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Henry Clay and Colonization Cant, Sophistry, and Falsehood: An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York, on February 2, 1851



North Star, 6 February 1851.

Douglass continued his lecture series in Rochester’s Corinthian Hall with a
ninth lecture on Sunday evening, 2 February 1851. Although the North Star
carried an announcement for a tenth lecture, no record of any further speeches
in this series has been discovered. NS, 13 February 1851.

I purpose this evening to speak further on the great national scheme now in
contemplation for transporting the free people of color from the United
States to the shores of Africa. I allude, of course, to the project recently
brought forward, and advocated with so much zeal, spirit and plausibility,
by Henry Clay, in the Senate Chamber at Washington.1Douglass refers to Henry Clay’s reendorsement of the colonization of free blacks in Africa during a U.S. Senate speech on 15 January 1851. Except for adding his own emphasis, Douglass's later quotations from this speech are substantially accurate. Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 2d sess., 246-47. To you who heard
me last Sunday evening, it is unnecessary to say that 1 fight no shadow, nor
“as one that beateth the air,"2Douglass quotes a portion of 1 Cor. 9: 26. in contending with this new device. While it
was impossible for me to go fully into the subject, I think that enough was
then said to convince all who heard me that a conspiracy, dangerous to the
interests of freedom, was on foot, and that to its unhallowed standard the
most powerful auxiliaries, in church and state, were rallying. l have been at
the pains, during the past week, of ascertaining, as well as I could, HOW
FAR this subtle and mischievous plot is supported by the Northern press;
and although not appalled by the result, 1 was astonished at the number of
journals which are lending their influence to promote the scheme. All the
echoes of the New York Tribune are for it. When I say this, you may judge
where the echoes of the Journal of Commerce and the New York Express
are; for they are always ready to take up anything which is supposed to rivet
the chains more firmly on the limbs of the slave, and to give an additional
revolution to that screw, the pressure of which is already crushing the free
people of color. In this city, we find all three of the leading political
presses—the Democrat, the American, and Advertiser—openly doing all
they can to render the new movement a popular one; and but one journal in
the city (always excepting the North Star) has the manliness and generosity


to espouse the cause of justice, and to boldly expose the plotting flesh-
mongers at Washington who have set this new ball in motion. All know that
I allude to that spirited journal, the Rochester Herald; and I take this
opportunity to congratulate the liberal-minded citizens of this city on the
establishment among them of such a daily journal.3The Rochester Daily Herald was founded in December 1850 as a “neutral penny paper." The Herald was owned by C. H. McDonald and edited by Dr. L. K. Falkner. After a few months the Herald was sold to George G. Cooper, who converted it to a pro-Democratic party newspaper, rechristened the Rochester Daily Times. Rochester Daily American, 23 December 1850; W. H. McIntosh, History of Monroe County, New York; With Illustrations Descriptive of Its Scenery, Palatial Residences. Public Buildings, Fine Blocks, and Important Manufactories (Philadelphia, 1877), 136.

As there are perhaps many present who did not hear my remarks on this
subject last Sunday evening, I will state the leading features of this embryo
scheme. The first is, to withdraw the squadron of the United States from the
Western Coast of Africa. The second is, to appropriate a large sum of
money for building a number of steamships, to ply between the United
States and the Western Coast of Africa. These steamships, built by the
government, are to be employed in times of peace in transporting the free
people of the United States to Africa. The incidental arguments in support
of this plan are, the augmentation of commerce, the carrying [of] the mails,
and the strengthening [of] the naval power of the United States. But the
primary motive for this new outlay of government money, is to get rid of
the presence of the entire free colored people of the United States.

For the sake of clearness, I shall treat this new colonization measure as
the device of Henry Clay. He is the President of the American Colonization
Society, and one of its oldest and most distinguished members. He was
present at the formation of that organization, now nearly forty years ago.
He well understands its motives, its designs, and its measures. He, of all
others, has imparted to it life and vitality, and served, during the last ten or
twelve years, to hold its dilapidated form together. He has changed his
position on many subjects, and has often acted a very inconsistent part
since the period of his connexion with this society; but on the subject of the
expatriation of the free people of color, he has been always on one side.
Dropping now and then a generous sentiment, he has instantly defaced it
by a whole array of meanness, cruelty and injustice. Trembling with age,
and standing upon the very verge of the grave, his vanity, superciliousness,
scorn and contempt towards colored freemen, are as active and sprightly
now, as when he was in the pride and buoyancy of youth. If it be true that
the ruling passion be strong in death, then the last words on the quivering


lips of such a man may be expected to be charged with malice and detesta-
tion towards those against whom he has exerted the magic powers of his
eloquence through nearly the whole length of his public career.

