The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies: An Address Delivered in Canandaigua, New York, On August 3, 1857
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EMANCIPATION IN THE WEST
INDIES: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN CANANDAIGUA,
NEW YORK. ON 3 AUGUST 1857
Two Speeches, By Frederick Douglass; One on West India Emancipation, Delivered at
Canandaigua, Aug. 4th, and the Other on the Dred Scott Decision. Delivered in New York,
on the Occasion of the Anniversary of the American Abolition Society, May, 1857
(Rochester, 1857), 3—24. Other texts in Frederick Douglass' Paper, 7 August 1857;
Speech File, reel 14, frames 168—80, reel 32, frames 475—86, 499—510, FD Papers, DLC;
Foner, Life and Writings, 2: 426—39, misdated 4 August 1857.
At Canandaigua, New York, on 3 August 1857, Douglass delivered a “First
of August” speech commemorating the anniversary of the emancipation of
British West Indian slaves in 1834. A largely black crowd of over one thou-
sand participated in the festivities at the Ontario County Agricultural Soci-
ety’s fairgrounds. At the amphitheater, where the public speeches were deliv-
ered, Douglass shared the rostrum with Henry Highland Garnet, Jermain
Wesley Loguen, Lucy N. Colman, and Austin Steward, who presided. A
reporter for the Rochester Daily Democrat described Douglass’s address as
“able and earnest—the highest style of eloquence.” Douglass later published
his text as part of the pamphletTwo Speeches, By Frederick Douglass , which
incorrectly dates the delivery as 4 August. Rochester Daily Democrat, 4
Mr. CHAIRMAN, FRIENDS, and FELLOW CITIZENS: In coming before you to
speak a few words, bearing on the great question of human freedom, and
having some relation to the sublime event which has brought us together, I
am cheered by your numbers, and deeply gratified by the cordial, gener-
ous, and earnest reception with which you have been pleased to greet me. I
sincerely thank you for this manifestation of your kindly feelings, and if I
had as many voices and hearts as you have, I would give as many evidences
of my pleasure in meeting you as you have given me, of your pleasure at
my appearance before you to-day. As it is I can only say, I sincerely rejoice
to be here, and am exceedingly glad to meet you. No man who loves the
cause of human freedom, can be other than happy when beholding a
multitude of freedom-loving, human faces like that I now see before me.
Sir, it is just ten years and three days ago. when it was my high
privilege to address a vast concourse of the friends of Liberty in this same
beautiful town, on an occasion similar to the one which now brings us
here.1On 2 August 1847 approximately four thousand persons attended a West Indian Emancipation celebration at the Academy Grove in Canandaigua. Besides Douglass, the main speakers on that occasion were Samuel Ringgold Ward, Henry Highland Garnet, and Charles L. Remond. NASS, 12, 19, 26 August 1847. I look back to that meeting—I may say, that great meeting—with
most grateful emotions. That meeting was great in its numbers, great in the
spirit that pervaded it, and great in the truths enunciated by some of the
speakers on that occasion.
Sir, that meeting seems to me a thing of yesterday. The time between
then and now seems but a speck, and it is hard to realize that ten long years.
crowded with striking events, have rolled away: yet such is the solemn
fact. Mighty changes. great transactions, have taken place since the first of
August, 1847. Territory has been acquired from Mexico; political parties
in the country have assumed a more open and shameless subserviency to
slavery; the fugitive slave bill has been passed; ancient landmarks of free-
dom have been overthrown; the government has entered upon a new and
dreadful career in favor of slavery; the slave power has become more
aggressive; freedom of speech has been beaten down by ruffian and mur-
derous blows; innocent and freedom-loving men have been murdered by
scores on the soil of Kansas, and the end is not yet. Of these things.
however, I will not speak now; indeed I may leave them entirely to others
who are to follow me.
Mr. President,2Austin Steward (c.1793—1865) was born a slave to a Virginia planter who, in 1803, sold his southern landholdings and relocated with his slaves in western New York. Steward gained his freedom at the age of twenty-two through a legal loophole in New York's gradual emancipation law that freed slaves being “hired out." By the 1820s he had established himself as a prosperous grocer in Rochester. Steward attended the first National Negro Convention in Philadelphia in 1830 and a decade later presided over a similar state meeting in Albany, New York. Steward abandoned his relative security in Rochester to emigrate to the Wilberforce colony of free blacks in Upper Canada, which he served as president from 1832 to 1837. The corruption of the colony's agents, however, doomed Steward's efforts to establish the colony on a firm financial basis. Stepping down as president, Steward returned to New York, where he conducted a school for black children in Canandaigua and lectured for the Garrisonian abolitionists. Austin Steward, Twenty-Two Years A Slave and Forty Years A Freeman (Rochester, 1857); FDP, 25 April 1856; William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease, Black Utopia: Negro Communal Experiments in America (Madison, Wisc., 1963), 4; Canada: A History (New Haven, 1971), 158-62, 241; NCAB 14: 308-09. I am deeply affected by the thought that many who
were with us ten years ago, and who bore an honorable part in the joyous
exercise of that occasion, are now numbered with the silent dead. Sir, I
miss one such from this platform. Soon after that memorable meeting, our
well-beloved friend, Chas. Van Loon.3 Baptist minister Charles Van Loon (c. 1819—47), a native of Albany, New York, was called to the pulpit of the Lafayette Street Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1842. There he organized a chapter of the Sons of Temperance, but his attempt to encourage his parishioners to take the pledge of total abstinence precipitated a division in the congregation. When Matthew Vassar, a local brewer and chairman of the board of trustees of the church, foreclosed his mortgage on the new church and parsonage, Van Loon's followers organized another Baptist church. Van Loon returned to Albany sometime in 1845 and by 1847 was an active member of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. In the summer of 1847, several months before he died, Van Loon accompanied Douglass, Charles Lenox Remond, and others on an antislavery lecture tour of western New York. Henry Noble MacCracken, Blithe Dutchess: The Flowing of an American County from 1812 (New York, 1958), 266-67; Joel Munsell, The Annals of Albany, 10 vols. (Albany, 1854—71), 1: 326; Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, 1: 16 (1892); Edmund Platt, The Eagle's History of Poughkeepsie from the Earliest Settlements of 1683 to 1905 (Poughkeepsie, 1905), 133., 147; NASS, 19 August, 9 December 1847. was cut down, in the midst of his
years and his usefulness, and transfered to that undiscovered country. from
whose bourne no traveler returns. Many who now hear me. will remember
how nobly he bore himself on the occasion of our celebration. You re-
member how he despised. disregarded and trampled upon the mean spirit
of color caste. which was then so rampant and bitter in the country, and his
cordial and practical recognition of the great truths of human brotherhood.
Some of you will never forget, as I shall never forget, his glorious, tower-
ing, spontaneous, copious, truthful, and fountain-like out-gushing elo-
quence. I never think of that meeting without thinking of Chas. Van Loon.
He was a true man, a genuine friend of liberty, and of liberty for all men,
without the least regard for any of the wicked distinctions, arbitrarily set up
by the pride and depravity of the wealthy and strong, against the rights of
the humble and weak. My friends, we should cherish the memory of Chas.
Van Loon as a precious treasure, for it is not often that a people like ours,
has such a memory to cherish. The poor have but few friends, and we, the
colored people, are emphatically and peculiarly, the poor of this land.
