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Antislavery Principles and Antislavery Acts: Addresses Delivered in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 27, 28, 29 April 1852



Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 28, 29, 30 April 1852. Othertexts in Frederick Douglass' Paper, 6 May 1852; Anti-Slavery Bugle, 8 May 1852; Liberator, 28 May 1852.


The antislavery convention called by the Cincinnati Ladies’ Sewing Society and held in Cincinnati from 27 to 29 April 1852 was, according to all participants and observers, the most effective and enthusiastic one ever held by the abolitionists of the state. Interested citizens from the Cincinnati area and from “the Kentucky side of the river,” as well as leading antislavery men from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, attended in large numbers. Charles C. Burleigh, John Mercer Langston, Henry Bibb, and George W. Julian were among the “Free Soilers, Garrisonians, and Liberty Party men" who, in Douglass’s words, “met and mingled their voices in a united and harmonious effort against the dark spirit of human bondage. ” Douglass occupied a conspicuous position in the proceedings, having been chosen a vice president and delivering four speeches during the course of the meeting. Douglass’s most important address came on the closing night of the convention. C. C. Burleigh noted that at the concluding session Smith and Nixon‘s Hall, capable of holding between fifteen hundred and two thousand persons, was “crowded, packed, jammed seats, aisles, all its available space; a dense throng standing, while all the seats were full.” Burleigh added that between seven hundred and eight hundred aspiring spectators were turned away. The Gazette said “it was nearly eleven before the audience would allow [Douglass] to take his seat. ” Though Joseph Treat, Burleigh, and others wrote letters voicing their pleasure with the convention, Douglass reserved his praise, indicating a growing impatience with the progress of the movement. He expressed his frustrations most pointedly in a letter to Gerrit Smith in which he complained: “The convention was not quite as radical as I desired it should be in regard to the duty of this government to abolish slavery. " NASS, 22 April 1852; C. C. Burleigh to Sydney Gay, 1 May 1852, in NASS, 18 May 1852; A58, 8, 15, 29 May 1852; Douglass to Gerrit Smith, 7 May 1852, Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.

First Day [27 April 1852]
[Introduction of Resolutions; speech by Edward Henry Nevin.]
Frederick Douglass, of New York, was now loudly called for, and coming forward, was most enthusiastically greeted by the large audience. He is a black man, of fine personal appearance, and one of the most expressive countenances, that one may see in the largest bodies of men.
Mr. Douglass wished he could express to the people the deep satisfaction he felt in standing before so large an audience assembled to discuss the responsibilities and duties growing out of the existence of American Slav-


cry. Most of those before him were, without doubt, earnest in coming up here, and were prepared to follow Anti-Slavery truths whithersoever they might lead. People were looking with various emotions to the action of this body—the Church was looking—the Slaveholder listened—the heart of the toil-worn slave on Southern plantations would leap within him when the echoes of our voices reached him, and if those voices were sustained by corresponding action, Hope would trim anew her lamp, and inspire him with bright hopes for a future. (Applause) The resolution affirms that the Church is responsible for American Slavery;1The resolution read: “Resolved, That Slave-holding is, in itself, an act of immeasurable wickedness, and that for all the abominations connected with it, the American Church and Clergy are pre-eminently reSponsible. “ Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 28 April 1852. do we comprehend the force and results of this? Be sure that you sufficiently estimate the mighty opposition from powerful and numerous organizations, and the sacrifices which adherence to that declaration will force upon you! We arraign the Church and her army of Clergy upon the charge of participation in a CRIME of immeasurable “magnitude!” If any one opposes the resolution, let him do it now, and openly upon this free speech platform.
ln fifteen States of this confederacy, church and state sanction the holding and the transfer of men as property. Here and there a faint voice arises against the awful iniquity, but as a general principle no other religion is preached—the slaveholders will have none other—than that which sanctions slaveholding; the Bible is made the charter, not of liberty, but of oppression. The clergy there declare the Fugitive Slave Law to be a second edition of the apostle Paul’s epistle to Philemon.2Douglass alludes to St. Paul's advice to the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his master Philemon as described in the Book of Philemon. (Laughter.) l have, said Douglass, heard their slaveholding sermons; they have preached to me that if l would “save my soul alive,” I must faithfully, and unquestioning[ly] serve my master to the neglect of my own mental and spiritual development—thus is the gospel oflesus made a scourge to goad on men to their unrequited toil. (Sensation.) If, taking the Gospel in its purity, the ministers would take their wives and their little ones, and shake from their feet the dust of that Southern Sodom, the people would forsake the institution—but now the church is its strongest bulwark.3Douglass alludes to the wickedness of Sodom as described in Gen. 18 : 20 and to the title of James G. Bimey ’s The American Churches the Bulwarks ofAmerican Slavery. The clergy are not only dumb—would to God they were only dumb—they actively support slavery and aggressively oppose free principles. No wonder that the


