Brethren, Rouse the Church: An Address Delivered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 6 August 1847
BRETHREN, ROUSE THE CHURCH: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, ON 6 AUGUST 1847
Pennsylvania Freeman, 12 August 1847.
After the last session of the Eastern Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society convention, a group of Philadelphia blacks held a reception for Douglass on 6 August 1847. Despite rain, a arge crowd gathered that evening at Bethel
True, they may lay your proud despoilers low,
But not for you will Freedom’s altars ﬂame.
Shades of the Helots! triumph o'er your foe!
Greece! change thy lords, thy state is still the same;
Thy glorious day is o'er, but not thine years of shame.
African Methodist Episcopal Church. Robert Purvis chaired the meeting and introduced Douglass with the tribute: “For your unfaltering ﬁdelity to Truth and Freedom, we thank and bless you and may Heaven’s choicest blessing rest upon you.” Douglass ’s speech wrung both tears and laughter from the crowd; and, according to the Pennsylvania Freeman, “As he took his seat, the high wrought enthusiasm of the audience burst forth in long and loud applause.” The meeting concluded with an address by Garrison, but the National Anti-Slavery Standard felt that it was Douglass’s speech that had “answered the almost extravagant expectations of the people.” NASS, 12 August 1847; Lib., 20 August 1847.
Mr. Douglass expressed his gratitude and pride at the kind and cordial reception which had met him from his colored brethren; and said that he was only worthy of it in proportion to the faithfulness with which he had labored for their cause—the cause of humanity. I have received, he continued, more already than I have merited for all that I have ever done or sacrificed. I engaged in this enterprise, not from hope of reward, but from the sense of religious duty; but I have found in it the sweetest enjoyment.
We are an oppressed people; hated by the white man, scouted as the refuse of society, outraged in our persons and rights, and exposed to buffetings and scorn. Yet we scarcely know the causes of these sufferings. I will speak of the causes of the slavery and prejudice which we suffer. Abroad I have labored so to act as not to compromise your cause. I encountered some temptations to do so, but I resisted them, for I have ever felt that I am one with you—one in position—one in the estimate of the whites—one in the effort to gain our rights and true social condition. I feel entitled from this oneness to be heard as to what you and I should do to secure the rights which have been robbed from us. We know that we are held as a degraded race. Everywhere are we reminded of this. I hope you are sensible that this is not your true position, and that whatever tends to keep you in it is wrong and should be opposed and denounced. The colored people have not always felt this, but have been too prone to kiss the hand which smote them; they have felt flattered by the smiles and awed by the frowns of the white man. This should not be so. They must maintain self-respect, if they would be respected; they must demand their own rights, if they would obtain them.
First among the inﬂuences which oppress us and prevent our improvement I arraign the churches of the land. I will not exempt even the colored churches, many of which, whether consciously or not, are helping to
sustain the pro-Slavery and negro-hating religion of the country. The moral sentiment of the community is mainly formed by the ministers and churches. This sentiment sustains slavery and crushes the colored man. Whatever stands in the way of human progress or invades human rights, no matter how sacred may be the name it bears, we are bound by our allegiance to God, to repudiate and overthrow.
I regard every Slaveholder as a manstealer—the vilest of sinners, and all his professions of humanity and religion I throw to the winds. I detest his character and denounce his conduct all the more that he makes these professions, and wears the “sheep’s clothing.” Thus should we all do. I am sorry that the colored people do not thus—that where every heart should beat and every eye sparkle with sympathy for the Slave and devotion to his cause, I continually ﬁnd it necessary to indoctrinate my own brethren with these principles.
We have it in our power to rouse the church to its duty. Let us pass such resolutions and adopt such addresses as the occasion demands and as we can adopt, and publish them and the church will be roused. We should brand as the enemies of God and man every church and minister, that supports or apologizes for Slavery, and regard them and speak of them, as we would were it piracy they were supporting. I refer you to facts and testimonies proving my assertion of the guilt of the church, and proving that these reverend teachers are making religion a substitute for whips, and the Bible an instrument of torture. Many of you, brethren, have, as slaves, heard the solemn counsel “servants obey your masters,” and been taught that it was a sin to run away. I well remember how, for a long time I feared to run away, lest I should offend the Lord, and had I listened to the carping priest I should have remained in slavery to this hour; but I grew older and wiser, and came to feel that a God of Love could never require his children to remain in slavery. Then I was inﬁdel enough to despise the canting of pious humbuggery which I heard, and try to get my freedom, and God blessed me with success. Mr. Douglass here read and commented upon resolutions of Southern churches, and other documents defending slavery and denouncing emancipation in the name of Christ.
Among them was one afﬁrming that the church has nothing to do with civil institutions, as Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.
This sentiment, said he, has kept the churches on the side of the oppressor—and dumb toward his victim even the colored churches. They say this is a secular cause and has nothing to do with religion. It was this
that prompted that recreant priest Gloucester1The Reverend Stephen H. Gloucester was the son of the Reverend John Gloucester, a manumitted slave and founder of the nation's ﬁrst black Presbyterian church in Philadelphia. Purchased from slavery by his father, Gloucester eventually organized his own Presbyterian congregation in Philadelphia. Along with his brother James, a minister in New York, Gloucester was active in the American Anti-Slavery Society and later the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. During the 1842 Philadelphia race riot, however. Gloucester attempted to protect his church by denying that the building had ever been opened to antislavery meetings. While on a fund-raising tour of Britain in 1847, Gloucester broke with the abolitionists by accepting contributions for his church from the Free Church of Scotland. NS, 3 March, 13, 27 October 1848; Alfred Nevin, History of the Presbytery of Philadelphia and of the Philadelphia Central (Philadelphia, 1888), 357-60; Andrew E. Murray, Presbyterians and the Negro—A History (Philadelphia, 1966), 32-35; Clare Taylor, British and American Abolitionists: An Episode in Transatlantic Understanding (Edinburgh, 1974), 317, 412. to deny in England Anti-Slavery had ever been preached in his pulpit and to seek alliance with the bloodstained Free Church of Scotland and to brand as an enemy to the colored man, the man who more than any other deserves your gratitude as your benefactor—the bold, the dauntless Wm. Lloyd Garrison (tremendous applause, thrice repeated). Mr. D[ouglass] then went on in a strain of eloquence and argument, which we have seldom heard surpassed, to ex pose the pro-slavery churches, and urge the people of color to stand entirely separate from them—and never compromise their own cause and degrade their manhood by joining hands with them. His arguments were sharpened by the keenest satire, and interspersed by sparkling wit, and apt illustrations of anecdote and figure, and grand bursts of declamation. He rebuked with cutting severity Gloucester and Clark,2The Reverend Molliston Madison Clark. the colored ministers who attempted, in England, to cast reproach upon the Abolitionists of America, and he ably vindicated the character of the friends of freedom, as the only practical friends of the colored man, and enemies of slavery, and with great power he summoned the colored people to give them their aid.