June Nineteenth “Freedom Day”
June Nineteenth, formally ‘Jubilee’ and ‘Freedom’ Day, honors the release of ALL enslaved people of this country, including those last to learn 158 years ago today, liberated by Union soldiers. Though slavery was abolished months before, the enslaved ‘owners’ in Texas and elsewhere in the deep South hid news of freedom, using coercion and violence to confine those who had learned so they could produce more crops, and for other wrong, despicable reasons.
Some representatives in Congress worked diligently to end slavery. One who refused to accept compromises or concessions on the matter was staunch abolitionist Charles Baldwin Sedgwick, the first person to give a speech on the House floor denouncing slavery (1860). Sedgwick refused to leave Congress ‘until every slave in every state is free.’ I have no doubt today’s celebration would please my ggg grandfather!
Below is a letter Sedgwick wrote the day slavery was abolished, a couple during his two terms, and one his friend William Lloyd Garrison wrote him.
Washington 30 (31) Jany, 1865
Tuesday eve 9
My Dear Dora [wife Deborah Gannett Sedgwick] –
This has been a most glorious day. The Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery passed the House at 4 o’clock this afternoon by a vote of 119 to 56. A majority of 7. All this you have doubtless learned long before this (8 p.m.) by the telegraph, and we expect to hear by tomorrow evening that several states have already ratified it. I hope New York or Missouri may be first and Massachusetts next but fear she may get the start of the others.
It was a most exciting scene in the House. The galleries were crammed early in the day. Nell [daughter Ellen Sedgwick] got a place early in the Diplomatic Gallery and sat out the session with distinguished gentleman many of whom were filled with anxiety as to the result. I noticed among others Mr. Jno Jay and Chief Justice Chase. It was very doubtful from the preliminary votes how the main question was to be decided although I have felt great confidence for several days that it was to carry. Finally as the vote was taken it was impossible to suppress applause upon the floor and in the galleries as one after another doubtful voice pronounced in favor of the measure and it began to be apparent that Justice and Liberty were to be established as the fundamental laws of this great nation.
When the result was declared from the Chair it was — (can not transcribe word) impossible to restrain the enthusiasm – It burst forth in shouts or cheers and waving of handkerchiefs, tossing of hats in the air – everybody rose to their feet and hardier cheers never were given – There was no use in trying to suppress it and in the midst the House adjourned. I saw Wm. H. Channing rushing around like a madman – some one proposed to sing John Brown & if one had begun it all would have joined in the swelling chorus. It has been what the Romans would call the whitest of white days. I tried to write while the House was in progress but although I exhibited no excitement I could not write – it was just impossible. No man or woman who has had the least influence in producing this most auspicious result has lived in vain. I never hoped to see this day, during the many long and unpromising years of the past, until the madness of this Rebellion proved that the hour of destruction of the infernal system was appointed of God and since then I have never doubted – I cannot write more – the children (Nell and Mrs. Eliot) are going to the P.M. Generals reception, and in the morning Nell goes North.
Your loving husband, C.B. Sedgwick
JUNE 10, 1864 Washington
The course of Congress on the Negro pay bill is wholly unexplicable – There is not a decently fair man in Congress who does not admit that they should be paid the same as white soldiers – It is just honest & politic – it is absolutely essential to the further vigorous prosecution of the war and yet collectively – in these corporate capacity Congress acts like the devil about this- But the time is coming! I don’t know but all this neglect and delay and quarreling is wholesome – In the end I am sure it will bring about this great negro equality – equal rights for Jonathan – vote with him – go to school with him – preach to him and go to Congress. He can get votes enough – Half a dozen such men as Fred Douglass in Congress (if you could find half a dozen such more white or black; would greatly improve the body and show that we believe what we have been preaching so long – I go now for the largest liberty.
I have your letter to father Abraham – Keep hammering – it is the only way – in the end it will be efficient – a half loyal Marylander told me yesterday that he didn’t consider any body a Yankee but a Massachusetts man! You have you… the port of honor and it becomes you to work. I am doing what I can to make myself as thoroughly hated as a genuine Yankee-
Love to all the babies from Nell down. Your affectionate husband, Charles
Boston, May 20, 1862
Dear Mr. Sedgwick:
To-day a wet blanket is thrown upon the flame of popular enthusiasm by President Lincoln’s veto. What giving and taking, what blowing hot and blowing cold, we have upon this slavery question!
Depend upon it this veto will serve to increase the disgust and uneasiness felt in Europe at our shilly-shallying course, to abate the enthusiasm of the army and the friends of freedom universally, and to inspire the rebels with fresh courage and determination. It seems to me that infatuation pervades the President and his Cabinet.
Yours, for no compromise,
Wm. Lloyd Garrison
June 10, 1864
Dear Dora – There is not a decently fair man in Congress who does not admit that Negroes should be paid the same as white soldiers – It is just, honest, and politic. Congress acts like the devil about this – But the time is coming! I don’t know but all this neglect and delay and quarreling is wholesome. In the end I am sure it will bring about great Negro equality. Half a dozen such men as Fred Douglass in Congress (if you could find a dozen such more white or black) would greatly improve the body and show that we believe what we have been preaching so long – I go now the largest liberty.
I have your letter to father Abraham*. Keep hammering – it is the only way. Love to all the babies from Nell down.
Your affectionate husband,
Hon. Charles B. Sedgwick
April 19, 1860
Dear Mr. Sedgwick,
If you will allow an address from one who has just read your very interesting and able speech upon ‘Southern Aggression’ in a copy you sent to Bronson Alcott. Please send me one or two or even three copies, if it is not asking too much. It is a comfort to see that such things can be said on the floor of Congress at last – it seems to nullify a future such as I have almost despaired of –
It is the 19th of April and old Concord is ringing with jubilee cannon – It is true as steel to freedom – and all its blood is up hot as in 1775 as you have lately seen – Does Mrs. Sedgwick know that Anna Alcott is to be married the 23rd?
Elizabeth P. Peabody
“Let me congratulate you on the honor you have achieved in being the first to speak in Congress in just and fitting terms.”
Wendell Phillips, on Sedgwick’s speech about abolishing slavery
“You have done a good service to the cause of suffering humanity.”
Reverend and abolitionist Samuel Joseph May (brother of Abigail Alcott, Concord, MA)
“It is not often that I am tempted by a speech in Congress to such neglect of my affairs.” James Freeman ClarkePosted on