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Slavery and the Limits of Nonintervention: An Address Delivered in Halifax, England, on December 7, 1859


SLAVERY AND THE LIMITS OF NONINTERVENTION: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN HALIFAX, ENGLAND, ON 7 DECEMBER 1859 Halifax Courier, 10 December 1859. Other texts in Halifax Guardian, 10 December 1859; Leeds Mercury, 10 December 1859; London Patriot, 15 December 1859; Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 5 January 1860. Douglass, who had been making plans since at least August 1859 for a fall speaking tour of Great Britain, claimed that the public furor ignited by John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, “rather delayed than hastened” his departure. Letters linking Douglass to Brown had been discovered in the latter’s possession, and Virginia state officials sought the black editor’s arrest and extradition. Professing his innocence but expecting no justice at southern hands, Douglass fled to Canada. On 12 November 1859 he took passage from Quebec on board the steamer Nova Scotian of the Allan Line, disembarking at Liverpool, England, on 24 November. Two weeks after his arrival in England, Douglass addressed a large and receptive audience at Mechanics’ Hall in Halifax. There he shared the platform with eight British reformers, including the Reverend Dr. H. O. Crofts, the husband of Julia Griffiths, Douglass’s close friend and former assistant in Rochester. It was at the Crofts home that Douglass stayed while in Halifax. Douglass’s speech followed remarks by James Stansfield, Jr. , M. P. , the chairman of the meeting, who declared “that no man had done, or suffered, or wrought more for negro emancipation than had Frederick Douglass.” At the close of Douglass’s address, the audience, which had punctuated his remarks with frequent applause, enthusiastically


passed a resolution welcoming him to England. See Appendix A, text 2, for précis of alternate texts. Douglass to Robert Kinsicut, 9 October 1859, NNS— NYPL; Douglass to the Editor of the Rochester Democrat [and American], 31 October 1859, in Montreal Daily Transcript, 5 November 1859; Rochester Union and Advertiser, 23 August 1859; DM, 2: 162—63 (November 1859); Douglass, Life and Times, 354—55. Mr. DOUGLASS on rising was received with prolonged applause. He said that while he experienced great pleasure in being permitted to address so many of the intelligent and respectable inhabitants of Halifax as he saw before him, he must confess at the outset a degree of embarrassment and hesitation which they would hardly look for in one as much accustomed to public speaking as he was and had been for the last twenty years. He never stood up to address such an assembly on American slavery without feeling how perfectly incompetent he was to do anything like justice to the great subject. He was quite aware he could say nothing to an English audience calculated to enlighten them in regard to the great principles of civil and religious liberty. No nation on the globe could claim to understand those principles better than the people of England; for nowhere else on the globe were those principles more scrupulously observed that he knew of. But it was not because he had a new truth, or that he had discovered a new principle applicable to human affairs, or human society, that he was come to address them that evening, and to address other similar assemblies in this country. Indeed, it would be quite time enough for public speakers to go in search of new truths and principles when the old ones had been reduced to practice—(cheers). Properly speaking, there was no such thing as new truth or old. Error might be new or old, and it had its beginnings and endings. Not so with truth; like the great God from whom it emanated, it was from everlasting to everlasting,1A phrase appearing in Ps. 90: 2. and could never pass away—(applause). Such a truth was man’s right to liberty—he was born with it—it entered into the very idea of his creation—his being was composed of it— it was inscribed on every human soul—the record of it was written in the hand of the Eternal—and till tyrants could scale eternity and wrest from the hand of God man’s title to it, no compacts, no covenants, no agreements, no conspiracy into which they could enter could abrogate or destroy this right—(cheers). He was there that evening to assert this old fundamental truth. Nor was this truth rejected in theory in the United States. Even there they had


