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Intemperance and Slavery: An Address Delivered in Cork, Ireland, on October 20, 1845



Truth Seeker, 1:142–44 (1845–46).

From the day of his arrival in Ireland, Douglass had found temperance audiences responsive to his combined attacks on liquor and chattel slavery. On the evening of 20 October 1845 he spoke at Cork's Temperance Institute where Father Theobald Mathew, the Institute’s founder and Ireland’s most prominent temperance advocate, had arranged a soirée in Douglass’s honor. Father Mathew introduced Douglass to the audience, praising him for being a “consistent and faithful teetotaler." Observer Ralph Varian reported in the Truth Seeker that “above 200 respectable inhabitants of Cork,“ including the mayor and “some of the most influential men of the city," were present for the occasion. The Cork Examiner of 24 October 1845 estimated the attendance at approximately 260. From the gallery the South Main Street Quadrille Band offered a “brilliant execution” of various musical scores. The Cork Examiner seemed less impressed with the band than with Douglass’s rendition of what the paper termed “a nigger song.“ Cork Examiner, 13, 20, 24 October 1845; Douglass to Garrison, 28 October 1845, in Lib., 28 November 1845, where Douglass mistakenly states that the soirée took place on 21 October. See also Harrison, Drink and the Victorians, 101, 174–75; Tyler, Freedom's Ferment,, 346.

Mr. Frederick Douglass said:—Ladies and Gentlemen,—The first sentiment that presses for utterance, is that of gratitude. I feel exceedingly grateful to my honored friend, the president,1Regarded in Ireland as the “Apostle of Temperance,“ Father Theobald Mathew (1790–1856) was born in County Tipperary to a family related to the local landed gentry. He was a Franciscan friar of the Capuchin Order and, after his ordination in 1814, was assigned to a mission in Cork, where he became popular for his charitable activities in behalf of the Catholic poor. In April 1838, after his conversion to temperance, he founded the Total Abstinence Society of Cork, which discountenanced the use of spirits except for medicinal purposes. It is said that Mathew personally converted six million of the Irish people to teetotalism. Douglass witnessed one ceremony where one thousand postulants took the pledge from Mathew. As famine ravaged southern Ireland in the 1840s, Mathew devoted most of his energy to feeding and caring for the destitute. After Mathew’s death the Irish temperance movement faded rapidly. Rogers, Theobald Mathew, James Bermingham, A Memoir of the Very Rev. Theobald Mathew, with an Account of the Rise and Progress of Temperance in Ireland (New York, 1841), 15–114; Harrison, Drink and the Victorians. 103, 126, 165–68, 130, 211, 334, 390; Douglass to Garrison, 16 September 1845, in Lib., 10 October 1845. for affording me an opportunity of meeting with so many highly intelligent and influential people as I see before me. I feel grateful also for the distinguished honor conferred upon me by having been invited by him to a seat by his side


in your distinguished presence. I know not why ’tis so, I know not why I am humbled, when I reflect on what I have been, and what I now am. When I think of the situation I once filled, and of the one I now fill, I can scarcely believe my own identity. I was not a slave to intemperance, but a slave to my fellow-men. From deprivation of the ordinary facilities of addressing bodies like the present, you will naturally infer, that I feel embarrassment in my present situation, as one entirely beyond anything I ever expected. But seven years ago I was ranked among the beasts and creeping things; tonight I am here held as a man and a brother. I don’t know what to say. That I am a teetotaler is most true. I have been a staunch one for some years. I shall forget for a moment that I ever was a slave. If I can forget it, I think I could move as a man among you. If I can but forget the position in which I once was, I can turn my attention to teetotalism, and shall be able to speak as a man for a few moments.

Mr. President,—Teetotalism has been an interesting subject to me. We have a large class of free people of color in America; that class has, through the influence of intemperance, done much to retard the progress of the anti-slavery movement—that is, they have furnished arguments to the oppressors for oppressing us; they have pointed to the drunkards among the free colored population, and asked us the question, tauntingly—“ What better would you be if you were in their situation?” This of course was a great grievance to me. I set my voice against intemperance. I lectured against it, and talked against it, in the street, in the wayside, at the fire-side; wherever I went during the last seven years, my voice has been against intemperance. But notwithstanding my efforts, and those of others, intemperance stalks abroad among the colored people of my country. Still I am pleased to be able to say, that the change in their situation, with regard to intemperance, has been great in the last seven years. Take Philadelphia, for example: there are 1500 colored people there,2Philadelphia’s black population totalled 10,507 in 1840. U.S. Bureau of Census, Compendium of the Enumeration of the inhabitants and Statistics of the United States, . . . (Washington, D.C., 1841), 25; W. E. B. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (Philadelphia, 1899), 32, 46–47. and there are now not less than 80 Temperance Societies mong that class.3It is unlikely that there were ever more than 10 black temperance organizations in Philadelphia at this time. In 1837 there were only 4 of them in the city. In 1838 there were 80 mutual aid and self-improvement societies among black Philadelphians and there were more than 100 such organizations ten years later. Douglass doubtless had in mind these self-improvement bodies, which frequently espoused temperance and abolitionism. Benjamin Queries, Black Abolitionists (New York, 1969), 95, 101–02. In the constitution of these societies are incorporated


rules to look after their sick, and to bury members that may die. They have been enabled to contribute a sufficient sum to the treasury to take care of their own poor.