In the speech of Mr. Clay, to which I adverted last Sunday, we have the
gist of colonization, as at present advocated by the American Colonization
Society. That speech contains an epitome of colonization, morality, patrio-
tism, philanthropy, civilization and religion, and may therefore be treated
as the best, as it is the latest, exposition of the scheme. To deal with that
spirit is, therefore, to deal with the whole subject of colonization; and to
refute it, is to refute the cart-loads of colonization cant, sophistry and
falsehood, which have been industriously spread over the country during
the last forty years.

Before joining my present discourse to the point at which my lecture
was broken off last Sunday evening, I will make a few general remarks.

It is always much more difficult to deal with an enemy in disguise, than
to contend with an open foe; hence, it is much more difficult to convince
men of the real character of the Colonization Society, than it is to expose
the flagrant abominations of slavery. Falsehood is ever most dangerous
when it most resembles truth. I have sometimes thought, or heard others
say, that if Satan himself would always assume his own peculiar diabolical
shape, and go up and down the land “like a roaring lion,"4Douglass alludes to 1 Pet. 5: 8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." his power to
harm would be materially abridged. Unfortunately, however, for the sons of
men, such is not the wont of his Satanic majesty. The concealment of his
real character and motives is the grand secret of his success. Having the
power to transform himself into an angel of light—to assume the beautiful
garments of innocence—he seldom avails himself of any other method to
entrap and overcome the unsuspecting.

“But first he casts to change his proper shape,
Which else might work him danger or delay."5Douglass quotes John Milton's Paradise Lost, Book III, lines 634-35.

God be thanked that even Satan himself is not above the truth; and through
all his winding machinations he may be followed by its light and exposed.
The inspired teacher has warned us to “believe not every spirit,” but “to
TRY the spirits.”6Douglass paraphrases 1 John 4: 1: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits Whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” We are here this evening to “try the spirit” of the


American Colonization Society. Among its members and supporters are
many who profess themselves to be our best friends. So far from wishing us
harm, they profess to seek our best good. I would fain believe them to be
sincere, and treat them to all the respect to which all their sincerity entitles
them. But this is not inconsistent with an honest and truthful exposure of
the Society with which they are co-operating, and, as I think, stabbing the
cause they are professing to love.

There are two methods of dealing with false and dangerous theories
and practices among men; and both have their uses. ONE is, to denounce, in
strong and burning words, such theories and practices; and this is the
shortest, easiest and commonest. The other is, to illustrate and expose, by a
careful analysis, all the facts and particulars pertaining to such theories and
practices; and this is the least usual, because the most difficult method of
the two. Without pretending to be able to pursue the last mentioned course
in regard to the subject before us, I desire to resort to it so far as to satisfy the
most prejudiced friend of the colonization scheme that he is engaged in a
most gratuitous, unwarrantable and impudent pursuit.

After the notable and masterly exposure of the American Colonization
Society, in 1832, by William Lloyd Garrison, and the very able work of
Judge Jay on the same subject in 1835, there was little for abolitionists to do
further in opposition to the colonization scheme, for the time being.7Douglass alludes to Garrison's Thoughts on African Colonization and to antislavery jurist William Jay's (1789—1858) An Inquiry Into the Character and Tendency of the American Colonization, and American Anti-Slavery Societies (New York, 1835). These
two publications (especially the first) fell with [word obliterated] effect,
and did much to disorder the ranks of the colonization army, and although
the spirit of colonization never quit[ obliterated] hour the Northern States,
its organizations were greatly shattered by these two publications.

The movement, however, is revived. The scattered ranks of the almost
disbanded army are being rapidly brought together. They are animated by
new hopes—strengthened by new allies—inspired by new zeal; and, taking
advantage of the present anguish and distress into which the Fugitive Slave
Law has thrown the free people of color, they threaten to make consider-
able progress in their iniquitous designs. The battles of ’32 and ’35 must be
refought, and the whole plot of expatriation must be extinguished. The
colored people, especially, should be active at this time. We who live in
Rochester, and those who live in other parts of the United States, should
seize at once the present occasion to declare our feelings and purposes with
respect to this newly awakened movement. Destitute of a voice in other


