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Frederick Douglass to Wendell Phillips, February 10, 1844


FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WENDELL PHILLIPS1Born and raised in Boston and educated at Harvard, Wendell Phillips (1811–84) was one of the most prominent advocates of reform in the nineteenth century. In 1837 the young Phillips distinguished himself by denouncing the murder of the abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy. Active in the American Anti-Slavery Society, Phillips tended to support, but did not completely adhere to, William Lloyd Garrison’s brand of nonpolitical, disunionist abolitionism. For example, as a delegate to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840, Phillips agreed with Garrison that women delegates should be seated, but disagreed with him on nonresistance to slavery. Following the Civil War, Phillips became devoted to a number of reforms, including prohibition, penal reform, concessions to Native Americans, woman suffrage, and the labor movement. Irving H. Bartlett, Wendell Phillips: Brahmin Radical (Boston, 1961); Oscar Sherwin, Prophet of Liberty: The Life and Times of Wendell Phillips (New York, 1958); James Brewer Stewart, Wendell Phillips: Liberty’s Hero (Baton Rouge, La., 1986); DAB, 24:546–47.

Lynn, [Mass.] 10 Feb[ruary] 1844.


In consequence of being absent from home during the past week,2During the preceding week, Douglass was in Boston, where he participated in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s annual meeting in Faneuil Hall on 24 January 1844. Lib., 2 February 1844; Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Annual Report (1844), 27–30. I did not get your letter of Feb. 4eth3Phillips's 4 February 1844 letter to Douglass has not been located. requesting me to engage in the truly noble movment of holding one hundred AntiSlavery Conventions in this state,4Modeled on the similar effort in New England the previous year, the second One Hundred Conventions bolstered the abolitionist movement in the western states. Supporters hoped that the six-month campaign spanning western New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana would, in the words of one participant, "be able to impress hundreds of thousands of hearts with the necessity, that they should make the cause of freedom their own, if they would save their country and their posterity from ruins." The speakers, who included Douglass, John A. Collins, Charles Lenox Remond, Jacob Ferris, James Monroe, George Bradburn, William A. White, and Sydney H. Gay, were to deliver speeches across the region either individually or in pairs and then reunite occasionally in a mass meeting. Although the campaign fell short of its goal of one hundred western conventions and Douglass was severely beaten in Pendleton, Indiana, meetings were generally well attended, and the tour succeeded in raising antislavery sentiment in the western states. NASS, 22 June 1843. till late yesterday Evening.

There are two points in your letter, of which I wish to say a word, before I can answer your inquiry—(will you g-o) in the affirmative, the first relates to the principle upon which compensation is to be rendered to agents. I think the sum to be paid should be deffinate. If I am to have 7—or 8 Doll[ar]s per week I should have that and no more. If 7 Doll[ar]s ia sufficiant for an agent,—more is superfluous—and aught not to be given. For the Board to insure 7 Doll[ar]s per week—and make a provission by which that sum may be increased to 12 Doll[ar]s is (however unintentional) in my opinion to give the character of the movment a sort of mercinary coloring. Our A. S. S. Friends—should be made acquanted with just what it will take to sustain, us—and should be—made to feel that they are to give that and no more The least element of speculation, should be—kept out of the dealings of abolitionists—so far as their enterprize concerned. Your determination to strictly adhere to the principle of equality in compensating agents is good. I would not consent to work side by side with a Br. agent paying the same for the necesisaries [of] life—laboring as hard as myself and yet for his labor getting less than myself. Nor could I on the other hand be satisfied—with a reversed arrangement by which I should have less than an equal fellow laborer.

