The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery

Frederick Douglass

Citation Information:  Frederick Douglass, “The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery: An Address Delivered in Dundee, Scotland, on January 30, 1846.” Dundee Courier, February 3, 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. 144.

The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery: An Address Delivered in Dundee, Scotland, on January 30, 1846

Dundee Courier, February 3, 1846.

  • Mr. Douglass said he had come hither this evening in the spirit of candour to discuss the subject, and he wished to be distinctly understood that in rising to call their attention to the connection of the Free Church of Scotland with the Churches in America, he was not rising to speak against the Free Church. He was not here to offer a single word as to the right or the wrong of the Free Church of Scotland, or of its organization. He was not here to tell whether Drs. Chalmers, Candlish, and Cunningham, or any of the leaders of the Free Church did right or wrong in coming out and establishing that church.
  • He wanted no false statements to be made, for he understood that stories were in circulation here that he and his friends were in the pay and under the sanction of the other opposing religious denominations. As far as that charge was made against him, there was not the slightest shadow of truth in it. He was only here to plead the cause of the slave, and to arouse the energies and obtain the co-operation of the good people of old Scotland in behalf of what he believed to be a righteous cause—the undoing of the heavy burdens and letting the oppressed go free.
  • He then said he could not better begin his speech than by reading a portion of the first chapter of Isaiah. Mr. Douglass here read from the fourth to the twentieth verses,

4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

5 Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.

7 Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. )

after which he continued—I could not state my mission to this land better than by reading to you the passage of Scripture I have read. I should find it impossible to draw a more graphic picture of the state of the Churches in the United States than is drawn in these lines from the holy prophet Isaiah. In the single line “your hands are full of blood” we have the character of the American Churches aptly described. Their hands are full of blood.

