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Frederick Douglass on West Indies Emancipation in Rare Issue of his Abolitionist Newspaper The North Star
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On this day, ten years ago, eight hundred thousand slaves became freemen… The great fact we this day recognize— the great truth to which we have met to do honor, belongs to the whole human family.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Newspaper, The North Star, August 4, 1848 (Volume I, No. 32). [Rochester, NY: John Dick]. 4 pp., 18 x 24½ in.

Inventory #23348.04       Price: $16,000

This issue includes a complete printing of Frederick Douglass’ August 1 speech at Washington Square in Rochester, New York, to celebrate the anniversary of West Indian Independence (p2/c2-7). In August 1833, Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, and it went into effect throughout the British Empire on August 1, 1834, though apprenticeship continued until abolished in 1838, thus marking full emancipation.

Complete Transcript

Mr. President and Friends:

We have met to commemorate no deed of sectional pride, or partial patriotism; to erect no monument to naval or military heroism; to applaud the character or commend the courage of no blood-stained warrior; to gloat over no fallen or vanquished foe; to revive no ancient or obsolete antipathy; to quicken and perpetuate the memory of no fierce and bloody struggle; to take from the ashes of oblivion no slumbering embers of fiery discord.

We attract your attention to no horrid strife; to no scenes of blood and carnage, where foul and unnatural murder carried its true designation, because regimentally attired. We brighten not the memories of brave men slain in the hostile array and the deadly encounter. The celebration of such men, and such deeds, may safely be left to others. We have no taste or occasion for them. To us, thank Heaven, is committed a more grateful and congenial task.

The day we have met to commemorate, is marked by no deeds of violence, associated with no scenes of slaughter, and excites no malignant feelings. Peace, joy and liberty shed a halo of unfading and untarnished glory around this annual festival. On this occasion, no lonely widow is reminded of a slaughtered husband; no helpless orphans are reminded of slaughtered fathers; no aged parents are reminded of slaughtered sons; no lovely sisters meet here to mourn over the memory of slaughtered brothers. Our gladness revives no sorrow; our joyous acclamation awakens no responsive mourning. The day, the deed, the event, which we have met to celebrate, is the Tenth Anniversary of West India Emancipation—a day, a deed, an event, all glorious in the annals of Philanthropy, and as pure as the stars of heaven! On this day, ten years ago, eight hundred thousand slaves became freemen. To congratulate our disenthralled brethren of the West Indies on their peaceful emancipation; to express our unfeigned gratitude to Almighty God, their merciful deliverer; to bless the memory of the noble men through whose free and faithful labors the grand result was finally brought about; to hold up their pure and generous examples to be admired and copied; and to make this day, to some extent, subservient to the sacred cause of human freedom in our own land, and throughout the world, is the grand object of our present assembling.

I rejoice to see before me white as well as colored persons; for though this is our day peculiarly, it is not so exclusively. The great fact we this day recognize— the great truth to which we have met to do honor, belongs to the whole human family. From this meeting, therefore, no member of the human family is excluded. We have this day a free platform, to which, without respect to class, color, or condition, all are invited. Let no man here feel that he is a mere spectator—that he has no share in the proceedings of this day, because his face is of a paler hue than mine. The occasion is not one of color, but of universal man—from the purest black to the clearest white, welcome, welcome! In the name of liberty and justice, I extend to each and to all, of every complexion, form and feature, a heartfelt welcome to a full participation in the joys of this anniversary.

The great act which distinguishes this day, and which you have this day heard read, is so recent, and its history perhaps so fresh in the memory of all, as to make a lengthy and minute detail of the nature and character of either superfluous. In the address which I had the honor to deliver twelve months since, on an occasion similar to this, at our neighboring town, Canandaigua, I entered quite largely into that investigation; and presuming that I now stand before thousands of the same great audience who warmly greeted me there, I shall be allowed to call your attention to a more extended view of the cause of human freedom than seemed possible at that time. The subject of human freedom, in all its grades, forms and aspects, is within the record of this day. Tyranny, in all its varied guises, may on this day be exposed—oppression and injustice denounced, and liberty held up to the admiration of all.