more religious slaveholders become, the more hardened and Oppressive they grow; for if slavery is a “Divine institution,” the greater the slave-holder, the “Diviner” the man. (Applause)
In this connection I am always forcibly reminded of the incomparable illustration of the principle of brotherly love in the New Testament. When the stranger fell among thieves and was left alone on the highway to perish, there came along three persons, severally representing the classes in society. First came the Priest—evidently all Priest and no humanity—who passed entirely on “the other side,” and his successors appear to have remained on the other side to this time. (Laughter.) Then came another, a Deacon, probably; he seemed half man and half priest, for he took a middle course, and seemed wavering; but, unfortunately, the Priest predominated, and he followed “in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor” on the other side! (Great laughter.) But, my friends, there next came that way a man, nothing but a MAN; yes a regular human! (renewed laughter); and he went straight up to the suffering stranger, bound up his wounds, and attended to all his wants.4Douglass paraphrases the biblical account of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10 : 30-35.
(The peculiar and inimitable facial contortions setting off this narrative, can only be imagined by those who have listened to Tom. Corwin.5Thomas Corwin (l794—l865) was a leading Whig politician from Ohio. After preparing for the bar, Corwin immediately launched a political career that took him to the state legislature, the US. House of Representatives, the Ohio govemorship, the US. Senate, and the cabinet as Millard Fillmore's secretary of the treasury. 1n the late 18505 Corwin returned to the House of Representatives as a conservative Republican and later served as Lincoln’s ambassador to Mexico. Concerning Corwin‘s speaking style, one biographer wrote that “he had the most remarkable facial expression of any orator ofhis time. The movements ofhis features were sometimes rather grotesque. He spoke with face and eyes as well as with his tongue. " Josiah Morrow, The Life and Speeches of Thomas Comm: Orator. Lawyer, and Statesman (Cincinnati. 1896), 82—83; ACAB, l : 75l; NCAB. 6 : 180—81; DAB. 4 : 457-58.)
I can always distinguish the class of time-serving clergymen wherever I meet them, in the rail car or steamboat—that is, when they condescend to occupy the same car and cabin. If they approach one of my color at all, the first question is—not “Do you love your neighbor, your brother man?" [but] “Do you love God?” (Another unreportable expression of countenance.)
But, my friends, let me be understood. It is the faithless and the recreant Priesthood I would hold up, not the true servants of an impartial God, who created us ALL in his likeness. I will never be driven off the platform of the Christian Religion in fighting slavery. (Great applause.)


But my heart goes out only toward a practical religion. I see in this Convention an exhibition of adherence to the vitality of religion. Christianity works thus not alone with the rich and strong, but it reaches its long beneficent arm down to seize and bear upward the last link of humanity. (Applause.) Such Christianity is embodied in the great anti-slavery movement of the 19th century—it is expressed in the resolution before us. I am
heartin in favor of it.