decreed, in the fundamental laws of the land, that they held this truth to be self-evident; all men were recognised by the constitution to have an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.2A reference to the Declaration of Independence, not the U.S. Constitution. And yet, in the face of this declaration, and in the face of their conceited boast of liberty, they held in that land four millions of the human family in the most abject, the most terrible bondage ever imposed on any portion of mankind. Take slavery as it existed in Cuba, or in the Brazils, or anywhere else; it was nowhere so destructive of all the rights of humanity as slavery in the United States. He was aware of his (the chairman’s) position in this country, and he could easily understand, on an occasion like this, and when the busy press was ready to take up his words and carry them across the waves, that he should deal with gentleness and treat tenderly his brethren on the other side of the Atlantic.3Although Britain had abolished slavery in its colonies, James Stansfield, Jr., reminded his listeners “that it was we who bequeathed to our transatlantic brethren the ‘damnosa hoereditas' of negro slavery. Let them [the British] not forget the inherent vices existing in our race . . . and look upon this institution of slavery, not so much as a responsibility resting solely on our brethren, as a curse and a guilt, but as a shame and as a responsibility resting also on ourselves, whilst anything remained undone which we could do to remove it." Halifax Courier, 10 December 1859. He (Mr. Douglass) was sure that the same good sense and consideration which the chairman had displayed in his address would lead him to excuse him (Mr. Douglass) if he were a little more explicit in his remarks touching these Americans—(laughter and cheers). He would repeat what he had said in that place the other night,4Douglass had made an earlier appearance at Mechanics' Hall in Halifax when he addressed the Mutual Provident Alliance on 30 November 1859. For a précis of that speech see Appendix A, text 2. Halifax Guardian, 3 December 1859. that he rejoiced sincerely to stand again, after a lapse of thirteen years, on British soil—(hear, hear). When he escaped from slavery, twenty-one years and more ago, he thought himself free in Massachusetts; and he was comparatively free there, but only comparatively so; for although free from the master who claimed his body and soul as his property, he was continually reminded of his slavery by the invariable bitterness and malignant prejudice that surrounded him. On highway, and byeway, and railway; at church or at market, he was continually shewn that he was regarded as inferior to, and not to be treated as, a man. Never till he set his foot on the soil of England did he feel relieved from this incubus; and he must confess that when he landed at Liverpool he looked with a degree of astonishment for an insult. He expected some insult would be offered him on account of his complexion. But wherever he went, he never saw the first look, or


heard the first word which reminded him of his colour—(cheers). He went back to America, almost forgetting that he was a black man, or that he had a woolly head, and when reminded of these things there, he was reminded also that he was no longer in England. The same feeling had been manifested to him here and elsewhere on this occasion, and once more he enjoyed the luxury of perfect freedom (cheers). But what was this slavery he was there to talk about that evening? Time was when no man in England needed to have that question answered; but they were now living twenty-five years after the abolition of slavery in the West Indies, and the generation which struggled for the abolition of slavery in the West Indies was nearly passed away; and he was speaking to almost an entirely new generation. Slavery was that state of things in which one class of the community was made the goods and chattels of another class of the community,—the law by which men were reduced to slavery in the southern states of the American Union—taken, deemed, and reputed in law to be property to all intents and purposes. They had no rights, according to a recent decision of an American judge, which a white man was bound to respect.5Douglass alludes to the language of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's opinion in the Der Scott case. Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford. 19 Howard 393 (1857). 407. The slave—a man with rights; a being for whom Christ died; a being who by the mercy of the Son of God might have his name inscribed in the Lambs Book of Life,6An allusion to Rev. 21: 27. was sacrilegiously degraded to appear in his master’s ledger along with his horses, sheep, and swine! Four millions of human beings were at this moment robbed of their rights, stripped of every privilege, had [made?] to herd like beasts, and were deemed as marketable commodities. The people of this country often heard from the masters, from the American press, and from travellers, favourable accounts of the condition of the slaves; and sometimes, therefore, they were disposed to take a charitable view of the slaveholders of the United States, and to question the stories told by the abolitionists respecting the real character of slavery. If a slaveholder wished for one thing more than another, it was to make a favourable impression with regard to slavery on strangers, on England, and on Europe. Let them look at the matter; he (Mr. Douglass) did not pretend to say that all slaveholders were like the Legrees, Weedons, or Hopkins’s7Simon Legree was the notorious slave owner in Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Reverends Daniel Weeden and Rigby Hopkins. Methodist Protestant and Methodist Episcopal, respectively, had been Douglass's neighbors when he was a slave in Talbot County, Maryland. Both preachers were known for their frequent use of the whip in disciplining their slaves. In his second autobiography, Douglass compared Weeden to his own nemesis, Edward Covey, and reported that it was “the known maxim of Weeden, that it is the duty of a master to use the lash. If, for no other reason, [Weeden] contended that this was essential to remind a slave of his condition. and of his master‘s authority." Hopkins, on the other hand, employed a system of punishing slaves “in advance of deserving it. . . . He whipped for the smallest offenses, by way of preventing the commission of large ones.” Douglass, Bondage and Freedom, 258—61; Dickson J. Preston, Young Frederick Douglass: The Maryland Years (Baltimore, 1980), 130. he was


