Skip to main content

John Jacobus Flournoy to Frederick Douglass, November 10, 1848

1

JOHN JACOBUS FLOURNOY1John Jacobus Flournoy (1807–79), the son of a slaveholder, lived most of his life near Athens, Georgia. Most who knew Flournoy considered him eccentric both because he was deaf, which many at the time equated with idiocy, and because he championed unpopular causes. Though a slaveholder himself, Flournoy opposed slavery because he believed that black people were the source of numerous ills, such as crime, idolatry, sorcery, cannibalism, lewdness, and drunkenness. Furthermore, he believed that slavery was detrimental to the economic status of poor whites. As a solution, he promoted what he called “expulsion,” the immediate removal of all black people to Africa. Although some southerners grouped him with abolitionists, colonizationists, or gradual emancipationists, Flournoy distanced himself from all of these causes. He did not believe that slavery was immoral. Instead, he believed that the evil of slavery stemmed from contact between whites and blacks, which could lead to racial amalgamation. In the 1830s Flournoy attempted to spread his views through a number of self-published pamphlets. He also declared himself a candidate for the Georgia legislature on several occasions, running on an expulsion platform in 1838, but failed miserably at the ballot box each time. In addition to his views on race, Flournoy advocated complete pacifism, suffrage for women, and public education for all children. He also petitioned the Georgia state legislature for a state-supported school for the deaf. In 1840 he railed against a state law that declared deaf persons in need of guardianship and by 1855 became so frustrated that he advocated a deaf commonwealth in the American West. Few supported his plan, which sparked criticisms from leaders of the deaf community, and no settlements resulted from Flournoy’s call for separatism. E. Merton Coulter, John Jacobus Flournoy: Champion of the Common Man in the Antebellum South (Savannah, Ga., 1942); John Vickrey Van Cleve and Barry A. Crouch, A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America (Washington, D.C., 1989), 61–69. TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Athens, Ga.2In the North Star, the placeline of the letter appears as “Farm, nigh Athens, Georgia.” NS, 10 November 1848. [10 November 1848].

FRED. DOUGLASS,

I have seen, in one of my papers, a letter of yours to your old master,3Earlier that autumn, on the tenth anniversary of his escape from slavery, Douglass wrote a public letter to his former master, Thomas Auld. That letter appears in this volume. NS, 8 September 1848. to the strain of reasoning of which I would reply for him, and send you what is calculated, if you be not indurated and purblind, to throw cold water on your audacity and presumption, and to give you some baptism of sense. I know I am lowering my dignity to write to a negro; but I do that, as I wish to have an effectual hit at the white and black abolitionists of the North; and after giving you this seasonable physic, shall leave you alone amid your mephitic glories, unless you wish to answer, and would publish my letter and yours in the paper you edit; when I will give you a fair heat, and see which would have the mastery of reason.

I have long been of opinion that the American people ought to dispatch the negroes to Africa, and have done with them.4Antislavery moderates saw colonization as one way to phase out slavery in the United States. The American Colonization Society, organized in 1817, bought tracts of land in West Africa for the purpose of African American emigration. The new settlement became known as Liberia, with the capital town of Monrovia. In the late 1820s and 1830s, the colonization idea was countered by such writers as David Walker and William Lloyd Garrison, who advocated the immediate emancipation of slaves. During the Civil War, the idea of colonizing the Caribbean with African Americans gained some support from Abraham Lincoln, as well as Democrats and conservative Republicans. P[hilip] J. Staudennraus, The African Colonization Movement, 1816–1865 (New York, 1961); Miller and Smith, Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, 121–23. I would have Yankees also to send off their colored free, as the South their slaves. But rather than not have this done, I would have a perpetual slavery—aye, and bring you back in subjection to your old master.

The people of the North, especially that portion which makes a tool of you, violate the constitution of their and our government, by not remanding you, black ninny, to Mr. Auld, and by turning that instrument, in a variety of ways, to their own convenience. They steal our slaves, that Holy Writ, in the tenth decalogue said they must not covet;5A reference to the Tenth Commandment. Exod. 20:17. and then they complain and vapor, because in self-defence, we interdict their bringing colored sailors to our shores.6Many states in the Deep South enacted Negro Seaman Acts, requiring the incarceration of free black sailors while the vessel on which they served remained in port. In 1822, in the wake of the Denmark Vesey slave plot, South Carolina became the first state to enact such a law. Georgia followed suit in 1829, imposing a forty-day quarantine on any vessel carrying free black seamen and requiring incarceration of any black sailor who came ashore. During the 1830s and 1840s, Alabama, Louisiana, and the Spanish Caribbean implemented similar laws. The laws reduced, but did not halt, the number of blacks entering southern ports. W. Jeffrey Bolster, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail (Cambridge, Mass, 1997), 190–91, 195–96, 198–200, 207–09, 214; Miller and Smith, Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, 657. Indeed, their and your whole forte is, to harass the South into civil war, and as Garrison and yourself avow, to have disunion and all the deadly consequences, just because a portion of these States act on the Mosaic and Noachian institutes,7The Noachian covenant, or everlasting covenant, was made between Yahweh and Noah following the Great Flood when Yahweh agreed to have compassion for His creation. The Mosaic covenant, also known as the Ten Commandments, was the agreement in which the Israelites recognized and agreed to obey Yahweh, who would protect them as His chosen people. Gen. 9:1–7, Exod. 19–24; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4:905–08, 1123–30. which are sanctioned of Jehovah on your race, as certainly and firmly as your Ethiopic skin. Diabolic demons! you would blaspheme God and hate men, and denounce the Scriptures; before you would allow Noah’s curse on your race,8Ham was the second son of Noah and the father of the Canaanites. After Ham saw his father in a naked and drunken stupor, his father cursed his descendants to servitude. Christian tradition elaborated upon this story, designating Ham as black. White slaveholders, in particular, seized upon this interpretation as a biblically sanctioned justification for the enslavement of black people. Gen. 9:20–27; Samuel Hill, Encyclopedia of Religion in the South (Macon, Ga., 1984), 317–18; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 3:31. and his blessing on ours any sanctity.

