An Antislavery Tocsin: An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York on December 8, 1850
AN ANTISLAVERY TOCSIN: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN ROCHESTER, NEW YORK, ON 8 DECEMBER 1850
Frederick Douglass, Lectures on American Slavery (Buffalo, 1851), 17-32. Other texts in Douglass, Bondage and Freedom, 435-40; Foner, Life and Writings, 1 : 139-48.
Douglass continued his Sunday lecture series in Corinthian Hall with a second lecture on 8 December 1850. A paucity of press reports leaves the details of the entire series in uncertainty.
IN my lecture of Sunday evening last, I strove to impress those who kindly gave me their attention, with a slight idea of the all-controlling power of American slavery in the affairs of this nation.
I brieﬂy unfolded the nature of the relation between master and slave; the cruel, arbitrary and despotic authority of the slaveholder; and I portrayed the deplorable ignorance and the deep debasement of the enslaved.
This evening, I shall aim to expose further the wickedness of the slave system—to show that its evils are not conﬁned to the Southern States; but that they overshadow the whole country; and that every American citizen is responsible for its existence, and is solemnly required, by the highest convictions of duty and safety, to labor for its utter extirpation from the land.
By some who hear me, these propositions will be, perhaps, regarded as far too tame for the basis of a lecture on slavery at this exciting period. They have studied the subject and understand it. But I would beg such persons to remember that they are the few, not the many; and that, being the exception, they afford no criterion for the course I ought to pursue on the present occasion. By them, the anti-slavery alphabet was learned perhaps twenty years ago; but the great mass of the American people, I am sorry to say, have that simple lesson yet to learn. I design, therefore, to speak to opponents, rather than to friends; and although I may not be able to entertain the latter by the utterance of new truths, I may afford them the satisfaction of hearing those truths enforced which they have so long cherished.
Indeed, I ought to state, what must be obvious to all, that, properly speaking, there is no such thing as new truth; for truth, like the God whose attribute it is, is eternal. In this sense, there is, indeed, nothing new under the sun.1A paraphrase of Eccles. 1 :9. Error may be properly designated as old or new, since it is but a misconception, or an incorrect view of the truth. Misapprehensions of what truth is, have their beginnings and their endings. They pass away as the race move onward. But truth is “from everlasting to everlasting,"2This phrase recurs in Pss. 41 : 13, 90:2, 103:17. and can never pass away.
Such is the truth of man’s right to liberty. It existed in the very idea of man’s creation. It was his even before he comprehended it. He was created in it, endowed with it, and it can never be taken from him. No laws, no statutes, no compacts, no covenants, no compromises, no constitutions, can abrogate or destroy it. It is beyond the reach of the strongest earthly arm, and smiles at the ravings of tyrants from its hiding place in the bosom of God. Men may hinder its exercise—they may act in disregard of it—they are even permitted to war against it; but they ﬁght against heaven, and their career must be short, for Eternal Providence will speedin vindicate the ﬁght.
The existence of this right is self-evident. It is written upon all the powers and faculties of man. The desire for it is the deepest and strongest of all the powers of the human soul. Earth, sea and air—great nature, with her thousand voices, proclaims it.
In the language of Addison, we may apostrophize it:
“Oh Liberty! thou Goddess, heavenly bright,
Profuse of bliss, and pregnant with delight!
Thou mak’st the glowing face of nature gay,
Giv’st beauty to the sun, and pleasure to the day."3Douglass adapts a stanza from Joseph Addison's “A Letter from Italy to the Right Honourable Charles Lord Halifax in the Year MDCCI." Works of the Late Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Esq., 4 vols. (London, 1730), 1:51.
I have said that the right to liberty is self-evident. No argument, no researches into mouldy records, no learned disquisitions, are necessary to establish it. To assert it, is to call forth a sympathetic response from every human heart, and to send a thrill of joy and gladness round the world. Tyrants, oppressors and slaveholders are stunned by its utterance; while the oppressed and enslaved of all lands hail it as an angel of deliverance. Its
assertion in Russia, in Austria, in Egypt, in ﬁfteen States of the American Union, is a crime. In the harems of Turkey, and on the Southern plantations of Carolina, it is alike prohibited; for the guilty oppressors of every clime understand its truth, and appreciate its electric power.
