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The Present Condition of Slavery: an Address Delivered in Bradford, England, on January 6, 1860



Bradford Observer, 12 January 1860. Another text in Bradford Review, 7 January 1860.

On the evening of 6 January 1860, Douglass lectured on “The Present Condi-
tion of Slavery in America” at the Mechanics’ Institute in Bradford. The
Young Men’s Christian Association sponsored the meeting, at which William
Edward Forster presided. The local press reported that “a numerous au-
dience, including a large proportion of ladies,” attended. Forster opened the
proceedings with a short speech exculpating John Brown’s recent raid on
Harpers Ferry and then introduced Douglass. At the close of Douglass’s
remarks, the Reverend J. R. Campbell moved a resolution expressing “warm
thanks to Frederick Douglass, Esq.” and “a hope that each day beholds the
progress of abolitionist sentiment, both in America and at home.” The meet-
ing adopted the resolution with near unanimity and then adjourned. Leeds
Mercury, 10 January 1860.

Mr. DOUGLASS then presented himself amidst loud cheering. He began by
remarking that the struggle now going on in the United States between the
friends of slavery and the promoters of slavery was not a new, but a very
old one. It dated back to the very commencement of the existence of the
American government; nay, further than that, for the same winter that
witnessed the incoming of the Mayflower and the liberty-loving pilgrims of
the Pennsylvania rock,1Actually Plymouth Rock. witnessed also the incoming upon the southern
shore of the same country a Dutch galliot, having on board twenty slaves.
From these two events had gone forth two great ideas which were now
clashing in terrible conflict, threatening the overthrow of the government

At first, the reference to slavery was very feeble. In the first draft of the
declaration of American independence, there was a condemnation of slav-
cry, and one of the charges brought against George III, was that he had
forced upon the American colonies, by violence and cruelty, the inhuman
traffic of selling men and women.2Jefferson's earliest “composition draft“ of the Declaration of Independence charged the British crown with having “refused us permission to exclude [importation of Negroes] by law." His “original Rough draught" includes a much fuller and more bitter indictment of George III: “[H]e has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it‘s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare ofthe CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce." Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, 1950-), 1: 418, 426. It was in consequence of the power of


slavery at that time that this passage was struck out from the original
document. The declaration which was afterwards published appeared
without these words. That declaration declared that this truth was self-
evident; that all men were created equal, and had all an equal right to life,
liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. The word “white,” which
the modern abettors of slavery would interpolate, did not appear, but the
passage said “all men,” all kindreds, tongues. and tribes on the face ofthe

Two parties were not formed till 1819. Prior to this time the great
patriots and statesmen of America—Jefferson, Henry, Adams,3Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and John Adams. &c.——had
discouraged the spread of slavery, by legislative enactment, but in 1819 the
slaveholding power succeeded in carrying a measure for the admission of a
slaveholding state into the Union. although this was only effected by a
compromise, which drew a boundary line whereby the existence of slavery
was prohibited beyond the north of such line.4The Missouri Compromise.

This was the state of the law in 1854, and in that year an American
statesman,5Stephen A. Douglas. desiring to purchase the support of the slaveholding south for
the presidency, proposed that the existence of slavery should be extended
beyond the north of the line, on the ground that the then existing line served
as an insult to the south, as well as an impeachment of slavery, and that
such a course would tend to create a oneness between the two sections of
the country which had not hitherto existed. The result was that the compro-
mise previously made was repealed, and Kansas and Nebraska were
thrown open to settlers, despite the existence of treaties that the Indians
should not be removed from that part of the Continent.6At the time of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Indian title to the lands in the two territories had not yet been extinguished. A block of reservations, set aside for tribes that had been forcibly removed from the East in the |830s and 1840s and guaranteed to the Indians “as long as the grass grew or water run," occupied the Kansas-Missouri border. In 1853 Commissioner of Indian Affairs George W. Manypenny began negotiations with the tribes for their removal farther west. However, before any treaties were ratified, Congress opened Kansas Territory to settlement and intruders entered Indian lands. The treaties that finally were negotiated in 1854 and 1855 with the Delawares. Otos, Shawnees, Sacs and Foxes, Kickapoos, Wyandots, and other tribes did not require removal but instead reduced the reservations and provided for future allotments of land to individual Indians. Paul Wallace Gates, Fifty Million Acres: Conflicts over Kansas Land Policy, 1854—1890 (1954; New York, 1966), 14-19; James C. Olson, History of Nebraska, 2d ed. (Lincoln. Neb., 1966), 67, 78—79; H. Craig Miner and William E. Unrau, The End of Indian Kansas: A Study of Cultural Revolution, 1854—1871 (Lawrence. Kans., 1978), 1-24.