Now, calmly, if you can consider this matter, were we to free every negro in the South, what would be the consequence? Behold the fruit of West Indian emancipation—the whites leaving the islands, the blacks and mulattoes robbing, violating and ferocious! (?) But you abolitionists don’t care—you say, freedom anyhow, maugre consequences, and would have liberty given to the negroes, though utter ruin, or amalgamation,9“Amalgamation” was the early nineteenth-century term for interracial sexual intercourse, particularly that which produced children. After 1863 the term “miscegenation” replaced “amalgamation,” but both words invoked fears of corrupted racial purity and were used to slander political parties that supported the end of slavery or African Americans’ civil rights. David C. Roller and Robert W. Twyman, eds., The Encyclopedia of Southern History (Baton Rouge, La., 1979), 824–25; Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris, eds., Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1989), 178–79. or even

2

downright atheism, or continual wars, be the result. This we cannot do. I do not know what the South would ultimately do with the negroes.

I want the South, in mercy to itself, and the North, to send all the colored people safely to Liberia and other parts of Africa. This I pray, and have long, even to agony, prayed the Lord God Almighty to cause to be done, as a hope alike for the two races, and a bounty to the poor negroes; for Africa is their land and no where else, among other races, are the children of Ham any better than servants, nor can be until the actual Millen[n]ium. What is their hope?

The cause is not as you wrote Mr. Auld, of Maryland, one of separate personal identity—moral links exist between all beings, and the greatest equality is founded on reciprocal obligations. Now, this reciprocity is according to the condition and capacities of the several races, as of individuals. One man is made the superior in bodily and mental faculties of another—one race or m[a]n better than another—each, therefore, should know, and by submitting to his sphere of duties, all work well for the good of all. The mechanic who is fitted by birth, or by faculties, for construction only, cannot arrogate to be the equal of Coun[s]ellors in the Cabinet—nor can the negro whose form and faculties are inferior to the white man, presume to be his equal without violating the order of Nature, and calling in question, not only certain passages in the two Testaments, but the will of the Omnipotent! Submission to God’s ordination and will is the only utility. By resisting this, men but the more prove the destruction of their temporal and eternal prospects. As a black, your place is below the white man, as surely as your hair, and velvet like coarse skin, and smell, is inferior to his hair, and skin, and odour.—Nor has the negro a right to attempt to destroy the harmony and beauty of the white frame by amalgamation! All your hope is, to submit and to bless God, and hope to be a new born to a Heavenly equality in every respect with us. If your feelings revolt from this, you would find it hard to get to Paradise and are conscious of the rebellious nature of your soul against God’s Providence.

You compare your sisters10Sarah and Eliza Bailey. with your master’s “Amanda.”11Arianna Amanda Auld Sears. This is reasoning if they were equal, which is not the case. Nor did Mr. Auld take your sisters as you suppose.—He found them and you by inheritance, and the idea of their violation and that of turning your Grandmama12Betsey Bailey. out into the woods, evidently without house or shelter, as your Northern hearers may suppose, is one of your invented fictions calculated to stir up the strife of the North and South—by the belief of the former in the utter mendacity and cruelty of the latter! Now, there is not a slaveholder at the South or in

3

Maryland, that drives old negro men or women into the woods shelterless.—The habit is an African one, where also they devour the aged, and idolize the slimy snake—and from which custom for rescuing your fathers and bringing the race to the light of truth, you never cease maligning our American name. If you colored abolitionists were not utterly fools and savagely inclined, you would, so far from cursing and making lies on the South, endeavor to go yourselves to Liberia. If you were Christians, you would not want to remain here to brew dissensions, if you could, between white brethren. As Emancipationists you colored fellows are the worst, most malicious, unmerciful and bitter. Still you are inferior and cannot equalize with us, except by the spoils of amalgamation. As well may the dog claim to be a man, as the negro a free man and equal among those that God designed to be his superior. The order of Nature can be as soon reverted to any good in the one case as in the other.

I regard the South bad enough, for not colonizing the slaves away in Africa, and for not giving them a better education. But were they to free them, as the white and black or colored abolitionists wish—and consecutively amalgamate with them—and bring about a moral degradation and Spanish South American, and Mexican depravity—which result from the same mixture, I should deplore it as the very worst thing that can be done with a race that God intended to be separate from us and confined to Africa.

J. J. FLOURNOY.

PLSr: NS, 10 November 1848. Reprinted in Lib, 24 November 1848.

4

Date

November 10, 1848

Type

Publication Status

Published