Sir, I believe Chas. Van Loon is the only one of those who addressed us
at that time, who has been removed from us by the hand of death. Many of
the five thousand of the rank and file, have doubtless gone the way of all the
earth. We shall see their faces and hear their voices no more, save as we
recall them to the mind’s eye and ear, by the aid of memory. Some of the
marshalls who ordered our procession on that occasion, are no more, and
very few of the glorious choir, which filled your grove with songs of joyous
freedom, are with us to-day. What death, the common destroyer of all, has
not done towards thinning our ranks, the fugitive slave bill has done, and
done with terrible effect. It came upon us like a wolf upon the fold, and left
our ranks thinned and trembling. The first six months after this whirlwind
and pestilence set in, were six of the gloomiest months I ever experienced.
It did seem that the infernal regions were broken up, and that devils, not
men, had taken possession of our government and our church. The most
shocking feature of those times was, that the infernal business of hunting
men and women went on under the sanction of heaven as well as earth.
Kidnapping proclamations, and kidnapping sermons, the one backed up by
the terrors of the gallows, and the others by the terrors of hell, were
promulgated at the same time. Our leading divines. had no higher law for
the poor, the needy. the hunted, and helpless; their God was with the
slaveholder, and the brutal and savage man hunter, carried his warrant
from Millard Fillmore, in one pocket, and a sermon from Doctor Lord4Douglass alludes to President Fillmore's efforts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law and to Presbyterian minister John Chase Lord's sermon in support of the law, delivered on 12 December 1850 and published as “The Higher Law," in Its Application to the Fugitive Slave Bill: A Sermon on the Duties Men Owe to God and to Governments (New York, 1851). in
the other. I say, sir, these were gloomy days for me. Our people fled in
darkening trains from this country, to Canada. There seemed no place for
the free black man, in this Republic. It appeared that we were to be driven
out of the country by a system of cruelty and violence as murderous and as
hellish as that which snatched us from our homes in our fatherland, and
planted us here, as the white man’s slaves.
Sir, the many changes, vicissitudes, and deaths, which have occurred
within the range of our knowledge, during this decade, afford matter for
serious thought. I cannot now dwell upon them. Perhaps the occasion does
not require that I should dwell upon them, yet I must say, what we all more
or less feel, and that is that the flight of the last ten years, with its experi-
ence of trial and death, admonish[es] us that we are all hastening down the
tide of time, and that our places in the world’s activities are soon to be
occupied by other generations. They remind us that the present only is
ours, and that what our hands now find to do, we should do quickly, and
with all our might.
Sir, I have thought much on this subject of the present, and the future,
the seen, and the unseen, and about what things should engage our
thoughts, and energies while here, and I have come to the conclusion that
from no work would I rather go to meet my Eternal Father, than from the
work of breaking the fetters from the limbs of his suffering children.
Mr. President (Austin Steward), I am happy to see here to-day many
faces that were here ten years ago. I am especially glad to see you here, and
to hear your voice. Sir, you have grown venerable in the service of your
enslaved people, and I am glad to find that you are not weary in this
department of well doing. Time has dealt gently with you this last ten
years, and you seem as vigorous now as when I saw you then. You presided
on that occasion, you preside now; and notwithstanding the gloomy aspect
of the times, I am not without hope, that you will live to preside over a
grander celebration than this; a celebration of the American jubilee, in
which four millions of our countrymen shall rejoice in freedom. That
jubilee will come. You and I may, or we may not live to see it; but whether
we do, or do not, God reigns, and Slavery must yet fall; unless the devil is
more potent than the Almighty; unless sin is stronger than righteousness,
Slavery must perish, and that not very long hence.
Here, too, I am most happy to meet again my loved, and honored and
much respected friend, HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET. He was here with us,
and spoke to us ten years ago. He has traveled much and labored much
since that time. England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, have listened to his
eloquent advocacy of our cause since then. While in the old world, it was
his privilege to associate with refined and cultivated people; and I venture
to say that no man from among us, visiting the old country, has left in his
pathway a better impression for himself and [his] people than H. H.
GARNET. We need a thousand such representative men at home and
abroad, to meet and repel the floods of slander of our race, which two
thousand millions of dollars invested in our people, as property, constantly
provoke. The American government does not need a minister at the court
of St. James to look after American interests. more than we need in En-
gland a representative of our people against whom all manner of lies are
Happy am I too, to meet here to-day, as ten years ago, J. W. LOGUEN,
the intrepid and faithful conductor of the Underground Railroad, who has.
during the interval of our former celebrations, conveyed from Republican
slavery to Monarchical Liberty, not fewer than a thousand souls.
Mr. President, you miss, and we all miss, our old friend, SAML. R.
WARD. He was with us ten years ago, and if he were now in the country, he
would doubtless be with us here to-day. I will say for Mr. WARD what he
can not say for himself. Though absent in body he is with us in spirit. Mr.
WARD is now in Jamaica, and I am told is soon to be joined in his new home
by his dear family, of whom we have often heard him lovingly speak. They
are now in Canada, and he has sent for them to come out to him. I will say
another word of Mr. WARD, and that is, he was, in many respects, a head
and shoulders above us all. No colored man who has yet attracted public
observation in this country. was ever capable of rendering his people
greater service than be. And while we all deeply regret that he has seen fit
to leave us for other fields of usefulness, we will here and now tender him
our best wishes while he may remain abroard, and pledge him an earnest
welcome should he ever return to the Empire State.
My friends, you will also miss, as I do, the eloquent CHAS. L. RE-
MOND. He was on this platform ten years ago. I should have been glad to
have met him here to-day, for though he differs from us in his mode of
serving our cause, he doubtless fully sympathises with us in the sentiment
which brings us together on this occasion.
Mr. President, you will pardon those homely but grateful references to
individuals. The great poet has told us that one touch of nature makes all
the world akin,5An adaptation of William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, act 3, sc. 3, line 175: “One touch of nature makes the whole world king." and the cause of freedom, I think, makes friends of all its
friends. At any rate, I can say that I can love an enemy, if he loves the
slave, for I know that if he loves the slave, he loves him intelligently, and if
he hates me, he does it ignorantly. I can easily forgive such. Sir, there are
other names I might well refer to, as worthy as those already mentioned,
but the time would fail. I hasten, therefore, to the consideration of those
topics naturally suggested by this occasion.
Friends and fellow-citizens: We have met here to-day to celebrate with
all fitting demonstrations o fjoy and gladness, this the twenty-third anni-
versary of the inauguration of freedom as the ruling law of the British West
Indies. The day and the deed are both greatly distinguished. They are as a
city set upon a hill.6From Matt. 5: 13: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." All civilized men at least, have looked with wonder
and admiration upon the great deed of justice and humanity which has
made the first of August illustrious among all the days of the year. But to no
people on the globe. leaving out the emancipated men and women of the
West Indies themselves, does this day address itself with so much force and
significance, as to the people of the United States. It has made the name of
England known and loved in every Slave Cabin, from the Potomac to the
Rio Grande, and has spread alarm, hatred, and dread in all the accursed
slave markets of our boasted Republic from Baltimore to New Orleans.
Slavery in America, and slavery every where, never received a more
stunning and killing condemnation.
The event we celebrate is the finding and the restoration to the broken
ranks of human brotherhood eight hundred thousand lost members of the
human family. It is the resurrection of a mighty multitude, from the grave
of moral, mental, social, and spiritual death, where ages of slavery and
Oppression, and lust and pride, and cruelty had bound them. Here they
were instantly clothed with all the rights, responsibilities, powers, and
duties, of free men and women.
Up to the morning of the first of August, 1834, these people were
slaves, numbered with the beasts of the field, marked, branded, priced,
valued, and ranged as articles of property. The gates of human brotherhood
were bolted and barred against them. They were outside of both law and
gospel. The love taught in the Bible, and the justice recorded in the Statute
Book did not embrace them: they were outside. Their fellow men had
written their names with horses, sheep, and swine, and with horned cattle.