It was supposed that the opportunity would be afforded to the south to
rush in and set up institutions there favourable to slavery, but slavery was
not so nimble of foot as freedom, and the people of the far off north were
enabled to betake themselves hither far more quickly than the promoters of
slavery, though residing so much nearer. The men of the free states went
over in preponderating numbers. An insignificant minority of the
slaveowners went there also, taking with them the slave code, and declar-
ing it to be the law of the State.

Amongst the free state men who went thither was that noble hero and
martyr, John Brown.7Born in Torrington, Connecticut, John Brown (1790-1859) grew up in Hudson, Ohio. After receiving a rudimentary education, he attempted, but failed at, careers as a tanner, wool dealer, and farmer. Long a supporter of emancipation, Brown became more militant in his antislavery activities after passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. In 1855 Brown followed four of his sons to Kansas, where he became a leader of the armed opposition to the admission of the territory as a slave state. His participation in the massacre of proslavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek in May 1856 made him a nationally known figure. In 1857 Brown secretly began to recruit men and raise funds for a plan to establish a base in the southem Appalachian Mountains from which to raid plantations and free slaves. Brown's plotting culminated in the unsuccessful attack by a small band on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859. Captured and tried for treason under Virginia law, he was executed on 2 December 1859 and immediately became a martyr to many northerners. Stephen B. Oates, To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown (New York, 1970); Richard O. Boyer, The Legend of John Brown: A Biography and a History (New York, 1972); ACAB, 1: 404-07; NCAB, 2: 307-08; DAB, 3: 131-34. He went with his six sons, and took up his abode
near the Missouri border. ()n the day of election, however, the free state
men found the ballot boxes captured by the slaveowners, who threatened
all who went to vote with extinction, presenting revolvers, bludgeons, and
other weapons. The free state men refused to take part in the election, and
retired to their homes. The leading slaveholders were disappointed at the
large immigration of abolitionists. They did not like to bring slaves into a
state where there were so many abolitionists. They declared it to be their
purpose, therefore, to extinguish all abolitionists in Kansas, and to this end
they shot down many free state men, and burned and destroyed the build-
ings and the property of others. The result was that great numbers left the
state of Kansas.

Matters were in this position in 1856, when John Brown and his six
sons organised a company of about thirty men, all of whom resolved to
stand their ground. Their organization and courage were such that they


