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Frederick Douglass Gerrit Smith, April 16, 1856



Rochester[, N.Y.] 16 April 1856[.]
The engagement which will prevent my my attending the convention at syracuse,1On 28-29 May 1856, political abolitionists dissatisfied with the weak antislavery stand of the new Republican party met at city hall in Syracuse, New York, to nominate their own candidates for president and vice president. Gerrit Smith and William Goodell, the primary promoters of this Radical Abolitionist Convention, were hoping to create a “Radical Abolition Party” to replace the moribund Liberty party. A strong personal plea from Smith persuaded Douglass to cancel a scheduled lecture tour of Ohio and appear at the Syracuse convention. Northern indignation at the attacks during the preceding week on Charles Sumner in the Senate and on the free-state settlement of Lawrence, Kansas, bolstered attendance at the gathering. Joseph Plumb of New York presided over two days of deliberations, which were highlighted by the reading of an “Address” written by Smith that strongly rebuked the Republicans, and by debate over an amendment offered by Abram Pryne sanctioning the use of force to make Kansas a free state. Douglass frequently entered into the discussions. On the afternoon of 28 May, he rose to urge adoption of Smith’s “Address,” and at the evening session he joined William J. Watkins and Beriah Green in speaking to a hall crowded with delegates to the New York State Republican Convention, which was also meeting in Syracuse. The next day, the Radical Abolitionists unanimously nominated Gerrit Smith for president and the Pennsylvania lawyer Samuel McFarland for vice president. The convention then adjourned, as Douglass wrote, “to meet again at the ballot-box, November next.” A. C. Hills, a reporter, recorded the speeches. Douglass to Gerrit Smith, 22 March, 12, 16 April, 23 May 1856, Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU; New York Daily Times, 29 May 1856; New York Daily Tribune, 29 May 1856; FDP, 6 June 1856; Washington (D.C.) National Era, 26 June 1856; Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 3:xxv, 134; Stauffer, Black Hearts of Men, 20. if my Ohio friends insist upon it, was made as long ago, as


december 1855. I engaged to Spend the last week in May 1856—in Warren and Clinton counties—with a view to attending Several antiSlavery Conventions in those counties—lIt is bearly possible that I may be able to get a postponement of those conventions. I shall write to my friend Dr Watson2John Hampton Watson (1804-83) graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in medicine in 1829. He moved to Ohio in 1835, where he practiced medicine for a few years in Paintersville, Greene County, Ohio. He won admission to the Ohio bar in 1844. A veteran abolitionist, Watson removed his family to the Kansas Territory in the late 1850s to support the free-state cause there. In 1862, Republicans elected Watson to the Kansas supreme court, but that election was later ruled invalid. He later served on the district court bench in Kansas. Daniel W. Wilder, Annals of Kansas (Topeka, Kans., 1875), 325-26, 345, 475, 492, 583; Michael A. Broadstone, ed., History of Greene County, Ohio: Its People, Industries and Institutions, 2 vols. (Indianapolis, Ind., 1918), 1:387, 568.
—of Paintersville Ohio to a effect this if possible.
Nevertheless, I cannot see any pressing necessity for being present at the Convention at Syracuse. My mind is made up as to the wisdom of the radical movement—and the reasons which have convinced me—will find able men enough to enforce them in that convention—without my aid—As to doing anything for my paper in Such a convention—I have little hope. My Subscription list must be recruited not from the veterans of the cause, who for the most part, are poor and already provided for—but from the public at Large.
I did not go to Watertown3It is unknown what “lecture” Douglass intended to deliver in Watertown in April 1856. Douglass suffered from a recurring “throat disorder,’ which he mentioned in a letter to Smith dated 22 March 1856. In a subsequent letter to Smith dated 12 April 1856, Douglass stated that his throat was better, but he was hoarse because he had been on a lecturing tour and was not looking forward to his trip to Watertown. Douglass to Gerrit Smith, 22 March, 12 April 1856, Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.
as I told you—My voice forSook me two days before and is just returning—
Yours Most Truly


ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU.



Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895




Yale University Press 2018



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