Sunday, March 25, 2012

Another report of Wendell Phillips' Speech and the Riot

This version comes from the Cincinnati Enquirer of March 25, 1862. It is similar to the Covington Journal story in my last entry, but has more details, especially on the speech Phillips attempted to make.

Note also the different reactions in each story to how Phillips handled the first distraction.


The announcement that Wendell Phillips would speak at the Opera-house caused much speculation upon the streets. Threats of disturbance were common, and the prediction that he would not be permitted to address his audience, was in the mouth of every body. Yet it is apparent that no one believed that nay serious attempt to molest him would be made, fora  large audience of ladies and gentlemen, representing all shades of political faith, were gathered soon after the doors were opened. How soon thee hopes were crushed, and how outrageous the disturbance, will soon be seen.

Mr. Phillips was accompanied by the following gentlemen, who occupied seats upon the stage: Messrs. Samuel Reed, editor of the Gazette; John P. Foote, Wm. Goodman, Judge Stallo, Orton Murray and William Green.

When Mr. Phillips stepped upon the stage he was greeted with a tumult of mingled groans, hisses and cheers, the latter greatly predominating and subduing the former.

When they had subsided Judge Stallo walked to the stand and began to introduce the speaker to his audience. The remarks of the Judge were factious and full of pleasantry, comparing Mr. Phillips to a piece of artillery, the report of which had disturbed the quiet of the Potomac. 

When Pr. Phillips arose to speak, he walked to the foot amidst a volley of hisses which, like the first, was drowned in the cheers of his friends. He said -

"I have been invited, ladies and gentlemen, to speak to you on the war - the convulsion which has divided the Union for a year and threatens, in the opinion of some, to divide it forever. No more serous subject can engage the attention of the American People, for I believe that within six months, perhaps within the coming hundred days, we, the people, are to decide what the future of these thirty-four States is to be. Certainly no question of deeper import can be presented to an American audience. It is easy to say at the war came no man knows how, and that it was the fault of this man or of that party, and that it will end in ninety days or a year. But i believe that the war is no man's fault, that it is the work of neither section. It will not end in our day, and it will be a fortunate Providence if our children can look around upon a clear sky and a united country.

I believe the war to be the result of a seventy years struggle with one idea. It comes to us as a duty which God lays upon this generation. Two or three questions spring out of the present state of things. How long will the war last? What will become of slavery? What will become of the Union? In regard to the first question none can answer. We are entering upon the great struggle which no people have ever avoided - a struggle between the few and the many - a struggle between aristocracy an democracy. The North represents a democracy, founded on industry, brains and money; the South an aristocracy, founded on slave labor - an aristocracy shoe right hand is negro slavery, and whose left is the ignorant white man."

At this point a heavy bowlder (sic)was thrown from the third tier of boxes. It struck a few feet from the speaker. it cam crashing among the foot-lights like a cannon shot. Simultaneously with the bowlder(sic) came a couple of eggs, that burst like bombs, dispensing a perfume more potent than fragrant. One of these odorous missiles struck the speaker. The eggs were thrown from the left of the second tier, and were accompanied by a series of yells, like nothing unless it be the war-whoop of a score of infuriated Indians; "Dow with the traitor," "Egg the nigger Phillips," and a dozen other opprobrious epithets. It is due to Mr. Phillips to say that he stood calm and collected, without moving a muscle or flinching an inch.

When the tumult had somewhat subsided, the speaker resumed his discourse. "Allow me one word more. I do not know what that fellow-man meant who sent that stone, but I meant no insult to the non-slaveholding white men of the South. I sympathize with them, for they suffer from a despotism whose right h and is power and whose left hand is ignorance. If South Carolina ever sees the utmost exaltation of her masses, it will be when the stars and stripes guarantee freedom to every member of the thirty-four States. There are many things which American citizens can not do, and one thing which I know they can not do , and that is to prevent this belt of the American continent from being, in seventy years or less time, one country, governed by one scepter, indissoluble as granite. For thirty years I have been an Abolitionist, and nothing else." [The hisses which had been intermittent, here became like a perfect hurricane]

As soon as his voice became audible, Mr. Phillips retorted: 

"Before we Yankees went to the Roanoke and Potomac we tutored ourselves to respect free speech, and I know that you will grant it to me. For sixteen years I have been a Disunionist. [At this word the row became general; eggs were thrown ad libitum, and the stage was odorous with their disgusting fragrance. Sulphurated-hydrogen was the popular perfume, and it was long before Mr. Phillips could gain a hearing. When he attempted to explain the obnoxious phrase, he was so inaudible amid the general tumult that we could not report his words.]

He resumed: "To-day the contest takes the form of battle. The war is nothing to me as an Abolitionist. It has no more interest to me as such than a novel has to you after you have found the hero and heroine happily married on the last page. Whatever your opinion may be, mine is that slavery has received its death blow in the house of its friends. The American people have opened that page of their history which will record the death of slavery. In due time and after a reasonable interval slavery will die. The cry has been "Cotton is King." South Carolina dragged Lyons and Lancaster to her feet, and said "Babies, keep quiet." She has starved them for eleven months, but at last account they were doing quite well.

Another idea was that the North would not fight. South Carolina tried that on in miniature, when she pitted Missouri against Kansas. When their orchards were grubbed up, the Yankees went home to New England and begged rifles. Let the war continue twenty-four months, and McClellan will be a jayhawker. The third idea of the death of slavery is derived from the message of the President. I believe the President is an honest man, but a very slow one. He desires to stand between the parties, and finding which way the tide was setting he warned the Border States that now was their time to sell."
Mr. Phillips continued to speak for over an hour, but the melee in the second tier created so much confusion that we should not be able to do him justice, did we attempt to report him further. 

Cries and exhortations resounded from all parts of the house. Eggs were occasionally hurled at the stage, one of which struck Mr. Murray.
The cries of "Lynch the Traitor," "Hang the Nigger," "Tar and Feather the Abolitionist" (we omit the profanity.) Ladies and timorous gentlemen made their escape.

The stage was in confusion, and gentlemen from the audience mounted it as a favorable stand point from which  to witness the row. The speaker vainly continued to speak, but could not be heard. 

The rowdies came down stairs with cries of "Lt us take the stage," "Lynch him," "Put out the gas." When they reached the middle aisle the melee became general, stools and umbrellas were freely used. Some ladies fainted, and others scrambled ungracefully over bench-tops. Mr. Pike and other gentlemen were struck while endeavoring to keep the peace. It being probable that some of the evil-disposed would find the "gas stop" and put out the lights, in which case the loss of life would have been frightful, Mr. Phillips was induced to cease speaking, and the meeting was dispensed. 

Both exits from the Opera-house were beset by gangs determined to lynch the obnoxious speaker.  After some delay he was disguised and passed out through the crowd undetected; but it was well on to midnight before the rowdies left the vicinity of the Opera-house.

Thus ended the attempt of Wendell Phillips to speak in Cincinnati. About eighteen or twenty eggs were thrown and a bottle of vitriol was found in the vestibule; it was not used.

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