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Defenders of Slavery at the Evangelical Alliance: An Address Delivered in Belfast, Ireland, on October 6, 1846



Belfast Northern Whig, 8 October 1846.

A "numerous and respectable" assembly of Belfast's "friends of the slave" gathered in the Independent Meetinghouse on Donegall Street on Tuesday evening, 6 October 1846. John Boyd, Esq. chaired the meeting. Douglass was the featured speaker; though Garrison had been urged to stay in the city, he had departed for Dublin the day before. Echoes of an earlier exchange between Garrison and local adherents of the Evangelical Alliance reverberated in Douglass's speech. James Standfield and the Reverend Isaac Nelson rose to confirm Douglass's censure of the Alliance and the meeting ended shortly thereafter. Belfast News Letter, 6 October 1846; Belfast Northern Whig, 6 October 1846; Garrison to Lib., 3 October 1846, in Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3 : 431–35.

Mr. Douglass having been introduced to the audience, delivered a lengthened address. He commenced by stating, that on coming to this


country he expected to find but one opinion as to the conduct of the American slave-holders, that whatever feeling existed, with reference to slave-holding in the United States, but one opinion was entertained of them in this Christian land; but in that idea he had been sadly disappointed, for recent events had disclosed what he could not have supposed existed in the minds of any Christians, in this country. Mr. Douglass, after a few other observations, proceeded to comment, in very strong terms, on the conduct of the Evangelical Alliance, and said, it had done a grievous injury to the anti-slavery cause.

The Alliance held out the deceitful idea, that a man could hold a slave, not by his own fault, but that the blame might lie with another party, thus proclaiming, by the sanctity of their name, that there were slaveholders in the United States of America who were not so by their own desire, and not for their own interest, and leaving the inference to be drawn, that such men were fit objects of commiseration rather than condemnation. The declaration of the Evangelical Alliance was calculated to do more harm to the cause of abolition than could arise from any other cause, for they had made out a case of innocent slaveholding, and excused the system in such a way as to mislead the judgment of the people of this country. These men of the Evangelical Alliance had furnished an excuse for the Free Church of Scotland, and given the slaveholder an apology he never dreamed of.

When he came to this country, he expected he would have had the countenance and support of every Church; he expected that the denunciations of slavery would be loud and long; but he was mistaken, it was only a few of the religious people of Belfast that gave any support to the Anti-Slavery Society. How the fiends would run round and round in hell, with delight, at such a result! Still, notwithstanding all that The Banner and News-Letter had said to the contrary, and the judgment of the Alliance he did not believe that that judgment was the judgment of Ireland;1The Banner of Ulster and the Belfast News Letter, both supporters of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, were sympathetic to the Evangelical Alliance and its aims. They were quick to defend the Alliance after William Lloyd Garrison criticized it in a speech in Belfast in early October. (Belfast) Banner of Ulster, 2, 6 October 1846; Belfast News Letter, 6 October 1846; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3 : 434–35n.; Riach, "Campaign Against American Slavery," 309–11. nor, with all that the Free Church had said, did he believe that the judgment of that Church was the judgment of the people of Scotland.


