Charges and Defense of the Free Church

Frederick Douglass

Citation Information:  Frederick Douglass, “Charges and Defense of the Free Church: An Address Delivered in Dundee, Scotland, on March 10, 1846.” Ann-Slavery Soiree: Report of the Speeches Delivered at a Soiree in Honour of Messrs. Douglass, Wright, and Buffum … (Dundee, 1846). 21-29. Blassingame, John (et al, eds.). The Frederick Douglass Papers: Series One–Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979. Vol. I, p. 171.

Charges and Defense of the Free Church: An Address Delivered in Dundee, Scotland, on March 10, 1846

Ann-Slavery Soiree: Report of the Speeches Delivered at a Soiree in Honour of Messrs. Douglass, Wright, and Buffum … (Dundee, 1846). 21-29

  1. Mr. Frederick Douglass, who was received with enthusiastic and long continued cheering, said—I have to express my gratitude, Mr. President, to you, and to the gentlemen of the Committee, and to this large audience for the address you have done us the honour to present. I can truly say I am proud to stand on this platform. It is to me a pleasure and a privilege. I am thrilled with the deepest emotions of gratitude: And, as an introduction to the few remarks I am about to make, allow me to express my gratitude to those excellent friends, the Committee of the Anti-Slavery Society in Dundee, through whose energy and perseverance I am, in connection with my friend, permitted to stand before this brilliant and intelligent audience. (Applause.)
  2. I wish to express my warm and heartfelt thanks also to the ladies who have interested themselves in bringing together this brilliant assembly, for such I must continue to call it. I do this with the more freedom and the greater pleasure because long experience has confirmed me in the opinion that, however cold and indifferent to human suffering, however dead and stone-like, the heart of man may, under the influence of sordid avarice, become, the heart of woman is ever warm, tenderly alive, and throbs in deepest sympathy with the sorrows and sufferings of every class, colour, and clime, over the globe. She is the last to inflict injury and the first to repair it. If she is ever found in the ranks of the enemies of freedom, she is there at the bidding of man, and in open disobedience to her own noble nature.
  3. I next, Sir, take great pleasure in expressing my thanks to those gentlemen on the platform—those distinguished gentlemen. From all I can learn their very presence here is an all-sufficient assurance to the people of Dundee that we have gathered together for a worthy purpose this evening. Permit me also to express my thanks to you, Sir, for the readiness with which you have brought to the support of our cause that overwhelming influence which must ever be exercised by superior intellect and honourable conduct in a righteous enterprise.
  4. Ladies and gentlemen, I am thankful to you all here, I feel under the deepest obligations to you. The honour which you have conferred on my friend and me this evening is one which we did not expect—the pleasure is one we did not anticipate. The circumstances in which we came among you forbade us to expect any such attention or present at your hand. We came here in no insinuating spirit, softening down our words to suit the temperature of Dundee. We came here without compromise and without concealment. We proclaimed on the very threshold of our labours that it was our intention to attack and expose the conduct—the hurtful conduct—of a large and respectable body of professing Christians in your midst. I expected that this bold announcement would awaken the most bitter prejudice, and array against us the strongest opposition of that body. I had no doubt but that they would attempt to defend themselves; and from what I had seen of the writings and statements of members of their body on the general question of slavery, I confess I expected little scrupulosity in their choice of means.
  5. As a general thing, when any body of men commit a single wrong act in the name of religion, they almost invariably commit more sins in defending that action than the original one itself. I think this has been singularly the case in the present instance. I think I never saw it more prominently illustrated than in the attempted defence of the indefensible conduct of the Free Church of Scotland. The opposition which I expected has been urged. For the purpose of disparaging my mission and invalidating my testimony, the grossest misrepresentations and the darkest insinuations have been resorted to on the part of the great defender of the Free Church, the Northern Warder. The editor of that paper has put forth the most desperate efforts—he has left no stone unturned to overthrow our mission. I expected all this, and I would not have uttered a single word of complaint, had he done his best in any honourable way to defeat our mission, if he believed it to be wrong; but I am bound to complain of a want of fair dealing on the part of the editor of that paper.—I wish to call attention to the fact that he has assailed our character, impeached our motives, perverted our arguments, and peremptorily refused to permit us a single word of reply.