were enabled to put to flight a body of four hundred men from Missouri,
under the command of Gen. Reed.8Born near Lynchburg, Virginia, John William Reid (1821—81) had migrated to Missouri in 1840, Reid practiced law in Jefferson City and represented that community in the state legislature (1854—56). Elected to the U.S. Congress as a Democrat, he held his seat only from March to August 1861 and then resigned to serve in the Confederate army. After the war Reid resumed his legal career in Kansas City, Missouri. In August 1856 Reid served as second in command under David R. Atchison of a force of approximately five hundred “border ruffians“ who invaded Kansas from Missouri to battle Free State settlers. Leading a 250-man detachment from that main body. he defeated John Brown and thirty-odd supporters at Osawatomie on 30 August 1856 and then burned that town. Reid soon retreated back to Missouri when confronted by a numerically superior Free State force from Lawrence led by James H. Lane. Villard, John Brown, 240—47, 257; Oates, To Purge This Land, 168—72, 176; G. Murlin Welch, Border Warfare in Southeast Kansas, 1856-1859 (Pleasanton, Kans., 1977), 5—7; BDAC, 1508. Such exploits gave John Brown confi-
dence, and he had a number of other battles with these slaveholding ma-
rauders and border ruffians. He not only beat and routed them, but he
sometimes captured prisoners three times the number of his own men.9Douglass probably relies on Brown's own descriptions of the Kansas skirmishes, particularly that at Osawatomie on 30 August 1856. In his account of the Osawatomie battle against John W. Reid's Missouri troops, Brown reported that his band of around thirty men suffered fewer than five casualties, only one of which was fatal, while inflicting seventy to eighty casualties on the enemy, including over thirty fatalities. Recent scholarship indicates that Brown‘s figures on enemy losses were inflated about tenfold. Oates, To Purge This Land, 172; John Brown to His Family, 7 September 1856, in F[ranklin] B. Sanborn, ed., The Life and Letters of John Brown: Liberator of Kansas and Martyr of Virginia (Concord, Mass., 1885), 318—20.
But, though so successful in repelling aggression, the sacrifice and the
endurance was very great. The village in which he and his men resided was
destroyed, his house was burnt down, and his son Frederick was shot down
in cold blood.10Frederick Brown (1830—56), the second of John Brown‘s sons to bear that name, accompanied his father on myriad business and military adventures. Along with four of his brothers, Frederick decided to settle in Kansas in I854 and was instrumental in his father's decision to locate there. He participated in the march to Lawrence, the Pottawatomie massacre, the battle at Black Jack, and other skirmishes with proslavery forces. On 30 August 1856 Frederick Brown died when he was surprised and shot near Osawatomie, Kansas, by Martin White, a proslavery settler who was in the area to recover animals that Free State men had confiscated from his farm. Oates, To Purge This Land, 23— 169. If John Brown had taken up arms against the slaveowners,
they had only themselves to thank for it. They had compelled him to adopt
desperate measures.

He (Mr. Douglass) now came to the question which the Chairman11William Edward Forster (1818—86), a woolen manufacturer and reformer from Bradford, England, was educated in Quaker schools. As an active lecturer in Bradford and Leeds after the early 1840s, he urged the adoption of free-trade principles, a compromise with British Chartists, the reform of Parliament, and the worldwide abolition of slavery. In 1859 he narrowly missed election to Parliament as a Liberal but two years later secured a seat that he held until his death. Over his long legislative career, Forster became increasingly more conservative, as illustrated by his later stands on educational reform and on the suppression of the Land League in Ireland. DNB, 7 : 465—71.


