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Benjamin Fish to Frederick Douglass, December 25, 1851


BENJAMIN FISH1Douglass considered Benjamin Fish (1797-1882), a gardener or nurseryman, one of his best and earliest supporters in Rochester. During the 18403 Fish and his wife, Sarah, lived in the utopian Fourierist Phalanx at Sodus Bay, near Rochester, where their daughter Catherine married abolitionist Giles B. Stebbins in 1846. Fish and his wife continued their reform activities after moving into Rochester, and as ultraists, the couple was expelled from the Genesee Yearly Meeting of Hicksite Friends in 1849. 1850 US. Census, Monroe County, Rochester, Sixth Ward, 244; Daily American Directory for the City of Rochester [for 1850—1851] (Rochester, 1850), 125; Douglass, Life and Times (1881), 275; Hewitt, Women ’s Activism and Social Change, 61, 118—19, 131, 143. TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Rochester, [N.Y.] 25 Dec[ember] 1851.



Enclosed, I send you two dollars for your paper the coming year, not because I agree with all it sends forth, for I see many things in it with which I disagree, and some which I disapprove, but I do not look for perfection in any paper, and with all its faults, I believe it to be doing good anti-slavery work, and for this I wish it to be sustained, and well sustained. I was sorry that any of its old friends should feel it a duty to withdraw their support in consequence, (if so), of a change of views in its editor; for if honestly entertained, he should be commended for the change, rather than condemned; and to me it is no reason for withdrawing support, until I become satisfied, that it fails to do the work for which it was established. I was glad to hear you claim still, to be a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, believing as I do, that the principles on which that Society was founded is the soul of anti-slavery, while political action is only its body; and as the body without the spirit is dead,2James 2:26. so political action without moral effort, is dead also.———I was also glad to hear you say that your heart beats in unison with every word of the declaration of sentiments of that Society, for I have long believed that in your calm moments, you endorsed these aentiments, and that your remarks about shedding the slaveholder’s blood was from the excitement of the moment,3Douglass wrote an editorial on the Christiana Riot, in which a crowd of black residents of Christiana, Pennsylvania, violently opposed slaveholder Edward Gorsuch’s pursuit of fugitive slaves from his plantation. In this editorial, which appeared in the 25 September 1851 issue of Frederick Douglass’ Paper, Douglass applauded the residents of Christiana for theirarmed resistance to Gorsuch, saying that such violence was necessary to intimidate slave catchers and thereby actively oppose the Fugitive Slave Law. In a 2 October 1851 editorial, however, Douglass tempered his earlier statements by saying that he was not in favor of organized violent resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law. Rather, he supported individual self defense by those being threatened with a return to slavery. FDP, 25 September, 2 October 1851; Campbell, Slave Catchers, 151—52. in View of their enormous outrages on the rights of man; but what we endorsed in our calm moments, we should endeavor to live out by precept and example, if we wish to benefit the world. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth4Fish refers to the best—known of the Hammurabian codes, laws established by the sixth king of the first Babylonian dynasty, corresponding with many laws in the Bible. Exod. 21:24, Lev. 24:20, Deut. 19:21, Matt. 5:38; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 3:39—42. was the work of the law; to overcome evil with good,5A reference to Rom. 12:21, which is actually an epistle and not a gospel. is the work of the Gospel. Some of the declaration of sentiments, every word of which you endorse, reads as follows: “Our principles forbid the doing of evil, that good may come, and lead us to reject, and to entreat the oppressed to reject, the use of all carnal weapons for deliverance from bondage, rely solely upon those which are spiritual and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds. Our measures shall be such only, as the opposition of moral purity to moral corruption, the


destruction of error by the potency of truth, the overthrow of prejudice by the power of love, and the abolition of slavery, by the spirit of repentance.”6With slight modifications, Fish quotes from the American Anti-Slavery Association’s Declaration of Sentiments. Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 1:409. I feel that these principles have been sorrowfully departed from by many in the American Society, and I am glad you have alluded to this subject, as I wish, through you, to call their minds back to first principles. How many have been found entreating the oppressed to reject the use of carnal weapons? Have they not rather encouraged them to use those weapons, and thereby sanctioned war, which is the mother of slavery, not only of slavery, but of almost every other evil; then let us not sacrifice principle to expediency, but if we must be sacrificed, let us breathe the prayer that the blessed Jesus did, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”7Luke 23:34. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that moral power is the strongest power in the universe, but in order to have it effectual, we must have faith in its power. Adin Ballou8Born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, Universalist minister Adin Ballou (1803m90) believed that war, slavery, and intemperance were the greatest moral problems in the United States. Ballou was the leader of a joint-stock corporation that formed the utopian Hopedale Community in Massachusetts in 1841. The Hopedale Community agreed to abstain not only from such behavior as drinking alcohol, but also from voting. Adin Ballou, History of the Hopedale Community, from Its Inception to Its Virtual Submergence in the Hopedale Parish (Lowell, Mass, 1897), 2; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:241n; DAB, 1:556—57. says, “it requires the strongest courage to be a non-resistant.”9In a speech to the New England Non-Resistance Society, reprinted in the 6 December 1839 issue of the Liberator, Ballou declared that “it requires the noblest courage, the highest fortitude, to be a true non-resistant.” He maintained that position through the Civil War. Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:241n. Carnal weapons are worth nothing in the hands of a coward. So of moral weapons, we must put them on as a breast-plate,10A reference to Eph. 6:14. we must forget self in our love for the race.

Yours very truly,




Fish, Benjamin




Yale University Press 2009


Frederick Douglass' Paper



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Frederick Douglass' Paper