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Frederick Douglass to William A. White, July 30, 1846

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FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WILLIAM A. WHITE

Edinburgh, Scot. 30 July 1846.

To Wm. A White Esq.

MY DEAR WILLIAM,

I dreamed last night that you would not be angry at receiving a letter from your friend Frederick Douglass[.] It may be all a dream, yet for once I feel like acting under the direction of a dream. I have thought of you a thousand times since I left the U.S. and have as often promised myself the pleasure of writting to you, but some how or other I have managed to postpone it until now I am prompted by a dream. That you may the more readily excuse me for presumeing to dream of you, I will mention that I went to bed

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thinking about Pendleton Indianna.1A mob attacked Douglass in Pendleton, Madison County, Indiana, on the morning of 16 September 1843. The previous day, Douglass, William A. White, and George Bradburn had spoken at Pendleton’s Baptist church, despite rumors and threats from an excited “mob of thirty or more people,” many of whom were “very much intoxicated.” The next morning, with law-and-order resolutions posted prominently throughout the town, Douglass and his colleagues addressed an outdoor meeting on the wooded banks of nearby Fall Creek, where local Quakers had set up makeshift seats and stands. Menacing hecklers set upon the abolitionist trio, demolishing the speakers’ platform and attacking its occupants. The mob then focused its wrath on Douglass, pursuing and severely beating him. The bleeding and unconscious Douglass was taken to the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Neal Hardy, a Quaker couple, who treated Douglass’s broken right hand and other injuries. Because the bones were not properly set, the hand never regained its “natural strength and dexterity.” NASS, 18 September, 19 October 1843; Lib., 13 October 1843; Mary Howitt, “Memoir of Frederick Douglass,” People’s Journal, 305 (28 November 1846); Samuel Harden, comp., History of Madison County, Indiana, from 1820 to 1874 (Marketville, Ind., 1874), 203–05; John L. Forkner and Byron H. Dyson, eds., Historical Sketches and Reminiscences of Madison County (Anderson, Ind., 1897), 749–53; Lloyd Lewis, “Quaker Memories of Frederick Douglass,” Negro Digest, 5:37–41 (September 1947); J. J. Netterville, Centennial History of Madison County, Indiana, 2 vols. (Anderson, Ind., 1925), 1:321–22; Smedley, History of the Underground Railroad, 187–88. You may remember such a place, and also cirtain events which transpired in that region in the Summer of 1843. All dreams aside I shall never forget those days, and I may add those nights[.] I shall never forget how like two very brothers we were ready to dare-do,2Much Ado about Nothing, act 4, sc. 1, lines 19–21. and even die for each other. Tragic awfully so—yet I laugh always when I think how comic I must have looked when runing before the mob, darkening the air with the mud from my feet. How I looked running you can best describe but how you looked bleeding I shall always remember. You had left home and a life of ease and even luxury that you might do some thing toward breaking the fetters of the Slave and elevating the dispised black man—and this too against the wishes of your father and many of your friends. When I thought I did indeed wish to bleed in your sstead—such noble blood—so warm so generous—was too holy to be poured out by the rough hand of that infernal mob. Dear William—from that hour I you have been loved by Frederick Douglass.

I hold you in grateful and affectionate rememberance—and though I have not written to you before I assure you it has not been for want of the disposition. Among those who stand forth prominently in in behalf of the Antislavery cause, I look to none upon whom I can rely in the trial hour more than yourself. I am with you in spirit, and shall welcome the day which shall again find me by your side in this good cause. I write thus freely to you because I know you to be above the miserable and contemptable predjudices—too common even among those who claim to regard the negro as a brother. I could say many things to you about my journeyings here, but I prefer to write from within rather than from without—but enough.

