Monday, September 26, 2016

Frederick Douglass to Rev. Samuel Hanson Cox, October 30, 1846

Samuel Hanson Cox, D. D.:

SIR—I have two objects in addressing you at this time. The first is, to deny certain charges, and to correct certain injurious statements, recently made by yourself, respecting my conduct at a meeting of the “World’s Temperance Convention,” held in Covent Garden Theatre, London, in the month of August last. My second object will be to review so much of your course as relates to the Anti-Slavery question, during your recent tour through Great Britain and a part of Ireland. There are times when it would evince a ridiculous sensibility to the good or evil opinions of men, and when it would be a wasteful expenditure of thought, time, and strength, for one in my circumstances to reply to attacks made by those who hate me more bitterly than the cause of which I am an humble advocate. While all this is quite true, it is equally true, that there are times when it is quite proper to make such replies; and especially so, when to defend one’s self is to defend great and vital principles, the vindication of which is essential to the triumph of righteousness throughout the world.

Sir, I deem it neither arrogant nor presumptious to assume to represent three millions of my brethren, who are, while I am penning these words, in chains and slavery on the American soil, the boasted land of liberty and light. I have been one with them in their sorrow and suffering — one with them in their ignorance and degradation — one with them under the burning sun and the slave-driver’s bloody lash — and am at this moment freed from those horrible inflictions, only because the laws of England are commensurate with freedom, and do not permit the American man-stealer, whose Christianity you endorse, to lay his foul clutch upon me, while upon British soil. Being thus so completely identified with the slaves, I may assume that an attack upon me is an attack upon them — and especially so, when the attack is obviously made, as in the present instance, with a view to injure me in the advocacy of their cause. I am resolved that their cause shall not suffer through any misrepresentations of my conduct, which evil-minded men, in high or low places, may resort to, while I have the ability to set myself right before the public. As much as I hate American Slavery, and as much as I abominate the infernal spirit which in that land seems to pervade both Church and State, there are bright spots there which I love, and a large and greatly increasing population, whose good opinion 1 highly value, and which I am determined never to forfeit, while it can be maintained consistently with truth and justice.

Sir, in replying to you, and in singling out the conduct of one of your age, reputation, and learning, I should, in most cases, deem an apology necessary — I should approach such an one with great delicacy and guardedness of language. But, in this instance, I feel entirely relieved from all such necessity. The obligations of courtesy, which I should otherwise be forward to discharge to persons of your age and standing, I am absolved from by your obviously bitter and malignant attack. I come, therefore, without any further hesitancy, to the subject.

In a letter from London to the New York Evangelist, describing the great meeting at Covent Garden Theatre, you say:

“They all advocated the same cause, showed a glorious unity of thought and feeling, and the effect was constantly raised — the moral scene was superb and glorious — when Frederick Douglass, the colored abolition agitator and ultraist, came to the platform, and so spoke a la mode, as to ruin the influence, almost, of all that preceded! He lugged in Anti-Slavery, or Abolition, no doubt prompted to it by some of the politic ones who can use him to do what they would not themselves adventure to do in person. He is supposed to have been well paid for the abomination.

“What a perversion, an abuse, an iniquity against the law of reciprocal righteousness, to call thousands together to get them, some certain ones, to seem conspicuous and devoted for one sole and grand object, and then, all at once, with obliquity, open an avalanche on them for some imputed evil or monstrosity, for which, whatever be the wound or injury inflicted, they were both too fatigued and too hurried with surprise, and too straitened for time to be properly prepared. I say it is a trick of meanness! It is abominable!

“On this occasion Mr. Douglass allowed himself to denounce America and all its temperance societies together, as a grinding community, and the enemies of his people; said evil, with no alloy of good concerning the whole of us; was perfectly indiscriminate in his severities; talked of the American delegates, and to them, as it he had been our schoolmaster, and we his docile and devoted pupils; and launched his revengeful missiles at our country, without one palliative, as if not a Christian or a true Anti-Slavery man lived in the whole of the United States. The fact is, the man has been petted, and flattered, and used, and paid by certain Abolitionists not unknown to us, of the ne plus ultra stamp, till he forgets himself; and though he may gratify his own impulses, and those of old Adam in others, yet sure I am that all this is just the way to ruin his influence, to defeat his object, and to do mischief, not good, to the very cause he professes to love. With the single exception of one cold-hearted parricide, whose character I abhor, and who has, I fear, no true patriotism or piety within him, all the delegates from our country were together wounded and indignant. No wonder at it! I write freely. It was not done in a corner. It was inspired, I believe, from beneath, and not from above. It was adapted to re-kindle, on both sides of the Atlantic, the flames of national exasperation and war. And this is the game which Mr. Frederick Douglass and his silly patrons are playing in England and in Scotland, and wherever they can find ‘some mischief still for idle hands to do.’ I came here his sympathizing friend — I am so no more, as I more know him.

