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“Abolition’s Golden Trumpet” Wendell Phillips in Rare Issue of The North Star, Frederick Douglass’ Abolitionist Newspaper
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Our object is the abolition of slavery, and these meetings which we hold are mainly but the means for that purpose. There is of course a great variety of opinions as to the most proper means for the abolition of slavery. It is natural there should be, as long as men think independently—and it is only from independent thinking that such a cause as ours, or any unpopular cause, gets either sympathy or aid.” (p1/c1)

In a notable intersection of these two abolitionist giants early in their careers, Frederick Douglass reprints on the front page over five columns a speech by Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) delivered in Philadelphia in May 1848. Phillips focused his remarks on improving abolitionist strategies and organization.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Newspaper, The North Star, June 9, 1848 (Volume I, No. 24). [Rochester, NY: John Dick]. 4 pp., 18 x 24½ in.

Inventory #23348.02       Price: $14,000

Excerpts:

Reform is always aggressive. It cannot be otherwise.

Frederick Douglass once applied to a lady, asking her to give him something to help the anti-slavery enterprise, and this pious old lady, who left forty or sixty thousand dollars to the church where she worshipped, told him she could not conscientiously give anything to a man guilty of the enormous crime of stealing himself. Now the means by which the abolitionist is to eradicate this idea, is to meet the American at every turn, to ring it in his ears, man is not property....

Now, the American people love a compromise. It is bread and meat to them, and, therefore, the American’s first question is, can you not get rid of slavery quicker some other way?

We have been told, we are always told, that it is not a proper time just now to abolish slavery. This has always been the cry, and it ever will be.

I am reminded of what Dr. Howe told me this afternoon in relation to an interview he had with Captain Sayres, in the prison at Washington.[1] The Captain remarked, It is true I have violated the law of this little plot of ground which you call the District of Columbia, but I have not violated any law of the kingdom above. (Applause.) Let us remember this, and act upon it, and not cease our efforts till the land shall be rid of this foul curse; till our national escutcheon shall be purged from this foul blot which has so long disgraced it, and our country shall indeed be ‘the home of the free and the land of the just.’ (Applause.)

Among the other highlights in this issue are advertisements by Macon Bolling Allen, Attorney at Law and Robert Morris Jr., Attorney at Law, both practicing in Boston. (p4/c7) Allen was the first African-American to be licensed to practice law in the United States, when he passed the bar in Maine in 1844. Morris became the second, when he passed the bar in Massachusetts in 1847.

This issue also includes the first part of a speech by Joshua R. Giddings in Congress against a bill reimbursing an estate for the loss of a slave (p2/c2-3); an article on the Hutchinson Family, a prominent abolitionist family of singers that toured the North (p2/c4); a letter from Martin R. Delany, shortly after he became co-editor of The North Star (p2/c6-p3/c1); and an advertisement for Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass available for 30 cents at the North Star Printing Office (p3/c7).

Historical Background

Upon Douglass’ return to America in 1847, following a self-imposed exile in Britain, he undertook publication of an anti-slavery newspaper. Douglass chose Rochester for two reasons. Rochester and Buffalo formed an evangelical, reform-minded region and a gateway to Canada. The area was consequently critical both to people escaping enslavement and to activist abolitionists. Douglass also wanted to avoid interfering with the local circulation of other abolitionist newspapers, such as William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator (Boston) or the National Anti-Slavery Standard (New York and Philadelphia).[2]

In an October 1847 letter to Amy Post, Douglass wrote: “I have finally decided on publishing the North Star in Rochester and to make that city my future home.” Douglass began his weekly newspaper, with co-editor Martin Delany, on December 3, 1847, with the motto: “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the father of us all, and all we are brethren” and setting the paper’s aim in its masthead: “The object of the NORTH STAR will be to attack SLAVERY in all its forms and aspects; advocate UNIVERSAL EMANCIPATION; exalt the standard of PUBLIC MORALITY; promote the moral and intellectual improvement of the COLORED PEOPLE; and hasten the day of FREEDOM to the THREE MILLIONS of our ENSLAVED FELLOW COUNTRYMEN.” For six months, African American historian William Cooper Nell published the newspaper. Abolitionist and wealthy philanthropist Gerrit Smith was among the early patrons of the North Star.

