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Frederick Douglass Oliver Johnson, September 4, 1849


FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO OLIVER JOHNSON1Vermont-born Oliver Johnson (1809–89), an abolitionist and journalist, published the semi-monthly Boston Christian Soldier (1832–33) from an office and printing press shared with William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator. In addition to serving as a substitute editor for the latter paper, Johnson also lectured for the New England Anti-Slavery Society. From 1837 to 1839, he lectured for the Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Society and sided with the Garrisonians on the rejection of political and religions means to achieve the end of slavery. In the 1840s, Johnson held several editorial positions outside of abolitionist circles. He worked for a time as an assistant to Horace Greeley on the New York Tribune, and briefly edited the Philadelphia Republic, then the Practical Christian, the organ of the utopian Hopedale Community in Milford, Massachusetts. He returned to abolitionist newspapers as editor of the Anti-Slavery Bugle (1849–51), then the Pennsylvania Freeman (1851–53). In 1853 he moved to New York City to accept the post of assistant editor of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s National Anti-Slavery Standard. In 1858 he succeeded Sydney Howard Gay as editor-in-chief and guided the paper through secession and the Civil War. Steven M. Raffo, A Biography of Oliver Johnson, Abolitionist and Reformer, 1809–1889 (Lewiston, N.Y., 2002); Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 2:xxv–xxvi; ANB, 12:107–08; DAB, 5:756–58; NCAB, 2:319.

Rochester, [N.Y.] 4 Sept[ember] 1849.


Your kind letter honoring me with an invitation to be present at the contemplated Convention of the Young Men and Women of Ohio2On 21 and 23 September an estimated 5,000 or 6,000 gathered at Berlin, Ohio, for a convention of that state’s “Anti-Slavery Young Men and Women.” The convention featured Parker Pillsbury, Henry C. Wright, and Marius R. Robinson, but not Douglass. The gathering endorsed the Garrisonian disunionist position and criticized the Free Soil party for compromising abolitionist principles. Massachnsetts Anti-Slavery Society, Eighteenth Annual Report: Presented to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (Boston, 1850), 68–70. is before me. I have no words to tell you how glad I should be to attend that Convention—nor how much I regret my inability to do so. It is indeed soul-cheering to observe the activity and spirit which characterize the Old Organized Anti-Slavery movement in your State. I say Old Organized—though in truth there is no New Organized Anti-Slavery in Ohio or elsewhere. That, if it ever did exist, is now dead and buried. The glorious cause now rests upon the shoulders of men and women who honor principle more than men—and who are resolved to fight the battle of Freedom on the most disinterested grounds: turning neither to the right nor left—attacking


Church and State, Constitution and Government, principalities and powers, and wickedness in high places,3A reference to Eph. 6:12. making war upon everything that opposes the high and Heaven-blest cause in which they are engaged—without compromise and without concealment. With this class I am proud to be connected. As our old Anti-Slavery Pioneer once said, in a speech of his in New York, I am willing at all times to be known as a GARRISON Abolitionist.4Garrisonian abolitionists often referred to their namesake, William Lloyd Garrison, as the “pioneer” of their movement. Douglass probably heard Garrison make the quoted remark at one of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s anniversary meetings in New York City, which both attended faithfully from 1841 to 1845. Mayer, All on Fire, 347, 357. I must close, for I write in haste, by wishing the Convention all the harmony consistent with Free Speech, and every success in spreading Anti-Slavery truth in Ohio.

Yours, most sincerely


PLSr: NASS, 18 October 1849.


Douglass, Frederick (1818–1895)




Yale University Press 2009



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