  6. In America, and I believe in this country, it is understood as being but common fairness, when either a single individual or a body of individuals are attacked in their opinions or conduct in the columns of a newspaper, that he or they have an opportunity of reply through the same columns, so that the cup containing the poison, or supposed poison, may also contain its antidote. This in America is established etiquette; it is also common fairness and common justice. It is only where this etiquette is established in a community that it can be said to have any of the advantages of a public press, that it becomes the palladium of liberty as well as of purity. But let the opposite principle prevail, and it is a curse rather than a blessing. No man is safe. He may be pierced through with a thousand poisoned weapons, and be totally without the means of defence or redress. An adroit editor may keep within the letter of the law and break its spirit in every line. Such is the present case. We have not been allowed a single word of reply. The chief excellence of a newspaper is frequently found in the candour and magnanimity of its editor.
  7. Candour, even in the absence of high intellectual acquirements, always commands respect; but what, I ask, must be thought of an editor who is not only destitute of great intellectual attainments, but is also destitute of common candour and magnanimity. (Hear, hear.) Sir, I make these statements here because I had not an opportunity of making them where I should have had. I will not pronounce on that individual or that editor. I will suffer the community who know his good qualities best (laughter) to do so. The defender of the Free Church’s present position seems to be aware of one thing—that he has a bad cause to defend—that he is playing a very desperate game. It is pretty well established from all their discussions, from all their speeches, and from all their writings, that, to use the language of one of your own poets, “the De’il has business on his hands.” (Laughter and cheers.)
  8. The articles in the Warder all show this, and show farther that there must be great wear and tear of conscience somewhere. In order to vindicate their conduct, they must first upset the plainest principles of morality, and disregard the clearest precepts of Christianity. I pass over these points, as I have but a few moments to speak, and it would be wrong to detain you. (Great cheering, and cries of “go on,” “go on.”) I will go on. (Renewed cheering.) I say that the present position of the Free Church can only be defended by upsetting the plainest principles of morality, and by disregarding the clearest and purest dictates of Christianity. Both of these the Warder seems resolved to do, in defiance of the dictates of conscience and of common sense. At least this is my opinion, and you cannot punish a man for his opinion. (Cheers and laughter.)
  9. Sir, it appears to me that the editor of the Warder, to judge from his writings, would deliberately stand by and see your wife taken from your bosom and sold on the auction block, and would strike hands with the robber after he did it, with the view of getting part of the money. Why not, Sir? The wives of other men have been sold, and the proceeds of their warm blood have gone into the treasury of the Free Church of Scotland; and the Warder comes forward, vouching its intellect—I won’t say its intellect, I won’t dignify it by that name, but a sort of cunning peculiar to the individual who edits that paper—and defends the taking [of ] that money to build up churches and pay Free Church ministers. (Applause.) Sir, Heaven frowns when men build up churches by fraud, and chambers by the wages of unrighteousness. But to return: I am not disappointed in the course which I supposed the Warder would pursue; but I am surprised and delighted that the Warder and all who feel with him have been so ably met by the able, the eloquent, the intrepid, and the talented editor of the Dundee Courier, as well as their insinuations rebuked by this brilliant and intelligent meeting.
  10. I feel under the greatest obligations to the editor of the Dundee Courier, and I wish in my own name and the name of my fellow-countrymen—of my brothers and sisters, who are held in bondage by those calling themselves Christians—I wish to return my heartfelt thanks for the noble and able manner in which he has exposed the sophistries and denounced the base insinuations of those who stepped forward to the defence of this bad cause. This meeting is a sufficient answer to all the Warder’s indirect slander—the more slanderous and hateful because indirect. The snake in the grass is tenfold more dangerous than one in an open road. The rattlesnake is dangerous, but the viper is more so. While both are poisonous, one is less cowardly than the other, and on that account to be greatly preferred. But a snake is a horrible reptile viewed in any way you please, and I gladly turn from the disgusting spectacle to perform a duty which will be as agreeable to you as it is pleasurable to me.
  11. I am exceedingly thankful to the Editor of the Dundee Courier. He has done for me and my cause that which neither I or my immediate friends could do. We are strangers: He is not. We might be denounced as irresponsible persons: He could not be so denounced. He knew the character of our assailants: We did not. He was acquainted with their peculiar mode of warfare, and well understood with what arms they were to be met. And, Sir, I will do him the justice to say I have never seen a triumph more complete than the one achieved by him in the present instance. He has followed the enemy through all their windings, tracing them into every hole and corner, and with his-scourge of small cords driven them from every hiding place. He has tripped up their heels at every turn, or, if I may so express myself, he has upset their premises, blown their logic into fragments, and brought their conclusions to the dust. This is what he has done to the Editor of the Warder, as well as to the members of the Free Church Presbytery.