Slavery is a sin, in that it comprehends a monstrous violation of the great principle of human liberty, to which I have endeavored thus to draw your attention. In this respect, it is a direct war upon the government of God. In subjecting one man to the arbitrary control of another, it contravenes the ﬁrst command of the Decalogue;4Exod. 20:3: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me." and as upon that command rests the whole superstructure of justice, purity and brotherly kindness, slavery may be justly regarded as a warfare against all the principles of infinite goodness.
It is not, however, merely with slavery as a system that I propose to deal. It has been well characterized by the faithful John Wesley as “the sum of all villanies,” and “the concentration of all crime."5Wesley actually referred to the slave trade as “that execrable sum of all villanies." Works of the Rev. John Wesley, 3:453. I prefer to speak of the villains in connection with the villainy, and ofthe criminals in connection with the crimes. I like the pure and stem testimony of John Wesley. It expresses the sense of a true heart in respect to the foul abomination. Adam Clarke6Born in northern Ireland, Adam Clarke (1762-1832) became a leading disciple of John Wesley and a noted classical and biblical scholar. He was educated at Kingswood School near Bristol, England, and, after converting to Methodism in 1778, began preaching shortly thereafter. He ministered to congregations in England, Ireland, Scotland, and the Channel and Shetland islands and served as president of the Wesleyan Conference in 1806, 1814, and 1822. In 1808 Clarke received an LL.D. from King’s College, Aberdeen. This degree complemented many academic honors, including appointment as a fellow of the Antiquarian Society and the Royal Asiatic Society and membership in the Royal Irish Academy and the American Historical Institute. The quotation that Douglass attributes to Clarke has not been identified. DNB, 4:413-14. is no less emphatic. To the traffickers in the souls and bodies of men, this great commentator says, “Oh! ye most flagitious of knaves, and worst of hypocrites! cast off at once the mask of religion, and deepen not your endless perdition by professing the faith ofour Lord Jesus Christ, while you continue in this trafﬁc!”
In contemplating the sin of slavery, and the guilt of slaveholders, I have marvelled at the coolness and self-complacency with which persons at the North often speak of having friends and relatives who are slaveholders at the South. They speak of the fact without a blush of shame, and even as though honor were conferred upon them by their slaveholding friends and
relatives. What a commentary is this on the state of morals among us! Why, if the moral sentiment ofthe North were what it ought to be, a lady would as soon tell of an abandoned sister or a pirate brother, as boast of having slaveholding relatives; for there is nothing in piracy, nothing in lewdness, that is not to be found in the slave system—indeed, slavery is a system of lewdness and piracy. Every slaveholder is the legalized keeper of a house of ill-fame; no matter how high he may stand in church or in state. He may be a Bishop Mead7Bishop William Meade. or a Henry Clay—a reputed saint or an open sinner—he is still the legalized head of a den of infamy.
As a nation, we profess profound respect for chastity and the marriage institution. A violation of either is looked upon (and very properly so) with feelings of absolute horror. A maddened husband, or an outraged father, is almost justified by public opinion in taking the law into his own hand, and executing summary vengeance upon the guilty creature who, by studied arts, covers his family with shame. The laws of this commonwealth, like those of other Northern States, have thrown around innocence the most stringent protection. Our pulpits are keenly alive to the importance of the marriage institution, and the press is not a whit behind the pulpit. These things indicate, I say, a profound respect for moral purity. I will not controvert the genuineness of this seeming virtue of the community. But if it be genuine, the State of New York must be an emancipation State, and that speedily. I hold myself ready to prove that more than a million of women, in the Southern States of this Union, are, by the laws of the land, and through no fault of their own, consigned to a life of revolting prostitution; that, by those laws, in many of the States, if a woman, in defence of her own innocence, shall lift her hand against the brutal aggressor, she may be lawfully put to death. I hold myself ready to prove, by the laws of slave states, that three millions of the people of those States are utterly incapacitated to form marriage contracts.8Although there were certainly numerous slave marriage ceremonies performed both with and without the approval of masters. abolitionists stressed that such unions were not based on free contracts. Douglass's authority may have been Stroud, Laws relating to Slavery, 1st ed.,61. See also Goodell, American Slave Code. 105-12; Herbert G. Gutman. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York, 1976), 11-33, 269-96, 310. I am also prepared to prove that slave breeding is relied upon by Virginia as one of her chief sources of wealth. It has long been known that the best blood of old Virginia may now be found in the slave markets of New Orleans. It is also known that slave women who are nearly white are sold in those markets, at prices which proclaim,
trumpet-tongued, the accursed purposes to which they are to be devoted. Youth and elegance, beauty and innocence, are exposed for sale upon the auction block; while villainous monsters stand around, with pockets lined with gold, gazing with lustful eyes upon their prospective victims. But I will not go behind the scene further. I leave you to picture to yourselves what must be the state of society where marriage is not allowed by the law, and where woman is reduced to a mere chattel. To the thoughtful I need say no more. You have already conceived a state of things equalling, in horror and abomination, your worst conceptions of Sodom itself.