things, let it be known that we have a voice in this. We ought to imitate the
example set us twenty years ago by the Fortins,8James Forten did not speak out against colonization until some eight months after the organization of the American Colonization Society. In January 1817, when he presided at a large antiColonization Society meeting in Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Forten was still an influential member of the local affiliate of Paul Cuffee‘s African Institution. Early in the spring of 1817 Forten joined the other black leaders in an interview with Robert Finley, Presbyterian clergyman and leading promoter of the American Colonization Society, who later reported that Forten had endorsed emigration to Africa. The following August. however. Forten chaired a meeting of black Philadelphians that condemned the program of the Colonization Society as offering them only "MISERY, sufferings, and perpetual slavery." After briefly endorsing emigration to Haiti in the mid-1820s, Forten rejected emigration outright in 1827 and attacked Henry Clay's endorsement of colonization. Miller, Search for a Black Nationality, 48—51, 74, 84; Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part II, 10-13, 58; “A Man of Color" [James Forten] to the Editors of Freedom's Journal, [1827], in New York Colored American, 13 May 1837. Allens9Remembered as one of the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the first pastor of the denomination's Bethel Church in Philadelphia, Richard Allen (1760-1831) was born to slave parents owned by Benjamin Chew, a lawyer in Philadelphia. Around 1767, Chew sold Allen's parents and their four children to a farmer in Delaware. By the time Allen and his brother purchased their freedom nearly fifteen years later, the rest of his family had been sold again. A converted Methodist when he began life as a free man, Allen took odd jobs and preached in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, before settling in Philadelphia in 1786. In Philadelphia, Allen worked as a shoemaker, employing several apprentices, and as a chimney sweep. Together with his close friend Absalom Jones, who was to organize an African Protestant Episcopal Church, Allen withdrew from Philadelphia's St. George‘s Methodist Episcopal Church when segregated seating became enforced there. Allen and his followers subsequently purchased and remodeled a blacksmith shop, dedicating the new building as Bethel Church in July 1794. Ordained a deacon in 1799 and elected bishop of the new African Methodist Episcopal connection in 1816, Allen played a prominent role in the organization and expansion of beneficial societies and educational associations among Philadelphia's free black population. Notwithstanding Allen’s participation in the Philadelphia African Institution inspired by black mariner and emigrationist Paul Cuffee, Allen played a prominent role at a large anti-colonization meeting of blacks assembled at Bethel Church in January 1817. Robert Finley, founder of the American Colonization Society, later reported that at a meeting between Finley and eleven black leaders in early 1817, Allen had endorsed African colonization and said that only his age kept him from emigrating himself. After supporting Haitian colonization schemes of the mid-1820s, Allen came to reject all forms of emigration by 1827, taking a prominent part in protest meetings in Philadelphia directed against the Colonization Society. Charles H. Wesley, Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom (Washington, D.C., 1935); Carol V. R. George, Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches, 1760—1840 (New York, 1973); Richard Allen, The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, 2d ed. (New York, 1960); Miller, Search for a Black Nationality, 48—51, 80—82; Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part II, 9—13; ACAB, 1: 154—55; NCAB, 13: 200. and Douglasses,10*10. Probably Robert Douglass (1776—1849), one of the founders in 1807 of the First African Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Father of the Quaker antislavery schoolmistress Sarah Mapps Douglass and the portrait painter Robert, Jr., Douglass was a hairdresser and perfumer by trade. He was one of eleven members of a committee appointed by a black anti-colonization meeting at Bethel A.M.E. Church in January 1817 to meet with Philadelphia congressman Joseph Hopkinson. Henry J. Cadbury, “Negro Membership in the Society of Friends," JNH, 21: 192 (April 1936); William T. Catto, A Semi-Centenary Discourse delivered in the First African Presbyterian Church (Philadelphia, 1857), 136-37; Ira V. Brown, “Cradle of Feminism: The Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, 1833—1840," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 102: 157 (April 1978); DeSilver's Philadelphia Directory and Stranger's Guide, 1830 (Philadelphia, 1830), 52; NASS, 8 February 1849.


