Skip to main content

Frederick Douglass James Miller McKim, May 2, 1865


FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO JAMES MILLER MCKIM1James Miller McKim (1810-74) was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Dickinson College in 1828. After beginning the study of medicine, McKim decided to enter the Presbyterian ministry and attended both Princeton Theological Seminary and Andover Theological Seminary. After ordination, he was assigned a parish in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. After reading William Lloyd Garrison’s , McKim became an abolitionist, and in 1836 he became a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society. McKim was also an ardent supporter of Garrison, whom he followed after the 1840 abolitionist rupture. Also in 1840, he settled in Philadelphia and became the editor of the , the voice of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society; he was also active in the Underground Railroad. McKim continued as editor of the until it merged with the in 1854. He welcomed the Civil War. He promoted the use of black troops and supplied aid to Southern freedmen in Port Royal, South Carolina, through his membership in the American Freedman’s Union Commission. Still, , 654-59; William Cohen, “James Miller McKim: Pennsylvania Abolitionist” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1968); , 15:115-16.

Rochester[, N.Y.] 2 May 1865.



You may consider me as held and firmly bound to be present at the proposed meeting of the American Freedmen’s Aid Union2Private Northern efforts to aid Southern freedmen were undertaken by a number of organizations, including religious groups such as the pro-abolition American Missionary Association as well as regional secular societies. As the Civil War progressed, many secular groups coalesced into a loose confederation known as the American Freedmen’s Aid Commission, led by the veteran Garrisonian abolitionist J. Miller McKim. Besides offering material aid to displaced runaway slaves, McKim’s commission hired teachers and operated hundreds of schools for freedmen in the former slave states. Over the objections of abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips, who feared the group’s mission would be diluted, McKim merged his organization in early 1866 with the American Union Commission, an organization that provided assistance from private sources to Southern white Unionists. The new group adopted the name American Freedmen’s Union Aid Commission and supported a large system of schools open to students of both races in the South. The new group competed with the American Missionary Association and several denominational agencies for steadily decreasing Northern donations. Since the Freedmen’s Bureau fostered the creation of public school systems across the South, the AFUC concluded that its work was completed and dissolved in 1869. McPherson, , 394, 398-407; Foner, , 144-47. in Cooper Institute on the 9th[.]3 On 9 May 1865, an anniversary meeting was held for the American Freedman’s Aid Union at New York’s Cooper Institute. Judge Hugh Lenox Bond of Baltimore, Maryland, spoke on the associa-tion’s purpose to educate and prepare freedmen for the duties of citizenship. Other speakers included William Lloyd Garrison, John Jay, and Frederick Douglass. In his speech, Douglass addressed his hesitancy to support the association because the term “freedman” implied that all members were former slaves; he preferred the term “freeman” instead. Douglass explained that he had opposed such societies because they treated freedmen as an experiment, when, in his opinion, slavery was the true experiment. He accepted the usefulness of these organizations because of their expansive notions of aid. New York , 10 May 1865. If the able and eloquent speakers you name Shall be present on that occasion I Shall not be needed as a speaker at all. It will however be a satisfaction to listen. I ought tell <you> frankly before hand, that I have my doubts about these Freedmen’s Societies. They may be a necessity of the hour and as such may be commended—but I fear everything looking to their permanence. The negro needs justice more than <pity,> Liberty more than old cloths—rights more than training to enjoy them. Once given him Equality before the Law and special associations for his benefit may cease. He will then be comprehended as he ought to be, in all those schemes of benevolence, education and progress which apply to the masses of our countrymen every where. In so far as these special efforts, shall furnish an apology for excluding us from the general schemes of Civilization so multitudinous in our country—they will be an injury to the colored race. They will serve to keep up the very prejudices, which it is as desirable to banish from the country.

My mission, for the present is, to ask equal Citizenship for the negro —in the State: and equal fellowship for the negro in the Church. Equal rights in the street Cars, and equal admission into the state schools. Of course till we get this, we shall be a crippled people, and shall be thankful for crutches to hobble along with—but this is what we want—and what we must not lose sight of in all our schemes of benevolence with special reference to negroes.

While I cooperate in efforts to establish schools for Freedmen—and shall continue to do so—I do it under protest. Our Home Mission Societies—and others of like Character ought to take this class in common with all other ignorant and destitute people (whites as well as colored) at the South in hand.

But I will not weary you. I was sorry not to have seen you when I called at your office.


On reading over this note I find it pretty Strong. It is just possible you may think, if these are my views, I shall not be of much use at your meeting—If so a line from you will be sufficient and I will not intrude.

Yours Truly


ALS: Anti-Slavery Manuscripts, NIC.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


May 2, 1865


Yale University Press 2018


Cornell University Library: Anti-Slavery Manuscripts



Publication Status