Every slaveholder is a party, a guilty party, to this awful wickedness. He owns the house, and is master of the victims. He is therefore responsible. I say again, no matter how high the slaveholder may stand in popular estimation—he may be a minister of religion, or an Hon. member of Congress; but so long as he is a slaveholder, he deserves to be held up before the world as the patron of lewdness, and the foe of virtue. He may not be personally implicated in the wickedness; he may scrupulously maintain and respect the marriage institution for himself and for his family, for all this can be done selﬁshly; but while he robs any portion of the human family of the right of marriage, and takes from innocent woman the protection of the law, no matter what his individual respectability may be, he is to be classed with the vilest of the vile, and with the basest of the base. To
boast of relationship, or friendly association with these infamous men—to fellowship with such men as good Christians, is a sad commentary on the morals and the religion of those who do it. It implies that their professions of purity are conventional and artificial; that there is no real soundness in them; that their virtue is seeming, rather than real; that their reverence for the marriage institution is the merest affectation, and has no higher nor stronger support than that afforded by public opinion; and that their horror at its violation depends wholly upon the complexion of the parties involved; and not upon the sin committed.
I have now spoken plainly, but not more so than the nature of the case requires. If any have been shocked at my plainness of speech, I beg them to remember that true delicacy does not consist in a squeamish ear. In the language of the eloquent Fox, I would remind them “that true humanity does not consist in shrinking and starting at such recitals, but in a disposition of the heart to remedy the evils they unfold. True virtue belongs rather to the mind than to the nerves, and should prompt men to charitable exertion in correcting abuses. To shudder at enormities, and do nothing to
remove them, is little better than to stamp ourselves with the most pitiful and contemptible hypocrisy."9Douglass quotes and slightly alters a passage from “Abolition of the Slave Trade," a 1791 speech by Charles James Fox. Speeches of the Right Honourable Charles James Fox in the House of Commons, 6 vols. (London, 1815). 4 : 190. To quote another author, I would say,
“TRUE modesty is a distinguished grace,
And only blushes in the proper place;
But counterfeit is base, and skulks, through fear,
Where ’tis a shame to be ashamed t’ appear.”
I pass now to the consideration of another feature of slavery. I allude to its cruelty. Much is said among us, both by the press and the pulpit, of the kindness of slaveholders to their slaves, and of their natural attachment. The relation of master and slave has been called patriarchal, and only second in benignity and tenderness to that of the parent and child. This representation is doubtless believed by many Northern people; and this may account, in part, for the lack of interest which we find among persons whom we are bound to believe to be honest and humane. What, then, are the facts? Here I will not quote my own experience in slavery; for this you might call one sided testimony. I will not cite the declarations of abolitionists; for these you might pronounce exaggerations. I will not rely upon advertisements cut from newspapers; for these you might call isolated cases. But I will refer you to the laws adopted by the legislatures of the slave States. I give you such evidence, because it cannot be invalidated nor denied. I hold in my hand sundry extracts from the slave codes of our country, from which I will quote.***10The printed text does not include the passages that Douglass quoted.
Now, if the foregoing be an indication of kindness, what is cruelty? If this be parental affection, what is bitter malignity? A more atrocious and blood-thirsty string of laws could not well be conceived of! And yet I am bound to say that they fall short of indicating the horrible cruelties constantly practised in the slave States.
I admit that there are individual slaveholders less cruel and barbarous than is allowed by law; but these form the exception. The majority of slaveholders ﬁnd it necessary, to insure obedience, at times, to avail themselves of the utmost extent of the law, and many go beyond it. If kindness were the rule, we should not see advertisements ﬁlling the columns of almost every Southern newspaper, offering large rewards for fugitive
slaves, and describing them as being branded with irons, loaded with chains, and scarred by the whip. One of the most telling testimonies against the pretended kindness of slaveholders, is the fact that uncounted numbers of fugitives are now inhabiting the Dismal Swamp,11The Dismal Swamp occupied parts of Nansemond and Norfolk counties in Virginia and Gates and Camden counties in North Carolina. preferring the untamed wilderness to their cultivated homes—choosing rather to encounter hunger and thirst, and to roam with the wild beasts of the forest, running the hazard of being hunted and shot down, than to submit to the authority of kind masters.
