Monday, March 24, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Monday, March 24, 1862

“The Golden Trumpet” Hits a Sour Note

Wendell Phillips (pictured here) is a well-born Bostonian of wealth, intellect, and charm whose ability to sway an audience has earned him the nickname, “The Golden Trumpet.” He also is an inflammatory, near-fanatical opponent of slavery. It is a dangerous combination.

In 1862, Cincinnati is the fifth largest city among all the states, Union and Confederate, and a hodgepodge of Northern and Southern flavors. Perched across the Ohio River from Covington, Kentucky, Cincinnati—the “Queen City of the West”—was, before the war, an important trading and communications center for both the South and the North. It is populated by rabid abolitionists, Underground Railroad operatives, Confederate sympathizers, and free blacks with ugly memories of slavery.

On this Monday evening, Phillips is at the Opera House in Cincinnati to give one of his barn-burner public lectures. Wasting no time, he loudly proclaims himself an abolitionist, which prompts hissing from the galleries (balconies) and, worse, eggs and stones, some of which hit him. Each time the hissing dies down and the projectiles cease falling, Phillips is off and running again, practically daring the audience to disagree with him. There are three successive cycles of verbal provocation greeted by hisses, eggs, and stones.

The angry crowd then rushes down the stairs to the main floor and moves up the middle aisle towards the stage. There they are met by Phillips’ friends and a general brawl breaks out—fists flying, ladies screaming, chairs falling.

By 10 p.m., Phillips’ friends have spirited him away. His detractors roam the streets, looking for him without success. Fortunately, “no one was seriously hurt as [far] as we can learn,” the Times reports.

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: Still leery of freeing America’s slaves unilaterally, Congress and President Lincoln are both pondering the possibility of compensated emancipation, in which slave owners would be reimbursed in some way for freeing their slaves. The idea is a pipe dream—few slave owners and Southern politicians would find it attractive—and it will fade away.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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