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Frederick Douglass Gerrit Smith, February 18, 1852



Rochester, [N.Y.] 18 Feb[ruary] 1852.

Gerrit Smith Esq:


I thank you for your prompt response.1Smith’s letter to Douglass has not been located. Apparently it was a reply to the letter from Douglass written on 13 February 1852, which appears in this volume. It is such as I expected—and I breathe freer. An article from Mr. Thomas for this weeks paper makes his love for the “Liberty Party[”]—and its principle quite manifest.2“A Party of Freedom,” by John Thomas, appeared in the 26 February 1852 issue of Frederick Douglass’ Paper and described the effort to rally the forces of the Liberty party at the Illinois State Anti-Slavery Convention, held 21 January 1852. Participants at the Illinois meeting vowed to “rescue the Constitution from the abuse of slaveholders and their allies.” Thomas congratulated them on their commitment, particularly in redeeming themselves from their support of Martin Van Buren four years earlier, and he reiterated the necessity for a party that would absolutely oppose slavery. He expected other states to follow suit, but castigated them for their tardiness. He concluded by urging the party to revitalize itself by holding a national convention. FDP, 26 February 1852; Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 124–25. He writes with all his heart and scathes the cowards who have been dodging and hiding from you at Syracuse.3John Thomas wrote a series of articles for Frederick Douglass’ Paper, describing the variouslegal proceedings stemming from the Jerry Rescue. One of these was the trial of U.S. deputy marshal Harry W. Allen, indicted in local court for kidnapping William “Jerry” McHenry. The district attorney permitted Gerrit Smith to make the principal argument against Allen. When Smith raised the radical abolitionist contention that the U.S. Constitution did not sanction slaveholding, defense lawyer J. R. Lawrence moved for the judge to dismiss that argument. According to Thomas, Smith responded to Lawrence in court by admonishing Lawrence to “be a man, Lawrence, and don’t be a coward; try your cause.” Allen was subsequently acquitted. FDP, 5, 12, 19 February 1852; Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 301–02. My first impulse was to publish your note, seting forth the fearfulness of the foe—but a second thought—told me that your Brothers at the Bar4An article sent by John Thomas, a Frederick Douglass’ Paper correspondent covering the then ongoing Jerry Rescue trials in Albany, probably misled Douglass. On 29 January 1852, Thomas reported that the lawyers for the accused rescuers intended to apply to the New York Court of Appeals to admit Gerrit Smith to the state bar “on the ground of his eminent abilities, learning and character.” The prosecutors, Joshua Spencer and J. R. Lawrence, opposed that request. In a later report, Thomas noted that Smith’s friends discovered that the Supreme Court, not then in session, was the appropriate venue for such action. Smith was finally admitted to the bar in October 1852. FDP, 29 January, 5 February 1852; Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 300–301.—might possibly make a handle of it at Canandaigua, and that, it was for my own gratification you sent it. But now let me say that it has been long quite too long My dear Sir, since my columns were strengthened by a letter from you.5Douglass published a lengthy letter from Gerrit Smith to John C. Spencer disputing the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law in Frederick Douglass’ Paper on 4 December 1851. I am sure that about this time somthing would “out thee”—which would be of much service to the cause. I have this week tried my hand on a new foe who has just entered the field—a paper in New York—got up by Mr. C. E. Lester—entitled the [“]Herald of the Union”.6Little is known about the short-lived Herald of the Union, published in New York City in 1852 by veteran journalist C. Edward Lester. No issues are known to survive. In Frederick Douglass’ Paper of 19 February 1852, Douglass denounced Lester’s latest journalist efforts for pandering to the worst racial prejudices of the newspaper’s white readers in its defense of slavery.

I am again told—to impertune you to come to Rochester and to spend with us the 18th & 19th March.

I call on you to come. The cause wants you the friends here want you —and I know not how we can do without you. The success or the failure of the convention will depend upon you. If you come—it will be well—if you do not come—I fear the result. My family are well—and I am feeling more & more like my well self.

Yours Most truly,


ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.



Douglass, Frederick




Yale University Press 2009



Publication Status