The Free States, Slavery, and the Sin of the Free Church
Citation Information: Frederick Douglass, “The Free States, Slavery, and the Sin of the Free Church: An Address Delivered in Paisley, Scotland, on March 19, 1846.” Renfrewshire Advertiser, March 28, 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. 186.
The Free States, Slavery, and the Sin of the Free Church: An Address Delivered in Paisley, Scotland, on March 19, 1846
Renfrewshire Advertiser, March 28, 1846.
- Mr. Douglas[s] again addressed a crowded meeting on Thursday evening, in the Rev. Mr. Nisbet’s I church, on the responsibility of the free states for the existence of slavery, morally, physically, and religiously, and on the sin committed by the Free Church of Scotland in accepting the blood-stained dollars. He said, although there are no slaves in the free states, these states have constitutions of their own, but there is one Constitution over all, the federal Constitution, and there are certain provisions in that Constitution which compel the free states to lend their political aid, their moral aid, and their religious aid, in upholding and sustaining the existence of slavery—therefore, the free states are responsible for the existence of slavery in the slave states.
- But, my friends, there are no free states, they are linked and interlinked together in the bloody traffic. There are 300,0 slaveholders in the United States, men who hold, in their own right, men as property—there are about ten slaves to each slaveholder; you may probably ask how can one man hold ten in bondage—no man could make me his slave—he has not the power. How is this that the slaves are held? It is by an extraneous influence from without. Why don’t the slaves rise? Because they would have no chance, the arms of the whole nation would be directed against them, it would be like the struggle of the poor Poles, whose struggles you have just heard of—they are falling beneath the swords and bayonets of the bloody and despotic power of Russia. But if a foreign enemy were to land in America and plant the standard of freedom, the slaves would rise to a man, they would rally round that standard; a strong fire would be kindled within their breasts, which would remind them that their fathers and mothers had been tortured by the oppressors, that the white face had been guilty of grinding the poor blacks—they would not spare the guilty traders in human blood. But you are not to infer from this that I am an advocate for war, no, I hate war. I have no weapon but that which is consistent with morality, I am engaged in a holy war; I ask not the aid of the sword, I appeal to the understanding and the hearts of men—we use these weapons, and hope that God will give us the victory.
- The free states have it in their power to abolish slavery; they have the moral power, they have the religious power, they have the press, they have the ear of the people, into which they could pour arguments which would be too strong for them to repel, and if they do not use that power they are morally and religiously responsible. We call upon them as Christians, philanthropists, and in the awful name of God, to abolish this horrid system.
- Let us take view of the Constitution of America—it is based upon the broad principle of equality. It holds this truth to be self-evident— that all men are equal. It pretends to establish justice, and to secure the blessings of liberty to the present generation and to posterity. The Americans are political hypocrites. They declare by lip these truths, but fail in practice; and, if you want a sample of lies, just read the last message of the man-thief President. He declares that the people of America are a free people—a religious people. No such thing. We have churches—they belong to the same people as the slaves, we have all the forms, all the ceremonies, all the appearance of religion; we profess to be the followers of the meek and lowly Christ the same as here, but right under the droppings of the church, slavery has existed for two hundred years; those who love the heathen on the other side of the globe hate the heathen at their own doors. We have the Bible and the slave-trade, the church and the prison, the gates of heaven and hell in the same street; the church bell and the auctioneer’s bell opposite to each other; we have devils dressed in angel’s robes who leave off flogging their slaves to go and preach in the pulpit, taking for their text “Thou shalt not steal.” Children are sold, that the price of their blood may purchase communion service; to prove which, let me read you an advertisement:—A prime gang of negroes to be sold, belonging to the Independent Church, in Christ Church Parish—proceeds to go to the funds of the Independent Church. I have seen my own master, who was a Methodist reader, tie up a young woman, a cousin of my own, and flog her till the blood flowed in streams at her feet, and quote Scripture m vindication of it. “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”
- But I am glad that some of the churches in America are beginning to throw off slavery. The slaveholder is forbid to enter lest he drink damnation to his soul. This is beginning to be the feeling of some of the churches, and when we are swelling a religious chorus against it, what voice is it that breaks in upon the harmonious concord to palliate slavery? ‘Tis the Free Church of Scotland, what free church and slave church opposites!—light and darkness, liberty and slavery, freedom and oppression, Bibles and thumbscrews, exhortations and horsewhips, all linked and interlinked. I have come here for the purpose of calling upon the Free Church of Scotland to send back the blood-stained dollars. I will give them no rest till they send back that money, for as long as they retain that money they are liberty’s deadliest enemy. I feel I have a right to come to Scotland. They wish I had not come, but I mean to stay and talk. We want them to go along with us in that glorious enterprise; but so long as they keep that money, they cannot share in the glory—they cannot go along with us, while they hold fellowship with slaveholders. Had Andrew Thomson lived—he whose words burst asunder the chains of the [West] Indian bondsmen—he would have shattered the connexion into a thousand fragments. If they would return that money, it would turn the religious tide against slavery. It is already being hemmed in by a broad and mighty force; and they are whispering to themselves that nobody m our old country has any regard for us but the Free Church, and we sometimes think she does not care so much for us as for our dollars. He concluded an eloquent and powerful address, by calling upon the Free Church, in name of the slaves, appealing to them, as Christians and the sons of God, to return the bloody gold.