Skip to main content

Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, September 16, 1845



Dublin, [Ire.] 16 Sept[ember] 1845.


You will see that James1James N. Buffum. and myself are still in old Ireland. Our stay is protracted in consequence of the publication here of my narrative.2Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I need hardly say we are happy, when I tell you our home is the house of Mr. R. D. Webb,—the very impersonation of old-fashioned, thorough-going anti-slavery; and that we are constantly cheered by the society of Mr. James Haughton,3A corn and flour merchant in Dublin, James Haughton (1795–1873) was a founder and president of the Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society. In addition to abolitionism, he and his associates Richard Allen and Richard D. Webb championed such causes as pacifism, educational reform, a ban on capital punishment, and the Irish Repeal movement. A Quaker turned Unitarian, he is best remembered as a prohibition advocate and president of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom. Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:31n; The Dictionary of National Biography, 22 vols. (London, 1921–22), 9:168. than whom, there is not to be found a truer, or more devoted, vigilant, working, persevering abolitionist on this side the Atlantic. We have also been aided, cheered and strengthened by the noble and generous-hearted James and Thomas Webb,4Thomas Webb (1806–84), a Dublin bookseller and printer, was the brother of Richard and James Webb and active in the abolition and temperance movements. I. Slater, I. Slater’s National Commercial Directory of Ireland (Manchester, Eng., 1846), 156; Harrison, Richard Davis Webb, 23; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:398n. in each of whose houses we have been made perfectly at home.

Our hearts were all made glad by the arrival of the ever welcome Liberator5William Lloyd Garrison published the Liberator, a weekly Boston newspaper, from 1831 to 1865. The paper advocated women’s rights, temperance, pacifism, and a variety of other reforms in addition to immediate emancipation. Thomas, Liberator, 127–28, 436; DAB, 7:168–72. and Standard,6The American Anti-Slavery Society published the New York–based National Anti-Slavery Standard as the society’s official publication from 1840 to 1870. Merton L. Dillon, The Abolitionists: The Growth of a Dissenting Minority (De Kalb, Ill., 1974), 213. yesterday—although they bore the sad intelligence of the fate of Cassius M. Clay’s press.7Kentucky free-labor advocate Cassius Marcellus Clay (1810–1903) inherited seventeen slaves and extensive farm acreage in 1828. As a Whig representative in the state legislature, Clay began expounding an economic indictment of slavery. In 1843 he freed his slaves and hired them as free laborers. At the same time, he launched a campaign for gradual abolition addressed largely to the state’s non-slaveholding whites. In June 1845 Clay launched a weekly newspaper, the True American, in Lexington, to advocate the formation of a moderate antislavery party in Kentucky. After local residents forcibly dismantled his press and shipped it to Cincinnati, Clay published the True American in Louisville. Clay joined the U.S. Army in the Mexican-American War, a move denounced by abolitionists, who generally applauded Clay. At that time Clay sold the newspaper to John C. Vaughan, who suspended it in September 1846. Clay provided crucial financial support and physical protection to John G. Fee’s abolitionist colony at Berea in the 1850s. He served as U.S. ambassador to Russia (1861–69) and remained active in Kentucky politics during and after Reconstruction. David L. Smiley, Lion of White Hall: The Life of Cassius M. Clay (Madison, Wisc., 1962); Asa Earle Martin, The Anti-Slavery Movement in Kentucky Prior to 1850 (1918; New York, 1970), 112; Stanley Harrold, The Abolitionists and the South, 1831–1861 (Lexington, Ky., 1995), 28–29, 32–33, 40–41, 132–33; DAB, 4:169–70. I can now remember no occurrence of mobocratic violence against the anti-slavery cause which sent such a chill over my hopes, for the moment, as the one in question. I regarded the establishment of his press in Lexington, Kentucky, as one of the most


hopeful and soul-cheering signs of the times,—a star shining in darkness, beaming hope to the almost despairing bondman, and bidding him to suffer on, as the day of his deliverance is certain. But, alas! the mob has triumphed, and the star apparently gone out.

The enemy came upon Cassius at an unfortunate hour. Availing themselves of his sickness, they have succeeded against him. Yet the cause shall not suffer; the star, whose feeble light had become painful, shall yet become a sun, whose brilliant rays shall scorch, blister and burn, till slavery shall be utterly consumed. I was almost sorry to be from home, when the voice of the feeblest might be of value in concentrated public indignation against so horrible an outrage upon the freedom of the press.