They were not governed by the law, but [by] the lash, they were not paid
for their work, but whipped on to toil as the American slave now is. Their
degradation was complete. They were slaves; and when I have said that, I
have said all. The essence of wickedness, the intensified sum of all iniq-
uity, the realization of the idea of a burning hell upon the earth, in which
every passion is an unchained devil, let loose to deal out ten thousand
pains, and horrors start up to view at the very mention of slavery! It
comprehends all that is foul, shocking, and dreadful. Human nature shud-
ders, and turns pale at its presence, and ﬂies from it as from a den of lions, a
nest of scorpions, or an army of rattlesnakes. The very soul sickens, and
the mind revolts at the thought of slavery, and the true man welcomes
instant death in preference to being reduced to its degradation and ruin.
Yet such was the condition of our brothers and sisters in the British
West Indies, up to the morning of the first of August, 1834. The wicked
love of dominion by man over man, had made strong their fetters and
multiplied their chains. But on the memorable morning which we are met
to celebrate, one bolt from the moral sky of Britain left these blood-stained
irons all scattered and broken throughout the West Indies, and the limbs
they had bruised, out-stretched in praise and thanksgiving to God for
deliverance. No man of any sensibility can read the account of that great
transaction without emotions too great for utterance. There was something
Godlike in this decree of the British nation. It was the spirit of the Son of
God commanding the devil of slavery to go out of the British West Indies.
It said [to the] tyrant slave-driver. fling away your blood-stained whip,
and bury out of sight your broken fetters and chains. Your accursed oc-
cupation is gone. It said to the slave, with wounds, bruises, and scars yet
fresh upon him, you are emancipated—set free—enfranchised—no long-
er slaves, but British subjects, and henceforth equal before the British law!
Such my friends. was the change—the revolution—the wonderous
transformation which took place in the condition of the colored people in
the British West Indies, twenty-three years ago. With the history of the
causes, which led to this great consummation, you are perhaps already
sufficiently acquainted. I do not intend in my present remarks to enter into
the tedious details of this history, although it might prove quite instructive
to some in this assembly. It might prove especially interesting to point out
various steps in the progress of the British Anti-Slavery movement, and to
dwell upon some of the more striking analogies between that and our
movement in this country. The materials at this point are ample, did the
limits of the hour permit me to bring them forward.
One remark in this connection I will make. The abolition movement in
America, like many other institutions of this country, was largely derived
from England. The defenders of American slavery often excuse their vil-
lainy on the ground that they inherited the system from England. Aboli-
tionism may be traced to the same source, yet I don’t see that it is any more
popular on that account. Mr. Garrison applied British abolitionism to
American slavery. He did that and nothing more. He found its principles
here plainly stated and defined; its truths glowingly enunciated, and the
whole subject illustrated, and elaborated in a masterly manner. The sin—
the crime—the curse of slavery, were all demonstrated in the light of
reason, religion, and morality, and by a startling array of facts. We owe
Mr. Garrison our grateful homage in that he was among the first of his
countrymen who zealously applied the British argument for abolition
against American slavery. Even the doctrine of immediate emancipation as
against gradualism, is of English, not American origin. It was expounded
and enforced by Elizabeth Herrick,7 and adopted by all the earnest aboli-
tionists in England. It came upon the British nation like Uncle Tom’s Cabin
upon our land after the passing of the fugitive slave law, and it is remark-
able that the highest services rendered the anti-slavery cause in both coun-
tries, were rendered by women. Elizabeth Herrick,7Elizabeth Heyrick, author of Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition; or, An Inquiry into the Shortest, Safest, and Most Effectual Means of Getting Rid of West Indian Slavery (London, 1824).who wrote only a
pamphlet, will be remembered as long as the West India Emancipation is
remembered, and the name of Harriet Beecher Stowe can never die while
the love of freedom lives in the world.
But my friends, it is not with these analogies and minute references that
I mean in my present talk, to deal.
I wish you to look at West India Emancipation as one complete transac-
tion of vast and sublime significance, surpassing all power of exaggera-
tion. We hear and read much of the achievements of this nineteenth cen-
tury, and much can be said, and truthfully said of them. The world has
literally shot forward with the speed of steam and lightning. It has probably
made more progress during the last fifty years, than in any five hundred
years to which we can refer in the history of the race. Knowledge has been
greatly increased, and its blessing, widely diffused. Locomotion has been
marvelously improved, so that the very ends of the earth are being rapidly
brought together. Time to the traveler has been annihilated.
Deep down beneath the stormy surface of the wide, wide waste of
waters, a pathway has been formed for human thought. Machinery of
almost every conceivable description, and for almost every conceivable
purpose, has been invented and applied; ten thousand discoveries and
combinations have been made during these last fifty years, till the world
has ceased to ask in astonishment “what next?” for there seems scarcely
any margin left for a next. We have made hands of iron and brass, and
copper and wood, and though we have not been able to endow them with
life and soul, yet we have found the means of endowing them with intel-
ligent motion, and of making them do our work, and to do it more easily,
quickly and more abundantly than the hands in their palmiest days were
able to perform it. I am not here to disparage or underrate this physical and
intellectual progress of the race. I thank my God for every advance which is
made in this direction.