“My own opinion is increasingly that this abominable spirit must he exorcised out of England and America, before any substantial good can be effected for the cause of the slave. It is adapted only to make bad worse, and to inflame the passions of indignant millions to an incurable resentment. None but an ignoramus or a madman could think that this was the way of the inspired apostles of the Son of God. It may gratify the feelings of a self-deceived and malignant few, but it will do no good in any direction — least of all to the poor slave ! It is short-sighted, impulsive, partisan, reckless, and tending only to sanguinary ends. None of this, with men of sense and principle.

“We all wanted to reply, but it was too late; the Whole theatre seemed taken with the spirit of the Ephesian uproar; they were furious and boisterous in the extreme; and Mr. Kirk could hardly obtain a moment, though many were desirous in his behalf, to say a few words, as he did, very calmly and properly, that the cause of temperance was not at all responsible for Slavery, and had no connection with it. There were some sly agencies behind the scenes — we know!”

Now the motive for representing, in this connection, “the effect constantly raised,” the “moral scene sublime and glorious,” is very apparent. It is obviously not so much to do justice to the scene, as to magnify my assumed offence You have draw an exceedingly beautiful picture, that you might represent me as roaming and defacing its beauty, in the hope thereby to kindle against me the fury of its admirers.

“Frederick Douglass, the colored Abolitionist and ultraist, came to the platform.” Well, sir, what if I did come to the platform? How did I come to it? Did I come with or without the consent of the meeting? Had your love of truth equalled your desire to cover me with odium, you would have said, that after loud and repeated calls from the audience, and a very pressing invitation from the chairman “Frederick Douglass came to the platform.” But, sir, this would not have served your purpose — that being to make me out an intruder, one without the wedding garment, fit to be cast out among the unbidden and unprepared. This might do very well in America, where for a negro to stand upon a temperance platform, on terms of perfect equality with white persons, it would be regarded as an insolent assumption, not to be borne with; but, sir, it is scarcely necessary to say, that it will not serve your purpose in England. It is now pretty well known throughout the world that colour is no crime in England, and it is becoming almost equally known, that colour is treated as a crime in America. “ Frederick Douglass, the coloured abolition agitator and ultraist, came to the platform!” Shocking! How could democratic Americans sit calmly by, and behold such a flagrant violation of one of the most cherished American customs — this most unnatural amalgamation! Was it not an aggravating and intolerable insult, to allow a negro to stand upon a platform, on terms of perfect equality with pure white American gentlemen! Monarchical England should be taught better manners; she should know that democratic America has the sole prerogative of deciding what shall be the social and civil position of the coloured race. But, sarcasm aside, sir, you claim to be a Christian, a philanthropist, and an Abolitionist. Were you truly entitled to any one of these names, you would have been delighted at seeing one of Afric’s despised children cordially received, and warmly welcomed, to a world's temperance platform, and in every way treated as a man and a brother. But the truth probably is, that you felt both yourself and your county severely rebuked by my presence there; and, besides this, it was undoubtedly painful to you to be placed on the same platform, on a level with a negro, a fugitive slave. I do not assert this positively—it may not be quite true. But if it be true, I sincerely pity your littleness of soul.

You sneeringly call me an “abolition agitator and ultraist.” Sir, I regard this as a compliment, though you intend it as a condemnation. My only fear is, that I am unworthy of those epithets. To be an abolition agitator, is simply to be one who dares to think for himself — who goes beyond the mass of mankind in promoting the cause of righteousness — who honestly and earnestly speaks out his soul’s conviction, regardless of the smiles or frowns of men — leaving the pure flame of truth to burn up whatever hay, womb and stubble, it may find in its way. To be such an one is the deepest and sincerest wish of my heart. It is a part of my daily prayer to God, that he will raise up and send forth more to unmask a pro-slavery church, and to rebuke a man-stealing ministry — to rock the land with agitation, and give America no peace till she repent, and be thoroughly purged of this monstrous iniquity. While heaven lends me health and strength, and intellectual ability, I shall devote myself to this agitation; and I believe that by so acting, I shall secure the smiles of an approving God, and the grateful approbation of my down-trodden and long-abused fellow-countrymen. With these on my side, of course I ought not to be disturbed by your displeasure; nor am I disturbed. I speak now in vindication of my cause, caring very little for your good or ill opinion.

