Letter to William Lloyd Garrison (May 23, 1846)
Citation Information: Frederick Douglass, [Letter], London (England), May 23, 1846. To William Lloyd Garrison. Foner, Philip (ed). Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass. New York: International Publishers, 1950. Vol. I, p. 165.
May 23, 1846
To William Lloyd Garrison
- I take up my pen to give you a hasty sketch of five days’ visit to this great city. I arrived here from Edinburgh, on the I8th instant, and proceeded immediately to 5 Whitehead’s Grove, the house of your early and devoted friend, George Thompson, from whom I had received a most cordial letter, inviting me to make his house my home, during my stay in London. The main object of my visit was to attend the annual meeting of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society—to do which, I had received a pressing invitation from the Committee of that Society. The meeting was held on the day of my arrival in Freemason’s Hall, great Queen street. The chair was taken by Sir Edward North Buxton, Bart.
- Having heard much of the meetings of this Society, I was surprised and disappointed by the fewness of those assembled. There were not more present, on this occasion, than what we usually have at our business meetings of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The thinness of the meeting was accounted for by the secretary, Mr. Scoble, on the ground that there were several very important philanthropic meetings in progress at the same hour—meetings in which the friends of emancipation were deeply interested, and to which many had gone, who otherwise would have been present at the anti-slavery meeting. I will not trouble you with any minute account of this meeting, as you will find a pretty accurate sketch of its proceedings in a London paper, which I have already mailed for you. There was one pleasing feature, to which I will refer, and that was, the readiness with which the meeting responded to the sentiment of “non-Christian fellowship with slaveholders,” and the zeal, spirit and unanimity with which it joined in our uncompromising demand upon the Free Church of Scotland, to “SEND BACK THE MONEY.” This was the more gratifying, in view of the manner in which this subject has been treated by some of the local auxiliary societies, which have stood aloof from the subject, and refused in any way to cooperate with us, because, as they allege, we are of the “Garrison party” in America. This ground has been distinctly taken by the Edinburgh Anti-Slavery Committee. Instead of seconding our efforts, (whether intentionally, or otherwise,) they have played into the hands of the enemy, and have been quoted over and over again, by the Free Church press, against us. In assuming this position towards us, and the cause in which we are immediately engaged, they cannot but feel sensibly rebuked by the present example of the Parent Society; for that Society not only invited Mr. Thompson and myself to speak, but to speak on this very subject; and no parts of our speeches were more warmly received, or more enthusiastically cheered, than our several animadversions on the conduct of the Free Church of Scotland,—which Church now stands before this country and the world as the most prominent defender of the Christianity of man-stealers.
- At the close of the meeting, Mr. Joseph Sturge came forward, and said that, in consequence of the fewness of the number who had had an opportunity of hearing me, he would do what he could to get me a meeting at the end of the week, when he was certain that a much larger meeting than the present could be obtained, if I would consent to address it. I agreed, and the meeting was held last night in Finsbury Chapel, one of the largest chapels in London. I shall also send you a newspaper report of this meeting. Meanwhile, I must say, it was one of the most effective and satisfactory meetings which I have attended since landing on these shores. You will observe, that the resolutions adopted by the meeting assert a broader and nobler platform, than that upon which our Broad-street friends have for some time past acted. They have, as you are aware, taken sides with the New Organization and Liberty party, while they have decried and disparaged the efforts of yourself, and those who are earnestly laboring with you. The fact is, they have known very little of our efforts since 1840. Mr. Scoble, the Secretary, informs me that he has been left to gather information of our movements as best he could— that, while he has never, in a single instance, omitted to send you his Annual Report, he has in no instance received ours; so that he has been compelled to silence respecting us, for the want of information necessary to an intelligent opinion of our movement. I assured him that I thought our Reports had been sent, but that they had been miscarried, or that some accident had befallen them, as I could conceive of no reason for withholding them, or neglecting to send them; especially as I knew it to be a first principle with our Society, in the fullest manner to exchange opinions with every class of abolitionists, whether they be for or against the views held by us. But to the meeting.
- In adopting the resolution, moved by Dr. Campbell, a new and better way is marked out. It asserts, as it should do, the duty and prerogative of British abolitionists to be, that of co-operating with, and encouraging, fellow-laborers in the United States of every anti-slavery creed. Let this resolution be universally adopted, and scrupulously adhered to, and there will be a happy termination to the bitter jarrings which have, during the last six years, marred and defaced the beauty and excellence of our noble work. Of course, this resolution does not pledge the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society to the principle contained in it, as it was only adopted at a public meeting; still, I believe the ground taken is one, upon which nine-tenths of all the abolitionists in this country are anxious to stand. They are, as they ought to be, unwilling to be understood as being unfriendly to any class or creed of anti-slavery men in the United States.
