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Communipaw [James McCune Smith] to Frederick Douglass, December 3, 1853


(Excluded from last week.)


NEW YORK, Dec. 3d., 1853.

MR. EDITOR:—Two newspaper articles
have created deep excitement in our colored
circles. First and foremost, Mr. Greeley's
bearish growl, about negroes preferring the
Herald to the Tribune, by "the instinct of
degradation." Therein he perfectly agrees
with the Liberator, which claims that the
Anti-Slavery question has reached a height
"beyond the comprehension of most of those
whom it is intended to benefit." It is to be
hoped that both writers were "jolly" over
their lemonade, when they wrote the above
plain and sober people will naturally en-
quire, why strive to give the blacks a free-
dom which they cannot comprehend?

Second and nextmost, a "card" in to-
day's Tribune, on the "Rural Districts in
Liberia," by Lewis H. Putnam, decidely
one of the most remarkable black men of
our time. Ten years ago, Putnam was one
of the pillars of the church of the lamented
Theodore S. Wright, and wielded complete
sway therein, until a little peccadillo caused
the session to "discipline" him. He carried
the case up, and had judgment reversed be-
fore the Presbytery. In 1846, when our no-
ble friend,1 gave us three thousand deeds for
land in this State, Putnam was one of a com-
mittee to explore Hamilton County; time
November: there were some eight in all:
Putnam was equipped with a fowling piece,
and a pair of thin gaiter boots. Arriving at
Lake Pleasant, they had a hamper of pro-
visions made up, and started with a guide
for the woods, in which they penetrated 17
miles into townwhip three. They had not
gone two miles, when whir-r-r, up started a
partridge, Putnam started back, let fly both
barrels, and missed the brace at five yards!
The hamper had been carried mile about by
the committee, and finally it came Putnam's
turn to "tote." Rumor says it was Robert
Hamilton who called upon Putnam to re-
lieve him. "By Heavens!" exclaimed Put-
nam, "I'll exchange shots with any man
who asks me to carry that bag." The cowed
committee, insisted of hammering or starv-
ing him, suffered him to make beasts of bur-
then of them, and gave him food to boot.


This incident is key to Putnam's char-
acter: he is idle, astute and brazen to the
very verge of human capacity. His egot-
tism is almost transcendental: the end or
object of it is to ensure for himself a para-
dise on earth of physical enjoyment, to se-
cure—not a niche in the temple of fame for
Lewis H. Putnam—but all imaginable de-
lights of gourmanderie for Lewis H. Put-
nam's stomach. The God he worships lies
immediately beneath his own midriff: he
bows down before a "ragout" with oriental
obeisance, and counts it canonized in that it
will minister to the comfort of that organ,
to gratify which, he has put into operation
the series of memorials to the Legislature of
Virginia, Maryland, &c., &c., to which he
says "WE (that is I Putnam and my stom-
ach) have sent petitions" to the States afore-
said, "to relieve themselves of the responsi-
", that is of the presence, "of the free

I confess that my indignation at the scoun-
drelism of these petitions, and at the deep
villainy that can coolly talk of the people of
Virginia making large appropriations, out of
the pockets of her crushed colored people,
for their removal to Africa—my own indig-
nation is quelled (as Hamilton's in the woods)
by the utter brazenness which dares, in the
teeth of outraged humanity, to claim for
these acts the authorship of Lewis H. Put-
nam, by Lewis H. Putnam himself. Judas
Iscariot went and hanged himself: he was
but a man. Lewis H. Putnam, with the
shrieks of his expatriated brethern of Vir-
ginia and Indiana ringing in the air, pats his
stomach, and softly hisses ragout, ragout.—No sane man supposes that Putnam did
cause Indiana and Virginia to pass their
black laws! The petitions were no more
than a drop of kindred filth into the mass of
ooze and slime of diabolical hate in which
these laws were gendered and ripened.

There is a passage in this "card" of his,
that for astute deviltry can challenge the
cunning of the Father of lies: it is this—"The fact that it (the Rural District Plan)
is the invention of a colored man, is suffi-
cent to remove the impression that it is the
scheme of the South for our expulsion!"

If Putnam is not already worth a hundred
thousand dollars, it is not for the want of wit
to plan nor brass to carry out his foray into
the realms of American negrophobia, but to
the idleness with which, by way of compen-
sation to so much evil in him, nature has
completed his make up. The only pain
which he endures, is when his vast and bril-
liant and perfect schemes for entrapping the
hate or the philanthropy of the land, pass
in review before his active brain, and then
drop quenched into the abyss of his nerve-
less will.

Putnam stands some five feet six inches
high; complexion sambo. Head large and
bald on the crown; foreheade ample, fat and
beetling over his deep set small eyes, and to-


gether with his fat projecting cheeks, give
him a pudding-like aspect. His manner po-
lite yet furtive: he cannnot sit aplomb on a
chair, but sidles towards its edge. In Par-
liamentary law he is more than a match for
any Ohio hair splitter. But when he laughs!
It seems as if our unexercised devil were
played on his wind-pipe.

Yesterday, Satan got "jessie" twice in
my hearing. Our minister of St. Philips,
accused him of writing scurrilous paragraphs
for the weekly press; and Dr. Pennington
said that the same personage gets into con-
gregations, and causes them to compel their
ministers to preach too much.

Wm. H. Day, Esq., gave a first-rate lecture
before a large and fashionable audience in
Shiloh Church last night. There was a com-
bination of learning, thought and eloquence
in the performance much greater than I had
expected from him: with his lamb-like coun-
tenance and fine voice, if he will only rid
himself of that school-boy mode of gesticu-
lation, and pay a little more attention to the
real heroes of the American struggle for
freedom, he will do. Black men in enumer-
ating the triumphs of Liberty must not over-
look the Haytien Revolution; and in naming
heroes must not omit the great souls who
fought at Christiana and bled at Wilkes-



Communipaw [James McCune Smith]




Communipaw [James McCune Smith] to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick DouglassP, 16 December 1853. Remarks on articles by Horace Greeley and Lewis H. Putnam: the former regarding blacks’ preference of New York City dailies; the latter regarding further colonization of Liberia.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper



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Frederick Douglass' Paper