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Frederick Douglass Elihu Burritt, December 31, 1859


FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO ELIHU BURRITT1Elihu Burritt (1810-79), the “learned blacksmith,” taught himself several languages and sciences while working in a smithy. Born into poverty in New Britain, Connecticut, Burritt made a career of advocating pacifism, temperance, cheap international postage, and abolitionism. A tireless champion of world peace, Burritt joined the American Peace Society in the early 1840s and went to England in 1846, where he formed the League of Universal Brotherhood, disseminated peace propaganda through his “Olive Leaf Mission,” and helped organize two international peace congresses. Opposed to the Civil War because of his pacifism, Burritt determined to undermine slavery by boycotting slave-grown produce, and he later urged schemes for compensated emancipation. During his career, he edited several reform newspapers, the most notable being the Christian Citizen (1844-51). Elihu Burritt, The Learned Blacksmith: The Letters and Journals of Elihu Burritt, ed. Merle E. Curti (New York, 1937); Peter Tolis, Elihu Burritt, Crusader for Brotherhood (Hamden, Conn., 1968); George Shepperson, “The Free Church and American Slavery,” Scottish Historical Review, 30:133 (October 1951); DAB, 3:328.
[n.p.] 31 December 1859.

To THE EDITOR OF THE BOND OF BROTHERHOOD.2Elihu Burritt started the Bond of Brotherhood (1846-66) as the principal organ of the League of Universal Brotherhood. It was published in England and distributed in the United States, and Burritt invited English and American authors to contribute to it. Although Burritt initially focused on articles preaching peace, he later incorporated pieces advocating abolitionism, temperance, and social reform. Burritt remained editor from 1846 to 1865, when he was appointed consul in Birmingham, England; he turned over editorial duties to his English friend Edmund Fry. After Fry’s death, Burritt resumed his position as editor and changed the periodical’s name to Fireside Words. Bond of Brotherhood (August 1846): 1-14, (December 1865): 578, 586; Charles Northend, ed., Elihu Burritt; A Memorial Volume Containing a Sketch of his Life and Labors, with Selections from his Writings and Lectures, and Extracts from his Private Journals in Europe and America (New York, 1879), 154-55.
good friend, both of the cause of peace and of anti-slavery, has called my attention to an article over your initials in the “Bond of Brotherhood” for the month of December, entitled “Physical Force Abolition,"3After John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, several abolitionist journals praised Brown and defended the use of violence to end slavery. Burritt took exception and argued that abolitionism “would be grievously sullied” by a resort to violence. Burritt condemned Brown’s brutal methods, but praised his willingness to suffer for abolitionism. Burritt stated that Brown’s words were a far greater asset to the cause of abolition than his actions at Harpers Ferry. Bond of Brotherhood, new series 113:264—65 (December 1859). in which my present visit to England (much to my surprise) is set forth in a most unfavourable light. In reading that article, I was made painfully to realize that a writer may easily, under the powerful influence of a particular feeling, bias, or prejudice, so state a simple truth, as to make it answer all the malign purposes of a positive untruth. One may, without in the least intending it, under such circumstances, so state a fact, as to convey a complete misrepresentation of its natural import—and this, I think, you have done in the article referred to.
I have no controversy with you, for the present, on the general question of the right of an enslaved people to gain their liberty, if they can, by means of physical force. That question is in no way, shape, or form, involved in my anti-slavery labours here; my mission to England is purely a moral, peaceable, and philanthropic one, and should be allowed, especially by th[e] friends of peace, to stand upon its own merits. All sensible men can see that the kind of aid to the anti-slavery cause, which it might be proper to employ in the United States, would be quite inappropriate to solicit in England. I have, however, to call your attention especially to the following extracts from the article in question, and to beg the privilege of a brief reply. You say, speaking of the Harper’s Ferry Insurrection—“Other names have become implicated in this sorrowful affair—some, we believe, who would never knowingly have promoted bloodshed between the slave and his oppressor. Garrett Smith, for example, is surely too true a peaceman to have countenanced an insurrectionary movement on the part of the American Abolitionists. In Frederick Douglas’s case, we fear, a heavier responsibility attaches to the line of advocacy in which he has indulged. He has not scrupled in his pages openly to advocate the right of


