Skip to main content

Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, January 2, 1847

1

FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON

Carlisle, Eng. 2 Jan[uary] 1847.

MY DEAR FRIEND:

Your own experience, while on your recent serviceable visit to this country, will afford you ample apology (if any be needed) for my silence, during the last two months. The immediate and imperative demands upon my time, by public and private engagements, have left me no favorable opportunity for writing to you. If you have heard little of my movements of late, it is owing to no inactivity on my part, but to the fact that my labors, unlike what they were during your visit, have been confined to parts of the country, where there is no press to chronicle such proceedings. From the day of our reluctant parting on the waters of the ‘Mersey,’1Douglass accompanied William Lloyd Garrison to Liverpool, which lies on the Mersey River, where Garrison took ship to return to the United States on 4 November 1846. Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:450–51; Cohen, Columbia Gazetteer, 2:1957. until now, I have been earnestly and successfully laboring, in connection with our friend H. C. Wright,2Henry C. Wright. and Mr. Smith,3Robert Smith served as secretary of the Anti-Slavery League. In the 1850s, he was active in the Anglo-American Anti-Slavery Association, a short-lived British Garrisonian society. NASS, 12 November 1846; Blackett, Building an Antislavery Wall, 135; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 1:330–31n, 360n. the secretary, to extend and establish the ANTI-SLAVERY LEAGUE.4In August 1846, Garrison, Henry C. Wright, and British Garrisonians formed the Anti-Slavery League, a body competing with the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. In addition to criticizing its antislavery rival, the Garrisonian league protested the Evangelical Alliance’s failure to condemn slavery, and it demanded that the Free Church of Scotland “send back the money” donated by southern slaveholders. During Garrison’s British tour, the league sponsored several successful meetings, including one in London’s Exeter Hall on 14 September and another in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 12 October. The meetings featured Garrison, Douglass, and George Thompson, president of the league, as principal speakers. Upon Garrison’s return to the United States in November 1846, the Anti-Slavery League lost momentum, since it had been established on the American abolitionist’s ideals and charisma. Although abolitionists in Bristol and Exeter established auxiliaries, a strong network of affiliates never formed. The Anti-Slavery League failed to establish its own publication, to raise sufficient funds for an active campaign, or even to hold meetings past its 1847 annual convention. Lib.,18 September, 2, 16 October, 11 December 1846; NASS, 12 November 1846; Temperley, British Antislavery, 215–20; Turley, “British Unitarian Abolitionists,” 58.

I am glad of the view you take of my intention to remain in this country until next summer, and hope you will be able to satisfy our friends and fellow-laborers in America, of the wisdom of that intention. Were I to consult my own case, or yield to my inclination, I should at once quit the shores of England, and come home to my family and friends, and to my

2

American field of labor. But the times, and the exigencies of the cause, seem imperatively to demand my presence here. I am now fairly before the public in this country, and have an opportunity of operating upon the public mind, such as can be acquired only by being some time before the public. I have now acquired a position, from which I think I am able to do good service to the cause; and it would be wrong, in my judgment, to abandon it just now. All must confess the desirableness and importance of keeping up a strong anti-slavery sentiment in England. Anti-slavery in England, is Anti-slavery in America—and labor expended in the cause here, is felt there, as it would be easy to prove. The work to be done is to revive and keep alive the anti-slavery sentiment of England. The cause here is far from being what it ought to be. In nine out of ten of all the towns, where, a few years ago, there were active and powerful organizations, there is now no trace of one to be found. This is not as it ought to be, and not as it will be, if proper means be used to produce the desired result. We can ill spare these auxiliaries from the field. The spirit of liberty and of equal justice, whose gigantic arm broke the tyrant’s rod, and gave unconditional freedom to 800,000 souls in the West India islands, must be again summoned to the contest. Since the auspicious day, on which it smote the galling fetter from the slave, and, like a tornado, scattered the infernal altars of slavery in the Colonies, it seems to have grounded its weapons, left the conflict, retired from the field, drawn its curtains, and gone to sleep. It is not, however, the sleep of death. The giant is still alive. A few shrill blasts of the trump of freedom will startle him into activity, and open his piercing eye again upon our common foe.

The great and increasing contact of the people of America with the people of England—the social and commercial intercourse, resulting from the abandonment of the restrictive policy on the part of both governments—the interchange of friendly addresses of Peace and kindred societies—the multitude of travellers going to and from each country—the constant reciprocity of religious deputations—the holding of oecumenical, Evangelical conventions, and of World’s Temperance Conventions—the vast improvements already made, and still making, in steam navigation—and the increasing facilities for circulating the public opinion of the one country among the people of the other—all admonish the friends of the bondman, in both countries, to greater vigilance, energy and activity, in making all these agents subservient to our righteous cause. Depend upon it, these influences, to which I have adverted, deserve to be watched: they are not of an indifferent character: they will either be used as powerful engines

3

against the cause of human freedom, or in favor of that sacred cause—and the latter result will not come of its own accord. ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.’5In 1790 Irish lawyer John Philpot Curran (1750–1814) addressed the Privy Council of Ireland, saying, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of guilt.” John Philpot Curran, A New and Enlarged Collection of Speeches, Containing Several of Importance, with Memoirs of Mr. Curran (London, 1819), 188–89. The true character of American slavery and of American slaveholders must be fully made known; and, above all, the true character of the American ministers and churches must be exposed. Slavery sends no champions into the field, equal to these. They stick at nothing. There is nothing too mean or wicked for this class to do in defence of slavery. They are the vanguard of the ranks of tyranny. Their audacity is equalled only by their hypocrisy. To carry their point in England, they will pretend (as did Dr. Cox,)6Samuel H. Cox. to shed tears over the slave, and at the same time, stab the character of his truest friends; denounce slavery as the curse of curses, and yet hug those vile wretches, who are the immediate perpetrators of this curse and crime, to their Christian communion. I say, these must be watched and exposed.

