The Speeches of Frederick Douglass: A Critical Edition [Critical Edition] 9780300240696

A collection of twenty of Frederick Douglass’s most important orations This volume brings together twenty of Frederick

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The Speeches of Frederick Douglass: A Critical Edition [Critical Edition]
 9780300240696

Table of contents :
Contents
Illustrations
Preface
Introduction: Frederick Douglass’s Oratory and Political Leadership
PART 1: Selected Speeches by Frederick Douglass
“I Have Come to Tell You Something about Slavery”
“Temperance and Anti-Slavery”
“American Slavery, American Religion, and the Free Church of Scotland”
“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
“A Nation in the Midst of a Nation”
“The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered”
“The American Constitution and the Slave”
“The Mission of the War”
“Sources of Danger to the Republic”
“Let the Negro Alone”
“We Welcome the Fifteenth Amendment”
“Our Composite Nationality”
“Which Greeley Are We Voting For?”
“Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict”
“The Freedmen’s Monument to Abraham Lincoln”
“This Decision Has Hum bled the Nation”
“ ‘It Moves,’ or the Philosophy of Reform”
“I Am a Radical Woman Suffrage Man”
“Self-Made Men”
“Lessons of the Hour”
PART 2: Known Influences on Frederick Douglass’s Oratory
From The Columbian Orator (1817)
From “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America” (1843)
“Speech Denouncing Daniel Webster’s Endorsement of the Fugitive Slave Law” (1850)
From “Toussaint L’Ouverture” (1863)
PART 3: Frederick Douglass on Public Speaking
“Give Us the Facts,” from My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)
“One Hundred Conventions” (1843), from Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881; 1892)
“Letter from the Editor” (1849), from the Rochester North Star
“A New Vocation before Me” (1870), from Life and Times
“People Want to Be Amused as Well as Instructed” (1871), Letter to James Redpath
“Great Is the Miracle of Human Speech” (1891), from the Washington (D.C.) Evening Star
PART 4: Contemporary Commentary on Frederick Douglass as an Orator
From “Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Meeting” (1841)
“A Leaf from My Scrap Book: Samuel R. Ward and Frederick Douglass” (1849)
From “A Colored Man’s Eloquence” (1853)
From The Rising Son (1874)
“An 1895 Public Letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the Occasion of Frederick Douglass’s Death,” from In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass, ed. Helen Douglass (1897)
From American Orators and Oratory (1901)
PART 5: Modern Scholarly Criticism of Frederick Douglass as an Orator
From Frederick Douglass: Freedom’s Voice, 1818–1845
From Specters of Democracy: Blackness and the Aesthetics of Politics in the Antebellum U.S.
From “Fighting for Freedom Again: African American Reform Rhetoric in the Late Nineteenth Century”
From The Afro-American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America
From “ ‘He Made Us Laugh Some’: Frederick Douglass’s Humor”
Chronology of Other Important Speeches and Events in Frederick Douglass’s Life
Selected Bibliography
Credits
Index

Citation preview

THE SPEECHES OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS

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The Speeches of Frederick Douglass A CRITICAL EDITION

JOHN R. M C KIVIGAN JULIE HUSBAND HEATHER L . KAUFMAN Editors George Barr, Eamonn Brandon, Kate Burzlaff, Mark Furnish, Kathryn Jacks, Rebecca Pattillo, Alex Smith, Lynette Taylor Research Assistants

New Haven & London

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Frontispiece: Steven Weitzman, statue of Frederick Douglass. Bronze, 10´ × 3´ × 3´, 2013. Emancipation Hall, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol. Published with assistance from The National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Copyright © 2018 by Yale University. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publishers. Yale University Press books may be purchased in quantity for educational, business, or promotional use. For information, please e-mail [email protected] (U.S. office) or [email protected] (U.K. office). Set in New Caledonia and Bulmer type by Newgen North America. Printed in the United States of America. Library of Congress Control Number: 2017963811 ISBN 978-0-300-19217-9 (paperback : alk. paper) A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper). 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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For Aurora and Charlie, who, like Frederick Douglass, have become our constant companions. H.K. and J.M. For Ian, a budding historian who appreciates the power of public speech. J.H.

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Contents

Illustrations Preface Introduction: Frederick Douglass’s Oratory and Political Leadership

x xv xix

Part 1: Selected Speeches by Frederick Douglass “I Have Come to Tell You Something about Slavery” (1841) “Temperance and Anti-Slavery” (1846) “American Slavery, American Religion, and the Free Church of Scotland” (1846) “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” (1852) “A Nation in the Midst of a Nation” (1853) “The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered” (1854) “The American Constitution and the Slave” (1860) “The Mission of the War” (1864) “Sources of Danger to the Republic” (1867) “Let the Negro Alone” (1869) “We Welcome the Fifteenth Amendment” (1869) “Our Composite Nationality” (1869)

3 9 17 55 93 116 151 186 217 247 267 278

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“Which Greeley Are We Voting For?” (1872) “Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict” (1873) “The Freedmen’s Monument to Abraham Lincoln” (1876) “This Decision Has Humbled the Nation” (1883) “ ‘It Moves,’ or the Philosophy of Reform” (1883) “I Am a Radical Woman Suffrage Man” (1888) “Self-Made Men” (1893) “Lessons of the Hour” (1894)

304 318 337 356 374 401 414 454

Part 2: Known Influences on Frederick Douglass’s Oratory Caleb Bingham, from The Columbian Orator (1817) Henry Highland Garnet, from “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America” (1843) Samuel Ringgold Ward, “Speech Denouncing Daniel Webster’s Endorsement of the Fugitive Slave Law” (1850) Wendell Phillips, from “Toussaint L’Ouverture” (1863)

501 505

508 513

Part 3: Frederick Douglass on Public Speaking Frederick Douglass, “Give Us the Facts,” from My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) Frederick Douglass, “One Hundred Conventions” (1843), from Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881; 1892) Frederick Douglass, “Letter from the Editor” (1849), from the Rochester North Star Frederick Douglass, “A New Vocation before Me” (1870), from Life and Times Frederick Douglass, “People Want to Be Amused as Well as Instructed” (1871), Letter to James Redpath Frederick Douglass, “Great Is the Miracle of Human Speech” (1891), from the Washington (D.C.) Evening Star

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Part 4: Contemporary Commentary on Frederick Douglass as an Orator Nathaniel Peabody Rogers, from “Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Meeting” (1841) William J. Wilson, “A Leaf from My Scrap Book: Samuel R. Ward and Frederick Douglass” (1849) Thurlow G. Weed, from “A Colored Man’s Eloquence” (1853) William Wells Brown, from The Rising Son (1874) Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “An 1895 Public Letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the Occasion of Frederick Douglass’s Death,” from In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass, ed. Helen Douglass (1897) Thomas Wentworth Higginson, from American Orators and Oratory (1901)

539 541 547 549

552 555

Part 5: Modern Scholarly Criticism of Frederick Douglass as an Orator Gregory P. Lampe, from Frederick Douglass: Freedom’s Voice, 1818–1845 Ivy G. Wilson, from Specters of Democracy: Blackness and the Aesthetics of Politics in the Antebellum U.S. Richard W. Leeman, from “Fighting for Freedom Again: African American Reform Rhetoric in the Late Nineteenth Century” David Howard-Pitney, from The Afro-American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America Granville Ganter, from “ ‘He Made Us Laugh Some’: Frederick Douglass’s Humor” Chronology of Other Important Speeches and Events in Frederick Douglass’s Life Selected Bibliography Credits Index

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559 566

571 579 584

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1. Ezra Greenleaf Weld, Fugitive Slave Law Convention, Cazenovia, New York. Daguerreotype, 2.1˝ × 2.6˝, 22 August 1850. Frederick Douglass is seated at the left end of the table. Courtesy of the Madison County Historical Society, Oneida, N.Y.

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2. “Expulsion of Negroes and Abolitionists from Tremont Temple, Boston, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1860.” Harper’s Weekly, 15 December 1860, 788. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62–112670.

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3. Thomas Ball, Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln. Bronze, 1876. Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C. In a controversial speech at the monument’s unveiling, Douglass questioned the symbolism of the kneeling position of the slave before Lincoln. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

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4. Frederick Douglass speaking at the Tuskegee Institute, 26 March 1892. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62–120533.

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Preface

Under the direction of the late John W. Blassingame, the Frederick Douglass Papers, based then at Yale University, collected and inventoried more than 2,500 public addresses of Frederick Douglass, indisputably the best-known African American of the nineteenth century. Of all of these speeches, the project selected 273, which were edited and published in a five-volume hardcover scholarly edition by Yale University Press from 1979 to 1992. The critical reception of each volume in the original Douglass Papers was unanimously strong. In a review of the first volume, Carol V. R. George recognized that while “essentially a tool for the scholar, it has the potential for engaging the general reader through the power of Douglass’s eloquence.” James B. Stewart called that same volume “an intrinsically fascinating documentary—absolutely essential equipment for anyone wishing to understand black abolitionism, the international character of antislavery, the rhetoric of antebellum radicalism and, of course, the emerging public character of Frederick Douglass.” This series is out of print and often difficult to locate. What the editors of the current work, in collaboration with Yale University Press, have prepared is a one-volume paperback edition of twenty of the most historically significant of Douglass’s speeches, along with xv

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a new, concise apparatus. These speeches were chosen to represent Douglass’s thought on the most important issues facing the United States in his lifetime, including slavery, abolitionism, civil rights, sectionalism, temperance, women’s rights, economic development, and immigration. Some of the speeches have been well known and quoted for over a century, while others were unduly neglected by scholars before their publication in the Yale University Press edition. Some speeches were delivered repeatedly from manuscript lecture notes, while others were extemporaneous expressions prompted by reform and political campaigns. The editors of the original Yale edition selected the best text for each speech, and this volume reproduces those texts. The headnotes, significantly expanded, offer greater detail on the initial reception of each speech while placing it in historical and rhetorical context. This edition likewise updates the original historical annotations. All of the original 273 speeches and their accompanying annotation are freely available online at the website of the Frederick Douglass Papers. To enhance readers’ appreciation of Douglass as an orator, the editors added four sections of documents not found in the original Yale edition. Like the speeches, each document is reproduced exactly as it originally appeared in print, including typographical errors and misspellings. The first section features excerpts of speeches that Douglass acknowledged as influencing his appreciation of effective oratory. The initial selection is an extract from Douglass’s first primer, The Columbian Orator, which, he recalled, opened his eyes to the injustice of slavery. Also included are addresses by leading reformers, white and black, whom Douglass heard and admired as speakers. The second section is composed of Douglass’s written and spoken statements about his experiences as a public lecturer and the skills he believed necessary for success in that endeavor. Excerpts from Douglass’s autobiographies, editorials, and correspondence recount his reflections on the obstacles he had to surmount to become an effective public speaker.

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The third section contains comments on Douglass’s performance as an orator by those who heard it. Mainly offered by fellow abolitionists, black and white, male and female, they all attest to the contribution that Douglass’s oratory made to the cause of human freedom. The final section features excerpts from modern scholars assessing Douglass’s effectiveness as a public speaker and an advocate for reform causes. Scholars from a variety of disciplines examine the content, delivery, reception, and enduring significance of Douglass’s major speeches. It is the editors’ conviction that these supplementary materials illuminate Douglass’s special place in the field of nineteenthcentury reform oratory. They help explain how an uneducated runaway Maryland slave rose to become one of the most effective public speakers in American history, and how he used his influence to bring about major changes to the nation’s direction. This volume will be attractive to general readers with an interest in Douglass, the Civil War, and racial relations, and to instructors and students in courses on American history, communication and rhetoric, political science, literature, and African American studies. It is the editors’ hope that by making Douglass’s words easily accessible, readers will learn that his message remains relevant to solving the problems of today’s world. The editors have a long list of individuals and institutions to thank for assistance in the preparation of this volume, but space permits acknowledging only a small number of them. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission has unswervingly supported the editing of Douglass’s works since 1979. The National Endowment for the Humanities financially assisted the editing of the original edition of Douglass’s speeches. Yale University, West Virginia University, and now the Institute for American Thought at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis have hosted the work of the Frederick Douglass Papers since the project’s inception,

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in 1973. Special thanks is owed to three editors at Yale University Press: Otto Bohlmann, who first envisioned a select edition of Douglass’s speeches; Vadim Stalko, who helped us launch work on the volume; and Sarah Miller, who saw the volume through the stages of production. Many thanks as well to Rosemary Meany and Cindy Bancroft of the University of Northern Iowa’s Rod Library, whose sleuthing skills in tracking down obscure nineteenth-century newspapers were invaluable, and to Jim O’Loughlin, who gave incisive advice on each headnote as it emerged and contributed to a story line. David W. Blight and John Stauffer lent the editors their expertise on Douglass to advise on the difficult process of selecting the best representatives from Douglass’s vast body of speeches.

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Introduction Frederick Douglass’s Oratory and Political Leadership

Frederick Douglass’s death in 1895 inspired many retrospective accounts of his remarkable life and career. Activists, educators, musicians, ministers, and politicians offered tributes to Douglass and his work on behalf of African Americans and other oppressed groups. He was remembered as a civil rights leader who paired powerful public speaking with a gift for bridging racial divides; in the wake of his death, his contemporaries identified his oratory as his distinctive legacy and his most effective political tool. Of the memorials collected and published in 1897 by Helen Pitts Douglass, his second wife, a majority focused on his speeches. The Reverend Hugh  T. Stevenson, pastor of the Baptist Church of Anacostia, Washington, D.C., remarked: “Gifted with elements that would have made him a master in any walk of life, his work developed in him three prominent characteristics: breadth of sympathy, dauntless courage, and oratorical power.”1 Robert Purvis expanded upon those characteristics, praising Douglass’s “sonorous voice,” with its “wonderful flexibility,” and comparing him to Daniel Webster, the Massachusetts senator and distinguished orator: “In originality of thought, of 1. Helen Pitts Douglass, ed., In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass (Philadelphia: Yorston, 1897), 29.

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expression, in epigrammatic sentences, Mr. Douglass was his equal; in his ability to personate a character, he was his superior.”2 Purvis also compared Douglass to the great Shakespearean actors of his day, adding, “His dramatic power, in both its phases (tragic and comic), was marvelous. . . . I have witnessed passages in the oratory of Mr. Douglass, which, for simple dramatic power transcended their finest efforts; and, for the simple reason that they were acting; and his part was the majestic outburst from the well-spring of a grand, broad, deeply moved human nature.”3 Other commentators noted the dramatic setting of so many of Douglass’s greatest speeches. Often, hecklers interrupted Douglass, and opponents violently threatened his and his colleagues’ safety; one such mob attack in Pendleton, Indiana, which permanently injured Douglass, is recounted in part 3 of this volume. His rhetorical performances were often crafted under extraordinary pressures that, far from undermining him, helped him produce his best work. Though contemporaries frequently remembered Douglass for his declamations and thundering tones, those more familiar with the breadth of his oratorical career remarked upon his gift for extemporaneous speech, especially his comic impersonations of slaveholders and other racists. Purvis commented, “So perfect was the comic in his nature, and so keen was the sense of the ludicrous, that he excited the greatest fun and laughter.”4 The National Anti-Slavery Standard (28 October 1847) described his bearing during a speech mocking slaveholders’ religion: “Mr. Douglass here assumed a most grotesque look . . . and . . . a canting tone of voice.” In this instance, Douglass invoked the discursive form of the sermon satire to mock an eighteenth-century bishop who defended “evangelical flogging.” He quotes the bishop addressing slaves: 2. Ibid., 213. 3. Ibid., 217. 4. Ibid., 218.

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“Whether you really deserve it or not,” (one would think that would make some difference), “it is your duty, and Almighty God requires that you bear it patiently. You may perhaps think that this is a hard doctrine,” (and it admits of little doubt), “but if you consider it right you must needs think otherwise of it.” (It is clear as mud. I suppose he is now going to reason them into the propriety of being flogged evangelically.) “Suppose you deserve correction; you cannot but see it is just and right you should meet with it. Suppose you do not, or at least so much or so severe; you perhaps have escaped a great many more, and are at last paid for all. Suppose you are quite innocent; is it not possible you may have done some other bad thing which was never discovered, and Almighty God would not let you escape without punishment one time or another? Ought you not in such cases to give glory to Him?” (Glory!) (Much laughter.)5

Douglass explains that this approach exposes deceptions practiced to maintain slavery: “There is nothing that will facilitate our cause more than getting the people to laugh at that religion which brings its influence to support traffic in human flesh.”6 Granville Ganter, whose essay is located in part 5 of this volume, explores the way Douglass used humor to confound the audience’s conception of slavery, thus disrupting proslavery thought.

5. Frederick Douglass, “Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country: An Address Delivered in Syracuse, New York, on 24 September 1847,” in John W. Blassingame and John R. McKivigan, eds., The Frederick Douglass Papers, 9 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979–), ser. 1, 2:98–99; hereinafter cited as Douglass Papers. For the original sermon, see William Meade, ed., Sermons Addressed to Masters and Servants and Published in the Year 1743, by the Reverend Thomas Bacon, Minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Maryland, Now Republished with Other Tracts and Dialogues on the Same Subject, and Recommended to all Masters and Mistresses, to Be Used in their Families (Winchester, Va.: John Heiskell, Printer, 1813), 132–33. 6. Douglass, “Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country,” in Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 2:98–99.

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The Novice Speaker: From “Text” to Advocate Douglass began his speaking career shortly after his escape from slavery in Baltimore and his arrival in the shipbuilding community of New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1838 he began attending the New Bedford African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a small all-black congregation, and became a licensed local preacher in 1839.7 Speaking at this church in an antislavery meeting, Douglass was persuaded by the white Quaker William C. Coffin to attend the upcoming abolitionist convention to be held in August 1841 in Nantucket. Douglass made such a powerful impression that he was introduced to several of the leading figures of the American Anti-Slavery Society—William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Parker Pillsbury—and briefly addressed their gathering. By the close of the convention, these abolitionists had asked Douglass to become a paid lecturer for their organization.8 The older Garrison mentored Douglass, and the two formed a close friendship as Douglass learned to convert audiences to fervent antislavery beliefs, even while risking violent public attacks in the process. In 1844 the American Anti-Slavery Society adopted the motto “No Union with Slaveholders.” The society believed that the American system of government was founded on the protection of slavery and that the U.S. Constitution committed the country to defending it. Consequently, any direct political participation through voting or office holding was a form of collusion, an expression of “union with slaveholders.” Members of the society, also known as Garrisonians, likewise criticized Christian churches in the United States, which they saw as ideologically upholding slavery. The Garrisonians supported a range of reforms, most especially women’s rights.

7. William L. Andrews, “Frederick Douglass, Preacher,” American Literature 54, no. 4 (December 1982): 596. 8. William S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass (New York: Norton, 1991), 89.

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Their theory of reform was based on moral suasion: if they revealed the true horrors of slavery and appealed to what is best and most sympathetic in listeners, a moral revolution would sweep the North and eventually the nation, eliminating the need for participation in electoral politics or legislative initiatives. Engaging in direct politics, they believed, would involve compromises detrimental to the moral purity of the movement. Douglass thrived under Garrison’s mentorship and became such a successful and brilliant antislavery lecturer that skeptics doubted he could have been raised in the brutalizing environment of plantation slavery. To prove his slave origins, he published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), which became the most famous slave autobiography in American history. In it he described in detail his early years as a slave in Talbot County and Baltimore, Maryland, as well as his life in the North after his escape from slavery, at approximately age twenty. (Douglass never definitively knew his age.) Publication of the narrative made Douglass identifiable, which made him vulnerable to being captured and returned into slavery. As a result, Douglass left his young family and traveled to Great Britain in August 1845. In twenty-one months overseas, Douglass spoke at hundreds of events in Ireland, Scotland, and England. Initially addressing crowds gathered by his Garrisonian friends, he later found that the popularity of his Narrative won him large audiences drawn to hear the abolitionist testimony of a genuine victim of slavery. The talents he displayed in Britain as a public speaker won Douglass the opportunity to lecture audiences on other topics; one 1846 address, reprinted in this volume, demonstrates the controversy that Douglass sparked when he drew parallels between temperance and abolitionism. Historians have aptly labeled this journey to Britain and Ireland a “Liberating Sojourn.” Douglass won widespread acclaim, enjoyed life in a society with little overt racism, and returned home a free man after his English admirers purchased his

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freedom.9 Consequently, when he returned to the United States in April 1847, he was far less willing than before to act as a junior partner to his original antislavery mentor, William Lloyd Garrison. Douglass commented that early in his career, Garrison would take him as his “text,” a short verse upon which Garrison grafted the meaning of abolition.10 By the time he returned from Britain, he was a celebrity, a powerful advocate for African American freedom. Douglass generally delivered his early antislavery speeches without notes, refining key stories and testing to see which provoked the most favorable audience response. Some of these central stories then found their way into his autobiographies. For example, the 1842 episode in which he broke down prejudice in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, described in the speech “Let the Negro Alone” (included in this work), later appeared in his final autobiography, the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Douglass discovered a further synergy between his publications and his speeches when his autobiography reached Southern audiences, which his speeches could not do. A former neighbor from Talbot County, A. C. C. Thompson, attempted to respond to the Narrative and inadvertently verified much of Douglass’s story. A delighted Douglass wrote to Garrison: “Slaveholders and slave-traders never betray greater indiscretion, than when they venture to defend themselves, or their system of plunder, in any other community than a slaveholding one.”11 He then incorporated Thompson’s observations regarding his transformation from “recreant slave” to “learned” man into his later addresses in Britain.12 As Douglass grew more famous, he was invited to speak at more formal occasions and deliver important keynote addresses. At the 9. Alan J. Rice and Martin Crawford, eds., Liberating Sojourn: Frederick Douglass and Transatlantic Reform (Athens: University of Georgia Press), 1999. 10. Douglass Papers, ser. 2, 2:206. 11. “Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison,” 27 January 1846, Douglass Papers, ser. 3, 1:82. 12. Douglass, “A Few Facts and Personal Observations of Slavery: An Address Delivered in Ayr, Scotland,” 24 March 1846, Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 1:201.

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same time, he was subjected to greater scrutiny from the Garrisonians because of his moves toward independence from them and his changing philosophy of reform. Faced with these new pressures, he began using notes in his speeches. His 1852 classic, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” was one of the first major speeches for which he used notes. The preparation of other speeches such as “Claims of the Negro, Ethnologically Considered” required extensive research. The speeches for which we have records after 1852 are, by and large, those he delivered from notes. Exceptions include stump speeches, such as his 1872 “Which Greeley Are We Voting For?” and convention debates, such as “We Welcome the Fifteenth Amendment,” both located in this volume.

Political Activist: Declaring Independence from the Garrisonians As Douglass evolved as a leader, his relations with Garrison changed, as did his attitude toward electoral politics. When Douglass first proposed editing his own newspaper, he was discouraged by Garrison, who argued that Douglass would have difficulty securing readers and sufficient financial support. Their friendship faltered when Douglass, suspecting that Garrison was motivated in part by a desire to protect his own subscription base, disregarded his friend’s advice. The break between the two men encouraged Douglass to think carefully about the limits of moral suasion as a means of ending slavery. Passage of the Compromise of 1850 made it clear that slavery was a national institution and that proslavery advocates aimed to make it legal in the North as well as the South. Douglass determined that the best way to eliminate slavery was to seek a political solution in addition to maintaining the moral suasion campaign focused on stigmatizing the institution. After relocating to Rochester, Douglass associated more and more with a circle of upstate New York abolitionists led by the

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wealthy land speculator Gerrit Smith. Smith had kept alive the remnant of the original Liberty party, founded in 1840 by abolitionists seeking political means to battle slavery. In 1848 most Liberty party adherents had entered into an alliance with Northern defectors from the Whig and Democrat parties on a Free Soil platform opposed to the spread of slavery into western territories. Douglass was attracted by this show of growing resistance to slavery’s political power. Smith and his followers advanced the radical position that the Constitution offered no special protection for slave owning and that the federal government had the power to emancipate the slaves. Smith befriended Douglass and lobbied hard to persuade him to become an advocate for this brand of radical political abolitionism.13 The catalyst for Douglass’s final break with the Garrisonians came when the American Anti-Slavery Society met in May 1851 and, seeking to clarify the position of its members, required them to denounce the Constitution. Douglass refused. In an article in the next issue of the North Star titled “Change of Opinion Announced,” he supported the argument that the Constitution was an antislavery document, a view that permitted overt electoral action.14 Two weeks after that, in another move of independence, Douglass merged his newspaper with that of Smith’s Liberty party, naming the new publication Frederick Douglass’ Paper. At the same time, he became more active in the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, a rival antislavery group dominated by the wealthy New York City merchants Arthur and Lewis Tappan. The “new organization,” which had split from the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1840, was in many ways less socially radical than its parent organization: it was less critical of religious institu13. Lawrence J. Friedman, Gregarious Saints: Self and Community in American Abolitionism, 1830–1870 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 96–126; John Stauffer, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002), 158–68. 14. McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 169.

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tions and did not support women’s rights. Douglass attempted to work with both groups, but met with hostile resistance from his old friends the Garrisonians. He ends “A Nation in the Midst of a Nation” (1853), delivered at the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society annual meeting, by expressing reluctance to speak as anything other than a “colored man.” He hoped to work with both antislavery societies yet, realistically, lamented the likely impossibility of doing so: “If one discards me because I work with the other, the responsibility is not mine.”15

Revolutionary: Armed Resistance and Marginalization In his first years as an abolitionist lecturer, Douglass resisted those who sought to force him into endorsing violent resistance to slavery. Though the turning point in his Narrative was his fight with the slave breaker Covey, he realized that overtly endorsing slave insurrection in the South would cause him to be labeled an incendiary and would marginalize his voice. During his time as a Garrisonian, Douglass tried to abide by the group’s pacifist ideology, but found it necessary on occasion, such as when facing an antiabolitionist mob in Pendleton, Indiana, in 1842, to fight back in self-defense. The egregious nature of the Fugitive Slave Law finally led Douglass and many other abolitionists to sanction armed resistance, as a last resort, to prevent the rendition of a runaway. In his 1852 novella The Heroic Slave, Douglass went further and praised the courage of Madison Washington and the other rebellious slaves aboard the brig Creole, who fought for and won their freedom. It was Douglass’s close friendship with the white abolitionist John Brown that highlighted the danger of becoming marginalized for advocating violent means to end slavery. In October 1859, Brown and a group 15. “Anniversaries,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 27 May 1853.

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of twenty-one men, black and white, captured the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and attempted to seize munitions with which to start a widespread slave insurrection in the Appalachian Mountains. Douglass had been tempted to help Brown, but withheld his support when he realized Brown’s plans had shifted from orchestrating slave escapes from secret bases in the Southern mountains to a direct military assault on Harpers Ferry. Following Brown’s quick defeat, Douglass fled to Britain to escape possible prosecution. There he discovered that because of his defection from the Garrisonians and his support of Brown’s violent antislavery tactics, he was snubbed by many abolitionists who had welcomed him in 1845. Douglass’s 1860 speech depicting the Constitution as an antislavery document served two purposes: to reaffirm his loyalty to the Union and to defend his views against the international criticism of moral suasionists on both sides of the Atlantic. He attacked George Thompson, a famed British Garrisonian who had challenged Douglass’s position on the Constitution. As an instrumental form of rhetoric, the speech successfully defended the Constitution as a potentially antislavery platform for the nation. But it left Douglass the orator with a greatly reduced constituency. As the communications scholars Michael C. Leff and Ebony A. Utley define the term, “constitutive rhetoric” constructs the identity of the speaking self in relation to audience.16 Douglass’s speaking self was not winning allies in his fight against slavery or for African American civil rights. Audience members may have found his argument persuasive, but he did not put forth a conception of speaker and audience that inspired a clear collective identity. Too far from the African American community and too  angry at the Garrisonians, Douglass found himself marginalized until he returned home, where he was embraced by Unionists and African Americans supportive of 16. Michael C. Leff and Ebony A. Utley, “Instrumental and Constitutive Rhetoric in Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 7, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 38.

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the Civil War. By making resistance to the South, even violent resistance, patriotic, the Civil War saved Douglass’s leadership.

African American Organizer: Douglass in the Civil War and Reconstruction The war years were a high-water mark for Douglass’s leadership among African Americans. He traveled around the country to recruit black soldiers for the Union Army and to advocate for their equal treatment and opportunity in the military. Douglass developed an uneasy relationship with the Lincoln administration. He tried doggedly in the war’s early years to convince the president and the Northern public that the mission of the war was emancipation of the slaves, which, in turn, would redeem the nation and save the Union. In his newspaper, Douglass railed against Lincoln for his “slothful deliberation” over the Emancipation Proclamation and his failure to protect or avenge black soldiers who had been massacred after they surrendered in battle.17 In retrospect, after the success of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, Douglass conceded that Lincoln had been an inspired leader precisely because the president had been so keenly aware of the nuances of public opinion and had gauged his advances accordingly. Lincoln became a touchstone in Douglass’s rhetoric from his assassination onward. Only a small number of Douglass’s speeches explicitly directed toward African Americans were ever recorded or published. Even in “A Nation in the Midst of a Nation,” when Douglass describes a budding black nationalism, he notes, “I am a colored man, and this is a white audience.” Rather than rouse African Americans to 17. From Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: International Publishers, 1952), 3:274.

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unified action, he alternately chastises white listeners and solicits greater understanding from them. In many speeches there is a palpable sense of a double audience, especially during Reconstruction, when Douglass had the greatest access to political power. The 1876 speech “The Freedmen’s Monument to Abraham Lincoln” explicitly distinguishes between a white “you” and a black “we:” “You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children . . . But . . . while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.” In other speeches, Douglass seems to repudiate binary, black-white thinking on race; for example, he includes himself among “we poor white people in the South” in “Which Greeley Are We Voting For?,” delivered in Richmond, Virginia. Relatively few of Douglass’s speech texts are specifically directed at black audiences, which may reflect the limits of the written archive more than the scope of his oratory. He makes reference, for example, in his 1873 Louisville speech, “Recollections of the Antislavery Conflict,” to a distinction between things he shares in public oratory and things he says in private conference. He first notes a form of inequality: We say we are the equals of the whites. Are we at present the equals of the whites? Equal before the law we are, equal at the  ballot box we are, but we are far behind our white brethren. Now in what are we behind? . . If the white man can build magnificent halls like this and we cannot, they are halls ahead of us. I do not say that naturally we are unequal to the white man. I would not say that, but the fact is that now they are in advance of us.

Initially, Douglass sounds as if he subscribes to uplift ideology, an understanding that African Americans must take it upon themselves, without recompense for their exploitation and without equal opportunity, to become wealthier, better educated, and more respected.

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But Douglass repeatedly calls into question the reasons for inequality of condition. He concludes this portion of the speech with a remarkable indication of his frustration in both bridging racial constituencies and effectively leading African Americans: “I would like to talk to you when there were no white people listening to me. I would like to talk to you aside.” We might conclude that Douglass’s speeches to and conversations with black constituents went unreported because he did not want his words misconstrued. During Reconstruction, Douglass became an effective campaigner for the Republican party, the Fifteenth Amendment, and black civil rights more generally. So long as the Republican party supported African American rights and power in the South, Douglass’s position as Republican stalwart served to reinforce his position among African Americans. Though Douglass’s influence had suffered in 1859–60 in the wake of the John Brown scandal, the most sustained challenge came with the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877. With the federal withdrawal from the South, Southern white “Redeemers” steadily disenfranchised African Americans through poll taxes, literacy tests, and violence. Throughout the country, African Americans lost political and economic power and faced growing levels of social stigmatization. Since Douglass had campaigned for the Republicans and accepted significant political appointments, some viewed him as tacitly assenting to the Republican withdrawal from the South and, along with it, the end of federal protection of African American civil rights. The first threat to his leadership came after the John Brown raid, from white people who suspected that his defense of African Americans was too radical and violent; this second crisis, however, came from black people who suspected that he was too indebted to the Republicans. This tension between Douglass and many of his peers reached a peak with the controversy over the “Exodusters,” a term for African Americans from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas who attempted to migrate to Kansas in the wake of violent persecution in the Gulf states. Migrants experienced severe hardships en route, but

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Douglass resisted contributing to relief efforts. He believed that the concentration of African Americans in the South and their extensive experience with agriculture gave them leverage in defending their rights, an advantage that would be absent in other regions of the country; encouraging migration was tantamount to giving up on reforming the South. Critics called him a “traitor” to his race.18 As Douglass noted in his third autobiography, Life and Times: “In all my forty years of thought and labor to promote the freedom and welfare of my race, I never found myself more widely and painfully at variance with leading colored men of the country.”19 As the gains of Reconstruction continued to unravel in the 1880s and 1890s, Douglass was again openly accused of failing to represent the interests of African Americans. He met this challenge by increasingly speaking out against Republican failures. After the Supreme Court overturned the 1875 Civil Rights Act, for example, he challenged his fellow Republicans in “This Decision Has Humbled the Nation” (1883). Frustrated, Douglass even charged that the Republicans had become a “party of money rather than a party of morals.”20

A Return to Radicalism: The Final Years While never severing his relationship with the Republican party— Douglass served briefly as U.S. minister to Haiti in 1889–90 and campaigned for Benjamin Harrison in 1892—his last years show his rededication to agitation. He continued to speak on behalf of women’s rights, calling himself a “radical woman suffrage man,” and mentored Ida B. Wells while collaborating with her to fight lynching. The last speech included in this collection, “Lessons of the Hour” (1893), is as radical as any delivered against slavery. 18. “ ‘Going for’ Fred Douglass,” Washington (D.C.) Post, 19 May 1879. 19. Douglass Papers, ser. 2, 3:335. 20. “The Negro Problem,” Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, 10 January 1894.

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Douglass, unlike the rising African American leader Booker T. Washington, presented an analysis of lynching that was deeply offensive to many white listeners, Republicans included. He branded lynching a means of terrorizing African Americans in order to prevent political, economic, or social progress. Douglass argued that accusations of black men sexually assaulting white women, the most frequent justification offered for lynching, were usually false and that lynching was actually a manifestation of white guilt for the rape of black women during slavery and afterward. Throughout Douglass’s long public career, Americans experienced a decided shift in their understanding of social change. When Douglass first took to the speaking podium, Americans heard from Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Romantics that social change occurred when men’s minds found victory over material circumstances. They argued that representative men could enact social change through their ability to first imagine and then, as Emerson urged, build their “own world.”21 This was a belief system especially friendly to reformers. By the end of his life, Douglass faced a public increasingly skeptical of social movements, unless reform could be defined as individual effort toward self-improvement. Glen McClish notes the limitations of Douglass and Wells’s 1893 pamphlet “The Reasons Why the Colored American Is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition: The Afro-American’s Contribution to Columbian Literature.” He argues that it failed to mobilize African Americans because it asserted a collective identity based on what McClish calls “a confident sense of agency” and a “powerful voice.” As McClish shows, responses in the black press to Douglass and Wells’s work promoted individual achievement and characterized attempts to influence those in power as “not only futile but downright dangerous.”22 Many middle-class black leaders regarded 21. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature,” in Selected Writings of Emerson, ed. Donald McQuade (New York: Random House, 1981), 42. 22. Glen McClish, “The Instrumental and Constitutive Rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass,” Rhetorica 33, no. 1 (Winter 2015): 67, 65.

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collective action as impotent, making the work of agitation and organizing exceedingly difficult. Douglass’s renaissance as an agitator in his twilight years, despite such discouraging developments, can be appreciated in retrospect as a return to his truest impulses and as an inspiration to Wells and later black leaders who would take up the mantle of civil rights reform in the twentieth century.

Recalling Douglass the Orator Douglass seemed well aware that his exceptional talents as a public speaker had won him much of his fame and influence. Part 3 of this collection includes several excerpts from Douglass’s reflections on his experiences as a speaker and the reasons for the successes and occasional failings of his oratorical performances. For example, in 1849 he proclaimed: “The pen is not to be despised, but who that knows anything of the might and electricity of speech as it bursts from hearts of fire, glowing with light and life, will not acknowledge the superiority over the pen for immediate effect.” Twenty years later, however, he mused mournfully: “People do not attend lectures to hear statesmanlike addresses, which are usually rather heavy for the stomachs of young and old who listen. People want to be amused as well as instructed. They come as often for the former as the latter, and perhaps as often to see the man as for either.” Well aware of the centrality of oratory to his political contributions, Douglass was the first compiler of his own speaking record. The four newspapers he edited over the years contained texts of scores of his addresses. With the financial assistance of his supporters, Douglass published and circulated key speeches in pamphlet versions. His second and third autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, quote from Douglass’s orations and reprint numerous lengthy excerpts of the ones he deemed most significant. Highly conscious of his place in history, Douglass reproduced what

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he regarded as his most eloquent public statements on the major issues of his day.23 An early first biography of Douglass, published by James M. Gregory two years before Douglass’s death, contains a collection of speech extracts representing his most memorable speeches from the 1840s to the 1890s. Gregory, a professor of economics and history at Howard University, published Frederick Douglass, the Orator in 1893, weaving together Douglass’s life story with approximately one hundred pages of speech excerpts that he suggested were the culmination of Douglass’s reform labors. Booker T. Washington’s 1907 biography of Douglass quoted copiously from Douglass’s speeches, too. When Carter G. Woodson edited Negro Orators and Their Orations in 1925, eight of the seventy-six speeches he excerpted were by Douglass. Of these eight, only two were from the thirty years Douglass led African Americans after the Civil War. Woodson’s choice of selections suggests that after the Civil War, Douglass became a smaller part of a more robust African American leadership circle. In 1955, Philip S. Foner became the first editor to collect and print a large selection of speeches in their entirety and to place them alongside other writings by Douglass. With the five-volume series of speeches, debates, and interviews edited by John W. Blassingame and John R. McKivigan (1979–92), annotated versions of a wide selection of speeches became widely available to scholars for the first time. This volume gathers together historical context in the headnotes, provides annotations, and offers other contextual materials as a way to focus on the rhetorical “scenario” of Douglass’s oratory. As the theater and performance scholar Diana Taylor defines the term, the “scenario” of a speech describes its text, the space in which it was 23. Two speeches Douglass chose to reproduce in My Bondage and My Freedom and one in Life and Times of Frederick Douglass are among the twenty selected for this volume. Douglass provided interesting background details about the composition of several other of his major address in these autobiographies.

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performed, and the gestures, manner, and accent of the speaker.24 Headnotes in this volume indicate, where possible, the staging of the speeches, newspaper reports of Douglass’s actions and voice, and audience response. Modern appraisals of Douglass as a speaker are inextricably linked with assessments of his leadership. The essays selected for part 5 of this volume examine this linkage. Gregory Lampe, for example, shows how Douglass’s initial training as a speaker was derived from manipulating and imitating white children: he coaxed some to teach him to write and overheard others explaining how they were going to practice speeches for an exhibition, speeches found in The Columbian Orator. Granville Ganter balances this attention to learning dominant-culture practices with a consideration of Douglass’s education within black communities. His early religious training in Baltimore with Father Lawson, his work as a Sabbath school leader, and then his position as lay preacher gave him considerable practice in fostering a sense of collective mission. He was already a compelling speaker, a leader among New Bedford African Americans, when white abolitionists first met him. He had cultivated the form of the slave sermon satire before he was hired to be a traveling antislavery lecturer. Scholars have often compared Douglass with later African American orators, noting his specific rhetorical strategies and constitutive poses relative to his audiences. Ivy Wilson, David Howard-Pitney, and Richard Leeman, all included in part 5, represent this approach to Douglass’s oratory. Wilson considers Douglass’s development to be one sharpened and brought into relief through his association with sometime allies, sometime rivals such as Samuel Ringgold Ward and Henry Highland Garnet. Howard Pitney shows how he tapped into the religio-political jeremiad, standing at the head of an African American tradition credited with some of the most stirring 24. Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003), 16, 20.

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speeches ever delivered, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.” In a less celebratory approach, Richard Leeman finds Douglass’s response to the dominant rhetoric of social Darwinism less confrontational and thus less politically advantageous than that of later leaders such as Henry McNeal Turner, Ida B. Wells and W. E. B. Du Bois. The study of Douglass’s speeches encourages a close examination of Douglass’s post–Civil War career because at many of these speech events, he was defending his political positions and his philosophy of reform to other African Americans, reformers, and Republicans. His call to agitation and confrontation fell out of favor among more conservative African Americans, and so he began crafting speeches to foster a sense of common cause among them. Douglass’s pre– Reconstruction era speeches were aimed at galvanizing white Americans to make slaves free and to make freedmen citizens; the later speeches expose fissures in the African American community and Douglass’s struggle to redefine his leadership after the war, especially in the wake of the post-Reconstruction setbacks. In selecting the twenty speeches reprinted here, the editors balanced a concern for significance and range. They reproduced what have been regarded as Douglass’s most famous pieces, including “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” and “The Freedmen’s Monument to Abraham Lincoln,” as well as others that have garnered little attention but offer fresh insights into Douglass’s methods of persuasion and modes of fostering community. Speeches that attempted to build civic cohesion among African Americans and reformers include “I Have Come to Tell You Something about Slavery” (1841), his oldest preserved speech, which uses embodied rhetoric to move his audience, and “Which Greeley Are We Voting For?” (1872), which shows Douglass’s supple use of pronouns and parody to build a constituency. Speeches included here show Douglass’s concern for the women’s movement, temperance, lynching, education, and science, in addition to slavery and civil rights. They depict him in moments when he was highly marginalized and struggling x

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to find a constituency (“The American Constitution and the Slave,” 1860), and when he was central to African American communities and the Republican party (“Our Composite Nationality,” 1869). Most importantly, the speeches in this volume illuminate the different methods that Douglass used as a reformer and as a performer. In “ ‘It Moves,’ or the Philosophy of Reform” (1883), Douglass outlines a distinctively humanistic theory of social change coming not from the “angel” or “devil” on a person’s shoulder, not from faith in metaphysical deliverance, but from truthfully observing and analyzing social phenomena, no matter the costs. The reformer, he argues, “has to part with old friends; break away from the beaten paths of society, and advance against the vehement protests of the most sacred sentiments of the human heart.” While Douglass endured such losses—a slave mistress of whom he had been fond, his mentor Garrison, friends who felt jealous of his successes later in life—he nonetheless found great compensations, as well. Few reformers in history have had the resilience to spend fifty-plus years agitating for change, but Douglass gathered many allies, especially among women’s rights activists, in the later years of his life. As the most famous African American leader of the nineteenth century and the template for many future African American leaders, Douglass influenced both the black oratorical tradition and dominant-culture oratory. He found a balance between a plainspoken style and the ornate traditions celebrated in The Columbian Orator, and the result was enormously appealing to audiences. His distinctive use of humor and irony later found a modern form in the speeches of Malcolm X and even the political comedy of Richard Pryor. Douglass was critical of minstrelsy, but not of humor per se, and that may have been one of his most powerful legacies. While battling some of the most horrendous social evils of his era, he continued to appreciate the humorous side of life and shared this in some of his most successful orations. On 20 February 1895, Douglass attended the Triennial Session of the Women’s Council in Washington, D.C. He was an honored ii

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guest, escorted to the platform by Susan B. Anthony and Anna Shaw. He moved down the aisle, according to May Wright Sewall, “with the majesty of a king” and “with every eye fixed upon him.”25 He sat next to Anthony, one of his oldest friends, and though he had intended to return home early, he was so engrossed in the day’s discussion that he stayed for the entire day. Returning to his home late that afternoon, he and his wife, Helen, had a hasty dinner so that he could get to the nearby Hillsdale African Church to deliver a lecture. While awaiting the carriage, Douglass entertained Helen with a lively account of the day, impersonating one of the speakers. He fell to his knees, hands clasped, a gesture that Helen thought part of the humorous performance, when he crumpled to the floor. Commemorating him at his funeral five days later, May Sewall remarked on her impression of him at the afternoon session, “I thought, there walks a page of history, an epic poem, a tragedy.”26 Douglass died, fittingly, at this intersection between epic and humor, and between his twin commitments to gender and racial justice.

25. In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass, 46. 26. Ibid., 17; “Death of Frederick Douglass,” New York Times, 20 February 1895.

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PA R T 1

Selected Speeches by Frederick Douglass

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“I Have Come to Tell You Something about Slavery” An Address Delivered in Lynn, Massachusetts, October 1841 Pennsylvania Freeman, 20 October 1841. Frederick Douglass fled slavery in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1838. Within three years, he had married, started a family, and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. His career as a public speaker began in the New Bedford African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, where he was a class leader and then a lay preacher. But Douglass found his true calling when, in April 1839, he heard a speech by William Lloyd Garrison, by then the most famous radical abolitionist in the country. Like many abolitionists, Garrison borrowed from the fervor and conversion narratives of evangelical preaching to declaim against slavery. Douglass adopted the same style. In an 1894 letter to Bishop James W. Hood, Douglass writes, “It was from this Zion church that I went forth to the work of delivering my brethren from bondage, and this new vocation, which separated me from New Bedford, . . . separated me also from the calling of a local preacher.”1 On 16 August 1841, Douglass delivered his first significant public address. The New Bedford banker and abolitionist William C. Coffin had invited him to a large antislavery meeting in Nantucket, which was attended by many prominent abolitionists, including Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Samuel J. May.2 Douglass conveyed his

1. Frederick Douglass, quoted in McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 85. 2. Ibid., 87–89.

3

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personal history in much the same way that it is summarized below, though no transcript is available of the speech. Douglass made such a powerful impression at the Nantucket gathering that the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society invited him to become an itinerant lecturing agent.3 Within months, Douglass had begun to display his considerable speaking skills before audiences across New England. The Pennsylvania Freeman published the account below of one of these early addresses, delivered in Lynn, Massachusetts. The article revealed that he had achieved enough fame to be described as “Frederick Douglass, the runaway slave.” The Freeman’s writer commented that the speech “came so spontaneously that it thrilled through every one present, and compelled them to feel for the wrongs he had endured.” The speech foregrounds Douglass’s physical experience of slavery. He encourages listeners to identify with his physical pain by giving visceral details such as “my blood has sprung out as the lash embedded itself in my flesh.” He frequently notes the limitations of language, as when he says, “The agony of the mother when parting from her children cannot be told.” Early in his career, Douglass became adept at what Thomas Laqueur has termed “humanitarian sensationalism,” that is, narratives of bodily pain that inspire “sympathetic passions” and bridge “the gulf between facts, compassion, and action.”4 Douglass and his abolitionist colleagues sought to construct a story that systematically traced the origins of slaves’ pain back to the South’s “peculiar institution” and connected that pain with listeners’ and readers’ own experiences. Early antislavery tracts had generalized about the negative effects of slavery upon slaves, slaveholders, and the nation as a whole, but by Douglass’s time as an abolitionist speaker, specific tales of slave suffering dominated the discourse. At its best, humanitarian sensationalism moves people to act on behalf of those who suffer, but as Marianne Noble argues, at its worst it can paralyze listeners, allowing them to turn inward and enjoy a 3. Ibid., 89. 4. Thomas Laqueur, “Bodies, Details, and the Humanitarian Narrative,” in The New Cultural History, ed. Lynn Hunt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 179.

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“good cry” before returning to their daily lives.5 Identification with a suffering victim and his or her helplessness can undermine action. Douglass seemingly was aware of this danger when telling the story of the division of labor in the South between “thinkers” and manual laborers. He declares, even in this short speech, his capacity for both thinking and feeling and encourages listeners to feel for slaves and act on their behalf. Finally, this early speech contains a criticism of organized religion in the United States that Douglass would return to and expand on throughout his career. Southern slaveholding religion, he asserts, was built on superstition to defend slavery. His May 1846 speech, “American Slavery, American Religion, and the Free Church of Scotland,” included in this volume, approaches the subject from a different angle. It explores the connection between the financial power of slaveholders and the reluctance of organized churches, even ones as far away as Scotland, to denounce slavery. In what became a central theme of his early abolitionist lecturing, Douglass revealed how religious leaders used biblical interpretation and church practice to sanction the nation’s pervasive racist ideology undergirding slavery.

I

feel greatly embarrassed when I attempt to address an audience of white people. I am not used to speak to them, and it makes me tremble when I do so, because I have always looked up to them with fear. My friends, I have come to tell you something about slavery—what I know of it, as I have felt it. When I came North, I was astonished to find that the abolitionists knew so much about it, that they were acquainted with its deadly effects as well as if they had lived in its midst. But though they can give you its history—though they can depict its horrors, they cannot speak as I can from experience; they cannot refer you to a back covered with scars, as I can; for I have felt these wounds; I have suffered under the lash without the power of resisting. Yes, my blood 5. Marianne Noble, The Masochistic Pleasures of Sentimental Literature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000), 145.

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has sprung out as the lash embedded itself in my flesh. And yet my master has the reputation of being a pious man and a good Christian.6 He was a class leader in the Methodist church. I have seen this pious class leader cross and tie the hands of one of his young female slaves,7 and lash her on the bare skin and justify the deed by the quotation from the Bible, “he who knoweth his master’s will and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”8 Our masters do not hesitate to prove from the Bible that slavery is right,9 and ministers of the Gospel tell us that we were born to be slaves:—to look at our hard hands, and see how wisely Providence has adapted them to do the labor; and then tell us, holding up their delicate white hands, that theirs are not fit to work. Some of us know very well that we have not time to cease from labor, or ours would get soft too; but I have heard the superstitious ones exclaim—and ignorant people are always superstitious—that “if ever a man told the truth, that one did.” A large portion of the slaves know that they have a right to their liberty.—It is often talked about and read of, for some of us know how to read, although all our knowledge is gained in secret. I well remember getting possession of a speech by John Quincy Adams, made in Congress about slavery and freedom, and reading it to my fellow slaves.10 Oh! what joy and gladness it produced to 6. Thomas Auld (1795–1880) met and married Lucretia Anthony while a boarder in the Anthony home. Auld became a storekeeper in Hillsborough, Maryland, and inherited Douglass, along with ten other slaves, from Aaron Anthony. References to Thomas Auld in Douglass’s Narrative and public speeches are generally uncomplimentary, although Douglass disclaimed any personal hostility toward his former owner. 7. Henny Bailey (1816–?) was a cousin of Frederick Douglass. 8. Luke 12:47. 9. While both sides in the religious disputes over slavery insisted on their biblical orthodoxy, proslavery biblical scholars relied heavily on a literal interpretation of the scriptures and identified blacks as the descendants of Ham or of Cain, heirs to curses of perpetual subjugation, and pointed out that the New Testament contained no condemnation of the institution. These writers noted that Saint Paul had admonished slaves to be obedient to their earthly masters and in one instance even ordered the escaped slave Onesimus to return to his master, Philemon. 10. John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) was the sixth U.S. president (1824–28). From 1831 until his death, Adams sat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where

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know that so great, so good a man was pleading for us, and further, to know that there was a large and growing class of people in the north called abolitionists, who were moving for our freedom. This is known all through the south, and cherished with gratitude. It has increased the slaves’ hope for liberty. Without it his heart would faint within him; his patience would be exhausted. On the agitation of this subject he has built his highest hopes. My friends let it not be quieted, for upon you the slaves look for help. There will be no outbreaks, no insurrections, whilst you continue this excitement: let it cease, and the crimes that would follow cannot be told. Emancipation, my friends, is that cure for slavery and its evils. It alone will give to the south peace and quietness. It will blot out the insults we have borne, will heal the wounds we have endured, and are even now groaning under, will pacify the resentment which would kindle to a blaze were it not for your exertions, and, though it may never unite the many kindred and dear friends which slavery has torn asunder, it will be received with gratitude and a forgiving spirit. Ah! how the slave yearns for it, that he may be secure from the lash, that he may enjoy his family, and no more be tortured with the worst feature of slavery, the separation of friends and families. The whip we can bear without a murmur, compared to the idea of separation. Oh, my friends, you cannot feel the slave’s misery, when he is separated from his kindred. The agony of the mother when parting from her children cannot be told. There is nothing we so much dread as to be sold farther south. My friends, we are not taught from books; there is a law against teaching us,11 although I he opposed slavery and fought to introduce antislavery petitions. Douglass may be referring to Adams’s first antislavery speech on the floor of Congress, when late in 1831 he introduced fifteen petitions from Pennsylvania Quakers for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia. Reading these petitions in the pages of the Baltimore American, Douglass learned for the first time the meaning of the word “abolition” in the United States. 11. Following the Nat Turner revolt and the rise of calls for immediate abolition, a number of Southern states enacted legal impediments against educating slaves and sometimes also free blacks. Although Douglass’s native Maryland never enacted such legislation, social pressure there and across the South often proved a significant barrier to slave education.

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have heard some folks say we could not learn if we had a chance. The northern people say so, but the south do not believe it, or they would not have laws with heavy penalties to prevent it. The northern people think that if slavery were abolished, we would all come north. They may be more afraid of the free colored people and the runaway slaves going South. We would all seek our home and our friends, but, more than all, to escape from northern prejudice, would we go to the south. Prejudice against color is stronger north than south; it hangs around my neck like a heavy weight. It presses me out from among my fellow men, and, although I have met it at every step the three years I have been out of southern slavery, I have been able, in spite of its influence, “to take good care of myself.”

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“Temperance and Anti-Slavery” An Address Delivered in Paisley, Scotland, 30 March 1846 Renfrewshire Advertiser, 11 April 1846. Frederick Douglass had an abiding interest in temperance, writing in his 1845 Narrative of the brutalizing effects of alcohol on slaves. Both in that autobiography and in this 1846 speech, he argues that slaveholders deliberately offered slaves alcohol in order to divert their leisure time away from plans of escape or subversion. The desired effect was to make them disgusted with their overindulgence and therefore willing to return to work. While Douglass’s main goal in England, Scotland, and Ireland was to speak on behalf of the antislavery cause, he was invited to other conventions, including this one in Scotland promoting the temperance movement. He was well received, but his interactions with American temperance advocates in Britain were troubled. These Americans, often ministers, felt their moral standing compromised when Douglass exposed the nation’s slave culture, especially if they were directly implicated. In a study of transatlantic lecture tours, Amanda Adams notes that when American writers traveled to Britain, they offered interpretations of American culture, especially slavery. Audiences on both sides of the ocean were fascinated by the emergence and growth of this distinctive American phenomenon.1 The debate over slavery created tensions among Americans overseas, who felt themselves accused of being representatives of a defective culture. 1. Amanda Adams, Performing Authorship in the Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Lecture Tour (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2014), 21.

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Three months after this convention in Scotland, Douglass was invited to deliver impromptu remarks at the World’s Temperance Convention in London. There he became embroiled in yet more controversy. The audience called out to hear Douglass speak, he proceeded to the lectern, and he briefly described the 1842 mobbing of a black temperance parade in Philadelphia, as he had done in Paisley. Cries of “Shame!” went up from the crowd, and the chairman attempted to cut Douglass short. In a letter published in the New York Evangelist, the Reverend Samuel Hanson Cox,2 the moderator of the meeting, accuses Douglass of having “lugged in Anti-Slavery” and “open[ed] an avalanche on them [American delegates to the conference] for some imputed evil or monstrosity.” Cox characterized Douglass as an arrogant young man who, having “been petted, and flattered, and used, and paid by certain abolitionists,” “forgets himself.” Douglass’s searing response in the Anti-Slavery Bugle was one of the angriest defenses of himself as a representative black man he ever penned. In it, he insists on his duty to represent three million African Americans and their specific obstacles in achieving temperance reform as well as in ending slavery.3 In international forums, Douglass’s willingness to criticize American slavery drew out the latent racism and classism of some of his American partners in temperance reform.

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adies and Gentlemen, I am proud to stand on this platform; I regard it a pleasure and a privilege—one which I am not very frequently permitted to enjoy in the United States, such is the prejudice against the coloured man, such the hatred, such the contempt in which he is held, that no

2. Douglass questioned the Reverend Samuel Hanson Cox’s antislavery credentials in an article in the Montpelier (Vt.) Voice of Freedom, 22 January 1846. Cox had been an abolitionist in the 1830s, but his church and his home were vandalized in an antislavery riot of 1834, which caused him to distance himself from the abolitionist campaign. See Joel Tyler Headley, The Great Riots of New York, 1712–1873 (1873; Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), 87–93. 3. “Reply of Frederick Douglass to Dr. Cox,” Salem (Ohio) Anti-Slavery Bugle, 18 December 1846.

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temperance society in the land would so far jeopardise its popularity as to invite a coloured man to stand before them. He might be a Webster 4 in intellect, a Channing5 in literature, or a Howard 6 in philanthropy, yet the bare fact of his being a man of colour, would prevent him from being welcomed on a temperance platform in the United States. This is my apology, I have been excluded from the temperance movement in the United States, because God has given me a skin not coloured like yours. I can speak, however, in regard to the facts concerning ardent spirits, for the same spirits which make a white man drunk make a black man drunk too. Indeed, in this I can find proof of my identity with the family of man. (Laughter.) The effect of drink on the one and the other is the same. The coloured man in the United States has great difficulties in the way of his moral, social, and religious advancement. Almost every step he takes towards mental, moral, or social improvement is repulsed by the cold indifference or the active mob of the white.7 He is compelled to live an outcast from society; he is, as it were, a border or salvage on the great cloth of humanity, and the very fact of his degradation is given as a reason why he should be continued in the condition of a slave. The blacks are to a considerable extent 4. A successful career as a lawyer led Daniel Webster (1782–1852) into politics, and he served in numerous elected and appointed positions for the rest of his life. His tenure in the U.S. Senate is especially noteworthy for his erudite speeches on national issues. Webster clashed with states’ rights advocates such as John C. Calhoun in Congress, but usually was able to work out compromises to avoid secession. 5. The Boston Unitarian minister and reformer William Ellery Channing (1780– 1842), a leading writer on liberal religious principles, helped inspire Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. 6. Probably Douglass alludes to the British reformer John Howard (1726–90), who campaigned tirelessly to expose inhumane conditions in his nation’s prisons. 7. Douglass may be alluding to a specific incident familiar to him and many in his audience. American abolitionists annually celebrated West Indian Emancipation Day on 1 August. On that day in 1842 in Philadelphia, a white mob attacked blacks during a procession of the Young Men’s Vigilant Association, a black temperance society. Two days of rioting resulted in the beating of many blacks and the burning of the African Beneficial Hall and the Second African Presbyterian Church. The Pennsylvania militia intervened to restore order, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately awarded damages to the owners of the church and the hall.

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intemperate, and if intemperate, of course vicious in other respects, and this is counted against them as a reason why their emancipation should not take place. As I desire, therefore, their freedom from physical chains, so I desire their emancipation from intemperance, because I believe it would be the means—a great and glorious means—towards helping to break their physical chains and letting them go free. To give you some idea of the strength of this prejudice and passion against the coloured people, I may state that they formed themselves into a temperance procession in Philadelphia, on the day on which the legislature in this country had by a benevolent act awarded freedom to the negroes in the West Indian islands.8 They formed themselves into a procession with appropriate banners,9 but they had not proceeded up two streets before they were attacked by a reckless mob, their procession broken up, their banners destroyed, their houses and churches burned, and all because they had dared to have a temperance procession on the 1st of August. They had saved enough to build a hall, besides their churches. These were not saved, they were burned down, and the mob was backed up by the most respectable people in Philadelphia. These are the difficulties which beset their path. And yet the Americans, those demons in human shape, they speak to us, and say that we are morally and religiously incapacitated for enjoying liberty with themselves. I am afraid I am making this an anti-slavery meeting. (Cheers.) I want to state another fact. The black population pay sufficient tax to government to support their own poor, besides 300 dollars over 8. Douglass refers to the abolition of slavery in British colonies, achieved by parliamentary and colonial legislation between 1833 and 1838. The number of slaves emancipated in the West Indies was 800,000. 9. The banners carried by Philadelphia’s black temperance marchers became a focus of controversy after the procession was attacked on 1 August 1842. Some observers claimed that white bystanders were angered by a flag “showing a colored man breaking his chains and depicting the rising son of freedom.” Supposedly, some rioters misread the scene as “a Negro triumphing over the massacre of whites at St. Domingo.” Leaders of the city’s black community hotly disputed this version of the riot’s origin.

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and above.10 This is a fact which no American pale-face can deny. (Cheers.) I, however, love white people when they are good; but this is precious seldom. I have had some experiences of intemperance as well as of slavery. In the Southern States, masters induce their slaves to drink whiskey, in order to keep them from devising ways and means by which to attain their freedom. In order to make a man a slave, it is necessary to silence or drown his mind. It is not the flesh that objects to being bound—it is the spirit. It is not the mere animal part—it is the immortal mind which distinguishes man from the brute creation. To blind his affections, it is necessary to bedim and bedizzy his understanding. In no other way can this be so well accomplished as by using ardent spirits! On Saturday evening, it is the custom of the slaveholder to give his slaves drink, and why? Because if they had time to think, if left to reflection on the Sabbath day, they might devise means by which to obtain their liberty. I knew once what it is to drink with all the ardour of old soker.11 I lived with a Mr. Freeland12 who used to give his slaves apple brandy. Some of the slaves were not able to drink their own share, but I was able to drink my own and theirs too. I took it because it made me feel I was a great man. I used to think I was a president. And this put me in mind of a man who once thought himself a president. He was coming across a field pretty tipsy. Happening to lay himself down near a pig-sty, and the pig being out at the time, he crawled into it. 10. Abolitionists frequently described the African American community of Philadelphia as a model of the free black’s economic and social progress in the face of adversity. 11. The phrase “old soker,” probably referring to a drunk or alcoholic, is found in writing as early as a 15 February 1665 entry in Samuel Pepys’s diary. John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases and Proverbs Traced to their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature, 17th ed. (1855; Boston: Little, Brown, 2002), 288. 12. Douglass refers to William Freeland, a slave-owning farmer who lived near St. Michaels, Talbot County, Maryland. Douglass was hired out to Freeland in 1835 and 1836 after his stormy one-year stint with the “Negro-breaker” Edward Covey. Douglass considered Freeland “a man of many excellent qualities” and “the best master I ever had, until I became my own master.”

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After a little [while], in came the old sow and her company of pigs. They commenced posing at the intruder. An individual happening to pass at the time, heard a voice demanding order, order. He went forward and looked, when he saw a fellow surrounded by the pigs calling for order, order. (Laughter.) He had imagined he was the president of a meeting, and was calling for order. There are certain objections urged against the temperance reform. One very frequently urged runs thus:—the gospel of Jesus Christ was given for the purpose of removing all the ills that ought to be removed from society; therefore we can have no union with teetotalism13 because it is out of the church. It is treason to go out of her borders and join a teetotal society. There is as much truth in this as you can hang a few falsehoods upon. There is truth at the beginning. It will remove slavery, it will remove war, it will remove licentiousness, it will remove fraud, it will remove adultery. All the ills to which flesh is heir14 will be removed by an application to them of the truths of the gospel. What we want is to adopt the most efficacious means of applying gospel truth. I dined the other day with six ministers in Perth. With the exception of one, they all drank whiskey, and that one drank wine. So disgusted was I that I left, and that night I delivered a temperance lecture.15 I need not tell you that I was never again invited to dine in that house. I told people at Perth that the ministers were responsible for a great part of the drinking 13. The organized temperance movement advocating personal moderation in the consumption of alcoholic beverages began in the United States and several western European nations in the early nineteenth century. The 1833 origin of the more extreme position of “teetotalism,” designating complete or total abstinence from alcoholic beverages except as medicine, is often traced to the English reformer Joseph Livesey of the Preston Temperance Society. 14. Hamlet, sc. 8, lines 1600–01. 15. The incident in question probably occurred during Douglass’s visit to Perth on 12 March 1846, but no record of his encounter with the six ministers survives, and the identity of Douglass’s host is impossible to determine. Local newspapers printed no text of Douglass’s evening speech in Perth City Hall but did object to his “disgusting” and “contemptible” mimicry of a well-known Free Church minister. Perthshire Advertiser, 19 March 1846; Perthshire Courier, 19 March 1846.

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habits among the people. The ministers have the influence to aid in removing this curse from the community; 1st, by abandoning drinking habits themselves; and, 2d, by doing what they want to make others follow their example. If the ministers used their moral influence, Scotland might soon be redeemed from this curse; and why? Because the ministers had done it in the United States. A man would not be allowed to stand in an American pulpit if it was known that he tippled the whiskey. We feel that it is not proper that a minister of the gospel in the nineteenth century should be a man to mar the advancement of this cause, by using these intoxicating beverages. Our success has been glorious, for in Lynn16 I never saw a barefooted child in winter—I never saw a beggar in the streets in winter—I never saw a family without fuel in winter. And why have we this glorious result? Because no money is spent for whiskey. I am a temperance man because I am an anti-slavery man; and I am an anti-slavery man because I love my fellow men. There is no other cure for intemperance but total abstinence. Will not temperance do, says one? No. Temperance was tried in America, but it would not do. The total abstinence principle came and made clean work of it. It is now seen spreading its balmy influence over the whole of that land. It is seen in making peace where there was war. It has planted light and education where there was nothing but degradation, and darkness, and misery. It is your duty to plant—you cannot do all, but if you plant, God has promised, and will give the increase.17 We shall see most gloriously this cause yet triumph in Scotland. Is there a man within the sound of my voice who does not know that nine-tenths of the crime, misery, disease, and death, of these lands is occasioned by 16. Douglass relocated with his family from New Bedford to Lynn in the fall of 1841 shortly after becoming a paid itinerant lecturer for the Massachusetts AntiSlavery Society. The family remained there while Douglass toured the British Isles from 1845 to 1847. 17. 2 Cor. 9:10.

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intemperance? You may talk of the charter18 and the corn-laws,19 but until you have banished the demon intemperance, you cannot expect one day of prosperity in your land. In the name of humanity then I call upon you to abandon your bowl. To those who would feel it no sacrifice, I say give it up. To those who would consider it a sacrifice, I say it is time you had given it up, and then we shall see our cause progressing gloriously. Were this meeting all teetotallers, and to pledge themselves to work in the cause, twelve months would see a most miraculous change in Paisley. Many thanks now for your kind patience; pardon me if I have said anything amiss, anything inconsistent with truth.

18. An allusion to the English workers’ campaign in the 1830s and 1840s for suffrage. Facing growing economic dislocation from the Industrial Revolution and disappointed at the failure of the Reform Bill of 1832 to address their political rights, workers organized across the nation. A six-point petition calling for significant political reforms was overwhelmingly rejected by Parliament three times over the course of almost a decade. 19. Douglass refers to the controversial measures of agricultural protection enacted in Britain during the first half of the nineteenth century known as the Corn Laws, which were a center of parliamentary debate in 1845 during Douglass’s first visit to England. They were repealed the next year.

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“American Slavery, American Religion, and the Free Church of Scotland” An Address Delivered in London, England, 22 May 1846 American Slavery: Report of a Public Meeting Held at Finsbury Chapel, Moorfields, to Receive Frederick Douglass, the American Slave, on Friday, May 22, 1846 (London, 1846), 3–24. Antislavery activists, including Frederick Douglass, expressed deep disappointment in the reluctance of major American religious denominations to denounce slavery and to pressure their slaveholding congregants to free their slaves. Even after the Northern and Southern branches of the Methodist Episcopal and Baptist Churches split from each other, in 1844 and 1845 respectively, some abolitionists saw the schisms as more a matter of “policy” than “principle.”1 The separation of these federated churches made it possible for Northern branches to issue mild condemnations of slaveholding without affecting or offending Southern Methodist or Baptist congregations.2 Nonetheless, in 1846, when Frederick Douglass delivered this speech, the strategy of pressuring American churches to declare slavery immoral seemed a fruitful way to convert the nation to antislavery principles. Early in Douglass’s speaking career, he identified 1. “Thirteenth Annual Report of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1853,” quoted in John R. McKivigan, “The Sectional Division of the Methodist and Baptist Denominations as Measures of Northern Antislavery Sentiment,” in Religion and the Antebellum Debate over Slavery, ed. John R. McKivigan and Mitchell Snay (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), 343. 2. Ibid.

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“slaveholder religion” as one of the most powerful ideological supports of slavery, and he attacked it both in his 1845 Narrative and in many of his speeches. In fact, Gary Selby, a communication and rhetoric scholar whose work examines religious rhetoric and abolitionism, argues that at this time “no theme . . . occupied [Douglass’s] attention more than religion.”3 The American Anti-Slavery Society, led by William Lloyd Garrison, endorsed the work of several agents who made an example of the Free Church of Scotland, a newly established, dissenting Presbyterian sect that accepted contributions from American slaveholders.4 The Liberator reported that when Frederick Douglass, Henry  C. Wright, and George Thompson delivered speeches in April 1846 in Edinburgh, the town had been “placarded, in every direction, with small bits of paper, printed in large letters—SEND BACK THE MONEY.”5 Douglass participated in several protest meetings against the Free Church of Scotland in Scottish and English cities in the spring of 1846—Glasgow, Paisley, Edinburgh, and London among them—all of them featuring this motto, “Send back the money.” According to the London Observer, the meeting in Finsbury Chapel at which Douglass delivered this speech had been called only three days earlier, but “so intense was the interest excited, that every part of this large edifice was crowded to suffocation.”6 At the beginning of his lecture, Douglass establishes a definition of slavery, fearing the term “slavery” will lose its “horror” if its true meaning is diluted through loose or weak analogies with other wrongs. Popularly known as the “sisterhood of reforms,”7 temper3. Gary Selby, “Mocking the Sacred: Frederick Douglass’s ‘Slaveholder’s Sermon’ and the Antebellum Debate over Religion and Slavery,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 88, no. 1 (August 2002): 330. 4. “Twelfth Annual Meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society,” Boston Liberator, 22 May 1846. 5. “Letter from Henry C. Wright,” Boston Liberator, 29 May 1846. 6. “American Slavery,” London Observer, 26 May 1846. 7. According to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, this was a term commonly used before the Civil War to refer to interrelated reform movements premised on an expansive understanding of individual rights and the responsiveness of social organizations to deliberate change: antislavery, women’s rights, temperance, and tract or missionary societies. Because so many people were committed members of multiple organizations, many of these organizations commonly met during “anniversary

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ance, women’s rights, and Christian missionary work were inclined to use a sensational rhetoric that compared any number of injustices to slavery. Douglass had participated in many meetings of these groups, and while subscribing to their goals, he saw a danger in conflating the bases for them. Turning to his main subject, Douglass recounts that two years earlier a delegation from the Free Church of Scotland came to the United States to raise funds to build churches and hire ministers. The American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society urged the group not to go to the South, but it did, and raised substantial funds from congregations there that welcomed slaveholders. Abolitionists hoped that their campaign against the Free Church of Scotland would generate dissent within Northern churches over slavery and, more broadly, would stigmatize slaveholding Christians in the South and the churches in the North that continued to affiliate with them. Douglass seriously considered remaining in Britain, but by the end of the summer of 1846, he decided to return to America so long as his freedom could be secured and he could travel safely there. His new British friends raised and paid Hugh Auld £150 to secure a deed of manumission, and Douglass became a free man in December 1846.8

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Douglass rose amid loud cheers, and said—I feel exceedingly glad of the opportunity now afforded me of presenting the claims of my brethren in bonds in the . United States to so many in London and from various parts of Britain, who have assembled here on the present occasion. I have nothing to commend me to your consideration in the way of learning, nothing in the way of education, to entitle me to your attention; and you are aware that slavery is a very bad school for

week” each year in the same city. Ronald G. Walters, “Abolition and Antebellum Reform,” History Now: The Journal of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, accessed 24 July 2015, www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/slavery-and-anti-slavery/essays/ abolition-and-antebellum-reform. 8. McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 144.

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rearing teachers of morality and religion. Twenty-one years of my life have been spent in slavery, personal slavery, surrounded by degrading influences such as can exist nowhere beyond the pale of slavery; and it will not be strange, if under such circumstances, I should betray in what I have to say to you a deficiency of that refinement which is seldom or ever found, except among persons that have experienced superior advantages to those which I have enjoyed. (Hear, hear.) But I will take it for granted that you know something about the degrading influences of slavery, and that you will not expect great things from me this evening, but simply such facts as I may be able to advance immediately in connexion with my own experience of slavery. The subject of American slavery is beginning to attract the attention of philanthropists of all countries,—it is a matter, too, to which philosophers, statesmen, and theologians, in all parts of the world, are turning their attention. It is a matter in which the people of this country especially, and of Scotland and Ireland, are taking the deepest interest—it is a matter in which all persons, who speak the English language, must eventually become interested. It is no longer an unintelligible or obscure question, although there is much yet to be learned. In order to [obtain] the proper understanding of the subject before us, allow me briefly to state the nature of the American Government, and the geographical location of slavery in the United States. There are at this time 28 States,9 called the United States, each of which has a constitution of its own, under which the constitution is convened, from year to year, what is called a local legislature—a legislature that has the power of making the local laws for that state. Each state is considered (within the limits of the Constitution) sovereign in itself, but over all the states there is a general government, under a federal Constitution, which constitutes these 28 states, the United States. 9. The former Republic of Texas became the twenty-eighth state of the Union on 29 December 1845.

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The general government in the Congress, under the Constitution, has no right to interfere with the domestic arrangements of the individual states. The general government has the power of levying taxes, providing for the general welfare, regulating commerce, declaring war, and concluding peace. There are what are called free states and slave states; the latter are 15 in number, the former 13. The free states are divided from the slave states by what is called Mason and Dixon’s line, running east and west. All the states south of the line are slave states. Notwithstanding the general government has nothing to do with the domestic and the local civil institutions of the individual state, it becomes my duty to show that the general government does after all give support to the institution of slavery as it exists in the slave states. An attempt has been made in this country to establish the conviction that the free states of the Union have nothing whatever to do with the maintenance and perpetuity of slavery in the southern states, and many persons coming from the United States have represented themselves as coming from the free states, and have shirked all responsibility in regard to slavery on this ground. Now, I am here to maintain that slavery is not only a matter belonging to the states south of the line, but is an American institution—a United States institution—a system that derives its support as well from the non-slave-holding states, as they are called, as from the slave-holding states. The slave-holding states, to be sure, enjoy all the profits of slavery—the institution exists upon their soil; but if I were going to give the exact position of the northern and southern states it would be simply this—the slave states are the slave-holding states, while the non-slave states are the slavery-upholding states. The physical power necessary to keep the slaves in bondage lies north of the line. The southern states admit their inability to hold their slaves, except through protection afforded by the northern states. The Constitution makes it the duty of the northern states to return the slave if he attempts to escape, to call out the army and navy to crush the slave into subjection, if he dare make an attempt

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to gain his freedom.10 The east and the west, the north and the south, the people of Massachusetts and the people of South Carolina have, through their representatives, each in their own official capacity, sworn before high heaven, that the slave shall be a slave or die. So that while the free states of the American Union consent to what they call the compromise of the Constitution of the United States, they are responsible for the existence of slavery in the southern states. (Loud cheers.) There are 3,000,000 of slaves, and I believe the largest estimate that has ever been made of the slave holders does not exceed 300,000.11 How do you suppose 300,000 men are able to hold 3,000,000 men in slavery? It cannot be. The slaves could by their own power crush their masters if they would, and take their freedom, or they could run away and defy their masters to bring them back. Why do they not do it? It is because the people of the United States are all pledged, bound by their oaths, bound by their citizenship in that country, to bring their whole physical power to bear against the slave if such an event should arise. (Cries of “Shame!”) The slave has no hopes from the northern states, for they are in connexion with the slave states of America. Every defender of the American Union, of the compromise of the United States, no matter how much he may boast of his anti-slavery feeling, is, so far as his citizenship goes, a pledged enemy to the emancipation of the bondsman. I have thought it necessary to say thus much that you might see where slavery exists, and how it exists in the United States. The slave holders admit that they are incapable of retaining their slaves. “Why,” said one man, “we are surrounded by savages; if they could entertain the idea that immediate death would not be their portion, they would re-enact the St. Domingo tragedy.” (Hear, hear.) The same gentleman goes on to advocate the existence of the slave-holding union between the states, and the utility of the union 10. The second paragraph of article IV, section 2, of the U.S. Constitution. 11. The 1840 Census of the United States tabulated 2,487,455 slaves. The 1850 Census indicated the nation had 347,725 slaveholding families.

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on the ground that, should it be dissolved, the slave would cross the Mason and Dixon’s line, and turn round and curse his master from the other side. Now what is this system of slavery? This is the subject of my lecture this evening—what is the character of this institution? I am about to answer the inquiry, what is American slavery? I do this the more readily, since I have found persons in this country who have identified the term slavery with that which I think it is not, and in some instances, I have feared, in so doing have rather (unwittingly, I know) detracted much from the horror with which the term slavery is contemplated. It is common in this country to distinguish every bad thing by the name slavery. Intemperance is slavery (cheers); to be deprived of the right to vote is slavery, says one; to have to work hard is slavery, says another (laughter, and loud cheers); and I do not know but that if we should let them go on, they would say to eat when we are hungry, to walk when we desire to have exercise, or to minister to our necessities, or have necessities at all, is slavery. (Laughter.) I do not wish for a moment to detract from the horror with which the evil of intemperance is contemplated; not at all; nor do I wish to throw the slightest obstruction in the way of any political freedom that any class of persons in this country may desire to obtain. But I am here to say that I think the term slavery is sometimes abused by identifying it with that which it is not. Slavery in the United States is the granting of that power by which one man exercises and enforces a right of property in the body and soul of another. The condition of a slave is simply that of the brute beast. He is a piece of property—a marketable commodity in the language of the law, to be bought or sold at the will and caprice of the master who claims him to be his property; he is spoken of, thought of, and treated as property. His own good, his conscience, his intellect, his affections are all set aside by the master. The will and the wishes of the master are the law of the slave. He is as much a piece of property as a horse. If he is fed, he is fed because he is property. If he is clothed, it is with a view to the increase of his

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value as property. Whatever of comfort is necessary to him for his body or soul, that is inconsistent with his being property, is carefully wrested from him, not only by public opinion, but by the law of the country. He is carefully deprived of everything that tends in the slightest degree to detract from his value as property. He is deprived of education. God has given him an intellect—the slave holder declares it shall not be cultivated. If his moral perception leads him in a course contrary to his value as property, the slave holder declares he shall not exercise it. The marriage institution cannot exist among slaves,12 and one-sixth of the population of democratic America is denied its privileges by the law of the land.13 What is to be thought of a nation boasting of its liberty, boasting of its humanity, boasting of its Christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three millions of persons denied by law the right of marriage?—what must be the condition of that people? I need not lift up the veil by giving you any experience of my own. Every one that can put two ideas together, must see the most fearful results from such a state of things as I have just mentioned. If any of these three millions find for themselves companions, and prove themselves honest, upright, virtuous persons to each other, yet in these cases—few as I am bound to confess they are—the virtuous live in constant apprehension of being torn asunder by the merciless men-stealers that claim them as their property. (Hear.) This is American slavery—no marriage—no education—the light of the Gospel shut out from the dark mind of the bondman—and he forbidden by law to learn to read. If a mother shall teach her 12. Because American slave codes, for the most part, defined slaves as either personal property or the real estate of slaveholders, a slave could not be party to a contract such as a legal marriage. Nonetheless, some masters recognized quasi marriage—a contubernal relationship—the state of two slaves or a slave and a freeman dwelling together. That arrangement could be ended without legal consequence. 13. Douglass’s estimated percentage of free blacks and slaves in the U.S. population is accurate. In 1840 there were 386,303 free blacks and 2,487,455 slaves in an overall population of 17,069,453, meaning the black population was 16.8 percent of the total, which is slightly more than one-sixth.

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children to read, the law in Louisiana proclaims that she may be hanged by the neck.14 (Sensation.) If the father attempt to give his son a knowledge of letters he may be punished by the whip in one instance, and in another be killed, at the discretion of the court. Three millions of people shut out from the light of knowledge! It is easy for you to conceive the evil that must result from such a state of things. (Hear, hear.) I now come to the physical evils of slavery. I do not wish to dwell at length upon these, but it seems right to speak of them, not so much to influence your minds on this question, as to let the slave holders of America know that the curtain which conceals their crimes is being lifted abroad (loud cheers); that we are opening the dark cell, and leading the people into the horrible recesses of what they are pleased to call their domestic institution.15 (Cheers.) We want them to know that a knowledge of their whippings, their scourgings, their brandings, their chainings, is not confined to their plantations, but that some negro of theirs has broken loose from his chains (loud applause)—has burst through the dark incrustation of slavery, and is now exposing their deeds of deep damnation to the gaze of the Christian people of England. (Immense cheers.) The slave holders resort to all kinds of cruelty. If I were disposed, I have matter enough to interest you on this question for five or six evenings, but I will not dwell at length upon these cruelties. Suffice it to say, that all the peculiar modes of torture that were resorted to in the West India Islands,16 are resorted to, I believe, even more frequently, in the United States of America. Starvation, the bloody whip, the chain, the gag, the thumb-screw, cat-hauling, the cat-o’-nine-tails, the dungeon, the bloodhound, are all in requisition 14. A Louisiana law passed in March 1830 mandated that the punishment for teaching a slave to read or write was a prison sentence of one to twelve months. Louisiana did not renew this provision when it revised its slave code in 1856. 15. A variant of “peculiar institution”—an antebellum euphemism for slavery. 16. Douglass refers to conditions endured by slaves in the British West Indian colonies, where full emancipation occurred in 1838 after a brief experiment in “apprenticeship.”

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to keep the slave in his condition as a slave in the United States.17 (Hear.) If any one has a doubt upon this point, I would ask him to read the chapter on slavery in Dickens’ Notes on America.18 If any man has a doubt upon it, I have here the “Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses,”19 which I can give at any length, all going to prove the truth of my statement. The bloodhound is regularly trained in the United States, and advertisements are to be found in the southern papers of the Union, from persons advertising themselves as bloodhound trainers, and offering to hunt down slaves at fifteen dollars a piece, recommending their hounds as the fleetest in the neighbourhood, never known to fail. (Much sensation.) Advertisements are from time to time inserted, stating that slaves have escaped with iron collars about their necks, with bands of iron about their feet, marked with the lash, branded with red hot irons, the initials of their master’s name burned into their flesh; and the masters advertise the fact of their being thus branded with their own signature, thereby proving to the world, that, however daring it may appear to non-slave holders, such practices are not regarded [as] discreditable or daring among the slave holders themselves. Why, I believe if a man should brand his horse in this country,— burn the initials of his name into any of his cattle, and publish the ferocious deed here,—that the united execrations of Christians in Britain would descend upon him. (Cheers.) Yet, in the United States, human beings are thus branded. As Whittier says—

17. Among these punishments, the less well-known included the thumbscrew, a medieval torture device that crushed the victim’s bones, inflicting great pain; cat hauling, literally dragging a cat by its tail across the back of a slave to provoke the animal to dig in its claws and shred the victim’s skin; and the cat-o’-nine-tails, a short multitailed whip designed to quickly inflict severe physical punishment. 18. In 1842, the British novelist Charles Dickens (1812–70) published a travelogue of the United States entitled American Notes for General Circulation. Chapter 16 is an indictment of the atrocities of American slavery. 19. [Theodore Dwight Weld], American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839).

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“What, ho! our countrymen in chains, “The whip on woman’s shrinking flesh, “Our soil yet reddening with the stains, “Caught from her scourgings warm and fresh.”20

(Loud cheers.) The slave dealer boldly publishes his infamous acts to the world. Of all things that have been said of slavery to which exception has been taken by slave holders, this, the charge of cruelty, stands foremost, and yet there is no charge capable of clearer demonstration, than that of the most barbarous inhumanity on the part of the slave holders towards their slaves. And all this is necessary—it is necessary to resort to these cruelties, in order to make the slave a slave, and to keep him a slave. Why, my experience all goes to prove the truth of what you will call a marvellous proposition, that the better you treat a slave, the more you destroy his value as a slave, and enhance the probability of his eluding the grasp of the slave holder; the more kindly you treat him, the more wretched you make him, while you keep him in the condition of a slave. My experience I say, confirms the truth of this proposition. When I was treated exceedingly ill, when my back was being scourged daily, when I was kept within an inch of my life, life was all I cared for. “Spare my life,” was my continual prayer. When I was looking for the blow about to be inflicted upon my head, I was not thinking of my liberty; it was my life. But, as soon as the blow was not to be feared, then came the longing for liberty. (Cheers.) If a slave has a bad master his ambition is to get a better; when he gets a better, he aspires to have the best; and when he gets the best, he aspires to be his own master. (Loud cheers.) But the slave must be brutalized to keep him as a slave. The slave holder feels this 20. From the third stanza of Expostulation, by the Massachusetts poet-abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–92). John G. Whittier, The Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, 4 vols. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1892), 3:25.