You say I spoke so as to ruin the influence of all that had preceded! My speech, then, must have been very powerful; for I had been preceded by yourself, and some ten or twelve others, all powerful advocates of the temperance cause, some of them the most so of any I ever heard. But I half fear my speech was not so powerful as you seem to imagine. It is barely possible that you have fallen into a mistake, quite common to persons of your turn of mind — that of confounding your own pride with the cause you may happen to plead. I think you will, upon reflection, confess that I have now hit upon a happy solution of the difficulty. As I look back to that occasion, I remember certain facts, which seem to confirm me in this view of the case. You had eulogized in no measured or qualified terms, America and American temperance societies; and in this your co-delegates were not a whit behind you. Is it not possible that the applause, following each brilliant climax of I your fulsome panegyric, made you feel the moral effect raised, and the scene superb and glorious? I am not unaware of' the effect of such demonstrations; it is very intoxicating, very inflating. Now, sir, I should be very sorry, and I would make any amends within my power, if I supposed I had really committed the “abomination” of which you accuse me. The temperance cause is dear to me. I love it for myself, and for the black man, as well as for the white man. I have labored both in England and America to promote the cause, and am ready still to labor; and I should grieve to think of any act of mine which would inflict the slightest injury upon the cause. But I am satisfied that no such injury was inflicted. No, sir, it was not the poor bloated drunkard who was “ruined” by my speech, but your own bloated pride, as I shall presently show — as 1 mean to take up your letter in the order in which it is written, and reply to each part of it.

You say I lugged in Anti-Slavery, or Abolition. Of course you meant by this to produce the impression, that I introduced the subject illegitimately. If such were your intention, it is an impression utterly at variance with the truth. 1 said nothing, on the occasion referred to, which in fairness can be construed into an outrage upon propriety, or something foreign to the temperance platform — and especially a “world's temperance platform.” The meeting at Covent Garden was not a white temperance meeting, such as are held in the United States, but a “World's Temperance meeting,” embracing the black as well as the white part of the creation — practically carrying out the scriptural declaration, that “God has made of one blood, all nations of men, to dwell on all the face of the earth.” It was a meeting for promoting temperance throughout the world. All nations had a right to be represented there; and each speaker had a right to make known to that body, the peculiar difficulties which lay in the way of the temperance reformation, in his own particular locality. In that Convention, and upon that platform, I was the recognized representative of the colored population of the United States; and to their cause I was bound to be faithful. It would have been quite easy for me to have made a speech upon the general question of temperance, carefully excluding all reference to my enslaved, neglected, and persecuted brethren in America, and thereby secured your applause; but to have pursued such a course would have been selling my birthright for a mess of portage — would have been to play the part of Judas, a part which even you profess to loathe and detest. Sir, let me explain the motive which animated me, in speaking as I did at Covent Garden Theatre. As I stood upon that platform, and surveyed the deep depression of the colored people of America, and the treatment uniformly adopted by white temperance societies towards them — the impediments and absolute barriers thrown in the way of their moral and social improvement, by American Slavery, and by an inveterate prejudice against them on account of their color — and beheld them in rags and wretchedness, in fetters and chains, left to lie devoured by intemperance and kindred vices — and Slavery, like a very demon, standing directly in the way of their reformation, as with a drawn sword, ready to smite down any who might approach for their deliverance — and found myself in a position where I could rebuke this evil spirit, where my words would be borne to the shores of America, upon the enthusiastic shouts of congregated thousands — I deemed it my duty to embrace the opportunity. In the language of John Knox, “I was in the place where I was demanded of conscience to speak the truth — and the truth I did speak — impugn it who so list.” But, in so doing, I spoke perfectly in order, and in such a manner as no one, having a sincere interest in the cause of temperance, could take offence at — as I shall show by reporting, in another part of this letter, my speech as delivered on that occasion.

“He was, no doubt, prompted to do it by, some of the politic ones, who can use him to do what they themselves would not adventure to do in person.” The right or wrong of obeying the prompting of another, depends upon the character of the thing to be done. If the thing be right, I should do it, no matter by whom prompted; if wrong, I should refrain-from it, no matter by whom commanded. In the present instance, I was prompted by no one I acted entirely upon my own responsibility. If, therefore, blame is to fall anywhere, it should fall upon me.

