C[harles] C. Foote to Frederick Douglass, January 26, 1853
PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 26th, 1853.
MR. EDITOR:—The article in your paper of the 21st inst., from Samuel R. Ward, is still fresh in your memory. I have carefully read the article, and re-read it, without anger and without surprise, but not without grief. The friends of the colored people have not yet learned to agree. Whether they ever will is problematical. Nor have they learned to avoid the use of unlovely epithets, and the impugning of motives. If Mr. Ward doubts this, let me regale him with a few precious specimens of his own preparing: “Dishonest, tyrannical, pro-slavery, abominable, mean, sheer, falsity, injustice, monstrous, unpardonable, land-jobbing and tyranny.” This is the nomenclature selected by a Christian gentleman to designate the deeds of a Society composed of Christian gentleman, and their agents, “no better than the Society employing them.”—Mr. Ward is not a graduate of Billingsgate. Why then resort to such a dialect?—Does he need this kind of evidence to convince himself of the justness in his cause? However successful he may be in that direction, he surely will convince nobody else—The friends of the fugitives are to be moved by facts and philosophy, not by denunciation and hard names. Mr. Ward falls back upon what President Green would call “putrid ethics,” for a justification of his assault on the character of the R. H. Society and its agents, when he says, “that distinct from their actions in public matters, I have nothing to say against them; my opposition is to the official acts of Messrs. Foote and Bibb!” Pardon my ignorance, I had (I believe most Abolitionists have) supposed that it was the “official, the public, acts,” of Milliard Fillmore and Slavery’s other anointed chiefs that were to pass their names down to posterity as “cruel and bloody men.” I had supposed that “organic sinners” had been proved to be bona fide, actual, out and out sinners. And that these “official” rogues, when arraigned before discriminating Justice, would be allowed neither to doff their “official” characters, nor to don “a private” one. Hence I had supposed (nor have the protestations of Mr. W. changed my convictions,) that IF the official acts of Messrs. Foote and Bibb were “tyrannical, pro-slavery, abominable, dishonest, mean, monstrous, unprecedented land jobbing,”—such in very deed are these men! And yet with one of these “Messrs.” Mr. Ward has for years past acted, politically, publicly, socially and privately, even to night slumbers, to my personal knowledge! “Strange bed-fellows” in more senses than one. There are two other personal matters to which Mr. Ward has called the attention of the world; one containing much in a little, the other little in much. “It first sends out an agent, who is said to receive twenty per cent of what he begs.”—Boston gave Daniel Webster fifty thousand dollars. What a terrible history is wrapped up in that little sentence. Does Mr. Ward mean to charge bribery and venality upon the agent! Why else has he given the world that piece of information? (which is misinformation, being untrue.) Why did he insert that, said I, on reading it to Mr. Ward’s “Friend,” “I suppose, said he, to show that you would not advocate the claims of the Society but for that.” And so every man will suppose that reads the article. But where did this snug little item of news originate? Mr. Ward assures us that he got it from an old fellow whom he calls “It is said.” Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward is a wise man, but he has been led into (I fear) a guilty blunder. He ought to have known that this old fellow, “It is said,” was gendered, conceived, born and bred in lies. That his ancestors, paternal and maternal, were professional slanderers and liars from time immemorial. The old rogue once said the Refugee Society was “got up for the emolument of its agents.” I have heard him utter things concerning S. R. Ward, from Ohio to Massachusetts, which, coming to his ears (on the wings of the wind,) would make them tingle. The Rev. Mr. Ward will do well to absent himself from his lectures in all coming time. If he will come to me to learn how much the “begging agent” gets for his toils, I can assure him that he gets less than I have helped to pay S. R. Ward for his labors. Nor did I deem him venial for saying “I won’t work if I can’t be paid.”
About one-third of the article under consideration, is devoted to criticisms of the August meeting of the R. H. Society. In reference to which I will only say, first, that Mr. Ward declared himself in favor of a Society for securing to the colored people in Canada homes and education. Second, he objects to our Constitution because we set apart but twenty-five acres of land to each family-he would have fifty. Now, I confess, having never owned a solitary foot of “free soil,” I would be quite willing to go to the public on this issue. Twenty five acres of land! My most sanguine hopes never exceded those bounds. (My “percentage” has made my expectations modest.) But how different does this farm appear in the far reaching eyes of Samuel R. Ward. Hear him: “a very limited farm, a very small piece of land, making the settlers poor and dependent, (on their acres!) a sort of peasantry.” [Peasantry—country people—WEBSTER] And here is the secret; Mr. Ward’s farm in this State covered hundreds of broad acres. (A good percentage has its advantages in some cases.)
