England Should Lead the Cause of Emancipations

Frederick Douglas

Citation Information:  Frederick Douglass, “England Should Lead the Cause of Emancipation: An Address Delivered in Leeds, England, on December 23, 1846.” LeedsTimes, December 26, 1846. Blassingame, John (et al, eds.). The Frederick Douglass Papers: Series One–Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979. Vol. I, p. 474.

England Should Lead the Cause of Emancipation: An Address Delivered in Leeds, England, on December 23, 1846

Leeds Times, December 26, 1846.

  1. Mr. Frederick Douglass, whose appearance was hailed with loud and prolonged cheering[, spoke]. Of his long and eloquent address we can merely present an outline; but we will make our abstract as connected as possible, and shall merely premise that we have heard Mr. Douglass to much greater advantage than on this occasion—he was evidently labouring under severe indisposition.
  2. He commenced by saying—The question you have met this evening to consider, is one of the most important that can engage the attention of philanthropists throughout the world. I am rejoiced to know that it is attracting attention extensively at this moment in Great Britain; and of all the nations of the earth England should be foremost in advancing the great cause of emancipation (hear, hear). For three hundred years Africa has been despoiled of her children by Christian nations—led on at one time by Great Britain, as the great patron of traffickers in human flesh. England, however, has now set a noble example by emancipating her own slaves of the West Indies.
  3. But the spirit which dashed down the fetters of slavery in the West Indies, and proclaimed freedom to 800,000 slaves, has since lain dormant and inactive, and the anti-slavery spirit has scarcely a tangible existence in one town of twenty in all England (hear, hear). This should not be so; and it is the object of the Anti-Slavery League, recently formed in London, to impart new life and energy, to give a new object and impetus to the abolitionists, and to induce a new and more powerful activity of spirit than they now know. I will not attempt to show why this spirit has died out, nor inquire by whose fault it is, that the flame has not been kept alive. But there stands the fact, that in all England the anti-slavery feeling lies dormant, as if it had nothing on which to vent itself (hear, hear, hear).
  4. I have come here to call your attention to America, where there are 3,000,000 of persons in slavery—3,000,000 of human beings liable to be put on the auctioneer’s block and sold as beasts and swine—and this in a nation which declares that all men are equal! (hear, hear). This, too, exists under the very droppings of that sanctuary which professes to preach liberty to the captive, to open her arms and succour those in bonds (shame). This foul blot of American slavery calls upon you, cries aloud to you, demands of you, in the name of that God whom you have promised to serve, and by those principles on which you contended for the abolition of West Indian Slavery, to step forward manfully and as Christians, to render your assistance and co-operation in bringing about the emancipation of these 3,000,000 of your fellow-men (loud cheers).
  5. What is American Slavery? Slavery in the United States is the granting of that power by which one man exercises and enforces a right of property in the body and soul of another. The condition of a slave is simply that of the brute beast. He is a piece of property—a marketable commodity in the language of the law, to be bought or sold at the will and caprice of the master who claims him to be his property; he is spoken of, thought of, and treated as property. His own good, his conscience, his intellect, his affections are all set aside by the master. The will and the wishes of the master are the law of the slave. Whatever of comfort is necessary to him for his body or soul, that is inconsistent with his being property, is carefully wrested from him by the law of the country. He is carefully deprived of every thing that tends in the slightest degree to detract from his value as property.
  6. From this relation springs an innumerable host of cruelties unparalleled in any other nation on the face of the globe. The serf of despotic Russia does not experience in a month one-half of the misery, the torture, the injury which in one day falls to the lot of the slave in the Southern States of the American Union. The slave-owner can beat him, can wound him, can even deprive him of life without being punished (hear, hear). Why, in the State of Virginia, there is no less than 71 crimes for which a negro may be killed, and only one of them would bring the punishment of death upon the white ,rnan. The negro is not allowed to read; and, in the State of Louisiana, the second offence of teaching a slave to read is punishable with death. Negroes are not allowed to bear testimony against a white man, so that a white man can commit any atrocity against a negro; and, if it were done in the presence of 10,000 slaves not one could testify against him (hear, hear, hear). All the peculiar modes of torture that were resorted to in the West India Islands, are resorted to I believe, even more frequently, in the United States of America. Starvation, the bloody whip, the chain, the gag, the thumb-screw, cat-hauling, the cat-o’-nine-tails, the dungeon, the bloodhound, are all in requisition to keep the slave in his condition as a slave in the United States, all existing within 14 days’ sail of your own shores (sensation).
