Skip to main content

Charles W. Stuart to Frederick Douglass, March 21, 1854



For Frederick Douglass' Paper.


C. W., March 21, 1853. }


There are some things which belong strictly to individuals, and none but busybodies intermeddle with them. But there are others, which belong to universal human nature, and these, as strictly, are every body's business—such is slavery.

The lake before my window, rolling in ceaseless commotion—fragments of ice mingled largely with its breaking waves, and swaying widely to and fro, before the northern blast of yet lingering winter, seems to say to me—"I am John Mitchel, the Irish rebel, the hater of what he deems political oppresion, and the lover of the most atrocious and impure oppression of the guiltless poor—the man who would rejoice in possessing the most tyrant and irresponsible power over other men; but who is utterly intolerant of the least infraction of his own political rights as he believes them, to be free to rebel and keep slaves."

I thank you for publishing the late correspondence between the rebel and the noble Henry Ward Beecher. I like to see such men openly and publicly ontending. I like it on several accounts. I like it, because on one side, presenting truth and liberty to the world in their most attractive forms, it tends to rekindle and confirm that glorious ardor for justice and humanity, which is ever in danger of being smothered by satanic influences. And because, on the other, revealing to us in their own words the very heart and soul of utter tyranny, it thunders warning to every upright spirit, to beward of the enemies of God and of human nature. I especially like it, in the United States, because there, while hypocrisy and tyranny are raging without control, one fragment of liberty survives in the midst of the furnace—the fragment of Free, Public Discussion. A precious fragment! without which, that nation would be the most abandoned and vile on earth. I speak of the nation. Not including that heroic band, who are contending with vast variety of character on other subjects, yet on this, with one heart, lawfully and peaceably for the honor and safety of their country—for the upright and thorough deliverance of the slave from his fetters, and of the slave-master from the more deadly bonds to which, I believe, every tyrant, and especially every democratic slaveholder, while independent, is exposed to the fiercest vengeance of the holy, just, benevolent and almighty God.

I speak not of John Mitchel as a gigantic mind. Having been in the north of Ireland at the time of the late rebellion, and being acquainted with some of his acquaintances, I had received a favorable impression of him, apart from his rebellious proceedings. His distinction arose from his widely partaking of the national corruption, as groundless as it is criminal, in hating a govern-
men which alone preserves it from democratic anarchy and tyranny. When he was exiled, I approved of the lenity of the government, in substituting exile for the death which I believe he deserved; and I cordially


regretted that a man, as valuably endowed as he is in other respects, should have showed in the insane and criminal effort, to substitute a mobocratic rule, for an enlightened, benevolent, and peaceful sway. When I heard of his escape, I rejoiced in the noble opportunity, which it gave him, of recanting, without suspicion of hypocrisy, his outrageous errors. But when I saw his soul portrayed, as he has portrayed it, in his own Citizen, I perceived at once how conscienceseared he is to liberty, and truth and love; and that he never was, as without a blush he has frankly declared himself; and never can be, without another transformation of mind, one with such men as Henry Ward Beecher, or with the impartial friends (whatever be their characters in other respects), of social and peaceful freedom.

Mr. Mitchel's letters display unquestionable talent and research; but talent as perverse as his research is erroneous. They display decided boldness; but the boldness of a heart seared and dead to all impartial humanity and truth. I need not attempt to establish what the Bible and uncorrupted humanity have established for ever, and which such men as Henry Ward Beecher, and such women as Mrs. Harriet B. Stowe, have attested with a brilliancy of truth, and a pathos of holy love, to which nothing but a slaveholder's or a rebel's religion and morality could be insensible—that is, that the reduction of men (immortal men, as all men are, with regard to condition, character or color) to chattelhood! the slave deprived of every human right, and the master endowed with every human wrong; the slave allowed no country or home, or wife, or child, or Bible, or other refuge, independently of the absolute will of his master—not a moment or season of time—no respite from labor or suffering—no, not the right even to fly, however peaceably, from abuse the most impure and ferocious—no appeal to God, or to the government, or impartial laws of the land of his birth; a state forcibly imposed upon the weak by the strong—upon the ignorant by the learned—upon the comparatively guiltless by the most guilty of all; and all this, not impulsively, under sudden emotion of passion provoked, but deliberately devised, established and mischief-making laws; and by a mighty people, the
most unfettered on earth for good or evil, all the while boasting of liberty and justice: that such a condition, I say, so enacted, so established, and so sustained, is supremely criminal and cruel, and worthy of being depicted in the poet's words, as "the loudest laugh" of hell, needs no evidence beyond the fact itself.

Slavery and injustice may rejoice in having such advocates as Mitchel and the Nebraska Douglas, and in the might of the deadly corruption, which inspirits and supports them. But while He lives, who lives forever—the Holy and Almighty God; and while he preserves such men as Sumner, De Witt, H. W. Beecher, A. and L. Tappan, B. Green, Wm. Goodell, J. McCune Smith, Frederick Douglass, &c., and such women as Mrs. H. B. Stowe, Mrs. Douglass, &c., there will still be hope for the U.S.; and the tenfold storm of midnight guilt and darkness, which now is clapping its tyrant wings over that country, will only render the coming morning more glorious, when it shall be roused from the fearful incubus of hypocrisy and pride, which is now corrupting it, and crushing it, and seeking to exterminate in it all that fundamentally distinguishes earth from hell.


As to the rest, I thankfully leave John Mitchel, &c., to their most open opponents, as to their best and only real friends.



Stuart, Charles W.


March 21, 1854


Charles W. Stuart to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick DouglassP, 7 April 1854. Comments on a series of letters between John Mitchel and Henry Ward Beecher; commends free public discourse as one of the nation’s most valuable assets.


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


Frederick Douglass' Paper (Rochester, N.Y.) 1851-18??



Publication Status