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Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, January 1, 1846

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FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON

Belfast, [Ire.]1The placeline of the letter also includes “Victoria Hotel.” 1 January 1846.

MY DEAR FRIEND GARRISON:

I am now about to take leave of the Emerald Isle,2Around 1795 William Drennen gave the nickname “Emerald Isle” to Ireland because of its prevailing lush green fields. William Morris and Mary Morris, Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (New York, 1977), 201. for Glasgow, Scotland.3On 2 and 6 January 1846, Douglass gave speeches in Belfast. On 15 January 1846, he addressed a crowd in Glasgow. Belfast Newsletter, 6 January 1846; Glasgow Argus, 22 January 1846; Lib., 1 May 1846. I have been here a little more than four months. Up to this time, I have given no direct expression of the views, feelings and opinions which I have formed, respecting the character and condition of the people of this land. I have refrained thus purposely. I wish to speak advisedly, and in order to do this, I have waited till I trust experience has brought my opinions to an intelligent maturity. I have been thus careful, not because I think what I may say will have much effect in shaping the opinions of the world, but because

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whatever of influence I may possess, whether little or much, I wish it to go in the right direction, and according to truth. I hardly need say that, in speaking of Ireland, I shall be influenced by no prejudices in favor of America. I think my circumstances all forbid that. I have no end to serve, no creed to uphold, no government to defend; and as to nation, I belong to none. I have no protection at home, or resting-place abroad. The land of my birth welcomes me to her shores only as a slave, and spurns with contempt the idea of treating me differently. So that I am an outcast from the society of my childhood, and an outlaw in the land of my birth. ‘I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were.’4Ps. 39:12. That men should be patriotic is to me perfectly natural; and as a philosophical fact, I am able to give it an intellectual recognition. But no further can I go. If ever I had any patriotism, or any capacity for the feeling, it was whipt out of me long since by the lash of the American soul-drivers.

In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky—her grand old woods—her fertile fields—her beautiful rivers—her mighty lakes, and star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked, my joy is soon turned to mourning. When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slaveholding, robbery and wrong,—when I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean, disregarded and forgotten, and that her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood of my outraged sisters, I am filled with unutterable loathing, and led to reproach myself that any thing could fall from my lips in praise of such a land. America will not allow her children to love her. She seems bent on compelling those who would be her warmest friends, to be her worst enemies. May God give her repentance before it is too late, is the ardent prayer of my heart. I will continue to pray, labor and wait, believing that she cannot always be insensible to the dictates of justice, or deaf to the voice of humanity.

My opportunities for learning the character and condition of the people of this land have been very great. I have travelled almost from the hill of ‘Howth’5The Hill of Howth runs five miles long and two miles wide on a peninsula jutting into the Irish Sea in County Dublin, Ireland, forming the north shore of Dublin Bay. Leon E. Seltzer, ed., The Columbia Lippincott Gazetteer of the World (New York, 1962), 806. to the Giant’s Causeway6The Giant’s Causeway is a geological formation in County Antrim, Ireland, that extends three miles along the coast. Masses of basaltic columns, volcanic in origin, converge to form a stairway-like landscape with several caves, platforms, and picturesque rocks. Seltzer, Gazetteer of the World, 679. and from the Giant’s Causeway to Cape Clear.7Cape Clear is the southernmost point in County Cork. Seltzer, Gazetteer of the World, 373. During these travels, I have met with much in the character and condition of the people to approve, and much to condemn—much that has thrilled me with pleasure—and very much that has filled me with pain. I will not, in this letter, attempt to give any description of those scenes which have given me pain. This I will do hereafter. I have enough, and more than your subscribers will be disposed to read at one time, of the bright side of the picture. I can truly say, I have spent some of the

