Amy Post to Frederick Douglass, late August 1850
AMY POST TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS
[Rochester, N.Y. Late August 1850].
MY DEAR FREDERICK
I do always feel diffident in presuming to express any dissent from thy judgment, as I know thy extraordinary clear vision, and logical powers of reasoninng, very easily puts my sage conclusions in a fog, and makes me feel like the merest baby before thee, but be all that as it may, allow me in the fredom of an own sister to [
illegible]1The illegible portion of this letter runs for a line and a half on the written page and was vigorously scratched through several times in ink. say to thee that I cannot feel happy about thee, since thy conclusion to give slave cachers a blood-hound reception.2The source, possibly a speech, an editorial, or a letter, of Douglass’s conclusion, referred to by Post, has not been located. Masters and professional slave catchers often trained bloodhounds, large dogs commonly used in hunting, to track and attack fugitive slaves. Miller and Smith, Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, 278. In the light of thy own good, thy own safety and the good of the cause, it brings a cloud of sadness over me, thee can much more readily see the reasons than I can shew them to thee, and if thee will give thy self time to weigh them, I have little fear on which side the balance would be. Allow me dear fr Frederick to repeat that I still doubt the rightfulness and tho as well as thee polacy of makinng the Chaplin case3In August 1850 William L. Chaplin (1796-1871) was among a group arrested for aiding fugitive slaves. Originally a lawyer, Chaplin left his legal practice in Easton, Massachusetts, to devote himself to the abolitionist movement in New York in the 1830s. He worked for the Liberty party as a lecturer and editor, becoming an associate of Gerrit Smith. In 1850 Chaplin assisted a group of slaves who had escaped from slave owners Alexander H. Stephens and Robert Toombs. Authorities arrested Chaplin and charged him with violating the Fugitive Slave Act in both Washington, D.C., and Maryland. Three of Chaplin’s longtime New York abolitionist friends, James C. Jackson, Joseph C. Hathaway, and Theodosia Gilbert, rushed to Washington to attend to Chaplin’s needs while jailed. Free Democrat Congressman Joshua Giddings and Senator Salmon P. Chase aided in Chaplin’s legal defense. Opponents of the Fugitive Slave Act, led by Smith, rallied around the case and posted the bond of $25,000 for Chaplin. Back in New York in 1851, Chaplin refused to return south for his trial and worked only brieﬂy to raise funds to reimburse those who stood his bail. He drifted away from Gerrit Smith and, together with Jackson and Hathaway, moved into the Free Democratic camp. Chaplin later married Gilbert and joined Jackson in operating a water cure establishment in Glen Haven, New York. Henry Wilson, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 3 vols. (Boston, 1874), 2:80-82; Stanley Harrold, Subversives: Antislavery Community in Washington, D.C., 1826-1865 (Baton Rouge, La., 2003), 157-62; Friedman, Gregarioas Saints, 123; Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 290-95; Lawrence J. Friedman, “The Gerrit Smith Circle: Abolitionism in the Burned-Over District,” CWH, 26:19-37 (March 1980). an especial object of Anti- Slavery effort. I think you were mainly indebted to the fugitive Bill,4The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, part of the Compromise of 1850, strengthened earlier federal laws governing the return of fugitive slaves, thereby also granting the federal government greater power over the institution of slavery. The law authorized commissioners appointed by the U.S. circuit courts to grant certificates for the return of slaves, fined U.S. marshals up to $1,000 for failure to enforce the law, and made marshals liable for the value of the slave if that slave should escape custody. Proof of ownership and a description of the fugitive constituted evidence of an escape, allowing the claimant to seize a slave or to obtain an arrest warrant. Fugitives were unable to speak in their own defense, and anyone attempting to prevent the apprehension of a fugitive could also be arrested and ﬁned or imprisoned. The commissioners hearing cases received $10 if they ruled in favor of the alleged master and $5 if they ruled in favor of the alleged fugitive. Stanley W. Campbell, The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850-1860 (1968; Chapel Hill, N.C., 1970), 23-25; James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America (New Brunswick, N.J., 2001), 152-53; idem, In Hope of Liberty, 253; Miller and Smith, Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, 276. for the interest manifested in the evening Meeting5The Fugitive Slave Law Convention, Cazenovia, New York, 21 and 22 August 1850. yet you are bound to apply
thee funds in a different direction, but the most mortifying of all, (and yet the most confirming that I am not wholy blind) was that you were obliged to resort to falshood to make it take with this proslavery community whose money you hoped to get, to assert that it merely happened that as Chaplain was riding out on the 7 avenue that he kindly took in a couple of men who asked for him to take them on a peace as they were walking the same way6Chaplin had been arrested while secretly attempting to transport Allen and Garland, two run away slaves owned by Georgia senator Robert Toombs, from the District of Columbia to Pennsylvania. The Washington Guard had been monitoring Chaplin’s activities for some time and had set an ambush for him as he and the fugitives attempted to drive a carriage north out of the District into Maryland. Although the occupants of the carriage and the police exchanged numerous shots, Chaplin when arrested denied having been armed or knowing that his passengers were runaway slaves. Harrold, Subversives, 146-47, 154-63.