I fully appreciate the beautiful statement which you farmers, now
before me, so highly regard. “that he who makes two blades of grass grow
where only one grew before,” is a benefactor.8Douglass paraphrases Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726; Oxford, 1959), 135—36: “And he gave it for his Opinion; that whoever could make two Ears of Corn or two Blades of Grass to grow upon a Spot of Ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of Mankind, and do a more essential Service to his Country, than the whole Race of Politicians put together." I recognize and honor, as
you do, all such benefactors. There is not the slightest danger that those
who contribute directly to the world’s wealth and ease will ever be forgot—
ten by the world. The world loves its own. A hungry man will not forget the
hand that feeds him, though he may forget that Providence which caused
the bread to grow. Arkwright,9Sir Richard Arkwright (1732-92), the youngest of thirteen children of an English laborer, received little education and was apprenticed to a barber. During the 1760s he began manufacturing wigs and became interested in textile crafts as well. In 1769 Arkwright patented a spinning machine that produced a cotton thread of unequaled strength. While not original, Arkwright's spinning fratne brought together the ideas of several inventors into the earliest workable machine. With his improved thread, Arkwright opened factories that produced the first all-cotton cloth ever manufactured. Although rivals eventually had Arkwright‘s patent rescinded, he maintained a dominant position in the British textile industry throughout most of his life. Hartley Coleridge, Lives of Northern Worthies, 3 vols. (London, 1852), 2: 359-82; DNB, 1: 553-60. Watt,10James Watt (1736—1819), engineer and inventor, was the son of a merchant in northern England. After an uncompleted apprenticeship, Watt was appointed a mathematical-instrument maker at the University of Glasgow. There he repaired a model of the Newcomen steam engine and became interested in improving its performance. Later, while etnployed as a land surveyor, Watt continued to work on steam-engine design. In 1769 he took out the first of tnany patents for innovations that greatly increased the efficiency and commercial application of the steam engine. In partnership with Matthew Boulton, Watt established a successful firm that produced engines for Britain's coal, iron, and textile industries. Ivor B. Hart, James Watt and the History of Steam Power (New York, 1949); H. W. Dickinson, James Watt: Craftsman and Engineer (Cambridge, 1936); DNB, 20: 962—73. Fulton,11The son of Irish immigrant parents, Robert Fulton (1765- 1815) had, by the age of twenty, established himself as a miniaturist and mechanical draftsman in Philadelphia. In 1786 he traveled to Europe for his health and did not return for twenty years. In England, the patronage of Lord Stanhope enabled Fulton to devote himself to perfecting a number of mechanical inventions for canal transportation and the textile industry. In the late 1790s Fulton traveled to France and developed a workable submarine, the Nautilus. When the submarine proved ineffective as a weapon of war, however, first the French and then the British government rejected it. Fulton returned to the United States and entered into an agreement with Robert R. Livingston in 1806 to develop a steamboat to navigate the Hudson River between New York City and Albany. Although not the earliest steamboat, Fulton's Clermont was the first to prove its commercial value. In his later years Fulton continued improving steamboat designs and developed several new weapons for the navy. H. W. Dickinson, Robert Fulton: Engineer and Artist, His Life and Works (London, 1913); Robert H. Thurston, Robert Fulton: His Life and Its Results ( New York, 1891); ACAB, 2: 563—64; NCAB, 3: 104-05; DAB, 7: 68-72. Franklin,12Douglass probably includes Benjamin Franklin (1706—90) in his list of never-to-be-forgotten inventors because of the Philadelphian‘s pioneering experiments with electricity. Morse,13Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791—1872),artist and inventor, was the son of minister and geographer Jedidiah Morse. After graduating from Yale, he studied art in Europe and returned to the United States to become a portrait painter. Although well received in New York artistic circles, Morse could barely support himself by his painting. In the 1830s he became interested in electromagnetic experiments and perfected the telegraph. The first experimental telegraph line was erected between Baltimore and Washington in 1844, and Morse soon became wealthy from the commercial implementation of his invention. Morse maintained an abiding interest in politics, participating in anti-Catholic agitation in the 1830s and running unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat in 1854. From the 1830s onward, he frequently spoke against abolitionism and apologized for slavery. During the Civil War, Morse was branded a Copperhead for his active support of the Democrats. Carleton Mabee, The American Leonardo: A Life of Samuel F. B. Morse (New York, 1943); Oliver W. Larkin, Samuel F. B. Morse and American Democratic Art (Boston, 1954); ACAB, 4: 424-28; NCAB, 4: 449—50; DAB, 13: 247— 50. and
Daguerre,14Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1789-1851), painter and scientist, invented the first practical process of photography. The son of a French legal official, Daguerre worked in his youth as a stage designer for an opera company and as a diorama exhibitor. In 1829 he began working with Joseph Nicephore Niécpe to perfect the latter's process for creating permanent pictures by the action of the sunlight. It was not until after Niécpe's death that Daguerre succeeded in reducing the exposure time for photographs to a manageable thirty minutes. In 1839 he introduced his “daguerreotypes” to the public. Helmut Gernsheim and Alison Gernsheim, L. J. M. Daguerre: The History of the Diorama and the Daguerreotype (New York, 1968). are names which will not fade from the memories of men.
They are grand civilizers, but civilizers after their kind—and great as are
their achievements, they sink to nothingness when compared with that
great achievement which has given us the first day of August as a sacred
day. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own
soul?”15Douglass slightly misquotes Mark 8: 36. We are to view this grand event in the light of this sublime
“Men do not live by bread alone,” said the great Redeemer.16ouglass paraphrases Matt. 4: 4. What is
true of individual men, is also true of societies, and nations of men.
Nations are not held in their spheres, and perpetuated in health by cunning
machinery, Railroads, steamships, electric wires, tons of gold and silver,
and precious stones cannot save them. A nation may perish in the midst of
them all, or in the absence of them all. The true life principle is not in them.
Egypt died in the sight of all her imposing wealth and her everlasting
Pyramids. The polished stone is there. but Egypt is gone. Greece has
vanished, her life disappeared as it were. in a trance of artistic beauty. and
architectural splendor. Great Babylon. the mother of harlots and the abom-
inations of the earth, fell in the midst of barbaric wealth and glory. The
lesson taught by the history of nations is that the preservation or destruction
of communities does not depend upon external prosperity. Men do not live
by bread alone, so with nations. They are not saved by art, but by honesty.
Not by the gilded splendors of wealth, but by the hidden treasure of manly
virtue. Not by the multitudinous gratification of the flesh, but by the
celestial guideance of the spirit.
It is in this view that West India Emancipation becomes the most
interesting and sublime event of the nineteenth century. It was the triumph
of a great moral principle, a decisive victory, after a severe and protracted
struggle, of freedom over slavery; of justice and mercy against a grim and
bloody system of devilish brutality. It was an acknowledgement by a great
nation of the sacredness of humanity, as against the claims of power and
As such, it stands out as a large and glorious contribution to the moral
and spiritual growth of mankind, and just such a contribution as the world
needed, and needs now to have repeated a thousand times over, in our own
land especially. Look at New York city; beautiful without to be sure. She
has great churches, great hotels, great wealth, great commerce, but you all
know that she is the victim of a dreadful disease, and that her best friends
regard her as a cage of unclean birds in danger at any moment of being
swallowed up by a social earthquake. Look at Philadelphia, Baltimore,
Louisville, New Orleans. Look where you will, and you will see that while
all without is covered and studded with the evidences of prosperity, there is
yet no real sense ofthat stability which conscious rectitude imparts. All the
great acts of the nation of late have looked away from the right path. Our
very Temple of Justice has inverted and outraged all the principles of
justice which it was professedly established to maintain. The government
at Washington is mostly exercised in schemes by which it can cheat one
section of the country for the benefit of another, and yet, seem honest to all.
Where this will end, Heaven only knows.
But I was calling attention to this great example of British justice not in
anger, but in sorrow. Great Britain bowing down, confessing and forsak-
ing her sins—her sins against the weak and despised—is a spectacle which
nations present but seldom. No achievement in arts or arms, in letters or
laws, can equal this. And the world owes Britain more for this example of
humility and honest repentance than for all her other contributions to the
I know, and you know, it is easy enough for a nation to assume the
outward and hollow seemings of humility and repentance. The world is full
of such tongue-wise demonstrations. Our own country can show a long list
of them. We have thanksgivings and fasts, and are unrivalled in this
department of religious Observances. On our fast days and fourth of Julys,
we seem unto men to fast, but the sequel shows that our confessions and
prayers have only come from men whose hearts are crammed with arrogan-
cy, pride and hate.
We have bowed down our heads as a bulrush, and have spread sack-
cloth and ashes under us,17Douglass adapts Isa. 58: 5. and like the stiff-necked Jews, whose bad
practices we imitate more closely than we do their religion, we have
exacted all our labors.
I am not here to make invidious and insulting comparisons; but all must
allow, that the example of England, in respect to the great act before us,
differs widely from our manifestations of sorrow for great national sin.
Here we have, indeed, a chosen fast of the Living God, an acceptable day
unto the Lord, a day in which the bands of wickedness were loosed; the
heavy burdens undone; the oppressed let go free; every yoke broken; the
poor that were cast out of the house brought in; and men no longer hiding
themselves from their own ﬂesh.
