William Whipper to Frederick Douglass and Martin R. Delany, January 23, 1848
283WILLIAM WHIPPER TO DOUGLASS AND M. R. DELANY, 23 JANUARY 1848
Validictory to the readers of the Mystery.4 I have been very busy this week
in lecturing and trying to obtain subscribers but have not done much. The
work is uphill just now—but I hope there is a good time coming.5 I am
now boarding with Mr. Joiner,6 whose family is well and disire love to you.
Mr. Nell will finish this letter. I shall leave here thursday for Pen Yan,7
where, I hope to get some subscribers. Every thing will depend upon our
getting subscribers. I am out on the Mexican war this week.8 My best love
to your family.
ALS: General Correspondence File, reel 1, frame 648, FD Papers, DLC.
1. Delany's 10 January 1848 letter to Douglass has not been located.
2. William C. Nell.
3. Apparently one of Delany's children was quite ill. In a letter dated 28 Jauary 1848, Delany
apologized for his tardiness in corresponding with Douglass and blamed it on "indisposition in my
family." The letter noted, "I am little prepared for writing, especially when fatigued, at the bedside of
a tender and interesting child." NS, 11 February 1848.
4. Delany's final editorial as editor of the Mystery appeared in Douglass's newspaper. NS, 21 Jan
5. Composers such as Henry Russell and Stephen C. Foster adapted a poem by Charles Mackay
titled "The Good Time Coming" to song in various arrangements. Popular in antislavery circles, the
song was standard in performances by the Hutchinson family. Charles Mackay, The Poetical Works
of Charles Mackay (London, 1876), 209-10; William W. Austin, "Susanna," "Jeanie," and "The Old
Folks at Home": The songs of Stephen C. Foster from His Time to Ours (New York, 1975), 18-19,
6. Charles Joiner was a black clothes cleaner who lived at 48 Atwater Street in Rochester, New
York. Daily American Directory for the City of Rochester [for 1847-48] (Rochester, 1847), 229; Daily
American Directory for the City of Rochester [for 1849-1850] (Rochester, 1849), 255.
7. Douglass traveled to Pen Yan, New York, where he spoke on 22 and 23 January 1848. NS, 21
January 1848; Yates County Whig, 1 February 1848.
8. In a 21 January 1848 editorial, Douglass attacked U.S. involvement in the Mexican-American
War. Her remarked, "Mexico seems a doomed victim to Anglo Saxon cupidity and love of domina
tion," characterized the war as a "slaveholding crusade," and condemned politicians of both parties for
being afraid to voice opposition to the war. NS, 21 January 1848.
Columbia, Pa. 23 [January] 1848.2
The object of your article in the North Star, “on Colored Newspapers,” is,
to my mind, to strike a blow at what may be supposed popular objections
284 WILLIAM WHIPPER TO DOUGLASS AND M. R. DELANY, 23 JANUARY 1848
against “colored newspapers.”3—The question naturally arises, What qualities
or qualifications should a newspaper possess to entitle it to the surname
I have looked carefully over the columns of the “North Star,” and I am
unable to discover any just reason why it should be termed a “colored news
paper,” any more than the Liberator, Standard,4 Freeman,5 or many other
Is it because it is edited by “colored men?” Certainly not. Is it because
it advocates the emancipation of the slave, and the overthrow of prejudice?
Certainly not; for the papers I have mentioned have maintained the same
noble cause, in a manner and with an ability that has never been surpassed.
You have asserted in your motto, that “Truth is of no color.”6 Then you
will certainly agree that its omnipotent power cannot be accelerated by the
complexion of those who herald it? Is it because the term colored has been
asserted at the head of the paper, as formerly in the “Colored American,”
and “African Sentinel?”7 Certainly not; because they have long since
ceased to exist, and their ghosts, however comely, no longer haunt our vi
sion. Now, if they were right in placing this distinctive characteristic at the
head of their papers, (like those of many of our religious, literary and ben
eficial institutions,) why not follow their example, by introducing it into
your paper, so that its name may be hereafter called “The Colored North
Star?” Such a course, would, in my humble opinion, place you in a very
consistent position to advocate its perpetuity, and would save you from the
pain, penalty and mortification of being placed under that ban of proscription
which you have framed for others, when you say that “there is neither
good sense nor common honesty in trying to forget this distinction.”
In the true spirit of charity, I am inclined to believe that your language
in the above quotation has misrepresented your views. If I am capable of
interpreting the meaning of your motto, your object is to labor for the over
throw of all those distinctions that conﬂict with the true interests of the
“common brotherhood of the human race.”
You assert that “we have sometimes heard persons regret the very men
tion of color on this account, and counsel its abandonment.” It may be, that
when your mind becomes refreshed with a scrap of history on that point,
you will find the possibility (at least) of their views being misrepresented.