In appearing here to-day, and presuming to be the first to address you, frankness requires me to proclaim, at the outset, what otherwise might become evident in the end, my own inaptitude to the task which your Committee of Arrangements have in their kindness assigned me. Aside from other causes of my incompetency which I might name, and which I am sure all present would appreciate, I may, in justice to myself, state that my other numerous engagements and occupations have denied me the necessary time for suitable preparation. I would not, however, forget that there is an apparent fitness in your selection. I have stood on each side of Mason and Dixon’s line; I have endured the frightful horrors of slavery, and have enjoyed the blessings of freedom. I can enter fully into the sorrows of the bondman and the blessings of freemen. I am one of yourselves, enduring daily the proscription and confronting the tide of malignant prejudice by which the free colored man of the North is continually and universally opposed. There is, therefore, at least an apparent fitness in your selection. If my address should prove dull and uninteresting, I am cut off from the plea that the incidents and facts of our times are commonplace and uninteresting. In this respect, our meeting is most fortunate. We live in stirring times, and amid thrilling events. There is no telling what a day may bring forth. The human mind is everywhere filled with expectation. The moral sky is studded with signs and wonder. High upon the whirlwind, Liberty rides as on a chariot of fire. Our brave old earth rocks with mighty agitation. Whether we look at home or abroad, Liberty greets us with the same majestic air.

We live in times which have no parallel in the history of the world. The grand commotion is universal and all-pervading. Kingdoms, realms, empires, and republics, roll to and fro like ships upon a stormy sea. The long pent up energies of human rights and sympathies, are at last let loose upon the world. The grand conflict of the angel Liberty with the monster Slavery, has at last come. The globe shakes with the contest. I thank God that I am permitted, with you, to live in these days, and to participate humbly in this struggle. We are, Mr. President, parties to what is going on around us. We are more than spectators of the scenes that pass before us. Our interests, sympathies and destiny compel us to be parties to what is passing around us. Whether the immediate struggle be baptized by the Eastern or Western wave of the waters between us, the water is one, and the cause one, and we are parties to it. Steam, skill, and lightning, have brought the ends of the earth together. Old prejudices are vanishing. The magic power of human sympathy is rapidly healing national divisions, and bringing mankind into the harmonious bonds of a common brotherhood. In some sense, we realize the sublime declaration of the Prophet of Patmos, “And there shall be no more sea.”[1] The oceans that divided us, have become bridges to connect us, and the wide “world has become a whispering gallery.” The morning star of freedom is seen from every quarter of the globe.

“From spirit to spirit—from nation to nation,

From city to hamlet, thy dawning is cast;

And tyrants and slaves are like shadows of night,”[2]

Standing in the far West, we may now hear the earnest debate of the Western world. The means of intelligence is so perfect, as well as rapid, that we seem to be mingling with the thrilling scenes of the Eastern hemisphere.

In the month of February of the present year, we may date the commencement of the great movements now progressing throughout Europe. In France, at that time, we saw a king to all appearance firmly seated on his costly throne, guarded by two hundred thousand bayonets. In the pride of his heart, he armed himself for the destruction of liberty. A few short hours ended the struggle. A shout went up to heaven from countless thousands, echoing back to earth, “Liberty—Equality—Fraternity.” The troops heard the glorious sound, and fraternized with the people in the court yard of the Tuilleries. Instantly the King was but a man. All that was kingly fled. The throne whereon he sat was demolished; his splendid palace sacked; his royal carriage was burnt with fire; and he who had arrayed himself against freedom, found himself, like the great Egyptian tyrant, completely overwhelmed. Out of the ruins of this grand rupture, there came up a Republican Provisional Government, and snatching the revolutionary motto of “Liberty—Equality—Fraternity,” from the fiery thousands who had just rolled back the tide of tyranny, they commenced to construct a State in accordance with that noble motto.[3] Among the first of its acts, while hard pressed from without and perplexed within, beset on every hand—to the everlasting honor of that Government, it decreed the complete, unconditional emancipation of every slave throughout the French colonies. This act of justice and consistency went into effect on the 23d of last June. Thus were three hundred thousand souls admitted to the joys of freedom.[4] That provisional government is now no more. The brave and brilliant men who formed it, have ceased to play a conspicuous part in the political affairs of the nation. For the present, some of the brightest lights are obscured. Over the glory of the great-hearted Lamartine, the dark shadow of suspicion is cast.[5] The most of the members of that government are now distrusted, suspected, and slighted. But while there remains on the earth one man of sable hue, there will be one witness who will ever remember with unceasing gratitude this noble act of that provisional government.