Third, another cardinal objection to our constitution was that it did not allow the recipient to alienate his homestead under five years from the last pay day. I will go to the public on this issue too. Who procured this provision? A missionary in Canada, who had been an eye witness to frightful frauds perpetrated upon the unlettered Fugitives by the vile caitiffs, who would have sent S. R. Ward back to New York to be hung, and returned every fugitive to his master, if they could, long ago. They were told by those who had lived for years among the colored people in Canada that if we did not secure the recipients from these land sharks they would lose their homes long before they were paid for. We believed it then, and we believe it now. Every where have I proclaimed this feature, this “inalienable” excellence of our plan; and everywhere has it met with the cordial approval of the people. And now because we do not throw wide open the gate, pull up the posts, down with the fence and turn in the harpies to prey upon these people, who at best are but adult children, we are “a set of land-jobbing tyrants and robbers.” Please gather up your epithets, put them in your pipe and smoke them, Mr. Ward, for the smoke thereof will be as potent as their fulmination. I have not time to enter more minutely into the criticisms upon the Detroit meeting; nor is it needful. Suffice it to say that Mr. Ward raised all these objections at that meeting, and that he was fairly met and answered, and his objections routed, horse, foot and dragoons.—And when the final vote was taken, “the secretary stood alone.” The meeting was attended by the old and tried friends of the colored people in eastern Michigan. Men who have devoted their substance and unpaid time to their elevation. And these men gave their united sanction to the present constitution. The leading features of that constitution I will give when I shall have detailed the original of the society.
Soon after “the Fugitive Bill” took effect, the western shores of Canada were thronged with crowds of fugitive slaves, with their families fleeing from the face of the pursuers. For so many to find homes and employment at living wages, was impossible; and winter came on and suffering commenced. Mr. Bibb issued an appeal, and many went with loads of provision and clothing from Michigan, and made distribution with their own hands. But this kind of aid did not furnish them work. The tide of emigration was unchecked (and it ever will be so long as slavery continues.) Where shall we find homes, and education for our children? was the great question. Somebody suggested, that a council of friends should be called to see what could be done. A lady in Boston said this idea “must have come from God.” Mr. Ward need not be envious if it came through the soul of Henry Bibb. A council was called, and convened, composed of numbers, not large, but true, mostly. A Society was formed and a platform construed, but not perfected. At the August meeting was adopted our present constitution. And here are its leading articles.
ARTICLE 1. This Society shall be known as the REFUGEE’S HOME SOCIETY.
ART. 2. The object of this Society shall be to assist the refugees from American Slavery to obtain permanent homes in Canada; and to promote their moral, social, physical and intellectual elevation.
ART. 5. There shall be appropriated to each family of actual settlers twenty-five acres of land, five of which they shall receive free of cost, providing they shall, within three years from the time of occupancy, clear and cultivate the same. For the remaining twenty acres they shall pay the primary cost in nine equal annual payments, free of use, for which they shall receive deeds. This article may be varied to favor the aged infirm, and widows, at the discretion
of the Executive Committee.
ART. 7. All moneys for the sale of lands shall be devoted in equal shares to the support of schools, and the purchase of other lands.
I regard this feature of our enterprise as of inestimable excellence. 1st. It makes the benevolence of our Society self-perpetuating. 2d. It puts the Fugitives in the way of providing homes for their brothers, whom Heaven shall hereafter guide to the land of freedom. 3d. It furnishes an effectual and permanent means of education to their children.