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happiest moments of my life since landing in this country. I seem to have undergone a transformation. I live a new life. The warm and generous co-operation extended to me by the friends of my despised race—the prompt and liberal manner with which the press has rendered me its aid—the glorious enthusiasm with which thousands have flocked to hear the cruel wrongs of my down-trodden and long-enslaved fellow-countrymen portrayed—the deep sympathy for the slave, and the strong abhorrence of the slaveholder, everywhere evinced—the cordiality with which members and ministers of various religious bodies, and of various shades of religious opinion, have embraced me, and lent me their aid8Douglass received a warm welcome from Ireland’s religious reformers, especially the Unitarian and Quaker communities. At the time that Douglass wrote this letter to Garrison, however, he began to receive criticism for his castigation of the British clergy’s unwillingness to condemn American slavery. Mary Ireland, secretary of the recently formed Belfast Female Anti-Slavery Society, noted, “An intense interest has been excited by the oratory of Frederick Douglass.” The Female Anti-Slavery Society had planned a fair, but some had become alienated by the “uncompromising tone of Mr. Douglass in regard to the Free Church of Scotland.” Belfast Banner of Ulster, 19 December 1845; Taylor, British and American Abolitionists, 247–48; David Turley, “British Unitarian Abolitionists, Frederick Douglass and Racial Equality,” in Liberating Sojourn: Frederick Douglass and Transatlantic Reform, ed. Alan J. Rice and Martin Crawford (Athens, Ga., 1999), 59–70.—the kind hospitality constantly proffered to me by persons of the highest rank in society—the spirit of freedom that seems to animate all with whom I come in contact—and the entire absence of every thing that looked like prejudice against me, on account of the color of my skin—contrasted so strongly with my long and bitter experience in the United States, that I look with wonder and amazement on the transition. In the Southern part of the United States, I was a slave, thought of and spoken of as property. In the language of the LAW, ‘held, taken, reputed and adjudged to be a chattel in the hands of my owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever.’—BREV. DIGEST, 224.9The digest of judicial decisions from the state of South Carolina was often called “Brevard’s Digest,” after the author, Associate Judge Joseph Brevard. Contemporary authors of abolitionist tracts often cited this three-volume compilation of decisions. The passage Douglass quotes, however, has not been located in any of these volumes. Joseph Brevard, Reports of Judicial Decisions in the State of South Carolina, from 1793 to 1816, 3 vols. (Charleston, S.C., 1839–40). In the Northern States, a fugitive slave, liable to be hunted at any moment like a felon, and to be hurled into the terrible jaws of slavery—doomed by an inveterate prejudice against color to insult and outrage on every hand, (Massachusetts out of the question)10In 1843, in the wake of the George Latimer case, the Massachusetts state legislature passed the Personal Liberty Act, which forbade the use of state resources in the capture and removal of fugitive slaves. This act was the first of its kind in the United States and overturned the earlier state Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, which allowed masters to apprehend their slaves without a warrant. Horton and Horton, Black Bostonians, 107–08.—denied the privileges and courtesies common to others in the use of the most humble means of conveyance—shut out from the cabins on steamboats—refused admission to respectable hotels—caricatured, scorned, scoffed, mocked and maltreated with impunity by any one, (no matter how black his heart,) so he has a white skin. But now behold the change! Eleven days and a half gone, and I have crossed three thousand miles of the perilous deep.11Douglass departed from Boston on Saturday, 16 August 1845, aboard the Cambria and landed in Liverpool on 28 August. NASS, 21 August 1845; Lib., 26 September 1845. Instead of a democratic government, I am under a monarchical government. Instead of the bright blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel becomes a man. I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as his slave, or offer me an insult. I employ a cab—I am seated beside white people—I reach the hotel—I enter the same door—I am shown into the same parlor—I dine at the same table—and no one is offended. No delicate nose grows deformed in my presence. I find no difficulty here in obt gaining admission into any place of worship, instruction or amusement, on equal