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necessity. I admit this necessity: if it be right to hold slaves at all, it is right to hold them in the only way in which they can be held; and this can be done only by shutting out the light of education from their minds, and brutalizing their persons. The whip, the chain, the gag, the thumb-screw, the bloodhound, the stocks, and all the other bloody paraphernalia of the slavesystem, are indispensably necessary to the relation of master and slave. (Cheers.) The slave must be subjected to these, or he ceases to be a slave. Let him know that the whip is burned, that the fetters have been turned to some useful and profitable employment, that the chain is no longer for his limbs, that the bloodhound is no longer to be put upon his track, that his master’s authority over him is no longer to be enforced by taking his life, and immediately he walks out from the house of bondage and asserts his freedom as a man. (Loud cheers.) The slave holder finds it necessary to have these implements to keep the slave in bondage; finds it necessary to be able to say,—“Unless you do so and so; unless you do as I bid you, I will take away your life!” (Hear, hear.) Some of the most awful scenes of cruelty are constantly taking place in the middle states of the Union. We have in those states what are called the slave-breeding states. Allow me to speak plainly. (Hear, hear.) Although it is harrowing to your feelings, it is necessary that the facts of the case should be stated. We have in the United States slave-breeding states.21 The very state from which the Minister from our Court22 to yours comes is one of these states (cries of “Hear”)—Maryland, where men, women, and children are reared for the market just as horses, sheep, and swine are raised for 21. Shortly after the invention of the cotton gin in 1794, cotton supplanted tobacco in the United States as the primary European export and cash crop. This shift caused a migration of plantations, farmers, and slaves from the Upper South to the Lower South, where the climate and soil were more conducive to growing cotton. Research shows that owners in the Upper South frequently separated families through slave selling, often covertly. 22. Louis McLane (1784–1857) of Baltimore was appointed minister to the Court of St. James in July 1845. He owned nearly a dozen slaves when he died.

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the market. Slave-rearing is there looked upon as a legitimate trade, the law sanctions it, public opinion upholds it, the church does not condemn it. (Cries of “Shame!”) It goes on in all its bloody horrors sustained by the auctioneer’s block. If you would see the cruelties of this system, hear the following narrative:—Not long since the following scene occurred. A slave woman and a slave man had united themselves as man and wife in the absence of any law to protect them as man and wife. They had lived together by the permission, not by right, of their master, and they had reared a family. The master found it expedient, and for his interest to sell them. He did not ask them their wishes in regard to the matter at all; they were not consulted. The man and woman were brought to the auctioneer’s block, under the sound of the hammer. The cry was raised, “here goes; who bids cash?” Think of it, a man and wife to be sold. (Hear, hear.) The woman was placed on the auctioneer’s block; her limbs, as is customary, were brutally exposed to the purchasers, who examined her with all the freedom with which they would examine a horse. There stood the husband powerless; no right to his wife; the master’s right pre-eminent. She was sold. He was next brought to the auctioneer’s block. His eyes followed his wife in the distance; and he looked beseechingly, imploringly to the man that had bought his wife, to buy him also. But he was at length bid off to another person. He was about to be separated from her he loved forever. No word of his, no work of his, could save him from this separation. He asked permission of his new master to go and take the hand of his wife at parting. It was denied him. In the agony of his soul he rushed from the man who had just bought him, that he might take a farewell of his wife; but his way was obstructed, he was struck over the head with a loaded whip, and was held for a moment; but his agony was too great. When he was let go, he fell a corpse at the feet of his master. (Much sensation.) His heart was broken. Such scenes are the every-day fruits of American slavery.

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Some two years since, the Hon. Seth M. Gates,23 an anti-slavery gentleman of the state of New York, a representative in the Congress of the United States, told me he saw with his own eyes the following circumstance. In the national District of Columbia, over which the star-spangled emblem is constantly waving, where orators are ever holding forth on the subject of American liberty, American democracy, American republicanism, there are two slave prisons. When going across a bridge leading to one of these prisons, he saw a young woman run out, bare-footed and bare-headed, and with very little clothing on. She was running with all speed to the bridge he was approaching. His eye was fixed upon her, and he stopped to see what was the matter. He had not paused long before he saw three men run out after her. He now knew what the nature of the case was, a slave escaping from her chains, a young woman, a sister, escaping from the bondage in which she had been held. She made her way to the bridge, but had not reached it, ere from the Virginia side there came two slave holders. As soon as they saw them, her pursuers called out, “Stop her.” True to their Virginian instincts, they came to the rescue of their brother kidnappers—across the bridge. The poor girl now saw that there was no chance for her. It was a trying time. She knew if she went back, she must be a slave for ever, she must be dragged down to the scenes of pollution which the slave holders continually provide for most of the poor, sinking, wretched young women, whom they call their property. She formed her resolution; and just as those who were about to take her, were going to put hands upon her, to drag her back, she leaped over the balustrades of the bridge, and down she went to rise no more. (Great sensation.) She chose death, rather than go back into the hands of those Christian slave holders from whom she had escaped. (Hear, hear.)24

23. Seth Merrill Gates (1800–77) was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as an antislavery Whig in 1839 and again in 1841. 24. Douglass is referring to an incident witnessed by Gates involving a District of Columbia slave trader named Joshua Staples and an unknown slave woman. For a detailed account, see Seth M. Gates, “The Long Bridge—The Escape” in the Concord (N.H.) Herald of Freedom, 25 July 1845.

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Can it be possible that such things as these exist in the United States? Are not these the exceptions? Are any such scenes as this general? Are no such deeds condemned by the law and denounced by public opinion? (Cheers.) Let me read to you a few of the laws of the slave-holding states of America. I think no better exposure of slavery can be made than is made by the laws of the states in which slavery exists. I prefer reading the laws to making any statement in confirmation of what I have said myself; for the slave holders cannot object to this testimony, since it is the calm, the cool, the deliberate enactment of their wisest heads, of their most clear-sighted, their own constituted representatives. (Hear, hear.) “If more than 7 slaves together are found on any road without a white person, 20 lashes a piece; for visiting a plantation without a written pass, 10 lashes; for letting loose a boat from where it is made fast, 39 lashes for the first offence; and for the second, shall have cut off from his head one ear. For keeping or carrying a club, 39 lashes. For having any article for sale, without a ticket from his master, 10 lashes.” A VOICE.—What is the name of the book? Mr. DOUGLASS.—I read from American Slavery as it is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. These are extracted from the slave laws. This publication has been before the public of the United States for the last seven years, and not a single fact or statement recorded therein has ever been called in question by a single slave holder. (Loud cheers.) I read, therefore, with confidence. We have the testimony of the slave holders themselves. “For travelling in any other than the most usual and accustomed road, when going alone to any place, 40 lashes. For travelling in the night without a pass, 40 lashes.” I am afraid you do not understand the awful character of these lashes. You must bring it before your mind. A human being in a perfect state of nudity, tied hand and foot to a stake, and a strong man standing behind with a heavy whip, knotted at the end, each blow cutting into the flesh, and leaving the warm blood dripping to the feet (sensation); and for these trifles. “For being found in another person’s negro-quarters, 40 lashes; for hunting with dogs in the woods, 30 lashes; for being on horseback without the written

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permission of his master, 25 lashes; for riding or going abroad in the night, or riding horses in the day time, without leave, a slave may be whipped, cropped, or branded in the cheek with the letter R, or otherwise punished, such punishment not extending to life, or so as to render him unfit for labor.” The laws referred to may be found by consulting Brevard’s Digest; Haywood’s Manual; Virginia Revised Code; Prince’s Digest; Missouri Laws; Mississippi Revised Code;—25 A Person in the Gallery.—Will you allow me to ask a question? The CHAIRMAN.—I must beg that there may be no interruptions.26 Mr. DOUGLASS.—It is my custom to answer questions when they are put to me. The Person in the Gallery.—What is the value of a good slave? (Hissing.) Mr. DOUGLASS.—Slaves vary in price in different parts of the United States. In the middle states, where they grow them for the market, they are much cheaper than in the far south. The slave trader who purchases a slave in Maryland for 700 dollars, about £160 of your money, will sell him in Louisiana for 1,000 dollars, or £200. There is great speculation in this matter, and here let me state, that when the price of cotton is high so is that of the slave. I will give you an invariable rule by which to ascertain the price of human flesh in the United States. When cotton gets up in the market in England, the price of human flesh gets up in the United States. (Hear, hear.) How much responsibility attaches to you in the use of that commodity. (Loud cheers.) To return to my point. A man for going to visit his brethren, without the permission of his master, and in many instances he may not have that permission, his master from caprice or other reasons, may 25. [Weld], American Slavery as It Is, 144. 26. The English Quaker Joseph Sturge (1793–1859) was secretary of the Birmingham Anti-Slavery Society and organized public demonstrations against the West Indian apprenticeship system in 1835. When Frederick Douglass visited Birmingham in December 1845 to address a local temperance society, he was a dinner guest at Sturge’s home.

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not be willing to allow it, may be caught on his way, dragged to a post, the branding iron heated, and the name of his master or the letter R branded into his cheek or on his forehead. (Sensation.) They treat slaves thus on the principle that they must punish for light offences in order to prevent the commission of larger ones. I wish you to mark that in the single state of Virginia there are 71 crimes for which a coloured man may be executed; while there are only three of these crimes, which when committed by a white man will subject him to that punishment.27 (Hear, hear.) There are many of these crimes which if the white man did not commit, he would be regarded as a scoundrel and a coward. In South Maryland, there is a law to this effect:—that if a slave shall strike his master, he may be hanged, his head severed from his body, his body quartered, and his head and quarters set up in the most prominent place in the neighbourhood.28 (Sensation.) If a coloured woman, in defence of her own virtue, in defence of her own person, should shield herself from the brutal attacks of her tyrannical master, or make the slightest resistance, she may be killed on the spot.29 (Loud cries of “Shame!”) No law whatever will bring the guilty man to justice for the crime. But you will ask me, can these things be possible in a land professing Christianity? Yes, they are so; and this is not the worst. No, a darker feature is yet to be presented than the mere existence of these facts. I have to inform you that the religion of the southern states, at this time, is the great supporter, the great sanctioner of the bloody atrocities to which I have referred. (Deep sensation.) While America is printing tracts and Bibles; sending missionaries abroad 27. In fact, none of the seventy-one crimes codified in Virginia law as capital offenses for slaves or free blacks carried the death penalty for a white convicted of them. See Weld’s American Slavery, which cites figures from the first edition of A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery (1827), by the Philadelphia jurist George M. Stroud. 28. The law, enacted by the Maryland assembly in 1729, is quoted in Stroud, Laws Relating to Slavery. The reason for the designation “South Maryland” is unclear. 29. A South Carolina statue, quoted in [Weld], American Slavery as It Is, 144–45.

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to convert the heathen; expending her money in various ways for the promotion of the Gospel in foreign lands, the slave not only lies forgotten—uncared for, but is trampled under foot by the very churches of the land. What have we in America? Why we have slavery made part of the religion of the land. Yes, the pulpit there stands up as the great defender of this cursed institution, as it is called. Ministers of religion come forward, and torture the hollowed pages of inspired wisdom to sanction the bloody deed. (Loud cries of “Shame!”) They stand forth as the foremost, the strongest defenders of this “institution.” As a proof of this, I need not do more than state the general fact, that slavery has existed under the droppings of the sanctuary of the south, for the last 200 years, and there has not been any war between the religion and the slavery of the south. Whips, chains, gags, and thumb-screws have all lain under the droppings of the sanctuary, and instead of rusting from off the limbs of the bondman, these droppings have served to preserve them in all their strength. Instead of preaching the Gospel against this tyranny, rebuke, and wrong, ministers of religion have sought, by all and every means, to throw in the background whatever in the Bible could be construed into opposition to slavery, and to bring forward that which they could torture into its support. (Cries of “Shame!”) This I conceive to be the darkest feature of slavery, and the most difficult to attack, because it is identified with religion, and exposes those who denounce it to the charge of infidelity. Yes, those with whom I have been labouring, namely, the old organization AntiSlavery Society of America,30 have been again and again stigmatized as infidels, and for what reason? Why, solely in consequence of the faithfulness of their attacks upon the slave-holding religion of the southern states, and the northern religion that sympathizes with it. (Hear, hear.) I have found it difficult to speak on this matter without persons coming forward and saying, “Douglass, are you not afraid of injuring 30. American Anti-Slavery Society.

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the cause of Christ? You do not desire to do so, we know; but are you not undermining religion?” This has been said to me again and again, even since I came to this country, but I cannot be induced to leave off these exposures. (Loud cheers.) I love the religion of our blessed Saviour, I love that religion that comes from above, in the “wisdom of God, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”31 I love that religion that sends its votaries to bind up the wounds of him that has fallen among thieves.32 I love that religion that makes it the duty of its disciples to visit the fatherless and widow in their affliction.33 I love that religion that is based upon the glorious principle, of love to God and love to man (cheers); which makes its followers do unto others as they themselves would be done by.34 If you demand liberty to yourself, it says, grant it to your neighbours. If you claim a right to think for yourselves, it says, allow your neighbours the same right. If you claim to act for yourselves, it says, allow your neighbours the same right. It is because I love this religion that I hate the slave-holding, the woman-whipping, the mind-darkening, the soul-destroying religion that exists in the southern states of America. (Immense cheering.) It is because I regard the one as good, and pure, and holy, that I cannot but regard the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. Loving the one I must hate the other, holding to the one I must reject the other,35 and I, therefore, proclaim myself an infidel to the slaveholding religion of America. (Reiterated cheers.) Why, as I said in another place, to a smaller audience the other day, in answer to the question, “Mr. Douglass, are there not Methodist churches, Baptist churches, Congregational churches, Episcopal churches, Roman Catholic churches, Presbyterian churches 31. James 3:17. 32. Luke 10:30–37. 33. James 1:27. 34. Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31, 10:25–28. 35. Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13.

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in the United States, and in the southern states of America, and do they not have revivals of religion, accessions to their ranks from day to day, and will you tell me that these men are not followers of the meek and lowly Saviour?” Most unhesitatingly I do. Revivals in religion, and revivals in the slave trade, go hand in hand together. (Cheers.) The church and the slave prison stand next to each other; the groans and cries of the heartbroken slave are often drowned in the pious devotions of his religious master. (Hear, hear.) The church-going bell and the auctioneer’s bell chime in with each other; the pulpit and the auctioneer’s block stand in the same neighbourhood; while the blood-stained gold goes to support the pulpit, the pulpit covers the infernal business with the garb of Christianity. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support missionaries, and babies sold to buy Bibles and communion services for the churches. (Loud cheers.) A Voice.—It is not true. Mr. DOUGLASS.—Not true! is it not? (Immense cheers.) Hear the following advertisement:—“Field Negroes, by Thomas Gadsden.” I read now from The American Churches, the Bulwarks of American Slavery; by an American, or by J.G. Birney. This has been before the public in this country and the United States for the last six years; not a fact nor a statement in it has been called in question. (Cheers.) The following is taken from the Charleston Courier of Feb. 12, 1835:—“Field Negroes, by Thomas Gadsden. On Tuesday, the 17th inst., will be sold, at the north of the Exchange, at 10 o’clock, a primed gang of ten negroes, accustomed to the culture of cotton and provisions, belonging to the Independent Church, in Christ Church parish.”36 (Loud cheers.) I could read other testimony on this point, but is it necessary? (Cries of “No,” and “One more.”) Is it required that one more be given? You shall have another. (Loud cheers.) A notice taken from a Savannah paper will show that slaves are often bequeathed to the missionary societies. “Bryan 36. James Gillespie Birney, The American Churches: The Bulwarks of American Slavery (1840; New York: Arno, 1969), 11.

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Superior Court. Between John J. Maxwell and others, executors of Ann Pray, complainants, and Mary Sleigh and others, devisees and legatees under the will of Ann Pray, defendants, in equity. A bill having been filed for the distribution of the estate of the testatrix, Ann Pray, and it appearing that among other legacies in her will is the following:—viz., a legacy of one fourth of certain negro slaves to the American Board of Commissioners for domestic (foreign it probably should have been) missions, for the purpose of sending the Gospel to the heathen, and particularly to the Indians of this continent; it is on motion of the solicitors of the complainants ordered, that all persons claiming the said legacy do appear and answer the bill of the complainants within four months from this day. And it is ordered, that this order be published in a public Gazette of the city of Savannah, and in one of the Gazettes of Philadelphia once a month, for four months. Extract from the minutes, December 2, 1832.”37 (Cheers.) The bequest I am in duty bound to say, was not accepted by the board. (Cheers.) But let me tell you what would have been accepted by the board. Had those slaves been sold by Ann Pray, and the money bequeathed to that board, the price of their blood would have gone into the treasury, and they would have quoted Chalmers, Cunningham, and Candlish38 in support of the deed. (Cheers.) Not only are legacies left and slaves sold in this way to build churches, but the right is openly defended by the church. In 1836 the great Methodist Church in America, holding through ministers, and elders, and members, in their own church 250,000 slaves, said in their general conference in Cincinnati that they had no right, no wish, no intention to interfere with the relation of master and slave as it existed in the slave states of the American union.39 What was this but saying to the world, we have no right, no wish, no intention 37. Ibid. 38. Douglass refers to three of the most prominent ministers of the Free Church of Scotland: Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847), William Cunningham (1805–61), and William Candlish (?–1867?). 39. The resolution censuring two Methodist ministers for their antislavery activities was adopted by the Methodist General Conference of 1836 in Cincinnati and is quoted in Birney, American Churches, 16.

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to release the bondman from his chains? The annual conference in the south took the broad ground of the right of property in man, asserting it in a resolution, proclaiming it in an address, preaching it in thanksgiving sermons, putting it forth in 4th of July orations, and even quoting Scripture.40 I could tire your patience by reading if it were required, extracts from documents, the genuineness of which has never been called into question, showing that right is asserted by the slave holder, to property in human beings. (Hear, hear.) But I must hasten to another point—How are we to get rid of this system? This is the question which mostly concerns the people of this country. There are different ways by which you may operate against slavery. First let me state how it is upheld; it is upheld by public opinion. How is public opinion maintained? Mainly by the press and by the pulpit. How are we to get these committed on the side of freedom? How are we to change our pro-slavery pulpit into an anti-slavery one, our pro-slavery literature to anti-slavery literature, our pro-slavery press into an anti-slavery press? I can only point British abolitionists to the mode they adopted in their own country. Here, happily for you, the pulpit was already on your side to a considerable extent, at least the Dissenting pulpit. (Cheers.) The Wesleyans have retained a sufficiency of the spirit of their founder, John Wesley,41 to declare with him, that slavery is the sum of all villainies.42 (Cheers.) You had but to proclaim the sin of slavery in the people’s ears, and they rallied around your standard on behalf of emancipation. Not so in our country. They have taken the strongest ground against us, but I am in duty bound to say that 40. Birney, American Churches, 21–23. 41. The Anglican minister John Wesley (1703–91) preached as a missionary in Georgia, where he developed a deep moral aversion to slavery. Back in England, Wesley began organizing an evangelical movement within the Church of England. American Methodists launched an independent denomination in 1784, immediately after the American Revolution, and their English counterparts did so shortly following Wesley’s death. 42. Douglass refers to John Wesley’s description of the slave trade as “that execrable sum of all villanies.” The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. Thomas Jackson, 14 vols., 3d ed. (London: John Mason, 1831), 3:453.

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in the northern states they are fast getting into your own way. I will, however, speak of this under another head. We have had the pulpit against us. I am not here to represent one class of abolitionists, particularly, in the United States, but the cause of the slave, and the friends of the slave, at large. However, I am more interested in the religious aspect of this question than in its political aspect. There are two classes of abolitionists in the United States: one takes the ground that slavery is the creature of the law, that it must, therefore, be proceeded against as such; and they have formed themselves into what is called, “The liberty party.” There is another class—that with which I am particularly associated, and they take the ground that our energies should be devoted to the purifying of the moral sentiment of the country, by directing its energies to the purification of the church, and the exclusion of slave holders from communion with it. (Loud cheers.) We have proceeded at once to expose the inconsistency of retaining men-stealers as members of the Church of Christ. Our attention was more particularly turned to this, by this able collection of facts by J.G. Birney, who was in this country about six years since.43 He brought together a number of facts, showing that the American churches were the bulwarks of American slavery. Finding this to be the case, we brought the denunciations of the inspired volume to bear against slave holding and slave holders; for after all, it is with the slave holder that we have to do, and not with the system. It is easy to denounce the system; many of the slave holders will hold up their hands to denounce the system; the Free Church of Scotland will denounce the system, but the brand of infamy is to be fixed upon the brow of the slave holder. (Cheers.) Here alone we can successfully meet and overthrow this system of iniquity. 43. The Alabama slave owner James Gillespie Birney (1792–1857) was a leading colonizationist until 1834, when he publicly endorsed immediate emancipation and freed his six slaves. After the 1840 World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, Birney lectured in Scotland, England, and Ireland and published his pamphlet The American Churches.

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The abolitionists have been labouring for the last fifteen years, in season and out of season, in the midst of obloquy and reproach, in the midst of mobs and various kinds of opposition, to establish the conviction that slave holding is a sin, and that the slave holder is a sinner and ought to be treated as such. (Loud cheers.) Thanks to heaven, we have succeeded to a considerable extent in establishing this conviction in the minds of the people in the north and to some extent in the south. Our efforts have been devoted to bringing the denunciations of religion against it. In this way we have succeeded in expelling pro-slavery, and putting in their stead, anti-slavery publications. Half-a-dozen faithful abolitionists in the north were found sufficient to purify a church. Never was the truth of that saying in the Scriptures more beautifully illustrated, that “one should chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight,”44 than in the history of this movement as regards members of the church. Five or six members would band together and say to the minister, “We want you to remember the poor slave in your prayers. We hear you thank God that you live in a land of civil and religious liberty, and yet, you make no reference to the three millions who are denied the privilege of learning the name of the God that made them. We ask you to pray for the slave.” He would say, “No; I cannot pray for the slave, I should give offence to that rich member of my church who contributes largely to my salary. I may drive him from the church, and may be the means of destroying his soul. (Laughter.) Is it not better that I should preach such doctrines as would retain him in the church, and thereby, by enunciating great principles, be the means eventually—mark, eventually—of bringing him to a sense of his duty in this matter? I cannot mention the slave.” But the brethren insisted upon it, growing more and more firm. In the prayer meeting they would pray for the slave. (Cheers.) In the conference meeting they would exhort for the slave; they would tell of his woes; and beg their brethren to 44. Deut. 32:30.

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unite with them; the consequence would be, that in a short time they must be put out of the church, or they must leave the church. Often they would say to the minister, “Unless you remember the bondman we cannot support you; we must leave our pews vacant.” One vacant pew is all-powerful in asserting a great and glorious principle, when it is vacant in consequence of adherence to it. A few vacant seats, would soon make the minister see that something must be done for the slave, and he would commit himself by opening his mouth in prayer. To be sure this is not the highest motive by which he could be influenced; but this was one of the motives, and I think a legitimate one, by which the friends might operate on the man. For, after all, bread and butter has a great influence on the subject. (Laughter and cheers.) I am convinced, however, that a great number of northern pulpits came up to this glorious work from higher motives than self-interest; and I believe their hearts were always on the side of the slave, and their only fear was, they could not live and preach the Gospel. They thought it was necessary for them to live. George Bradburn,45 an individual whom some of you may remember was present at the World’s Convention in 1840, said, he was once met by a minister, who said to him, “Brother Bradburn, I think you abolitionists are too severe upon us poor ministers; we have to take a great deal; you do not seem to remember it is necessary we should live.” Said George Bradburn, in his peculiar way, “I do not admit any such necessity. (Laughter.) I hold that it is not necessary for any man to live unless he can live honestly.” (Cheers.) Our proceedings with the church have had the effect of dissolving several very important connexions with the slave states. Previously to this movement the slave-holding minister could come to the north and preach in our pulpits; the northern minister could go to the south and preach in their pulpits; the slave-holding min45. George Bradburn (1806–80) was not a strict Garrisonian. He opposed all propositions to dissolve the Union and favored political abolitionism instead. In the 1840s he lectured for the Garrisonians and traveled with Douglass on many occasions.

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ister of a church could come and join a northern church; and the northern minister could go and join the southern church. All were woven and interwoven, linked and interlinked together; they had a common cause to maintain. Now we have succeeded in making it unpopular and discreditable to hold Christian fellowship with slave holders. (Cheers.) The great Methodist general conference in 1844, came to the decision that it was at least not expedient, or it rather it was inexpedient, for a bishop to hold slaves. This was a great step. (Hear, hear.) I must dwell upon this, not, however, to reflect on our Methodist brethren, but as an illustration of the state of morals in the church. A [non]slave-holding bishop, Bishop Andrews, of South Carolina, married a slave-holding wife, and became the possessor of 15 slaves. At this time, the Methodist church in the north, were of opinion that bishops should not hold slaves. They remonstrated with the conference to induce Bishop Andrews to emancipate his slaves. The conference did it in this way if they did it [at] all. A resolution was brought in, when the bishop was present, to the following effect:—“Whereas Bishop Andrews has connected himself with slavery, and has thereby injured his itinerancy as a bishop,”—it was not, Whereas Bishop Andrews has connected himself with slavery, and has thereby become guilty, or has done a great wrong;”—but “has thereby injured his itinerancy as a bishop; we therefore resolve that Bishop Andrews be, and he hereby is,”—what?—“requested to suspend his labours as bishop till he can get rid of”—what?— slavery?—“his impediment.”46 (Laughter.) This was the name given 46. The resolution reads: “Whereas Bishop Andrew has become connected with slavery by marriage and otherwise, and this act having drawn after it circumstances which in the estimation of the General Conference will greatly embarrass the exercise of his office as an itinerant general Superintendent, if not in some places entirely prevent it; therefore, Resolved, That it is the sense of this General Conference that he desist from the exercise of this office so long as this impediment remains.” James Osgood Andrew (1794–1871) preached in circuits in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Some modern scholars dispute the traditional account that Andrew became a slave owner only through marriage.

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to slavery. One might have inferred from the preamble that it was to get rid of his wife. (Laughter, and loud cheers.) How long did it take to pass that resolution? They remained in New York discussing this question three weeks. They had fasting and prayers; they had various kinds of meetings. Part of the slaveholding ministers remonstrated against the resolution, as an insult to the slave-holding members of the conference. The resolution, however, was passed, although it was partly recalled by subsequent action on the part of the general conference. Such was the determination of the slave-holding members of that conference to adhere to the institution of slavery, that they at once moved for a dissolution of fellowship with the northern anti-slavery members of that conference. It was not the northern members that came out from the slave-holding members, but the slave-holding members that came out from the northern members.47 (Hear, hear.) I am glad the cessation took place; it was our efforts in the north that made it necessary. “Coming events cast their shadows before them.”48 They saw that the spirit that was manifested in 1844, that the holding of slaves was injurious to the itinerancy of the bishop, would in 1848, in all probability, go so far as to say that it was not only injurious to this itinerancy, but at variance with the law of God, and they have now seceded. It was to get rid of the anti-slavery men, but they took the wrong course to preserve their institution. What we want is to get the slave holders pent up by themselves; too little distinction has been drawn between the slave holder and the anti-slavery man, between the pure and the base. We want to get slave-holding politics, slave-holding civility, slave-holding religion, slave-holding ministers, slave-holding bishops, slave-holding church members, slave-holding churches, and slave-holding everything, in a position where the eyes of the world can look at them, without looking through any other thing else. (Cheers.) This we are 47. An allusion to 2 Cor. 6:17. 48. “Lochiel’s Warning.” The Poems of Thomas Campbell (Chicago: M. A. Donohue, 1885), 67–70.

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doing. The Baptists have dissolved their connexion.49 The Free-will Baptists have long done so.50 The Covenanters have always been separated.51 The Society of Friends many years ago set an example to the world of excluding slave holders.52 (Loud cheers.) We have succeeded in creating a warm and determined religious feeling against slavery. Even political abolitionists are opposed to slavery on religious ground[s]; although I feel that they have not been so active on religious grounds as they ought to have been, yet I would not say that they have been without religious influence in bringing forward this question. Although they could not do so in their party, they have done so as individuals. Gerrit Smith53 has taken a leading part. Wil49. Douglass exaggerated the degree to which Northern Baptists moved toward abolitionism in the highly publicized sectional schism in the denomination’s missionary societies in 1845. For over a decade, abolitionists had protested against the acceptance of slaveholders’ contribution by Baptist missionary organizations, and as a consequence Southern Baptists founded their own missionary organizations in 1845. Most Northern Baptists continued to refrain from condemning slaveholding as a sin and accepted visiting slave owners to their communion. 50. Free Will Baptists originated in 1780 in New Hampshire, under the leadership of Benjamin Randall (1749–1808). By the mid-nineteenth century, the church claimed 60,000 members. In 1827, the church’s General Conference agreed to ordain black ministers and later accepted the ordination of women. Abolitionists nevertheless condemned Free Will Baptists in New England for supporting Democratic party nominees. 51. In 1800, the Reformed, or Covenanter, Presbyterians ordered their members to free their slaves. In addition, they had to refuse to swear oaths or vote, because the church regarded the U.S. government as lacking God’s sanction, as shown by the federal protection afforded slavery. The Reformed Presbyterians were one of the few denominations that Garrisonian abolitionists regularly exempted from their blanket condemnations of the compromised character of American churches on the slavery issue. 52. In 1758, John Woolman and Anthony Benezet persuaded the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends to reprove their members for owning slaves. By the 1780s, Quaker slaveholders had either emancipated their bondsmen or quit the sect. Friends dominated the early abolition societies that successfully persuaded the Northern states to end slavery, usually by gradual means. The Quakers’ pacifistic beliefs, however, made them less active in the immediate-abolition movement arising in the 1830s than their early history and reputation would have suggested. 53. Gerrit Smith (1797–1874) joined the movement to create “Free” or “Union” antislavery churches outside the existing denominational structure by 1838. In 1840 Smith began a thirty-year career as a political abolitionist by running for governor of New York on the Liberty party ticket. He was elected to Congress as an independent in 1852.

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liam Goodell 54 is calling for separation from slave holders; and a great mass of the abolitionists of New York are taking ground against the union with slave holders in a religious form. We have succeeded in divorcing slave holders from the church to a considerable extent. I fear that I am proceeding at too great a length. (Cries of “No, no.”) I therefore come back hastily to what I wish you to do. The CHAIRMAN here rose, and said—There is not a foot of ground in the United States where Frederick Douglass’s legal owner55 would not have a right to seize him. This man, as may be supposed, is highly enraged at the course he is pursuing, and this stimulates his desire to get possession of his person, and to inflict upon him the punishment which he thinks his conduct deserves. Frederick Douglass has left a wife56 and four children57 in America, and I wish to state that he has published a little book, entitled The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, which may be had at the door, and by the sale of which he and his wife and his children are supported. A Voice.—Who is his legal owner? Mr. DOUGLASS.—I ran away from Thomas Auld, of St. Michael’s, Talbot county, Maryland, who was my legal owner. Since I 54. The New York abolitionist William Goodell (1792–1878) helped organize both the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Liberty party. Convinced that even churches neutral on the slavery issue were anti-Christian, Goodell argued that all successful reforms had to “begin at the house of God.” He therefore urged abolitionists to withdraw from existing churches in his doctrine of “Come-Outerism.” 55. Between 1826 and 1833, and again between 1836 and 1838, the young Frederick Douglass lived and worked in Hugh Auld’s household, lent by his owner, Hugh’s brother Thomas. In 1845, Hugh (1799–1861), incensed by Douglass’s depiction of his family in the Narrative, bought Douglass, then on a lecture tour of Britain, from his brother Thomas. According to the Pennsylvania Freeman, Auld was determined to reenslave Douglass. In 1846, two British abolitionists, Anna and Ellen Richardson purchased Douglass’s freedom from Auld for £150 sterling. 56. Anna Murray Douglass (c. 1813–82), born to free parents and moved to Baltimore at seventeen, where she worked as a domestic. She met Douglass at meetings of the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, helped finance his escape, and, according to plan, joined him in New York City, where they were married on 15 September 1838. 57. Rosetta Douglass Sprague (1839–1906), Lewis Henry Douglass (1840–1908), Frederick Douglass Jr. (1842–92), and Charles Remond Douglass (1844–1920). A fifth child, Annie Douglass (1849–60), was born after his return from Britain, but lived not quite eleven years, dying on 13 March 1860 after a lengthy illness.

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came to this country, I have, as our president has said, published a narrative of my experience, and I kindly sent a copy to my master. (Laughter, and cheers.) He has become so offended with me, that he says he will not own me any longer, and, in his boundless generosity, he has transferred his legal right in my body and soul to his brother, Hugh Auld (laughter), who now lives in Baltimore, and who declares that he will have me if I ever set my foot on American soil. (Hear, hear.) I may be asked, why I am so anxious to bring this subject before the British public—why I do not confine my efforts to the United States? My answer is, first, that slavery is the common enemy of mankind, and all mankind should be made acquainted with its abominable character. (Cheers.) My next answer is, that the slave is a man, and, as such, is entitled to your sympathy as a brother. (Hear, hear.) All the feelings, all the susceptibilities, all the capacities, which you have, he has. He is a part of the human family. He has been the prey—the common prey—of Christendom for the last 300 years, and it is but right, it is but just, it is but proper, that his wrongs should be known throughout the world. (Cheers.) I have another reason for bringing this matter before the British public, and it is this, slavery is a system of wrong, so blinding to all around, so hardening to the heart, so corrupting to the morals, so deleterious to religion, so sapping to all the principles of justice in its immediate vicinity, that the community surrounding it lack the moral stamina necessary to its removal. It is a system of such gigantic evil, so strong, so overwhelming in its power, that no one nation is equal to its removal. It requires the humanity of Christianity, the morality of the world, to remove it. (Cheers.) Hence I call upon the people of Britain to look at this matter, and to exert the influence I am about to show they possess, for the removal of slavery from America. I can appeal to them, as strongly by their regard for the slave holder as for the slave, to labour in this cause. (Hear, hear.) I am here because you have an influence on America that no other nation can have. You have been drawn together by the power

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of steam to a marvellous extent; the distance between London and Boston is now reduced to some 12 or 14 days, so that the denunciations against slavery uttered in London this week, may be heard in a fortnight in the streets of Boston, and reverberating amidst the hills of Massachusetts. There is nothing said here against slavery, that will not be recorded in the United States. (Hear, hear.) I am here also, because the slave holders do not want me to be here; they would rather that I was not here. (Cheers.) I have adopted a maxim laid down by Napoleon, never to occupy ground which the enemy would like me to occupy.58 The slave holders would much rather have me, if I will denounce slavery, denounce it in the northern states, where their friends and supporters are, who will stand by and mob me for denouncing it. (Cheers.) They feel something like the man felt, when he uttered his prayer, in which he made out a most horrible case for himself, and one of his neighbours touched him and said, “My friend, I always had the opinion of you that you have now expressed for yourself—that you are a very great sinner.” Coming from himself it was all very well, but coming from a stranger it was rather cutting. (Cheers.) The slave holders felt that when slavery was denounced among themselves, it was not so bad, but let one of the slaves get loose, let him summon the people of Britain, and make known to them the conduct of the slave holders toward their slaves, and it cuts them to the quick, and produces a sensation such as would be produced by nothing else. (Cheers.) The power I exert now is something like the power that is exerted by the man at the end of the lever; my influence now is just in proportion to the distance that I am from the United States. My exposure of slavery abroad will tell more upon the hearts and consciences of slave holders, than if I was attacking them in America, for almost every paper that I now receive from the United States comes teeming with statements about this fugitive 58. Douglass paraphrases Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821): “A well-tested maxim of war, is not to do what the enemy wishes simply because he does wish it.” Lucian E. Henry, Napoleon’s War Maxims (London, [1899]), 22.

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negro, calling him a “glib-tongued scoundrel” (laughter), and saying that he is running out against the institutions and people of America. I deny the charge, that I am saying a word against the institutions of America or the people as such. What I have to say is against slavery and slave holders. I feel at liberty to speak on this subject. I have on my back the marks of the lash; I have four sisters and one brother now under the galling chain. I feel it my duty to cry aloud and spare not.59 (Loud cheers.) I am not averse to having the good opinion of my fellow-creatures. I am not averse to being kindly regarded by all men, but I am bound even at the hazard of making a large class of religionists in this country hate me, oppose me, and malign me as they have done—I am bound by the prayers and tears and entreaties of three millions of kneeling bondsmen, to have no compromise with men who are in any shape or form connected with the slave holders of America. (Reiterated cheers.) I expose slavery in this country, because to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death. Expose slavery, and it dies. Light is to slavery what the heat of the sun is to the root of a tree, it must die under it. All the slave holder asks of me, is silence. He does not ask me to go abroad and preach in favour of slavery; he does not ask anyone to do that. He would not say that slavery is a good thing; but the best under the circumstances. The slave holders want total darkness on the subject. They want the hatchway shut down, that the monster may crawl in his den of darkness, crushing human hopes and happiness, destroying the bondman at will, and having no one to reprove or rebuke him. Slavery shrinks from the light, it hateth the light, neither cometh to the light lest its deeds should be reproved.60 (Cheers.) To tear off the mask from this abominable system, to expose it to the light of heaven, aye, to the heat of the sun, that it may burn and wither it out of existence, is my object in coming to this country. 59. Isa. 18:1. 60. John 3:20.

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(Cheers.) But I am here because certain individuals have seen fit to come to this land, to misrepresent the character of the abolitionists, misrepresent the character of the slaves, misrepresent the character of the coloured people, and have sought to turn off attention from the slave system of America. I am here to revive this attention, and to fix it on the slave holders. What would I have you then to do? I would have the church, in the first place—Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, all persuasions—to declare, in their conventions, associations, synods, conferences, or whatever be their ecclesiastical meetings, “no Christian fellowship with slave holders.” (Loud cheers.) I want the slave holder surrounded, as by a wall of anti-slavery fire, so that he may see the condemnation of himself and his system glaring down in letters of light. I want him to feel that he has no sympathy in England, Scotland, or Ireland; that he has none in Canada, none in Mexico, none among the poor wild Indians; that the voice of the civilized, aye, and savage world, is against him. I would have condemnation blaze down upon him in every direction, till, stunned and overwhelmed with shame and confusion, he is compelled to let go the grasp he holds upon the persons of his victims, and restore them to their long-lost rights. (Loud cheers.) Here, then, is work for us all to do. Let me say to the churches that have spoken on the subject, I thank you with my whole heart. I thank the Evangelical Alliance, though I would rather they had taken stronger ground, and not only have said, “slave holders shall not be invited,” but “Slave holders shall not be admitted.”61 (Loud cheers.) I am a great lover of music, but I never heard any music half so sweet to my ears, as the voice 61. In August 1846, over nine hundred delegates from Great Britain, Europe, and the United States met in London in the hope of forming an organization uniting evangelical Protestants of the Western Hemisphere. European members of the Evangelical Alliance moved that all slaveholders be excluded. Almost immediately, the American delegation protested against excluding such a large number of American evangelicals. No compromise could be reached before the conference adjourned, and delegates resolved to form separate national alliances.

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of our president last night at another meeting,—the Temperance meeting at Exeter-hall—where a motion was made to the following effect—“That this meeting learns with pleasure the determination of the National Temperance Society to hold a world’s convention in August next.” On that resolution, our worthy president said that the £50 he was to give to that society would be withheld if they admitted slave holders to that convention.62 (Loud cheers.) The fact is out: it has gone careening across the Atlantic, and it will fall amidst slave holders like a bombshell. I have to say to those who have spoken on the subject, that they have not only my gratitude, but the gratitude, of the millions ready to perish. But I have to say to you further, although you have done much, there is much more to be done. If you have whispered truth, whisper no longer: speak as the tempest does—stronger and stronger. Let your voices be heard through the press, through the pulpit, in all directions. Let the atmosphere of Britain be such that a slave holder may not be able to breathe it. Let him feel his lungs oppressed the moment he steps on British soil. (Loud cheers.) Why should the slave holder breathe British atmosphere when it is such as it is? (Hear, hear.) I had heard of Britain long before I got out of slavery. I had not heard of it in the eloquent strains and eloquent language of Curran;63 but I had heard of the great truth embodied in that eloquent sentence which proclaims that the moment a slave sets his foot on British soil his body swells beyond the measure of his chains—they burst from around him, and he stands redeemed, regenerated, disenthralled by the irresistible genius of universal emancipation. (Loud cheers.) 62. Douglass refers to Joseph Sturge’s comments during the anniversary meeting of the National Temperance Society in Exeter Hall on 21 May 1846. An account appears in the National Temperance Chronicle and Recorder, June 1846. 63. John Philpot Curran (1750–1817), a well-known Irish orator, politician, and lawyer, proclaimed: “I speak in the spirit of the British law, which makes liberty commensurate with British soil; which proclaims even to the stranger and sojourner, the moment he sets his foot upon British earth, that the ground of which he treads is holy, and consecrated by the genius of UNIVERSAL EMANCIPATION.” John Philpot Curran, The Speeches of the Right Honorable John Philpot Curran, ed. Thomas Davis (Dublin: James Duffy, 1845), 169.

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One word about the Free Church of Scotland. (Cheers.) The facts ought to be stated. The Free Church of Scotland—do you know what church that is? I have been talking to a people who do not need any explanation on the subject; for I have been in Scotland recently. About two years ago the Free Church of Scotland sent a deputation to the United States, composed of the Rev. Dr. Cunningham, Mr. Chalmers of his city, Mr. Lewis of Dundee, Mr. Fergusson, and Dr. Burns, for the purpose of explaining the disruption that occurred in Scotland to the people of America, and of soliciting pecuniary aid to enable the Free Church to build churches and to pay their ministers. On reaching the United States, the deputation were very early addressed by the committee of the American and Foreign AntiSlavery Society, beseeching them in the most Christian and powerful manner not to go into the slave states and solicit aid from slave holders, not to take the price of blood to build free churches and pay free church ministers in Scotland. (Hear, hear.) The deputation did not heed this advice; they went at the invitation of a slave holder, Dr. Smythe,64 into the slave states. They were admitted into the pulpits of slave holders; they were welcomed to the houses of slave holders; they enjoyed all the hospitalities and attentions that the slave holders were capable of showering upon them; and they took the slave holders’ money, or rather the money of which the slave holders had robbed the slaves. (Hear, hear.) They have returned to Scotland, and have deliberately attempted, and persevered in their attempt, to show that slavery in itself is not inconsistent with Christian fellowship. (Cries of “Shame!” and hisses.) I hear a hiss. (“Not at you.”) I am used to being hissed in

64. An American Presbyterian minister of Scotch-Irish descent, Thomas Smyth (1808–73) wrote an ethnological justification of African slavery entitled The Unity of the Human Races (New York, 1850). Smyth seems to have influenced Thomas Chalmers’s views on slavery. Embarrassed by the fact that some Free Church members had signed antislavery petitions, Smyth prevailed upon Chalmers in 1844 to write for publication a letter defending the Christianity of slaveholders.

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Scotland on this subject (laughter), for they do not like me to state the thing in my own language. They have undertaken to show, that neither Christ nor his Apostles, had any objection to slave holders being admitted to church fellowship. They have undertaken to show, that the Apostle Paul in sending Onesimus back to Philemon, sanctioned the relation of master and slave. (Hear, hear.) Their arguments on this question are vain, being quoted in the United States by the slave-holding, pro-slavery papers against the abolitionists, and against those who are separating from the slave holder. (Hear.) Now I have to bring certain charges against that deputation. I charge them, in the first place, with having struck hands in Christian fellowship with men-stealers. (Cheers.) I charge them, in the next place, with having taken the produce of human blood to build free churches, and to pay free church ministers in Scotland. I charge them with having done this knowingly, (cheers), they having been met by a remonstrance against such conduct by the executive committee of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. I have to charge them with going among men-stealers, with a perfect knowledge that they were such. (Cheers.) I have to charge them with taking money that not only was stolen, but which they knew to be stolen. I have to charge them, moreover, with going into a country where they saw three millions of people deprived of every right, stripped of every privilege, driven like brutes from time into eternity in the dark, robbed of all that makes life dear, the marriage institution destroyed, men herded together like beasts, deprived of the privilege of learning to read the name of the God who made them; and yet that deputation did not utter a word of denunciation against the man-stealer, or a word of sympathy, for these poor, outraged, long neglected people. (Loud cries of “Shame!”) What I want the brethren of England to do is this; to tell the Free Church of Scotland that they have done wrong. (Immense cheers.) Christians of England! we want you to say to the Free Church of Scotland, the words you have just heard:—“Send back the money.”

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(Cheers.) They can never remonstrate against the slave holder while they hold on to the money; therefore they should send it back. I want you to aid my friend, my eloquent friend, the slaves’ friend, Mr. George Thompson.65 (Loud cheers.) My friend Mr. Thompson and myself expect to leave early to-morrow for Scotland;66 we are going there with few of the wealthy, few of the influential to second our efforts. We believe that it is the duty of the Free Church of Scotland to send back the money. I believe it is in our power, under God, to induce a state of feeling in Scotland which will demand the sending back of that money. We now want your aid; we want you to raise your voices and your sympathies. Let us have your sympathy. Write, “Send back the money.” Speak, “Send back the money.” Preach, “Send back the money.” (Immense cheering.) I believe that the sending back of that money to the United States, will do more to unrivet the fetters, to break the chains of the bondsman, and to hasten the day of emancipation, than years of lecturing by the most eloquent abolitionists. It would produce such an effect, that it would send slavery staggering to its grave as if struck by the voice of Heaven. The truth is, the slave holders have now scarcely anywhere to lean. They leaned against the northern states—the abolitionists have removed the prop. They used to lean a good deal on their religious fellowship in England. It was once said to a person, “You come from Maryland: are you a slave holder?” “Yes.” “Then you cannot come in.” (Cheers.) The Christian people of England are beginning to see the inconsistency of holding fellowship with these men, and are breaking loose from them. The United Secession Synod has declared unanimously, that it will no longer strike hands in Christian fellowship with the men-stealers in 65. George Thompson (1804–78) was an influential British ally of William Lloyd Garrison. As a member of Parliament from 1847 to 1852, Thompson promoted the production of East Indian cotton in order to undermine American slavery. 66. Douglass and George Thompson hurried to Scotland to attend the meeting of the General Assembly of the Free Church in Edinburgh on 27 May 1846.

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America. (Cheers.) The Relief Synod, whose meeting is now in session in Edinburgh, has come to the same unanimous conclusion.67 (Cheers.) The Evangelical Alliance has said, through Dr. Candlish one of the Free Church leaders, that the slave holders ought not to be invited. I tell you slavery cannot live with all these stabs. “Send back the money—send back the money.” (Loud cheers.) If it is not inconsistent with this meeting, allow me to do what I have done in Scotland. I want to have all the children writing about the streets “Send back the money.” I want to have all the people saying “Send back the money;” and in order to rivet these words in the minds of the audience, I propose that they give three cheers, not hurrahs, but say “Send back the money.” (The vast assembly spontaneously complied with Mr. Douglass’s request. The effect produced was indescribable. Mr. Douglass then sat down amid reiterated rounds of applause.)

67. Tracing its origins to 1752, the Relief Church seceded from the Church of Scotland because of allegations that the Church of Scotland had abused its authority. Like other dissenting bodies, the Relief Church joined the antislavery campaign against the Free Church in 1846.

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“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York, 5 July 1852 Frederick Douglass, Oration, Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, July 5th, 1852 (Rochester, 1852). The Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society invited Douglass to speak on the Fourth of July, but Douglass declined because, as he explains in this speech: “The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. . . . This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.”1 Douglass spoke instead on 5 July in Corinthian Hall to an audience of 500–600 people. After a reading of the Declaration of Independence, Douglass addressed the audience. Using the classical rhetorical form of the jeremiad, he contended that the United States was founded through a covenant, a sacred promise, to live according to principles of liberty and equality. In defending Southern slavery, the nation had failed to abide by these principles and risked spiritual ruin and international condemnation. Douglass concluded as ministers traditionally end such religiopolitical sermons, with a vision of how the nation might reform its ways, renew its covenant, and be saved from ruin.2 The lecture was a tremendous success, widely recognized as a masterly antislavery speech. Douglass uses trenchant logic in his 1. “The Celebration at Corinthian Hall,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 9 July 1852; McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 172. 2. See the excerpt in this volume on Douglass’s antebellum jeremiad in David Howard Pitney, The Afro-American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America.

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exhortation, repeating and defeating the premises undergirding proslavery arguments. He maintains that all explications of the humanity and rights of African Americans are already fully understood, and he urges empathy and action instead: “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.” Despite his protests to the contrary, he provides convincing argument as well as irony as he illustrates the hypocrisy of celebrating revolution and equality in a nation devoted to defending slavery. Douglass uses the most prized rhetorical strategies of the nineteenth century, including declamation, parallelism, and appropriation. He draws from the Bible, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Thomas Paine, and the Constitution. Evoking Brutus’s defense for having murdered Caesar, Douglass first claims that the forefathers “loved their country better than their own private interests.” Then, appropriating the rhythm and sentiment of Mark Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral, he contrasts the founding fathers with contemporary Americans. Unlike the founders, who risked their lives to establish a democracy, Douglass’s contemporaries, he argues, claim that the question of slavery is “settled”; “the cause of liberty,” he adds, “may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers.” In an extended analogy comparing the leaders of the American Revolution with those of the antislavery movement, he champions the importance of activists: “They . . . were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men.” By this point in Douglass’s career, he had abandoned the Garrisonian position of condemning the Constitution as a proslavery document and instead had become a political abolitionist seeking reform within a constitutional framework. He refers to the defense of natural rights in the Declaration of Independence as the “ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny.” Drawing on his youthful experience in shipyards, he urges Americans to withstand the storms threatening human rights and democracy and to hold fast to the intent of the Declaration: “That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day—cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a stormtossed mariner to a spar at midnight.” Denouncing the Fugitive Slave Law as an assault on the freedoms protected by Constitution and as a belligerent “act of the American Congress,” he declares that the Constitution, “a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT,” is “entirely

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hostile to the existence of slavery.” He compares the United States to a young river whose direction might yet be changed by constitutional amendments that would eliminate slavery and extend voting rights to African American men. William McFeely calls this “perhaps the greatest antislavery oration ever given.”3 While most of Douglass’s speeches had been extemporaneous, this one was delivered from notes and published as a pamphlet shortly afterward.4 Douglass judged it among his finest works, reproducing excerpts of it in his autobiographies. The speech has been reprinted in many scholarly collections.

M

r. President,5 Friends and Fellow Citizens: He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country school houses, avails me nothing on the present occasion. The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for me. It is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall,6 and to address many who now honor me with

3. McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 173. 4. Frederick Douglass, Oration, Delivered in Corinthian Hall, Rochester (Rochester, N.Y.: Lee, Mann & Co., 1852). 5. Lindley Murray Moore (1788–1871), a Quaker abolitionist and temperance reformer related through marriage to the antislavery writer Lucretia Mott, presided over the meeting that hosted Douglass’s speech. 6. Corinthian Hall.

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their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems to free me from embarrassment. The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable—and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say, I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium.7 With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you. This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God.8 It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellowcitizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men;9 but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer 7. An exordium is an introductory portion of a speech or treatise. 8. Passover is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the Israelites’ liberation by God from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. 9. Ps. 90:10.

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is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations. Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not then born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgement, it deemed wise, right and proper. But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and

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restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would not be worth much to anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might have taken, had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls.10 They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed. Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were not the men to look back. As the sheet anchor11 takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the cause of your fathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure. The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest 10. Thomas Paine’s first Crisis paper, 23 December 1776. The Political Writings of Thomas Paine, 2 vols. (Boston, 1859), 1:75. 11. A vessel’s largest anchor.

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eloquence of the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharoah and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea,12 the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of. The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but we fear the lesson is wholly lost on our present rulers. Oppression makes a wise man mad.13 Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of course, shocked and alarmed by it. Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet; and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor. These people were called tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.14 12. Ex. 15:4. 13. Eccles. 7:7. 14. The Tory party in Britain supported conservative, traditional political beliefs, including the “divine right” of the monarchy. In the American colonies before and during the Revolution, “Tory” was the pejorative label used by Patriots to condemn their Loyalist, pro-British opponents. Douglass probably refers to the term “Hunker,” meaning “greedy” in Dutch slang, which was used to characterize the attempts of New York Democrats in the late 1840s to get a “hunk” of the spoils of office. By the 1850s, the “Hunker” designation was being commonly applied to the conservative Unionist majority of the Democratic party throughout the North.

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Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it. On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshippers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day, whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it. “Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”15

Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history—the very ring-bolt16 in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny. Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

15. A text of the quoted resolution that indicates that the word “totally” appeared before the word “dissolved” may be found in W. C. Ford et al., eds. Journal of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, 34 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1904–37), 5:507. 16. An eyebolt with a ring fastened to the deck or side used for hooking tackle.

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From the round top17 of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward18 huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day—cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar19 at midnight. The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness. The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime. The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions.20 The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed. Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too—great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they 17. Platform at the masthead. 18. Away from the direction of the wind. 19. A mast, boom, gaff, or pole used in the rigging of sails. 20. The first census of the United States in 1790 reported that the total population of 3,929,625 included 697,624 slaves and 59,557 free blacks.

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did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory. They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor,21 on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests. They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times. How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defence. Mark them! Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith 21. From the last line of the Declaration of Independence.

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in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the cornerstone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you. Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon22 seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interest—a nation’s jubilee. Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence. I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait—perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

22. Luke 16:13; Matt. 6:24.

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I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!

The Present. My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now. “Trust no future, however pleasant, Let the dead past bury its dead; Act, act in the living present, Heart within, and God overhead.”23

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have not right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith24 tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s faith and spirit.25 That 23. The sixth stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.” Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845), 22. 24. The Anglican minister Sydney Smith (1771–1845) was a master satirical essayist and lecturer. 25. Luke 3:8.

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people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchers of the righteous?26 Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves.27 Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood,28 and the traders in the bodies and souls of men, shout—“We have Washington to our father.” Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is. “The evil that men do, lives after them, The good is oft’ interred with their bones.”29

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so 26. Matt. 23:29. 27. At the time of his death, George Washington (1732–99), first president of the United States, owned or held claim to over three hundred slaves. His will stipulated that they would receive their freedom upon his wife’s death. 28. When the Washington National Monument Society was launched in 1832, it raised an initial $28,000 to honor America’s first president. Douglass might be alluding to donations from Southern slaveholders in the first building phase or to the common practice of using slave laborers in the construction of major structures in the District of Columbia. 29. Julius Caesar, sc. 9, lines 1462–63.

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obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”30 But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woesmitten people! “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”31 30. Isa. 35:6. 31. Ps. 137:1–6.

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Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is American Slavery. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;”32 I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just. But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your 32. Douglass quotes from the first issue of the Liberator, 1 January 1831, in which William Lloyd Garrison promised, “I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard.”

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cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the antislavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment.33 What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man! For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and ciphering,34 acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, 33. [Weld], American Slavery as It Is, 149, contrasts capital offenses in Virginia for slaves and whites. 34. “Cyphering” is a nineteenth-century term for arithmetic.

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moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men! Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him. What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength, than such arguments would imply. What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past. At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light

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that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced. What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour. Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

The Internal Slave Trade. Take the American slave-trade, which, we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton35 tells us that

35. Thomas Hart Benton (1782–1858), a U.S. senator from Missouri (1821–51), probably used his observation on slave prices to bolster his persistent denial of slaveholding interests being insecure in the Union.

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the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of the American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year, by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states, this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave-trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government, as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words, from the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade, as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the laws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our Doctors of Divinity. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish themselves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon those engaged in the foreign slavetrade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable. Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a mandrover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh-jobbers, armed with pistol, whip and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field, and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily

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along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-chilling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man, with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul! The crack you heard, was the sound of the slavewhip; the scream you heard, was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from the scattered multitude. Tell me citizens, where, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States. I was born amid such sights and scenes. To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality. When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot Street, Fell’s Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves, the slave ships in the Basin, anchored from the shore, and with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake.36 There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at

36. Between 1826 and 1833, and again in 1836–38, the young slave Frederick Douglass lived and worked in Hugh and Sophia Auld’s household in Baltimore, Maryland.

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the head of Pratt Street, by Austin Woldfolk.37 His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival, through the papers, and on flaming “hand-bills,” headed Cash for negroes. These men were generally well dressed men, and very captivating in their manners. Ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mother by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness. The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered, for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Orleans. From the slave prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the anti-slavery agitation, a certain caution is observed. In the deep still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead heavy footsteps, and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress38 in the morning, to hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of chains, and the heart-rendering cries. I was glad to find one who sympathised with me in my horror. Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, 37. The Baltimore slave trader Austin Woolfolk prospered as he sent agents throughout Maryland to pay high prices in cash for young black males. In the 1830s, Woolfolk’s business declined because of increased competition from larger firms, a decrease in the number of slaves for sale owing to manumissions and owner emigrations, and the heightened opposition of Marylanders to the interstate slave trade. 38. Sophia Keithley Auld (1797–1880) was born in Talbot County, Maryland, to poor, devout Methodist parents who held to the antislavery teachings of their church. Before marrying Hugh Auld, she worked as a weaver.

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and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight. “Is this the land your Fathers loved, The freedom which they toiled to win? Is this the earth whereon they moved? Are these the graves they slumber in?”39

But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented. By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated;40 New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children as slaves remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the star-spangled banner and American Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of the every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your lawmakers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, your lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics, enforce, as a duty you owe to your free

39. The first four lines of John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Stanzas for the Times.” Whittier, Poetical Works, 3:35. 40. Replacing a 1793 law, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, part of that year’s infamous sectional compromise, created a federal position of “commissioner,” who was authorized to issue warrants for the arrest of fugitives and to certify the removal of captives to the South. The law, which applied to the entire United States, criminalized the aiding of a slave’s escape and fined Northern officials who refused to help in the rendition of fugitive slaves.

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and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey stands superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included! For black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, nor religion. The Fugitive Slave Law makes mercy to them, a crime; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American Judge gets ten dollars for every victim he consigns to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side, is the side of the oppressor.41 Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, to hear only his accusers! In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenceless, and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation. I doubt if there be another nation on the globe, having the brass and the baseness to put 41. Although the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 did not specify the number of witnesses needed to establish that someone was a fugitive slave, it did provide that “in no trial or hearing . . . shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence.” No provision was made for the alleged fugitive to bring forth witnesses who might dispute the claims of the court transcript or warrant. The Public Statutes at Large and Treaties of the United States of America, 1789–1873, 17 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1845–73), 9:462–65.

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such a law on the statute-book. If any man in this assembly thinks differently from me in this matter, and feels able to disprove my statements, I will gladly confront him at any suitable time and place he may select.

Religious Liberty. I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it. At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise and cummin”42—abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church, demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal! And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner. Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old Covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox43 would be seen at every church door, and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore44 would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox, to the beautiful, but treacherous 42. Matt. 23:23. 43. John Knox (1505–72), a leader in the Scottish Reformation and one of the founders of the Church of Scotland, was involved in several violent confrontations during the regency of Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox and his followers forced the withdrawal of foreign troops supporting Mary in July 1560. 44. Millard Fillmore (1800–74), the thirteenth president of the United States, vigorously advocated passage of the Compromise of 1850 and signed each of its measures into law.

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Queen Mary of Scotland.45 The fact that the church of our country, (with fractional exceptions), does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked,46 and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith.”

The Church Responsible. But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery,47 and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines, who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity. 45. Mary I (1542–87), popularly remembered as Mary, Queen of Scots, was forced to abdicate the throne after making a deeply unpopular marriage with the Earl of Bothwell. She sought asylum in England, but that country’s monarch, Elizabeth, regarded Mary as a rallying point for Catholic opponents to her own rule and had Mary imprisoned for eighteen years and finally executed. 46. Ezek. 18:7; Isa. 58:7. 47. Birney, American Churches.

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For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke,48 put together, have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throne of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”49 But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation—a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed 48. Thomas Paine (1737–1809), American revolutionary writer; François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire (1694–1778), French essayist, playwright, and philosopher; and Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678–1751), English statesman, orator, and essayist. These writers criticized the established Protestant and Catholic churches and espoused a form of “natural religion,” or Deism, which often brought contempt from supporters of orthodox Christianity. 49. James 1:27.

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feasts my soul hateth. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea! when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgement; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”50 The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”51 Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive. In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church and ministry of the country, in battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American 50. Isa. 1:13–17. 51. After initially equivocating, the Presbyterian minister Albert Barnes (1798– 1870) became an “implacable foe of slavery,” although he never officially affiliated with any antislavery organization. Douglass quotes from Barnes’s An Inquiry into the Scriptural Views of Slavery (Philadelphia: Perkins & Purves, 1846), 383, in which Barnes argued that “the principles laid down by the Savior and his apostles, are such as are opposed to slavery, and if carried out would secure its universal abolition.”

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theology have appeared—men, honored for their so-called piety, and their real learning. The Lords52 of Buffalo, the Springs53 of New York, the Lathrops54 of Auburn, the Coxes55 and Spencers56 of Brooklyn, the Gannets57 and Sharps58 of Boston, the Deweys59 of Washington, and other great religious lights of the land, have, in utter denial of authority of Him, by whom they professed to be 52. The Presbyterian minister John Chase Lord (1805–77) of Buffalo, New York, urged obedience to the Fugitive Slave Law in a sermon delivered on 12 December 1850, New York’s Thanksgiving observance. The Union Safety Committee, consisting of one hundred of New York City’s leading Whig and Democratic businessmen, solicited, printed, and distributed such sermons to defuse secessionist appeals, and urged ministers to devote the state’s Thanksgiving holiday to prayers that the Compromise of 1850 would secure lasting national harmony. 53. The Presbyterian clergyman Gardiner Spring (1785–1873) of New York City condemned abolitionists for defying the Fugitive Slave Law. One of Spring’s major political goals was preservation of the Union. 54. In his Thanksgiving Day sermon on the Fugitive Slave Law, Leonard Elijah Lathrop (1796–1857) declared that “both patriotism and religion require that the law should be obeyed”; he excused disobedience to the law on grounds of personal conscience “if the individual chooses quietly to incur the penalty.” L[eonard] E. Lathrop, A Discourse, Delivered At Auburn, on the Day of the Annual Thanksgiving, December 12, 1850 (Auburn, N.Y.: Derby and Miller, 1850), 10. 55. In a sermon preached in Brooklyn, New York, on Thanksgiving Day 1850, the Reverend Samuel Hanson Cox (1793–1880), an antagonist of Douglass at the 1846 World’s Temperance Convention in London, expressed his disapproval of slavery but urged obedience to the Fugitive Slave Law. 56. On 24 November 1850, the Reverend Ichabod Smith Spencer (1798–1854) set forth his position on the Fugitive Slave Law: “I am not justifying slavery. . . . Slavery may be wrong. . . . I am not justifying the fugitive slave law. It may be wrong. . . . I am only insisting upon religious obedience to Law. . . . Such obedience is a religious duty. It is the will of God.” Ichabod Spencer, Fugitive Slave Law: The Religious Duty of Obedience to Law (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1850). 57. The Reverend Ezra Stiles Gannett (1801–71), a Boston Unitarian minister, proclaimed in an 1850 Thanksgiving Day sermon: “God save us from disunion! I know that Slavery is a political and moral evil, a sin and a curse; but disunion seems to me to be treason, not so much against the country, as against humanity.” Ezra Stiles Gannett, Thanksgiving for the Union: A Discourse Delivered in the Federal Meeting House, November 28, 1850 (Boston: Wm. Crosby and H. P. Nichols, 1850), 17. 58. Pastor of Boston’s Third Baptist Church, the clergyman Daniel Sharp (1783– 1853) delivered a sermon on 28 November 1850, Massachusetts’s Thanksgiving holiday. For his text, Sharp preached on Titus 3:1: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to do every good work.” 59. The Unitarian minister Orville Dewey (1794–1882) ardently defended the Fugitive Slave Law. Douglass had earlier criticized Dewey’s pamphlet On American

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called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example of the Hebrews and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, they teach “that we ought to obey man’s law before the law of God.” My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher60 of Brooklyn, Samuel J. May61 of Syracuse, and my esteemed friend62 on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.

Religion in England and Religion in America. One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the anti-slavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in England towards a similar movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating, and improving the condition of mankind, came forward Morals and Manners (Boston: W. Crosby, 1844), in which he argues that the races were separated by “impassable physical, if not mental barriers.” 60. Henry Ward Beecher (1813–87), brother of the antislavery novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, was pastor of Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church for forty years. In his sermons, Beecher addressed the major social and political issues of his time with a force and drama that established him as one of the century’s major orators. 61. The Unitarian clergyman Samuel Joseph May (1797–1871) joined the abolitionist ranks in 1830 and enjoyed a long tenure as an agent of the New England AntiSlavery Society. During the 1840s and 1850s, he helped many fugitive slaves reach Canada and aided in the rescue of Jerry McHenry from slave catchers in Syracuse, New York, in 1851. 62. The Reverend Robert R. Raymond (1818–?) was minister of the First Baptist Church of Syracuse, New York, from 1847 to 1852 and was an active abolitionist.

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promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and restored him to his liberty.63 There, the question of emancipation was a high[ly] religious question. It was demanded, in the name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God. The Sharps,64 the Clarksons,65 the Wilberforces,66 the Buxtons,67 and the Burchells and the Knibbs,68 were alike famous for their piety, and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery movement there was not an antichurch movement, for the reason that the church took its full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in 63. In 1833, Parliament passed the Colonial Slavery Abolition Act, which ended slavery in the British West Indies. Slaves who worked on the land were to serve a six-year apprenticeship before being granted their full freedom; those who worked off the land were to serve a four-year apprenticeship. By 1838, the apprenticeship program had been deemed unworkable, and an Act of Emancipation granted full freedom to all former slaves on 1 August 1838. 64. Granville Sharp (1735–1813) aided a slave named Jonathan Strong when Strong’s owner attempted to ship him to Jamaica after Strong had lived independently in London for two years. Sharp searched English law for precedents outlawing slavery, and Strong was declared free eventually. In 1772, Sharp aided lawyers representing James Somerset, another fugitive slave whose owner had recaptured him in England and sought to send him to the West Indies. Abolitionists hailed Sharp’s influence on the decision in Somerset v. Stewart, which declared that slavery could exist in England only by “positive law” and limited the authority of masters over their slaves in England. 65. Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846) helped spearhead the drive for West Indian emancipation. After 1833, Clarkson turned his attention to American slavery, frequently meeting and corresponding with American abolitionists. Among the last of Clarkson’s American guests was twenty-eight-year-old Frederick Douglass, who dined with him 9 August 1846. 66. William Wilberforce (1759–1833) led the parliamentary campaign that culminated in the 1807 law banning the Atlantic slave trade. In 1823, Wilberforce published An Appeal to the Religion, Justice, and Humanity of the Inhabitants of the British Empire in behalf of the Slaves of the West Indies (London: Printed by Ellerton and Henderson, for J. Hatchard, 1823) and inaugurated the emancipation struggle in Parliament by presenting a Quaker abolitionist petition. 67. Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786–1845), successor to Wilberforce in the parliamentary struggle to end British slavery and the slave trade. In the late 1820s, he exposed the practice of slave trading in Mauritius, Trinidad, and Jamaica, and between 1831 and 1833 he led the abolition campaign in Parliament. Buxton wrote The African Slave Trade and Its Remedy (London: John Murray, 1839) and supported several unsuccessful explorations of the Niger River. 68. William Knibb (1803–43) and Thomas Burchell (1799–1846), missionaries who arrived in Jamaica in 1824, were accused of inciting the so-called Baptist War,

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this country will cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a favorable, instead of a hostile position towards that movement. Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen.69 You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and bodyguards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education; yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation—a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors;70 but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as the Jamaican slave insurrection of 1831–32, though neither was convicted. After West Indian emancipation, the two men returned to Jamaica in 1834, where they spent the rest of their lives expanding their missionary operations, working with the freedmen, and speaking out against the abuses of the apprenticeship system. 69. The U.S. Census recorded the slave population as 3,204,313 in 1850. 70. Douglass here refers to the violent suppression of Hungarian revolutionaries following the invasion of that country by Russian and Austrian troops in August 1849.

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cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a three-penny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,”71 and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another;72 yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;”73 and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,”74 a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.75 Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a by-word to a mocking earth.76 It is the 71. Acts 17:26. 72. John 13:35. 73. Declaration of Independence. 74. Writing to Jean-Nicolas Démeunier on 26 June 1786, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), the third president of the United States, observed: “What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! Who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment or death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment be deaf to all those motives whose power supported him thro’ his trial, and inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.” Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950–), 10:63. 75. The U.S. black population was 15.7 percent, slightly more than one-seventh of the nation’s population, in the 1850 census. 76. Isa. 28:22.

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antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!77

The Constitution. But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact, guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that the right to hold and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this Republic. Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped, basely stooped “To palter with us in a double sense: And keep the word of promise to the ear, But break it to the heart.”78

And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest imposters that ever practised on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there is no escape. But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe. There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length; nor have I the ability to discuss 77. The U.S. Census recorded the total population as 23,261,000 in 1850. 78. Macbeth, sc. 30, lines 2091–93.

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it as it ought to be discussed. The subject has been handled with masterly power by Lysander Spooner, Esq.,79 by William Goodell,80 by Samuel E. Sewall, Esq.,81 and last, though not least, by Gerritt Smith, Esq.82 These gentlemen have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour. Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a track of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules

79. Lysander Spooner (1808–87), a lawyer, writer, and uncompromising foe of slavery, wrote the famous work The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (Boston: B. Marsh, 1845). An expanded version appeared in 1847, and it became one of the major sources of campaign literature used by the Liberty party in the 1840s. 80. Douglass probably refers to William Goodell, Views of the American Constitutional Law: Its Bearing upon American Slavery (Utica, N.Y.: Jackson & Chaplin, 1844), and Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A History of the Great Struggle in Both Hemispheres; with a View of the Slavery Question in the United States (New York: W. Harned, 1852). 81. The attorney Samuel E. Sewall (1799–1888) published in 1827 his Remarks on Slavery in the United States in the pages of the Christian Examiner. 82. Among Gerrit Smith’s many letters, tracts, and pamphlets denying the constitutionality of slavery are Letter of Gerrit Smith, to Hon. Henry Clay (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839), and Letter of Gerrit Smith to S. P. Chase on the Unconstitutionality of Every Part of American Slavery (Albany, N.Y.: S. W. Green, 1847).

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of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, commonsense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of slavery is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one. Without this right, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as that of a Frenchman. ExVice-President Dallas83 tells us that the constitution is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further says, the constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred, unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien84 tells us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties, which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of Senator Breese,85 Lewis Cass,86 and many others that might be named, who are everywhere esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument. Now, take the constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the 83. George Mifflin Dallas (1792–1864) served as vice president (1845–49) under James Polk. As a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1852, Dallas was asked whether he would enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, and he answered unequivocally, “Yes, I would!” New York Daily Times, 31 May 1852. 84. John MacPherson Berrien (1781–1856) was a U.S. senator from Georgia who voted in favor of the Fugitive Slave Law, and opposed the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia and the admission of California as a free state. 85. Senator Sidney Breese (1800–78), a Democrat from Illinois, supported the constitutionality of slavery, popular sovereignty, and limited congressional authority over slavery. 86. Lewis Cass (1782–1866), a Democrat, campaigned for president in 1848 on a platform opposing limiting the spread of slavery through the Wilmot Proviso. He lost to Zachary Taylor, a Whig.

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other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery. I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion. Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,”87 and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire,88 the mystery of ages, is being solved. 87. Isa. 59:1. 88. “Celestial Empire” is a translation of the Chinese tianchao, “heavenly dynasty,” alluding to the belief in the divine origin of the emperors.

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The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,”89 has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China90 must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”91 In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it: God speed the year of jubilee The wide world o’er! When from their galling chains set free, Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee, And wear the yoke of tyranny Like brutes no more. That year will come, and freedom’s reign, To man his plundered rights again Restore. God speed the day when human blood Shall cease to flow! In every clime be understood, The claims of human brotherhood, And each return for evil, good, Not blow for blow; That day will come all feuds to end, And change into a faithful friend Each foe. God speed the hour, the glorious hour, When none on earth Shall exercise a lordly power, Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower; But all to manhood’s stature tower, 89. Gen. 1:3. 90. Foot binding began in the tenth and eleventh centuries in the court of imperial China. It inhibited the growth of the foot past four inches by breaking the toes and reshaping the arch, making women more beautiful according to Chinese standards that prevailed for nearly ten centuries. 91. Ps. 68:31.

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By equal birth! THAT HOUR WILL COME, to each, to all, And from his prison-house, the thrall Go forth. Until that year, day, hour, arrive, With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive, To break the rod, and rend the gyve, The spoiler of his prey deprive— So witness Heaven! And never from my chosen post, Whate’er the peril or the cost, Be driven.92

92. William Lloyd Garrison, “The Triumph of Freedom,” in the Boston Liberator, 10 January 1845.

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“A Nation in the Midst of a Nation” An Address Delivered in New York, New York, 11 May 1853 Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 27 May 1853. On 11 May 1853, seven “religious, philanthropic, and abolition societies” met for their annual anniversary meetings in New York City, including the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS; William Lloyd Garrison, president) and the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (AFASS; Lewis Tappan, president).1 Because mob violence had broken out at past AASS meetings, it was the first time in three years that the society had met in New York City. The more radical AASS renounced religious denominations and political parties because both refused to denounce slavery. The AFASS, in contrast, tried to reform such institutions; despite its more moderate positions, it was a smaller, less vigorous organization than its rival. In mid-1851, however, the National Era, a Washington, D.C., newspaper that the AFASS had helped found, began serializing Harriet Beecher Stowe’s immediately popular Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and so the AFASS’s prospects seemed bright. As these antislavery meetings convened, Stowe was touring Europe and fostering a public outcry against American slavery, especially the Fugitive Slave Law, which guaranteed federal support for the capture and return of runaway slaves.2 In his speech at the AFASS meeting, Douglass condemned the federal government 1. New York Herald, 12 May 1853. 2. See “Uncle Tom in the Drawing-Room,” New York Independent, 19 May 1853. The “English Correspondent” predicted that “hosts of Englishmen and of Europeans generally, who have looked with no small degree of admiration upon America, will be affected with feelings of shame and horror.”

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for its expanded role in defending slavery and, like Stowe, developed an international analysis of slavery’s prospects. He considered the free black populations in the Caribbean and South America potential allies for harboring fugitive slaves or fomenting Southern slave revolts. The resolutions passed by the two conventions highlighted the differences between the organizations. While the AFASS asserted that “our strongholds . . . are the Bible . . . and the Constitution of the United States,”3 the AASS resolved to “reaffirm our old principle, of immediate, unconditional emancipation on the soil; and our old principle, that this cannot be obtained except by the dissolution of the American Union, and the destruction of the American Church.”4 The AFASS pledged “to spend no time in controversies except with slaveholders, their abettors and apologists,” an allusion to their refusal to endorse women’s rights or other provocative reform causes. The AASS, however, welcomed female speakers and warmly defended their rights to speak publicly. At the AASS meeting, Douglass offered brief remarks but played a relatively small role as a result of personal and tactical conflicts with his old friends the Boston-based Garrisonians. A writer for the New York Times observed that the AASS had grown “unmanageable” and had taken “so heavy a freight of nonresistance, Woman’s Rights, Sabbath, Church, and clergy denunciation on board that the cooler portion found it necessary to get into another boat or go down together.” In contrast, the Times writer found the “ ‘American and Foreign’ is a working institution of business-like habits.”5 Despite Douglass’s growing estrangement from the Garrisonians, he tried to straddle both organizations. At the same time, Douglass was advancing what the historian Henry Mayer describes as an “ambitious separatist agenda” that included an exclusively black manual-training school and political council.6 Other black activists, 3. “Anniversaries,” New York Daily Tribune, 12 May 1853. 4. “Anniversaries,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 27 May 1853. 5. “Abolition and Anti-Slavery Societies,” New York Daily Times, 12 May 1853. 6. Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin’s, 1998), 432.

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most notably Martin Delany, were advocating black self-help and voluntary immigration to Central America.7 Douglass may well have been frustrated by the passive, victim-like role assigned by white Garrisonians to African Americans. Wendell Phillips, for example, expressed a fear that slaveholders would embrace U.S. annexation efforts in Mexico and the Caribbean in order to enslave the native black populations, further expanding the slave South. Douglass, on the other hand, regarded these African diaspora populations as allies in the revolt against slavery. If African Americans were driven from the United States, Douglass warned the “Slavery party,” those driven out would go to “the portals of slavery,” where they could “be of most service to the colored people of the United States.” Whereas Phillips conceived of the diaspora as a passive population that might be reenslaved through American annexation, Douglass regarded them as active agents aligned with African Americans. In his address, Douglass observes that antislavery speech cannot be suppressed and is, in fact, gaining an unprecedented audience through Uncle Tom’s Cabin and A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a record of atrocities drawn from Stowe’s research and that of other abolitionists. He predicts that the Fugitive Slave Law, meant to make slavery widespread and respectable, will in fact make the laws of the country more difficult to enforce. With this linking of antislavery principles, a new international perspective, and a Romantic theory of history’s inevitable progress, Douglass concludes his prepared remarks. The New York Tribune’s report ends here, but in Frederick Douglass’ Paper (the version reprinted here), a paragraph is added. In it, Douglass tries to clarify his position in the abolitionist movement: “Sir I have fully spoken out the thoughts of my heart. I have spoken as a colored man and not

7. Robert Levine, Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997). See especially the second chapter, “A Nation Within a Nation: Debating Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Black Emigration.” In The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered (Philadelphia, 1852), Delany specifically refers to free black men in the North as “a nation within a nation” and advocates immigration to Central or South America, where, he argues, people of color already constitute the ruling classes (64–67).

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as the representative of any Anti-Slavery society.” He affirms that people of color should be grateful to both organizations and that he would be honored to work with either to “strike a blow against slavery.” Feeling spurned by the Garrisonians, however, Douglass warns that “if the one discards me because I work with the other, the responsibility is not mine.”8

M

r. President,9 Ladies and Gentlemen: The resolution upon which I propose to make a few remarks respects the present condition and the future prospects of the whole colored people of the United States.10 The subject is a great one, and opens ample scope for thought and feeling. I feel a diffidence in undertaking its consideration, for two causes: first, my own incompetence to do it justice— and the second is, the peculiar relation subsisting between me and the audience I am about to address. Sir, I am a colored man, and this is a white audience. No colored man, with any nervous sensibility, can stand before an American audience without an intense and painful sense of the immense disadvantage under which he labors. He feels little borne up by that brotherly sympathy and generous enthusiasm which give wings to the eloquence and strength to the hearts of abler men engaged in other and more popular causes. The ground which a colored man occupies in this country is every inch of it sternly disputed. Not by argument, or any just appeal to the understanding; but by a cold, flinty-hearted, unreasoning and un8. “Anniversaries,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 27 May 1853. 9. The New York City merchant Arthur Tappan (1786–1865) and his brother Lewis were two of the most prominent opponents of William Lloyd Garrison inside the abolitionist movement. In 1833, he helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society. Seven years later he left the organization because of tactical disagreements with the Garrisonians. He helped organize the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and was an early supporter of the Liberty party. 10. Sixteen resolutions were put before the meeting. Douglass refers to the fourth, regarding opposition to colonization. American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, Thirteenth Annual Report (New York: The Society, 1853), 180.

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reasonable prejudice against him as a man and a member of the human family. Sir, were I a white man, speaking before and for white men, I should in this country have a smooth sea and a fair wind. It is, perhaps, creditable to the American people, (and, sir, I am not the man to detract from their credit), that they listen eagerly to the report of wrongs endured by distant nations. The Hungarian, the Italian, the Irishman, the Jew, and the Gentile, all find in this land a home, and when any of them, or all of them desire to speak, they find willing ears, warm hearts and open hands. For these people, the Americans have principles of justice, maxims of mercy, sentiments of religion, and feelings of brotherhood in abundance. But for my poor people enslaved—blasted and ruined—it would appear, that America had neither justice, mercy nor religion. She has no scales in which to weigh our wrongs—she has no standard by which to measure our rights. Just here lies the difficulty of my cause. It is found in the fact that we may not avail ourselves of admitted American principles. If I do not misinterpret the feelings of my white countrymen generally, they wish us to understand distinctly and fully, that they wish most of all to have nothing whatever to do with us, unless it may be to coin dollars out of our blood. Our position here is anomalous, unequal, and extraordinary. It is a position to which the most courageous of us cannot look without deep concern. We are, Sir, a hopeful people, and in this we are fortunate: but for this we should have long before the present seemingly unpropitious hour, sunk down under a sense of despair. Look at it, Sir. Here, upon the soil of our birth, in a country which has known us for centuries, among a people who did not wait for us to seek them, but a people who sought us, and who brought us to their own chosen land—a people for whom we have performed the humblest services, and whose greatest comforts and luxuries have been won from the earth by the strength of our sable and sinewy arms. I say, Sir, among such a people and with such recommendations to favor, we are esteemed less than strangers and sojourners—aliens are we in our native land. The

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fundamental principles of the Republic to which the humblest white man, whether born here or elsewhere, may appeal with confidence in the hope of awakening a favorable response, are held to be inapplicable to us. The glorious doctrines of your revolutionary fathers, and the still more glorious teachings of the Son of God, are construed and applied against us. We are literally scourged beyond the beneficent range of both authorities human and divine. We plead for our rights in the name of the immortal Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution, and we are answered by our countrymen with imprecations11 and curses. In the sacred name of Jesus we beg for mercy, and the slave whip, red with blood, cracks over us in mockery. We invoke the aid of the ministers of Him who came to preach deliverance to the captives, and to set at liberty them that are bound;12 and from the loftiest summits of this ministry comes the inhuman and blasphemous response, that if one prayer would move the almighty arm in mercy to break our galling chains, that prayer would be withheld! We cry for help to humanity, a common humanity, and here too we are repulsed. American humanity hates us, scorns, disowns and denies our personality. The outspread wing of American Christianity—apparently broad enough to give shelter to a perishing world—refuses to cover us. To us its bones are brass and its feathers iron. In running thither for shelter and succor, we have only fled from the hungry bloodhound to the devouring wolf— from a corrupt and selfish world to a hollow and hypocritical church; and may I not add, from the agonies of earth to the flames of hell! Sir, this is strong language. For the sake of my people, I would to God it were extravagantly strong. But, Sir, I fear our fault here to-day will not be that we have pleaded the cause of the slave too vehemently, but too tamely; that we have not contemplated his wrongs with too much excitement, but with unnatural calmness and composure. For my part, I cannot speak as I feel on this subject. My 11. An imprecation is a spoken curse. 12. Luke 4:18.

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language, though never so bitter, is less bitter than my experience. At best, my poor speech is, to the facts in the case, but as the shadow to the substance.13 Sir, it is known to you and to many who hear me, that I am alike familiar with the whip and chain of slavery, and the lash and sting of public neglect and scorn; that my back is marked with the one, and my soul is fretted with the other. My neck is galled by both yokes —that imposed by one master, and that imposed by many masters. More than twenty years of my life were passed in Slavery, and nearly fifteen years have been passed in nominal freedom. Mine has been the experience of the colored people of America, both slave and free. I was born a slave. Even before I [was] made part of this breathing world the scourge was platted for my back, and the fetters were forged for my limbs. My earliest recollections are associated with the appalling thought that I was a slave—a slave for life. How that crushing thought wrung my young heart I shall never be able fully to tell. But of some things I can tell—some things which are incident to the free and to the slave people of this country. Give me leave, then, in my own language to speak freely all that can be uttered of the thoughts of my heart in regard to the wrongs of the people with whom I thus stand associated in the two conditions to which I have thus alluded—for when I have said all, “the half will not then have been told.”14 Sir, it was once said by that greatest of modern Irish orators, Daniel O’Connell15—(a man whose patriotism was equaled only by 13. Col. 2:17. 14. 1 Kgs. 10:7. 15. Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847), an Irish lawyer and member of Parliament, led the movement to repeal the Act of Union between England and Ireland. O’Connell saw the bill for Catholic emancipation pass Parliament in 1829 with strong support from antislavery politicians. Four years later, he marshaled the crucial Irish votes needed for passage of the Emancipation Act of 1833, which inaugurated gradual abolition in the British West Indies. O’Connell made numerous attempts to rally abolitionist sentiment among Irish Americans, for which he suffered a high political cost, particularly in light of diminished U.S. support for the Irish repeal movement.