acquainted with. But he was there to deal with a system. not with individual instances. The system of slavery was necessarily a cruel and revolting system; with it existed, and must exist. the whip, the chain, the gag, the thumb screw, the cat-o’-nine-tails, and the dungeon. These were indispensable to the system, for this best ofall reasons: that man had not only the right to liberty, but the God who made him had planted deep in his soul a love of liberty, ever driving him to resist the claims, demands. and authority of his master, and this must needs be met on the master’s part with cruelty and outrage—(cheers). It must necessarily be cruel. There were some who came to this country, especially those divines who were the supporters of slavery, who represented the kindness and humanity of the slaveholders; and they would add that if this were so, was it not the abuse of slavery against which public opinion should be brought, rather than against slavery itself? He (Mr. Douglass) answered, “No.” The explanation was this: Many a slaveholder ruled his slaves by the cruelty of other slaveholders. A man would call his slave to him, and say, “John, don’t I clothe and feed you well, and do I overwork you?” John would answer, “No;” and his master would then say. “If you do as I bid you, I will continue to treat you as I do; but if you don’t, I’ll sell you to one who will whip you, and brand you, and load you with chains.” Suppose the slave had got a wife and children, who were all the world to him, just as theirs were to them, for Fleecy locks and black complexions Do not alter Nature’s claim; Skins may differ, but affections Dwell in white and black the same.8Douglass quotes from the second verse of William Cowper's “The Negro‘s Complaint." Bailey, Poems of Cowper, 454. (Cheers) What an incentive in those to obedience! Every time he looked at his little ones, and at his ebony wife, as precious to him as the Englishman’s


alabaster wife was to him, he saw an incentive to good behaviour, to obedience to the will and wishes of his master, for fear of an eternal separation if disobedient. So that out of the distant shadow of a distant tyrant, what was called the kind slaveholder was able to weave a subtle instrument, all the more terrible for its subtleness, to goad his slave to obedience. The whole genius of slavery required harsh treatment; for if they treated a slave kindly they made a man of him, and that was just what slavery did not want, and with which slavery could not do. Slavery made a man as a brute and it must keep him a brute. It was said in reply to abolitionists that no man was likely to beat and maim his horse, as they said slaves were maimed and wounded. It was easy to keep a horse in the place of a horse; but if they put a man in the place of a horse they had to resort to additional security for keeping him there—(applause). Look at a slave who had a bad master, who worked him up to the very extent of his ability. That slave would know nothing but physical wants, the want of rest and so forth; he would think nothing about liberty. He might wish for perhaps a better master; and if he got that, he would want one of the best, and when he got the best, there would be such an enlargement of his intellect, such a tenderness of his sensibilities, that he would soon have aspirations to be his own master—(applause). Slaveholders knew this, and hence the tendency to keep slaves down, and if one master showed more kindness than was wont, he would be waited on by his neighbours, and be told that that would not do for the system. Another thing was necessary to the existence of slavery—ignorance. Slaves must be kept from the light of knowledge—they must not learn to read. Hence it was a disgraceful and scandalous fact, a fact that should shock the nerves of all Christendom, and bring to bear on American slavery the united power of Christians in all lands, that four millions of people were forbidden to learn to read the Word of that God who made them—(cheers). But there was a new and strange doctrine abroad in England, he observed, since he was here some years ago; he alluded to the “doctrine of non-intervention” as applied to American slavery. Within certain and well-defined limits he was a most decided and thorough non-interventionist. All could see that there were times, seasons, conditions and circumstances in which non-intervention was both right and expedient. But he contended that American slavery was entirely without the limits of this doctrine. That vile system of blood was an outrage upon all the great principles of justice, liberty. and humanity, principles which belonged


