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A Friend to Frederick Douglass, June 5, 1852



Rochester, June 5th, 1852.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS: DEAR SIR:—For the last several hours I have been reading newspapers, chiefly those of a political or anti-slavery character, Frederick Douglass' Paper, of June 3d, being among the number.

What a world of matter has streamed miscellaneously through my poor brain, which, thank heaven, is much too sieve like to retain the whole. Whiggery, Democracy, and Anti-Slavery of every possible variety, from the opening of the first seal, even unto the last, (if one might be allowed to make a Yankee guess upon the subject,) has been served up in one racy hodge-podge, at this "feast of reason" or of unreason, it would take the High Court of Chancery as many years as they were discussing "Jarndyce and Jarndyce," to decide which. The consequence is, my digestive organs are considerably overtaxed, and, like other dyspetics [sic] of all grades, I may be slightly affected with hypochondria. At any rate, there is a decidedly blue tinge on everything; and, notwithstanding all the "Committees" of "ladies," and "Committees" of "gentlemen," who are still unmistakably zealous in every cause, good, bad, and indifferent, yet the whole world, as it lies before me in daguerreotype upon the black lettered newspapers above mentioned, seems to be making up one great wry face.

The consequence is, I have just dedicated a new "Growlery," and the enclosed, is the first issue of thoughts therefrom. It really troubles me quite as much as it ever did, gentle "cousin John," to find fault with my friends; and believe me, it is all done in kindness of heart, and from a sense of duty; with an unpleasant impression all the while that there is certainly a strong wind blowing in the "East."


I hear it whistling about your ears, Mr. Douglass, and the ears of the Liberty Party in general; sighing, most dolefully, "politicians, politicians; political party action!"— Now I have no fear that the Liberty Party will be overthrown even by an Eastern Tempest, for it is founded upon the rock of truth. Some of its members may have seemed like sturdy and gnarly oaks, too proud to bow before the wind, yet with not enough of self-reliance to stand perfectly erect, in calm and dignified independence; and so, by way of compensation, have been nodding towards the gale, instead of from it. But this may be only a mere fancy, which has its origin wholly in the Growlery, No. 2.

Be this as it may, I have somewhat against the members of the Liberty Party, not because they are politicians; but because they are not stronger, firmer, more earnest, and consistent politicians; because they are lukewarm in politics. Thank God there are politicians of a genuine stamp, political reformers demanding a Righteous Civil Government, Righteously Administered. They have laid the axe at the root of the tree of governmental sin, and if it is wielded with tireless energy, they will lop off not only the one branch of slavery, but a score of other upas boughs deriving sustenance from the same root. Slavery may be the "sum of all villanies," and yet slavery may die, and there be a great many villanies left. So it seems more philosophical to strike into the root itself, even if your great aim is a speedy and final extermination of this one mighty branch, which grows so directly out of the root, that it must die when any serious injury is inflicted upon it—die long before many of the other branches are perceptibly withered. The depriving a man of his inalienable right to liberty, is so gross and palpable a crime, that even the mote-eyed can see it; therefore, once convince men that Civil Government has a right, and is bound to do justice to all, and they must immediately demand at its hands freedom for the slave. Surely this may be as short and safe


a work as attempting to pull down a big confederacy like ours, with all its good and bad together, in order to free the bondman. Yet if he could not be free without this latter course, then down with the confederacy!

Slavery is a creature of bad legislation—the offspring of counterfeit law. Its tendrils are twisted like a snaky vine around the edifice of Civil Government. Thus we find it growing like an evil weed in the legitimate domain of politics. We have not planted it there, but there it is, and we are bound to aid in its extermination. The question now is, how to work for its destruction to the best advantage. The Liberty Party answers, "cut it up, root and branch, by the aid of political machinery." But what is political machinery? The world answers, "It is partial justice, party supremacy, compromise of principle, artifice, trickery, and double dealing of every variety."

"No," says the Liberty Party, "that is the devil's machinery! Civil Government is of God, and everything pertaining to it must be worthy to be used in His service.—We must have justice, righteousness, and philanthropy as the principal elements of political action. With these, we can and must destroy slavery and its kindred evils in Civil Government, by withdrawing from them all governmental support."

We are not now to discuss the question, which is in the right. We assume it to be the latter. But is a man any the less antislavery because he believes in righteous political action? God forbid! Does a mother love her first-born any the less when she bestows some of the abundant wealth of maternal tenderness upon a second child? Some of the pillars of the Liberty Party were once known to the public nearly as abolitionists.—


Then they stood side by side with the bravest and foremost in the anti-slavery ranks. And what anti-slavery principle was given up when they became political abolitionists?—Not one. They hold them all now; and they have kept them fully up in the subsequent anti-slavery progress. The new members, who have been born into the cause at a later date, stand side by side with the old.

