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The Encroachments of the Slave Power: An Address Delivered in Troy, New York, on 5 September 1855



Troy (N.Y.) Daily Times, 6 September 1855. Other texts in Frederick Douglass' Paper,
14 September 1855; Philip Foner and George E. Walker. eds, Proceedings of the Black
State Conventions
, 1840—1865, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1979), 1: 92—97; Foner, Life and
, 5 : 357—64, misdated 4 September 1855.

The black men of New York who assembled in convention at Troy held a
productive meeting on 5 September 1855. They not only passed resolutions
decrying the unfairness of the property qualification for Negro voters, but also
moved to form a permanent political organization, appointing five lecturers
and two legislative lobbyists. Though quite energetic in their efforts to secure
rights for themselves, the men struck the name of Miss Barbary Ann Stewart
from the rolls with the objection that “this is not a Woman’s Rights Conven-
tion." The evening session opened with a prayer by the Reverend Mr. Mat-
thew, after which the meeting considered several resolutions and conducted
other routine business. Douglass reported the constitution of the New York
State Suffrage Association and then delivered the major address of the ses-
sion. Following his speech, the delegates elected him president of the new
suffrage organization. “Our convention was one of unusual unanimity,”
wrote Douglass in an editorial, “and one whose local effect, to say the least,
will be very favorable.” FDP, 17 August 1855; Troy (N.Y.) Daily Whig, 6
September 1855; New York Daily Times, 6 September 1855.

Gentlemen and Ladies: It is with no little embarrassment that I rise on this
occasion, and under the circumstances in which I am placed, to address
you. This has been a long, laborious, fatiguing day with me, and I have had
no repose, no retirement, no opportunity to fling together such thoughts as
the intelligence of the audience which I now see before me leads me to
believe necessary, and proper to enforce on this occasion. I never, perhaps,
felt a profounder desire to say something worthy of the great cause in which
we are engaged, than I do now, and at the same time, I never felt more
incapable of doing so. But since I have been called upon to speak, I will try,
if you will be patient and forbearing towards me, to say a few words.

It is very evident that the great question now before the American
people—the question upon which the nation will soon be called to de-
cide—is Slavery. Or in other words, the question now before this nation is
whether Southern oppression, and Southern slaveholding institutions,
shall be allowed to prevail in every part of this great Republic—or whether
the institutions of equity, honor and human brotherhood shall prevail. The


issue is now forced upon the American people, and each party is marshal-
ing its adherents for the grand conflict. In the Southern States there is no
institution, no party, save the slaveholding institution and party. By this
institution, 3,700,000 of the human family are stripped of every right,
robbed of all justice, whipped, outraged, and compelled to be marketable
chattels. Fifteen hundred million dollars are said to be invested in this
species of property at the South,—fifteen hundred millions of dollars is
said to be the money representation of this enslaved portion of the human
race. This vast accumulation of wealth—this immense conglomeration of
interests—has made the South a unit on the Slavery question—bound
them together in every action. So overshadowing has it become as to
eclipse, and swallow up every other consideration. In the Southern States
of our Union, the non-slaveholder is almost a cypher—literally a nonen-
tity. This is the case with him, even more than with the colored population
of this State. One fact alone will illustrate this fact. At the recent State
Convention, in Kentucky, notwithstanding [that] the non-slaveholding
power of that State embraces a population of over 700,000, and the
slaveholding interest a population of only 30,000, the slaveholding interest
was so powerful, so all-pervading, that not a single delegate appeared in
the Convention as a representative of the 700,000 people embraced in that
non-slaveholding population.1Douglass refers to Kentucky‘s constitutional convention of 1849. In a spirited and sometimes violent campaign for the 100 convention seats, emancipationists challenged proslavery candidates in 29 counties, polled 10,000 votes, but failed to elect a single delegate. The convention retained the slavery article from the 1799 constitution, adding a guarantee that “the right of property is before andhigher than any constitutional sanction. and the right of an owner of a slave to his property is the sameand as inviolable as the right of the owner of any property whatsoever." Objecting that this unfairly prevented future generations from even considering emancipation, Silas Woodson reminded his fellow delegates that most Kentuckians were nonslaveholders. “We promised," replied Ben Hardin, “to fix the constitution so that a majority could not oppress a minority, and we have done so. “ The 1850 census recorded 761,413 whites in Kentucky, only 38,385 of whom were slaveholders. Lowell H. Harrison, The Antislavery Movement in Kentucky (Lexington, 1978), 2—3, 57—60; Frank F. Mathias, “Kentucky's Third Constitution: A Restriction of Majority Rule,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 75 : I— I9 (January 1977); James P. Gregory, Jr., “The Question of Slavery in the Kentucky Constitutional Convention of 1849," Filson Club History Quarterly, 23 : 89-110 (April 1949). This fact will show you the tremendous
power ofthis institution in the Southern States. In South Carolina, no man,
no free, white American citizen, is eligible to a seat in the Legislature of the
States, unless he is the holder of ten slaves—unless he can call ten human
beings his property. Thus, this institution rules everything at the South. It
has given to the South its laws, its morals, its social code, its interpretation
of the Bible,—its definition of the Declaration of Independence, its understanding