It has been said that corporations have no souls,18English judge Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) enunciated this legal principle in the 1605 case of Sutton's Hospital: “They [corporations] cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed nor excommunicate, for they have no souls." that with nations
might is the standard of right,19This ancient commonplace is generally attributed to Plato’s Republic 1. 12: “Might is right, justice is the interest of the stronger." and that self-interest governs the world.20 possible source for Douglass's remark is Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 3 vols. (Dublin, 1776), 1: 22. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
The abolition of slavery in the West Indies is a shining evidence of the
reverse of all this profanity. Nobler ideas and principles of action are here
brought to view. The vital, animating, and all-controlling power of the
British Abolition movement was religion. Its philosophy was not educated
and enlightened selfishness, (such as some are relying upon now to do
away with slavery in this country), but the pure, single-eyed spirit of
benevolence. It was not impelled or guided by the fine-spun reasonings of
political expediency, but by the unmistakable and imperative demands of
principle. It was not commerce, but conscience; not considerations of
climate and productions of the earth, but the heavenly teachings of Chris-
tianity, which every where teaches that God is our Father, and man,
however degraded, is our brother.
The men who were most distinguished in carrying forward the move-
ment, from the great Wilberforce21William Wilberforce. downward, were eminent for genuine
piety. They worked for the slave as if they had been working for the Son of
God. They believed that righteousness exalteth a nation and that sin is a
reproach to any people. Hence they united religion with patriotism, and
pressed home the claims of both upon the national heart with the tremen-
dous energy of truth and love, till all England cried out with one accord,
through Exeter Hall, through the press, through the pulpit, through parlia-
ment, and through the very throne itself, slavery must and shall be
Herein is the true significance of West India Emancipation. It stands
out before all the world as a mighty, moral, and spiritual triumph. It is a
product of the soul, not of the body. It is a contribution to common honesty
without which nations as well as individuals sink to ruin. It is one of those
words of life that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, by which nations are
established, and kept alive and in moral health.
Now, my friends, how has this great act of freedom and benevolence
been received in the United States? How has our American Christian
Church and our American Democratic Government received this glorious
new birth of National Righteousness?
From our professions as a nation, it might have been expected that a
shout of joy and gladness would have shook the hollow sky, that loud
hallelujahs would have rolled up to heaven from all our borders, saying,
“Glory to God, in the highest, on earth peace and good will toward man.
Let the earth be glad.”22Douglass slightly misquotes Luke 2: 14. “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”23Douglass quotes from Rev. 19: 6.
Alas, no such responsive note of rejoicing has reached my ear, except
from a part of the colored people and their few white friends. As a nation,
we are deaf, dumb, and blind to the moral beauty, and transcendent sub-
limity of West India Emancipation. We have passed it by with averted
eyes, regarding it rather as a reﬂection to be resented than as an example to
be imitated. First, we looked for means of impeaching England‘s motives
for abolishing Slavery. and not being able to find any such, we have made
ourselves hoarse in denouncing emancipation as a failure.
We have not viewed the great fact in the light of a liberal philosophy,
but have applied to it rules of judgment which were not intended to reveal
its true character and make known its actual worth. We have taken a
microscope to view the stars, and a fish line to measure the ocean’s depths.
We have approached it as though it were a railroad, a canal, a steam-
ship, or a newly invented mowing machine, and out of the fullness of our
dollar-loving hearts, we have asked with owl-like wisdom, WILL IT PAY?
Will it increase the growth of sugar? Will it cheapen tobacco? Will it
increase the imports and exports of the Islands? Will it enrich or ruin the
planters? How will it effect Jamaican spirits? Can the West Indies be
successfully cultivated by free labor? These and sundry other questions,
springing out of the gross materialism of our age and nation. have been
characteristically put respecting West India Emancipation. All our tests of
the grand measure have been such as we might look for from slave-holders
themselves. They all proceed from the slave-holders’ side. and never from
the side of the emancipated slaves.
The effect of freedom upon the emancipated people of the West Indies
passes for nothing. It is nothing that the plundered slave is now a freeman;
it is nothing with our sagacious, economical philosophers, that the family
now takes the place of concubinage; it is nothing that marriage is now
respected where before it was a mockery; it is nothing that moral purity has
now a chance to spring up, where before pollution was only possible; it is
nothing that education is now spreading among the emancipated men and
women, bearing its precious fruits, where only ignorance, darkness, super-
stition and idolatry prevailed before; it is nothing that the whipping post has
given way to the school house; it is nothing that the church stands now
where the slave prison stood before; all these are nothing, I say, in the eyes
of our slavery-cursed country.
But the first and last question, and the only question which we Ameri-
cans have to press in the premises, is the great American question (viz.)
will it pay?
Sir, if such a people as ours had heard the beloved disciple of the Lord,
exclaiming in the rapture of the apocalyptic vision, “And I saw another
angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to
them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, kindred, tongue, and
people;"24Douglass quotes Rev. 14: 6. they, instead of answering, Amen Glory to God in the Highest,
would have responded,-—but brother John, will it pay? Can money be
made out of it? Will it make the rich richer, and the strong stronger? How
will it affect property? In the eyes of such people, there is no God but
wealth; no right and wrong but profit and loss.
Sir, our national morality and religion have reached a depth of base-
ness than which there is no lower deep. They both allow that if men can
make money by stealing men and women, and by working them up into
sugar, rice, and tobacco, they may innocently continue the practice, and
that he who condemns it is an unworthy citizen, and a disturber of the
church. Money is the measure of morality, and the success or failure of
slavery, as a money-making system, determines with many whether the
thing is virtuous, or villainous, and whether it should be maintained or
abolished. They are for Slavery where climate and soil are said to be for it,
and are really not opposed to it any where, though as a nation we have made
a show of opposition to it where the system does not exist. With our
geographical ethics, and climatic religion, we have naturally sided with the
slave-holders and women-whippers of the West Indies, in denouncing the
abolition of slavery in the West Indies a failure.
Sir: As to what has been the effect of West India freedom upon the
material condition of the people of those Islands, I am happy that there is
one on this platform, who can speak with the authority of positive knowl-
edge. Henry Highland Garnet, has lived and labored among those emanci-
pated people. He has enjoyed ample opportunity for forming an intelligent
judgment in respect to all that pertains to the subject. I therefore most
willingly leave this branch of the subject to him.
One remark, however, I will venture to make—and that is this: I take it
that both the friends and the enemies of the emancipated have been too
impatient for results. They seem to forget that although a nation can be
born in a day, it can mature only in centuries—that though the fetters on the
limbs can be broken in an instant, the fetters on the soul can wear off only in
Degradation, mental, moral, and physical, ground into the very bones
of a people by ages of unremitting bondage, will not depart from that
people in the course, even of many generations.
West India freedom, though more than twenty-one years old, is yet but
an infant. And to predicate its future on its present weakness, awk-
wardness, and improvidence now, is about as wise as to apply the same
rule to your little toothless children. It has taken at least a thousand years to
bring some of the leading nations of the earth from the point where the
negroes of the West Indies started twenty-three years ago, to their present
position. Let considerations like these be duly weighed, and black man
though I am, I do not fear the world’s judgment.
Now, sir, I like these annual celebrations. I like them because they call
us to the contemplation of great interests, and afford an opportunity of
presenting salutary truths before the American people. They bring our
people together, and enable us to see and commune with each other to
mutual profit. If these occasions are conducted wisely, decorously, and
orderly, they increase our respectability in the eyes of the world, and
silence the slanders of prejudice. If they are otherwise conducted they
cover us with shame and confusion. But, sir, these celebrations have been
objected to by our slaveholding democracy; they do not think it in good
taste. Slaveholders are models of taste. With them, propriety is every
thing; honesty, nothing. For a long time they have taught our Congress,
and Senate, and Pulpits, what subjects should be discussed, and what
objects should command our attention. Senator SUMNER,25Charles Sumner. fails to observe
the proscribed rules and he falls upon the Senate floor, stunned and bleed-
ing beneath the ruffian blows of one of our southern models of propriety.