of Philadelphia; the Downings,11Thomas Downing. Bells12Phillip A. Bell (1808—89) was educated at the New York City African Free School and worked as an agent for the Liberator and at a variety of occupations in his youth. He was secretary of a January 1831 public meeting of New York blacks that protested against the colonization movement's attempt "to impress this community with the belief that the colored population are a growing evil, immoral, and destitute of religious principles." In 1837 Bell helped found and edit the Weekly Advocate, later renamed the Colored American, which was an important forum for black opinion until its demise in 1842. In the 1850s he operated an employment agency for New York City blacks and was active in literary, temperance, and mutual relief societies as well as the antislavery movement. Bell attended many of the antebellum National Negro Conventions and lectured for equal suffrage for blacks. Moving to California in 1860, Bell briefly ran a real estate agency before returning to journalism, first as associate editor of the San Francisco Pacific Appeal, and later as owner and editor of the San Francisco Elevator. In the 1870s Bell was president of the Equal Rights League of California, a politically independent group that lobbied Republican politicians for better treatment of blacks. Penn, Afro-American Press, 32—34, 94-98; James A Fisher, “A History of the Political and Social Development of the Black Community in California, 1850—1950" (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1971), 72—75, 97—100, 140—46; New York Colored American, 8 December 1838; San Francisco Elevator, 12 June 1868, 11 January, 15 November 1873; Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part II, 13-17; Freeman, “Free Negro in New York City," 35, 46, 128, 175—76, 237, 299; Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 20, 31, 95; Dick, Black Protest, 84, 173—77, 267; Pease and Pease, They Who Would Be Free, 113-14, 175, 195, 210. and Williamses13Peter Williams, Jr. (1786-1840), the first rector of St. Philip's African Protestant Episcopal Church in New York City, was the son of a Methodist clergyman and tobacco manufacturer who, aided by Methodist patriots, purchased his freedom during the American war for independence and later became one of the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. After graduating from the African Free School in New York City, the younger Williams began his ministerial career as a lay reader, was ordained a deacon in 1820, and six years later was ordained a priest. His activities on behalf of the education of black youth, particularly as a member of the Board of Directors of the self-improvement organization, the Phoenix Society, brought him into contact with the early abolitionist movement. In 1833 Williams was appointed to the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society and to that body's Board of Managers in New York state. After his church was vandalized by an anti-abolitionist mob in July 1834, Williams resigned from both bodies at the request of his bishop. After a brief visit to England in 1836, Williams seems to have endorsed political abolitionism. He was reportedly reviewing antislavery tickets, having decided to vote, weeks before his death. Less hostile to colonization than Douglass implies, Williams in 1816 headed a New York City affiliate of the African Institution, whose branches in the United States had been organized by black emigrationist Paul Cuffee. After Cuffee's death in 1817, Williams urged members of the New York African Institution to refrain from opposing the newly organized American Colonization Society until grounds for opposition came to light. “Let us watch over it,“ he admonished, “as that from which God, in his providence, may be intending to bring us good." In 1824, Williams was chairman of the Haytian Emigration Society of Colored People and visited a settlement of black Americans in Haiti. By 1830, Williams denounced the American Colonization Society's tendency to portray free blacks as “the most vile and degraded people in the world." In a public letter in 1834, he based his opposition on the colonizationists' insistence that “a colored man, however he may strive to make himself intelligent, virtuous, and useful, can never enjoy the privileges of a citizen of the United States." Notwithstanding his objection to colonizationist propaganda, Williams actively aided a number of black Americans, among them John B. Russwurm, to settle in Liberia. Peter Williams, Jr., A Discourse, Delivered on the Death of Capt. Paul Cuffee. . . (New York, 1817), 16; William Douglass, Sermons Preached in the African Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Thomas', Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1854), 245; Benjamin T. Onderdonk, The Change at the Resurrection: A Sermon Preached . . . at the Funeral of the Rev. Peter Williams (New York, 1840), 14, 15; Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part II, 64—67; Nell, Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, 320—23; Benjamin T. Onderdonk to Peter Williams, 12 July 1834, Peter Williams to the Citizens of New York, 14 July 1834, in Lib., 19 July 1834; New York Colored American, 11 March, 22 April, 21 October 1837, 31 October, 7 November 1840; “The Background of the Negro Church,” NHB, : 3—4 (October 1939); Miller, Search for a Black Nationality, 77; Pease and Pease, They Who Would Be Free, 71—72; Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 7, 32, 70—71 , 102; NCAB, 10: 252. of New York;
the Hiltons,14On 15 February 1831 John Telemachus Hilton was appointed by a public meeting of Boston blacks to a committee to draft a remonstrance against the recent formation of a state colonization society. In the late 1820s, however, Hilton had endorsed John Russwurm's Freedom's Journal despite its support for colonization. Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part II, 17-21; Jacobs, “Boston Negro,“ 68—69. Coles,15Thomas Cole (1805—47) was a Boston hairdresser active in the antislavery and temperance movements. In 1826 Cole helped found the General Colored Association of Massachusetts to promote the welfare of free blacks and to work against slavery. Five years later he joined with other Boston blacks to protest publicly the attempted establishment of a state auxiliary to the American Colonization Society. Cole attended the American Anti-Slavery Society's annual meeting in 1839 and after that organization's schism the following year stood with the Garrisonian abolitionist faction. He also wrote to the New York Colored American advising blacks not to support the candidates of any political party including the Liberty party. New York Colored American, 12, 26 December 1840; Lib., 25 June 1847; Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part II, 17; American Anti-Slavery Society, Sixth Annual Report (New York, 1839), 31; Jacobs, “Boston Negro, " 177, 203; White, “Blacks and Education in Massachusetts," 180. Eastons16The Reverend Hosea Easton (c. 1799—1837) served as pastor to African Methodist Episcopal Zion congregations in Boston and in Hartford, Connecticut. He was active in the Massachusetts General Colored Association in the 1820s and attended several of the National Negro Conventions in the 1830s. Easton publicly branded colonization a “diabolical pursuit" in an 1828 address and helped draft the 1831 remonstrance by Boston blacks against the founding of a Massachusetts auxiliary to the American Colonization Society. Easton was best known as author of A Treatise on . . . the Colored People ofthe U. States . . . (Boston, 1837). In his Treatise, Easton denied that Africa was uncivilized or that slavery elevated the blacks' intellect and character. He also excoriated the pervasive prejudice that stymied a free black's ambition from “life's dawn to death’s doom.” Lib., 14 July 1837; Hosea Easton, A Treatise on the Intellectual Character, and Civil and Political Conditions of the Colored People of the U. States, and the Prejudice Exercised Toward Them (Boston, 1837), 18—19, 21, 25, 40; Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part II, 17, 63—64; Pease and Pease, They Who Would Be Free, 9—10, 111-13; Dick, Black Protest, 5, 19; White, “Blacks and Education in Massachusetts," 180. and Daltons,17Another signer of the Boston black population's 1831 remonstrance against colonization was Thomas Dalton, a bootblack who later acquired a clothing store. In 1826 Dalton was elected the first president ofthe General Colored Association of Massachusetts, an organization that served as a training ground for many future leaders of Boston's black community. He also was an active agitator for an integrated school system. In 1844 he helped initiate a student boycott of the city's Smith School for blacks that eventually forced the removal of a brutal white teacher. In 1849 Dalton and Jonas W. Clark drew up a petition that over two hundred black Bostonians signed to demand an end to the segregated Smith School because it “encourages the worst influences in the community." A good businessman, Dalton left an estate of over $50,000. Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part II, 17; White, “Blacks and Education in Massachusetts," 180; John Daniels, In Freedom's Birthplace: A Study of Boston Negroes (Boston, 1914), 452—53. of Boston, and our leading