Sir, this act of justice to our race, on the part of the French people, has had a widespread effect upon the question of human freedom in our own land. Seldom, indeed, has the slave power of the nation received what they regarded such bad news. It placed our slaveholding Republic in a dilemma which all the world could see. We desired to rejoice with her in her republicanism, but it was impossible to do so without seeming to rejoice over abolitionism. Here inconsistency, hypocrisy, covered even the brass face of our slaveholding Republic with confusion. Even that staunch Democrat and Christian, John C. Calhoun, found himself embarrassed as to how to vote on a resolution congratulating the French people on the triumph of Republicanism over Royalty.

But to return to Europe. France is not alone the scene of commotion. Her excitable and inflammable disposition makes her an appropriate medium for lighting more substantial fires. Austria has dispensed with Metternich, while all the German States are demanding freedom; and even iron-hearted Russia is alarmed and perplexed by what is going on around her. The French metropolis is in direct communication with all the great cities of Europe, and the influence of her example is everywhere powerful. The Revolution of the 24th February has stirred the dormant energies of the oppressed classes all over the continent. Revolutions, outbreaks, and provisional governments, followed that event in almost fearful succession. A general insecurity broods over the crowned heads of Europe. Ireland, too, the land of O’Connell, among the most powerful that ever advocated the cause of human freedom[6]—Ireland, ever chafing under oppressive rule, famine-stricken, ragged and wretched, but warm-hearted, generous and unconquerable Ireland, caught up the inspiring peal as it swept across the bosom of St. George’s Channel, and again renewed her oath, to be free or die. Her cause is already sanctified by the martyrdom of Mitchell, and millions stand ready to be sacrificed in the same manner.[7] England, too—calm, dignified, brave old England—is not unmoved by what is going on through the sisterhood of European nations. Her toiling sons, from the buzz and din of the factory and workshop, to her endless coal mines deep down below the surface of the earth, have heard the joyful sound of “Liberty—Equality—Fraternity” and are lifting their heads and hearts in hope of better days.

These facts though unfortunately associated with great and crying evils—evils which you and I, and all of us must deeply deplore, are nevertheless interesting to the lovers of freedom and progress. They show that all sense of manhood and moral life, has not departed from the oppressed and plundered masses. They prove, that there yet remains an energy, when supported with the will that can roll back the combined and encroaching powers of tyranny and injustice. To teach this lesson, the movements abroad are important. Even in the recent fierce strife in Paris, which has subjected the infant republic to a horrid baptism of blood, may be scanned a ray of goodness. The great mass of the Blouses behind the barricade of the Faubourgs, evidently felt themselves fighting in the righteous cause of equal rights. Wrong in head, but right in heart; brave men in a bad cause, possessing a noble zeal but not according to knowledge. Let us deplore their folly, but honor their courage; respect their aims, but eschew their means. Tyrants of the old world, and slaveholders of our own, will point in proud complacency to this awful outbreak, and say “Aha! aha! aha! we told you so—we told you so: this is but the result of undertaking to counteract the purposes of the Most High, who has ordained and annointed Kings and Slaveholders to rule over the people. So much for attempting to make that equal, which God made unequal!” These sentiments in other words, have already been expressed by at least one of the classes to which I have referred. To such, I say rejoice while you may, for your time is short. The day of freedom and order, is at hand. The beautiful infant may stagger and fall, but it will rise, walk and become a man. There may, and doubtless will be, many failures, mistakes and blunders attending the transition from slavery to liberty. But what then? shall the transition never be made? Who is so base, as to harbor the thought? In demolishing the old framework of the Bastille of civil tyranny, and erecting on its ruins the beautiful temple of freedom, some lives may indeed be lost; but who so craven, when beholding the noble structure—its grand proportions, its magnificent domes, its splendid towers and its elegant turrets, all pointing upward to heaven, as to say, That glorious temple ought never to have been built.

I look, Mr. President and friends, with the profoundest interest on all these movements, both in and out of France. Their influence upon our destiny here, is greater than may at first be perceived. Mainly, however, my confidence is reposing upon what is passing in England—brave and strong old England. Among the first to do us wrong, and the first to do us justice. England the heart of the civilized world! The nation that gave us the deed—the glorious deed, which we, on this day humbly celebrate.

