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Ebenezer James to Frederick Douglass, March 10, 1849


EBENEZER JAMES1Ebenezer James (1816-?) was a shoemaker who lived in the Spring Garden district of Philadelphia with his wife Ellmina (1825-?) and son Simon (1840-?). 1850 US. Census, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County, Philadelphia, Spring Garden Ward, 188. TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Philadelphia, [Pa.] 10 March [1849]. FREDERICK DOUGLASS:— I greatly rejoiced in reading in the North Star of Nov. 17 last, an article headed, “The blood of the slave on the skirts of the Northern People.”2An editorial by that title appeared in the 17 November 1848 issue of the North Star in which Douglass criticized northern voters for recently electing Zachary Taylor, a slaveholder, president of the United States. The title of the editorial is an adaptation of Jer. 2:34: “Also in thy skirts is found the souls of the poor innocents.” Every rational mind labor[i]ng in the cause of human rights, must admit this to be an undeniable fact. The people of the North, like the Egyptian task-masters who kept the Israelites in bondage,3The first chapter of the book of Exodus describes the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt and how the Egyptians “did set over them task-masters to afflict them with thy burdens.” Exod. 1:11. wield the power that rivets the chain upon three millions of American citizens; and lamentable to think that even Friends in the city of Brotherly Love, distinguished with the plain garb, deposited their votes at the recent election for a modern Pharaoh, as their ruler for the next four years.4The Garrisonians’ Philadelphia-based newspaper, the Pennsylvania Freeman, concurred with the assessment that Quaker voters had helped give Zachary Taylor his electoral majorities in southeastern Pennsylvania counties. The Freeman reported, “We understand that the Orthodox Quakers generally, and a great proportion of the members of the Hicksite division, voted for Brigadier General Zachary Taylor.” The Freeman also praised the dissenting Quakers as “few in number, they are mighty in moral power.” Lib., 10 November, 1 December 1848. I hope the North Star will boldly expose this hypocrisy in high paces, for war and slavery, though both at variance with their creed, has been unblushingly promoted by them in elevating General Taylor5Zachary Taylor. to the Presidency. The earnest prayer of my heart is, that you may, like the man Moses, be instrumental in releasing your brethren from thraldom. Oh, the guilt of this crooked and perverse nation, whose salvation methinks can never be effected other than by a mighty shaking of the dry bones!6In the Old Testament, Ezekiel uses the imagery of resurrected skeletons to prophesy the rise of the Israelites. Ezek. 37:7-12; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 2:721.

America has, it is true, many valuable institutions within her borders, even for those who have the mark on their foreheads;7The “mark of the beast” from the book of Revelation signifies the sinners doomed to eternal damnation. This image also appears in the book of Genesis, when Cain is marked as a murderer. Gen. 4:15, Rev. 13:16. yet I have no desire to embrace her gifts, for they will always be covered with blood, until her great sin is washed away.8A reference to Acts 22:16. I cannot consent even that my children should reap the benefit of her public schools, and thus feast upon the price of our brother’s blood. May those intellectual powers which a Heavenly Father has bestowed upon you, be daily increased with a double portion of his spirit, is the prayer of thy brother in the cause of humanity. EBENEZER JAMES. PLSr: NS, 16 March 1849.



James, Ebenezer


March 10, 1849


Yale University Press 2009



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