Bound Together in a Grand League of Freedom: An Address Delivered in Toronto, Canada West, on June 21, 1854
BOUND TOGETHER IN A GRAND LEAGUE OF FREEDOM: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN TORONTO, CANADA WEST, ON 21 JUNE 1854
Frederick Douglass' Paper, 6 July 1854.
Frederick Douglass was one of a number of distinguished guests gracing the platform at St. Lawrence Hall when the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada convened its anniversary meeting in Toronto, Canada West, on the evening of 21 June 1854. The Reverend Dr. Michael Willis, president of the Society, opened the meeting and offered the first resolution but abbreviated his remarks in order that the audience could hear Douglass, “a gentleman better ﬁtted to give them information on slavery.” The resolution that Douglass presented was seconded by Peter Brown and carried unanimously. Following the passage of two resolutions moved by John Scoble and the nomination of ofﬁcers, the meeting, “which was a large and enthusiastic one," adjourned.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS, Esq., rose amidst great applause. He said, I esteem it a great privilege to be present at this anniversary of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society.1Founded in Toronto, Canada West, in February 1851 , the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada was dedicated to “the extinction of slavery all over the world by means exclusively lawful and peaceable. moral and religious, such as the diffusing of useful information and arguments, by tracts, newspapers. lectures and correspondence, and by manifesting sympathy with the houseless and homeless victims of slavery flying to our soil." The Reverend Dr. Michael Willis ofToronto‘s Knox Presbyterian Theological College was the Society‘s ﬁrst and only president. Relying primarily on public meetings in its early years, the Society attracted such notable speakers as George Thompson, Samuel Ringgold Ward. Jennain Wesley Loguen, Samuel J. May, and Frederick Douglass. The Society consistently opposed the extradition of fugitive slaves and emphasized the need to provide refugees with equitable employment opportunities and cheap land if they were to become self-sufﬁcient. Afﬁliate branches of the Society were organized in a number of cities in Canada West. Toronto Globe, 1 March 1851; Fred Landon, “The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada,” JNH. 4 : 33-40 (January 1919); idem, “The Canadian Anti-Slavery Group,“ University Magazine, 18 : 540-47 (December 1918); idem, “Abolitionist Interest in Upper Canada," Ontario History, 44 : 165-72 (October 1952); idem, “The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada," Ontario History, 48 : 125-31 (Summer 1956); Robin W. Winks, “ ‘A Sacred Animosity ’: Abolitionism in Canada, " in The Antislavery Vanguard: New Essays on the Abolitionists. ed. Martin Duberman (Princeton, 1965), 301-42. Not however, because I hope to be able to say anything that shall be very new, very startling, or very eloquent. It is sometime since
I heard myself referred to in any public meeting, in the cordial and warm manner in which I have been referred to this evening. It is some time since I heard myself referred to as a lion at an Anti-Slavery meeting, and I scarcely know [how] to adjust myself to my new relations. I have been accustomed to stand before the people in the States, directly implicated in the matter of Slave-holding, and my arguments, and my appeals, and my denunciations, it may be, have had some back ground,—they have had something at any rate to hit against. But standing here in the presence of Canadians, in the presence of a free people (cheers) uncontaminated in any way—to whom I can trace no responsibility for the enslavement of those with whom I am connected and identified—I find in this new relation some difficulty to know what to say.
In regard to the great principles at the bottom of this Anti-Slavery movement you on this side of the lake are not only familiar with them, but you have made them a part of all your institutions here, of your thoughts, of your prayers in the family circle, of your prayers in the church, of your sermons and your literature. They are common to you. We can say nothing new in regard to these principles this evening. I am not here then in the hope of uttering in the presence of this audience a single new truth.
Perhaps I ought to say just here, lest any one become alarmed for the prosy and dull remarks I am about to make,—that there is in my judgment no such thing as old truth, or new truth. Error may be old, or it may be new, [but] it has its beginning and must have its ending, thank God. But truth like the great God, from whose bosom it emanates, is from everlasting to everlasting and can never pass away.2*A phrase that recurs in Pss. 41 : 13, 90 : 2, and 103: 17. (Applause) And such a truth is—the right of man to liberty. He was born with it. It entered into the very idea of his creation, it was before he comprehended it. The title deed of it is inscribed upon every fibre and faculty of his soul. The record of it is in the great heart of the Eternal. And until tyrants are able to force the portals of the sky, and wrench from the bosom of God this great title deed, they will be unable to show any warrant for trafﬁcking in the bodies and souls of
men. (Great applause.)