of the Constitution of the United States. The non-slaveholding
citizens have thus become a mere cypher, and we scarcely ever speak of the
South, without speaking of the slaveholders as the South. This Southern
institution has also given it a peculiar style of religion. It has so materially
changed the religion of that section from what it was in the primitive days
of the Quakers and others, who opposed the principle of human oppres-
sion, as to give it what may be termed a slaveholding religion—a religion
which can be practiced in perfect conformity with the whip, the gag, the
fetters, the thumb-screw, and all the horrid, hellish paraphernalia of the
slave system.

The South has also given us its own peculiar interpretation of the laws.
The system and practice formerly was this: That every man was presumed
to be free until he was proved to be otherwise. But this principle is found to
be incompatible with the great Southern institution; so they have estab-
lished one diametrically opposite, and they call upon the North to endorse
and sustain it in the fugitive slave bill. This new principle is that every man
is presumed to be a slave until he proves himself to be otherwise. This is
what the South is demanding and will continue to demand of the North.
There are two principles in this country—Slavery and Liberty. One of
these principles will ultimately triumph. One of these kings is bound to
reign in this country. The question for the North to answer is—“Under
which king? Bezzoni. Under which king?”2Douglass paraphrases Henry IV, Part II, act 5, sc. 3, lines 115—16: “Under which king. Bezonian? speak, or die." There is in this Northern
country what may be styled a Slavery party. Its members are distributed
through every other political organization, save perhaps the Liberty Party
and the Free Soil Party of the North. This Slavery party will sink every
other policy and lose sight of every other consideration, in order to advance
the interests of the South. For this purpose, its members will become
Whigs or Democrats, or neither Whigs nor Democrats. It entered the
political caucuses of 1852, in the city of Baltimore, and demanded the
incorporation of its principles into the platforms of the Whig and Demo-
cratic organizations. And both parties bowed themselves before this gigan-
tic interest, and consented to take upon themselves the “mark of the
beast.”3An allusion to Rev. 6: 2; 19: 20. They then and there abandoned all other issues to give way to the
Slave policy of the South. There was no living issue between the Whig and
Democratic part[ies] in the election of 1852. It has been asserted that the
Whig party was in favor of the improvement of Rivers and Harbors, and so


forth, while the Democratic party was not—and that this constituted the
issue. What are the facts? The Platform of the Whig Party said—“We are
in favor of the constitutional improvement of Rivers and Harbors.” The
Platform of the Democratic Party said—“We are opposed to the uncon-
stitutional improvements of Rivers and Harbors."4Douglass paraphrases the sixth and seventh resolutions of the 1852 Whig platform and the first three resolutions of the 1852 Democratic platform. Donald Bruce Johnson and Kirk H. Porter. comps., National Party Platforms, 1840—1972, 5th ed. (Urbana, Ill., 1973). 16, 20- 21. And that was no issue.
Both parties endorsed, with all their hell-black etceteras, the Compromises
of 1850. Both parties endorsed the Southern interpretation of all those
questions which divided the North and South on the subject of Slavery.
What were those questions? What was the standard taken by the South? Let
us see. It has been said that the North is opposed to Slavery. But the South
has discovered that the chain on the negro slave will not cut, and fasten,
and fester securely in the flesh. unless the other end of that chain is held by
a padlock in the lips of the North.

