Wiser than Our Fathers

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It tickles human vanity to tell us that we are wiser than our fathers; and it is one of those propositions which is likely to pass without contradiction, from the circumstance that all those most interested in denying it are dead and gone. But if the grave could speak, and the churchyards vote upon the question, we living boasters would be in a most pitiful minority.

——James K. Paulding.

Thoughts on African Colonization

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Pittsburgh, (Pa.,) Sept. 1, 1831.

At a large and respectable meeting of the colored citizens of Pittsburgh, convened at the African Methodist Episcopal church, for the purpose of expressing their views in relation to the American Colonization Society, Mr J. B. Vashon was called to the chair, and Mr. R. Bryan appointed secretary. The object of the meeting was then stated at considerable length, and in an appropriate manner, by the chairman. The following resolutions were then unanimously adopted:

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Resolved, That we, the colored people of Pittsburgh and citizens of these United States, view the country in which we live as our only true and proper home. We are just as much natives here as the members of the Colonization Society. Here we were born—here bred—here are our earliest and most pleasant associations—here all that binds man to earth, and makes life valuable. And we do consider every colored man who allows himself to be colonized in Africa, or elsewhere, a traitor to our cause.

Resolved, That we are freemen, that we are brethren, that we are countrymen and fellow-citizens, and as fully entitled to the free exercise of the elective franchise as any men who breathe; and that we demand an equal share of protection from our federal government with any class of citizens in the community. We now inform the Colonization Society, that should our reason forsake us, then we may desire to remove. We will apprise them of this change in due season.

——Quoted in Thoughts on African Colonization by William Lloyd Garrison, 1832.

Louis XIV and the English Ambassador

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During the time when, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the Protestants in France who would not abjure their faith were under persecution, an English ambassador asked Louis XIV for the liberty of those who were detained because of their religion.

The monarch responded, “What would the King of England say if I asked him for the prisoners held at Newgate?” (Newgate is a prison in London where common criminals are incarcerated.)

“Sire,” replied the ambassador, “the king my master would hand them over to Your Majesty, if you claimed them as your brothers.”

——Eugène Muller, Curiosités Historiques et Littéraires. This new translation is explicitly released into the public domain.

The Unselfishness of Genius

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The virtues, talents, and glorious services of illustrious men of every nation constitute their best inheritance, their most rational source of pride and exultation, and it has often happened that the renown of a people, like that of the Thebans, began and ended with a single man. Yet how often we find nations either entirely indifferent to their best benefactors, or persecuting them with all the barbarous rigours of religious, political, or philosophical intolerance! Not to mention the numerous instances recorded of ancient times, we shall find, even in the most enlightened ages, humanized by the mild and forgiving precepts of Christianity, these examples, if possible still more numerous and flagrant. Galileo is a hackneyed instance; but it is not so generally known that Newton was charged by bigotry and ignorance with holding opinions at war with orthodoxy, and Locke expelled from that reverend bedlam Oxford by political intolerance. Among the most illustrious reformers, as well as the most enlightened of reasoners, Melancthon, Erasmus, and even Theodore Beza were suspected and denounced, because they did not keep pace with the rampant zealots of the times, who would willingly have warmed them at the stake. In short, it would seem to be among the inflexible dispensations of Providence, that no selfish motive should ever operate upon the great benefactors of mankind, in their glorious endeavours, since all they can rationally anticipate as their reward in this world is to pass their lives amid persecutions and slanders, among a race of ungrateful beings, who never become sensible of their ingratitude or their obligations till it is too late to make reparation.

——James K. Paulding, The Merry Tales of the Three Wise Men of Gotham

The Dignity of History

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The dignity of history sadly diminishes as we grow better acquainted with the materials which compose it. In our orthodox history-books the characters move on as a gaudy play-house procession, a glittering pageant of kings and warriors, and stately ladies, majestically appearing and passing away. Only he who sits very near to the stage can discover of what stuff the spectacle is made. The kings are poor creatures, taken from the dregs of the company; the noble knights are dirty dwarfs in tin foil; the fair ladies are painted hags with cracked feathers and soiled trains. One wonders how gas and distance could ever have rendered them so bewitching.

——Thackeray, review of the Duchess of Marlborough’s Private Correspondence.