had already spoken of so ably—the present aspect of slavery in connection
with the Harper’s Ferry affair.*Believing that his instructions came directly from God, John Brown attempted to facilitate the abolition of slavery by establishing a militant black government in the mountains of Virginia and Maryland. Financed by prominent northern abolitionists. Brown, with twenty-one men, including three of his sons and five blacks. attacked the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, on 16 October 1859. Douglass had refused an invitation to accompany Brown on this venture. Only about twelve slaves were liberated, none of them joining Brown voluntarily, but a number of white citizens were taken hostage. By the second day of Brown's occupation, the local Charlestown militia had arrived and sealed off Brown’s only escape route. Commanding a detachment of U.S. marines from Washington. D.C. was Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee, who, on 18 October, oversaw the assault on the engine house in which Brown held his captives. In the brief fighting that ensued, Brown's insurgents killed five people, including one marine, while losing ten men, among them Brown's sons Oliver and Watson. Brown was captured and tried for treason and conspiracy to commit murder. After a brief deliberation, the jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to be hanged on 2 December. Despite pleas from Brown’s friends, Governor Henry Wise remained unmoved. and Brown was executed as scheduled. Six other conspirators were also hanged, while five of Brown's party, including his son Owen, escaped capture and punishment. Oates, To Purge This Land, 274—80. 290—302; Boyer, Legend of John Brown, 8—9, 16—18; DAB, 3 : 131-34. He had read with grief the Times of the
Tuesday previous.13In its 3 January 1860 issue, the Times of London included a lengthy article on the effect of John Brown‘s raid and other extreme abolitionist activity upon American opinion regarding slavery. It described a “large and influential" assembly of merchants in New York City on 19 December 1859 at which speakers urged “Justice to the South" and condemned “abolitionist excesses." The article noted that former presidents Millard Fillmore, Martin Van Buren, and Franklin Pierce supported the meeting. The newspaper argued that the sentiments expressed at the meeting were those of most New Yorkers and concluded. “We cannot congratulate the Abolitionists on the success of their exertions, which have plunged the race they favor into deeper darkness, and have made the subjection of man to man the belief of a Christian people." He had not expected to see such a view taken of
American affairs. This mistake arose from the Times having used only one
of its eyes. It saw only an assembly of enthusiastic pro-slavery men.
shouting, “great, great is slavery.” and it drew the inference that the
whole country must be nationally of the same view. This. however, had
been proved not to be a correct view. The Chairman hit it exactly when he
stated that these pro-slavery meetings in New York had no worse motive
than a simple desire to sell goods to the south.14In remarks that preceded Douglass's. William Edward Forster refuted the idea, suggested in the London Times, that the raid on Harpers Ferry had “thrown back the cause of liberty in America." Referring to southern newspapers he had read. Forster noted “they stated that they knew very well that a few merchants were so interested in consequence of their trade as to go with the South. but the majority of the people of the North were against them." Bradford Observer, 12 January 1860. New York was one of the
markets of the slave states. The southern slaveholders came to buy all they
required in the north; for they made nothing in the south, not even the pig-
yokes which kept their pigs from straying. They had not even the mechan-
ical skill to do so simple a thing as make a pig-yoke (a laugh). The New


York merchants felt that these northern [southern] men would withdraw
their custom from New York unless that city did something to prove them-
selves sound.

Mr. Douglass described, with considerable humour, the position and
pretensions of some of the chief speakers at New York pro-slavery meet-
ings, showing that their view on this question was entirely destitute of all
political and moral influence in that city. New York itself, despite this
meeting, as well as the other great cities of Philadelphia and Boston, had
pronounced on the part of the northern states an unmistakeable verdict
upon this Harper[’s] Ferry business. If they did not encourage or counte-
nance the movement of John Brown, they all concurred in this, that he was
a noble, heroic, and true man; and the elections, coming immediately after
in New York, instead of diminishing the anti-slavery influence, had actu-
ally resulted in returning an additional number of abolitionist members to
the National Legislature.15The Republicans did maintain control of the New York state legislature as a result of elections held in November, shortly after the Harpers Ferry raid. but 1859 was not a year for elections to the U.S. Congress. Nichols, Disruption of American Democracy, 212—14, 268.