In these days of great movements, she is neither silent nor slumbering. It is true, the world is not startled by her thunder, or dazzled by her splendor. Her stillness, however, is of deeper signification, than the noise of many nations. Like her own fuel, she has less blaze—but more heat. Her passage to freedom is not through rivers of blood; she has discovered a more excellent way. What is bloody revolution in France, is peaceful reformation in England. The friends and enemies of freedom, meet not at the barricades thrown up in the streets of London; but on the broad platform of Exeter Hall. Their weapons are not pointed bayonets, but arguments. Friends of freedom rely not upon brute force but moral power. Their courage is not that of the tiger, but that of the Christian. Their ramparts are, right and reason, and can never be stormed! Their Hotel de Ville, is the House of Commons. Their fraternity, is the unanimous sympathy of the oppressed and hungry millions, whose war cry is not “Bread or death,” but bread! bread! bread!—Give this day our daily bread! That cry cannot, must not be disregarded. The last mails, brought us accounts of a stirring debate in the House of Commons, on the extension of suffrage. The opponents of the measure appeared like pigmies in the hands of giants. Friends of freedom in the House, are strong men. Among them is a man, whose name when I mention it, will call forth from this vast audience, a round of grateful applause. I allude to one, who, when he was but yet a youth, full eighteen years ago, dedicated himself to the cause of the West Indian bondman, and pleaded that cause with an eloquence the most pathetic, thrilling, and powerful ever before known to British ears—and who, when he had stirred the British heart to the core, until justice to the West India bondman rung through the British Empire—and the freedom which we celebrate, was gloriously triumphant; with life in hand, he left his native shores, to plead the cause of the bondman—and went through our land taking his lot with the despised abolitionists, and nominally free colored man; amid floods of abuse and fiery trials, he hazarded his precious life in our cause, at last was finally induced to leave our shores by the strong persuasion of his friends lest the enemies of liberty should kill him, as they had sworn to do, and returned to his own country, and is now an honorable member of the British Parliament. That man, is GEORGE THOMPSON.[8] In grateful remembrance of whose labors, I now propose three cheers. [The call having been responded to, Mr. D., proceeded.]

If there be one living orator more than another to whom we are indebted, that man is GEORGE THOMPSON. Faithful to the monitions of conscience which led him to devote himself to the cause of the West Indian Slave, he has now consecrated his great talents to the cause of liberty in his own country. There are other noble men Champions of liberty in the House of Commons, deserving honorable mention; but none, so intimately connected with the great event which distinguishes this day, as that of GEORGE THOMPSON. His life has been mainly devoted to our cause—and his very name carries with it an advocacy of our freedom. It is a gratifying fact, that Mr. THOMPSON, the reviled, abused, and rejected of this country, at this moment occupies the proud position of a British Legislator. It shows, that even in England, reward waits on merit. That a man with great talents and devotion to truth, may rise to eminence even in a monarchical and aristocratical government.

I now turn from the contemplation of men and movements in Europe, to our own great country. Great we are, in many and very important respects. As a nation, we are great in numbers and geographical extent—great in wealth—great in internal resources—great in the proclamations of great truths—great in our professions of republicanism and religion—great in our inconsistencies—great in our hypocrisy—and great in our attrocious wickedness. While our boast is loud and long of justice, freedom, and humanity, the slave-whip rings to the mockery; while we are sympathising with the progress of freedom abroad, we are extending the foul curse of slavery at home; while we are rejoicing at the progress of freedom in France, Italy, Germany, and the whole European continent, we are propagating slavery in Oregon, New Mexico, California, and all our blood-bought possessions in the South and South-west. While we are engaged in congratulating the people of the East on casting down tyrants, we are electing tyrants and men-stealers to rule over us. Truly we are a great nation! At this moment, three million slaves clank their galling fetters and drag their heavy chains on American soil. Three million from whom all rights are robbed. Three millions, a population equal to that of all Scotland, who in this land of liberty and light, are denied the right to learn to read the name of God. They toil under a broiling sun and a driver’s lash; they are sold like cattle in the market—and are shut out from human regards—thought of and spoken of as property—sanctioned as property by cruel laws, and sanctified as such by the Church and Clergy of the country. While I am addressing you, four of my own dear sisters and one brother are enduring the frightful horrors of American slavery. In what part of the Union, they may be, I do not know; two of them, Sarah[9] and Catharine,[10] were sold from Maryland before I escaped from there. I am cut off from all communication with—I cannot hear from them, nor can they hear from me—we are sundered forever.

