The Kentucky Advocate - Saturday, February 4, 1893
JAMES G. BIRNEY.
Serial Sketch of a Brilliant and Learned Son of Danville.
(Historical facts suggested by files of "The Olive Branch"
a paper published in Danville in 1826.)
In May, 1835, James G. Birney attended a meeting in New York, at which he offered a resolution that, for the permanent safety of the Union, it was necessary that the whole moral power of the North should be concentrated and brought into action for the extermination of slavery. During that visit he delivered many speeches in the Eastern States in which this idea was elaborated. When he returned home in July, 1835, he found Mercer county in commotion. A mass meeting had been held during his absence and a determination had been reached to prevent the publication of his paper. A committee of thirty-three persons had been appointed to remonstrate with Birney against the proposed publication, and to take such other measures as might be necessary to carry out the expressed will of the meeting.
To the letter in which this remonstrance was conveyed he replied that he declined to accede to their proposition. Undoubtly there were men organized with a settled purpose to mob him. As unquestionably there were others, and among them his kinsmen, who differed with him widely and had endeavored to dissuade him from his purpose, who were determined that no violence should be done to his person, and who were ready, if there had been need, to lay down their own lives in his defense. Happily violent measures on either side were averted by the simple expedient of buying up his publisher, Dismukes, and persuading him to leave town. So that when Birney rode into Danville on the morning when the test was to have been made, he found Dismukes had vamoosed, and the office and residence of the latter in the hands of another. For several months he vainly sought for a practical printer to publish his paper in Danville and then was forced to abandon the project. He was refused permission to lecture in the Presbyterian church; he tried to rent for that purpose the old church which was afterwards given to the negroes, but in vain. His applications for churches and halls in other places were rejected. From the time of his return from the East he was unable to procure any public building in Kentucky in which to defend himself or his opinions. But the statements which have been published that he was ever prevented by violence from addressing any public meeting in Danville are wholly untrue. Anti-slavery papers addressed to him were withheld by the postmaster. He wound up his affairs in Danville, sold his farm, bought a residence in Cincinnati, bade his friends and kindred farewell, and henceforth was a voluntary exile, for the sake of his convictions, from his native State.
No sooner had he made his appearance in Cincinnati, in the autumn of 1835, than attacks upon him were published, and it was not long before he received a call from the Mayor with an intimation of danger to his person if he persisted in his course. He published several pamphlets in defense of the Abolitionists, and selected New Richmond as the point from which to issue his paper, the first number of which was issued on the 1st of January, 1836.
The plan was change, however, and it was published in Cincinnati. The fact that it contained no exeptional matter did not prevent the repetition of threats of its suppression. For the purpose of effecting an organization to execute their threats a public meeting was called for the evening of January 22nd; the roughs of Covington and Newport were brought over to act in concert with their brethren of Porkolis. Against the entreaties of his family and friends Birney calmly resolved to attend that meeting. Immediately after several violent horangues had been delivered, in which the excited assemblage had been appealed to to use force against him and his property, Mr. Birney arose, announced his name and asked to be heard. Cries to "kill him," "down with him!" "tar and feather him," drowned his voice and a ruffianly rush was made towards him, while a few of the more generous gather around to protect him. In the height of the unseemly tumult Gen. Robt. Lytle (father of the gallant Gen. Wm. H. Lytle), who was the leader of the anti-Abolition forces, sprang forward with impassioned gesture commanded silence. "Hear before you strike," said he, "don't disgrace our city and our cause before the nation. I oppose Abolition, but I honor a brave man, and Mr. Birney has to-night shown himself the bravest man I have ever seen." Turning to Birney, he asked him to defer his remarks a few minute. The report of the Committee was then read, and after a few remarks in their favor by Judge Wright on the motion of Gen. Lytle Mr. Birney was invited by a large majority to defend Abolitionism. This he did in a manner which elicited in his behalf all that was chivalrons and honorable in the crowd, and all subsequent efforts to excite the multitude to violence were ineffectual. He went home unmolested; but immediately prepared, with forty armed men, to resist attack. But the threatened storm-cloud was driven away for the time. For months he continued the publication of his paper, and though every Jay passing along the street he was treated with uniform courtesy and respect. In July, however, the storm gathered head and burst.
On the night of the 12th of that month, in 1836, a band of forty men made an assault upon the office, destroyed the issue for that week; dismantled the press and carried away many of its parts. Hand bills were issued and posted threatening all who might undertake to revive the paper. The autorities were evidently in sympathy with the work of destruction. Wm. Pugh, the owner of the office, was a Quaker and absolutely forbade any armed resistance to the mob. Demands were made for the discontinuance of the paper, which were firmly negatived by Birney. During his absence on the night of July 30th, the mob again visited the office, and, in the presence of the Major, completed its work of devastation.
Mr. Birney soon afterwards returned to the city, where he remained without molestation, and made immediate arrangements to resume the publication of the "Philanthropist," which was in September. The effort to either to intimidate or crush him in Cincinnati failed before the reaction in favor of free discussion, which soon set in. A permanent anti-Slavery party was soon organized. As its candidate for President in 1840, Mr. Birney received but 7,100 votes. Four years later this was swollen to 62,300 votes.