alike to all men of whatever country, colour, or clime. Now he had several solid reasons against the application of this principle to this question. One of these reasons was, that slavery in the United States was a system of piracy. It was not an institution, not a railroad, not a tariff, not a postal regulation; it did not belong to that class of subjects of which a nation could legitimately claim a right to legislate for itself, and without the expression of outside sentiment or opinion respecting it. It was not an American question; it was not an English question; it was not a European question; but it was a great human question—(cheers). The great principles of liberty, the rights, interests, and happiness of mankind—there was an open, shameless, scandalous, hell black violation of them all. John Wesley called slavery “the sum of all villanies,”9Actually, Wesley was describing the slave trade as “that execrable sum of all villanies." Works of the Rev. John Wesley, 3: 453. and as the sum of all villanies, they could not be silent or indifferent about it—(cheers). In all reason, they in England had a right to the expression of an opinion on this subject, and he did not ask them with him to take up arms and go to the Southern States to rescue slaves by force; he did not ask for materials to buy implements of war. All he asked of British men and women was that they would lend him their moral influence and aid for the abolition of slavery. If there were any in the United States engaged in breaking the chains of slavery, precisely as they in England sent out missionaries for the spread of Christianity, so should they hold up the hands of those who were breaking the bonds of oppression—(cheers). The slave being a man, they were bound by the ties of humanity to feel—to “remember those that are in bonds as bound with them.”10An adaptation of Heb. 13: 3. no matter where they might be found. There was another reason for asking them to look into this question of slavery. It so happened that there were some evils which could be disposed of by those who felt and knew them best; and there were other evils in the world so great, so powerful, so overshadowing, so capable of begetting a character in all around favourable to their own continuance, unless they obtained a moral sentiment from a purer and better atmosphere than that surrounding the evil itself, they could never hope to overthrow it. This was one of them. England had sinned against his poor perishing race, since it loaded it with chains for 200 years in the West India islands; sinned in planting


slavery in America; sinned in permitting treaties for the abolition of the slave trade to be broken, where they should have been enforced. But to her credit and glory be it spoken she had struck off the chain from eight hundred thousand of the oppressed. and put herself in the position to protest against the existence of slavery—(cheers). Hers was a purer moral sentiment. In the vicinity of slavery, all was paralysed. The church was paralysed by it. Her ministers were dumb; the press was silent. Hence they the abolitionists were asking England and all the world to speak out against iniquity. Another reason he (Mr. Douglass) had for being here to advocate this question, was that he knew the slaveholders did not want him to be here. Slaveholders were great non-interventionists—they wanted to be let alone. “Shut out the light! Shut out the light!” they said. He was here because slaveholders, and particularly those sleek divines who came to this country to religious meetings, who were the supporters of slavery, had put a smooth face on the matter. He thought it meet and right, once in a while, that one of their victims, one who had felt the lash, the chain; who had been driven to market like a brute, should go abroad and publish not the outside view, but the inside view of American slavery—(loud cheers). He had yet another reason for claiming English intervention. It was this: The slaveholders of America charged England with having forced and fastened slavery upon them. They (the Americans) therefore could have no complaint against England for interfering; for surely he that had committed a sin had a right to repent of that sin, and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance11Douglass paraphrases Luke 3: 8. which reads in part, “Bring forth therefore Fruits worthy of repentance."—(cheers). Did they ask how it came to be that such a system was supported in a country with such laws, institutions, and religion as were professed in the United States? He would tell them: It was because Americans were really false to their institutions. They professed liberty, but it was with mental reservations. They said all men were created equal, except negroes; all men were entitled to life, liberty, and to pursue happiness, except negroes; all men were protected in life, liberty, and property, except negroes. The commandment that “whatsoever thou wouldst that men should do to thee do even so to them,”12Douglass paraphrases Matt. 7: 12. was really tortured into an argument to sustain slavery. They had slavery in the United States because it was reputable in the southern states; and it was reputable there because it was not disreputable


