Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, October 27, 1844
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON
Lynn, [Mass.] 27 Oct[ober] 1844.
You are aware that I have ever felt little disposition to say or do any thing in opposition to what is called the Liberty party. I have frequently deprecated, in public and in private, the continued controversy between Old Organization and Liberty party,1After the American Anti-Slavery Society selected a woman as an officer in May 1840, some members quit in protest and founded the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Afterward abolitionists often referred to the American Anti-Slavery Society and the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society as the “Old Organization” and “New Organization,” respectively. By the time of this letter, the American Anti-Slavery Society had relocated its executive committee from New York to Boston. The prominent role played by William Lloyd Garrison in the Old Organization caused both friends and foes to identify the group as “Garrisonians.” While some difference of opinion existed among Garrisonians, most clung to the original abolitionist commitment to moral suasion to end slavery and eschewed political action or the use of violence, even in self-defense. The Garrisonians also welcomed women as equal participants in all their activities. The American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, based in New York City, focused on antislavery agitation inside both religious and political circles and did not allow women to hold elected leadership posts in their organization. McKivigan, War against Proslavery Religion, 56–84; Mayer, All on Fire, 261–84. My policy in regard to that party has been, to let it alone—if it could live, let it; if it would die, let us have as little to say or do about it as possible. My argument in support of this policy was this: The real, and only-to-be-relied-on movement for the abolition of slavery in this country, and throughout the world, is a great moral and religious movement. The work of which is, the enlightenment of the public mind, the quickening and enlightening of the dead conscience of the nation into life, and to a sense of the gross injustice, fraud, wrong and inhumanity of enslaving their fellow-men,—the fixing in the soul of the nation an invincible abhorrence of the whole system of slaveholding; and begetting in it a firm and inﬂexible determination to rid itself of its guiltiness in the matter. My means for the attainment of this deeply-desired and long-prayed-for end, are the simple proclamation of the word of Truth, written and spoken in the love of it, and in faith believing that the God of truth will give it success. Most firmly believing this, I have heretofore given myself to preaching the truth, as opposed to slavery; saying very little about Liberty party, as such, maintaining the ground, that whilst Liberty party did not directly attempt to crush our moral and religious agitation, and attended to its party machinery alone, we had other and better uses for our time and strength, than expending them upon and against that party; but always holding myself ready to defend the true anti-slavery platform, when attacked by Liberty party, or by any other party. Notwithstanding this has been and still is my position, and one which I have ever acted upon, and hope never to abandon, I have reason to believe that I have been and now am misapprehended by some of the opponents as well as the friends of the Liberty party. As evidence that some of the Liberty party have mistaken me, I will state, that it is but a few minutes since I received a visit from Mr. Milton Clark,2Milton Clarke (c. 1817–1901), a musician and antislavery activist, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, to Daniel Clarke, a Scotsman, and an enslaved woman, Letty Clarke, the property of Samuel Campbell. Following Campbell’s death, his daughter, Judith, and her brutal husband, Joseph Logan, a tanner, inherited six-year old Clarke, his mother, and two of his ten siblings. Clarke’s life improved when Logan’s father, Deacon Archibald Logan, purchased his son’s estate. Clarke became a manservant, entrusted with various domestic responsibilities. Deacon Logan also allowed Clarke, an accomplished drummer and bugler, to hire out his own time on steamboats traveling the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Later, in Louisville, Clarke and three slave acquaintances ran away to Ohio. He settled in Oberlin, where he gained fame for assisting fugitives and thwarting pursuing owners. In 1842 or 1843, Deacon Logan learned of Clarke’s whereabouts and sent an agent to retrieve him. Fierce community opposition to his removal and various legal impediments prevented the agent from returning Clarke to Logan. Once released from his captors, Clarke moved farther north, lectured extensively with his brother Lewis in the antislavery circuit, and narrated his dramatic autobiography in 1845. Details of his later life remain sketchy. Lewis Clarke and Milton Clarke, Narratives of the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke (Boston, 1846); Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 3:27–28, 30, 396n; Jean Vacheenas and Betty Volk, “Born in Bondage: History of a Slave Family,” NHB, 36:101–06 (May 1973). a Liberty party lecturer, whose express purpose was to secure my services, to fill a number of appointments of his, now advertised in the Emancipator.3In 1834 the American Anti-Slavery Society launched the Emancipator as its ofﬁcial newspaper. Underwritten by the wealthy New York abolitionist Lewis Tappan, the Emancipator reﬂected