By such as these, and by their timid followers, this is called a British
From the inmost core of my soul I pity the mean spirits, who can see in
these celebrations nothing but British feeling. The man who limits his
admiration of good actions to the country in which he happens to be born,
(if he ever was born,) or to the nation or community of which he forms a
small part, is a most pitiable object. With him to be one of a nation is more
than to be one of the human family. He don’t live in the world, but he lives
in the United States. Into his little soul the thought of God as our common
Father, and of man our common Brother has never entered. To such a soul
as that, this celebration cannot but be exceedingly distasteful.
But sarcasm aside, I hold it to be eminently fit that we keep up those
celebrations from year to year, at least until we shall have an American
celebration to take its place. That the event we thus commemorate trans-
pired in another country, and was wrought out by the labors and sacrifices
of the people of another nation, form[s] no valid objection to its grateful,
warm, hearty, and enthusiastic celebration by us. In a very high sense, we
may claim that great deed as our own. It belongs not exclusively to England
and the English people, but to the lovers of Liberty and of mankind the
world over. It is one of those glorious emanations of Christianity, which,
like the sun in the Heavens, takes no cognizance of national lines or
geographical boundaries, but pours its golden floods of living light upon
all. In the great Drama of Emancipation, England was the theatre, but
universal and every where applying principles of Righteousness, Liberty,
and Justice were the actors. The great Ruler of the Universe, the God and
Father of all men, to whom be honor, glory, and praise for evermore,
roused the British conscience by his truth, moved the British heart, and
West India Emancipation was the result. But if only Englishmen may
properly celebrate this great concession to justice and liberty, then, sir, we
may claim to be Englishmen, Englishmen in the love of Justice and Liber-
ty, Englishmen in magnanimous efforts to protect the weak against the
strong, and the slave against the slaveholder. Surely in this sense, it ought
to be no disgrace to be an Englishman, even on the soil of the freest people
on the globe.
But, Mr. Chairman, we celebrate this day on the broad platform of
Philanthropy—whose country is the world, and whose countrymen are all
mankind. On this platform we are neither Jews nor Greeks, strangers nor
foreigners, but fellow citizens of the household of faith. We are the broth-
ers and friends of Clarkson, Wilberforce, Granville Sharpe,26Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, and Granville Sharp. Richard
Baxter, John Wesley, Thomas Day,27The son of a corrupt London customs official, Thomas Day (1748—89) inherited a comfortable estate that permitted him to devote his energies to literature, philosophy, and reform politics. After studying at Oxford, Day attracted public ridicule for outlandish attempts at conforming his life to Jean Jacques Rousseau’s principles. Day and John Bicknell composed the popular poem The Dying Negro (London, 1773), which contained a sentimental antislavery message. His major literary production was the three-volume History of Sandford and Merton (London, 1783-89), which was both a collection of adventure tales for children and a Rousseauistic treatise on education. George W. Gignilliat. Jr., The Author of “Sandford and Merton": A Life of Thomas Day, Esq. (New York, 1932); M. Scott, The Exemplary Mr. Day, 1748—1789 (London, 1935). Bishop Portius,28Beilby Porteus. and George Fox,
and the glorious company of those who first wrought to turn the moral
sense of mankind in active opposition to slavery. They labored for freedom
not as Englishmen, but as men, and as brothers to men—the world over—
and it is meet and right to commemorate and imitate their noble example.
So much for the Anti-British objection.
I will now notice a special objection. It is said that we, the colored
people, should do something ourselves worthy of celebration, and not be
everlastingly celebrating the deeds of a race by which we are despised.
This objection, strange as it may seem, comes from no enemy of our
people, but from a friend. He is himself a colored man, a high spirited and
patriotic man, eminent for learning and ability, and to my mind, he has few
equals, and no superior among us. I thank Dr. J. M’Cune Smith for this
objection,29Douglass alludes to Smith's criticism of the celebration of West Indies Emancipation in a letter to Frederick Douglass' Paper the previous year. Smith regarded the British government's compensation of West Indian slaveholders as a compromise of abolitionist principles unworthy of commemoration. Such celebration, Smith feared, would give American blacks the misleading impression that their freedom might be “given” to them in a similar fashion rather than “struggled for and won" by their own exertions. Smith suggested that celebrating the actions of Denmark Vesey or Nat Turner would better inspire the nation's blacks. FDP, 8 August 1856. since in the answer I may make to it, I shall be able to give a
few of my thoughts on the relation subsisting between the white and
colored people of this country, a subject which it well becomes us to
consider whenever and wherever we congregate.
In so far as this objection to our celebrating the first of August has a
tendency to awaken in us a higher ambition than has hitherto distinguished
us, and to raise our aims and activities above the dull level of our present
physical wants, and so far as it shall tend to stimulate us to the execution of
great deeds of heroism worthy to be held in admiration and perpetual
remembrance, for one, sir, I say amen to the whole of it. I am free to say,
that nothing is more humiliating than the insignificant part we, the colored
people, are taking in the great contest now going on with the powers of
oppression in this land. I can stand the insults, assaults, misrepresenta-
tions, and slanders of the known haters of my race. and brave them all. I
look for such opposition. It is a natural incident of the war, and I trust I am
to a certain degree prepared for it; but the stolid contentment, the listless
indifference, the moral death which reigns over many of our people, we
who should be all on fire, beats down my little flame of enthusiasm and
leaves me to labor, half robbed of my natural force. This indifference, in
us, is outrageous. It is giving aid and comfort to the men who are warring
against our very manhood. The highest satisfaction of our oppressors, is to
see the negro degraded, divested of public spirit, insensible to patriotism.
and to all concern for the freedom, elevation, and respectability of the race.
Senator Toombs with a show of truth, lyingly said in Boston a year or
two ago in defence of the slavery of the black race, they are mentally and
morally inferior, and that if the whole colored population were swept from
this country, there would be nothing in twenty years to tell that such a
people had ever existed.30Douglass refers to a speech by Georgia senator Robert Toombs (1810-85) delivered at Tremont Temple in Boston on 26 January 1856. A native Georgian, Toombs attended Union College in Schenectady, New York, before returning to his home state to practice law and manage extensive landholdings. Toombs rose through the political ranks from the Georgia state legislature, to the House of Representatives, and finally to the U.S. Senate. He remained a Whig until that party's demise, after which he reluctantly became a Democrat. Following Georgia's secession, Toombs withdrew from the Senate and served the Confederacy first as secretary of state and later as a brigadier general. Toomb's 1856 Boston speech was part of a lecture series endeavoring to present all sides on the slavery question. In his defense of slavery, Toombs declared: “Annihilate his [the black's] race to-day and you will find no trace of his existence within a half score of years, and he would not leave him a single discovery, invention, or thought worthy of remembrance by the human family." Robert Toombs, A Lecture Delivered in the Fremont Temple, Boston, Massachusetts, on the 26th January 1856 (Washington, D.C., 1856), 10; Ulrich B. Phillips, The Life of Robert Toombs (New York, 1913); William Y. Thompson, Robert Toombs of Georgia (Baton Rouge, 1966). He exulted over our assumed ignorance and
over our destitution of valuable achievements. Of course the slaveholder
uttered a falsehood, but to many it seemed to be a truth, and vast numbers
of the American people receive it as a truth to-day, and shape their action
The general sentiment of mankind is, that a man who will not fight for
himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for
by others, and this sentiment is just. For a man who does not value freedom
for himself will never value it for others, nor put himself to any inconve-
nience to gain it for others. Such a man the world says, may lay down until
he has sense enough to stand up. It is useless and cruel to put a man on his
legs, if the next moment his head is to be brought against a curb-stone.