It quickly became the largest abolitionist newspaper operated by an African American in the country, but subscribers did not always pay, and the paper suffered chronic shortages of funds. In May 1851, after attending the annual meeting in Syracuse of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Douglass broke ranks with Garrison, refusing to condemn the U.S. Constitution as a pro-slavery document, demanding instead that it “be wielded in behalf of emancipation.” Discarding the famous title of his newspaper in June, Douglass merged it with Gerrit Smith’s Liberty Party Paper and renamed the new venture Frederick Douglass’ Paper, in open defiance of the Society. However, his “official” reason for the change was to differentiate his paper from the many in the nation using the term “Star” in the title.

While the North Star focused its coverage on the numerous local and state-wide anti-slavery meetings and conventions, Douglass also placed a strong emphasis on resources for free blacks and recent escapees from enslavement. In addition to reports from abolitionist societies around the country and important abolitionist speeches, the North Star printed advice columns, short slave narratives, science news, political dispatches, international events, and articles written by numerous correspondents. The newspaper’s advertisements are partially comprised of notices for various publications printed and sold by the North Star Press, including Douglass’s own speeches and books.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) was an orator, journalist, abolitionist, and distinguished African-American leader. Born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland, as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, he assumed the name Douglass after his escape from slavery in 1838. In 1841, Douglass successfully addressed a Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention and was employed as its agent. He wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845 to document his experiences and sufferings and to silence those who contended that a man of his abilities could not have been a slave. Douglass soon became a noted anti-slavery orator and supporter of women’s rights, lecturing in both the United States and England. He attended the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights and signed its Declaration of Sentiments. Douglass edited his own newspaper, The North Star, for several years in Rochester, New York. He revised and updated his autobiography in 1855 as My Bondage and My Freedom. During the Civil War, he was instrumental in advocating for African-American combat units, and in raising troops. He fought for passage of the Thirteenth (Abolition), Fourteenth (Equal Protection) and Fifteenth (Voting Rights) Amendments, through testimony to Congress, reports to the President and regular appearances on the lecture circuit. In 1872, Douglass was nominated for vice-president by the Equal Rights Party on a ticket headed by Victoria Woodhull. Douglass was the first African American to serve in important federal posts, including Marshal of the District of Columbia (1877-1881), Recorder of Deeds for Washington, D.C. (1881-1886), and Minister-General to Haiti (1889-1891).

Provenance

This newspaper is from a collection discovered in Rochester, among several hundred other newspapers, many bearing the names of either Isaac or Amy Post. The Posts were Quaker abolitionists in Rochester who assisted fugitive slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad, advocated women’s rights, and were friends of Frederick Douglass. It appears that at least some of the issues were personal copies of the Posts.

Condition

Some scattered waterstaining, Tears on outside edge of pp. 3-4, not affecting text.


[1] Captain Edward Sayres was the captain of the Pearl, a schooner on which 77 slaves attempted escape from Washington, D.C., on April 15, 1848. After a posse aboard a steamboat intercepted the Pearl where the Potomac River empties into the Chesapeake Bay, the slaves and their two white “conductors” were returned to Washington in chains and sent to the city jail. Some of the slaves were sold in New Orleans before yellow fever there caused the dealers to return the unsold slaves to Virginia. Sayres and fellow defendant Daniel Drayton came to trial in July on 77 counts of theft and 77 counts of illegal transportation of slaves. Congressman Horace Mann of Massachusetts defended them, and they were acquitted on the theft charges but convicted on the transportation charges in May 1849 and jailed pending payment of more than $18,000 in fines and court costs. President Millard Fillmore pardoned and released Sayres and Drayton in August 1852.

[2] T. Gregory Garvey. Creating the Culture of Reform in Antebellum America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006)


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