brethren throughout the United States, who, soberly yet firmly, declared
their purpose to lay their bones in the soil of their birth; that they would
leave, under no pretext, while a single slave clanked his chain in the land.


I now return to the point at which I left off on Sunday evening last, and
to the speech of Mr. Clay, to which I promised to advert. I was commenting
upon the four smoothe words in the following sentence of Mr. Clay’s
speech: “I declare to you, sir—I may perhaps be extravagant in my
views—but I think, of all the projects of the age, there is none to be
compared to that great project of transporting the free people of color, with
their own consent, from the United States to the coast of Africa. "

In order to illustrate what Mr. Clay means by the words, “with their
own consent
,” we have but to consult the records of the American Coloni-
zation Society and its auxiliaries. Just read the speeches of the most distin-
guished advocates of the movement, and we shall see that colonizationists
are bent upon the utter expatriation of the free colored people from this
country, “with ” or without “their consent.” If they do not on all occa-
sions openly avow this, it is simply because the enterprize is not suffi-
ciently ripe, and the public mind is not sufficiently prepared to receive so
inhuman a proposition. A distinguished member of the American Coloni-
zation Society (Mr. Brodnax of Virginia) declared, in the Legislature of
that State, many years ago, “It is idle to talk about not resorting to force.
Everybody must look to the introduction of force of some kind or other. If
the free negroes are willing to go, they will go; if not willing, they must be
compelled to go. Some gentlemen think it politic now not to insert this
feature in the bill, though they proclaim their readiness to resort to it when it
becomes necessary. They think that, for a year or two, a sufficient number
will consent to go, and then the rest can be compelled."18Douglass quotes from the remarks of Virginia legislator William Henry Brodnax (1786—1834) made in the famous debate of 1831-32 over the future of slavery in the state. Brodnax, a lawyer from Brunswick County, Virginia, had commanded troops in the suppression of the Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831. The following year, he presented a bill in the Virginia legislature providing for compensated gradual emancipation and for the involuntary transportation of freed slaves out of the state. Brodnax's bill passed the Virginia House in an amended form but failed in the Senate. Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part II, 73—74; Theodore M. Whitfield, Slavery Agitation in Virginia, 1829-1832 (Baltimore, 1930), 82-83, 90, 95-100; NCAB, 19: 228-29.

This reveals the plot, in all its gross and barbarous villany. Not less
significant, though less shocking, is the following extract of a memorial


from the New York Colonization Society to the New York Legislature. The
memorialists say, “We do not ask that the provisions of our constitution
and statute book should be so modified as to relieve the condition of the
colored people whilst they remain with us. Let these provisions stand in all
their rigor, to work out the ultimate and unbounded good of this people;
persuaded that their condition here is not susceptible of a radical and
permanent improvement, we would deprecate any legislation that should
encourage the vain and injurious hope of it."19At its first anniversary in April 1830, the New York State Colonization Society unanimously adopted resolutions presented by Gem't Smith directing the organization 's managers to memorialize the state legislature. Douglass takes his quotation of that memorial from Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization, Part I, 116; African Civilization, Proceedings of the New York State Colonization Society, On Its First Anniversary; Together with An Address to the Public from the Managers Thereof (Albany, 1830), 22—23.

I have a large amount of evidence to the same effect, showing that
coercion, of the most insidious description, is contemplated, by which to
wring a reluctant consent from the free colored people to leave this country,
and to be transported to Africa. How mean, hypocritical and monstrous is
it, then, for Henry Clay to talk about colonizing us with our own consent.