  7. But I do not wish to excite your feelings, but to obtain your renewed testimony against slavery in the United States, from your pulpit, from your press, from your public assemblages; and in that way England can do much to influence America. Why is slavery existing in America? Because it is reputable, and it is reputable there because it is not disreputable here. It is reputable here, because its abominations are unknown. Make it disreputable here, and show the slaveholders of America that you abhor them, and much will have been done towards annihilating slavery (hear, hear). For this purpose was the League established—to give you accurate information upon American slavery—and when you are correctly informed, I know that your feelings of horror and indignation shall be borne on the wings of the wind to the shores of America— dealing death and annihilation to slavery (loud applause).
  8. There are, however, persons who honestly believe that we should not interfere with America in this matter. This objection would be fairly put forth, if we called for political interference, or for the interference of your arms (hear, hear). But we have no such measures to propose to you. We ask you to interfere by way of correcting the moral sentiment of America. This you have a right to do: you have a right to speak. No government on earth has a right to decide with whom you shall sympathise, or with whom hold communion (hear, hear). No geographical position can debar you from sympathising with the oppressed, denouncing the tyrant and oppressor, and pouring your execration on his head, no matter where he is placed, or to what nation he may belong (cheers). What good, you may ask, will this do? It is true you are a good way from America; but by the magic power of steam you are brought as it were within mooring distance of each other, and what is uttered this day in the Music Hall of Leeds, will, within fourteen days resound in Massachusetts—striking dismay to the hearts of the slaveholders of America (loud applause). And from this agitation in Great Britain, I trust to see emanate a restless, resistless championship which will never rest satisfied until it has taken the gyves from the neck, the fetters from the limbs of the slave, in whatever nation or clime they may be found (cheers).
  9. Such is the blighting influence of Slavery upon the national character, that America possesses not the moral courage to contend with and throw off this incubus; before America could do this, new moral life must be infused into the national character; and where can we look for the means to produce such an infusion but to the nation which has washed its hands of the blood of innocence? (hear, hear). England has done this, and America cannot, dare not, be indifferent to her testimony (loud applause). Almost every religious sect in this country is in friendly correspondence with the slave-holding, slave-breeding, slave-bartering, slave-torturing American States. Methodists, Episcopalians, Independents, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Baptists, and almost every denomination of Christians, are in this communication with these slave-holding States (hear, hear, hear). Shall this fellowship be continued? (Loud cries of No.) This is just what I want you to say—just what we desire to extract from every Christian Church in this country. No; they ought not to hold communion and fellowship with these slave-holding states (reiterated applause). They ought not, because the slaveholder is not a Christian (hear, hear).
  10. I know to what I expose myself by saying this. I know that my asserting this has been the means of making many hold themselves aloof from me, and there has not been wanting those who have whispered that I am not orthodox—in fact, that I am an infidel. An infidel, because I belong to the throughgoing Garrison school of abolitionists who would bring all the influence of Christianity and Christian doctrines against the slave-holding, woman-whipping churches of America (applause). Dr. Campbell has denounced me because I am in unity with those who passed a resolution denouncing the religion of America for volunteering to defend slavery and slave holders.
