Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, January 27, 1846
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON
Perth, Scot. 27 Jan[uary] 1846.
To the Editor of the Liberator:
For the sake of our righteous cause, I was delighted to see, by an extract copied into the Liberator of 12th Dec. 1845, from the Delaware Republican, that Mr. A. C. C. Thompson,1A. C. C. Thompson, whose full name was actually Absalom Christopher Columbus Americus Vespucious Thompson (1822–?), questioned the authenticity of Douglass’s Narrative in a public letter to the Delaware Republican in 1845. Thompson’s father, physician and slaveowner Absalom C. Thompson, owned a farm near St. Michaels, Maryland, and Thompson lived there when Douglass worked at a neighboring farm rented by Edward Covey. Young Thompson knew Thomas Auld and other men mentioned in Douglass’s Narrative, and he therefore felt comfortable saying that the autobiography was “a budget of falsehoods,” filled with false accusations and imaginary cruelties, and slanderous in the extreme toward men whose Christian character would not admit of the unspeakable practices Douglass detailed. He remembered the “recreant slave” as “an unlearned, and rather an ordinary negro” scarcely able to write such a work. Delighted at the appearance of Thompson’s letter, Douglass hoped it would end suspicion that he was an impostor, thereby making his critique of slave society more credible. When the editor of the Albany Patriot observed that something better than personal opinion was necessary to “disturb the stern facts recorded by Frederick Douglass,” Thompson indignantly replied that if the Patriot did not “consider the evidence of one respectable white man as creditable as the assertions of a ranting negro,” then it might think differently about testimony from several respectable white men. In a Second letter to the Patriot, Thompson included letters and statements from white friends at St. Michaels, one of whom was Thomas Auld himself. U.S. Census, Maryland, Talbot County, 182; Talbot County Land Records, 46, 611; Talbot County Wills, JP9, 241, 11 October 1842, MdTCH; Douglass Papers, ser. 2, 1:154–56, 185–88. No. 101, Market-street, Wilmington, has undertaken to invalidate my testimony against the slaveholders, whose names I have made prominent in the narrative of my experience while in slavery.
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. Slavery has its own standard of morality, humanity, justice, and Christianity. Tried by that standard, it is a system of the greatest kindness to the slave—sanctioned by the purest morality—in perfect agreement with justice—and, of course, not inconsistent with Christianity. But, tried by any other, it is doomed to condemnation. The naked relation of master and slave is one of those monsters of darkness, to whom the light of truth is death! The wise ones among the slaveholders know this, and they studiously avoid doing any thing, which, in their judgment, tends to elicit truth. They seem fully to understand, that their safety is in their silence. They may have learned this wisdom from Junius, who counselled his opponent, Sir William Draper, when defending Lord Granby, never to attract attention to a character, which would only pass without condemnation, when it passed without observation.2Junius was a British pamphleteer whose sarcastic attacks on government corruption created a sensation in England on the eve of the American Revolution. His letters appeared in London’s Public Advertiser from 1769 to 1772 and were widely republished. Junius was probably Sir Philip Francis (1740–1818), an Irishman and a radical Whig reformer who clerked in the British War Office, served on the governing council of India, and sat in Parliament. The first of Junius’s polemical antagonists, Sir William Draper (1721–87), was a British army officer who rose to the rank of lieutenant general, served as lieutenant governor of Minorca, and might have been involved in selling army commissions. In 1769, Draper rushed to defend his friends in the government whom Junius had singled out for special condemnation. One of these was John Manners, Marquess of Granby (1721–70), lieutenant general and colonel of the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues), who commanded British forces in Germany during the Seven Years’ War, and who was appointed commander-in-chief of British forces in 1766. Junius [pseud.] and Sir William Draper, The Political Contest: Containing a Series of Letters between Junius and Sir William Draper, 3rd ed. (London, 1769), 29; Alvar Ellegard, Who Was Junius? (Stockholm, Swed., 1962), 13; idem, A Statistical Method for Determining Authorship: The Junius Letters, 1769–1772 (Goteborg, Swed., 1962); DNB, 6:4–7, 7:611–20, 17:937–39.