in the northern states; and it was not so disreputable there as it ought to be because it was not so disreputable in England as it ought to be; and it was not so disreputable there as it ought to be because the attention of the people of England was not called to it as earnestly and as often as it ought to be—(cheers). He was not of those who thought a dissolution of the Union essential to the abolition of slavery. The constitution of the United States was good enough in anti-slavery doctrine for him. There was not a word there that favoured the idea of holding property in man. The word “white” was not there, nor “black.” The Declaration of Independence said “we the people do ordain and establish this constitution,”13This phrase, in an expanded form, is from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. &c. It did not say the sheep, the horses, or the swine; but we, “the people”—(cheers). The Americans, like the Jews of old, had made void the law by their traditions. The government was false to its constitution; therefore they had slavery. The Church was false to its religion; therefore they had slavery. The ministers were false to their high calling; therefore they had slavery. Men were sold to build churches; women were sold to support ministers; and children were sold to buy Bibles. Slave marts and churches stood in the same market place. The groans of the slaves being sold in the shambles at Richmond were sometimes drowned by the pious shouting of their masters in the church close by. The bloodstained gold was given for the support of the pulpit; and the pulpit in its turn threw its mantle over the slaveholder. There were revivals of religion and revivals of slavery. Devils dressed as angels, and hell presented the semblance of paradise. The gates of hell and the gates of heaven were made to appear to open close together. Here, then, was cause for Christian intervention; for where could they find an institution better calculated for undermining Christianity than to have it said that religion in the United States was the bulwark of slavery? There were some religious men and pulpits in America opposed to slavery; but the man who faithfully dealt out the word of God against slavery, as did Dr. Cheever14George B. Cheever. (cheers)—and he was glad to find he was not unknown here—became a reproach. He did not say that religion—that the Bible—supported slavery. No, not at all, not at all. It was not the fault of the Bible or of Christianity. He felt with Theodore D. Weld,15Theodore Dwight Weld (1803—95), an influential evangelical abolitionist, was born in Hampton, Connecticut, the son of a Congregational minister. After his family moved to western New York, he came under the influence of Charles Grandison Finney and Charles Stuart. An arresting speaker. Weld combined temperance, revivalism, and antislavery in his lectures of the early 1830s. In 1834, while a student at Lane Theological Seminary, he organized a series of debates on slavery, which so involved some students in controversial antislavery activities that the school banned all discussion of the issue. In protest, eighty students asked to be expelled. many of them entering Oberlin College, which Weld later visited as a lecturer. In 1838 Weld married the noted abolitionist Angelina Grimke. A throat ailment curtailed his speaking engagements in the late l83()s and early 1840s, but Weld remained active as an organizer of antislavery petition campaigns to Congress. Before the Civil War, he operated the integrated and coeducational Eagleswood School in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. A prolific pamphleteer, he wrote The Bible Against Slavery (New York, 1838), American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (New York, 1839), and Slavery and the Internal Slave Trade in the United States (London, 1841). Barnes, Antislavery Impulse, 3-195; Benjamin P. Thomas, Theodore Weld: Crusader for Freedom (New Brunswick, N.J,. 1950); Robert H. Abzug, Passionate Liberator: Theodore Dwight Weld and the Dilemma of Reform (New York, 1980). “that


slavery never seeks refuge in the Bible of its own accord; the horns of the altar are its last resort, seized only in madness, as it rushes from the avenger’s arm. Goaded in its conflicts with conscience and common sense, it vaults over the sacred enclosure of the New Testament, and courses up and down its pages, seeking rest and finding none. The law of love glowing on every page flashes around it an omnipresent anguish and despair, and it howls under the consuming touch as devils did before the Son of God. It then burrows out of sight mid the types and shadows of the old covenant. Vain hope! Its asylum is its sepulchre; its city of refuge its city of destruction; it rushes from light into the sun, from heat into devouring fire, and from the voice of God into His thickest thunders. ”16Douglass quotes, with modifications, Weld, Bible Against Slavery, 5. The fiery commands, given from Mount Sinai, “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Thou shalt not covet,”17Douglass quotes from Exod. 20: 15, 17, abbreviating the latter verse. cut up slavery root and branch—(cheers). Mr. Douglass proceeded to denounce the conduct of the American Tract Society on this question, and, as an additional appeal for the support of the English, said that though the Americans pretended to despise and to treat with indifference English sentiments upon it, yet there was nothing they felt so keenly as what was said and done respecting it in this country. In conclusion he proceeded to speak of the present prospects of the abolition of slavery. Twenty years ago, when he came out of slavery, and heard for the first time an address on slavery,18Although Douglass often recalled that the first antislavery lecture he attended was at Liberty Hall in New Bedford, Massachusetts, his autobiographical writings do not specify when that was or whom he heard. The earliest reported instance of Douglass's attendance at an antislavery gathering was on 12 March 1839, when he attended an anticolonization meeting called by the black citizens of New Bedford. Lib., 29 March 1839; Douglass, “Reminiscences,” 378; idem, Bondage and Freedom, 356; idem, Life and Times, 237; Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass (Washington, D.C., 1948), 11-12 (hereafter cited as FD). he thought the statements