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terms with people as white as any I ever saw in the United States. I meet nothing to remind me of my complexion. I find myself regarded and treated at every turn with the kindness and deference paid to white people. When I go to church, I am met by no upturned nose and scornful lip to tell me “We don't allow niggers in here”! I remember, about two years ago, there was in Boston, near the south west corner of Boston Common, a menagerie.12Boston Common was a park and frog pond in downtown Boston. The Common did not contain a menagerie in 1846, but a deer park was added after the Civil War. M. A. De Wolfe Howe, Boston Landmarks (New York, 1946), 100–102. I had long desired to see such a collection as I understood were being exhibited there, never having such had an opportunity while a slave. I resolved to seize this my first since my escape. I went, and as I approached the entrance to gain admission, I was met and told by the door keeper, in a harsh and contemptuous tone “We don’t allow niggers in here”! I also remember attending a revival meeting in the Rev. Henry Jackson’s13Henry Jackson (1798–1863) was born in Providence, Rhode Island. His father, Richard Jackson, represented the state in Congress (1808–15), his brother Charles served as the state’s governor, his brother George edited the Providence Journal, and his sister Phoebe (also Phebe) and his wife, Maria T. Gano, were active in the abolitionist movement. He himself graduated from Brown University in 1817 and studied for one term at Andover Theological Seminary. In 1822 he was ordained the minister of the First Baptist Church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where he remained for the next fourteen years. He was pastor of a church in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1837 to 1838, and of a church in New Bedford, Massachusetts, from 1839 to 1845, where he aided fugitive slaves. His last ministry was at the Central Church in Newport, Rhode Island, from 1847 until his death in 1863. Crapo, New Bedford Directory [for 1845], 10; Grover, Fugitive's Gibraltar, 151–52; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 2:151–52n, 458n; ACAB, 3:387. meeting-house, New Bedford, and going up the broad aisle to find a seat, I was met by a good deacon, who told me, in a pious tone, “We don’t allow niggers in here”! Soon after my arrival in New Bedford from the South, I had a strong desire to attend the Lyceum14The New Bedford Lyceum, founded in 1828, hosted numerous lectures on literary, philosophical, and scientific topics. In the mid-1840s several of New Bedford’s African American residents attempted to purchase tickets to Lyceum events and were refused. In an attempt to force the community to confront the issue of racial segregation, abolitionists proposed admission of black members to the Lyceum. Lyceum members voted against the motion, and the abolitionists led a boycott against the organization. As an alternative to the Lyceum, the abolitionists formed the New Bedford Association, which hosted functions similar to those at the Lyceum, but allowed an integrated audience. Daniel Ricketson, The History of New Bedford, Bristol County, Massachusetts (New Bedford, 1858), 324–25; Grover, Fugitive’s Gibraltar, 176–80. but was told “They don't allow niggers in here”! While passing from New York to Boston, on the steamer Massachusetts,15Built in 1841, the 353-ton Massachusetts was owned by Nathaniel Rand and George C. Gardner of Nantucket, Massachusetts. In August 1853 the ship sank just southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, off Sable Island, the site of numerous shipwrecks. John Robinson and George Francis Dow, The Sailing Ships ofNew England, 1607–1907 (Salem, Mass, 1922), 30; Seltzer, Gazetteer of the World, 3:2678. on the night of 9th Dec. 1843, when chilled almost through with the cold, I went into the cabin to get a little warm, I was soon touched upon the shoulder, and told, “We don’t allow niggers, in here”! On arriving in Boston from an antislavery tour, hungry and tired, I went into an eating-house near my friend Mr. Campbell’s,16Douglass possibly refers to John Reid Campbell, a Boston shoe merchant and an ally of William Lloyd Garrison who served as a counselor for the New England Anti-Slavery Society in the late 1830s. New York Colored American, 15 August 1840; Stimpson’s Boston Directory (Boston, 1845), 119; Stimpson’s Boston Directory (Boston, 1846), 125; Merrill and Rucharnes, Garrison Letters, 1:470n; 2:13n. to get some refreshments. I was told by a lad in a white apron, “We don’t allow niggers in here”! I had a A week or two before leaving the United States, I had a meeting appointed at Weymouth,17Before departing for Great Britain on 16 August 1845, Douglass made a final speaking tour of New York and Massachusetts. He lectured at a meeting in Weymouth, Massachusetts, on 7 August. PaF, 31 July 1845; Lib., 1, 22 August, 5 September 1845; NASS, 14, 21 August 1845. the home of that glorious band of true abolitionists, the Weston family,18Maria, Caroline, Anne, and Deborah Weston, four of the six daughters of Warren and Nancy Bates Weston of Weymouth, Massachusetts, were active in abolitionist circles and associated with William Lloyd Garrison. The most prominent, Maria Weston Chapman, was the wife of Boston merchant Henry Grafton Chapman. Caroline and Anne taught school in Boston. Deborah was active in the antislavery movement and the Underground Railroad in New Bedford. All four were key organizers and fundraisers, particularly in regard to the annual Boston Anti-Slavery Fair. Shy about public speaking, the Westons expressed their antislavery sentiments through poems and articles published in abolitionist newspapers. Taylor, Women of the Anti-Slavery Movement, xii–xvi, 11–12, 115; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 1:550n; 2:xxiv—xxv, 57n. and others. On taking attempting to take a seat in the Omnibus to that place, I was told by the driver, (and I never shall forget his fiendish hate,) “I don’t allow niggers in here”! Thank heaven for the respite I now enjoy! I had not been in Dublin but a few days, when a gentleman of great respectability, kindly offered to conduct me through all public buildings of that beautiful city; and a little later afterwards, I found myself Dining with the Lord Mayor of Dublin.19Richard Dowden (Richard). What a pity there was not some American democratic, Christian at the door of his splendid mansion, to bark out at my approach, 'They don’t allow niggers in there'! The truth is, the people here know nothing of the republican negro hate prevalent in our glorious land. They measure and esteem men accord to their moral and intellectual worth, and not according to the color of their skin. Whatever may be said of the aristocracies here, there is none based on the color of a man’s skin. This species of aristocracy belongs preeminently

