Wendell Phillips, Brahmin Radical

Wendell Phillips, Brahmin Radical

Wendell Phillips, Brahmin Radical

Wendell Phillips, Brahmin Radical

Excerpt

Two months after Wendell Phillips was born in 1811, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams that only seven signers of the Declaration of Independence were still alive. Two days after Phillips died in 1884, New York State Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt notified his wife that he was launching a campaign to weaken Tammany Hall. Born in the afterglow of the Revolution, Phillips lived long enough to influence the generation that would lead America into the twentieth century. Although he never wore a uniform or held public office, he did as much as any other one man to keep the ideals of the Declaration of Independence alive during this period.

The story of Wendell Phillips is significant for many reasons. There is, first of all, the drama of a man born to wealth and family distinction, who married a neurotic invalid, broke with his class and family to take up subversive causes and lived his entire life in two worlds--the Brahmin world he could never completely forsake and a bizarre world of crackpots, fanatics, cranks and saints, who wanted to remake America according to their separate visions.

There is Phillips the most eloquent man of his time, the golden-voiced orator who made the abuse of popular heroes his stock in trade and got away with it. He could publicly label Lincoln a "slave-hound," Edward Everett a "whining spaniel" and Senator Robert C. Winthrop a "bastard," with the matter-of-fact finality of a man reading from the Scriptures or calling out the time. Infuriated crowds bombarded him with rotten eggs and tried to . . .

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