It is one of the compensating laws of Providence that a wrong done by
one section of the nation against the other cannot go unpunished. A man
cannot build his mansion on a hill-top, be it ever so fair and lovely, if its
base be reeking with nuisance and corruption, without suffering the
baneful influences of that deadly corruption. So you of the North. free men
and non-slaveholding citizens, cannot sit idly by. and see 3,700,000 of
your fellow-beings wronged, robbed of their rights. whipped, outraged.
and driven to toil by day and by night, without the shadow of right or
justice, without the consolation and revivifying influences of intelligence
and of the gospel, and not suffer from the baneful effects of this hideous
wrong. You at the North cannot suffer this dark enormity to be perpetrated,
without suffering the consequences. And one of the consequences will be
that your limbs will be stricken down at your side, your thoughts fettered.
yourselves deprived ofthe freedom of action. No man is really free south of
Mason & Dixon's Line but the slaveholder. And soon no man north of
Mason & Dixon’s Line will be free but him who will succumb to the
demands of the slaveholders.

I speak rather by sight than by hearing. The objects of the slaveholding
party are becoming open to the sight. They are five in number. The first is,
the suppression of all anti-slavery discussion. The second, the extension of
Slavery over all the Territories of the United States. livery one of my
hearers who is a political reader knows that l have facts to bear me out in
asserting this to be the policy of the South. The third is, the nationalization


of Slavery in every State of the Union, so as to do away with all Conven-
tions. Associations and discussions of an anti-slavery character, and abol-
ish everything tending to disturb the relations between the master and the
slave. The fourth is, the expatriation of every free citizen of color in the
United States. Ten millions of dollars is the amount of money which is to
be devoted to bringing about this result. The fifth and grand object is, the
absorption by the United States, of Mexico, Southern California, Cuba,
the Sandwich Islands, all the islands of the Caribbean Sea, and Nicaragua,
bringing them into the Confederacy of our Union, and placing their black
population. fourteen millions in number, under the bann[er] of the slave
power. Let us look this in the face. What is necessary to secure all their
aims and objects? Why, first. this anti-slavery agitation must be put down.
And unfortunately, most unfortunately for the ends of right, liberty and
justice, both the Whig Party and the Democratic Party have lent themselves
to the Slave Power, to engage in putting it down. This was the determina-
tion of these parties on that point, as expressed in the Platforms put forth by
them at Baltimore. They would resist agitation. They would read out Wm.
H. Seward, that noblest patriot in the American Republic. They would read
out Horace Greeley, that champion of the rights of free men, to accomplish
this end. The Democratic Party proposes to go as far or a little farther than
the Whig party on this point. It is strong and nervous in its declarations, and
strong as thunder in its action. It says it will not only resist agitation, but it
will assist in putting down agitation. That is the decision of the Democratic
National Party. Now, what does putting down agitation mean. It means
putting down the right of speech on a particular subject in this Republic. It
means closing the mouths of all those who utter principles designed to
operate to the injury of the slave power. Remember, this was a political,
not an individual declaration. A political declaration differs from an indi-
vidual declaration in this: that it is supposed to be capable at some time of
being crystalized, of being moulded into the law of the land. They mean to
put down agitation. How will they put it down? How have they put it down
already in the Southern States? By making every statement uttered in
opposition to the slave power an incendiary sentiment. These parties, then,
acted in obedience to that law of the South when they said they intended to
put down agitation. The question now is, fellow-citizens, are you quite
ready to relinquish to a section the right to the discussion of any particular
political subject? For if you give up the right in regard to slavery to-day,
you may have to give it up in regard to something else to-morrow. Experi-
ence has taught us that the Southern slaveholders are capable of any action,
and you know not what they may next demand of you.


This right of speech was once regarded as a very precious institution in
our country. It was looked upon as the sentinel on the outer bulwarks of
Liberty. Daniel Webster so regarded it in a speech made by him in Con-
gress in 1814, when he declared that it was a principle he should assert to
the last—that he should relinquish it only when he relinquished his life—
that living he should assert the right, or dying, he should transmit to
posterity the honor of a brave defence. He had not then forgotten that this
right is sacredly guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States, in the
Constitution of every State in our Union.

Well, the two great political parties have found that the free exercise of
the right of speech is incompatible with Southern feelings and interests—
that it disturbs our Southern brethren. So they have, therefore, in their
kindness attempted to give peace to the slaveholders. They have endeav-
ored to do what God in his infinite wisdom has decreed it shall be impossi-
ble to do. “There shall be no peace to the wicked, saith my God.”5Douglass paraphrases Isa. 48: 22 or 57: 21.