I am called upon to move the following resolution, but pardon me—before I read it, let me ask, what right have you the citizens of Canada, the subjects of a monarchy, to be here this evening at all meddling with the question of American Slavery? What business have you with this matter at all? You are not politically connected with the Slave system. You are not in
any wise supporters ofthe system by your vote. You elect none ofthe rulers against whose doings you protest and remonstrate. What have you to do with it? What business have you here? Why am I here to call upon the citizens of Toronto to take a deeper interest than they already do take in the great question of emancipation going on in the States?
I do not mean to answer this question at large. The most of the audience have settled the grounds upon which they came here, and presume to think, and speak and feel upon the subject. My reason for asking the good peopIe of Canada to interfere, and bring at least their moral influence to bear against slavery, is, that slavery is of such a description that it begets a character, in all around it, favorable to its own countenance. In the Slave States the feeling in favor of slavery is very strong. In the Non-Slave States the feeling is strong, but not so strong as in the Slave States, and the farther we get away from slavery the more natural and healthy is the heart of humanity beating in opposition to the system. There is not in the immediate neighborhood of slavery, in my judgment, sufﬁcient moral power to grapple with the evil. There is not either in the immediate neighborhood of the slave system a sufficient play-room for the exercise of the rights which are necessary to be exercised for the overthrow of slavery. Men stand in the presence of the slaveholder dumb, utterly dumb, unable to utter either on the platform or in the pulpit, or through the press, one sentence ofcondem- nation against the slave system. They are paralized by it. Their moral sense is benumbed by it. Their consciences are sealed by it. Their religion—the religion which they profess—is corrupted by it. Their politics are all subservient to it, and their literature is all made in conformity with it. (Applause)
There is not, therefore, power in the Slave States to dispose of this question. We need all nations bound together in one grand league of freedom, to enforce the principles of truth and justice against the stupendous evil, before we shall be able to overthrow it. It is a benign question—wide as the universe, and common to all men. There is not moral force enough, in the immediate locality, to overthrow it. The slaveholder would be glad to have this material left to himself and his slaves. They say, ifyou only leave this question to the slaveholder and his slaves, it would soon be settled. They say, give up your agitation on the question in the Northern States, and the slaveholder will, in his own good time, emancipate his slaves.
But what is the policy of the slave States in the meantime? They send their apologists—their emissaries, I would call them, for I may be permitted to speak freely here (cheers)—they send their emissaries to England, to
Canada, to the Northern States—and wherever they go, they pour their pro-slavery, leprous distilment into the ears of the people. Wherever they go, their throats are crammed with apologies for the slave system. They lead the people who will listen to them, to think that slavery is no sin, and that the slaves are well off, contented, and happy. They can go about and speak of the habits of slavery, and tell you how contented and happy their slaves are; but when one of these slaves breaks from his chains, and goes abroad to tell of the evils of slavery, they become alarmed, and they are exasperated. However, I have learned to practice upon the maxim laid down by Napoleon—Never to do that which the enemy would like me to do.3Douglass paraphrases a general observation of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821): “A well-tested maxim of war, is not to do what the enemy wishes simply because he does wish it. " Lucian E. Henry, Napoleon's War Maxims (London, ), 22. That which disturbs the slaveholder most is what I am most anxious to do; and, in doing so, I am but co-operating with the great Head of the Church. God disturbs the slaveholder,—and in doing so, we are just acting in unison with God.
