Skip to main content

E. A. S. to Frederick Douglass, October 31, 1853


in your paper of the 28th of October, who
uses the initials "J. T.," meaning, I sup-
pose, John Thomas, falls into errors so grave,
and does to certain persons an injustice so
remarkable, that I feel impelled to ask for
space in your columns to attempt a refuta-
tion of his positions. With the controversy
between Mr. Thomas and Mr. Raymond of
the Chronicle newspaper, in respect to the
position of that great and good man, Gerrit
Smith, on the relations of the latter to that
other great and good man, John P. Hale, I
do not propose to interefere. No one can
make me believe that Mr. Raymond does not
appreciate all the power and the fidelity of
Gerrit Smith in the cause of human liberty;
and Mr. Smith himself, in the National Era,
just come to hand, sets at rest the story that
he had "condemned John P. Hale."

I have to do with what Mr. Thomas says
of the Address reported by me at the late
ratification meeting of the Free Democracy
of this city, in behalf of a Committee, con-
sisting of John P. Hale, John Jay and my-

For my own part, I wish to be distinctly
understood at the outset, as not in any wise
impugning Mr. Thomas' motive, however
much I may differ from his conclusions. I
do not know him personally, but I have long
seen his name prominent among the laborers
for Liberty, and even the very jealousy of
which I am now about to complain, rather
strengthens than diminishes my faith in his
fidelity. I merely desire, in behalf of those
with whom I act, to disclaim the dangerous
tendencies which he thinks he sees in our
movements, and defend, as far as I can, the
published declarations of our sentiments.

It was certainly the idea most remote from
the mind of the writer of the Address refer-
red to, that it contained any thing like a de-
parture from the principles of the Pittsburgh
platform, and an attentive perusal of Mr.
Thomas' article fails to produce the convic-
tion that any such departure exists. Indeed,
Mr. Thomas himself makes no serious at-
tempts at a proof of his assertion, but contents
himself with stating what is "plainly hinted
by knowing ones," and sounding, on his own
responsibility, a note of alarm against an
apprehended surrender of the organization
and principles of the Free Democracy into
the hands of some other party or faction.

He does indeed give sundry extracts from
the Address, in order to prove his charge of
meditated treachery, but instead of leaving
them to the judgment of his readers, or com-
menting on them in a fair and ingenuous
manner, he goes on to annex glosses of his
own, which a mere glance will show pervert
entirely their meaning, or give an interpre-
tation the opposite of what is fairly deduci-
ble from their positions. Thus he says that
"a mere trifle separates the Free Democracy
from the old;" and this on no better ground
than the statement that the Address declares
the Free Democracy to be "strictly and truly
a Democratic party," and that it "only as-
sumes the prefix of Free, to distinguish it
from that anomalous kind of so-called Democ-
racy which recognizes the pursuit of fugi-
tives from slavery as the cardinal duty of a
Democrat." Is the difference here suggest-
ed "A TRIFLE?" We don't call it so, down
this way, Mr. Thomas. We meant to make
about as wide a distinction between our-


selves and our slave-chasing neighbors as we
could, and if we have not succeded better,
it was from no want of will. We meant
pretty broadly to insinuate that we were the
only party that had a right to the name of
Democrats, but were compelled by the prior
appropriation of the name elsewhere, to
adopt a prefix for convenience. We think
the prefixing of "Free" to Democracy is a
pretty sharp satire on somebody, since a De-
mocracy that does not imply the prefix, is a
libel on the idea.

Then Mr. Thomas gives another extract
from the Address, showing that "independ-
ent of the opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law,
there is a complete identity between the new
or Free Democracy, and the old." If he had
stopped here, there would not have been
much reason to complain, although the drift
of the Address is to show that aside from
their positions as officially set forth, on the
slave question generally, there is no differene,
or ought to be none, between any professed
Democrat and the Free Democracy. But
Mr. Thomas is too strongly prejudiced
against the Address and its authors, to for-
bear adding that the Address, after demon-
strating the "identity" above spoken of, is
guilty of "more than intimating that so
SLIGHT A DIFFERENCE should not forbid
their union!
"—that is, the union of the Free
Democracy with the adherents of the Balti-
more platform!

If Mr. Thomas is the man I take him to
be, he will wish, when he reads that charge
again, that he could blot it from memory for-
ever. What ground does it rest on? Where
is this "more than intimating" passage? I
I have studied the Address in vain to find
it, and so will Mr. Thomas, if he spends the
next three months upon it.

