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Frederick Douglass to the Lynn Anti-Slavery Sewing Circle, August 18, 1846

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FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO THE LYNN ANTI-SLAVERY SEWING CIRCLE1Women involved in the antislavery movement formed sewing circles as a means of making practical use of their time while holding antislavery meetings, where they would knit or sew items that were then sold to raise funds at antislavery fairs. Although no records for the Lynn Anti-Slavery Sewing Circle have been located, Rosetta Douglass remembered her mother as attending the weekly Lynn Ladies’ Anti–Slavery Society meetings, where the members made items for sale at the annual Boston Anti–Slavery Fair. Thus, the sewing circle and the society might have been the same entity. The Lynn Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society’s membership included, in addition to Anna Douglass, Hannah and Ruth O. Buffum, and Abby Kelley Foster. Lib., 3 December 1847; Benjamin F. Roberts, The Lynn Directory and Register for 1841 (Lynn, Mass., 1841), 13–14; Quarles, “Sources of Abolitionist Income,” 71–72; Sprague, My Mother as I Recall Her, 12–13.

London, [Eng.] 18 August 1846.

To the Lynn Anti-Slavery Sewing Circle:

MY DEAR FRIENDS—

Owing to some cause at present unknown to me, but which you may understand and be able to explain, your kind letter of 16th June2The sewing circle’s 16 June 1846 letter to Douglass has not been located. did not reach me until the 3d August.—I mention this to account for what might otherwise be deemed culpable neglect. Now what shall I say? for such are my circumstances that I can do little more than apologize for writing you a poor letter. Weighed down, oppressed, and almost overcome, by constant effort—by engagements, public and private, growing out of immediate contact with deeply interested friends here—I find it very difficult to gain a moment of calm repose, during which to commune with dear friends on your side the Atlantic; you will readily understand this, when you remember that the fact of my being a fugitive slave is new here. My peculiar position, without any personal attractions, subjects me to many calls and questions from which other lecturers would be comparatively free. Thus engaged, and thus interested, you will readily see that what I write must be very imperfect. But, my dear fr[i]ends, perfect or imperfect, with or without time, I have resolved to send you a line, responsive in spirit, if not in point of composition, to your warm and sympathetic letter. I thank you for it. I assure you that I speak nothing more than the truth when I say I felt gratified, cheered and honoured, by that token of friendly interest, esteem, and affection. I felt proud in finding myself approvingly remembered by so many sterling friends, in and out of your choice circle, who placed their names under that friendly epistle. Next to the approbation of heaven and one’s own conscience, stands that of clear-sighted and sincere friends; and while it is quite easy to conceive of contentment with the former, it is

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difficult to conceive of happiness without the latter. A strong man may be able to stand without the proper sympathy; but I know of none so strong but who could be made stronger by it.

But I must not write you an essay on the excellence of human sympathy, but speak to you of the great cause which binds[ ]our hearts sympathetically together, the deliverance from thraldom of three millions of our long-neglected and deeply-abused race. I wish I could say something to cheer and strengthen you in this cause. I wish I were able to penetrate the future, and assure you of a speedy triumph of our cause; but this is not for me. I can only say, work on; your cause is good; work on; duty is yours—consequences are the Almighty’s.3In an 1836 lecture titled “Reproof a Christian Duty,” evangelist Charles G. Finney stated, “But in other cases, duty is yours, consequences God’s.” Charles G. Finney, Lectures to Professing Christians (New York, 1837), 29.