Second Day [28 April I 852]
[Speeches by Henry B. Blackwell and Henry Bibb.]
A universal call was now made for “Douglass," "Douglass"— Fred. Douglass and this worthy champion of his race in America, came forward amid the heartiest applause.
He said it seemed to be expected by some that he would speak of Henry Clay as the long time head of Colonization. We are all familiar with H. Clay on “Colonization.” I am acquainted with him in that line, and on Sanctification—think of Henry Clay on Sanctification! (Laughter.) “Years of legislation have sanctioned and sanctified the right ofproperty in slaves,” said the Sage of Ashland.6“Sage of Ashland. " a popular nickname for Henry Clay, was derived from the name of his Kentucky plantation, Ashland. Douglass alludes to Clay 's argument in the Senate on 7 February 1839. that “Two Hundred years of legislation have sanctioned and sanctified Negro slaves as property." Colton, Life and Speeches of Henry Clay, 6 : 152; Congressional Globe. 25th Cong, 3d sess., 357-58. But I shall not follow him through his Theological lucubrations. I congratulate all the negroes of this country, upon being the subject of so much discussion, legislation, and learned talk—under the circumstances we cannot be blamed for sometimes feeling a little big—(laughter). We are called “last links,” degraded, vile, and all that, and yet they continue talking of us until it has been remarked that “Niggerism ” is the only distinctive feature of the Americans; it is difficult to conjecture what would become of them were the colored people all expatriated.
In Ireland and Scotland he had heard the highlands and lowlands vocal with the native music of Liberty—music original with the People, but, said he, in America the masses can only sing Nigger songs. (Applause) I don’t believe you want to get rid of us after all.


But seriously, he thought the Colonization Society had the basis for a strong plea before the people—the idea of civilizing and evangelizing Africa was sublime. Indeed were he not closely allied with the Anti-Slavery movement here, he would be strongly drawn to go and spend and be spent in behalf of Africa. He would go, however, as a free Missionary and not from a Society of questionable motives.
Now, it was easy to prove that the Colonization Society had not these beneficent designs at heart; they were the countenancers and fast friends of American Slavery. Their agents went to the conscience-stricken slaveholder half decided to emancipate his men and women, and whispered “Don’t do it unless they will agree to go to Africa." Yes, and they had gone to State Legislatures and lobbied through laws PROHIBITING emancipation of slaves, except on condition of sending them out of the State—virtually setting an external rivet in the manacles of the bondman!7Manumission became increasingly linked to deportation in the slave codes of the Upper South after 1830. The American Colonization Society contributed to the passage of these laws by frequently memorializing state legislatures on the desirability of removing the free black population and by presenting Liberia as a suitable outlet for emigration. In the early 1830s the legislatures of Maryland. Virginia, and Tennessee authorized annual appropriations to transport newly freed slaves and free blacks to Africa. American Colonization Society, Twenty-Sixth Annual Report (Washington, 1843). 15-17, Thirty-Second Annual Report (Washington, 1849), 40—50, Thirty-Third Annual Report (Washington, 1850), 37-45; William Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A History of the Great Struggle in Both Hemispheres (New York, 1852), 346; Penelope Campbell, Maryland in Africa: The Maryland State Colonization Society, 1831-1857 (Urbana, Ill., 1971), 30-38; Berlin, Slaves Without Masters, 199-204; John H. Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia, 1619-1865 (Baltimore, 1913). 156-57.7
I tell you, said Mr. D[ouglass], men that are honest in professions of desire to “Civilize and Evangelize” black men in the jungles of Africa, will consistently labor to “Civilize and Evangelize” black men in the Everglades of Florida, and on Southern Plantations where, in most cases, they may not learn to read the name of their Creator.
Mr. D[ouglass] said the Colonization Society operated to discourage colored people from struggling for wealth, intelligence, and that position in society for not having which they were reproached. He denied that prejudice against color was invincible, and illustrated his position by narrations in a style as inimitable as it is original. To his argument, as to his manner, we can do no justice.
The resolution was almost unanimously adopted, and the Convention adjourned.


Third Day [29 April 1852]
[Introduction of resolutions; speeches by John G. Fee, William B. Jarvis, Henry Bibb, Ira D. French, and Samuel Lewis.]