“He is supposed to have been well paid for the abomination.” This, sir, is a cowardly way of stating your own conjecture. I should be pleased to have you tell me, what harm there is in being well paid! Is not the labourer worthy of his hire? Do you preach without pay? Were you not paid by those who sent you to represent them in the World’s Temperance Convention? There is not the slightest doubt that you were paid — and well paid. The only difference between us, in the matter of pay, is simply this — you were paid, and I was not. I can, with a clear conscience, affirm, that, so far from having been well paid, as you suppose, I never received a single farthing for my attendance— or for any word which I uttered on the occasion referred to — while you were, in all probability, well supported, “well paid,” for all you did during your attendance. My visit to London was at my own cost. I mention this, not because I blame you for taking pay, or because I regard as specially meritorious my attending the meeting without pay; for I should probably have taken pay as readily as you did, had it been offered; but it was not offered, and therefore I got none.

You stigmatize my speech as an “abomination;” but you take good care to suppress every word of the speech itself. There can be but one motive for this, and that motive obviously is, because there was nothing in the speech which, standing alone, would inspire others with the bitter malignity against me, which unhappily rankles in your own bosom.

Now, sir, to show the public how much reliance ought to be placed on your statements, and what estimate they should form of your love of truth and Christian candor, I will give the substance of my speech at Covent Garden Theatre, and the circumstances attending and growing out of its delivery. As “the thing was not done in a corner,” I can with safety appeal to the FIVE THOUSAND that heard the speech, for the substantial correctness of my report of it. It was as follows:—

“Mr. Chairman — Ladies and Gentlemen — I am not a delegate to this Convention. Those who would have been most likely to elect me as a delegate, could not, because they are to-nigbt held in the most abject Slavery in the United States. Sir, I regret that I cannot fully unite with the American delegates, in their patriotic eulogies of America, and American temperance societies. I cannot do so, for this good reason — there are, at this moment, three millions of the American population, by Slavery and prejudice, placed entirely beyond the pale of American temperance societies. The three million slaves are completely excluded by Slavery — and four hundred thousand free coloured people are, almost as completely excluded by an inveterate prejudice against them, on account of their colour. (Cries of shame! shame!)

“I do not say these things to wound the feelings of the American delegates. I simply mention them in their presence, and before this audience, that, seeing how you regard this hatred and neglect of the coloured people, they maybe inclined, on their return home, to enlarge the field of their temperance operations, and embrace within the scope of their influence, my long neglected race — (great cheering and some confusion on the platform.) Sir, to give you some idea of the difficulties and obstacles in the way of the temperance reformation of the coloured population in the United States, allow me to state a few facts. About the year, 1840, a few intelligent, sober, and benevolent coloured gentlemen in Philadelphia, being acquainted with the appalling ravages of intemperance among a numerous class of coloured people in that city, and finding themselves neglected and excluded from white societies, organized societies among themselves — appointed committees — sent out agents — built temperance halls, and were earnestly and successfully rescuing many from the fangs of intemperance.

“The cause went nobly on till the 1st of August, 1842, the day when England gave liberty to eight hundred thousand souls in the West Indies. The coloured temperance societies selected this day to march in procession through the city, in the hope that such a demonstration would have the effect of bringing others into their ranks. They formed their procession, unfurled their teetotal banners, and proceeded to the accomplishment of their purpose. It was a delightful sight. But, sir, they had not proceeded down two streets, before they were brutally assailed by a ruthless mob — their banner was torn down and trampled in the dust — their ranks broken up, their persons beaten, and pelted with stones and brickbats. One of their churches was burned to the ground, and their best temperance hall utterly demolished.” Shame! shame! shame! from the audience — great confusion and cries of “sit down,” from the American- delegates on the platform.

In the midst of this commotion, the chairman tapped me on the shoulder, and whispering, informed me that the fifteen minutes allotted to each speaker had expired; whereupon the vast audience simultaneously shouted — “Don’t interrupt! don’t dictate ! go on! go on! Douglass! Douglass!” This continued several minutes; after which, I proceeded as follows :—

“Kind friends, I beg to assure you that the chairman has not, in the slightest degree, sought to alter any sentiment which I am anxious to express on the present occasion. He was simply reminding me, that the time allotted for me to speak had expired. I do not wish to occupy one moment more than is allotted to other speakers Thanking you for your kind indulgence, I will take my seat.”

Proceeding to do so, again there were loud cries of “go on! go on!” with which I complied, for a few moments, but without saying anything more that particularly related to the coloured people of America.