This is a confession that the exercise of free speech is incompatible
with the relations of master and slave. It is a tacit admission of guilt.
Innocence has nothing to fear from discussion. It folds its arms, and throws
itself open to the severest scrutiny. It is only the dark wing of iniquity that
seeks to burrow out of sight—to hide itself from the observation of man. It
was said by Junius of Lord Granville that his character would only pass
without censure so long as it passed without observation.6Douglass refers to the remark about Lord Granby that appears in the 3 March 1769 letter from "Junius" to Sir William Draper. The Political Contest; Containing a Series of Letters Between Junius and Sir William Draper. . . ., 3d ed. (London, 1769), 29. Such is the case
with Slavery. With it, observation and censure are synonymous. There-
fore, they aim to put down all discussion. If it were possible for the South to
do so, it would disband every anti-Slavery organization in the land. Still,
the slaveholders would have no peace. For down in the heart of every one
of them, God has planted an abolition lecturer, which is continually saying
to him, “Thou art verily guilty with regard to thy brother.”7Douglass paraphrases Gen. 42: 21. Cowper was
quite right, after all, in regard to slavery, when he said:

“I would not have a slave to till my ground,
To fan me when I sleep,
My heart would throb at every sound.”8Douglass quotes and paraphrases lines 29—31 of The Time Piece by William Cowper. Bailey, Poems of William Cowper, 267.


I have experienced slavery in my own person. Before 1 formed a part of
this living, breathing world, the scourge was plaited for my back, and the
fetter forged for my limb. But though my blood still burns, and my heart
bounds as I look back to those dark days of slavery, I would rather at this
moment exchange places with the veriest whipped slave of the South, than
the wealthiest slaveholder of that region. He can have no peace. His mind
must be constantly casting up mire and dirt. You can see him gather up his
bowie-knife and revolver and place them under his pillow at night. That
bowie-knife is intended to pierce the heart of the slave, and that revolver to
scatter his brains to the four winds of Heaven. But they first pierce the heart
of the slave owner’s happiness, and scatter his peace to the winds, ere they
reach the poor slave. The slaveholder can know no peace. There is no
safeguard for the South save in the preservation of the relations of master
and slave. Just let it be rumored that ten slaves have been overheard to say
that they are tired of being flogged, and they mean to fight, and the whole
South is in a tremor. This is why the South wish[es] you to give up the right
of free speech.

Let us view the encroachments of the slave power in another light. The
Constitution of the United States provides that in all cases at law where the
value of the property concerned is more than twenty dollars, trials by jury
shall be provided.9The Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The South has found that this will not do. It has found
that there is a species of property in the South which must not come under
this jury definition. Congress passed such a law in 1850, in the shape of the
fugitive slave bill. The writ of habeas corpus was formerly regarded as a
most valuable provision. It provided for the delivery from imprisonment of
any person, unless good cause was shown for his detention. The Constitu-
tion provides that this writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless
when, in cases of rebellion or riot, the public good requires it.10Douglass paraphrases Article I, Section 9, of the U.S. Constitution. But it has
been found to be in opposition to the designs of the slave power, and the
two grand parties have united together, and declared that it shall be nul-
lified. The presumption of the law formerly was, that every man is free
until he is proven to be otherwise. But now, the slave power, bold and
arrogant, has asserted the contrary principle. Every colored man, under the
Fugitive Slave Bill, is presumed to be a slave unless he proves himself to be

A pure and unbribed judiciary used to be thought something of here in


the North. But Slavery demands something else. And in the Fugitive Slave
enactment it has secured its demands. It demands and provides that when a
judge shall convict any prisoner of being a slave. or in other words, of
being worthy of imprisonment for life. he shall receive the sum of $10. But
if, on the contrary, he acquits the prisoner. he is to receive only $5. Isn’t
that a “Hail Columbia. happy land”11A favorite Federalist tune, “Hail Columbia," was often parodied in the nineteenth century. One satirical cartoon of the 1850s pictured a coffle of slaves under the caption “Hail Columbia! Happy Land!!!" Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Music for Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents: Harmonies and Discords of the First One Hundred Years (New York, 1975), 142—45; Dumond, Antislavery, 146. provision?

