of man.
But we have heart from many who sympathize with the rescuers, a criticism which has most of all surprised us: it is this – that they erred in going to prison when they had permission of the Court to go home. It is difficult to say whether this censure displays more unkindness towards the band of noble sufferers, or more blindness touching the obvious principles of honor and manliness. Who can fail to see that when one of an innocent party is committed to prison to await the sentence of the Court and the prosecutions of the others are progressing, the whole party should with one accord go together and share alike? If two brothers were on trial for the infraction of a law which it were virtue to violate, and one were pronounced guilty and taken to prison, and the other were told by the Judge that if he would pledge himself under oath that he would appear when it should be the pleasure of the Court to try him, he might meanwhile go at large, would he not resent the proposal as an indignity, would he not refuse the gratuity, would he not choose to go to jail with his brother? And would any friend blame him? But this is not a full representation of the case. All the rescuers were taken into custody along with Bushnell, and afterwards they were told they could go home under sworn pledges and personal bonds. Could they honorably accept release offered on such terms? The case is quite similar, we think, to that of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment at Philippi. The magistrates then were very anxious that the prisoners should go about their business, and sent word accordingly, saying “now therefore depart, and go in peace.”
“But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison, and now do they thrust us out privily? Nay verily, but let them come themselves and fetch us out.” Was Paul hyper-heroical? Did he want to get up a sensation in the city? Did he suppose the people would not have sense enough to see that he and Silas were entitled to no sympathy for being in jail when they had been permitted to walk out? Did good people reason thus then, and in that case? Is it not apparent to all good people now that the present case involves the same principle, and that the only honorable ground on which these free citizens of Ohio can leave the prison is that the Judge and Prosecutor come themselves and fetch them out, with ample acknowledgements of the wrong they have done them? Until this is done let these American citizens lie in the county jail with the full approval of their fellow-citizens, while the odium of their treatment rests upon the officers of the Court.
We would suggest one word of caution to our readers, - be circumspect, think twice and pray thrice, before you speak your mind on any of the questions or side issues this memorable case involves, lest your utterances should hereafter return to convict you of rashness of spirit and narrowness of mind, if not of hardness of heart toward your poor brother. J.A.T.