Frederick Douglass John Thadeus Delane, June 29, 1850
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO JOHN THADEUS DELANE
Rochester, [N.Y.] 29 June .
Although I fear it may be an unwarrantable intrusion upon your time and attention on my part, I must yield to the strong desire which moves me to thank you, in the name of justice and humanity, for your timely remarks in The Times1The London Times. of June 11, on the subject of American slavery, and more especially for your animadversions on the brutal assault made upon me by a mob while I was quietly and inoffensively walking on the Battery at New York.2In an untitled editorial, London Times editor Delane contrasted racial attitudes in England and the United States. Delane used the account of the attack on Douglass in New York to illustrate “two peculiarities” that separated Americans from the British. Slavery and racial prejudice were the first examples, with the weakness of the U.S. government being the second. Quoting from an article in the New York Globe, the editorial described the attack on Douglass and the Griffiths sisters by a group of angry white men in New York City. The editorial expressed shock and indignation that such behavior prevailed among the people of the United States, who were otherwise “a people celebrated for their sagacity, and for the fervour of their piety.” London Times, 11 June 1850.
The inﬂuence exerted upon the more intelligent class of the American people by the judicious expression of British sense of justice and humanity is immense, and, I believe, highly beneficial.
The outrage committed upon me in New York was the work of low and vicious people. Yet, Sir, you were perfectly right in taking that outrage, and the remarks made upon it by the Globe,3As reproduced by the London Times, the New York Globe described Douglass as “the impudent negro who has of late taken upon himself the privilege of abusing our country, its patriots and constitution, without having that chastisement he so richly merited at the hands of our republicans, who would not condescend to notice his blasphemy and negroisms.” The paper characterized his association in public with two white women as audacious and disgraceful, and reported that an “indignant and insulted gentleman” politely separated the women from Douglass. The article stated that this gentleman “administered to the back of the negro a ‘dressing’ that he will have occasion to remember some time hence. Maddened justice forgets the dictates of law in a case of this kind; and, personally, we can see no reason why it should not.” London Times, 10 June 1850. as a fair illustration of the bitter antipathy which is entertained here, even by the better class of white people, against coloured persons. Polished American gentlemen would applaud a deed of ruffianism like the one in question, although they might shrink from the performance of the deed itself. My offence is alleged to be that of walking down Broadway in company of “two white women.” This, however, is not a fair statement of that offence. My offence was that I walked down Broadway, in company with white persons, on terms of equality. Had I been with those persons simply as a servant, and not as a friend, I should have been regarded with complacency by the refined and with respect by the vulgar class of white persons who throng that great thoroughfare. The clamour here about human equality is meaningless. We have here an aristocracy of skin, with which if a man be covered, and can keep out of the state prisons, he possesses the high privilege of insulting a coloured man with the most perfect impunity. This class of aristocrats are never more displeased than when they meet with an intelligent coloured man. They recognize in him a contradiction to their ungenerous and unsound theories respecting the negro race, and, not being able to reason him down to a level with the brute, they use brute force to knock him down to the desired level. I am, perhaps, trespassing too long upon your time, and although it may be a small matter to you as to how I may feel with respect to your noble defence of injured and insulted humanity, I could not be
satisfied with myself without expressing in my humble way my sincerest gratitude for that defence.
Very respectfully yours,
PLSr: London Times, 18 July 1850. Reprinted in London Nonconformist, 24 July 1850; Glasgow Christian News, 25 July 1850; Foner, Life and Writings, 2:131–32. PL: London Inquirer, 20 July 1850; NASS, 15 August 1850; PaF, 29 August 1850.