  12. The Courier will be read on the other side of the Atlantic with the warmest emotions of gratitude by the Abolitionists; and while the Warder may congratulate itself on the support it gains to the Free Church from human fleshmongers, a more satisfactory compensation will be afforded to my excellent friend the Editor of the Courier by the warmest gratitude of three millions of bondmen. (Applause.) Sir, for my own part, I would not like a compliment from men-stealers. I would look on their praise as the strongest evidence of my unfaithfulness to the Anti-Slavery cause. The slaveholders never praise or bestow money on the Abolitionists. The children of the slaveholding generation are as wise as the children of mammon ever were; and I say to the Editor of the Dundee Courier, he need never expect any compliment from the Slaveholding States of America.
  13. But, Sir, I had as fief be complimented by the Devil as be complimented by a slaveholder; for I regard the slaveholder as his agent on earth to work out the destruction of all that is good, pure, and holy among men.—Sir, there are certain charges I am anxious to have plainly set before you. Although they have been to some extent stated here this evening, and in other places, I wish the charges I prefer against the Free Church distinctly understood; and I am the more anxious for this because I intend to leave this vicinity for some time. I do not intend, however, to leave Scotland—I mean to agitate! agitate! agitate! (Great cheering.) I hope my labours have not been in vain. I have an earnest of the good I have effected already in the present overwhelming audience. There has been an attempt on the part of Mr. Lewis and others to treat with ridicule the charges we make against them, as if they were a light matter. When I discovered that spirit in the man on reading his speech, it appeared to me to indicate a hardness of heart, more especially after what he had seen—what he had seen done and what he did in the midst of the slave states.
  14. I mean to state as many charges against the Free Church as there are laws in the decalogue; and each of these, if true, is sufficient to render that Church unworthy of the Christian regard of all those who love God and their fellow-men:—
  15. 1st, I charge the Free Church of Scotland with fellowshipping men-stealers, as the type and standing representatives of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ on earth.
  16. 2d, I charge the Free Church of Scotland with accepting money from well-known thieves to build her churches and to pay her ministers.
  17. 3d, I charge the Free Church of Scotland with sending a deputation into a community of well-known thieves to beg money which they had the best evidence was the result of the most foul plunder which has ever disgraced the human family.
  18. 4th, I charge the delegation of the Free Church of Scotland with going into a land where they saw three millions of immortal souls, for whom the Saviour poured out his blood on Calvary, reduced to the condition of slaves—robbed of their just and God-given rights—plundered of their hard earnings—changed from men into merchandise—ranked with the lowing ox or neighing horse—subject to the brutal control of rough overseers—herded together like brutes—raised like cattle for the market—without marriage—without learning—without God—without hope—groping their way from time to eternity in the dark—left to be consumed of their own lusts—compelled to live in concubinage— punished with death, in some instances, for learning to read the word of God; and yet that delegation of professed ministers of the Gospel never whispered a single word of opposition to all this in the ear of the oppressor, or lifted up one prayer in the congregation for the deliverance of these wretched people from their galling fetters. The very idea is horrible, and ought to make every ear tingle and every heart quiver with terror.
  19. 5th, I charge the delegation of the Free Church of Scotland with having gone into the slave states and among men-stealers with a full understanding of the evils such a course must inflict on the Anti-Slavery movement,—they having been met and remonstrated with by the Committee of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and appealed to by them in the most Christian and fraternal manner, in the name of Christ and the perishing slave, not to go into the South—that such a course would inflict a great and lasting injury upon the cause of emancipation.
  20. 6th, I charge the deputation of the Free Church of Scotland with having taken the counsel and followed the bidding of slaveholders and their guilty abettors, whilst they turned a deaf ear to the bleeding and whip-scored slave, and to the counsel, prayers, and entreaties of those who are labouring in the most arduous manner for the immediate emancipation of the slaves held in the United States.
  21. 7th, I charge the delegation of the Free Church of Scotland with refusing to preach the truth against slavery, because by such preaching they would have failed in getting the price of human flesh to build Free churches, and to pay Free Church ministers in Scotland.
  22. 8th, I charge the delegates of the Free Church of Scotland with preaching such sermons only, while in the slave states, as would win for themselves the cordial approbation of man-stealers and their guilty abettors.
  23. 9th, I charge the distinguished leaders of the Free Church with apologizing, excusing, and defending slavery and slaveholding—with an attempt to show that neither Christ nor his Apostles had any objection to Christians trading in the bodies and souls of their fellow-men, and leaving the inference to be drawn that Christians may innocently do so now.
  24. 10th, I charge them with having adopted the name of “Free Church” while they are doing the work of a slave Church, and have thereby disappointed the hopes and expectations of the perishing slave.