My case, is the case of thousands; and the case of my sisters, is the case of Millions. I have no doubt, that there are hundreds here to-day, that have parents, children, sisters and brothers, who are now in slavery. Oh! how deep is the damnation of America—under what a load of crime does she stagger from day to day! What a hell of wickedness is there coiled up in her bosom, and what awful judgment awaits her impenitence! My friends, words cannot express my feelings. My soul is sick of this picture of an awful reality. The wails of bondmen are on my ear, and their heavy sorrows weigh down my heart.

I turn from these horrors—from these God-defying, man imbruting crimes, to those who in my judgment are responsible for them. And I trace them to the door of every American citizen. Slavery exists in this land because of the moral, constitutional, political and religious support which, it receives from the people of this country, especially the people of the North. As I stand before many to whom this subject may be new, I may be allowed here to explain. The people of this country are held together by a Constitution. That Constitution contains certain compromises in favor of slavery, and which bind the citizens to uphold slavery. The language of every American citizen to the slave, so far as he can comprehend that language is, “You shall be a slave or die.” The history and character of the American people confirms the slave in this belief. To march to the attainment of his liberty, is to march directly upon the bristling bayonets of the whole military power of the nation. About eighteen years ago, a man of noble courage, rose among his brethren in Virginia.[11] “We have long been subjected to slavery. The hour for our deliverance has come. Let us rise and strike for liberty. In the name of a God of justice let us stay our oppressors.” What was the result? He fell amid showers of American bullets, fired by United States troops. The fact that the Constitution guarantees to the slaveholder the naval and military support of the nation; the fact that he may under that Constitution, recapture his flying bondman in any State or territory within or belonging to this Union; and the fact that slavery alone enjoys a representation in Congress, makes every man who in good faith swears to support that Constitution and to execute its provisions, responsible for all the outrages committed on the millions of our brethren now in bonds. I therefore this day, before this large audience, charge home upon the voters of this city, county and state, the awful responsibility of enslaving and imbruting my brothers and sisters in the Southern States of this Union. Carry it home with you from this great gathering in Washington Square, that you, my white fellow-countrymen, are the enslavers of men, women, and children, in the Southern States; that what are called the compromises of your glorious Constitution, are but bloody links in the chain of slavery; and that they make you parties to that chain. But for these compromises—but for your readiness to stand by them, “in the fullness of their letter and the completeness of their letter,” the slave might instantly assert and maintain his rights. The contest now would be wonderfully unequal. Seventeen millions of armed, disciplined, and intelligent people, against three millions of unarmed and uninformed. Sir, we are often taunted with the inquiry from Northern white men—“Why do your people submit to slavery? and does not that submission prove them an inferior race? Why have they not shown a desire for freedom?” Such language is as disgraceful to the insolent men who use it, as it is tantalising and insulting to us.

It is mean and cowardly for any white man to use such language toward us. My language to all such, is, Give us fair play and if we do not gain our freedom, it will be time to taunt us thus.

Before taking my seat, I will call your attention to some charges and misrepresentations of the American press, respecting the result of the great measure which we this day commemorate. We continually find statements and sentiments like this, in the whirlpool of American newspapers—“The British Colonies are ruined,” “The emancipated Negroes are lazy and won’t work,” “Emancipation has been a failure.” Now, I wish to reply to these sentiments and statements—and to say something about laziness in general, as applied to the race to which I belong. By the way, I think I may claim a superior industry for the colored man over the white man, on the showing of the white men themselves. We are just now appropriating to ourselves, vast regions of country in the South-west. What is the language of white men, as to the best population to develop the great resources of those vast countries? Why, in good plain English this: that white industry is unequal to it, and that none but the sinewy arm of the sable race is capable of doing so. Now, for these lazy drones to be taunting us with laziness, is a little too bad. I will answer the statements respecting the ruined condition of the West India Islands, by a declaration recently made on this very subject by Lord John Russell, present Prime Minister of England, a man remarkable for coolness and accuracy of speech. In regard to the measure of emancipation, he says, and I read from the London Times of the 17th of June, 1848:—[12]

“The main purpose of the act of 1834 was as I have stated, to give freedom to 800,000 persons, to place those then living in a condition of slavery in a state of independence, prosperity, and happiness. That object, I think, every one admits has been accomplished. (Cheers.) I believe a class of laborers more happy, more in possession of all the advantages and enjoyments of life than the negro population of the West Indies, does not exist. (Cheers.)—That great object has been accomplished by the act of 1834.”

