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Alpha to Frederick Douglass, September 6, 1853


ROCHESTER, Sept. 6th, 1853.

DEAR DOUGLASS:—I perceive that your old friends of the Liberator and Standard have, of late, wonderfully changed their tone towards you. I was led to inquire what could be the cause of this change. I have looked upon you as an earnest and able defender of the anti slavery cause. You were, for a number of years, an able advocate of Garrison's peculiar views of anti-slavery action. During all this time, you stood high in the estimation of Garrison and his party. But when, as I believe, from honest conviction, you advocated the propriety of carrying your anti-slavery to the ballot box, their tone became altered. Instead of honeyed words of commendation, maledictions in abundance are poured out. According to the philosophy of these gentlemen, no man has a right to change his opinion; or if he changes at all, he must wait to see in what position Messrs. Garrison, Phillips & Co. are. Is this manly? Is this manganimous? Has Garrison himself never changed his views on political action? What did he mean when he said years ago, "We maintain that there are, at the present time, the highest obligations resting on the people of the free States to remove slavery by moral and


political action, as prescribed in the constitution of the United States?" In this sentence he urges the duty of political action, and acknowledges the power and propriety of acting under the constitution. What is his present position? The very reverse of all this. No greater sin could be committed than to vote at all under the constitution.—Is this the gentleman who never changes his opinion? Is this the gentleman who is so liberal in his censure of those who act as he would have them act in 1833? He then thought that political action under the constitution was imperative and binding on every friend of liberty. Now every man is a traitor to liberty who uses his political franchise. How can you always be in company with those who are thus given to such doubling and tergiversation? You had better, my friend, continue in the consistent course you are now pursuing, and follow the leadings of your own convictions of duty.

You have spent too many precious years of your life in endeavoring to prove what is particularly gratifying to slaveholders, and the pro-slavery office seekers of our nation, viz: that the constitution is a pro-slavery document. You may rely upon it that no course is more gratifying to them. This I have repeatedly witnessed when debates have taken place on this topic. When the constitution has been pronounced with triumphand emphasis a pro-slavery document, every Hunker Democrat and Hunker Whig in the audience, have shouted "Amen" at the top


of their voice. And what has been exceedingly humiliating to a true and discriminating abolitionist, such applause has been very acceptable to the speaker, although it has come from the tainted breath of those who are wading knee deep in political corruption.

I have thus freely remarked on one objection, which the Boston school of anti-slavery philosophers are urging against you.—On some other occasion, I will touch upon another topic.

I remain your friend,





September 6, 1853


Alpha to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick DouglassP, 9 September 1853. Defends Douglass’s new views regarding the antislavery nature of the Constitution; encourages him to maintain his new position.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper



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