I am now almost too far away to answer this attempted refutation by Mr. Thompson. I fear his article will be forgotten, before you get my reply. I, however, think the whole thing worth reviving, as it is seldom we have so good a case for dissection. In any country but the United States, I might hope to get a hearing through the columns of the paper in which I was attacked. But this would be inconsistent with American usage and magnanimity. It would be folly to expect such a hearing. They might possibly advertise me as a runaway slave, and share the reward of my apprehension; but on no other condition would they allow my reply a place in their columns.
In this, however, I may judge the ‘Republican’ harshly. It may be that, having admitted Mr. Thompson’s article, the editor will think it but fair—negro though I am—to allow my reply an insertion.
In replying to Mr. Thompson, I shall proceed as I usually do in preaching the slaveholder’s sermon,—dividing the subject under two general
heads, as follows:—
1st. The statement of Mr. Thompson, in confirmation of the truth of my narrative.
2ndly. His denials of its truthfulness.
Under the first, I beg Mr. Thompson to accept my thanks for his full, free and unsolicited testimony, in regard to my identity. There now need be no doubt on that point, however much there might have been before. Your testimony, Mr. Thompson, has settled the question forever. I give you the fullest credit for the deed, saying nothing of the motive. But for you, sir, the
pro-slavery people in the North might have persisted, with some show of reason, in representing me as being an imposter—a free negro who had never been south of Mason & Dixon’s line—one whom the abolitionists, acting on the jesuitical principle, that the end justifies the means,3“The ends justifies the means” has appeared in various forms and been attributed to several authors throughout the centuries. The earliest known use of this phrase was by the Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.E.–18 C.E.) in Heroides, but variations of the saying also appear in the book of Romans, the writings of St. Jerome, The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, and the poem “Hans Caravel” (1700) by Matthew Prior. As Douglass indicates, the idea has also been associated with the Jesuit order. George Seldes, comp., The Great Quotations (Secaucus, N.J., 1993), 454; Burton Stevenson, The Home Book of Quotations, Classical and Modern (New York, 1967), 540; James Wood, comp., The Nuttall Dictionary of Quotations: From Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (London, 1930), 50. had educated and sent forth to attract attention to their faltering cause. I am greatly indebted to you, sir, for silencing those truly prejudicial insinuations. I wish I could make you understand the amount of service you have done me. You have completely tripped up the heels of your pro-slavery friends, and laid them ﬂat at my feet. You have done a piece of anti-slavery work, which no anti-slavery man could do. Our cautious and truth-loving people in New-England would never have believed this testimony, in proof of my identity, had it been borne by an abolitionist. Not that they really think an abolitionist capable of bearing false witness intentionally, but such persons are thought fanatical, and to look at every thing through a distorted medium. They will believe you—they will believe a slaveholder. They have, some how or other, imbibed (and I confess strangely enough) the idea that persons such as yourself are dispassionate, impartial and disinterested, and therefore capable of giving a fair representation of things connected with slavery. Now, under these circumstances, your testimony is of the utmost importance. It will serve to give effect to my exposures of slavery, both at home and abroad. I hope I shall not administer to your vanity when I tell you that you seem to have been raised up for this purpose! I came to this land with the highest testimonials from some of the most intelligent and distinguished abolitionists in the United States; yet some here have entertained and expressed doubt as to whether I have ever been a slave. You may easily imagine the perplexing and embarrasing nature of my situation, and how anxious I must have been to be relieved from it. You, sir, have relieved me. I now stand before both the American and British public, endorsed by you as being just what I have ever represented myself to be—to wit, an American slave.
You say, ‘I knew this recreant slave by the name of Frederick Bailey’ (instead of Douglass.) Yes, that was my name; and, leaving out the term recreant, which savors a little of bitterness, your testimony is direct and perfect—just what I have long wanted. But you are not yet satisfied. You seem determined to bear the most ample testimony in my favor. You say you knew me when I lived with Mr. Covey.4Edward Covey (c. 1806–75) began as a poor farm-renter from Talbot County, Maryland, but managed to accumulate $23,000 in real estate holdings by 1850. Covey’s reputation as a slave breaker enabled him to rent or to receive the free use of field hands from local slaveowners anxious to have their slaves taught proper discipline. Harriet Lucretia Anthony, the great-granddaughter of Aaron Anthony, remembered, “Mr. Covey was really noted for his cruelty and meanness.” Inventory of the estate of Edward Covey, 15 May 1875, Talbot County Inventories, TNC#3, 578, MdTCH; Harriet L. Anthony, annotated copy of Bondage and Freedom, folder 93, 203, Dodge Collection, MdAA; 1850 U.S. Census, Maryland, Talbot County, 240; Dickson I. Preston, Young Frederick Douglass: The Maryland Years (Baltimore, 1980), 117–31.—‘And with most of the persons’ mentioned in my narrative, ‘you are intimately acquainted.’ This is excellent. Then Mr. Edward Covey is not a creature of my imagination, but really did, and may yet exist.
