Frederick Douglass Gerrit Smith, December 23, 1853
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO GERRIT SMITH
Rochester[, N.Y.] 23 Dec[ember] 1853.
HON. GERRIT SMITH.
MY DEAR SIR,
Please Send me your Speech on the president’s1Franklin Pierce (1804–69), a Democrat, became the fourteenth president (1853–57) of the United States. Pierce graduated from Bowdoin College (1824); sat in the New Hampshire legislature (1829–32), where he twice served as speaker; and represented his native state in the House of Representatives (1833–37) and the Senate (1837–42). In 1842 he resumed his law practice in Concord, New Hampshire, and became a leading organizer of the state Democratic party machine. Strongly favoring the annexation of Texas, Pierce volunteered in 1846 for military duty in the war with Mexico, and was appointed a brigadier general the next year. Pierce won the heavily contested Democratic party nomination in 1852 and went on to easily defeat the Whig candidate, Winfield Scott, for the presidency. Pierce’s support for passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and for attempts to annex Cuba were widely blamed for inflaming sectional tensions. The Democrats rejected Pierce and nominated James Buchanan for president in 1856. Roy Franklin Nichols, Franklin Pierce: Young Hickory of the Granite Hills (Philadelphia, 1931); ACAB, 5:7–12; NCAB, 4:145–46; DAB, 14:576–80. meSSage.2On 5 December 1853, President Pierce delivered his first annual message in Washington, D.C., addressing such issues as taxes, the armed forces, railroads, and states’ rights. In addition, Pierce discussed the matter of Martin Koszta, a Hungarian who came to the United States in 1850 with the intention of becoming a citizen. Koszta was seized and detained by the Austrians while traveling abroad in 1853. When the U.S. consul failed to get him released, Commander Duncan Nathaniel Ingraham of the U.S. Navy began to work for Koszta’s freedom. Koszta was then put in the custody of the French consul general until an agreement could be reached. He was soon released and returned to the United States. The emperor of Austria, unsatisfied with how the affair was handled, demanded the U.S. government surrender Koszta. In his message, Pierce stated his support for the conduct of the U.S. officials, claiming their actions were legally justifiable and had his full approval. It was on this international affair that Gerrit Smith delivered his speech before Congress on 20 December 1853. New York Tribune, 21 December 1853; A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 20 vols. (New York, 1897), 6:2740–59. I Shall publiSh
the telegraphic report of it from the Tribune3Pierce’s address was printed in the New York Tribune, 21 December 1853.—with the debate to which it
gave rise—and the various accounts of the whole as they come to hand.
You have been Spared to Say one great word in the ear of this nation.
Blest may that word be! May it bring forth fruit—thirty—Sixty, and an
hundred fold. Let me have the Speech in full. My readers love the Slave,
love the truth, and love Gerrit Smith, the friend of both.
You have realized the fondest hopes of your friends. May God pre-
Serve you and Strengthen you.
Manfully and CourageouSly, you have met the crises. In Congress,
as in Peterboro4Gerrit Smith resided in Peterboro, New York, a town founded in 1806 by his father. In July 1834 he was present when a local antislavery organization was formed, but he did not join, because of his membership in the American Colonization Society. Smith soon changed his allegiance to the abolitionist cause. After an antislavery meeting was violently disrupted in nearby Utica in October 1835, Smith chaired a meeting of the newly formed New York Anti-Slavery Society in Peterboro during which he delivered an impassioned speech arguing that free speech and criticism must be protected and were necessary to end slavery. He was nominated to Congress against his own wishes and elected by a plurality in 1852. He made his antislavery stance known a mere eight days after taking office by publicly criticizing the administration for allowing slavery to continue. His longest congressional speech was against the Kansas-Nebraska Act in April 1854. He went on to sign “The Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States,” which served to consolidate opposition to the bill. Refusing to participate in a Whig party plan to stop the bill by absenting himself and denying a quorum, Smith nevertheless spoke adamantly against it and cast his vote against the measure, which ultimately became law. Smith chose not to complete his term of office and resigned on 7 August 1854, returning to Peterboro to continue his reform efforts. Frothingham, Gerrit Smith, 164–65, 212, 219–20, 226; Sernett, North Star Country, 152; Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 4, 64, 117, 122, 321–30. you have planted yourSelf upon the immutable laws of
justice. Now Let the winds blow, the rains decend, and the floods come,
the house Shall Stand.
A line from you to my paper will do me good—but I don-t exact it.
Please make my love to your Dear family—and Believe Me—AIways
Most faithfully yours
ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.