But we have had difficulties in struggling out of our drunkenness. No longer ago than 1842, on the lst day of August—the day, Mr. President, on which the slaves in the West Indies were emancipated. It is common in our country among abolitionists to celebrate that day. Well, a large number of colored people in Philadelphia attempted to celebrate that day by forming themselves into a temperance procession, and walking through the streets, with appropriate banners, and thus to make a temperance impression on their fellow brethren who had not yet joined their ranks. They had also ‘freedom’ inscribed upon their banner. Well, such was the feeling in this slave-holding city, that the display of the banner brought upon these poor colored people an infuriated mob! Their houses were burnt down in different parts of the city, and their churches were burned to the earth, themselves turned out of the city, and the city authorities and police did nothing to prevent it!“4The 1200 marchers hardly had a chance to begin the parade sponsored by the Moyamensing Temperance Society. A white mob, “spurred on by the enemies of temperance,” attacked the paraders, tore up their banners, set fire to a black church and a mutual aid building, and frightened off the fire department and the sheriff and his deputies. Local authorities later ordered that the brick building that blacks used as a temperance hall be demolished lest it provoke further riots. Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 99; Sam Bass Warner, The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of its Growth (Philadelphia, 1968), 140–41; Elizabeth M. Geffen, “Violence in Philadelphia in the 1840s and 1850s,” PaH", 36 : 381–410 (October 1969); Lib., 12, 19 August, 2 September 1842; AFASR, 2 : 85–86 (1 September 1842).

We have great difficulty in becoming virtuous men in our country; this feeling, as developed thus, is not felt as much in the New England States. About three years ago it was not common to see a colored person in a temperance meeting in New England even, because it was understood they were unacceptable people. Though rum would degrade them in common with white people, they were excluded by what is called prejudice against color! True, the white and the black could wallow in their degradation in the same mire, but when the white man became sober, he had no idea of the black man coming up by his side, sober. But this state of things has much altered, and a little before my leaving Massachusetts, I received several invitations from white temperance societies to lecture to them upon temperance. And in the last procession in Boston, some 16,000 teetotalers passed on, mingling with them,—you might see the sons and daughters of Ethiopia in common with the whites. The consequence has been, the colored people of New England


have gradually advanced out of their degradation. I have great reason to rejoice at the temperance movement.

Temperance in our country has made rapid advances from time to time. I have heard of the advance of temperance in this country. I have heard also of the interest having decreased very much. The enemies of temperance represent the good cause to be waning here;—they say that the temperance movement is going down! You may thus hear in all directions those who are desirous to throw—not cold water, but rum and brandy, over the temperance ranks! Well, I am glad to have been in Ireland, and to be able to answer their charges, to the utter chagrin of the enemies of this cause in my own country. If meeting with thousands of beings who are taking the pledge with every sincere expression of delight, then is the temperance movement on the wane. We may answer the objection as a man once answered it in America. He said—“Twas going down—going gloriously down—going down east, down west, down north, down to every point of the compass—going into every family—spreading peace and comfort and gladness over the entire community.” It may be said to be so going down in Ireland. (Great applause.)

I am deeply engaged in the anti-slavery cause. I am deeply engaged in attempting to get my colored brethren out of slavery. I believe, Mr. President, that if we could but make the world sober, we would have no slavery. Mankind has been drunk. I believe that if the slaveholder would be sober for a moment—would consider the sinfulness of his position—hard-hearted as he is, I believe there is humanity enough if we could get him sober—we could get a public opinion sufficiently strong to break the relation of master and slave. All great reforms go together. Whatever tends to elevate, whatever tends to exalt humanity in one portion of the world, tends to exalt it in another part; the same feeling that warms the heart of the philanthropist here, animates that of the lover of humanity in every country.

I have some experience in this matter. When first I landed in Dublin, the warmest reception that I received any where, at home or abroad, was in a temperance meeting, where thousands had congregated to receive the pledge from the Rev. Doctor Spratt.5John Spratt (1797–1871) was one of the pioneers of the total abstinence movement in Dublin, Ireland, where he was born. He studied at the Carmelite College in Spain and later became Provincial of the Carmelite order of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. He was instrumental in the establishment of several Catholic charities in Dublin, including an orphanage and an asylum for the blind. Among the first to join Father Theobald Mathew's temperance crusade, Spratt supervised five of the ten total abstinence societies of Dublin. On 1 September 1845, the day after reaching Dublin, Douglass spoke at a temperance meeting where Spratt administered the pledge to "upwards of one thousand persons." Webb, CIB, 487; Rogers, Theobald Mathew, 46, 116; Quarles, FD, 40; Dublin Evening Post, 2 September 1845.


I feel glad to speak to you. All that I wanted was to shew you that I loved the temperance cause; and I love emancipation. DON ’T FORGET THE BONDSMAN. I can talk a little better upon that subject than upon temperance. I have a wonderful sight of facts on the question of slavery to throw before the people of Ireland. My words, feeble as they are when spoken at home, will wax stronger in proportion to the distance I go from home, as a lever gains power by its distance from the fulcrum.


Frederick Douglass


October 20, 1845


From the day of his arrival in Ireland, Douglass had found temperance audiences responsive to his combined attacks on liquor and chattel slavery. On the evening of 20 October 1845 he spoke at Cork's Temperance Institute where Father Theobald Mathew, the Institute's founder and Ireland's most prominent temperance advocate, had arranged a soiree in Douglass's honor. Father Mathew introduced Douglass to the audience, praising him for being a "consistent and faithful teetotaler." Observer Ralph Varian reported in the Truth Seeker that "above 200 respectable inhabitants of Cork," including the mayor and "some of the most influential men of the city," were present for the occasion.


Yale University Press 1979



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