I believe that the first public discussion about the use of the term “col
ored,” about which “you say you are in no wise sensitive,” (although you
have not chosen to adopt it in practice) took its rise from the introduction
of the following resolution, which was discussed and unanimously adopted
WILLIAM WHIPPER TO DOUGLASS AND M. R. DELANY, 23 JANUARY 1848 285
at a Convention held in the city of Philadelphia, in the month of June, 1835:
“Resolved, That we recommend to our people (as far as possible) to aban
don the use of the word ‘colored,’ whether speaking or writing, concern
ing themselves; and, especially, to remove the title of ‘African’ from their
institutions, churches,” &c., &c.8
It is useless to attempt to describe (to those who are familiar with the
cause of reform) the excited feelings of many at the introduction of this
new feature of reform. It struck a blow at their pride and prejudices; its ad
vocates were vilified, and their language misconstrued. It is from this lat
ter basis, I fear, you have drawn your arguments.
Now the discussion and excitement attendant on the introduction of
this new system, has passed; the arguments of its opponents have either
been exhausted or hushed into silence. The use of the term has been avoided
in the formation of new institutions—newspapers, and your own not ex
cepted. The time was when our contributions for the press, few and feeble
as they were, were stamped with the complexional source from which they
emanated. Now it is otherwise; and I rejoice in what I believe the progres
sive spirit of this age. But if the question is to be exhumed from the grave
of the past, I know of none so able as yourselves to impart it resurrectionary
power and life. I say, if the negative of this course is to be introduced by
the Editors of the North Star, let us have it.—Give us your views at length,
so that your readers may be able to comprehend your true position.9 It is a
question of duty, and if it lies entombed in darkness, let us disencumber it
of the rubbish of the past, so that its luminous rays may light up our path
way to future action.
Yours, for Equality.
PLIr: NS, 4 February 1848.
1. William Whipper (1804-76), a black abolitionist from Pennsylvania, was a leading spokesman
for the American Moral Reform Society and editor of its journal, the National Reformer, in 1838 and
1839. He was active in black rights conventions, aided fugitives on the Underground Railroad, and ad
vocated Canadian immigration. Hutton, Early Black Press, 33-34; Richard P. McCormick, "William
Whipper: Moral Reformer," Pennsylvania History, 43:23-46 (January 1976).
2. The North Star lists the date of this letter as 23 July 1848; however, the printed date must be
a typesetting error because Douglass commenced publication of his newspaper on 3 December 1847,
and William Whipper’s letter appears in the 4 February 1848 edition. NS, 3 December 1847.
3. On 7 January 1848 Douglass published an editorial in which he responded to charges that the
existence of black newspapers tacitly promoted the separation of the races. Douglass argued that news
papers owned and run by black people served to illustrate the equality of the races. Unless otherwise
noted, all quotations in this letter are from that article. NS, 7 January 1848.
4. The National Anti-Slavery Standard.
286 WILLIAM WHIPPER TO DOUGLASS AND M. R. DELANY, 23 JANUARY 1848
5. A weekly abolitionist newspaper published in Philadelphia between 1836 and 1854, the Penn
sylvania Freeman was the official organ of the Eastern Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Early ed
itors included Benjamin Lundy and John Greenleaf Whittier. Later editors included Charles C. Burleigh,
James Miller McKim, Mary Grew, Oliver Johnson, and Cyrus M. Burleigh. The journal advocated
Garrisonian reforms, but was more moderate in its editorial style in keeping with the views of the
Quaker-dominated membership of the organization. Blassingame, Antislavery Newspapers, 3:57-59;
Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 3:391-92n.
6. The full motto of the North Star was, “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the
father of us all, and all we are brethren.” NS, 7 January 1848.
7. Published weekly in New York City and edited by Samuel Cornish, Phillip Bell, and Charles
B. Ray, the Colored American (1837-42) was Cornish’ s fourth and most successful attempt to publish
an abolitionist-minded newspaper. John G. Stewart published the African Sentinel and Journal of Lib
erty (1831-32) in Albany, New York. This journal was a monthly dedicated to the opposition of slav
ery and racial prejudice, as well as other moral reform issues. Hutton, Early Black Press, 40, 165; Rip
ley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 2:50n, 79.
8. At the Fifth Annual Convention for the Improvement of the Free People of Colour, held in the
Wesley Church in Philadelphia on 1-5 June 1835, Whipper himself proposed the resolution that he
quotes, one that the convention unanimously adopted. Bell, “1835—Philadelphia: Minutes of the Fifth
Annual Convention,” in National Negro Conventions, 14-15.
9. Douglass and Delany did not publish an editorial response to Whipper’s letter in the North Star.
HENRY O. WAGONER1 TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Chicago, Ill. 27 Jan[uary] 1848.
Although I have not had the pleasure of a personal interview with you, yet
I am not entirely a stranger to your public character, and am somewhat ac
quainted with the former period of your life, having read your narrative in
a little book which you published, to the best of my knowledge, about three
I must confess that I have felt a secret joy ever since I first heard your
name spoken of in connection with the “North Star.” Your position is of
great prominence, and will call into action all the power, energy and re
sources of your mind. You are engaged in a noble work; and, being a na
tive of the same State with yourself, I most sincerely wish you every suc
cess in your new enterprise. The whole civilized world seem to have turned
their attention somewhat towards the subject of human rights, therefore
you will not be entirely alone in your new undertaking.
I write very little, and never for the public press; therefore, I beg you
will make a reasonable allowance for my wild and unconnected manner of
addressing you. But to the subject.