and arguments would be all-sufficient to produce a revolution in the public mind in America in a short time. He thought five years would see an end of it. He went out, addressing meetings, showing his brands and wounds, for he carried on his back to this day the marks of the slave driver’s lash, and they would go to his grave with him. Deep and clear as these marks were, deeper and clearer were the marks of slavery on his soul; for he had felt its debasing influence robbing him of his manhood; degrading in heaviness his darkening soul; and sending him from time to eternity in the dark. He knew what slavery was by bitter experience; for before he was made part of this breathing world, fetters were forged for his hands and the irons for his ankles; and the lash was platted for his back. He thought it would be sufficient for men to know all of the dark recesses of the slaves experience. to call forth a sentiment so powerful as to have sent slavery staggering to its grave, as if smitten by a bolt from heaven. But he was mistaken. Slavery still existed, and the slaveholder tightened his grasp with every effort to rescue his victim. He thought it only wanted light; but he found it needed fire. It was not enough to show what was right; but they must be lashed into repentance if they failed to do it. In this they (the audience) could help. Though disappointed, though his hopes had been deferred, he never was more hopeful; he never had a firmer faith than he had at this moment—(hear, hear). His hopes before were based on a partial view of the work to be done. But a nation could not be born in a day. They had to work with means. “Now abideth Faith, Hope, Charity;"19Douglass quotes from 1 Cor. 1: 13. these were the abiding powers by which humanity could hope to overthrow slavery; and they were bound to enforce the great principles of humanity by the means at their disposal—by the press, by the living voice, and by the ballot box, and by every other means to overthrow these systems of wrong. Time was when the overshadowing pro-slavery power not only affected the souls of men in the southern states, but also in the northern states. Northern statesmen were bound down by the dark and haggard crime, insomuch so that for a man even there to lift his voice against it was to bring down on himself, not only curses and frowns, but kicks and cuffs; and even endanger his life. Sixteen years ago, he was mobbed in Indiana; in one state where he was telling his experience he was struck down; in another he had his right hand broken; and was left for dead on the ground in another.20On 16 September 1843 as many as sixty anti-abolitionists set upon a meeting that Douglass was addressing in Pendleton, Indiana. Armed with clubs, the mob attacked the platform guests, leaving Douglass. whom they first threatened to kill, unconscious and with a badly broken right hand. Douglass also fell victim to mob violence in Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. Douglass, Life and Times, 257; Samuel Harden, comp., History of Madison County, Indiana, from 1820-1874, . . . (Marketville, Ind., 1874), 203-05. Even in Massachusetts, in which stands Boston, the most intellectual