The anti-slavery state cause in the United States had been making
continual progress ever since 1844. In that year, the anti-slavery party, for
the first time, took part in the election of [a] President, having brought
forward James G. Birney as a candidate.16Douglass refers to the Liberty party, which actually first participated in a presidential election in 1840, running Birney for president and Thomas Earle for vice president. Dumond, Antislavery, 296—97. He received no fewer than
60,000 votes.17The Liberty party ticket that Birney headed in the 1844 presidential election received 65,608 votes. Sewell, Ballots for Freedom, 110. But, in 1856, the anti-slavery candidate for the presidency,
Mr. Frémont, received more than two million votes.18In 1856 John C. Frémont, the Republican candidate, received 1,339,932 popular votes, about a third of all those cast. He carried all the northern states except New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, and California. Potter, Impending Crisis, 266. Such was the pro-
gress of anti-slavery sentiment in the short period of twelve years. Prior to
1846, there was not a single state north of Mason and Dixon’s line that was
opposed to slavery, except Vermont19Although Vermonters did not universally embrace abolitionism, many contemporaries, whatever their views on slavery, considered the state the most antislavery in the Union. Its constitution of 1777 was the first to abolish adult slavery, and a 1786 law, clarifying that document's language, declared without qualification that “the idea of slavery is totally exploded from our free government." In addition to providing judicial protection for blacks, including fugitive slaves, Vermont sustained numerous local antislavery and colonization societies and supported such antislavery newspapers as the Brandon Vermont Telegraph, Montpelier Green Mountain Freeman, and Bennington Journal of theTimes, the latter edited by William Lloyd Garrison in 1828-29. Abolitionist speakers toured the state in the 1830s to encourage support for the Vermont Anti-Slavery Society. organized in May 1834 as the first state auxiliary of the newly founded American Anti-Slavery Society. With the rise of political abolitionism in the 1840s the Liberty party and then the Free Soil party became the principal antislavery organizations in the state. In Congress, Jacob Collamer, William Upham, Samuel C. Crafts, and others consistently voiced Vermont's opposition to slavery. Senator Benjamin Swift introduced a memorial advocating emancipation in the District of Columbia in 1837; three years later, Whig representative William Slade delivered the first speech in Congress demanding immediate emancipation of all slaves. In 1847 Vermont‘s entire congressional delegation, which had previously opposed the annexation of Texas, voted for the Wilmot Proviso. David M. Ludlum, Social Ferment in Vermont, 1791—1850 (New York, 1939), 134—98; Wilbur H. Siebert, Vermont's Anti-Slavery and Underground Railroad Record (Columbus, Ohio, 1937), 13, 66; John Myers, “The Beginnings of Anti-Slavery Activity In
Vermont," VII, 36: 126—41 (Summer 1968); idem, “The Major Efforts of Anti-Slavery Agents in Vermont, 1836—1838," VH, 36: 214—29 (Autumn, 1968); J. Kevin Graffagnino, “Vermont Attitudes Toward Slavery: The Need For A Closer Look," VH, 45: 31-34 (Winter 1977); Reinhard O. Johnson, “The Liberty Party in Vermont, 1840-1848: The Forgotten Abolitionists,” VH, 47: 258—75 (Fall 1979).
but, in 1860, nearly every state


north of that line was under the influence of Republican sentiment, and
opposed to slavery.

Thirty years ago, the whole question of anti-slavery had to be revived.
The noble declarations of sentiment and principle on the part of Jefferson,
Henry, and Adams, were almost forgotten, and were no longer regarded.
Slaves had risen in price from 250 dollars to 600 and 700 dollars each, and
in later times, to a thousand dollars each, under the impetus given to slave
labour by the invention of the cotton gin,20Slave prices did indeed rise after the development of the cotton gin. According to price indexes constructed by Ulrich B. Phillips, a prime field hand cost between $300 and $400 in 1795, just as the invention was coming into use. By 1803 the prices ranged from $400 to $600, and by 1819 they neared $1,000. However, the work of Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman suggests that demand for slaves was high even before the development of the gin and that changes in price resulted mainly from fluctuations in supply. Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment, and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Routine (1918; Gloucester, Mass., 1959), 370—71; Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economies of American Negro Slavery, 2 vols. (Boston, 1974), 1: 86—94. by Eli Whitney,21Massachusetts-born and Yale-educated Eli Whitney (1765-1825) invented the cotton gin in 1793. Whitney, who was living as a guest on a Georgia plantation at the time, undertook to produce a machine that would facilitate the separation of fiber from seed in green-seed cotton. After ten days of thought, Whitney conceived of a rough model gin based on a drum with wire inserts. While the invention led to the expanded production of green-seed cotton, Whitney realized little financial return. He and a partner, Phineas Miller, attempted to monopolize the ginning industry, but in 1794 when Whitney began manufacturing the gins in New Haven, Connecticut, troubles quickly developed. Miller and Whitney could not raise enough capital to both produce gins and buy up the growing cotton crop in order to process it. Patent problems and a British complaint that the machine damaged fibers complicated matters and, although the courts accepted Whitney's patent claims beginning in 1807, his success was short-lived. Congress refused his 1812 application to renew the patent. Whitney did, however, succeed as a manufacturer of arms. At his plant in Hamden, Connecticut, which thrived on government contracts, Whitney innovated the use of standardized parts and created new designs for metal working equipment. Constance McLaughlin Green, Eli Whitney and the Birth of American Technology (Boston, 1956); Jeannette Mirsky and Allan Nevins, The World of Eli Whitney (New York, 1952); DAB, 20: 157—60. of Connecticut.


