Letter from Washington
Christian Recorder: June 28, 1862
Turner offers a review of a lecture given by famed abolitionist William J. Watkins.
Keywords: Speech, Lecture, William J Watkins, Review
Mr. Editor:--I promised, the week before last, to give a synopsis of Mr. (William)Wm. J.Watkins’ lecture, delivered in Israel Church on the 3d inst. But after reconsidering my promise, I thought it better to change the plan of my intention, and speak of its merits, for however much we might epitomize the lecture; it would be too lengthy for one letter.
It is hardly needful for me to say that Mr. Watkins is an uncompromising emigrationist for he has established his reputation in that direction long since. But, on entering the church he rose up before the people with all the boldness of a unicorn, apparently possessing all that greatness of soul that should characterize a man suitably fitted to the great task of exerting a reformation among a people who have been disfranchised and crushed beneath the unmanning yoke of slavery. With no written lecture or notes, he stood before the most intelligent audiences of white and colored that could be raised in Washington, for over two hours, pouring out one unbroken flood of light and information from his exhaustless store of knowledge—so pleasing and interestingly captivating to his hearers, that when he stopped, though 11 o’clock at night, the cry from all parts of the house was, “Go on, don’t stop.” He corresponds in toto with what Prof. Fowler very wisely said of Daniel Webster, that the greatness of his own native genius held him up and enchanted his hearers. It appeared at times that he would fall back upon the power of his intellectuality and come forth with such overwhelming arguments, and picture them, though in words so enchantingly reasonable, before the mental observation of his audience, that however great the inconveniences surrounding them, they, notwithstanding, would start for Hayti before the rising of the morrow’s sun. And though Dr. (John Stewart) Rock, of Boston, one week previously, when opposing emigration, was loudly clapped, and most cheerfully stomped, as a demonstration of corresponding sentiment, yet Mr. Watkins, one week after, had the same parties, when asked “Where would they go?” crying out, To Hayti, Hayti.!” The inconsistency, though very regrettable, was however, very laughable.
If Mr. Watkins can make converts as fast as he made them in Washington, he would do well in the ministry; yet I would be fearfully doubtful about getting them to heaven, if they did not go there better than they are going to Hayti. But, in short, Mr. Watkins is unquestionably a talented man, an eloquent speaker, a great originalist, and one peculiarly adapted to the masses; his manner is chaste, logical and terse; his ideas are rich, grand and glowing; his language plain and comprehensible—he possessing the seldom possessed power of firing his auditors with his own soul and spirit; his denunciations burn and blister; he pours vengeance in the most scathing tirades upon his antagonist, so that when he leaves him, he leaves an object of pity; he takes up such men as Crittenden and Vallandingham and handles them with such thunderbolts of merciless woe, that if it were their person instead of their principles he was thus treating, God have mercy upon their destiny. But the objects of his affection are treated with the most tender regard. He takes them in the arms of his favor, and encircles them in the embrace of his attachment, and lavishes, in one sweep of his eloquence, a thousand incontestable arguments of his fondest respect. Few men have the power of making so radical a change in a moment’s time as he. One moment his countenance appears to gleam with the most cheerful regard, the next he writes upon his visage hatred, disgust and indignation.
Mr. Watkins being an agent of the Haytien Emigration Association, he held up her claims to the colored people of America with a familiarity and interest seldom evinced by any of its agents. He said we might sing
In Dixie’s land we take our stand, We will live and die in Dixie’s land.But living and dying is about all we ever would do in this country. We might stay to fight it out, as many had said, but how men could fight without arms he could not see, and he knew the colored people had none in this country. He stated that many who had claimed to be the colored man’s friend, were actuated with a desire to rid the country of the negro, and that there were not five leading men in this country who desired to see the negro on an equality with the white, and that one thousand years would not secure one colored man the nomination for President. But Hayti, he allowed, held out inducements for every office in the gift of the people.
Mr. Wm. T. Watkins is the brother of the Rev. George T. Watkins, a very learned divine of the A.M.E. Church in Baltimore city. Both of these distinguished men seem to be providentially set apart for the work of reformation,--one in a political, and the other in a religious sphere. Rev. G. T. Watkins is one of the most modest men, for his ability, I have ever seen; while he is a great scholar, a masterly writer, an exhaustless thinker, yet he is unassuming, unpretending, easy and affable, and courteous to any one however inferior, and appears to live non sibi sed omnibus. Mr. W. T. Watkins has left for Hayti with 120 contrabands.
H. M. T.
Washington, June 16th , 1862