the views of the clerically oriented abolitionists surrounding him. The Emancipator became a pawn during the 1840 divisions within the American Anti-Slavery Society. The society’s executive committee, which was dominated by John Jay and other anti-Garrisonians, took control of the newspaper. The New York City Young Men’s Anti-Slavery Society purchased the Emancipator and appointed Joshua Leavitt, a colleague of Lewis Tappan, as editor. Not surprisingly, Garrison’s Liberator and the National Anti-Slavery Standard, the new voice of the American Anti-Slavery Society, aggressively attacked Jay, Tappan, Leavitt, and others for seizing control of the Emancipator. NASS, 26 September, 3 October 1844; Hugh Davis, Joshua Leavitt: Evangelical Abolitionist (Baton Rouge, La., 1990), 132–33, 157–62; Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 2:162–69, 342–45, 359–60. I was taken all aback by this proposition. I began to cast about me to know what I had done, or left undone, that could afford ground for the slightest suspicion that I might be induced to take upon me such an office.
It was with great difficulty that Milton convinced me of the sincerity of his purpose. It struck me as a mere joke. I however soon found it was no joke. He was in earnest. He meant what he said. He did wish to engage me for that service. He came for that purpose, and if there is any thing to be learned from tone, manner, gesture, &c. he did expect me to comply with his request. It is probably needless to add, that my answers to Mr. Clark were of such a character as to render it almost morally certain that I shall never be again troubled with another such proposition from him. I have, however, nothing against Mr. Clark, and shall ever be glad to welcome him to my house and fireside. But whilst I have nothing but the most kindly feelings, and the deepest sympathy for Milton Clark, as a fellow-sufferer and a brother fugitive from the accursed prison-house of southern slavery; I have nothing but feelings of deep disgust and indignation for those who, I have good reason to believe, are making a mere tool of him for their own selfish political purposes. I cannot think that, of his own accord, and without the counsel of his political friends, he would have ventured such a proposition. I therefore charged it to the account of the clique having him in leading-strings.
But my main and almost only object in writing at this time is, to lay before you some of the sayings and doings of a Liberty party Convention recently held in the town of New-Bedford. Friend Remond and myself were present, and I maintain were shamefully abused, grossly insulted, and infamously gagged, after having been invited to speak. The facts in the case are as follows:—Friend Remond and myself being in New-Bedford on Monday the 21st, after having attended our own Convention; (which, by the way, was an excellent one,) we learned there was to be held a Liberty party Convention, on Tuesday and Wednesday, 22d and 23d.4Douglass and Charles Lenox Remond attended the local Garrisonian and Liberty party conventions in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which occurred on 19–20 October and 22–23 October 1844 respectively. NASS, 7 November 1844; Lib., 15 November 1844. We learned, moreover, that our old and esteemed friend, George Bradburn, would be present, and state his reasons for joining the Liberty party. Wishing very much to hear what they might be, I, with friend Remond, was induced to stay and attend the Convention. It did not, however, convene until evening. It then organized by the appointment of Mr. Gideon Richmond5Gideon Richmond (1791–?), a carpenter, worked for Wilcox and Richmond in New Bedford, Massachusetts. 1840 U.S. Census, Massachusetts, Bristol County, New Bedford, 411; 1850 U.S. Census, Massachusetts, Bristol County, New Bedford, 301; Crapo, New Bedford Directory [for 1845], 136. president, who, after making a prayer, introduced to the audience S. P. Andrews, Esq.6Massachusetts-born Stephen Pearl Andrews (1812–86) practiced law in Texas from 1839 to 1843, when a mob drove him from the state because of his antislavery views. He later settled in New York City, where he taught a shorthand writing system. Andrews attracted notoriety from his propagandizing for an anarchistic utopia that he called “Pantarchy,” which included free love among its practices. Madeleine Stern, The Pantarch: A Biography of Stephen Pearl Andrews (Austin, Tex., 1968); DAB, 1:298–99. of Boston, formerly of Texas. Mr. Andrews proceeded to address the very respectable audience in much the same strain he used in the recent Birney7Son of a wealthy Kentucky slaveowner, James Gillespie Birney (1792–1857) moved to Alabama in 1818. There, he served one term in the state legislature (1816–18). Birney was a leading colonizationist and advocate of gradual emancipation from the mid-1820s to 1834, when he publicly endorsed immediate emancipation and freed his six slaves. He published the antislavery newspaper, the Philanthropist, first in Kentucky and then in Ohio. Birney served as executive secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society in the late 1830s and as the Liberty party’s presidential candidate in 1840 and 1844. Betty Fladeland, James Gillespie Birney: Slaveholder to Abolitionist (New York, 1969); NCAB, 2:312–13; DAB, 2:291–94. meeting held in Boston, giving quite a fair expose of the pro-slavery character of the Whig party, saying but little against the Democratic party. In vindication of this course, he said that the position of the Democratic party
was one of such open, palpable, unsophisticated rascality, as to need no special attention.