You thus brush away the miserable insinuation of my northern pro-slavery enemies, that I have used fictitious not real names. You say—‘Col. Lloyd5Edward Lloyd V (1779–1834) of Wye House was the scion of Talbot County’s ﬁrst family. One of the state’s largest landowners and slaveowners, he was also Maryland’s most successful wheat grower and cattle raiser. As a charter member of the Maryland Agricultural Society, a founder of at least two banks, and a speculator in coal lands, he became the wealthiest of a long line of Lloyds that extended back to colonial Maryland. In slaves alone, his huge holdings increased from 420 in 1810 to 545 in 1830. An eager student of politics as an adolescent and a frequent auditor of political debate at the Annapolis State House, Edward V became a Republican delegate to the state legislature when he reached the age of majority in 1800. The following year, he helped secure passage of a bill removing all restrictions to white male suffrage. As a U.S. congressman (1806–08), Lloyd voted against a bill to end the African slave trade. He also served as Maryland’s governor (1809–10), a state legislator (1811–16), U.S. senator (1819–26), and state senator (1826–31). Edward V married Sally Scott Murray on 30 November 1797 and had six children with her. 1810 U.S. Census, Maryland, Talbot County, 342; Oswald Tilghman, comp., History of Talbot County, Maryland, 1661–1861, 2 vols. (Baltimore, 1915), 1:184–210; Hulbert Footner, Rivers of the Eastern Shore: Seventeen Maryland Rivers (New York, 1944), 283–90; Preston, Young Frederick Douglass, 26, 30, 48–54, 57–58, 74, 82; BDAC, 1403. was a wealthy planter. Mr. Gore6Austin Gore (1794–1871), also referred to as Orson Gore in the Lloyd family account and cash books, was the overseer of Davis’s Farm plantation, owned by Edward Lloyd V. In 1823 a young slave named Bill Demby died on this plantation, and Douglass asserted in the Narrative that Gore had coolly murdered Demby. A friend of Gore’s later challenged this allegation, insisting that he was “a respectable citizen living near St. Michael’s, and . . . a worthy member of the Methodist Episcopal Church; . . . all who know him, think him anything but a murderer.” Lloyd apparently tolerated Gore’s brutality, for he later promoted Gore to overseer of the much larger Wye House plantation. A. C. C. Thompson, “To the Public—Falsehood Refuted,” reprinted in NASS, 25 November 1845, and in Lib., 12 December 1845; Various account books and cash books, Land Papers—Maintenance of Property, Land Volume 39, reel 10, Lloyd Family Papers, MdHi; 1830 U.S. Census, Maryland, Talbot County, 14. was once an overseer for Col. Lloyd, but is now living near St. Michael’s, is respected, and (you) believe he is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Mr. Thomas Auld7Born in St. Michaels, Maryland, Thomas Auld (1795–1880) was the eldest son of Hugh and Zipporah Auld. Trained as a shipbuilder, Auld supervised the construction of the Lloyd sloop, the Sally Lloyd, and subsequently became its captain. In 1823 he met and married Lucretia Anthony while a boarder in the Anthony home. Shortly thereafter Auld became a storekeeper in Hillsborough, Maryland, and inherited Douglass along with ten other slaves from the estate of Aaron Anthony. He later managed a store in St. Michaels, where he also served as postmaster before retiring to a nearby farm. The 1850 census listed him as a “farmer” with $8,500 worth of real estate. References to Thomas Auld in Douglass’s Narrative and public speeches are generally uncomplimentary, although Douglass disclaimed any personal hostility toward his former owner. A reconciliation occurred in the post-Reconstruction period when Douglass visited the dying Auld in St. Michaels. NASS, 25 November 1845; NS, 8 September 1848, 7 September 1849; Baltimore Sun, 19 June 1877; Aaron Anthony Slave Distribution, 22 October 1827, Talbot County Distributions, V. JP#D, 