Mr. Douglass then proceeded to animadvert on the character and conduct of the Rev. Dr. Cox, whom he described as being one of the greatest pro-slavery Ministers in America; and stated that he (Mr. D.) had refused to associate with him, when they met, some time ago, at an anti-slavery meeting, in Covent-garden Temperance Hall. He refused to do so, because he was aware of the inconsistency of the man. He knew that the anti-slavery garb, in which he then appeared, was British-made, and put on for the occasion. In 1843 Dr. Cox had, he was aware, presided over the [Presbyterian] General Assembly of America, in the city of Philadelphia; to this Assembly the abolitionists of the Northern States sent in petitions and memorials, praying the Assembly to express, in a marked manner, their disapproval of slavery. The Assembly had, on the day on which these petitions were presented, denounced dancing as being a sin which encouraged giddiness, and levity of conduct; and which tended towards demoralizing the minds of the people. The abolitionists thought that an excellent opportunity to have their petitions favourably read; but what did Dr. Cox do, when they were presented? He rose, and moved the indefinite postponement of all petitions and memorials. 2At the 1840 Presbyterian (New School) General Assembly meeting in Philadelphia, after several days of fruitless debate, Samuel Hanson Cox successfully moved "an indefinite postponement" of the discussion on slavery. Cox was not moderator of the General Assembly, which did censure "the fashionable amusement of promiscuous dancing." He actually served as moderator of the 1846 General Assembly. Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 1840, 10–14, 18–19; Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 1843, 6, 13–15, 17–19; Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 1846, 7.So the matter ended. Yet, that was the man who preached for Dr. Edgar,3John Edgar (1798–1866), Prebyterian minister and professor of theology at the Belfast Academical Institution, where he had also been a student, was ordained in 1820 and received Doctor of Divinity degrees from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, in 1836, and from the University of the City of New York, in 1860. Active in numerous philanthropic societies, he was particularly devoted to the temperance movement. As moderator of the 1842 General Assembly of the Irish Presbyterian Church, he suggested that the Assembly "remonstrate with their American brethren on the subject of slavery." However, his antislavery sympathies remained subordinate to his unwillingness to sever relations with the American Presbyterian Church. Belfast Northern Whig, 9 July 1846; Riach, "Campaign Against American Slavery," 275, 279, 308, 314–15; James Seaton Reid and W. D. Killen, History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland..., 3 vols., 2ded. (London, 1853), 3 : 504–05; Crookshank, Methodism in Ireland, 3 vols. (London, 1888), 3 : 134–35; John G. Woolley and William E. Johnson, Temperance Progress in the Century (London, 1903), 279 , 465; W. D. Killen, Memoir of John Edgar, D.D., LL.D. (Belfast, 1867), 5, 17–21, 90; idem, History of the Congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (Belfast, 1886), 263; Rogers, Father Theobald Mathew, 30–32, 36; D. J. O'Donoghue, The Geographical Distribution of Irish Ability (Dublin, 1906), 52; DNB, 6 : 373–74. and who stood so high in the Evangelical Alliance, and the


man whom Mr. M'Afee4Daniel MacAfee (1790–1873), a Wesleyan Methodist minister, was born in Bushmills, County Antrim, Ireland. MacAfee left the Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Conference in 1827 to join the Wesleyan Methodist Conference. He authored several religious tracts and in 1839 wrote a series of letters defending Methodism against criticism leveled by Daniel O'Connell. At an antislavery meeting in Belfast on 3 October 1846, MacAfee, who had been a delegate to the Evangelical Alliance, accused Garrison of overstating the facts and declared that "he did not believe that there was a single person in the Evangelical-Alliance meeting that was a pro-slavery man. It was a foul and a false misrepresentation to say so." Belfast News Letter, 6 October 1846; Belfast Northern Whig, 6 October 1846; Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine, 19 : 926–27 (October 1873); George Smith, History of Wesleyan Methodism, 3 vols., 5th ed. (London, 18–?) 3 : 398–400; Crookshank, Methodism in Ireland, 3 : 284–85, 368–69; J. S. Crone, Dictionary of Irish Biography (Dublin, 1928), 61. would defend. When the motion of indefinite postponement was passed, the Rev. Moderator of that Assembly of thieves and man-stealers rose from his seat, clasped his hands, and thanked God.

He would mention another circumstance relative to Dr. Cox. When he was about coming over to the Alliance, he wished to get into that body on his own hook—(laughter)—that was, as a delegate to represent Christian America. Dr. Cox, he (Mr. D.) had been informed, asked the General Assembly, as modestly as he could, to send him, as their delegate, to the Alliance; and he told them, that they might rest assured their honour would be safe in his hands. Their honour! The slavedriver's honour! He further assured the Assembly, that if one word derogatory to their honour should be said, he would take up his hat and leave the Alliance, shaking the dust off his feet, as a testimony against them.5At the 1846 Presbyterian General Assembly a Committee appointed to choose delegates to the Evangelical Alliance later reported that though it approved "the object" of the Alliance, it recommended that "no formal delegation be appointed." Douglass probably relied on information from George Thompson who, at a meeting sponsored by the Anti-Slavery League at Exeter Hall on 14 September 1846, presented a letter from an unnamed source that reportedly documented the statements by Cox that Douglass mentions. Minutes of the General Assembly of the Prebyterian Church, 1846, 13, 14; London Patriot, 17 September 1846. But it so happened, that nothing took place in the Alliance to offend the Rev. Doctor. He could go through any street in the town, and take the lowest, the most debased, and the most sordid of the people, and they would give a more Christian testimony against slavery and slaveholders than the Evangelical Alliance had done. They met together, spent £8,000, and lived in happy union with each other until the question of slavery was introduced; but after that things did not go on so pleasantly.