  • In the United States there are three millions of people in the most abject slavery—in a most degrading and loathsome bondage—deprived of every privilege, moral, intellectual, and political—deprived of all— not a single right common to humanity that they may use, that they may say belongs to them. They are deprived of their rights by what are called the people of the United States, but they are also deprived by religionists. They are not allowed the right to marry, they cannot enter into matrimonial alliances. The whole three millions are compelled by the law, and by the religious teachers of the land who uphold the law, to live in a state of lawless concubinage and pollution. This is the state of the case. They are living without the knowledge of God, groping their way from time to eternity in the dark—the gospel, the heavenly religion shut out from their minds. They may not learn to read the word of God, for it is a crime punishable with death to instruct a slave to read the Bible. (Hear, hear.) This is the nature of the system which is upheld in the United States. This state of pollution—of blood, for such it is—of Atheism—of gross and dark infidelity—of lawless murder and plunder—is upheld, as I can prove, by the churches, by the clergy of the United States.
  • Mr. Douglass then enumerated the several sects, the Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, &c., who all sanctioned this system, and were willing and active participators in the sin of the slaveholders. In this state of the case, there came from this land, the inhabitants of which are distinguished for their love of freedom—a land whose every hill has been made classic by heroic deeds performed by her noble sons—a land whose every brook and river carry the songs of freedom as they pass to the ocean—a land whose hills have nearly all been watered with blood in behalf of freedom—a land to which the slave had a right to look for sympathy, for aid, and for deliverance from his bondage. Instead of receiving such aid, there stands up in the midst a Church calling itself free! free! free!—(great cheering)—calling itself the Free Church, presenting itself both at home and abroad, arrogantly and egotistically, as the great representative of the people of Scotland.
  • Does the Free Church represent your views on the question of slavery? (Cries of no! no!) I am glad to hear it. They claim to be the model, the impersonation, the life, the soul of Christianity in this country. Well, with all these influences, and with their exceedingly tender consciences—(laughter)—and with professions of love to God and man, they leave their homes and go to the United States, and strike hands in good Christian fellowship with men whose hands are full of blood—the coats, the boots, the watches, the houses, and all they possess, are the result of the unpaid toil of the poor fettered, stricken, and branded slave. Where did these parties go when they went to the United States? I want to ask Mr. Lewis where he went? (Great cheering and a few hisses.)
  • I am glad to hear these hisses. It was said by a very learned man that when the cool voice of truth falls into the burning vortex of falsehood there would always be hissing. Innocence fears nothing. Perfect love casts off all fear. Innocence rusheth into the sun light, and asks to be tried. It does not slink away and hide. It does not apologize and say I cannot talk with this or that man, because I do not know if he sustains an excellent reputation. It has no fears of this kind, it seeks to be searched and tried; and if there is a man here who feels for a moment that I should not unmask the Free Church of Scotland, he has more love for his sect than for truth, more love for his religious denomination than for God. I ought to have asked the brother who hissed, did not brother Lewis go to the United States? Did he not take the slaveholders’ money, and put it into his pocket? Let him come here and defend himself. But Mr. Lewis has very wisely taken the counsel of Junius, who said to Sir William Draper, that he should never attract attention to his character— that as it would not pass without censure, it was better to endeavour to pass without observation.
  • The question with the Free Church is very easily settled if divested of all their sophistries. Their first justification is that the slaveholders are so situated that they cannot help holding their slaves; they are compelled by the laws of the land to hold them. I am here to pronounce this utterly false. There is not a slaveholder in the United States but can set his slaves free. In all the states except three, they can be set free on the soil. In three, I admit they cannot be set free on the soil unless the slaveholder becomes responsible for their good behaviour, but he can convey them to the protection of the British lion which prowls on three sides of them. But even if this were the case, it would not justify them. If slaveholding is a sin, as they admit it is, it is a sin in any circumstances. If the law were to say that they were to worship Vishnu or any other heathen deity, would it be right because the law decreed it? Not at all. It would be none the less a sin because the laws of the land sanctioned it.
  • Had these same Doctors of Divinity lived in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, on the same principle they would have bowed down to the golden image. I could almost divine their argument for so doing. It would be “It has so happened under the providence of God that we have been placed in a heathen land, and it is of the utmost importance that the knowledge of the true God should be known in this heathen country, and so it is of importance that our lives should be preserved; and what I would advise” says Dr. Chalmers “is to submit to the powers that be. When you hear the sound of the various instruments kneel down, but be sure of this, worship only in form, not in heart; you may be lifting your hearts up to the Lord, and thus save your lives and your principles also.” (Great cheering and laughter.) We would never have heard of these three heroes if their conduct had been like that of these Doctors of Divinity.
  • After some farther remarks on this point, Mr. Douglass continued by referring to the Free Church taking the slave money, and saying that their very members, when they looked up to their meeting-houses and reflected that they were built with the price of blood, would yet compel their clergy to send back the blood stained money. (Great cheering.) The question had been asked why did they not go and remonstrate with these reverend Doctors of Divinity? His reply was, that the force of public opinion was a much more powerful argument with such gentlemen than any he could use. If they had thought that such an uproar would have been made about it, they would never have accepted of it; but they anticipated that they would be able to get out to America and steal home with the money nobody being the wiser—forgetting all the while that the eye of the Almighty was upon them. Public opinion would yet compel them to send it back. (Applause.)
  • Mr. Douglass then referred to the argument of the Free Church that the slaves were favoured with religious instruction, and said he would give them a sketch of a sermon which he had often heard preached. The text was “Servants obey your masters.” He would divide it into separate heads, and here he was going to imitate the preacher, for he wanted to show them how rantingly, how piously he might appear when in the service of the wicked one himself. Mr. Douglass then in tones of mimic solemnity gave the following epitome of the discourse:—”Servants obey your masters.” You should obey your masters, in the first place, because your happiness depends on your obedience. (Cheers and laughter.) Now, servants, such is the relation constituted by the Almighty between cause and effect, that there can be no happiness neither in this world nor the world to come save by obedience; and it is a fact, that whenever you see misery, wretchedness, and poverty, want and distress, all is the result of disobedience. (Laughter.) Peculiarly is this the case with yourselves. Under the providence of God, you sustain a very peculiar relation to your masters. The term “servant” in the text means slave, and you will of consequence perceive that this is a message to you by the mouth of the Apostle; so as a preacher of the Gospel I beg you to listen to the words of wisdom. (Great laughter.)
