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Communipaw (James McCune Smith) to Frederick Douglass, February 20, 1852


Letter from Communipaw.

I am not glinted off this wealth problem, because Emerson and (at a distance blow) Beecher salaam to king Midas; the first "celebrates what he finds;" the last, what finds him.

I cannot deny that the pursuit of wealth, calls for thrift, punctuality, enterprise and the persistent exercise of energy; all of them characteristics—drill—which we greatly need. It is true also, that in the great bulk of the American people, gold is the low goal which incites these habits of mind. The Key Stone of American morals and religion is gold: hence American society is a poor, dumb, blind dog to whom the sun in the heavens and the sweet harmonies of nature, and the deeper harmonies of humanity are as a closed book. Great God! what a thrill of horror it sends through the soul when the high priests of public opinion declare that hate must and will remain triumphant in the great American Heart!

With this memorable instance in view, it is plain that thrift, &c., are mental characteristics which may be obtained at too dear a cost, and that when they are educed by the pursuit of wealth, they contract the soul.

This cold pursuit, doubtless answers its end; it builds houses, "nets the land with railroads," tills the soil—in short, hastens the day of less physical and greater mental labor; it is only an intermediate era, with its end and object plainly in view—but a step towards a freer, hopefuller, happier time; hence such ichtyosauri and plegiosauri as wealth and caste only half lunged are right and proper to it; by and by the spirit of God will pass over the great deep and the mountains and the dryland and the atmosphere, for holier and happier beings will surround society, and higher laws and higher organizations will come into existence.


Whilst therefore we need the drill which wealth persuit gives the whites, we must obtain it at a less expense of moral excellence. We must hold ourselves in reserve for the enjoyment of that advanced stage of society, that freer, hopefuller atmosphere for which they are laying physical foundation.

We are here for a purpose, to prove the human to be one brotherhood. We must work this out here, or for ages the chance may not come again; like the British squares at Waterloo, we must stand our ground, if decimated, until the tide of battle turns.—Intelligently to stand our ground requires an amount of heroism greater than ever faced the "iron hail." Manfully to stand our ground requires thrift, punctuality, enterprise and persistent energy, such as the pursuit of mere wealth never stirred up in the human soul.

Let us seek Liberty, then, with the full and entire energies of our souls, and the smaller matters of personal comforts will be added to us. A physical phiospher says, that when a wheel turns with a certain velocity, it generates force; so those flame-colored heroes, who have bettered the condition of mankind, have flung all their energies into whatever longing passed their souls, and the earth, and the air, and the waters gladly brought them food and raiment. I remember, some two years since, in a wealth pursuit association of colored men, when one, Frederick Douglass said "it would fail," "you had better organize associations for liberty." I laughed at him then, but agree with him now.


Mr. Thomas Downing, having won a lawsuit of a "Hebrew Jew," the latter, in revenge, swore a complaint of perjury against him; the only wonder, about the matter, here, is, that the Jew's oath was taken, and that the hot blood of old Virginia suffers itself to be chafed about it. This very case adds force to my sermon above.

The leading gossip in town, is about the 'Judgment of Paris' travestied. Phil Bell, and 'gentle Charles' went in training for the Adonis-ship. Bell managed to sing "Sulla puppa del mio brik," in a style which caused Rinedetic to writhe; Charley mounted a ferocious moustache; the contest was long and well contended; in the end, the fair Aribitress, pronounced Phil the most "fascinating."

"Perfusus sanie vittas attroque veneno."

Daniel Webster is in town, and we expect another fugitive slave hunt; for it seems, that whenever he comes here, he brings the bloodhounds with him, as in the case of Hamlet and Henry Long. And, by the way, his present advent has been preceded by a most infamous case, in which a policeman of the 6th (Irish Ward) named Martin betrayed a fellow-man back to slavery for $250.

Where was the Committee of Thirteen?



Communipaw Flats, Feb. 20, 185[2].


Smith, James McCune (1813–1865)




Communipaw (James McCune Smith) to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick Douglass' Paper, 26 February 1852. Advocates black economic elevation.


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