But the idea of justice to the slave, developed the idea of justice to all mankind. The wrongs done to the slave, revealed the wrongs done to other classes; and so there sprang up the Liberty Party in its present form, with its motto, "ALL RIGHTS FOR ALL." This new Liberty Party is in favor of Temperance, Land Reform, and many other reforms; but it is none the less anti-slavery.—A mother, doubtless, could love her second, and third, and fourth child, even unto the "39th," if she should be blessed with so many, and still have none the less affection for her first-born. The maternal heart would be only enlarging all the time; (a very desirable thing, certainly, as everybody will admit, who has been "bored to death" by the marvelous qualities of a darling only child;) and, meanwhile, the child itself will have a much better chance to escape being "spoiled" — a by no means desirable fate, which is pro-


verbially the lot of only children.

Gerrit Smith says, in his letter on Kossuth, "The world is yet to see a philanthropic political revolution—a revolution which shall place its subjects on the side of man and liberty." The Liberty Party is the first dawning of such a revolution. No wonder, then, that there are a host of political evils to be conquered; that there is a whole family of darling reforms to be sent out successively to make their way in the world. It is fitting, that, like the patriarchs of yore, the Liberty Party should have a numerous offspring. The world is as much in need of political reforms now, as it then was of population. People may laugh about the "omnibus party," if they please, but the omnibus is not full yet, and the probability is, there will be other additions as the world grows wiser. But in the meantime, in the ordinary course of things, some of the eldest of the household will have accomplished the work for which they came into the world, and laid them down to rest in an honored grave. Let the Liberty Party be as faithful as it ought, and our government shall, ere long, have purified itself of slavery, intemperance, and we know not how many other gross national sins, which now shame every patriot, and grieve every philanthropist.

But now comes the cream of our complaining. The Liberty Party has made its Exodus; it is fairly out of Egypt; but it seems to us to be wandering about in the wilderness, saying, "We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt, freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks and the onions, and the garlic." What right has one, who has taken his stand upon the high ground, condemning all political wrongs, to step down again into a merely anti-slavery political organization? He has no such right; and if he does this, he virtu-


ally compromises his former principles.—What! a man who believes it his duty to disfellowship all political wrongs found co-operating in a movement which disfellowships only one such wrong, and which, by its position, is wittingly or unwittingly made to fellowship other political wrongs! Here is a grievous, moral inconsistency. We do not now refer to men who will actually vote an anti-slavery ticket, which at the same time endorses Intemperance, Land Monopoly, and other sins. When they do this, they are marked apostates from the Liberty Party.—But those who co-operate in carrying forward a merely anti-slavery political reform, do as actually apostatise from the glorious principle, "no union with political sin," as though they had gone to the polls in voting fellowship with the same partial reform.

Again. What right has a political reformer, who finds a wrong so woven into all the intitutions of civil government, that this is one of the strongest fortresses from which it is to be expelled, and expelled, too, as he holds, by withdrawing from it all governmental displeasure; what right has one, holding such a belief, to attempt to destroy the wrong by means wholly outside of the government, and all political action? This is virtually attacking both the government and the political wrong, instead of reforming the one and compelling it to destroy the other. It is admitting the uselessness of political action, which is abandoned for something better; it is conceding the impotency of a political reform, and doing all that can be done to divorce reformatory and political efforts, and leave the whole subject of politics in its present state—a dry brush bereft of all the vitality of morals. The wrong is supported by a corrupted, unrighteous civil government. If one would exterminate the evil, he must either compel the government to destroy it, or destroy the government which supports and sustains it. What can a political reformer, an advocate for a righteous civil government, have to do with the latter course? Surely nothing.


This view of the subject, it is evident, condemns the members of the Liberty Party for a connection with such organizations as the New York State Anti-Slavery Society; whether we regard that body as in part political in its character or not. Indeed, if the question, whether it was the intention of the framers of its constitution, or of the Executive Committee, in their public address, to regard the society as political or non-political in its action with reference to slavery in its relations to civil government, were to be submitted for the courts of interpretation, it would probably be another century suit in the High Court of Chancery. Upon that question we shall not think of entering. So far as this society is a simple, moral movement, seeking a reform of religious or social institutions, a Liberty Party member may co-operate with it in all good faith; but if it is in part a political reform society, it certainly, in that capacity, knows nothing except of anti-slavery politics; and in that case, what can a politician, who has adopted antisin as the heart and soul of his political creed, have to do with it? But if it is not at all a political reform movement, and is yet attaching slavery in its relations to civil government, sapping some of the old foundations of popular law and legislation, and pronouncing the popular voting to be morally wrong, then how can any one co-operate with it but a political annihilator?

These are important questions, certainly; but it would be an unpardonable breach of etiquette at present to pursue the subject farther. Indeed, I beg pardon, Mr. Editor, for having presumed upon your patience too much already. With your leave, I shall be glad to resume the subject hereafter, certainly in a spirit of the greatest deference to those who may differ from me in reference to the thoughts advanced; but it would be scarcely well to leave the subject just at the present point of inquiry.

Sincerely yours,



A Friend




A Friend to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick Douglass' Paper, 17 June 1852. Praises Liberty party as best form of abolitionist organization.


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