  11. I tell Dr. Campbell he is mistaken if he supposes American religion to be Christianity. Why they have men sold to build churches, women sold to enrich and endow them, and children sold to buy Bibles (shame)—but not for slaves are these Bibles bought; their Bibles are for teaching Christianity to their brethren, they say, and at the same time hang the man who teaches a negro to read the letters of the alphabet (hear, hear). The slave auctioneer’s block and the pulpit stand side by side; while the blood-stained gold goes to support the pulpit, the pulpit covers the infernal business with the garb of Christianity, and keeps it in countenance (sensation). Why, the man who robbed me of my liberty and filched my daily earnings, was the very man who met me in class on Sunday to teach me the way to heaven (hear, hear). The man who would endow a church with his blood-stained gains, would hold up his hand in the legislature for putting that man to death who would instruct the slave. And shall we be in communion with them? (Hear, hear, and shouts of Never). But a darker feature is to come.
  12. The religion of the southern states, at this time, is the great supporter, the great sanctioner of the bloody atrocities to which slavery gives rise (sensation). While America is printing tracts and Bibles; sending missionaries abroad to convert the heathen; expending her money in various ways for the promotion of the Gospel in foreign lands, the slave not only lies forgotten, uncared for—but is trampled under-foot by the very churches of the land. What have we in America? Why we have slavery made part of the religion of the land. As a proof of this, I need not do more than state the general fact, that slavery has existed under the droppings of the sanctuary of the south, for the last two hundred years, and there has not been any war between the religion and the slavery of the south.
  13. Whips, chains, gags, and thumb-screws have all lain under the droppings of the sanctuary, and instead of rusting from off the limbs of the bond-man, the pulpit has served to preserve them in all their strength. Instead of preaching the gospel against this tyranny, and rebuking this wrong, ministers of religion have sought, by all and every means, to throw in the background whatever in the Bible could be construed into opposition to slavery, and to bring forward that which they could torture into its support (hear, hear). This I conceive to be the darkest feature of slavery, and yet I and those with whom I have been labouring, have been again and again stigmatized as infidels, and for what reason? Solely in consequence of the faithfulness of our attacks upon the slave-holding religion of the American States (hear, hear).
  14. I love the religion of our blessed Saviour, I love that religion that comes from above, in the “wisdom of God, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits without partiality and without hypocrisy.” And it is because I love the pure and hallowed Christian religion that I hate this slave-holding, this woman-whipping, this mind-darkening, this soul-destroying religion that exists in the Southern States of America (loud cheers). Therefore I boldly declare myself an infidel to the slave-holding religion of America (renewed cheering). Methodist churches, Baptist churches, Congregational churches, Episcopal churches, Roman Catholic churches, Presbyterian churches, Independent churches, in the United States, and in the southern states of America, are upholders of this abominable iniquity; and will you tell me that these men are followers of the meek and lowly Saviour?
  15. The Methodists, the most numerous body in America in 1784, denounced slavery and the slave trade; but they admitted slaveholders to the Communion; these slaveholders became officers and dignitaries of their church; and then they did that which was to be expected from such a brotherhood of thieves. In 1836, when the discussion of slavery was rocking America from side to side, the great Methodist church in America, holding, through ministers, and elders, and members, in their own church 250,000 slaves (hear, hear),—said in their general conference in Cincinnati, that they had no right, no wish, no intention to interfere with the relation of master and slave as it existed in the slave states of the American union. What was this but saying to the world, we have no right, no wish, no intention to release the bondman from his chains? (Applause.) They have silenced the ministers, turned out their members, and effectually gagged all who dared to utter a word against the abominable system. (Shame!) These are facts, unexaggerated facts, and he defied any man to deny the truth of anything he had spoken of this body of religionists in America (hear, hear, hear). Well then, will you have fellowship with such men? (Shouts of No, no). If you can, you are very different men from your founder, the Rev. John Wesley, who declared that slavery is the sum of all villainies (loud applause). Clarkson, too, declared that the sum of a slaveholder’s iniquity was to call himself a Christian (hear, hear, hear).
  16. Mr. Douglass then went over a variety of facts showing that the Congregationalists, Independents, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and other American religious bodies, were equally compromised in the slave trade, and continued—What I wish you to do, is to declare that while their hands are red with the blood of slavery; while they have slaveholding teachers, slave-holding ministers, slave-holding deacons, slaveholding bishops, you will hold no communion, no correspondence, no fellowship with them (cheers). I want you in your churches—Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, all persuasions—to declare in your conventions, associations, synods, conferences, or whatever you call your ecclesiastical meetings, “no Christian fellowship with slaveholders” (loud cheers).