I tell you, my friends, humanity is never driven to such an unnatural course of life, without great wrong. The slave finds more of the milk of human kindness in the bosom of the savage Indian, than in the heart of his Christian master. He leaves the man of the Bible, and takes refuge with the man of the tomahawk. He rushes from the praying slaveholder into the paws of the bear. He quits the homes of men for the haunts of wolves. He prefers to encounter a life of trial, however bitter, or death, however terrible, to dragging out his existence under the dominion of these kind masters.
The apologists for slavery often speak of the abuses of slavery; and they tell us that they are as much opposed to those abuses as we are; and that they would go as far to correct those abuses and to meliorate the condition of the slave as any body. The answer to that view is, that slavery is itself an abuse; that it lives by abuse; and dies by the absence of abuse. Grant that slavery is right; grant that the relation of master and slave may innocently exist; and there is not a single outrage which was ever committed against the slave but what finds an apology in the very necessity of the case. As was said by a slaveholder (the Rev. A. G. Few) to the Methodist Conference, “If the relation be right, the means to maintain it are also right;”12Douglass refers to Ignatius A. Few (1791—1845), a proslavery Methodist minister from Georgia. Born into a merchant and planter family, Few received most of his education in New York City and New Jersey, especially in the Princeton area. After returning to Georgia, he studied law and took up planting. Few served brieﬂy as a colonel in the War of 1812, after which he returned to a declining plantation. In 1823 he moved to Augusta, Georgia, to practice law. After illness interrupted his legal career, he convened to Methodism and began preaching around 1829. Few retired after six years of the ministry in Columbus, Macon, and Savannah, Georgia. He subsequently held various posts in the Methodist Church and became an ofﬁcial of Emory College. At the 1840 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Few emerged as a leading opponent of the abolitionists within the denomination when he introduced a resolution declaring it “inexpedient and unjustiﬁable” for ministers to allow blacks to testify against whites in states legally forbidding such testimony. Shortly before his death Few drew up a report, later adopted by the Georgia Conference, on the division of the Methodist Episcopal Church into northern and southern branches. Douglass here summarizes ch‘s position in the 1840 debate over slave testimony. The apparent source is James G. Bimey’s The American Churches, which quotes Few at length and makes the same error as Douglass does regarding the Georgia minister's initials. Mathews, Slavery and Methodism, 201—04; Sprague, AAP, 7: 739-41; Birney, American Churches, 27. for
without those means, slavery could not exist. Remove the dreadful scourge—the plaited thong—the galling fetter—the accursed chain—and let the slaveholder rely solely upon moral and religious power, by which to secure obedience to his orders, and how long do you suppose a slave would remain on his plantation? The case only needs to be stated; it carries its own refutation with it.
Absolute and arbitrary power can never be maintained by one man, over the body and soul of another man, without brutal chastisement and enormous cruelty.
To talk of kindness entering into a relation in which one party is robbed of wife, of children, of his hard earnings, of home, of friends, of society, of knowledge, and of all that makes this life desirable, is most absurd, wicked and preposterous.
I could dwell longer on this aspect of my present subject. It is fruitful, and affords abundant material for extended remark, but I leave it for the consideration of other topics announced for this evening’s lecture.
I have shown that slavery is wicked--wicked, in that it violates the great law of liberty, written on every human heart—wicked, in that it violates the first command of the Decalogue—wicked, in that it fosters the most disgusting licentiousness—wicked, in that it mars and defaces the image of God by cruel and barbarous inflictions—wicked, in that it contravenes the laws of eternal justice, and tramples in the dust all the humane and heavenly precepts of the New Testament.
The evils resulting from this huge system of iniquity are not conﬁned to the States south of Mason and Dixon's line. Its noxious influence can easily be traced throughout our Northern borders. It comes even as far North as the State of New York. Traces of it may be seen even in Rochester; and travellers have told me it casts its gloomy shadows across the lake, approaching the very shores of Queen Victoria’s dominions.