I confess I feel sad, and sick at heart, by the present posture of political affairs in the United States. The spirit of slavery reigns triumphant throughout all the land. Every step in the onward march of political events is marked with blood—innocent blood; shed, too, in the cause of slavery. The war with Mexico rages; the green earth is drenched with warm blood, oozing out from human hearts; the air is darkened with smoke; the heavens are shaken by the terrible roar of the cannon; the groans and cries of the wounded and dying disturb the ear of God. Yet how few in that land care one farthing for it, or will move one inch to arrest and remove the cause of this horrible state of things? I am sad; I am sick; the whole land is cursed, if not given over to destruction. Massachusetts, the brightest of every other state, is now but the tool of Texas. Texas may be said to give laws to the whole Union. She leads the way in plunder and murder; and Massachusetts, with all New England, follow in the crusade like hungry sharks in the bloody wake of a Brazilian slaveship. What a spectacle for men and angels!4A paraphrase of 1 Cor. 4:9.——Gov. Briggs5George N. Briggs. issuing his order to send the sons of those who fell in the cause of freedom on Bunker Hill,6The Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the early military conflicts of the American Revolution, actually occurred on Breed’ s Hill on the Charlestown Peninsula across the Charles River from Boston. On 17 June 1775, approximately 2,000 American militiamen temporarily held off an advance of roughly 2,500 British troops, killing 226 and wounding another 828. After the war, Americans looked upon the battle as a testament to the patriotism of the Massachusetts troops who stood their ground in the face of a superior foe. Robert M. Ketchum, Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill (Garden City, N.Y., 1974); Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789 (New York, 1982), 281–92. to fight the battle of slavery in Mexico! Gov. Briggs the tetotaller! Gov. Briggs the baptist! issuing his order to raise troops in Massachusetts, to establish with fire and sword the man-blasting and soul-damning system of slavery! Who would have thought it? And yet it was to be expected. The deed was done long ago. The foundation of this frowning monument of infa[m]y was laid when the states were first declared the United States. This is but another link around your necks of the galling chain which your fathers placed about the heels of my race. It is the legitimate fruit of compromise—of attempting a union of freedom with slavery. All was lost in that sad moment. The American Anti-Slavery Society has the right on this question. Her ground is the true one. I believe that the salvation of the country depends, under God, upon

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the effort of that society. The Union must be dissolved, or New England is lost and swallowed up by the slave-power of the country. Work on, dear friends, work on! walk by faith, and not by sight.72 Cor. 5:7. Come good, or come evil—prosperity or adversity—work on! See that all which can be done by patriotic and humane woman for the salvation of millions groaning in chains, is done; and whoever else may approve, you shall have the approbation of a good conscience, and the tear of grateful hearts, for your reward.

You speak of your remaining together, though unorganized. I am of course glad to hear your prosperity, though I cannot say as much of your being unorganized. While it is not for me to direct you, who have labored so long and so well in this cause, how you shall help me and my race generally, yet you must allow me to say, that my conviction of the utility and importance of organization is strengthened by every day’s experience.8At this point in the letter, the editors of the Lynn News inserted a note from the Lynn Anti-Slavery Society stating, “Our friend Douglass misunderstands us in supposing we are opposed to organization, as that is not the case.” Lynn (Mass.) News, 25 September 1846. I find that friend H. Clapp9Henry Clapp, editor of the Lynn (Mass.) Pioneer, attended the World’s Temperance Convention and served as one of its secretaries. Clapp defended Douglass after Edward Norris Kirk criticized Douglass for introducing the issue of slavery at that meeting. Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 3:157; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:270n; NCAB, 9:121. has seen the utter absurdity of carrying forward a moral enterprise without an organization. He has either changed his views, or acted as a delegate, and held the office of secretary, in the temperance world’s convention, held here last week. This he did where free speech was not tolerated, and where men spoke—only by and with the consent of the chairman. Nor was this objected to by Mr. Clapp. Is organization a curse in New England, and a blessing in Old England? Consistency, thou art a jewel.10Though a popular saying for several centuries, the phrase “consistency, thou art a jewel” has no known origin. Stevenson, Book of Proverbs, 410.

One word more. You remind me of the poor, in this country. I thank you for it. We have poverty here, but no slavery; we have rags here, but no slavery; we have crime here, but no slavery; we have suffering here, but no slavery, and in all this, England has a decided advantage over America. Still, my dear friends, I am by no means unmindful of the poor; and you may rely upon me as one who will never desert the cause of the poor, no matter whether black or white.

May kind heaven smile upon your righteous efforts, and strengthen your hearts for every duty, is the sincere wish of your grateful, and devoted friend,

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

PLSr: Lynn (Mass) News, 25 September 1846. Reprinted in NASS, 15 October 1846; JNH, 10:693–96 (October 1925); Woodson, Mind of the Negro, 429–32; Foner, Life and Writings, 1:186–88.

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Date

August 18, 1846

Type

Publication Status

Published