Let the government of the United States once go to the expense of
building a line of steam-ships, purchasing a large territory on the western
coast of Africa, providing all the facilities for our removal, I say, let them
do this, and the free colored people still refuse to avail themselves of the
arrangements thus made, and who does not see that there will be no lack of
oppressive and coercive legislation to compel us to emigrate? The whole
plan would be utterly defective without the contemplation of force. Persua-
sion has been tried, and has failed. After a period of more than thirty years,
supported by the most influential men of the country, and receiving large
sums from several States of the Union, the American Colonization Society
has succeeded in sending about five thousand souls to the coast of Africa. I
say again, that persuasion has failed, and a more vigorous source than that
hitherto pursued must certainly form a part of the new plan. I like not the
sound of such words as follow from the lips of Henry Clay, “What is to be
done with them?
” He says, “I ask again, what is to be done with them?
They are here, under our very noses, and in this District. In the course of the
last ten years, they have doubled.” Mr. Clay waxes desperate. “Under our
very noses
, ” and “have doubled in the last ten years!” Dreadful! and what
shall be done? They are not only under our very noses, but they have
“doubled in the last ten years. ” It is no longer concealed. There is no doubt


about it. Henry Clay has ascertained the fact for himself! the dreadful fact!
that the free people of color in the District of Columbia have had the
unparalleled audacity to double their number in ten years. I believe, how-
ever, there is one parallel upon record, both as to the perplexity and utter
desperation of Henry Clay, and the rapid multiplication of the free colored
people in the District of Columbia.

“Come and let us deal wisely with them,” said the oppressors of old,
“lest they multiply. And it come to pass that, when there falleth out any
war they join also unto our enemies and fight against us, and so get out of
the land.” “Therefore they did set over them task-masters, to afflict them
with their burdens; but the more they afflicted them, the more they multi-
plied, and grew, and they were grieved because of the children of Israel."20Exod. 1: 10—12.
I would commend this passage of scripture to Mr. Clay, and to the pious
advocates of the scheme of African Colonization.

But let us hear the great American Statesman once more!

“In a number of the States laws are being passed—rigorous laws—of
exclusion of them from their Territory. Some States, indeed, are introduc-
ing into their fundamental laws, into their Constitutions, provisions against
the reception of any free people of color within their borders. What is to
become of them? I ask again. In the name of humanity and justice, what is
to become of them? I see no other remedy than that of sending them back to
the land whence their ancestors were taken; and I can conceive of no
interest of any portion of the people of the United States that will not be
benefited by such a transfer of the free people of color from the United
States to Africa.”

More desperate than before, he invokes the names of “justice and
,” to tell, what shall be done with us! If he really wished to know,
and were not vilely hypocritical, the sacred names of justice and humanity
would have suggested to him his duty in the matter. “What is to be done?
Deal justly, love mercy, ” and exchange that stony heart of pride, which
curls your lip in scorn at your equal, though sable brother-man. “What is to
be done with them? ” Why, “do unto them as you would that they should do
unto you."21Douglass paraphrases Matt. 7: 12 and Luke 6: 31. "What is to be done with them?” Let them do for themselves,
and hold off your tyrant hand from hindering them; for remember the
complaint is not, in this instance, that they do not take care of themselves,
but that their numbers are rapidly increasing.

Mr. Clay, indeed, does refer to rigorous laws being enacted, excluding


the free colored people from certain States and Territories, but does he say
one word in deprecation or condemnation of such legislation? Never. He is
evidently pleased to see it, since it tends to help forward his grand scheme
of colonization. HE, and the Society he represents, HATE us, and want to
get us out of the country as soon as possible; and instead of seeking to
ameliorate our condition, they evidently rejoice at every new burden
heaped upon us, as one more argument added to establish the conviction
that we never can be improved while we remain in this country. This is no
hasty conclusion. It is proved by the whole philosophy of the movement. It
is proved by the slanderous charges brought against us. It is proved by their
failure to see and acknowledge the improvements that have already taken
place in our condition. It is proved by their opposition to emancipation. It is
proved by their desire to send half a million of free blacks out of the
country; and to retain three million, equally black, in the horrible condition
of slavery. A more murderous spirit never escaped from the pit, than the
spirit which animates the bosom, of Henry Clay and his associates, in this
atrocious and villanous scheme. But, we are told that this measure is a
measure of kindness to us; if carried into effect, we shall be benefited; that
religion will be promoted; that the slave-trade will be abolished; that we
shall be placed upon a soil where we can be elevated. The palpable absur-
dity and hypocrisy of all this are too obvious to escape the vision of a blind
man. A slaveholder denouncing the slave-trade! a negro catcher talking of
the elevation of man! a woman-flogger prating of kindness! a blasphemer
professing to promote religion! The very thought is preposterous and
shocking. Mr. Clay tells us that, in this country, we must forever remain a
corrupt, degraded and dissolute class. This assumption is a slander alike
upon the black and the white population of these United States; and is
contradicted by the entire history of the free colored people, as well as by
the confessions of slaveholders, and colonizationists themselves. One of
the strongest arguments ever used in apology for enslaving the black race,
is, that such enslavement, and the contact with whites, which it affords,
serve to civilize and improve that class of people. And one of the strongest
arguments addressed by colonizationists to the religious community of the
North, for engaging in the work of transporting the free colored people to
Africa is, that by sending them thither the civilization and religion which
they will carry with them, may, in some measure, atone for the grievous
wrongs which that ill-fated country has received at the hands of this Chris-
tian nation. Now, if we are what Henry Clay affirms that we are, a corrupt,
degraded and dissolute class, and are to be flung back upon Africa in that