Even the various denominations of Christians had ceased to oppose
slavery in any shape, except the Society of Friends, and even they spoke in
very feeble accents. To the honour of the latter body in the United States,
no set of men had made greater sacrifices than they had to give liberty to
slaves. There were instances wherein the owners of slaves connected with
that body had given not only emancipation to their slaves, but money or
other consideration to each, as a sort of restitution in return for the period of

So indifferent had the public become, that from 1831 to 1835, it was
exceedingly dangerous [in the North] to advocate the claims of the two
millions and a-half of slaves in the North [southern] slave States.22According to the 1830 census there were 2,009,043 black slaves in the United States. By 1840 the figure had reached 2,487,355. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Fifth Census; or, Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States, 1830 (Washington, D.C., 1832), 163; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Compendium of the Enumeration of the Inhabitants and Statistics of the United States; As Obtained by Counties and Principal Towns, Exhibiting the Population, Wealth, and Resources of the Country (Washington, DC, 1841), 363-64. Meet-
ings were generally put down with much violence. A prayer meeting in
New York was thus broken up, and [William] Lloyd Garrison was dragged
through the streets with a halter round his neck for preaching that all men
had an equal right to freedom. He (Mr. Douglass) had been mobbed many
times for holding meetings to propound anti-slavery principles. He had
been pelted with the most unmarketable eggs, laid by the American eagle
(a laugh).23Douglass fell victim to mob attacks on several occasions. On 7 August 1847 both he and Garrison were pelted with eggs by an unruly crowd in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Garrison to Helen E. Garrison, 9, 12 August 1847, in Garrison and Garrison, Garrison Life, 3: 190-93. An American who once represented that country at the Court
of St. James’s (Mr. Everett)24Edward Everett, U.S. minister to the Court of St. James's from November 1841 until August 1845. recommended that the abolitionists should
be indicted at common law for disturbing the public peace by merely
discussing the question of slavery.

But since that time, the abolitionists had obtained the right to declare
their honest opinions, upon the platforms and through the public press, in
no fewer than 17 States of the American Union. Above all they had been
enabled to effect the repeal of many odious laws discriminating most
unjustly against coloured people. They had established the right of col-
oured men to vote in the State of New York. They had succeeded in removing


much of the prejudice that had long existed against colour in the
Northern States. Though this prejudice was not entirely removed, yet it
was not so inveterate as it was twenty years ago.