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to “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”20The final phrase of the first verse of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I have never found it abroad, in any but Americans. It sticks to them wherever they go. They find it almost as hard to get hold shed of their skins of it as to get rid of it their skins. The second day after my arrival at Liverpool, In company with my friend Buffum21James N. Buffum. and several other friends, I went to Baton Hall, the residence of the Marquis of Westminster,22Eaton Hall, located in Chester County, England, is the estate of the Marquess of Westminster. In 1846 Richard Grosvenor (1795–1869), the second Marquess of Westminster, occupied the manor. Bernard Burke and John Burke, Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, ed. Peter Townsend (1826; London, 1970), 2797. one of most splended building in England. On approaching the door, I found several of our American passengers, who came over with us in the Cambria, waiting at the door for admission, as but one party was allowed in the house at a Time. We all had to wait for till the company within before [illegible] came out. And of all “the faces, expressive of chagrin, those of the Americans were preeminent. They looked as sour as vinegar, and bitter as gall, when they found I was to be admitted on equal terms with themselves. I knew they were annoyed, (and although it might have been wicked, in me) their dissatisfaction was nuts for me. I think I did nothing to ease their pain. When the stony door was opened, I walked in, on an equal footing with my white American fellow-citizens, and from all I could see, I had as much attention paid me by the servants that showed us through the house, as any with a paler skin. As I walked through the building, the statuary did not fall down, the pictures did not leap from their places, the doors did not refuse to open, and the servants did not say, “We don’t allow Niggers in here”!

A happy New Year to you & all the friends of freedom.

Excuse this imperfect scrawl, and believe me to be ever and always yours,

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

[P.S.] You will confer a favor on, me if you will sind a paper containing this to James Standfield,23James Standfield (c. 1809–c. 1861), a grocer and secretary of the Belfast Anti-Slavery Society, was one of the city’s most active abolitionists during the 1840s. A member of the Established Church of Ireland, Standfield as early as 1843 urged Irish Presbyterians to exclude proslavery foreign churchmen from their pulpits. Well into 1844 he refrained from attacking the Free Church of Scotland for accepting donations from the U.S. South, but in 1845 he introduced Douglass to the Free Church controversy. Early in 1846 Standfield defended Douglass’s threatened libel suit against visiting American clergyman Thomas Smyth. He also led an antislavery rally with Douglass and the Reverend Isaac Nelson in Belfast, where Standfield presented a petition against the acceptance of slaveholders’ donations to the Free Church. As late as June 1860, Standfield criticized Belfast Presbyterians for receiving money collected in American slave states. Lib., 1 August 1845, 4 September 1846; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:423n; J. F. Maclear, “Thomas Smyth, Frederick Douglass, and the Belfast Antislavery Campaign,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, 80:288–89, 294 (October 1979); Riach, “Ireland and the Campaign against American Slavery,” 130–31, 276–78, 297–303, 332–33, 531. Belfast Ireland. I am forming antislavery society of ladies, the object to aid the fair.24Douglass’s lecture tour through Ireland proved so powerful and persuasive that the women of Belfast formed a female antislavery society. They faced opposition, however, because of the ire that Douglass had roused through his position on the Free Church controversy. Nonetheless, the women persevered, consulting with Maria Weston Chapman on organization matters and aiding the American Garrisonians in fundraising. Taylor, British and American Abolitionists, 247–48; Oldham, “Irish Support of the Abolitionist Movement,” 175–87. A happy new year. I hope to see you before it ends. J. N. Buffum is with me—he is a good man. Sends love to yours.

ALfS: Anti-Slavery Collection, MB; PLSr: Lib., 30 January 1846.25The fragment of Douglass’s handwritten letter to Garrison serves as the copy-text for the end of the letter, beginning with the sentence “I find no difficulty here in gaining admission into any place of worship,” to the end of the postscript. The printed letter appearing in the Liberator serves as the copy-text for the missing part of the handwritten fragment at the beginning of the letter. PLSr: New York Tribune, 2 February 1846; Buffalo Morning Express, 5 February 1846; London Inquirer, 11 April 1846; The American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1847 (New York, 1847), 19–22; JNH, 10:654–58 (October 1925); Woodson, Mind of The Negro, 390–94; Foner, Life and Writings, 1:125–29. PLeSr: Glasgow Saturday Post, 25 April 1846; Douglas (Isle of Man) Truth-Tester, 1:248–49 (1845–46). PLe: NASS, 12 February 1846; Douglass Papers, ser. 2, 2:211–15; Douglass, Life and Times (1881), 247–49. HLSr: General Correspondence File, reel 1, frames 571–76, FD Papers, DLC.

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Date

January 1, 1846

Type

Publication Status

Published