58–59, MdTCH; 1850 U.S. Census, Maryland, Talbot County, 1169 (free schedule); Tilghman, Talbot County, 1:395; Dickson J. Preston, “Aaron Anthony” (unpublished paper, Easton, Maryland, 1977), 5, MdTCH; Emerson B. Roberts, “A Visitation of Western Talbot,” MdHM, 41:235–45 (September 1946). is an honorable and worthy member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Mr. Covey, too, is a member of the Methodist church, and all that can be said of him is, that he is a good Christian,’ &c &c. Do allow me, once more, to thank you for this triumphant vindication of the truth of my statements; and to show you how highly I value your testimony, I will inform you that I am now publishing a second edition of my narrative in this country, having already disposed of the first. I will insert your article with my reply as an appendix to the edition now in progress. If you find any fault with my frequent thanks, you may find some excuse for me in the fact, that I have serious fears that you will be but poorly thanked by those whose characters you have felt it your duty to defend. I am almost certain they will regard you as running before you were sent, and as having spoken when you should have been silent. Under these trying circumstances, it is evidently the duty of those interested in your welfare to extend to you such words of consolation as may ease, if not remove, the pain of your sad disappointment! But enough of this.
Now, then, to the second part—or your denials. You are confident I did not write the book; and the reason of your confidence is, that when you knew me, I was an unlearned and rather an ordinary negro. Well, I have to admit I was rather an ordinary negro when you knew me, and I do not claim to be a very extraordinary one now. But you knew me under very unfavorable circumstances. It was when I lived with Mr. Covey, the negro-breaker, and member of the Methodist Church. I had just been living with master Thomas Auld, where I had been reduced by hunger. Master Thomas did not allow me enough to eat. Well, when I lived with Mr. Covey, I was driven so hard, and whipt so often, that my soul was crushed and my spirits broken. I was a mere wreck. The degradation to which I was then subjected, as I now look back to it, seems more like a dream than a horrible reality. I can scarcely realize how I ever passed through it, without quite losing all my moral and intellectual energies. I can easily understand that you sincerely doubt if I wrote the narrative; for if any one had told me, seven years ago, I should ever be able to write such an one, I should have doubted as strongly as you now do. You must not judge me now by what I then was—a change of circumstances has made a surprising change in
me. Frederick Douglass, the freeman, is a very different person from Frederick Bailey,* the slave. I feel myself almost a new man—freedom has given me new life. I fancy you would scarcely know me. I think I have altered very much in my general appearance, and know I have in my manners. You remember when I used to meet you on the road to St. Michael’s, or near Mr. Covey’s lane gate, I hardly dared to lift my head, and look up at you. If I should meet you now, amid the free hills of old Scotland, where the ancient ‘black Douglass’8The English gave the name “Black Douglas” to Sir James Douglas of Scotland (c. 1286–1330) as he terriﬁed Northumberland with his raids upon the borderland towns during the early fourteenth century. I. M. Davis, The Black Douglas (London, 1974), 82–83. once met his foes, I presume I might summon sufficient fortitude to look you full in the face; and were you to attempt to make a slave of me, it is possible you might find me almost as disagreeable a subject, as was the Douglass to whom I have just referred. Of one thing, I am certain—you would see a great change in me!
I trust I have now explained away your reason for thinking I did not write the narrative in question.
