Frederick Douglass Gerrit Smith, April 20, 1857
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO GERRIT SMITH
[n.p.] 20 April 57
HON. GERRIT SMITH
My DEAR SIR:
The Bill sent to mr Green1Beriah Green. was by mistake. The five dollars of which he Speaks is duly Set to his credit, and the five you have now Sent shall also be Set to his credit. He Shall not be troubled with a bill again. I am amazed as well as gratified at the strength of the vote in favor of a radical abolition personal Liberty Bill.2Following the Dred Scott decision, New York’s legislature formed a joint special committsee to determine the impact of the ruling and the state’s response to it. In April 1857 the committee released a series of resolutions and a bill that stated, “Every slave who shall come, or be brought, or be, in this State, with the consent of his or her master or mistress, or who shall come or be brought or be involuntarily in this State, shall be free.” On 17 April, the bill passed the assembly but failed to receive enough votes in the senate for it to continue on to the Committee of the Whole. Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North 1780-1861, (Baltimore, 1974), 182-85. I am sorry the convention appointed here is given up.3A circular dated 1 January 1857 called for a National Convention of Radical Abolitionists to be held in Rochester in June. The convention would discuss the prospect of nominating a candidate for president in 1860. Published weekly in Frederick Douglass’ Paper, the circular last appeared in the 17 April issue. On 1 April 1857, the Radical Abolitionist, the small party’s official newspaper, issued a call for a minimum of 500 people to pledge by 10 April to attend the convention. On failing to achieve that goal, on 1 May the Radical Abolitionist published a notice that the convention had been canceled. But in that same issue, the newspaper assured its readers that since a “large part of [the] prominent leaders [of the Republican party were] about to become Radical Abolitionists,” they would “soon” be able to “avail” themselves of that party’s “extended organization [and] save the trouble of getting up one or our own.” New York Radical Abolitionist, 1 January, 1 February, 1 April, 1 May 1857. FDP, 17 April 1857. [B]ut your proposition for turning Republican Convention into Abolition oneS Strikes me fair.4Douglass was probably referring to the Republican party’s next national convention, which took place in Chicago in May 1860, although it is also possible that he was referring to New York’s upcoming Republican party convention, which took place in Syracuse on 23 September 1857. New York Times, 28 July, 24 September 1857; Stan M. Haynes, First American Political Conventions: Transforming Presidential Nominations, 1832—1872 (Jefferson, N.C., 2012), 169-75, 203-08. We have turned Whigs and Democrats into Republicans—and we can turn Republicans into Abolitionists. You have already gone a great way in this direction. I trace that magnificent Show of hands in the assembly directly to your Speech and Counsels.5Following the Dred Scott decision, Gerrit Smith publicly supported the passage of personal liberty bills to protect fugitive slaves and free blacks in nonslave states. Smith’s support is evident in a letter he wrote to D. C. Littlejohn, Speaker of the New York Assembly, dated 18 March and entitled “Man is Property Everywhere & Nowhere,’ and in a public speech given at Albany on 11 April. FDP, 10, 14 April 1857. You cannot however, expect that your disciples Shall be quite as Successful as yourSelf—I am better of my throat trouble.