Frederick Douglass to Gerrit Smith, August 22, 1854
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO GERRIT SMITH
Rochester[, N.Y.] 22 Aug[ust] 1854.
HON: GERRIT SMITH,
MY DEAR SIR.
In this week’s paper you will See that I ask your views on Several points.1Douglass published a letter to Smith in the 25 August 1854 issue of Frederick Douglass’ Paper, requesting Smith’s impressions of congressional support for antislavery issues. Do go into the matters there brought for ward, as fully as you Can. I readily See that your point of look out, has been Such during the Session of Congress just closed, as to afford you Special facilities for forming intelligent views on all the points respecting which I ask you to Speak.
Knowing how completely your office has exposed you to the inflictions as well as the afflictions of correspondents, I have aimed to trouble you as little as possible. I wanted you to have all your precious time and Strength for this Great work in which you were engaged. I do not regret this prudence and hope you do not.
Now about your Letter to your ConStituents: Laying aside all friendly partiality of which, I am ConScious, I pronounce it, on every point, except one, an invulnerable and every way Satisfactory document. In every Step of your Congressional movement my heart and judgement have gone with you, except your remarks touching the annexation of Cuba.2Smith’s views on the annexation of Cuba were published in a letter to his constituents in the 18 August 1854 issue of Frederick Douglass’ Paper. Criticized for supporting the annexation of a country that had not abolished slavery, Smith defended his position by suggesting that such a union would ultimately bring an end to the African slave trade with Cuba and strengthen the antislavery movement in America.
Here I hesitated, and have finally come Strongly to wish, Such views were not your’s. This much is due to frankness. You may ask why I have not Said as much in my paper. I answer, I Saw with Shame and mortification deep & entense, that a Swarm of hungry birds were picking at you, with no other apparent motive than to prove Gerrit Smith as weak as themselves— I did wish to Show myself not of that class.
Some of this class of writers, make you a great political Sinner for reSigning your Seat3Probably feeling uncustomarily impotent as a member of the small militant antislavery minority in the House of Representatives, Smith submitted his resignation of his seat on 7 August 1854, well before his term’s end. As Douglass states, many abolitionists of a variety of factions criticized
Smith for taking that course. Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 331–32. in Congress. What would have been lauded as highly democratic and magnanimous in others, is treachery and meanness in you. Giving up place and power, at a point, when that place was every hour becoming more honorable and when that power, was becoming more and more widely felt Should have given rise to other reflections than those with which you have been greeted.
My dear Sir, While I do not See the wisdom of the idea of getting Cuba into the union with or without slavery, it is proper to Say, that the avowal one way or the other, does not touch the antiSlavery integrity of any man. A warm personal friend of mine Mr Jennings of Cork4While in Cork, Douglass stayed with Ann and Thomas Jennings and their eight children. Their daughters, Charlotte, Helen, Isabel, and Jane, were active in the Cork Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society and collected contributions for the Boston Anti-Slavery Bazaar. Isabel Jennings served as co-secretary of the society and later supported Douglass’s newspaper through donations to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Bazaar. Clare Taylor, British and American Abolitionists: An Episode in Transatlantic Understanding (Edinburgh, Scot., 1974), 159, 243–44; Patricia J. Ferreira, “Frederick Douglass in Ireland: The Dublin Edition of his Narrative,” New Hibernia Review, 5:57 (Spring 2001); Ellen M. Oldham, “Irish Support of the Abolitionist Movement,” Boston Public Library Quarterly, 10:175–80 (October 1958). called on me this after having Spent Several months in Cuba and told me that anexation would be an incalculable benefit to the Slaves of Cuba. He instanced the terrible cruelties of Slavery in Cuba—the enormous disproportion of males to females—the dreadful evils arising therefrom—and the total moral unfitness of the Cuban population to deal with System of Slavery—the entire absence of any thought there, of the Sinfulness of Slavery— made it, as he thought desireable—even to the slaves themselves to be brought under the American government. His argument made an impression on my mind at the time— but did not at all, Satisfy me, that the Slaves of Cuba would be better off, for being in this union.
Always most truly yours,
ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.