To The Public

The plight of African Americans and their abolitionist supporters on New England railroads is addressed in depth in this passionate editorial.

To The Public.

That the public may be truly informed of all the circumstances connected with the recent outrages upon the persons and rights of five peaceable and respectable citizens, I make the following exposition of the true facts in the case, in as brief a manner as possible.

On the evening of the 30th Sept. having occasion to visit Lynn, and being informed that a person of respectable character and appearance had been ejected from the cars that morning, for no offence but his color, (which was that of a mulatto) and that a white person had been abused for taking his part, and being informed that another colored man, who was pointed out to me, and whom I saw to be a light mulatto, of genteel dress and deportment, wished to ride in the cars with a white friend, who had invited him to do so, I determined to take my seat with them, and if insult and violence was offered, to be a witness of the fact, and to remonstrate against it. We took our seats in the cars without opposition, Mr. Henry W. Williams, (General Agent for the Liberator,) and the colored man on one seat, and myself alone on the seat immediately in front. Very soon after we had taken our seats, the conductor rushed in at the door nearest where we were sitting, with great rage, followed by five or six stout, ruffianly-looking fellows, apparently brakemen, firemen, &c., and pointing to the colored man, exclaimed, "There's a man I want you to take out." There were the first words spoken. The ruffians accordingly rushed forward, and seized the colored man by the collar and limbs, and, with a violence which appeared to me highly dangerous to his life, dragged him from the cars. The white persons who sat on the adjoining seat, and who remonstrated against the outrage, were instantly seized, and chocked and otherwise abused. As soon as they had dragged out the colored man, the conductor returned, swearing, and exclaiming to his crew, "drag 'em out, every damned abolitionist of 'em;" a command which was forthwith executed upon two of the passengers who had remonstrated against the outrage. Another passenger, a venerable man, of apparently between 60 and 70 years of age, was collared, and violently shaken, and compelled to leave the car. Another gentleman, who stood outside, and who ventured to remonstrate against the violence, was seized by the throat by two or three rail-road ruffians, and treated with the great violence. After this work was accomplished, the conductor, while the cars were starting, exclaimed, "Now if you will get in and behave yourselves, you may ride;" a proposition which few, if any, of those ejected, were in a situation to comply with, if they were so disposed.

I give the above brief statement without comment, that the public may fully know on what terms they are permitted to ride on the Eastern Rail-Road; viz. if they will "behave;" a condition which precludes the right of even expressing an opinion upon the propriety of any outrage a conductor may chose to commit, under the penalty of being throttled and dragged from the cars by a set of bullies kept for the purpose. Let the fact be well known, that any citizen of Massachusetts, whatever his public or private dignity or worth, from houry age to tender youth, after having paid for his ticket, and taken his seat, is liable, without notice or warning, to be struck, kicked, cuffed, and dragged form the cars, by the agents of the Eastern Rail Road Company, if, in the opinion of the conductor, they should not "behave."

It is already known that a judicial decision has sanctioned these grow outrages of the E. R. R. bullies upon the persons and rights of the passengers. A full statement of the facts connected with the police examination, will excite the indignation and alarm of the public. They prove conclusively that the corporation of the E. R. R. are well provided with every means not only of aggression, but of defending themselves against the just retribution of law, and that there is no safety for the rights of an unprotected citizen in either the cars or the courts. The very ruffians who, disguised with smutted faces and dirty clothes, were employed to abuse and drag out the passengers, were, with washed faces and decent dresses, brought into court to swear to their own innocence nad propriety of conduct, and that the conductor was a "perfect gentlemen." A single instance will suffice. The testimony for the government showed conclusively that the first words used by the conductor when he entered the cars, were addressed to the crew who followed him, viz., "there is a man I want you to take out." The very words were sworn to by the prosecutor and by Mr. John Curtis, Jr., and Mr. Joel P. Bishop, and Mr. Louge. They are further confirmed by Mr. Nathaniel Gale, and Mr. Geo. Adams, who were ready to swear, but were not called to the stand, and also by Mr. H. W. Williams, who is conscientiously opposed to making oath or affirmation before a magistrate, but verifies the above statement by his solemn declaration. These persons were all together, were looking at the conductor when he entered and made the exclamation. They could not be mistaken. Their testimony is direct and positive; they are known as men of honorable character, and most of them as professors of religion. Such evidence would seem sufficient to establish any simple fact. No unprejudiced person can for a moment doubt its truth. But it was thought necessary to the corporation to disprove this fact. Accordingly they brought forward their witnesses. The fireman on board the ferry boat was washed up and brought in. He swore readily that he stood between the cars and heard a detailed conversation, in which the conductor mildly urged the colored man to leave the cars, which he refused to do. Question and reply were given with as much precision as if read from a catechism. Other operatives and persons in the interest of the company - some of whom were the very persons employed in the outrages - were brought forward to sustain this person's testimony. It will be thought that witnesses, like votes, are estimated by number and not by weight, when it is stated that such evidence prevailed against the prosecution. No reflection is intended to be cast upon the Hon. Judge who decided the case. He could not know the character of the witnesses brought for the defence, unless proved in court, and to have proved their true character would have been useless, as the money and influence of the corporation could have brought in a legion of the like, to sustain their evidence; persons too obscure to have even their vileness easily proved. This is a fair sample of the manner in which the trial was conducted in the police court, which terminated in the triumph of the corporation. Justice was foiled and overcome in her own temple by the power and management of wealth, vested in a corporation which the people have established. The serpent hatched by their kindness has become a boa constrictor, to crush them in its folds. No court can guard the rights of the people against such a power. The people alone who created the power can prescribe its limits, and defend themselves from its encroachments. The need of their action is now demonstrated. No citizen can ride in the cars with any security for his person or rights, if he should happen to offend one of the menials of the establishment. No matter how gross the outrage upon his person, the passengers pass on, and he has no evidence, or if he succeeds in proving the fact, the host of menials, combined to screen each other, are ready to swear down any respectable evidence. This is not a personal, but a public question. The right sand dignity of every citizen may be successively violated and outraged in the same manner that those of a few have already been.