The presence of slavery may be explained by (as it is the explanation of) the mobocratic violence, which lately disgraced New York, and which still more recently disgraced the city of Boston.13The interruption of the New York meetings of the American Anti-Slavery Society in May 1850 by a gang led by lsaiah Rynders and the disruption of a welcoming meeting for George Thompson by a Boston mob on 15 November 1850 were fresh in Douglass ’s mind. NS, 16 May 1850; Lib., 24 May, 29 November 1850; NASS. 23 May 1850; Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Nineteenth Annual Report, 63—67. These violent demon-
strations, these outrageous invasions of human rights, faintly indicate the presence and power of slavery here. It is a significant fact, that while meetings for almost any purpose under heaven may be held unmolested in the city of Boston, that in the same city, a meeting cannot be peaceably held for the purpose of preaching the doctrine of the American Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal.” The pestiferous breath of slavery taints the whole moral atmosphere of the North, and enervates the moral energies of the whole people.
The moment a foreigner ventures upon our soil, and utters a natural repugnance to oppression, that moment he is made to feel that there is little sympathy in this land for him.14Douglass alludes to the reception of British abolitionist George Thompson, who, having arrived in Boston on 29 October 1850, was mobbed and silenced at a Faneuil Hall meeting on 15 November. Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Nineteenth Annual Report, 63-67. If he were greeted with smiles before, he meets with frowns now; and it shall go well with him if he be not subjected to that peculiarly fitting method of showing fealty to slavery, the assaults of a mob.
Now, will any man tell me that such a state of things is natural, and that such conduct, on the part of the people of the North, springs from a consciousness of rectitude? No. Every fibre of the human heart unites in detestation of tyranny, and it is only when the human mind has become familiarized with slavery, is accustomed to its injustice, and corrupted by its selﬁshness, that it fails to record its abhorrence of slavery, and does not exult in the triumphs of liberty.
The northern people have been long connected with slavery; they have been linked to a decaying corpse, which has destroyed the moral health. The union of the government; the union of the north and south, in the political parties; the union, in the religious organizations of the land, have all served to deaden the moral sense of the northern people, and to impregnate them with sentiments and ideas for ever in conflict with what, as a nation, we call genius of American institutions. Rightly viewed, this is an alarming fact, and ought to rally all that is pure, just, and holy in one determined effort, to crush the monster of corruption, and to scatter “its guilty profits” to the winds. In a high moral sense, as well as in a national sense, the whole American people are responsible for slavery, and must
share, in its guilt and shame, with the most obdurate men-stealers of the South.
While slavery exists, and the union of these States endures, every American citizen must bear the chagrin of hearing his country branded before the world, as a nation of liars and hypocrites; and behold his cherished national flag pointed at with the utmost scorn and derision. Even now, an American abroad is pointed out in the crowd, as coming from a land where men gain their fortunes by “the blood of souls,” from a land of slave-markets, of blood-hounds, and slave-hunters; and, in some circles such a man is shunned altogether, as a moral pest. Is it not time then for every American to awake, and inquire into his duty with respect to this subject?
Wendell Phillips, (the eloquent New England orator), on his return from Europe, in 1842, said, “As I stood upon the shores of Genoa, and saw, floating on the placid waters of the Mediterranean, the beautiful American war ship Ohio, with her masts tapering proportionately aloft, and an Eastern sun reflecting her noble form upon the sparkling waters, attracting the gaze of the multitude, my first impulse was of pride, to think myself an American; but when I thought that the first time that gallant ship would gird on her gorgeous apparel, and wake from beneath her sides her dormant thunders, it would be in defence of the African slave-trade, I blushed, in utter shame, for my country. "15From June 1839 until July 1841 Phillips toured Europe with his ailing wife, but no published account of his 1842 speeches contains the quotation in question. Oscar Sherwin, Prophet of Liberty: The Life and Times of Wendell Phillips (New York, 1958), 107—21.
Let me say again, slavery is alike the sin and the shame of the American people; it is a blot upon the American name, and the only national reproach which need make an American hang his head in shame, in the presence of monarchical governments.
With this gigantic evil in the land, we are constantly told to look at home; if we say ought against crowned heads, we are pointed to our enslaved millions; if we talk of sending missionaries and Bibles abroad, we are pointed to three millions, now lying in worse than heathen darkness; if we express a word of sympathy for Kossuth and his Hungarian fugitive brethren, we are pointed to that horrible and hell-black enactment “the
FUGITIVE SLAVE BILL.”
Slavery blunts the edge of all our rebukes of tyranny abroad—the
criticisms that we make upon other nations only call forth ridicule, contempt and scorn. In a word, we are made a reproach and a by-word to a mocking earth, and we must continue to be so made, so long as slavery continues to pollute our soil.