The principle you have here laid down and mean to carry out will secure harmony and good feeling amonghst the agents, and prevent the jelousis, that might exist were a different policy pursued.5Abolitionist societies paid their lecturers in a variety of ways. Supporters usually supplied room and board to itinerant speakers, but salaries could range from $300 to $600 per year, depending upon the wealth of the society and the popularity of the speaker. In 1842 Douglass received a total of $300.36 for his services as an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In 1844 the society paid Douglass $142 for his “services in attending conventions” during the One Hundred Conventions, the highest salary of the lecturers employed by the society for that year. Very poor societies often were unable to set aside a salary for lecturers, who were then paid from the proceeds of the tour. In any case, lecturers made very little money to support themselves and their families, a sensitive issue for Douglass at this point in his career. Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Annual Report (1844), 27–30; idem, Thirteenth Annual Report: Presented to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (Boston, 1845), 67; Benjamin Quarles, “Sources of Abolitionist Income,” MVHR, 32:63–76 (June 1945). The second point of which I wish to say a word, relates to that part of your letter which says we expect due prominence to be given to the subject of liberty party.6The Liberty party was organized on 1 April 1840 in Albany, New York. The central principle of this party was the abolition of slavery. Specific proposals included abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, ending Jim Crow practices, and opposing the colonization movement. Whereas prominent antislavery figures such as Myron Holley, Gerrit Smith, Joshua Leavitt, and William Goodell all supported the creation of a political party dedicated to antislavery principles, other abolitionists, most notably William Lloyd Garrison and his followers, disapproved of the move to political action. Garrisonians argued that a separate party would divide rather than unite abolitionists, and that the meager votes attracted by such a specialised platform might undermine the moral strength of the cause, thus marginalizing it even more. Garrison and his followers also contended that the Liberty party would be influenced by the castoffs and opportunists of the major parties, further eroding the moral nature of the antislavery movement. Drawing a large portion of its support from New York, the Liberty party persevered. The party reached its apex in 1844, when its presidential candidate, James G. Birney, garnered 62,197 ballots, or 2.3 percent of the total popular vote. By the next presidential election, however, most Liberty party members had moved to the newly formed Free Soil party. A small faction led by Gerrit Smith retained much of the Liberty party’s platform under the name of the Radical Abolitionist party. Richard H. Sewell, Ballots for Freedom: Anti-Slavery Politics in the United States, 1837–1860 (New York, 1976), 43–47, 152–69, 285–87; Alan M. Kraut, “The Forgotten Reformers: A Profile of Third Party Abolitionists in Antebellum New York,” in Antislavery Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Abolitionists, ed. Lewis Perry and Michael Fellman (Baton Rouge, La., 1979), 119–45. Now if by this it is meant that we are to make the liberty party as such a special object of attack, candor compels me to confess I am not a suitable person to be engaged in your service in carrying on the one hundred conventions. But if it means that I must as freely and faithfully expose the corruption of the old party and it leaders—was I would expose the same in ether of the great political parties,—I most heartily agree with yourself and the committee. I addopt the sentiment expressed so eloquently by yourself—at the


meeting of the american society. 'That we must carry our cause over the constitution of the United States, as well as over the heads of the political partiese.'7Both Douglass and Phillips attended the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society held in New York City’s Apollo Hall on 9 May 1843. Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Annual Report (1844), 27–30.

With all else in your letter I most fully agree, and will gladly serve the cause, under your direction. If it shall be your pleasure to employ me.

I have a few engagements to meet, in N.H. which will take on week,8The Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society booked Douglass to speak on 3 November 1844 for one in a series of lectures to be held at Mechanics’ Hall. The next day, the Essex County Anti–Slavery Society held its quarterly meeting in Marblehead at which Douglass was also scheduled to speak. Lib., 1 November 1844. after this I shall be at your service.

Yours Respectfully,


P.S. Please write at Bradford N.H. at your earliest opportunity.

Yours &c.


ALS: Wendell Phillips Papers, MH-H. PLSr: Irving H. Bartlett, Wendell and Ann Phillips (New York, 1979), 117–18.



Sudbury, [Mass.] 6 March 1844.

In the absence of some one better qualified for the task, I take it upon me to inform you as to the character of the Conventions held since we parted at Lowell—the first of which was held at Groton, Feb. 24th.1 Your are doubtless aware, that this place has, in by-gone days, been considered quite famous for its anti-slavery character, as well as for its inflexible opposition to sectarian and clerical domination. It was in this place that Rev. Silas


February 10, 1844


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