Skip to main content

Thomas Middleton to Frederick Douglass, February 5, 1848

1

THOMAS MIDDLETON1Thomas Middleton (1804–?), who emigrated from England with his wife and son, was a wool grader in Springfield, Massachusetts. 1850 U.S. Census, Massachusetts, Hampden County, Springfield, 7; Valentine W. Skiff, Springfield Almanac, Directory, and Business Advertiser, for 1851 (Springfield, Mass., 1851), 55. TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Springfield, [Ill.] 5 Feb[ruary] 1848.

MY DEAR SIR—

At a meeting held at the Town Hall in this place, on the evening of the first of this month,2Douglass spoke in Springfield Town Hall on Tuesday, 1 February 1848. Springfield (Mass) Daily Republican, 3, 8, 14 February 1848; NS, 11 February 1848. I, for the first time, had the privilege of hearing you, sir, express your sentiments on the subject of Slavery; and it is in reference to what fell from your lips on that occasion, that I now venture to address you, and in so doing, (although I may intrude somewhat upon your valuable time,) I hope that it may not prove altogether unprofitable.

That the subject of Slavery is one of, if not the most important that can possibly occupy the public mind at the present time, is, to my view, unquestionable, and therefore I can readily conceive that to you it must indeed be paramount: therefore, without adverting to the melancholy facts that make it so, and which have provoked so just an indignation in your breast, I shall without further preface or apology, proceed to offer a few remarks, and which, I sincerely hope, may be received by you in the same spirit of kindness as that in which they are dictated; and here permit me to say that no spirit of controversy has suggested them, (for with this letter the matter rests,) but they have been made with a view rather to aid the cause of the oppressed, than to retard it.

It has ever been a principle of belief with me, that the most efficient

2

advoc[ac]y of any cause is mainly, if not wholly, attributable to zeal, tempered with discretion. While listen[ing] to your remarks, and witnessing the glowing ardor which animated your features while describing the feelings of the injured, and the miseries of the oppressed, I felt a secret hope that those feelings of just indignation, and that spirit of honest denunciations against the foul wrongs of so many millions of the human race, might never slumber until the cruel fetters which bound the limbs of the last slave should be broken off, and the multitude of wretched victims rise in one body from their loathsome darkness and despair, to the glorious and refulgent light of freedom’s joyful day. But, my dear sir, while occupied with these hopeful feelings, I was much hurt to hear (upon a question from one of the audience, as to when and where the circumstances alluded to had taken place) a most violent and vituperative attack upon the main body of the Ministers of the Gospel, imputing to them motives most mean and dishonorable,3No text of Douglass’s Springfield lecture has been located. In an editorial in the North Star, Douglass attributed the recent decline in antislavery sentiment in Springfield to the establishment of a federal arsenal and the surge of evangelicalism in the city. “The one is ready to fight,” he wrote, “and the other ready to pray for slavery.” NS, 11 February 1848. and which, as a body, upon sober reflection, you will, I think, feel, if you do not admit it, they do not deserve; yet while there are many whose actions are ill in accordance with the doctrines of that blessed gospel which “proclaims liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those that are bound,”4Isa. 61:1. and whose conduct is a reproach to the cause of their Master; yet I trust there are [nu]mbers to be found whose characters are unimpeachable, and whose whole lives have been devoted to the good of mankind, and who are ever found foremost in redressing the grievances of the wronged, and firmly and faithfully advocating the liberty of the captive and the cause of the oppressed.

It is then to the unconditional and sweeping censure, together with the contemptuous ridicule which you cast upon them, as a body that I advert, as likely to do the cause an irreparable injury; for you well know, sir, that in almost all public meetings, there are but too many who exult in a reproach brought upon the ministers of religion, and are thereby led to treat its sacred cause with scoffing and contempt; and who are they generally? Are they the individuals whom you expect to sympathize in the sufferings of the poor slave, or aid him in gaining his freedom? I think they do not. But let the answer as to who they are, who both feel and do most, be found in the donations and subscriptions usually made in aid of the cause of emancipation. Now, sir, permit me to say, that as the wisest policy, is ever based upon truth, so I can conceive no effort secure, even in the cause of truth, but that which is supported by discretion. Much, sir, as I admire the undaunted boldness of a Nathan,5Nathan, a Hebrew prophet and priest in the courts of King David and King Solomon, emphasized the need for spirituality and high morals and criticized David for an illicit affair with Bathsheba. 2 Sam. 12:7–10; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4:1029–30. or the unflinching courage of a Paul,6Paul the Apostle, known as Saul until his conversion, evangelized to the first-century Roman Empire, including Asia Minor and Europe. His interpretations of Christ’s teachings led to the establishment of Christianity as a religion separate from Judaism, of which it previously had been a sect. Most of the information about Paul is obtained through his Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles. Rom. 11:13; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:186–99. yet incomparably above these is the example of Him who “spake as never man

3

spake;”7A reference to John 7:46. who, when he was reviled, reviled not again:81 Pet. 2:23. but amid all his accumulated load of suffering, even to the death, could, in the plenitude of his love, look even upon his m[u]rderers with pity, and say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.[”]9Luke 23:34.

The cause of truth, whenever and wherever presented, will, I feel, sooner reach the hearts of men, and win them to itself, by mildness, in an appeal to their sympathies and their better natures, than will boisterous and vituperative declamation.

I will now no longer occupy your time and patience by further remarks, and trust you will receive what I have made, not in the way of dictation to your better judgment; for from what you said, I presume you are not too sage to reject advice, or so proud as to disdain it, or as from one cold in the noble cause which you, sir, have the honor to advocate; but simply as a few hints from a friend to the cause of suffering humanity wherever it exists.

Now, sir, with best wishes for the prosperity of the cause, and kind regards to yourself, suffer me to subscribe myself, My Dear Sir, Yours, very faithfully,

THOMAS MIDDLETON.

PLSr: NS, 18 February 1848.

Date

February 5, 1848

Type

Publication Status

Published