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his love of universal freedom)—that the history of the Irish people might be traced like a wounded man through a crowd, by the blood.16 That is a most startling saying. I read it with a shudder soon after it was said, and felt [that] if this were true in relation to the Irish people it was still more true in relation to the colored people of the United States. Our wrongs and outrages are as old as our country. They date back to its earliest settlement, and extend through two hundred and thirty years—and they are as numerous and as oft-repeated as the days of all these years. Even now while I speak and you listen the work of blood and sorrow goes on. Methinks I hear the noise of chains and the clang of the whip. There is not a day, not an hour in any day—not a minute in any hour of the day, that the blood of my people does not gush forth at the call of the scourge—that the tenderest ties of humanity are not sundered— that parents are not torn from children, and husbands are not torn from their wives for the convenience of those who gain fortune by the blood of souls. But I do not propose to confine your attention to the details of Slavery. They are harrowing to think of and too shocking to fix the mind upon for any length of time. I rather wish to speak of the condition of the colored people of the United States generally. This people, free and slave, are rapidly filling up the number of four millions.17 They are becoming a nation, in the midst of a nation which disowns them, and for weal or for woe18 this nation is united. The distinction between the slave and the free is not great, and their destiny seems one and the same. The black man is linked to his brother by indissoluble ties. The one cannot be truly free while the other is a slave. The free colored man is reminded by the ten thousand petty annoyances with which he meets every day, of his identity with an 16. This 1844 quotation has been attributed to an anonymous Irish writer. Samuel Smiles, History of Ireland and the Irish People (London: W. Strange, 1844), 262. 17. The U.S. census tabulated a slave population in 1850 of 3,204,313 and a free black population of 434,495, making the total black population 3,638,808. 18. In other words, for better or for worse.

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enslaved people—and that with them he is destined to fall or flourish. We are one nation then, if not one in immediate condition at least one in prospects. I will not argue that we are men of like passions with the rest of mankind. That is unnecessary. All know at any rate that we are capable in some sort of love and hate, friendship and enmity. But whatever character or capacity you ascribe to us, I am not ashamed to be numbered with this race. I am not ashamed to speak here as a negro. Sir, I utterly abhor and spurn with all the contempt possible that cowardly meanness, I will not call it pride, which leads any colored man to repudiate his connection with his race. I cannot say, therefore, as was said recently by a distinguished colored man at a Convention in Cincinnati, that he did not speak as a colored man,19 for, Sir, as a colored man I do speak—as a colored man I was invited here to speak—and as a colored man there are peculiar reasons for my speaking. The man struck is the man to cry out. I would place myself—nay, I am placed—among the victims of American oppression. I view this subject from their stand-point—and scan the moral and political horizon of the country with their hopes, their fears, and their intense solicitude. Standing here, then, and judging from the events and indications of the past few years, the black man must see that a crisis has arrived in his relations with the American people. He is reminded that trials and hardships await him; that the times are portentous of storms which will try the strength of his bark. Sir, it is evident that there is in this country a purely Slavery party—a party which exists for no other earthly purpose but to promote the interests of Slavery. The presence of this party is felt everywhere in the Republic. It is known by no particular name, and 19. Douglass alludes to the remarks of the black Garrisonian abolitionist Charles Lenox Remond at a “Grand Anti-Slavery Convention” in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 19 April 1853. Addressing a largely white audience, which included Garrison himself, Remond “said he would not speak as a colored man, but as a man,” since the interests of the antislavery movement “were the interests of the whole country.” Boston Liberator, 6 May 1852.

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has assumed no definite shape; but its branches reach far and wide in the Church and in the State. This shapeless and nameless party is not intangible in other and more important respects. That party, Sir, has determined upon a fixed, definite, and comprehensive policy toward the whole colored population of the United States. What that policy is, it becomes us as Abolitionists, and especially does it become the colored people themselves, to consider and to understand fully. We ought to know who our enemies are, where they are, and what are their objects and measures. Well, Sir, here is my version of it—not original with me—but mine because I hold it to be true. I understand this policy to comprehend five cardinal objects. They are these: 1st. The complete suppression of all Anti-Slavery discussion. 2d. The expatriation of the entire free people of color from the United States. 3d. The unending perpetuation of Slavery in this Republic. 4th. The nationalization of Slavery to the extent of making Slavery respected in every State of the Union. 5th. The extension of Slavery over Mexico and the entire South American States. Sir, these objects are forcibly presented to us in the stern logic of passing events—in the facts which are and have been passing around us during the last three years.20 The country has been and is now dividing on these grand issues. In their magnitude these issues cast all others into the shade, depriving them of all life and vitality. Old party ties are broken. Like is finding its like on either side of these great issues—and the great battle is at hand. For the present, the best representative of the Slavery party in politics is the Democratic party. Its great head for the present is President Pierce, whose boast it was—before his election—that his whole life had been consistent with the interests of Slavery, that he is above reproach, on that score. In his inaugural address, he reassures the South on this point.21 Well, the head of the slave power 20. Douglass probably alludes to the passage of the Compromise of 1850. 21. Franklin Pierce (1804–69), the fourteenth president (1853–57), made few statements about slavery during his campaign. In his inaugural address, Pierce

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being in power, it is natural that the pro-slavery elements should cluster around the Administration, and this is rapidly being done. A fraternization is going on. The stringent Protectionists and the Free Traders strike hands.22 The supporters of Fillmore are becoming the supporters of Pierce. The Silver Gray Whig shakes hands with the Hunker Democrat—the former only differing from the latter in name.23 They are of one heart, one mind, and the union is natural and perhaps inevitable. Both hate negroes, both hate progress, both hate the “Higher Law,” both hate Wm. H. Seward,24 both hate the Free Democratic party,25 and upon this hateful basis they are forming a union of hatred. “Pilate and Herod are thus made friends.”26 Even the central organ of the Whig party is extending its affirmed. “Involuntary servitude as it exists in the different states of this Confederacy, is recognized by the Constitution. . . . . I hold that the laws of 1850, commonly called the ‘compromise measures,’ are strictly constitutional and to be unhesitatingly carried into effect . . . I fervently hope that the [slavery] question is at rest.” 22. While not using the term “free trade,” the Democratic party’s national platform for the 1852 presidential election proclaimed: “That justice and sound policy forbid the federal government to foster one branch of industry to the detriment of any other, or to cherish the interests of one portion to the injury of another portion of our common country.” The Whigs, in contrast, were protectionists, endorsing import tariffs as “suitable encouragement . . . to American industry, equally to all classes, and to all parts of the country.” 23. Douglass’s comments reflect the pessimism widespread in antislavery circles after the election of Franklin Pierce. Since 1850, Whigs in New York had been split between the antislavery followers of William H. Seward and the more conservative “Silver Grays,” who supported the Compromise of 1850. When the Whigs nominated Seward’s ally Winfield Scott for president in 1852, the Silver Grays deserted the party in droves, many of them giving their money and votes to Democratic nominee, Franklin Pierce. 24. In U.S. Senate debates over the Compromise of 1850, the New York Whig William Henry Seward (1801–72) first invoked the doctrine of a “higher law than the Constitution” in support of abolitionism. After the merger of New York’s Whig organization with the Republican party in 1855, Seward’s antislavery utterances became increasingly forthright, culminating with his 1858 declaration that the slavery struggle was an “irrepressible conflict” between opposing forces. 25. At its 1852 national convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Free Soil party renamed itself the Free Democratic party as part of an effort to retain Northern Democrats who had supported its 1848 nomination of the Democrat Martin Van Buren, a former president. 26. Luke 23:12.

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beggar hand for a morsel from the table of Slavery Democracy, and when spurned from the feast by the more deserving, it pockets the insult; when kicked on one side it turns the other, and perseveres in its importunities.27 The fact is, that paper comprehends the demands of the times; it understands the age and its issues; it wisely sees that Slavery and Freedom are the great antagonistic forces in the country, and it goes to its own side. Silver Grays and Hunkers all understand this. They are, therefore, rapidly sinking all other questions to nothing, compared with the increasing demands of Slavery. They are collecting, arranging, and consolidating their forces for the accomplishment of their appointed work. The key stone to the arch of this grand union of the Slavery party of the United States is the Compromise of 1850. In that Compromise, we have all the objects of our slaveholding policy specified. It is, Sir, favorable to this view of the designs of the slave power, that both the Whig and the Democratic party bent lower, sunk deeper, and strained harder, in their conventions, preparatory to the late presidential election, to meet the demands of the Slavery party, than at any previous time in their history. Never did parties come before the northern people with propositions of such undisguised contempt for the moral sentiment and the religious ideas of that people. They virtually asked them to unite a war upon free speech, upon conscience, and to drive the Almighty presence from the councils of the nation. Resting their platforms upon the Fugitive Slave bill, they boldly asked the people for political power to execute the horrible and hell black provisions of that bill. The history of that election reveals, with great clearness, the extent to which Slavery has shot its leprous distillment through the lifeblood of the nation. The party most thoroughly opposed to the cause of justice and humanity

27. Probably a reference to the Washington (D.C.) Daily National Intelligencer, which had received patronage in the form of federal government printing during Whig administrations but lost those contracts with the inauguration of Franklin Pierce in March 1853.

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triumphed, while the party suspected of a leaning towards Liberty was overwhelmingly defeated, some say annihilated.28 But here is a still more important fact, illustrating the designs of the slave power. It is a fact full of meaning, that no sooner did the Democratic slavery party come into power, than a system of legislation was presented to the Legislatures of the Northern States, designed to put the states in harmony with the Fugitive Slave Law and the malignant bearing of the National Government towards the colored inhabitants of the country. This whole movement on the part of the States bears the evidence of having one origin, emanating from one head, and urged forward by one power. It was simultaneous, uniform and general, and looked to one end. It was intended to put thorns under feet already bleeding; to crush a people already bowed down; to enslave a people already but half free; in a word, it was intended to discourage, dishearten, and drive the free colored people out of the country. In looking at the recent black law of Illinois, one is struck dumb with its enormity. It would seem that the men who enacted that law, had not only banished from their minds all sense of justice, but all sense of shame. It coolly proposes to sell the bodies and souls of the black[s] to increase the intelligence and refinement of the whites. To rob every black stranger who ventures among them, to increase their literary fund.29 28. The Democratic National Platform of 1852 condemned abolitionist efforts and promised “faithful execution” of all parts of the Compromise of 1850, particular the Fugitive Slave Law. Similarly, the Whig party’s platform declared that all portions of the Compromise of 1850 “are received and acquiesced in by the Whig Party of the United States as a settlement in principle and substance.” During the campaign, however, the Whig candidate, Winfield Scott, was widely perceived as being more antislavery than his platform, causing large defections in the South and turning the election into a rout. 29. During the 1850s, Oregon, Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois enacted or revised so-called Black Laws and sometimes incorporated anti-immigration provisions into state constitutions. Under the terms of an 1853 Illinois statute, any black or mulatto immigrant remaining in the state for more than ten days with the apparent intention of taking up residence was subject to an initial fine of $50, and multiples of that amount for repeated offenses. If unable to pay the fine, they would be incarcerated and sold at auction.

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While this is going on in the States, a Pro-Slavery, Political Board of Health is established at Washington! Senators Hale, Chase and Sumner30 are robbed of a part of their Senatorial dignity and consequence as representing sovereign States, because they have refused to be inoculated with the Slavery virus. Among the services which a Senator is expected by his State to perform, are many that can only be done efficiently on Committees—and, in saying to these honorable Senators, you shall not serve on the Committees of this body, the Slavery party took the responsibility of robbing and insulting the States that sent them.31 It is an attempt at Washington to decide for the States who shall be sent to the Senate. Sir, it strikes me that this aggression on the part of the Slave power did not meet at the hands of the proscribed Senators the rebuke which we had a right to expect would be administered. It seems to me that an opportunity was lost that the great principles of Senatorial equality were left undefended, at a time when its vindication was sternly demanded. But it is not to the purpose of my present statement to criticise the conduct of our friends. I am persuaded that much ought to be left to the discretion of Anti-Slavery men in Congress, and charges of 30. John Parker Hale (1806–73), Salmon Portland Chase (1808–73), and Charles Sumner (1811–74) had all changed party affiliations by 1853 to protect and advance their antislavery principles. Hale, from New Hampshire, won election in 1842 as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives, where his opposition to the gag rule and the annexation of Texas cost him renomination. In 1846, however, a coalition of Liberty party and antislavery Democrats elected him to the U.S. Senate. Chase was elected U.S. senator from Ohio in 1849 on the Free Soil ticket. He strongly opposed the Compromise of 1850 and favored restrictions on slavery by federal law. Charles Sumner’s political career was dedicated to the cause of emancipation; he left the Whig party in 1848 and was a founder of the Free Soil party in Massachusetts. A coalition of Free Soilers and Democrats elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1851. 31. Douglass sarcastically refers to the action of the Democratic and Whig caucuses during the second session of the Thirty-second Congress in excluding the antislavery senators Charles Sumner, Salmon P. Chase, and John P. Hale from any of the Senate’s standing committees. When called on to defend the action, Senator Jesse D. Bright of Indiana explained that Hale, and presumably Chase and Sumner as well, were regarded as being “outside of any healthy political organization in this country.” Indignant over the Senate’s action, many antislavery newspapers seized upon Bright’s phrase in critical editorials. Douglass here carries the metaphor one step further by labeling the caucuses a “Pro-Slavery Political Board of Health.”

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recreancy should never be made but on the most sufficient grounds. For, of all the places in the world where an Anti-Slavery man needs the confidence and encouragement of friends, I take Washington to be that place. Let me now call attention to the social influences which are operating and co-operating with the Slavery party of the country, designed to contribute to one or all of the grand objects aimed at  by that party. We see here the black man attacked in his vital interests—prejudice and hate are excited against him—enmity is stirred up between him and other laborers. The Irish people, warm hearted, generous, and sympathizing with the oppressed everywhere when they stand upon their own green island, are instantly taught on arriving in this Christian country to hate and despise the colored people. They are taught to believe that we eat the bread which of right belongs to them. The cruel lie is told the Irish that our adversity is essential to their prosperity. Sir, the Irish American will find out his mistake one day. He will find that in assuming our avocation he also has assumed our degradation. But for the present we are sufferers. The old employments by which we have heretofore gained our livelihood are gradually, and it may be inevitably, passing into other hands. Every hour sees us elbowed out of some employment to make room perhaps for some newly arrived emigrants, whose hunger and color are thought to give them a title to especial favor. White men are becoming house servants, cooks and stewards, common laborers and flunkeys to our gentry; and, for aught I see, they adjust themselves to their stations with all becoming obsequiousness. This fact proves that if we cannot rise to the whites, the whites can fall to us.32 32. Since most Irish immigrants to the United States were impoverished, and many of the Northern free blacks lived in depressed areas of cities, the two groups often found themselves in close company. Along with poor native-born white Americans, they competed for the same jobs and sometimes engaged in interracial sexual or romantic relationships. Slurs and stereotypes portrayed African Americans and Irish immigrants unfavorably, and were used by both groups to slander each other, leading to a number of fights and demonstrations. Deeply rooted prejudices caused few Irish Americans to join the newly formed Republican party in 1856.

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Now, Sir, look once more. While the colored people are thus elbowed out of employment; while the enmity of emigrants is being excited against us; while State after State enacts laws against us; while we are hunted down, like wild game, and oppressed with a general feeling of insecurity; the American Colonization Society—that old offender against the best interests and slanderer of the colored people—awakens to new life, and vigorously presses its scheme upon the consideration of the people and the Government. New papers are started—some for the North and some for the South—and each in its tone adapting itself to its latitude.33 Government, [both] State and National, is called upon for appropriations to enable the Society to send us out of the country by steam! They want steamers to carry letters and negroes to Africa. Evidently this Society looks upon our “extremity as its opportunity,”34 and we may expect that it will use the occasion well, that [it] does not deplore but glories in our misfortunes. But, Sir, I must hasten. I have thus briefly given my view of one aspect of the present condition and future prospects of the colored people of the United States. And what I have said is far from encouraging to my afflicted people. I have seen the cloud gather upon the sable brows of some who hear me. I confess the case looks black enough. Sir, I am not a hopeful man. I think I am apt even to undercalculate the benefits of the future. Yet, Sir, in this seemingly desperate case, I do not despair for my people. There is a bright side to almost every picture of this kind; and ours is no exception to the general rule. If the influences against us are strong, those for us are also strong. To the inquiry, will our enemies prevail in the execution of their designs, in my God and in my soul, I believe they will not. 33. The American Colonization Society experienced a sustained resurgence during the 1850s. State organizations grew more active, agents traversed the Northern and border states, and soaring annual revenues allowed the parent organization to build a ship and transport over six thousand blacks to Liberia between 1848 and 1860. 34. 2 Cor. 1:8–11.

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Let us look at the first object sought for by the Slavery party of the country, viz: the suppression of anti-slavery discussion. They desire to suppress discussion on this subject, with a view to the peace of the slaveholder and the security of slavery. Now, Sir, neither the principle nor the subordinate objects, here declared can be at all gained by the slave power, and for this reason: It involves the proposition to padlock the lips of the whites in order to secure the fetters on the limbs of the blacks. The right of speech, precious and priceless, cannot, will not, be surrendered to Slavery. Its suppression is asked for, as I have said, to give peace and security to slaveholders. Sir, that thing cannot be done. God has interposed an insuperable obstacle to any such result. “There can be no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”35 Suppose it were possible to put down this discussion, what would it avail the guilty slaveholder, pillowed as he is upon the heaving bosoms of ruined souls? He could not have a peaceful spirit. If every anti-slavery tongue in the nation were silent—every anti-slavery organization dissolved—every anti-slavery press demolished—every anti-slavery periodical, paper, book, pamphlet or what not were searched out, gathered together, deliberately burned to ashes, and their ashes given to the four winds of heaven, still, still the slaveholders could have “no peace.” In every pulsation of his heart, in every throb of his life, in every glance of his eye, in the breeze that soothes and in the thunder that startles, would be waked up an accuser, whose cause is, “Thou art, verily, guilty concerning thy brother.”36 Oh! Sir, I can say with the poet Cowper—and I speak from observation— “I would not have a slave to till my ground, To carry me, to fan me while I sleep, And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth That sinews bought and sold have ever earned, No: dear as freedom is, and in my heart’s 35. Isa. 48:22 or 57:21. 36. Gen. 42:21.

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Just estimation prized above all price, I had much rather be myself the slave, And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him.”37

Again: The prospect, Sir, of putting down this discussion is anything but flattering at the present moment. I am unable to detect any signs of the suppression of this discussion. I certainly do not see it in this crowded assembly—nor upon this platform—nor do I see it in any direction. Why, Sir, look all over the North; look South—look at home— look abroad—look at the whole civilized world—and what are all this vast multitude doing at this moment? Why, Sir, they are reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin;” and when they have read that, they will probably read “The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin”—a key not only to the Cabin, but, I believe to the slave’s darkest dungeon. A nation’s hand, with that “key,”38 will unlock the slave prisons to millions. Then look at the authoress of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” There is nothing in her reception abroad which indicates a declension of interest in the great subject which she has done so much to unfold and illustrate. The landing of a Princess on the shores of England would not have produced the same sensation. I take it, then, that the Slavery party will find this item of their programme the most difficult of execution, since it is the voice 37. Douglass quotes lines 29–36 of “The Time Piece” (a section of the long poem The Task) by William Cowper (1731–1800), a popular English poet and hymnodist. William Cowper and John Cann Bailey, The Poems of William Cowper. Edited with an introduction and notes by J.C. Bailey. With twenty-seven illustrations. (London: Methuen & Co., 1905), 267. 38. Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe (1811–96), sister of the famed evangelical minister Henry Ward Beecher, is best remembered for her celebrated antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, 2 vols. (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1852), initially serialized in the Washington (D.C.) National Era. Criticism of the book’s accuracy led Mrs. Stowe to compile a documentary indictment of slavery published in 1853 under the title A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She toured Europe in 1853, 1856, and 1859 and found much acclaim. Responding to criticism among abolitionists, she revised the colonizationist views evident in Uncle Tom’s Cabin in her later novel Dred (1856).

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of all experience that opposition to agitation is the most successful method of promoting it. Men will write—men will read—men will think—men will feel—and the result of this is, men will speak; and it were as well to chain the lightning as to repress the moral convictions and humane promptings of enlightened human nature. Herein, sirs, is our hope. Slavery cannot bear discussion: it is a monster of darkness: and, as Junius said of the character of Lord Granby, “it can only pass without censure, as it passes without observation.”39 The second cardinal object of this party, viz: The expatriation of the free colored people from the United States, is a very desirable one to our enemies—and we read, in the vigorous efforts making to accomplish it, an acknowledgment of our manhood, and the danger to Slavery arising out of our presence. Despite the tremendous pressure brought to bear against us, the colored people are gradually increasing in wealth, in intelligence and in respectability. Here is the secret of the Colonization scheme. It is easily seen that just in proportion to the intelligence and respectability of the free colored race at the North is their power to endanger the stability of Slavery. Hence the desire to get rid of us. But, Sir, the desire is not merely to get us out of this country, but to get us at a convenient and harmless distance from Slavery. And here, Sir, I think I can speak as if by authority for the free colored people of the United States. The people of this Republic may commit the audacious and high-handed atrocity of driving us out of the limits of their borders. They may virtually confiscate our property; they may invade our civil and personal liberty, and render our lives intolerable burdens, so that we may be induced to leave the United States; but to compel us to go to Africa is quite another thing. Thank God, the alternative is not quite so desperate as that we must be slaves here, or go to the pestilential shores of Africa. Other 39. The comment by “Junius” to Granby’s defender appears in The Political Contest; Containing a Series of Letters between Junius and Sir William Draper, 3d ed. (London: F. Newberry, 1769), 29.

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and more desirable lands are open to us.40 We can plant ourselves at the very portals of Slavery. We can hover about the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly all the isles of the Caribbean Sea bid us welcome[; w]hile the broad and fertile valleys of British Guiana, under the sway of the emancipating Queen,41 invite us to their treasures, and to nationality. With the Gulf of Mexico on the South, and Canada on the North, we may still keep within hearing of the wails of our enslaved people in the United States. From the isles of the sea, and from the mountain tops of South America we can watch the meandering destiny of those we have left behind. Americans should remember that there are already on this Continent, and in the adjacent islands, all of 12,370,000 negroes, who only wait for the life-giving and organizing power of intelligence to mould them into one body and into a powerful nation. The following estimate of our numbers and localities is taken from one of the able Reports of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society,42 carefully drawn up by its former Secretary, John Scoble, Esq.43

40. While African Americans in Northern states had largely rejected an early proposal for a mass return to Africa presented by the American Colonization Society, support for alternative emigration plans increased significantly after passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. The government of Haiti had recruited a small number of African Americans as early as the 1820s. Several settlements of runaway slaves founded in Ontario during the 1840s experienced a major growth surge in response to the new efforts to recapture fugitive slaves. A smaller number of fugitive slaves sought refuge in northern Mexico. 41. Alexandrina Victoria (1819–1901) was the reigning queen of the United Kingdom and its worldwide empire from 1837 to 1901. Early in her reign, Parliament abolished slavery in all parts of the empire except India, Ceylon, and St. Helena. 42. Douglass’s statistics correspond to those presented in The Thirteenth Annual Report of the B[ritish] [and] F[oreign] A[nti-]S[lavery] S[ociety], For the abolition of Slavery and the Slave-Trade throughout the World; presented to the meeting held in Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate Street, London, on Monday, May 17th, 1852 (London: The Society, 1852), 47. 43. The Reverend John Scoble (1799–c.1867) was one of the founders of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.

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United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,650,000 Brazil . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4,050,000 Spanish Colonies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,470,000 South American Republics. . . . . . . . 1,130,000 British Colonies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 750,000 Hayti . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 850,000 French Colonies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 270,000 Dutch Colonies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50,000 Danish Colonies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45,000 Mexico. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70,000 Canada . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35,000 Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12,370,000 Now, Sir, it seems to me that the Slavery party will gain little by driving us out of this country, unless it drives us off this Continent and the adjacent islands. It seems to me that it would be after all of little advantage to Slavery to have the intelligence and energy of the free colored people all concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico! Sir, I am not for going anywhere. I am for staying precisely where I am, in the land of my birth. But, Sir, if I must go from this country—if it is impossible to stay here—I am then for doing the next best, and that will be to go to wherever I can hope to be of most service to the colored people of the United States. Americans! there is a meaning in those figures I have read. God does not permit 12,000,000 of his creatures to live without the notice of His eye. That this vast people are tending to one point on this Continent is not without significance. All things are possible with God.44 Let not the colored man despair then. Let him remember that a home, a country, a nationality are all attainable this side of Liberia. But for the present the colored people should stay just where they are, unless where they are compelled to leave. I have faith left 44. Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27.

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yet in the wisdom and the justice of the country, and it may be that there are enough left of these to save the nation. But there is a third object sought by the Slavery party—namely, to render Slavery a permanent system in this Republic, and to make the relation of master and slave respected in every State in the Union. Neither part of this object can be accomplished. Slavery has no means within itself of perpetuation or permanence. It is a huge lie. It is of the devil, and will go to its place. It is against nature, against progress, against improvement, and against the Government of God. It cannot stand. It has an enemy in every bar of railroad iron, in every electric wire, in every improvement in navigation, in the growing intercourse of nations, in cheap postage, in the relaxation of tariffs, in common schools, in the progress of education, the spread of knowledge, in the steam engine, and in the World’s Fair, now about to assemble in New York, and in everything that will be exhibited there.45 About making Slavery respectable in the North: laws have been made to accomplish just that thing. The law of ’50, and the law of ’93.46 And those laws, instead of getting respect for Slavery, have begot disgust and abhorrence. Congress may pass slave laws every day in the year for all time, if each one should be followed by such publications as “Uncle Tom” and the “Key.” It is not in the power of human law to make men entirely forget that the slave is a man. The freemen of the North can never be brought to look with the same feelings upon a man, escaping from his claimants, as upon a horse running from his owner. The slave is a man, and no law can take his manhood from him. His right to be free is written on all the powers and faculties of his soul, and is recorded in the great heart of God, and no human law can touch it. 45. Inspired by London’s larger and more famous Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, the New York world’s fair officially known as the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations opened in mid-July 1853 with 4,854 industrial, agricultural, and art exhibits from the United States and twenty-three foreign countries. The main exhibition building was called the New York Crystal Palace. 46. The Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and 1850.

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Now, Sir, I had more to say on the encouraging aspects of the times, but the time fails me. I will only say, in conclusion, greater is he that is for us, than they that are against us;47 and though labor and peril beset the Anti-Slavery movements, so sure as that a God of mercy and justice is enthroned above all created things, so sure will that cause gloriously triumph. Sir, I have fully spoken out the thoughts of my heart. I have spoken as a colored man, and not as the representative of any Anti-Slavery society. There are many societies: but there is but one cause. That cause I desire to serve with my whole heart. I have now spoken at the meeting of the “American A[nti-] S[lavery] Society,” and at the “American and Foreign A[nti-] S[lavery] Society.”48 The oppressed, among whom I am numbered, should be grateful to both. I honor and respect Lewis Tappan.49 I love and revere William Lloyd Garrison;50 and may God have mercy on me when I refuse to strike a blow against Slavery, in connection with either of these gentlemen. I will work with either; and if the one discards me because I work with the other, the responsibility is not mine. (Great and repeated applause.)

47. 1 John 4:4; 2 Kgs. 6:16. 48. On 11 May 1853, Douglass attended the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society at the Chinese Assembly Rooms in New York City and then the annual meeting of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in the Broadway Tabernacle in the same city, that evening. 49. Lewis Tappan (1788–1873) achieved considerable financial success as a partner in his brother Arthur’s silk company. Strongly influenced by the revivalist Charles  G. Finney during the 1830s, Tappan was an early supporter of many benevolent causes. Tappan helped organize the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, but in 1840 he broke with William Lloyd Garrison over the issue of political action and the advisability of linking abolitionism with other reforms. He helped found the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. 50. In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison brought out the first issue of the Boston Liberator, which endorsed immediate emancipation. Garrison later became an advocate for temperance, women’s rights, and many other causes. His uncompromising radical positions led to the schism in the abolitionist movement in 1840. Thereafter, he served as president of the American Anti-Slavery Society and led the Garrisonian wing of abolitionism until the Civil War.

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“The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered” An Address Delivered in Hudson, Ohio, 12 July 1854 The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered: An Address, Before the Literary Societies of Western Reserve College, at Commencement, July 12, 1854 (Rochester, N.Y.: Lee, Mann, & Co.1854). Western Reserve College’s student literary societies nominated Frederick Douglass to deliver the keynote address for the college’s 1854 commencement exercises, touching off a controversy between students and some trustees, administrators, and faculty members.1 Many of the Ohio college’s leaders regarded African Americans as unassimilable and advocated removing and colonizing freed blacks outside the United States. The New York Daily Tribune remarked, “Douglass’s position was not won for him without a struggle on the part of his friends,” and Douglass, in turn, thanked “the societies which had so kindly and so perseveringly given him the invitation.”2 Another paper commended the students, to whom “belongs the honor of having first overcome the popular prejudices of the times so 1. The period between 1840 and 1860 was the golden age of literary societies at Western Reserve College. Across American colleges, literary societies were prestigious debating organizations, fostering the public-speaking skills considered essential in college-educated men. At Western Reserve College, the debating societies traditionally nominated one of their own members to deliver the commencement exercises. Frederick Clayton Waite, Western Reserve University: The Hudson Era (Cleveland: Western Reserve University Press, 1943), 230, 241, 247. 2. “Frederick Douglass—Western Reserve College,” New York Daily Tribune, 31 July 1854; Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 4 August 1854.

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far as to welcome to the halls of learning, as a society orator, one of Africa’s oppressed sons.”3 Douglass chose as his topic one that merged scholarly research and the “thought nearest my heart,” the relationship between the races in the United States. To prepare, he sought out the guidance of the president of the University of Rochester, Dr. Martin B. Anderson.4 In the speech, Douglass responds to what became known as the American school of ethnology, a term that in the nineteenth century encompassed both cultural and biological anthropology.5 Trying to balance biblical teachings and new scientific theories, ethnologists of the time debated whether humanity had a single origin. The dominant thinking within the American school of ethnology endorsed the idea that races had separate origins, and that blacks were biologically inferior, which served to justify slavery. The scholars of the field were celebrated in Southern newspapers.6 The magnum opus of the school, Types of Mankind, published in the year of Douglass’s speech, quickly sold out; it went through nine editions by the end of the century.7 The authors, Samuel George Morton and Josiah Clark Nott, based their findings on the study of ancient Egypt and the measurements of skulls. Douglass begins his address by investigating claims made by Morton and by the British ethnologist Charles Hamilton Smith. He demonstrates that African Americans meet their definition of what a “man” is, and he begins to argue for the single-place theory of human origins when he stops and questions the sincerity of those debating the issue: “the wish is father to the thought.” He adds, “The temptation, therefore, to read the negro out of the human family is exceedingly strong, and may account somewhat for the repeated attempts

3. Warren (Ohio) Chronicle and Transcript, reprinted in Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 4 August 1854. 4. James M. Gregory, Frederick Douglass, the Orator (Springfield, Mass.: Willey, 1893; Chicago: Afro-Am Press, 1969), 115. 5. C. Loring Brace, “The ‘Ethnology’ of Josiah Clark Nott,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 50, no. 4 (April 1974): 514. 6. Ibid., 512–13. 7. Ibid., 520.

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on the part of Southern pretenders to science, to cast a doubt over the Scriptural account of the origin of mankind.” After a foray into evidence that ancient Egyptians and sub-Saharan Africans were related, Douglass analyzes the basis of ethnological accounts of race. He argues that racial categories are not rooted in anything tangible, noting that putatively “negro” characteristics like a low forehead and low intelligence are found in other races. According to his peers, the most memorable moment of the speech, often recounted by people after Douglass’s death,8 dealt with the claim of ethnologists that black men had “feeble and hoarse” voices. The New York Daily Tribune noted, “Douglass read it in loud and thundering tones and made no comment.”9 He argued that cultural factors shaped differences in individual attainments within purported races, noting that any individual “may carve his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.” In exposing the racially biased premises of ethnology, he anticipated contemporary understandings of race as a social construction erroneously linking skin color or phenotype with other characteristics. Douglass concludes the speech with the germination of an idea that he would build on in his 1869 address “Our Composite Nationality” (included in this volume). Attributing his thinking to Dr. James McCune Smith,10 an abolitionist and the first black American to earn a medical degree, Douglass argues that “our own great nation, so distinguished for industry and enterprise, is largely indebted to its composite character.” Ethnic diversity, not exclusivity, created American resiliency and growth. 8. The Reverend Heman L. Wayland retold this same incident in a collection of tributes to Douglass published just after his death, and several other contributors invoked the story. In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass (Philadelphia: John S. Yorston & Co., Publishers, 1897), 238. 9. “Frederick Douglass—Western Reserve College,” New York Daily Tribune, 31 July 1854. 10. James McCune Smith (1813–65) considered Douglass’s mixed-race, culturally complex background representative of America’s composite character. In his introduction to Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), he notes of the autobiography, “It is an American book, for Americans, in the fullest sense of the idea. It shows that the worst of our institutions, in its worst aspect, cannot keep down energy, truthfulness, and earnest struggle for the right.” Douglass Papers, ser. 2, 2:19.

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G

entlemen of Philozetian Society: I propose to submit to you a few thoughts on the subject of the Claims of the Negro, suggested by ethnological science, or the natural history of man. But before entering upon that subject, I trust you will allow me to make a remark or two, somewhat personal to myself. The relation between me and this occasion may justify what, in others, might seem an offence against good taste. This occasion is to me one of no ordinary interest, for many reasons; and the honor you have done me, in selecting me as your speaker, is as grateful to my heart, as it is novel in the history of American Collegiate or Literary Institutions. Surprised as I am, the public are no less surprised, at the spirit of independence, and the moral courage displayed by the gentlemen at whose call I am here. There is felt to be a principle in the matter, placing it far above egotism or personal vanity; a principle which gives to this occasion a general, and I had almost said, an universal interest. I engage to-day, for the first time, in the exercises of any College Commencement. It is a new chapter in my humble experience. The usual course, at such times, I believe, is to call to the platform men of age and distinction, eminent for eloquence, mental ability, and scholarly attainments—men whose high culture, severe training, great experience, large observation, and peculiar aptitude for teaching qualify them to instruct even the already well instructed, and to impart a glow, a lustre, to the acquirements of those who are passing from the Halls of learning, to the broad theatre of active life. To no such high endeavor as this is your humble speaker fitted; and it was with much distrust and hesitation that he accepted the invitation, so kindly and perseveringly given, to occupy a portion of your attention here to-day. I express the hope, then, gentlemen, that this acknowledgment of the novelty of my position, and my unaffected and honest confession of inaptitude, will awaken a sentiment of generous indulgence towards the scattered thoughts I have been able to fling together,

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with a view to presenting them as my humble contribution to these Commencement Exercises. Interesting to me, personally, as this occasion is, it is still more interesting to you; especially to such of you as have completed your education, and who (not wholly unlike the gallant ship, newly launched, full rigged, and amply fitted, about to quit the placid waters of the harbor for the boisterous waves of the sea) are entering upon the active duties and measureless responsibilities incident to the great voyage of life. Before such, the ocean of mind lies outspread more solemn than the sea, studded with difficulties and perils. Thoughts, theories, ideas, and systems, so various, and so opposite, and leading to such diverse results, suggest the wisdom of the utmost precaution, and the most careful survey, at the start. A false light, a defective chart, an imperfect compass, may cause one to drift in endless bewilderment, or to be landed at last amid sharp, destructive rocks. On the other hand, guided by wisdom, manned with truth, fidelity and industry, the haven of peace, devoutly wished for by all, may be reached in safety by all. The compensation of the preacher is full, when assured that his words have saved even one from error and from ruin. My joy shall be full, if, on this occasion, I shall be able to give a right direction to any one mind, touching the question now to be considered. Gentlemen, in selecting the Claims of the Negro as the subject of my remarks to-day, I am animated by a desire to bring before you a matter of living importance—[a] matter upon which action, as well as thought, is required. The relation subsisting between the white and black people of this country is the vital question of the age. In the solution of this question, the scholars of America will have to take an important and controlling part. This is the moral battle field to which their country and their God now call them. In the eye[s] of both, the neutral scholar is an ignoble man. Here, a man must be hot, or be accounted cold, or, perchance, something worse than hot or cold. The lukewarm and the cowardly, will be rejected by earnest

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men on either side of the controversy. The cunning man who avoids it, to gain the favor of both parties, will be rewarded with scorn; and the timid man who shrinks from it, for fear of offending either party, will be despised. To the lawyer, the preacher, the politician, and to the man of letters, there is no neutral ground. He that is not for us, is against us.11 Gentlemen, I assume at the start, that wherever else I may be required to speak with bated breath, here, at least, I may speak with freedom the thought nearest my heart. This liberty is implied, by the call I have received to be here; and yet I hope to present the subject so that no man can reasonably say, that an outrage has been committed, or that I have abused the privilege with which you have honored me. I shall aim to discuss the claims of the negro, general and special, in a manner, though not scientific, still sufficiently clear and definite to enable my hearers to form an intelligent judgment respecting them. The first general claim which may here be set up, respects the manhood of the negro. This is an elementary claim, simple enough, but not without question. It is fiercely opposed. A respectable public journal, published in Richmond, Va., bases its whole defence of the slave system upon a denial of the negro’s manhood. “The white peasant is free, and if he is a man of will and intellect, can rise in the scale of society; or at least his offspring may. He is not deprived by law of those ‘inalienable rights,’ ‘liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ by the use of it. But here is the essence of slavery— that we do declare the negro destitute of these powers. We bind him by law to the condition of the laboring peasant for ever, without his consent, and we bind his posterity after him. Now, the true question is, have we a right to do this? If we have not, all discussions about his comfortable situation and the actual condition of free laborers elsewhere, are quite beside the point. If the negro has the same right to his liberty and the pursuit of his own happiness that the white man has, then we commit the greatest wrong and robbery to hold him 11. Matt. 12:30; Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50.

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a slave—an act at which the sentiment of justice must revolt in every heart—and negro slavery is an institution which that sentiment must sooner or later blot from the face of the earth.”—Richmond Examiner.12 After stating the question thus, the Examiner boldly asserts that the negro has no such right—BECAUSE HE IS NOT A MAN! There are three ways to answer this denial. One is by ridicule; a second is by denunciation; and a third is by argument. I hardly know under which of these modes my answer to-day will fall. I feel myself somewhat on trial; and that this is just the point where there is hesitation, if not serious doubt. I cannot, however, argue; I must assert. To know whether [a] negro is a man, it must first be known what constitutes a man. Here, as well as elsewhere, I take it, that the “coat must be cut according to the cloth.”13 It is not necessary, in order to establish the manhood of any one making the claim, to prove that such an one equals Clay in eloquence, or Webster and Calhoun14 in logical force and directness; for, tried by such standards of mental power as these, it is apprehended that very few could claim the high designation of man. Yet something like this folly is seen

12. Excerpt from the Richmond Examiner published in the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society’s Thirteenth Annual Report, 148–49. 13. A paraphrase from John Dryden’s play The Wild Gallant, first performed in 1663: “‘Tis true she tells me; I love your Wit well, Sir; but I must cut my Coat according to my Cloth.” Douglass employs the expression the “coat must be cut according to the cloth” to rebuke the Richmond Examiner’s claim that the slave is not a man, by questioning the moral integrity of the proslavery adherents Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun. John Dryden, The Wild Gallant; The Rival Ladies; The Indian Queen, ed. John Harrington Smith, Dougald MacMillan, and Vinton A. Dearing. The Works of John Dryden, Vol. 8., ed. H. T. Swedenberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965). 14. Henry Clay (1777–1852), Daniel Webster (1782–1852), and John Caldwell Calhoun (1782–1850) came to be known as the “Great Triumvirate” for their powerful speaking styles and their leadership in national politics. All three were elected to Congress in the 1810s and died shortly after passage of the Compromise of 1850. All three served lengthy terms in the Senate, representing Kentucky (Clay), Massachusetts (Webster), and South Carolina (Calhoun).

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in the arguments directed against the humanity of the negro. His faculties and powers, uneducated and unimproved, have been contrasted with those of the highest cultivation; and the world has then been called upon to behold the immense and amazing difference between the man admitted, and the man disputed. The fact that these intellects, so powerful and so controlling, are almost, if not quite, as exceptional to the general rule of humanity in one direction, as the specimen negroes are in the other, is quite overlooked. Man is distinguished from all other animals, by the possession of certain definite faculties and powers, as well as by physical organization and proportions. He is the only two-handed animal on earth—the only one that laughs, and nearly the only one that weeps. Men instinctively distinguish between men and brutes. Common sense itself is scarcely needed to detect the absence of manhood in a monkey, or to recognize its presence in a negro. His speech, his reason, his power to acquire and to retain knowledge, his heavenerected face, his habitudes, his hopes, his fears, his aspirations, his prophecies, plant between him and the brute creation, a distinction as eternal as it is palpable. Away, therefore, with all the scientific moonshine that would connect men with monkeys; that would have the world believe that humanity, instead of resting on its own characteristic pedestal—gloriously independent—is a sort of sliding scale, making one extreme brother to the ou-rang-ou-tang, and the other to angels, and all the rest intermediates! Tried by all the usual, and all the unusual tests, whether mental, moral, physical, or psychological, the negro is a man—considering him as possessing knowledge, or needing knowledge, his elevation or his degradation, his virtues, or his vices—whichever road you take, you reach the same conclusion, the negro is a man. His good and his bad, his innocence and his guilt, his joys and his sorrows, proclaim his manhood in speech that all mankind practically and readily understand[s]. A very recondite author says that “man is distinguished from all other animals, in that he resists as well as adapts himself to his

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circumstances.”15 He does not take things as he finds them, but goes to work to improve them. Tried by this test, too, the negro is a man. You may see him yoke the oxen, harness the horse, and hold the plow. He can swim the river; but he prefers to fling over it a bridge. The horse bears him on his back—admits his mastery and dominion. The barn-yard fowl know his step, and flock around to receive their morning meal from his sable hand. The dog dances when he comes home, and whines piteously when he is absent. All these know that the negro is a man. Now, presuming that what is evident to beast and to bird, cannot need elaborate argument to be made plain to men, I assume, with this brief statement, that the negro is a man. The first claim conceded and settled, let us attend to the second, which is beset with some difficulties, giving rise to many opinions, different from my own, and which opinions I propose to combat. There was a time when, if you established the point that a particular being is a man, it was considered that such a being, of course, had a common ancestry with the rest of mankind. But it is not so now. This is, you know, an age of science, and science is favorable to division. It must explore and analyze, until all doubt is set at rest. There is, therefore, another proposition to be stated and maintained, separately, which, in other days, (the days before the Notts, the Gliddens, the Agassiz[es], and Mortons, made their profound discoveries in ethnological science),16 might have been included in the first. It is somewhat remarkable, that, at a time when knowledge is so generally diffused, when the geography of the world is so well understood—when time and space, in the intercourse of nations, 15. Douglass probably refers to the educator Samuel Stanhope Smith (1750– 1819), whose ethnological views predominated among American naturalists until the emergence in the 1840s of the American school of ethnology. Smith reasoned that humans, unlike animals, could exist in numerous environments because of their ability to adapt. 16. The ethnological conclusions of Josiah Clark Nott (1804–73), George Robert Gliddon (1809–57), Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807–73), and Samuel George Morton (1799–1851) collectively formed the basic doctrines of what came be known as the American school of ethnology.

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are almost annihilated—when oceans have become bridges—the earth a magnificent ball—the hollow sky a dome—under which a common humanity can meet in friendly conclave—when nationalities are being swallowed up—and the ends of the earth brought together—I say it is remarkable—nay, it is strange that there should arise a phalanx17 of learned men—speaking in the name of science— to forbid the magnificent reunion of mankind in one brotherhood. A mortifying proof is here given, that the moral growth of a nation, or an age, does not always keep pace with the increase of knowledge, and suggests the necessity of means to increase human love with human learning. The proposition to which I allude, and which I mean next to assert, is this: that what are technically called the negro race, are a part of the human family, and are descended from a common ancestry, with the rest of mankind. The discussion of this point opens a comprehensive field of inquiry. It involves the question of the unity of the human race. Much has and can be said on both sides of that question. Looking out upon the surface of the Globe, with its varieties of climate, soil, and formations, its elevations and depressions, its rivers, lakes, oceans, islands, continents, and the vast and striking differences which mark and diversify its multitudinous inhabitants, the question has been raised, and pressed with increasing ardor and pertinacity, (especially in modern times), can all these various tribes, nations, tongues, kindred, so widely separated, and so strangely dissimilar, have descended from a common ancestry? That is the question, and it has been answered variously by men of learning. Different modes of reasoning have been adopted, but the conclusions reached may be divided into two—the one YES, and the other NO. Which of these answers is most in accordance with facts, with reason, with the welfare of the world, and reflects most glory upon the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Author of all existence, is 17. “Phalanx” is an ancient Greek term for a massed military formation.

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the question for consideration with us. On which side is the weight of the argument, rather than which side is absolutely proved? It must be admitted at the beginning, that, viewed apart from the authority of the Bible, neither the unity, nor diversity of origin of the human family, can be demonstrated. To use the terse expression of the Rev. Dr. Anderson,18 who speaking on this point, says: “It is impossible to get far enough back for that.” This much, however, can be done. The evidence on both sides, can be accurately weighed, and the truth arrived at with almost absolute certainty. It would be interesting, did time permit, to give here, some of the most striking features of the various theories, which have, of late, gained attention and respect in many quarters of our country— touching the origin of mankind—but I must pass this by. The argument to-day, is to the unity, as against that theory, which affirms the diversity of human origin.

The Bearings of the Question. A moment’s reflection must impress all, that few questions have more important and solemn bearings, than the one now under consideration. It is connected with eternal as well as with terrestrial interests. It covers the earth and reaches heaven. The unity of the human race—the brotherhood of man—the reciprocal duties of all to each, and of each to all, are too plainly taught in the Bible to admit of cavil.19 The credit of the Bible is at stake—and if it be too much to say that it must stand or fall by the decision of this question, it is proper to say, that the value of that sacred Book—as a record of the early history of mankind—must be materially affected, by the decision of the question. 18. Martin Brewer Anderson (1815–90) served as president of the University of Rochester from its founding to his retirement (1853–89). In addition to teaching rhetoric and modern history, he published numerous articles on a variety of topics, including ethnology, history, and religion. 19. A petty objection.

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For myself I can say, my reason (not less than my feeling, and my faith) welcomes with joy, the declaration of the Inspired Apostle, “that God has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell upon all the face of the earth.”20 But this grand affirmation of the unity of the human race, and many others like unto it, together with the whole account of the creation, given in the early scriptures, must all get a new interpretation or be overthrown altogether, if a diversity of human origin can be maintained. Most evidently, this aspect of the question makes it important to those who rely upon the Bible, as the sheet anchor of their hopes—and the framework of all religious truth. The young minister must look into this subject and settle it for himself, before he ascends the pulpit, to preach redemption to a fallen race. The bearing of the question upon Revelation, is not more marked and decided than its relation to the situation of things in our country, at this moment. One seventh part of the population of this country is of negro descent.21 The land is peopled by what may be called the most dissimilar races on the globe. The black and the white—the negro and the European—these constitute the American people—and, in all the likelihoods of the case, they will ever remain the principal inhabitants of the United States, in some form or other. The European population are greatly in the ascendant in numbers, wealth and power. They are the rulers of the country— the masters—the Africans are the slaves—the proscribed portion of the people—and precisely in proportion as the truth of human brotherhood gets recognition, will be the freedom and elevation, in this country, of persons of African descent. In truth, this question is at the bottom of the whole controversy, now going on between the slaveholders on the one hand, and the abolitionists on the other. It is the same old question which has divided the selfish from the philanthropic part of mankind in all ages. It is the question whether 20. Acts 17:26. 21. The U.S. black population was 15.7 percent, slightly more than one-seventh, of the nation’s population in the 1850 census.

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the rights, privileges, and immunities enjoyed by some ought not to be shared and enjoyed by all. It is not quite two hundred years ago, when such was the simplicity (I will not now say the pride and depravity) of the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of the British West Indies, that the learned and pious Godwin, a missionary to the West Indies, deemed it necessary to write a book, to remove what he conceived to be the injurious belief that it was sinful in the sight of God to baptize negroes and Indians.22 The West Indies have made progress since that time. God’s emancipating angel has broken the fetters of slavery in those islands, and the praises of the Almighty are now sung by the sable lips of eight hundred thousand freemen, before deemed only fit for slaves, and to whom even baptismal and burial rights [rites?] were denied.23 The unassuming work of Godwin may have had some agency in producing this glorious result. One other remark before entering upon the argument. It may be said that views and opinions favoring the unity of the human family, coming from one of lowly condition, are open to the suspicion that “the wish is father to the thought,” 24 and so, indeed, it may be. But let it be also remembered, that this deduction from the weight of the argument on the one side, is more than counterbalanced by the pride of race and position arrayed on the other. Indeed, ninety-nine out of every hundred of the advocates of a diverse origin of the human family in this country, are among those who hold it to be the privilege of the Anglo-Saxon to enslave and oppress the African—and slaveholders, not a few, like the Richmond Examiner to which I have referred, have admit-

22. Douglass refers to Morgan Godwyn’s The Negro’s and Indian’s Advocate, Suing for Their Admission into the Church (London: B. Took, 1680). Godwyn (1640–c. 1695), an Anglican minister, preached in Barbados and in Virginia from 1666 to 1680. Although not an advocate of emancipation, Godwyn angered slaveholders by publicly criticizing excessive brutality, the sale of children away from parents, and prohibitions against preaching Christianity to the enslaved. 23. Parliament passed the Emancipation Act of 1833, which began the gradual abolition of slavery in the colonies of the West Indies. 24. Henry IV, Part II, sc. 12, line 2546.

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ted, that the whole argument in defence of slavery, becomes utterly worthless the moment the African is proved to be equally a man with the Anglo-Saxon. The temptation, therefore, to read the negro out of the human family is exceedingly strong, and may account somewhat for the repeated attempts on the part of Southern pretenders to science, to cast a doubt over the Scriptural account of the origin of mankind. If the origin and motives of most works opposing the doctrine of the unity of the human race could be ascertained, it may be doubted whether one such work could boast an honest parentage. Pride and selfishness, combined with mental power, never want for a theory to justify them—and when men oppress their fellow-men, the oppressor ever finds, in the character of the oppressed, a full justification for his oppression. Ignorance and depravity, and the inability to rise from degradation to civilization and respectability, are the most usual allegations against the oppressed. The evils most fostered by slavery and oppression are precisely those which slaveholders and oppressors would transfer from their system to the inherent character of their victims. Thus the very crimes of slavery become slavery’s best defence. By making the enslaved a character fit only for slavery, they excuse themselves for refusing to make the slave a freeman. A wholesale method of accomplishing this result is to overthrow the instinctive consciousness of the common brotherhood of man. For, let it be once granted that the human race are of multitudinous origin, naturally different in their moral, physical, and intellectual capacities, and at once you make plausible a demand for classes, grades and conditions, for different methods of culture, different moral, political, and religious institutions, and a chance is left for slavery, as a necessary institution. The debates in Congress on the Nebraska Bill25 during the past 25. The bill to organize the territories of Kansas and Nebraska allowed residents of those territories to decide whether to permit slavery, an example of the “popular sovereignty” principle. Passed on 30 May 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act voided the provision of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that forbade slavery in the old Louisiana Purchase north of 36°30´ and established the doctrine of congressional nonintervention regarding slavery in the territories.

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winter, will show how slaveholders have availed themselves of this doctrine in support of slaveholding. There is no doubt that Messrs. Nott, Glidden, Morton, Smith and Agassiz were duly consulted by our slavery propagating statesmen.

Ethnological Unfairness Towards the Negro. The lawyers tell us that the credit of a witness is always in order. Ignorance, malice or prejudice, may disqualify a witness, and why not an author? Now, the disposition everywhere evident, among the class of writers alluded to, to separate the negro race from every intelligent nation and tribe in Africa, may fairly be regarded as one proof, that they have staked out the ground beforehand, and that they have aimed to construct a theory in support of a foregone conclusion. The desirableness of isolating the negro race, and especially of separating them from the various peoples of Northern Africa, is too plain to need a remark. Such isolation would remove stupendous difficulties in the way of getting the negro in a favorable attitude for the blows of scientific Christendom. Dr. Samuel George Morton may be referred to as a fair sample of American Ethnologists. His very able work Crania Americana, published in Philadelphia in 1839, is widely read in this country.26 In this great work his contempt for negroes is ever conspicuous. I take him as an illustration of what had been alleged as true of his class. The fact that Egypt was one of the earliest abodes of learning and civilization, is as firmly established as are the everlasting hills, defying, with a calm front the boasted mechanical and architectural skill of the nineteenth century—smiling serenely on the assaults and the mutations of time, there she stands in overshadowing grandeur, riveting the eye and the mind of the modern world—upon her, in 26. Samuel G. Morton, Crania Americana; or, A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1830), 24–26.

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silent and dreamy wonder. Greece and Rome—and through them Europe and America—have received their civilization from the ancient Egyptians. This fact is not denied by anybody. But Egypt is in Africa. Pity that it had not been in Europe, or in Asia, or better still, in America! Another unhappy circumstance is, that the ancient Egyptians were not white people; but were, undoubtedly, just about as dark in complexion as many in this country who are considered genuine negroes; and that is not all, their hair was far from being of that graceful lankness which adorns the fair Anglo-Saxon head. But the next best thing, after these defects, is a positive unlikeness to the negro. Accordingly, our learned author enters into an elaborate argument to prove that the ancient Egyptians were totally distinct from the negroes, and to deny all relationship between. Speaking of the “Copts and Fellahs,” whom every body knows are descendants of the Egyptians, he says “The Copts, though now remarkably distinct from the people that surround them, derive from their remote ancestors some mixture of Greek, Arabian, and perhaps even negro blood.” Now, mark the description given of the Egyptians in this same work: “Complexion brown, The nose is straight, excepting the end, where it is rounded and wide; the lips are rather thick, and the hair black and curly.” This description would certainly seem to make it safe to suppose the presence of “even negro blood.” A man, in our day, with brown complexion, “nose rounded and wide, lips thick, hair black and curly,” would, I think, have no difficulty in getting himself recognized as a negro!! The same authority tells us that the “Copts are supposed by Neibhur, Denon and others, to be the descendants of the ancient Egyptians;” and Dr. Morton adds, that it has often been observed that a strong resemblance may be traced between the Coptic visage and that presented in the ancient mummies and statues. Again, he says, the “Copts can be, at most, but the degenerate remains, both physically and intellectually, of that mighty people who have claimed the admiration of all ages.” Speaking of the Nubians, Dr. Morton says, (page 26)—

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“The hair of the Nubian is thick and black—often curled, either by nature or art, and sometimes partially frizzled, but never woolly.” Again:— “Although the Nubians occasionally present their national characters unmixed, they generally show traces of their social intercourse with the Arabs, and even with the negroes.” *

*

*

The repetition of the adverb here “even,” is important, as showing the spirit in which our great American Ethnologist pursues his work, and what deductions may be justly made from the value of his researches on that account. In everything touching the negro, Dr. Morton, in his “Crania Americana,” betrays the same spirit. He thinks that the Sphinx was not the representative of an Egyptian Deity, but was a shrine, worshiped at by the degraded negroes of Egypt; and this fact he alleges as the secret of the mistake made by Volney,27 in supposing that the Egyptians were real negroes. The absurdity of this assertion will be very apparent, in view of the fact that the great Sphinx in question was the chief of a series, full two miles in length. Our author again repels the supposition that Egyptians were related to negroes, by saying there is no mention made of color by the historian, in relating the marriage of Solomon with Pharaoh’s daughter;28 and, with genuine American feeling, he says, such a circumstance as the marrying of an European monarch with the daughter of a negro would not have been passed over in silence in our day. This is a sample of the reasoning of men who reason from prejudice rather than from facts. It assumes that a black skin in the East excites the same prejudice which we see here in the

27. Constantin-François de Chasseboeuf, comte de Volney (1757–1820), a French philosopher, historian, and politician, argued that the Egyptians were not white, contrary to the generally accepted notion, but instead were the descendants of Africans. He bolstered his case with his observation that the Sphinx shared facial features with blacks. 28. 1 Kgs. 3:1.

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West. Having denied all relationship of the negro to the ancient Egyptians, with characteristic American assumption, he says, “It is easy to prove, that whatever may have been the hue of their skin, they belong to the same race with ourselves.”29 Of course, I do not find fault with Dr. Morton, or any other American, for claiming affinity with Egyptians. All that goes in that direction belongs to my side of the question, and is really right. The leaning here indicated is natural enough, and may be explained by the fact that an educated man in Ireland ceases to be an Irishman; and an intelligent black man is always supposed to have derived his intelligence from his connection with the white race. To be intelligent is to have one’s negro blood ignored. There is, however, a very important physiological fact, contradicting this last assumption; and that fact is, that intellect is uniformly derived from the maternal side. Mulattoes, in this country, may almost wholly boast of Anglo-Saxon male ancestry. It is the province of prejudice to blind; and scientific writers, not less than others, write to please, as well as to instruct, and even unconsciously to themselves, (sometimes), sacrifice what is true to what is popular. Fashion is not confined to dress; but extends to philosophy as well—and it is fashionable now, in our land, to exaggerate the differences between the negro and the European. If, for instance, a phrenologist or naturalist undertakes to represent in portraits, the differences between the two races—the negro and the European—he will invariably present the highest type of the European, and the lowest type of the negro. The European face is drawn in harmony with the highest ideas of beauty, dignity and intellect. Features regular and brow after the Websterian mold. The negro, on the other hand, appears with features distorted, lips exaggerated, forehead depressed—and the whole expression of the countenance made to harmonize with the popular idea of negro imbecility and degradation. I have seen many pictures 29. Morton, Crania Americana, 29, 31.

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of negroes and Europeans, in phrenological and ethnological works; and all, or nearly all, excepting the work of Dr. Prichard, and that other great work, Combs’ Constitution of Man,30 have been more or less open to this objection. I think I have never seen a single picture in an American work, designed to give an idea of the mental endowments of the negro, which did any thing like justice to the subject; nay, that was not infamously distorted. The heads of A. CRUMMEL,31 Henry H. Garnet,32 Sam’l R. Ward,33 Chas. Lenox Remond,34 W. J. Wilson,35 J. W. Pennington,36 J. I. Gaines,37 M. R. Delany,38 30. Douglass probably refers to James Cowles Prichard, Researches into the Physical History of Mankind, 5 vols. (1813; London: Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper, 1841), and George Combe, The Constitution of Man Considered in Relation to External Objects, 3d American ed. (Boston: Allen and Ticknor, 1834). 31. Alexander Crummell (1819–98) was an Episcopal priest, an active member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and a contributor to the Colored American. 32. Born a Maryland slave, Henry Highland Garnet (1815–82) fled north with his parents in 1824. He attended the Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York. After the Civil War, Garnet served as president of Avery College in Pittsburgh and U.S. minister to Liberia (1881–82). 33. The black Congregational minister Samuel Ringgold Ward (1817–66) escaped from slavery with his parents and became active in abolitionist circles. Douglass remarked that “as an orator and thinker he [Ward] was vastly superior . . . to any of us,” and that “the splendors of his intellect went directly to the glory of his race.” 34. Charles Lenox Remond (1810–73) was the first black lecturer among antislavery societies until Frederick Douglass began his speaking career in 1842. Douglass worked the lecture circuit with Remond and so admired him that he named a son for him. 35. William Joseph Wilson (1818–?) was a black schoolteacher in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1840s and 1850s. In the 1850s he became a frequent contributor to Frederick Douglass’ Paper and the Anglo-African Magazine, writing under the pseudonym “Ethiop.” 36. James William Charles Pennington (1809–71) escaped slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore at the age of twenty-one. Pennington entered the Congregational ministry in 1840, traveled to England in 1843 as an at-large delegate to the World’s Anti-Slavery Conference in London, and wrote an autobiography, The Fugitive Blacksmith (1849). 37. The black businessman John Isom Gaines (1821–59), of Cincinnati, Ohio, owned a riverfront store and played a prominent role in the movement to force city authorities to turn over tax money to the newly formed black board of school trustees. 38. Martin Robison Delany (1812–85) served as coeditor of Douglass’s North Star, lecturing and traveling extensively between 1847 and 1849 to gain new subscriptions for the paper. In 1850–51, Delany attended Harvard Medical College, but owing to protests from white students, he was denied admission to the final term needed to complete his medical degree. He wrote several books in which he argued that emigration was the only remedy for the oppressed state of black Americans.

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J. W. Loguin,39 J. M. Whitfield,40 J. C. Holly,41 and hundreds of others I could mention, are better formed, and indicate the presence of intellect more than any pictures I have seen in such works; and while it must be admitted that there are negroes answering the description given by the American ethnologists and others, of the negro race, I contend that there is every description of head among them, ranging from the highest Indoo Caucasian downward. If the very best type of the European is always presented, I insist that justice, in all such works, demands that the very best type of the negro should also be taken. The importance of this criticism may not be apparent to all;—to the black man it is very apparent. He sees the injustice, and writhes under its sting. But to return to Dr. Morton, or rather to the question of the affinity of the negroes to the Egyptians. It seems to me that a man might as well deny the affinity of the Americans to the Englishman, as to deny such affinity between the negro and the Egyptian. He might make out as many points of difference, in the case of the one as in that of the other. Especially could this be done, if, like ethnologists, in given cases, only typical specimens were resorted to. The lean, slender American, pale and swarthy, if exposed to the sun, wears a very different appearance to the full, round Englishman, of clear, blonde complexion. One may trace the progress of this difference in the common portraits of the American Presidents. Just study those faces, beginning

39. Jermain Wesley Loguen (c. 1810–72) attended the Oneida Institute, taught school in several New York communities, and then became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. After passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Loguen moved to the comparative safety of Syracuse and was active in the Underground Railroad. 40. Settling in Buffalo, New York, in 1841, James Monroe Whitfield (1822–71) worked as a barber and wrote poetry. Several of his poems had already been published in the North Star when Douglass visited Whitfield in Buffalo in late June 1850. 41. An early subscriber to the North Star, Joseph Cephas Holly (1825–55) wrote articles addressed to Northern blacks and whites and to Southern nonslaveholders, linking the rights of poor whites with those of blacks. In 1850, Holly embarked upon a tour of Vermont, serving as an agent for Douglass’s newspaper and speaking on the needs and rights of African Americans.

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with Washington; and as you come thro’ the jeffersons, the adamses, and the Madisons, you will find an increasing bony and wiry appearance about those portraits, & a greater remove from that serene amplitude which characterizes the countenances of the earlier Presidents. I may be mistaken, but I think this is a correct index of the change going on in the nation at large,—converting Englishmen, Germans, Irishmen, and Frenchmen into Americans, and causing them to lose, in a common American character, all traces of their former distinctive national peculiarities.

Authorities as to the Resemblance of the Egyptians to Negroes. Now, let us see what the best authorities say, as to the personal appearance of the Egyptians. I think it will be at once admitted, that while they differ very strongly from the negro, debased and enslaved, that difference is not greater than may be observed in other quarters of the globe, among people notoriously belonging to the same variety, the same original stock; in a word, to the same family. If it shall be found that the people of Africa have an African character, as general, as well defined, and as distinct, as have the people of Europe, or the people of Asia, the exceptional differences among them afford no ground for supposing a difference of race; but, on the contrary, it will be inferred that the people of Africa constitute one great branch of the human family, whose origin may be as properly referred to the families of Noah, as can be any other branch of the human family from whom they differ. Denon, in his Travels in Egypt, describes the Egyptians, as of full, but “delicate and voluptuous forms, countenances sedate and placid, round and soft features, with eyes long and almond shaped, half shut and languishing, and turned up at the outer angles, as if habitually fatigued by the light and heat of the sun; cheeks round; thick lips, full and prominent; mouths large, but cheerful and smiling; complexion

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dark, ruddy and coppery, and the whole aspect displaying—as one of the most graphic delineators among modern travelers has observed—the genuine African character, of which the negro is the exaggerated and extreme representation.”42 Again, Prichard says, (page 152)— “Herodotus43 traveled in Egypt, and was, therefore, well acquainted with the people from personal observation. He does not say anything directly, as to the descriptions of their persons, which were too well known to the Greeks to need such an account, but his indirect testimony is very strongly expressed. After mentioning a tradition, that the people of Colchis were a colony from Egypt, Herodotus says, that ‘there was one fact strongly in favor of this opinion—the Colchians were black in complexion and woolly haired.’” These are the words by which the complexion and hair of negroes are described. In another passage, he says that “The pigeon, said to have fled to Dodona, and to have founded the Oracle, was declared to be black, and that the meaning of the story was this: The Oracle was, in reality, founded by a female captive from the Thebaid: she was black, being an Egyptian.” “Other Greek writers,” says Prichard, “have expressed themselves in similar terms.” Those who have mentioned the Egyptians as a swarthy people, according to Prichard, might as well have applied the term black to them, since they were doubtless of a chocolate color. The same author brings together the testimony of Eschylus44 and others as to the color of the ancient Egyptians, all corresponding, more or less, with the foregoing. Among the most direct testimony educed by Prichard, is, first that of Volney, who, speaking of the modern Copts, says: 42. Douglass misquotes a passage from Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt, during the Campaign of General Bonaparte in That Country, trans. Arthur Aikin, 2 vols. (New York: Samuel Campbell, 1803), 2:44, the travelogue of the French engraver and administrator Dominique-Vivant Denon (1747–1825). 43. Herodotus (484–425 B.C.E.), Greek historian. 44. Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.E.), Greek playwright.

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“They have a puffed visage, swollen eyes, flat nose, and thick lips, and bear much resemblance to mulattoes.” Baron Larrey45 says, in regard to the same people: “They have projecting cheek bones, dilating nostrils, thick lips, and hair and beard black and crisp.” Mr. Ledyard,46 (whose testimony, says our learned authority, is of the more value, as he had no theory to support), says: “I suspect the Copts to have been the origin of the negro race; the nose and lips correspond with those of the negro; the hair, wherever I can see it among the people here, is curled, not like that of the negroes, but like the mulattoes.”47 Here I leave our learned authorities, as to the resemblance of the Egyptians to negroes. It is not in my power, in a discourse of this sort, to adduce more than a very small part of the testimony in support of a near relationship between the present enslaved and degraded negroes, and the ancient highly civilized and wonderfully endowed Egyptians. Sufficient has already been adduced, to show a marked similarity in regard to features, hair, color, and I doubt not that the philologist can find equal similarity in the structures of their languages. In view of the foregoing, while it may not be claimed that the ancient Egyptians were negroes,—viz:—answering, in all respects, to the nations and tribes ranged under the general appellation, negro; still, it may safely be affirmed, that a strong affinity and a direct relationship may be claimed by the negro race, to that grandest of all the nations of antiquity, the builders of the pyramids. 45. Dominique-Jean Larrey (1766–1842), a French surgeon who served in Napoleon’s army in Italy and during the 1815 Waterloo campaign, was responsible for several innovations in battlefield medicine, including army field surgery, medical transport, and the triage model of emergency medical care. 46. John Ledyard (1751–89) was an American explorer who wrote the first travelogue of Hawaii, Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage (1783). He was on the expedition credited with discovering the Hawaiian Archipelago. 47. The observations of Herodotus and the passages from the comte de Volney, Baron Larrey, and John Ledyard appear in Prichard, Physical History of Mankind, 2:228–29, 238–39.

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But there are other evidences of this relationship, more decisive than those alleged in a general similarity of personal appearance. Language is held to be very important, by the best ethnologists, in tracing out of the remotest affinities of nations, tribes, classes and families. The color of the skin has sometimes been less enduring than the speech of a people. I speak by authority, and follow in the footsteps of some of the most learned writers on the natural and ethnological history of man, when I affirm that one of the most direct and conclusive proofs of the general affinity of Northern African nations with those of West, East and South Africa, is found in the general similarity of their language. The philologist easily discovers, and is able to point out something like the original source of the multiplied tongues now in use in that yet mysterious quarter of the globe. Dr. R. G. Latham, f.r.s., corresponding member of the Ethnological Society, New York—in his admirable work, entitled “Man and his Migrations”—says: “In the languages of Abyssinia, the Gheez and Tigre, admitted, as long as they have been known at all, to be Semitic, graduate through the Amharic, the Talasha, the Harargi, the Gafat and other languages, which may be well studied in Dr. Beke’s48 valuable comparative tables, into the Agow tongue, unequivocally indigenous to Abyssinia, and through this into the true negro classes. But, unequivocal as may be the Semitic elements of the Berber, Coptic and Galla, their affinities with the tongues of Western and Southern Africa are more so. I weigh my words when I say, not equally, but more; changing the expression, for every foot in advance which can be made towards the Semitic tongues in one direction, the African philologist can go a yard towards the negro ones in the other.” In a note, just below this remarkable statement, Dr. Latham says:

48. Charles Tilstone Beke (1800–74), an early British explorer in eastern Africa and the Middle East, published widely on his geographic, botanical, and linguistic findings.

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“A short table of the Berber and Coptic, as compared with the other African tongues, may be seen in the Classical Museum of the British Association, for 1846. In the Transactions of the Philological Society is a grammatical sketch of the Tumali language, by Dr. S. Tutsbek49 of Munich. The Tumali is a truly negro language, of Kordufan; whilst, in respect to the extent to which its inflections are formed, by internal changes of vowels and accents, it is fully equal to the Semitic tongues of Palestine and Arabia.”50 This testimony may not serve prejudice, but to me it seems quite sufficient.

Superficial Objections. Let us now glance again at the opposition. A volume, on the Natural History of the Human Species, by Charles Hamilton Smith, quite false in many of its facts, and as mischievous as false, has been published recently in this country, and will, doubtless, be widely circulated, especially by those to whom the thought of human brotherhood is abhorrent. This writer says, after mentioning sundry facts touching the dense and spherical structure of the negro head: “This very structure may influence the erect gait, which occasions the practice common also to the Ethiopian, or mixed nations, of carrying burdens and light weights, even to a tumbler full of water, upon the head.” No doubt this seemed a very sage remark to Mr. Smith, and quite important in fixing a character to the negro skull, although different to that of Europeans. But if the learned Mr. Smith had stood, previous to writing it, at our door, (a few days in succession), 49. Lorenz Tutschek (1817–88) of Munich published the early nineteenthcentury geographic, anthropological, and linguistic research on the Nubian region along the Egypt-Sudan border collected by his brother Karl. 50. The quoted argument of the British scholar and physician Robert Gordon Latham (1812–88) appears in Robert Gordon Latham, Man and His Migrations (New York: C. B. Norton, 1852), 156–57.

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he might have seen hundreds of Germans and of Irish people, not bearing burdens of “light weight,” but of heavy weight, upon the same vertical extremity. The carrying of burdens upon the head is as old as Oriental Society; and the man writes himself a blockhead, who attempts to find in the custom a proof of original difference. On page 227, the same writer says: “The voice of the negroes is feeble and hoarse in the male sex.” The explanation of this mistake in our author is found in the fact that an oppressed people, in addressing their superiors—perhaps I ought to say, their oppressors—usually assume a minor tone, as less likely to provoke the charge of intrusiveness. But it is ridiculous to pronounce the voice of the negro feeble; and the learned ethnologist must be hard pushed, to establish differences, when he refers to this as one. Mr. Smith further declares, that “The typical woolly haired races have never discovered an alphabet, framed a grammatical language, nor made the least step in science or art.”51 Now, the man is still living, (or was but a few years since), among the Mandingoes of the Western coast of Africa, who has framed an alphabet; and while Mr. Smith may be pardoned for his ignorance of that fact, as an ethnologist, he is inexcusable for not knowing that the Mpongwe language, spoken on both sides of the Gaboon River, at Cape Lopez, Cape St. Catharine, and in the interior, to the distance of two or three hundred miles, is as truly a grammatically framed language as any extant. I am indebted, for this fact, to Rev. Dr. M. B. ANDERSON, President of the Rochester University; and by his leave, here is the Grammar—(holding up the Grammar). Perhaps, of all the attempts ever made to disprove the unity of the human family, and to brand the negro with natural inferiority, the most 51. Douglass quotes Charles Hamilton Smith, The Natural History of the Human Species: Its Typical Forms, Primeval Distribution, Filiations, and Migrations (1851; Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1854), 226–29. The Flemish-born Smith (1776–1859) wrote—and sometimes illustrated—numerous treatises on both natural and military history.

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compendious and barefaced is the book, entitled Types of Mankind, by Nott and Glidden.52 One would be well employed in a series of Lectures directed to an exposure of the unsoundness, if not the wickedness of this work.

The African Race but One People. But I must hasten. Having shown that the people of Africa are, probably, one people; that each tribe bears an intimate relation to other tribes and nations in that quarter of the globe, and that the Egyptians may have flung off the different tribes seen there at different times, as implied by the evident relations of their language, and by other similarities; it can hardly be deemed unreasonable to suppose, that the African branch of the human species—from the once highly civilized Egyptian to the barbarians on the banks of the Niger—may claim brotherhood with the great family of Noah, spreading over the more Northern and Eastern parts of the globe. I will now proceed to consider those physical peculiarities of form, features, hair and color, which are supposed by some men to mark the African, not only as an inferior race, but as a distinct species, naturally and originally different from the rest of mankind, and as really to place him nearer to the brute than to man.

The Effect of Circumstances upon the Physical Man. I may remark, just here, that it is impossible, even were it desirable, in discourse like this, to attend to the anatomical and physiological argument connected with this part of the subject. I am not equal to 52. Douglass refers to Types of Mankind; or Ethnological Researches, based upon the Ancient Monuments, Paintings, Sculptures, and Crania of Races, and upon Their Natural, Geographical, Philological, and Biblical History (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1854), by the Southern surgeon and ethnologist Josiah C. Nott and the English-born archaeologist and Egyptologist George R. Gliddon.

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that, and if I were, the occasion does not require it. The form of the negro—(I use the term negro, precisely in the sense that you use the term Anglo-Saxon; and I believe, too, that the former will one day be as illustrious as the latter)—has often been the subject of remark. His flat feet, long arms, high cheek bones and retreating forehead are especially dwelt upon, to his disparagement, and just as if there were no white people with precisely the same peculiarities. I think it will ever be found, that the well or ill condition of any part of mankind, will leave its mark on the physical as well as on the intellectual part of man. A hundred instances might be cited, of whole families who have degenerated, and others who have improved in personal appearance, by a change of circumstances. A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well. I told a boot maker, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, that I had been a plantation slave. He said I must pardon him; but he could not believe it; no plantation laborer ever had a high instep. He said he had noticed that the coal heavers and work people in low condition had, for the most part, flat feet, and that he could tell, by the shape of the feet, whether a man’s parents were in high or low condition. The thing was worth a thought, and I have thought of it, and have looked around me for facts. There is some truth in it; though there are exceptions in individual cases. The day I landed in Ireland, nine years ago, I addressed, (in company with Father Spratt53 and that good man who has been recently made the subject of bitter attack; I allude to the philanthropic James Haughton,54 of Dublin), a large meeting of the 53. John Spratt (1797–1871) was among the first to join Father Theobald Mathew’s temperance crusade. On 1 September 1845, the day after reaching Dublin, Douglass spoke at a temperance meeting where Spratt administered the pledge to “upwards of one thousand persons.” Dublin Evening Post, 2 September 1845. 54. The Irish Unitarian James Haughton (1785–1873) early on supported the antislavery movement. Douglass alludes to editorial attacks made in 1854 by the Irish expatriate John Mitchel, a proslavery New York City journalist, on Haughton for calling on Irish Americans to oppose slavery. Haughton was an early disciple of the Irish temperance reformer Father Theobald Mathew and a supporter of the Irish nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell.

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common people of Ireland, on temperance. Never did human faces tell a sadder tale. More than five thousand were assembled; and I say, with no wish to wound the feelings of any Irishman, that these people lacked only a black skin and wooly hair, to complete their likeness to the plantation negro. The open, uneducated mouth—the long, gaunt arm—the badly formed foot and ankle—the shuffling gait—the retreating forehead and vacant expression—and, their petty quarrels and fights—all reminded me of the plantation, and my own cruelly abused people. Yet, that is the land of GRATTAN, of CURRAN, of O’CONNELL, and of SHERIDAN.55 Now, while what I have said is true of the common people, the fact is, there are no more really handsome people in the world, than the educated Irish people. The Irishman educated, is a model gentleman; the Irishman ignorant and degraded, compares in form and feature with the negro! I am stating facts. If you go into Southern Indiana, you will see what climate and habit can do, even in one generation. The man may have come from New England, but his hard features, sallow complexion, have left little of New England on his brow. The right arm of the blacksmith is said to be larger and stronger than the left. The ship carpenter is at forty round-shouldered. The shoemaker carries the marks of his trade. One locality becomes famous for one thing, another for another. Manchester and Lowell, in America, Manchester and Sheffield, in England,56 attest this. But what does it 55. Henry Grattan (1746–1820) and John Philpot Curran served in the Irish Parliament and opposed the Act of Union that eliminated it. Grattan continued to represent Ireland in the British Parliament. Daniel O’Connell and Richard Sheridan (1751–1816) were born in Ireland and served in Parliament after the Act of Union. All four championed Irish nationalism and Catholic emancipation. Douglass probably first came to learn of Sheridan from “Mr. Sheridan’s Speech against Mr. Taylor,” an extract in his childhood primer, the Columbian Orator. Caleb Bingham, Columbian Orator (Boston, 1817), 130–31. 56. Long an important market town in central England, Sheffield had developed as early as medieval times into a leading center for knives, metal, weapons, cutlery, and, eventually, steel production. Manchester, in northwestern England, experienced massive growth in the early nineteenth century as it became the country’s largest textile-manufacturing center. Similarly, Lowell, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire, upriver from Lowell, became major cotton textile centers.

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all prove? Why, nothing positively, as to the main point; still, it raises the inquiry—may not the condition of men explain their various appearances? Need we go behind the vicissitudes of barbarism for an explanation of the gaunt, wiry, ape like appearance of some of the genuine negroes? Need we look higher than a vertical sun, or lower than the damp, black soil of the Niger, the Gambia, the Senegal,57 with their heavy and enervating miasma,58 rising ever from the rank growing and decaying vegetation, for an explanation of the negro’s color? If a cause, full and adequate, can be found here, why seek further? The eminent Dr. Latham, already quoted, says that nine-tenths of the white population of the globe are found between 30 and 65 degrees North latitude. Only about one-fifth of all the inhabitants of the globe are white; and they are as far from the Adamic complexion as is the negro. The remainder are—what? Ranging all the way from the brunette to jet black. There are the red, the reddish copper color, the yellowish, the dark brown, the chocolate color, and so on, to the jet black. On the mountains on the North of Africa, where water freezes in winter at times, branches of the same people who are black in the valley are white on the mountains. The Nubian, with his beautiful curly hair, finds it becoming frizzled, crisped, and even woolly, as he approaches the great Sahara. The Portuguese, white in Europe, is brown in Asia. The Jews, who are to be found in all countries, never intermarrying, are white in Europe, brown in Asia, and black in Africa. Again, what does it all prove? Nothing, absolutely; nothing which places the question beyond dispute; but it does justify the conjecture before referred to, that outward circumstances may have something to do with modifying the various phases of humanity; and that color itself is at the control of the world’s climate and its various concomitants. It is the sun that paints the peach—and may it not be, that he paints the man as well? My 57. Douglass names three major rivers in western Africa, relying on the descriptions made by European explorers. 58. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, many believed that disease was spread through “bad air” coming from decomposing matter.

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reading, on this point, however, as well as my own observation, have convinced me that from the beginning the Almighty, within certain limits, endowed mankind with organizations capable of countless variations in form, feature and color, without having it necessary to begin a new creation for every new variety. A powerful argument in favor of the oneness of the human family, is afforded in the fact that nations, however dissimilar, may be united in one social state, not only without detriment to each other, but, most clearly, to the advancement of human welfare, happiness and perfection. While it is clearly proved, on the other hand, that those nations freest from foreign elements present the most evident marks of deterioration. Dr. James McCune Smith, himself a colored man, a gentleman and scholar, alleges—and not without excellent reason—that this, our own great nation, so distinguished for industry and enterprise, is largely indebted to its composite character.59 We all know, at any rate, that now, what constitutes the very heart of the civilized world—(I allude to England)—has only risen from barbarism to its present lofty eminence, through successive invasions and alliances with her people. The Medes and Persians constituted one of the mightiest empires that ever rocked the globe.60 The most terrible nation which now threatens the peace of the world, to make its will the law of Europe, is a grand piece of Mosaic work, in which almost every nation has its characteristic feature, from the wild Tarter to the refined Pole.61 But, gentleman, the time fails me, and I must bring these remarks to a close. My argument has swelled beyond its appointed measure. What I intended to make special, has become, in its prog59. Douglass may refer to the essay “Civilization: Its Dependence on Physical Circumstances,” by the prominent black physician, abolitionist, and writer James McCune Smith. 60. Originally an itinerant Aryan people from Central Asia, by the end of the seventh century B.C.E. the Medes had settled in what is today northwestern Iran and southeastern Turkey. Fifty years later, the Persian Empire conquered that area, Babylonia, and Egypt, and invaded Greece. 61. Douglass alludes to Russia and the events leading to the Crimean War.

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ress, somewhat general. I meant to speak here to-day, for the lonely and the despised ones, with whom I was cradled, and with whom I have suffered; and now, gentlemen, in conclusion, what if all this reasoning be unsound? What if the negro may not be able to prove his relationship to Nubians, Abyssinians and Egyptians?62 What if ingenious men are able to find plausible objections to all arguments maintaining the oneness of the human race? What, after all, if they are able to show very good reasons for believing the negro to have been created precisely as we find him on the Gold Coast—along the Senegal63 and the Niger—I say, what of all this? “A man’s a man for a’ that.”64 I sincerely believe, that the weight of the argument is in favor of the unity of origin of the human race, or species— that the arguments on the other side are partial, superficial, utterly subversive of the happiness of man, and insulting to the wisdom of God. Yet, what if we grant they are not so? What, if we grant that the case, on our part, is not made out? Does it follow, that the negro should be held in contempt? Does it follow, that to enslave and imbrute him is either just or wise? I think not. Human rights stand upon a common basis; and by all the reason that they are supported, maintained and defended, for one variety of the human family, they are supported, maintained and defended for all the human family; because all mankind have the same wants, arising out of a common nature. A diverse origin does not disprove a common nature, nor does it disprove a united destiny. The essential characteristics of humanity are everywhere the same. In the language of the elo62. “Nubia” was the name of a region along the Nile River now located in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. “Abyssinia” was a commonly used name for the ancient African nation known as the Ethiopian Empire. 63. A reference to two West African nations. The Gold Coast was a region of the Guinea Coast colonized by the British; it achieved independence as Ghana in 1957. Douglass might be referring to the nearby British Niger Coast Protectorate, which later became a portion of modern Nigeria. 64. Douglass quotes a line from “For a’ That and a’ That,” a song by Robert Burns (1759–96), a Scottish romantic poet. Alexander Smith, ed., Poems, Songs, and Letters; Being the Complete Works of Robert Burns (1868; London: Macmillan & Co., 1921), 227–28.

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quent CURRAN, “No matter what complexion, whether an Indian or an African sun has burnt upon him,” his title deed to freedom, his claim to life and to liberty, to knowledge and to civilization, to society and to Christianity, are just and perfect.65 It is registered in the Courts of Heaven, and is enforced by the eloquence of the God of all the earth. I have said that the negro and white man are likely ever to remain the principal inhabitants of this country. I repeat the statement now, to submit the reasons that support it. The blacks can disappear from the face of the country by three ways. They may be colonized,— they may be exterminated,—or, they may die out. Colonization is out of the question; for I know not what hardships the laws of the land can impose, which can induce the colored citizen to leave his native soil. He was here in its infancy; he is here in its age. Two hundred years have passed over him, his tears and blood have been mixed with the soil, and his attachment to the place of his birth is stronger than iron. It is not probable that he will be exterminated; two considerations must prevent a crime so stupendous as that—the influence of Christianity on the one hand, and the power of self interest on the other; and, in regard to their dying out, the statistics of the country afford no encouragement for such a conjecture. The history of the negro race proves them to be wonderfully adapted to all countries, all climates, and all conditions. Their tenacity of life, their powers of endurance, their malleable toughness, would almost imply especial interposition on their behalf. The ten thousand horrors of slavery, striking hard upon the sensitive soul, have bruised, and battered, and stung, but have not killed. The poor bondman lifts a smiling face above the surface of a sea of agonies, hoping on, hoping ever. His tawny brother, the Indian, dies, under the flashing glance of the Anglo-Saxon. Not so the negro; civilization cannot kill him. He accepts it—becomes a part of it. In the Church, he is an 65. Curran, Speeches, 182.