  17. I want the slave-holder surrounded, as by a wall of anti-slavery fire, so that he may see the condemnation of himself and his system glaring down in letters of light. I want him to feel that he has no sympathy in England, Scotland, or Ireland; that he has none in Canada, none in Mexico, none among the poor wild Indians; that the voice of the civilised aye, and savage world is against him. I would have condemnation blaze down upon him in every direction, till, stunned and overwhelmed with shame and confusion, he is compelled to let go the grasp he holds upon the persons of his victims, and restore them to their long-lost rights (prolonged cheering).
  18. They had much to undo before they could stand as they had done—as abolitionists. The Baptists, the Methodists, the Episcopalians, the Independents, the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, and the Free Church of Scotland, now fellowshipped this community of thieves—these men-stealers—and even the Evangelical Alliance hesitated to pronounce upon their character (hear, hear, hear). For two hundred years has the American religion lived with slavery without lifting up a voice of warning or condemnation, because, forsooth, the slave holders, the men-stealers, would fast and pray (hear, hear). But he would say with them, as with the Pharisees of old, their prayers and their fastings brought their greater damnation (loud cheering).
  19. Mr. Douglass mentioned that Thomas Hall [Auld], who claimed him as a chattel, and demanded 750 dollars for his liberty, was one ranking high in the religious denomination to which he belonged, and whose house was the abiding place of all the ministers when in the neighbourhood. Yet that man has, said Mr. Douglass, tied my sisters up to a hook in the ceiling, on a Sabbath morning, and flogged her until the warm blood has trickled at her feet, justifying his iniquity by the Scripture quotation, “Whosoever knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, the same shall be beaten with many stripes!” (Sensation.) After a few remarks upon this topic, Mr. Douglass’ strength failed him, and he was compelled to resume his seat, requesting that some one might address the meeting until he had in some measure recovered.
  20. Mr. WRIGHT, one of the advocates of the Peace Society, and an American, who stated that he had met his friend Mr. Douglass in Leeds, that day, came forward, and spoke even more strongly than his predecessor upon the horrors of the slavery of America, declaring himself an infidel to any religion under heaven which would sanction the enslavement of their fellow-man, and ready to put his heel upon any civil government which would make merchandise of a man and sell him by auction (applause).
  21. Mr. DOUGLASS again came forward for the purpose of explaining the position he occupied in connection with the Anti-Slavery League. Those who had been accustomed to attend Anti-Slavery meetings in Leeds, would have observed that at their present meeting the cause appeared to be in different hands to what it had been originally. It was but right and just we should make known why this was the case. The absence from the platform that evening, of some who formerly took a prominent part in these proceedings, was a sort of indirect condemnation of its being held (hear, hear). Why were they not present? Was it because the advocates before them were not moral and religious characters?—or that they were not earnestly devoting their time, their talents, and their strength in the promotion of this holy cause? Are those the reasons why they had not the countenance and support of those gentlemen who used to lead the van in this glorious enterprise? No, it was not (hear, hear). He was not there to censure them; but to express his regret, deep and unfeigned, that they had not thought it their duty to welcome the fugitive slave among them (cheers). They would have been there by his side to help, to encourage, to aid him, had he come alone and upon his own responsibility, and unconnected with the Anti-Slavery League (hear, hear). If he would relinquish the League, he would have their assistance, and that of the London Anti-Slavery Committee.
  22. And why, (continued Mr. Douglass) will they not be connected with the League? Because the League is connected with William Lloyd Garrison, in America. And who is William Lloyd Garrison? Is he not a man and a brother? Is he not right? Is not his heart full of love for the downtrodden bondsman? William Lloyd Garrison is the man who, sixteen years ago, when America was asleep, when the press was silent as the grave, when the pulpit breathed not a note of warning, of recognition, or of alarm, and when not another man dared to stir or utter a word against the infernal system of American slavery—Garrison, in his youth and in his obscurity, dared to stand up in that corrupt and venal generation, and demand the immediate, the unconditional freedom of the slave (loud cheers).