shedding blood in order to emancipate the slaves. He has sought safety in flight, and writes apologetically of the course he has pursued. He leaves his friend, John Brown, to the halter, and comes to England to lecture, but to receive, as we hope, no support or sympathy in his advocacy of physical force abolition. Far be it from us to attempt to asperse a man who has done so much for the cause of freedom, but we cannot withhold the expression of our deep regret, that such a mind should ever have yielded to the seductive influence of the evil spirit of Armed Force, and that his pen should ever have contributed to precipitate the doom of such men as brave old John Brown.”
Now, Mr. Editor, without accusing you of any desire whatever to asperse me, it would be difficult, in the same number of lines, to convey an idea of a deeper villany than is attributed to me in the quotations above cited. I utterly and with every emphasis deny the justice of your entire impeachment; I deny the heavy responsibility you attach to me; I deny that I left my friend, John Brown, to the halter; I deny that I came to England to advocate Physical Force Abolition; I deny having precipitated the doom of such men as brave old Brown. Your article accuses me of all this, and more, and I meet your charges with unqualified denial.
While sympathising deeply with John Brown in his noble and heroic determination to deliver my heart-broken people from the chains of slavery, it was well known to that brave old man, while he lived, that I was earnestly, and to the last opposed to the particular measure, the taking of Harper’s Ferry, which resulted in disaster to himself and the whole enterprise. So far from ever having urged the noble old man, whose martyred blood will never cease to cry from the ground against American slavery, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I exhausted my powers of persuasion against the adoption of the measure which defeated all his beneficent aims and ends. In view of this fact, you must pardon in me a feeling of indignation when I see myself charged by so respectable a man as yourself, with having precipitated the doom of John Brown. I marvel that you should speak of my promoting bloodshed between the slave and his oppressor in such a way as will be well received by every slave master in America. Why should you be more shocked by the shedding of the slaveholder’s blood, than that of his victims? Is the peace for which you contend a peace only for the oppressors and enslavers of men? Are you not aware that slavery is itself a system of war and bloodshed from beginning to end? Are not the slaveholders an armed band of insurgents against the just rights of mankind? Is there any real peace to be broken in the slave states? I affirm that there is not a day in any year, not an hour in any day, not a minute in


any hour, that the blood of the negro does not gush forth at the call of the scourge, or of some other terrible instrument of torture or of death. To me and, I doubt not, to you, the blood of the slave is as precious as the blood of the master, and this wholesale blood shedding on the part of the tyrants, is the grand violation of the peace principles, which should call down your rigorous reprehension. I have no heart for the shedding of blood in any way, but believing the justice of God, and the wisdom with which that justice stands vindicated in the history of the world, I would far rather see the slaveholder reaping the destructive consequences of his crimes, than that cruelty, robbery, and murder should flourish by the peaceful submission of their victims. A glorious holiday may tyrants have, if it were determined in the courts of heaven that they should have nothing to fear from the power and skill of their down-trodden slaves!
I am a man of peace, but I have “no peace for the wicked.’’4Isa. 48:22. No truer word was ever spoken than that there can be no peace where there is oppression. He who does most to establish justice in the world, does most to establish peace in the world.
You charge me with leaving “John Brown to the halter.” This is a most cruel statement—1it implies the basest treachery. It implies that I was with John Brown—had the power to succor John Brown—had actually led John Brown to the ignominious doom of the gallows, and shamelessly deserted him. A man guilty of such treachery, a thousand lashes with a whip of scorpions would be too lenient a punishment. What would you have me do after the failure of the Harper’s Ferry affair, and John Brown was in the hands of his enemies? Would you have had me leave my home in the State of New York, and give myself up to the vengeance of the alarmed tyrants? And if so, what benefit do you suppose such a course would have conferred on John Brown? I was not at Harper’s Ferry—never promised to be at Harper’s Ferry—and counselled against the taking of Harper’s Ferry; and how, in the name of common sense, can any man accuse me of having left Brown to the halter?
My dear sir, you must certainly know that I was engaged to come to England during this season, more than a year ago, and that I should have come here had the Harper’s Ferry affair never taken place, and had there been no attempt to implicate me in that enterprise.
In justice to the cause of peace and humanity, in which, I trust, you and I are co-workers, I submit the foregoing for publication in your forthcoming number.


PLSr: (London) Bond of Brotherhood, new series 114:1-3 (January 1860).



Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895




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