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Frederick Douglass on the Seneca Falls Convention in Rare Issue of The North Star, His Abolitionist Newspaper
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Standing as we do upon the watch-tower of human freedom, we cannot be deterred from an expression of our approbation of any movement, however humble, to improve and elevate the character of any members of the human family.... we are free to say, that in respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man.

This remarkable issue includes Frederick Douglass’ famous editorial, “The Rights of Women” on the Seneca Falls Convention, which he attended in person on July 19-20.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Newspaper, The North Star, July 28, 1848 (Volume I, No. 31). [Rochester, NY: John Dick]. 4 pp., 18 x 24½ in.

Inventory #23348.03       Price: $24,000

Complete Transcript

The Rights of Women.

One of the most interesting events of the past week, was the holding of what is technically styled a Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. The speaking, addresses, and resolutions of this extraordinary meeting were almost wholly conducted by women; and although they evidently felt themselves in a novel position, it is but simple justice to say that their whole proceedings were characterized by marked ability and dignity. No one present, we think, however much he might be disposed to differ from the views advanced by the leading speakers on that occasion, will fail to give them credit for brilliant talents and excellent dispositions. In this meeting, as in other deliberative assemblies, there were frequent differences of opinion and animated discussion; but in no case was there the slightest absence of good feeling and decorum. Several interesting documents setting forth the rights as well as the grievances of women were read. Among these was a declaration of sentiments, to be regarded as the basis of a grand movement for attaining all the civil, social, political and religious rights of woman. We should not, however, do justice to our own convictions, or to the excellent persons connected with this infant movement, if we did not, in this connection offer a few remarks on the general subject which the Convention met to consider, and the objects they seek to attain.

In doing so, we are not insensible that the bare mention of this truly important subject in any other than terms of contemptuous ridicule and scornful disfavor, is likely to excite against us the fury of bigotry and the folly of prejudice. A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of woman. It is, in their estimation, to be guilty of evil thoughts, to think that a woman is entitled to rights equal with man. Many who have at last made the discovery that negroes have some rights as well as other members of the human family, have yet to be convinced that woman is entitled to any. Eight years ago, a number of persons of this description actually abandoned the anti-slavery cause, lest by giving their influence in that direction, they might possibly be giving countenance to the dangerous heresy that woman, in respect to rights, stands on an equal footing with man. In the judgment of such persons, the American slave system, with all its concomitant horrors, is less to be deplored than this wicked idea. It is perhaps needless to say, that we cherish little sympathy for such sentiments, or respect for such prejudices. Standing as we do upon the watch-tower of human freedom, we cannot be deterred from an expression of our approbation of any movement, however humble, to improve and elevate the character of any members of the human family. While it is impossible for us to go into this subject at length, and dispose of the various objections which are often urged against such a doctrine as that of female equality, we are free to say, that in respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go farther, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for woman. All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; and if that government is only just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land. Our doctrine is that “Right is of no sex.” We therefore bid the women engaged in this movement our humble God-speed. (p3/c1)

This issue also includes the first part of Joshua R. Giddings’ speech in Boston on slavery’s violation of the Constitution and the sovereignty of northern states (p1/c1-6); debates in the U.S. Senate on the Wilmot Proviso (failed attempt to prohibit slavery in territories obtained in consequence of the Mexican War) (p1/c6-7), including a “Black List” of the northern senators who voted against it (p2/c4); and an “Address of Anti-Slavery Women of Western New York,” signed in print by Abigail Bush, Amy Post, and 28 other female abolitionists (p3/c5). Four days after this issue was published, on August 2, Bush served as president of the Rochester Women’s Rights Convention, which met two weeks after the Seneca Falls Convention, the first woman to preside over a public meeting composed of both men and women in the United States.

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/c6) 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.

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).[1]

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.


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


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