Frederick Douglass responded to one of those tumultous calls which frequently bring him out on the platform.
A voice—Are you a Minister?
Mr. Douglass—Hav’n’t been ordained! (Laughter.)
Mr. Lewis8Samuel Lewis ( l 799— 1854) was a leading Ohio attorney, educator, and antislavery politician. Despite a lack of formal education, Lewis became a successful lawyer in Cincinnati and Ohio's first superintendent of schools. Lewis left the Whigs for the Liberty party in 1841 and later became an active Free Soiler. As an antislavery candidate, Lewis lost two congressional and three gubernatorial races despite receiving over 50,000 votes in his last campaign for governor in 1853. In addition to his political pursuits, Lewis also actively led antislavery reform efforts inside the Methodist Episcopal Church. William G. W. Lewis, Biography of Samuel Lewis: First Superintendent of Common Schools for the State of Ohio (Cincinnati, 1857), 27—28, 37—39, 120—21, 280-416; NCAB. 25 : 439; ACAB, 3 : 706; DAB, 11 :223—24.—He is a Preacher of Righteousness.
Mr. Douglass proceeded to make an effective speech in support of his peculiar views of Human Government and the right of resistance to Tyranny. He recited the language of the US. Constitution, and dwelt upon the declaration that it was ordained to establish justice and promote the general good.9Douglass paraphrases the preamble of the US. Constitution. Such was the legitimate sphere of Civil Government among men, but when the agents representing government transcend their legitimate sphere and open a merciless war on the natural and inalienable rights of Humanity, when they turned one portion of society loose, to prey upon the other and by virtue of brute force, reduce Beings with Souls to “Chattels personal,” then arose the right of revolution, the right of resistance for self-preservation. As a man, he would unhesitatingly take the life of a kidnapper who would seize him from his family to reduce him again to slavery. He said this, drawing himself to his full height, on the authority of FREDERICK DOUGLASS, and in the words of Southern men, “was ready to meet the consequences” here or elsewhere. He believed that our form of government was the best in the world, and might yet prove itself “the brightest star in mankind’s sky; ” but it must be purified and redeemed from the possession and control of the enslavers of men, all of whose tendencies


and sympathies were in hostile array against the spirit of the Republican form of government the administration of which they have seized.
He should strike boldly at the false doctrine that we were irrevocably bound by all the compacts of a previous generation. He argued, that if he had no right to reduce a man to a piece of property, his father had no such right. It was high time that men recurred to that “higher law,” but recently announced in the Senate.10In his maiden speech in the Senate on 11 March 1850 during a debate over congressional power to prohibit slavery in the territories, New York senator William H. Seward remarked, “[T]here is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain. . . . The territory is a part—no unconsiderable part—of the common heritage of mankind, bestowed upon them by the Creator of the universe. We are his stewards, and must so discharge our trust as to secure, in the highest attainable degree their happiness." Congressional Globe. 31st Cong, 1st sess., Appendix, 265; Pease, “Road to the Higher Law,“ 131—32. He alluded to the triumphant success of the “higher law” in England, and to the memorable declarations of Lord Brougham, in affirmation of the inherent rights of man.11Douglass alludes to the success of the British emancipation movement and to the famous declaration by one of its parliamentary leaders, Lord Brougham, “that by a law above and prior to all the laws of human lawgivers, for it is the law of God—there are some things which cannot be holden in property, and above everything else. that man can have no property in his fellow creature." [Peter Henry Brougham], Works of Lord Brougham, 11 vols. (Edinburgh, I873), 10 : 198.
The whole Rhetorical Battery of the speaker was brought to bear on the action of Clay and Webster in sustaining Slavery, but he “exulted in the truth, that with all their power and influence, the pure instincts of the people were stronger, and their efforts to crush agitation were impotent. " He desired to see the original language of the resolutions retained, and desired to see it “burned upon the consciences” of men.12Douglass was speaking in opposition to a motion to moderate the language of the following resolution: “Resolved, That there is a law higher than all the enactments of human codes—the same throughout the world—the same in all time, and by that law, unchangeable and eternal ‘Man cannot hold property in man '—and that when the Statutes of Legislatures are subversive to this ‘higher law.‘ it becomes the duty of good citizens to regard them as the edicts of foul conspirators against the rights and liberties of all mankind." The convention later adopted the resolution in this form “without dissent." PaF, 20 May 1852; Lib., M May 1852; Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 30 April 1852.
After Mr. Douglass had concluded his speech, of which the above is but a meagre sketch, the Convention took a recess.