We have heard much of late of the virtue of patriotism, the love of country, &.c., and this sentiment, so natural and so strong, has been impiously appealed to, by all the powers of human selﬁshness, to cherish the viper which is stinging our national life away. In its name we have been called upon to deepen our infamy before the world, to rivet the fetter more firmly on the limbs of the enslaved, and to become utterly insensible to the voice of human woe that is wafted to us on every Southern gale. We have been called upon, in its name, to desecrate our whole land by the footprints of slave-hunters, and even to engage ourselves in the horrible business of kidnapping.
I, too, would invoke the spirit of patriotism; not in a narrow and restricted sense, but I trust, with a broad and manly signification; not to cover up our national sins, but to inspire us with sincere repentance; not to hide our shame from the world’s gaze, but utterly to abolish the cause of that shame; not to explain away our gross inconsistencies as a nation, but to remove the hateful, jarring and incongruous elements from the land; not to sustain an egregious wrong, but to unite all our energies in the grand effort to remedy that wrong.
I would invoke the spirit of patriotism, in the name of the law of the living God, natural and revealed; and in the full belief that “righteousness exalteth a nation, while sin is a reproach to any people.”16Prov. 14:34.16 “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from the holding of bribes, he shall dwell on high, his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks, bread shall be given him, his water shall be sure. "17Douglass paraphrases Isa. 33: 15-16.
We have not only heard much lately of patriotism, and of its aid being invoked on the side of slavery and injustice, but the very prosperity of this people has been called in to deafen them to the voice of duty, and to lead them onward in the pathway of sin. Thus has the blessing of God been converted into a curse. In the spirit of genuine patriotism, I warn the American people, by all that is just and honorable, to BEWARE!
I warn them that strong, proud and prosperous though we be, there is a
power above us that can “bring down high looks; at the breath of whose mouth our wealth may take wings; and before whom every knee shall bow;”18Douglass conﬂates parts of Ps. 18:27, Isa. 45 :23, and possibly Job 15 : 29-30.18 and who can tell how soon the avenging angel may pass over our land, and the sable bondman now in chains, may become the instruments of our nation’s chastisement! Without appealing to any higher feeling, I would warn the American people, and the American government, to be wise in their day and generation. I exhort them to remember the history of other nations; and I remind them that America cannot always sit “as a queen,” in peace and repose; that prouder and stronger governments than this have been shattered by the bolts of ajust God; that the time may come when those they now despise and hate, may be needed; when those whom they now compel, by oppression, to be enemies, may be wanted as friends; what has been, may be again. There is a point beyond which human endurance cannot go. The crushed worm may yet turn under the heel of the oppressor. I warn them, then, with all solemnity, and in the name of retributive justice, to look to their ways : for in an evil hour, those sable arms that have, for the last two centuries, been engaged in cultivating and adorning the fair fields of our country, may yet become the instruments of terror, desolation, and death, throughout our borders. We are told, by the President of the United States, in his recent message to Congress, that the American people are at peace with all the world;19In his annual message to Congress, delivered on 2 December 1850, President Millard Fillmore (1800-74) observed: “We are at peace with all nations and we enjoy in an eminent degree the blessings of that peace in a prosperous and growing commerce and in all the forms of amicable international intercourse." Israel, State of the Union Messages, 1 :795. and this may be true in the sense in which it is used; but what if this may not always be the case? What if, by some strange vicissitude, amicable relations with Europe should be interrupted? What if war should take the place of diplomacy? and some principle of international law between this and some strong European power should be defeated on the battle-field? Where, then, would be our safety? We are told, (by a Southern Statesman), that a million of slaves are ready to “strike for freedom, ” at the first roll of a foreign drum; and I would ask, in his language, “How are you to sustain an assault from England or France, with this cancer in your vitals?”20Douglass refers to the remarks of Thomas Dickens Arnold, Whig congressman (1831-33, 1841-43) from Tennessee, as quoted in Brooke, Slavery and the Slaveholder’s Religion, 14. The slaves in our land have reached a number not to be despised. They are three millions—a fearful multitude to be in chains. The American people numbered three millions when they
asserted their independence; and although they contended with the strongest power on the globe, they were successful.
It was the sage of the Old Dominion that said, (while speaking of the possibility of a conﬂict between the slaves and the slaveholders), “God has no attribute that could take sides with the oppressor in such a contest. I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that his justice cannot sleep for ever."21Douglass paraphrases Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 163. Such is the warning voice of Thomas Jefferson; and every day’s experience since its utterance until now, confirms its wisdom, and commends its truth.