When I sat down, the Rev. Mr. Kirk, of Boston, rose, and said: “Frederick Douglass has unintentionally misrepresented the temperance societies of America. I am afraid that his remarks have produced the impression on the public mind, that the temperance societies support slavery — (“No! no! no ! no!” shouted the audience.) If that be not the impression produced, I have nothing more to say.”

Now, Dr. Cox, this is a fair, unvarnished story of what took place at Covent Garden Theatre, on the 7th of August, 1846. For the truth of it, I appeal to all the temperance papers in the land, and the “Journal of the American Union,” published at New — York, Oct. 1, 1846. With this statement, I might safely submit the Whole question to both the American and British Public; but I wish not merely to correct your misrepresentations, and expose your falsehoods, but to show, that you are animated by a fierce, bitter, and untruthful Spirit towards the whole Anti-Slavery movement.

And for this purpose, I shall now proceed to copy and comment upon extracts from your letter to the New York Evangelist. In that letter, you exclaim, respecting the foregoing speech, delivered by me, every word of which you take pains to omit: “ What a perversion, an abuse, an iniquity against the reciprocal law of righteousness, to call thousands together, and get them, some certain ones, to seem conspicuous and devoted for one-sole and grand object, and then, all at once, with obliquity, open an avalanche on them, for some imputed evil or monstrosity, for which, whatever he the wound or the injury inflicted, they were both too fatigued and too hurried with surprise, and too straitened for time, to' be properly prepared. I say it is a trick of meanness! It is abominable!”

As to the “perversion,”, “abuse,” “iniquity against the law of reciprocal righteousness,” “obliquity,” “a trick of meanness,” “abominable,” — not one word is necessary to show their inappropriateness, as applied to myself, and the speech in question, or to make more glaringly apparent the green and poisonous venom with which your mouth, if not your heart, is filled. You represent me as opening “an avalanche upon you for some imputed evil or animosity.” And is Slavery only an imputed evil? Now, suppose I had lugged in Anti-Slavery, (which I deny,) you profess to be an Abolitionist. You, therefore, ought to have been the last man in the world to have found fault with me, on that account. Your great love of liberty, and sympathy for the down-trodden slave, ought to have led you to “pardon something to the spirit of Liberty,” especially in one who had the scars of the slave-driver’s whip on his back, and who, at this moment, has four sisters and one brother in slavery. But, sir, you are not an Abolitionist, and you only assumed to be one during your recent tour in this country, that you might sham your way through this land, and the more effectually stab and blast the character of the real friends of emancipation. Who ever heard of a true Abolitionist speaking of slavery as an “imputed evil,” or complaining of being “wounded and injured” by an allusion to it — and that, too, because that allusion was in opposition to the infernal system? You took no offence when the Rev. Mr. Kirk assumed the Christian name and character for slaveholders in the World’s Temperance Convention. You were not “wounded or injured,” it was not a “perversion, an abuse, an iniquity against the reciprocal law of righteousness.” You have no indignation to pour out upon him. Oh, no! But when a fugitive slave merely alluded to slavery, as obstructing the moral and social improvement of his race, you were “wounded and injured,” and rendered indignant! This, sir, tells the whole story of your abolitionism, and stamps your pretensions to abolition as brazen hypocrisy or self-deception.

You were “too fatigued, too hurried by surprise, too straitened for time.” Why, sir, you were in “an unhappy predicament.” What would you have done, had you not been “too fatigued, too hurried by surprise, too straitened for time,” and unprepared? Would you have denied a. single statement in my address? I am persuaded you would not; and had you dared to do so, I could at once have given evidence in support of my statements, that would have put you to silence or to shame. My statements were in perfect accordance with historical facts — facts of so recent date, that they are fresh in the memory of every intelligent American. You knew I spoke truly of the strength of American prejudice against the coloured people. No man knows the truth on this subject better than yourself. I am, therefore; filled with amazement that you should seem to deny, instead of confirming; my statements.

Much more might be said on this point; but having already extended this letter to a much greater length than I had intended, I shall simply conclude by a reference to your remark respecting your professed sympathy and friendship for me, previous to the meeting at Covent Garden. If your friendship and sympathy be of so mutable a character as must be inferred from your sudden abandonment of them, I may expect that yet another change will return me the lost treasure. At all events, I do not deem it of sufficient value to purchase it at so high a price as that of the abandonment of the cause of my coloured brethren, which appears to be the condition you impose upon its continuance.

Very faithfully,

SOURCE: American Anti-Slavery Society, Correspondence between the Rev. Samuel H. Cox, D. D., of Brooklyn, L. I. and Frederick Douglass, a Fugitive Slave, p. 7-16

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