“It appears by evidence that the Negroes of the West India colonies since the abolition of slavery had been in the best condition. They had the best food, and were in all respects better clothed and provided for than any peasantry in the world. There was a resolution passed by a committee in 1842 declaring that the measure of emancipation had completely succeeded so far as the welfare of the negroes was concerned. I believe the noble lord the member for Lynn, moved a similar resolution on a subsequent occasion. We have it in evidence that the negroes were able to indulge in the luxury of dress, which they carried to an almost ridiculous excess. Some were known to have dress worth 50l.”

Now, sir, I call upon the press of Rochester and of this country at large, to let these facts be known, that a long abused and injured race may at last have justice done them.

I must thank you now my friends, for your kind and patient attention: asking your pardon for having trespassed so long upon your hearing, I will take my seat.

This issue includes Gerrit Smith’s “Address of the Liberty Party to the Colored People of the Northern States” on African-American self-determination and ambition. (p1/c4-6)

Complete Transcript

BRETHERN—We are engaged “arm and soul,” in breaking the chains of three millions of Slaves. We need your help. You are under peculiar obligations to give it. From the fact, that you and these slaves belong to the same variety of the human family, and that many of you, and all of your ancestors, have been slaves, it is but natural, that the horrors of slavery should be ever before you, and ever arousing you to efforts for the deliverance of its victims. Nevertheless, so far from your being the most prompt and efficient helpers of our work, you are among the greatest hinderances to it.

The doctrine of the slaveholders is, that the negro is fit for no other condition than slavery. We need not say, that our doctrine is, that every man is fit for liberty, and no man for slavery. The slaveholders hope for your ill-doing and debasement, that their doctrine may, thereby, be justified. We hope for your well-doing and elevation, that it may, thereby, be refuted. Readily and joyfully, do we admit, that many of you are doing much to refute it. Many of you are manifesting many qualities of head and heart, which prove the negro to be as much a man as is any other variety of man. A few of you are adorning learned professions. Most of you are industrious; and many of you, combining economy with industry, are enabled to enjoy the comforts, and, in not rare instances, the elegancies and refinements of life. Nevertheless, it remains true, that, as a people, you are doing far less than you should, to shame the slaveholders out of their wicked and absurd doctrine, that the negro is fit for slavery only.

Now, say no, in vindication of yourselves, that you can afford to be brought into comparison with the whites. You are under the necessity of being better than the whites, because the prejudice of color, which, in this land, is as mighty as it is mad, is for them and against you. They sail with the tide; you against it. They may be idlers, and yet be respected. But, if your industry relax, you are denounced as lazy. They may be spendthrifts, without greatly, or at all, harming their reputation. But yours is ruined, unless you are rigid economists. They may indulge in intoxicating drinks, and, yet, be counted with the sober. You must be teetotallers, or pass for drunkards. Profanity and licentiousness in them may go unrebuked. But you cannot be guilty of these vices, without being disgraced and made vile by them. They can afford to be without knowledge—even without the knowledge of the alphabet. But the most ignorant of them will make merry over your ignorance, and despise you for it. They can join secret societies, and yet be respected. But, if you indulge in the puerilities and fooleries of the Regalia and Processions of secret societies, you are laughed at for the nonsense, and are denounced for such wicked waste of your wages.

We said, that you are under the necessity of being better than the whites. We admit that it is unreasonableness and cruelty, which have forced this necessity upon you. But, is it for that reason a less wholesome necessity? Are you, therefore, to be less thankful to God for it?—and less prayerful to Him for that measure of grace, which will enable you to live up to the whole extent of the demands of this necessity? Happy, thrice happy, the people, who are compelled to have, if they but show themselves worthy to have, a higher standard of circumspection, propriety, and wisdom, than have others! Happy, thrice happy, the people, who are under peculiar obligations to be industrious, and frugal, and learned, and virtuous, if only a heart be given them to respond to these obligations!