We shall, however, make the most of it in this land:—the damning deed shall ring throughout these kingdoms. The base, cruel, cowardly and infernal character of that organized band of plunderers, shall be as fully revealed as I am capable of doing it. What a brilliant illustration of republican love of freedom! How the monarchs and aristocrats of the old world will tremble at the rapid march of republican freedom! How they will hide their eyes for very shame, when they think of their own tyranny, in comparison with the free and noble institutions of America,—where freedem of the press means freedom to advocate slavery, and where liberty regulated by law means slavery protected by an armed hand of bloody assassins! But, thank Heaven! ‘Oppression shall not always reign.'8The first line of an antislavery song written in 1843 by the Reverend Henry Ware, Jr. Henry Ware, Jr., The Works of Henry Ware, Jr., D.D., 4 vols. (Boston, 1846), 1:333.

Our success here is even greater than I had anticipated. We have held four glorious anti-slavery meetings—two in the Royal Exchange, and two in the Friends' meeting-house9Although the National Anti-Slavery Standard reported that Douglass spoke at "several meetings in Dubline" and the surrounding area, no itinerary for his engagements has been located. NASS, 16 October 1845.—all crowded to over flowing. Only think of our holding a meeting in the meeting-house of the Society of Friends! When at home they would almost bolt us out of their yards.10The Society of Friends in Lynn, Massachusetts, has refused abolitionists permission to organize in the Lynn Meeting House. Although Quakers generally opposed slavery, they preferred to use legal channels to end the institution gradually and attempted to distance themselves from the violent attacks that abolitionist mettings drew. This preference was especially widespread among the more conservative church leaders, who urged church members to avoid all activism. Abolitionist societies soundly condemned the reluctance of the Quakers to commit fully to the immediate emancipation of the slaves. Lib., 20 March 1840; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 2:591; Soderlund, Quakers and Slavery, 185; McKivigan, War against Proslavery Religion, 44, 52–53. 'Circumstances alter cases.'11The 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. If the Lynn Friends' meeting-house could be, by some process, placed on this side of the Atlantic, its spacious walls would probably at once welcome an anti-slavery meeting; but, as things now stand, it must be closed to humanity—lest Friends get into the mixture!

I am to lecture to-morrew evening at the Music Hall. It will hold three thousand persons, and is let for about fifty dollars a night. But its generous proprietor, Mr. Classon,12John Classon was the proprietor of the Music Hall located at 12 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin. The small theater received a mention in the Dublin entry for the Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, 1844–45. Henry Shaw, The Dublin Pictorial Guide and Directory of 1850 (1850; Belfast, Ire., 1988); Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, 1844–45, 10 vols. (Dublin, Ire., 1846), 3:124. has kindly agreed to let me have it free of charge.

I have, attended several temperance meetings, and given several temperance addresses. Friend Haughton, Buffum and myself spoke to-day on temperance, in the very prison in which O'Connell13Daniel O'Connell (1775–1847), an Irish lawyer and member of Parliament, played a major role in both the British and American antislavery movements. Converted to the antislavery cause in 1824 after hearing English abolitionist James Cropper, O'Connell balanced conflicting commitments to black freedom and Irish independence throughout his career. A leader of the Loyal National Repeal Association, a movement to repeal the Act of Union between England and Ireland, as well as a participant in the related campaign to remove the civil restrictions imposed upon Catholics, O'Connell saw the bill for Catholic Emancipation pass Parliament in 1829 with strong support from antislavery politicians. Four years later he marshaled crucial Irish votes needed for passage of the Emancipation Act of 1833, inaugurating gradual abolition in the British West Indies. In 1838 he narrowly averted a duel with U.S. Ambassador Andrew Stevenson, whom he accused of being a slave breeder. Identified with William Lloyd Garrison throughout the 1830s, O'Connell supported the seating of women delegates at the World's Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840 and made numerous attempts to rally abolitionist sentiment among Irish Americans in the years immediately following. O'Connell often suffered high political costs as a result of such activities, particularly in light of diminished U.S. support for the Irish repeal movement. Although some Garrisonians criticized O'Connell for vacillation and political expediency, American reformers of all persuasions lavished praise on the "Irish Liberator" during the post–Civil War era. Oliver MacDonagh, The Emancipationist: Daniel O'Connell, 1830–47 (New York, 1989); Gilbert Osofsky, "Abolitionists, Irish Immigrants, and the Dilemmas of Romantic Nationalism," AHR, 80:889–912 (October 1975); Douglas C. Riach, "Daniel O'Connell and American Anti-Slavery," Irish Historical Studies, 20:3–25 (March 1976); Howard Temperley, "The O'Connell-Stevenson Contretemps: A Reflection of the Anglo-American Slavery Issue," JNH, 47:217–33 (October 1962); Henry Boylan, A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd ed. (Niwot, Col., 1998), 306–08; DNB, 14:816–34. was put. I went out last Sunday to Bootertown,14Booterstown is a parish near Dublin. Thomas and Baldwin, Lippincott's Gazetteer, 1:251. and saw Father Mathew15Regarded in Ireland as the "Apostle of Temperance," Father Theobald Mathew (1790–1856) was born in County Tipperary to a family related to the local landed gentry. Having joined the Capuchin order in 1808, he was ordained a priest in 1814. The next year, Mathew was assigned to a mission in Cork, where he became popular for his charitable activities on behalf of the Catholic poor. In April 1838, after his conversion to temperance, Mathew founded the Total Abstinence Society of Cork, which discountenanced the use of spirits except for medicinal purposes. Mathew allegedly converted six million Irish to teetotalism. Douglass witnessed one ceremony in which a thousand postulants took the pledge of abstinence from Mathew. When famine ravaged souther Ireland in the 1840s, Mathew devoted most of his energy to feeding and caring for the destitute. After Mathew’s death, the Irish temperance movement faded rapidly. James Bermingham, A Memoir of the Very Rev. Theobald Mathew, with an Account of the Rise and Progress of Temperance in Ireland (New York, 1841); Patrick Rogers, Father Theobald Mathew, Apostle of Temperance (Dublin, Ire., [1943]); Brian Harrison, Drink and the Victorians: The Temperance Question in England, 1815–1872 (Pittsburgh, 1971), 103, 126, 165–68, 180, 211, 334, 390. administer the pledge to about one thousand. 'The cause is rolling on.'


