A THOUGHT FOR MEMORIAL DAY: WHEN FINALLY FREED, HOW DID THEY FEEL?

slaveryLast year, in A Memorial Day Devotion for Christians, we considered why we celebrate Memorial Day. We considered the sacrifice made by those who have fought for our freedom. This year, let’s consider just how precious is the gift of freedom. Let’s consider an old novel. That novel approaches being nearly 200 years old.  Few people people think to read it now, and yet when it was written, it stirred a firestorm of controversy. Why? It spoke thrillingly of freedom.

Imagine how it must have been. All of your life you have been property, something to be bought and sold. You were born with your body and soul at the complete disposal of your master, disciplined like a dog. Finally, you escape.

What if in the years before the American Civil War you and your small family traveled the Underground Railroad? When you finally arrived in Canada, without a cent to your name, how would you feel?

George and his wife stood arm in arm, as the boat neared the small town of Amherstberg, in Canada. His breath grew thick and short; a mist gathered before his eyes; he silently pressed the little hand that lay trembling on his arm. The bell rang; the boat stopped. Scarcely seeing what he did, he looked out his baggage, and gathered his little party. The little company were landed on the shore. They stood still till the boat had cleared; and then, with tears and embracings, the husband and wife, with their wondering child in their arms, knelt down and lifted up their hearts to God!

“‘T was something like the burst from death to life;
From the grave’s cerements to the robes of heaven;
From sin’s dominion, and from passion’s strife,
To the pure freedom of a soul forgiven;
Where all the bonds of death and hell are riven,
And mortal puts on immortality,
When Mercy’s hand hath turned the golden key,
And Mercy’s voice hath said, Rejoice, thy soul is free.”

The little party were soon guided, by Mrs. Smyth, to the hospitable abode of a good missionary, whom Christian charity has placed here as a shepherd to the outcast and wandering, who are constantly finding an asylum on this shore.

Who can speak the blessedness of that first day of freedom? Is not the sense of liberty a higher and a finer one than any of the five? To move, speak and breathe,—go out and come in unwatched, and free from danger! Who can speak the blessings of that rest which comes down on the free man’s pillow, under laws which insure to him the rights that God has given to man? How fair and precious to that mother was that sleeping child’s face, endeared by the memory of a thousand dangers! How impossible was it to sleep, in the exuberant possession of such blessedness! And yet, these two had not one acre of ground,—not a roof that they could call their own,—they had spent their all, to the last dollar. They had nothing more than the birds of the air, or the flowers of the field,—yet they could not sleep for joy. “O, ye who take freedom from man, with what words shall ye answer it to God?”

Is it true? Is how George Harris felt how you would feel?

Is there anything in it glorious and dear for a nation, that is not also glorious and dear for a man? What is freedom to a nation, but freedom to the individuals in it? What is freedom to that young man, who sits there, with his arms folded over his broad chest, the tint of African blood in his cheek, its dark fires in his eyes,—what is freedom to George Harris? To your fathers, freedom was the right of a nation to be a nation. To him, it is the right of a man to be a man, and not a brute; the right to call the wife of his bosom his wife, and to protect her from lawless violence; the right to protect and educate his child; the right to have a home of his own, a religion of his own, a character of his own, unsubject to the will of another.

Excerpts from UNCLE TOM’S CABIN or Life among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe quotes part of ON THE PROJECT OF AFRICAN COLONIZATION by John Brainard.

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