  23. Who is Wm. Lloyd Garrison? He it is who for 16 years through evil report and good report, has borne aloft the banner of emancipation, never flinching, never quailing amidst the frowns of the powerful, or the peltings, insults, outrages, and violence of the United States’ mobs (hear, hear). Who is Wm. Lloyd Garrison? He is the man most avoided by the slave holder and his religious apologists, and loved and reverenced by the abolitionist and the slave (applause). Who is Wm. Lloyd Garrison? The man who stands at the head of the anti-slavery movement, than whom no man is more persevering, more indefatigable, none more disliked and dreaded by the slave powers in that land of slavery, democratic America—more feared by them than all other abolitionists put together (hear, hear). He is the man who has torn the mask of hypocrisy from the plundering slaveholder and a blood stained Church; and ventured his life in the cause more than any other man living. This is William Lloyd Garrison (loud applause). I like Joseph Sturge, of Birmingham, I revere the Anti-Slavery Committee, I love the abolitionists of England; but they ask me too much when they desire me to step from the side of Garrison (cheers).
  24. Sacrifice the man from whom I have received more than from any man breathing,—my first, my last, my most steadfast friend—the friend of liberty, the great parent of freedom! Impossible! Slave-born though I was, such black ingratitude befits not me: I leave it to the slave-owner and his religious apologists (loud and continued cheering). I should be thankful for their support, glad of their co-operation, but at such a price I cannot receive it (hear, hear, hear).
  25. After expressing his dislike of the principle which had elicited this division, that of refusing co-operation in a good and righteous work, because of some difference of opinion upon another subject, Mr. Douglass again adverted to the horrors of American slavery, and read, in corroboration of his statement of religious bodies holding slaves, the following advertisement, from the Charleston Courier of Feb. 12, 1835;—”Field Negroes, by Thomas Gadsden. On Tuesday, the 17th inst., will be sold, at the North of the Exchange, at 10 o’clock, a prime gang of ten negroes, accustomed to the culture of cotton and provisions, belonging to the Independent Church, in Christchurch parish” (loud cheers).
  26. In reference to the atrocities permitted by the American laws, he quoted extracts from the statutes contained in Brevard’s Digest, Haywood’s Manual, Virginia Revised Code, Prince’s Digest, Missouri Laws, and Mississippi Revised Code. ”If more than seven slaves together are found in any road without a white person, twenty lashes a piece; for visiting a plantation without a written pass, ten lashes; for letting loose a boat from where it is made fast, thirty-nine lashes for the first offence, and for the second, shall have cut off from his head one ear; for keeping or carrying a club, thirty-nine lashes; for having any article for sale, without a ticket from his master, ten lashes; for travelling in any other than the most usual and accustomed road, when going alone to any place, forty lashes; for travelling in the night without a pass, forty lashes.”
  27. I am afraid you do not understand the awful character of these lashes. You must bring it before your mind. A human being in a perfect state of nudity, tied hand and foot to a stake, and a strong man standing behind with a heavy whip, knotted at the end, each blow cutting into the flesh, and leaving the warm blood dripping to the feet (sensation); and for these trifles. “For being found in another person’s negro-quarters, forty lashes; for hunting with dogs in the woods, thirty lashes; for being on horseback without the written permission of his master, twenty-five lashes; for riding or going abroad in the night, or riding horses in the day time, without leave, a slave may be whipped, cropped, or branded in the cheek with the letter R. or otherwise punished, such punishment not extending to life, or so as to render him unfit for labour” (Sensation). To abolish these atrocities was the Anti-Slavery League established; and for it he claimed their earnest and hearty support. Mr. Douglass concluded by entreating them to spare no pains to make their sentiments known in America, and he suggested that their Bible Societies should at once send out the Scriptures to the slaves, and prepare the way for their spiritual as well as personal freedom. He resumed his seat amidst a loud and continued burst of applause.