Mr. Douglass then proceeded to establish the position that the Slave
States demand that the North shall execute their laws. and cited the case of
Passmore Williamson in proof.12Born in Westtown, Pennsylvania, Quaker abolitionist Passmore Williamson (1822-95) lived most of his life in Philadelphia, where he worked as a conveyancer. He was reared as an Orthodox Quaker, but was “disowned for disunity" in 1848 and thereafter associated himself with the Progressive Friends. Williamson joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1847, served as its secretary from1848 to 1851, and was its president at the time of his death. Williamson also helped to revive the Philadelphia General Vigilance Committee in 1852 and was one of the four members on its Acting Committee. At the time of Douglass's speech, Williamson was confined to Moyamensing Prison on contempt charges resulting from his role in the rescue of three slaves belonging to John H. Wheeler, U.S. minister to Nicaragua. On 18 July 1855 Wheeler and the slaves—Jane Johnson and her two young sons, Daniel and Isaiah—stopped briefly in Philadelphia on their way from Washington to New York. During the afternoon, Williamson learned of their imminent departure from the city and of the slaves' expressed desire for freedom. Accompanied by William Still of the Vigilance Committee, he found Wheeler and the Johnsons on the hurricane deck of the steamer Washington. Over Wheeler's protest, Williamson informed the slave mother that she and her sons were free under Pennsylvania law. While Wheeler and Williamson argued, the slaves left the boat with a group of blacks and drove off in a carriage procured by Still. Williamson, who restrained Wheeler from interfering but took no part in the physical removal of the Johnsons, assumed legal responsibility for his actions. The next day, Wheeler, claiming that Virginia law protected his property in slaves, petitioned the District Court for a writ of habeas corpus forcing Williamson to produce the Johnsons. Williamson answered the writ on 20 July, stating that he had never had custody or possession of the slaves, a position later corroborated by Jane Johnson in an affidavit prepared in New York. Judge John K. Kane considered this response evasive and imprisoned Williamson for contempt of court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court twice refused to grant Williamson a writ of habeas corpus for his release. On 3 November 1855 Judge Kane accepted a modified reply from Williamson and released him from prison. Six blacks --William Still, William Curtis, James P. Braddock, John Ballard, James Martin, and Isaiah Moore—who had participated in the rescue were tried in late August. A jury acquitted all six of the charge of riot but found Ballard and Curtis guilty of assault and battery for threatening Wheeler when he tried to recover his slaves. The two men were jailed for about a week. FDP , 27 July, 3, 10 August, 14, 28 September, 9, 23
November 1855; Samuel J. May, The Fugitive Slave Law and Its Victims. Anti-Slavery Tracts. no. 18 (New York, 1856), 34; Ralph Lowell Eckert, “Antislavery Martyrdom: The Ordeal of Passmore Williamson." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 100: 521—38 (October 1976); Stanley W. Campbell, The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850—1860 (Chapel Hill, 1970), 142-44; William Still, The Underground Railroad (Philadelphia, 1872), 86, 97; Henry Wilson, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power, 3 vols. (Boston, 1872- 77). 2: 448; Richard Hildreth, ed., Atrocious Judges: Lives of Judges Infamous as Tools of Tyrants and Instruments of Oppression. . . (New York, 1856), 389-432.
He contended that Mr. W[illiamson] had