Mr. Andrews was listened to with excellent attention. I was much pleased with him, though there was nothing in his matter or manner warm or stirring. At the close of the lecture, the chairman gave notice that Mr. Bradburn would be present at the meeting the next day, and would give his reasons for joining the Liberty party. The convention then adjourned to meet again at 10 o’clock next morning. The convention met according to adjournment, in every thing except the hour, it being 11 o’clock instead of 10 before any signs of a meeting could be seen. This meeting was exceedingly small. The leaders of the meeting seemed very much discouraged. Relying as they do upon numbers for success, they could but feel disheartened, for there was nothing in the shape of members present to cheer them. No one seemed inclined to speak. I believe they did not deem the meeting worthy to be opened with a prayer, though they prayed at the large meeting, when they could be seen and heard by a goodly number. But at this meeting, all was mum, and for a time the dread and horror of an utter failure might be plainly seen upon the anxious brows of the party leaders. It was a sad sight even to myself. At length, the stillness was broken by a pressing invitation by the president and others, to Remond and myself, to speak.8The Liberty party invited Douglass and Charles Lenox Remond to speak on the first day of its convention, 22 October 1844. Originally Douglass and Remond declined, but on the following day, they consented to address the meeting. Lib., 1 November 1844. We did not comply with this invitation, for what seemed to us three very good reasons. First—we had no sympathy with the convention, as such. Second—we knew the convention had no sympathy with us. Third—calling upon us to speak at that time, and under the circumstances, satisfied us, that they merely wished to make tools of us. We were therefore impelled, by a sense of self-respect, as well as a high regard for our noble enterprise, to refuse co-operation with the convention, and let them do their speaking, with their own speakers, in their own way.
About half-past 11 o’clock, the convention was cheered and gladdened by the sudden entrance into the almost empty hall of the very lion of this august occasion, George Bradburn, Esq., called by the Liberty party men, for political effect, the repentant Whig. I confess I shared largely in the emotion of joy apparent in the convention, at the arrival of my friend Bradburn. I had not seen him since he changed his position. I was glad to take him by the hand, and as I did so, looking him in the face, our mutual hardships, trials and conﬂicts, in attending the never-to-be-forgotten One Hundred Anti-Slavery Conventions, held in the western States in 1843, under the auspices of the New-England Convention, came full into view. Glad, however, as I
was to see him, I felt there was a chasm between us, and think we both betrayed a knowledge of it. Soon after his arrival, the convention adjourned to meet again in the afternoon at half-past two o’clock. We parted with the hope of a much larger meeting than the one in the forenoon. In this we were disappointed, for the meeting was very little larger than the one in the forenoon, and the same hesitancy and coldness almost amounting to absolute heartlessness, was even more manifest than at the morning meeting. After two unreportable speeches from Mr. Robert Goldsbury9Robert Goldsborough (1810–?), a laborer, was among the free black residents of New Bedford. Sometime between 1840 and 1850, he married a woman named Margaret (1817–?), possibly a fugitive from South Carolina, with whom he moved to California in 1856. 1850 U.S. Census, Massachusetts, Bristol County, New Bedford, 355; Henry H. Crapo, ed., The New Bedford Directory [for 1844] (New Bedford, 1844), 95; Grover, Fugitive’s Gibraltar, 159. and Mr. Henry Johnson,10William Henry Johnson (1812–?), born in Richmond, Virginia, was a free black resident of New Bedford, Massachusetts. He had been a sailor and a laborer and, by 1850, had become the city crier. As an abolitionist, he served on the local vigilance committee, represented New Bedford at various conventions, and toured New England with David Ruggles. 1840 U.S. Census, Massachusetts, Bristol County, New Bedford, 419; 1850 US. Census, Massachusetts, Bristol County, New Bedford, 228; Crapo, New Bedford Directory [for 1845], 111; Grover, Fugitive’s Gibraltar, 161–62; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 3:415n. two inﬂuential Liberty party men of New-Bedford, Mr, Bradburn (with much apparent reluctance, for he has a wholesome dislike of addressing small audiences,) arose to address the scattered few who had honored him with their presence. He eulogized the ballot-box and Liberty party as the only hope of the slave,—said the slaveholders did not care for moral suasion abolitionists,—one vote was worth more to the slave than ten hundred billions of anti-slavery lectures that did not lead directly to voting,—there was not the slightest shadow of a reason for the present position of the American Anti-Slavery Society about voting. His whole speech was mere assertion, abounding in denunciation, and betraying the most wilful hyperbole, and distortion of facts. At the close of his speech, be extended an invitation to myself and Mr. Remond to speak, expressing the wish (as he well might, in view of the coldness,) for a little free discussion.
