The Speech in Manchester, by Henry Ward Beecher

from Addresses and Sermons

I went to my hotel, and when the day came on which I was to make my first speech, I struck out the notes of my speech in the morning; and then came up a kind of horror—"I don't know whether I can do anything with an English audience—I have never had any experience with an English audience. My American ways, which are all well enough with Americans, may utterly fail here, and a failure in the cause of my country now and here is horrible beyond conception to me!" I think I never went through such a struggle of darkness and suffering in all my life as I did that afternoon. It was about the going down of the sun that God brought me to that state in which I said, "Thy will be done. I am willing to be annihilated; I am willing to fail if the Lord wants me to." I gave it all up into the hands of God, and rose up in a state of peace and serenity simply unspeakable, and when the coach came to take me down to Manchester Hall I felt no disturbance nor dreamed of anything but success.

We reached the hall. The crowd was already beginning to be tumultuous, and I recollect thinking to myself as I stood there looking at them, "I will control you! I came here for victory, and I will have it, by the help of God!" Well, I was introduced, and I must confess that the things that I had done and suffered in my own country, according to what the chairman who introduced me said, amazed me. The speaker was very English on the subject, and I learned that I belonged to an heroic band, and all that sort of thing, with Abolitionism [Footnote: Abolitionism: The policy of those who worked for the abolition of slavery before the Civil War.] mixed in, and so on. By the way, I think it was there that I was introduced as the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher Stowe. But as soon as I began to speak the great audience began to show its teeth, and I had not gone on fifteen minutes before an unparalleled scene of confusion and interruption occurred. No American that has not seen an English mob can form any conception of one. I have seen all sorts of camp meetings and experienced all kinds of public speaking on the stump; I have seen the most disturbed meetings in New York City, and they were all of them as twilight to midnight compared with an English hostile audience. For in England the meeting does not belong to the parties that call it, but to whoever chooses to go; and if they can take it out of your hands, it is considered fair play. This meeting had a very large multitude of men in it who came there for the purpose of destroying the meeting and carrying it the other way when it came to a vote.

I took the measure of the audience and said to myself, "About one fourth of this audience are opposed to me, and about one fourth will be rather in sympathy; and my business now is, not to appeal to that portion that is opposed to me nor to those that are already on my side, but to bring over the middle section." How to do this was a problem. The question was, who could hold out longest. There were five or six storm-centres, boiling and whirling at the same time: here some one pounding on a group with his umbrella and shouting, "Sit down there;" over yonder a row between two or three combatants; somewhere else a group all yelling together at the top of their voices. It was like talking to a storm at sea. But there were the newspaper reporters just in front, and I said to them, "Now, gentlemen, be kind enough to take down what I say. It will be in sections, but I will have it connected by and by." I threw my notes away, and entered on a discussion of the value of freedom as opposed to slavery in the manufacturing interest, arguing that freedom everywhere increases a man's necessities, and what he needs he buys, and that it was, therefore, to the interest of the manufacturing community to stand by the side of labor through the country. I never was more self-possessed and never in more perfect good temper, and I never was more determined that my hearers should feel the curb before I got through with them. The uproar would come in on this side and on that, and they would put insulting questions and make all sorts of calls to me, and I would wait until the noise had subsided, and then get in about five minutes of talk. The reporters would get that down, and then up would come another noise. Occasionally I would see things that amused me and would laugh outright, and the crowd would stop to see what I was laughing at. Then I would sail in again with a sentence or two. A good many times the crowd threw up questions which I caught at and answered back. I may as well put in here one thing that amused me hugely. There were baize doors that opened both ways into side alleys, and there was a huge, burly Englishman standing right in front of one of those doors and roaring like a bull of Bashan; [Footnote: Bull of Bashan: Psalm XXII, 12-13] one of the policemen swung his elbow around and hit him in the belly and knocked him through the doorway, so that the last part of the bawl was outside in the alleyway; it struck me so ludicrously to think how the fellow must have looked when he found himself "hollering" outside that I could not refrain from laughing outright. The audience immediately stopped its uproars, wondering what I was laughing at, and that gave me another chance, and I caught it. So we kept on for about an hour and a half before they got so far calmed down that I could go on peaceably with my speech. They liked the pluck. Englishmen like a man that can stand on his feet and give and take; and so for the last hour I had pretty clear sailing. The next morning every great paper in England had the whole speech. I think it was the design of the men there to break me down on that first speech, by fair means or foul, feeling that if they could do that it would be trumpeted all over the land. I said to them then and there, "Gentlemen, you may break me down now, but I have registered a vow that I will never return home until I have been heard in every county and principal town in the Kingdom of Great Britain. I am not going to be broken down nor put down. I am going to be heard, and my country shall be vindicated." Nobody knows better than I did what it is to feel that every interest that touches the heart of a Christian man and a patriotic man and a lover of liberty is being assailed wantonly, to stand between one nation and your own, and to feel that you are in a situation in which your country rises or falls with you. And God was behind it all; I felt it and knew it; and when I got through and the vote was called off, you would have thought it was a tropical thunderstorm that swept through that hall as the ayes were thundered, while the noes were an insignificant and contemptible minority. It had all gone on our side, and such enthusiasm I never saw. I think it was there that when I started to go down into the rooms below to get an exit, a big burly Englishman in the gallery wanted to shake hands with me, and I could not reach him, and he called out, "Shake my umbrella!" and he reached it over; I shook it, and as I did so he shouted, "By Jock! Nobody shall touch that umbrella again!"


[Footnote: Henry Ward Beecher was born in 1813 and died in 1887. He was a noted lecturer, reformer, author, and clergyman. He was also among the most prominent of anti-slavery orators, and delivered many addresses in England on subjects relating to the Civil War.

Why do you suppose Mr. Beecher was introduced as Henry Ward Beecher Stowe? Name some characteristics of Mr. Beecher as revealed in this selection. What qualities would you attribute to an English audience, judging from this account? Do you know anything about the custom of "heckling" in England? How much was the success of the speech due to Mr. Beecher's sense of humor? Do you imagine that Mr. Beecher was successful in his addresses to the English people? Why?]

Louise de la Ramee