The Oberlin Evangelist
August 3, 1859
(Mr. Fitch’s speech to the Sunday School children of Oberlin.)
Some of our readers have expressed a desire to have us publish the Cleveland Morning Leader’s report of the speech made by Mr. Fitch to the Sunday School Children of Oberlin at the time of their visit to the “Rescue Prisoners” in Cuyahoga County Jail, July 2. In accordance with this wish we publish the report as follows.
REMARKS OF MR. FITCH,
MY DEAR CHILDREN: - I am exceedingly glad to see you, and I am greatly gratified to observe the pains you have taken to visit your Superintendent in a body. These beautiful banners, and all these other evidences of your interest, gratify me much. I mean, they make me glad; that is the better word. I cannot suitably express the happiness I feel on seeing you all once more. May God bless the precious children!
It is now my privilege to address the scholars whom I have so often met before in the dear old church at Oberlin, and I am going to imagine that this great company of four hundred Sabbath School scholars, and their faithful teachers, have undertaken all this labor to meet their old Superintendent again. Be assured I do not fail to appreciate all this. The next eighty days of my imprisonment will be lighter because of this kindly expressed sympathy and confidence.
For sixteen years I have endeavored to be faithful to instructing you in morals and religion, and I have often specially warned you to be careful in your habits, and to avoid the great disgrace of being sent to jail. Hitherto scarcely a member of our dear school has ever disgraced as in such a way. But what do I now see? What great evil has overtaken you? What great crime have you now committed? Here I behold you all in jail. How shall I account for it? I remember my legal friend, one of our prisoners, says some people are brought to jail by the Marshal’s warrant, and others by an attachment. Surely here it’s the explanation.
An “attachment” must have brought you here, for such precious children as these who now crowd around me, are incapable of crime.
You must have noticed, my children, that two classes of people have in all ages been made the inmates of prisons. Wicked people who harm the world, and the good and holy, who are so far in advance of their age that the wicked world misunderstands them. The Bible and history will assure you of the truth of what I say. To which class do your Superintendent and his companions belong? I will not here say we are representatives of the good and holy. Let our past lives tell their own tale. But this I will say - our friends – those who uphold our sentiments – those who applaud our course, and who spurn the infamous Fugitive Act under which we are imprisoned, as the devil’s own instrument, are among the wise, the learned, the good and the holy of earth. They are those who have despised personal ease, and worldly gain, and have, during their whole lives, devoted themselves, body and soul, to the work of doing good. I see just at my right hand the venerable father Keep, a man with the weight of many years upon him. He has preached this gospel of Jesus for more than fifty-five years, and yet with a youthful spirit he mingles with the children to-day. On what times are we fallen when such men are considered as felons, as fit tenants of a jail; but their persecutors, who perhaps have defrauded the halter of its due, go free as if they were the good?
Yet, thus has it always been. The motto on this beautiful banner, which the excellent Mayor of our town is holding by my side, is the text for us all: “Stand up for Jesus.” These words of the dying Tyng, are the words fro us to-day. So will we do while life shall last.
We are compelled to endure painful imprisonment, but we have done no wrong. We appeal to God above and to all the holy, that to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to securely hide and safely convey away a poor and helpless brother, who is panting in his haste to escape from the hands of robbers is to do right, and only right.
We are charged with so doing, and it is called a felony. The charge is monstrous; and we have only to say, that when under such circumstances, it is demanded that we give security or go to jail, such security we will never give. We think that “giving bail,” when the cause of freedom, and strength the Infamous Act. So thinking we will not yield an inch. If the bail demanded were a speck so small that it would require Lord Ross’ telescope to discover it, we would not damage the cause by giving it, if we knew we were to be shot on the public square to-morrow morning if we refused. We will “stand up for Jesus,” or die in his cause.
But how can we account for such a terrible state of things in this good land of ours? Selfishness, my dear children, is the root of it all. Selfishness is the essence of all sin. Selfishness, that mean principle whish, desiring the good that another possesses, - robs him of it if it can – has robbed poor Africa of millions of her children. It has strewed the ocean bed, from continent to continent, with the bleached bones of her sons, and has brought wailing and woe to our otherwise happy land. Selfishness has secured the legislation under which we now suffer, and every officer who executes the hated law is actuated by selfishness alone. A highway robber acts upon the same principle, and is as good every way and as virtuous as these men. Yea, he may be better, for his light may be less than theirs. They are acting contrary to their former published convictions, and have only to know themselves in order to know that robber will be justified by that which they plead in justification of themselves. But what shall be done when “righteousness hath fallen in the streets and judgment cannot enter?” Answer: patiently endure suffering for the truth, rather than do the least wrong. The excellent Mr. Jolliffe well said, before the Supreme Court, recently, “We must obey God and go to jail, or we must obey the Fugitive Slave Law and go to hell!” We cannot deny that our imprisonment is painful. Our dear homes never looked so inviting, and the dear associations of our abused, but much loved Oberlin, haunt us in our sleep. But we must endure. So has the truth been sustained by the good in all ages; and though we blush to compare our small sacrifices with those of the noble souls of old “of whom the world was not worthy,” yet we see and know that we suffer for the same cause. If we are criminals than tens of thousands of noble men all around us deserve to be in jail. And if it be necessary for the cause – if the public cannot be otherwise aroused – let them go to jail. Let this venerable father at my right hand and these excellent men all around me, go into the felon’s cell. As my blessed wife congratulated me when she saw me in a prison, and as my oldest boy when he heard of it exclaimed, “Good, good – if I were a man I would be among them!” – so say I. Let the chains be put upon the good, and let the iron burn deep into their souls that the world may be “awakened to righteousness.”
Again, “God’s on our side – we need not fear.” His truth shall live and all those who defend it shall live forever.
Before I close I wish to read a sweet hymn from this little volume, which must, I think have come down from Heaven. I do not mean that it came down all bound this way, but it was sent to Prof. Peck, from whom I know not, and its sentiments I am sure came down from Heaven:
“God made all his creatures free:
Life itself is Liberty;
God ordained no other bands
Thank united hearts and hands.
Sin, the primal charter broke;
Sin, itself earth’s heaviest yoke;
Tyranny with sin began,
Man o’er brute and man o’er man.
But a better day shall be,
Life again be Liberty,
And the wide world’s only bands
Love-knit hearts and love-knit hands.
So shall envy, slavery cease,
All God’s children dwell in peace,
And the new-born earth record,
Love, and love alone, is Lord.
I close by uttering the sentiment which I have so often expressed in your hearing, and which I have earnestly endeavored to impress upon your minds, to wit: Do Right! Always Do Right! Nothing shall by any means harm you if ye be doers of THAT WHICH IS RIGHT.
At the close of Mr. Fitch’s remarks, a beautiful and appropriate hymn was sung by Prof. Ellis, Mr. Vetter, Miss Church, and Miss Cowles, each stanza ending with an exhortation to “Do right.”