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Uncle Tom;66 in the State, he is the most abused and least offensive. All the facts in his history mark out for him a destiny, united to America and Americans. Now, whether this population shall, by FREEDOM, INDUSTRY, VIRTUE and INTELLIGENCE, be made a blessing to the country and the world, or whether their multiplied wrongs shall kindle the vengeance of an offended God, will depend upon the conduct of no class of men so much as upon the Scholars of the country. The future public opinion of the land, whether anti-slavery or pro-slavery, whether just or unjust, whether magnanimous or mean, must redound to the honor of the Scholars of the country or cover them with shame. There is but one safe road for nations or for individuals. The fate of a wicked man and of a wicked nation is the same. The flaming sword of offended justice falls as certainly upon the nation as upon the man. God has no children whose rights may be safely trampled upon. The sparrow may not fall to the ground without the notice of his eye, and men are more than sparrows. Now, gentlemen, I have done. The subject is before you. I shall not undertake to make the application. I speak as unto wise men. I stand in the presence of Scholars. We have met here to-day from vastly different points in the world’s condition. I have reached here—if you will pardon the egotism—by little short of a miracle: at any rate, by dint of some application and perseverance. Born, as I was, in obscurity, a stranger to the halls of learning, environed by ignorance, degradation, and their concomitants, from birth to manhood, I do not feel at liberty to mark out, with any degree of confidence, or dogmatism, what is the precise vocation of the Scholar. Yet, this I can say, as a denizen of the world, and as a citizen of a country rolling in the sin and shame of Slavery, the most flagrant and scandalous that every saw the sun, “Whatsoever things are true, 66. An allusion to the humble, pious, long-suffering attitude of the title character of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

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whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”67

67. Phil. 4:8.

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“The American Constitution and the Slave” An Address Delivered in Glasgow, Scotland, 26 March 1860 [George Thompson and Frederick Douglass], Constitution of the United States, London Emancipation Committee, Tract No. 5 (London: William Tweedie, 1860), 16–34. In November 1859, a month after John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Frederick Douglass fled to Canada and then to England. His earlier meetings with Brown had been discovered, and he feared being tried for his role in the raid.1 Brown and his followers had briefly occupied the national arsenal as a first step in fomenting a large-scale slave insurrection, but they were captured by a hastily assembled force of local militia and U.S. Marines. After his execution by the Virginia authorities, Brown was celebrated as a martyr by many Northern opponents of slavery. Those who collaborated with Brown before the raid were under threat of arrest. As in 1845, Douglass went to Britain as a fugitive, but his reception was more mixed this time, since he was no longer a Garrisonian devoted to peaceful means of resisting slavery. Former British allies gave him a cold reception. On the defensive, according to the biographer William S. McFeely, Douglass “steered clear of any kind of revolutionary rhetoric that might seem traitorous.”2 At speaking engagements in Britain, 1. McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 202. 2. Ibid., 203.

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Douglass advocated reading the Constitution as an antislavery document, offering the promise that the United States could eliminate slavery without voiding the Constitution and destroying the Union. In other words, reform, not revolution, was called for: a proper interpretation of the Constitution could preserve the Union and eradicate slavery. His speeches drew criticism from George Thompson, a British antislavery activist who had become an important Garrisonian ally. Thompson and Garrison had forged their friendship in the midst of the violent antiabolitionist riots of the 1830s, barely escaping a Boston mob that threatened their lives at an 1835 antislavery lecture. Thompson invited Douglass to debate the Constitution question, but Douglass declined. In a speech in February 1860, Thompson defended the Garrisonian position. He opens that speech respectfully: “Certain things, however, have been stated by that gentleman here and elsewhere, which I could not allow to pass unnoticed, without failing in my duty . . . to that body of abolitionists in America which I believe to be the only one acting out with perfect consistency and fidelity the principles of religion, morality, and sound policy as applied to the circumstances of the United States.”3 Thompson’s speech claims three things: that Douglass believed the Constitution to be proslavery in 1847, when he last visited Britain; that the framers intended to perpetuate slavery; and that the Constitution has been interpreted repeatedly to defend slavery, being the basis for legal and judicial acts such as the Fugitive Slave Law and the Dred Scott decision. Thompson concludes that the U.S. Constitution has made and continues to make slavery a nationally protected institution and that nothing short of dissolving the Union can eliminate slavery. Taking up the challenge, Douglass traveled to Glasgow, where Thompson had spoken, and delivered his response in Queen’s Room Hall. In lawyerly fashion, Douglass ably defends his change of positions, though he also personalizes his attack, criticizing Thompson 3. George Thompson, Lecture on the Constitution of the United States, London Emancipation Committee, Tract No. 5 (London: William Tweedie, 1860), 5.

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for giving an “anti-Douglass” speech and standing up for “a mere party” rather than for the “down-trodden.” One can speculate that Douglass, having an uncertain future in the United States because of his connection to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, felt attacks on his positions more keenly than he had in the past. He may, too, have had reason to believe that Garrisonians in the United States and Britain were attempting to destroy his political influence once and for all. Samuel May Jr., in a letter to Douglass’s Dublin publisher, urged Garrisonians to “take no notice” of Douglass, claiming he was “unworthy of our trust” because of his implication in “the Harper’s Ferry business.”4 In a letter to his good friend the Rochester reformer Amy Post, Douglass lamented his isolation: “I find my war views decidedly objected to by my old Garrisonian friends in England. This is the more ridiculous since the Garrisonians in America are so deeply interested in the whole Brown invasion—now.”5 Douglass’s reasons for his change of position were powerful. In 1847, it was difficult to elect antislavery representatives to Congress; by 1860, free soil and antislavery sentiment had become far more popular in the North and West. He notes in his speech that the intent of the Constitution’s framers matters little, since contracts do not rest upon the unstated sentiments of their originators. Douglass acknowledges that past understandings offer a guide to future lawful interpretation. But he also remarks that even though the Constitution and Bible have been given proslavery connotations, this does not mean they do not also include antislavery principles, or that they must cease being the twin pillars upholding American and Christian society. “To dissolve the Union would be to do just what the slaveholders would like to have done,” he presciently argued a year before the firing on Fort Sumter.

4. Samuel May Jr. to Richard D. Webb, 16 November 1859, in McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 202. 5. Frederick Douglass to Amy Post, 25 May 1860, Post Family Papers, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester.

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r. President,6 Ladies, and Gentlemen, I have witnessed with great pleasure the growing interest in the great question of slavery in this city,7 and in Scotland generally. Meetings with reference to that question have become more abundant of late than perhaps at any time since the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies. I read with deep interest the speeches made recently at a meeting called to sympathise with and to assist that faithful champion of the cause of my enslaved fellow-countrymen, Dr. Cheever.8 I have also read of another meeting in your city, having reference to the improvement and elevation of the people of Africa—having reference to the cultivation of cotton and the opening up of commerce between this and that land.9 All these movements are in the right direction. I accept them and hail them as signs of “the good time coming,”10 when Ethiopia “shall stretch out her hands to God”11 in deed and in truth. There have been, also, other meetings in your city since it was my privilege last to address you.12 I have read with much care a speech recently delivered in the City Hall. It is published in one of your 6. The Glasgow meeting was presided over by the reformer, politician, and businessman John M’Dowall (c. 1800–61). 7. The city was home to the Glasgow Emancipation Society, which was founded in 1833. It became the largest Scottish antislavery group sympathetic to Garrisonianism. It supported antipoverty reform as well. 8. On 19 March 1860, at a public meeting in Glasgow’s Merchants’ Hall, the Reverend Robert Buchanan, Henry Batchelor, and others delivered speeches supporting the Reverend George B. Cheever (1807–90), an antislavery Congregationalist minister from New York City. 9. At the time of Douglass’s address, Martin Delany and Robert Campbell were in West Africa negotiating with kings for land to establish a colony devoted to growing “free” cotton for British manufacturers. The meeting to which Douglass refers may have been organized by Theodore Bourne or another sympathizer of Henry Highland Garnet’s African Civilization Society. 10. “The Good Time Coming” is the title of a poem by Charles Mackay. Charles Mackay, Voices from the Mountains and from the Crowd (Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1853), 202–04. 11. Ps. 68:31. 12. Douglass last spoke in Glasgow at the John Street United Presbyterian Church on 14 February 1860.

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most respectable journals.13 The minuteness and general shading of that report convince me that the orator was his own reporter. At any rate, there is but little evidence or few marks of its having been tampered with by any than one exceedingly friendly to the sentiments it contains. On some accounts I read that speech with regret; on others with much satisfaction. I was certainly pleased with the evidence it afforded that the orator has largely recovered his longlost health, and much of his wonted eloquence and fire; but my chief ground of satisfaction is that its delivery—perhaps I ought to say its publication—for I would not have noticed the speech had it not been published in just such a journal as that in which it was published—furnishes an occasion for bringing before the friends of my enslaved people one phase of the great struggle going on between liberty and slavery in the United States which I deem important, and which I think, before I get through, my audience will agree with me is a very important phase of that struggle. The North British Mail honored me with a few pointed remarks in dissent from certain views held by me on another occasion in this city;14 but as it rendered my speech on that occasion very fairly to the public, I did not feel at all called upon to reply to its strictures. The case is different now. I am brought face to face with two powers. I stand before you under the fire of both platform and press. Not to speak, under the circumstances, would subject me and would subject my cause to misconstruction. You might be led to suppose that I had no reasons for the ground that I occupied here when I spoke in another place before you. Let me invite your attention, I may say your indulgent attention, to this very interesting phase of the question of slavery in the United States. My assailant, as he had a perfect right to do—that is, if he felt that that was the best possible service 13. Douglass refers to George Thompson’s speech before an audience of Glasgow abolitionists in the City Hall on 28 February 1860. 14. The 15 February 1860 issue of the Glasgow North British Daily Mail carried a report of Douglass’s lecture of the preceding day at the John Street United Presbyterian Church.

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he could do to the cause of American slavery—under advertisement to deliver an “anti-slavery lecture”—a lecture on the present aspect of the anti-slavery movement in America—treated the citizens of Glasgow to an “anti-Douglass’’ lecture. He seemed to feel that to discredit me was an important work, and therefore he came up to that work with all his wonted power and eloquence, proving himself to be just as powerful and skillful a debater, in all its arts, high and low, as long practice, as constant experience could well fit a man to be. I award to the eloquent lecturer, as I am sure you do, all praise for his skill and ability, and fully acknowledge his many valuable services, in other days, to the anti-slavery cause both in England and America. We all remember how nobly he confronted the Borthwicks15 and the Breckenridges16 in other days, and vanquished them. These victories are safe; they are not to be forgotten. They belong to his past, and will render his name dear and glorious to aftercoming generations. He then enjoyed the confidence of many of the most illustrious philanthropists that Scotland has ever raised up. He had at his back, at those times, the Wardlaws,17 the Kings,18 the 15. The Anglican minister Peter Borthwick (1804–52) was a lecturer employed by the proslavery West Indies Committee in the 1830s to make public addresses opposing abolition. In 1832, Borthwick and George Thompson engaged in a series of debates in Manchester and Liverpool on the merits of emancipation. Believing that Thompson completely negated Borthwick’s arguments, abolitionists published several editions of excerpts from the debates. 16. In the summer of 1836, George Thompson issued a public invitation in the London Patriot to anyone, English or American, to debate with him the merits of slavery and abolitionism. In Glasgow, Thompson’s challenge was accepted by Robert Jefferson Breckinridge (1800–71), an American Presbyterian minister visiting Scotland to attend a church conference. In debate with Thompson—and consistently throughout his career—Breckinridge endorsed gradual emancipation and colonization. 17. The Scottish Congregationalist minister Ralph Wardlaw (1779–1853) opened his chapel to the Glasgow Emancipation Society on 12 December 1833 for its first public meeting, and subsequently served as one of the society’s vice presidents. He resigned in 1841 because of the society’s growing enthusiasm for Garrisonianism and instead worked to bring the Evangelical Alliance to an abolitionist position. 18. The Reverend David King (1808–83), an early member of the Glasgow Emancipation Society, unsuccessfully fought to keep the society out of the Garrisonian camp.

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Heughs,19 and Robsons20—men who are known the world over for their philanthropy, for their Christian benevolence. He was strong in those days, for he stood before the people of Scotland as the advocate of a great and glorious cause—he stood up for the dumb, for the down-trodden, for the outcasts of the earth, and not for a mere party, not for the mere sect whose mischievous and outrageous opinions he now consents to advocate in your hearing. When in Glasgow a few weeks ago, I embraced the occasion to make a broad statement concerning the various plans proposed for the abolition of slavery in the United States, but I very frankly stated with what I agreed and from what I differed; but I did so, I trust, in a spirit of fair dealing, of candor, and not in a miserable, manworshipping, and mutual-admiration spirit, which can do justice only to the party with which it may happen to go for the moment. One word further. No difference of opinion, no temporary alienations, no personal assaults shall ever lead me to forget that some who, in America, have often made me the subject of personal abuse, are at the same time, in their own way, earnestly working for the abolition of slavery. They are men who thoroughly understand the principle, that they who are not for us are against us,21 but who unfortunately have failed to learn that they who are not against us are on our part. In regard to the speaker to whom I am referring, and who by the way is, perhaps, the least vindictive of his party, I shall say that I cannot praise his speech, for it is needlessly, or was needlessly personal, calling me by name over, I think, fifty times, and dealing out blows upon me as if I had been savagely attacking him. In character and manliness that speech was not only deficient, I think, but most shamefully one-sided; and while it was remarkably plausible, and well calculated to catch the popular ear, which could not well 19. Hugh Heugh (1782–1846), the pastor of one of Scotland’s largest Presbyterian congregations, pioneered the church’s missionary societies. 20. John Robson (?–c. 1873) was a Scottish minister of the Wellington Street Church in Glasgow. 21. Matt. 12:30; Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50.

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discriminate between what was fact and what was fiction in regard to the subject then discussed, I do not hesitate to pronounce that speech false in statement, false in its assumptions, false in its inferences, false in its quotations even, and in its arguments, and false in all its leading conclusions. On very many accounts, he who stands before a British audience to denounce any thing peculiarly American in connection with slavery has a very marked and decided advantage. It is not hard to believe the very worst of any country where a system like slavery has existed for centuries. This feeling towards America, and towards every thing American, is very natural and very useful. I refer to it now not to condemn it, but to remind you that it is just possible that this feeling may be carried to too great a length. It may be that this feeling may be too active, and lead the people of Great Britain to accept as true some things concerning America which are utterly false, and to reject as false some other things which are entirely true. My assailant largely took advantage of this noble British feeling in denouncing the constitution and Union of America. He knew how deep and intense was your hatred of slavery. He knew the strength of that feeling, and the noble uses to which it might have been directed. I know it also, but I would despise myself if I could be guilty of taking advantage of such a sentiment, and making it the means of propagating error, falsehood, and prejudice against any institution or against any class of men in the United States. I am willing that these words shall be regarded as marked words. I have often felt how easy it would be, if one were so disposed, to make false representations of things as they are in America; to disparage whatever of good might exist there, or shall exist there, and to exaggerate whatever is bad in that country. I intend to show that this very thing was done by the speaker to whom I have referred; that his speech was calculated to convey impressions and ideas totally, grossly, outrageously at variance with truth concerning the constitution and Union of the American States.

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You will think this very strong language. I think so too; and it becomes me to look well to myself in using such language, for if I fail to make out my case, I am sure there are parties not a few who will see that fair play is done on the other side. But I have no fear at all of inability to justify what I have said; and if any friend of mine was led to doubt, from the confident manner in which I was assailed, I beg that such doubt may now be put aside until, at least, I have been heard. I will make good, I promise you, my entire characterisation of that speech. Reading speeches is not my forte, and you will bear with me until I get my harness on. I have fully examined my ground, and while I own myself nothing in comparison with my assailant in point of ability, I have no manner of doubt as to the rectitude of the position I occupy on the question. Now, what is that question? Much will be gained at the outset if you fully and clearly understand the real question under discussion—the question and difference between us. Indeed, nothing can be understood till this is understood. Things are often confounded and treated as the same for no better reason than that they seem alike or look alike, and this is done even when in their nature and character they are totally distinct, totally separate, and even opposed to each other. This jumbling up of things is a sort of dustthrowing which is often indulged in by small men who argue for victory rather than for truth. Thus, for instance, the American government and the American constitution are often spoken of in the speech to which I refer as being synonymous—as one and the same thing; whereas, in point of fact, they are entirely distinct from each other and totally different. In regard to the question of slavery, certainly they are different from each other; they are as distinct from each other as the compass is from the ship—as distinct from each other as the chart is from the course which a vessel may be sometimes steering. They are not one and the same thing. If the American government has been mean, sordid, mischievous, devilish, it is no proof whatever that the constitution of government has been the

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same. And yet, in the speech to which some of you listened, these sins of the government or administration of the government were charged directly upon the constitution and Union of the states. What, then, is the question? I will state what it is not. It is not whether slavery existed in the United States at the time of the adoption of the constitution; it is not whether slaveholders took part in framing the constitution of the United States; it is not whether these slaveholders in their hearts intended to secure certain advantages for slavery in the constitution of the United States; it is not whether the American government has been wielded during seventy-two years on behalf of slavery; it is not whether a pro-slavery interpretation has been put upon the constitution in American courts—all these points may be true or they may be false, they may be accepted or they may be rejected, without at all affecting the question at issue between myself and the “City Hall.” The real question between the parties differing at this point in America may be fairly stated thus:—“Does the United States constitution guarantee to any class or description of people in that country the right to enslave or hold as property any other class or description of people in that country?” The second question is:—“Is the dissolution of the Union between the Slave States and the Free States required by fidelity to the slaves or the just demands of conscience?” Or, in other words, “Is the refusal to exercise the elective franchise or to hold office in America, the surest, wisest, and best mode of acting for the abolition of slavery in that country?” To these questions the Garrisonians in America answer, “Yes.” They hold that the constitution is a slave-holding instrument, and will not cast a vote, or hold office under it, and denounce all who do vote or hold office under it as pro-slavery men, though they may be in their hearts and in their actions as far from being slaveholders as are the poles of the moral universe apart. I, on the other hand, deny that the constitution guarantees the right to hold property in men,

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and believe that the way, the true way, to abolish slavery in America is to vote such men into power as will exert their moral and political influence for the abolition of slavery. This is the issue plainly stated, and you shall judge between us. Before we examine into the disposition, tendency, and character of the constitution of the United States, I think we had better ascertain what the constitution itself is. Before looking at what it means, let us see what it is. For here, too, there has been endless dust-throwing on the part of those opposed to office. What is the constitution? It is no vague, indefinite, floating, unsubstantial something, called, according to any man’s fancy, now a weasel and now a whale.22 But it is something substantial. It is a plainly written document; not in Hebrew nor in Greek, but in English, beginning with a preamble, fitted out with articles, sections, provisions, and clauses, defining the rights, powers, and duties to be secured, claimed, and exercised under its authority. It is not even like the British constitution. It is not made up of enactments of parliament, decisions of courts, and the established usages of the government. The American constitution is a written instrument, full and complete in itself.23 No court, no congress, no legislature, no combination in the country can add one word to it, or take one word from it. It is a thing in itself; complete in itself; has a character of its own; and it is important that this should be kept in mind as I go on with the discussion. It is a great national enactment, done by the people, and can only be altered, amended, or changed in any way, shape or form by the people who enacted it. I am careful to make this statement here; in America it would not be necessary. It would not be necessary here if my assailant had shown that he had as sincere and earnest a desire 22. Hamlet, sc. 9, lines 2092–98. 23. Building on the precedent of colonial charters, the American states wrote constitutions to direct the operation of their governments. This practice was followed at the national level, first by the Articles of Confederation and then by the Constitution. In contrast the British constitution is embodied in a collection of documents written over the centuries, including royal decrees, court judgments, and treaties.

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to set before you the simple truth, as he has shown to vindicate his particular sect in America. Again, it should be borne in mind that the mere text of that constitution—the text and only the text, and not any commentaries or creeds written upon the text—is the constitution of the United States. It should also be borne in mind that the intentions of those who framed the constitution, be they good or bad, be they for slavery or against slavery, are to be respected so far, and so far only, as they have succeeded in getting these intentions expressed in the written instrument itself. This is also important. It would be the wildest of absurdities, and would lead to the most endless confusions and mischiefs, if, instead of looking to the written instrument itself for its meaning, it were attempted to make us go in search of what could be the secret motives and dishonest intentions of some of the men who might have taken part in writing or adopting it. It was what they said that was adopted by the people; not what they were ashamed or afraid to say, or really omitted to say. It was not what they tried, nor what they concealed; it was what they wrote down, not what they kept back, that the people adopted. It was only what was declared upon its face that was adopted—not their secret understandings, if there were any such understandings. Bear in mind, also, and the fact is an important one, that the framers of the constitution, the men who wrote the constitution, sat with closed doors in the city of Philadelphia while they wrote it. They sat with closed doors, and this was done purposely, that nothing but the result, the pure result of their labours should be seen, and that that result might stand alone and be judged of on its own merits, and adopted on its own merits, without any influence being exerted upon them by the debates. It should also be borne in mind, and the fact is still more important, that the debates in the convention that framed the constitution of the United States, and by means of which a pro-slavery interpretation is now attempted to be forced upon that instrument, were not published until nearly thirty years after the constitution of the United

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States;24 so that the men who adopted the constitution could not be supposed to understand the secret underhand intentions that might have controlled the actions of the convention in making it. These debates were purposely kept out of view, in order that the people might not adopt the secret motives, the unexpressed intentions of anybody, but simply the text of the paper itself. These debates form no part of the original agreement, and, therefore, are entitled to no respect or consideration in discussing what is the character of the constitution of the United States. I repeat, the paper itself, and only the paper itself, with its own plainly written purposes, is the constitution of the United States, and it must stand or fall, flourish or fade, on its own individual and self-declared purpose and object. Again, where would be the advantage of a written constitution, I pray you, if, after we have it written, instead of looking to its plain, common sense reading, we should go in search of its meaning to the secret intentions of the individuals who may have had something to do with writing the paper? What will the people of America, a hundred years hence, care about the intentions of the men who framed the constitution of the United States? These men were for a day— for a generation, but the constitution is for ages; and, a hundred years hence, the very names of the men who took part in framing that instrument will, perhaps, be blotted out or forgotten. Whatever we may owe to the framers of the constitution, we certainly owe this to ourselves, and to mankind, and to God[:] that we maintain the truth of our own language, and do not allow villany, not even the villany of slaveholding—which, as John Wesley says, is the sum of all villanies25—to clothe itself in the garb of virtuous language, and get 24. The Philadelphia convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution operated under a secrecy rule that forbade members to communicate any information about the proceedings to outsiders. This prohibition included publication of the convention’s sparse official journal, kept by the secretary, William Jackson; it was published in 1819 under the supervision of the State Department. A few delegates eventually published notes, but the only substantial record of the debates was that made by James Madison, which was not published until 1840. 25. Works of the Rev. John Wesley, 3:453.

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itself passed off as a virtuous thing, in consequence of that language. We owe it to ourselves to compel the devil to wear his own garments; particularly in law we owe it to ourselves to compel wicked legislators, when they undertake a malignant purpose in innocent and benevolent language, we owe it to ourselves that we circumvent their wicked designs to this extent, that if they want to put it to a bad purpose, we will put it to a good purpose. Common sense, common justice, and sound rules of interpretation all drive us to the words of the law for the meaning of the law. The practice of the American government is dwelt upon with much fervour as conclusive as to the slaveholding character of the American constitution. This is really the strong point, and the only strong point, made in the speech in the City Hall; but, good as this argument is, it is not conclusive. A wise man has said that few people are found better than their laws, but many have been found worse; and the American people are no exception to this rule. I think it will be found they are much worse than their laws, particularly their constitutional laws. It is just possible the people’s practice may be diametrically opposed to their own declared, their own acknowledged laws, and their own acknowledged principles. Our blessed Saviour when upon earth found the traditions of men taking the place of the law and the prophets. The Jews asked him why his disciples ate with unwashed hands, and he brought them to their senses by telling them that they had made void the law by their traditions.26 Moses, on account of the hardness of the hearts of men, allowed the Jews to put away their wives; but it was not so at the beginning.27 The American people, likewise, have made void their law by their traditions; they have trampled upon their own constitution, stepped beyond the limits set for themselves, and, in their ever-abounding iniquity, established a constitution of action outside of the fundamental law of the land. While the one is good, the other is evil; while 26. Mark 7:2–13. 27. Deut. 24:1–4.

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the one is for liberty, the other is in favour of slavery; the practice of the American government is one thing, and the character of the constitution of the government is quite another and different thing. After all, Mr. Chairman, the fact that my opponent thought it necessary to go outside of the constitution to prove it pro-slavery, whether that going out is to the practice of the government, or to the secret intentions of the writers of the paper itself, the fact that men do go out is very significant. It is an admission that the thing they look for is not to be found where only it ought to be found if found at all, and that is, in the written constitution itself. If it is not there, it is nothing to the purpose if it is found any where else; but I shall have more to say on this point hereafter. The very eloquent lecturer at the City Hall doubtless felt some embarrassment from the fact that he had literally to give the constitution a pro-slavery interpretation; because on its very face it conveys an entirely opposite meaning. He thus sums up what he calls the slaveholding provisions of the constitution, and I quote his words:— “Article 1, section 9, provides for the continuance of the African slave-trade for twenty years after the adoption of the constitution. “Article 4, section 2, provides for the recovery from other States of fugitive slaves. “Article 1, section 2, gives the slave States a representation of three-fifths of all the slave population; and “Article 1, section 8, requires the President to use the military, naval, ordnance, and militia resources of the entire country for the suppression of slave insurrections, in the same manner as he would employ them to repel invasion.”28 Now, Mr. President, and ladies and gentlemen, any man reading this statement, or hearing it made with such a show of exactness, would unquestionably suppose that the speaker or writer had given the plain written text of the constitution itself. I can hardly believe that that gentleman intended to make any such impression on his 28. Douglass correctly quotes George Thompson’s remarks.

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audience, and yet what are we to make of it, this circumstantial statement of the provisions of the constitution? How can we regard it? How can he be screened from the charge of having perpetrated a deliberate and point blank misrepresentation? That individual has seen fit to place himself before the public as my opponent. Well, ladies and gentlemen, if he had placed himself before the country as an enemy, I could not have desired him—even an enemy—to have placed himself in a position so false, and to have committed himself to statements so grossly at variance with the truth as those statements I have just read from him. Why did he not read the constitution to you? Why did he read that which was not the constitution—for I contend he did read that which was not the constitution. He pretended to be giving you chapter and verse, section and clause, paragraph and provision, and yet he did not give you a single clause or single paragraph of that constitution. You can hardly believe it, but I will make good what I say, that though reading to you article upon article, as you supposed while listening to him, he did not read a word from the constitution of the United States; not one word. (Applause.) You had better not applaud until you hear the other side and what are the real words of the constitution. Why did he not give you the plain words of the constitution? He can read; he had the constitution before him; he had there chapter and verse, the places where those things he alleged to be found in the constitution were to be found. Why did he not read them? Oh, Sir, I fear that that gentleman knows too well why he did not. I happen to know that there are no such words in the American constitution as “African slave-trade,” no such words as “slave-representation,” no such words as “fugitive slaves,” no such words as “slave insurrections” anywhere to be found in that constitution. You can hardly think a man would stand up before an audience of people in Glasgow, and make a statement so circumstantial, with every mark of particularity, to point out to be in the constitution what is not there. You shall see a slight difference in my manner of treating that subject and that which my opponent has thought fit, for reasons satisfactory to

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himself, to pursue. What he withheld, that I will spread before you; what he suppressed, I will bring to light; and what he passed over in silence, I will proclaim. Here then are the several provisions of the constitution to which reference has been made. I will read them word for word, just as they stand in the paper, in the constitution itself. Article 1, section 2, declares that representations [representatives] and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons. Article 1, section 9.—The migration or importation of any such persons as any of the States now existing may think fit to admit shall not be prohibited to the Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation not exceeding ten dollars for each person. Article 4.—No person held to service or labour in one State under the laws thereof escaping to another shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due. Article 1, section 8.—To provide for calling out the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.29 Here then are the provisions of the constitution which the most extravagant defenders of slavery have ever claimed to guarantee the right of property in man. These are the provisions which have been pressed into the service of the human fleshmongers of America; let us look at them just as they stand, one by one. You will notice there is not a word said there about “slave-trade” not a word said there 29. These quotations are substantially accurate.

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about “slave insurrections;” not a word there about “three-fifths representation of slaves;” not a word there which any man outside of America, and who had not been accustomed to claim these particular provisions of the Constitution, would ever suspect had the remotest reference to slavery. I deny utterly that these provisions of the constitution guarantee, or were intended to guarantee, in any shape or form, the right of property in man in the United States. But let us grant, for the sake of argument, that the first of these provisions, referring to the basis of representation and taxation, does refer to slaves. We are not compelled to make this admission, for it might fairly apply, and indeed was intended to apply, to aliens and others, living in the United States, but who were not naturalised. But giving the provision the very worst construction—that it applies to slaves—what does it amount to? I answer—and see you bear it in mind, for it shows the disposition of the constitution to slavery—I take the very worst aspect, and admit all that is claimed or that can be admitted consistently with truth; and I answer that this very provision, supposing it refers to slaves, is in itself a downright disability imposed upon the slave system of America, one which deprives the slaveholding States of at least two-fifths of their natural basis of representation. A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the constitution. Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the constitution encourages freedom, by holding out to every slaveholding State in the inducement of an increase of two-fifths of political power by becoming a free State. So much for the three-fifths clause; taking it at its worst, it still leans to freedom, not to slavery; for be it remembered that the constitution no where forbids a black man to vote. No “white,” no “black,” no “slaves,” no “slaveholder”—nowhere in the instrument are any of these words to be found. I come to the next, that which it is said guarantees the continuance of the African slave-trade for twenty years. I will also take that for just what my opponent alleges it to have been, although the constitution does not warrant any such conclusion. But, to be liberal, let

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us suppose it did, and what follows? Why, this—that this part of the constitution of the United States expired by its own limitation no fewer than fifty-two years ago. My opponent is just fifty-two years too late in seeking the dissolution of the Union on account of this clause, for it expired as far back as 1808. He might as well attempt to break down the British parliament and break down the British constitution, because, three hundred years ago, Queen Elizabeth granted to Sir John Hawkins the right to import Africans into the colonies in the West Indies. This ended some three hundred years ago; ours ended only fifty-two years ago, and I ask is the constitution of the United States to be condemned to everlasting infamy because of what was done fifty-two years ago? But there is still more to be said about this provision of the constitution. At the time the constitution was adopted, the slave trade was regarded as the jugular vein of slavery itself, and it was thought that slavery would die with the death of the slave trade. No less philanthropic, no less clear-sighted men than your own Wilberforce and Clarkson supposed that the abolition of the slave-trade would be the abolition of slavery.30 Their theory was—cut off the stream, and of course the pond or lake would dry up: cut off the stream flowing out from Africa, and the slave-trade in America and the colonies would perish. The fathers who framed the American constitution supposed that in making provision for the abolition of the African slave-trade they were making provision for the abolition of slavery itself, and they incorporated this clause in the constitution, not to perpetuate the traffic in human flesh, but to bring that unnatural traffic to an end. Outside of the Union the slave-trade could be carried on to an indefinite period; but the men who framed the constitution, and who proposed its adoption, said to the slave States,—If you would purchase the privileges of this Union, you must consent that the 30. The distinction between the abolition of the slave trade and the gradual emancipation of slaves was blurred in the pamphlets, speeches, and perhaps also the minds of early British abolitionists. Reformers hoped that stopping the supply of new slaves would set in motion economic forces that would eventually end slavery.

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humanity of this nation shall lay its hand upon this traffic at least in twenty years after the adoption of the constitution. So much for the African slave-trade clause. Mark you, it does not say one word about the African slave-trade. Secondly, if it does, it expired by its own limitation more than fifty years ago. Thirdly, the constitution is anti-slavery, because it looked to the abolition of slavery rather than to its perpetuity. Fourthly, it showed that the intentions of the framers of the constitution were good, not bad. If (and Mr. Douglass here looked in the direction of Mr. Robert Smith, president of the Scottish Temperance League)31—if you can’t get a man to take the pledge that he will stop drinking liquor to-day, it is something if you will get him to promise to take it tomorrow; and if the men who made the American constitution did not bring the African slavetrade to an end instantly, it was something to succeed in bringing it to an end in twenty years. I now go to the slave insurrection clause, though in truth, there is no such clause in the constitution. But, suppose that this clause in the constitution refers to the abolition or rather the suppression of slave insurrections; suppose we admit that congress has a right to call out the army and navy to quell insurrections, and to repel any efforts on the part of the slaves to gain their freedom—to put down violence of any sort, and slave violence in particular—what follows? I hold that the right to suppress an insurrection carries with it also the right to determine by what means the insurrection shall be suppressed; and, under an anti-slavery administration, were your humble servant in the presidential chair of the United States, which in all likelihood never will be the case, and were an insurrection to break out in the southern states among the slave inhabitants, what would I do in the circumstances? I would suppress the insurrection, and I should choose my own way of suppressing it; I should have the right, under the constitution, to my own manner of doing it. If I could make out, 31. Robert Smith (1801–73), a prosperous Glasgow shipowner and merchant, became a teetotaler in 1843, and from 1852 until his death he was president of the Scottish Temperance League.

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as I believe I could, that slavery is itself an insurrection—that it is an insurrection by one party in the country against the just rights of another part of the people in the country, a constant invitation to insurrection, a constant source of danger—as the executive officer of the United States it would be my duty not only to put down the insurrection, but to put down the cause of the insurrection. I would have no hesitation at all in supporting the constitution of the United States in consequence of its provisions. The constitution should be obeyed, should be rightly obeyed. We should say to the slaves, and we should say to their masters, “We see that a forced system of labour endangers the peace that we are sworn to protect, and we now put it away, and leave you to pay honest wages for honest work.” In a word, with regard to putting down insurrection, I would just write a proclamation, and the proclamation would be based upon the old prophetic model of proclaiming liberty throughout all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.32 But there is one other provision, called the “Fugitive Slave Provision.” It is called so by those who wish it to subserve the interests of slavery. “Let us go back,” says the City Hall, “to 1787, and enter Liberty Hall, Philadelphia, where sat in convention the illustrious men”—very illustrious! if they were the scamps and scoundrels he would make them out to be—“who framed the constitution— with George Washington in the chair. On the 27th of September, Mr. Butler and Mr. Pinckney, two delegates from the state of South Carolina, moved that the constitution should require fugitive slaves and servants to be delivered up like criminals, and after a discussion on the subject, the clause as it stands in the constitution was adopted. After this, in conventions held in the several States to ratify the constitution, the same meaning was attached to the words. For example, Mr. Madison,33 (afterwards President) in recommending 32. Lev. 25:10. 33. The Virginia patriot James Madison (1751–1836) earned the nickname “Father of the Constitution” for his work in negotiating compromises among the delegates at Philadelphia.

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the constitution to his constituents, told them that this clause would secure them their property in slaves.”34 I must ask you to look well to the statement. Upon its face it would seem to be a full and fair disclosure of the real transaction it professes to describe; and yet I declare unto you, knowing as I do the facts in the case, that I am utterly amazed, utterly amazed at the downright UNTRUTH which that very simple, plain statement really conveys to you about that transaction. I dislike to use this very strong language, but you shall see that the case is quite as strong as the language employed. Under these fair-seeming words now quoted, I say there is downright untruth conveyed. The man who could make such a statement may have all the craftiness of a lawyer, but I think he will get but very little credit for the candour of a Christian. What could more completely destroy all confidence than the making of such a statement as that? The case which he describes is entirely different from the real case as transacted at the time. Mr. Butler and Mr. Pinckney did indeed bring forward a proposition after the convention had framed the constitution, a proposition for the return of the fugitive slaves to their masters precisely as criminals are returned.35 And what happened? Mr. Thompson—oh! I beg pardon for calling his name— tells you that after a debate it was withdrawn, and the proposition as it stands in the constitution was adopted. He does not tell you what 34. The only substantive error in Douglass’s quotation of Thompson’s City Hall remarks is the date, which should read “the 28th of August” instead of “the 27th of September.” Glasgow North British Daily Mail, 29 February 1860; [George Thompson and Frederick Douglass], Constitution of the United States, London Emancipation Committee, Tract No. 5 (London: William Tweedie, 1860), 8. 35. Douglass refers to an incident of 28 August 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. During the debate over the Extradition Clause (article IV, section 2), two South Carolina delegates, Pierce Butler (1744–1822) and Charles Pinckney (1757– 1824), moved for an amendment “to require slaves and servants to be delivered up like criminals.” After Northern objections to the propriety of spending public money to recover a private citizen’s property, Butler withdrew the amendment so that he could later present a separate provision for the rendition of fugitive slaves. James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (1840; Athens: Ohio University Press, 1966), 545–46.

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was the nature of the debate. Not one word of it. No; it would not have suited his purpose to have done that. I will tell you what was the purport of that debate. After debate and discussion the provision as it stands was adopted. The purport of the provisions as brought forward by Mr. Butler and Mr. Pinckney was this: “No person called to servitude in any State under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service and labour, but shall be delivered up on claim, and passed to whom such service or labour may be due.”36 Very well, what happened? The proposition was met by a storm of opposition in the convention; members rose up in all directions, saying that they had no more business to catch slaves for their masters than they had to catch horses for their owners—that they would not undertake any such thing, and the convention instructed a committee to alter that provision and the word “servitude” so that it might apply not to slaves, but to freemen—to persons bound to serve and labour, and not to slaves. And thus far it seems that Mr. Madison, who was quoted so triumphantly, tells us in these very Madison Papers that that word was struck out from the constitution, because it applied to slaves and not to freemen, and that the convention refused to have that word in the constitution, simply because they did not wish, and would not have the idea that there could be property in men in that instrument.37 These are Madison’s own words, so that he can be quoted on both sides. 36. On 29 August 1787, Pierce Butler reintroduced the proposals for a fugitiveslave rendition clause in the Constitution. Butler’s draft was fashioned after a similar provision in the Northwest Ordinance, which the Confederation Congress had passed in July, and was adopted without dissent by the Convention. Douglass here quotes, with minor errors, the clause as it appears in the Constitution (article IV, section 2). 37. Douglass refers to the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention on 13 September 1787 as described by James Madison and first published in 1840 in H. D. Gilpin’s edition of The Papers of James Madison. On that day, Edmund Randolph moved an amendment to clarify the reference to indentured servants in article I, section 2, which stipulated the persons who should be counted for purpose of representation and taxation. Randolph moved that the word “servitude” be struck and “service” inserted because, according to Madison, “the former [was] thought

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But it may be asked, if the clause does not apply to slaves, to whom does it apply? It says—“No person serving and laboring escaping to another State shall be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up to whom such service or labour may be due.” To whom does it apply if not to slaves? I answer that it applied at the time of its adoption to a very numerous class of persons in America; and I have the authority of no less a person than Daniel Webster that it was intended to apply to that class of men—a class of persons known in America as “Redemptioners.”38 There was quite a number of them at that day, who had been taken to America precisely as coolies have been taken to the West Indies.39 They entered into a contract to serve and labour so long for so much money, and the children born to them in that condition were also held as bound to “service and labour.” It also applies to indentured apprentices, and to persons taking upon themselves an obligation to “serve and labour.” The constitution says that the party shall be delivered up to whom such service and labour may be due. Why, sir, due! In the first place this very clause of that provision makes it utterly impossible that it can apply to slaves. There is nothing due from the slave to his master in the way of service or labour. He is unable to show a contract. The

to express the condition of slaves, & the latter the obligation of free person.” Randolph’s amendment was adopted unanimously, but no alteration was made in the fugitive slave clause, where “service” was clearly meant to refer to slaves. H[enry] D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison, 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Langtree and O’Sullivan, 1840), 3:1569. 38. Redemptioners were eighteenth-century European emigrants who arranged for merchants or ship captains to provide their fare to America by agreeing to reimburse them upon arrival. If unredeemed, they became indentured servants for a period of time sufficient to remove the debt. In several speeches, Daniel Webster alluded to runaway redemptioners and apprentices, claiming that article IV, section 2, of the Constitution was inserted specifically to deal with them. 39. The precipitous drop in commodity exports throughout the West Indies following the emancipation of the slaves there led British governments from the 1840s onward to actively recruit laborers from India, China, and (ironically) Africa—so called coolies—to work ten-year indentures on the plantations of their Caribbean colonies.

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thing implies an arrangement, an understanding, by which, for an equivalent, I will do for you so much, if you will do for me, or have done for me, so much. The constitution says he will be delivered up to whom any service or labour shall be due. Due! A slave owes nothing to any master; he can owe nothing to any master. In the eye of the law he is a chattel personal, to all intents, purposes, and constructions whatever. Talk of a horse owing something to his master, or a sheep, or a wheel-barrow! Perfectly ridiculous! The idea that a slave can owe anything! I tell you what I would do if I were a judge; I could do it perfectly consistently with the character of the constitution. I have a proneness to liken myself to great people—to persons high in authority. But if I were a judge, and a slave was brought before me under this provision of the constitution, and the master should insist upon my sending him back to slavery, I should inquire how the slave was bound to serve and labour for him. I would point him to this same constitution, and tell him that I read in that constitution the great words of your own Magna Charta:—“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the process of law,”40 and I ought to know by what contract, how this man contracted an obligation, or took upon himself to serve and labour for you. And if he could not show that, I should dismiss the case and restore the man to his liberty. And I would do quite right, according to the constitution. I admit nothing in favour of slavery when liberty is at stake; when I am called upon to argue on behalf of liberty I will range throughout the world, I am at perfect liberty by forms of law and by rules of hermeneutics41 to range through the whole universe of God in proof of an innocent purpose, in proof of a good thing; but if you want to prove a bad thing, if you want to accomplish a bad and violent purpose, you must show it is so named in the bond. This is a sound 40. This provision of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which Douglass slightly misquotes, paraphrases the thirty-ninth chapter of the English Magna Charta (1215). 41. Hermeneutics originally referred to a method of interpreting biblical texts.

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legal rule. Shakespeare noticed it as an existing rule of law in his Merchant of Venice: “a pound of flesh, but not one drop of blood.”42 The law was made for the protection of labour; not for the destruction of liberty; and it is to be presumed on the side of the oppressed. The speaker at the City Hall laid down some rules of legal interpretation. These rules send us to the history of the law for its meaning. I have no objection to this course in ordinary cases of doubt, but where human liberty and justice are at stake, the case falls under an entirely different class of rules. There must be something more than history, something more than tradition, to lead me to believe that law is intended to uphold and maintain wrong. The Supreme Court of the United States lays down this rule, and it meets the case exactly: “Where rights are infringed; where the fundamental principles of the law are overthrown; where the general system of the law is departed from, the legislative intention must be expressed with irresistible clearness.”43 The same court says that the language of the law must be construed strictly in favour of justice and liberty; and another rule says, where the law is ambiguous and susceptible of two meanings, the one making it accomplish an innocent purpose, and the other making it accomplish a wicked purpose, we must in every case adopt that meaning which makes it accomplish an innocent purpose. These are just the rules we like to have applied to us as individuals to begin with. We like to be assumed to be honest and upright in our purpose until we are proved to be otherwise, and the law is to be taken precisely in the same way. We are to assume it is fair, right, just, and true, till proved with irresistible power to be on the side of wrong. Now, sir, a case like this occurred in Rhode Island some time ago. The people there made a law that no negro should be allowed to walk out after nine o’clock at night without a lantern. They were afraid the negro might be mistaken for somebody. The negroes got lanterns and walked after nine at night, but they forgot 42. The Merchant of Venice, sc. 18, lines 2112–15. 43. Douglass makes only a few errors in quoting Chief Justice John Marshall’s decision in United States v. Fisher (1805), 2 Cranch 358 (1806), 390.

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to put candles in them. They were arrested and brought before a court of law. They had been found after nine at night, it had been proved against them that they were out with lanterns to be sure, but without a candle. “May it please your honour,” it was argued for the prosecution, “of what value is a lantern without a candle? The plain intention of the law was that these people should not be out without a lantern and a candle.” But the judge said this was a law against the natural rights of man, against natural liberty, and that this law should be construed strictly. These men had complied with the plain reading of the law, and they must be dismissed. The judge in that case did perfectly right. The legislature had to pass another law, that no negro should be out after nine without a lantern and a candle in it. The negroes got candles, but forgot to light them. They were arrested again, again tried, and with similar result. There was then another law passed, that the negroes should not walk out after nine at night without lanterns, with candles in them, and the candles lighted. And if I had been a negro at that time in Rhode Island, I would have got a dark lantern and walked out.44 Laws to sustain a wrong of any kind must be expressed with irresistible clearness; for law, be it remembered, is not an arbitrary rule or arbitrary mandate, and it has a purpose of its own. Blackstone defines it as “a rule of the supreme power of the state;” but he does not stop there—he adds, “commanding that which is right, and forbidding that which is wrong”—that is law.45 It would not be law if it commanded that which was wrong, and forbade that which was right in itself. It is necessary it should be on behalf of right. There is another law of legal interpretation, which is, that the law is to be understood in the light of the objects sought for by the law, or sought in the law—that is, that the details of the law shall conform to the purpose declared to be sought to be attained by it. 44. Like other Northern colonies, Rhode Island prohibited free blacks and slaves from traveling at night without a pass. 45. This definition of municipal civil law appears in Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, with Additional Notes and a Life of the Author by George Sharswood, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: G. W. Childs, 1866), 1:44.

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What are the objects sought for in the constitution of the American States? “We, the people of these United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.” The objects here set forth are six in number. “Union” is one, not slavery; union is named as one of the objects for which the constitution was framed, and it is one that is very excellent; it is quite incompatible with slavery. “Defence” is another; “welfare” is another; “tranquility” is another; “justice” and “liberty” are the others. Slavery is not among them; the objects are union, defence, welfare, tranquility, justice, and liberty. Now, if the two last—to say nothing of the defence—if the two last purposes declared were reduced to practice, slavery would go reeling to its grave as if smitten with a bolt from heaven. Let but the American people be true to their own constitution, true to the purposes set forth in that constitution, and we will have no need of a dissolution of the Union—we will have a dissolution of slavery all over that country. But it has been said that negroes are not included in the benefits sought under this declaration of purposes. Whatever slaveholders may say, I think it comes with ill grace from abolitionists to say the negroes in America are not included in this declaration of purposes. The negroes are not included! Who says this? The constitution does not say they are not included, and how dare any other person, speaking for the constitution, say so? The constitution says “We the people;” the language is, “we the people;” not we the white people, not we the citizens, not we the privileged class, not we the high, not we the low, not we of English extraction, not we of French or of Scotch extraction, but “we the people;” not we the horses, sheep, and swine, and wheelbarrows, but we the human inhabitants; and unless you deny that negroes are people, they are included within the purposes of this government. They were there, and if we the people are included, negroes are included; they have a right, in

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the name of the constitution of the United States, to demand their liberty. This, I undertake to say, is the conclusion of the whole matter— that the constitutionality of slavery can be made out only by discrediting the plain, common sense reading of the constitution itself; by discrediting and casting away as worthless the most beneficent rules of legal interpretation; by ruling the negro outside of these beneficent rules; by claiming every thing for slavery; by denying every thing for freedom; by assuming that the constitution does not mean what it says; and that it says what it does not mean; by disregarding the written constitution, and interpreting it in the light of a secret understanding. It is by this mean, contemptible, underhand way of working out the pro-slavery character of the constitution, that the thing is accomplished, and in no other way. The first utterance of the instrument itself is gloriously on the side of liberty, and diametrically opposed to the thing called slavery in the United States. The constitution declares that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; it secures to every man the right of trial by jury; it also declares that the writ of habeas corpus shall never be suppressed—that great and noble writ—that writ by which England was made free soil— that writ which set Somerset free in 1772—that writ which made that land in which I stand tonight, and where you stand, the land of liberty and the home of the oppressed of all nations—the land of which Curran said when he spoke of it, that he spoke “in the spirit of the British law, which makes liberty commensurate with, and inseparable from, British soil; which proclaims even to the stranger and sojourner, the moment he sets his foot upon British earth, that the ground on which he treads is holy, and consecrated by the genius of universal emancipation.”46 It was in consequence of this writ—a writ which forms a part of the constitution of the United States— that England herself is free from man-hunters to-day; for in 1772 46. John Philpot Curran. Curran, Speeches, 182.

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slaves were hunted here in England just as they are in America, and the British constitution was supposed to favour the arrest, the imprisonment, and re-capture of fugitive slaves. But Lord Mansfield, in the case of Somerset, decided that no slave could breathe in England.47 We have the same writ, and let the people in Britain and the United States stand as true to liberty as the constitution is true to liberty, and we shall have no need of a dissolution of the Union. But to all this it is said that the practice of the American people is against my view. I admit it. They have given the constitution a slaveholding interpretation. I admit it. And I go with him who goes furthest in denouncing these wrongs, these outrages on my people. But to be consistent with this logic, where does it lead? Because the practice of the American people has been wrong, shall we therefore denounce the constitution? The same logic would land the man of the City Hall precisely where the same logic has landed some of his friends in America—in the dark, benighted regions of infidelity itself. The constitution is pro-slavery, because men have interpreted it to be pro-slavery, and practice upon it as if it were pro-slavery. The very same thing, sir, might be said of the Bible itself; for in the United States men have interpreted the Bible against liberty. They have declared that Paul’s epistle to Philemon is a full proof for the enactment of that hell-black Fugitive Slave Bill which has desolated my people for the last ten years in that country. They have declared that the Bible sanctions slavery. What do we do in such a case? What do you do when you are told by the slaveholders of America that the Bible sanctions slavery? Do you go and throw your Bible into the fire? Do you sing out, “No Union with the Bible!”?48 Do you declare that a thing is bad because it has been misused, abused, and made a bad use of? Do you throw it away on that account? No! You 47. William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705–93), was the British judge whose decision in Somersett’s Case (1772) held that chattel slavery was not sanctioned by common law in England. He did not rule on whether the practice was legal in its colonies, including the thirteen in North America. 48. Douglass satirizes the Garrisonians’ slogan “No Union with Slaveholders.”

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press it to your bosom all the more closely; you read it all the more diligently; and prove from its pages that it is on the side of liberty— and not on the side of slavery. So let us do so with the constitution of the United States. But this logic would carry the orator of the City Hall a step or two further; it would lead him to break down the British constitution. I believe he is not only a Protestant, but he is a Dissenter; and if he is opposed to the American constitution because certain evils exist therein, could he well oppose all the other constitutions? But I must beg pardon for detaining you so long—I must bring my remarks speedily to a close. Let me make a statement. It was said to you that the Southern States had increased from 5 up to 15. What is the fact with reference to this matter? Why, my friends, the slave States in America have increased just from 12 up to 15. But the other statement was not told you. It is this: the Free States have increased from 1 up to 18. That fact was not told. No; I suppose it was expected I would come back and tell you all the truth. It takes two men to tell the truth any way. The dissolution of the Union, remember, that was clamoured for that night, would not give the Northern states one single advantage over slavery that it does not now possess. Within the Union we have a firm basis of opposition to slavery. It is opposed to all the great objects of the constitution. The dissolution of the Union is not only an unwise but a cowardly proposition. Dissolve the Union! For what? Tear down the house in an instant because a few slates have been blown off the roof? There are 350,000 slaveholders in America, and 26 millions of free white people.49 Must these 26 millions of people break up their government, dissolve their Union, burn up their constitution—for what? to get rid of the responsibility of holding slaves? But can they get rid of responsibility by that? Alas no! The recreant husband may desert the family hearth, may leave his 49. The discrepancy between Douglass’s and George Thompson’s statistics stems from the former’s addition of the seven Northern states that emancipated their slaves following the Revolution to the number of original slave states.

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starving children, and you may place oceans, islands, and continents between him and his; but the responsibility, the gnawing of a guilty conscience must follow him wherever he goes. If a man were on board of a pirate ship, and in company with others had robbed and plundered, his whole duty would not be performed simply by taking to the long boat and singing out, “No union with pirates!” His duty would be to restore the stolen property. The American people in the Northern States have helped to enslave the black people. Their duty will not have been done till they give them back their plundered rights. They cannot get rid of their responsibility by dissolving the Union; they must put down the evil, abolish the wrong. The abolition of slavery, not the dissolution of the Union, is the only way in which they can get rid of the responsibility. “No union with slaveholding” is an excellent sentiment as showing hostility to slavery, but what is union with slavery? Is it living under the same sky, walking on the same earth, riding on the same railway, taking dinner on board of the same steamboat with the slaveholder? No: I can be in all these relations to the slaveholder, but yet heavenhigh above him, as wide from him as the poles of the moral universe. “No union with slaveholding” is a much better phrase than that adopted by those who insist that they in America are the only friends of the slave who wish to destroy the Union. Reference was made in the City Hall to my having held other views and different views from those I now entertain. An old speech of mine, delivered some fourteen years ago in London, was rendered with skill and effect. I don’t know what it was brought up for. Perhaps it was brought forward to show that I am not infallible, not like his reverence—of Rome.50 If that was the object, I can relieve the friends of that gentlemen entirely, by telling them that I never made any pretentions to infallibility. Although I cannot accuse myself of being remarkably unstable, I cannot pretend that I have never altered my opinion both in respect to men and things. Indeed 50. The pope.

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I have been very much modified both in feeling and opinion within the last fourteen years, and he would be a queer man who could have lived fourteen years without having his opinions and feelings considerably modified by experience in that length of time. When I escaped from slavery, twenty-two years ago, the world was all new to me, and if I had been in a hogshead with the bung51 in, I could not have been much more ignorant of many things than I was then. I came out running. All I knew was that I had two elbows and a good appetite, and that I was a human being—a sort of nondescript creature, but still struggling for life. The first I met were the Garrisonian abolitionists of Massachusetts. They had their views, opinions, platform, and eloquence, and were earnestly laboring for the abolition of slavery. They were my friends, the friends of my people, and nothing was more natural than that I should receive as gospel all they told me. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man”52—that is, after I went over to Great Britain and came back again—I undertook the herculean task,53 without a day’s schooling, to edit and publish a paper—to unite myself to the literary profession. I could hardly spell two words correctly; still I thought I could “join” as we say, and when I had to write three or four columns a week, it became necessary to re-examine some of the opinions I had formed in my baby days; and when I came to examine for myself my opinions were greatly modified, and I had the temerity to state to the parties from whom I received them my change of opinions; and from that day to this—whether in the east or west, in or out of America, in Ireland, Scotland, or England—I have been pursued and persecuted by that class of persons on account of my change of opinions. But I am quite well satisfied, very well satisfied with my position. 51. In a large barrel with the stopper or cork in place. 52. Cor. 13:11. 53. The mythological hero Heracles, also known as Hercules, was the son of the Greek god Zeus and the mortal Alcmene. He possessed unnatural virility and strength, allowing him to perform extraordinary physical feats.

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Now, what do I propose? what do you propose? what do we sensible folks propose?—for we are sensible. The slaveholders have ruled the American government for the last fifty years; let the antislavery party rule the nation for the next fifty years. And, by the way, that thing is on the verge of being accomplished. The slaveholders, above all things else, dread the rule of the anti-slavery party that are now coming into power. To dissolve the Union would be to do just what the slaveholders would like to have done. Slavery is essentially a dark system; all it wants is to be excluded and shut out from the light. If it can only be boxed in where there is not a single breath to fall upon it, nor a single word to assail it, then it can grope in its own congenial darkness, oppressing human hearts and crushing human happiness. But it dreads the influence of truth; it dreads the influence of Congress. It knows full well that when the moral sentiment of the nation shall demand the abolition of slavery, there is nothing in the constitution of the United States to prevent that abolition. Well, now, what do we want? We want this:—whereas slavery has ruled the land, now must liberty; whereas pro-slavery men have sat in the Supreme Court of the United States, and given the constitution a pro-slavery interpretation against its plain reading, let us by our votes put men into that Supreme Court who will decide, and who will concede, that that constitution is not [pro-]slavery. What do you do when you want reform or change? Do you break up your government? By no means. You say:—“Reform the government;” and that is just what the abolitionists who wish for liberty in the United States propose. They propose that the intelligence, the humanity, the Christian principle, the true manliness which they feel in their hearts, shall flow out from their hearts through their fingers into the ballot-box, and that into that ballot-box it shall go for such men as shall represent the Christian principle and Christian intelligence in the United States; and that congress shall crystallise those sentiments into law, and that law shall be in favour of freedom. And that is the way we hope to accomplish the abolition of slavery.

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Since these questions are put here, it is a bounden duty to listen to arguments of this sort; and I know that the intelligent man and women here will be glad to have this full exposee of the whole question. I thank you very sincerely for the patient attention you have given me.

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“The Mission of the War” An Address Delivered in New York, New York, 13 January 1864 New York Daily Tribune, 14 January 1864. Frederick Douglass was one of eight speakers invited by the Woman’s National Loyal League, the first national women’s political organization, which was presided over by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, to speak at New York City’s Cooper Institute in the winter of 1863–64. That group used this lecture series to raise funds for its petition drive and to generate support for a congressional act “emancipating all persons of African descent held to involuntary service or labor in the United States.”1 Douglass delivered his address on 13 January 1864 and repeated it several times that winter as a part of a busy speaking itinerary that included a benefit for the Woman’s National Loyal League in Chicago.2 Douglass was introduced by Oliver Johnson, editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, and addressed an audience “composed largely of ladies.”3 Following on the heels of Wendell Phillips’s 22 December 1863 address in the same Cooper Institute series, Douglass, too, expressed a fear that revolutions, contrary to President Lincoln’s claim, could indeed “go backward.” The Emancipation Proclamation, issued a year earlier, could be reversed by the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, which had delivered the Dred Scott decision only six years earlier. Comparing the circumstances in the United States 1. Wendy F. Hamand, “The Woman’s National Loyal League: Feminist Abolitionists and the Civil War,” Civil War History 35, no.1 (March 1989): 44. 2. Ibid., 49. 3. New York Daily Tribune, 14 January 1864.

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to those in Europe in 1848, when widespread revolutionary zeal was quickly suppressed by reactionary forces, Douglass remarked, “Almost in the twinkling of an eye, the latent forces of despotism rallied.” Just as democratic movements had failed throughout Europe, so too could antislavery advances fail. In his 22 December speech, Phillips endorsed the passing of a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery, which would prevent the Supreme Court from trying to get around the Emancipation Proclamation. Douglass was less specific about the means of achieving the “mission of the war,” but broader in his definition of what that mission was. “National regeneration” encompassed more than an end to slavery; it included full citizenship for African Americans. Douglass, a recruiter of black soldiers, was committed to their full inclusion in the military. He advocated equal pay, promotion opportunities commensurate with those available to white soldiers, and the bestowal of voting rights on black veterans.4 Douglass saw the elimination of racial barriers of all sorts as the mission of the Civil War. Conscious of his female sponsors and audience, Douglass drew on the extensive body of female-written antislavery literature depicting slavery as an antifamily and sexually exploitative institution.5 He argued that the system had “prepared the characters—male and female— . . . for all its [the rebellion’s] cold-blooded and hellish atrocities.” This allusion to Southern white women’s complicity was contrasted with the morality and bravery of Northern women willing

4. “Soldiers’ Pay,” New York Tribune, 14 January 1864. In June 1864, Congress made black soldiers’ pay equal to that of white soldiers and made the act retroactive to the start of their service. Elsie Freeman, Wynell Burroughs Schamel, and Jean West, “The Fight for Equal Rights: A Recruiting Poster for Black Soldiers in the Civil War,” Social Education 56, no. 2 (February 1992): 118–120; revised and updated by Budge Weidman, 1999, www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war. 5. Female-written slave narratives such as Harriet Jacobs’s autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Boston, 1861), edited with Lydia Maria Child; novels such as Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; stories in the Liberty Bell, by Friends of Freedom (1839–58), an annual abolitionist gift book edited by Maria Weston Chapman; and numerous articles by other abolitionist women like the sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimké constitute a well-known body of work that was largely funded and encouraged by female antislavery societies. See Deborah C. De Rosa, Domestic Abolitionism and Juvenile Literature, 1830–1865 (Albany: State University Press of New York, 2003).

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to take political action in the form of petitioning to end slavery. Douglass hoped to encourage the petitioners of the Woman’s National Loyal League, urging them onward in their efforts to make the war one of “national regeneration.” Douglass returned half of his speaking fee of $100 to the Woman’s National Loyal League for their work in soliciting petitions, especially among women. Within a few months, the league switched tactics and called for a constitutional amendment rather than congressional legislation to end slavery. Senator Charles Sumner introduced the group’s petition to the U.S. Senate, starting shortly after Douglass’s speech in 1864 and then added additional petitions at an increasingly rapid rate throughout the spring. By the time Congress adjourned for the summer, Sumner had presented 400,000 signatures, accounting for one in every twenty-four Northerners in the United States, most of them women engaged in political activism for the first time in their lives.6 The Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment in April 1864, the House of Representative concurred in January 1865, and threequarters of the states had ratified the amendment by the end of 1865.

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adies and Gentlemen: By the mission of the war I mean nothing occult, arbitrary or difficult to be understood, but simply those great moral changes in the fundamental condition of the people, demanded by the situation of the country, plainly involved in the nature of the war, and which if the war is conducted in accordance with its true character, it is naturally and logically fitted to accomplish. Speaking in the name of Providence, some men tell us that Slavery is already dead, that it expired with the first shot at Sumter.7 This may be so, but I do not share the confidence with which it is 6. Hamand, “Woman’s National Loyal League,” 53–54. 7. The first military confrontation of the Civil War occurred at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on 12 April 1861. Southern forces resisted all efforts by the federal government to reinforce the Fort Sumter garrison. Lincoln’s dispatch of a small flotilla to resupply the fort forced a crisis; thirty-four hours of Confederate shelling led to the fort’s surrender on 14 April 1861.

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asserted. In a grand Crisis like this, we should all prefer to look facts sternly in the face, and to accept their verdict whether it bless or blast us. I look for no miraculous destruction of Slavery. The war looms before me simply as a great national opportunity, which may be improved to national salvation, or neglected to national ruin. I hope much from the bravery of our soldiers, but in vain is the might of armies if our rulers fail to profit by experience, and refuse to listen to the suggestions of wisdom and justice. The most hopeful fact of the hour is that we are now in a salutary school—the school of affliction. If sharp and signal retribution, long protracted, wide-sweeping and overwhelming, can teach a great nation respect for the longdespised claims of justice, surely we shall be taught now and for all time to come. But if, on the other hand, this potent teacher, whose lessons are written in characters of blood, and thundered to us from a hundred battle-fields shall fail, we shall go down, as we shall deserve to go down, as a warning to all other nations which shall come after us. It is not pleasant to contemplate the hour as one of doubt and danger. We naturally prefer the bright side, but when there is a dark side it is folly to shut our eyes to it or deny its existence. I know that the acorn involves the oak, but I know also that the commonest accident may destroy its potential character and defeat its natural destiny. One wave brings its treasure from the briny deep, but another often sweeps it back to its primal depths. The saying that revolutions never go backward must be taken with limitations.8 The revolution of 18489 was one of the grandest that ever dazzled a gazing world. It over-turned the French throne, sent 8. Douglass alludes to a passage from Abraham Lincoln’s “Speech Delivered before the First Republican State Convention of Illinois in Bloomington on May 29, 1856.” Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953–55), 2:340–41. 9. Beginning with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in January 1848 and spreading that winter and spring to many European nations. While local specifics varied, in most cases republican and nationalist political groups mounted a challenge to monarchical and aristocratic privilege. Within a year or two, promonarchist forces had used military power to reverse these revolutions.

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Louis Philippe10 into exile, shook every throne in Europe, and inaugurated a glorious Republic. Looking on from a distance, the friends of democratic liberty saw in the convulsion the death of kingcraft in Europe and throughout the world. Great was their disappointment. Almost in the twinkling of an eye, the latent forces of despotism rallied. The Republic disappeared. Her noblest defenders were sent into exile, and the hopes of democratic liberty were blasted in the moment of their bloom.11 Politics and perfidy proved too strong for the principles of liberty and justice in that contest. I wish I could say that no such liabilities darken the horizon around us. But the same elements are plainly involved here as there. Though the portents are that we shall flourish, it is too much to say that we cannot fail and fall. Our destiny is not to be taken out of our own hands. It is cowardly to shuffle our responsibilities upon the shoulders of Providence. I do not intend to argue but to state facts. We are now wading deep into the third year of conflict with a fierce and sanguinary rebellion, one which, at the beginning of it, we were hopefully assured by one of our most sagacious and trusted political prophets, would be ended in less than ninety days:12 a re10. The last king of France, Louis-Philippe (1773–1850), ruled from 1830 following the ousting of Charles X in the so-called July Revolution to 1848, when he abdicated in favor of his grandson Philippe during the February 1848 revolution. The National Assembly refused to accept Philippe as monarch, and instead elected Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte president. 11. The French Second Republic had a brief life. Following the overthrow of Louis-Philippe in February 1848, a provisional government took power, but quickly experienced divisions between its liberal middle-class and working-class protosocialist leaders. Most members of the assembly, elected in November, favored restoration of the monarchy but disagreed about rival candidates. The victor in the presidential election was Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of the deposed emperor. In December 1851, Bonaparte dissolved the assembly, arrested opposing politicians, and staged a plebiscite that overwhelmingly voted to extend his presidency. The following December, he reestablished the empire—taking the title Napoleon III—and ended the Second Republic. 12. On 14 April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers from the ranks of state militiamen to enter federal service for ninety days. This brief period was the maximum allowed under the 1795 Militia Act, still operative at that time. Many in the Confederacy believed the war would be short, and on 6 March 1861 the Confederate Congress authorized President Jefferson Davis to enlist an army of up to 100,000, but only for a one-year term.

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bellion which, in its worst features, stands alone among rebellions a solitary and ghastly horror, without a parallel in the history of any nation, ancient or modern: a rebellion inspired by no love of liberty and by no hatred of oppression, as most other rebellions have been, and therefore utterly indefensible upon any moral or social grounds: a rebellion which openly and shamelessly sets at defiance the world’s judgment of right and wrong, appeals from light to darkness, from intelligence to ignorance, from the ever-increasing prospects and blessings of a high and glorious civilization to the cold and withering blasts of a naked barbarism: a rebellion which even at this unfinished stage of it, counts the number of its slain not by thousands nor tens of thousands, but by hundreds of thousands. A rebellion which in the destruction of human life and property has rivalled the earthquake, the whirlwind and the pestilence that walketh in darkness, and wasteth at noonday.13 It has planted agony at a million hearthstones, thronged our streets with the weeds of mourning, filled our land with mere stumps of men, ridged our soil with 200,000 rudelyformed graves,14 and mantled it all over with the shadow of death. A rebellion which, while it has arrested the wheels of peaceful industry and checked the flow of commerce, has piled up a debt, heavier than a mountain of gold to weigh down the necks of our children’s children.15 There is no end to the mischiefs wrought. It has brought ruin at home, contempt abroad, cooled our friends, heated our enemies, and endangered our existence as a nation. Now, for what is all this desolation, ruin, shame, suffering, and sorrow? Can anybody want the answer? Can anybody be ignorant of the answer? It has been given a thousand times from this and 13. Ps. 91:6. 14. Modern scholarly efforts at counting military casualties list over 430,000 deaths by the start of 1864. 15. Economists report that the national debt increased from $65 million in 1860 to nearly $2.7 billion in 1865. Many Northern states accrued millions more in debt from war-related costs. The debt of the Confederacy, in excess of $1.4 billion, was wiped out by its defeat. The Fourteenth Amendment forbade repayment of debts from the war years by the former Confederate states, but that provision was not always strictly obeyed.

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other platforms. We all know it is Slavery. Less than a half a million of Southern slaveholders—holding in bondage four million slaves16—finding themselves outvoted in the effort to get possession of the United States Government, in order to serve the interests of Slavery, have madly resorted to the sword—have undertaken to accomplish by bullets what they failed to accomplish by ballots. That is the answer. It is worthy of remark that Secession was an afterthought with the Rebels. Their aim was higher; Secession was only their second choice. Wise was going to fight for Slavery in the Union.17 It was not separation, but subversion. It was not Richmond, but Washington. It was not the Confederate rag, but the glorious Star-Spangled Banner.18 Whence came the guilty ambition equal to this atrocious crime? A peculiar education was necessary to this bold wickedness. Here all is plain again. Slavery—the peculiar institution19—is aptly fitted to produce just such patriots, who first plunder and then seek to destroy their country. A system which rewards labor with stripes and chains!—which robs the slave of his manhood, and the master of all just consideration for the rights of his fellow-man—has prepared the characters—male and female—that figure in this Rebellion— and for all its cold-blooded and hellish atrocities. In all the most hor-

16. The U.S. Census of 1860 put the number of slaves at 3,953,760, and slaveholding families at 395,216. 17. In a speech at Norfolk, Virginia, during the 1860 presidential campaign, Henry A. Wise, governor of Virginia, declared that, in the event of Lincoln’s election, “I will not nullify, I will not secede, but I will under sovereign State authority fight in the Union another revolutionary conflict for civil liberty, and a Union which will defend it.” Wise urged the Southern states not to secede but to seize all federal military arms and supplies within their borders and use them to prevent Lincoln from taking office. When this plan was criticized as unfeasible, Wise advocated secession. 18. The nickname “Star-Spangled Banner” for the official flag of the United States was derived from Francis Scott Key’s description of the flag flying above Fort McHenry following the attack by British forces in the Battle of Baltimore on 14 September 1814. 19. Senator John C. Calhoun, in his Speech on the Reception of Abolition Petitions (1837), is credited with popularizing the term “peculiar institution” as a euphemism for slavery.

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rid details of torture, starvation and murder, in the treatment of our prisoners, I beheld the features of the monster in whose presence I was born, and that is Slavery. From no source less foul and wicked could such a Rebellion come. I need not dwell here. The country knows the story by heart. But I am one of those who think this Rebellion—inaugurated and carried on for a cause so unspeakably guilty and distinguished by barbarities which would extort a cry of shame from the painted savage—is quite enough for the whole lifetime of any one nation—though that lifetime should cover the space of a thousand years. We ought not to want a repetition of it—nor can we wisely risk a possible repetition of it. Looking at the matter from no higher ground than patriotism—setting aside the high considerations of justice, liberty, progress, and civilization—the American people should resolve that this shall be the last slaveholding Rebellion that shall ever curse this continent. Let the War cost much or cost little—let it be long or short—the work now begun should suffer no pause, no abatement, until it is done and done forever. I know that many are appalled and disappointed by the apparently interminable character of this war. I am neither appalled nor disappointed. Without pretending to any higher wisdom than other men, I know well enough and often said it—Once let the North and South confront each other on the battle-field, and Slavery and Freedom be the inspiring motives of the respective sections, the contest will be fierce, long and sanguinary. Gov. Seymour charges us with prolonging the war,20 and I say the longer the better if it must be so—in order to put an end to the hell black cause out of which the Rebellion has risen. Say not that I am indifferent to the horrors and hardships of the war. I am not indifferent. In common with the American people 20. Horatio Seymour (1810–86) was elected governor of New York in 1862, and once in office worked to delay implementation of the Civil War draft. Further, he opposed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He was defeated in the 1864 gubernatorial election, but remained politically active. In 1868 he was the reluctant and unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee.

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generally, I feel the prolongation of the war a heavy calamity— private as well [as] public. There are vacant spaces at my hearthstone which I shall rejoice to see filled again by the boys who once occupied them—but which cannot be thus filled while the war lasts—for they have enlisted—“during the war.”21 But even from the length of this struggle, we who mourn over it may well enough draw some consolation when we reflect upon the vastness and grandeur of its mission. The world has witnessed many wars—and history records and perpetuates their memory, but the world has not seen a nobler and grander war than that which the loyal people of this country are now waging against the slaveholding Rebels. The blow we strike is not merely to free a country or continent—but the whole world from Slavery—for when Slavery falls here—it will fall everywhere. We have no business to mourn over our mission. We are writing the statutes of eternal justice and liberty in the blood of the worst of tyrants as a warning to all after-comers. We should rejoice that there was moral life and health enough in us to stand in our appointed place, and do this great service for mankind. It is true that the war seems long. But this very slow progress is an essential element of its effectiveness. Like the slow convalescence of some patients the fault is less chargeable to the medicine than to the deep-seated character of the disease. We were in a very low condition before the remedy was applied. The whole head was sick and the whole heart faint. Dr. Buchanan22 and his Democratic 21. Lewis Henry Douglass (1840–1908) served as a sergeant major in the Fiftyfourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and embarked with the unit to South Carolina in May 1863. His brother, Charles Remond Douglass (1844–1920), a private in that regiment, was ill at the time of his unit’s departure; as late as November 1863, he remained at the Readville, Massachusetts, training camp. He eventually saw duty with another black regiment, the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, rising to the rank of first sergeant. 22. James Buchanan (1791–1868) was the fifteenth president of the United States. His proslavery views were evident during the week of his inauguration when he publicly endorsed the outcome of the Dred Scott case. Buchanan alienated the North further by his advocacy of Kansas’s admission as a slave state and his selection of primarily proslavery cabinet members.

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friends had given us up, and were preparing to celebrate the nation’s funeral. We had been drugged nearly to death by Pro-Slavery compromises. A radical change was needed in our whole system. Nothing is better calculated to effect the desired change than the slow, steady and certain progress of the war. I know that this view of the case is not very consoling to the peace Democracy.23 I was not sent and am not come to console this breach of our political church. They regard this grand moral revolution in the mind and heart of the nation as the most distressing attribute of the war, and howl over it like certain characters of whom we read— who thought themselves tormented before their time. Upon the whole, I like their mode of characterizing the war. They charge that it is no longer conducted upon constitutional principles. The same was said by Breckinridge24 and Vallandigham.25 They charge that it is not waged to establish the Union as it was.26 23. The term “Peace Democrat” originated in the highly partisan rhetoric of Northern politics during the Civil War. Editorials in Horace Greely’s New York Daily Tribune warned against the intentions of “peace men” such as Clement Vallandigham, of Ohio, and Fernando Wood, of New York, noting, “In fact every one wants peace, we only differ as to the terms. Some want it with the union, some without—a serious divergence.” In 1863, Vallandigham and Wood publicly endorsed negotiating an armistice to end hostilities and restore the Union. In the 1864 presidential elections, the Democrats nominated a ticket seemingly at odds with itself: for president, General George B. McClellan, who favored further military efforts, and for vice president, Congressman George H. Pendleton of Ohio, a Peace Democrat. They ran on a platform calling for an armistice and negotiations. 24. John Cabell Breckinridge (1821–75) took his seat as a U.S. senator from Kentucky in March 1861. He was the only senator to vote against a resolution to allow Lincoln to use federal resources for the war. When Union troops secured Kentucky, Breckinridge resigned from the Senate and joined both the Kentucky (Confederate) provisional government and the Confederate army, in which he rose to the rank of major general. 25. Clement Laird Vallandigham (1820–71) was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1856, 1858, and 1860. Vallandigham’s vehement opposition to military conscription and his advocacy of a negotiated peace led to his arrest and conviction in May 1863 for treasonous activity. He was sentenced to be incarcerated in Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, but President Lincoln intervened and banished him to the Confederacy. While in exile, Vallandigham unsuccessfully campaigned for the Ohio governorship. 26. A campaign slogan of the 1864 Peace Democrats. “The Union as It was, the Constitution as It is.” Democratic Platform of 1864.

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The same idea has occurred to Jefferson Davis.27 They charge that this is a war for the subjugation of the South. In a word, that it is an Abolition war. For one, I am not careful to deny this charge. But it is instructive to observe how this charge is brought and how it is met. Both warn us of danger. Why is this war fiercely denounced as an Abolition war? I answer, because the nation has long and bitterly hated Abolition, and the enemies of the war confidently rely upon this hatred to serve the ends of treason. Why do the loyal people deny the charge? I answer, because they know that Abolition, though now a vast power, is still odious. Both the charge and the denial tell how the people hate and despise the only measure that can save the country. An Abolition war! Well, let us thank the Democracy for teaching us this word. The charge in a comprehensive sense is most true, and it is not a pity that it is true, but it would be a vast pity if it were not true. Would that it were more true than it is. When our Government and people shall bravely avow this to be an Abolition war, then the country will be safe. Then our work will be fairly mapped out. Then the uplifted arm of the nation will swing unfettered to its work, and the spirit and power of the Rebellion will be broken. Had Slavery been abolished in the Border States at the very beginning of this war, as it ought to have been—had it been abolished in Missouri, as it would have been but for Presidential interference28—there would now be no Rebellion in the Southern States—for instead of having to watch these Border States, as they have done, our armies would have marched in overpowering numbers directly upon the Rebels and overwhelmed them. I now hold that a sacred regard for truth, as well 27. Jefferson Davis (1808–89), president of the Confederate States of America (1861–65). Although never tried for treason, he was a federal prisoner at Fortress Monroe for two years following the Civil War. 28. President Lincoln ordered General John C. Frémont to amend the portion of his proclamation that instituted martial law in Missouri and emancipated all of that state’s slaves so that it would conform to the Confiscation Act of 6 August 1861. That act deprived the owners of slaves being used to aid the rebellion of their claim to the labor of such slaves but did not alter the legal status of the bondsmen themselves.

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as sound policy, makes it our duty to own and avow before Heaven and earth that this war is, and of right ought to be, an Abolition war. The abolition of Slavery is the comprehensive and logical object of the war, for it includes everything else which the struggle involves. It is a war for the union, a war for the Constitution, I admit; but it is logically such a war only in the sense that the greater includes the lesser. Slavery has proved itself the strong man of our national house. In every Rebel State it proved itself stronger than the Union, stronger than the Constitution, and stronger than Republican Institutions. It overrode majorities, made no account of the ballot-box, and had everything its own way. It is plain that this strong man must be bound and cast out of our house before Union, Constitution and Republican institutions can become possible. An Abolition war, therefore, includes Union, Constitution, Republican Institutions, and all else that goes to make up the greatness and glory of our common country. On the other hand, exclude Abolition, and you exclude all else for which you are fighting. The position of the Democratic party in relation to the war ought to surprise nobody. It is consistent with the history of the party for thirty years past. Slavery, and only Slavery, has been its recognized master during all that time. It early won for itself the title of being the natural ally of the South and of Slavery. It has always been for peace or against peace, for war and against war, precisely as dictated by Slavery. Ask why it was for the Florida War,29 and it answers, Slavery. Ask why it was for the Mexican War,30 and it answers, Slavery. Ask why it was for the annexation of Texas, and it answers, Slavery. Ask why it was opposed to the habeas corpus31 when a negro was the 29. The Second Seminole War (1835–42). 30. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally ended the Mexican War (1846–48) and gave the United States not only disputed territory in Texas but also land extending to the Pacific Ocean. Many abolitionists believed that the war was nothing less than an attempt by Southern politicians to acquire more area for the expansion of slavery. 31. A prisoner may request a writ of habeas corpus. This writ from a judicial official to a jail or prison summons the prisoner to a court to determine the legality of that person’s incarceration.

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applicant, and it answers, Slavery. Ask why it is now in favor of the habeas corpus, when Rebels and traitors are the applicants for its benefits, and it answers, Slavery. Ask why it was for mobbing down freedom of speech a few years ago, when that freedom was claimed by the Abolitionists, and it answers, Slavery. Ask why it now asserts freedom of speech, when sympathizers with traitors claim that freedom, and again Slavery is the answer. Ask why it denied the right of a State to protect itself against possible abuses of the Fugitive-Slave bill,32 and you have the same old answer. Ask why it now asserts the sovereignty of the States separately, as against the States united, and again Slavery is the answer. Ask why it was opposed to giving persons claimed as fugitive slaves a jury trial before returning them to slavery; ask why it is now in favor of giving jury trial to traitors before sending them to the forts for safe keeping; ask why it was for war at the beginning of the Rebellion; ask why it has attempted to embarrass and hinder the loyal Government at every step of its progress, and you have but one answer, Slavery. The fact is, the party in question, I say nothing of individual men who were once members of it, has had but one vital and animating principle for thirty years, and that has been the same old horrible and hell-born principle of negro Slavery. It has now assumed a saintly character. Its members would receive the benediction due to peace-makers.33 At one time they would stop bloodshed at the South by inaugurating bloody revo32. Reference to the personal liberty laws passed after the Compromise of 1850. Personal liberty laws, which were premised on the belief that all persons were born free, were passed by many Northern states to provide legal means to ensure that free blacks and alleged slaves could not be placed in bondage except by due process of law. In their agitation for secession during the winter of 1860–61, Southern disunionists frequently cited these laws as evidence of violations of slaveholders’ constitutional rights. Northern Democrats and other conservatives, including a few Republicans, began efforts to repeal the laws in order to placate the slaveholders. The flurry of activity for and against the laws had negligible results. In the end, only Rhode Island repealed its personal liberty law, and Massachusetts slightly modified its version. 33. Matt. 5:9.

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lution at the North. The livery of peace is a beautiful livery,34 but in this case it is a stolen livery and sits badly on the wearer. These new apostles of peace call themselves Peace Democrats, and boast that they belong to the only party which can restore the country to peace. I neither dispute their title nor the pretensions founded upon it. The best that can be said of the peace-making ability of this class of men is their bitterest condemnation. It consists in their known treachery to the loyal Government. They have but to cross the Rebel lines to be hailed by the traitors as countrymen, clansmen, kinsmen, and brothers beloved in a common conspiracy. But, fellow-citizens, I have far less solicitude about the position and the influence of this party than I have about that of the great loyal party of the country. We have much less to fear from the bold and shameless wickedness of the one than from the timid and short-sighted policy of the other. I know we have recently gained a great political victory; but it remains to be seen whether we shall wisely avail ourselves of its manifest advantages. There is danger that, like some of our Generals in the field, who, after soundly whipping the foe, generously allow him time to retreat in order, reorganize his forces, and intrench himself in a new and stronger position, where it will require more power and skill to dislodge him than was required to vanquish him in the first instance. The game is now in our hands. We can put an end to this disloyal party by putting an end to Slavery. While the Democratic party is in existence as an organization, we are in danger of a slaveholding peace, and of Rebel rule. There is but one way to avert this calamity, and that is, destroy Slavery and enfranchise the black man while we have the power. While there is a vestige of slavery remaining, it will unite the South with itself, and carry with it the Democracy of the North. The South united and the North divided, we shall be hereafter as heretofore, firmly held under the heels of Slavery. 34. Clothing or insignia worn by an official.

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Here is a part of the platform of principles upon which it seems to me every loyal man should take his stand at this hour: First: That this war, which we are compelled to wage against slaveholding Rebels and traitors, at untold cost of blood and treasure, shall be, and of right ought to be, an Abolition War. Secondly: That we, the loyal people of the North and of the whole country, while determined to make this a short and final war, will offer no peace, accept no peace, consent to no peace, which shall not be to all intents and purposes an Abolition peace. Thirdly: That we regard the whole colored population of the country, in the loyal as well as in the disloyal States, as our countrymen—valuable in peace as laborers, valuable in war as soldiers— entitled to all the rights, protection, and opportunities for achieving distinction enjoyed by any other class of our countrymen. Fourthly: Believing that the white race has nothing to fear from fair competition with the black race, and that the freedom and elevation of one race are not to be purchased or in any manner rightfully subserved by the disfranchisement of another, we shall favor immediate and unconditional emancipation in all the States, invest the black man everywhere with the right to vote and to be voted for, and remove all discriminations against his rights on account of his color, whether as a citizen or as a soldier. Ladies and gentlemen, there was a time when I hoped that events unaided by discussions would couple this Rebellion and Slavery in a common grave. But as I have before intimated, the facts do still fall short of our hopes. The question as to what shall be done with Slavery—and more especially what shall be done with the negro— threaten to remain open questions for some time yet. It is true we have the Proclamation of January, 1863. It was a vast and glorious step in the right direction. But unhappily, excellent as that paper is—and much as it has accomplished temporarily— it settles nothing. It is still open to decision by courts, canons and Congresses. I have applauded that paper and do now applaud it, as a wise measure—while I detest the motive and principle upon which

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it is based. By it the holding and flogging of negroes is the exclusive luxury of loyal men.35 Our chief danger lies in the absence of all moral feeling in the utterances of our rulers. In his letter to Mr. Greeley36 the President told the country virtually that the abolition or non-abolition of Slavery was a matter of indifference to him. He would save the Union with Slavery or without Slavery. In his last Message he shows the same moral indifference, by saying as he does say that he had hoped that the Rebellion could be put down without the abolition of Slavery.37

35. Pressure for emancipation began when General Benjamin Butler defined captured slaves as contraband, which prompted congressional Republicans to pass the First and Second Confiscation Acts. Following a military victory at Antietam on 17 September 1862, Lincoln, under his war powers as president, announced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves held in rebel states on 1 January 1863 would be free. On that date, Lincoln signed the permanent Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln did not believe that his war powers extended to border states not in open rebellion or to portions of rebel states then under Union control. Therefore, slaves in many counties in Tennessee, Virginia, and Louisiana, as well as in the border states, were unaffected by the proclamation, which made the crafting of a constitutional amendment outlawing slavery vital. 36. On 20 August 1862, Horace Greeley (1811–72), founder and lifelong editor of the New York Tribune, published a public letter to President Lincoln in his New York Daily Tribune. Under the headline “THE PRAYER OF TWENTY MILLIONS,” it complained of the administration’s inaction against slavery. Lincoln replied in a letter of 22 August 1862, which Greeley printed three days later. Douglass paraphrases that portion of Lincoln’s letter in which the president acknowledged: “I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. . . . My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.” 37. Douglass probably alludes to Lincoln’s annual message to Congress of 8 December 1863, in which the president declared: “According to our political system, as a matter of civil administration, the general government had no lawful power to effect emancipation in any State, and for a long time it had been hoped that the rebellion could be suppressed without resorting to it as a military measure.” Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953–55), 7:49.