[Speeches by Rev. Edward Henry Nevin and John Mercer Langston]
Frederick Douglass, the orator of the evening, now came forward. His first remark took his expectant audience all aback. He thought it a capital


time to take up a collection! The shrewd African hit the nail on the head. Between $30 and $40 were “taken up” for “expenses,” and with a broad smile of peculiar satisfaction, “the Douglass” commenced.
A great obstruction, said he, to the spread of action-producing Anti-Slavery principles in the United States is the too general impression that the federal Constitution is a Pro-Slavery instrument—it is not so! Judged by the well-settled principles of legal construction, the Constitution is an Anti-Slavery document. (Applause) No doubt there were men in the Convention who desired compromises that would favor the interests of slavery13The Philadelphia Convention that drafted the federal constitution in the summer of 1787.—they may have thought they obtained them. But it is more certain that a large body—among them a large number of slaveholders—were earnest anti-slavery men, and intended to frame a Constitution that would finally secure the equality of all the people—all the persons if you please—in these States. What I contend is, that if the Constitution shall be presumed to favor liberty, and to be consistent with its noble preamble, its language will inevitably secure the extinction of human slavery, and forever, in this Republic.
It would be asked, as it often had been, how he, once a stout defender of the Garrison doctrine, that the Constitution was a Pro-Slavery instrument, he that had declared at Syracuse that he would welcome the bolt, whether from the North or South, from Heaven or Hell, that would shatter the Constitution and the Union, that lived but to perpetuate oppression, how he came to change.14Douglass had made such a declaration in at least two addresses in Syracuse. on 24 September 1847 and 17 January 1850, as the texts reprinted in the present volume indicate. Because he defended “old organization" views when Gam’sonians and Liberty party spokesmen debated the constitutional basis for disunion on the latter occasion, it seems likely that he has his remarks of 17 January 1850 in mind. That would be a long explanation. But when he first escaped from slavery, he was rather green—perhaps his Garrison friends thought him green now. (Laughter) He then knew nothing of law and Constitutions, had never had an hour’s schooling in his life and had only “learned to read from Jim Jones and Bill Johnson, and the other street boys that played on our cellar door.” (Applause) He went to Boston, and there among the noble—he must call them so—Abolitionists, he first learned that white men could treat colored men as men. Among the wealthiest and the most aristocratic he was warmly received, and must say that in their elegant parlors and drawing rooms he at first suffered, from awkwardness, almost more than in slavery. (Laughter.) But he got used to it—perhaps


some would think no charge of over diffidence would now lie against him. (Laughter.)
He hoped they would do with him as he urged in regard to the Constitution, [and] “put the most favorable construction thereon.”
Well, he accepted their plausible views of the Pro-Slavery character of the national pact, and proclaimed it through England, Ireland and Wales. But returned to New York, he came in contact with the Goodells and Wards15William Goodell and Samuel Ringgold Ward. and Gerrit Smiths, whose iron-linked arguments, in support of the position that the Constitution is, legally construed, an Anti-Slavery instrument, he was unable to answer though he debated with them throughout the State. He went to the annual meeting of the Garrison wing of the Anti-Slavery movement, and [there stated]16This phrase, supplied from the texts of speeches published in FDP. 6 May 1852 and Lib., 28 May 1852, has been substituted for the phrase “those States.“ which appears in Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 30 April 1852. the convictions that had fastened in his mind.17Douglass announced his changed view of the Constitution during discussion of a motion offered by Edmund Quincy on the subject of antislavery newspapers on 9 May 1851 at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Syracuse, New York. Quincy‘s resolution pronounced the Liberator, Pennsylvania Freeman, Anti-Slavery Bugle, and North Star worthy of abolitionist support. Several delegates opposed a subsequent motion to add a Liberty party sheet to the roster of recommended newspapers. Douglass, who had recently agreed to merge the North Star with a Liberty party sheet in return for financial support from Gerrit Smith, rose to explain his paper's position, “as he [did not] desire commendation of which he was not deserving. " A garbled summary of Douglass's remarks appears in the account of the session published in NASS, 29 May 1851: “His mind has undergone a radical change in reference to some points. He had never thought that the fundamental principle of the American Anti-Slavery Society was the dissolution of the Union. He did not wish any one to imagine that he was averse to a dissolution of the Union, he having ceased to regard it a matter of so very great importance as he formerly believed it to [be]. The North Star had not [had now?] committed itself to the Anti-Slavery character of the Constitution. He had patiently investigated both sides ofthe matter, and had come to the determination that it was best to apply [to] it those well know principles the legal interpretation of which would make it consistent with its preamble and object. “ See also New York Herald, 10 May 1851; NASS. 15 May 1851; Lib., 16 May 1851; NS, 15 May 1851; Joseph Treat to Marius [Robinson], [9] May 1851, in ASB, 24 May 1851; Douglass to Gerrit Smith, 1 May 1851, Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU. The time would come when it would be recognized that he had only acted as an honest man only could act.
It was high time that absurd assumptions of the Slave Oligarchy were exposed—he would devote his energies to wrest from them the Bible—the Constitution and all supports to which they had no right in reason or conscience. He would give the Shylocks of the South the letter of the bond—the pound of flesh—but no blood.18An allusion to The Merchant of Venice, act 4, sc. 1, lines 307-08. (Applause.)