I now felt that it was my duty to speak. I rose, and by request, walked forward, that what I had to say might be heard by Mr. Bradburn. I defended, to the best of my ability, the present position of the American Anti-Slavery Society, in regard to voting under the American Constitution, showing, I think, that there was at least a slight shadow of a reason for the present position of the American A. S. Society. Exposed the absurd heresy, that moral suasion, as applied to slavery, is ineffectual, and the kindred heresy that slavery is a creature of law. But what was evidently the most trying and painful to Mr. Bradburn, and most offensive to the convention, was listening to my investigation of the character of the Liberty party, and exposing the corruption of its leaders. I had the daring impiety even to call in question certain acts of ‘Birney the Just,’ in connexion with Leavitt,11Born to a wealthy family in Heath, Massachusetts, Joshua Leavitt (1794–1873) studied at Yale University and practiced law first in his hometown and then in Putney, Vermont. In 1823 he returned to Yale to study for the Congregational ministry. After a pastorate in Stratford, Connecticut, Leavitt accepted a missionary position with the American Seaman’s Friend Society in 1828. He was soon drawn into evangelical reformism and served as editor of the New York Evangelist (1830–37). Recruited to abolitionist ranks by Arthur and Lewis Tappan, Leavitt took over the editorship of the New York Emancipator in 1837 and made it a strident critic of the Garrisonian wing of abolitionism. A founder of the Liberty party, he was a leader in its merger with antislavery Whigs and Democrats to form the Free Soil party in 1848. The same year, Leavitt accepted an editorial position with a new evangelical newspaper, the New York Independent, where he managed daily office operations and wrote occasional articles until his death. New York Independent, 23, 30 January, 6, 13 February 1873; Davis, Joshua Leavitt; John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 24 vols. (New York, 1999), 13:339–40. Wright12Theodore Sedgwick Wright (1797–1847), a clergyman, abolitionist, and reformer, worked tirelessly to aid fellow African Americans. He was a founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and the anti-Garrisonian American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in 1840. In the 1830s, Wright lectured for the New England Anti-Slavery Society, delivering speeches against prejudice and colonization to the New York State Anti-Slavery Society in 1837. He also served on the executive committees of the Union Missionary Society and the American Missionary Association, organizations that sent missionaries to Africa. In 1844 Wright supported the Liberty party and served on the committee to choose the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. A dedicated reformer, Wright pursued temperance, sought voting rights for African Americans in New York, supported education for blacks, and chaired the New York Vigilance Committee, a group organized to aid fugitive slaves and protect free blacks from kidnapping. New York Evangelist, 1 April 1847; Washington (D.C.) National Era, 8 April 1848; Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists (New York, 1969), 45–46, 68, 80, 171–72, 184–85; Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York, 1982), 675–76. and Stanton.13Born in Griswold, Connecticut, Henry Brewster Stanton (1805–87) is probably best remembered as the husband of woman suffrage advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton. He became an abolitionist while a student at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati and was among the fifty “Lane Rebels” who withdrew in 1834 when the school prohibited their antislavery efforts. After his resignation from Lane, Stanton joined James G. Birney on a lecture tour in the Northeast. He became active in the American Anti-Slavery Society and, by 1837, served on its executive committee. Between 1837 and 1840, Stanton increasingly challenged the Garrisonian doctrine of “nonresistance,” insisting that abolitionists had a moral duty to use political means to achieve antislavery reforms. Unlike many of his New Organization colleagues, Stanton endorsed women abolitionists’ right to hold office, lecture, and participate fully in the antislavery movement. A prolific writer, Stanton published articles in abolitionist journals, political and religious papers, and Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. After the Civil War, he contributed regularly to the New York Sun. Politically active, Stanton supported at various times the Liberty, Free Soil, Republican, and Democratic parties. Henry B. Stanton, Random Recollections (Johnstown, N.Y., 1885), 26, 34, 52; Aileen S. Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and His Critics on Strategy and Tactics (New York, 1967), 68, 120–24; Sorin, New York Abolitionists, 63–67; Sewell, Ballots for Freedom, 156–59; NCAB, 2:331; DAB, 17:524–25. I moreover told the convention, that Mr. Bradburn, then present, their honored speaker, had branded these same leaders of the Liberty party as a set of ‘unmitigated rogues,’ less than one year since. This, you will perceive, tore open that old and sorest of all Liberty sores, the dishonest transfer of the Emancipator. But for this, they could make quite a respectable appearance. It is an ugly spot, and painful to look upon, and what
is worse, time seems to have no fading inﬂuence upon it—the increase of Liberty votes from year to year removes no jot of it—pray over it, talk pious politics over it, but all to no purpose; there it stands, in all its native ugliness, looking and speaking the dishonesty of those upon whom it is fastened. It might be forgotten, in a long lapse of time; but then, you know, Edmund Quincy14Son of Josiah Quincy, a Boston Federalist leader and president of Harvard University, Edmund Quincy (1808–77) became an abolitionist after the murder of Elijah Lovejoy in 1837. A close associate of William Lloyd Garrison, Quincy was the corresponding secretary of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society from 1844 to 1853. He served on many other abolitionist committees, contributed frequently to Garrisonian publications, and often edited the Liberator during Garrison’s absences. NS, 21 January 1848; Tribute of the Massachusetts Historical Society to the Memory of Edmund Quincy and John Lothrop Motley (Boston, 1877), 6; NCAB, 6:93–94; DAB, 15:306–07. still lives; ah! there’s the rub15Hamlet, act 3, sc. 1, line 65.—that little anti-slavery annual, the Standard Extra.16The Standard Extra was presumably a supplement to the National Anti-Slavery Standard; however, no surviving copies of the issue in question have been located. My speech brought down upon me a choice selection of hard names—meanness, baseness, and all kinds of rascality was imputed to me by my old friend, in the harshest possible manner. He seemed to be in his element. He charged me with almost as much impurity as he used to do his present and honored leaders. He said it was mean in me to undertake to make 66,00017In the 1844 presidential election, the Liberty party received 62,197 votes. Svend Petersen, A Statistical History of the American Presidential Elections (Westport, Conn., 1981), 27. men responsible for the doings of five or six men, forgetting, I suppose, that he had just been making the Whig and Democratic parties responsible for the doings of two men— Henry Clay and James K. Polk.18Democrat James Knox Polk (1795–1849), the governor of Tennessee and former speaker of the House (1835–39), was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1844. He ran on a platform of territorial expansion and “Manifest Destiny,” advocating the annexation of both Texas and Oregon and the acquisition of California. As president of the United States (1845–49), he narrowly avoided war with Britain over the northern border of the Oregon territory and led the nation into war against Mexico over the southern border of Texas. The war with Mexico resulted in American appropriation of not only California, but the entire northern territory of Mexico from the Rio Grande to the Pacific Ocean. Sam W. Haynes, James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse (New York, 1997); DAB, 15:34–38. But then, you now, circumstances alter cases.19“Circumstances alter cases” was a popular saying in the nineteenth century. First recorded in the seventeenth century, the proverb means that a general principle must yield sometimes under specific sets of facts when application of the general principle would be inappropriate or wrong. The saying has been attributed to the seventeenth-century poet Thomas Rymer. The proverb became popular after it appeared in Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s 1849 novel, The Old Judge, or Life in a Colony. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the phrase became the title of a play by William J. Hoppin, who advocated temperance. Burton Stevenson, The Macmillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases (New York, 1966), 356; Martin H. Mansur, The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs (New York, 2002), 35; John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases and Proverbs Traced to their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature, 14th ed. (Boston, 1968), 587.