situation in the name of all that is rational, what benefit can possibly arise
out of such a contribution to the benighted sons and daughters of Africa?
But we are further told, at least by implication, that, although we are now a
degraded, corrupt and dissolute class, in this country, such will not be the
case when we reach the fertile soil of Africa, and live for a while under the
genial rays of an African sun.

How hopeful of our progress in Africa, and yet how despairing of our
advancement in America. And is it so, that the institutions and the religion
of this most enlightened country are far less favorable to the progress and
improvement of mankind than are the barbarism and darkness of Africa?
Can it be true that a people who (Mr. Clay says) must forever remain a
degraded, corrupt and dissolute class, while they remain in this Christian
country, will find the means of elevation and improvement in a country,
which is everywhere regarded as the darkest quarter of the world? It is a
contradiction, a most palpable contradiction, to all the teachings of
common-sense so to suppose. If the elevation of the colored people were
the object sought, if atonement for the wrongs inflicted upon Africa were a
motive sincerely cherished, instead of seeking to fling us away from the
enlightening influences of an advancing civilization, Mr. Clay, and his
associates, would be found foremost in securing us all the advantages
which the country affords to others for education and improvement.

But this forms no part of the plan. The object is, to get rid of us. Our
presence is an offence to him, and to the whole herd of colonizationists, and
they are determined to have us out of the country if they can. This is just the
true state of the case. In the Southern States, the free colored people are a
great source of annoyance to slaveholders. They make it impossible, where
they exist, to deceive the slaves with the idea that they [line obliterated].
The presence of a single free black man, in a community of slaves, is
sufficient to unsettle this theory. The slaves cannot avoid saying, in reply to
it, if all black men were made to be slaves, why is that black man now in
liberty? The presence, therefore, of a free black, in a slave community, is
constantly suggestive of strange comparisons. “Let us drive them out,
then,” say the slaveholders, “and we may have the argument all our own
way." If I thought there were any doubt on the minds of any of my audience
as to the correctness of this view, I would gladly read the testimony of
colonizationists themselves, in confirmation of it; but really, I do not think
there is any necessity for such reading. The thing is evident, and shines
conspicuously through every argument I have ever heard in favor of coloni-


Suppose we should admit, (which I am far from doing), that we are
degraded and dissolute, as a class; are there no other degraded and dissolute
people? Hundreds and thousands of degraded and dissolute people land on
the American shores annually.

Who talks of their expatriation? No one. What would be thought of a
society established for transporting from this country all “degraded and
dissolute” people who inhabit it? And then who is to be the judge of the
precise point of degradation in the character of an individual, or of a class,
which shall doom him or them to expatriation?

But it is said that we never can live on terms of social equality with the
whites. This is not true. I know many colored persons who live on terms of
equality with their white neighbors. But, suppose it were true; what then?
Social equality is not a subject for legislation; and the general Government
has no business with it. Every man is (or ought to be) free to choose his own
society. In one sense of the word, there is such thing as social equality. The
poor man, the hard-handed laborer, is not, for instance. the associate of
Henry Clay. The thousand factory girls that toil and spin from morn till
night for Abbot Lawrence, do not associate with the daughters of Abbot
Lawrence.22Abbott Lawrence was the largest shareholder in the Essex Company that built the town of Lawrence, Massachusetts, in the mid-1840s. He also was president of the town‘s first textile firm, the Atlantic Cotton Mills. Lawrence earlier had been an investor in the model industrial town of Lowell, Massachusetts. and introduced its “paternalistic” practices toward female factory operatives into the Atlantic mills at Lawrence. Hill, Memoir of Abbott Lawrence, 9—10, 23—26; Philip S. Foner, ed., The Factory Girls (Urbana, Ill., 1977), xviii, 174.