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When the late Stephen A. Douglas38 uttered the sentiment that he did not care whether Slavery were voted up or voted down in the Territories, we thought him lost to all genuine feeling on the subject, and no man more than Mr. Lincoln denounced that sentiment as unworthy of the lips of any American statesman.39 But to-day, after nearly three years of a Slaveholding Rebellion, we find Mr. Lincoln uttering substantially the same heartless sentiments. Douglas wanted Popular Sovereignty; Mr. Lincoln wants the Union. Now did a warm heart and a high moral feeling control the utterances of the President, he would welcome, with joy unspeakable and full of glory, the opportunity afforded by the Rebellion to free the country from the matchless crime and infamy. But policy, policy, everlasting policy, has robbed our statesmanship of all soul-moving utterances. The great misfortune is and has been during all the progress of this war, that the Government and loyal people have not understood and accepted its true mission. Hence we have been floundering in the depths of dead issues. Endeavoring to impose old and worn-out conditions upon new relations—putting new wine into old bottles, new cloth into old garments, and thus making the rent worse than before.40 Had we been wise, we should have recognized the war at the outset as at once the signal and the necessity for a new order of social and political relations among the whole people. We could, like the ancients, discern the face of the sky, but not the signs of the 38. Stephen Arnold Douglas (1813–61) won a U.S. Senate seat representing Illinois in 1846 and held it for the remainder of his life. Douglas framed the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. Douglas narrowly defeated the Republican challenger, Abraham Lincoln, for reelection to the Senate in 1858. 39. On 9 December 1857, Stephen A. Douglas took the Senate floor to champion popular sovereignty, declaring: “If Kansas wants a slave-State constitution she has a right to do it; if she wants a free-State constitution she has a right to do it. It is none of my business which way the slavery clause is decided. I care not whether it is voted down or voted up.” Abraham Lincoln criticized Douglas’s remarks on several occasions, most notably in the “House Divided” speech delivered in Springfield, Illinois, on 16 June 1858. Congressional Globe, 35th Cong., 1st sess., 18. 40. Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37, 38.

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times. Hence we have been talking of the importance of carrying on the war within the limits of a Constitution broken down by the very people in whose behalf the Constitution is pleaded! Hence we have from the first been deluding ourselves with the miserable dream, that the old Union can be revived in the States where it has been abolished. Now, we of the North have seen many strange things, and may see many more; but that old Union, whose canonized bones we saw hearsed in death and inurned under the frowning battlements of Sumter, we shall never see again while the world standeth. The issue before us is a living issue. We are not fighting for the dead past, but for the living present and the glorious future. We are not fighting for the old Union, nor for anything like it, but for that which is ten thousand times more important; and that thing, crisply rendered, is National unity. Both sections have tried Union. It has failed. The lesson for the statesman at this hour is to discover and apply some principle of Government which shall produce unity of sentiment, unity of idea, unity of object. Union without unity is, as we have seen, body without soul, marriage without love, a barrel without hoops, which falls at the first touch. The statesmen of the South understood this matter earlier and better than the statesmen of the North. The dissolution of the Union on the old bases of compromise, was plainly foreseen and predicted 30 years ago. Mr. Calhoun and not Mr. Seward,41 is the original author of the doctrine of the irrepressible conflict. The South is logical and consistent. Under the teachings of their great leader they admit into their form of Government no disturbing force. They have based their Confederacy squarely on their corner-stone. Their two great, and all commanding ideas are first, that Slavery is right, and second, that the slaveholders are a superior order or class. Around these two ideas their manners, morals, politics, religion, and laws revolve. Slavery being right, all that is inconsistent with its entire security is 41. John C. Calhoun and William H. Seward.

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necessarily wrong, and of course ought to be put down. There is no flaw in their logic. They first endeavored to make the Federal Government stand upon their accursed corner-stone; and we but barely escaped, as you well know, that calamity. Fugitive Slave laws, Slavery Extension laws, and Dred Scott decisions42 were among the steps to get the nation squarely upon the corner-stone now chosen by the Confederate States. The loyal North is less logical, less consistent, and less definite in regard to the necessity of principles of National Unity. Yet, unconsciously to ourselves, and against our own protestations, we are in reality, like the South, fighting for national unity—a unity of which the great principles of liberty and equality, and not Slavery and class superiority, are the corner-stone. Long before this rude and terrible war came to tell us of a broken Constitution and a dead Union, the better portion of the loyal people had outlived and outgrown what they had been taught to believe were the requirements of the old Union. We had come to detest the principle by which Slavery had a strong representation in Congress. We had come to abhor the idea of being called upon to suppress slave insurrections. We had come to be ashamed of slavehunting, and being made the watch-dogs of slaveholders, who were too proud to scent out and hunt down their slaves for themselves. We had so far outlived the old Union four years ago that we thought

42. Dred Scott (c. 1795–1858), a Missouri slave, was taken by his master in the 1830s into Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited by either the Northwest Ordinance or the Missouri Compromise. In 1846, Scott sued for his liberty, arguing that his four-year stay on free soil had given him freedom. The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a complicated decision on 6 March 1857. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (1777–1864), held that as a black, Scott was not a citizen and therefore not entitled to sue in a federal court; Scott’s previous residence in free territory had not made him free upon his return to Missouri, since his status was determined by the laws of the state in which he resided when the case was raised; and the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, since it violated the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against Congress’s depriving persons of their property without the due process of law.

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the little finger of the hero of Harper’s Ferry43 of more value to the world struggling for liberty than all the first families of old Virginia put together. What business, then, have we to be pouring out our treasure and shedding our best blood like water for that old worn-out, dead and buried Union, which had already become a calamity and a curse? The fact is, we are not fighting for any such thing, and we ought to come out under our own true colors, and let the South and the whole world know that we don’t want and will not have anything analogous to the old Union. What we now want is a country—a free country—a country nowhere saddened by the footprints of a single slave—and nowhere cursed by the presence of a slaveholder. We want a country, and we are fighting for a country, which shall not brand the Declaration of Independence as a lie. We want a country whose fundamental institutions we can proudly defend before the highest intelligence and civilization of the age. Hitherto we have opposed European scorn of our Slavery with a blush of shame as our best defense. We now want a country in which the obligations of patriotism shall not conflict with fidelity to justice and Liberty. We want a country, and are fighting for a country, which shall be free from sectional political parties—free from sectional religious denominations—free from sectional benevolent associations—free from every kind and description of sect, party, and combination of a sectional character. We want a country where men may assemble from any part of it, without prejudice to their interests or peril to their persons. We are in fact, and from absolute necessity, transplanting the whole South with the higher civilization of the North. The New-England schoolhouse is bound to take the place of the Southern whipping-post. 43. The white abolitionist John Brown (1790–1859) led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859 in order to capture arms and lead an uprising of slaves on nearby plantations. Captured and tried for treason and capital murder under Virginia law, he was executed on 2 December 1859, and immediately became a martyr to many Northerners.

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Not because we love the negro, but the nation; not because we prefer to do this, because we must or give up the contest, and give up the country. We want a country, and are fighting for a country, where social intercourse and commercial relations shall neither be embarrassed nor embittered by the imperious exactions of an insolent slaveholding Oligarchy, which required Northern merchants to sell their souls as a condition precedent to selling their goods. We want a country, and are fighting for a country, through the length and breadth of which the literature and learning of any section of it may float to its extremities unimpaired, and thus become the common property of all the people—a country in which no man shall be fined for reading a book, or imprisoned for selling a book—a country where no man can be imprisoned or flogged or sold for learning to read, or teaching a fellow mortal how to read. We want a country, and are fighting for a country, in any part of which to be called an American citizen, shall mean as much as it did to be called a Roman citizen in the palmiest days of the Roman Empire. We have heard much in other days of manifest destiny.44 I don’t go all the lengths to which such theories are pressed, but I do believe that it is the manifest destiny of this war to unify and reorganize the institutions of this country—and that herein is the secret of the strength, the fortitude, the persistent energy, in a word the sacred significance of this war. Strike out the high ends and aims thus indicated, and the war would appear to the impartial eye of an on-looking world little better than a gigantic enterprise for shedding human blood. A most interesting and gratifying confirmation of this theory of its mission is furnished in the varying fortunes of the struggle itself. 44. John Louis O’Sullivan (1813–95) coined the term “Manifest Destiny” in 1845 to promote the annexation of Texas and the Oregon Country. The idea was premised on a belief that God intended the United States to control most or all of North America in order to demonstrate the superiority of its Protestant republican values to a corrupt world. While popular among Democrats, its proslavery implications caused Northern Whigs and later Republicans to be wary of expansionism.

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Just in proportion to the progress made in taking upon itself the character I have ascribed to it, has the war prospered and the Rebellion lost ground. Justice and humanity are often overpowered—but they are persistent and eternal forces—and fearful to contend against. Let but our rulers place the Government fully within these trade winds of Omnipotence, and the hand of death is upon the Confederate Rebels. A war waged as ours seemed to be at first, merely for power and empire, repels sympathy though supported by legitimacy. If Ireland should strike for independence to-morrow, the sympathy of this country would be with her, and I doubt if American statesmen would be more discreet in the expression of their opinions of the merits of the contest, than British statesmen have been concerning the merit of ours. When we were merely fighting for the old Union the world looked coldly upon our Government. But now the world begins to see something more than legitimacy—something more than national pride. It sees national wisdom aiming at national unity; and national justice breaking the chains of a long enslaved people. It is this new complexion of our cause which warms our hearts and strengthens our hands at home, disarms our enemies and increases our friends abroad. It is this more than all else which has carried consternation into the blood-stained halls of the South. It has sealed the fiery and scornful lips of the Roebucks45 and Lindsays46 of England, and caused even the eloquent Mr. Gladstone to restrain the expression of his admiration for Jeff Davis and his Rebel 45. John Arthur Roebuck (1802–79) was first elected to Parliament in 1832. In June 1863, Roebuck badly mismanaged a parliamentary move to have Britain join France and other European powers in recognizing the Confederacy. 46. The Liberal party M.P. William Schaw Lindsay (1816–77) actively campaigned for British recognition of the Confederacy. After private discussion with Napoleon III in April 1862, he acted as unofficial courier from the French to the British government to sound out the idea of joint recognition. When that move failed, Lindsay introduced an unsuccessful parliamentary motion in July 1862 proposing British mediation of the American conflict. As late as the summer of 1864, Lindsay was leading futile parliamentary maneuvers on behalf of the Southern cause.

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nation.47 It has placed the broad arrow of British suspicion on the prows of the Rebel rams in the Mersey, and performed a like service for those in France.48 It has driven Mason, the shameless manhunter, from London,49 where he never should have been allowed to stay for an hour, except as a bloodhound is tolerated in Regent Park for exhibition.50 We have had from the first warm friends in England. We owe a debt of respect and gratitude to William Edward Forster,51 John Bright,52 Richard Cobden,53 and other British statesmen, in that they outran us in comprehending the high character of our struggle. They saw that this must be a war for human nature, and walked by faith to its defense while all was darkness about us—while we were yet conducting it in profound reverence for Slavery. 47. William Ewart Gladstone (1809–98), four-time prime minister of Great Britain (1868–74, 1880–85, 1886, 1892–94), was chancellor of the exchequer in the cabinet of Lord Palmerston at the time of the Civil War. Although an opponent of slavery, Gladstone favored British recognition of the Confederacy on the ground that the prolonged bloodshed had made a reunion of the North and South impossible. 48. In desperate need of modern warships, the Confederacy entered into secret agreements with a number of British and French shipbuilding firms, but all attempts to purchase them were thwarted by the Lincoln administration through diplomatic channels. 49. James Murray Mason (1798–1871) of Virginia served in the U.S. Senate (1847–61) and wrote the notorious Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Mason supported secession in 1860 and served briefly in the Confederate Congress before being appointed commissioner to England. On 8 November 1861, while traveling on the British steamer Trent, Mason and John Slidell, the Confederacy’s diplomatic representative to France, were captured by the U.S. Navy and sent to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. This affair so strained relations between the United States and Great Britain that many feared war would break out. Upon his release in January 1862, Mason proceeded to England. After an unsuccessful two-year effort to obtain recognition of the Confederacy, Mason notified the British Foreign Ministry of his withdrawal on 21 September 1863. 50. Regent’s Park housed the collection of the Zoological Society of London. 51. William Edward Forster (1818–86) was the first member of Parliament to speak against British attempts to aid the Confederacy by preventing a Union blockade of Confederate ports or by allowing the building of Confederate warships in British dry docks. 52. John Bright (1811–89) entered Parliament in 1843 and was successful in winning British middle-class and working-class support for the North in the Civil War. 53. Richard Cobden (1804–65), a liberal member of Parliament, opposed slavery and strongly supported the Union.

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I know we are not to be praised for this changed character of the war. We did our very best to prevent it. We had but one object at the beginning, and that was, as I have said, the restoration of the old Union; and for the first two years the war was kept to that object strictly, and you know full well and bitterly with what results. I will not stop here to blame and denounce the past; but I will say that most of the blunders and disasters of the earlier part of the war might have been avoided had our armies and Generals not repelled the only true friends the Union cause had in the Rebel States. The Army of the Potomac took up an anti-negro position from the first, and has not entirely renounced it yet.54 The colored people told me a few days ago in Washington that they were the victims of the most brutal treatment by these Northern soldiers when they first came there.55 But let that pass. Few men, however great their wisdom, are permitted to see the end from the beginning. Events are mightier than our rulers, and these Divine forces, with overpowering logic, have fixed upon this war, against the wishes of our Government, the comprehensive character and mission I have ascribed to it. The collecting of revenue in the Rebel ports, the repossession of a few forts and arsenals and other public property stolen by the Rebels, have almost disappeared from the recollection of the people. The war has been a growing war in every sense of the word. It began weak, and has risen strong. It began low, and has risen high. It began narrow, and has become broad. It began with few, and now, behold, the country is full of armed men, ready, with courage and fortitude, to make the wisest and best idea of American statesmanship the law of the land. Let, then, the war proceed in its strong, high, and broad course till the Rebellion is put down and our country is saved beyond the necessity of being saved again! 54. Douglass alludes to the policy of returning runaway slaves to their masters, even suspected pro-Confederate ones, followed by General George B. McClellan and most other Union Army commanders in Virginia during the Civil War’s first year. 55. Douglass delivered lectures in Washington, D.C., on 7 and 8 December 1863 in behalf of the Contraband Relief Society and inspected freedmen’s refugee camps in nearby Virginia.

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I have already hinted at our danger. Let me be a little more direct and pronounced. The Democratic party, though defeated in the elections last Fall, is still a power. It is the ready organized nucleus of a powerful ProSlavery and Pro-Rebel reaction. Though it has lost in numbers, it retains all the elements of its former power and malevolence. That party has five very strong points in its favor, and its public men and journals know well how to take advantage of them. First: There is the absence of any deep moral feeling among the loyal people against Slavery itself—their feeling against it being on account of its rebellion against the Government, and not because it is a stupendous crime against human nature. Secondly: The vast expense of the war and the heavy taxes in money as well as men which the war requires for its prosecution. Loyalty has a strong back, but taxation has often broken it. Thirdly: The earnest desire for peace which is shared by all classes except Government contractors who are making money out of the war; a feeling which may be kindled to a flame by any serious reverses to our arms. It is silent in victory but vehement and dangerous in defeat. Fourthly: And superior to all others, is the national prejudice and hatred toward the colored people of the country, a feeling which has done more to encourage the hopes of the Rebels than all other powers beside. Fifthly: An Abolitionist is an object of popular dislike. The guilty Rebel who with broad blades and bloody hands seeks the life of the nation, is at this hour more acceptable to the northern Democracy than an Abolitionist guilty of no crime. Whatever may be a man’s abilities, virtue, or service, the fact that he is an Abolitionist makes him an object of popular hate. Upon these five strings the Democracy still have hopes of playing themselves into power, and not without reason. While our Government has the meanness to ask Northern colored men to give up the comfort of home, good wages, and personal security, to join the

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army, endure untold hardships, peril health, limbs and life itself, in its defense, and then degrades them in the eyes of other soldiers, by offering them the paltry sum of $7 per month,56 and refuses to reward their valor with even the hope of promotion57—the Democratic party may well enough presume upon the strength of popular prejudice for support. While our Republican Government at Washington makes color and not character the criterion of promotion in the army, and degrades colored commissioned officers at New Orleans below the rank to which even the Rebel Government had elevated them, I think we are in danger of a compromise with Slavery.58 Our hopeful Republican friends tell me this is impossible—that the day of compromise with Slavery is past. This may do for some men, but it will not do for me. 56. As Northern states began soliciting African Americans for the Union Army, potential recruits were promised full wages, equal to those of white Union soldiers. After the formation of the earliest units, the federal government reneged on this promise, deciding instead to pay black soldiers the laborer’s rate of ten dollars per month, regardless of rank. The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, recruited in part by Douglass, along with most other black units, refused their pay, demanding equality. The issue bothered Douglas, the father of two black soldiers, and he raised it in his first meeting with President Lincoln, at the White House on 10 August 1863. In June 1864 the administration relented, and Congress granted equal pay to all black soldiers who had been free in April 1861. In March 1865, in the face of further protest, former slaves were granted full wages, too. 57. When the restriction on limiting officers’ commissions to whites was lifted by the War Department, the secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, refused to accept the promotion of any African American officer unless Congress and the president approved it. Black soldiers, however, demanded that the Boards of Examination (the bodies normally overseeing promotion) be opened to them, and in early 1864 the governor of Massachusetts ignored Stanton’s wishes and approved the promotion of a black sergeant in the Fifty-fourth to the rank of lieutenant. By the end of the war, approximately one hundred African American soldiers had been promoted into the officer corps. 58. Following Louisiana’s secession, free blacks in New Orleans organized two regiments of “Native Guards” and volunteered their service to the Confederacy. The Confederates, however, failed to call out these units when a Union amphibious expedition successfully captured New Orleans in April 1862. In August, the Union commander in occupied Louisiana, Benjamin Butler, began raising black units on his own authority. Northern whites were appointed to the higher officer ranks, but most of the lieutenants and captains were African Americans, including P. B. S. Pinchback, later elected lieutenant governor of the state.

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The Northern people have always been remarkably confident of their own virtue. They are hopeful to the last. Twenty years ago we hoped that Texas could not be annexed; but if that could not be prevented we hoped that she would come in as a Free State. Thirteen years ago we were quite sure that no such abomination as the Fugitive Slave Bill could get itself on our National statute book; but when it got there we were equally sure that it never could be enforced. Four years ago we were sure that the Slave States would not rebel, but if they did we were sure it would be a very short rebellion. I know that times have changed very rapidly, and that we have changed with them. Nevertheless, I know also that we are the same old American people, and that what we have done once we may possibly do again. The leaven of compromise is among us—I repeat, while we have a Democratic party at the North trimming its sails to catch the Southern breeze in the next Presidential election, we are in danger of compromise. Tell me not of amnesties and oaths of allegiance. They are valueless in the presence of twenty hundred millions invested in human flesh.59 Let but the little finger of Slavery get back into this Union, and in one year you shall see its whole body again upon our backs. While a respectable colored man or woman can be kicked out of the commonest street car in New York—where any white ruffian may ride unquestioned—we are in danger of a compromise with Slavery. While the North is full of such papers as The New York World, Express, and Herald,60 firing the nation’s heart with hatred to 59. Douglass had offered a similar estimate in a speech on 5 February 1862. The final report of the U.S. Census Bureau recorded 3,953,760 slaves, which modern historians estimate to have had a value in 1860 dollars (at an average worth of $900 each) of $3.6 billion, or almost double Douglass’s figure. 60. The New York World, launched in 1860, was edited by the prominent Democrat Manton Marable during most of the Civil War. Federal authorities briefly suppressed the World in 1864 for publishing fraudulent communications that it claimed were by President Lincoln. Two brothers, James and Erastus Brooks, operated the New York Express and became prominent Peace Democrats. Founded in 1835, the New York Herald was owned by James Gordon Bennett. Bennett editorially opposed Lincoln’s election in both 1860 and 1864, but favored a Union military victory.

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negroes and Abolitionists, we are in danger of a slaveholding peace. While the major part of all Anti-Slavery profession is based upon devotion to the Union rather than hostility to Slavery, there is danger of a slaveholding peace. Until we shall see the election of November next, and know that it has resulted in the election of a sound Anti-Slavery man as President, we shall be in danger of a slaveholding compromise. Indeed, so long as Slavery has any life left in it, anywhere in the country, we are in danger of such a compromise. Then there is the danger arising from the impatience of the people on account of the prolongation of the war. I know the American people. They are an impulsive people, impatient of delay, clamorous for change—and often look for results out of all proportion to the means employed in attaining them. You and I know that the mission of this war is National regeneration. We know and consider that a nation is not born in a day. We know that large bodies move slowly—and often seem to move thus—when, could we perceive their actual velocity, we should be astonished at its greatness. A great battle lost or won is easily described, understood and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it. There are vast numbers of voters, who make no account of the moral growth of the nation, and who only look at the war as a calamity to be endured only so long as they have no power to arrest it. Now, this is just the sort of people whose vote may turn the scale against us in the last event. Thoughts of this kind tell me that there never was a time when Anti-Slavery work was more needed than now. The day that shall see the Rebels at our feet, their weapons flung away, will be the day of trial. We have need to prepare for that trial. We have long been saved a Pro-Slavery peace by the stubborn, unbending persistence of the Rebels. Let them bend as they will bend—there will come the test of our sternest virtues. I have now given, very briefly, some of the grounds of danger. A word as to the grounds of hope. The best that can be offered is, that

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we have made progress—vast and striking progress—within the last two years. President Lincoln introduced his administration to the country as one which would faithfully catch, hold, and return runaway slaves to their masters.61 He avowed his determination to protect and defend the slaveholder’s right to plunder the black laborer of his hard earnings. Europe was assured by Mr. Seward that no slave should gain his freedom by this war.62 Both the President and the Secretary of State have made progress since then. Our Generals, at the beginning of the war, were horribly ProSlavery. They took to slave-catching and slave-killing like ducks to water. They are now very generally and very earnestly in favor of putting an end to Slavery. Some of them, like Hunter63 and Butler,64 61. In his inaugural address on 4 March 1861, Lincoln asserted that he took his oath of office “with no mental reservations.” After reviewing the provisions of the Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, he chose not “to specify particular acts of Congress as proper to be enforced.” Instead, he suggested that it would be “much safer for all, both in official and private stations, to conform to, and abide by, all those acts which stand unrepealed, than to violate any of them, trusting to find impunity in having them held to be unconstitutional.” Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 4:263–64. 62. On 10 April 1861, the U.S. secretary of state, William H. Seward, instructed Charles Francis Adams, minister to Great Britain, “not to draw into debate before the British government any opposing moral principles which may be supposed to lie at the foundation of the controversy.” On 22 April, after Lincoln’s call to arms, Seward informed William Lewis Dayton, minister to France, that whatever the outcome of the conflict, the “condition of slavery in several States will remain just the same.” 63. David Hunter (1802–86), who commanded the Department of the South (1862–63), issued a proclamation freeing the slaves within his purview. Lincoln, who feared possible repercussions in the border states, nullified Hunter’s orders, stating that the general had exceeded his authority. Hunter did succeed in creating the first official black regiment, the First South Carolina, an action that Congress ultimately supported. 64. An active pre–Civil War Democratic politician, Benjamin Franklin Butler (1818–93) commanded Union forces at Fortress Monroe in Virginia, where, in the summer of 1861, he sheltered runaway slaves within his lines as “contrabands of war.” While military governor of New Orleans in 1862, Butler alienated the conquered population and embarrassed Washington with his Order No. 28, which threatened that Southern women who demonstrated contempt for Union troops would be treated as prostitutes.

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because they hate Slavery on its own account, and others, because Slavery is in arms against the Government. The Rebellion has been a rapid educator. Congress was the first to respond to the instinctive judgment of the people, and fixed the broad brand of its reprobation upon slave-hunting in shoulderstraps. Then came very temperate talk about confiscation, which soon came to be pretty radical talk. Then came propositions for Border-State, gradual, compensated, colonized Emancipation. Then came the threat of a proclamation, and then came the proclamation. Meanwhile the negro had passed along from a loyal spade and pickax to a Springfield rifle.65 Hayti and Liberia are recognized,66 Slavery is humbled in Maryland, threatened in Tennessee, stunned nearly to death in Western Virginia, doomed in Missouri, trembling in Kentucky, and gradually melting away before our arms in the rebellious States.67 The hour is one of hope as well as danger. But whatever may come to pass, one thing is clear: The principles involved in the contest, the necessities of both sections of the country, the obvious requirements of the age, and every suggestion of enlightened policy demand the utter extirpation of Slavery from every foot of American soil, and the enfranchisement of the entire colored population of the country. Elsewhere we may find peace, but it will be a hollow and deceitful peace. Elsewhere we may find prosperity, but it will 65. An allusion to a style of muzzle-loading rifle manufactured at the Springfield Armory, located in the Massachusetts city of the same. 66. In his first annual message to Congress, in December 1861, Lincoln suggested establishing diplomatic relations with Haiti and Liberia. At Lincoln’s urging, Congress passed an authorization bill in April 1862 that appropriated funds to establish missions to Haiti and Liberia. 67. What Douglass describes is the actual rather than the legal demise of slavery in the border states. The enlistment of blacks in the Union Army, myriad opportunities for flight, and widespread erosion of discipline during the war years hastened the end of slavery in those regions. West Virginia incorporated gradual emancipation in its first constitution in 1863. After considerable debate, Maryland abolished slavery in 1864, Tennessee in 1865, and Missouri passed an emancipation ordinance in 1865. Kentucky and Delaware rejected such measures, and slavery was not officially abolished in those states until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

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be a transient prosperity. Elsewhere we may find greatness and renown, but if these are based upon anything less substantial than justice they will vanish, for righteousness alone can permanently exalt a nation. I end where I began—no war but an Abolition war; no peace but an Abolition peace; liberty for all, chains for none; the black man a soldier in war, a laborer in peace; a voter at the South as well as at the North; America his permanent home, and all Americans his fellow-countrymen. Such, fellow-citizens, is my idea of the mission of the war. If accomplished, our glory as a nation will be complete, our peace will flow like a river, and our foundations will be the everlasting rocks.

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“Sources of Danger to the Republic” An Address Delivered in St. Louis, Missouri, 7 February 1867 St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat, 8 February 1867. Douglass made his most comprehensive and powerful argument against a “superficial reverence for the Constitution” in this speech, delivered in several cities during the winter of 1866–67. He returned to this issue in his more famous October 1883 speech responding to the Supreme Court’s nullification of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, but here he buttressed his analysis with a measured examination of the weaknesses of constitutional democracy that contributed to the Civil War. Douglass places criticisms of “our Republican experiment” in the mouths of “good men, at home and abroad, and especially abroad,” insisting he will neither “indorse” nor “combat” them. With this distancing mechanism, he asserts a neutral detachment that permits him to remain patriotic while offering a stinging criticism of the excessive powers of the presidency and the need for constitutional reform. Douglass characterizes the Constitution as “a human contrivance” requiring amendments to keep up with a society “superior to its forms.” He satirically notes that the Constitution is not divine, Mosaic law: “There were neither thunderings, nor lightenings, nor earthquakes, nor tempests, nor any other disturbance of nature when this great law was given to the world.” To ensure greater responsiveness to the will of the people, he recommends reforms aimed at curbing Supreme Court and White House power. In the winter of 1866–67, when Douglass repeatedly delivered this lyceum lecture to paying audiences, the movement to impeach 217

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President Andrew Johnson was gaining momentum. In the fall of 1866, Americans elected a veto-proof majority of Republicans to Congress, most especially Radical Republicans, who supported equal rights for African Americans. This set the stage for an escalating struggle between the legislative and executive branches over Reconstruction policies. That contest culminated in the unsuccessful effort to impeach President Johnson in February 1868. The Daily Missouri Democrat reported a warm reception to Douglass’s speech from “many of our best citizens” and “a goodly number of colored people.” The audience repeatedly interrupted Douglass with laughter, especially when he attacked the presidency of Andrew Johnson. Douglass delivered another lecture the next night, also at Turners’ Hall in St. Louis, and was said to have met “the highest expectations of his numerous warm friends” in the city. The same speech the month before in Philadelphia had drawn a “packed” house, and his “searching” political analysis took even his “warmest admirers by surprise.”1 The speech coincided with a pair of articles Douglass prepared for the Atlantic Monthly in December 1866 and January 1867. Douglass’s December piece “Reconstruction” elaborated upon the “true source of danger to the Republic.” In it he calls for a stronger federal presence in the South to redress the “frightful murders and wholesale massacres” that were subjugating African Americans’ political and civil rights. He compares the South’s attempts to assert states’ rights to the erection of a “Chinese wall” that will keep the South’s enduring slave culture from the “light of law and liberty.” Without federal reinforcements, African Americans’ freedoms cannot be protected, he argues. Even in this article, Douglass uses the rhetorical techniques of imagery, metaphor, and alliteration to make a memorable argument in favor of a stronger federal government with enhanced congressional, but not presidential, powers. He argues that constitutional amendments and a stronger federal representative democracy—as opposed to local forms of democracy—will lead to a more just system and will permit social change despite conservative and reactionary forces.2 1. Daily Missouri Democrat, 4 January 1867. 2. Frederick Douglass, “Reconstruction,” Atlantic Monthly 18, no. 110 (December 1866): 761–65.

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The historian Waldo Martin notes the tension between Douglass’s “political economy of laissez faire individualism and the federal government’s duty to assist the freedpeople in their transition to complete freedom,”3 a tension fully evident in his 1869 speech “Let the Negro Alone” (included in this volume). Douglass was acutely aware that the defense of a minority’s rights in a democracy sometimes required a strong central government, and he had greater confidence in Congress than the executive branch as an instrument for advancing progressive principles. During the early years of Congressional Reconstruction, Congress was more radical than the executive or judicial branches, but later years would test Douglass’s faith in the legislative branch.4

L

adies and Gentlemen: I know of no greater misfortunes to individuals than an over confidence in their own perfections, and I know of fewer misfortunes that can happen to a nation greater than an over confidence in the perfection of its government. It is common on great occasions to hear men speak of our republican form of government as a model of surpassing excellence—the best government on earth—a masterpiece of statesmanship—and destined at some period not very remote to supersede all other forms of government among men; and when our patriotic orators would appear in some degree recondite as well as patriotic, they treat us to masterly disquisitions upon what they are pleased to term “the admirable mechanism of our Constitution.” They discourse wisely of its checks and balances, and the judicious distribution of the various powers. I am certainly not here this evening rudely to call in question these very pleasing assumptions of governmental superiority on our part; they are perfectly natural; they are consistent with our natural self-love and our national pride; and when they are not employed, as 3. Waldo E. Martin, Jr., The Mind of Frederick Douglass (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 67. 4. Peter C. Myers, Race and Rebirth of American Liberalism (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008), 131.

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they too often are, in the bad service of a blind, unreasoning, stubborn conservatism, to shelter old-time abuses and discourage manly criticism, and to defeat needed measures of amendment, they are comparatively harmless, though we may not always be able to assent to the good taste with which they are urged. It is well enough, however, once in a while to remind Americans that they are not alone in this species of self-laudation; that in fact there are many men, reputed wise and good men, living in other parts of the planet, under other forms of government, aristocratic, autocratic, oligarchic, and monarchical, who are just as confident of the good qualities of their government as we are of our own. It is true, also, that many good men, at home and abroad, and especially abroad, looking upon our republican experiment from afar, in the cool, calm light of their philosophy, have already discovered, or think that they have discovered, a decline or decay, and the certain downfall of our republican institutions, and the speedy substitution of some other form of government for our democratic institutions. Those who entertain these opinions of our government are not entirely without reason, plausible reason, in support of it. The fact that the ballot box, upon which we have relied so long as the chief source of strength, is the safety valve of our institutions through which the explosive passions of the populace could pass off harmlessly, has failed us—broken down under us, and that a formidable rebellion has arisen, the minority of the people in one section of the country united, animated and controlled by a powerful sectional interest, have rebelled, and for four long years disputed the authority of the constitutional majority of the people, is regarded as a telling argument against the prevailing assumption of our national stability and the impregnability of our institutions. Besides, they point us, and very decidedly, to the fact that there seemed to be no adequate comprehension of the character of this rebellion at the beginning of it, and seemed also to be nothing like a proper spirit of enthusiasm manifested by the people in support of the government. They point us to the tardiness and hesitation and doubt, and the disposition to yield up the

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government to the arrogant demands of conspirators; and they profess themselves now able to see the same want of spirit, manliness and courage in the matter of reconstruction since the rebellion has been suppressed. They point us also to the fact that so far as the government is concerned, there must be either an indisposition or an inability either to punish traitors or to reward and protect loyal men; and they say, very wisely, as I think, that a nation that cannot hate treason cannot love loyalty. (Loud applause.) They point us also to the fact that there are growing antagonisms, forces bitter and unrelenting between the different branches of our government—the executive against the legislative, and the judicial in some instances against both. They point us also to the obvious want of gratitude on the part of the nation, its disposition to sacrifice its best friends and to make peace with its bitterest enemies; the fact that it has placed its only true allies under the political heels of the very men who with broad blades and bloody hands sought the destruction of the republic. They point us to the fact that loyal men by the score, by the hundred, have been deliberately and outrageously, and in open daylight, slaughtered by the known enemies of the country, and thus far that the murderers are at large: unquestioned by the law, unpunished by justice, unrebuked even by the public opinion of the localities where the crimes were committed. Under the whole heavens you cannot find any government besides our own that thus indifferent to the lives of its loyal subjects. (Applause.) They tell us, moreover, that the lives of republics have been short, stormy, and saddening to the hopes of the friends of freedom, and they tell us, too, that ours will prove no exception to this general rule. Now, why have I referred to these unfavorable judgments of American institutions? Not, certainly, to indorse them; neither to combat them; but as offering a reason why the Americans should take a little less extravagant view of the excellencies of our institutions. We should scrutinize them a little more closely and weigh their value a little more impartially than we are accustomed to do.

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We ought to examine our government, and I am here to-night, and I rejoice that in St. Louis (cheers) that there is liberty enough, civilization enough, (renewed cheers) to tolerate free inquiry at this point as well as any other. I am here to-night in a little different capacity from what I ordinarily am, or what I have been before the American people. In other days—darker days than these—I appeared before the American people simply as a member of despised, outraged and down-trodden race; simply to plead that the chains of the bondmen be broken; simply to plead that the auction block shall no more be in use for the sale of human flesh. I appear here no longer as a whipped, scarred slave—no longer as the advocate merely of an enslaved race, but in the high and commanding character of an American citizen—(cheers)—having the interest that every true citizen should have in the welfare, the stability, the permanence and the prosperity of our free institutions, and in this spirit I shall criticise our government to-night. In one respect we here have [a] decided advantage over the subjects of the “divine right” governments of Europe.5 We can at least examine our government. We can at least look into it—into every feature of it, and estimate it at its true value. No divine pretension stands athwart the pathway of free discussion here. The material out of which men would weave if they could a superstitious reverence for the Constitution of the United States, is an exceedingly slender and scarce commodity, and there is nothing upon which such a superstition can well be based. There were neither thunderings, nor lightenings, nor earthquakes, nor tempests, nor any other disturbance of nature when this great law was given to the world. It is at least an honest Constitution and asks to be accepted upon its own merits—has no origin, has no history, and no reputation. It is purely a human contrivance, designed with more or less wisdom, for human purposes; to combine liberty with order; to make society 5. Although in the Christian era the monarchs of western Europe were never considered divine, many claimed the authority of their office had the direct sanction of God.

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possible; or, to use its own admirable language, “to form a more perfect Union;” to establish justice; to provide for the common defense; and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and all posterity, we the people, the people, the people—we, the people, do ordain and establish this Constitution.6 There we stand on the main foundation. Now, while I discard all Fourth of July extravagances about the Constitution, and about its framers, even I can speak respectfully of that instrument and respectfully of the men who framed it. To be sure my early condition in life was not very favorable to the growth of what men call patriotism and reverence for institutions—certainly not for the “peculiar institution” from which I graduated—yet even I can speak respectfully of the Constitution. For one thing I feel grateful—at least I think the fathers deserve homage of mankind for this—that against the assumptions, against the inducements to do otherwise, they have given us a Constitution commensurate in its beneficent arrangements with the wants of common humanity; that it embraces man as man. There is nothing in it of a narrow description. They could establish a Constitution free from bigotry, free from superstition, free from sectarian prejudices, caste or political distinction. In the eye of that great instrument we are neither Jews, Greeks, Barbarians or Cythians,7 but fellow-citizens of a common country, embracing all men of all colors. The fathers of this republic did not learn to insert the word white (applause and laughter), or to determine men’s rights by their color. They did not base their legislation upon the differences among men in the length of their noses or the twist of their hair, but upon the broad fact of a common human nature. I doubt if at any time during the last fifty years we could have received a constitution so liberal from the sons as we have received 6. From the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. 7. Cythians, usually spelled “Scythians,” were a nomadic warring people found on the Central Eurasian steppes (ninth century B.C.E. to fourth century C.E.).

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from the fathers of the Republic. (Cheers.) They were above going down, as certain men—Caucasian and Teutonic ethnologists—have recently done, on their knees and measuring the human heel to ascertain the amount of intelligence he should have. They were above that. That is a modern improvement or invention. Some have undertaken to prove the identity of the negro, or the relationship of the negro with the monkey from the length of his heel, forgetting what is the fact, that the monkey has no heel at all, and that in fact the longer a man’s heel is the further he is from the monkey. (Laughter and applause.) Our fathers did not fall into this mistake. They made a constitution for men, not for color, not for features. In the eye of that great instrument the moment the chains are struck from the limbs of the humblest and most whip scarred slave he may rise to any position for which his talents and character fit him. (Loud applause.) For this I say the fathers are entitled to the profound gratitude of mankind—that against all temptations to do otherwise, they have given us a liberal constitution. But wise and good as that instrument is, at this point and at many others, it is simply a human contrivance. It is the work of man and men struggling with many of the prejudices and infirmities common to man, and it is not strange that we should find in their constitution some evidences of their infirmity and prejudices. Time and experience and the ever increasing light of reason are constantly making manifest those defects and those imperfections, and it is for us, living eighty years after them, and therefore eighty years wiser than they, to remove those defects—to improve the character of our constitution at this point where we find those defects.8 I was rather glad at one feature in the effect produced by the rebellion. It for a time depressed the national exultation over the perfection of the Constitution of the United States. The uprising of that rebellion was a severe blow to our national extravagance at this point, but the manner in which we have met the rebellion, and as 8. The U.S. Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788.

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soon as we have succeeded in suppressing it, conquering the rebels and scattering their military forces, our old time notions of our perfect system of government have revived, and there is an indisposition on the part of some men to entertain propositions for amending the Constitution. But I think that a right view of our trouble, instead of increasing our confidence in the perfection of the fundamental structure of the government, ought to do quite the reverse; it ought to impress us with the sense of our national insecurity by disclosing, as it does disclose, the slenderness of the thread on which the national life was suspended, and showing us how small a circumstance might have whelmed our government in the measureless abyss of ruin, prepared for it by the rebels. We succeeded in putting down the rebellion. And wherein is the secret of that success? Not in, I think, the superior structure of our government, by any means. We succeeded in that great contest because, during at least the latter part of the war, the loyal armies fought on the side of human nature; fought on the side of justice, civil order and liberty. This rebellion was struck with death the instant Abraham Lincoln inscribed on our banner the word “Emancipation.” (Cheers.) Our armies went up to battle thereafter for the best aspirations of the human soul in every quarter of the globe, and we conquered. The rebel armies fought well, fought bravely, fought desperately, but they fought in fetters. Invisible chains were about them. Deep down in their own consciences there was an accusing voice reminding them that they were fighting for chains and slavery, and not for freedom. (Cheers.) They were in chains—entangled with the chains of their own slaves. They not only struggled with our gigantic armies, and with the skill of our veteran generals, but they fought against the moral sense of the nineteenth century— they fought against their own better selves—they fought against the good in their own souls; they were weakened thereby; their weakness was our strength, hence our success. And our success over the rebels is due to another cause quite apart from the perfection of our structure of government. It is largely owing to the fact that the

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nation happened—for it only happened—we happened to have in the presidential chair, an honest man. (Cheers.) It might have been otherwise. It was our exceeding good fortune that Abraham Lincoln—not W[illia]m. H. Seward—received the nomination at Chicago in 1860.9 Had Wm. H. Seward—judging him by his present position10—had Franklin Pierce, had Millard Fillmore, had James Buchanan, or had that other embodiment of political treachery, meanness, baseness, ingratitude, the vilest of the vile, the basest of the base, the most execrable of the execrable of modern times—he who shall be nameless11 (great laughter and applause), occupied the Presidential chair your magnificent republic might have been numbered with the things that were. We talk about the power of the people over this government, of its admirable checks and balances, its wisely arranged machinery; but remember those three months, the last three months of Buchanan’s administration. It is impossible to think wisely and deeply without learning a lesson of the inherent weakness of our republican structure. For three long months the nation saw their army and their navy scattered and the munitions of war of the government placed in the hands of its enemies.12 The people could do nothing but bite their lips in silent agony. They were on a mighty stream afloat, with all their liberties at stake and a faithless pilot on their 9. Abraham Lincoln defeated William H. Seward for the Republican presidential nomination in May 1860. 10. His unswerving loyalty to Andrew Johnson and his efforts to create a new conservative party to support Johnson’s administration had made Seward highly unpopular in most Republican circles by 1867. 11. Vice President Andrew Johnson (1808–75) assumed the presidency on 15 April 1865, following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Radical Republicans opposed Johnson over Reconstruction but failed in an attempt to impeach him in 1867. 12. Douglass alludes to the ill-prepared condition of U.S. military forces during the secession crisis that began in December 1860. The bulk of the 16,000-man army was scattered in small units across the trans-Mississippi frontier, and a majority of the U.S. Navy’s ninety-odd warships were either on foreign duty or out of commission. A large proportion of federal munitions and naval supplies were stored in arsenals and bases in Southern states, and fell into Confederate hands during President Buchanan’s last weeks in office.

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boat. They could not help this. They were in a current which they could neither resist nor control. In the rapids of a political Niagara, sweeping the nation on, on, in silent agony toward the awful cataract in the distance to receive it. Our power was unable to stay the treachery. We appealed, to be sure—we pointed out through our principles the right way—but we were powerless, and we saw no help till the man, Lincoln, appeared on the theater of action and extended his honest hand to save the Republic. (Cheers.) No; we owe nothing to our form of government for our preservation as a nation—nothing whatever—nothing to its checks, nor to its balances, nor to its wise division of powers and duties. It was an honest President backed up by intelligent and loyal people—men, high minded men that constitute the State (cheers), who regarded society as superior to its forms, the spirit as above the letter—men as more than country, and as superior to the Constitution. They resolved to save the country with the Constitution if they could, but at any rate to save the country. To this we owe our present safety as a nation. Because a defective ship with a skillful captain, a hard-handed and honest crew, may manage to weather a considerable storm, is no proof that our old bark is sound in all her planks, bolts and timbers—because by constant pumping and extraordinary exertions we have managed to keep afloat and at last reach the shore. I propose to speak to you of the sources of danger to our republic. These may be described under two heads, those which are esoteric in their character and those which are exoteric. I shall discourse of these in the order now stated. Let it not, however, be supposed by my intelligent audience that I concede anything to those who hold to the inherent weakness of a republican form of government. Far from this. The point[s] of weakness in our government don’t touch its republican character. On the contrary I hold that a republican form of government is the strongest government on earth when it is thoroughly republican. Our republican government is weak only as it touches or partakes of the character of monarchy or an aristocracy

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or an oligarchy. In its republican features it is strong. In its despotic features it is weak. Our government, in its ideas, is a government of the people. But unhappily it was framed under conditions unfavorable to purely republican results, it was projected and completed under the influence of institutions quite unfavorable to a pure republican form of government—slavery on the one hand, monarchy on the other. Late in a man’s life his surroundings exert but a limited influence upon him—they are usually shaken off; but only a hero may shake off the influences of birth and early surroundings; the champion falls—the cause remains. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that there can be no such thing as immediate emancipation, either from slavery or from monarchy. An instant is sufficient to snap the chains; a century is not too much to obliterate all traces of former bondage. It was easy for the Fathers of the Republic, comparatively so at least, to drive the red-coats from our continent, but it was not easy to drive the ideas and associations that surrounded the British throne and emanated from the monarch of this country. Born, as the Fathers of this Republic were, under monarchical institutions, they very naturally, when they came to form a government—although they assented to what Rufus Choate called “the glittering generalities of the Declaration of Independence,”13 they were disposed to blend something of the old error with the new truth, or of the newly discovered truth of liberty asserted in the Declaration of Independence. The eclectic principle may work pretty well in some governments, but it does not work well in our government. Here there must be unity; unity of idea; unity of object and accord of motive as 13. In a public letter in August 1856, Rufus Choate (1799–1859), a diehard Massachusetts Whig, condemned the nascent Republican party for frightening the South by “its mission to inaugurate freedom and put down the oligarchy; its constitution the glittering and sounding generalities of natural right which make up the Declaration of Independence.” Samuel Gilman Brown, ed., The Works of Rufus Choate; with a Memoir of His Life, 2 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1862), 1:215.

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well as of principles; in order to [attain] a harmonious, happy and prosperous result. The idea of putting new wine into old bottles or mending old garments with new cloth was not peculiar to the Jew;14 it came down to the fathers, and it is showing itself now amongst us. We are disposed to assent to the abolition of slavery, but we wish to retain something of slavery in the new dispensation. We are willing that the chains of the slave shall be broken if a few links can be left on his arm or on his leg. Your fathers were in some respects after the same pattern. They gave us a Constitution made in the shadow of slavery and of monarchy, and in its character it partakes in some of its features of both those unfavorable influences. Now, as I have said, I concede nothing to those who hold to the inherent weakness of our government or a republican form of government. The point of weakness or the features that weaken our government are exotic. They have been incorporated and interposited from other forms of government, and it is the business of this day and this generation to purge them from the Constitution. (Cheers.) In fact, I am here to-night as a democrat, a genuine democrat dyed in the wool. (Laughter.) I am here to advocate a genuine democratic republic; to make this a republican form of government, purely a republic, a genuine republic; free it from everything that looks toward monarchy; eliminate all foreign elements, all alien elements from it; blot out from it everything antagonistic of republicanism declared by the fathers—that idea was that all governments derived their first powers from the consent of the governed;15 make it a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and for all the people,16 each for all and all for each; blot out all 14. Matt. 6:16–17. 15. A close quotation of the Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 16. Douglass is quoting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “ government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

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discriminations against any person, theoretically or practically, and make it conform to the great truths laid down by the fathers; keep no man from the ballot box or jury box or the cartridge box, because of his color—exclude no woman from the ballot box because of her sex. (Applause.) Let the government of the country rest securely down upon the shoulders of the whole nation; let there be no shoulder that does not bear up its proportion of the burdens of the government. Let there [be] no conscience, no intellect in the land not directly responsible for the moral character of the government—for the honor of the government. Let it be a genuine Republic, in which every man subject to it is represented in it, and I see no reason why a Republic may not stand while the world stands. (Applause.) Now, the first source of weakness to a republican government is the one man power. I rejoice that we are at last startled into a consciousness of the existence of this one man power. If it was necessary for Jeff[erson] Davis and his peculiar friends to resort to arms in order to show the danger of tolerating the slave power in our government, we are under great obligations to Andrew Johnson for disclosing to us the unwisdom of tolerating the one man power in their government. (Applause.) And if now we shall be moved, as I hope we shall, to revise our Constitution so as to entirely free it from the one man power, to curtail or abridge that power, and reduce [it] to a manageable point, his accidental occupancy of the Presidential chair will not be the unmitigated calamity we have been accustomed to regard it. (Laughter and applause.) It will be a blessing in disguise17—though pretty heavily disguised. (Laughter.) For disguise it as we will, this one man power is in our constitution. It has its sheet anchor firmly in the soil of our constitution.18 Mr. Johnson has sometimes overstepped this power, in certain conditions of his mind, which are quite frequent, and mistaken himself for the 17. This phrase can be traced back to a poem by James Hervey (1714–58) found in his book Reflections on a Flower-Garden in a Letter to a Lady (London: J. and J. Rivington, 1746), 76. 18. A sheet anchor is the largest ship anchor.

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United States instead of the President of the United States. The fault is not entirely due to his marvelous vanity, but to the constitution under which he lives. It is there in that Constitution. The “fantastic tricks” recently played “before high heaven” by that dignitary when sandwiched between a hero of the land and of the sea, and swinging around the circle from the Atlantic to the Mississippi19— we must break down the main spring of those tricks in the Constitution before we shall get rid of them elsewhere. It is true that our President is not our King for life; he is here only temporarily. I say King. Mr. Seward, you know, took it upon himself to introduce Andrew Johnson to the simple-hearted people of Michigan as king. “Will you have him as your President or as your King,” said the astute Secretary of State, evidently regarding the one title as appropriate to Andy Johnson as the other.20 There is a good deal of truth in it, for in fact he is invested with kingly power, with an arbitrariness equal to any crown-head in Europe. Spite of our boasts of the power of the people, your President can rule you as with a rod of iron. It is true he is only elected for four years—he is only a four-year old—and the brief time of the term would seem to be a security against misbehavior; a security and a guarantee of 19. Andrew Johnson undertook an extended speaking tour of the North from 28  August to 15 September 1866. To help ensure a favorable reception, Johnson took along two Civil War military heroes: General Ulysses S. Grant and Admiral David G. Farragut. Johnson was politely received at his first stops. Heckling during his speech on 3 September, however, provoked him into several undignified exchanges with audience members. Similar incidents occurred during speeches in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, and the Republican press accused Johnson of public drunkenness. His political opponents ridiculed Johnson’s intemperate declaration that having fought the traitors in the South, he was “swinging around full circle” to fight Northern traitors such as Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens. 20. Seward accompanied Johnson on the latter’s “swing around the circle” tour and preceded the president on the platform in Battle Creek, Michigan, on 5 September 1866. Seward addressed several questions to the audience: “Now, I will ask you, Do you want a tyrant to rule over you or your legally elected Governor? Do you want Andrew Johnson to be President or King? (Shouts of ‘President!’ ‘President and no king!’) That is President of twenty-five states? (Cries of ‘Yes!’ and ‘No!’) Do you want him to be President of thirty-six states? (Cries of ‘No! no!’ and ‘Yes!’ The ayes have it.” New York Herald, September 1866; New York Tribune, September 1866.

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good conduct, for the most turbulent of men can manage to behave themselves for short periods—always excepting the “Humble Individual.”21 But the brief time—this brief time is no security— to my mind it furnishes impunity rather than security. We bear, in one of these Presidents’ behavior, arrogance and arbitrariness that we would not bear with but for the limited term of his service. We would not bear it an hour—the disgrace and scandal that we now stagger under—did we not know that two short, silent years will put an end to our misery in this respect. It is true that we choose our President, and that would seem to show that the people after all rule. Well, we do choose him; we elect him, and we are free while we are electing him. When I was a slave; when I was first the privilege given hereafter of choosing my own master at the end of the year I was very much delighted. It struck me as a large concession to my manhood, the idea that I had the right to choose a master at the end of the year, and if I was kicked, and cuffed, bruised and beaten, during the year it was some satisfaction to know that after all, old fellow, I will shake you off at the end of the year. (Laughter.) I thought it a great thing to be able to choose my own master. I was quite intoxicated with this little bit of liberty—and I would dance from Christmas to New Year on the strength of it. But, as I grew older and a trifle wiser, I began to be dissatisfied with this liberty, the liberty of choosing another master. I found that what I wanted, that what I needed, what was essential to my manhood was not another master, not a new master, not an old master, but the right to the power under the law to be my own master. (Cheers.) From this little bit of experience—slave experience—I have elaborated quite a lengthy chapter of political philosophy, applicable to the American people. You are free to choose, but after you have chosen your freedom is gone, just as mine was— gone, and our power is gone to a large extent under the framework 21. During his tour, Johnson made so many personal references to himself that the Republican press condemned his lack of humility.

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of our government when you have chosen. You are free to choose, free while you are voting, free while you are dropping a piece of paper into the box with some names on it—I won’t tell how those names got on it; that would evince, perhaps, a culpable familiarity with politics to do that. (Laughter.) But you are free while you are dropping in your vote—going, going, gone. (Laughter.) When your President is elected, once familiarly seated in the national saddle, his feet in the stirrups, his hand on the reins, he can drive the national animal almost where he will. (Laughter.) He can administer this government with a contempt for public opinion, for the opinions and wishes of the people, such as no crowned head in Europe imitates towards his subjects. Take, for instance, the government of England. It is sufficiently despotic and autocratic, but after all that government is administered with a deference for popular opinion far superior—far greater than our own. When the prime minister of England finds himself out-voted on the floor of the House of Commons by the people’s representatives, what does he do? He lays the seals of his office at the foot of the throne; calls upon the national sovereignty to organize another government, more in harmony with the wishes and opinions of the people than he is able to be. He construes a vote against any great measure of his as a vote of want of confidence, and he is not willing to hold power when he is convinced that the people of the country are against him. He resigns. Mr. Doolittle22 has recently been invited to resign; he prefers to remain where he is. Mr. Cowan23 has been invited to resign; he prefers to remain and serve his term out. Patriotic man! The wishes and the will of the people! Why, the people of this country expressed a desire that Andy Johnson might retire from his present position. Is there any likelihood of his doing so in deference to your opinion? No. And you have no power to make him do so under your government. He is there for four years, and your only comfort, your only consolation, for whatever usurpation and misbehavior he is guilty of, is, that by and by you will have the right to elect another. What I

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needed for my manhood was, that I should be my own master. What the American people need for their manhood and their national security is, that the people shall, in time of war, and in time of peace be the masters of their own government. Now what are the elements that enter into this one man power and swell it to the formidable measure at which we find it at this time? The first thing is the immense patronage of the President of the United States—the patronage of money, of honor, of place and power. He is able to divide among his friends and among his satellites—attaching men to his person and to his political fortunes— a hundred million of dollars per annum in time of peace, and uncounted thousands of millions of dollars in time of war are virtually at his disposal. This is an influence which can neither be weighed, measured nor otherwise estimated. The very thought of it is overwhelming. This amount of money lodged outside of the government in unfriendly hands could be made a formidable lever for the destruction of the government. It is a direct assault upon the national virtue. While the President of the United States can exalt whom he will, cast down whom he will; he can place A into office for agreeing with him in opinion, and cause B to be put out of office because of an honest difference of opinion with him. Who does not see that the tendency to agreement will be a million times stronger than the tendency to differ, even though truth should be in favor of difference. From this power—this patronage—has arisen the popular political maxim that “to the victors belong the spoils,”24 and that other vulgar expression of the same idea by Postmaster General Randall,25 that no man shall eat the President’s “bread and butter” who does not indorse the President’s “policy.” The first thing that an American is taught at the cradle side is never to fight against his bread and butter. 22. One of Andrew Johnson’s most loyal supporters in the U.S. Senate, James Rood Doolittle (1815–97), of Wisconsin, aligned himself with the Democrats in 1868. He lost his Senate seat and subsequent races for governor and the U.S. House of Representatives. 23. Senator Edward Cowan’s (1815–85) opposition to Radical Republican measures and his support for Andrew Johnson completed his alienation from Pennsylvania Republicans, and he was not reelected to a second Senate term.

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Now I hold that this patronage should be abolished, that is to say that the President’s control over it should be abolished. The Constitution evidently contemplated that the large arm of our government should control the matter of appointments. It declares that the President may appoint by and with the consent and with the advice of the Senate;26 he must get the Senate’s advice and consent, but custom and a certain laxity of administration has almost obliterated this feature of the Constitution, and now the President appoints, he not only appoints by and with the consent, but he has the power of removal, and with this power he virtually makes the agency of the Senate of the United States of no effect in the matter of appointments. I am very glad to see that a movement is on foot in Congress to make the appointments by the President or removal by the President alone illegal.27 The security which you and I will have against the President is that the same power that is required to appoint shall be required to remove; that if the President can only appoint with the advice and consent of the Senate, he shall remove with the advice and consent of the Senate. If the President’s power at this point were abridged to this extent the case would be helped materially. Another source of evil in the one man power is the veto power. I am in favor of abolishing the veto power completely. It has no business in our Constitution.28 It is alien to every idea of republican government—borrowed from the old world, from king craft and priest

24. In remarks in the Senate on January 25, 1832, Senator William L. Marcy, of New York, declared that U.S. politicians “see nothing wrong in the rule, that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” Gales and Seaton’s Register of Debates in Congress, 22d Cong., 1st sess., 1325. 25. Alexander Williams Randall (1819–72), a Lincoln appointee, was promoted to postmaster general (1863–66) by Andrew Johnson. Randall supported the unsuccessful effort to form a conservative political coalition behind the president. 26. Article II, section 2, clause 2, of the U.S. Constitution. 27. In February 1867, Congress passed Tenure of Office Act to curtail Andrew Johnson’s power to dismiss federal officeholders. The bill required that the Senate approve the removal of any official whose appointment had required the body’s consent. Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill as unconstitutional on 2 March 1867, but Congress overrode his veto on the same day.

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craft, and all other adverse craft to republican government. It is anti-republican, anti-democratic, anti-common sense. (Applause.) It is based upon the idea, the absurdity, that one man is more than many men—that one man separate from the people by his exalted station—one man sitting apart from the people in his room, surrounded by his friends, his cliques, his satellites, will be likely to bring to the consideration of public measures, a higher wisdom, a larger knowledge, a purer patriotism, than will the representatives of the republic in the face and in the presence of the multitude with the flaming sword of the press waving over them, directly responsible to their constituents, immediately in communication with the great heart of the people—that one man will be likely to govern more wisely than will a majority of the people. It is borrowed from the old world; it is alien to our institutions; it is opposed to the very genius of free institutions, and I want to see it struck out of our Constitution. (Loud applause.) I believe that two heads are better than one, and I shall not stultify myself by saying that one head, even though it be the head of Andrew Johnson, is more than almost two-thirds of the representatives of the American people. Is that Republicanism? Is that Democracy? Is that consistent with the idea that the people shall rule? I think not. But it is said that we must have a check some where. We are great on checks. We must have some checks against these fanatical majorities, and we have recently been told that majorities can be as destructive and more arbitrary than individual despots, especially when the individuals are humble “Uriah Heeps.”29 (Laughter.) If this be so; if this is the truth, I think that we ought to part with Republican government at once. If it be true that one man is more likely to be wiser, or is likely to be wiser than the majority—that one man is likely to wield the government more entirely [in] the interest of the people than will a majority, if one man is a safer guide for the 28. Article I, section 7, clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution empowers the president to veto legislation passed by Congress.

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people than nearly two-thirds of the best representatives—if that be true, let us have a one man government at once, let us have done with republicanism—let us try the experiment of the one man government. And I would advise you to begin with a legitimate scion of some of the great families of Europe. Let us take a genuine sprig of the article. We can easily get one—they are becoming very abundant in Europe I am told. There is one now, I think, one that is out of place, and you need not send across the Atlantic for him. He is driving about down here in Mexico. You might send for Maximilian, and have a one man government alone.30 And we should have the veto legitimate. I believe majorities can be despotic and have been arbitrary, but arbitrary to whom? Arbitrary when arbitrary at all, always to unrepresented classes. What is the remedy? A consistent republic in which there shall be no unrepresented classes. For when all classes are represented the rights of all classes will be respected. (Cheers.) It is a remarkable fact, and we Americans may well ponder it, that although the veto is entirely consistent with monarchical government and entirely inconsistent with republican government, the government of England, which is a monarchy, has not exercised the veto power once in 150 years.31 There where it is consistent it is never used. Here where it is inconsistent, and at war with the genius of our institutions we can have a little veto every morning. Where the people rule they are the vetoed. When any measure passes the 29. Douglass probably paraphrases the arguments in Andrew Johnson’s message of 7 January 1867, which vetoed the District of Columbia suffrage bill. Johnson quoted James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, James Kent, and Joseph Story to support his claim that majorities in the legislative branch of government could potentially be more despotic than the executive branch. Douglass compares Johnson to Uriah Heep, a fictional character in Charles Dickens’s novel David Copperfield (1850), whose hypocritical humility was similar to the Radical Republicans’ portrayal of Johnson. 30. Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph (1832–67) accepted an offer from Napoleon III to become ruler of a prospective empire in Mexico. His attempt to rally popular support for his throne failed, and diplomatic pressure from the United States forced the French to withdraw their troops in early 1867. After refusing to abdicate, he was captured by republican forces and executed.

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House of Commons or House of Lords, it is sure of the royal assent. Popular as Queen Victoria is, honored as she is queen, loved as she is a mother,32 as a good citizen of the realm, it would cost her her crown to veto a measure passed by the people’s representatives in the House of Commons and by the House of Lords. But here the people have got used to it, like the eels that got used to being skinned—so used to it that they feel no indignation at the arrogance and presumption that one man exhibits in opposing his judgment to the judgment of the people’s representatives. You have got used to it. I see no indignation at all at this impertinence. We have become so listless and indifferent about the dignity of the people, that we can see it insulted with a veto every month. Now, I have looked down on the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and I have listened to the eloquence of their noblest orators, Sir Robert Peel,33 Lord John Russell,34 Richard Cobden and John Bright—a man whose name should never be mentioned in an American audience without moving it. I have listened to Lord Brougham35 and to Lord Palmerston,36 and I have also looked down on the Senate of the United States, and heard the debates there, and I am free to say, without wishing to disparage the English House of Parliament, in all the elements going to exalt and dignify a high deliberative assembly, our Senate compares favorably with the House of Lords. I think it the superior of the House of Lords and our House of Representatives fully the equal of the House of Commons in England. And if in a monarchy the representatives of the people can be trusted to govern themselves without the veto, 31. Queen Anne exercised the last royal veto, on a Scottish militia bill in 1707. 32. The queen of Great Britain since 1837, Victoria (1819–1901) married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1819–1861) in 1840 and was the mother of nine children. 33. Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850), a popular Conservative (Tory) statesman, was elected twice to the prime minister’s office (1834–35, 1841–46). 34. Lord John Russell (1792–1878), a champion of political and social reform, served as British prime minister from 1846 to 1852 and from 1865 to 1866.

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Republican Americans can’t you? Have done with that veto. It is a fruitful source of mischief, and bad bold men. A man of vigorous intellect, imperious will, fiery temper and boundless ambition finds in that veto a convenient instrument for the gratification of all his desires and his base ambition. Do away with it; blot it out from your government, and you will have done with the antagonism between the legislative arm and the executive arm of the government. Make your President what you ought to be, not more than he ought to be, and you should see to it that such changes should be made in the Constitution of the United States that your President is simply your executive, that he is there not to make laws, but to enforce them; not to defy your will, but to enforce your high behests. Another thing I would do. I would abolish, if I had it in my power, the two-term principle. Away with that. While that principle remains in the Constitution—while the President can be his own successor, and is eligible to succeed himself,37 he will not be warm in his seat in the presidential chair (such is poor human nature), before he will begin to scheme for a second election. It is a standing temptation to him to use the powers of his office in such a manner as to promote his own political fortune. The presidency is too valuable to allow a man who occupies the position the means of perpetuating himself in that office. Another objection to this provision of the Constitution is, that we have a divided man in the presidential chair. The duties of the presidency are such as to require a whole man, the whole will, and the whole work; but the temptation of a President is to make himself a President of a Presidential party as well as of the country, and the result is that we are only half served. What we want 35. Henry Peter Brougham (1778–1868), 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux, a prominent leader of the Whig party, is chiefly remembered for the role he played in the parliamentary struggle to abolish slavery. 36. Henry John Temple (1784–1865), 3rd Viscount Palmerston, was twice prime minister (1855–58, 1859–65). 37. George Washington established the precedent for a two-term presidency, but contrary to what Douglass implies, that limit was not part of the U.S. Constitution.

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is the entire service of a man reduced to one term, and then he can bring to the service of his country an undivided man, an undivided sense of duty and devote his energies to the discharge of his office without selfish ends or aims. Blot out this two-term system. Another thing I would abolish—the pardoning power.38 I should take that right out of the hands of this one man. The argument against it is in some respects similar to that used against the veto power. Those against the veto power are equally persistent against the pardoning power, and there is a good reason why we should do away with the pardoning power in the hands of the President, that is that our government may at some time be in the hands of a bad man. When in the hands of a good man it is all well enough, and we ought to have our government so shaped that even when in the hands of a bad man we shall be safe. And we know that the people are usually well intentioned. A certain per centage are thieves, a certain per centage are robbers, murderers, assassins, blind, insane and idiots. But the great mass of men are well intentioned, and we should watch the individual. Trust the masses always. That is good Democracy, is it not? Not modern, but old-fashioned. But my argument is this: A bad President, for instance, has the power to do what? What can he not do? If he wanted to revolutionize this government, he could easily do it with this ponderous power; it would be an auxiliary power. He could cry “havoc, and let slip the dogs of war,”39 and say to the conspirators: “I am with you. If you succeed, all is well. If you fail, I will interpose the shield of my pardon, and you are safe. If your property is taken away from you by Congress, I will pardon and restore your property. Go on and revolutionize the government; I will stand by you.” The bad man will say or might say this. I am not sure but we have got a man now who comes very near saying it. Let us have done with this pardoning power. We have had enough of this. Pardoning! How inexpressibly base have been the uses made by this 38. The pardoning power of president is stated in article II, section 2, clause 1, of the U.S. Constitution.

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power—this beneficent power. It has been that with which a treacherous President has trafficked. He has made it the means of securing adherents to himself instead of securing allegiance to the government. Let us have done with closet pardons—pardons obtained by bad men—pardons obtained by questionable women—pardons obtained in the most disgraceful and scandalous manner.40 Drive this pardoning power out of the government and put it in the legislative arm of the government in some way. Let a committee of the House of Representatives and Senate of the United States determine who shall be the recipients of the clemency at the hands of the nation. Let it not come from an individual, but let it come from the people. An outraged people know to whom to extend this clemency. Another thing I am in favor of. I am in favor of abolishing the office of the Vice President. Let us have no more Vice Presidents. (Cheers.) We have had bad luck with them. (Laughter.) We don’t need them. There is no more need of electing a Vice President at the same time we elect a President than there is need of electing a second wife when we have got one already. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”41 The argument against the vice presidency is to me very conclusive. It may be briefly stated thus: The presidency of the United States, like the crown of a monarchy, is a tempting bauble. It is very desirable thing. Men are men. Ambition is ambition the world over. History is constantly repeating itself. There is not a single crown in Europe that has not [at] some time been stained with innocent blood—not one. For the crown, men have murdered their friends who have dined at the table with them; for the crown, men have sent the assassin to the cells of their own brothers and their own sisters, and plunged the dagger into their own warm, red blood. For the crown all manner of crimes have been commit39. Julius Caesar, sc. 8, line 1363. 40. A proclamation by President Andrew Johnson in May 1865 granted full “amnesty and pardon” to almost all high-ranking Confederates who took an oath of loyalty to the United States. 41. Matt. 6:34.

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ted. The Presidency is equally a tempting bauble in this country. I am not for placing that temptation so near any man as it is placed when we elect a Vice President. I am not for electing a man to the presidential chair, and then putting a man behind him with his ambition all leading that way—with his desires, his thoughts, all directed upon that chair, with a knowledge, at the same time, that only the President’s life stands between him and the object of his ambition. I am not for placing a man behind the President, within striking distance of him, whose interest, whose ambition, whose every inclination is to be subserved by his getting that chair. The wall of assassination is too thin to be placed between a man and the Presidency of the United States. (Cheers.) Let your Vice President be unknown to himself and unknown to the people. Let him be in the mass till there is need for him. Don’t plump him right upon the President. Your President is unsafe while the shadow of the Vice President falls upon the Presidential chair. How easy it would be to procure the death of any man where there are such temptations as that offered. A clique, a clan, a ring, usually forms about the Vice President. How would you administer the government if you were President? Who would you send to the Court of St. James? Who would you send to the Court of France? Who would you appoint Postmaster General? Who would you appoint Collector of the port of New Orleans, or New York or of St. Louis? What would you do if you were President? “I would do so and so.” “It suits us to a dot.” (Laughter and applause.) The President dies, and in steps the Vice President. He is reminded at once of his old pledges, and he begins to try to redeem them by turning against the party who elected him. It is a remarkable fact that in no instance has any vice-president followed out the policy of the president that he was elected with. Elected on the same ticket, on the same platform, at the same time, at the instant the president is taken off the vice president has reversed the machinery of the policy on which he was elected in every instance.

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General Harrison42 was the first man suspected of entertaining opinions unfavorable to slavery. He died in a month. He was succeeded by whom? By John Tyler—one of the most violent propagandist of slavery that ever trod this continent. Where was the Whig party that elected him? Nowhere. Where was the policy on which he was elected? Nowhere. General Taylor,43 though a slaveholding man and an honest man towards his constituents and the people of the country, the moment it was ascertained he was in favor of admitting California as a free State if she saw fit to come with a constitution of that character and was opposed to paying ten millions of dollars to Texas on account of the claim on New Mexico,44 there were means at hand to kill him. He died and was followed by whom?45 By a vile sycophant who spit on the policy of his predecessor, and put himself in the service of the very men whom that President had offended. Well, they tried to murder even James Buchanan (laughter) in order that he should be followed by a younger, stronger traitor than himself. They put Mr. Breckinridge46 behind him, and when he went down to Washington they carried him to the National Hotel and helped him to a large dose of poison.47 (Laughter.) But in that instance the poison met its match. (Great laughter.) Who doubts that James Buchanan

42. William Henry Harrison (1773–1841) made his career as a military and political leader. He attracted national attention after defeating Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe Creek in 1811. In 1840, Harrison ran for president with John Tyler as his running mate, spawning the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too.” 43. Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) returned to the United States as a Mexican War hero in 1847, which led to his nomination as the Whig presidential candidate and contributed to his victory in the 1848 election. His inexperience in the political arena heightened the sectional controversy over the status of slavery in the western territories won from Mexico. 44. As part of his 1850 omnibus bill to resolve the sectional controversy caused by the Mexican Cession, Henry Clay proposed that the federal government compensate Texas with $10 million to abandon its territorial claims against New Mexico. President Zachary Taylor opposed Clay’s plan and instead encouraged New Mexicans to apply for admission to statehood, making the border dispute between the two states a legal matter for the Supreme Court to resolve.

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was poisoned? It was notorious at the time, and no doubt poisoned for a purpose. To-day, to-day we mourn, the nation has to mourn, that the nation has a President, made President by the bullet of an assassin. I do not say that he knew that his noble predecessor was to be murdered. I do not say that he had any hand in it; but this I do say, without fear of contradiction, that the men who murdered Abraham Lincoln knew Andrew Johnson as we know him now. (Great applause.) Let us have done with these vice presidents. The nation can easily call a man to fill the presidential chair in case of death; besides, he is not half so likely to die. (Laughter.) It is a little remarkable, too, that whilst presidents die, vice presidents never die. (Laughter.) There is nobody behind them. Well I had marked a number of points I intended to dwell upon. I am taking up perhaps too much of your time, to go further with internal sources of danger to the republic. I had purposed to have spoken specially of secret diplomacy, but I pass it over as one of the sources of weakness to our republican form of government. I may be told that in pointing out these sources of weakness that it is easy to find fault but not so easy to find remedies. I admit it, I agree with Robert Hale48 that it requires more talent to build a decent pig stye than to tear down a considerable palace, and yet when the ship is to be repaired, it is of some consequence to find out where the unsound timbers are, when the opening seam is where the corroded bolt is, that we put in sounder, and I have been indicating where these points of unsoundness are. And I think I can leave this matter of reconstruction to the high constructive talent of this Anglo-Saxon 45. Millard Fillmore. 46. John Cabell Breckinridge. 47. An outbreak of dysentery in February and March 1857 at Washington’s National Hotel gained national attention when president-elect James Buchanan and several members of his entourage became ill while staying there as guests. Although contemporary medical experts could not agree on the cause of the “National Hotel disease,” the best available evidence points to contamination of the hotel’s kitchen and pantry by sewage backed up in a frozen plumbing system.

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race. The negro has done his part if he succeeds in pointing out the source of danger to the republic. You will have done your part when you have corrected or removed these sources of danger. We have already grappled with very dangerous elements in our government, and we have performed a manly part, we have removed errors, but there are some errors to be removed, not so dangerous, not so shocking, perhaps, as those with which we have grappled; but nevertheless dangers requiring removal. Happy will it be for us, happy will it be for the land, happy for coming generations, if we shall discover these sources of danger, and grapple with them in time without the aid of a second rebellion—without the people being lashed and stung into another military necessity. It is sad to think that half the glory, half the honor due to the great act of emancipation was lost in the tardiness of its performance. It has now gone irrevocably into history—not as an act of sacred choice by a great nation, of the right as against the wrong, of truth as against falsehood, of liberty as against slavery—but as a military necessity. We are called upon to be faithful to the American government, for our emancipation as black men. We do feel thankful, and we have the same reason to be thankful that the Israelites had to be thankful to Pharaoh for their emancipation, for their liberties.49 It was not until judgments terrible, wide-sweeping, far-reaching and overwhelming, had smitten down this nation, that we were ready to part with our reverence for slavery, and ceased to quote Scripture in its defence. It was not until we felt the land trembling beneath our feet that we heard an accusing voice in the heart; the sky above was darkened, the wail came up from millions of hearth stones in our land. Our sons and brothers slain in battle, it was not until we saw our sons and brothers returning home mere stumps of men, armless, legless, it was not until we felt all crumbling beneath us and we 48. Douglass probably refers to the British Baptist minister and essayist Robert Hall (1764–1831). 49. The circumstances of the escape of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt are described in the book of Exodus.

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saw the Star Spangled Banner clinging to the masthead heavy with blood. It was not until agony was manifested from a million of hearthstones in our land, and the Southern sky was darkened, that we managed to part with our reverence for slavery, and to place a musket on the shoulders of the black man. We may now do from choice and from sacred choice what we did by military necessity. (Loud applause.)

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“Let the Negro Alone” An Address Delivered in New York, New York, 11 May 1869 National Anti-Slavery Standard, 29 May 1869. Frederick Douglass was in New York City for anniversary week, when reform societies gathered for their annual meetings. He received a warm reception when he addressed the American Anti-Slavery Society in Steinway Hall. The next day, he had a more contentious exchange at the American Equal Rights Association meeting, also held in the hall. The New York Tribune suggested that the anniversaryweek meetings had lost the “glory” of past years, perhaps because of emancipation, but noted there were 350 people present for the opening address, by Wendell Phillips, and a “much larger audience” for Frederick Douglass’s evening speech, “Let the Negro Alone.”1 As of 11 May 1869, thirteen states had ratified the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, enfranchising black males, and the anniversary proceedings focused on generating support among another fifteen states for ratification (full ratification required approval by twentyeight of the thirty-seven states). Douglass, in particular, called for granting the vote as a means of protecting Radical Republicans and blacks in the South from ambushes by vigilantes seeking to suppress African American political and economic power Douglass’s speech title echoes the sentiment felt in much of the nation, which was weary from the war and wanted to “let the Negro alone.” But he questions the claim that “slavery is dead,” noting that “the former bondman” is “insecure in his life and property.” 1. “American Anti-Slavery Society,” New York Tribune, 12 May 1869.

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Douglass offers a simple policy to adopt toward the Negro: “Give him fair play and let him alone, but be sure to give him fair play.” He spends the bulk of his speech elaborating on what “fair play” entails. Douglass uses ventriloquizing and comedy to capture his audience, perhaps responding to the popularity of minstrelsy shows in New York at this time. Among the sixteen shows advertised in the New York Herald on the day it reported his speech, four were minstrelsies and three were plays about racial exclusion or exploitation, including William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” from which Douglass, perhaps not coincidentally, quotes.2 He responds to the association between African American performers and humor with this riff: “[African Americans] are here; love to be here; like your civilization; accept it; become a part of it. Where there are Methodists, the negro is a Methodist; where there are Baptists, he is a Baptist; where there are Quakers, he is not exactly a Quaker, because they do not make noise enough for him (laughter), but he wears at least a plain coat.” In his closing to this anecdote, he changes his tone to a more serious one, demanding that African Americans be recognized as part of the “body politic.” Ultimately, he asks that no person be turned away from the voting polls on account of color or sex, presaging his presence the next day at the American Equal Rights Association anniversary meeting. The speaker following Douglass took him to task for suggesting that African Americans were more assimilable to the dominant American culture than Indians: “The Indian is an outlaw to-day, and therefore cannot be what the negro is, a citizen. When we shall make him a citizen, and give him the rights and privileges that pertain to the negroes, we shall see whether he will imitate them [and become informed and productive citizens] or not.”3 Douglass seemed to have taken this criticism to heart. In a speech delivered in Rochester, New York, a year later on 9 April, he called the assumption that Indians would die out “the most terrible reproach” to “American Christianity and civilization.” He denies the inevitability of Indian removal, and 2. New York Herald, 11 May 1869. 3. The speaker following Douglass was Cora Daniels Tappan. She gently rebuked Douglass and spoke at some length on the need to enfranchise Indians as well as African Americans. “Thirty-Sixth Anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society,” National Anti-Slavery Standard, 29 May 1869.

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instead contends that their exclusion from citizenship, not their “savagery,” is the actual source of the conflict. He added, “The only thing that has saved the negro [from the same exclusion and subsequent violence] is first the interest of his master, and now his being brought into the American body politic.”4 Douglass’s concluding call for neither black men nor women to be excluded from voting, though well received at the American Anti-Slavery Society, did not forestall disputes during the next day’s meeting of the American Equal Rights Association. Some women’s rights advocates demanded that the Equal Rights Association protest the introduction of the word “male” into the Fifteenth Amendment, thereby explicitly excluding women from suffrage for the first time. Other men and women defended the amendment’s language as necessary for its passage. The debate split the movement. The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified ten months after this speech on 3 February 1870.

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r. President,5 Ladies and Gentlemen:—It has been a long time since I had the honor to appear among the regular speakers of the American Anti-Slavery Society on an anniversary occasion like the present.6 So long, indeed, has it been, and so vast and wonderful have been the changes which have taken place since then, that I almost hesitate to speak at all, although I appreciate very highly the sentiment to which I owe my invitation to be present on this occasion. The arguments which I once could use with some little skill and effect on occasions like this are no longer pertinent. We stand to-night amid the

4. “A Reform Absolutely Complete: An Address Delivered in New York, New York, on 9 April 1870,” Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 4:265. 5. The president of this meeting was Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell (1825– 1921), the nation’s first female ordained minister. Blackwell resigned her Congregationalist pulpit after only one year when she converted to Unitarianism. She wrote books on a wide range of philosophical, scientific, and religious topics. Brown was away from the meeting’s chair and Wendell Phillips temporarily was presiding. 6. Douglass had attended the anniversary meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York City on 10 May 1865.

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bleaching bones of dead issues. Where are the arguments by which we were once confronted?—the political argument, the moral argument and the religious argument, especially? Where now are the cunning and subtle arguments framed by our Doctors of Divinity in defence of slavery, affirming it to be a divine institution against which the gates of hell should not prevail? They are all gone. I have nothing to kick against. How can I speak on the platform of the American Anti-Slavery Society when all our opponents are in full retreat, scarcely taking the time to look for new positions? Where is slavery itself? Gone—gone, I trust, forever. Its “cloud-capt towers and gorgeous palaces,”7 stained with blood, are dissolved; and if we have any vocation here at all, any mission here, it is to see that not a rack is left behind (applause); that not one of the elements of the slave system is suffered to remain, obstructing the pathway of human progress in the future. I am quite aware that in the minds of some, the name “American Anti-Slavery Society” is an anachronism and an impertinence. Some of my fellow-citizens tell me that slavery is dead, that it died some time ago, and that the American Anti-Slavery Society ought to have died with it.8 The logic would be perfect, if the premises were correct. Had slavery died an honest death, the Anti-Slavery Society might have died with it. But slavery is not honestly dead, to-night. It did not die honestly. Had its death come of moral conviction instead of political and military necessity; had it come in obedience to the enlightenment of the American people; had it come at the call of the humanity and the morality and the enlightenment of the slave-holder, as well as of the rest of our fellow-citizens, slavery 7. The Tempest, sc. 8, line 1608. 8. At the May 1865 anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, William Lloyd Garrison, the longtime president of that organization, moved for its dissolution. Wendell Phillips, Douglass, and other veteran abolitionists debated Garrison and his followers for two days before winning a decisive 118–48 vote to maintain the society. Garrison declined reelection as president and led his followers in resigning their memberships.

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might be looked upon as honestly dead; but there is no such thing conceivable, as a practical result, as the immediate, unconditional abolition of slavery. In the nature of the case, there can be no such thing as the immediate, unconditional, complete abolition of slavery, any where in the world. It would be to contradict human nature, and all the social forces of which we have any knowledge, to assume such a possibility. There is no such thing. An instant may snap the chain, but a century is not too much to obliterate the traces of a former bondage. Slavery, to be sure, is abolished. The legal relation of master and slave is abolished; but that out of which slavery sprung, that by which it was sustained, the selfishness, the arrogance of the master, still remain; the ignorance and servility of the slave still remain; and while the ignorance and servility of the slave, and the arrogance of the master, with his custom to bear sway over his fellows, remain, and manifest themselves to the eye in the forms in which we now see them all over the South, in rendering the former bondman insecure in his life and property, and making it impossible for a Northern man, possessed of the ideas of freedom, to go safely into that country,—while, I say, this state of facts exists, it is not correct to assume that slavery is entirely out of the field. The American Anti-Slavery Society, however, is only an instrument; it is only an agent. Its value consists in its efficiency. If it is efficient, it has a reason for existing; when it ceases to be efficient, let it perish, like any other instrumentality. It has had a glorious history. For thirty-six years, it has been constructing a magnificent arch to bridge the howling chasm of slavery, over which four millions of joyful bondmen might pass to liberty. (Applause.) The arch has been built. It is beautiful to behold. Only one thing remains, and that is to insert the keystone of the arch. That keystone is the Fifteenth Amendment.9 (Applause.) Until that Fifteenth Amendment 9. The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that the voting rights of the U.S. citizens could not be denied or abridged on account of race or previous conditions of servitude; it was ratified on 30 March 1870.

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becomes part of the Constitution of the United States, this Society has an excellent apology for continued existence. When it is made a part of the Constitution, I shall be prepared to consider whether it is best to dispense with the use of this Society or not. That is a very diplomatic statement: I shall be ready to consider it. Not quite ready to decide, but ready to consider it. I would not dare, however, to decide that question, until I had heard the judgment of Wendell Phillips at considerable length.10 (Applause.) I do not know what more there is to say. They have all said to-day, that it was no use to argue the wisdom of the Fifteenth Amendment. What are we to argue, then? I shall not, however, go into any argument, for I know who are to come after me. I am merely put forward here to-night to open the ceremonies. There is a long and brilliant list of speakers behind me, to whom you are eager to listen; to whom I am eager to listen, if you are not. I have but one theory in regard to the negro, and that seems to be conceded, by Democrats as well as Republicans. It is summed up in one word—Let him alone! That is about your whole duty in regard to the negro—to let him alone. You want to be doing something for him and with him; and your doing something for us, with us and by us has played the mischief with us already (applause); and what we most need at this time is to be let alone. My politics in regard to the negro is simply this: Give him fair play and let him alone, but be sure you give him fair play. He is now a man before the law. I rejoice at it. What we want, what we are resolved to have, is the right to be men among men; men everywhere. Our wants, I grant you, are many. One of our first wants is money. No people ever yet made any considerable progress in civilization or in the estimation of their 10. Wendell Phillips made clear his position that the American Anti-Slavery Society could consider its mission completed, and would thereafter dissolve, once the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified and African American males had their voting rights secured. In 1870, a year after this address, Phillips’s motion for the dissolution of the American Anti-Slavery Society carried over the objections of a small minority led by Parker Pillsbury and Stephen Foster, even as Phillips, Douglass, and other abolitionists expressed the need for a new campaign to assist the freedmen.