In 1829, there was not a single journal advocating the principles of the
anti-slavery party; but now there were hundreds doing so.25Douglass is probably correct regarding the multiplicity of antislavery newspapers in 1860, since he undoubtedly means to include Republican organs in his estimate. However, even if Benjamin Lundy's Genius of Universal Emancipation is disregarded because of its support for colonization, there were at least two antislavery papers in 1829: the short-lived New York Rights of All, edited by the black abolitionist Samuel Cornish, and the Bennington (Vt.) Journal of the Times, edited from October 1828 to March 1829 by William Lloyd Garrison. Jane H. Pease and William H. Pease, Bound with Them in Chains: A Biographical History of the Anti-Slavery Movement (Westport, Conn, 1972), 90—144; Thomas, Liberator, 83-90. In 1829, there
was not an anti-slavery association in the country, but now there were such
associations in every part of the country. especially in the Northern States.
In 1829, no great statesman in the House of Representatives showed him-
self opposed to slavery, but now there were many such. Indeed, they were
so common, that at the present time they were seeking to elect the Speaker,
and according to the latest accounts, their candidate (Mr. Sherman) had the
largest number of votes.26 After a two-month struggle over the speakership, John Sherman of Ohio was passed over in favor of William Pennington, a New Jersey Whig-Republican who was more conservative regarding slavery. Sherman (1823—1900), younger brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman., was born and educated in Lancaster, Ohio. Admitted to the bar in 1844, he soon became active in politics, first as a Whig and later as a Republican. In 1854 Sherman was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. where he served on a committee investigating Kansas affairs and eventually assumed the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. In 1861 he began the first of four Senate terms. Skillful and conservative in financial matters. Sherman came to dominate the nation‘s fiscal policy. As a member and later chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he played instrumental roles in the passage of the National Banking Act (1863), the Funding Act of 1870, and the Coinage Act of 1873. Sherman served as secretary of the treasury in the Hayes administration but in 1881 returned to the Senate, where his most notable contributions were the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, both enacted in 1890. Passed over for the Republican presidential nomination three times in the 1880s, Sherman was appointed secretary of state in 1897 but soon resigned in protest over William McKinley's expansionist policies. Theodore E. Burton, John Sherman (Boston, 1908); Winfield S. Kerr, John Sherman: H s Life and Public Services (Boston, 1908); Sobel, Biographical Directory of the Executive
, 306—07: Potter, Impending Crisis, 386-88; NCAB, 3: 198- 201; DAB, 17: 84—86.
Twelve years ago, there was only one member
in the American Senate who dared to own he was opposed to slavery;27Probably John P. Hale. but
in 1860, there were no fewer than twenty-five in a body of sixty-six who
were openly opposed to slavery. Fifteen years ago there were only about
two men in the House of Representatives who declared themselves against
slavery, in defiance of strong opposition, but now, there were at least 107
“good men and true,” avowing more radical sentiments on the subject of
slavery than either of their predecessors.


What was the slave-holding power as compared with the anti-slavery
power in the free States? The latter represented property to the value of not
less than twenty hundred million of dollars. Inveterately opposed to them
were a small body of 350,000 slave-holders, who were banded together by
the ties of a common interest, a common danger, a common security. They
had been enabled for many years to elect the President of the United States,
to appoint the diplomatic agents, to control the post—office, and to impose
any restrictions upon freedom that their selfishness and tyranny might
suggest. In fact, they gathered up the reins of government, and used the
power for their own purposes—for the interests of the Southern States.
Their dreadful role was sufficiently illustrated in the Southern States. The
right of speech was gone. There was no liberty of the press. Religious
liberty existed only in name. It was safer to circulate the Bible amongst
barbarians than amongst the professed Christians of the Southern States of
America. No minister dare go into the pulpit and pray without first asking
permission of the slave-holder. As a general rule. no man dare utter a word
except in subjection to this slave power.

The non-slave-holding element in the South was just now being ap-
pealed to in support of an effort to circulate a pamphlet, entitled “The
Impending Crisis of the South."28Hinton Rowan Helper (1829—1909) completed The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It in 1856 and published it through Burdick Brothers of New York the following year. Helper, born in a largely nonslaveholding region in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, had worked as a book dealer and a California gold prospector before writing the book. His upbringing on a small farm without slaves and his hatred for blacks in his home state and for Chinese, Jews, and Irish in California combined to make him as zealous an advocate of free labor as he was a supporter of white supremacy. Helper’s rambling, highly statistical 420-page Impending Crisis sought to demonstrate through a comparison of free and slave states the economic advantages of the former. Partly because of favorable publicity in the New York Daily Tribune, the book sold over 13,000 copies in its first year, making it a moderate success. Mass circulation of the work came after Republican politicians agreed to arrange for the distribution of 100,000 pamphlets excerpting its content. This shortened version, entitled The Compendium of The Impending Crisis, ultimately sold 142,000 copies, even though censorship and illiteracy kept it from being read by many of the nonslaveholding southern whites to whom it was directed. The book became the object of heated debate both in Congress and in the press, especially after the raid on Harpers Ferry, and its endorsement by John Sherman contributed to his defeat for Speaker of the House in 1860. Proslavery rebuttals challenged Helper's statistical accuracy. while moderate Republicans disassociated themselves from the inflammatory subtitles in The Compendium version. Nevertheless, the book remained popular throughout the presidential campaign of 1860. Helper, later a diplomat and railroad promoter, concentrated on promulgating white supremacist doctrines after the abolition of slavery. Hugh C. Bailey, Hinton Rowan Helper: Abolitionist-Racist (Montgomery, Ala., 1965); Harvey Wish, ed., Antebellum: Writings of George Fitzhugh and Hinton Rowan Helper on Slavery (New York, 1960), 2239; Potter, Impending Crisis, 386—88. This pamphlet shewed that slavery was