I come now to a rather grave matter. Mr. Bradburn, his anxiety to hide the sins of his newly espoused friends, undertook, and I believe meanly undertook, to blacken the character of the present Executive Committee of the American Society, by saying with no little emphasis, that if he were disposed to adopt the mode of reasoning adopted by the American Anti-Slavery Society, he could prove them guilty of crimes a thousand times blacker than those of which Leavitt and his associates stand accused.
He even denied that he ever had done or said anything against the Liberty party, and thereby insinuated a denial of his ever uttering the sentiment which I have attributed to him above. His manner reminded me very much of Peter denying his Lord with a curse, in order to induce belief.20The apostle Peter denied knowing Jesus three times on the night before the crucifixion as Jesus had predicted he would. Matt. 26:74, Mark 14:71; David Noel Freedman et al., eds., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols. (New York, 1992), 5:255. It was humiliating to see it. It was unlike the open, frank and out-spoken Bradburn of 1843. But it may be, I am doing him injustice—it may be that he has forgotten what he has said—and as I keep the ‘run’ of his speeches, it may be well for me to do more than I did at the the Convention—and that is, give the time, place and circumstance under which the thing alleged was said, that I may aid friend Bradburn’s memory. It is just now about one year since, in company with Mr. Bradburn, White,21William A. White. Gay,22Sydney H. Gay. Remond and Monroe,23James Monroe (1821–98), a Connecticut Quaker, appeared with Douglass as one of the featured speakers at the tenth annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York City on 9 May 1843. In 1839 Monroe abandoned plans to attend college in order to lecture for the American Anti-Slavery Society. After three years he resumed his education, first attending Yale, then transferring to Oberlin. He began teaching at Oberlin while still an undergraduate and earned a theology degree from the institution in 1849. Monroe’s continued activism on behalf of African Americans led to a political career. He served in the Ohio legislature (1856–62), acted as diplomat to Brazil during the Civil War, and won a seat in Congress during Reconstruction. NASS, 18 May 1843; Lib., 19 May 1843; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 3:422–23n; Catherine Rokicky, “A Life of Public Service: James Monroe of Oberlin, 1821–1898” (unpublished paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization, 25 April 2001). at Pittsburgh, Pa.24Douglass spoke in Pittsburgh sometime during November 1843 as part of the One Hundred Conventions tour that had begun the previous July. In Pittsburgh Douglass evidently split from the rest of the speakers, but rejoined them in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on 25 November. NASS, 14 December 1843. holding one of the series of one hundred conventions, the Standard extra had made its appearance, and had produced quite a sensation in that region among Liberty party men. One day during our stay, a. discussion took place at the house of Mr. J. B. Vashon,25John Boyer Vashon (?–1853) operated a barbershop and bathhouse in Pittsburgh. He joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and served on its board of managers in the 1830s. Vashon attended several National Negro Conventions, including the 1853 Rochester gathering that launched the National Council of Colored Men. Douglass frequently visited Vashon’s home while touring the Midwest and eulogized him as “one of the most consistent advocates of the slave’s freedom, and of the colored man’s elevation, who has yet arisen among our proscribed race.” FDP, 20 August 1852, 15 July 1853, 6 January, 8 September 1854; ASB, 7 January 1854; Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 20–33, 81, 108, 200; R. J. M. Blackett, “ ‘Freedom, or the Martyr’s Grave’: Black Pittsburgh’s Aid to the Fugitive Slave,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, 61:117–34 (April 1978). between Mr. Bradburn, and a Liberty party man, whose name has escaped my memory, upon the subject of the transfer of the Emancipator. Mr.