Mr. Douglass then proceeded to read extracts from two sermons de-


livered in Virginia, by Bishop Meade, and which he published, for the purpose of being read by Christian masters to their slaves, relative to the manner in which they should conduct themselves towards their masters and mistresses. In those sermons, he stated, that the masters and mistresses were God's overseers, who had been placed over them, and that God had declared that it should be so. Such was the course of reasoning adopted by those Rev. thieves, in order to delude and misguide the poor slaves. Such was the religion taught in America—the infernal religion—the blasphemous religion—and for consigning which to infamy, the abolitionists were branded with infidelity. He (Mr. D.) would prefer Mahomedanism to a religion which reduced men to the state of brutes, as American religion did; but American religion was not Christianity. (Cheers.) If it was, he would be the last man to speak one word in condemnation of it. (Hear, hear, and cheers.)

After alluding to the nice distinction drawn by Dr. Cunningham between slavehaving and slaveholding, and to the progress which the feeling against man making chattel property of his fellow-man was making among the people, both in England, Ireland, and Scotland, he apologized for detaining the meeting so long. In conclusion, he had merely to add, that he was disgusted with the scurrility of The Banner and News-Letter of that day. These papers professed to give a report of Mr. Garrison's speech, in the Music Hall, on Saturday. The people should not believe one word of those reports: if they wanted a good honest report of his friend Garrison's speech, and one that was a sufficient refutation to the articles which appeared in those papers, they should get The Northern Whig.6Garrison's speech of 3 October 1846 appears in Belfast Northern Whig, 6 October 1846. Mr. Douglass then resumed his seat, loudly applauded.

Mr. Standfield and the Rev. Isaac Nelson gave a lengthened detail of their endeavours to have excluded from the Evangelical Alliance all slaveholders and their apologists, and their want of success.

Mr. Douglass again addressed the meeting; and, after alluding to the fact, that the Word of God was not allowed to be given to the slave, and showing, that it was the interest of his owner to keep him in ignorance of its truths, said, there was another matter to which he wished to draw the attention of the meeting, and to which he had intended to have alluded earlier in the evening. A Rev. Mr. Clarke, a man of colour, attended the Evangelical Alliance, and had promised to the Rev. Dr. Cox


to go through the length and breadth of the land and defend the Alliance. That man was only acting the part of a Judas, and betraying his race. (Hear, hear.) Should this coloured betrayer of his race visit Belfast, he would not call with Mr. Nelson or Mr. Standfield, or with the Anti-Slavery Society of this town; but he (Mr. Douglass) would venture to say, that he would call on those who had invited Dr. Cox to their pulpits and firesides—(hear, hear)—and he had no doubt would produce an influence on the minds of many in Belfast.

He was the Minister of a coloured Congregation in Columbia, where the people were not allowed to read. He was a tool—(hear)—he had been sent out, no doubt, to destroy any influence his (Mr. Douglass's) remarks, might have produced on the minds of the people of Great Britain: he was from Columbia where men, women, and children were dragged to slave-prisons, and sold twice a-week, and frequently daily. The clanking of the chains of these poor people was heard every day, when they were being driven to Alabama. He himself had often been awakened at night by the clanking of the chains of his unfortunate brethren, when the driver was taking them to the ship, for the New Orleans market. Now, this brute, Clarke, was countenancing the sale of his brethren and sisters, and came to England, for the purpose of defending the Christian character of the slaveholders.

Such a man, he would say, ought to be hooted from Belfast—(hear, hear)—and he did hope, when he came here, they would make the air reverberate with such denunciations of his conduct, as he would not, with all his hardihood, be able to brook. (Hear.) He hoped they would shew him, that any betrayer of his race dare not stand on British soil, and defend the slaveholder. He hoped the people of Belfast would be on the look-out for him. He (Mr. Douglass) would take care, that the coloured people of America would be on the look-out for him, but not to do him any harm. They would look at him; and he (Mr. Douglass) would be glad he were present till he would just get one look at him. (Hear, hear.) However, the fact of this Clarke acting as he was doing, was a proof of the identity of the human family; it shewed that there were traitors among the blacks as well as the whites. After a few other remarks, Mr. Douglass concluded by expressing the gratitude he felt for the kind reception he had met from the friends of the slave in Belfast, and urging them to go on in the labour of love in which they had embarked.


Douglass, Frederick


October 6, 1846


Belfast Northern Whig, 8 October 1846.


Yale University Press 1979



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