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fellow-men who had not money, and what the negro wants, especially just now, is money. Without money, he has no leisure; without money, the whole struggle of life is to live, and while he is contending for bread, his brains are neglected; and until we can have, as you have, a class of men of wealth, we can never have a leisure class; and until we have a leisure class, we can never have a very intelligent class; and until we have an intelligent class, we shall never be respected among our fellows. Until we can present an intelligent class, while we are all, as a race, as a class, mere hewers of wood and drawers of water,11 we shall be forever a despised race; and therefore I like my friend Foster’s proposition (not, perhaps, in the full length to which he carried it, but it embodies a truth), that the negro must have a right to the land.12 At least, I demand for him the same right to the land, the same opportunity, and the same chance to get possession of the land that other people have. All over the South, it is well known, notorious, that the old planters, who own their ten and fifteen thousand acres of land, have banded together and determined not to sell it in small parcels or in large parcels to colored men—to keep possession of the land.13 Therefore, this government is bound to see, not only that the negro has the right to vote, but that he has fair play in the acquisition of land; that when he offers a fair price for the land of the South, he shall not be deprived of the right to purchase, simply because of his color. This may not seem to be consistent with my first proposition,— to let the negro alone; but it is quite consistent with what should be the first proposition—Give him fair play, and let him alone. If you see a negro wanting to purchase land, let him alone; let him 11. Josh. 9:21. 12. In a speech during the morning session, the radical abolitionist Stephen Symonds Foster (1809–81), a proponent of distributing land to the freedmen, urged that the American Anti-Slavery Society not disband until every ex-slave had been provided with a homestead. 13. On the South Carolina Sea Islands, where the federal government had permitted slaves de facto control of many abandoned plantations, planters returning after the war’s end refused to sell or even rent to blacks. In later years, planters passed resolutions not to sell land to blacks in order to keep them as sharecroppers.

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purchase it. If you see him on the way to school, let him go; don’t say he shall not go into the same school with other people. If anybody has a right to schooling, he has; if anybody needs schooling, he does. If you see him on his way to the workshop, let him alone; let him work; don’t say you will not work with him; that you will “knock off” if he is permitted to work. The newspapers of to-day tell us that some thirty-six printers in the Government printing office at Washington are utterly disgusted by the employment of a single negro printer in that establishment, and one paper states that they had leave to withdraw.14 I hope it is so. (Applause.) The difficulty with us is, that we are a poor people, and have but few opportunities to obtain anything like a competency in the North. We are restricted to two or three employments. We do all the whitewashing. We are great on white! (Laughter.) I saw a colored man the other day, and says he, “As to this thing you call learning, book learning, I ain’t much at that; but that thing you call laying whitewash on the wall, I am dar.” (Merriment.) We are there. We have been ruled out of the workshop. It is easier to-day to get a negro boy a seat by the side of a lawyer to study law, than it is to get him a place at a blacksmith’s anvil, to hammer iron. I can more easily to-day enter my son in a law office in Rochester, than I can get him into a shipyard to help build ships. The reason is, that the higher you go up in the gradations of intelligence, the further you get from prejudice, the more reasonable men are. I find it far less difficult to get along with educated men, ignorant as I am, than to get along with uneducated men. The educated men of the country are in advance of the masses. You have only to stand out among the stumps of Ohio and sing out to an ignorant crowd, “Is there any man in this land who wants to be ruled over by a nigger?” to carry the whole crowd against the suffrage amendment. That is enough. But with thinking men, that does not amount to much. 14. Considerably different reports of the incident appeared in New York City newspapers on the day of Douglass’s speech. The man referred to was Douglass’s son Lewis, whose problems in attempting to join the local typographical union Douglass discussed at length in his speech of 3 August 1869 in Medina, New York.

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What colored men want is elbow room, and enlarged opportunities. Give them employments by which they can obtain something like a respectable living. That has been done in Washington, of late. A black man has been put into the Government printing office, another has been sent as Minister Plenipotentiary (I don’t know what that may all mean) to Hayti, and another to that exotic Republic over the sea, Liberia.15 In 1839, I believe, John Quincy Adams brought forward a proposition to recognize the independence of Hayti, and in a moment, the House of Representatives was a scene of unparalleled confusion. The whole South started angrily to its feet, and hurled at the “old man eloquent” the wildest and most withering denunciations. He bore it all.16 Henry Clay said, “It is true, we are told that this black Republic has maintained its liberty for forty years. I care not for it. Should Time himself confront me, and shake his hoary locks at my position, I should still oppose the acknowledgment of the independence of Hayti.” Hayti is to-day acknowledged. The negro Republic is on a footing of equality with other nations, and is acknowledged to be one of the sisterhood of nations; and, withal, the freest and mightiest Republic on the globe, and now or rapidly becoming recognized as the mightiest nation on the globe, the nation that is to dictate the law to the nations of Europe, the nation which more than any other beneath the sky is to give direction to the civilization of the next fifty years,—that nation sends a black Minister to Hayti (applause), and is getting ready, I trust, to reach out its hand to those brave, those heroic and noble Cubans, who are now defending the cause which this Society and all America have sworn to support.17 15. Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett became the first black U.S. minister to Haiti in 1869. Contrary to Douglass’s assertion, James Milton Turner, the first black U.S. minister to Liberia, was not appointed until 1871. 16. Beginning in December 1838 and for several years thereafter, John Quincy Adams and a few other Northern congressmen presented petitions to the House of Representatives calling for the diplomatic recognition of Haiti. Adams successfully blocked efforts by Southerners to have the petitions immediately tabled, but was unable to persuade the House to order its Committee on Foreign Affairs to make a report on the petitions. 17. On 10 October 1868 a group of Cuban planters launched a revolution for independence from Spanish rule. The revolutionaries’ provisional government took

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I have some sympathy with my Democratic brethren, after all. There is one thing about them—they have always been logical; and seen a little further than the Abolitionists themselves, just a little. Long before Wendell Phillips announced the doctrine of the dissolution of the Union, John C. Calhoun saw that was just what it would come to. Long before Mr. Seward18 announced the doctrine of the “irrepressible conflict,” Mr. Calhoun saw that “irrepressible conflict,” and saw that this country must be all slavery or all freedom, or there would be no going on; there must be fighting. I say I have sympathy for my Democratic friends when they say to me, “Douglass, that is all right enough, but we see where it leads.” They do see where it leads. Mr. Hendricks, on the floor of the Senate, said, “Gentlemen, this thing, suffrage for the blacks, is impossible, for it means the bringing of a black Senator into this House, to be seated in one of these chairs; it is impossible.”19 He was right; it means all that, and I am just the man that is coming. (Laughter and applause.) I am like the boy who said he would go home and live with his uncle Albert, but he meant to do just what he pleased, if his uncle Albert would let him. (Laughter.) It means that, and it means more. You take a step in the right direction, and another opens to you evermore; take one in the wrong direction, and another and still another opens before you, until you reach the bottom, if there is any bottom, of the bottomless pit. There is no stopping. Let the negro vote, and he will be voted for; and if voted for, he will go to Congress; and if to Congress, there is no telling where he won’t go. (Applause.) an ambiguous position on the abolition of slavery, however, costing them any chance of U.S. intervention on its behalf. After a ten-year struggle, Spain ended the Cuban insurgency through a combination of military force and political reform. 18. William H. Seward. 19. Thomas Andrews Hendricks, an Indiana Democrat, held many offices, including the vice presidency under Grover Cleveland (1885). As a senator, Hendricks took a leading role in the debate over congressional passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, advancing a host of constitutional and racist arguments against the measure. The remarks that Douglass ascribes to Hendricks do not, however, appear in the official reports of the debate. The conservative Republican senator James R. Doolittle made a very similar remark on 8 February 1869. Congressional Globe, 40th Cong., 3d sess., 1011.

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The Democrat said, “The right to vote means amalgamation.” The Abolitionist said, “No, that don’t follow.” “It will dissolve the Union.” “No it won’t.” “It will lead to amalgamation.” “No, it won’t.” But it will lead just there. Don’t be afraid. There was a beautiful speech made here to-day by Mrs. Blackwell. She has a theory, that all races have some distinctive peculiarity, which can be made promotive of civilization, provided they do not imitate.20 I believe in imitation. I think the disposition to imitate what is a little in advance of what we before knew is one of the most civilizing qualities of the human mind, and I am going to imitate all the good I can, and leave unimitated all the bad I find in the world. There is no such thing as our living in this world anywhere else than right among people, part of them. The only reason why the negro has not been killed off, as the Indians have been, is, that he is so close under your arm, that you cannot get at him. If we had set up a separate nationality, gone off on the outer borders of your civilization, right before your bayonets and swords, we should have been pushed off, precisely as the Indians have been pushed off. Our salvation, the salvation of every race in this country, is in becoming an integral part of the American government, becoming incorporated into the American body politic, incorporated into society, having common aims, common objects, and common instrumentalities with which to work with you, side by side. The further we get apart, the more we are hated; the nearer we come together, the more we are loved. Coöperation brings together. That feeling of common regard and common interest, is necessary to our salvation, necessary to that of the Indian. Senator Doolittle21 (I think it was) said to Mr. Sumner,22 after he had made a speech in favor of the elective 20. Newspaper reports of Antoinette Brown Blackwell’s speech at the morning session of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s anniversary meeting are fragmentary. In the same year as the convention, Blackwell published Studies in General Science, which contains remarks on the black race quite similar to Douglass’s characterization of her speech. Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Studies in General Science (New York 1869), 330–31. 21. James Rood Doolittle. 22. Charles Sumner.

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franchise, “Mr. Sumner, all this concern about the negro is absurd; he will die off in a few years. Thousands of them have already disappeared, and they are rapidly disappearing. No use to make any ado about incorporating them with this government; they will die out.”23 That was his theory. I have been travelling over the Western States lately,24 and have had occasion to observe the presence of vast numbers of colored people where I have not seen them before; and I think this accounts, in part, for the “dying out” of the negro at the South. They followed the Union army home by thousands, they have taken up their abodes at the North, and their old slave masters at the South regard them as dead. But they still live, and will reappear at the right time. They would die if put in the same condition with the Indian. You might plant on the outer borders of American civilization a race of angels, if you please, and it would be impossible to keep the peace between those angels and this progressive Anglo-Saxon nation. They would find some bad angels among them, or make them bad, and then use their badness as an apology for waging war upon them. They could not live in that way, and if angels could not, negroes could not, for we are too much like other people (laughter and applause); for if the negro cannot show his identity with the human family by his virtues, he can at least by his vices. I do not know any wickedness that any white man can commit that a black man cannot commit also,—they are so much alike, in all things! (Laughter.) And I know of no heroic or manly act that a white man can do, that a negro cannot do the same. We are not going to die out, I say. Those who liken us to the Indians make one mistake. They overlook the fact that the negro is

23. Douglass very roughly paraphrases the speech that the conservative Republican senator James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin made on 8 February 1869 in opposition to the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Congressional Globe, 40th Cong., 3d sess., 1010–12. 24. In the period from February to April 1869, Douglass lectured extensively throughout Ohio, Illinois, and Minnesota.

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more like the white man than the Indian, in his tastes and tendencies, and disposition to accept civilization. You see the Indian, too proud to beg, disdaining your civilization, standing at the corners of the streets, wrapped in his blanket,—refusing to imitate, refusing to follow the fashion,—with a few bead purses and baskets to sell. In his dignity and destitution, he rejects our civilization, and the consequence is, that he dies or retreats before the onward march of your civilization, from the Atlantic to the lakes, and from the lakes to the great rivers. He sees with no complacency your railroads, your steamboats, your canals, your electric wire. No thrill of joy is awakened in his heart by the announcement of any improvement in the means of transmitting intelligence or spreading civilization among men. He sees the ploughshare of American civilization tearing up the venerated graves of his ancestors, his heart sickens, and he retreats before the onward march of civilization. Taking warning by the appearance of the honey bees, six months in advance of your coming, he disappears on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. He dislikes your civilization, dislikes and distrusts you. It is not so with the negro. He loves you and remains with you, under all circumstances, in slavery and in freedom. You do not see him wearing a blanket, but coats cut in the latest European fashion. If you should see him going down [a] street on a rainy day, you would think there was a man walking there, if he had his back to you. He looks like a man, acts like a man, feels like a man, and the office of this Society is to make him a man among men. (Applause.) He does not die out. Some have predicted that if he only broke his fetters, he would run back to Africa, clear out to Liberia, or somewhere else. There is no such disposition in the negro. He will not die out. No race, with any such physical energy as the negro possesses, having the advantage of the cultivation of muscle for 250 years, is going to die out in a few months or years. The whole shipping the United States would not be sufficient to carry off from the United States the average increase of this race. They are here; love to be here; like your civilization; accept it; become a part of it. Where there are

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Methodists, the negro is a Methodist; where there are Baptists, he is a Baptist; where there are Quakers, he is not exactly a Quaker, because they do not make noise enough for him (laughter), but he wears at least a plain coat. In short, he becomes just what other people become, and herein is the security for his continued life. He will not die out, because he has a vitality that will compare favorably with that of any other race on the globe. He cannot fade out at the South just now, because Slavery is abolished. He will not go to Liberia, because he has immense love of country. There is nothing left for you, but to incorporate him completely into the American body politic; admit him to the ballot-box, admit him to Congress, give him a seat on the benches of your courts, let him ride upon your highways and your byways and your railroads and everywhere, on equal terms with everybody else, and you will soon begin to find that Mr. Bluebeard’s beard is not quite so blue after all.25 I know there is prejudice here; there has always been prejudice. The only way to get rid of your prejudice is to begin to treat the negro as though you had no prejudice, and very soon you will find that you have got none. There is no better way for man to cure his prejudice than to begin to do good to the victim of that prejudice. The moment you do that, that moment you find your prejudice vanish. I went once up into Pittsfield, N.H., to deliver a lecture. While there, I called upon a good anti-slavery man, at least, a man who took the Liberator, and that was sufficient for me; but, although quite willing to have the negroes freed, he did not want to have them just here. I was just out of slavery, and went up there under the direction of the Board of Managers of the Massachusetts AntiSlavery Society to deliver three lectures on Sunday. I called, as I have said, upon this man, and he told me, frankly, that he would like to have had it otherwise, but since I was there, I might stay. (Laughter.) I did stay; stayed until tea time. I found that everybody 25. A character of myth and fiction with a distinctive blue-colored beard who was reputed to have murdered numerous wives.

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about the house had lost their appetite; nobody could eat; and I almost lost my own, just out of sympathy with my friends. (Laughter.) I managed, however, to take a cup of tea. The next morning, my good friend got his horse out, got his wife into the carriage, and started for meeting. His wife, excellent woman! wanted to hear me speak (of course she was excellent, because she wanted to hear me), and so they were going to the meeting, and the gentlemen, after he had got into the carriage, looked out and said, “I suppose you can find your way down?” “Yes,” said I, “I guess I can.” It was about two miles. I started and went down to the hall where I was to speak. I found about fifteen assembled to hear me, which was no inconsiderable congregation for that day, and I went to work to preach to them on slavery. At the close of my discourse, my congregation separated and left me at the door of the Town Hall. My good friend Mr. Hillis26 did not even think to say, “Well, you can find your way back again,” so I didn’t find my way back. (Laughter.) I was to speak again at two o’clock. The time came for the meeting, the audience came together, and I spoke until about four o’clock. I was to have another meeting at five, and the congregation separated and left me at the door. I felt by this time a little hungry. With no supper the night before, very little breakfast, and no dinner, I began to feel the want of something to eat. I went over to the hotel, and asked if I could be accommodated with some food there. The hotel-keeper said, “We don’t accommodate niggers here.” So I had to leave there. I went back to the Town House and stood around there for awhile. I felt somewhat desolate. I could see the good Christian people looking out of their windows at me from all directions, as if some menagerie had broken loose, and one of the wild animals had made his appearance among them. 26. Other versions of this anecdote appear in Douglass’s speech of 31 May 1849 in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Life and Times, in which the abolitionist is identified as “Hilles.” Moses Norris Jr. (1799–1855), a prominent Democratic politician and opponent of antislavery measures, took pity on Douglass and offered him food and shelter for the evening.

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They kept their doors shut, and looked at me from the safe position of their windows. I went into a grave-yard near by. I felt somewhat subdued, and there was some attraction to that spot, where I could see the end of all distinctions—the short graves and the long ones, the mighty men as well as those who were not mighty, all on a level. I felt then that I was suffering for righteousness’ sake.27 While I was there, a man, with not much of the humanitarian in his appearance, came up to me and said, “Your name is Douglass?” Said I, “That is my name.” Said he, “Mr. Douglass, you seem to have nowhere to go, no place to stay.” Said I, “That is quite true; I have no place to go, no place to stay.” Said he, “Mr. Douglass, I am not an abolitionist, but I am a man, and if you will go to my house, you shall be taken care of while you stay in town.” I inquired his name. Said he, “My name is Moses Norris.” “Moses Norris,” said I, “why you are the gentleman who pulled George Storrs28 out of the pulpit for preaching abolition.” “Well,” said he, “no matter; I can’t stand your being out here in the rain and cold, with no place to go.” “Well,” said I, “I will go with you.” I went to his house, and when I got to the door, I hear the little children shouting, “Mother, mother, there’s a nigger in the house,— there’s a nigger in the house.” The mother came out, seemingly quite angry, and shut the door behind her, as only a woman can when she is vexed. The first chance I got, I said to the good lady, “I am suffering from a cold and hoarseness, and I know of nothing that will ease me so readily as a little cold water and loaf sugar. You will do me a kindness if you will give me a little loaf sugar and cold water.” I saw, upon the instant, a change in the whole appearance of the lady. She was before chagrined, mortified, at the very thought of having a negro in the house, but the moment she brought the water and the sugar, and set them down before me, and said “Help yourself,” and I 27. 1 Pet. 3:14. 28. George Storrs (1796–1879) was a Methodist minister with outspoken antislavery views. In December 1835 and again in March 1836, Storrs was arrested on a charge of disturbing the peace for delivering antislavery lectures in New Hampshire.

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thanked her, there was a relation established between us; there was a human heart answering to another human heart. The very moment she performed this good deed for a suffering fellow creature, that very moment she felt her prejudice removed. That night, at the close of my speech, the first hand extended to me, to bid me God-speed, was the hand of Mrs. Norris, with the request that I would come to their house and make it my home whenever I came to Pittsfield. About this time, brother Hillis was close at hand, and said he, “I kind of missed you to-day.” (Laughter.) “Yes,” said I, “I thought so.” “Come,” said he, “You must go home with me now.” At first I thought I wouldn’t go; but when I remembered that “there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine just men, who need no repentance,”29 I decided to go with him. The next day, this same man, who was so full of prejudice the day before, took me in his carriage over to [New] London, [N.H.,] where I was to speak and on the way, he paid me the compliment of saying, “Mr. Douglass, this is one of the proudest days of my life. I feel prouder to-day to have you in my carriage than I should to have the President of the United States here.” John Tyler30 was President of the United States at that time! (Roars of laughter.) What I say to the American people every where is, “Conquer your prejudices;” and the only way to conquer them is to begin to be just, begin to be kind to this long-despised class. That the negro will not die out has been proved by the manner in which he has stood slavery. Was ever a race exposed to such elements of destruction as the negro in this country has been for 250 years? Daniel O’Connell said, twenty years ago, speaking of Ireland, “The history of Ireland may be traced like a wounded man through a crowd, by the blood.” It was a strong statement of the condition of Ireland but is it not a 29. Luke 15:7. 30. John Tyler (1790–1862) became the tenth president of the United States upon the death of William Henry Harrison in April 1841. Efforts to annex Texas as a slave state failed to create enough enthusiasm to win Tyler another term. After the end of his presidency, Tyler retired to his Virginia plantation. He remerged in politics decades later to support the Confederacy.

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true statement of the history of the people to whom I belong, and with whom I am identified? For 250 years, we have been robbed of every right; herded with the beasts of the field; exposed to all the exterminating forces of slavery; deprived of marriage; deprived of the family; deprived of all the saving influences of those institutions; loaded with chains; scarred by the whip; driven from time to eternity in the dark, yet where are we? Uncle Toms in Georgia; Robert Smalls31 in the harbor of Charleston. That is where we are. Though laden with burdens that no other nation ever struggled under; though outraged as no other race has ever been outraged, we still look up and smile under it all; we still flourish under it all. If slavery has not been able to kill us, liberty will not. (Applause.) If the black man can stand all the enginery of slavery, he can stand at least the appliances of civilization. Now, we are here; we are going to live here. What is going to be done? This—only this. Welcome the black man to any position and to every position for which his talents and character fit him. (Applause.) Do this, and you shall have peace. We have performed some service to this country. I do not take the extravagant view that some do, that the negro saved this country; that without the negro, you could not have put down the rebellion. This I do affirm, however, that we helped you put it down. When you were at your wit’s ends for the means of carrying on this war, the negro came to your help, and at that time you felt rather grateful to him. At that time, you felt like enfranchising him. At that time, you were willing to bring him into full possession of his rights. When the rebel armies were in the field, bold, defiant, and in some instances triumphant, when Lee,32 and Longstreet and Imboden were among the Alle31. Robert Smalls (1839–1915) was a slave sailor impressed into service aboard the Planter, a Charleston harbor steamer. On the night of 12–13 May 1862, Smalls and other black crewmen, together with their families, sailed the vessel past Confederate defenses and delivered themselves to the Union fleet blockading the harbor. 32. Robert Edward Lee (1807–70) campaigned brilliantly, defeating Union forces often twice the size of his own and staving off Confederate defeat in the East for nearly three years.

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gheny Mountains,33 thundering at the gates of Philadelphia, when your recruiting sergeants were marching up and down the streets from morning till night, foot sore and weary, with banner and badge, calling for more men, young men and strong men, to go to the front, to fill up the gaps made by rebel shot, and by pestilence, when your sons were coming home from the war, armless, legless, maimed and mutilated, when your churches were draped with mourning, when your country seemed to be upon its last legs, as it were, when every breeze that came to us from the broad Atlantic was suspected of bearing on its wings the tidings of British or French intervention, to the destruction of your government, when the ground trembled, as it were, beneath our feet, and, as Wendell Phillips says, the starspangled banner clung to the masthead heavy with blood,—then, oh, then, there was room under our flag for all its defenders (applause); one liberty, one government, one nationality, for all the people of the United States. In the spirit born of affliction, born of trouble, let us legislate and go on legislating, until we put that Fifteenth Amendment into the organic law of the land; until every black man shall feel, “This is my country, and this is my government.” Until you have done this, you are weak: when you have done it, you are strong. The black man came to you in the hour of danger, of trial, when your flag wavered, reached out his black iron arm, and clutched your standard with his steel fingers; and if you enfranchise him, make him a part of you, he will be ready to serve you again; he will be ready to give you not only ramparts of sand and ramparts of stone, but he will give you ramparts of human breasts, broad and strong, guided by intelligence, before whose front no nation on the earth, backed up by your intelligence, would be able to stand. 33. Two of Robert E. Lee’s subordinates during the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania in June and July 1863 were Lieutenant General James Longstreet (1821–1904) and Brigadier General John Daniel Imboden (1823–95). Longstreet fought as a division commander in Lee’s army. Imboden fought under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 and conducted a large-scale raid into western Virginia in April and May 1863 as an anticipatory movement for Lee’s Pennsylvania campaign.

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We are here to-night in the interest of the negro, but we are here also in the interest of patriotism, in the interest of liberty; liberty in America, liberty in Cuba, liberty the world over. Make this government a consistent government, make it a truly Republican government. Let no man be driven from the ballot-box on account of his color. Let no woman be denied the ballot-box on account of her sex. (Applause.) Let the government rest on every shoulder in it, and your government will be strong, and your country will be secure. Excuse me for these desultory remarks. I will take my seat, and make room for our friend from England34 and our other friends who are here to speak to you.

34. Although incorrectly identified by several New York City newspapers as “Dr.  Reed,” “Dr. Pease,” or “Dr. Mease,” the speaker following Douglass was the Englishman Frederic Richard Lees (1815–97), who supported temperance, Chartism, abolition, and factory reform.

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“We Welcome the Fifteenth Amendment” Addresses Delivered in New York, New York, 12–13 May 1869 New York World, 13, 14 May 1869. Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone formed the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 to promote universal suffrage for both African Americans and women. Over the next three years, Douglass spoke repeatedly in favor of woman suffrage. The Republican party’s leaders, however, did not officially endorse woman suffrage, and by 1868 they were publicly opposed to it. The Fourteenth Amendment provided penalties for denying the vote to male inhabitants of a state, meaning that the Constitution for the first time specified that men would have preferential voting rights. Likewise, the proposed Fifteenth Amendment made it unconstitutional to deny voting rights “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” but made no reference to sex, which effectively left women without voting-rights protections. In the debate over ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, African American leaders strongly supported its Republican party sponsors and sacrificed universal suffrage. In reaction to this trend, the woman suffrage leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony courted the Democratic party and forged an alliance with George Francis Train, an outspoken racist and wealthy Democrat. Both women gave speeches and wrote articles on the proposed Fifteenth Amendment, questioning black

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men’s fitness to vote. Train, in turn, financially underwrote their woman suffrage paper, the Revolution. When the American Equal Rights Association met in 1869, Douglass tried to heal the growing rift between the two factions, but he was unwilling to sacrifice his support of the Fifteenth Amendment. Stanton encountered dissent when she advocated “educated suffrage.” She argued that educated white women should be given the ballot before black or immigrant men, characterizing the latter as “Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic.”1 Later that morning, Anthony was called to account for misspending association funds for the exclusive benefit of woman suffragists. Douglass came to Anthony’s defense, but also criticized Stanton’s earlier remarks. Referring to the assassinations of black leaders and Radical Republicans in the South, he asserted that it was urgent to enfranchise black men even if the proposed amendment made no mention of women: “When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp posts; . . . when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.”2 The proceedings of the two-day convention were frequently contentious. Douglass, a veteran of convention-floor maneuvers, repeatedly sought to secure the adoption of a resolution endorsing both ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment and passage of a new constitutional amendment to secure woman suffrage, but the Stanton-Anthony faction fought any endorsement of the Fifteenth Amendment. Several times, Douglass supporters at the convention shouted down his opponents, especially the former Garrisonian abolitionist Charles C. Burleigh. At one chaotic moment when hisses had drowned out Burleigh, Douglass came to the front of the plat-

1. “Anniversary of the American Equal Rights Association,” New York Revolution, 13 May 1869. 2. “Annual Meeting of the American Equal Rights Association,” New York Revolution, 20 May 1869.

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form and declared to the audience: “The sooner you hear my friend the sooner you will hear something better than my friend. I do not speak of myself, but hear him and you will hear something better afterwards.”3 Ultimately, Stanton used her power as presiding officer to block any vote by the convention on Douglass’s resolution, and the meeting resulted in a split in the woman suffrage movement. Stanton and Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association to agitate for voting rights, equal pay, and equitable treatment of women in divorce and child custody laws. Douglass supported the narrower mission of the American Woman Suffrage Association, founded by advocates for the Fifteenth Amendment, including Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell.

First Day [12 May 1869] Morning Session [Speeches by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Octavius B. Frothingham, Susan B. Anthony, Stephen S. Foster, and Mary A. Livermore.]

Mr. Frederick Douglass—Of course the vote of the Society just passed does not prevent Mr. Foster proceeding in order.4 If, however, a different understanding is to be given to it—that no one is to be allowed to criticise the list of officers proposed, it is out of the question for me to utter a word on such a platform.5 We are used to 3. “American Equal Rights Society,” New York World, 14 May 1869. 4. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as presiding officer of the convention, had declared Stephen S. Foster to be out of order for accusing Susan B. Anthony of mishandling funds of the American Equal Rights Association. Stanton then called for a vote of the convention, which confirmed her ruling. 5. Douglass alludes to the slate of proposed officers for the American Equal Rights Association, who were nominated by the convention’s committee on organization earlier that morning.

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freedom of speech, and there is a profound conviction in the minds of reformers in general, that error may be safely tolerated, while truth is left free to counteract it.6 What if Mr. Foster does go on with his criticism of Miss Anthony,7 and Mrs. Stanton8 and the Revolution. 9 While Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton and the Revolution have tongues to speak, why not have free speech here about them? [Speeches by Stephen S. Foster and Henry B. Blackwell.]10

Mr. Douglass—I came here more as a listener than to speak, and I listened with a great deal of pleasure to the eloquent address of the Rev. Frothingham11 and the splendid address of the President. There is no name greater than that of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the matter of Woman’s Rights and Equal Rights, but my sentiments are 6. Douglass loosely paraphrases the declaration of Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address: “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” H. A. Washington, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private, 8 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Maury, 1853–54), 8:3. 7. Susan Brownell Anthony (1820–1906) became active in the temperance and antislavery movements and was recruited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton into the women’s rights campaign in the 1850s. When Stanton became president of the newly founded National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, Anthony, a tireless organizer, was chosen head of its executive committee. She succeeded Stanton as its president upon the latter’s retirement in 1892. 8. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) became determined to work to advance the status of women when she and other female delegates were barred from the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. Eight years later, Stanton, along with Lucretia Mott, organized the first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York, where Stanton had settled with her husband, Henry B. Stanton, the antislavery politician. 9. The New York Revolution was a weekly woman suffrage newspaper financed largely by contributions from the Democratic politician George Francis Train. Susan B. Anthony served as publisher, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury as coeditors. In his remarks, Stephen S. Foster accused the Revolution of advocating “educated suffrage,” which would eliminate many freedmen as voters while admitting literate women. 10. Henry Brown Blackwell (1825–1909) was one of the nation’s most prominent male feminists. Blackwell and his wife, Lucy Stone, and later their daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, edited the Woman’s Journal, the longest-running suffrage paper in the nation’s history (1870–1917). 11. The Unitarian minister Octavius Brooks Frothingham (1822–95) developed liberal views on theological questions and on the slavery issue.

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tinged a little against the Revolution. There was in the address to which I allude, a sentiment in reference to employment and certain names, such as “Sambo,” and the gardener and the bootblack and the daughter of Jefferson and Washington, and all the rest I cannot coincide with.12 I have asked what difference there is between the daughters of Jefferson and Washington and other daughters. (Laughter.) I must say that I do not see how any one can pretend that there is the same urgency in giving the ballot to women as to the negro. With us, the matter is a question of life and death. It is a matter of existence, at least, in fifteen states of the Union. When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own. (Great applause.) A voice—Is that not all true about black women? Mr. Douglass—Yes, yes, yes, it is true of the black woman, but not because she is a woman but because she is black. (Applause.) Julia Ward Howe at the conclusion of her great speech delivered at the convention in Boston last year, said, “I am willing that the negro shall get in before me.”13 (Applause.) Woman! why she has 12. In the major speech of the morning session, Elizabeth Cady Stanton asked whether the convention thought that “the daughters of Adams, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry . . . will forever linger round the camp-fires of an old barbarism with no longings to join the grand army of freedom?” New York Revolution, 13 May 1869. 13. The author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and wife of the abolitionist Samuel Gridley Howe, Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910) made this statement at the October 1868 Boston convention that formed the New England Woman Suffrage Association. Howe was elected the new organization’s president and pledged support for ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment.

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ten thousand modes of grappling with her difficulties. I believe that all the virtue of the world can take care of all the evil. I believe that all the intelligence can take care of all the ignorance. (Applause.) I am in favor of woman’s suffrage in order that we shall have all the virtue and all the vice confronted. Let me tell you that when there were few houses in which the black man could have put his head, this woolley head of mine found a refuge in the house of Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and if I had been blacker than sixteen midnights, without a single star, it would have been the same. (Applause.) The Race for Suffrage between Negroes and Women.

Miss Anthony—I want to say a single word. The old anti-slavery school and others have said that the women must stand back and wait until the other class shall be recognized. But we say that if you will not give the whole loaf of justice and suffrage to an entire people, give it to the most intelligent first. (Applause.) If intelligence, justice, and moralities are to be placed in the government, then let the question of woman be brought first and that of the negro last. (Applause.) While I was canvassing the State with petitions in my hand and had them filled with names for our cause and sent them to the Legislature, a man dared to say to me that the freedom of women was all a theory and not a practical thing. (Applause.) When Mr. Douglass mentioned the black man first and women last if he had noticed he would have seen that it was the men that clapped and not the women. There is not the woman born who desires to eat the bread of dependence, no matter whether it be from the hand of father, husband, or brother; for any one who dares so eat her bread places herself in the power of the person from whom she takes it. (Applause.) Mr. Douglass talks about the wrongs of the negro; how he is hunted down, and the children’s brains dashed out by mobs; but with all the wrongs and outrages that he today suffers, he would

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not exchange his sex and take the place of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (Laughter and applause.) No matter, there is a glory—(Loud applause, completely drowning the speaker’s voice.) Mr. Douglass—Will you allow me— Miss Anthony—Yes, anything; we are in for a fight to-day. (Great laughter and applause.) Mr. Douglass—I want to know if granting you the right of suffrage will change the nature of our sexes. (Great laughter.)

Second Day [13 May 1869] Morning Session [Speeches by James W. Stillman,14 Mary A. Livermore,15 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ernestine Rose,16 and Mercy B. Jackson.17]

Fred. Douglass said that as there is a most important question submitted to the American people, he wanted to have a vote upon it from that audience. He then read the following resolutions:

14. In 1868–69, James Wells Stillman (1840–1912) served in the Rhode Island state legislature, where he spoke in support of granting women equal suffrage. 15. After tutoring a slaveholder’s children on a Virginia plantation, Mary Ashton Rice Livermore (1820–1905) returned to her native Massachusetts and worked for abolition and temperance. An avid supporter of women’s rights, she sided with Lucy Stone and helped edit the Woman’s Journal, the voice of the American Woman Suffrage Association. 16. An immigrant from Russian Poland, Ernestine Louise Siismondi Potowski Rose (1810–92) led the lengthy campaign that ultimately won legal protection for the property rights of married women in New York. During the Civil War, she actively worked for the National Women’s Loyal League. 17. After watching five of her children die of disease, Mercy Ruggles Bisbee Jackson (1802–77) of Massachusetts committed herself to the study of homeopathic medicine. She graduated from Boston’s New England Female Medicine College in 1860. Jackson practiced in Boston and wrote regularly on women’s health for Lucy Stone’s Woman’s Journal.

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Resolved, That the American Equal Rights Association, in loyalty to its comprehensive demands for the political equality of all American citizens, without distinction of race or sex, hails the extension of suffrage to any class heretofore disenfranchised, as a cheering part of the triumph of our whole idea. Resolved, therefore, That we gratefully welcome the pending fifteenth amendment, prohibiting disenfranchisement on account of race, and earnestly solicit the State Legislatures to pass it without delay. Resolved, furthermore, That in view of this promised and speedy culmination of one-half of our demands, we are stimulated to redouble our energy to secure the further amendment guaranteeing the same sacred rights without limitation to sex. Resolved, That until the constitution shall know neither black nor white, neither male nor female, but only the equal rights of all classes, we renew our solemn indictment against that instrument as defective, unworthy, and an oppressive character for the self-government of a free people. (Applause and hisses.) Lay the Negro on the Table.

A Lady—I move that these resolutions be laid upon the table for future consideration. The President—Of course. You see these resolutions require discussion: therefore, they had better be laid upon the table for future consideration.

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Afternoon Session [Speeches by Lillie Peckham,18 Henry Wilson,19 Ernestine L. Rose, Sarah F. Norton,20 Eleanor Kirk,21 Mary F. Davis,22 Susan B. Anthony, and Paulina W. Davis.23]

Mr. Douglass was received with great applause. He said that all disinterested spectators would concede that this equal rights meeting had been pre-eminently a woman’s rights meeting. (Applause.) They had just heard an argument with which he could not agree— that the suffrage to the black man should be postponed to that of the women.24 Here is a woman who, since the day that the snake 18. Elizabeth “Lily” Peckham (1843–71) spent a year at the University of Wisconsin studying law, but abandoned trying to become a lawyer after the state’s bar refused to admit her. During her short life, she was a prominent lecturer on women’s rights, an organizer, and a regular contributor to the suffragist paper Revolution. 19. Elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts by a coalition of Free Soilers, Know-Nothings, and Democrats in 1855, Henry Wilson (1812–75) strongly advocated antislavery political goals and denounced the Black Codes enacted under Presidential Reconstruction. Wilson replaced Schuyler Colfax as vice president for Ulysses S. Grant’s second term, but died in office. 20. Along with Susan B. Anthony, Sarah F. Norton (1838–1910) successfully lobbied Cornell University to admit female students. Norton wrote on women’s economic and health issues and lectured against marriage, calling it a tool of male control over property; that stance led many suffragist leaders to shun her as too controversial for their movement. 21. “Eleanor Kirk” was the pen name of Eleanor Maria Esterbook “Nellie” Ames (1831–1908), an American journalist, novelist, and feminist. Her semiautobiographical novel Up Broadway (1870) describes the desperate plight of women facing seeking employment in a sexist workplace. Ames wrote often for Anthony and Stanton’s periodical, the Revolution. 22. After an unhappy marriage, Mary Fenn Davis (1824–86) divorced and married the spiritualist lecturer Andrew Jackson Davis. Mary became a prominent leader in New Jersey’s women’s suffrage campaign as well as the longtime recording secretary of the National Woman Suffrage Association. 23. Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis (1813–76) was a leader in organizing the 1850 Worcester Women’s Rights Convention. She remained a leading writer, lecturer, and organizer of the woman suffrage cause and sided with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the disputes over the Fifteenth Amendment. 24. This opinion was expressed in a speech to the convention by Paulina W. Davis, who spoke immediately before Douglass. New York Revolution, 27 May 1869.

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talked with our mother in the garden—from that day to this, I say, she has been divested of political rights.25 What may we expect, according to that reasoning, when women, when—(Loud laughter and applause.) Miss Anthony and Fred. Douglass.

Miss Anthony hereupon rose from her seat and made towards Mr. Douglass, saying something which was drowned in the applause and laughter which continued. Mr. Douglass was heard to say, however, “No, no, Susan,” which again set the audience off in another audible smile, and Miss Anthony took her seat. Is There Fair Play in the Convention?

When silence was somewhat restored, Mr. Douglass continued, saying: You see when women get into trouble how they act. Miss Anthony comes to the rescue—(Laughter)—and these good people have not yet learned to hear people through. (Laughter.) When anything goes against them they are up right away. Now I do not believe the story that the slaves who are enfranchised become the worst of tyrants.26 (A voice—“Neither do I”; applause.) I know how this theory came about. When a slave was made a driver he made himself more officious than the white driver, so that his master might not suspect that he was favoring those under him. But we do not intend to have any master over us. (Applause.) Not Another Man to the Polls.

The President then took the floor and argued that not another man should be enfranchised until enough women are admitted to the polls to outweigh those who have the franchise. (Applause.) She 25. Gen. 3:1–6. 26. Paulina W. Davis expressed this opinion immediately before Douglass spoke.

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did not believe in allowing ignorant negroes and ignorant and debased Chinamen to make laws for her to obey. (Applause.) Mrs. Harper 27 (colored) asked Mr. Blackwell to read the fifth resolution of the series he submitted, and contended that that covered the whole ground of the resolutions of Mr. Douglass. Miss Anthony—Then I move that that resolution be reconsidered. No Tricks.

Mr. Douglass—Oh! no; you cannot do that while the floor is occupied. How About Black Women?

Mrs. Harper then proceeded with her remarks, saying that when it was a question of race she let the lesser question of sex go. But the white women all go for sex, letting race occupy a minor position. She liked the idea of working-women, but she would like to know if it was broad enough to take in colored women? Miss Anthony and several others—Yes, yes. A Boston Outrage

Mrs. Harper said that when she was at Boston there were sixty women who rose up and left work because one colored woman went to gain a livelihood in their midst. (Applause.) If the nation could only handle one question, she would not have the black woman put a single straw in the way if only the race of men could obtain what they wanted. (Great applause.) 27. Born to free black parents in Baltimore, Maryland, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911) was adopted by her uncle the abolitionist William J. Watkins, after being orphaned. She published poetry and fiction throughout her life while also lecturing in behalf of abolition, woman suffrage, and temperance. Watkins, along with Mary Church Terrell, organized the National Association of Colored Women in 1894. As its president, she lobbied for a federal antilynching law and an end to the convict lease system.

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“Our Composite Nationality” An Address Delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, 7 December 1869 Typescript, Speech File, reel 14, frames 553–59, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress. In many ways, Douglass’s “Our Composite Nationality” might be read as a rejoinder to Wendell Phillips’s address given three days earlier in Boston. Both speeches were part of the Parker Fraternity Lecture Course, which featured lectures by men and women on liberal causes such as woman suffrage, public education, and religious reforms.1 Phillips’s lecture, “What We Ask of Congress,” argued that Congress should “protect citizenship” by ensuring voting rights, financing common schools, and giving federally owned Southern lands to the region’s blacks as a “gift to loyalty.” Phillips was at a crossroads. He was considering a run for governor of Massachusetts on the Massachusetts Labor Reform party’s ticket. Working-class, American-born men faced competition from Chinese workers, especially after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, and to attract their votes, Phillips may have felt he needed to endorse some action to limit Chinese immigration.2 Phillips ended his speech with this warning: “There is a fearful problem looks to us from the Rocky Mountains. . . . The great Oriental horde is opening. The four hundred millions of Chinese are to

1. Walter M. Merrill, ed., The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison: Let the Oppressed Go Free, 1861–1867 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), 58. 2. Najia Aarim-Heriot, Chinese Immigrants, African Americans, and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848–82 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 131–33.

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pour their surplus into our Western veins.”3 In depicting this image of “mixed blood,” in a social climate animated by growing hysteria surrounding what was later stereotyped as the yellow peril, Phillips further stoked anti-Chinese sentiment. In his rejoinder, Douglass delivered the following resounding defense of cultural diversity and challenged the racism that undergirded the yellow peril rhetoric. He too makes reference to the “body politic,” but in his metaphor, the body is unhealthy and will remain so as long as it fails to “inspire patriotism” in all of its component parts. By denying Indians and African Americans political and civil rights, the government was sowing “the dangerous seeds of discontent and hatred” in their hearts. Both Douglass and Phillips predict a mass influx of Chinese immigrants. Unlike Phillips, however, Douglass endorses their immigration and insists that migration is a fundamental human right. Moreover, he contends that all races are capable of improvement and argues that cultural diversity promotes a stronger nation. A “competition of rival religious creeds,” for example, strengthens religious liberty and checks “arrogance” and “intolerance.” Douglass would have similar disagreements over the supposed yellow peril with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who opposed Chinese citizenship. Excerpting largely from the beginning of Douglass’s speech, the Boston Daily Advertiser conveyed the broader message that racial and religious diversity strengthened the nation, but it minimized the contentious debate regarding Chinese immigration. Only the last seventh of the article was devoted to that specific case. The Boston Commonwealth, on the other hand, summarized the speech more accurately and noted that Douglass added a self-depreciating statement at the beginning, commenting on the “distance from the plantation to the platform of Music Hall,” one of his common rhetorical poses of humility. Douglass consistently expressed optimism regarding the impact of American ethnic diversity as it applied not only to African Americans but to immigrants as well. The speech as a whole counters ethnocentrism and resembles a kind of reverse jeremiad,

3. “Wendell Phillips on ‘What We Ask of Congress,’ ” Boston Commonwealth, 4 December 1869.

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dismissing claims of a national fall from grace. Douglass derides “croakers” who see “thunder” and the “destructive bolt,” since the nation already “weathered” the “storm” of the Civil War.

A

s nations are among the largest and most complete divisions into which society is formed, the grandest aggregations of organized human power; as they raise to observation and distinction the world’s greatest men, and call into requisition the highest order of talent and ability for their guidance, preservation and success, they are ever among the most attractive, instructive and useful subjects of thought, to those just entering upon the duties and activities of life. The simple organization of a people into a National body, composite or otherwise, is of itself an impressive fact. As an original proceeding, it marks the point of departure of a people, from the darkness and chaos of unbridled barbarism, to the wholesome restraints of public law and society. It implies a willing surrender and subjection of individual aims and ends, often narrow and selfish, to the broader and better ones that arise out of society as a whole. It is both a sign and a result of civilization. A knowledge of the character, resources and proceedings of other nations, affords us the means of comparison and criticism, without which progress would be feeble, tardy, and perhaps, impossible. It is by comparing one nation with another, and one learning from another, each competing with all, and all competing with each, that hurtful errors are exposed, great social truths discovered, and the wheels of civilization whirled onward. I am especially to speak to you of the character and mission of the United States, with special reference to the question whether we are the better or the worse for being composed of different races of men. I propose to consider first, what we are, second, what we are likely to be, and, thirdly, what we ought to be. Without undue vanity or unjust deprecation of others we may claim to be, in many respects, the most fortunate of nations. We

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stand in relation to all others, as youth to age. Other nations have had their day of greatness and glory; we are yet to have our day, and that day is coming. The dawn is already upon us. It is bright and full of promise. Other nations have reached their culminating point. We are at the beginning of our ascent. They have apparently exhausted the conditions essential to their further growth and extension, while we are abundant in all the material essential to further national growth and greatness. The resources of European statesmanship are now sorely taxed to maintain their nationalities at their ancient height of greatness and power. American statesmanship, worthy of the name, is now taxing its energies to frame measures to meet the demands of constantly increasing expansion of power, responsibility and duty. Without fault or merit on either side, theirs or ours, the balance is largely in our favor. Like the grand old forests, renewed and enriched from decaying trunks once full of life and beauty, but now moss-covered, oozy and crumbling, we are destined to grow and flourish while they decline and fade. This is one view of American position and destiny. It is proper to notice that it is not the only view. Different opinions and conflicting judgments meet us here, as elsewhere. It is thought by many, and said by some, that this Republic has already seen its best days; that the historian may now write the story of its decline and fall.4 Two classes of men are just now especially afflicted with such forebodings. The first are those who are croakers by nature—the men who have a taste for funerals, especially national funerals. They never see the bright side of anything, and probably never will. Like the raven in the lines of Edgar A. Poe, they have learned two words, and those are, “never more.”5 They usually begin by telling us what 4. An allusion to Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 5. The American poet, literary critic, and short-story writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49) first published “The Raven,” his most popular poem, in the New York Evening Mirror on 29 January 1845.

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we never shall see. Their little speeches are about as follows: “You will never see such statesmen in the councils of the Nation as Clay, Calhoun and Webster.6 You will never see the South morally reconstructed and our once happy people again united. You will never see this Government harmonious and successful while in the hands of different races. You will never make the negro work without a master, or make him an intelligent voter, or a good and useful citizen.[”] This last never is generally the parent of all the other little nevers that follow. During the late contest for the Union, the air was full of nevers, every one of which was contradicted and put to shame by the result, and I doubt not that most of those we now hear in our troubled air will meet the same fate. It is probably well for us that some of our gloomy prophets are limited in their powers to prediction. Could they command the destructive bolt, as readily as they command the destructive word, it is hard to say what might happen to the country. They might fulfill their own gloomy prophecies. Of course it is easy to see why certain other classes of men speak hopelessly concerning us. A Government founded upon justice, and recognizing the equal rights of all men; claiming no higher authority for its existence, or sanction for its laws, than nature, reason and the regularly ascertained will of the people; steadily refusing to put its sword and purse in the service of any religious creed or family, is a standing offense to most of the governments of the world, and to some narrow and bigoted people among ourselves. To those who doubt and deny the preponderance of good over evil in human nature; who think the few are made to rule, and the many are made to serve; who put rank above brotherhood, and race above humanity; who attach more importance to ancient forms than to the living realities of the present; who worship power in whatever hands it may be lodged and by whatever means it may have been 6. Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster.

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obtained; our Government is a mountain of sin, and, what is worse, it seems confirmed in its transgressions. One of the latest and most potent European prophets, one who felt himself called upon for a special deliverance concerning us and our destiny as a nation, was the late Thomas Carlyle.7 He described us as rushing to ruin, and when we may expect to reach the terrible end, our gloomy prophet, enveloped in the fogs of London, has not been pleased to tell us. Warning and advice from any quarter are not to be despised, and especially not from one so eminent as Mr. Carlyle; and yet Americans will find it hard to heed even men like him, while the animus is so apparent, bitter and perverse. A man to whom despotism is the savior and liberty the destroyer of society, who, during the last twenty years, in every contest between liberty and oppression, uniformally and promptly took sides with the oppressor; who regarded every extension of the right of suffrage, even to white men in his own country, as shooting Niagara;8 who gloated over deeds of cruelty, and talked of applying to the backs of men the beneficent whip to the great delight of many of the slaveholders of America in particular, could have but little sympathy with our emancipated and progressive Republic, or with the triumph of liberty any where. But the American people can easily stand the utterances of such a man. They however have a right to be impatient and indignant at those among ourselves who turn the most hopeful portents into omens of disaster, and make themselves the ministers of despair, when they should be those of hope, and help cheer on the country 7. Douglass refers to the then still-living Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), a Scottish historian and social philosopher, best remembered for his critically acclaimed multivolume examinations of important historical events and figures. Carlyle lectured widely and wrote on such subjects as Chartism, Darwinian evolution, and economics. 8. To Carlyle, who consistently repudiated democracy in his writings, the extension of voting privileges contained in Britain’s Second Reform Act (1867) constituted the “Niagara leap of completed democracy.” Thomas Carlyle, “Shooting Niagara: And After?” Critical and Miscellaneous Essays: Collected and Published, 6 vols. (London: Chapman, 1869), 4:339–92.

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in the new and grand career of justice upon which it has now so nobly and bravely entered. Of errors and defects we certainly have not less than our full share, enough to keep the reformer awake, the statesman busy, and the country in a pretty lively state of agitation for some time to come. Perfection is an object to be aimed at by all, but it is not an attribute of any form of government. Mutability is the law for all. Something different, something better, or something worse may come, but so far as respects our present system and form of government, and the altitude we occupy, we need not shrink from comparison with any nation of our times. We are to-day the best fed, the best clothed, the best sheltered and the best instructed people in the world. There was a time when even brave men might look fearfully upon the destiny of the Republic; when our country was involved in a tangled network of contradictions; when vast and irreconcilable social forces fiercely disputed for ascendency and control; when a heavy curse rested upon our very soil, defying alike the wisdom and the virtue of the people to remove it; when our professions were loudly mocked by our practice, and our name was a reproach and a byword to a mocking;9 when our good ship of state, freighted with the best hopes of the oppressed of all nations, was furiously hurled against the hard and flinty rocks of derision, and every cord, bolt, beam and bend in her body quivered beneath the shock, there was some apology for doubt and despair. But that day has happily passed away. The storm has been weathered, and the portents are nearly all in our favor. There are clouds, wind, smoke and dust and noise, over head and around, and there always will be; but no genuine thunder, with destructive bolt, menaces from any quarter of the sky. The real trouble with us was never our system or form of government, or the principles underlying it, but the peculiar composition of our people; the relations existing between them and the compromising spirit which controlled the ruling power of the country. 9. Douglass misquotes Mic. 6:16.

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We have for a long time hesitated to adopt and carry out the only principle which can solve that difficulty and give peace, strength and security to the Republic, and that is the principle of absolute equality. We are a country of all extremes, ends and opposites; the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world. Our people defy all the ethnological and logical classifications. In races we range all the way from black to white, with intermediate shades which, as in the apocalyptic vision, no man can name or number.10 In regard to creeds and faiths, the condition is no better, and no worse. Differences both as to race and to religion are evidently more likely to increase than to diminish. We stand between the populous shores of two great oceans. Our land is capable of supporting one-fifth of all the globe. Here, labor is abundant and better remunerated than any where else. All moral, social and geographical causes conspire to bring to us the peoples of all other over populated countries. Europe and Africa are already here, and the Indian was here before either. He stands today between the two extremes of black and white, too proud to claim fraternity with either, and yet too weak to withstand the power of either. Heretofore, the policy of our government has been governed by race pride, rather than by wisdom. Until recently, neither the Indian nor the negro has been treated as a part of the body politic. No attempt has been made to inspire either with a sentiment of patriotism, but the hearts of both races have been diligently sown with the dangerous seeds of discontent and hatred. The policy of keeping the Indians to themselves, has kept the tomahawk and scalping knife busy upon our borders, and has cost us largely in blood and treasure.11 10. Rev. 7:9. 11. During the 1860s, the U.S. Army conducted several costly campaigns against western tribes. Treaties in 1867 and 1868 with the Plains tribes and the Navajo delineated reservation boundaries and formed the basis for the “peace policy” of the Grant administration, a combined effort of the government and humanitarian—

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Our treatment of the negro has lacked humanity and filled the country with agitation and ill-feeling, and brought the Nation to the verge of ruin. Before the relations of those two races are satisfactorily settled, and in despite of all opposition, a new race is making its appearance within our borders, and claiming attention. It is estimated that not less than one hundred thousand Chinamen are now within the limits of the United States.12 Several years ago every vessel, large or small, of steam or of sail, bound to our Pacific coast and hailing from the Flowery kingdom,13 added to the number and strength of this new element of our population. Men differ widely as to the magnitude of this potential Chinese immigration. The fact that by the late treaty with China we bind ourselves to receive immigrants from that country only as the subjects of the Emperor, and by the construction at least are bound not to naturalize them,14 and the further fact that Chinamen themselves have a superstitious devotion to their country and an aversion to permanent location in any other, contracting even to have their

primarily religious—groups to reform the Indian Office bureaucracy, “civilize” the Indians on their reduced lands, and avoid further bloodshed. Like many other former abolitionists, Douglass publicly supported these reforms. 12. Although the U.S. Census Bureau reported the resident Chinese-born population as 34,933 in 1860 and as 63,199 in 1870, total immigration from China numbered 105,698 in the two decades before 1870. A large number of Chinese immigrants apparently remained in the United States only a few years. 13. The Chinese people do not refer to their country as “China” or to themselves as “Chinese.” Among the indigenous names for the land are Chung Kwoh, the Middle Kingdom, and Chung Hwa Kwoh, the Middle Flowery Kingdom. The term “Hwa” carries the sense that its people are civilized and refined. 14. In 1868 the United States and the Empire of China negotiated an accord governing commerce, travel, and migration between the two nations. Popularly known as the Burlingame Treaty, after Anson Burlingame (the former U.S. minister to China who negotiated it), the treaty recognized the “inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiances,” and granted Chinese and American nationals residing in each country “the same privileges, immunities and exemptions as citizens.” A proviso, however, added that “nothing herein contained shall be held to confer naturalization” upon the immigrants in either country.

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bones carried back, should they die abroad, and from the fact that many have returned to China, and the still more stubborn fact that resistance to their coming has increased rather than diminished, it is inferred that we shall never have a large Chinese population in America. This, however, is not my opinion. It may be admitted that these reasons, and others, may check and moderate the tide of immigration; but it is absurd to think that they will do more than this. Counting their number now by the thousands, the time is not remote when they will count them by the millions. The Emperor’s hold upon the Chinamen may be strong, but the Chinaman’s hold upon himself is stronger. Treaties against naturalization, like all other treaties, are limited by circumstances. As to the superstitious attachment of the Chinese to China, that, like all other superstitions, will dissolve in the light and heat of truth and experience. The Chinaman may be a bigot, but it does not follow that he will continue to be one to-morrow. He is a man, and will be very likely to act like a man. He will not be long in finding out that a country that is good enough to live in is good enough to die in, and that a soil that was good enough to hold his body while alive, will be good enough to hold his bones when he is dead. Those who doubt a large immigration should remember that the past furnishes no criterion as a basis of calculation. We live under new and improved conditions of migration, and these conditions are constantly improving. America is no longer an obscure and inaccessible country. Our ships are in every sea, our commerce is in every port, our language is heard all around the globe, steam and lightning have revolutionized the whole domain of human thought, changed all geographical relations, make a day of the present seem equal to a thousand years of the past, and the continent that Columbus only conjectured four centuries ago is now the center of the world. I believe Chinese immigration on a large scale will yet be an irrepressible fact. The spirit of race pride will not always prevail.

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The reasons for this opinion are obvious; China is a vastly overcrowded country. Her people press against each other like cattle in a rail car. Many live upon the water and have laid out streets upon the waves. Men, like bees, want room. When the hive is overflowing, the bees will swarm, and will be likely to take up their abode where they find the best prospect for honey. In matters of this sort, men are very much like bees. Hunger will not be quietly endured, even in the Celestial Empire, when it is once generally known that there is bread enough and to spare in America. What Satan said of Job is true of the Chinaman, as well as of other men, “All that a man hath will he give for his life.”15 They will come here to live, where they know the means of living are in abundance. The same mighty forces which have swept to our shores the overflowing population of Europe; which have reduced the people of Ireland three millions below its normal standard; will operate in a similar manner upon the hungry population of China and other parts of Asia. Home has its charms, and native land has its charms, but hunger, oppression and destitution will dissolve these charms and send men in search of new countries and new homes. Not only is there a Chinese motive behind this probable immigration, but there is also an American motive which will play its part, and which will be all the more active and energetic because there is in it an element of pride, of bitterness and revenge. Southern gentlemen who led in the late rebellion have not parted with their convictions at this point, any more than at any other. They want to be independent of the negro. They believed in slavery and they believe in it still. They believed in an aristocratic class, and they believe in it still, and though they have lost slavery, one element essential to such a class, they still have two important conditions to the reconstruction of that class. They have intelligence, and they have land. Of these, the land is the more important. They cling to 15. Job 2:4.

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it with all the tenacity of a cherished superstition. They will neither sell to the negro, nor let the carpet-bagger16 have it in peace, but are determined to hold it for themselves and their children forever. They have not yet learned that when a principle is gone, the incident must go also; that what was wise and proper under slavery is foolish and mischievous in a state of general liberty; that the old bottles are worthless when the new wine has come;17 but they have found that land is a doubtful benefit, where there are no hands to till it. Hence these gentlemen have turned their attention to the Celestial Empire. They would rather have laborers who would work for nothing; but as they cannot get the negro on these terms, they want Chinamen, who, they hope, will work for next to nothing. Companies and associations may yet be formed to promote this Mongolian invasion. The loss of the negro is to gain them the Chinese, and if the thing works well, abolition, in their opinion, will have proved itself to be another blessing in disguise.18 To the Statesman it will mean Southern independence. To the pulpit, it will be the hand of Providence, and bring about the time of the universal dominion of the Christian religion. To all but the Chinaman and the negro it will mean wealth, ease and luxury. But alas, for all the selfish invention and dreams of men! The Chinaman will not long be willing to wear the cast off shoes of the negro, and, if he refuses, there will be trouble again. The negro worked and took his pay in religion and the lash. The Chinaman is a different article and will want the cash. He may, like the negro, 16. The term “carpetbagger” was generally applied to Northerners who traveled south after the Civil War. Although some of them were unscrupulous adventurers seeking political or economic profit, many more came to initiate legitimate business enterprises or to serve as administrators, teachers, clergymen, and doctors for either the Freedmen’s Bureau or one of the benevolent societies organized to aid blacks. Carpetbaggers were often met with opprobrium because of their willingness to aid the freedmen with material sustenance and to organize them politically. 17. Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37, 38. 18. Hervey, Reflections on a Flower-Garden, 76.

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accept Christianity, but, unlike the negro, he will not care to pay for it in labor. He had the Golden Rule in substance five hundred years before the coming of Christ,19 and has notions of justice that are not to be confused by any of our “Cursed be Canaan” religion.20 Nevertheless, the experiment will be tried. So far as getting the Chinese into our country is concerned, it will yet be a success. This elephant will be drawn by our Southern brethren, though they will hardly know in the end what to do with him. Appreciation of the value of Chinamen as laborers will, I apprehend, become general in this country. The North was never indifferent to Southern influence and example, and it will not be so in this instance. The Chinese in themselves have first rate recommendations. They are industrious, docile, cleanly, frugal; they are dexterous of hand, patient in toil, marvelously gifted in the power of imitation, and have but few wants. Those who have carefully observed their habits in California say that they subsist upon what would be almost starvation to others. The conclusion of the whole will be that they will want to come to us, and, as we become more liberal, we shall want them to come, and what we want done will naturally be done. They will no longer halt upon the shores of California. They will burrow no longer in her exhausted and deserted gold mines, where they have gathered wealth from barrenness, taking what others left. They will turn their backs not only upon the Celestial Empire but upon the golden shores of the Pacific, and the wide waste of waters whose majestic waves spoke to them of home and country. They will withdraw their eyes from the glowing West and fix them upon the

19. Douglass alludes to the principle of reciprocity (shu), a central teaching of the Chinese philosopher Confucius: “Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.” The New Testament’s Golden Rule is stated in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. Lin Yutang, ed. and trans., The Wisdom of Confucius (1938; New York: Modern Library, 1943), 168–69. 20. Gen. 9:25.

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rising sun. They will cross the mountains, cross the plains, descend our rivers, penetrate to the heart of the country and fix their home with us forever. Assuming then that immigration already has a foothold and will continue for many years to come, we have a new element in our national composition which is likely to exercise a large influence upon the thought and the action of the whole nation. The old question as to what shall be done with the negro will have to give place to the greater question “What shall be done with the Mongolian,” and perhaps we shall see raised one still greater, namely, “What will the Mongolian do with both the negro and the white?” Already has the matter taken this shape in California and on the Pacific coast generally. Already has California assumed a bitterly unfriendly attitude toward the Chinaman. Already has she driven them from her altars of justice. Already has she stamped them as outcasts and handed them over to popular contempts and vulgar jest. Already are they the constant victims of cruel harshness and brutal violence. Already have our Celtic brothers, never slow to execute the behests of popular prejudice against the weak and defenceless, recognized in the heads of these people, fit targets for their shilalahs. Already, too, are their associations formed in avowed hostility to the Chinese.21 In all this there is, of course, nothing strange. Repugnance to the presence and influence of foreigners is an ancient feeling among men. It is peculiar to no particular race or nation. It is met with, not only in the conduct of one nation towards another, but in the conduct of the inhabitants of the different parts of the same country,

21. Anti-Chinese prejudice surfaced in California as early as 1850, when white miners formed vigilance committees to drive out Asian workers. In 1867, the Central Pacific Anti-Coolie Association worked closely with California’s labor movement and Democratic politicians to agitate for effective bans against further Chinese immigration. By the 1880s, a combination of violence, local ordinances, and state laws had succeeded in expelling Chinese laborers from many occupations.

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some times of the same city, and even of the same village. “Lands intersected by a narrow frith abhor each other. Mountains interposed, make enemies of nations.”22 To the Hindoo every man not twice born is Mleeka.23 To the Greek, every man not speaking Greek is a barbarian. To the Jew, everyone not circumcised is a gentile.24 To the Mahometan, every man not believing in the Prophet is a kaffer.25 I need not repeat here the multitude of reproachful epithets expressive of the same sentiment among ourselves. All who are not to the manor born26 have been made to feel the lash and sting of these reproachful names. For this feeling there are many apologies, for there was never yet an error, however flagrant and hurtful, for which some plausible defence could not be framed. Chattel slavery, king craft, priest craft, pious frauds, intolerance, persecution, suicide, assassination, repudiation, and a thousand other errors and crimes have all had their defences and apologies. Prejudice of race and color has been equally upheld. The two best arguments in the defence are, first, the worthlessness of the class against which it is directed; and, second, that the feeling itself is entirely natural. The way to overcome the first argument is to work for the elevation of those deemed worthless, and thus make them worthy of regard, and they will soon become worthy and not worthless. As to the natural argument, it may be said that nature has many sides. Many things are in a certain sense natural, which are neither wise nor best. It is natural to walk, but shall men therefore refuse to ride? It is 22. William Cowper, The Time Piece, lines 16–18. A frith is an estuary. Cowper and Bailey, Poems of William Cowper, 267. 23. Hindus commonly referred to outsiders of whatever race or color as the mleccha and considered them a separate class of untouchables. 24. Circumcision, one of the most important biblical requirements for Jews, identified a male as a Hebrew and signified the Jews’ special covenant with God. Gen. 17: 10–14; Exod. 12:44–49. 25. Kafir (or kaffir) is the Muslim term for an unbeliever. 26. Hamlet, sc. 4, line 566.

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natural to ride on horseback, shall men therefore refuse steam and rail? Civilization is itself a constant war upon some forces in nature, shall we therefore abandon civilization and go back to savage life? Nature has two voices, the one high, the other low; one is in sweet accord with reason and justice, and the other apparently at war with both. The more men know of the essential nature of things, and of the true relation of mankind, the freer they are from prejudice of every kind. The child is afraid of the giant form of his own shadow. This is natural, but he will part with his fears when he is older and wiser. So ignorance is full of prejudice, but it will disappear with enlightenment. But I pass on. I have said that the Chinese will come, and have given some reasons why we may expect them in very large numbers in no very distant future. Do you ask if I would favor such immigration? I answer, I would. “Would you admit them as witnesses in our courts of law?” I would. Would you have them naturalized, and have them invested with all the rights of American citizenship? I would. Would you allow them to vote? I would. Would you allow them to hold office? I would. But are there not reasons against all this? Is there not such a law or principle as that of self-preservation? Does not every race owe something to itself? Should it not attend to the dictates of common sense? Should not a superior race protect itself from contact with inferior ones? Are not the white people the owners of this continent? Have they not the right to say what kind of people shall be allowed to come here and settle? Is there not such a thing as being more generous than wise? In the effort to promote civilization may we not corrupt and destroy what we have? Is it best to take on board more passengers than the ship will carry? To all this and more I have one among many answers, altogether satisfactory to me, though I cannot promise it will be entirely so to you. I submit that this question of Chinese immigration should be settled upon higher principles than those of a cold and selfish

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expediency. There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are eternal, universal and indestructible. Among these is the right of locomotion; the right of migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike. It is the right you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming here. It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and the Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves, now and forever. I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a supposed conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go the side of humanity. I have great respect for the blue-eyed and light-haired races of America. They are a mighty people. In any struggle for the good things of this world, they need have no fear, they have no need to doubt that they will get their full share. But I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights, to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men. I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races, but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours. Right wrongs no man.27 If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one-fifth of the population of the globe is white and the other fourfifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions. It would be a sad reflection upon the laws of nature and upon the idea of justice, to say nothing of a common Creator, if four-fifths of mankind were deprived of the rights of migration to make room for the one-fifth. If the white race may exclude all other races from this continent, it may rightfully do the same in respect to all other lands, islands, capes and continents, 27. An unattributed proverb in circulation in the mid-nineteenth century. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Salt-Cellars: Being a Collection of Proverbs, Together with Homely Notes Thereon, 2 vols. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1889), 2:129.

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and thus have all the world to itself, and thus what would seem to belong to the whole would become the property of only a part. So much for what is right, now let us see what is wise. And here I hold that a liberal and brotherly welcome to all who are likely to come to the United States is the only wise policy which this nation can adopt. It has been thoughtfully observed that every nation, owing to its peculiar character and composition, has a definite mission in the world. What that mission is, and what policy is best adapted to assist in its fulfillment, is the business of its people and its statesmen to know, and knowing, to make a noble use of this knowledge. I need not stop here to name or describe the missions of other and more ancient nationalities. Ours seems plain and unmistakable. Our geographical position, our relation to the outside world, our fundamental principles of government, world-embracing in their scope and character, our vast resources, requiring all manner of labor to develop them, and our already existing composite population, all conspire to one grand end, and that is, to make us the perfect national illustration of the unity and dignity of the human family that the world has ever seen. In whatever else other nations may have been great and grand, our greatness and grandeur will be found in the faithful application of the principle of perfect civil equality to the people of all races and of all creeds. We are not only bound to this position by our organic structure and by our revolutionary antecedents, but by the genius of our people. Gathered here from all quarters of the globe, by a common aspiration for national liberty as against caste, divine right government and privileged classes, it would be unwise to be found fighting against ourselves and among ourselves, it would be unadvised to attempt to set up any one race above another, or one religion above another, or prescribe any one account of race, color or creed. The apprehension that we shall be swamped or swallowed up by Mongolian civilization; that the Caucasian race may not be able to

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hold their own against that vast incoming population, does not seem entitled to much respect. Though they come as the waves come, we shall be all the stronger if we receive them as friends and give them a reason for loving our country and our institutions. They will find here a deeply rooted, indigenous, growing civilization, augmented by an ever-increasing stream of immigration from Europe, and possession is nine points of the law28 in this case, as well as in others. They will come as strangers. We are at home. They will come to us, not we to them. They will come in their weakness, we shall meet them in our strength. They will come as individuals, we will meet them in multitudes, and with all the advantages of organization. Chinese children are in American schools in San Francisco.29 None of our children are in Chinese schools, and probably never will be, though in some things they might well teach us valuable lessons. Contact with these yellow children of the Celestial Empire would convince us that the points of human difference, great as they, upon first sight, seem, are as nothing compared with the points of human agreement. Such contact would remove mountains of prejudice. It is said that it is not good for man to be alone. This is true, not only in the sense in which our women’s rights’ friends so zealously and wisely teach, but it is true as to nations. The voice of civilization speaks an unmistakable language against the isolation of families, nations and races, and pleads for composite nationality as essential to her triumphs. Those races of men who have maintained the most distinct and separate existence for the longest periods of time; which have had the least intercourse with other races of men are a standing confirmation of the folly of isolation. The very soil of the national mind 28. This aphorism is traceable in English literature at least as far back as Colley Cibber’s 1697 play Woman’s Wit. Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 301. 29. In 1860 the California legislature prohibited “Mongolians” from attending the state’s public schools, but six years later amended the legislation to permit such attendance where white parents did not object. Although the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 guaranteed Chinese immigrants access to public education facilities, local pressure on school boards kept all minority students in segregated and inferior institutions.

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becomes in such cases barren, and can only be resuscitated by assistance from without. Look at England, whose mighty power is now felt, and for centuries has been felt, all around the world. It is worthy of special remark, that precisely those parts of that proud island which have received the largest and most diversified populations, are to-day the parts most distinguished for industry, enterprise, invention and general enlightenment. In Wales, and in the Highlands of Scotland the boast is made of their pure blood, and that they were never conquered, but no man can contemplate them without wishing they had been conquered. They are far in the rear of every other part of the English realm in all the comforts and conveniences of life, as well as in mental and physical development. Neither law nor learning descends to us from the mountains of Wales or from the Highlands of Scotland. The ancient Briton, whom Julius Caesar would not have as a slave,30 is not to be compared with the round, burly, amplitudinous Englishman in many of his qualities of desirable manhood. The theory that each race of man has some special faculty, some peculiar gift or quality of mind or heart, needed to the perfection and happiness of the whole is a broad and beneficent theory, and, besides its beneficence, has, in its support, the voice of experience. Nobody doubts this theory when applied to animals or plants, and no one can show that it is not equally true when applied to races. All great qualities are never found in any one man or in any one race. The whole of humanity, like the whole of everything else, is ever greater than a part. Men only know themselves by knowing others, and contact is essential to this knowledge. In one race we 30. After completing his conquest of Gaul, the Roman general Julius Caesar led two raids across the English Channel into southern England. Cicero noted that the slaves whom Caesar sent back from the expedition were not “highly qualified in literature or music,” that is, not on a par intellectually with Greek, Jewish, or Syrian slaves. Early antislavery writers often cited such descriptions of the early inhabitants of Great Britain as evidence against the presumption of Africans’ genetic inferiority. D. R. Shackleton Bailey, ed., Cicero’s Letters to Atticus, 7 vols. (1965–70; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 2:113.

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perceive the predominance of imagination; in another, like the Chinese we remark its almost total absence. In one people we have the reasoning facility; in another the genius for music; in another exists courage; in another great physical vigor, and so on through the whole list of human qualities. All are needed to temper, modify, round and complete the whole man and the whole nation. Not the least among the arguments whose consideration should dispose us to welcome among us the peoples of all countries, nationalities and colors, is the fact that all races and varieties of men are improvable. This is the grand distinguishing attribute of humanity, and separates man from all other animals. If it could be shown that any particular race of men are literally incapable of improvement, we might hesitate to welcome them here. But no such men are any where to be found, and if they were, it is not likely that they would ever trouble us with their presence. The fact that the Chinese and other nations desire to come and do come is a proof of their capacity for improvement and of their fitness to come. We should take counsel of both nature and art in the consideration of this question. When the architect intends a grand structure, he makes the foundation broad and strong. We should imitate this prudence in laying the foundations of the future Republic. There is a law of harmony in all departments of nature. The oak is in the acorn. The career and destiny of individual men are enfolded in the elements of which they are composed. The same is true of a nation. It will be something or it will be nothing. It will be great, or it will be small, according to its own essential qualities. As these are rich and varied, or pure and simple, slender and feeble, broad and strong, so will be the life and destiny of the nation itself. The stream cannot rise higher than its source. The ship cannot sail faster than the wind. The flight of the arrow depends upon the strength and elasticity of the bow, and as with these, so with a nation. If we would reach a degree of civilization higher and grander than any yet attained, we should welcome to our ample continent

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all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples, and as fast as they learn our language and comprehend the duties of citizenship, we should incorporate them into the American body politic. The outspread wings of the American eagle are broad enough to shelter all who are likely to come. As a matter of selfish policy, leaving right and humanity out of the question, we cannot wisely pursue any other course. Other governments mainly depend for security upon the sword; ours depends mainly upon the friendship of the people. In all matters, in time of peace, in time of war, and at all times, it makes its appeal to the people, and to all classes of the people. Its strength lies in their friendship and cheerful support in every time of need, and that policy is a mad one which would reduce the number of its friends by excluding those who would come, or by alienating those who are already here. Our Republic is itself a strong argument in favor of composite nationality. It is no disparagement to Americans of English descent to affirm that much of the wealth, leisure, culture, refinement and civilization of the country are due to the arm of the negro and the muscle of the Irishman. Without these, and the wealth created by their sturdy toil, English civilization had still lingered this side of the Alleghanies, and the wolf still be howling on their summits. To no class of our population are we more indebted for valuable qualities of head, heart, and hand, than to the German. Say what we will of their lager, their smoke, and their metaphysics, they have brought to us a fresh, vigorous and child-like nature; a boundless facility in the acquisition of knowledge; a subtle and far-reaching intellect, and a fearless love of truth. Though remarkable for patient and laborious thought, the true German is a joyous child of freedom, fond of manly sports, a lover of music, and a happy man generally. Though he never forgets that he is a German, he never fails to remember that he is an American. A Frenchman comes here to make money, and that is about all that need be said of him. He is only a Frenchman. He neither learns

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our language nor loves our country. His hand is on our pocket and his eye on Paris. He gets what he wants and, like a sensible Frenchman, returns to France to spend it. Now let us answer briefly some objections to the general scope of my arguments. I am told that science is against me; that races are not all of the same origin and that the unity theory of human origin has been exploded.31 I admit that this is a question that has two sides. It is impossible to trace the threads of human history sufficiently near their starting point to know much about the origin of races. In disposing of this question whether we shall welcome or repel immigration from China, Japan, or elsewhere, we may leave the differences among the theological doctors to be settled by themselves. Whether man originated at one time and one place; whether there was one Adam or five, or five hundred, does not affect the question. The great right of migration and the great wisdom of incorporating foreign elements into our body politic, are founded not upon any genealogical or ethnological theory, however learned, but upon the broad fact of a common nature. Man is man the world over. This fact is affirmed and admitted in any effort to deny it. The sentiments we exhibit, whether love or hate, confidence or fear, respect or contempt, will always imply a like humanity. A smile or a tear has no nationality. Joy and sorrow speak alike in all nations, and they above all the confusion of tongues proclaim the brotherhood of man. It is objected to the Chinaman that he is secretive and treacherous, and will not tell the truth when he thinks it for his interest to tell a lie. There may be truth in all this; it sounds very much like the account of man’s heart given in the creeds. If he will not tell the 31. Followers of the American school of ethnology advanced the polygenist theory, namely, that the races had separate origins and constituted distinct species. Douglass discussed and disputed the theory frequently after delivering his speech of 12 July 1854 on Negro ethnology (included in this volume).

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truth, except when it is for his interest to do so, let us make it for his interest to tell the truth. We can do it by applying to him the same principle of justice that we apply to ourselves. But I doubt if the Chinese are more untruthful than other people. At this point I have one certain test.—Mankind are not held together by lies. Trust is the foundation of society. Where there is no truth, there can be no trust, and where there is no trust, there can be no society. Where there is society, there is trust, and where there is trust, there is something upon which it is supported. Now a people who have confided in each other for five thousand years; who have extended their empire in all directions until it embraces one-fifth of the population of the globe; who hold important commercial relations with all nations; who are now entering into treaty stipulations with ourselves, and with all the great European powers, cannot be a nation of cheats and liars, but must have some respect for veracity. The very existence of China for so long a period, and her progress in civilization, are proofs of her truthfulness. This is the last objection which should come from those who profess the all-conquering power of the Christian religion. If that religion cannot stand contact with the Chinese, religion or no religion, so much the worse for those who have adopted it. It is the Chinaman, not the Christian, who should be alarmed for his faith. He exposes that faith to great dangers by exposing it to the freer air of America. But shall we send missionaries to the heathen, and yet deny the heathen the right to come to us? I think a few honest believers in the teachings of Confucius32 would be well employed in expounding his doctrines among us. The next objection to the Chinese is that he cannot be induced to swear by the Bible. This is to me one of his best recommendations. The American people will swear by any thing in the heaven above or the earth beneath. We are a nation of swearers. We swear by a book whose most authoritative command is to swear not at all. 32. Confucius (c. 551–479 B.C.E.), Chinese philosopher.

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It is not of so much importance what a man swears by, as what he swears to, and if the Chinaman is so true to his convictions that he cannot be tempted or even coerced into so popular a custom as swearing by the Bible, he gives good evidence of his integrity and his veracity. Let the Chinaman come; he will help to augment the national wealth; he will help to develop our boundless resources; he will help to pay off our national debt; he will help to lighten the burden of our national taxation; he will give us the benefit of his skill as a manufacturer and as a tiller of the soil, in which he is unsurpassed. Even the matter of religious liberty, which has cost the world more tears, more blood and more agony, than any other interest, will be helped by his presence. I know of no church, however tolerant; of no priesthood, however enlightened, which could be safely trusted with the tremendous power which universal conformity would confer. We should welcome all men of every shade of religious opinion, as among the best means of checking the arrogance and intolerance which are the almost inevitable concomitants of general conformity. Religious liberty always flourishes best amid the clash and competition of rival religious creeds. To the mind of superficial men the future of different races has already brought disaster and ruin upon the country. The poor negro has been charged with all our woes. In the haste of these men they forget that our trouble was not ethnological, but moral, that is was not a difference of complexion, but a difference of conviction. It was not the Ethiopian as a man, but the Ethiopian as a slave and a coveted article of merchandise, that gave us trouble. I close these remarks as I began. If our action shall be in accordance with the principles of justice, liberty, and perfect human equality, no eloquence can adequately portray the greatness and grandeur of the future of the Republic. We shall spread the network of our science and our civilization over all who seek their shelter, whether from Asia, Africa, or the Isles of the Sea. We shall mould them all, each after his kind, into

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Americans; Indian and Celt, negro and Saxon, Latin and Teuton, Mongolian and Caucasian, Jew and gentile, all shall here bow to the same law, speak the same language, support the same government, enjoy the same liberty, vibrate with the same national enthusiasm, and seek the same national ends.

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“Which Greeley Are We Voting For?” An Address Delivered in Richmond, Virginia, 24 July 1872 Unidentified newspaper clipping, “Campaign of 1872,” 6:82–84, Box 95, Edward McPherson Papers, Library of Congress. Although never an abolitionist, Horace Greeley had vigorously opposed the western expansion of slavery and championed the Republican party through his editorials in the New York Tribune, the newspaper with the nation’s largest circulation. Thus, when Greeley challenged Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 presidential election, running on the Liberal Republican ticket, it was a serious threat to the Radical Republicans’ Reconstruction program. As a Republican party stalwart, Frederick Douglass campaigned for Grant and opposed Greeley’s rhetoric of conciliation between North and South, which entailed federal military withdrawal from the South and the abandonment of African American rights. When the Democratic party met for its convention in Baltimore, it also nominated Greeley for president, despite his long history of attacking it, in hopes of regaining national political power. The chair of the Democratic National Committee, August Belmont, endorsed Greeley, albeit reluctantly, because he was one of the “wisest and best men of the Republican party” who had “severed themselves from the Radical wing” of the Republicans.1 Subsequent editorials in the Richmond Daily Dispatch, a Democratic party newspaper, put forth a “Lost Cause” rationale for defeating President Grant, which meant removing federal protections for 1. Richmond Daily Dispatch, 10 July 1872.

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African American rights in the South: “The key note of the Administration is that the continued repression of the South is necessary to the safety of the republic. The key note of the Democratic-Republican or Liberal party is that the sections must shake hands across the bloody chasm.”2 With these accusations as a backdrop, the Republican party sponsored a rally in Richmond, on 24 July, and Frederick Douglass addressed the crowd. Several “well-known Republicans” joined Douglass on the platform, and he was the first speaker to address the gathering. The Richmond Daily Dispatch described Douglass’s appearance in detail and then opined, “He spoke with ease and fluency, his gestures were appropriate, and his language well-chosen, but as an orator he does not excel several well known colored men in Virginia who were slaves until freed by the sword.” After this implicit criticism of Douglass’s courageous escape from slavery, the paper remarked that “his speech created less enthusiasm than might have been expected.” The summary of Douglass’s speech in the Daily Dispatch downplayed the irony in his speech. For example, Douglass jokes, “I hear from several sources that all the intelligent colored people of the South are going to vote for Horace Greeley and B. Gratz Brown. (Loud cries of “No!”) Well, I hope you won’t have many such intelligent ones in Virginia. (Applause and laughter.)” The Daily Dispatch reported the latter sentence as: “If that was so, he hoped and believed there were very few intelligent colored people in Virginia. (Applause.)” Senator Henry Wilson, the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate, and several other speakers followed Douglass, and the event ended at dusk, when the crowd was supplied with Chinese lanterns for a procession that “presented a brilliant spectacle.”3 The Washington (D.C.) New National Era, edited by Douglass, reported on 1 August 1872 that “eight to ten thousand voters stood for over five hours” to hear the speakers while more trains arrived. By the time the audience marched in the torchlight procession, “there could not have been less than twenty-five thousand men in

2. Ibid., 25 July 1872. 3. Ibid.

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the streets.” Douglass wound up his speech to the sound of “cheer after cheer.” He delivered many stump speeches that summer, but his oration on this occasion stood out for his affiliation with several disparate groups. He identifies himself with “we poor white people,” former slave owners, and African Americans. He cites the Virginians Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry as sources of inspiration for both his own rebellion against slavery and his aspirations for moving Virginia toward a more egalitarian future. Horace Greeley’s campaign suffered from his Democrat and Republican supporters’ inability to form a strong coalition and from his own failing health. President Grant won a clear victory, and Greeley died shortly after the election. Soon after, Frederick Douglass’s house in Rochester, New York, burned down in what he believed was arson, and he moved his family to Washington, D.C. Douglass’s energetic stumping on behalf of the Republican party, beginning with the 1872 campaign, led to him receiving a series of influential and lucrative federal patronage appointments.

F

ellow-Citizens—I thank you very sincerely for the cordial and hearty welcome with which you have greeted me. I attempt to speak here with more difficulty, with less confidence, than you can imagine. This is the first political campaign in which I ever took the stump for any candidate. I am a new hand at the business. And this is the first time too that I ever took part in a public demonstration in the late capital of the Confederate States of America.4 Besides, when invited to participate in this demonstration I supposed that I should be called upon merely to give color to the occasion (laughter)—to be a sort of tail to the kite.5 I had no idea of occupying any such prominence as

4. This appears accurate. Douglass spoke only one other time in that city, on 13 September 1892 at the Annual Fair of the Virginia Industrial Mercantile Building and Loan Association. 5. This unattributed saying appears in English at least as early as the early nineteenth century. London Literary Gazette; and Journal of Belle Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c. 11 (24 February 1827): 116.