You next deny the existence of such cruelty in Maryland as I reveal in my narrative; and ask, with truly marvellous simplicity, ‘could it be possible that charitable, feeling men could murder human beings with as little remorse as the narrative of this infamous libeller would make us believe; and that the laws of Maryland, which operate alike upon black and white, bond and free, could permit such foul murders to pass unnoticed?’ ‘No,’ you say, ‘it is impossible.’ I am not to determine what charitable, feeling men can do; but, to show what Maryland slaveholders actually do, their charitable feeling is to be determined by their deeds, and not their deeds by their charitable feelings. The cowskin makes as deep a gash in my flesh, when wielded by a professed saint, as it does when wielded by an open sinner. The deadly musket does as fatal execution when its trigger is pulled by Austin Gore, the Christian, as when the same is done by Beal Bondly,9John Beale Bordley (1800–82) was the son of Matthias Bordley and the grandson of John Beale Bordley, a noted agriculturalist and Revolutionary War era patriot from Maryland. Often called simply Beale Bordley, John Beale Bordley was born on his father’s Wye Island estate, across the Wye River from the Lloyd plantation. In his mid-twenties he moved to Philadelphia to study law with Pennsylvania Chief Justice John Bannister Gibson. Quickly tiring of the law, Bordley developed a successful career painting portraits of prominent figures in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. The Maryland Historical Society holds a number of his paintings. Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, 14 March 1882; Francis Sims McGrath, Pillars of Maryland (Richmond, Va., 1950), 393; idem, “A Letter to Eileen,” MdHM, 24:306 (December 1929); Eugenia Calvert Holland and Louisa MacGill Gary, comps., “Miniatures in the Collection of the Maryland Historical Society,” MdHM, 51:342, 346, 353 (December 1956); Anna Wells Rutledge, “Portraits Painted before 1900 in the Collection of the Maryland Historical Society,” MdHM, 41:35–36,43 (March 1946). the infidel. The best way to ascertain what those charitable, feeling men can do, will be to point you to the laws made by them, and which you say operate alike upon the white and the black, the bond and the free. By consulting the statute laws of Maryland, you will find the following—☞‘Any slave for rambling in the night, or riding horses in the day time without leave, or running away, may be punished by whipping, cropping, branding in the cheek, or otherwise—not rendering him unfit for labor.’—p. 337.☜
Then another:—☞‘Any slave convicted of petty treason, murder, or wilful burning of dwelling-houses, may be sentenced to have the right hand cut off, to be hanged in the usual way—his head severed from his body—the body divided into four quarters, and the head and quarters set up in the most public place where such act was committed.’—Page 190.☜10Douglass outlines two brutal Maryland laws aimed at controlling the behavior of the enslaved. The Laws of Maryland, with the Charter, Bill of Rights and Constitution of the State, 3 vols. (Baltimore, 1811), 1:190, 237.
Now, Mr. Thompson, when you consider with what ease a slave may be convicted of any one or all of these crimes, how bloody and atrocious do those laws appear! Yet, sir, they are but the breath of those pious and charitable feeling men, whom you would defend. I am sure I have recorded in my narrative, nothing so revoltingly cruel, murderous, and infernal, as may be found in your own statute book.
You say that the laws of Maryland operate alike upon the white and black, the bond and free. If you mean by this, that the parties named are all equally protected by law, you perpetrate a falsehood as big as that told by President Polk in his inaugural address.11In his inaugural address on 4 March 1845, President James K. Polk declared, “All distinctions of birth or rank have been abolished. All citizens, whether native or adopted, are placed upon terms of precise equality. All are entitled to equal rights and equal protection.” James K. Polk, “Inaugural Address, March 4, 1845,” in The Presidents Speak: The Inaugural Addresses of the American Presidents, from Washington to Clinton, ed. Davis Newton Lott (New York, 1994), 105. It is a notorious fact, even on this side the Atlantic, that a black man cannot testify against a white in any court in Maryland, or any other slave State.12All southern states forbade the testimony of slaves or blacks against whites in legal action. Randall M. Miller and John David Smith, eds., Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery (Westport, Conn., 1997), 397. If you do not know this, you are more than ordinarily ignorant, and are to be pitied rather than censured. I will not say ‘that the detection of this falsehood proves all you have said to be false’—for I wish to avail myself of your testimony, in regard to my identity,—but I will say, you have made yourself very liable to suspicion.
I will close these remarks by saying, your positive opposition to slavery is fully explained, and will be well understood by anti-slavery men, when you say the evil of the system does not fall upon the slave, but the slaveholder. This is like saying that the evil of being burnt is not felt by the person burnt, but by him who kindles up the fire about him.
*My former name.
PLSr: Lib., 27 February 1846. Reprinted in PaF, 26 March 1846, 10 August 1848; NS, 13 October 1848; Foner, Life and Writings, 1:129–34, 5:16–21.