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Abram Pryne to Frederick Douglass, September 11, 1851



DEAR DOUGLASS:—I am at the pleasant home of A. W. Turner, who, you know, is one of our true men, a true friend of God and humanity. I have, in company with James Gregg, held several meetings in this region. Our meetings are well attended, and the cause is progressing slowly.

Unfortunately this county had a "visitation" from a class of talkers, who did not leave the most happy influence behind them. There are so many lecturers who show but a half development of the character of the reformer, that the people are unable to recognize his value. It is one thing to present before them one side of the character which is repulsive, and which comes in contact with their education and opinions, seemingly because of the gratification in so doing, and quite another and a different thing to represent this character in its several parts, and as a harmonious whole.

Many seem to overlook the fact that there is a great difference between the reformer and the destroyer. They are by no means identical. To break up all existing institutions and reduce society to moral chaos, is not the mission of the true reformer. There is no excuse for him who demolishes the religious institutions of a people, but for the purpose of building up better institutions. To fell the trees of a forest simply to see them fall and leave them to cumber the grounds in broken fragments, is unjustifiable wantonness. It only prepares the way for thorns and briars. Nothing but the design of planting the soil will excuse the work of felling the trees. So to dash down the political or religious institutions of a people, simply to hear them crash and show our power, even though they may be objectionable, while we do not plant better institutions in their place, may, in sheer wantonness, gratify our combativeness and destructiveness, but will not bless the world. Many of the political and religious institutions of this land must be removed to give place to those which are better. But let him who has the Ishmaelitish hand restrain its blow, until he is able to grasp an ideal of the better and purer, with which they are to be replaced. He who destroys the religion of a people without giving them a better religion as an equivalent, produces a vacuum in their religious


nature which leads them to religious despair. He who as a reformer produces such a vacuum before he sees a brighter and more glorious ideal with which to fill it, "runs before he is sent." The reformer is not a mere image-breaker. He may do that and cumber the ground with fragments. He may fill the land with the columns of demolished temples and the fragments of ruined churches, with the heads and limbs of idol gods, and by doing so, leave the people to stumble over the ruin he has wrought. But let him first learn the true God in the beauty of holiness, then shall he be prepared to remove the temples of idolatry. Let him learn from the New Testament the true aim, purpose and character of the church, and then he can labor in wisdom to remove its counterfeits.—Reform, as the word implies, is an affirmation, and not a mere negation. The reformer is not a sapper and miner, but a builder, and only saps and mines where it is necessary in view to build. There are too many who forget this, and leave in their track moral desolation. The reformer should show to the people that he hates because he loves, and not because of the natural gall of his character, that his hatred of slavery proceeds from a love of liberty; that his hatred of religious shams and abuses proceeds from his deeper love of a pure christianity. He should lead the minds upon which he makes his mark through the moral desert around him, not because he delights in the spiritual barrenness and desolation, but because its masters lie between them and the fields resplendent with moral beauty and rich with fruit and flowers which lie around its boundaries. Liberty has by no means reached her aim when she has demolished an oppressive government. There is no more sympathy between her and anarchy th[...] despotism. She is a di[...] peculiar work to [...] institution of ear[...] formed in hea[...] the bald heaps of [...]sion in this land [...] to be removed. [...] work of free[...] after the et[...] pillars of the [...] Freedom does not strike the [...]ment from oppressive [...] it lie ungrasped, but the[...] true may wield it w[...] not cry down with the government, down with the constitution, down with the Union, even though much in these be wrong, nor


mock her votaries by failing to give them a government, a constitution and a Union on better ground, and with a stronger protecting arm. She pulls off the ragged coat and worn-out shoes of the body politic, not to leave it naked and unshod, but in order that it may be washed and clothed upon with a better dress. She takes the sword of justice from the hands of the wicked ruler not to sheathe it nor to have it corrode in inactivity, but in order to put into the hands of him who is "just." In this work she will not be trampled by paper or parchment, by forms or names. The right of her votaries to record a vote in favor of righteous civil government, is a right confered upon them before paper was made, or letters known—a right given to the all at creation's birth. Permit me to congratulate you upon having recently take a long step toward realizing the development of the affirmative and better side of the reformer, and to hope that Stephen S. Foster will do the same before he comes again to Wayne County.



Pryne, Abram




Abram Pryne to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick Douglass' Paper, 11 September 1851. Describes difference between reformer and destroyer.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper



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Frederick Douglass' Paper