Dr. Cox said, in his letter from London to the New-York Evangelist, speaking of the anti-slavery sentiment of England—‘This spirit must be exorcised from England.’7A report by Samuel H. Cox on the World’s Temperance Convention appeared in the New York Evangelist on 10 September 1846. In this account Cox denounced Douglass for raising the issue of antislavery at the convention and insisted that the issue be separated from other movements. Cox and Douglass, Correspondence, 5–6. In this, I believe he spoke the sentiment of every delegate to the Alliance8In August 1846 over 900 delegates from Great Britain, Europe, and the United States met in London in the hopes of forming an organization that would unite the evangelical Protestants of the Western Hemisphere. The Evangelical Alliance, as this organization was called, was extremely short-lived. On the ninth day of the conference, the Reverend John Howard Hinton, a London Baptist, moved that the organization exclude all slaveholders. Almost immediately, members of the American delegation, led by conservative Presbyterians, protested that they could not exclude such a large number of American evangelicals. The delegates could reach no compromise before the conference adjourned, and they left London resolving to form their separate national alliances. Ernest R. Sandeen, “The Distinctiveness of American Denominationalism: A Case Study of the 1846 Evangelical Alliance,” Church History, 45:222–34 (June 1976). from America, except Mr. Himes.9Joshua Vaughn Himes (1805–95) entered the ministry of the revivalist Christian Connection church in 1827. He worked as an evangelist in southern Massachusetts for three years before settling in Boston, where he was pastor of the First Christian Church for seven years. He subsequently founded Boston’s famous Chardon Street Chapel, which became “a favored meeting place for reformers and prophets of all sorts.” Himes was a member of the executive committee of the Non-Resistance Society and after 1836 held a life membership in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Himes met William Miller in 1839 and converted to the Millerite movement, for which he organized and financed a string of Adventist newspapers throughout the 1840s. In May 1846 a convention of Adventists meeting in New York City appointed Himes, Robert Hutchinson, and F. G. Brown as missionaries to Europe and delegates to the World’s Temperance Convention and the International Evangelical Alliance. At the 27 August session of the Evangelical Alliance, Himes seconded John Howard Hinton’s amendment to exclude slaveholders because “a Christianity which is connected with the system of Slavery . . . must necessarily be a corrupt Christianity.” After the Civil War Himes served as president of the American Advent Mission Society with freedmen from Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri. Isaac C. Wellcome, History of the Second Advent: Message and Mission, Doctrine and People (Yarmouth, Me., 1874), 83–84, 89–91, 542–47, 609–13, 620–21; Ahlstrom, Religious History of the American People, 446, 479–80; Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 2:421–22, 424, 427; Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (Boston, 1836), 72; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 2:182, 339, 341–42, 724; DAB, 9:60–61. This spirit must be exorcised!—and I have no doubt that the main part of the correspondence of American churches with the churches of this country, will aim at the end set forth by Rev. Dr. Cox. The pure anti-slavery sentiment of this country, like the purity of our first parents, excites the jealousy, envy and wrath of the fiend, as of old.

The American churches and ministers, steeped to their lips in guilt, and covered with the blood of the slave, are anxious to obtain accomplices in their crimes. Cast down from the heaven of purity and freedom themselves, like their father of old, they strive to drag down to pollution the churches of England. But they will not succeed. Their labor will be in vain. The British Alliance has ascertained their true character and design, and has cast them out. The Free Church of Scotland, slowly but surely, will come to the same result. A Free Church Anti-Slavery Society10The Free Church Anti-Slavery Society was a small dissident organization from the Free Church of Scotland that criticized the church's acceptance of donations from American slave states. The organization was closely associated with the Glasgow Emancipation Society, with which it shared many members. In the early 1840s the president of the Free Church Anti-Slavery Society was Michael Willis and the vice president was James MacBeth, both of whom immigrated to Canada in the early 1850s. There, Willis formed the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society in 1851, and MacBeth joined the faculty of Knox College. William Ewing, Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, 1843–1900, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, Scot., 1914), 1:357; Shepperson, “Free Church and American Slavery,” 140–41. has been formed, and is now actively at work. It numbers among its supporters, the wisest and best of the Free Church ministers. They have sent forth a number of tracts and pamphlets, already. Their rallying-cry is, ‘No quarter to slavery! NON-FELLOWSHIP OF SLAVEHOLDERSI’ Things look hopeful.

You said in your good letter11Garrison’s letter to Douglass has not been located. by the last steamer, that some of my friends in America were not pleased with my being purchased. I expected that would be the case; and I deem no man the less my friend, for not being pleased with it. I enclose a correspondence which took place between friend

4

H. C. Wright and myself,12This correspondence included two letters. The first, dated 12 December 1846, was from Wright to Douglass. The second was Douglass’s reply to Wright on 22 December 1846. Garrison published both letters in the 29 January 1847 issue of the Liberator. They also appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard and the Pennsylvania Freeman on 4 February 1847, in the Anti-Slavery Bugle on 19 February 1847, and both appear in this volume. on the subject, which, if you think it worth while, you may publish.

I am ever yours,

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

PLSr: Lib., 29 January 1847.

5

Date

January 2, 1847

Type

Publication Status

Published