Speeches by William Wells Brown and J. W. C. Pennington Delivered at Salle de la Sainte Cecile Paris, France 24 August 1849
Black abolitionists often turned a variety of reform meetings into antislavery forums. William Wells Brown, J. W. C. Pennington, and Alexander Crummell were among the twenty American delegates that attended the Second General Peace Congress held in Paris, 22-24 August 1849. The final session of the congress convened at the Salle de la Sainte Cecile at noon on Friday, 24 August, and concluded at about six o'clock. Midway through the afternoon's proceedings, Brown was recognized and spoke briefly. He likened slavery to a war against blacks. Brown argued that war and slavery were so compatible that "to demand the abolition of slavery was to work for the maintenance of peace." When Brown concluded, Parisian clerical activist Athanase Josue Coquerel summarized Brown's remarks in French. Later in the proceedings, Pennington appeared on the platform and advocated passage of a resolution urging clerical activism in behalf of peace. He confirmed Brown's thesis that slavery was war. But he assured his pacifist listeners that slaves sought no retaliation against their captors. BB, 29 August 1849; Farrison, William Wells Brown, 147-51.
At so advanced a stage of the proceedings, I should not have thought of taking up the time of the meeting, were I not extremely desirous to protest, at the Peace Congress at Paris, against the existence of the war element, which condemns three millions of men in the United States to the degradation and sufferings of slavery. I was myself a slave for twenty years, and I can therefore speak from experience on this point. I can utter my sentiments with perfect freedom in Paris, but if I were to do so in the United States, my life would be in danger. Slavery has now been abolished in almost every country of Europe; but to her shame be it spoken, it still exists in America. By the revolution of 1848, France not only set her inhabitants at home free, but also emancipated the slaves in Martinique and Guadeloupe. 1 Now, I wish to see the same thing done in the United States. But how can this be effected? It is impossible to maintain slavery without maintaining war. If therefore we can obtain the abolition of war, we shall at the same time proclaim liberty throughout the world, break in pieces every yoke of bondage, and let all the oppressed go free.