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it seems I am to occupy to-day. There is one thing, however, that consoles me in venturing here on the sacred soil of Virginia—and in this, the Capital—and it is that although a stranger I am no carpetbagger. (Applause and laughter.) I am to the manor born,6 if there is any advantage or merit in that. It is true that I was once advertised in a very respectable newspaper under a little figure, bent over and apparently in a hurry, with a pack on his shoulder, going North.7 (Laughter.) But that was a long time ago, when I was quite young, and on the score of my youth I hope you will pardon that indiscretion—the indiscretion of my going North. I was young, and like most young people was anxious to see everything that I had ever heard of or read of, and hence I went North. Some of my friends in the South liked me very much at that time and went after me. (Laughter.) They could not have me go. They said they could not endure to part with me. They loved me; they wanted to do me good. They heard that I was going away off to old Massachusetts—that worst of all the States, that State in which the black man is supposed to learn more mischief in a day than Virginia can unlearn him in a year—and I did go there. You will excuse me for talking about myself, for when a man has no other subject he will talk about that. He is the most familiar with that, and on that ground I am going to talk a little about myself. When a man who has gone abroad from those he knew and loved in his youth returns, he should tell something about what he has seen, heard, felt and learned while abroad. I was very much disappointed in my travels northward. I went away from the South into the North, expecting to find people living in a very humble way, in Spartan-like simplicity, inhabiting small huts and hovels; for I had never known anything of wealth not derived directly from slave labor. I had only seen wealth in connection with slavery. Wealth, intelligence, refinement, luxury, all those elements that distinguish advanced civilization, I had only seen a 6. Hamlet, sc. 4, line 566. 7. Although Douglass seems to be referring to an advertisement published at the time of his escape from slavery in 1838, such a notice has not yet been uncovered.

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connection with the system of human slavery. I had an idea that no man—I know my notions of political economy must have been very crude—could acquire more than a bare subsistence with his two hands. Knowing that those States were free, that there were no slaves there, I expected to see the people living like the poor white people in the South that had no slaves lived. I include myself with you partly by permission and partly by circumstances over which I had no control. (Laughter.) I went up there expecting to find them living as we poor white people used to live, and you know some of you how that was—out on the outskirts of plantations, with a chimney built out of doors, not of brick, but a little wood, a little hay and a little clay. (Renewed laughter.) Judge of my surprise, my amazement, when after a few nights and days’ travel on a road of which you have heard frequently—the underground railroad—(laughter) I found myself among the granite hills of New England, in [New] Bedford, Massachusetts—judge of my amazement, I say, when, instead of the little huts which we white people used to live in on the outskirts of the plantations, there were magnificent residences on either side, equaling anything of magnificence and grandeur that I had seen here in Virginia. I saw in the streets fine ladies elegantly dressed, gentlemen with broadcloth coats made after the latest Parisian pattern, and splendid equipages rolling down the street, the people looking as healthy, as happy, as wealthy, as intelligent, as refined, as the finest of the refined, the wealthiest of the wealthy of the great State of Virginia. Not a slave, not one. (Applause.) I was surprised. I didn’t know how that was. We poor white people at the South had nothing of this. How was it? Whence came these magnificent residences, these splendid equipages; whence this elegance; whence this refinement; whence this intelligence? I hardly knew how to explain it. I went down on the wharf, Gid. Howland’s wharf,8 and saw vessels preparing for foreign voyages, 8. Douglass may be confusing Gideon Howland Jr. (1770–1847) with George Howland (1781–1852). Gideon Howland Jr. was a partner in a prosperous shipping

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and I was in search of a job then. I had my saw in my hand and my buck on my back, and I was looking for a cord of wood to saw; for I was not then what I am now. I was then a wood-sawyer and not a Doctor of Laws, as Howard University has recently dubbed me.9 (Cheers.) A wood-sawyer, and all I wanted was a job of work, a cord of wood to saw or a ton of coal to put away. But while I was looking for a job of wood-sawing I was thinking of some explanation of the prosperity, the wealth and the grandeur that I saw all around me. The first person I met that gave me any information on the subject was a good-natured old ox, with long horns and honest eyes. He was attached to a piece of rope, which passed through a block and tackle extending to a derrick,10 and he was walking off, walking off with a steady pace—with a steadiness, with a strength not unlike Ulysses Grant11—walking off attending to his own business. I found that in his movement he was bringing out of the hold of the ship a large cask of oil; in fact that this one solitary ox was unloading a great ship of a cargo of oil. Well I reasoned this way: This ox was worth about $70. Now that one ox worth $70 was doing work which in my country it would require fifteen slaves valued at $1,000 a piece to do. There was a capital of $70 in the North as useful as a capital of $15,000 would be in the South. I thought there was a great deal in that. But that was not all. I went over to Fall River, only about fourteen miles from New Bedford, and there I had my eyes opened again. Another explanation was afforded me. The industrious people of Fall River had managed to enslave, not the people of that town, but to enslave and whaling mercantile firm in New Bedford, Massachusetts. George Howland, another prominent banker and whaling industry businessman, owned and operated Howland’s Wharf in the same town. 9. Howard University awarded Douglass an honorary LL.D. degree at the first commencement of its collegiate department in 1872. Henry D. Cooke, the territorial governor of the District of Columbia, presented the degree to Douglass and lauded him as the “silvery tongued orator of America.” 10. A derrick is a lifting device used in quarries and shipyards. 11. Ulysses S. Grant (1822–85), eighteenth president of the United States (1869– 77) and general in chief of all Union armies in the final year of the Civil War, personally directed the Union forces in Virginia in 1864–65.

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a beautiful stream of water, to harness it to the paddle-wheels of a great mill, and that stream of water, without doing it the least harm in the world, was turning and moving thousands of looms and millions of spindles, all bringing wealth and civilization to the people of that community.12 I felt that I had learned a great deal. I had learned that people could be wealthy, refined, intelligent, highly civilized, and that they could be Christians without slavery. It was a great thing. It reconciled me to the crime I committed when I ran away (laughter), when I stole myself; but when I ran away you know I ran away on my own legs (renewed laughter), and left everybody else in possession of their legs (applause, laughter, and cries of “Good”), and I could not blame myself a great deal. Fellow-citizens, I have ventured down among you to-day not because I have discovered any new political truth to apply to our present situation as a Nation—indeed, it is not necessary for me or for anybody to go in search of new truth until the old truths, long ago discovered and declared, have been thoroughly recognized and reduced to practice by this State and Nation. Properly speaking, however, there is no such thing in the world as new truth or old truth, for truth is eternal. Error may be new or it may be old, since it is founded in the misapprehension of what truth is. It hath its beginning and must have its ending. It may exist in one age and be mistaken for truth. It disappears in another age, and, if not supplanted by truth, is supplanted by another error. But truth, eternal truth, is from everlasting unto everlasting—can never pass away.13 Such a truth is man’s right to liberty. He was born with it. It entered into the very idea of man’s creation. It was his before he comprehended 12. Dexter Wheeler, a local technician and entrepreneur, constructed the Fall River Manufactory, which employed the force of the Fall River’s descent to turn and move the looms and spindles. Other entrepreneurs soon built several more mills along the river. By the time of Douglass’s arrival in 1838, there were at least five large cotton manufactories. Douglass’s figures for the number of looms and spindles, however, are inflated; by 1859 the mills were employing 192,620 spindles and 4,576 looms. 13. 1 John 4:6.

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it. The title deed of it is inscribed on his soul. No compacts, no agreements, no covenants, no combinations into which men may enter can abrogate or destroy this grand, original, fundamental and eternal right. (Cheers.) If men form institutions that are in accordance with this truth, they stand; and if they form institutions contrary to it, they will fall. No power beneath the sky can uphold any free government, any social system, inconsistent with the grand idea of universal liberty and equality among men. This is the higher law of which statesmen and scholars take cognizance, and woe betide any people who act in disregard of it. (Applause.) Fellow-citizens, I wish to defend myself, in order to be the better able to defend my cause. I have been charged with life-long hostility to one of the cherished institutions of Virginia. I am not ashamed of that life-long opposition. I have done nothing in this opposition which any white man subjected to slavery would not be proud of having done. Virginia may blame me to-day for her past, but she has herself to blame. It was, Virginia, your own Thomas Jefferson that taught me that all men are created equal.14 It was, Virginia, your own Patrick Henry that taught me to exclaim, “As for me, give me liberty, or give me death.”15 (Cheers.) Now I feel I am on the soil of Virginia, and feel pretty much at home. I know there was a time when it would not have been healthy to speak thus. There was a time when I was requested to visit you, and I had to send my regrets (laughter);16 but I can come to see you now. A great change has taken place in the world. The sun don’t get up where it used to; it don’t set where it used to. The air, although 14. Douglass quotes the Declaration of Independence. 15. Douglass quotes Patrick Henry’s speech in the Virginia Convention, 23 March 1775, as recorded in William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, 7th ed. (New York: McElrath & Bangs, 1835), 141. 16. A reference to Virginia governor Henry A. Wise’s attempt to secure Douglass’s arrest in 1859 in connection with John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. As governor, Wise requested that President Buchanan hire two Virginia detectives as special federal agents to capture Douglass and deliver him to Virginia authorities. The Northern press reported that a group of prominent Southerners, including Wise, had offered $50,000 for Douglass’s capture.

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it is tolerably warm, is a good deal more pleasant than it used to be—more agreeable, in every way, than it used to be. But let the dead past bury its dead,17 and let us look, for a moment, at the present, for I have not much more time to speak, as I do not mean to detain you from hearing the man whom we mean to place in the second highest office in the gift of this Government.18 (Cheers.) Look at his face. Why, it is a benediction itself. I felt that, as he moved through here, and I saw his broad, beneficent face. His heart is just like it; for I am as well acquainted with his heart as you are with his face. (Applause.) Now, I partly expected to meet with some of my old friends, the late masters in the State of Virginia. (A voice, “They are here.”) I am glad you are here. I never had anything against you in my life. I always loved you and only hated slavery. That is all. I want to say a word to you to reconcile you to the present condition of things. I believe that you, and all of us, indeed, stand upon one common platform of patriotism. We want this country prosperous; we want it peaceable; we want it happy. As a black man I want it so; as a white man you want it so. Notwithstanding the past, we still have a country. Slavery is dead, but we still have a country—a glorious country—a country that may have a more glorious future than it could have had had slavery continued to exist. (Applause.) A great many want to know, now-a-days, what is the true policy of this country to secure this great and happy future if it is possible. Well, I have got this to say; I lay this down as a general principle: That whatever was wise, whatever was proper for your society in a state of slavery is of necessity to-day very unwise, very improper, and even dangerous. Take, for instance, the matter of free discussion. While slavery existed freedom of speech was necessarily dangerous to society here. It could work evil, and only evil, and that continually. It stirred up, or would stir up, society from its foundation, so 17. Douglass quotes from the sixth stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “A Psalm of Life.” Longfellow, Poems, 22. 18. Henry Wilson.

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that freedom of speech was logically, taking slavery as a base line, an evil. You could not have it; it was dangerous. But, now that slavery has gone, that which was so perilous, that which was dangerous and improper, is now the highest wisdom. Liberty, you know, tolerates this. It is necessary to liberty that we look each other in the face calmly and candidly, and with the utmost freedom express our convictions in regard to public men and public measures. Another thing was dangerous when you had slavery. That was education. One of the most dangerous things in the world to slavery was education. An educated negro had the devil in him. He was a regular mischief maker, a marplot, a disturber, a conspirator. He was dangerous to have around. My master used to say to me, “Give a nigger an inch and he will take an ell. Learn him to read, and he will want to know how to write and cipher, and so on, and be making mischief.”19 He was right. If slavery was right, ignorance was right, and ignorance was proper. But slavery was not right; it had to die, and ignorance must go with it. What was dangerous for the black man to have when he was a slave is now your safety. Then you might keep away from him the book. Now, in order to your safety, you must give him books. Don’t burn down his school-house; don’t drive away his teacher. The prosperity, the happiness and well-being of society depend upon education. But I won’t ring the changes upon this subject. My idea is this: that the things that were right and proper for the South when we had slavery are now the worst things possible. When you had slavery it was not inconsistent with that institution that one man should own thousands and thousands of acres of land. He owned them then for the benefit of others; he owned them for his slaves, and for other people, but it would be the greatest madness now for those old landholders to act upon premises or principles which grew out of or were made reasonable by slavery, when slavery is no longer. Let 19. Douglass’s master in Baltimore, Hugh Auld, chastised his wife, Sophia, with this expression when he found her teaching Douglass to read. Douglass Papers, ser. 2, 1:31; 2:83–84; 3:62, 65.

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go your land; cut it up; create as much interest in it as possible, and you will do wisely. But let us come to the great question that we are here to discuss to-day. We are going, in the course of a few months, to choose a President and Vice President of the United States, and you and I and all of us are to have a voice, a free voice, an uncontrolled voice, an untrammelled vote on that question. (Applause.) We are going to have it, and now it is of the gravest possible consequence what the choice of the American people shall be in regard to that. I hear from several sources that all the intelligent colored people of the South are going to vote for Horace Greeley and B. Gratz Brown.20 (Loud cries of “No!”) Well, I hope you won’t have many such intelligent ones in Virginia. (Applause and laughter.) Now, I did not come here to abuse Horace Greeley. I didn’t come here to say harsh things of him, nor of Gratz Brown. I can call a man a knave and a fool, or a mean, miserable wretch, and all that sort of thing, if I want to, but that don’t prove anything. I should like right well to be able to vote for Horace Greeley. I should like to do it on the score that he is a workingman, and on the score that he is an editor, a brother editor with me. I should like to vote for Horace Greeley if I only knew which Greeley my vote would elect. (Applause and laughter.) But there is just where the trouble is with me. He is a many-sided man. There have been a good many Horace Greeleys. You know, when Gough21 presented himself at the door of 20. Benjamin Gratz Brown (1826–85) was a leader of a free soil political faction that later evolved into Missouri’s Republican party. Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1863. Although he originally held to Radical Republican positions on such issues as black suffrage and Confederate disenfranchisement, Brown’s views moderated, and in 1870 a coalition of Democrats and anti–Radical Republicans elected him governor. In 1872 Brown ran as Horace Greeley’s vice presidential candidate on the unsuccessful ticket of the Democratic and Liberal Republican parties. 21. In the depression of 1833, John Bartholomew Gough (1817–86) lost his job as a bookbinder and began to drink very heavily. When his wife and young child died simultaneously in 1841, he sank into a suicidal depression. The following year, Gough signed the total-abstinence pledge and soon became a famous temperance lecturer. Douglass alludes to his lecture at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City on the evening of 28 January 1845.

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the Tabernacle in New York, he said to the door-keeper: “Let me in; I am Gough.” “I’ll be d——d if I do,” said the door-keeper; “there are no less than seven Goughs gone in here already.” (Loud guffaws.) There have been a great many Horace Greeleys in my time. I knew one once who used to say red-hot things against slavery. I liked that man. Capital man he was. If my vote would elect that Horace Greeley, and I was sure he would stay “put,” why, I would vote for him. But there is just the trouble, gentlemen. In voting for Horace Greeley we don’t know which Greeley we are trying to elect—whether it is the Greeley of thirty years ago, of twenty years ago, or of ten years ago, in the van of the Republican party, or the Greeley of to-day, at the dead of the Democratic party. (Applause.) Now, my friends, I will be short. What the South wants, what Virginia wants, what the whole country wants at this time above all things, after this terrible ten years of commotion, after this terrible ten years of agitation and suffering, is quiet and repose, by which all the old wounds in the body politic shall be healed, and the Nation come into one homogenous whole. That is what we want. We want that above all things. You and I know as well as we know anything, that there can be no repose, no security without certainty. My objection to Mr. Greeley is that he is an uncertain man; that he is a vacillating man; that he is at the present moment in doubtful company, to say the least. Any uncertainty and doubt at the head of our affairs can not be other than disastrous to the highest interests of this country. What we want at the helm is a clear head and a firm and steady hand, and these we have in Ulysses S. Grant. (Somebody in the crowd here proposed three cheers for General Grant, which were given with great enthusiasm.) That is right; that is better than anything I could say. We want certainty. We do not want a candidate that is neither fish, flesh nor fowl.22 I object to Mr. Greeley on the ground that he is ambiguous, a sort of amphibious animal, living on neither land nor 22. Douglass quotes John Heywood’s 1546 Proverbs collection”: “she is neither fish nor flesh, nor good red herring.” Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 148.

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water, neither a Republican nor a Democrat; neither a protectionist nor a free-trader;23 in favor of centralization and against it; in favor of Ku-Klux laws and against them;24 opposed to Tammany and with it.25 Well, I said I was not going to say any harsh things about him, but let me tell you, my fellow citizens, speaking as a colored man, I regard the election of Horace Greeley as one of the most calamitous that could possibly befall this Republic. What we want, I repeat is certainty. We know Ulysses Grant, we know Henry Wilson—a straight line, no sinuosity, no double dealing, no divided voice, no uncertain sound to their trumpet. Ulysses Grant is friendly to all classes. The worst enemies that he has can not accuse him of malice. He did not approach General Lee with haughtiness nor with malice. They had met and disputed on a great principle. The principle was decided in Grant’s favor. He bore himself meekly; he bore himself in a manly way, and to-day cherishes as affectionate feelings toward the people of South as toward any other people in the whole country. (Applause.) 23. Horace Greeley indeed vacillated on this issue. In his carefully worded letter of 20 May 1872 in which he accepted the presidential nomination of the Liberal Republicans, Greeley offered no clear support either to the protectionists, who wished to establish tariffs protecting domestic industries, or to the free traders, who advocated the elimination of all artificial trade restrictions. 24. Responding to the inaction of Southern courts and militias, Congress on 20 April 1871 passed the Ku Klux Act, which made the white terrorist group’s depredations subject to federal jurisdiction and military action. Many Southern states complained that the act allowed the federal government to usurp their constitutionally guaranteed right to police their jurisdictions. Greeley and the Liberal Republicans attempt to assuage both sides in the debate. Although upholding the Reconstructionera constitutional amendments and the equality of all men before the law, their platform stated that “local self-government . . . will guard the rights of all citizens more securely than any centralized power.” 25. Although Horace Greeley editorialized the New York Tribune in 1870 that the Tweed Ring of Tammany Hall “was the most corrupt gang of political adventurers that ever ruled and robbed a helpless city,” he nevertheless supported Tammany’s charter for city government in March 1870, which allowed the Tweed Ring to engage in some of its most lucrative plundering. Greeley believed, as did many others, that the charter’s concentration of power in the hands of the mayor would create a more responsible administration of the city; in fact, it provided a screen behind which the Tweed Ring fleeced the city.

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I know the man. I like a man in the Presidential chair and the man that sits next him such as the poor people of my own race, as well as poor people of every other race can approach, and approach easily. Talk about military rings and inaccessibility! It is false, every word of it. General Grant, next to Abraham Lincoln and Charles Sumner, is about the easiest man to approach, holding high public place in this country, that I have ever known. The humblest man may approach him, and in his presence will be put thoroughly at ease. It is good to have such a man down there at Washington at the head of this Nation, this Democratic Nation, this Nation which has at last settled down upon the broad principle of the Declaration of Independence, that all men—all men, not a part of them—are created equal. I say it is good to have a man of that sort. But I did not intend to occupy so much of your time. (Cries of “Go on.”) I want you, before that sun gets too low, to get a daylight view of the next Vice President of the United States. (Tremendous applause.)

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“Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict” An Address Delivered in Louisville, Kentucky, 21 April 1873 Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, 22 April 1873. Frederick Douglass delivered “Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict” in several cities in 1873, revising it considerably depending on his audience and purpose. At Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, on 10 March, he ended the speech by revealing how he had escaped from slavery in Baltimore. The details of the escape, revealed for the first time, became the focus of contemporary press coverage.1 The version given in Louisville occurred in the wake of the Colfax Massacre, a terrible setback in African American political power, and Douglass adjusted the speech accordingly, focusing less on the antislavery movement and his personal triumphs and more on the necessary work of rooting out bigoted ideologies. On 19 April, Douglass arrived in Louisville at the invitation of its black community to celebrate the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. He attended services the next day at Quinn Chapel, a Methodist church, and in the evening at the Greenstreet Colored Baptist Church. On the afternoon of 21 April, he was ushered to Louisville’s Exposition Building in a carriage as part of a parade that included African American fraternal societies, black veterans, and black bands. Upon arriving at the hall, he found the audience in high spirits, but he could not make himself heard well. Consequently, he 1. Nemaha Nebraska Advertiser, 3 April 1873.

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decided not to give the speech that he had written for the occasion and instead gave an extemporaneous speech that had elements of his previous year’s stump speech “Which Greeley Are We Voting For?” He asks his listeners to consider what they had been expected to do as slaves and then urges them to do the opposite in order to succeed as freedmen. He especially emphasizes the importance of learning to read. Moving to recent events, Douglass attacks the Louisville Courier-Journal’s coverage of the Colfax Massacre. The week before, a white paramilitary attack in Colfax, Louisiana, left 150 black men and 3 white paramilitaries dead. Douglass pulled the newspaper’s article on that outrage from his pocket and labeled its writers “mischief makers” for suggesting that white Democrats had to protect white women from “designing and seditious carpet baggers” and their African American “dupes.”2 Douglass returned that evening to the Exposition Hall to deliver “Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict.” He received much laughter and applause for his reenactment of Wendell Phillips’s rejoinder to a minister who dared him to give antislavery lectures in the South. To the question, “Why don’t you go South,” Phillips responded, “Well, why don’t you go to——.” The turning point in the speech is his satire of the proslavery argument that “the Negro cannot take care of himself.” This parody becomes a rallying cry for his uplift ideology, in which he urges his “colored brethren” to “use the opportunities that we have for the improvement of our condition, for improving our intellect, for improving our manners, improving our order, improving our punctuality, and improving our integrity.” Douglass notes the difficulties of offering advice that could be misconstrued as criticism within the dominant culture, especially during this tense time, saying, “I would like to talk to you when there were no white people listening to me. I would like to talk to you aside.” He nonetheless offers criticism of African American homes where there were no books or papers, and of 2. “The Fifteenth Amendment,” Louisville Courier-Journal, 22 April 1873; Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), 530; LeeAnna Keith, Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction (Cary, N.C.: Oxford University Press, 2007), xii.

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men who preferred travel to community building. Among Douglass’s speeches, this one most directly illustrates the challenges he faced in addressing African American and white audiences simultaneously.

L

adies and Gentlemen—Perhaps there never was a revolution in the sentiment and structure of any nation so comprehensive and so complete as the revolution we are met this day to celebrate in the goodly city of Louisville. The change in the condition of the colored people is so vast—so wonderful that I for one have no words to characterise it properly. Almost all other revolutions that have taken place in the history of the world have been more or less incomplete—fallen short of the objects sought by the revolutionists themselves. There has been greater extravagance of demand, perhaps, in other times, but such revolutions have generally fallen short of their objects. For one, I was content for years to ask for the race to which I belong, simply emancipation from chattel slavery, satisfied that if that were obtained gradually other concessions and rights would follow. It never entered my mind in the earlier days of the anti-slavery struggle that the negro would by one movement as it were by one great act of our Government, be lifted into manhood, to be a wise man among men, and at last lifted into citizenship, completely enfranchised. This was more than I looked for, but it has come, and I have lived to see it, and am here to rejoice with you in this complete realization of hopes. The struggle that brought this great revolution to its present condition dates far back in the history of this nation and far back in the history of the world. It had the advances and its retreats, its action and its reaction. Perhaps the darkest and least hopeful period in the history of this tremendous struggle for the freedom of our race was the year 1850. We had attracted attention to the subject of slavery by holding anti-slavery meetings all over the North; by the publication of anti-slavery papers, resolutions, and speeches, and the good and true of all persuasions were rapidly allying themselves to the anti-slavery cause, and laboring to promote it. But at an un-

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fortunate moment there came a chilling and discouraging reaction, out of which came what is known as the Fugitive Slave Bill—a bill enabling a man to pursue his slave into every State of the Union, and made every citizen of the Northern States an interested party in the arrest and return of the bond man. This bill carried consternation to the hearths and homes of thousands of fugitives who had taken refuge in the free States, for there was not a valley so deep, no mountain so high, no glen so secluded, no spot so secret in all these States, as to secure the hunted one in his right to his own body. The negroes fled from the Northern States in darkened trains,3 escaping from under the Star Spangled Banner—running away from our boasted republic in pursuit of liberty that was denied them in this republic. I found it necessary myself, being a runaway, to leave the State of Massachusetts and go to Europe.4 I said that I was a runaway. There is usually a little odium attached to running away, but for the life of me I never could feel in any degree ashamed for being made to move Northward. I had an idea that my legs were my legs, and nobody else’s legs, and that if I run away on my own legs, and was careful to leave everybody else in possession of their legs, there could be no solid or reasonable objection to my going (laughter), and so I went. But under the Fugitive Slave Bill I found it necessary to go abroad for a while for my health. (Laughter and applause.) But

While There I Was Purchased. Some good people over there found out who my master was—and a very excellent master he was—and he had no business to be a master any more than many other good men with whom I have met had a right to be masters. They found who he was and wrote to him 3. Douglass alludes to the Underground Railroad. 4. Fearing recapture by his Maryland master after the publication of his autobiography, Douglass left his family in Massachusetts in August 1845 for an extended antislavery speaking tour of Great Britain. He returned home in 1847 only after abolitionist friends had purchased his liberty.

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to know if he would sell me, and if he would that they would buy me. And so $750 was sent over in British gold and I was set at liberty, and by that means I was enabled to return to the United States and pursue my anti-slavery studies and my anti-slavery labors.5 I say the darkest time in this struggle was during the enforcement of that bill. Then came the sermons from the leading ministers of the Northern States in support of that bill and its enforcement. Then came Mr. Webster, Mr. Filmore6 and other great men, together with most of the religious denominations in the land to urge upon the Northern people the duty of carrying out the provisions of that bill, but nevertheless every slave that was arrested only deepened and broadened, and intensified the anti-slavery sentiment of the North. Every slave therefore brought back only served to weaken the system which it was designed to uphold and sustain. One of the most amazing things connected with the anti-slavery struggle is the attitude assumed on the slavery question by the religious organizations of our country. It will be hardly credited, although Dr. Albert Barnes stated that there was no power outside of the American Church and clergy which could sustain slavery for years,7 had it not been sustained in the Church using the very droppings of the sanctuary. Your own fellow citizen, James G. Burney took the same view—that the American Church and clergy were the bulwark of American slavery.8 It was hard to believe this in the days of slavery struggle, and it will be harder still to believe it a hundred years hence, when the churches all over the land will be claiming the triumph of liberty in the United States as all the work of the church—or the result of the prayers and preaching of the pulpit. Among the things of the future will be a grand debate in this country, at which this very question as to whether the religious 5. The ownership of Douglass was transferred from Thomas Auld to his brother Hugh Auld on 13 November 1846. The latter signed Douglass’s manumission papers on 5 December 1846 in exchange for £150 raised by a group of British abolitionists led by Anna and Ellen Richardson. 6. Daniel Webster and Millard Fillmore. 7. Douglass paraphrases Barnes, Scriptural Views of Slavery, 383. 8. A reference to the title of James G. Birney’s pamphlet The American Churches: The Bulwarks of American Slavery.

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organizations of the United States were in any wise responsible for the perpetuation of slavery. Some historian like Froude serious for the truth of history, and some Father Burke equally zealous for the glory and honor of the church will meet and thrill assemblies by their eloquence and learning touching this very point.9 This is the truth concerning it. There are two sides to it. There is no question that in the earlier history of this Republic all religious organizations of the country were decidedly opposed to slavery. The Methodist Episcopal Church denounced it as evil as early as 1780 and 1784, and down to 1818. They organized committees for the purpose of petitioning the Legislatures of the several States for the abolition of slavery.10 The Presbyterian church was equally and unequivocally opposed to slavery. It denounced slavery as manstealing, and classed it with the highest crimes, quoting that passage of scripture bearing on man-stealing: “Whoso stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall be surely put to death.”11 The Baptists were equally decided in their opposition to slavery. Indeed, in the States of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, and in a part of Kentucky, the Baptists were so anti-slavery that they were called “Baptist Emancipation” as early as 1780.12 Thereafter the Society of Friends were also opposed to slavery. The leading statesmen of the Republic were opposed to slavery— Franklin,13 Rush,14 and even down to the time of your own great 9. Douglass alludes to a well-publicized dispute between the English historian and editor James Anthony Froude (1818–94) and the Irish priest and lecturer Thomas Nicholas Burke (1830–83) over British colonial policy in Ireland. 10. The Methodist Episcopal Church’s General Conference of 1804 repealed the call on Annual Conferences to lobby state legislatures for antislavery measures. 11. Douglass quotes Exodus 21:16, which the Presbyterian Church in the 1790s had appended to an answer in its Larger Catechism but removed in 1816. 12. A reference to the associations of antislavery Baptist congregations centered in Kentucky known as the “Friends of Humanity,” or more popularly as the “Emancipators.” 13. Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) played a leading role as a patriot during the American Revolution and lent his name to several antislavery organizations in his last years, but modern scholars caution that his record was far more compromised than has generally been recognized. 14. The Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush (1745–1813), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was active in most of the Revolutionary era’s reform and philanthropic movements, including antislavery.

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Henry Clay. I remember reading one of the most eloquent outbursts of sentiment from him upon this subject that I ever read from any source. He said if he could be instrumental in erasing from his native State the hint of human slavery, and from the State of his adoption he would not exchange the proud satisfaction for all the laurels ever bestowed upon the most successful conqueror. I do not quote his exact language, but he uttered such a sentiment as this. Such sentiments as this were uttered fifty years ago, so that Abolitionism is no modern idea. The earlier history of anti-slavery is very curious. Perhaps the very earliest book written of an anti-slavery character only claimed for the negro one thing. It was a book written two hundred years ago by Rev. Dr. Goodwin, of Jamaica written for the purpose of proving that it was not a sin to baptize a negro.15 (Laughter.) It was a book of two hundred pages. Dr. Goodwin argued the question coolly. The first difficulty that met him was that baptism is an ordinance for a free moral agent for persons who can determine upon their own course of conduct. The negro could not. He was not a free moral agent, and could not decide any question relative to his own action—what he

Should Eat Or Drink, or wear, when to speak, who to speak to, when he should be punished, by whom punished, when he should work, where and how much he should work, and what use was baptism to such a piece of property as that? It was said that since baptism belonged to free moral agents, that the thing to be done was to

Well Baptize the Master as he had the absolute control, and it was sufficient for the negro to get the benefit of baptism by proxy. Nobody now doubts the 15. Morgan Godwyn advocated this position in The Negro’s and Indian’s Advocate.

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propriety of putting a little water on a negro, or of putting a negro in the water, and putting him in very hot water in some places. But it was out of that discussion came the germ of the struggle which gave birth to the freedom you now enjoy. Dr. Goodwin, while he did not deny a slave was a slave, he insisted upon it, that though a slave he was a man, and in granting him the right of baptism opened the doors by which every other right belonging to man could be claimed and insisted upon. Here we have

The Religious Beginning of the anti-slavery movement notwithstanding it must be admitted that the churches of our country were very cold on this subject. We had men sold to build churches, women sold to support missionaries. The church and the slave-pen stood in the same neighborhood, and the cries and groans of the bond-man was sometimes silenced by the tears and prayers of the church. The

Pulpit and Auctioneer’s Block stood in the same neighborhood. The people expended the gold resulting from the sale of human flesh in order to support the pulpit, and the pulpit in return defended the system as a Bible institution. But I am glad we have got by that. We can now afford to remember the golden rule: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so unto them.”16 The movement by which abolition was brought about in this century followed a very natural course of development.

16. Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31.

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Beginning of the Anti-Slavery Struggle. The first part of the anti-slavery struggle we were engaged in was to express the evils of slavery. I know the first proposition that I undertook to sustain before an audience in the Northern States, was that slavery was an evil. That was all—an evil to the master as well as to the slave, and emancipation would be a joy to the master as well as to the slave. I remember when Neal Turner started his insurrection in Virginia, poor old man what he was.17 He came to his death by that rising, but that movement sent a thrill throughout Southern society, and no man slept easily for years, who slept on the quivering heartstrings of his slaves. You have no fear now; you have no fear even here, even though a fugitive slave is running around talking to the colored people about their rights, about their liberty, and about their progress. Nobody is afraid. I ask you to rejoice with us. There is no fear that you will starve to death because we don’t work for you any more for nothing. I do not know that you can point to say five years in the history of Louisville when this city has been more prosperous and surrounded its name with a brighter and broader halo of glory than she has done since the chains were stricken from the limbs of the slaves. (Applause.) I have travelled far over land and seas. I have visited many cities in every part of our glorious Union, and I must say that in no part of this republic is there a grander and more beautiful illustration of the energy, the enterprise, and the progressive spirit of the American people than is furnished in the up building of this magnificent hall for the display of your industrial products. This is all the fruit of liberty. I do not suppose this hall would have been here if you had not got rid of slavery. (Laughter and applause.)

17. Nat Turner (1800–31), the leader of a slave revolt in Southampton County, Virginia, on 21–23 August 1831, was a literate, enslaved carpenter and preacher. After his capture, he supposedly dictated his “confessions” to a local lawyer. Turner was executed by hanging on 11 November 1831.

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One of the most valuable lessons left us by this struggle of slavery is faith in man, faith in the rectitude of humanity, and faith in the all conquering power of truth as opposed to error—opposed to falsehood. The Abolitionists believed that this was the secret of their power. If we measured their faith by the magnitude of the work before them—if we consider the nature of the system of wrong to be overthrown, how vast in wealth of power; how it molded all political parties; how it controlled statesmen; what a vast mine of wealth it was to those interested in it; how, as Mr. Clay once said, “five hundred years of legislation have sanctioned and sanctified negro slaves as property when we consider how it was linked with our institutions, the faith that could meet this was at once heroic and something marvelous.”18 But the abolitionists did believe, and persevered in their opposition to slavery, meeting reproach, and enmity and sometimes incurring personal danger which would have appalled most men. It was once said by Emerson that “the eloquence of the Abolitionists was dog-cheap at anti-slavery meetings.”19 The secret of their eloquence was their faith. Like the great apostle to the Gentiles, they believed, and therefore spoke because they believed, and were therefore eloquent.20 But the Abolitionists were not long alone in their faith in the power of truth. The South also believed in the power, and demanded that they should put down this agitation in the North. The North, while boasting at its freedom, so far forgot its dignity as to attempt by mob violence to put down the discussion of 18. On 7 February 1839, in an address on the U.S. Senate floor, later published as “On Abolitionist Petitions,” Henry Clay said, “Two hundred years of legislation,” not “five hundred,” as Douglass reported. The Life and Speeches of Henry Clay, of Kentucky, 2 vols. (New York: Greeley & McElrath, 1843), 2:410. 19. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s comment on the abundance of abolitionist expressiveness appears in his address “Emancipation in British West Indies” (1844), in which he points to “a proverb in Massachusetts, that ‘eloquence is dog-cheap at the anti-slavery chapel.’ ” The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Centenary ed., 12 vols. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903–04), 11:138. 20. An allusion to St. Paul’s evangelization of the Gentiles as recorded in Acts and the Pauline epistles. Douglass then paraphrases either 2 Corinthians 4:13 or Psalms 116:10.

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the question of slavery. However, it failed, and it could not be otherwise. Daniel Webster had said that the right to canvass the policy of public measures was a natural right—a fireside privilege, belonging to private life as a right that is belonged to public life as a duty, and the people believed it and insisted upon the exercise of their right of speech.21 In the exercise of it they made converts. Our persecutors from the North endeavored for a time to make the South believe that the abolitionists were an insignificant characterless crew. It was said that we were only a handful of hair-brained fanatics; that the church North was sound on the subject, that the respectable people of the South and of the North were sound on the subject, and that we could effect nothing. The South would not believe, and they were right in not believing. They knew the character of slavery, and they knew that its character was such that it would not bear to be talked about—that it was like old Grisby’s character—only passed without censure when it passed without observation,22 and they continued to demand the suppression of the right of speech. One of the first anti-slavery speeches that it was my privilege to hear after my escape from bondage, was delivered in New Bedford by a man whose name you would not guess if you guessed until midnight. It was by none other than by the Hon. Caleb Cushing.23 Caleb Cushing was my first abolition preacher and teacher. He defended John Quincy Adams in his anti-slavery course in Congress.24 It was glorious to hear him. But he was only with us for a while, and like some other men he went off and we heard nothing more of him on the subject of slavery on the right side of the 21. Douglass slightly misquotes Daniel Webster’s speech on military enlistments in the War of 1812, delivered in the House of Representatives on 14 January 1814. Daniel Webster, The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster, 18 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1903), 14:25. 22. Actually a reference to a statement by John Manners, Marquess of Granby. The Political Contest, 29. 23. Douglass often reminisced about hearing Caleb Cushing (1800–79) and other antislavery speakers at Liberty Hall in New Bedford, Massachusetts. 24. In his maiden speech to Congress, on 30 January 1836, Caleb Cushing joined John Quincy Adam’s defense of the abolitionists’ right to petition.

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question. I was more fortunate a few years afterward in hearing the chief apostle of abolitionism25—an apostle immediate and unconditional, universally and everlastingly an emancipationist—a leader more fortunate than Wilberforce,26 and who lives to-day to see in its glory the cause which he espoused in its reproach and shame. When I first looked upon him I felt that he was the right man in the right place. His speaking as I now remember it was not eloquent. He was not fluent, but he realized to me a description of the true reformer given by Emerson: “There was a man behind every word he uttered.”27 He was then young, though of venerable appearance. There was in him a strange blending of youth and age. The battle of life had already begun with him, and early it was sharp and severe. He was then just entering upon the first decade of his anti-slavery career. Bitter persecutions had poured out their vials of wrath upon him. Two States had offered a reward for his head.28 He had been dragged through the streets amid the fury of a mob in Boston for daring to plead the cause of the slave.29 He had felt the damp walls of more than one prison.30 He had been threatened on all sides with 25. William Lloyd Garrison. 26. William Wilberforce. 27. In manuscript versions of this lecture, Douglass reported Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement as “It was not the utterance, but the silent man behind it.” Speech File, reel 18, frame 191, reel 19, frame 113, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress. 28. William Lloyd Garrison was no stranger to bounties when, in late 1835, an anonymous Marylander informed him of a $20,000 reward for his head offered by six unidentified Mississippians. On 30 November 1831, the Georgia legislature resolved to grant a $5,000 reward to persons responsible for Garrison’s arrest and trial in that state. 29. In 1835, antiabolition sentiment in the North was intensified by a lecture tour by the noted British antislavery leader George Thompson. Mistaking Garrison for Thompson, a mob attacked him as he attempted to address the Female Anti-Slavery Society, and then dragged him half naked through the streets of Boston. 30. In the summer of 1829, William Lloyd Garrison began working in Baltimore as coeditor of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, published by the veteran abolitionist Benjamin Lundy. Garrison published articles denouncing Francis Todd for using his ship, the Francis, to transport slaves from Baltimore to New Orleans for resale. Todd immediately sued Garrison for libel in Baltimore courts and won. Unable and unwilling to pay his $50 fine, Garrison remained seven weeks in the Baltimore jail until the antislavery New York merchant Arthur Tappan paid the court.

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death, and yet there he stood, calm and serene and unmoved, showing no passion, no violence, as proud in spirit as the morning star. When that man shall have filled up the measure of his years, when he shall have finished his course on earth, when his memory shall be gathered as a fresh incense, as it will be among the emancipated millions down through future generations, we may write over his sleeping dust the name of

William Lloyd Garrison, the man to whom more than any other in this Republic we are indebted for the triumph we are celebrating to-day.

Arguments for Slavery. You may be curious to know what arguments were resorted to in support of slavery in the early days when I ran away to the North. In all these arguments one peculiar fact is noticeable, and that is the great friendship shown for the negro. The profoundest interest was felt in our welfare. It was said, for instance,

“the negro cannot take care of himself.” But how do we find it? I have never had any difficulty in taking care of myself, and I have passed pretty successfully, for a negro, through all parts of the country. (Laughter.) It was said they were better off in slavery. “They are contented and happy and would not be free if they could,” they said. They argued that they would all come North. They would not work without masters. Is that so? (Cries of “no, no.”) I hope not. They said they were worse off in Africa. I used to hear the gospel preached when I was a slave until I had the back ache. They used to preach from one text namely:

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Servants Obey Your Masters.31 The negro can never be improved; the negro is only fit to be a slave. That was the kind of argument that was used. You will never put down slavery on God’s earth, was another kind of argument. You put back the cause 50 years. You are only making their condition worse, and you had better mind your own business. Why don’t you go South. Somebody asked Wendell Phillips, “Mr. Phillips what are you doing?” “Well, I am preaching against slavery.” “Why don’t you go South?” “Well,” said Mr. Phillips, “What are you doing?” “I am preaching the gospel.” “Well, why don’t you go to——.”32 (Laughter and applause.) Many other arguments were used. What would you do with the negroes if you had them all? Would you associate with a negro? Would you allow your daughter to marry a negro? Would you turn them loose? They are all loose enough to-day. (Laughter.) Well, it was said I hate slavery as bad as you do, but I would leave the question with the South. I hate slavery, but I am for gradual emancipation. Some said that they were sending the negroes back to Africa where they came from, while others argued that the Bible sanctioned slavery. These were the arguments by which slavery was supported, and scarcely a better service could be done the abolitionists than to have one or two of these arguments jeered out at public meetings against them. Our abolition meetings were our chief instruments in promoting antislavery sentiments. These were very often queer kinds of meetings. The noise in the building was so great at this point that Mr. Douglass stopped, saying that he had a great desire to make his speech, but he was afraid that he could not be heard but a few feet. He announced that if a suitable hall could be engaged he would speak on Tuesday evening on an entirely different subject—that of Self-made Men.33 He continued as follows: 31. Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22; Titus 2:9. 32. Douglass recalls a story related by Wendell Phillips in which he encountered a minister during a lecture engagement in Cincinnati “in the old antislavery days.” 33. Douglass delivered his lecture “Self-Made Men” to a predominantly black audience at Judah Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, on the evening of 22 April 1873.

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I Want to Say a Word, However, to my colored brethren and sisters in view of their new relations to our fellow-citizens. We have come up from the depths, and let us not forget the new condition in which we are to-day. It has brought not only rights but duties which we are equally bound to discharge. We have entered in the laws of the land, our freedom. More than those that have been asserted for us—equality before the law, and equality at the ballot box. Now, equality here implies equality elsewhere. There is no power in the local legislature—no power anywhere beneath the sky outside of yourselves that can make you the equal of your white fellow-citizens in point of intelligence, in point of moral rectitude, in point of usefulness to society. We say we are the equals of the whites. Are we? Are we at present the equals of the whites? Equal before the law we are, equal at the ballot box we are, but we are far behind our white brethren. Now in what are we behind? I do not undertake to say why we are so, just yet, but I want all to feel and know that we are in the rear and not in the front. If the white man can build a ship and navigate that ship around the world, and we can only build a canoe, they are a whole ship’s length ahead of us. If the white man can construct a bridge and fling it across that magnificent river rolling along at the feet of this city34 and we cannot do it, then they are a bridge ahead of us. If the white man can make books and we cannot, they are books ahead of us. If the white man can build magnificent halls like this35 and we cannot, they are halls ahead of us. I do not say that naturally we are unequal to the white man. I would not say that, but the fact is that now they are in advance of us. What is our duty in view of that fact? It is to build up, is it not? It is to use the opportunities that we have for the improvement of our 34. The Louisville Bridge over the Ohio River, designed by the German-born engineer Albert Fink, had the longest channel span of any bridge in the United States at the time of its completion in 1869. 35. The organizers of the Louisville Industrial Exposition had a spacious building expressly constructed at the corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets for the annual event.

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condition, for improving our intellect, for improving our manners, improving our order, improving our punctuality, and improving our integrity. We are called to the discharge of new duties, and it won’t do to sit down in the chimney corners and say I don’t know, when we ought to know—when we should be endeavoring to make use of the opportunities that we have for knowing, and fill our minds with something more than dressed up emptiness. I would like to talk to you when there were no white people listening to me. I would like to talk to you aside. When I go into a colored man’s house now when they used not to allow you to have books, I begin to want to see books lying around, I want to see papers there. I do not want it to be said if the whole negro race were blotted out there would be nothing left in two hundred years to tell they ever had an existence; that they never read any, never labored any, they never published any books or periodicals, they never made any advance in science or knowledge. They used to say that of us, but this must not be said two hundred years hence. The doors of

The School-Houses Are Open, and woe, woe, woe betide our race if we fail to embrace the opportunities for the cultivation of our minds, for the improvements of our intellects. It will not do to find the negroes twenty years after emancipation where they were twenty years before. No power could sustain us in this. Another thing we must have. We must have some money. We must learn to save it and

Make Ourselves Independent. That is a condition of responsibility. No people can be respected who are not independent; a man may pity you if you have not got

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money, but he cannot respect you. He may be sorry for you, poor fellow, and wish you had some, but he has not respect for you. But the trouble with many of us now is that as soon as we get money we want to travel. Ask a colored man in Chicago how long he has lived there, and he will say about six months. “Well, where did you come from when you came to Chicago?” He answers, “I came from Detroit.” “How long did you live in Detroit.” About three months. “Well, where did you live before you went to Detroit?” “I came from Buffalo, N.Y., and lived there about three months. (Laughter.) I have been traveling all over, and as soon as I got money enough I came to this place.” Old age overtakes such a man and then what? Here it is Ethiopia stretching forth his hand again.36 He is always stretching out his hand. The only way you can make yourself respected is to get

Something Somebody Else Wants. There are ways opening up for all of you. Let every colored man see in it that if he gains five dollars per week that he will lay up one dollar of it; if he makes ten dollars lay by two of them—put them in the Freedmen’s Savings Bank where it will breed some more. There one thousand dollars at the end of the year will gain sixty more. Put it in there where it is safe. I believe in it. I have got a little money up there, and I am going to take some from here and put in there.37 (Laughter.) 36. Ps. 68:31. 37. Congress authorized the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company on 3 March 1865 to meet the growing financial needs of newly emancipated blacks. The bank eventually opened thirty-seven branches in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. The nationwide economic panic that hit in 1873 revealed serious financial weaknesses in the bank, owing to incompetent and corrupt management. A reorganized board of trustees appointed Douglass the bank’s president in hopes of restoring public confidence in its solvency. At that time, Douglass lent the institution ten thousand dollars. When the bank failed in July 1874, Douglass shared the fate of fellow investors. He eventually received sixty-two cents on the dollar for the two thousand dollars he had on deposit when the bank closed.

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When I ran away and come North I worked for nine dollars per month and saved money. For twenty-five years, or nearly so I worked for $400 per year and saved money, and every man in this country, who is a man, can save money if he will. But he will not save it by walking the streets and smoking cigars. He will not save it by playing billiards on one of your back streets. I dislike a miser yet a miser is more respectable than a spendthrift. Let us take a lesson from the Jews. Perhaps a more despised, hated, and persecuted set of people never lived than the Jewish people. In Europe they were not allowed to live upon the same side of the city with other people. They were allowed no privileges at all scarcely. But now where is the Jew. At this hour the Jewish people dictate the policy of the people of the North. Somebody, it is said, offered to make Rothschild38 the King of the Jews if he would advance so much money. He preferred not to advance it, as he had rather be the Jew of kings than the king of the Jews. They are respected now. Here we lift our hats and bow to the Jew. Why? Because he has got money. Because he lives in a good house. He does not put it all on his back. His windows are not stuffed with old hats to keep the cold away. He saves his money. Now we have got to do the same thing— there is no other way for us to do. It is not necessary that every black man should be a rich man, but we must have a representative class at any rate. There must be an actual number of representatives of intelligence and wealthy men. We are not to blame for our present condition. No, no, no. We have come up from the depths, and I am not reproaching you for being poor. How could we be otherwise than poor, starting as we have? I am simply warning you that you may better your condition. Some of us have been taught from boyhood to despise wealth. That is a great mistake. Some say let my children do as I did; our ancestors did nothing for us, and we will do nothing for those who come after us. The first house of Louisville 38. Probably a reference to Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808–79), the British financier. His company made numerous loans to the British government and those of other European nations.

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was built one story high. The fathers died and left it one story high. Their children put on another story and left it two stories high, and their children put on another story, until now Louisville is five and six stories high. If the first story had been left, there never would have been but one story still. We must determine to leave our children in better circumstance than we found them. Some such feeling as this is necessary. Now I leave you. I believe I have done my duty, although I have been imperfectly heard. I rejoice that I have met with the people of Louisville. I have found more intelligence, more refinement, more heart, more manly character among the colored people of Louisville than I expected to find in this State, where it cannot be denied that there have been restrictions operating around you.39 I rejoice to find the intelligence, the manhood, the dignity, the courage that I have found among the colored people of this city. Go on, and ways will open before you by which you can improve your condition and make yourselves useful, honorable, happy and prosperous citizens.

39. Although Kentucky’s Civil Rights Act of February 1866 spelled the demise of that state’s slave code, it denied blacks the right to sit on juries or to testify against whites. The legal disability imposed on blacks provided an argument for the continued presence of the Freedmen’s Bureau within the state. Kentucky’s freedmen remained subject to the terrorist activities and depredations of whites who variously styled themselves “Regulators” and “Redeemers.”

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“The Freedmen’s Monument to Abraham Lincoln” An Address Delivered in Washington, D.C., 14 April 1876 Washington (D.C.) National Republican, 15 April 1876. As the keynote orator at the dedication of the Freedmen’s Monument in Washington, D.C., perhaps the most prestigious ceremony at which Frederick Douglass ever spoke, he gave an address that has become one of his most famous, along with “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” As in that earlier speech, Douglass delivers a jeremiad in which he rehearses the many ways that Lincoln reinforced popular prejudices against African Americans and seemed “tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent” to their civil rights. As David HowardPitney shows in his essay in this volume, the jeremiad, a political sermon, traces a covenanted community’s fall into sin but prophesies its renewal with the community’s rededication to justice. True to the form, Douglass shifts midway in his oration to show that Lincoln’s “tardiness,” was wise, since he never got too far ahead of public opinion. Lincoln’s sensitivity to public thought and opinion made him, according to Douglass, an inspired president who was capable of finally defeating slavery and saving the union. This speech warns of backsliding from sacred principles and then looks forward to a glorious national future rededicated to the principles of freedom and equality. As Michael Leff demonstrates, Douglass considered the statue’s funding and dedication ceremony to be acts of great symbolic importance for African Americans. It was the moment when “black 337

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America” was enrolled in “a sacred ritual,” when African Americans asserted their significance in the national polity and their capacity to express gratitude to Lincoln without bowing to a flawed man.1 But the path to this ceremony was neither smooth nor quick. Shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, African Americans sought a way to pay tribute to him. Douglass, for example, protested the exclusion of African American societies from Lincoln’s funeral procession, in a speech at the Cooper Institute seven weeks after the assassination.2 At roughly the same time, a black washerwoman from Ohio gave a representative of the Western Sanitary Commission, the federal agency charged with aiding war refugees, five dollars and proposed “a monument to their dead friend . . . erected by the colored people of the United States.”3 Two months later, in the summer of 1865, Douglass was asked to lend his name to a fund-raising campaign to endow an educational institution for African Americans that was to also serve as a monument to Lincoln. He declined, urging instead a monument funded by African Americans themselves: “It would be, as all such offerings should be, free from all taint of self-love or self-interest on our part, as a class.”4 Douglass’s desire to demonstrate the magnanimity and patriotism of African Americans was realized when Congress declared 14 April 1876 a national holiday for the dedication of the monument. According to the Washington (D.C.) National Republican, “nearly all” of the African American organizations in the city marched in the parade, including military troops, fraternal societies, and bands. Carriages carried Douglass, Professor John Mercer Langston (dean of Howard University’s Law Department), and other prominent African Americans. The procession ended at Lincoln Park, where President Grant, 1. Michael Leff, “Lincoln among the Nineteenth-Century Orators,” in Rhetoric and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Thomas W. Benson (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1997). 2. “Fred. Douglas [sic] on President Lincoln.; Vast Gathering at the Cooper Institute. The Speaker’s Views on the Future of His Race. Mr. Lincoln and Colored People,” New York Times, 2 June 1865. 3. Washington (D.C.) National Republican, 15 April 1876. 4. “Letter to W. J. Wilson,” 8 August 1865, in Foner, Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, 4:171–74.

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members of his cabinet, senators, representatives, and members of the diplomatic corps awaited their arrival. The African American congressman James Henri Burch read from the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, which freed nearly three thousand slaves in Washington, D.C., within nine months.5 A correspondent for the National Republican commented that it “was received with as much enthusiasm as if it had just been issued.”6 President Grant unveiled the monument, which stood in contrast to the position that Douglass had carved out for African Americans in the new and expanded nation. Whereas Douglass gazed at the monument and offered a critical assessment of President Lincoln, the statue itself suggested a far more deferential attitude on the part of African Americans toward Lincoln. This concern was shared by others, and the National Republican reported that important changes had been made to Thomas Ball’s original design. In the original, Lincoln stood holding the Emancipation Proclamation while granting freedom to a passive, kneeling slave. Ball revised the initial design to model the kneeling man upon a photograph of Archer Alexander, a runaway Missouri slave. Rather than an idealized slave, the figure was based on one who was “an agent in his own deliverance,” according to the National Republican, and his “strained muscles” demonstrated his agency.7 Douglass was not entirely satisfied by these modifications,8 and his speech offered an alternate image of Lincoln and black soldiers. He described this relationship: “We saw our brave sons and brothers laying off the rags of bondage, and being clothed all over in the blue uniforms of the soldiers of the United States; under his rule we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag.” 5. James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964), 97. 6. “Glory of Lincoln,” Washington (D.C.) National Republican, 15 April 1876. 7. Ibid. 8. David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass’ Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 227.

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riends and Fellow Citizens: I warmly congratulate you upon the highly interesting object which has caused you to assemble in such numbers and spirit as you have to-day. This occasion is in some respects remarkable. Wise and thoughtful men of our race, who shall come after us, and study the lessons of our history in the United States, who shall survey the long and dreary space over which we have traveled, who shall count the links in the great chain of events by which we have reached our present position, will make a note of this occasion—they will think of it, and with a sense of manly pride and complacency. I congratulate you also upon the very favorable circumstances in which we meet to-day. They are high, inspiring and uncommon. They lend grace, glory and significance to the object for which we have met. Nowhere else in this great country, with its uncounted towns and cities, uncounted wealth, and immeasurable territory extending from sea to sea, could conditions be found more favorable to the success of this occasion than here. We stand to-day at the national centre to perform something like a national act, an act which is to go into history, and we are here where every pulsation of the national heart can be heard, felt and reciprocated.

A Thousand Wires, fed with thought and winged with lightning, put us in instantaneous communication with the loyal and true men all over this country. Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people, than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have to-day. Harmless, beautiful, proper and praiseworthy as this demonstration is, I cannot forget that no such demonstration would have been tolerated here twenty years ago. The spirit of slavery and barbarism, which still lingers to blight and destroy in some dark and distant parts of our country, would have made our assembling here to-day the signal and excuse for opening upon us all the flood-gates of wrath

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and violence. That we are here in peace to-day is a compliment and credit to American civilization, and a prophecy of still greater national enlightenment and progress in the future. I refer to the past not in malice, for this is no day for malice, but simply to place more distinctly in front the gratifying and glorious change which has come both to our white fellow-citizens and ourselves, and to congratulate all upon the contrast between now and then, the new dispensation of freedom with its thousand blessings to both races, and the old dispensation of slavery with its ten thousand evils to both races—white and black. In view then, of the past, the present and the future, with

The Long and Dark History of our bondage behind us, and with liberty, progress and enlightenment before us, I again congratulate you on upon this auspicious day and hour. Friends and fellow-citizens: The story of our presence here is soon and easily told. We are here in the District of Columbia; here in the city of Washington, the most luminous point of American territory—a city recently transformed and made beautiful in its body and in its spirit;9 we are here, in the place where the ablest and best men of the country are sent to devise the policy, enact the laws and shape the destiny of the Republic; we are here, with the stately pillars and the majestic dome of the Capitol of the nation looking down upon us; we are here, with the broad earth freshly adorned with the foliage and flowers of spring for our church, and all races, colors and conditions of men for our congregation; in a word, we are here to express, as best as we may, by appropriate forms and ceremonies, our grateful sense of vast, high and pre-eminent services rendered to ourselves, to our race, to our country and to the whole world 9. Appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1871 to lead the Board of Public Works, Alexander Robey (“Boss”) Shepherd (1835–1902) oversaw a massive program of urban improvements to the District of Columbia.

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By Abraham Lincoln. The sentiment that brings us here to-day is one of the noblest that can stir and thrill the human heart. It has crowned and made glorious the high places of all civilized nations, with the grandest and most enduring works of art, designed to illustrate characters and perpetuate the memories of great public men. It is the sentiment which from year to year adorns with fragrant and beautiful flowers the graves of our loyal, brave, and patriotic soldiers who fell in defense of the Union and liberty. It is the sentiment of gratitude and appreciation, which often, in the presence of many who hear me, has filled yonder heights of Arlington10 with the eloquence of eulogy and the sublime enthusiasm of poetry and song; a sentiment which can never die while the Republic lives. For the first time in the history of our people, and in the history of the whole American people, we join in this high worship and march conspicuously in the line of this time-honored custom. First things are always interesting, and this is one of our first things. It is the first time that, in this form and manner, we have sought to do honor to any American great man, however deserving and illustrious. I commend the fact to notice. Let it be told in every part of the Republic; let men of all parties and opinions hear it; let those who despise us, not less than those who respect us, know that now and here, in the spirit of

Liberty, Loyalty, and Gratitude, let it be known everywhere and by everybody who takes an interest in human progress and in the amelioration of the condition of mankind, that in the presence and with the approval of the members 10. Arlington National Cemetery was originally the estate of General Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis. In 1864, Union authorities confiscated the 1,100-acre plantation By the Civil War’s end, the bodies of 16,000 slain soldiers of both armies, as well as those of 3,800 black refugees, were interred there.

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of the American House of Representatives, reflecting the general sentiment of the country; that in the presence of that august body, the American Senate, representing the highest intelligence and the calmest judgment of the country; in presence of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of the United States, to whose decisions we all patriotically bow; in the presence and under the steady eye of the honored and trusted President of the United States, we, the colored people, newly emancipated and rejoicing in our blood-bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument of enduring granite and bronze, in every line, feature, and figure of which the men of this generation may read—and those of aftercoming generations may read—something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States.11 Fellow citizens: In what we have said and done to-day, and in what we may say and do hereafter, we disclaim everything like

Arrogance and Assumption. We claim for ourselves no superior devotion to the character, history and memory of the illustrious name whose monument we have here dedicated to-day. We fully comprehend the relation of Abraham Lincoln, both to ourselves and the white people of the United States. Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and in all places, and it is never more proper and beautiful in any case than when speaking of a great public man whose example is likely to be commended for honor and imitation long after his departure to the 11. The idea for a memorial to Abraham Lincoln on behalf of the people he liberated began with Charlotte Scott, a freed Virginia slave. James E. Yeatman of the Western Sanitary Commission oversaw the collection of $16,242, which he reported was “contributed solely by emancipated citizens of the United States.” Inaugural Ceremonies of the Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln; Washington City, April 14, 1876 (St. Louis: Levison and Blythe, 1876), 8–9.

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solemn shades, the silent continents of eternity. It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the last years of his administration to deny, postpone and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people, to promote the welfare of the white people of his country. In all his education and feelings he was an

American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery. His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interest of his own race. To protect, defend and perpetuate slavery in the States where it existed, Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed constitutional guarantees of the Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the Slave States. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty masters were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration.12 Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a pre-eminence in this worship at

12. Douglass repeats the criticism that he and many other abolitionists launched against Lincoln’s hesitation to act against slavery in early years of the Civil War. As late as Lincoln’s reelection campaign in the summer of 1864, Douglass was among the president’s most vocal critics.

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once full and supreme. First, midst and last you and yours were the object of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude.

You Are the Children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children, children by adoption, children by force of circumstances and necessity. To you it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures on your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor. Instead of supplanting you at this altar we would exhort you to build high his monuments; let them be of the most costly material, of the most costly workmanship; let their forms be symmetrical, beautiful and perfect; let their bases be upon solid rocks, and their summits lean against the unchanging blue overhanging sky, and let them endure forever! But while in the abundance of your wealth and in the fullness of your just and patriotic devotion you do all this, we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view: for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.13 Fellow-citizens: Ours is no new-born zeal and devotion, a thing of the hour. The name of Abraham Lincoln was

Near and Dear to Our Hearts in the darkest and most perilous hours of the Republic. We were no more ashamed of him when shrouded in clouds of darkness, of 13. Douglass alludes to a letter of 26 June 1786 from Thomas Jefferson to JeanNicolas Démeunier. Boyd et al., eds., Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 10:63.

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doubt and defeat than when crowned with victory, honor and glory. Our faith in him was often taxed and strained to the uttermost, but it never failed. When he tarried long in the mountain;14 when he strangely told us that we were the cause of the war;15 when he still more strangely told us to leave the land in which we were born; when he refused to employ our arms in defense of the Union; when, after accepting our services as colored soldiers, he refused to retaliate when we were murdered as colored prisoners; when he told us he would save the Union if he could with slavery; when he revoked the proclamation of emancipation of General Fremont;16 when he refused to remove the commander of the Army of the Potomac,17 who was more zealous in his efforts to protect slavery than suppress rebellion; when we saw this, and more, we were at times stunned, grieved and greatly bewildered; but our hearts believed while

They Ached and Bled. Nor was this, even at that time, a blind and unreasoning superstition. Despite the mist and haze that surrounded him; despite the tumult, the hurry and confusion of the hour, we were able to take a 14. Douglass conflates words and themes from Genesis 31:54 and Exodus 19– 20, 32. 15. In his “Address on Colonization to a Deputation of Negroes,” given on 14 August 1862, Lincoln stated: “But for your race among us there could not be war, although many engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of Slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence.” Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 5:372. 16. Lincoln appointed John C. Frémont (1813–90) to command the Department of the West. On 30 August 1861, Frémont issued a proclamation emancipating the slaves of rebel Missourians, which Lincoln quickly revoked. A Cleveland convention of antislavery radicals seeking an alternative to Lincoln nominated Frémont for president in 1864, but Frémont later withdrew his candidacy. 17. George Brinton McClellan (1826–85) commanded the Army of the Potomac from July 1861 until November 1862. He was replaced after unsuccessfully attempting to march on Richmond and failing to pursue Lee’s army after the Battle of Antietam. In 1864, McClellan ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic presidential candidate.

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comprehensive view of Abraham Lincoln, and to make reasonable allowance for the circumstances of his position. We saw him, measured him, and estimated him; not by stray utterances to injudicious and tedious delegations, who often tried his patience; not by isolated facts torn from their connection; not by any partial and imperfect glimpses, caught at inopportune moments; but by a broad survey, in the light of the stern logic of great events—and in view of that divinity which shapes our ends,18 rough hew them as we will, we came to the conclusion that the hour and the man of our redemption had met in the person of Abraham Lincoln. It mattered little to us what language he might employ upon special occasions; it mattered little to us, when we fully knew him, whether he was swift or slow in his movements; it was enough for us that Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement; which, in the nature of things, must go on

Till Slavery Should Be Utterly and forever abolished in the United States. When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full and complete. Though he loved Caesar less than Rome,19 though the Union was more to him than our freedom or our future, under his wise and beneficent rule we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood; under his wise and beneficent rule, and by measures approved and vigorously pressed by him, we saw that the handwriting of ages, in the form of prejudice and proscription, was rapidly fading away from the face of our whole country; under his rule, and in due time, about as soon after all as the country could tolerate the strange spectacle, 18. Hamlet, sc. 19, line. 3277. 19. Julius Caesar, sc. 9, lines 1408–09.

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we saw our braves sons and brothers laying off the rags of bondage, and being clothed all over in the blue uniforms of the soldiers of the United States; under his rule we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and, with muskets on their shoulders and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag;20 under his rule we saw the independence of the black republic of Hayti, the special object of slaveholding aversion and horror fully recognized, and her minister, a colored gentleman, duly received here in the city of Washington;21 under his rule we saw

The Internal Slave Trade which so long disgraced the nation abolished, and slavery abolished in the District of Columbia;22 under his rule we saw for the first time the law enforced against the foreign slave trade and the first slave-trader hanged, like any other pirate or murderer;23 under his rule and his inspiration we saw the Confederate States, based upon the idea that our race must be slaves, and slaves forever, battered to pieces and scattered to the four winds; under his rule, and in the 20. According to official rosters, approximately 175 regiments composed of more than 178,000 free blacks and freedmen served in the Union Army following Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Thousands more served the army in a variety of auxiliary and support roles. 21. President Lincoln advocated diplomatic recognition of the black Caribbean nation Haiti in his annual message to Congress in December 1861. The first Haitian consul general and chargé d’affaires in the United States, Colonel Ernest Roumain, took up his post in Washington, D.C., in February 1863. 22. On 16 April 1862, the Senate and the House approved a bill emancipating all slaves in the District of Columbia. Despite abolitionist criticism, the bill contained a clause providing monetary compensation to slave owners in the federal territory. Lincoln signed the bill on the same day. 23. In 1862, Captain Nathaniel P. Gordon (?–1862) became the only person to be executed under U.S. law for participation in the slave trade. Gordon was prosecuted under an 1820 act that declared the slave trade to be piracy and made it a capital crime to work or travel on a U.S. ship engaged in the transportation or trade of prospective slaves.

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fullness of time, we saw Abraham Lincoln, after giving the slave holders three months of grace in which to save their hateful slave system, penning the immortal paper which, though special in its language, was general in its principles and effect, making slavery forever impossible in the United States.24 Though we waited long, we saw all this and more. Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863? When the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word? I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance which we have heard read to-day.25 Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning26 brought to us the emancipation. In that happy hour we forgot all delay, and forgot all tardiness, forgot that the President had bribed the rebels to lay down their arms by a promise to withhold the bolt which would smite the slave system with destruction; and we were thenceforward willing to allow the President all the latitude of time, phraseology, and every honorable device that statesmanship might require for the achievement of a great and beneficent measure of liberty and progress. Fellow-citizens, there is little necessity on this occasion to speak at length and critically of this great and good man, and of his high mission in the world. That ground has been fully occupied and completely covered both here and elsewhere. The whole field of fact and fancy has been gleaned and garnered. Any man can say things that are true of Abraham Lincoln, but no man can say anything new of Abraham Lincoln. His personal traits and public acts are better 24. The Emancipation Proclamation. 25. To celebrate the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass spoke at meetings held on 1–2 January 1863 in Boston’s Tremont Temple and Twelfth Baptist Church. 26. A common mid-nineteenth-century nickname for the telegraph.

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known to the American people than are those of any other man of his age. He was a mystery to no man who saw him and heard him. Though high in position, the humblest could approach him and feel at home in his presence. Though deep, he was transparent; though strong, he was gentle; though decided and pronounced in his convictions, he was tolerant towards those who differed from him, and patient under reproaches. Even those who only knew him through his public utterances obtained a tolerably clear idea of his character and personality. The image of the man went out with his words, and those who read him knew him. I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of the country, this unfriendly feeling on his part may safely be set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things; first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin, and second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success, his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people, and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent: but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined. Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow-countrymen against the negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts

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He Loathed and Hated Slavery. He was willing while the South was loyal that it should have its pound of flesh,27 because he thought it was so nominated in the bond, but further than this no earthly power could make him go. Fellow-citizens, whatever else in this world may be partial, unjust and uncertain, time! time! is impartial, just and certain in its actions. In the realm of mind, as well as in the realm of matter, it is a great worker, and often works wonders. The honest and comprehensive statesman, clearly discerning the needs of his country, and earnestly endeavoring to do his whole duty, though covered and blistered with reproaches, may safely leave his course to the silent judgment of time. Few great public men have ever been the victims of fiercer denunciation than Abraham Lincoln was during his administration. He was often wounded in the house of his friends.28 Reproaches came thick and fast upon him from within and from without, and from opposite quarters. He was assailed by abolitionists; he was assailed by slaveholders; he was assailed by men who were for peace at any price; he was assailed by those who were for a more vigorous prosecution of the war; he was assailed for not making the war an abolition war; and he was most bitterly assailed for making the war an abolition war.

But Now Behold the Change; the judgment of the present hour is, that taking him for all in all, measuring the tremendous magnitude of the work before him, considering the necessary means to ends, and surveying the end from the beginning, infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into 27. An allusion to The Merchant of Venice, sc. 18, line 2113. 28. Zech. 13:6.

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the world better fitted for his mission than was Abraham Lincoln. His birth, his training, and his natural endowments, both mental and physical, were strongly in his favor. Born and reared among the lowly, a stranger to wealth and luxury, compelled to grapple single-handed with the flintiest hardships from tender youth to sturdy manhood, he grew strong in the manly and heroic qualities demanded by the great mission to which he was called by the votes of his countrymen. The hard condition of his early life, which would have depressed and broken down weaker men, only gave greater life, vigor and buoyancy to the heroic spirit of Abraham Lincoln. He was ready for any kind and any quality of work. What other young men dreaded in the shape of toil, he took hold of with the utmost cheerfulness. A spade, a rake, a hoe, A pick-axe or a bill; A hook to reap, a scythe to mow, A flail, or what you will.29

All Day Long He Could Split Heavy Rails in the woods, and half the night long he could study his English grammar by the uncertain flare and glare of the light made by a pine knot. He was at home on the land with his axe, with his maul, with gluts and his wedges;30 and he was equally at home on water, with his oars, with his poles, with his planks and with his boathooks. And whether in his flatboat on the Mississippi river, or at the fireside of his frontier cabin, he was a man of work. A son of toil himself he was linked in brotherly sympathy with the sons of toil in every loyal part 29. Douglass adapts the opening and refrain from Thomas Hood’s “The Lay of the Laborer.” Thomas Hood, The Poetical Works (Boston: Sampson and Company, 1857), 132–35. 30. A maul is a heavy hammer often used in combination with a wooden wedge, or “glut,” to split logs.

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of the Republic. This very fact gave him tremendous power with the American people, and materially contributed not only to selecting him to the Presidency, but in sustaining his administration of the Government. Upon his inauguration as President of the United States, an office even where assumed under the most favorable conditions, it is fitted to tax and strain the largest abilities, Abraham Lincoln was met by a tremendous pressure.31 He was called upon not merely to administer the Government, but to decide, in the face of terrible odds, the fate of the Republic. A formidable rebellion rose in his path before him; the Union was already practically dissolved.32 His country was torn and rent asunder at the centre. Hostile enemies were already organized against the Republic, armed with the munitions of war which the Republic had provided for its own defense.33

The Tremendous Question for him to decide was whether his country should survive the crisis and flourish or be dismembered and perish. His predecessor in office34 had already decided the question in favor of national

31. Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on 4 March 1861; the first military confrontation of the Civil War occurred at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on 12 April 1861. 32. On 20 December 1860, a few weeks after Abraham Lincoln’s electoral victory, South Carolina seceded. Its legislature passed the ordinance of secession by a vote of 169–0. In the months before Lincoln’s inauguration, six other states left the Union: Mississippi (9 January 1861), Alabama (9 January), Florida (10 January), Georgia (19 January), Louisiana (26 January), and Texas (1 February). 33. During the secession crisis, John Buchannan Floyd (1807–63) resigned as secretary of war when President Buchanan refused to order the federal garrison at Charleston, South Carolina, to evacuate Fort Sumter. In February 1861, Floyd was accused of having transferred large quantities of arms and ammunition from Northern to Southern arsenals in anticipation of secession. He returned to Washington, testified before a House of Representatives committee investigating the charges, and eventually was exonerated of any treasonous intentions. 34. James Buchanan.

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dismemberment, by denying it the right of self-defense and selfpreservation. Happily for the country, happily for you and me, the judgment of James Buchanan, the patrician, was not the judgment of Abraham Lincoln, the plebeian.35 He brought his strong common sense, sharpened in the school of adversity, to bear upon the question. He did not hesitate, he did not doubt, he did not falter, but at once resolved at whatever peril, at whatever cost, the union of the States should be preserved. A patriot himself, his faith was firm and unwavering in the patriotism of his countrymen. Timid men said before Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration that we had seen the last President of the United States. A voice in influential quarters said let the Union slide. Some said that a Union maintained by the sword was worthless.36 Others said a rebellion of 8,000,000 cannot be suppressed. But in the midst of all this tumult and timidity, and against all this Abraham Lincoln was clear in his duty, and had an oath in heaven. He calmly and bravely heard the voice of doubt and fear all around him, but he had an oath in heaven, and there was not power enough on the earth to make this honest boatman, backwoodsman and broad-handed splitter of rails evade or violate that sacred oath. He had not been schooled in the ethics of slavery; his plain life favored his love of truth. He had not been taught that treason and perjury were the proofs of honor and honesty. His moral training was against his saying one thing when he meant another. The trust which Abraham Lincoln had of himself and in the people was surprising and grand, but it was also enlightened and well founded. He knew the American people better than they knew themselves, and his truth was based upon his knowledge. Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir;37 had he reached that good old age of which his 35. “Patrician” and “plebeian” are Roman terms for “aristocrat” and “commoner.” 36. On 9 November 1860, an editorial in the New York Tribune stated, “We never hope to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to another by bayonets.” 37. Hamlet, sc. 8, line 1601.

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vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually, we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence; killed, assassinated, taken off without warning,38 not because of personal hate, for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him, but because of his fidelity to Union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and will be precious forever. Fellow-citizens, I end as I began, with congratulations. We have done a good work for our race to-day. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator we have been doing highest honor to ourselves and those who come after us. We have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal. We have also been defending ourselves from a blighting slander. When now it shall be said that the colored man is soulless; that he has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors; when the foul reproach of ingratitude is hurled at us, and it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.

38. A Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, shot Abraham Lincoln as he attended a play at Washington’s Ford’s Theater on the evening of 14 April 1865.

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“This Decision Has Humbled the Nation” An Address Delivered in Washington, D.C., 22 October 1883 Proceedings of the Civil Rights Mass-Meeting Held at Lincoln Hall, October 22, 1883; Speeches of Hon. Frederick Douglass and Robert G. Ingersoll (Washington, D.C., 1883), 4–14. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 protected all citizens’ rights to enjoy equal access to public accommodations and facilities and to serve on juries, regardless of race, color, or “previous condition of servitude.” The act was designed to open hotels, restaurants, theaters, railroad cars, and other modes of public transportation to African Americans. Although very important to African American freedom, the 1875 act was rarely enforced after 1880, when the first legal challenges to it reached the Supreme Court.1 On 15 October 1883, the Supreme Court, after considering five cases from different states, struck down the act.2 The next day, Frederick Douglass and several other African American leaders in the District of Columbia organized a civil rights mass meeting that was to take place at Lincoln Hall on Monday evening, 22 October. Douglass and other local representatives would address the audience; Lewis Douglass, one of

1. Valeria W. Weaver, “The Failure of Civil Rights 1875–1883 and Its Repercussions,” Journal of Negro History 54, no. 4 (October 1969): 368–70. 2. “The Color Controversy,” Washington (D.C.) National Republican, 23 October 1883.

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Douglass’s sons, and several others drafted resolutions to be read at the meeting.3 Attendance was so great that admission had to be curtailed. According to the Washington Evening Star, over 2,000 attended. William Weston Patton, the president of Howard University, chaired the meeting; the Reverend Francis Grimké opened with a prayer; Lewis Douglass read the series of resolutions, which were unanimously adopted; and then Frederick Douglass spoke.4 In his address, Douglass cautions against initiating violent resistance to the Supreme Court’s decision, quoting Mark Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “We neither come to bury Caesar, nor to praise him.” Ironically, despite Mark Antony’s disavowal, his speech provoked the crowd to overthrow Brutus and the other conspirators. Douglass’s intent is open to interpretation, but the speech criticizes the Supreme Court as an “autocratic” institution, and the resolutions advise listeners to address their grievances to the legislative branch. Douglass warns that we “want no black Ireland in America,” suggesting that the major political parties need to find a way to appeal to black voters rather than alienate them and sow the seeds of future unrest. Further, he rebuts the claim that the bill was a “social rights bill”: “No man in Europe would ever dream that because he has a right to ride on a railway, or stop at a hotel, he therefore has the right to enter into social relations with anybody.” Douglass, who consistently distinguishes between civil rights and social relations in his writings, seems here to suggest that the solution lies in legislation that is more clearly written and capable of passing Supreme Court scrutiny. After Douglass spoke, Colonel Robert Green Ingersoll, a wellknown radical lawyer and lecturer, took the stage. Like Douglass, he adopted the position, expressed in the resolutions, that it was useless to criticize the Supreme Court justices, who, Ingersoll said, kept “their backs to the dawn” and “find what has been, not what ought to be.”5 3. “The Civil Rights Mass Meeting,” Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, 20 October 1883. 4. “The Civil Rights Meeting,” Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, 23 October 1883. 5. “The Color Controversy,” Washington (D.C.) National Republican, 23 October 1883.

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The resolutions challenged African Americans to consider whether the Republican party deserved their loyalty. They urged both political parties to rededicate themselves to the egalitarian rhetoric embedded in their 1872 electoral platforms. The meeting’s resolutions challenged both parties to find concrete legislative ways to make these ideals a reality. Some newspapers derided the outcry following the Supreme Court’s decision. The St. Paul (Minn.) Daily Globe, a Democratic newspaper, asserted that “Congress has no power to meddle with affairs merely social,” and described Douglass as “characteristically outspoken.”6 African American papers gave the gathering mixed reviews. Most were skeptical of its utility, despite their conviction that civil rights and social access were different things. Some black spokesmen, like Douglass, feared the erosion of those protections and rights earned through the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. The black lawyer John P. Green of Cleveland commented, “The Civil Rights Act was never of any practical utility . . . but will this end the matter? . . . Will not the next question be raised under the Thirteenth or Fourteenth amendments?”7 The Arlington (Va.) People’s Advocate viewed this reversal as a direct result of federal withdrawal from the South: “Who believes that had the right of voting been upheld in the South generally as it is to-day in Virginia that the Supreme Court would have dared to render such a decision.”8 The People’s Advocate, in the weeks following the Supreme Court decision, lamented the lack of a response from prominent white abolitionists and referred to Ingersoll as “the sole white champion of the rights of the colored people.”9 The 1883 Supreme Court decision alerted Douglass and other African Americans that the legal freedoms gained during Reconstruction were no longer safe.

6. “Failure of the Social Rights Act,” St. Paul (Minn.) Daily Globe, 22 October 1883. 7. “Civil Rights,” Cleveland Gazette, 20 October 1883. 8. Arlington (Va.) People’s Advocate, 27 October 1883. 9. “Bob Ingersoll,” Arlington (Va.) People’s Advocate, 10 November 1883.

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riends and fellow-citizens: I have only a very few words to say to you this evening, and in order that those few words shall be well-chosen, and not liable to be misunderstood, distorted, or misrepresented, I have been at the pains of writing them out in full. It may be, after all, that the hour calls more loudly for silence than for speech. Later on in this discussion, when we shall have the full text of the recent decision of the Supreme Court before us,10 and the dissenting opinion of Judge Harlan,11 who must have weighty reasons for separating from all his associates, and incurring thereby, as he must, an amount of criticism from which even the bravest man might shrink, we may be in better frame of mind, better supplied with facts, and better prepared to speak calmly, correctly, and wisely, than now. The temptation at this time is, of course, to speak more from feeling than from reason, more from impulse than reflection. We have been, as a class, grievously wounded, wounded in the house of our friends,12 and this wound is too deep and too painful for ordinary and measured speech. 10. On 15 October 1883, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the Civil Rights Cases that declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. This law, generally regarded as one of the most radical to emerge from the Reconstruction era, granted all persons, regardless of race or color, full and equal access to public accommodations and facilities, particularly places of lodging, amusement, and transportation. The majority opinion, written by Justice Joseph P. Bradley (1813–92), declared that the Fourteenth Amendment had not given Congress the right to compel states to regulate against private acts of racial discrimination but only to legislate to correct state actions that denied civil rights. 109 U.S. 3 (1883), 8–26. 11. Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911) opposed the majority decision in the Civil Rights Cases. Harlan claimed that the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were intended to protect the civil rights of former slaves, including the right not to be subject to racial discrimination. Congress therefore could legally, Harlan concluded, enforce the Fourteenth Amendment “by appropriate legislation, which may be of direct and primary character,” like the Civil Rights Act of 1875. According to Harlan, this civil rights legislation was within constitutional bounds in allowing Congress to regulate the actions of states as well as individuals and corporations that exercise public functions, in order to ensure equal access to members of all races to public accommodations and facilities. 109 U.S. 3 (1883), 26–62. 12. Zech. 13:6.

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“When a deed is done for Freedom, Through the broad earth’s aching breast Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, Trembling on from east to west.”13

But when a deed is done for slavery, caste and oppression, and a blow is struck at human progress, whether so intended or not, the heart of humanity sickens in sorrow and writhes in pain. It makes us feel as if some one were stamping upon the graves of our mothers, or desecrating our sacred temples of worship. Only base men and oppressors can rejoice in a triumph of injustice over the weak and defenceless, for weakness ought itself to protect from assaults of pride, prejudice and power. The cause which has brought us here to-night is neither common nor trivial. Few events in our national history have surpassed it in magnitude, importance and significance. It has swept over the land like a moral cyclone, leaving moral desolation in its track. We feel it, as we felt the furious attempt, years ago, to force the accursed system of slavery upon the soil of Kansas, the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Bill, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise,14 the Dred Scott decision. I look upon it as one more shocking development of that moral weakness in high places which has attended the conflict between the spirit of liberty and the spirit of slavery from the beginning, and I venture to predict that it will be so regarded by after-coming generations. Far down the ages, when men shall wish to inform themselves as to the real state of liberty, law, religion and civilization in the United States at this juncture of our history, they will overhaul the proceedings of the Supreme Court, and read the decision declaring the Civil Rights Bill unconstitutional and void. 13. Douglass quotes the first two lines from the poem “The Present Crisis” by James Russell Lowell. The Writings of James Russell Lowell, 10 vols. Riverside ed. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1892), 7:178. 14. Douglass alludes to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

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From this they will learn more than from many volumes, how far we have advanced, in this year of grace, from barbarism toward civilization. Fellow-citizens: Among the great evils which now stalk abroad in our land, the one, I think, which most threatens to undermine and destroy the foundations of our free institutions, is the great and apparently increasing want of respect entertained for those to whom are committed the responsibility and the duty of administering our government. On this point, I think all good men must agree, and against this evil I trust you feel, and we all feel, the deepest repugnance, and that we will, neither here nor elsewhere, give it the least breath of sympathy or encouragement. We should never forget, that, whatever may be the incidental mistakes or misconduct of rulers, government is better than anarchy, and patient reform is better than violent revolution. But while I would increase this feeling, and give it the emphasis of a voice from heaven, it must not be allowed to interfere with free speech, honest expression, and fair criticism. To give up this would be to give up liberty, to give up progress, and to consign the nation to moral stagnation, putrefaction, and death. In the matter of respect for dignitaries, it should never be forgotten, however, that duties are reciprocal, and while the people should frown down every manifestation of levity and contempt for those in power, it is the duty of the possessors of power so to use it as to deserve and to insure respect and reverence. To come a little nearer to the case now before us. The Supreme Court of the United States, in the exercise of its high and vast constitutional power, has suddenly and unexpectedly decided that the law intended to secure to colored people the civil rights guaranteed to them by the following provision of the Constitution of the United States, is unconstitutional and void. Here it is: “No State,” says the 14th Amendment, “shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life,

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liberty, or property without due process of the law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”15 Now, when a bill has been discussed for weeks and months, and even years, in the press and on the platform, in Congress and out of Congress; when it has been calmly debated by the clearest heads, and the most skillful and learned lawyers in the land; when every argument against it has been over and over again carefully considered and fairly answered; when its constitutionality has been especially discussed, pro and con; when it has passed the United States House of Representatives, and has been solemnly enacted by the United States Senate, perhaps the most imposing legislative body in the world; when such a bill has been submitted to the Cabinet of the Nation, composed of the ablest men in the land; when it has passed under the scrutinizing eye of the Attorney-General of the United States; when the Executive of the Nation has given to it his name and formal approval; when it has taken its place upon the statutebook, and has remained there for nearly a decade, and the country has largely assented to it, you will agree with me that the reasons for declaring such a law unconstitutional and void, should be strong, irresistible and absolutely conclusive. Inasmuch as the law in question is a law in favor of liberty and justice, it ought to have had the benefit of any doubt which could arise as to its strict constitutionality. This, I believe, will be the view taken of it, not only by laymen like myself, but by eminent lawyers as well. All men who have given any thought to the machinery, the structure, and practical operation of our Government, must have recognized the importance of absolute harmony between its various departments of power and duties. They must have seen clearly the mischievous tendency and danger to the body politic of any antagonisms between its various branches. To feel the force of this thought, we have only to remember the administration of President Johnson, 15. Douglass makes a few minor errors in quoting the Fourteenth Amendment.