  25. Sir, when the slaves in the United States heard of the formation of the Free Church—a free Church—accustomed as they were to nothing but slave Churches, to a slaveholding Gospel, and to slave-trading Churches—what must have been their feelings? I for one used to exclaim, in what was wont to be a stereotype expression in my speeches in New England, What shakes nature just now?—Freedom, freedom! What shakes England.—the unwearied progress of political freedom! What shakes Ireland?—The progress of freedom! What shakes Scotland?— The efforts of the Free Church! This is what I used to say to my coloured brethren.
  26. But little better than twenty months ago it was said that a delegation from the Free Church was come to our land. Strange emotions were excited. The Free Church was a somewhat different name from masters’ Church. In the slave states we used to be afraid of using the word liberty, and we called it for safety pig’s-foot; and in this way we could speak of it even in our masters’ presence, without their knowing that liberty was the subject of our discourse. So when it was heard that the Free Church deputation was come, many a slave would be saying, “Well, pig’s-foot come at last.” (Laughter.)
  27. Freedom’s come! But look at the unutterable disappointment, and what a reverse of feeling, when they found this Free Church meant nothing more to them than freedom for the deputation to clasp the hand of the slaveholder as a brother, and to neglect the poor bondmen! No word of sympathy for them, who were left to be treated by men as brutes, with the knowledge of the Gospel hid from them, deprived of the knowledge of the word of God by law, and groping their way from time to eternity in darkness. The Free Church delegation behaved in the South as if they believed there was no God—like Atheists. Money! money! was the entire actuating motive of their hearts. (Applause.)
  28. With what unutterable loathing must we look on men who dare to turn off attention from this matter with a laugh! Mr. Lewis, so far from making light of this matter, should go down on his knees, acknowledge his offence, and seek forgiveness of his God, of the poor slave, and of the Christian people of Scotland for daring to compromise their character by striking hands with slaveholders to the utter neglect of perishing bondmen.
  29. Sir, I can almost imagine I see brother Lewis calling on the slaveholder. I can almost go down south, and see him, when I was a slave, calling on my old master, Mr. Thomas Auld (who would be a very likely party to call on), with his subscription paper. When brother Lewis knocks at the door, I answer, and he asks, “Well, my lad, is your master in?” (Laughter.) “Yes, Sir.” Well, he walks into the house, sees my master, and introduces himself thus (for my ear would be at the keyhole immediately on the door being shut)—”My object in making this call this morning is to see if you would do something for the cause of religious freedom in Scotland. We have been labouring some time back, and have undergone severe struggles, for Gospel freedom in Scotland, and we have thought it right to call upon you, as a benevolent man and as having means to bestow, to see what you can do for us.” My master would reply, “Brother Lewis, I deeply sympathize with your efforts; and as I see the cause recommended by Deacon such-a-one, I would like to have my name down with his. I’ll tell what I will do. I have a fine young negro who is to be sold, and I will sell him to-morrow and give you a contribution to the cause of freedom. (Applause and laughter.) If you will call, brother Lewis, and take your breakfast with me, I will then see what I can do; and as the slave is to be sold at Easton, I will feel happy if you also take a ride so far with me, as you may not have seen the capital of the county. Come about nine o’clock, brother, and I will see what I can do for the cause of freedom in Scotland.” (Laughter and cheering.)
  30. The morning comes, and the breakfast hour, and brother Lewis also. (I have a son named Lewis, but I think I’ll change his name.) (Applause.) The Bible is given to brother Lewis, and he reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirits—Blessed are they that give to the poor,” and so on. All goes on delightfully. Brother L. prays, and after prayer sits down and partakes of the bounties produced by the blood of the slave, watered by the sweat and enriched by the blood of the half-famished negro. (Applause.) Brother Auld orders the carriage to be brought round to the door—I am tied behind the carriage and taken away, as I have seen often done: I am on the auction block, and the auctioneer is crying “Who bids for this comely stout young negro? He is accustomed to his work, and has an excellent trade on his hands.” Well, 500 dollars are bid. Oh, how brother Lewis’[s] eyes twinkle! (Laughter.) The auctioneer continues—”This is not half the value of the negro; he is not sold for any bad quality. His master has no desire to get rid of him, but only wants to get a little money to aid the cause of religious freedom in Scotland.” (Laughter.) Another flame of light from brother Lewis’[s] eyes. 600 dollars are bid. Once, twice, thrice, is said by the auctioneer, and I am sold for 600 dollars.