A word on another subject—Kossuth and Hungary. (Applause) I know you have laid a resolution, relating to the subject, on the table,19In earlier sessions the meeting passed two resolutions expressing broad sympathy with nationalist revolutionaries in Hungary. It had also passed but subsequently reconsidered and tabled a third resolution that censured Kossuth for having carried his appeal for American intervention in Hungary to the southern slave states. The tabled resolution read, “Resolved, That considering the large experience of this illustrious patriot, in the dungeons of Austria, his knowledge of the natural sympathies oftyrants and oppressors with their kind, all over the globe, it is passing strange and much to be regretted, that he did not see the absurdity of going on a mission of liberty among slaveholders, and have saved his cause the damage and himself the degradation which has befallen it and him. “ C. C. Burleigh to Garrison, 30 April 1852, in Lib., 14 May 1852; New York Daily Times, 1 May 1852; FDP, 6 May 1852. but
“No gag on a Yankee’s mouth,”20Probably an allusion to the fourteenth verse of John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Voice of New England," in Maria W. Chapman, ed., Songs of the Free, and Hymns of Christian Freedom (Boston, 1836), 151: “Rail on, then, ‘brethren of the South ’—/Ye shall not hear the truth the less—/No seal is on the Yankee‘s mouth,/No fetter on the Yankee's press!/ From our Green Mountains to the Sea,/ One voice shall thunder—we are Free!”
at least not on a nigger’s. (Great laughter.) At the outset, let me say that in my soul I have admired the noble Hungarian Chief, who has suffered immensely for freedom. Let us give three cheers for Kossuth! (This was responded to by tolerably hearty cheers.) Well, that is good for the representative of “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."21The motto actually reads “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." Thomas Jefferson believed that Benjamin Franklin was its author. (Applause) But, I have to say that, with all Kossuth’s greatness, he committed a fatal mistake when, coming to this country, he attempted to link his holy cause with men whose hands were dripping with the blood of three and a half millions of oppressed men and women. (Applause) How could the Magyar flatter this Republic while within the sound of his voice at Washington, Drayton & Sayres22Edward Sayres and Daniel Drayton.
were perishing, in republican dungeons, for acts every way as meritorious as Kossuth’s. I honor the slaveholders that they consistently scouted the Hungarian pleader for liberty, though I abhor the diabolism of their motives. Kossuth tried to ride two horses—it was no go—let exiles take warning!
He honored the characteristic traits of bold bad men. Let a man be for freedom universal, or come out boldly like John C. Calhoun, who declared under all the responsibilities of his high station that human slavery was the veritable New Jerusalem that was to come down out of Heaven. (Laughter.) He wanted no Clays to utter generalizations against the theory of


slavery and then issue politic lucubrations on the sanctified nature of property in men. (Applause.) No Kossuth preaching the principles of universal liberty in Europe, and then, across your river in Covington, uttering the significant remark, “No man dares take a Kentuckian’s property." Ah! the miraculously shrewd Kossuth knew how the slaveholders would construe the word property. (Applause)
But I must close—let exiles contemplating visits to America take the lesson.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895




Yale University Press 1982



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