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William F. George to Frederick Douglass, October 16, 1848


WILLIAM F. GEORGE1William F. George (c. 1796–?), a carpenter from Pennsylvania, lived in New Concord, Ohio, where he sold the North Star. 1850 US. Census, Ohio, Muskingum County, Licking Township, 340; 1848 Mail Book of the North Star, 142, FD Papers Project, InIU. TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS

New Concord, O[hio]. 16 Oct[ober] 1848.


Nine years ago, I saw Frederick Douglass, the boy that wrote his own pass to enable himself to escape the blessings of the divine institution of the South. I sympathized with the runaway, as he told his unvarnished tale. I admired the orator as he appealed to his audience, by all the powers of eloquence, in behalf of his down-trodden race.2It is impossible to substantiate that George heard Douglass deliver an antislavery speech as long ago as he claims. Nine years previous to the date of this letter, Douglass was still a laborer in New Bedford and not yet an active abolitionist. Douglass did, however, speak at the New Bedford, Massachusetts, Third Christian Church in March 1839, and he first passed through Ohio during the One Hundred Conventions tour five years before this letter in the summer of 1843. Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 1:1xxxvii, xci. In fine, I loved the colored man as he stood before us, displaying his manly intellect, unfolding truth in her native simplicity to an attentive multitude, and pleading for that mercy to be given to his enslaved brethren, which none but the determined foes of God and man could or dare refuse. Since that time, I have watched the onward and upward march of the fugitive, as the star of hope to those of his race doomed to unrequited toil and suffering.

When the slave, by his own efforts and the assistance of kind friends at home and abroad, had become the editor, I greeted with unfeigned joy the first number of the North Star, as it rose with morning brightness above the North-eastern horizon.

I receive your paper, and admire the spirit in which it is conducted, as also the skill and literary abilities of its editor at such a distinguished post. God knows my earnest desire that you may continue to stand forth as an ornament to your friends, a noble representative of the colored race—not of Africa, but of America, and a mighty instrument in the hands of God for reforming the world, and especially for hastening the overthrow of tyranny, and ushering in the happy day of liberty to the captive, and equal rights to the poor and oppressed sons and daughters of the United States.

Yet with all my liking, I have somewhat against your paper. I understand it to advocate the Anti-Sabbath doctrine3In a letter published in the 13 October 1848 issue of the North Star, Douglass criticized the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia for its refusal to hold an antislavery meeting on the grounds that religious buildings should be dedicated to worship. Douglass viewed this rationale as an archaic remnant of Jewish doctrine, and his response indicated that he believed the same of the preservation of the Sabbath: “The Jewish religion sanctified times and places, and set them apart for certain forms and ceremonies. Christ found them all in existence, and left them destroyed after him. He placed mercy above sacrifice, man above the Sabbath, and worship above time or place.” NS, 13 October 1848.—that there is no difference in the days of the week, and that the view that the first day of the week should be kept “holy unto the Lord,”4A reference to Exod. 31:15. is an old and exploded dogma.

If this be your view, it is certainly most decidedly anti-scriptural. I hope I am addressing one who receives the Bible as the word of God. I may therefore show the authority of the scripture for the Sabbath. In Exodus xx., 8, we have the express command, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Isa. lxi., 2. “Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keep the Sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.”5The passage identified as Isa. 61:2 is actually Isa. 56:2. When a blessing is promised to the doer of anything, a curse follows him that refuses to obey. You may perhaps say


that this was in Old Testament days. Be it so. Show me when these laws were repealed. Christ came not to destroy the laws, but to fulfil.6A reference to Matt. 5:17.

In Luke, iv., 16—“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and, as his custom was, he went into the Synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” I forbear to quote further from sacred writ. It is becoming too common now to consider the Bible of no more authority than any profane historical record. I hope that Frederick Douglass may not so look on the holy scriptures. I have spoken plainly because I am your friend. I dislike to hear the Sabbath lightly spoken of. I would be much pleased to have your opinion plainly expressed on that subject; and I pray God he may direct you in presenting truth to your readers.

Go forward in your great work of reform. Be still more encouraged to plead for your oppressed countrymen. God’s time is coming. The slave shall ere long go free; and the tyrant, unless he speedily repent, shall know the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God against him that oppresses the poor and reproaches his Maker. If you see fit to insert this in the North Star, please give your views on the Sabbath question.7In his response on 27 October 1848, Douglass argued that the North Star was not the proper place for a debate on antisabbatarianism, since the subject was strictly a theological issue. As for his own position on the topic, he revealed only that “we hold no views on this subject but such as are, in our judgment, perfectly consistent with both the Old and the New Testament.” NS, 27 October 1848.

Very truly yours,

W. F. G.

PLIr: NS, 27 October 1848.


October 16, 1848


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