  • I said it was peculiarly the case that your happiness depends upon your obedience. It is verily true, and suffer me to illustrate this position by the statement of a fact. A neighbour of mine sent his servant Sam into the fields to perform a certain amount of labour which ought to have taken him two hours and a half. Now, by the way, his master was a pious soul, and after having waited till the expiration of the time which he had allotted to Sam for the performance of the work, he went out into the field, as he was accustomed to do, for the purpose of ascertaining why Sam was detained. (Laughter.) When he went, lo and behold, there lay Sam, his hoe in one place, and Sam fast asleep in the corner of the fence. (Great laughter and cheers.) Think of the feelings of that pious master. Oh! it was a trying situation for a servant of the Lord to be placed in. (Laughter.) He went “to the law and to the testimony” to know his duty, and he there found it written, that “the servant who knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” Accordingly, he took up Sam, and lashed him till he was not able to bear it. Now this is the point I want to come to. To what was Sam’s whipping traceable? (Cheers and laughter.) Solely to disobedience. (Much laughter.) If you would be happy, therefore, and not be whipped, you will avoid sleeping when you should be working, for if you would enjoy and live under the sunshine of your master’s good pleasure, let me implore you, as one who loves your souls, ”be obedient to your masters.” (Cheers and laughter.)
  • You should obey your masters, in the second place, because of a sense of gratitude for your present situation compared with what it might have been. You should be inspired by a knowledge of the fact, that the Lord, in his mercy, brought you from Africa to this Christian country. (Shouts of laughter.) Oh! this is an important consideration, and one to which I will call your attention for a few moments. Your fathers—and I dread to enter upon the picture—were taken from Africa—degraded, lost, and ruined Africa—darkness may be said to cover that earth, and gross darkness that people—to be brought into the sunshine of this land of freedom. (Laughter.) Your fathers were living destitute of the knowledge of the gospel—destitute of all those civilising influences which you find surrounding you in this new region—destitute of religion, and bowing down to stocks and stones, and worshipping images. While they were in this state of deep despair the Lord put it into the minds of good men to leave their homes, to leave their families, and to brave the perils of the ocean, that they might snatch you as brands from the burning, and bring you to this Christian country. (Great applause and laughter.)
  • I will now go to another head of my text. Thirdly—(a laugh)—You should obey your masters, in the third place, because of your being adapted to your present condition. Now, servants, it is one of the peculiar marks of the wisdom of the Almighty, that whenever he establishes a relation amongst mankind he accompanies it with evidence of its fitness, and of the adaptability of parties to their several conditions. The relation of husband and wife, parent and child, the relation of ruled and rulers, of sovereign and subjects, and so on, all show this mark of adaptation. So the relation of master and slave!
  • Permit me to point out to you some of the peculiarities and characteristics which show most conclusively that you should be contented to fill the very situation which you now find yourselves placed in. For instance, you have hard hands, strong forms, robust constitutions, black skins, and curly hair. (Cheering and laughter.) On the other side, we have soft hands, tender forms, delicate constitutions, and white skins. (Renewed cheers and laughter.) Oh! I wish to ask you from whence come these differences? “It is the Lord’s doing, and marvellous in our eyes.” (Shouts of laughter and applause.) Now your hard hands and robust constitutions amply fit you to labour under our burning sun in the position in which you find yourself placed; while your masters and mistresses cannot labour thus. (Applause.) The Lord has blessed you with black skins and strong constitutions; but, ah! boast not of your strength—boast not of those advantages, for while he has given you these advantages, he has also given us powers which mutually benefit you. (Loud applause.) You have not so much intellect as we have, so t hat you cannot take care of yourselves, nor provide for yourselves, and you would be in a most wretched condition if ever the Lord were to I eave you to be guided by your own intellects. Thank God that we take care of you. Oh! the wisdom of God who made one class to do the thinking, while another class does the working! (Cheers.) He hoped they would now allow him to say Amen.
  • Mr. D. continued, he wanted to show them a specimen of the sort of spiritual instruction provided for the slaves. These were the brethren to whom brother Lewis was so much attached. He then read a series of resolutions which had been lately agreed to by the Churches in America, in which slavery was attempted to be defended from the example of “those good old slaveholding patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” as if these venerated patriarchs could be brought in as defenders of adultery and murder in their broadest and most damning sense. He pourtrayed in a happy and sarcastic style the encouragement afforded by the countenance of the Free Church to these American slaveholders; and contrasted with it the very different conduct of the celebrated John Wesley and others, of whom he spoke in warm and grateful terms for their labours on behalf of the slave. Would that John Wesley could stand up once more! Would that his words might be rung—not whispered—in the ears of those recreant Doctors of Divinity, who are now apologizing for and upholding the doctrine of slavery! (Great cheering.) He would read from the New Orleans Picayune of July 7, 1845, a paper notorious for its slaveholding, slave-trading, slave-selling, and slave-buying tendencies, a eulogy on the Rev. Dr. Chalmers for his course on the slavery question, and on another page of the same paper was an advertisement for two run-away negroes. The paragraph was as follows:—
  • “Dr. Chalmers, the eloquent Scotch divine, having been appealed to by the members of the Free Church of Scotland, on the subject of receiving contributions from churches in the slave states of America, to say whether religious fellowship could consistently be extended to slaveholding churches, the Doctor repudiates the spirit that would narrow the sphere of Christian union, and says, that the refusal of such fellowship would be ‘most unjustifiable.’”
  • Fellowship with slaveholders! (continued Mr. D.)— refuse fellowship with man-stealers, woman-whippers, cradle-robbers, and plunderers!—to refuse Christian fellowship with such would be “most unjustifiable.” (Applause.) Did they think Dr. Chalmers would ever have said this, if, like him, he had had four sisters and one brother in bondage? (Cheers, and cries of “No.”) Would this paper have eulogised George Thompson or William Lloyd Garrison, or any other eminent abolitionist? (No, no!) Well, the slaves run away—the bloodhound has not been able to follow their tracks, and the paper which eulogises Dr. Chalmers thus advertises the fugitives:—