Will Mr. Ward say these people can educate their own children? He has said they have in no instance needed aid more than three days after arrival!! A statement that stands opposed by a long array of appaling facts, to my personal knowledge. As mere specimens of educational advantages, look at these facts—Three months ago en route to Boston, I met in the cars a young lady who had just closed a six months labor of teaching in Canada and received not half enough to pay her board! A friend of mine taught a school six months in the west part of Canada West and received less than two dollars per month. I visited the community during the time, and everywhere she was spoken of in the kindest manner; but her patrons had no money. A Missionary in a large colored settlement in Canada, affirmed in a published letter since the formation of the R. H. Society, that more than half the children in that community were without schools.
ART. 8. No person receiving land by gift or purchase from the Society shall have power to transfer the same under 15 years from the time of purchase or gift.
That is 5 years after they are paid for.—And are we really sinners above all sinners, for making their homesteads sure to their possessors for that length of time? Let the world judge.
ART. 9. All lands becoming vacated by the removal or extinction of families, shall evert to the Executive Committee.
Of our Ex. Com. three are wholesale merchants, four or five practical farmers, three editors, one lawyer and one “gentleman.” Messrs. Hallock, Holmes and Garner, and the Messrs. Powers (members of the Society of Friends,) have for years been active and leading reformers in Michigan—All “dishonest, tyrannical, pro-slavery, mean land jobbing” fellows, says Rev. Mr. Ward! O modesty, where are the charms that sages have seen in thy face!
I would, if more space allowed, transfer to this article a long column of most cordial commendations of the R. H. Society now lying on my table, from Dr. Willis, Rev. Mr. King, Mr. Henning, and Missionaries in Canada; and from Rev. Messrs S. J. May and George Whipple and others of the States. All great rogues, of course, for commending such a “monstrous species of land jobbing injustice and tyranny.”
Mr. Ward says: “I then saw the whole concern to be not only pro-slavery, but mean enough to pander to the pro-slavery, appetite of such men as oppose Mr. Giddings.” And what was the eye salve that discovered to you this “meanness,” Mr. Ward? O that you propose to get aid from the enemies of Mr. Giddings, to be sure! What ineffable meanness! But let us see. Samuel J. May kindly gave me a “letter of instruction,” in which he says, “I advise you to get all the aid you can from men who do not sympathize with the Abolitionists.” While in Boston, Mr. Garrison was very kind to me (as he is to every body,) but advised me to “get all you can out of the enemies of our cause.” At the Penn. A. S. Office, in this city, I was advised “to go to the outsiders!” What “mean” leaders the A. S. cause is blessed with! I fear Rev. Mr. Ward is a poor judge of timber, else he would have excluded such stuff from his argument. Two other affirmations of Mr. Ward shall receive but a passing notice for lack of space. “There are no better lands in North America than in Canada.” This would be true if it were not opposed to fact. The land in Canada is like Michigan land, pretty good. “Against. him, personally, though differing much from him on many points, I have nothing to say in this letter,” but of the “official” S. R. Ward, I will say he is not the best judge of land in “North America.” That the Refugees cannot get homes from government on so short notice, is attested by the fact that the majority are to-day homeless. That the R. H. Society furnishes greater facilities for securing homes than does the government, is proved by the facts that we can get land from government as cheap as any body, and that we give to each family five acres.—Against these two facts, Mr. Ward will write and talk in vain.
Lastly, Do these people need aid at all?—On the shores of Canada are constantly emerging the poor, shattered, broken remnants of families, men, women and children, escaped by miraculous providence from the black ocean depths of Slavery, feeble in knowledge, and often with a moral constitution fearfully dwarfed and perverted by a system which confounds and confuses every principle of Christian ethics, not a shilling in their pockets, nor garments that deserve the name; strangers in a strange and.
And these are the people that “need aid at the longest but three days!!” Was there ever a wilder statement than that?—Have not injustice and meanness changed sides?
Your neighbor’s house burns down and you build him another, if he is poor, and replenish his wardrobe. But here is a people robbed and “killed all day long” and all their life long, needing but three days care? Let Samuel R. Ward consume his time in denouncing men possessing heads as wise and hearts as good as his own, but he will not thus convert men to vagaries so wild. For if these people do not need permanent aid, then there should be an end of charity. And God shall judge between us.
C. C. FOOTE.
P. S.—Should Mr. W. respond to this letter, it will probably never reach my eye, as I expect soon to go to the Slave States on my mission. What say you to that, Rev. Samuel R. Ward?
C. C. F.