The men who level the hills, tunnel the mountains, and prepare the way
for all your grand railroads, do not associate on terms of equality with the
wealthy proprietors and stock-holders in those roads. Republican and
Democratic as the Americans are, here is a broad and palpable distinction
maintained between the rich and the poor; and although I will not say it can
never be otherwise, still, I may ask, in the language of Mr. Clay, “What is
to be done?” “In the name of justice and humanity what is to be done
with the poor? Are they to be colonized? They ought to be, according to
Mr. Clay’s reasoning; and if he be the aristocrat I take him to be, he has far
less affinity with the poor laboring white men, than he used to have with his
noted slave, Charles.23While attending a Whig party rally at Richmond. Indiana. in October 1842, Henry Clay was presented a petition by local Quakers urging him to emancipate his slaves. In a widely reported public reply, Clay rejected the request and declared that his slaves were well treated. As an example, he cited his personal body servant, Charles, “who has traveled with me over the greater part of the United States, and in both the Canadas, and has had a thousand opportunities, if he had chosen to embrace them, to leave me." Although freed in 1844, Charles remained at Ashland and continued to work for Clay. Lib., l4, 21 October 1842; Calvin Colton, The Life, Correspondence, and Speeches of Henry Clay, 6 vols. (New York, 1857), 6: 385-90; Eaton, Henry Clay, 44, 131-32. Let me say here, that, to my certain knowledge, the


poorer class of white people in the Southern States, are looked upon gener-
ally as little better than miserable menials.

“How can he get wisdom” (said a President of a Virginia College)
“who holdeth the plough, and whose talk be of oxen?”24Although Douglass's source for this quotation cannot be determined, it is a paraphrase of Eccles. 28: 25. “Capital ought,
and will own the laborer,” said Pinkney of South Carolina.

With such sentiments before us, colonizationists have their inequalities
to cure, besides that of the social inequality which exists between the black
and the white people of this country; and which they would cure by trans-
porting the former to the inhospitable shores of Africa. But, as I have said
before, these are miserable pretences, merely designed to hoodwink and
beguile the uninformed. I repeat again, they want us out of the country, and
just here I will state my own individual objection to the whole scheme. It is
an objection, the reasonableness of which you may question. I do not
intend to go to Africa because the slaveholders and negro-haters desire to
send me there.

Napoleon used to say, that he never would occupy a position which the
enemy desired him to occupy; and this, like many other of his sayings,
contains a vast amount of good common sense. When sober men take the
advice of drunkards; when honest men seek the admonition of thieves; and
when men of veracity put themselves under the instruction of liars; it will
then be time enough for me to take counsel of slaveholders and negro-
haters respecting the best method for our advancement and improvement.

But in answer to Mr. Clay’s inquiry of “What is to be done?” I will
submit a few general remarks, which I have frequently made on other
occasions. And first, it is impossible to settle at present, definitely and
absolutely, what the future condition of the colored people of this country
will be; but so far as present indications are to be relied upon, it seems clear
that this land must continue the home of the colored man so long as it
remains the abode of civilization and of the Christian religion. For more
than two hundred years, we have been identified with its soil, with its
products, and its institutions. We have lived, as a people, under the stemest
and bitterest circumstances of slavery and oppression—we have lived


under circumstances most unfavorable to existence, improvement, and
population—and amidst all we continue to live, and increase.

Comparisons have been made between us and the Indians, and predic-
tions have been made that we, like them, must finally disappear from the
face of American society. But I read not the destiny of the colored man in
this wise.

The persecuted redman of the forest is of a singular temper and disposi-
tion. The original owner of the soil, and possessing many advantages over
us, he has yet, step by step, retreated from the Atlantic, Lakes and Rivers,
escaping, as it were, before the onward march of the white man, until he
has gradually disappeared from the face of the country. He looks upon the
steamboats, railways, and canals with regret and deep sorrow of heart. He
beholds the plowshare throwing up the bones of his venerable ancestors;
and shocked and grieved by the advance of civilization and by the waning
glory of his race, he muffles himself in his blanket, and dies of his own
gloominess. Not so with the black man. More unlike the European in form
and color, called to endure greater hardships, and insults, he yet lives and
prospers under every disadvantage. ln vain have his enemies sought to
expatriate him, and to teach his children that this is not their home. In spite
of all [line obliterated] and well adjusted schemes, his foot-prints yet mark
the soil of his birth, and he gives every evidence that America will forever
remain the home of his posterity. I deem it a settled point, that the black and
the white people of America are to share a common destiny, let that be what
it may. A few may be foolish enough to fall in with the schemes of
colonization, but it is idle, worse than idle, to think of our expatriation or
removal. The history of the Colonization Society itself must extinguish all
such speculations. We are rapidly filling up the number of four millions,
and all the gold of California combined would be insufficient to defray the
expenses attendant on our colonization. We are here, have been here, and
we are to stay here. To imagine that we shall ever be eradicated, is absurd
and ridiculous. We can be re-modified, changed, and assimilated, but
never extinguished. The white and the black must fall or flourish together.
We shall neither die out, nor be driven out, but we shall go with you,
remain with you, and stand either as a testimony against you, or as an
evidence in your favor, throughout all your generations. The question,
then, for Henry Clay and others to decide, ought to be, what shall be done
to make us good citizens, patriots and Christians, a monument of the excel-
lence of American philanthropy, justice and religion?


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


February 2, 1851


Yale University Press 1982



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