The corporation have now the attitude of triumph, fortified by brutal force and by means worse than brutal, and hardy must be the citizen who will dare, whatever his wrongs, to vindicate his rights. If the public will not unite to demand the respect due to every citizen; not a citizen but may in turn be made to feel the wrong which he has looked upon with indifference when perpetrated upon others. It is a question for the PEOPLE. To them in their own behalf is this appeal. The contest is that of a humble individual with the miserable and guilty underlings of a corporation, or their still more miserable and guilty, because more enlightened and intelligent, employers and abettors. But it is one in which every citizen holds an equal stake and is equally interested. It is the contest of the unguarded rights of American citizenship with an overgrown, overbearing and unprincipled monopoly of wealth and power and wrong. To me the matter is no more than every other citizen who values his birthright. To me, as to each other citizen, the way is open to succumb to the indignity offered by the minions of the rich corporations - to take the strongest side in all cases, and join with the oppressor and wronger against the oppressed and wronged, and thus to gain the good graces of the petty tools of the petty tyrants of the rail-road. But if such is to be the policy of rail-road traveling, sanctioned by public sufferenace, thank Heaven, I am not compelled to submit to it; my feet and my staff will serve my purpose for life's pilgrimage.

But, reader are you willing to ride in the cars under the cringing sense that a padlock is on your lips, and that a power as despotic as that of the Turk, wielded by hands far less responsible and far more degraded, is ready to insult and trample upon your rights, (and can do so with impunity, if by any censure of their conduct, by any expression of sympathy for the objects of their abuse, you should provoke their rage? Or if you are ready so far to compromise the dignity and independence of American citizenship, so far to succumb to that basest of oppressive agents, the power of the purse, have you no father or venerated friend, of the frank and independent spirit of the past generation, who has not yet learned to tame his spirit to the sordid maxims of non-committal policy, whose generous spirit may lead him to speak out the sentiments of manhood and humanity, and to take the part of the injured, even within the precincts of a rail-road car, and whom, even for this impudence, you would not like to see throttled, and dragged and kicked out of the cars by dirty bullies, belonging to a corporation of your own creating. If you are such a person, or have such a parent or venerated friend, unite with the lovers of justice, truth and law, to defend the sacred rights of the people.

Let a law be claimed of the Legislature by which the persons and goods of travelers may be sacred from the touch of the servants of any corporation, except by process of law, and through the medium of regular magistrate and constable; and let all the passengers be detained to give evidence of the facts and the servants of the corporation not be allowed to testify in their own behalf, without some security against their combining to defeat justice. In short, let all the ready means by which a wealthy corporation can so easily violate private rights with impunity, by force of arms, and force of falsehood, purchased by the force of wealth, be guarded against by law; and let every man feel that he is a member of a republic in which an injury offered to the meanest citizen is an insult to the whole community.

Your fellow-citizen,
Boston, Nov. 6, 1841.

About this Document

  • Source: The Liberator
  • Author: Daniel Mann
  • Published: Boston
  • Date: November 6, 1841