What is to become of old Massachusetts? I have nearly lost all confidence in her honesty fidelity and love of liberty. Her doom is sealed—her glory has departed. You have labored nobly—and faithfully for her salvation—but there was not enough of moral life within her borders to save her from distruction. The American government is now in the piratical grasp of Texas, and possessing all the money and patronage, our Massachusitts politiceans will follow her in her atrocious robbery of Mexico3The Mexican-American War (1846–48) occurred as the result of a border dispute between the United States and Mexico, but had its roots in the issue of slavery. The Mexican government permitted slaveholding Americans to populate Texas, which was originally part of Mexico, on the condition that they relinquish their slaves. The reluctance of the American settlers to assimilate into Mexican social and political life, in large part due to their adherence to slave labor, resulted in revolution and the creation of the Republic of Texas in 1836. American annexation of Texas became a major issue in the election of 1844. In early 1845 the U.S. Congress voted to annex Texas by a simple majority vote and with the agreement that the new state could split into five separate states at any point in the future. Tension with Mexico soon blossomed when the United States declared the boundary of the new state to extend to the Rio Grande, much farther south than the Nueces River border recognized by the Mexican government. An American army led by General Zachary Taylor set out to enforce this proclamation, resulting in skirmishes with Mexican troops. In May 1846 Congress declared war on Mexico. After a series of successful campaigns by American troops, Mexico surrendered in February 1848. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo formally ended the war and gave the United States not only the disputed territory in Texas, but also land extending to the Pacific Ocean. The existence of slavery in the massive amount of territory formed the crux of national political debate during the following decade. Many abolitionists believed that the Mexican-American War was nothing less than an attempt by southern politicians to acquire more area for the expansion of slavery. Randolph Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821–1865 (Baton Rouge, La., 1989); K. Jack Bauer, The Mexican War, 1846–1848 (New York, 1974).—like Sharks in the bloody wake of a slave ship. Money and office is the order of the day with them, and for these they seem willing to go to perdition—and if need be drag every one else after them. Who would have believed twelve months ago, that the Whig governer of Massachusitts4George Nixon Briggs (1796–1861), a Whig, served in the House from 1841 to 1842 and was governor of Massachusetts from 1844 to 1851. As governor he ordered an investigation of the kidnapping of free black Massachusetts sailors by southern slave catchers, but South Carolina agents detained his agents. He also opposed the Mexican-American War as an attempt to extend slavery, but complied with the federal government’s request to supply troops from Massachusetts. This last action led some abolitionists, including Wendell Phillips, to condemn Briggs as a traitor to antislavery principles. Briggs was active in a number of reform-minded organizations, and at various times after 1846 he served as president of the American Baptist Missionary Union, the American Tract Society, and the American Temperance Union. After his retirement as governor in 1851, Briggs practiced law with his son, was a delegate at the 1853 Massachusetts constitutional convention, and served as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas from 1851 to 1856. DAB, 2:41–42; ANB, 3:539–41. would be seen calling upon the free citizens of that state to leave there homes families and friends to go & fight the plundering battles of Slave holding

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Texas? As low as my opinion of the Honesty Sincerity and uprightness of that governer was, I should have repelled such a prediction as altogether unjust—and a malicious attempt to injure the character, of Govemer Briggs. He ought hurled from his place as quick as possible. I am more than ever convinced that New England can only be saved by a disolution of the American Union. Three years from this time will see the seat of the American goverment removed from Washington into the South west for the accomodation of of Slaveholding Texas—and as many more states of which the U.S. shall find it conveinent to rob Mexico. I need not dwell on this subject. I know you must feel the degradation of your state keenly. I will not however dispair. There is yet a glorious phalanx of noble men in New England whose mighty souls if once kindled by the holy fire of freedom will consume every thing of the hay wood and stubble5A reference to 1 Cor. 3:12. of proslavery by which they are surrounded. Go forth then go forth—and scatter your eloquence like sparks from the smitten steel. It will have its influence.

Freedom’s battle once begun
Bequeathed from bleeding sire to son
Though baffled aft, is ever won.6Lines 123–25 from Lord Byron’s poem “The Giaour.” George Gordon Byron, Baron Byron of Rochdale, Lord Byron: Selected Poems, ed. Susan J. Wolfson and Peter J. Manning (New York, 1996), 171.

You will perceive that I am now in Edingburgh[.]7Douglass went to Scotland in late May 1846 in the company of George Thompson to resume the campaign against the Free Church of Scotland. He lectured in Edinburgh and in other cities in Scotland, and in northern England in June and July. London Patriot, 26 May, 4 June, 2 July 1846; Edinburgh Weekly Journal, 10 June 1846; Newcastle Guardian, 8, 15 August 1846. It is the capital of Scotland—and is justly regarded as one of the most beatuful cities in Urope. I never saw one with which for beauty elegance and grandeur to compare it. I have no time even had I the ability to decribe it. You must come and see it if you ever visit this country. You will be delighted with it I am sure. The Monument to Sir Walter Scott8Completed two years before Douglass’s visit, the monument to Sir Walter Scott resides in the East Princes Street Garden. Intricately ornamented, the 200-foot-tall gothic spire houses a statue of Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott with his dog Maida. Muirhead, Scotland, 27.—on princes street, is just one conglomeration of architectural beauties. The Calton Hill—Salsbury Craggs and Arthur Seat9Edinburgh is built on and around numerous hills. Calton Hill is located at the eastern end of Princes Street, the east-west roadway dividing the city’s Old Town from its New Town. Climbing Calton Hill affords a view of the Firth of Forth and the surrounding shoreline. The Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat lie southeast of Calton Hill. The Salisbury Crags form a ridge several hundred feet tall, and Arthur’s Seat, a conical hill immediately east of the crags, towers over them at a height of 796 feet. Thomas and Baldwin, Lippincott’s Gazetteer, 1:611. give the city advantages over any City I have ever visited in this or in your country. I enjoy every thing here which may be enjoyed by those of a paler hue—no distinction here. I have found myself in the society of the Combes10Writings on moral education by Scottish phrenologist George Combe (1788–1858) enjoyed a wide circulation on both sides of the Atlantic. Combe argued that happiness resulted from relentless efforts at moral, mental, and physical self-improvement, and it advanced in proportion to the increase in knowledge. The American antislavery community esteemed Combe because “he put himself in communication with the American abolitionists, and ever afterwards kept the channel open.” NASS, 11 September 1858; Washington (D.C.) National Era, 30 September 1858; George Combe, The Constitution of Man Considered in Relation to External Objects, 3rd American ed. (1828; Boston, 1834); Shepperson, “Frederick Douglass and Scotland,” 311–12; DNB, 4:883–85. the Crowe’s11Eyre Crowe (1799–1868) was a journalist who edited the London Daily News (1849–51), as well as a historian and novelist. DNB, 5:237–38. and the Chamber’s12William Chambers (1800–83) and his brother Robert (1802–71) were former booksellers who taught themselves the publishing trade. Both brothers wrote many books on natural and human history. DNB, 4:23–25, 27–29. the first people of this city and no one seemed alarmed by my presence.