Bradburn maintaining it to be a fraudulent transfer, and the Liberty party man justifying the whole transaction. The Liberty party man said that if he had been situated as was Leavitt and his associates, he would have done just as they did. Mr. Bradburn did not at first hear this remark distinctly, and upon hearing it a second time, he then said if you would do just as you say, I pronounced you an unmitigated rogue. The Liberty party man replied that he had never been treated so ungentlemanly before, by any one. To which Mr. Bradburn made no other reply than the highly insulting exclamation, Bah!!
I would not have brought this whole matter to light, except in consequence of Mr. Bradburn’s seeming denial of the truth of my statement. Mr. Ezra R. Johnson,26Ezra Rothchild Johnson (1814–?) was born in New Bedford, the son of Richard Johnson, a merchant who founded the New Bedford Union Society and the Colored American. Although Ezra Johnson trained as a sailmaker, he never entered the business. He and his brother, Richard Cummings Johnson, took over their father’s journal and store upon his death. Johnson petitioned the Massachusetts Assembly for the protection of the rights of African Americans, sold only free-labor produce in his store, and supported John Brown. He moved to California sometime between 1848 and 1850, but later returned to New Bedford. Crapo, New Bedford Directory [for 1845], 110; Grover, Fugitive’s Gibraltar, 122, 133, 136, 138, 209, 276. a Liberty party man, came up to me in the convention, with all the impudence and hardihood of a ruffian and a bully, and denounced me as a liar. Now, sir, I undertake to say that Mr. Bradburn will not deny the statement as made above—he will certainly recollect the whole affair—if he does not, I can appeal to those having a better recollection of such things than himself, for the accuracy of the above statement—for this was no matter between myself and Mr. Bradburn alone, but was known to all the other lecturing agents attending the one hundred conventions.
At the close of Mr. Bradburn’s speech, the convention adjourned to meet again in the evening. Of the evening meeting, I have neither time, nor room to say much, though much might be said. Suffice it to say, that I attended with the hope that they would have the magnanimity to allow me to explain, as I had been directly charged with misrepresentation:—this, however, they refused to do. I therefore gave notice of my intent, in connexion with Mr. Remond, to hold a meeting the next evening in Liberty Hall, for the purpose of reviewing the proceedings of that convention. At this announcement, Mr. Bradburn exclaimed, there would be a jubilee in hell.27Dante Alighieri set his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, in the year 1300, the year that Pope Boniface VIII had proclaimed as a Jubilee, or holy year, when all Christians were to make a pilgrimage to Rome. In his work Dante places Boniface VIII in hell for excommunicating him, even though the pope was still alive. Dante juxtaposes the pilgrimage to Rome with his spiritual journey to Jerusalem in The Divine Comedy, as he descends into hell in the year of the jubilee. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2d ed., 15 vols. (Detroit, 2003), 4:516–22, 7:56–57. He was quite unhappy. So much for the success of Liberty party in New-Bedford—they certainly have a hard cause to defend. I call upon them, if they would make a safe voyage, to cut out some of their rotten timber, and replace it with sound, and man their ship with honest and trustworthy men: this done, they may possibly weather the storm. But until it is, they must submit to be wrecked. I have not yet quite done with Mr. Bradburn. He may not think it worth while to notice a call from me for an explanation of his indirect charge against the Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society. I think, however, he would not disregard a demand from the Executive Committee itself. And here let me say, that as Mr. Bradburn has a character for honesty and truthfulness, by making these loose
statements, I think him capable of doing much harm. I think, therefore, the Committee owe it to themselves to demand of him an explanation.
Yours for the cause of truth and justice,
PLSr: Lib., 1 November 1844.