Next Mr. Thomas extracts our position
in relation to interference with slavery in
the States by Congress; and then, with a
blind fatuity, scarcely credible, says: "It
will be seen that Congress is not to embarrass
the slave trade in the States, directly or in-
directly." What says the Address on this
head? It declares that the Constitution
"does not contemplate or permit any inter-
ference whatever, by Congress, with the in-
stitution of slavery IN the States, and that
we do not regard such interference (i.e., by
Congress) as directly or indirectly an object
of our efforts as members of this party."

Well, what is there to complain of here?
Does Mr. Thomas claim that Congress can
constitutionally interfere with slavery or the
slave trade in the States? If so, I affirm
that the Free Democracy, as a party, do not
agree with him. Observe that nothing is
said of the slave trade betweenthe States,
over which the jurisdiction of Congress is
not disputed; and yet, Mr. Thomas, by using
the word "in," conveys the impression that
the Address takes ground against the power
of Congress to regulate or suppress the inter-State slave trade. Is that fair or ingenu-
ous treatment toward brethren?

But Mr. Thomas cannot stop here in his
misrepresentations. He must needs repre-
sent the Address as "assuming that the mas-
ter has property in his slave," and claiming
"that such property shall be regulated by
the same rules as other property," &c. Now
for the extract on which this false charge is
ostensibly based. Here it is:

"In relation to this whole question of the
rendition of fugitives from Slavery, we hold
that all Congressional legislation in relation
thereto should be repealed, and the right to
the services of a fugitive from Slavery should


be placed by State laws on precisely the
same footing with every other right, having
the same Courts open to its prosecution that
are maintained for the enforcement of prop-
erty and personal rights among freemen, and
compelled to submit to the same rules and
formalities which experience has shown to
be necessary for the due examination and
just decision of disputed rights among

Will Mr. Thomas be good enough to point
out the particular passage herein, in which it
is assumed that a master has "property in
his slave?" Or that other passage in which
it is claimed that "such property shall be
regulated by the same rules as other prop-
" My optics fail to make the discov-
ery, although I wear spectacles. It is indeed
lamentable that prejudice should so entirely
possess an earnest laborer in a good cause,
as to make him thus blindly reckless, thus
recklessly unjust to co-laborers who have
shown themselves no less devoted and faith-
ful than himself. Who are they whom Mr.
Thomas thus holds up to the country, and
on suchgrounds, as traitors, plotting the sur-
render of the principles and the honor of
the friends of freedom into the hands of its
bitterest enemies? Why, JOHN P. HALE,
John Jay, William Jay, and the other hum-
bler men, who have raised the banner of the
Right, draggled and torn with many a total
defeat, right under the walls of Castle Gar-
den, and defied the forty thousand frowning
faces of the sons of mammon in New York.
And we are charged, moreover, with laboring
to "destroy or nullify the power" of Gerrit
Smith, because he stands in the way of our
wicked treachery! For shame, John
Thomas! Aye, for shame! We do not fear
that you will fasten your charges upon us,
especially by such self-stultifying reasoning
as you have employed; but we are sorry, for
your own sake, that you have harbored such
groundless suspicions; and sorry, most of
all, that they have appeared with the virtual
indorsement of frederick Douglass. Be as-
sured, that if freedom never falls until it is
betrayed by John P. Hale or his associates,
into the hands of either squad of the Balti-
more Platform "Democrats," your grand-
children will see it still flourishing proudly.
When you are cooler, you will see that the
object of our Address was to prove, not that
we could unite our organization with any
other, but that individual Democrats could
and should desert their blood-stained plat-
forms and come nobly over to ours, because
we were Democrats on the less important
points of State and national policy, and also
in the one great point of stern fidelity to the
Democratic idea in its application to person-
al rights.

E. A. S.

NEW YORK, October 31.

(Our aim is to publish a free and thorough-going
anti-slavery paper, in which honest and rigid criti-
cism of all anti-slavery parties may find way to the
public eye. Nothing in its columns can be said to
receive the endorsement of its editor, which he
does not directly and expressly commend.)— ED.


E. A. S.




E. A. S. to Frederick Douglass. PLIr: Frederick DouglassP, 4 November 1853. Responds to an article from Frederick DouglassP of 28 October by “J[ohn] T[homas]”; defends the Free Democratic party.


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


Frederick Douglass' Paper



Publication Status



Frederick Douglass' Paper