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Frederick Douglass to Charles Francis Adams, June 27, 1847

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FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS1Charles Francis Adams (1807–86), a politician and son of John Quincy Adams, served as editor of the Boston Daily Whig from its inception in 1846 through 1848. In the 1830s, Adams became concerned with the extension of slavery and openly opposed the annexation of Texas. While serving as a Whig in the Massachusetts legislature in the 1840s, he gained a reputation for his antislavery activities, which alienated him from the mainstream of his party. Adams established the Boston Daily Whig as the organ of those “Conscience Whigs” who favored the abolition of slavery. In 1848 Adams ran with Martin Van Buren on the presidential ticket of the new Free Soil party. Martin B. Duberman, Charles Francis Adams, 1807–1886 (Boston, 1961); ANB, 1:74–77.

Lynn, Mass. 27 June 1847.

MR. EDITOR:
SIR, —

In the “Boston Whig” of Saturday, 26th inst., I find the following:—

“The Liberator states that Frederick Douglas has given up the project of publishing a paper in this country, and explains as a reason of the subscriptions being obtained in England for that purpose, the impression prevailing that no paper of the kind was published by a colored man. The Liberator enumerates four papers of the kind. It might properly be asked how came the English people to get such an impression?”2This passage appeared in the 26 June 1847 issue of the Boston Daily Whig.

I now beg to give you the information indirectly asked for, in the last sentence of the above paragraph.

A few months previously to my leaving England for the United States,

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I was informed that it was the intention of my friends to make me a present of a sum of money, which would yield an annual income sufficient for my support. The object of my friends was to place me in circu[ms]tances which would enable me to devote myself unreservedly to the cause of my outraged and enslaved fellow countrymen. Fully appreciating the motives of my benevolent friends, the proposition, nevertheless, struck me unfavorably, and I objected at once to the adoption of any measures for carrying out their kind intentions. My objections were as follows:—lst. It would make me so independent of my friends in the United States, as to disturb the sympathy which has resulted from mutual hardships in a common cause, and which is so necessary to successful co-operation. 2nd. It would be prejudicial to my influence at home, to be entirely supported abroad. 3d. It would place me in a more superannuated position, than I, being a young man, felt willing to assume. And Fourthly, because of the great and increasing demands upon British sympathy and philanthropy, resulting from the awful famine with which a sister island was then and is still smitten.

I however informed my friends, (and this will answer your query,) what was then the fact; that there was not a single Printing Press in the United States under the control and management of colored persons; and that several attempts had been made to establish such a press, and that they had severally failed; and that I believed that the time had arrived when such a press could be established, and be a powerful means of changing the moral sentiment of the nation on the subject of slavery; and if tolerably well conducted would be a telling fact against the American doctrine of natural inferiority, and the inveterate prejudice which so universally prevails in this country, against the colored race. This being my opinion, I suggested that a Printing Press would be a useful and an acceptable testimonial, and one which would have this advantage over the former one; it would be a gift to my race, as well as a testimony of their confidence in me as their advocate. The idea pleased my friends, and the impression which it made upon their minds, they produced upon others.3Douglass hoped to establish financial and intellectual independence by editing a newspaper. He expressed this ambition to abolitionists in Britain, who subsequently raised $2,174 for Douglass to begin his own paper. American abolitionists in Boston, however, feared the competition that Douglass presented to the Liberator and the National Anti-Slavery Standard, as well as the loss of his voice on the lecture circuit, and dissuaded him from the plan. While on a lecture tour of the western states, Douglass established a rapport with Martin R. Delany, editor of the financially insecure Pittsburgh Mystery, and Samuel Brooke, a board member of and major contributor to the equally debt-ridden Anti-Slavery Bugle in Salem, Ohio. The three hatched a plan for Douglass to launch his own paper, the North Star, in Cleveland, which would swallow the Mystery and possibly take over the Bugle. The Boston abolitionists, again fearing the loss of Douglass from their pool of lecturing agents, stepped in and consolidated their control over the Bugle, effectively thwarting his plans to establish a paper in Ohio. Douglass, meanwhile, found less opposition and greater support from the Rochester antislavery community, which ultimately welcomed and supported the North Star that same year. ASB, 17 September, 22 October, 26 November 1847, 21 January, 14 April 1848; Douglas A. Gamble, “Moral Suasion in the West: Garrisonian Abolitionism, 1831–1861” (Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 1973), 340, 350–54; Mary L. McMillan, “Mr. Editor If You Please: Frederick Douglass in Rochester, 1847–1852” (Honors paper, Mount Holyoke College, 1985), 12. This sir, is an explanation of the whole case, as my friends abroad will bear me witness.

Since my return home, three “Newspapers” under the management of colored persons have sprung into existence,4Although several black-owned newspapers failed in the 1830s and early 1840s, before Douglass left for his tour of Great Britain in 1845, Martin R. Delany’s Pittsburgh Mystery (1843–48) was still in publication. Upon Douglass’s return in 1847, two additional black papers were in circulation: the Genius of Freedom (1845–47), published in New York by David Ruggles, and the Ram’s Horn (1846–48), published in New York by Thomas Van Rensselaer. Martin E. Dann, ed., The Black Press, 1827–1890: The Quest for National Identity (New York, 1971), 18–20; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 4:128–29n. and believing that these will be sufficient to accomplish the good which I sought, I have with some reluctance given up my intention of publishing a paper for the present.

I am, Sir, with sincere respect, Faithfully yours,

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

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PLSr: Boston Daily Whig, 30 June 1847. Reprinted in NASS, 8 July 1847; Lib., 9 July 1847; Foner, Life and Writings, 1:252–53.

Date

June 27, 1847

Type

Publication Status

Published