  31. Brother Lewis and the master are there together, and they go home to dinner; and after prayer, brother Lewis, who has always an eye to the main chance, takes out the subscription list, and brother Auld gives him part of the price of the bones and the blood of his fellow-man. Not a word from brother Lewis as to the sin of the a[u]ction. They then devote the money thus obtained to building these Free Churches; and brother Lewis daringly stands up here in Scotland and makes light of it. (Tremendous cheering.) That man must be hardened indeed that could do such a thing. Disgorge the plunder! (Cheering.) Disgorge the plunder! (Continued cheering.) The cry shall be heard throughout Scotland.
  32. I shall not be silenced by an attempt to make light of it. I shall not be hushed by an attempt to excite ridicule—or an attempt to stand up before the world and blacken my character by their base insinuations. I defy them to point to a single black spot in my character. As to defending it, I have not time—it is not worth defending it against the attacks of men whose hands are dipped in the blood of their brothers and sisters.
  33. But let not the Free Church of Scotland, while she holds the price of the blood and the bones of American slaves, think to stop me in my course by their reproaches. Their condemnation I hold to be the highest eulogy that can be given. I felt a thrill of delight when I came to town, and knew that the ministers of the Free Presbytery had been moved to enter upon a defence. I felt, in the language of the Rev. Mr. Burns, that “circumstances more or less had compelled them to open up this question.” They did not want to do it, I know. “He had hoped that the solemn deliverance of the highest ecclesiastical judicatory of their Church had settled the matter, but agitators from abroad have come here and compelled us to open it up.” Oh, what a confession of weakness was here! What an evidence that they felt deeply the truths we had brought forward! (Cheers.) Sir, I hope to be here again before I return to America.
  34. It was but the other day I was in Aberdeen. There it appeared at first as if the hearts of the people were as hard as the granite of which their houses are built; but we had been there only two evenings before they flocked out to know what was the matter—to learn the head and front of the Free Church’s offending; and we have the pleasure of informing you that, before we left, there was not a house which would contain the numbers that came. They saw, when I had read my charges against the Free Church, that I had business among them; and, instead of attempting to silence me, a petition signed by a large number of most respectable citizens, wanting to hear more on the subject, was put into our hands previous to our departure. Many of these petitioners were members of the Free Church, and they declared they never appointed Mr. Lewis to do what he had done—they never gave him liberty to form an alliance with slaveholders—they never authorized Dr. Chalmers to write a fraternal letter to a slaveholder in South Carolina. In Perth we have swelled two or three feet above the Free Church, and the cry is— Send back the money. (Great applause.)
  35. When the Free Church says—Did not Abraham hold slaves? the reply should be, Send back that money! (Cheers.) When they ask did not Paul send back Onesimus? I answer, Send you back that money! (Great cheering.) That is the only answer which should be given to their sophistical arguments, and it is one which they cannot get over. (Great cheering.) In order to justify their conduct, they endeavour to forget that they are a Church, and speak as if they were a manufacturing corporation. They forget that a Church is not for making money, but for spreading the Gospel. We are guilty, say they, but these merchants are guilty, and some other parties are guilty also. I say, send back that money! (Cheering.) There is music in the sound. (Continued cheering.) There is poetry in it.
  36. They are not only guilty of keeping bad company, but they are making themselves a party to its actions while they remain in such a guilty connection. Their members will lift up their voice[s] against the connection, and when they do so all will cry Amen! We mean to go round this country and we hope to get some good men to go round Scotland, sounding our war cry to the public. Let not the cry of Send back that money drop when we leave here, but let every man feel delegated by Douglass and by his love of humanity to raise up his voice and proclaim the cry.
  37. If the Free Church of Scotland would only send back that money, as I wish and hope sincerely they will yet do, the effect would be tremendous in behalf of our cause. Let that money go back, and slavery falls reeling to the ground as if struck by a voice from Heaven—as if by a mighty effort shaking off the burden of the heavy laden and letting the oppressed go free. (Cheering.)
  38. Sir, this act of the Free Church is indefensible. I defy them to justify their conduct. They can only do so when the onward progress of the race from the chains and fetters of slavery is arrested—when all hopes of freedom have fled—when all moral distinctions are obliterated— when truth, justice, and humanity have sunk out of sight—when the angel of love and of mercy has winged her way from the abodes of men—when all idea of a common origin is blotted from the sea of mind—when all thoughts of a pure, just, and righteous God have been exterminated from the human heart—when universal darkness and despair prevail—then, and not till then, will the Free Church stand justified in fellowshipping man-stealers as Christians and in taking the reward of plunder for the purpose of building up churches for the worship of the living God. (Mr. Douglass sat down amid great cheering.)