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Frederick Douglass Gerrit Smith, May 7, 1852



Rochester, [N.Y.] 7 May 1852.

Gerrit Smith Esq.


I am at home again, and am none the worse for my jaunt to Cincinnati1Douglass attended and spoke before an antislavery convention held in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 27 through 29 April 1852. FDP, 6 May 1852.—although somewhat hoarse from constant speaking. The convention was said to have been the best ever held west of the Alleghenies.

The convention was not quite as radical as I desired it should be—in regard to the duty of this government to abolish slavery but I think the resolution asserting that duty, would have been adopted could you have been there to have set forth its truth. I am quite satisfied with the proceedings of the convention in every respect, aside from its treatment of the resolution asserting that duty.

You were expected at the convention till the last. I do wish we had a few more Gerrit Smiths—say about 16—one for every free State. The cause of human progress hath need of just that number. Antislavery is quite timid in the Neighbourhood of Kentucky—and it needed something from the bracing atmosphere in which Jerry was rescued to give it courage. Your friend FEE2John Gregg Fee (1816–1901), a Kentucky-born reformer and minister, trained at Lane Theological Seminary in Ohio, where he embraced racial equality and abolitionism. In 1848, when the New School Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky forced Fee from the organization because of his antislavery views, he sought support for his ministry through the abolitionist-led American Missionary Association. Considered radical by the standards of most white Kentucky residents, Fee proposed immediate emancipation and advocated educational opportunities and integration for all blacks. In 1854 Fee moved to central Kentucky and founded the town of Berea on land donated by Cassius M. Clay. Fee and his supporters, many of whom were students at Oberlin College, used Berea as a center of antislavery activity, founding schools and churches to promote abolition and integration. Among the schools founded was Berea College, an anticaste and antisectarian institution that required only that students be of “good moral character.” Elizabeth S. Peck, Berea’s First Century, 1855–1955 (Lexington, Ky., 1955), 2–6; Johnson, “American Missionary Association,” 125–31, 455–61; ANB, 7:786–87; DAB, 6:310–11; NCAB, 24:301–02.—is a noble man and is doing a good work in Kentucky but a few months in the North would be of service to him. Mr. JULIAN3George Washington Julian (1817–99) began his political career as a Whig in the Indiana state legislature in 1845. His deeply held religious beliefs, however, led to his conversion to antislavery reform and to his support of the Free Soil party. In 1849 he was elected to a term in Congress, where he became a vocal opponent of the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act. In the 1850s he used his legal practice to defend runaway slaves in Indiana courts, and in 1852 he ran as the Free Soil candidate for vice president. By the late 18508, Julian was active in the formation of the Republican party in Indiana, where he took a strong antislavery stance and opposed nativist sentiment. He believed antiwlrish and anti-Catholic sentiment to be morally wrong and a distraction from the crusade against slavery. In 1860 Julian returned to the U.S. House of Representatives for five consecutive terms. Offended by the corruption of the Grant administration, he supported the Liberal Republican movement and eventually became a Democrat. According to his journal, Julian’s friendship with Douglass helped him to confront his own racist tendencies. Patrick W. Riddleberger, George W. Julian, Radical Republican: A Study in Nineteenth–Century Politics and Reform (Indianapolis, Ind., 1966); ACAB, 3:486; ANB, 12:315–16. is a whole man. He is an abolitionist and something more—a reformer. I think he is far in advance of this party in the west and is more in harmony with the Liberty Party than with Free Soilers. Your old Friend Saml. Lewis4Samuel Lewis (1799–1854) was a leading Ohio lawyer, educator, and antislavery politician. Despite a lack of formal education, Lewis became a successful lawyer in Cincinnati and Ohio’s first superintendent of schools. Lewis left the Whigs for the Liberty party in 1841 and later became a Free Soiler. As an antislavery candidate, Lewis lost two congressional and three gubernatorial races, despite receiving over 50,000 votes in his last campaign for governor in 1853. In addition to his political pursuits, Lewis actively led antislavery reform efforts inside the Methodist Episcopal church. William G. W. Lewis, Biography of Samuel Lewis: First Superintendent of Common Schools for the State of Ohio (Cincinnati, Ohio, 1857), 27–28, 37–39, 120–21, 280–416; NCAB, 25:439; ACAB, 3:706; DAB, 11:223–24.—came out bravely on the wicked position of the American Church in regard to slavery and fermly maintained the “HIGHER LAW,” which by the way—makes slavery illegal every where, although Friend Lewis would not perhaps, go that doctrine.5During the Cincinnati convention, Samuel Lewis endorsed a resolution opposing the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. His speech made reference to the European revolutions of 1848 and suggested that a “Higher Law” reigned. The resolution that Lewis backed proclaimed that “there is a law higher than all the enactments of human codes the same throughout the world the same in all time, and by that law, unchangeable and eternal. . . . ‘Man cannot hold property in man’—and that when the Statutes of Legislature are subversive of this ‘higher law,’ it becomes the duty of good citizens to regard them as the edicts of foul conspirators against the rights and liberties of all mankind.” FDP, 6 May 1852; NASS, 13 May 1852. You left me to reply to my Friend C.C. Burleigh.6On the third evening of the Cincinnati convention, Douglass gave a speech outlining his new position that the U.S. Constitution could be used as a tool against slavery. According to Charles C. Burleigh’s letter to the National Anti-Slavery Standard, Burleigh rose after Douglass’s speech to “throw out a single suggestion in reply to his constitutional argument,” promising to answer Douglass’s speech more thoroughly at a later time. NASS, 13 May 1852; Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 2:348–62. I trembled as I looked forward to the performance of the task—but I was less perturbed when the work was to be done. The subject was not however discussed at length. The resolutions adopted were for. the most part drawn up by my self.7According to newspaper reports, numerous people contributed to the twenty-five resolutions passed by the convention. Members of the panel appointed to draft the resolutions included not only Douglass, but the Reverend William H. Brisbane, the Reverend Edward Henry Nevin, the Reverend J. Pettijohn, Levi Coffin, Zebina Eaton, Sarah Otis Ernst, Elizabeth T. Coleman, W. Edgerton, the Reverend Daniel Worth, and Henry Bibb. FDP, 6 May 1852; NASS, 13 May 1852. You will see them in this week’s paper.

In haste Very truly your’s in the fulfilment of all rightiousness


ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU. PLSr: Foner, Life and Writings, 2:179.



Douglass, Frederick (1818–1895)




Yale University Press 2009



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