committed no crime. He had broken no law of Pennsylvania, but was
incarcerated for breaking the laws of Virginia. He dwelt upon the provi-
sions of the Fugitive enactment. which decrees that there shall be “no
refuge for the stricken slave through the length and breadth of this fair
land—no spot upon which he can plant his foot and say, ‘Here, by the
blessing of God’s Providence. and my own right. I am a free man.’ ” He
contended that the nation is at present in a state of anarchy—that the
government of the United States has resigned its function to three thousand
lawless border ruffians of Missouri.13The injection of the slavery issue into the process of organizing a territorial government for Kansas only intensified the friction commonly found on the frontier when individuals competed for possession of newly opened lands. Encouraged by Senator David R. Atchison and other proslavery leaders. Missouri speculators, settlers, and frontiersmen who considered neighboring Kansas rightfully theirs formed secret organizations in the summer of 1854 to “assist in removing any and all emigrants" who came to Kansas under the auspices of free state emigrant-aid societies. Shortly before the November 1854 election of a congressional delegate. Atchison, fearful that the proslavery side would lose, reminded Missourians that “when you reside within one day's journey of the Territory, and when your peace, your quiet, and your property, depend upon your action, you can without an exertion send five hundred of your young men who will vote in favor of your institutions." On election day over 1,700 Missourians crossed the border to vote, many of them well-armed and only a few making any effort to prove residency. Their action insured victory for the proslavery candidate, even though the majority of bona fide settlers reportedly opposed him. Large numbers of Missourians again crossed the border to vote in the March 1855 election for the territorial legislature. Through intimidation, force, and illegal ballot counting, the proslavery men carried the election. Free soilers protested the fraud, but Governor Andrew H. Reeder, in the presence of armed slavery men, validated the election certificates of most proslavery candidates. Returning east to warn the Pierce administration of potential violence, Reeder later condemned “the armed force from beyond her borders" that had “invaded, conquered, and subjugated" Kansas. The legislature that met at Shawnee Mission in July expelled antislavery legislators and passed. over Reeder‘s vetoes. legislation protecting slavery in the territory. In September. Cincinnati lawyer Wilson Shannon. who supported the proslavery faction, replaced Reeder as governor. On 5 September, the date of this speech, a “Free State Convention" met at Big Springs, repudiated the proslavery legislature, and called for a convention to meet at Topeka on 19 September to draft a state constitution. Free State settlers ratified the Topeka constitution in December and in early 1856 set up a rival territorial government. Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union, 2 vols. (New York, 1947), 2: 306-11, 384-90; David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861 (New York, 1976), 199-204. A struggle has gone on in that
Territory [Kansas] and it has resigned its ballot-boxes and its liberties with
an ease which puts to shame the fighting before Sebastopol.14French and British forces landed in the Crimea on 14 September 1854 and six days later defeated a Russian army at Alma. They failed, however, to capture the naval port of Sebastopol. Protected by a line of trenches, batteries, and redoubts, the city remained under seige until French troops finally overran the Malakoff, its most important fortress, on 8 September 1855. During the night the Russians evacuated and burned the town. The fall of Sebastopol marked the virtual end of the fighting in the Crimea. Austria mediated an armistice the following February, and on 30 March 1856 a peace treaty was signed. A. J. Barker, The Vainglorious War, 1854—56 (London, 1970), 135—39, 257—68, 281—85; Albert Seaton, The Crimean War: A Russian Chronicle (London, 1977), 219—26. The reason is


obvious. The walls at Sebastopol are of granite. The walls of Kansas are of
dough!15Douglass employs a variant of doughface, a derisive term first used politically in 1820 by John Randolph of Roanoke to characterize northern congressmen who voted to allow slavery in Missouri. “I knew these would give way. They were scared at their dough faces," he gloated, apparently alluding to masks of dough that often frightened timid wearers when they saw themselves in the mirror. The term later acquired the meaning of either being able to be molded easily or, spelled as doe-face, displaying the timidity of a female deer. In the 1840s and 1850s abolitionists used the term to reproach northerners sympathetic to the South, especially free-state politicians who neither attacked the institution of slavery nor opposed its extension into the territories. Mitford M. Mathews, A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles, 2 vols. (Chicago, 1951), 1: 513; Sir William A. Craigie and James R. Hulbert, A Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles, 4 vols. (Chicago, 1938—44), 2: 803—04; David C. Roller and Robert W. Twyman, eds., The Encyclopedia of Southern History (Baton Rouge, 1979), 367—68.

He also dwelt at some length, and with great facetiousness upon the
attempts being made to drive the free colored men out of the country. He
says they do not mean to go to Liberia, if they can avoid it. On this point we
are somewhat in the position of the boy John when he was going to visit his
Uncle Robert. Said he, “I am going to Uncle Robert’s. I am going to stay
six weeks. And I am going to do just as l please—that is, if Uncle Robert
will let me.” We intend to remain in this country—if you will let us. And
although there is physical force enough here to drive us out, I do not think
there is moral force enough to do it. So we may embody our sentiments in
the old song which they used to sing at camp meetings:

“Bredren, we hab been wif you,
And still is wif you,
And mean to be wif you to the end!”16Douglass quotes a variation of the hymn “Promise.” John G. McCurry. ed., The Social Harp, A Collection of Tunes. Odes, Anthems. and Set Pieces, Selected from Various Authors (1855; Athens, Ga., 1973), 73.

He argued at some length upon the ground that prejudice against color
was not natural, but conventional, and quoted many happy anecdotes to
strengthen his position. On retiring he said: “I am thankful for your kind-
ness in listening to me, and beg you not to forget, in the playfulness of my
last remarks, the sober earnestness of the first.”


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


September 5, 1855


Yale University Press 1985



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