A man of that type will never lay the world under any obligation to
him, but will be a moral pauper, a drag on the wheels of society, and if he,
too, be identified with a peculiar variety of the race he will entail disgrace
upon his race as well as upon himself. The world in which we live is very
accommodating to all sorts of people. It will co-operate with them in any
measure which they propose; it will help those who earnestly help them-
selves, and will hinder those who hinder themselves. It is very polite, and
never offers its services unasked. Its favors to individuals are measured by
an unerring principle in this: viz.—respect those who respect themselves,
and despise those who despise themselves. It is not within the power of
unaided human nature to persevere in pitying a people who are insensible
to their own wrongs, and indifferent to the attainment of their own rights.
The poet was as true to common sense as to poetry when he said,
“Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”31Douglass quotes a line from Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto 11, Stanza I.XXVI.
When O’Connell,32Daniel O’Connell. with all Ireland at his back, was supposed to be con-
tending for the just rights and liberties of Ireland, the sympathies of man-
kind were with him, and even his enemies were compelled to respect his
patriotism. Kossuth,33Louis Kossuth. fighting for Hungary with his pen long after she had
fallen by the sword, commanded the sympathy and support of the liberal
world till his own hopes died out. The Turks while they fought bravely for
themselves and scourged and drove back the invading legions of Russia,
shared the admiration of mankind. They were standing up for their own
rights against an arrogant and powerful enemy; but as soon as they let out
their fighting to the Allies, admiration gave way to contempt.34In 1853, a long-standing desire to be recognized as the “protector” of all Christians in the Balkans led Russia to begin a war against the Turkish Empire. The British and French quickly came to the Turks' aid out of fear that Russia might gain control of Constantinople. The poorly planned Russian invasion across the Danube River, however, was turned back by the Turkish army before the arrival of significant reinforcements from its allies. Not prepared to allow the war to end before they could destroy Russian naval power in the Middle East, the British and French launched an amphibious invasion of the Crimea. In this latter phrase of the conflict, inadequately supplied Turkish units sent to the Crimea became demoralized and demonstrated little willingness to fight. Barker, Vainglorious War, 10-14, 31-36, 153-57, 240-42; W. Baring Pemberton, Battles of the Crimean War (New York, 1962), 15-18, 77-78. These are
not the maxims and teachings of a cold-hearted world. Christianity itself
teaches that a man shall provide for his own house.35An allusion to 1 Tim. 5: 8. This covers the whole
ground of nations as well as individuals. Nations no more than individuals
can innocently be improvident. They should provide for all wants, mental,
moral, and religious, and against all evils to which they are liable as
nations. In the great struggle now progressing for the freedom and eleva-
tion of our people, we should be found at work with all our might, resolved
that no man or set of men shall be more abundant in labors, according to the
measure of our ability, than ourselves.
I know, my friends, that in some quarters the efforts of colored people
meet with very little encouragement. We may fight, but we must fight like
the Seapoys of India, under white officers.36The sepoys were native soldiers employed by the British colonial administration in India. Although there were native officers in command ofthe first sepoy units raised in the eighteenth century, they were subordinate to the small number of British officers assigned to each regiment. By the midnineteenth century, the proportion of British officers per unit had increased, and the authority of native ofﬁcers consequently dwindled. In practice, the most junior British subaltem outranked Indian officers who had gained their commissions only after twenty or more years of military service. At the time of Douglass's speech, many sepoys were engaged in a bloody yet unsuccessful uprising against the British. R. C. Majumdar, The Sepoy Mutiny and the Revolt of 1857 (Calcutta, 1957), 30-33; Christopher Hibben, The Great Mutiny: India, 1857 (London, 1978), 48, 56—57. This class of Abolitionists
don’t like colored celebrations, they don’t like colored conventions, they
don’t like colored Anti-Slavery fairs for the support of colored news-
papers. They don’t like any demonstrations whatever in which colored
men take a leading part. They talk of the proud Anglo-Saxon blood, as
flippantly as those who profess to believe in the natural inferiority of races.
Your humble speaker has been branded as an ingrate, because he has
ventured to stand up on his own right, and to plead our common cause as a
colored man, rather than as a Garrisonian. I hold it to be no part of gratitude
to allow our white friends to do all the work, while we merely hold their
coats. Opposition of the sort now referred to, is partizan opposition, and
we need not mind it. The white people at large will not largely be influ-
enced by it. They will see and appreciate all honest efforts on our part to
improve our condition as a people.
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history
of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her
august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been
exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other
tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle
there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreci-
ate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they
want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the
awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it
may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes
nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what
any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure
of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. and these will
continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The
limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they
oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North.
and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish
outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not
get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they
get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us.
we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering. by
sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.
Hence, my friends, every mother who, like Margaret Garner, plunges
a knife into the bosom of her infant to save it from the hell of our Christian
Slavery, should be held and honored as a benefactress. Every fugitive from
slavery who like the noble William Thomas at Wilkesbarre, prefers to
perish in a river made red by his own blood, to submission to the hell
hounds who were hunting and shooting him, should be esteemed as a
glorious martyr, worthy to be held in grateful memory by our people.37On 3 September 1853, three U.S. deputy marshals attempted to arrest William Thomas, a fugitive slave employed as a waiter at the Phoenix Hotel in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Thomas brokeaway from the officers but was wounded while trying to flee. Unable to run, Thomas plunged into the nearby Susquehanna: River and refused to come out, declaring., “I will be drowned rather than be taken alive." Fearing that he might drown them as well. the deputies remained on the shore and alternated
between taking additional shots at Thomas and trying to convince him to surrender. After about an hour of this grim standoff, the citizens of Wilkes-Barre drove away the officers. Aided by black friends, Thomas was helped from the river and made good his escape. New York Daily Tribune, 7 September 1853; Lib., 6 September 1853; Campbell, Slave Catchers, 139-41.
The fugitive Horace, at Mechanicsburgh, Ohio, the other day, who taught
the slave catchers from Kentucky that it was safer to arrest white men than
to arrest him, did a most excellent service to our cause.38Douglass probably refers to the attempted capture on 21 May 1857 of Addison White, a fugitive slave hiding in Mechanicsburg, Ohio. A party of five Kentuckians and two U.S. deputy marshals tried to arrest White at the farm of Udney H. Hyde, where he had found refuge. White shot one of the marshals and escaped. The case drew national attention when federal officers arrested Hyde for harboring an escaped slave. Hyde's friends, however, convinced a local court to issue a writ of habeas corpus against the marshals. A sheriff's posse overtook the marshals, freed Hyde, and jailed the federal officers. A series of suits and countersuits between the state of Ohio and the federal government followed. All charges eventually were dropped after a private subscription raised a thousand dollars to compensate Addison White's owner. New York Daily Tribune, 6 June, 4, 18 July 1857; Lib., 19 June, 24 July 1857; The History of Champaign County, Ohio (Chicago, 1881), 605-10; Campbell, Slave Catchers, 161-64. Parker and his
noble band of fifteen at Christiana, who defended themselves from the
kidnappers with prayers and pistols, are entitled to the honor of making the
first successful resistance to the Fugitive Slave Bills39On 11 September 1851 Maryland planter Edward Gorsuch, accompanied by a party of neighbors, attempted to recover two of his runaway slaves in Christiana, Pennsylvania. The fugitives had found refuge in the home of William Parker (1822-?) who himself had escaped slavery in 1839. Parker refused to turn over the fugitives to Gorsuch and the predominantly black community rallied against the slave catchers. A fight broke out during which Gorsuch was killed and the other whites driven off. Parker and several other black participants in the affair fled to Canada, where they settled permanently. Douglass himself assisted Parker during his secret passage through Rochester. Thirty-six blacks and five whites were eventually indicted for treason, but none was successfully prosecuted. William Parker, “The Freedman's Story," Atlantic Monthly, 17: 152—66 (February 1866), 17: 276—95 (March 1866); Jonathan Katz, Resistance at Christiana: The Fugitive Slave Rebellion, Christiana, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1851 (New York, 1974), 18-21, 27, 74-80, 92-103, 169-70, 234-35, 260-61, 279; Campbell, Slave Catchers, 99-101, 151-54. But for that re-
sistance, and the rescue of Jerry, and Shadrack,40One of the most famous of all fugitive slave “rescues” was the case of Frederick Wilkins, popularly called Shadrach. An escaped slave from Virginia, Shadrach was working as a waiter in a Boston restaurant when arrested by a deputy marshal on 15 February 1851. The captive was taken directly to a hearing before Slave Law Commissioner George Ticknor Curtis. While Shadrach's lawyers motioned for a delay to prepare a defense, a crowd of blacks gathered in the courthouse. Without warning, the crowd broke into the hearing room and spirited Shadrach away before the court officers could react. Shadrach successfully reached Canada and none of his rescuers ever was punished. Campbell, Slave Catchers, 148-51; Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 205-06; McDougall, Fugitive Slaves, 47-48. the man-hunters would
have hunted our hills and valleys here with the same freedom with which
they now hunt their own dismal swamps.