They are set now on extinguishing free speech even in the free States. They have set themselves to accomplish the suppression of all agitation on the subject of slavery. The Whig party, formerly in favor of the right of petition and liberty of speech, and who have done some brave things in behalf of liberty ,—even that party has daringly and openly committed itself in favor of the suppression of the right of speech. America is spoken of as a free country; and in a few days our 4th ofJuly celebration speeches will be made, almost every paragraph of which will begin or end with some eulogy or declaration of liberty and thanksgiving to God that the right of speech exists; yet the Whig party has taken the ground distinctly asserting that it discountenances all agitation on the subject of slavery. The Democratic party has declared its purpose, in still stronger language, to resist agitation in whatever shape it may appear. They have promised to use all their endeavors, as a party, to put to silence this whole anti-slavery movement. These parties do not generally promulgate any sentiments which they do not mean to reduce to practice; a sentiment capable of being put into a resolution, is a sentiment capable of being put into an enactment, and it could only be in pursuing the policy marked out for America, ﬁfteen years ago, by the Hon. Edward Everett;4Edward Everett (1794-1865), one of antebellum America's foremost orators. was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and educated at Harvard. At age nineteen he was installed as pastor of the Brattle Street Church, Boston ’5 most prestigious Unitarian congregation. In 18l5 Everett accepted an appointment to teach Greek literature at Harvard and journeyed to Europe to prepare for his new duties, becoming the ﬁrst American to be awarded a PhD. degree from the University of Gottingen. He returned to the United States in 1819, taught at Harvard, edited the North American Review, and, from 1825 to 1835, served in Congress, where he opposed Jackson on the Bank issue and conciliated southern opinion on slavery. In 1835 a coalition of Whigs and Anti-Masons secured him the governorship of Massachusetts, a post he held until 1839. During the next decade Everett served as minister to Great Britain (1841—45) and president of Harvard (1846—49). As secretary of state during the last four months of the Fillmore administration, he defended the right of the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs. Election to the Senate followed in 1853, but Everett‘s failure, on account of illness, to cast a vote on the Nebraska bill in 1854 generated so much protest from Massachusetts antislavery groups that he resigned. After several years on the lecture circuit, Everett ran for vice president on the Constitutional Union ticket in 1860. During the Civil War he supported Lincoln and frequently lectured in behalf of the war effort. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on 19 November 1863, his two-hour speech preceded Lincoln '5 briefer Address. Paul Revere Frothingham, Edward Everett: Orator and Statesman (Boston, 1925); DAB, 6 : 223-26. if, in two years from this time, a law was
made for the States, making it an indictable offence in any of the States of the Union to discuss the question of slavery at all.5A moderate antislavery man who feared that agitation of the slavery question would “prove the rock on which the Union will split,“ Everett angered abolitio nists with remarks he made upon assuming the Massachusetts governorship in 1836. In his inaugural address of 15 January, he invoked the “patriotism of all classes of citizens“ to “abstain from a discussion" of the slavery issue, reminding his audience that the Constitution protected slavery in the states where it existed. “Every thing that tends to disturb the relations created by this compact," he warned, “is at war with its spirit; and whatever, by direct and necessary operation, is calculated to excite an insurrection among the slaves. has been held, by highly respectable legal authority, an offence against the peace of this Commonwealth, which may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor at common law. " A legislative committee was appointed to consider this part of the govemor‘s message as well as communications from several southern legislatures requesting the Massachusetts General Court to prohibit the formation of anti-slavery societies and the utterance or publication of antislavery sentiments. Hearings were held at which William Lloyd Garrison, Samuel J. May, Ellis Gray Loring, William Goodell, and other abolitionists were eventually allowed to testify. When released, the committee's report recommended no speciﬁc action. John G[reenleaf] Whittier to Edward Everett, n.d., in Lib., 20 February 1836; Lib., 19, 26 March, 2 April 1836; Address of His Excellency Edward Everett, To the Two Branches of the Legislature, on the Organization of the Government, For the Political Year Commencing January 6, 1836 (Boston, 1836); Frothingham, Edward Everett, 131-34; Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery. 413-20. It would not be at all surprising if these parties put this resolution into a statute. They have already done so in fifteen States of the South6Southern laws restricting free speech on the subject of slavery are quoted and summarized in Goodell, American Slave Code, 384—87, and Stroud, Laws Relating to Slavery, 2d ed., 104—08.—and the institutions of the South are rapidly becoming the institutions of the North.
But I was saying that we are co-workers with God in disturbing the slaveholders. Their cry is for peace. They want peace. They want peace, and the political parties have striven to give them peace—peace by putting a period to anti-slavery discussions in the Northern States—peace by disbanding the anti-slavery societies, and by doing away with anti-slavery
lectures. They have supposed that they could give the slaveholder peace; but they cannot do it. God has declared there shall be no peace for the wicked.Isa. 48 : 22; 57 : 21. These two parties are acting against the known, the declared purpose, will, and decree of the Almighty, in attempting to give the slaveholder peace without repentance. They might cut out my tongue, and the tongue ofevery abolitionist in the States north of Mason & Dixon ’s line; they might disband every anti-slavery organization in the land; they might gather together all the tracts, pamphlets, and periodicals ever published against slavery; they might take “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” out of the ten thousand dwellings in this country, and bring them all into their splendid capitol—in their magniﬁcent metropolis, Washington—and there set fire to them, and send their flame against the sky, and scatter their ashes to the four winds of heaven; but still the slaveholder would have no peace—for deep down in his own guilty soul, God has planted an abolitionist lecturer, constantly reminding him that he is guilty concerning his brother. It was in view of this great truth that the sweetest singer of all England said—
“I would not have a slave to till my ground,
To carry me to fan me while I sleep,
And tremble when I wake for all the wealth
That sinews bought and sold have ever earned."8The Time Piece, lines 29—32. Bailey, Poems of William Cowper, 267.
