The Southern Whig newspaper. Athens, Ga. January 03, 1850, page 1

Encouraged by progress, or discouraged by slow pace?

I was doing some genealogical research, reading from the front page of The Southern Whig.newspaper published January 3, 1850, in Athens, Georgia, when I came across an interesting article that is still painfully relevant today.

The page was in very bad shape, missing the nameplate / top of the page. What remained was just a huge block of text columns with few headlines.

My eye was caught by one of the few article titles:

“The World was Made for all”

In looking at our age, I am struck, immediately, with one commanding characteristic, and that is, the tendency in all its movements to expansion, to diffusion, to universality. To this, I ask your attention. This tendency is directly opposed to the spirit of exclusiveness, restriction, narrowness, monopoly, which has prevailed in past ages. Human action is now freer, more unconfined. All goods, advantages, helps, are more open to all. The privileged, petted individual, is becoming less, and the human race are becoming more. The multitude is rising from the dust. Once we heard of the few, now of the many; once of the prerogatives of a part, now of the rights of all. We are looking, as never before, through the disguises, envelopements of ranks and classes, to the common nature which lies below them; and are beginning to learn, that every being who partakes of it, has noble powers to cultivate, solemn duties to perform, inalienable rights to assert, a vast destiny to accomplish. The grand idea of humanity, of the importance of man as man, is spreading silently, but surely.

Not that the worth of the human, being is at all understood as it should be; but the truth is glimmering through the darkness. A faint consciousness of it has seized on the public mind. Even the most abject portions of society are visited by some dreams of a better condition, for which they were designed. The grand doctrine, that every human being should have the means of self culture, of progress in knowledge and virtue, of health, comfort, and happiness, of exercising the powers and affections of a man; this is slowly taking its place , as the highest social truth. That the world was made for all, and not for a few; that society is to care for all; that no human being shall perish but through his own fault; that the great end of government is to spread a shield over the rights of all; these propositions are growing into axioms, and the spirit of them is coming forth in all the departments of life. – Dr. Channing.”[1]

William Ellery Channing (1780-1842)

Encouraged or discouraged?

Yes. Both.

It is revealing that such a message circulated so long ago, even though it probably referred to “all” as “all white men.” He indicates that progress had already been made, however, the advances he touts are still not complete. While the language and scope of this writing from the first half of the 19th century has many issues, it does express what was a very progressive view that we are still building upon. We are still arguing with people who want to “make America great again” by limiting the rights and opportunities of certain people – by ignoring the damage done by structures of oppression and exploitation that continue today.

I am discouraged that it is taking so long, that we are still needing these discussions and that we have not finished dismantling these social, political, financial and legislative institutions.

I am encouraged that people are still engaging in righting these wrongs, and that I am given grace as I work to do my part. Some day, through our individual and collective work, we will see that the world is for all – truly everyone will be treated with equanimity.

We cannot finish this work fast enough.


[1] Dr. Channing, “The World Was Made for All,” The Southern Whig, January 3, 1850, Georgia Historic Newspapers, p. 1

Earlier Source:
William Ellery Channing, People’s Edition of the Entire Works of W. E. Channing (Simms and McIntyre, 1843), p. 489

Original source, an excerpt from:
William Ellery Channing, The Present Age, an address delivered before The Mercantile Library Company of Philadelphia, May 11, 1841.