There was an important lesson in the conduct of that noble Krooman in
New York, the other day, who, supposing that the American Christians
were about to enslave him, betook himself to the mast head, and with knife
in hand, said he would cut his throat before he would be made a slave.41On 14 July 1857 a native African caused great excitement in Brooklyn harbor by climbing naked up the rigging of the brig Flora on which he had just arrived in America. The African, reportedly a member of the Krooman tribe, had become frightened by stories that upon landing he would be kidnapped and sold as a slave. The Krooman eventually fell or jumped overboard and was rescued. Two days later the New York Daily Times reported that the African still was aboard his ship and “avows his intention to kill himself before he will be taken." New York Daily Times, 15, 17 July 1857; Lib., 24 July 1857.
Joseph Cinque on the deck of the Amistad, did that which should make his
name dear to us.42In 1839 a group of recently enslaved Africans successfully revolted while being shipped along the Cuban coast on the Amistad. Unfortunately, these self-emancipated members of the Mendi tribe blundered into United States waters and were arrested for piracy. After a highly publicized legal battle, the Supreme Court freed the Africans in March 1841. Lewis Tappan, a wealthy New York merchant and abolitionist, had befriended the jailed Africans and conceived a plan to send them home as Christian missionaries. Cinque (c. 1817-79) was the leader of the Amistad uprising and generally spoke for the Mendis while in America. Cooperating with Tappan, he even gave public addresses to attract contributions for the missionary project. When the group was returned to Africa in 1842, Cinque soon went back to his own people and apparently became a chief among them. In 1879 Cinque returned to the Mendi mission station about a week before his death. His Christian name, Joseph, was given him by the Cuban slave traders. Blassingame, Slave Testimony, 30-46; Mary Cable, Black Odyssey: The Case of the Slave Ship Amistad (New York, 1971), 12-13, 52, 55, 110, 113-14, 118-23, 139-40, 149-50; Wyatt-Brown, Lewis Tappan, 205-20; William A. Owens, Slave Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad (New York, 1953), 50, 287; DANB, 111-12. He bore nature’s burning protest against slavery.
Madison Washington who struck down his oppressor on the deck of the
Creole, is more worthy to be remembered than the colored man who shot
Pitcaren at Bunker Hill.43Although the story is difficult to substantiate, tradition holds that emancipated slave Peter Salem (1750-1816), alias Salem Middleux, fired the shot that killed British marine major John Pitcairn (1722—75) during the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June I775. Salem had been freed by his Framingham, Massachusetts, owners so that he could enlist as a minuteman. Salem fought in the battles of Concord, Saratoga, and Stony Point as well as Bunker Hill. The death of Pitcairn, the officer who had commanded the British troops at Lexington, attracted general approval from Americans. A contribution was taken up for Salem and he was congratulated personally by General Washington. After the war, Salem returned to Massachusetts and worked as a cane weaver near Leicester, He died in the Framingham poorhouse. William C. Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (Boston, 1855), 394-96; Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1961), 10-11; Sidney Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, 1770-1800 (Washington, D.C., 1973), 17-19; Robert M. Ketchum, Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill (Garden City, N.Y., 1974), 174—75, 180; DANB, 539-40.
My friends, you will observe that l have taken a wide range, and you
think it is about time that I should answer the special objection to this
celebration. I think so too. This, then, is the truth concerning the inauguration
of freedom in the British West Indies. Abolition was the act of the
British Government. The motive which led the Government to act, no
doubt was mainly a philanthropic one, entitled to our highest admiration
and gratitude. The National Religion, the justice, and humanity. cried out
in thunderous indignation against the foul abomination, and the govern-
ment yielded to the storm. Nevertheless a share of the credit of the result
falls justly to the slaves themselves. “Though slaves, they were rebellious
slaves.” They bore themselves well. They did not hug their chains, but
according to their opportunities, swelled the general protest against op-
pression. What Wilberforce was endeavoring to win from the British Sen-
ate by his magic eloquence, the Slaves themselves were endeavoring to
gain by outbreaks and violence.44Douglass may be referring either to William Wilberforce's antislavery activities in Parliament in general or to the British abolitionist's ultimately successful struggle in 1807 to persuade the House of Lords to concur with the House of Commons in passing legislation abolishing the slave trade. William L. Mathieson, British Slavery and Its Abolition, 1823—1838 (London, 1926), 17—22; DNB, 21: 211-14. The combined action of one and the
other wrought out the final result. While one showed that slavery was
wrong, the other showed that it was dangerous as well as wrong. Mr.
Wilberforce, peace man though he was, and a model of piety, availed
himself of this element to strengthen his case before the British Parliament,
and warned the British government of the danger of continuing slavery in
the West Indies. There is no doubt that the fear of the consequences, acting
with a sense of the moral evil of slavery led to its abolition. The spirit of
freedom was abroad in the Islands. Insurrection for freedom kept the
planters in a constant state of alarm and trepidation. A standing army was
necessary to keep the slaves in their chains. This state of facts could not be
without weight in deciding the question of freedom in these countries.
I am aware that the rebellious disposition of the slaves was said to arise
out of the discussions which the abolitionists were carrying on at home,
and it is not necessary to refute this alleged explanation. All that I contend
for is this: that the slaves of the West Indies did fight for their freedom, and
that the fact of their discontent was known in England, and that it assisted
in bringing about that state of public opinion which finally resulted in their
emancipation. And if this be true, the objection is answered.
Again, I am aware that the insurrectionary movements of the slaves
were held by many to be prejudicial to their cause. This is said now of such
movements at the South. The answer is that abolition followed close on the
heels of insurrection in the West Indies, and Virginia was never nearer
emancipation than when General Turner45Nat Turner. kindled the fires of insurrection
Sir, I have now more than filled up the measure of my time. I thank you
for the patient attention given to what I have had to say. I have aimed, as I
said at the beginning, to express a few thoughts having some relation to the
great interests of freedom both in this country and in the British West
Indies, and I have said all that I meant to say, and the time will not permit
me to say any more.