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Communipaw (James McCune Smith) to Frederick Douglass, February 4, 1852


Letter from Communipaw.

"Put money in thy purse."—Iago.

"Jean! Will siller do't."—Heart of Mid-Lothian.

Ethiop, Cassius M. Clay, Horace Mann ot genus omne, are they right, when they urge the dollar remedy for our case?

Our present weal can only be bettered by a nobler idea. Let us see, whether wealth, as an end, or whether the habit of men caused by the seeking of wealth, are ideals worthy of our attention and effort.

By wealth, I mean wealth, not a mere competence, but positive hundreds of thousands.

To the mass of us, such pursuit would be vain, as a reality, for the reason we could not get it: we would have to be born again before we could become millionaires. But suppose that we could; that each colored man was a recognized hundred thousander, with a brown stone front, and a pair of greys in the avenue. Suppose this should suddenly happen - say to-morrow. Would the upper ten fraternize? Would we not share the same treatment from them which other parvenues meet? Mrs. Angelina Gracie would hardly give a sisterly kiss to Mrs. Jemima Jackson, her cook yesterday, her wealthy equal to-day! Would the middle ten fraternize? What would be the bond of sympathy? The common thing between us and them, which would cause both sides to forget, to-morrow, the caste of to-day? Remember, we would be changed in nothing but wealth: our habits of thought, of expression and of action would be the same: rare parvenues with traditions extending twenty hours back and no farther: our hands involuntarily seeking the white wash brush, our feet irresistibly carrying us behind cushioned and damasked chairs; the sound of the bell causing a galvanic rush towards the street door; but would the middle ten fraternize?


These middle tens are the rising or progressive class: they seek upper tendom—not for its wealth, but for its position: wealth is but a secondary thing with them, they are making it, they want position: would our colored hundred thousanders offer them a position worth seeking? Then the lower tens, would they fraternize with the colored midasmen? So far as wealth is concerned, we are already their superiors and so their case is thus disposed of.

I have in my observation not a few colored men of wealth, who have been associated with whites, in business or co-partnership; the beginning of such association was money; the middle progress of it, money; the aid of it money—not a bit of human brotherhood about it.

The most serious objection, however, to the golden remedy, is, the one underlying the midas tables. Gold freezes up the humanities and all their surroundings. The wealthy are never a progressive class; they are by necessity conservatives. Cotton would become king. Hundred thousand dollar black men would be no better than hundred thousand dollar white men. So much for gold as an end. More another time about wealth as a pursuit for the down-trodden.


Ethiop has been blessed with an addition to his menage; glad he got safely through, and hope he has been duly churched. Never can I forget his autographed or chiseled statue in Brooklyn Heights, with the sun gilding all before and around him, and, doubtless, memnon-like, causing those sweet and melodious sounds (which floated over to the flats of Communipaw) to issue from its train. Effigies sacri nitet aurea cercopitheci, Dimido magicae resonant ubi Memnone chordae. We witnessed the phenomena with classic delight, for we were reminded, as his ideas sought the empyrean, thick and fast, of the old fight at Thermopylae, when the arrows of the Persians ["]darkened the sun." No one doubts hereabouts, the ultimate clearness which will be thrown around the dark sayings of Ethiop: "the upward pressure of the falling stones" and the doctrine of ratios, as announced by him some weeks ago, will doubtless be understood by and by; it took a century of hard study to comprehend Swedenberg.

Your readers downtown, hurried up to Harlaem, to see the upheaval chronicled in your paper by Observer, who places it two hundred feet above the level of New York; it turned out that Observer himself must have been a little high, for there lay old Harlaem, flat as her Dutch prototype, to which she anciently sent ships.


Do let poor Greeley alone. This colonization infirmity is a matter he cannot help; it is a physical idiosyncracy. Our old friend, Phil. Bell, cannot, for the life of him, abide one instant in the same room with a cat, for which the old lady philosophers readily account - there was a fright at an early and interesting stage of his existence. For the same reason Hon. Horace, cannot abide the sight of black men, and women, and children. If we would only go away to Jersey, (which is understood down here to be next to purgatory for a colored man.) or Nebraska, or ———, "Observer" can finish the sentence, it will so relieve Mr. Greeley's mind!

Mr. James, the novelist, has no sooner promised to abandon his "solitary horseman," than the vacuum is filled in the literary world by repeating the dose,ad nauseam, of that "solitary ship" which the descendants of the puritans tell us, moved inside of Cape Cod in a "certain bleak day in December, two hundred and odd years ago." I presume when we blacks get a literature, we may speak with pride of that other "solitary ship" which landed some hundred Africans in the James river in 1622, and which was the source of the contact of the "two great races" of mankind which Gov. Hunt names, and of any amount of slang-whanging in the big house at Washington and elsewhere. It becomes us to be meek, dear Douglass, especially we of doubtful parentage, who cannot look anywhere in particular for "forefathers' day" and "fatherland;" it becomes us to be meek, and we certainly are not interested in the point; but don't the last "solitary ship" kick up a bigger dust in the year of grace 1852, than ever the May


Flower did? The name of "our ship" is not known, but mayhap half a century hence when a black president shall hold court at the White House, some succulent antiquarian may fish up from the musty parchments in Annapolis, the title of that vessel which brought the first human cargo to the American continent from the coast of Guinea.

The New York Journal of Commerce is adding feathers to its brazen brow, after warring on American citizens of color, urging their expatriation, and feeing second rate lawyers to write down our citizenship with a show of legal quotations. Last week it comes down to the "lowest depth" of pro-slavery degradation, and advertises slaves for sale.—The Tribune, which is only half metamorphosed, holds up its hands in pious horror; but it will not be long befor[e] the moral blindness of Greeley will sink to the level of poor old Gerard Halcock!

And James G. Birney advises us to go to Africa, "et tu Brute!" This however does not surprise me. Ever since he suffered his name to be hopelessly paraded beneath the wood cut of the cedar of Lebanon, ever since Joshua Levit flew into frigid heroics about "Birney the Just," the truthfulness of this able man has been to me of a doubtful nature. To those of us who have continued to revere him, this bouleversement must give "an impressive warning not to rely upon others for the vindication of our principles, but to look to ourselves."



Communipaw Flats, Feb. 4th, 1852.


Smith, James McCune (1813–1865)




Communipaw (James McCune Smith) to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick Douglass' Paper, 12 February 1852. Advocates black economic advancement.


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