Appendix B. Frederick Douglass and His Paper
Appendix B. FREDERICK DOUGLASS AND HIS PAPER
Liberator, 23 September 1853.
We proceed to the performance of a very disagreeable task. ‘It is not good,‘ says the wise Solomon, ‘to have respect of persons in judgment.’ And yet, there are cases where great forbearance is called for, where there are many mitigating circumstances, where much is to be extenuated or wholly overlooked; and one of these relates to Mr. Douglass and his paper. For a long period, we have forborne to make any criticism upon his course, in numerous instances in which we deemed it highly objectionable; because we have known how extremely sensitive he is to reproof—how readily he construes it into personal hostility—how estranged he has become in feeling from his old and attached friends; and because we can never forget the pit of chattelism from which he was lifted, or the adverse circumstances of his most eventful life. If we have ever felt a friendly interest in the development. welfare and advancement of any human being, it has been in his own case. We have followed him, step by step, with the deepest solicitude—remembering how seldom it is that a person is suddenly raised from the lowest depth of obscurity to a highly conspicuous position before the world, without becoming intoxicated by the change or cursed by selfish ambition; that no one has ever been called to pass through a more perilous ordeal of praise on the one hand, and reproach on the other; that the greatest responsibilities were resting upon him as the representative and advocate of a long oppressed and horribly outraged people; and that the eyes of millions of enemies were fastened upon him, envious of his wonderful growth, malignant at his extraordinary success, and watchful for his downfall. As in no other instance, we have taken special pains to avoid any collision with him: we have been dumb where others have been outspoken; and now that we are called to break the silence, it is not of choice, but of necessity; the conﬂict is one that we have shunned, rather than sought.
One thing should always be remembered in regard to the anti-slavery cause. It is not based upon complexion, but upon justice; its principles are world-wide. though the victims whom it seeks to deliver are groaning in the Southern prison-house; it concerns man as man, not merely as an African, or one of African descent. Unswerving fidelity to it, in this country, requires high moral attainments, the crucifixion of all personal considerations, a paramount regard for principle, absolute faith in the right. It does not follow, therefore, that, because a man is or has been a slave, or because he is identified with a class meted out and trodden under foot, he will be the truest to the cause of human freedom. Already, that cause, both religiously and politically, has transcended the ability of the sufferers from American slavery and prejudice, as a class, to keep pace with it, or to perceive what are its demands, or to understand the philosophy of its operations.
Another thing should be clearly understood. The difficulty with Mr. Douglass, on the part of his old friends, is not that he has changed his opinions
concerning the Constitution, but that he has become alienated in spirit, and no longer treats them with fairness or courtesy. ‘I cherish no love for WENDELL PHILLIPS or EDMUND QUINCY,’ was his public declamation before the colored citizens of Boston, a short time since, and he might have added, ‘none for any of their associates’—for the heart that could proscribe two such devoted friends of the slave as PHILLIPS and QUINCY, and avow no regard for them, is incapable of cherishing any esteem for such as stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
It may have surprised some of our readers to observe, in the last LIBERATOR, an article from the pen of Mr. Douglass, placed in the ‘Refuge of Oppression.’ But the temper and spirit of the article were such as to amply justify the position we assigned it.
It begins with a misstatement—charging THE LIBERATOR with ‘having opened what it evidently meant should prove a very galling and destructive fire upon Frederick Douglass's Paper.’ But it subsequently convicted itself of falsehood, by saying that our promised strictures remained to be made. ‘There is a promise that retribution, though long delayed, will come at last; and come it will, no doubt, for THE LIBERATOR’s temper is evidently up to it’! All that we had done was to ‘come out with some extracts from Frederick Douglass’s Paper,’ and let him speak for himself! We do not wonder that he felt ashamed to see them in our columns., whether ‘selected with artistic skill,’ or otherwise; for they revealed a state of mind, on his part, any thing but honorable or praiseworthy. The first speaks of the 'Injustice’ of Mr. Phillips to Mr. Mann, and accuses him of indulging in ‘a fit of pride and petulance.’ The second affects great surprise that the Massachusetts A. S. Society were unwilling to license one of its lecturing agents to sell a work, for his benefit, which they regarded as historically unjust and unreliable. The third is Mr. Douglass’s account of the celebration of West India Emancipation at Framingham. in which he sneeringly says—‘Mr. Phillips, doubtless smarting under the well-deserved castigation given him recently by Hon. Horace Mann, and wishing to take vengeance on somebody, magnanimously pounced upon me. . . I never entered a meeting where l was made the subject of a more venomous attack. . . . It is hard to report the words, it is harder to report the ﬁery glance and supercilious scowl of Wendell Phillips’!!! Now, what could be more contemptible or more untruthful than representations like these? Mr. Douglass had seen fit, in his paper, to insinuate that Parker Pillsbury, Henry C. Wright, and Stephen S. Foster, probably absented themselves from the last annual meeting of the American A. S. Society, in order to give it a less ‘lofty’ character in the eyes of religious people, especially on the other side of the Atlantic! Mr. Phillips calmly but explicitly called upon Mr. Douglass, at Framingham, to state to the audience on what ground he based such an imputation. His language and his manner befitted the seriousness of the issue: there was no ‘venom’ in his spirit: it was a faithful reproof, administered in the love of the truth, and worthy of the noble character of Mr. Phillips. Mr. Douglass may style it ‘a most bitter personal assault,’ but six
hundred witnesses can testify to the contrary. That it was a painful occurrence is readily admitted; because it placed Mr. D. in a dilemma from which he was unable to extricate himself. We regard it as exceedingly base in him to represent Mr. Phillips as his personal enemy, who has no other object in criticizing him than to effect his overthrow. Surely, the Frederick Douglass of 1853 is a very different man from the one of 1846!
The fourth article was a letter of Mr. Douglass, describing his visit to Boston. and giving an account of his meetings in the Belknap Street Church, in which he brings false accusations against ROBERT PURVIS, C. LENOX REMOND, and WILLIAM C. NELL, and assails them with great malignity—representing them as his deadly foes, and branding the last named gentleman as a ‘contemptible tool.' The atrocious crime of Mr. Nell was, in modestly asking Mr. Douglass to explain his position to his old friends and coadjutors! The treatment he has received at the hands of Mr. D. would be disgraceful to a barbarian. A more worthy, amiable, inoffensive man, does not tread upon the American soil. As for the statement of Mr. D. that Messrs. Remond and Purvis attacked and denounced the National Colored Convention at Rochester, it is not true. We were present at the time, and can testify that their language was unexceptionable, and heartily received by the assembly. As for Mr. Purvis, we think he passed no criticism whatever upon the Convention.
The refusal of Mr. D. to allow Mr. Nell to be heard through his columns, after having grossly misrepresented and assailed him, was an act of unmitigated injustice.
It is equally idle and false for Mr. DOUGLASS to pretend that he is persecuted on account of his change of views on the subject of political action, and on the character of the Constitution. He is an altered man in his temper and spirit; the success of his paper he makes paramount to principle; and the curse of worldly ambition is evidently the secret of his alienation.