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and the conflict which then took place between the National Executive and the National Congress, when the will of the people was again and again met by the Executive veto,16 and when the country seemed upon the verge of another revolution. No patriot, however bold, can wish for his country a repetition of those gloomy days. Now let me say here, before I go on a step further in this discussion, if any man has come here to-night with his breast heaving with passion, his heart flooded with acrimony, wishing and expecting to hear violent denunciation of the Supreme Court, on account of this decision, he has mistaken the object of this meeting, and the character of the men by whom it is called. We neither come to bury Cæsar, nor to praise him.17 The Supreme Court is the autocratic point in our National Government. No monarch in Europe has a power more absolute over the laws, lives, and liberties of his people, than that Court has over our laws, lives, and liberties. Its Judges live, and ought to live, an eagle’s flight beyond the reach of fear or favor, praise or blame, profit or loss. No vulgar prejudice should touch the members of that Court, anywhere. Their decisions should come down to us like the calm, clear light of Infinite justice. We should be able to think of them and to speak of them with profoundest respect for their wisdom, and deepest reverence for their virtue; for what His Holiness, the Pope, is to the Roman Catholic Church, the Supreme Court is to the American State. Its members are men, to be sure, and may not claim infallibility, like the Pope,18 but they are the Supreme power of the Nation, and their decisions are law. 16. During his tenure as president, Andrew Johnson vetoed a number of bills involving Reconstruction and the Southern freedmen. Prominent among the legislation he struck down were the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill (1866), the Civil Rights Bill (1866), the First Reconstruction Bill (1867), the Tenure of Office Bill (1867), and the Second Reconstruction Bill (1867). 17. Julius Caesar, sc. 9, line 1461. 18. In 1870 the Roman Catholic Church affirmed that the pope was infallible, that is, immune from error through divine assistance, when speaking on matters of church doctrine.

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What will be said here to-night, will be spoken, I trust, more in sorrow than in anger,19 more in a tone of regret than of bitterness. We cannot, however, overlook the fact that though not so intended, this decision has inflicted a heavy calamity upon seven millions of the people of this country, and left them naked and defenceless against the action of a malignant, vulgar, and pitiless prejudice. It presents the United States before the world as a Nation utterly destitute of power to protect the rights of its own citizens upon its own soil. It can claim service and allegiance, loyalty and life, of them, but it cannot protect them against the most palpable violation of the rights of human nature, rights to secure which, governments are established. It can tax their bread and tax their blood, but has no protecting power for their persons. Its National power extends only to the District of Columbia, and the Territories—where the people have no votes—and where the land has no people.20 All else is subject to the States. In the name of common sense, I ask, what right have we to call ourselves a Nation, in view of this decision, and this utter destitution of power? In humiliating the colored people of this country, this decision has humbled the Nation. It gives to a South Carolina, or a Mississippi, Rail-Road Conductor, more power than it gives to the National Government. He may order the wife of the Chief Justice of the United States into a smoking-car, full of hirsute21 men and compel her to go and listen to the coarse jests of a vulgar crowd. It gives to a hotel-keeper who may, from a prejudice born of the rebellion, wish to turn her out at midnight into the darkness and the storm, power to compel her to go. In such a case, according to this decision of the Supreme Court, the National Government has no right to 19. Hamlet, sc. 2, line 384. 20. Douglass alludes to Justice Bradley’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, in the Civil Rights Cases, regarding the rights of state governments to provide legislative protection for their citizens’ civil rights. 109 U.S. 3 (1883), 8–26. 21. Hairy.

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interfere. She must take her claim for protection and redress, not to the Nation, but to the State, and when the State, as I understand it, declares there is upon its Statue book, no law for her protection, the function and power of the National Government is exhausted, and she is utterly without redress. Bad, therefore, as our case is under this decision, the evil principle affirmed by the court is not wholly confined to or spent upon persons of color. The wife of Chief Justice Waite22—I speak it respectfully—is protected to-day, not by law, but solely by the accident of her color. So far as the law of the land is concerned, she is in the same condition as that of the humblest colored woman in the Republic. The difference between colored and white, here, is, that the one, by reason of color, needs legal protection, and the other, by reason of color, does not need protection. It is nevertheless true, that manhood is insulted, in both cases. No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man, without at last finding the other end of it fastened about his own neck. The lesson of all the ages on this point is, that a wrong done to one man, is a wrong done to all men. It may not be felt at the moment, and the evil day may be long delayed, but so sure as there is a moral government of the universe, so sure will the harvest of evil come. Color prejudice is not the only prejudice against which a Republic like ours should guard. The spirit of caste is dangerous everywhere. There is the prejudice of the rich against the poor, the pride and prejudice of the idle dandy against the hard handed working man. There is, worst of all, religious prejudice; a prejudice which has stained a whole continent with blood. It is, in fact, a spirit infernal, against which every enlightened man should wage perpetual 22. Morrison Remick Waite (1816–88) served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1874 to his death. In cases dealing with Reconstruction-era legislation, Waite took an active, and consistently conservative, role in formulating decisions that curtailed the authority of the federal government to protect the civil rights of freedmen.

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war. Perhaps no class of our fellow citizens has carried this prejudice against color to a point more extreme and dangerous than have our Catholic Irish fellow citizens, and yet no people on the face of the earth have been more relentlessly persecuted and oppressed on account of race and religion, than the Irish people. But in Ireland, persecution has at last reached a point where it reacts terribly upon her persecutors. England to-day is reaping the bitter consequences of her injustice and oppression.23 Ask any man of intelligence to-day, “What is the chief source of England’s weakness?” “What has reduced her to the rank of a second-class power?” and the answer will be “Ireland!” Poor, ragged, hungry, starving and oppressed as she is, she is strong enough to be a standing menace to the power and glory of England. Fellow-citizens! We want no black Ireland in America. We want no aggrieved class in America. Strong as we are without the negro, we are stronger with him than without him. The power and friendship of seven millions of people scattered all over the country,24 however humble, are not to be despised. To-day, our Republic sits as a Queen among the nations of the earth. Peace is within her walls and plenteousness within her palaces, but he is a bolder and a far more hopeful man than I am, who will affirm that this peace and prosperity will always last. History repeats itself.25 What has happened once may happen again. The negro, in the Revolution, fought for us and with us. In the war of 1812 Gen. Jackson,26 at New Orleans, found it necessary to 23. On 30 October 1883 the U.S.-based Irish nationalist organization Clan-naGael exploded bombs at two stations on the London Underground as part of a wave of attacks from 1881 to 1885 on British infrastructure and police and military targets to promote the campaign for Irish independence. 24. The U.S. Census of 1880 reported 6,580,793 blacks in the nation’s population, residing predominantly in the former slave states. 25. A proverb found in many languages and generally credited to Thucydides. 26. Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) was the seventh president of the United States. He was a Tennessee slave owner who rose to political prominence largely as a result of his military prowess in the War of 1812 and his campaigns against Native Americans.

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call upon the colored people to assist in its defence against England. Abraham Lincoln found it necessary to call upon the negro to defend the Union against rebellion, and the negro responded gallantly in all cases. Our legislators, our Presidents, and our judges should have a care, lest, by forcing these people, outside of law, they destroy that love of country which is needful to the Nation’s defence in the day of trouble. I am not here, in this presence, to discuss the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of this decision of the Supreme Court. The decision may or may not be constitutional. That is a question for lawyers, and not for laymen, and there are lawyers on this platform as learned, able, and eloquent as any who have appeared in this case before the Supreme Court, or as any in the land. To these I leave the exposition of the Constitution; but I claim the right to remark upon a strange and glaring inconsistency with former decisions, in the action of the court on this Civil Rights Bill. It is a new departure, entirely out of the line of the precedents and decisions of the Supreme Court at other times and in other directions where the rights of colored men were concerned. It has utterly ignored and rejected the force and application of object and intention as a rule of interpretation. It has construed the Constitution in defiant disregard of what was the object and intention of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. It has made no account whatever of the intention and purpose of Congress and the President in putting the Civil Rights Bill upon the Statute Book of the Nation. It has seen fit in this case, affecting a weak and much-persecuted people, to be guided by the narrowest and most restricted rules of legal interpretation. It has viewed both the Constitution and the law with a strict regard to their letter, but without any generous recognition of their broad and liberal spirit. Upon those narrow principles the decision is logical and legal, of course. But what I complain of, and what every lover of liberty in the United States has a right to complain of, is this sudden and causeless reversal of all the great rules of legal interpretation by

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which this Court was governed in other days, in the construction of the Constitution and of laws respecting colored people. In the dark days of slavery, this Court, on all occasions, gave the greatest importance to intention as a guide to interpretation. The object and intention of the law, it was said, must prevail. Everything in favor of slavery and against the negro was settled by this object and intention. The Constitution was construed according to its intention. We were over and over again referred to what the framers meant, and plain language was sacrificed that the so affirmed intention of these framers might be positively asserted. When we said in behalf of the negro that the Constitution of the United States was intended to establish justice and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, we were told that the words said so, but that that was obviously not its intention; that it was intended to apply only to white people, and that the intention must govern.27 When we came to that clause of the Constitution which declares that the immigration or importation of such persons as any of the States may see fit to admit shall not be prohibited,28 and the friends of liberty declared that that provision of the Constitution did not describe the slave-trade, they were told that while its language applied not to slaves, but to persons, still the object and intention of that clause of the Constitution was plainly to protect the slave-trade, and that that intention was the law. When we came to that clause of the Constitution which declares that “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due,”29 we insisted that it neither described nor applied to slaves; that it applied only 27. Douglass alludes to the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution and the decision of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the Dred Scott case. Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sanford, 19 Howard 393 (1857), 407–10. 28. Douglass describes article I, section 9, of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited Congress from banning the slave trade before 1808. 29. Douglass quotes article IV, section 2, of the U.S. Constitution.

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to persons owing service and labor; that slaves did not and could not owe service and labor; that this clause of the Constitution said nothing of slaves or the masters of slaves; that it was silent as to slave States or free States; that it was simply a provision to enforce a contract; to discharge an obligation between two persons capable of making a contract, and not to force any man into slavery, for the slave could not owe service or make a contract. We affirmed that it gave no warrant for what was called the “Fugitive Slave Bill,” and we contended that that bill was therefore unconstitutional; but our arguments were laughed to scorn by that Court. We were told that the intention of the Constitution was to enable masters to recapture their slaves, and that the law of Ninetythree30 and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 were constitutional. Fellow-citizens! while slavery was the base line of American society, while it ruled the church and the state, while it was the interpreter of our law and the exponent of our religion, it admitted no quibbling, no narrow rules of legal or scriptural interpretations of Bible or Constitution. It sternly demanded its pound of flesh,31 no matter how much blood was shed in the taking of it. It was enough for it to be able to show the intention to get all it asked in the Courts or out of the Courts. But now slavery is abolished. Its reign was long, dark and bloody. Liberty now, is the base line of the Republic. Liberty has supplanted slavery, but I fear it has not supplanted the spirit or power of slavery. Where slavery was strong, liberty is now weak. O for a Supreme Court of the United States which shall be as true to the claims of humanity, as the Supreme Court formerly was to the demands of slavery! When that day comes, as come it will, a Civil Rights Bill will not be declared unconstitutional and void, in utter and flagrant disregard of the objects and intentions of the National legislature by which it was enacted, and of the rights plainly secured by the Constitution. 30. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. 31. An allusion to The Merchant of Venice, sc. 18, lines 2112–13.

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This decision of the Supreme Court admits that the Fourteenth Amendment is a prohibition on the States. It admits that a State shall not abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, but commits the seeming absurdity of allowing the people of a State to do what it prohibits the State itself from doing. It used to be thought that the whole was more than a part; that the great included the less, and that what was unconstitutional for a State to do was equally unconstitutional for an individual member of a State to do. What is a State, in the absence of the people who compose it? Land, air and water. That is all. As individuals, the people of the State of South Carolina may stamp out the rights of the negro wherever they please, so long as they do not do so as a State. All the parts can violate the Constitution, but the whole cannot. It is not the act itself, according to this decision, that is unconstitutional. The unconstitutionality of the case depends wholly upon the party committing the act. If the State commits it, it is wrong, if the citizen of the State commits it, it is right. O consistency, thou art indeed a jewel!32 What does it matter to a colored citizen that a State may not insult and outrage him, if a citizen of a State may? The effect upon him is the same, and it was just this effect that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment plainly intended by that article to prevent. It was the act, not the instrument, which was prohibited. It meant to protect the newly enfranchised citizen from injustice and wrong, not merely from a State, but from the individual members of a State. It meant to give him the protection to which his citizenship, his loyalty, his allegiance, and his services entitled him; and this meaning, and this purpose, and this intention, is now declared unconstitutional and void, by the Supreme Court of the United States. 32. John Bartlett posits that the phrase evolved over time and reflects a tendency of people to compare virtue or excellence to the brilliance of a jewel. Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 1046.

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I say again, fellow-citizens, O for a Supreme Court which shall be as true, as vigilant, as active, and exacting in maintaining laws enacted for the protection of human rights, as in other days was that Court for the destruction of human rights! It is said that this decision will make no difference in the treatment of colored people; that the Civil Rights Bill was a dead letter, and could not be enforced. There is some truth in all this, but it is not the whole truth. That bill, like all advance legislation, was a banner on the outer wall33 of American liberty, a noble moral standard, uplifted for the education of the American people. There are tongues in trees, books, in the running brooks,—sermons in stones.34 This law, though dead, did speak.35 It expressed the sentiment of justice and fair play, common to every honest heart. Its voice was against popular prejudice and meanness. It appealed to all the noble and patriotic instincts of the American people. It told the American people that they were all equal before the law; that they belonged to a common country and were equal citizens. The Supreme Court has hauled down this flag of liberty in open day, and before all the people, and has thereby given joy to the heart of every man in the land who wishes to deny to others what he claims for himself. It is a concession to race pride, selfishness and meanness, and will be received with joy by every upholder of caste in the land, and for this I deplore and denounce that decision. It is a frequent and favorite device of an indefensible cause to misstate and pervert the views of those who advocate a good cause, and I have never seen this device more generally resorted to than in the case of the late decision on the Civil Rights Bill. When we dissent from the opinion of the Supreme Court, and give the reasons why we think that opinion unsound, we are straightway charged in the papers with denouncing the Court itself, and thus put in the attitude of bad citizens. Now, I utterly deny that there has ever been 33. Macbeth, sc. 25, line 1982. 34. As You Like It, sc. 4, lines 597–98. 35. Heb. 11:14.

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any denunciation of the Supreme Court on this platform, and I defy any man to point out one sentence or one syllable of any speech of mine in denunciation of that Court. Another illustration of this tendency to put opponents in a false position, is seen in the persistent effort to stigmatize the “Civil Rights Bill” as a “Social Rights Bill.” Now, nowhere under the whole heavens, outside the United States, could any such perversion of truth have any chance of success. No man in Europe would ever dream that because he has a right to ride on a railway, or stop at a hotel, he therefore has the right to enter into social relations with anybody. No one has a right to speak to another without that other’s permission. Social equality and civil equality rest upon an entirely different basis, and well enough the American people know it; yet to inflame a popular prejudice, respectable papers like the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, persist in describing the Civil Rights Bill as a Social Rights Bill.36 When a colored man is in the same room or in the same carriage with white people, as a servant, there is no talk of social equality, but if he is there as a man and a gentleman, he is an offence. What makes the difference? It is not color, for his color is unchanged. The whole essence of the thing is a studied purpose to degrade and stamp out the liberties of a race. It is the old spirit of slavery, and nothing else. To say that because a man rides in a same car with another, he is therefore socially equal, is one of the wildest absurdities. When I was in England, some years ago,37 I rode upon highways, byways, steamboats, stage coaches, omnibuses; I was in the House of Commons, in the House of Lords, in the British Museum, in 36. The Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and other newspapers editorialized favorably upon the Supreme Court’s decision declaring the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. Douglass’s prompt criticism of the decision drew censure from the editors of these newspapers, who condemned the law as a “social rights bill” that, by protecting equal accommodation in hotels, railroads, and theaters, promoted social equality. New York Times, 16, 18 October 1883; Chicago Tribune, 19, 20 October 1883. 37. Douglass visited Great Britain in 1845–47 and again in 1859–60.

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the Coliseum,38 in the National Gallery, everywhere; sleeping sometimes in rooms where lords and dukes had slept; sitting at tables where lords and dukes were sitting; but I never thought that those circumstances made me socially the equal of lords and dukes. I hardly think that some of our Democratic friends would be regarded among those lords as their equals. If riding in the same car makes one equal, I think that the little poodle I saw sitting in the lap of a lady was made equal by riding in the same car. Equality, social equality, is a matter between individuals. It is a reciprocal understanding. I don’t think when I ride with an educated polished rascal, that he is thereby made my equal, or when I ride with a numbskull that it makes me his equal, or makes him my equal. Social equality does not necessarily follow from civil equality, and yet for the purpose of a hell black and damning prejudice, our papers still insist that the Civil Rights Bill is a Bill to establish social equality. If it is a Bill for social equality, so is the Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men have equal rights; so is the Sermon on the Mount,39 so is the Golden Rule,40 that commands us to do to others as we would that others should do to us; so is the Apostolic teaching, that of one blood God has made all nations to dwell on all the face of the earth; so is the Constitution of the United States, and so are the laws and customs of every civilized country in the world; for no where, outside of the United States, is any man denied civil rights on account of his color.

38. The London Colosseum was a building to the east of Regent’s Park. It was constructed in 1827 to exhibit Thomas Hornor’s Panoramic View of London, the largest painting ever created, covering more than forty thousand square feet. 39. Matt. 5–7; Luke 6:20–49. 40. Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31.

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“ ‘It Moves,’ or the Philosophy of Reform” An Address Delivered in Washington, D.C., 20 November 1883 Speech File, reel 18, frames 5–22, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress. In the months leading up to this speech, Frederick Douglass was embroiled in a debate regarding the designation of a leader who would speak for and guide African American civil rights reform. In May 1883, Douglass and several other influential blacks called for a national convention of African Americans to be held in Washington, D.C.1 Resistance to the proposal immediately arose. Richard T. Greener, a Howard University professor, accused Douglass and the other black activists of having passively accepted the loss of black rights at the end of Reconstruction.2 Suggesting that the organizers were primarily interested in currying favor with the Republican party, Greener stated, “We are free; have citizenship; have education or educational advantages, and some degree of civil rights. What more do these men want? More office; office that is all.”3 Douglass responded to this criticism, saying, “The republican presses betray a fear that the convention will be anti-republican, while the colored editors fear that the convention will be controlled by the existing administration.”4 Accusations continued unabated, with Douglass as a focal point, even after the convention was moved to Louisville, Kentucky, away from the political atmosphere of Wash1. “The Proposed National Colored Convention,” Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, 16 May 1883. 2. Ibid., 15 May 1883. 3. “Colored Man’s Opinion,” Washington (D.C.) Bee, 12 May 1883. 4. “The Proposed Colored Convention,” Washington (D.C.) Bee, 12 May 1883.

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ington, D.C. The crowning insult came at the meeting to nominate representatives from the District of Columbia to the Louisville gathering. The body nearly rejected Douglass, claiming “he had received the honors and representation of the colored people for twenty years, and had accomplished little or nothing.”5 Douglass nonetheless traveled to Louisville at the end of September and went on to be elected, after contentious discussion, president of the convention. Despite a warm reception from his audience, Douglass’s keynote was rejected as the representative statement of the convention and replaced by a series of resolutions approved by the delegates.6 At one point during the meeting, Douglass was publicly accused of remaining silent when Reconstruction was overturned in 1877, but after Douglass’s impassioned rebuttal, the convention “rose as one man and sang ‘John Brown’s body.’ ” 7 Clearly, the majority of delegates recognized Douglass’s enduring legacy as a champion of black freedom and citizenship. After these severe challenges to his leadership, Douglass delivered the lecture “It Moves,” on his philosophy of reform, to the Bethel Literary and Historical Association of Washington, D.C, two months after the Louisville convention. In it, he reminds his critics of the dangers that abolitionists, and by implication Douglass himself, faced when protesting slavery. He proffers a transcendentalist theory of reform in which one seeks out the overarching order and truth of things, looking to science and sociology, rather than religion, to guide social reform. Armed with social truths, the reformer acts, rather than waiting for divine intervention: “So far as the laws of the universe have been discovered and understood, they seem to teach that the mission of man’s improvement and perfection has been wholly committed to man himself. . . . He has neither angels to help him nor devils to hinder him.” Parroting the remarks made by opponents of the Louisville conference, he rhetorically asks at the end, “What have Garrison, Gerrit Smith and others done for the colored people?” He answers, “It is the extreme men on either side who constitute the real 5. “The Louisville Convention,” Washington (D.C.) Bee, 14 July 1883. 6. “The Convention,—Its Work,” Arlington (Va.) People’s Advocate, 6 October 1883. 7. Ibid.

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forces. All others move as they are moved upon.” His recent experience caused him to conclude that “the fate of pioneers is to suffer reproach and persecution.” Douglass’s lecture was followed by the Reverend W. H. Brooks, who called the talk heretical. The Alexandria (Va.) People’s Advocate summarized Brooks’s statement: “If Mr. Douglass’ theological positions were correct we had better close our Bibles and churches.”8 Brooks believed one had to embrace “Mosaic cosmology,” the Old Testament view that the world was created in seven days, in order to be Christian. Douglass insisted that he did not disagree with religion as taught by Christ, only as taught by some theologians. Douglass anticipated Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of reform, as articulated in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” eighty years later. King said it was not those who opposed reform who were its worst enemies, but rather those “friends” who counseled patience. King drew on Douglass when he criticized the “myth of time,” the belief that God in his own time would reform social evils.9 Both rejected an interpretation of the Bible that promoted resignation and passivity; both urged agitation. As Richard Leeman shows in his essay excerpted for this volume, as Douglass neared the end of his career as a reformer, he found himself increasingly answering criticisms from black conservatives who opposed agitation and embraced conservative religious views as well as an individualistic political ethos.

It Moves. Such was the half suppressed and therefore cowardly and yet confident, affirmation of Galileo, the great Italian mathematician.10 8. “Bethel Literary,” Arlington (Va.) People’s Advocate, 24 November 1883. 9. David Howard-Pitney, The African American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005), 148–49, 154. 10. The Italian mathematician and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) publicly advocated the Copernican theory of the movement of the earth around the sun. In 1616 a commission appointed by Pope Paul V condemned the heliocentric view and admonished Galileo to abandon it. Believing that the church would permit publication of his views on the physical system of the universe as a hypothesis, Galileo published

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He had solved a vast problem and had done more than any man of his day and generation to dispel the intellectual darkness of ages, and reform the astronomical thought of the world; yet here he was virtually upon his knees before the power of ignorance and superstition; selling his soul to save his life. The circumstances under which the above words were spoken or whispered, for they were not spoken aloud, were critical, as, indeed, circumstances always are, when a new truth is born into the world. For there is ever at such times some Herod ready to seek the young child’s life,11 and a multitude to cry out, “Crucify him!”12 The courage and integrity of this apostle of a new truth was put to the severest test. He had been solemnly arraigned, fiercely accused, and sternly condemned to death for teaching a new doctrine at war with the prevailing theology of the period. Theology in those days endured no contradiction. The voice of the Church was all powerful. It was able not only to punish the soul, and shut the gates of heaven against whom it would, but to kill the body as well. The case of Galileo was therefore one of life and death. He must either affirm the truth and die, or deny the truth and live. Skin for skin, as was said of Job, all that a man hath will he give for his life.13 Under this terrible pressure the courage of the great man quailed. Hence he, in open court denied and repudiated the grand and luminous truth which he had demonstrated, and with which his name was to be forever associated. His denial was probably not less hearty and vehement than was that of Peter when he denied his Lord.14 There was not only likeness in their denial, but likeness in their repentance.

his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632. In 1633, Galileo was tried by the Inquisition for heresy, threatened with torture, found guilty, forced to recant his belief in heliocentrism, and sentenced to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. According to legend, despite recanting, he quietly said after his trial, “Eppur si muove,” or “And yet it moves,” referring to Earth revolving around the sun. 11. Matt. 2:13–23. 12. Matt. 27:23; Mark 15:13; Luke 23:21; John 16:6. 13. Job 2:4. 14. Matt. 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–62; John 18:15–18, 25–27.

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The words I have quoted were the tremulous reaffirmation to himself of the truth that he had denied in the hall of his rigorous judges. They were no doubt forced from his quivering lips to silence the upbraiding of an accusing conscience. There is generally a great tumult in the human soul when guilty of any meanness, especially to such a soul as has not become hardened by persistent violation of its moral nature. Peter and Galileo were great-hearted men. The one sought relief in bitter tears, the other in reaffirming to himself the truth he had denied to the world. Is there no apology for these examples of human weakness? If there is much that is humiliating in the attitude of these two great men, for great men they were, spite of their weakness, there is also something to commend. He should step lightly who sits in judgment upon the weakness of those who pioneer an unpopular cause. Heroic courage is a noble quality; but it is not always the possession of great minds. “Stand by your principles!” shouts the crowd, but, if put to such a test as that of our two worthies, how many of all the crowd could be found to practice what they preach?15 If only the truly brave were allowed to throw stones at the cowards, few stones would be thrown, and few wounds would be inflicted. Any man can be brave where there is no danger. If those only are true believers who can face peril, torture and death for their faith, the true church is small, and true believers are few. Men are easily heroes to heaven while they are cowards to earth. They can brave the unknown terrors of eternity, while they quail before the known terrors of time. Erasmus16 expressed much of genuine human nature, when he declared that he would rather trust God 15. Douglass quotes St. Jerome, who wrote in a letter, “Why do you not practice what you preach?” St. Jerome, Select Letters of St. Jerome, trans. F. A. Wright (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1933), 209. 16. Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (c. 1466–1536) strove to avoid commitment to Luther’s or the Catholic Church’s side in Reformation debates. In 1525 he defended the Catholic doctrine of freedom of the will, rather than the church itself, and a person’s ability to cooperate with the implements of grace rather than to attain his or her own salvation.

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with his soul than the inquisition17 with his body. Even the mercy of the law allows something for the deviation from the straight line of truth, when a man swears under duress. It should never be forgotten that the instruments of reform are not necessarily perfect at all points of possible human character. Men may be very good and useful and yet far from being the stuff out of which martyrs are made. Though Peter denied his Lord, and Galileo science, though both quailed before the terrors of martyrdom, and though neither was as strong as the truth they had denied, the world is vastly better off for their lives, their words and their works. It required a larger measure of courage for Galileo to whisper truth in his day than for us to proclaim the same truth now upon the house-top. The greatest coward can now shout that he has been with Jesus, but only the grandly heroic could do so when menaced by the spears and swords of Roman soldiers, in the Judgment Hall of Pilate, with death upon the cross the probable penalty for being in such company. I am to speak to you of the Philosophy of Reform. According to the dictionary, and we are bound to adhere to the truth of words, the word reform is defined, “to put in a new and improved condition; to bring from bad to good; to change from worse to better.” This is true, apply it as we may; whether it be self reform, social reform, national reform, or reform in any direction whatever. We are nevertheless met at the outset of this discussion with the question as to whether there is any such thing as reform in the sense defined in the dictionary. It is contended by some very respectable 17. To combat heretical and unorthodox religious movements, popes in the twelfth century established episcopal courts with powers of coercion, and then centralized their operations under papal legates chosen from monastic orders. The Spanish Inquisition, which Ferdinand and Isabella established in 1483, was a new type of episcopal court, one entirely under state control and used for political as much as religious ends. In 1542, Pope Paul III founded the Roman Inquisition as the primary organ of the Counter-Reformation. In the nineteenth century, a revived Inquisition was part of the Catholic restoration in post-Napoleonic Europe.

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writers and thinkers, that Reform is a delusion, a deceitful appearance; that there is no such thing as making the world better; that the phenomenon of change every where observable, brings no substantial improvement; that mankind are like the sea, whose waves rise and fall, advance and retreat, while the general level remains forever the same.18 It is contended that the balance between good and evil remains, like the sea, fixed, unchangeable, and eternally the same. In support of this disheartening theory, these turn our eyes towards the East and lead us about among its decayed and wasted civilizations, its ancient cities, its broken monuments, its mouldering temples, its ruined altars, its buried treasures, its shattered walls and fallen pillars, and picture to us in brilliant colors their former greatness and glory, and with the gloomy Byron, they inquire, “Where are their greatness and glory now?”19 I shall not stop to combat this skepticism till I have mentioned another and a worse form of unbelief, not the denial that the world is growing better, but the assertion that it is growing worse. Improvement is not only denied, but deterioration is affirmed. According to the advocates of this theory, mankind are on the descending grade; physically, morally and intellectually, the men and women of our age are in no respect equal to the ancients, and art, science and philosophy have gained nothing. This misanthropic view of the world may, I think, be easily answered. It has about it a show of truth and learning, but they are only seeming, not real. One cause of the error may be for want of a proper knowledge of the remote past. Here, as elsewhere, ’tis distance lends enchant-

18. The repudiation of liberalism and a concomitant return to an orthodox Christian view of secular history gained popularity in Europe during the conservative reaction, both political and intellectual, that followed the French Revolution. 19. Douglass paraphrases the sentiments of Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, canto II, particularly stanza 25. Ernest Hartley Coleridge, ed., The Works of Lord Byron, 13 vols. (1898; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899), 2:115.

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ment20 to the view. We fail to make due allowance for the refractive nature of the medium through which we are compelled to view the past. We naturally magnify the greatness of that which is remote. By this the imagination is addressed rather than the understanding. The dim and shadowing figures of the past are clothed in glorious light, and pigmies appear as giants. Grand and sublime, however, as is the glorious faculty of imagination as a reflector and creator, and while it is the explanation of all religion, and, perhaps, the source of all progress, it is nevertheless the least safe of all our faculties for the discernment of what is truth. There are two sufficient modes of answering theories in denial of progress and reform. One is an appeal to the essential nature of man; the other is to historical facts and experience. A denial of progress and the assumption of retrogression is a point-blank contradiction to the ascertained and essential nature of man. It opposes the known natural desire for change, and denies the instinctive hope and aspiration of humanity for something better. A theory involving such results may well enough be rejected, even without further reason. It is just as natural for man to seek and discover improved conditions of existence, as it is for birds to fly in the air or to fill the morning with melody or to build their nests in the spring. The very conditions of helplessness in which men are born suggest reform and progress as the necessity of their nature. He literally brings nothing into the world to meet his multitudinous necessities. He is, upon first blush, less fortunate than all other animals. Nature has prepared nothing for him. He must find his own needed food, raiment and shelter, or the iron hand of nature will smite him with death. But he has a dignity which belongs to himself alone. He is an object, not only to himself, but to his species, and his species an object to him. Every well formed man finds no rest to

20. A slightly inaccurate quotation of Thomas Campbell’s poem The Pleasures of Hope, part 1, line 7. W. A. Hill, ed., The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, with Notes and a Biographical Sketch (London: Edward Moxon, 1851), 1.

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his soul while any portion of his species suffers from a recognized evil. The deepest wish of a true man’s heart is that good may be augmented and evil, moral and physical, be diminished, and that each generation shall be an improvement on its predecessor. I do not know that I am an evolutionist, but to this extent I am one. I certainly have more patience with those who trace mankind upward from a low condition, even from the lower animals, then with those that start him at a high point of perfection and conduct him to a level with the brutes. I have no sympathy with a theory that starts man in heaven and stops him in hell.21 To this complexion it must come at last, if no progress is made, and the only movement of mankind is a downward or retrograde movement. Happily for us the world does move, and better still, its movement is an upward movement. Kingdoms, empires, powers, principalities and dominions, may appear and disappear; may flourish and decay; but mankind as a whole must ever move onward, and increase in the perfection of character and in the grandeur of achievement. That the world moves, as affirmed and demonstrated by the Italian mathematician, was long since admitted; but movement is not less true of the moral, intellectual and social universe than of the physical. Here, as elsewhere, there are centripetal and centrifugal forces forever at work. Those of the physical world are not more active, certain and effective, than those of the moral world. An irrepressible conflict, grander than that described by the late William H. Seward,22 is perpetually going on. Two hostile and ir21. Evolutionists accepted the Darwinist view that species arose from the struggle for existence and the laws of natural selection. Darwin—and to a much greater extent, his popularizers—thought that evolution was progressive, that is, life always moved from simpler to more complex forms, but Darwin did not argue that idea as part of the scientific theory. The assumption of racial superiority central to the philosophy of social Darwinism might have accounted for Douglass’s ambivalence in regard to evolution. 22. Douglass alludes to the title of a speech delivered by William H. Seward in Rochester, New York, on 25 October 1858. William H. Seward, The Irrepressible

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reconcilable tendencies, broad as the world of man, are in the open field; good and evil, truth and error, enlightenment and superstition. Progress and reaction, the ideal and the actual, the spiritual and material, the old and the new, are in perpetual conflict, and the battle must go on till the ideal, the spiritual side of humanity shall gain perfect victory over all that is low and vile in the world. This must be so unless we concede that what is divine is less potent than what is animal; that truth is less powerful than error; that ignorance is mightier than enlightenment, and that progress is less to be desired than reaction, darkness and stagnation. It is worthy of remark that, in the battle of reform, all the powers on both sides are not usually engaged. The grosser forms of wrong are, as they appear, first confronted. One truth is discovered in the moral sky, and lo! another illumines the horizon. One error is vanquished, and lo! another, clad in complete steel, invites demolition, and thus the conflict goes on and will go on forever. But we are still met with the question: “Is there any substantial gain to the right?” “Is only one evil suppressed to give rise to another?” “Does one error disappear only to make room for another?” It is impossible to keep questions like these out of the minds of thoughtful men. The facts in answer to them are abundant, familiar, and, as I think, conclusive. First, let us look at the science of astronomy. How grand and magnificent have been the discoveries in that field of knowledge. What victories over error have been achieved by the telescope. That instrument did not bring down what the great poet calls “the brave over-hanging sky,”23 nor the shining stars in it; but it did bring down and dispel vast clouds of error, both in respect of the sky and of our planet. It must be confessed, too, that it took something from the importance of our planet. The idea that all the hosts of heaven are mere appendages to this earth is no longer

Conflict: A Speech by William H. Seward, Delivered at Rochester, Monday, Oct. 25, 1858 (New York: New York Tribune, [1860]). 23. Hamlet, sc. 7, lines 1230–31.

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entertained by average men, and no man, except our good brother Hampton of England24 and brother Jasper of Richmond,25 now stand by the old theory for which the church proposed to murder Galileo. Men are compelled to admit that the Genesis by Moses is less trustworthy as to the time of creating the heavens and the earth than are the rocks and the stars. Espy unfolded the science of storms,26 and forthwith thunder and lightning parted with their ancient predicates of wrath and were no longer visitations of divine vengeance. Experience and observation in the science of government gave us clearer views of justice, and the means of ascertaining it, and jury trial speedily took the trial by ordeal, poison and combat. Vaccination was discovered, and, like all new discoveries, had at the first to maintain a vigorous battle for existence. It was condemned by the church as a cunning device of the devil to defeat the judgments of God.27 Nevertheless, it has triumphed, and is now adopted by the best instructed of all nations. 24. Though Douglass is partly mistaken in his characterization of him, the English champion of scriptural literalism seems to be Renn Dickson Hampden (1793– 1868), bishop of Hereford. 25. Douglass alludes to John Jasper (1812–1901), a black Baptist, and his famous sermon “The Sun Do Move,” which claimed the Bible proved that the sun traveled around the earth. Born a Virginia slave, Jasper used vivid, although ungrammatical, imagery that drew thousands every Sunday to listen to his sermons at several large churches in Richmond, Virginia. 26. The early work in meteorology of James Pollard Espy (1785–1860) was in the established tradition of observation, which he tried to expand into a national system in the United States. He later began the much less conventional work of experimentation to uncover basic physical concepts that could be applied to weather observation. His principal interest was in heat effects, and his major discovery lay in the role and the dynamics of latent heat in cloud formation and precipitation. 27. Thinkers in eighteenth-century England and France independently conceived of the concept of inoculation, the introduction into the human body of a controlled quantity of a disease-causing substance to prevent occurrence of the disease. (A simple form of inoculation had been practiced in China and the Middle East for several centuries.) Although by 1801 one hundred thousand people had received vaccinations against smallpox, both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in Europe resisted it as an interference with the will of God and strenuously fought against it throughout the century.

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The history of the world shows that mankind have been gradually getting the victory over famine, plagues and pestilence, and that diseases of all kinds are parting with their repulsive grossness. When we look in the direction of religion, we see Luther,28 Melancthon,29 Erasmus and Zwingle,30 and other stalwart reformers, confronting and defying the Vatican and repudiating pontifical authority. What is the result? Why, this: men are no longer, as formerly, tortured, burned, strangled and starved to death, on account of their religious opinions. Learning has unlocked to us the mysteries of Egypt. It has deciphered the hieroglyphics,31 and shown us that the slaughter of animals and the slaughter of men as sacrifices was a rude device of the religious sentiment to propitiate the favor of imaginary gods. The Christian religion dawned upon Western Europe and a thousand men were no longer slain to make a Roman holiday. A little common sense took the place of unreasoning faith in the

28. The Augustinian monk Martin Luther (1484–1546) lectured in theology at the University of Wittenberg in 1513. His famous Ninety-five Theses (1517) focused on abuses in the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church. (An indulgence was a pardon for a sinful act, issued before the act was committed. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the church sold indulgences to pay for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.) In 1520, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther and anathematized his writings. In the last two decades of his life, Luther labored prodigiously at the creation of new forms of church worship, the explication of scripture, and the education of a new ministry. 29. Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) committed himself to the Protestant Reformation shortly after he arrived in Wittenberg in 1518, where he both taught and befriended Martin Luther. Melanchthon attempted to reconcile conflicting theological positions. He drafted the Augsburg Confession (1530), the principal confession of faith in the Lutheran Church. Signed by Catholic and Protestant representatives, it excluded the more radical positions of Ulrich Zwingli and the Anabaptists. 30. Ulrich (or Huldreich) Zwingli (1484–1531) was a Catholic pastor in Germanspeaking Switzerland. Zwingli regularly preached against “externals,” and his followers stripped churches of images, whitewashed church walls, and excluded music from religious rituals. 31. The deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics eluded scholars until the discovery in 1799 of the Rosetta Stone, a black basalt slab bearing three parallel texts, one in Greek (a key to the others), one in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and one in demotic Egyptian, a cursive script.

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Puritan, and old women in New England were no longer hanged as witches.32 Science tells us what storms are in the sky and when and where they will descend upon our continent, and nobody now thinks of praying for rain or fair weather. Only a few centuries ago women were not allowed to learn the letters of the alphabet, now she takes her place among the intellectual forces of the day and ranks with our finest scholars, best teachers and most successful authors. Lundy,33 Walker34 and Garrison,35 shocked by the enormities of slavery, branded the system as a crime against human nature; and, after thirty years of fierce and fiery conflict against press and pulpit, church and state, men have ceased to quote the Scriptures to prove slavery a divine institution. The fathers of the American Revolution took a vast step in the direction of political knowledge when they discovered and announced humanity as the source and authority for human government. To them we are indebted today for a government of the people. Even Europe itself is gradually parting with its notion of the divine right of kings. The conception of Deity in the younger days of the world was, as all know, wild, fantastic and grotesque. It fashioned its idea into huge, repulsive and monstrous images, with a worship of corre32. In the aftermath of the Salem witchcraft trials (February 1692–May 1693), fourteen women and five men were hanged, one man was pressed to death, and five others died in prison; in other seventeenth-century cases in Massachusetts and Connecticut, an additional fourteen women and two men were executed. 33. The Quaker Benjamin Lundy (1789–1839) published the pioneering antislavery newspaper the Philanthropist with Charles Osborn. In 1821, he began his own paper, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, with the young and then unknown William Lloyd Garrison as associate editor. 34. In 1829, the free black activist David Walker (1785–1830) printed the first of three editions of his pamphlet David Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble to the Colored Citizens of the World, But in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. After Walker was found dead in front of his Boston shop on 28 June 1830, rumors circulated that Southern planters had offered a reward of three thousand dollars for his murder. 35. William Lloyd Garrison.

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sponding grossness, abounding in bloody sacrifices of animals and men. Who will tell us to-day that there has been no real progress in this phase of human thought and practice, or that the change in the religious conceptions of the world is no improvement? “Even more marked and emphatic” are the evidences of progress when we turn from the religious to the material interests of man. Art, science, discovery and invention, startle and bewilder us at every turn, by their rapid, vast and wonderful achievements. These forces have made men lords where they were vassals, masters where they were slaves, and kings where they were subjects. They have abolished the limitations of time and space and have brought the ends of the earth together. It is nothing in favor of misanthropy to which the foregoing is in some sense a reply, that evils, hardships and sufferings still remain, and that the fact of life is still far in the rear of our best conceptions of what life should be; for, so long as the most desponding of the present cannot point us to any period in the history of the world for which we would exchange the present, our argument for progress will remain conclusive. It should be remembered that the so-called splendid civilizations of the East were all coupled with conditions wholly impossible at the present day; and which the masses of mankind must now contemplate with a shudder. We have travelled far beyond Egyptian, Grecian and Roman civilizations, and have largely transcended their religious conceptions. In view of the fact that reform always contemplates the destruction of evil, it is strange that nearly all efforts of reform meet with more determined and bitter resistance from the recognized good, than from those that make no pretensions to unusual sanctity. It would, upon first blush seem, that, since all reform is an effort to bring man more and more into harmony with the laws of his own being and with those of the universe, the church should be the first to hail it with approval at its inception; but this is a superficial view of the subject.

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Of course the message of reform is in itself an impeachment of the existing order of things. It is a call to those who think themselves already high, to come up higher, and, naturally enough, they resent the implied censure. It is also worthy of remark that, in every struggle between the worse and better, the old and the new, the advantage at the commencement is, in all cases, with the former. It is the few against the mass. The old and long established has the advantage of organization and respectability. It has possession. It occupies the ground, which is said to be nine points of the law.36 Besides, every thing which is of long standing in this world has power to beget a character and condition in the men and things around it, favorable to its own continuance. Even a thing so shocking and hateful as slavery had power to intrench and fortify itself behind the ramparts of church and state, and to make the pulpit defend it as a divine institution. Another reason why ancient wrong is able to defend itself, is that the wrong of the present, though enormous and flagrant, has taken the place of some greater wrong which has been overthrown. Slavery, for instance, was better than killing captives in war. Duelling is better than private assassination. Gambling is better than highway robbery. War, as waged by civilized nations, is better than the indiscriminate massacre practiced in the olden time. The advocates of slavery could argue with some plausibility that the slaves were better off here than in Africa; that here they could hear the gospel preached, and learn the way to heaven. But deeper down than this plausible view of existing wrong, ancient evil finds advantage in the contest with reform. Human nature itself has a warm and friendly side for what is old; for what has withstood the tide of time and become venerable by age. Men will long travel the old road, though you show them a 36. Sometimes cited as eleven rather than nine points, this proverb had become popular in England by the seventeenth century. H[enry] L[ouis] Mencken, ed., A New Dictionary of Quotations on “Historical” Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, 2 vols. (New York: Knopf, 1942), 2:946.

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shorter and better one, simply because they have always travelled that road. They will live in the old house long after they see the need of a new one. Sweet and precious associations bind us to the dear old home. We cling to it though the midnight stars shine through its shingles; though the North winds from snow-clad mountains whistle their icy songs through its ragged rents and crumbling walls; and though, in shape and size, it may be an architectural anachronism, old fashioned, outlandish and dilapidated. The thought that father and mother lived here in peace, happiness and serene content, makes the old house, with all its defects, still dear to the hearts of their children, from generation to generation. As with the old house, so with the old custom, the old church and the old creed, men love them, stand by them, fight for them, refuse to see their defects, because of the comfort they have given to innumerable souls in sickness and health, in sorrow and death. It is this love and veneration which to-day revolts at the revision of the Scriptures.37 Better that a thousand errors should remain, it insists, than that the faith of the multitude shall be shocked and unsettled by the discovery of error in what was believed infallible and perfect. Thus there are silent forces always at work, riveting men’s hearts to the old, and rendering them distrustful of all innovation upon the long-established order of things, whatever may be the errors and imperfections of that order. Evils, multitudinous and powerful, avail themselves of routine, custom and habit, and manage to live on, long after their baleful influence is well-known and felt. The reformer, therefore, has, at the outset, a difficult and disagreeable task before him. He has to part with old friends; break away from the beaten paths of society, and advance against the vehement protests of the most sacred sentiments of the human heart.

37. The higher criticism, which originated in the works of Erasmus and Benedict Spinoza (1632–77), consisted of the literary-historical analysis of scripture, which uncovered internal discrepancies within the text.

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No wonder that prophets were stoned, apostles imprisoned, and Protestants burned at the stake. No wonder that Garrison was mobbed and haltered; Lovejoy38 shot down like a felon; Torrey 39 wasted in prison; John Brown hanged; and Lincoln murdered. It may not be a useless speculation to inquire when[ce] comes the disposition or suggestion of reform; whence that irresistible power that impels men to brave all the hardships and dangers involved in pioneering an unpopular cause? Has it a natural or a celestial origin? Is it human or is it divine, or is it both? I have no hesitation in stating where I stand in respect of these questions. It seems to me that the true philosophy of reform is not found in the clouds, or in the stars, or any where else outside of humanity itself. So far as the laws of the universe have been discovered and understood, they seem to teach that the mission of man’s improvement and perfection has been wholly committed to man himself. So is he to be his own savior or his own destroyer. He has neither angels to help him nor devils to hinder him. It does not appear from the operation of these laws, or from any trustworthy data, that divine power is ever exerted to remove any evil from the world, how great soever it may be. Especially does it never appear to protect the weak against the strong, the simple against the cunning, the oppressed against the oppressor, the slave against his master, the subject against his king, or one hostile army against another, although it is usual to pray for such interference, and usual also for the conquerors to thank God for the victory, though such 38. Elijah Parish Lovejoy (1802–37) moved from St. Louis to Alton, Illinois, in 1836. By March 1837, Lovejoy had converted to immediate abolitionism and announced his intention to organize local and state abolitionist societies. Agitated by a recent economic decline, prominent citizens organized a mob to silence Lovejoy. He was mortally wounded while attempting to protect his press. Abolitionists enshrined Lovejoy as a martyr. 39. Charles Turner Torrey (1813–46) moved to Baltimore around 1843 to engage in business and carry out a scheme that transported over 400 fugitive slaves from Maryland and Virginia to the free states along a prearranged route. Arrested for this activity in 1844, Torrey was convicted and sentenced to six years’ hard labor. He died of tuberculosis in a Baltimore prison.

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thanksgiving assumes that the Heavenly Father is always with the strong and against the weak, and with the victors against the vanquished. No power in nature asserts itself to save even innocence from the consequences of violated law. The babe and the lunatic perish alike when they throw themselves down or by accident fall from a sufficient altitude upon sharp and flinty rocks beneath; for this is the fixed and unalterable penalty for the transgression of the law of gravitation. The law in all directions is imperative and inexorable, but beneficial withal. Though it accepts no excuses, grants no prayers, heeds no tears, but visits all transgressors with cold and iron-hearted impartiality, its lessons, on this very account, are all the more easily and certainly learned. If it were not thus fixed, inflexible and immutable, it would always be a trumpet of uncertain sound,40 and men could never depend upon it, or hope to attain complete and perfect adjustment to its requirements; because what might be in harmony with it at one time, would be discordant at another. Or, if it could be propitiated by prayers or other religious offerings, the ever shifting sands of piety or impiety would take the place of law, and men would be destitute of any standard of right, any test of obedience, or any stability of moral government. The angry ocean engulphs its hundreds of ships and thousands of lives annually. There is something horrible, appalling and stunning in the contemplation of the remorseless, pitiless indifference with which it rolls on after swallowing its weeping, shivering, shrinking, imploring victims; but reflection vindicates the wisdom of law here, as elsewhere. It is the one limb cut off, the better to save the whole body. What may seem cruel and remorseless in its treatment of the few, is, nevertheless, mercy and compassion to the many; and the wisdom of the law is manifested, not alone by its violation, but by its due observance, as well. Every calamity arising from human ignorances and negligence upon the sea, tends to the perfection of naval architecture, to 40. 1 Cor. 14:8.

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increase the knowledge of ocean navigation, and thereby to fashion the minds of men more and more in the likeness of the divine mind. Men easily comprehend the wisdom of inflexible and unchangeable law, when it is thought to apply only to the government of matter, though for the purpose of miracle, they sometimes seem to deny even this. They contend that these laws may be suspended or evaded by the power of faith. They hold that fire will not burn, that water will not drown, and that poison will not destroy life in particular cases where faith intervenes. But such views may be dismissed as the outpourings of enthusiasm. Some things are true to faith, which are false to fact; and miraculous things address themselves to faith rather than to science. The more thoughtful among orthodox believers concede that the laws appertaining to matter are unchangeable and eternal. They have ceased to pray for rain, or for clear weather; but to save something from the wreck which this admission must make in their theological system they except the spiritual nature of man from the operation of fixed and unchangeable laws. Plainly enough, they gain nothing by this distinction. If the smallest particle of matter in any part of the universe is subject to law, it seems to me that a thing so important as the moral nature of man cannot be less so. It may be further objected to the orthodox view of this question, that, in effect, it does away with moral and spiritual law altogether, and leaves man without any rule of moral and spiritual life. For where there is no law, there can be no transgression, and hence, no penalty. This is not the only difficulty in the way of our acceptance of the common theology, and where it manifestly stands in contradiction to sound reason. If it is admitted that there are moral laws, but affirmed that the consequence of their violation may all be removed by a prayer, a sigh or a tear, the result is about the same as if there were no law. Faith, in that case, takes the place of law, and belief, the place of life. On this theory a man has only to believe himself pure and right, a subject of special divine favor, and he is so. Absurd as this position

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is, to some of us, it is, in some vague way, held by the whole Christian world about us, and Christians must cling to it, or give up the entire significance of their prayers and worship. I discard this office of faith, for many reasons. It seems to me that it strikes at the fundamental principles of all real progress, and ought, by some means or other, to be removed from the minds of men. I think it will be found that all genuine reform must rest on the assumption that man is a creature of absolute, inflexible law, moral and spiritual, and that his happiness and well-being can only be secured by perfect obedience to such law. All thought of evasion, by faith or penance, or by any means, must be discarded. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,”41 and from this there is no appeal. It is given to man to first discover the law and to enforce compliance by all his power of precept and example. The great and all commanding means to this end is not remote. It is the truth. This only is the “light of the world.”42 “All the space between man’s mind and God’s mind,” says Theodore Parker, “is crowded with truth that waits to be discovered and organized into law, for the government and happiness of mankind.”43 It would be pleasant to dwell here upon the transcendent achievements of truth, in proof of its reforming power. No advancement or improvement has been effected in human character or in human institutions, except through the agency and power of truth. It is the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night,44 to lead 41. Gal. 6:7. 42. Matt. 5:14. 43. In earlier speeches, Douglass at least twice made the same attribution of this quotation to the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker (1810–60), a Harvardeducated Unitarian clergyman and reformer. Rather than an exact quotation, it appears to be a paraphrase of statements in the sermon “The Law of God and the Statutes of Men,” which Parker delivered on 18 June 1854 in Boston’s Music Hall, attacking the Kansas-Nebraska Act. 44. Exod. 13:21–22.

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the human race through the wilderness of ignorance and out of the thralldom of error. I am not ashamed of the gospel, says an apostle, for it is the power of God unto salvation.45 In this we have only a glowing theological statement of a grand philosophical truth. A gospel which is simply good news, for that is the meaning of the word, has no saving power in it whatever. The only saving power there is in any good news depends entirely upon the truth of such news. Without that quality, good news is an aggravation, a contradiction, and a disappointment; a Dead sea apple, fair without and foul within.46 To a shipwrecked mariner clinging to a spar or a plank or a life preserver, amid the towering billows of a storm-tossed ocean, near the point of despair, the news that a ship in the distance is coming to his relief would be good news indeed, but there would be no salvation in it, unless the news itself were true. The soul of the apostle’s utterance therefore, is, that he is not ashamed of the truth, because it is the power of God unto salvation. Like all grand reformers, this great apostle, filled with a holy enthusiasm, was not ashamed of the message in which, to him, was the power to save the world from sin, and the consequences of sin, though all the world were against him. Having said thus much of truth and its power, it may be asked, as Pilate in his Judgment Hall, asked the Saviour, “What is Truth?”47 It is now, as it was then, easier to ask than to answer questions. For the purpose of this discourse, and the thought it aims to inculcate, it is enough to say that any expression, communication or suggestion, whether it be objective or subjective, intuitive or ac45. Rom. 1:16. 46. The Dead Sea apple, or apple of Sodom, is a yellow fruit growing along the shores of the Dead Sea. It contains small black seeds that have an ash-like texture and a bitter taste. 47. John 18:38.

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quired, which conveys to the human understanding a knowledge of things as they exist in all their relations and bearings, without admixture of error, is the truth in respect of all the particular things comprehended in the said expression, communication or suggestion. A broad distinction, however, must always be observed between the expression and the thing expressed, and also between the expression and the understanding of the expression. The expression is but the body; the thing expressed is the soul. It is not too metaphysical to say that Truth has a distinct and independent existence, both from any expression of it, and any individual understanding of it; and that it is always the same however diverse the creeds of men may be concerning it. Contemplated as a whole, it is too great for human conception or expression, whether in books or creeds. It is the illimitable thought of the universe, upholding all things, governing all things, superior to all things. Reigning in eternity, it is sublimely patient with our slow approximation to it, and our imperfect understanding of it, even where its lessons are clearly taught and easily understood. It has a life of its own, and will live on, as the light of a star will shine on, whether our dull eyes shall see it or not. But, as already intimated no definite idea of absolute truth can be perfectly conveyed to the human understanding by any form of speech. Prophets, apostles, philosophers and poets alike fail here. Impressed with this impossibility of the human mind to comprehend the divine, the sacred writers exclaim, “God is love!” “God is truth!”48 It is the best of which the case admits, and with it the world must be content. Yet there is consolation here; for, though subject to limitations, man is not absolutely helpless. While truth, when contemplated as a totality, is so vast as to transcend man’s ability to grasp it in all its fullness and glory, there are, nevertheless, individual truths, sparks from the great All-Truth, 48. 1 John 4:8, 5:6.

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quite within the range of his mental vision, which, if discovered and obeyed, will light his pathway through the world and make his life successful and happy. He may not approach the resplendent sun in the sky and gaze into its fathomless depths, into its tempests of fire, or withstand its thunderous flame, storming away into space, thousands of miles beyond its own immeasurable circumference, but he may be warmed and enlivened by the heat, and walk in safety by its light. All truth to be valuable must be wisely applied. Each class of facts conducts us to its own peculiar truth or principle, obedience or disobedience to which, brings its own special and appropriate results, and each after its kind. A man may conform himself to one important truth and reap the advantage of his conformity and at the same time be utterly at fault in respect to another truth and suffer the bitterest consequences. He may go through life like a bird with one wing, right on one side, wrong on the other, and confined to earth when he might otherwise soar to heaven. He may be well versed in sanitary truth, and secure to himself sound bodily health, but at the same time violate all the great principles of truth which tend to elevate and improve the mind and purify the heart. On the other hand he may be well versed in all the great truths of morality, but totally ignorant of the laws of mechanics. An immoral man, well instructed in the science of naval architecture, may build a ship which will easily survive the ten thousand perils of the ocean; while a perfect saint who is ignorant of the laws of navigation and disregards them, will see his ship go to the bottom in the first storm though her deck be crowded with missionaries to the heathen. Among the common errors of the world, none is more conspicuous than the error of seeking desirable ends by inappropriate and illogical means. An uncivil word is resented by a blow, as if a blow on the body could cure an affront to the mind or change the mind of the offender. A reflection upon personal honor provokes a duel, as if

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putting your body up to be shot at were proof that you were an honest man. A difference of religious opinion sends you to another store to buy goods, as if a man’s principles and not his goods were for sale. If, as a man can go into a store and purchase a garment, he could go into a church and select a creed to his liking, he might be properly praised or blamed for the wisdom or folly of his choice. But this thing which we call belief does not come by choice, but by necessity; not by taste, but by evidence brought home to the understanding and the heart. All reform, whether moral or physical, whether individual or social, is the result of some new truth or of a logical inference from an old and admitted truth. Strictly speaking, however, it is a misnomer to prefix the word truth with the words new and old. Such qualifying prefixes have no proper application to any truth. Error may be old, or it may be new, for it has a beginning and must have an end. It is a departure from truth and a contradiction to the truth, and must pass away with the progressive enlightenment of the race; but truth knows no beginning and has no end, and can therefore be neither old nor new, but is unchangeable, indestructible and eternal. Hence all genuine and lasting reforms must involve a renunciation of error which is transient, and a return to truth which is eternal. The mission of the reformer is to discover truth, or the settled and eternal order of the universe. This word discover is an important word. It has a deeper meaning than the merely becoming cognizant of truth, or of any other subject previously unknown. It is not simply the opening of our eyes and seeing what was not seen before, but it seems to uncover, the removal of whatever may obstruct, hinder or prevent the understanding from grasping any object of which it may properly be cognizant. It involves effort, work, either of body or mind, or both. To the outward eye this work may seem opposed to nature, but to the eye of thought it is found to be in accordance with the higher laws of nature. The men you see yonder, armed with picks, shovels,

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spades, drills, powder and fire, blasting rocks, tunneling mountains, breaking through the virgin soil, digging down the ancient hills, filling up the deep ravines and valleys, are simply uncovering the great truth of the level, one of nature’s best helps to man in promoting civilization, bearing our burdens, and enabling us to keep pace with the birds in travel and commerce. Yonder block of solid marble contains within its rough, unseemly form the fine symmetrical proportions of a stately Corinthian pillar, one upon which the eyes of unborn generations may look with pleasure; or there may sleep in its cold embrace the entrancing form of woman, or the statue of a scholar, statesman, or poet. Genius and skill only are needed to uncover and reveal it as a thing of beauty and a joy forever.49 It is not a war with nature, this hammer and chisel business, but only a loving embracement of her deeper, wiser, and more glorious truths and perfections. It is, as all reform is a kind of Jacob wrestling with the angel for larger blessings.50 What is true of external nature is also true of that strange, mysterious, and indescribable, which earnestly endeavors in some degree to measure and grasp the deepest thought and to get at the soul of things; to make our subjective consciousness, objective, in thought, form and speech. In the necessary conflict between the old and the new, the outward and inward essence of things, men naturally range themselves into two great classes; the one radical, the other conservative. There are many shades of difference between these two extremes. Positive and perfect neutrality is only possible to the absolutely ignorant and stupid. This class of men see only results; but know nothing as to the method or the labor of bringing them about. The most they 49. A near quotation of the first line of John Keats’s Endymion. H[eathcote] W[illiam] Garrod, ed., The Poetical Works of John Keats (London: Oxford University Press, 1956). 50. Gen. 32:24–30.

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can say when the work of the reformer is accomplished is, “Thank Providence!” Antislavery men, against a storm of violence and persecution which would have appalled most men, educated the people of the North to believe that slavery was a crime; educated them up to the point of resistance to the slave power, and thus brought about the abolition of slavery. Yet the ignorant and stupid will still ask, “What have Garrison, Gerrit Smith and others done for the colored people?” They see the colored man free; they see him riding on railways and steamboats, where they were never allowed to ride before; they see him going to school and crowding his way into the high places of the land, which twenty years ago would have been thought impossible to him, but they do not see by whose intelligence, courage and heroic endeavor these results have been accomplished. They are neutral from ignorance and stupidity. They have no part or lot in the work of reform, except to share its fruits. Besides this stupid class, there is another, which may be called intermediates. They stand between the two extremes; men who compliment themselves for their moderation, because they are neither hot nor cold; men who sometimes help a good cause a little in order to hinder it a good deal. They are, however, of little account in the conflict with evil. They are mere drift wood; what sailors call dead water. They follow in the wake of their respective forces, being themselves destitute of motive power. It is the extreme men on either side who constitute the real forces. All others move as they are moved upon. By their timidity and dead weight, they do much to retard a good cause; but when the conflict is over and the victory won, they are usually found at the front, shouting more loudly than any of those who shared in the conflict. It is ever the first step in any great cause that costs, and the fate of pioneers is to suffer reproach and persecution.

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“Then to side with Truth is noble, When we share her wretched crust, Ere her cause bring fame or profit, And ‘tis prosperous to be just; Then it is the brave man chooses, While the coward stands aside, Doubting in his abject spirit, Till his Lord is crucified; And the multitude make virtue Of the faith they had denied. For Humanity sweeps onward; Where to-day the martyr stands, On the morrow crouches Judas, With the silver in his hands; Far in front the cross stands ready And the crackling fagots burn, While the hooting mob of yesterday, With silent awe return To glean up the scattered ashes Into History’s golden urn.” 51

51. The eleventh and fourteenth stanzas of James Russell Lowell’s “The Present Crisis.” Writings of James Russell Lowell, 7:182, 183.

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“I Am a Radical Woman Suffrage Man” An Address Delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, 28 May 1888 Boston Woman’s Journal, 2 June 1888. A longtime supporter of women’s rights and specifically woman suffrage, Frederick Douglass was invited to address the annual convention of the New England Woman Suffrage Association in Boston. By the late 1880s, tensions had abated somewhat between women’s rights activists and supporters of African American male suffrage regarding the exclusion of women from the Fifteenth Amendment. Lucy Stone, president of the association, introduced Douglass and outlined the main injustices the group sought to redress: a wife’s inability to hold a husband to his contract with her, a wife’s inability to stay in her house if her husband had mortgaged it and died, a woman’s inability to have a jury of her peers, a woman’s inability to have a say in the formation of laws, and “the crowning injustice,—the disfranchisement of women.”1 Among those on the platform were Susan B. Anthony, Henry Blackwell, Thomas W. Higginson, and William Lloyd Garrison, all old allies in the antislavery movement. Douglass recently had returned from his honeymoon in Europe and North Africa with his second wife, Helen, and because of his encounters with religious repression there, he sought to place woman suffrage in an international context. He focused much of his criticism on the Methodist Episcopal Church and its decision in early May 1888 not to seat female delegates at its general conference. He compared American Methodist churches to Egyptian mosques that, he claimed, were committed to the “social and religious annihilation of woman.” 1. “Address of Lucy Stone,” Boston Woman’s Journal, 2 June 1888.

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This speech returns to some of the same phrasing and logic as earlier ones. Like his 1868 “Let the Negro Alone,” Douglass challenges speakers opposed to women’s rights to “give her fair play and let her alone.” He argues that woman suffrage is a natural right and cannot be given or withheld by men. Douglass then entertains a theory he does not accept—that voting is a privilege and not a right— and explores the poor logic that extends the privilege of voting to brothers in a family but not sisters. He argues that nature endowed men better in only one respect, physical power, and that this is not relevant to the comprehension of vital public issues. Moreover, he argues, that to make this the sole criteria to justify women’s exclusion from voting concedes that “might makes right.” Douglass’s opening speech “received prolonged applause, to which he responded, through the president, by saying that later on in the evening he would tell a story.”2 Douglass, who stayed in Boston for the entire week, was prevailed on to speak extemporaneously on many occasions.3 Historians including Philip Foner, Ellen DuBois, and Paula Giddings have noted Douglass’s prominent role in the women’s rights movement from its inception in the United States until his death. Gary Lemons, in his study of W. E. B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass, notes that Douglass’s close ties with the early white feminists and antislavery activists Anthony, Stanton, and Stone made him especially aware of the legal and educational issues facing white women. He “mastered the form” of American democratic rhetoric on behalf of both African Americans and women.4

M

adam President,5 Ladies and Gentlemen: While I esteem it an honor to stand on this New England woman suffrage platform, I do not feel that I have a right to the prominence you have been pleased to

2. “Address of Frederick Douglass,” Boston Woman’s Journal, 2 June 1888. 3. “Address of Mr. Douglass,” Boston Woman’s Journal, 9 June 1888. 4. Gary Lemons, “A New Response to ‘Angry Black (Anti)feminists’: Reclaiming Feminist Forefathers, Becoming Womanist Sons,” in Men Doing Feminism, ed. Tom Digby (New York: Routledge, 1998). 5. Lucy Stone (1818–93) graduated from Oberlin College in 1847 and began publicly lecturing on behalf of women’s rights and abolitionism. In the 1860s, Stone

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give me in your proceedings by calling upon me at this time. It is, perhaps, about time that I should decline to be a speaker on occasions like the present. Having survived the anti-slavery conflict, and lived to rejoice in the victory over slavery, and being no longer as young as I once was, I am a little too late for efficiency and prominence in the great cause you have in hand. My special mission in the world, if I ever had any, was the emancipation and enfranchisement of the negro. Your mission is the emancipation and enfranchisement of woman. Mine was a great cause. Yours is a much greater cause, since it comprehends the liberation and elevation of one-half of the whole human family. Happily, however, I have two good reasons for coming upon this platform to-night. The first is, I live near the city of Washington;6 not a very strong reason, perhaps, but I come to you from an atmosphere largely pervaded with the woman suffrage sentiment, and am so much in sympathy with it, that it is more difficult to be silent than to speak in its favor. In the second place, this cause has a valid claim upon my “service and labor,” outside of its merits. The New England Woman Suffrage Association is composed in part of the noble women who dared to speak for the freedom of the slave, at a time when it required far more courage to do so than is required to speak in the woman suffrage cause at this day. I have said I reside near Washington, the capital of the nation. Let me say a word about that city in connection with this and kindred reforms. Its behavior of late has been worthy of praise. In the old times, prior to the war and the abolition of slavery, there was no room in it for woman suffrage or negro suffrage or for many other good things. It shuddered at the thought of a new idea—slavery, the slave-trade, slave auctions, horse-racing, duels, and revivals of religion were the popular excitements in the Washington of that day.

was one of the founders of the New England Woman Rights Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1870, she raised money for the founding of the Woman’s Journal, and in 1872 she and her husband became its coeditors. 6. After originally residing in a Capitol Hill townhouse on A Street, Douglass purchased his final home, Cedar Hill, in 1878. It was located on fifteen acres in the District of Columbia’s outlying Anacostia neighborhood.

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But now old Washington has passed away, and a new Washington has come into existence. Under our much-abused Gov. Sheppard,7 its physical features have been visibly improved, and under the influence of Northern ideas, its moral features have equally improved. The time is not distant, I hope, when it will symbolize all that is good, great, glorious and free, and much of the glory of that result will be due to the efforts of women. It will next year be the theatre of a grand international exposition. Its attractive power is destined to increase with every year, and Boston itself as a reformatory centre may begin to look to its laurels.8 Boston was once known as the hot-bed of abolitionism. Washington, if it keeps well on its way, will soon become the hot-bed of woman suffrage. One of the most imposing demonstrations in favor of the rights and dignity of woman was held there only a few weeks ago. You may have heard something of this before. Women from the East, women from the West, women from the North, and women from the South; women from home and women from abroad, met there in International Council,9 and united in a solemn demand for a larger measure of liberty, and a fuller participation in the government of the world, than has ever yet been accorded to woman. No assemblage, to my knowledge, can be pointed to in the history of this republic, which ever presented a more sublime spectacle than did this International Council. Its presence was an argument in favor of its cause. Its refinement, earnestness, ability and dignity repelled criticism and overcame opposition. In the hope and enthusiasms it inspired, some of us were made to think, or rather to feel, that the year of woman’s jubilee had already dawned.

7. Alexander Robey Shepherd. 8. No such exposition was held in Washington, D.C., in 1889, the year that Paris hosted the Exposition Universelle at which the Eiffel Tower debuted. 9. The International Council of Women met at Albaugh’s Grand Opera House in Washington, D.C., between 25 March and 1 April 1888.

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But this Council has adjourned, and although its beneficent influence will continue to be felt far and wide over the world, we are still confronted with the same old conflict, and must fight it out on the line of agitation though it shall take a century. There is still a delinquent, tardy, and reluctant Massachusetts to be converted,10 there is still a mass of bigotry and superstition to overcome. There is still a Methodist Episcopal Conference confronting us and barring the way to woman’s progress, as it once barred the way to emancipation.11 There is still a great nation to be brought to a knowledge of the truth. We are not to be appalled by the magnitude of the work, or discouraged by this or any form of opposition. We old abolitionists never allowed ourselves to be dismayed by repulses, however grievous. Those engaged in this cause are of the self-same material. In some respects this woman suffrage movement is but a continuance of the old anti-slavery movement. We have the same sources of opposition to contend with, and we must meet them with the same spirit and determination, and with much the same arguments which we employed against what Charles Sumner called the “seven-headed barbarism of slavery.”12 In reform, as in war, it is always a point gained to know just where the enemy is, and just what he is about. It is not easy to deal with an enemy in the dark. It was a great thing for the abolition cause, fifty 10. As late as 1915, a popular referendum in Massachusetts to extend voting rights to women was defeated by a margin of 64.5 percent to 35.5 percent. Women could not vote in that state until ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. 11. The position of women in the Methodist Episcopal Church was not formally defined before the General Conference of 1880. At that meeting, the all-male delegates ruled that women could not become ordained ministers or local preachers, and not until 1906 were women accepted as delegates. 12. Douglass probably alludes to the arguments of Sumner’s “The Barbarism of Slavery” address, delivered in the U.S. Senate on 4 June 1860. In this carefully reasoned speech, Sumner analyzed the barbarism of slavery under a number of “heads,” and at one point denounced slavery as “barbarous in origin, barbarous in law, barbarous in all its pretensions, barbarous in the instruments it employs, barbarous in consequences, barbarous in spirit, barbarous wherever it shows itself.” Charles Sumner: His Complete Works. With Introd. by George Frisbie Hoar, 20 vols. (1900; New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969), 6:119–237.

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years ago, when the Methodist Episcopal Conference at Cincinnati declared itself opposed to abolitionism, and that it had no right, wish, or intention to abolish slavery.13 It is now equally something to know that this same great organization takes its stand against the movement for the equal rights of woman in its ecclesiastical assemblies. That older conference was not able, by its opposition to abolitionism, to save slavery, nor will this later conference be able to continue the degradation of woman, by denying her a voice and a vote in its councils. The Methodist Church is rich in resources, but it cannot well afford to enforce this Mahometan idea of woman upon American women—an idea in which woman has no recognized moral, social, or religious existence. In the mosques of the East, her presence among the faithful is held a defilement.14 She is deemed incapable of self-direction—a body without a soul. No more distressing thing confronted us during our recent tour in Egypt than this social and religious annihilation of woman.15 Religion there strikes woman dead. Her face is not to be seen; her voice is not to be heard; her moral influence is not to be exerted. She is cushioned, cabined, confined and guarded, and treated more like a criminal than like an innocent person. She sees the world only through a veil, or from behind a lattice-work. She is constantly under the surveillance of a sentinel, wearing the human form, but destitute of all manly sympathy. This Methodist attempt to exclude woman from the conference of the church, has in it a strong element of this Mahometan idea of the proper sphere and treatment of woman. Whatever may be said of the pious Mahometan, men and women here will ask, and demand to know, what harm could possibly come to the Methodist Church and its ministers, from the presence of a 13. Douglass refers to the position taken by the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Conference at its meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 13 May 1836. 14. No prohibition against the admission of women to mosques exists in the Qur’an. 15. The Douglasses toured Egypt from 15 February to 16 March 1887.

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few or many Christian women in its conference? The sexes meet together in prayer-meeting, in class-meeting, in “love feast,” and in the great congregations of the church. Why should these gospel preachers, who mingle everywhere else in the church with women, be afraid to meet women in their conferences? What work have they to do there which women should not know? I will press this question no further, but I call upon the Methodist Church to assist us in separating woman’s condition in America as far apart from her condition in Egypt as the east is from the west. We have heard a great deal of late as to what Christianity has done for woman. We have a right to call upon these Christian ministers to show that what has been done, has not been done in spite of the church, but in accordance with its teachings. One thing is certain, when the chains of woman shall be broken, when she shall become the recognized equal of man, and is put into the full enjoyment of all the rights of an American citizen, as she will be, the church and ministry will be among the first to claim the honor of the victory, and to say, “We did it!” It is hardly necessary for me to say, after what I have already said, that I am a radical woman suffrage man. I was such a man nearly fifty years ago. I had hardly brushed the dust of slavery from my feet and stepped upon the free soil of Massachusetts, when I took the suffrage side of this question. Time, thought and experience have only increased the strength of my conviction. I believe equally in its justice, in its wisdom, and in its necessity. But, as I understand the matter, woman does not ask man for the right of suffrage. That is something which man has no power to give. Rights do not have their source in the will or the grace of man. They are not such things as he can grant or withhold according to his sovereign will and pleasure. All that woman can properly ask man to do in this case, and all that man can do, is to get out of the way, to take his obstructive forces of fines and imprisonment and his obstructive usages out of the way, and let woman express her sentiments at the polls and in the government, equally with himself. Give her fair play and let her alone.

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But we are told that suffrage is not a right, that it is neither a right for man nor for woman, but that it is simply a privilege. I do not know when or by whom this startling discovery was made, but it is evidently deemed very important and highly satisfactory by the opponents of woman suffrage. Well, for argument’s sake, let it be conceded that suffrage is not a natural right, but that it is simply a privilege, something that is created and exists only by conventional arrangement; something that can be granted or withheld at the option of those who make it a privilege. I say let all this be conceded, which I do not concede. Several important questions must be answered by those who support this pretension, before the friends of woman suffrage can be silenced or be made to accept it as final. In the first place we have a right to know by what authority, human or divine, suffrage was made a privilege and not a right; we have a right to know when, where, how, and in the light of what doctrine of human liberty, suffrage was made a privilege and not a right. We have a right to know if such an arrangement could be properly created without the cooperation of woman herself. We have a right to know if men, acting alone, have a right to decide what is right and what is privilege where their action in the case is to determine the position of woman. We have a right to know, if suffrage is simply a privilege, by what right the exercising of that privilege is conferred only upon men. If it is a privilege, we have the right to know why woman is excluded. If it is a privilege, we have the right to know why woman is not as fully, fairly entitled to exercise that privilege as man himself. After all, we see that nothing has been gained by the opponents of woman suffrage, by sheltering themselves behind this assumption that suffrage is a privilege and not a right. The argument is an old one, and has been answered a thousand times, and will, perhaps, have to be answered a thousand times more, before woman suffrage shall be the law of the land.

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I suppose we must do here, as was done in the case of anti-slavery agitation, give line upon line and precept upon precept, as we had to do forty years ago. Woman’s claim to the right of equal participation in government with man, has its foundation in the nature and personality of woman and in the admitted doctrine of American liberty and in the authority and structure of our Republican government. When the rich man wanted some one sent from the dead to warn his brothers against coming where he was, he was told that if they heard not Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.16 Now our Moses and our prophets, so far as the rights and privileges of American citizens are concerned, are the framers of the Declaration of American Independence. If the American people will not hear these, they will not be persuaded though one rose from dead. According to the Declaration of Independence and to the men who signed that great charter of human liberty, all rightful powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed. No man has yet been able to state when, where and how woman has ever given her consent to be deprived of all participation in the government under which she lives, or why women should be excepted from the principles of the American Declaration of Independence. We are told that man derived his authority thus to disenfranchise woman from Nature; well, we should all have great respect for Nature. We cannot too often listen to her voice and learn the lessons she teaches. She is the great storehouse of knowledge, wisdom and truth. It was here that Hooker learned that beautiful sentiment that law has her seat in the bosom of God and her voice is the harmony of the universe.17 I think the friends of woman suffrage

16. Luke 16:19–31. 17. Douglass quotes from Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594–97), by the English theologian Richard Hooker (1554–1600).

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have no reason to refuse to have the question of their rights tried in this august court we call Nature. Let us begin then with Nature in the family. This is the startingpoint of life, the natural staring-point of organized society and of the State. Here are a son and a daughter in the same household. They have nursed at the same breast in their infancy; they have been supplied from the same board; they have talked, sung, prayed, and played together on equal terms in their youth; they have grown to manhood and womanhood together; in a word, they have been equal members of the same family together all their young lives, with substantially the same rights and privileges in the common family; they have received the same moral and intellectual training, and have enjoyed the same freedom of thought and expression around the family board—the right to ask and to answer questions. They are equal in moral and intellectual endowments, or if not so equal, the one is as likely to be superior as the other, the daughter as the son, the sister as the brother. Now the question to be answered at this point is just this: At what time and under what conditions does nature step in to change the relations of these two people and make the son and brother the ruler of this daughter and sister? When does Nature say that he shall elect law-makers, and make laws, institute governments, define for her the metes and bounds18 of her liberty, and that she, a rational creature like himself, shall have no voice or vote in determining any question concerning the government under which she, equally with him, is to live? They were equal in the cradle, equal in the family, equal in childhood, equal in youth, equal at maturity, equal in the right to life, to liberty, and in the pursuit of happiness. I demand to know, then, what fiat of nature, what moral earthquake from below, or what thunder-bolt from above, has driven these two people asunder—raised one to the 18. A method of describing the boundaries of land or real estate used in England and the American colonies.

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sky and struck the other to earth—one to freedom and the other to slavery. The only answer that Nature is alleged to give here in opposition to woman, is one which no just and generous man can or should accept, for it bases a moral and intellectual conclusion—one which excludes woman from all freedom of choice in the affairs of government—upon a purely physical fact. The logic is that man is physically stronger than woman, and that he has the right to make her a subject of his will; that since she cannot shoulder a musket and fight, she shall not select a ballot and vote—that though she may have the ability to think, she shall not have the right to express her thought and give effect to her thought by her vote. There is no getting away from the conclusion here other than that the essence of this anti-woman suffrage doctrine is that might makes right. It is the right of the usurper, the slave-holder, the tyrant, the robber and pirate—a right which better befits wild beasts than reasoning men and women—a right which no woman ought to admit and no man should claim. The only thing that saves it from execration is the fact that men are too humane and too civilized to make their practice conform to the full measure of their theory. They deny rights, but admit influence. She may not vote herself, they say, but she may influence a man who does vote, and it is precisely this which constitutes the vice of this relation, for it gives influence and excludes responsibility. A sense of responsibility is an essential element in all our exertions and relations. We need it; woman needs it, not less than man, to work out the best results of her conduct. Divest woman of power and you divest her of a sense of responsibility and duty— two of the essential attributes of all useful exertion and existence. In tracing the moral and intellectual progress of mankind from barbarism to civilization, we see that any and every advance, however simple and reasonable, has been sternly resisted. It appears that the more simple the proposition of reform, the more stern and passionate has been the resistance. Victory has always been found, when found at all, on the other side of the battle field.

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The proposition underlining the anti-slavery movement was one of the plainest that ever dropped from the lips of man. It was so simple and self-evident that argument seemed a waste of breath, and appeal an insult to the understanding, and yet this simple proposition held within itself an explosive force more powerful than dynamite—a force which divided and drove asunder the nation, rent it in twain at the centre, and filled the land with hostile armies. The fundamental proposition of anti-slavery was simply this: Every man is himself, or in other words, is his self, or, which is the same thing, every man is the rightful owner of himself. Nothing could be plainer than this, yet press and pulpit, church and State, saint and sinner, North and South, denounced the proposition as full of mischief and one to be put down at all hazards. Man’s right to his religious faith, to believe what he could not do otherwise than believe, shared the same fate and filled Europe with nearly a century of war. With these and other and similar examples before us we are not to think it strange that the proposition to enfranchise woman, to clothe her with all the rights and dignity of American citizenship, meets with resistance. The fundamental proposition of the woman suffrage movement is scarcely less simple than that of the anti-slavery movement. It assumes that woman is herself. That she belongs to herself, just as fully as man belongs to himself—that she is a person and has all the attributes of personality that can be claimed by man, and that her rights of person are equal in all respects to those of man. She has the same number of senses that distinguish man, and is like man a subject of human government, capable of understanding, obeying and being affected by law. That she is capable of forming an intelligent judgment as to the character of public men and public measures, and she may exercise her right of choice in respect both to the law and the lawmakers. Than all this nothing could be more simple or more reasonable. The generation that has come on the stage since the war can hardly now realize, in view of the fundamental principles of Ameri-

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can government, that slavery ever existed here, that the pulpit and press, that the church and the State ever defended it. So, when this battle for woman suffrage shall have been fought and the victory won, men will marvel at the injustice and stupidity which so long deprived American women of the ballot. Let me say in conclusion, if human nature is totally depraved, if men and women are incapable of thinking or doing anything but evil and that continually, if the character of this government will inevitably be the expression of this universal and innate depravity—then the less men and women have to do with government the better. We should abandon our Republican government, cease to elect men to office, and place ourselves squarely under the Czar of Russia, the Pope of Rome, or some other potentate who governs by divine right. But if, on the contrary, human nature is more virtuous than vicious, as I believe it is, if governments are best supported by the largest measure of virtue within their reach, if women are equally virtuous with men, if the whole is greater than a part, if the sense and sum of human goodness in man and woman combined is greater than in that of either alone and separate, then the government that excludes women from all participation in its creation, administration and perpetuation, maims itself, deprives itself of one-half of all that is wisest and best for its usefulness, success and perfection.

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“Self-Made Men” An Address Delivered in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, March 1893 Self-Made Men: Address before the Students of the Indian Industrial School, Carlisle, Pa., by Honorable Frederick Douglass (Carlisle, Pa.: Indian Print, [1893]).

In March 1893, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School invited Frederick Douglass to address its students. The Carlisle Indian Printers later published Douglass’s address, which included a preface noting that Douglass was “surprised, gratified, and astonished” by the “order and aptitude” of the students’ drill and by the “sweet sounds” of their choir. Moreover, “he had himself been known as a negro, but for then and there, he wished to be known as an Indian.”1 In fact, there is substantial evidence that Douglass’s grandmother, Betsey Bailey, was descended from Indians.2 Douglass’s heritage allowed him to play with his multiracial identity in speeches as a means of provoking audiences to question notions of fixed racial categories. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was modeled after Virginia’s Hampton Institute, which recruited black and Indian students. Both institutions sought to help students assimilate into American culture by teaching them English and training them in wage-paying occupations. “Self-Made Men,” a lecture Douglass delivered over fifty times between 1859 and his death, matched the school’s ethos well.3 Doug1. Self-Made Men, 1. 2. Dickson J. Preston, Young Frederick Douglass: The Maryland Years (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 9. 3. Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 5:545.

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lass minimizes the importance of good fortune or native intelligence and instead argues that hard work is the key factor in creating leaders. Each time he gave the speech, Douglass adapted it by adding contemporary references. When he spoke in Carlisle, he quoted the twenty-year-old black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who published his first book of poetry, Oak and Ivy, in 1893, a testament to Douglass’s concern for nurturing the careers of young African Americans. In the speech, Douglass fails to directly address popular prejudices concerning Indians’ intelligence and culture as barriers to their successful assimilation. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School worked hard to counteract the “savage Indian” image promoted by much of American culture, and especially by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody in his Wild West shows.4 In an attempt to foster a more modern image, Richard Henry Pratt (the school’s founder and long-serving superintendent) and other teachers at Carlisle organized a “battalion” of boys to march at the World’s Columbian Exposition, a world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893. The boys carried books, agricultural implements, and other tools under the banner “into Civilization and Citizenship.”5 Buffalo Bill Cody, nonetheless, set up just outside the fair and enjoyed excellent attendance.6 Douglass concludes his lecture by arguing that the negative portrayals of African American music and speech in minstrel shows “have, in many cases, led the negro to the study of music” and “to the study of Greek orators and orations.” He suggests that Indians, too, should turn the dominant culture’s stereotypes into a positive provocation for self-improvement. As in “Let the Negro Alone” and other speeches, Douglass emphasizes the need to “give the negro fair play” as a counterbalance to any suggestion that the success of oppressed minorities is entirely within their control and ought not to be given institutional support.

4. Quoted in Reid Badger, The Great American Fair: The World’s Columbian Exposition and American Culture (Chicago: Nelson Hall, 1979), 105. 5. Richard Henry Pratt, Battlefield and Classroom: Four Decades with the American Indian, 1867–1904 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1964), 294–95. 6. Robert W. Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876–1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 57. See also Badger, Great American Fair, 105.

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While Douglass encourages Carlisle’s Indian students to work and persevere to become “self-made men,” he also urges the “American people” to give African Americans fair play by establishing schools and churches throughout the South and, by implication, to support Carlisle’s educational mission for Indians.

T

he subject announced for this evening’s