the enemy not only of the North and of black men, but also the decided
enemy of the non-slave-holding white men in the Southern States. This
production discussed the whole question of slavery in a very able manner,
and exhibited its detrimental effects upon the Union, nationally. indi-
vidually, politically, socially. and morally. It was being circulated broad-
cast over the States. It was understood that Mr. Sherman recommended its

If the anti-slavery party succeeded in electing the Speaker for the
House of Representatives, these 350,000 slave-holders threatened to dis—
solve the Union! And some people feared the United States were on the eve
of a dissolution. He (Mr. Douglass) had very little fear of such a result. In
the first place, it would be almost impossible to induce any of the Northern
States to consent to a dissolution, inasmuch as it would involve their
becoming a sort of breakwater to the Southern States. The border States
would never consent. A dissolution of the Union would convert their
borders into scenes of bloodshed. But the union of the North and the South
by means of railways and the electric wires had rendered a dissolution
impossible. He did not believe the slave-holders would ever be guilty of so
much rashness. The South was absolutely dependent upon the North. All
that was excellent in commercial enterprise, in inventive genius, in literary
distinction, in moral worth, in fact, all that tended to make nations great.
wealthy, prosperous, and happy, was to be found in the Northern States.
All that gave the United States respectability abroad and at home was to be
found in the Northern States. As had been remarked, as soon might the
pauper poor of a town dissolve their connexion with it as the Southern
States with the Northern States. With a dissolution of the Union, instead of
a John Brown raid once in seventy years, there would be one every seven
days. This would be inevitable, because there would be no Northlern]
States to fling back the slaves into the jaws of the tyrant.

Mr. Douglass combatted the fallacy that the written constitution of the
United States abetted slavery, and ascribed the violation of the constitution
in the upholding of slavery to the union of hypocrites and liars. There was
not a single allusion in that document to slavery. All men—without regard
to colour—being declared free and equal, the system of slavery was the
result of lawless violence. Slavery was a scandal, not only upon the slave-
holder of America, but upon human nature. It was necessary that influence
should be brought to bear upon such an evil from the outside.

Slavery existed in America because it was reputable, and it was consid-
ered reputable there because it was not held to be disreputable outside. On


the other side of the Atlantic, men were asked by doctors ofdivinity not to
look at the question of slavery with the light of natural reason, but as a
divine institution. They pointed to the Old Testament and to the New as
affording arguments in favour of this system of abomination, as if a crime
too horrible and too revolting to be charged upon man, might with im-
punity be charged upon God.

The abetter of slavery was too frequently a professor of religion. He
sung psalms and was active in the promotion of religious ordinances. Upon
one side of the street, they might perhaps see a stream of Protestant
slaveowners proceeding to the House of God, and on the other, chained
gangs of negroes, driven forward, on their way to the vessel which was to
convey them to the slave market at New Orleans, there to be sold, perhaps
by the same worshippers. Nay, perhaps the very auction block in that very
street might be rendered indirectly instrumental to the promotion of the
purposes of the church. There was a revival in religion and a revival in the
slave trade going on at the same time. And all sects were alike guilty of this
dreadful sin; the pulpit actually conniving at it by defending the system.

There was danger of the moral sense of this country being corrupted by
the influence of the system on the other side of the Atlantic. The friends of
the slaveholders were taking every opportunity to circulate their pernicious
views in this country. It was high time, therefore, that the people of
England were roused to the duty of strengthening the hands of the aboli-
tionists on the other side of the Atlantic. Mr. Douglass eloquently invoked
the auditory to lend their influence to extend the anti-slavery cause in


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


January 6, 1860


Yale University Press 1985



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