I shall leave here for London on Saturday, first of August. I hope to meet Mr. Garrison there.13William Lloyd Garrison traveled to London ostensibly to attend the World’s Temperance Convention, scheduled for July and August 1846. Garrison then planned to tour the British Isles to rally supporters there for his perfectionist brand of abolitionism. Douglass left Scotland to meet Garrison at that convention, but made several speaking engagements in early August while en route. Newcastle Guardian, 8 August 1846; Merrill and Rucharnes, Garrison Letters, 3:358–59; Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 1:316–39. I long to see a face which I have seen in America. I indulged a hope of seeing you over here this summer. I suppose there is no prospect of your being over now—it is so late in the season. Do tell me is it true that you are married. I think I heard you were. If you are I am glad of it—if you are not I hope you will be soon. I want to see more William A Whites in the world, as well as to see those happy who are already here.

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William do you think it would be safe for me to come home this fall? Would Master Hugh14Hugh Auld. stand much chance in Mass.? Think he could take me from the Old Bay State?15Massachusetts received the nickname the “Bay State” from its original appellation, the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Mitford M. Mathews, A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (Chicago, 1956), 1155. The old fellow is evedently anxcious to get Hold of me. Staying in this country will not be apt to encrease his love for me. I am playing the mischief with the character of Slaveholders in this land. They will find the atmosphere very hot here for them. The Revd. Thomas Smyth D.D.16A Presbyterian minister of Scots-Irish descent, Thomas Smyth (1808–73) was born in Belfast, Ireland, and educated at Belfast College and in London at Highbury College. After immigrating to the United States with his parents in 1830, he continued his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary before his ordination the following year. From 1834 until his death, he was the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina. A prolific writer of doctrinal treatises and devotional literature, Smyth also wrote an ethnological justification of African slavery titled The Unity of the Human Races (New York, 1850). In 1843 Princeton University awarded him a doctor of divinity degree. Smyth figured prominently in the early fortunes of the Free Church of Scotland, raising a large share of the approximately $9,000 that the Free Church collected from proslavery churches in the South. When some members of the Free Church began expressing abolitionist sentiments, Smyth threatened to discontinue southern financial support. In July 1846, both Douglass and Smyth were in Belfast to influence the General Assembly of the Irish Presbyterian Church. While Douglass and other abolitionists urged that the Free Church “send back the money,” Smyth wanted the church to take a proslavery position and counterattacked with the slogan “Send Back the Nigger.” After an attempt to discredit Douglass surfaced, Douglass sued Smyth for defamation of character. To avoid further controversy at the assembly, church leaders asked Smyth not to participate. Lib., 26 April 1844; Louisa Cheves [Smythe] Stoney, ed., Autobiographical Notes, Letters, and Reflections by Thomas Smyth, D.D. (Charleston, SC, 1914), 217–19; Thomas Smyth, The Claims of the Free Church of Scotland to the Sympathy and Assistance ofAmerican Christians (Edinburgh, Scot., 1844); idem, The Character of the Late Thomas Chalmers, D.D., LL.D., and the Lessons of His Life, from Personal Recollections (Charleston, S.C., 1848), 13–17; Blackett, Building an Antislavery Wall, 83–97; J. F. MacLear, “Thomas Smyth, Frederick Douglass, and the Belfast Antislavery Campaign,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, 80:288–94 (October 1979); George Shepperson, “Notes and Docements: Thomas Chalmers, the Free Church of Scotland, and the South,” Journal of Southern History, 17:520–26 (November 1951); idem, “The Free Church and American Slavery,” 132–33; ACAB, 5:600; DAB, 14:377–78. of Charleston South Carolina has been kept out of every pulpit here. I think I have been partly the means of it. He is terrible mad with me for it.

Pardon this poorly written scrawl. I have not time to correct the spelling or composition. I[t] comes quick from my pen as it comes warm from my heart.

Sincerely yours—

FREDERICK DOUGLASS

ALS: General Correspondence File, reel 1, frames 622–23, FD Papers, DLC. PLSr: Foner, Life and Writings, 1:181–84.

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Date

July 30, 1846

Type

Publication Status

Published