city in the American Union, even there twenty years ago it was impossible to hold a meeting for fear of the fury of the mob. Now in the northern states there was not a town or city so dark, so benighted, so brutal, that they might not enter with perfect freedom. call a meeting indoor or outdoor, and speak their minds without the slightest interruption—(cheers). There was progress; they had gained freedom of speech. Fifteen years ago, not a single member of the Congress dared to stand up and announce himself an abolitionist. The boldest man of all was John Quincy Adams, long gone to his grave. who stood up for the right of petition for the slave. He was a brave old man in his day—(cheers). But no man then was bold enough to avow himself an abolitionist. Now, how was it? Now at least one hundred men would stand up in the House of Representatives and affirm all the principles which were branded at that time as being abolitionists’ principles—(cheers). In the Senate twelve years ago, there was but one man who professed any sympathy with the slave, the Hon. John P. Hale. Now there were such men as Seward, Sumner,21William H. Seward and Charles Sumner. Hale, Fessenden,22William Pitt Fessenden (1806-69) was a New Hampshire-born and Bowdoin-educated lawyer, politician, and financier. Settling in Portland, Maine, where he earned a reputation as a legal advocate, Fessenden was twice elected on the Whig ticket to the Maine legislature before serving a single term in Congress (1840—42). Once again serving in the state legislature (1845—46, 1854—55), he gained a national reputation as an antislavery Whig and at the 1852 party convention opposed the nomination of Daniel Webster. In 1854 an antislavery coalition elected him to the U.S. Senate. where he immediately gained notoriety for his opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. A member and, after 1861, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Fessenden played a prominent role in funding the Union war effort. He briefly held the secretaryship of the treasury in 1864 and 1865. Reelected to the Senate in 1865, he was a strong advocate of a hard currency policy. Although Fessenden agreed with the Radical Republicans that Reconstruction should be supervised by Congress and, as chairman of the Committee on Reconstruction, stressed that the South was a “conquered” region, he assumed moderate positions on many Reconstruction issues, especially confiscation of rebel property. Despite differences with President Johnson, he cast one of the crucial votes that prevented the Radicals from removing the president from office. Charles A. Jellison, Fessenden of Maine: Civil War Senator (Syracuse. 1962); DAB, 6: 348—50. Wade,23Benjamin Franklin Wade (180-78), antislavery lawyer, judge, and legislator, was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, moved to Ohio as a young man, and eventually entered into a law partnership with Joshua Giddings. In 1837 Wade was elected as a Whig to the Ohio Senate, where his opposition to stricter fugitive slave laws possibly cost him reelection. He served again in the state legislature from 1841 to 1843, and in 1847 was appointed presiding judge of the Third Ohio Judicial Circuit. Four years later, Whigs and Free Soilers united to elect him to the U.S. Senate. In the 1850s he converted to Republicanism and was an outspoken opponent of any move to expand the limits of slavery. An advocate of aggressive military measures during the Civil War, Wade served as chairman of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and, with Congressman Henry Winter Davis of Maryland, sponsored an alternative to Lincoln‘s Reconstruction policy, the Wade-Davis Bill of 1864, which the president vetoed. After the war, he continued to advocate congressional Reconstruction and was one of the leading critics of Andrew Johnson's conciliatory policies toward the South. As president pro tempore of the Senate at the time of Johnson's impeachment trial in 1868, Wade stood to gain the presidency upon Johnson's conviction. Johnson survived impeachment, but Wade, whose radicalism applied to woman suffrage and labor legislation as well as to Reconstruction issues, had alienated many politicians and voters. He never again held public office. Hans L. Trefousse, Benjamin Franklin Wade: Radical Republican from Ohio (New York, 1963); A. G. Riddle, The Life of Benjamin F. Wade (Cleveland, 1886); DAB, 19: 303-05. and at least twenty others who would lift up their voices for the abolition of slavery—(cheers). This was progress.24There are no significant congressional votes that can serve as a test for Douglass’s assessment of the strength of abolition sentiment in the Senate and House in late I859. In the House there were 109 Republicans, 101 Democrats, and 27 members of minor panics serving in the first session of the 36th Congress, which convened two days after Douglass spoke. In the election for Speaker, the House divided sharply when southern members tried to bar John Sherman, or any member who had endorsed Hinton Rowan Helper’s racist but antislavery publication, The Impending Crisis of the South (1857), from acting as Speaker. Although Sherman was ultimately not chosen, he commanded about 110 votes despite proslavery opposition. In the Senate, where Democrats controlled 38 of 62 seats, it is highly doubtful that 25 abolitionist legislators could have been found. Nevins, Emergence of Lincoln, 2: 112—22; Nichols, Disruption of American Democracy, 282.


But even more than this. In the United States they were coolly and calmly calculating on the election for president of no less a statesman, no less a friend of humanity of whatever country, clime, or colour, than Seward, of the State of New York—(cheers). He (Mr. Seward) had made himself a reproach in certain circles of the United States by announcing in the Senate chamber that, for his part, he recognised a higher law than slavery—(cheers). Mr. Seward recognising this great and higher law of humanity, and of the living God written not only in the Bible, but written in all the power and faculties of man, no doubt would use all the power of his office, in such a manner, at least, as to humble the slave power and put a check upon it; and Congress, no doubt, would support him—(cheers). He (Mr. Douglass) was hopeful from another cause, the state of parties just now. The northern states were, of course, more anti-slavery and they were stronger numerically than the other; they were strong enough to elect a president of the United States and a Cabinet of the United States—(cheers). He would detain the meeting no longer, but thanked them most sincerely for their attention—(loud applause).


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


December 7, 1859


Yale University Press 1985



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