One cause of your inferior condition—that inferior condition which is so much in the way of the anti-slavery enterprise, and which reflects so much dishonor upon it—is too prominent and powerful, to be passed over on this occasion. We refer to your clustering in cities and large villages, and resigning yourselves to menial occupation. It is no dishonor to an individual to be a servant. But, for a whole people to become servants, is to sink themselves in disgrace. They will, in such case, be very naturally thought fit for nothing higher. And, true it is, that the occupation of a servant, if association with none but servants be combined with it, must fit for nothing higher than the occupation of a servant. Now, such are the circumstances of the great body of those of you, who are congregated in populous places; and, hence, the ignorance, grovelling spirit, and destitution of manly independence, which characterizes them.

We have glanced at the pernicious influence of your inferior condition on the anti-slavery cause. As that condition rises or sinks, so rises or sinks this cause. As that condition rises, so does the slaveholder become weak. As it sinks, so does he become strong. Be what you should, and can be; and the enslavement of your race would no longer be possible. In the development of your dignity and capabilities, the slaveholder would, awe-struck, behold what manhood, what dignity, what capabilities, he had been trampling on, in the persons of his slaves. His slaveholding heart would now die within him. The rod of the oppressor would fall from his relaxed grasp, and the oppressed go free.

We will advert to one of the benefits which could result to yourselves, from the great improvement, which should take place in you condition. Your political rights, as well as other rights of your manhood, are now withheld from most of you. Our Maker knows, that men will rob, when they can do it, with impunity. He knows, that they will be guilty of the ineffable meanness of robbing those of their rights, who are too weak to protect their rights. Hence, His command: “Rob not the poor because he is poor.” It is, because you are so generally poor, being so generally servants, and because you are, therefore, accounted vile, that you are plundered of your political rights. Had the colored people of this State been scattered over the State on farms and in machine shops, and been every way, as, in that case, they would have been, the equals of the white men among them—strong as is the prejudice against color, their respectability would have extorted from that prejudice the right of suffrage. Nay, that prejudice, melted away before that respectability, this right would have been yielded up unresistingly, willingly, gladly.

But the way in which you mostly wrong and degrade yourselves, and retard the progress of the anti-slavery cause, remains to be specified.

It is a sad truth—and as strange as sad—that great numbers of the colored people of the Northern States are bound up with proslavery ecclesiastical and political parties. We do not complain, that you cherish the Methodist, or Presbyterian, or any other religious creed. But, we insist, that you who are in fellowship with proslavery religionists of whatever denomination, are the deadliest traitors to your brethren in bonds. By means of that fellowship, your religion, such as it is, endorses slavery; and it is the religious endorsement of slavery, which more than anything else, keeps it in countenance. Better, infinitely better, for your poor lashed and bleeding, and chained brothers and sisters—and, may we not add, for ourselves also—that you should never see the inside of a Church, nor the inside of a Bible, than that you should, by your proslavery connections, sanctify their enslavement.

Again, we are not now complaining, that you hold these or those views of political economy. But, most deeply, do we complain, that you should connect yourselves with, and vote with political parties, which, together with the pro-slavery churches, are the great props of American slavery. A colored man voting for a slaveholder for a civil office, or for one who thinks a slaveholder fit for it! What a cruel perfection of treachery to the poor Southern slave is this! How it murders him in the house of his friends! Better renounce your right to vote, and your right to personal liberty, and go down and grind in the Southern Prison House, loaded with the ignominious and galling chains of slavery, than make such a heartless and murderous use, as this, of your suffrages and personal liberty.

At the last Presidential Election,[13] there were, probably, five votes cast by colored men for Henry Clay, where one was cast by them for James G. Birney;—and, this too, notwithstanding, that the former exceeds any other man in responsibility for the sufferings of the negro race, and that the latter has for conscience sake, emancipated his twenty-eight slaves, and thereby, both made himself an outcast from the society which had cherished him, and reduced himself to poverty. What unparalleled infatuation was this preference for Henry Clay!

