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Frederick Douglass Gerrit Smith, December 18, 1860



Rochester[, N.Y.] 18 December 1860[.]

I am just home from the east. I found all your kind notes1No correspondence from Gerrit Smith to Douglass in the immediately preceding period has
and thank you
for them. I have been roughly handled2In November 1860, the “John Brown Anniversary Committee,” led by James Redpath, organized a convention in Boston, Massachusetts, to memorialize the first anniversary of John Brown’s death. This convention also planned to address the question of the abolition of slavery. Following the recent election of Abraham Lincoln, many of Boston’s business leaders denounced the meeting as ‘‘anti-Southern” in nature. Regardless of this disapproval, no one expected violence at the event. The committee invited Douglass to speak, and the first meeting began at Tremont Temple on 3 December 1860. Soon a majority of the audience turned hostile, and an antiabolitionist group attempted to take control of the meetings. Douglass continued to speak despite efforts to silence him. After three hours of conflict between the two groups, the Boston mayor ordered police to disband the meeting. McKivigan, Forgotten Firebrand, 59–60; Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 3:387–88.—but not much hurt. The jar of
dragging down the steps of Tremont Temple was considerable, and left
me a little sore but this is hardly worth mentioning. I was well heard on
the following Sunday morning in Music Hall.3On 9 December 1860, Douglass addressed an audience at Boston’s Music Hall. Although
scheduled to deliver his lecture “Self-Made Men,” Douglass mainly commented on the mob at-
tack that had occurred six days earlier. After repeated interruptions, Douglass finally concluded his
speech, and the audience erupted in shouts and catcalls, resulting in one man’s ejection. Douglass
, ser. 1, 3:420.
My fighting on the day of
the mob was after a very small pattern—not large enough to Shock even
your peace views—My aim was less to injure than to keep from being injured—and in this my Success was truly marvellous—for the crowd was at one time truly ferocious—The Tribunes account of the mob4The New York Tribune described the meeting’s opponents as “a diversified mob, composed chiefly of North End toughs and Beacon street aristocrats.” New York Tribune, 4,7 December 1860—was is
the best. That in Mr Garrison paper5Lib., 7, 14 December 1860. the worse.


It was taken from the Boston Post6The Boston Post was a daily morning paper first published in November 1831. Throughout its history, the paper typically supported the Democratic party. Boston Post, 4 December 1860; Hudson, Journalism in the United States, 389.—while [there] were far more accurate and truthful accounts of the affair in the Boston Traveller7The Boston Traveller was an evening and weekly newspaper that generally supported the Democratic party. In reporting on the mob attack in Boston, Douglass printed an article in his monthly newspaper written by a correspondent for the New York Tribune mentioning the Boston Traveller. In the article, the correspondent claimed that the Traveller contained a good report of the event, but that the accounts were somewhat biased towards the rioters. DM, 3:393 (January1861); Hudson, Journalism in the United States, 383. and other papers of the City.8Among the other local reports of the antiabolition attack on the John Brown meeting at Tremont Temple were those in the Boston Daily Morning Journal, 3 December 1860; Boston Daily Evening Transcript, 3 December 1860; Boston Advertiser, 4 December 1860; and Boston Semi-Weekly Courier, 6 December 1860. Mr G—felt a little nettled that he had not been counselled with about holding the meeting. As much as this comes out in his
Editorial notice of the Affair. He Should have indulged no Such feeling in
view of his non resistant principles. Mr Whipple9Charles King Whipple (1808–1900) was an author and abolitionist. A close friend of William Lloyd Garrison, he assisted in editing the Liberator. Douglass implies that Whipple was less critical than Garrison of the event at the Tremont Temple. Garrison believed that the convention would prove a failure, mainly because “no conference or consultation whatever was had with the long-tried advocates of the Anti-Slavery cause, who, if they had been consulted, would have suggested a very different mode of procedure.” As Douglass suggests, Garrison seemed bitter that he had not been asked about how to organize the meetings. Whipple’s editorial in the Liberator was more supportive of the abolitionist convention. He described the rioters as profane supporters of slavery and questioned the delayed actions of the Boston police. He criticized the leaders of the rioters, too, who claimed that they would attempt to shut down public meetings that were, in their opinion, orchestrated by political demagogues. Lib., 7, 14 December 1860; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 4:582, 666. was less affected—Phillips10Wendell Phillips made four appearances in Boston in December 1860 and January 1861, which included the ceremony to commemorate the first anniversary of John Brown’s death. When the mob attacked the abolitionists at the Tremont Temple, Phillips urged Governor John A. Andrew to call out the militia. Andrew refused, forcing the Boston police to shut down the meeting. Douglass praised Phillips’s participation in the event and acknowledged that the latter had attended the abolitionist meeting despite the mob threatening to tear down his house. Phillips also spoke at the Joy Street Church, where the abolitionists regrouped later in the evening to continue their meetings. At the conclusion of his speech, Phillips returned to his home under the guard of his friends. The mob attempted to overtake his guard as they walked home, but Phillips was not injured. DM, 3:385, 391 (January 1861); Irving H. Bartlett, Wendell Phillips: Brahmin Radical (Boston, 1961), 226–27; Oscar Sherwin, Prophet of Liberty: The Life and Times of Wendell Phillips (New York: 1958), 418; James Brewer Stewart, Wendell Phillips: Liberty’s Hero (Baton Rouge, La., 1986), 213. never appeared more truly grand—than when facing the mob—I am Soon to leave home again. I was in Potsdam11In late 1860 Douglass traveled to the northern New York community of Potsdam in St. Lawrence County and spoke at the St. Lawrence Academy, a state-supported normal school that evolved into the State University of New York at Potsdam. Watertown Daily Times, 6 November 2011. all last week—and had the misfortune of being told by an indignant proslavery man that you and I should both be hanged! He Said that the present deplorable condition of the Country was due to just such men as yourself—Will the Republicans surrender? Better the desolution of the Union many times over. I can get only a Small part of your Sermon into the present monthly12News of the rapidly worsening secession crisis and reports of the mob attack on the John Brown commemoration in Boston crowded the next several issues of Douglass’ Monthly. Douglass finally published lengthy extracts from an address Smith gave in Peterboro on 18 November 1860, in an article entitled “Gerrit Smith on Bible Civil Government,” in DM, 3:412–14 (February 1861).—Your faith-
ful friend—


ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.



Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


December 18, 1860


Yale University Press 2018


Gerritt Smith Manuscripts, Syracuse University



Publication Status