“Forty Dollars Reward will be given for the delivery or detention of the following Negroes, who ran away from my plantation, near Fort Pikes, La. on the 3d instant, or Twenty Dollars for either of them:—viz.

“Phil, aged about 40 years, dark complexion; has a deep scar on (perhaps) his left hand, and a piece off one ear.

“Sam, aged about 20 years; has a scar on his chin, several lumps on his neck and back, and walks rather lame.”

  • He hoped this advertisement would be copied along with the eulogy of Dr. Chalmers, to show the people of Scotland what influence was being exerted to uphold slavery in the United States. One with a piece off his ear, and another with lumps on his neck and back, and walks rather lame, and in the same paper an eulogy on Dr. Chalmers. (Hear, hear.) Well might the Doctor exclaim, “What have I done that the wicked speak well of me?” He might ask with a degree of propriety never done before, “What have I done that slaveholders eulogise me?” (Cheers.) He need not look far to know what he had done. He had struck hands with them in Christian fellowship, and sanctioned the taking of the blood-stained money to build churches; and for this he was eulogised by the New Orleans Picayune. Mr. D. then described the case of a slave boy being whipped to death by his master in the streets of New Orleans about fourteen months ago, and said with such parties the Free Church was joining and banding together. He concluded by making an earnest and eloquent appeal to the people of Scotland to lend their assistance in freeing three millions of their fellow creatures from bondage. Let the people of Scotland arise, and show the Free Church that they did not represent them. Let the voice of public opinion compel that church to send back the money. He would again visit Dundee, where, if there was to be found a house open for him, he would yet raise the cry “send back the blood-stained dollars.” (Great cheering.)