Sojourner Truth, Abolitionist: “What Ails the Constitution?”

An observer in Iowa describes Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883), a strong  voice against slavery, in 1863, who used her remarkable rhetorical gifts to talk about slavery and the American Constitution.

The graphic sketch of her by the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has doubtless been read with interest by thousands. No pen, however, can give an adequate idea of Sojourner Truth. This unlearned African woman, with her deep religious and trustful nature burning in her soulThe soul is the inner spirit, the life-essence of a person, regarded in many religious traditions as Divine. In the Hindu tradition, the atman or pure consciousness within is understood to be one with Brahman, the ultimate reality that pervades the entire... like fire, has a magnetic power over an audience perfectly astounding. I was once present in a religious meeting where some speaker had alluded to the government of the United States, and had uttered sentiments in favor of its Constitution. Sojourner stood, erect and tall, with her white turbanSikh men wear a turban and Sikh women wear a long head scarf known as a chunni in fulfillment of one of the basic vows taken when joining the Khalsa (the order of committed Sikhs)—to leave the hair uncut as a sign of complete dedication to God. This is ... on her head, and in a low and subdued tone of voice began saying, “Children, I talks to GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. and GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. talks to me. I goes out and talks to God in de fields and de woods. [The weevil had destroyed thousands of acres of wheat in the West that year.] Dis morning I was walking out, and I got over de fence. I saw de wheat a holding up its head, looking very big. I goes up and takes holt ob it. You b’lieve it, dere was no wheat dare? I says, God, [speaking the name in a voice of reverence peculiar to herself]; what is de matter wid dis wheat? and he says to me, ‘Sojourner, dere is a little weasel in it.’ Now I hears talkin’ about de Constitution and de rights of man. I comes up and I takes hold of dis Constitution. It looks mighty big, and I feels for my rights, but der aint any dare. Den I says, God, what ails dis constitution? He says to me, “Sojourner, dere is a little weasel in it.” The effect upon the multitude was irresistible.

[Excerpt from Sojourner Truth, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Battle Creek, Michigan, 1878), 146-48.]