One of the most pleasing features of my visit, thus far, has been a total absence of all manifestations of prejudice against me, on account of my color. The change of circumstances, in this, is particularly striking. I go on stage coaches, omnibuses, steamboats, into the first cabins, and in the first public houses, without seeing the slightest manifestation of that hateful and vulgar feeling against me. I find myself not treated as a color, but as a man—not as a thing, but as a child of the common Father of us all.

In great haste, Ever yours,


PLSr: Lib, 10 October 1845. Reprinted in JNH, 10:658–60 (October 1925); Woodson, Mind of the Negro, 394–96. PLeSr: Foner, Life and Writings, 1:118–20. HLSr: General Correspondence File, reel 5, frames 553–55, FD Papers, DLC. TLSr: General Correspondence File, reel 5, frames 557–58, FD Papers, DLC. TLe: General Correspondence File, reel 5, frame 556, FD Papers, DLC.



[ignore end of footnote 15]


Dublin, [Ire.]1 29 September 1845.

I promised, on leaving America, to keep you informed of my proceedings
whilst I remained abroad. I sometimes fear I shall be compelled to break my
promise, if by keeping it is meant writing letters to you fit for publication.
You know one of my objects in coming here was to get a little repose, that
I might return home refreshed and strengthened, ready and able to join you
vigorously in the prosecution of our holy cause. But, really, if the labor of
the last two weeks be a fair sample of what awaits me, I have certainly
sought repose in the wrong place. I have work enough here, on the spot, to
occupy every inch of my time, and every particle of my strength, were I to
stay in this city a whole six months. The cause of temperance alone would
afford work enough to occupy every inch of my time.2 I have invitation
after invitation to address temperance meetings, which I am compelled to
decline. How different here, from my treatment at home! In this country, I
am welcomed to the temperance platform, side by side with white speak
ers, and am received as kindly and warmly as though my skin were white.

I have but just returned from a great Repeal meeting, held at Concili
ation Hall.3 It was a very large meeting—much larger than usual, I was
told, on account of the presence of Mr. O'Connell, who has just returned
from his residence at Derrynane,4 where he has been spending the sum
mer, recruiting for an energetic agitation of repeal during the present au
tumn. On approaching the door, or gateway leading to the Hall, and obs
serving the denseness of the crowd, I almost despaired of getting in; but,
having by the kindness of James Haughton, Esq. obtained a note of intro
duction to the Secretary of the Repeal Association, and being encouraged
to persevere by the evident disposition of the friendly crowd to let me pass,
—many of whom seemed to be holding in their breath, and thus contract
ing their dimensions, to allow me passage way,—I pressed forward, and
with much difficulty succeeded in reaching the interior. The meeting had


September 16, 1845


Publication Status