Although I stand before you to-night one of the proscribed race, although I stand before you with my back marked with the slaveholder’s lash, and with my soul marked too with the influences of Slavery, for the iron of bondage, terrible to the flesh as it may be, is still more terrible to the soul,—scarred as I am—suffering as at this moment I do, from the drear consequences of slavery, I can say of a truth, that I would rather to-night take upon me the position of the most outraged, whip-scarred slave, than that ofhis fat and lordly master. (Great applause.) I should feel that I could go more safely into the presence of my God and before his bar, in the character of a chain-fettered bondsman, than in the character of one who had gained a fortune by the blood of souls. But, I am taking up too much of your time. I will read my resolution:—
Resolved—2. That this meeting greatly deplore the extension of Slavery in the US. by the recent legislation of Congress, in relation to the important territories of Kansas and Nebraska; and the faithlessness of many
of its public men thereby displayed, to the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that “God hath created all men equal, and endowed them with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and on which its constitution, intended to “secure Freedom and establish Justice,” is properly based; and would, therefore, emphatically call upon the people of this country, without distinction of party and more particularly on every section of the Christian church, to confederate to the defence of common rights, and for the utter overthrow of Slavery, as they value the future peace, prosperity, and stability of the Union, and desire to extend the blessings of Freedom throughout the world.
I take great pleasure in moving this resolution. I rejoice that the committee has gone so thoroughly into the question as they have in this resolution. It covers the whole ground of the present issue, now forced upon the northern States and upon the world, and upon this continent more especially, by the slave power of the United States.
The designs of the slave power of the States are but feebly understood even in the northern States. Their ambition passes all bounds. Nothing short, in my judgment, of the subjugation of this entire continent to the control and sway of Slavery is contemplated by the slave power at this moment. New York, Massachusetts, New England, even Canada itself is looked upon as the last spot, perhaps, on the continent to be reduced to the control and the assistance of the slave power in the States. It is only within the last 30 or 40 years that anybody of distinction in the States thought of enlarging the borders of the States. The first attempt made was the purchase of Louisiana; the next attempt was the purchase of Florida.9The United States purchased Louisiana from France in 1803. In the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 Spain renounced all claims to West Florida and ceded East Florida to the United States. After this they determined upon the dismemberment of Mexico, but the history of all these transactions is well known to the people of Canada. I shall not, therefore, go into it. But let me tell you that no one north of Mason & Dixon’s line, 30 years ago, thought that Texas would be annexed to the Slave States. But Texas was annexed, war followed, and the consequence was a large addition to the territory of the Slave States. And every time anything is conceded to them they demand more. This is the nature of slavery.
Some men affect surprise—and, perhaps, they really are surprised—that the South, after having received its full share of Louisiana, should at the end of 34 years, demand the share received by the Free States. But those who think any aggression on the part of the slave power strange have yet to
learn something regarding slavery itself. It requires something of common honesty to keep a bargain to one hint. When you learn the real character of slavery, you may learn that its atmosphere is the most unfavorable of all to the growth of the commonest kind of honesty. You will learn that when men have become slaveholders, they have qualiﬁed themselves for the perpetuation ofany crime, known or unknown to the laws. When a man has broken faith with God by the enslavement of the children of God, how can you expect that such a man will keep faith with his fellow-man when interest demands otherwise. He won’t do it. He is prepared for commission of any crime and for breaking any treaty. The slaveholders have never kept a treaty when it was [in] their interest to break it. The history of the poor Indians of this country has yet to be written—the history of the southern tribes has yet to be told, and a tale of woe, of blood, of tears, and of perﬁdy will then be told of the southern States, sufficient to make men black as pandemonium itself. They have broken faith with every Indian tribe.10Pressured by southern states, where Indian tribes retained control over vast areas of land, the Jackson administration, under the authority of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, negotiated a series of treaties by which the tribes exchanged their landholdings in the East for lands west of the Mississippi River. The treaties, some of which were undeniably fraudulent, ignored tribal opposition to removal and led to wars with the Creeks (1836) and with the Seminoles (1835-42). Grant Foreman, Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians (Norman, Okla. , 1953); Arthur H. DeRosier, Jr., The Removal of the Choctaw Indians (Knoxville, Tenn., 1970).
Mr. Douglass commented at great length upon the latter part of his resolution and showed that while the Constitution of the [United] State[s] was divested of every idea of Slavery, yet, under that Constitution, slavery of the grossest kind is countenanced. They have made it a crime to obey God, and to obey the deepest and the purest up-gushings of the unsophisticated human heart. They have made it a crime to be merciful, a crime to be humane, a crime to do good. He then expressed his thanks that the committee had given him such a resolution to speak upon, and concluded his remarks amidst great applause.