Impressive scene would be the secession from pro-slavery churches and pro-slavery political parties of every colored person connected with them! Slavery could not long survive a scene so influential and Heaven-blest. Oh, that such a scene were at hand! Oh, that it were, already, one of the definitions of a negro: “A person, who would sooner lose his head than belong to a pro-slavery church!” And, oh, that it were, already another of these definitions: “A person who would sooner lose his head than belong to, or vote with a pro-slavery political party!” When these shall be among the definitions of a negro, negro slavery will be ready to vanish.

This issue also includes the latter portion of Joshua R. Giddings’ speech in Boston on slavery’s violation of the Constitution and the sovereignty of northern states, begun in the July 28 issue (p1/c1-4); a letter from Martin R. Delany to Douglass describing conditions of free blacks in Detroit and at Oberlin College (p2/c7-p3/c2); 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). Two days before this issue was published, on August 2, Bush had 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).[14]

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 in the center fold and loss of paper on outer edge of pages 1-2, not affecting text.


[1] Revelation 21:1 (KJV): “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”

[2] Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Liberty” (c. 1820; published, 1824).

[3] A reference to the French Revolution of February 1848, which led King Louis Philippe to abdicate in favor of his grandson and to flee Paris. The short-lived Second Republic followed, until President Louis Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself president for life in 1851, and then Emperor Napoleon III in 1852.

[4] On April 27, 1848, the Second Republic decreed the abolition of slavery in all French colonies and possessions, two months after the promulgation of the decree. This act freed slaves in Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Barthélemy, Reunion, Guiana, Senegal, and Algeria, among other French possessions.

[5] Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) was a French writer and politician who was instrumental in founding the Second Republic, for which he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from February 24 to May 11, 1848. He led efforts culminating in the abolition of slavery and the death penalty. His moderate stance caused many of his followers to desert him, as the nation selected Louis Napoleon Bonaparte as its president.

[6] Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) was an Irish political leader who campaigned for Catholic emancipation (passed in 1829) and repeal of the union between Great Britain and Ireland. Frederick Douglass met O’Connell on a tour of Ireland in 1845, and O’Connell inspired him as an outspoken critic of slavery.

[7] A British court convicted newspaper editor John Mitchel (1815-1875) of “treason felony” in May 1848 for some articles published in his United Irishman newspaper and sentenced him to transportation for fourteen years to Bermuda. Mitchel escaped in 1853 and settled in the United States, where he became a proslavery writer and defender of the Confederacy. During the Confederacy, he edited the Richmond Enquirer for a time, and two of his sons fought for the Confederacy.

[8] George Thompson (1804-1878) was a British antislavery activist and member of Parliament (1847-1852). He lectured widely in the United Kingdom and in the United States. During his visit to the United States in 1834-1835, proslavery mobs unsuccessfully attempted to capture him. He returned to the United States in 1850-1851, and again during the American Civil War.

[9] Sarah Bailey (1814-after 1883) was Douglass’ oldest sister. In 1832, her original owner’s son sold her and other slaves in southern Mississippi. In 1883, Sarah, then living in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote to Frederick Douglass and reestablished their relationship.

[10] Kitty Bailey (1820-after 1849) was one of Douglass’ younger sisters.

[11] Nat Turner (1800-1831) led a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831. The rebels moved from plantation to plantation and killed approximately sixty white men, women, and children. The white backlash led to the deaths of approximately 120 African Americans. The militia and regular army put down the rebellion and captured 64 free blacks and slaves, including Turner. They were tried for insurrection and other crimes, and half were acquitted. Of the thirty-two found guilty, eighteen (including Turner) were executed, and fourteen were sold out of state.

[12] The Times (London), June 17, 1848, 2:4, 4:3.

[13] In the 1844 Presidential Election, Democratic candidate James K. Polk received 49.5 percent of the popular vote and carried 15 states with 170 electoral votes. Whig candidate Henry Clay won 48.1 percent of the popular vote and carried 11 states with 105 electoral votes. Liberty Party candidate James G. Birney of Michigan received 2.3 percent of the popular vote and won no electoral votes. Birney (1792-1857) was born in Kentucky, graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1810, and established a cotton plantation in northern Alabama in 1818. After working with the American Colonization Society, he declared himself an abolitionist in 1834, freed his remaining slaves, and moved to Cincinnati.

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


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