- This has been a week of great activity with me. I have attended a meeting every day since I came into the city. On Monday, as I have before observed, I attended the anniversary of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. On Tuesday, I received an invitation, and spoke at a large and excellent meeting of the Peace Society. On Wednesday, I was invited to speak at a meeting of the complete Suffrage Association, called thus in contradistinction from the Chartist party, and differing from that party, in that it repudiates the use of physical force as a means of attaining its object. I am persuaded that, after the complete triumph of the Anti-Corn Law movement, the next great reform will be that of complete suffrage. The agitation which this must occasion will be louder, deeper and stronger than that attending the Anti-Corn Law movement. It comprehends dearer interests than those involved in the repeal of the Corn Laws. It is quite easy to see, that, in the triumph of complete suffrage in this country, aristocratic rule must end—class legislation must cease—the law of primogeniture and entail, the game laws, &c. will be utterly swept from the statute book. When people and not property shall govern, people will cease to be subordinate to property.
- In the triumph of this movement may be read the destruction of the time-hallowed alliance of Church and State. The opposition to the gross injustice of compelling a man to support a form of worship, in which he not only feels no interest, but which he really hates, is great and increasing. The brilliant success of the Anti-Corn Law League has convinced the people of their power. The demand for the separation of Church and State, which is now but whispered, must sooner or later be heard in tones of thunder. The battle will be hot, but the right must triumph. God grant that they may make a better use of their political freedom, than the working people of the United States have hitherto done!—For, instead of taking sides with the oppressed, they have acted the unnatural and execrable part of the vilest oppressors. They stand forth in the front ranks of tyranny, and, with words of freedom on their deceitful lips, have given victory to a party, the chief pride, boast and glory of which is that of having blasted one of the fairest portions of our common earth with slavery. It is but just to the friends of political freedom here to say, that they regard the hypocritical pretenders to democratic freedom in America with absolute contempt, and ineffable disgust. The time was, when America was known abroad as the land of the free, but that time is past. No intelligent and honest man, whose love of liberty does not depend on the color of a man’s skin, ever thinks of America in connection with freedom, but with abhorrence. Slavery gives character to the American people. It dictates their laws, gives tone to their literature, and shapes their religion. It stands up in their midst, the only sovereign power in the land. The friends of freedom here look upon America as one of the greatest obstacles in the way of political freedom, as she is now the great fact, illustrating the alleged truth, that the tyrant many are even more tyrannical than the tyrant few.
- On Thursday, I accepted an invitation to attend and speak at the anniversary meeting of the National Temperance Society, held in the far-famed Exeter Hall. It was a splendid meeting. A resolution was adopted, proposing a World’s Convention to be held in London, some time during the month of August. It was supported by Mr. Joseph Sturge and myself. I mention this, simply to call attention to a noble testimony borne by Mr. Sturge against slaveholders—a testimony which must have the best effect, just now. Mr. Sturge is a thorough temperance man, and gives largely in support of the cause. While speaking of the proposed Convention, and of the possibility of slaveholders being admitted into it as members, he declared that, if slaveholders were admitted, he would not sit in the Convention, or aid it in any way whatever. He had contemplated giving the Society &163;50; but he must find some other benevolent object upon which to bestow that sum, if slaveholders were admitted into the Convention. Subsequently, Mr. Alexander, a friend of temperance, and a member of the Society of Friends, has taken the same ground. These sentiments were loudly applauded by the meeting. The feeling of “No Union with Slaveholders” is becoming more and more general in London, and throughout this country. American slaveholders must prepare, not only to be excluded from the communion of British Christians, but peremptorily driven from the platform of every philanthropic association. Let them be hemmed in on every side. Let them be placed beyond the pale of respectability, and, standing out separated, alone in their infamy, let the storm gather over them, and its hottest bolts descend. Our justification is ample:—the slaveholder is a man-stealer.
- I ought to have said, while speaking of the anti-slavery meeting at Finsbury Chapel, that Dr. Campbell suggested that, in as much as it would be of some importance to the anti-slavery cause to have me remain in this country longer than I could be induced to remain, absent from my family, measures be at once taken, by which a sufficient amount could be realized to enable me to bring my family to this country. This suggestion being seconded by my friend Mr. Thompson, in a very few minutes between &163;80 and &163;90 were contributed for the purpose. This result was entirely unexpected to me. I had not even mentioned my desire for any such thing to the meeting. I had said, however, to Mr. Thompson, and also to Mr. Sturge, that I could not remain absent from my family more than one year, and that I must go home in August, unless I should decide to bring my family to this country; and this may have led to the suggestion by Dr. Campbell.
- I have just received a letter from Mr. Sturge, the chairman of the meeting at which the money was raised, saying he will cause to be forwarded to any person whom I may mention as my friend in the United States, five hundred dollars, to be appropriated to the removal of my family to this country. So I rest in the hope at soon being joined by my family in a land where they will not be constantly harassed by apprehension, that some foul imp of a slaveholder may lay his infernal clutch upon me, and tear me from their midst. Master Hugh [Auld] must bear the loss of my service one year longer, and it may be, I shall remain absent two years. Please send him a paper, containing this announcement, and exhort him to patience. It may serve to ease, if not cure, his anxious mind. He must feel my absence keenly, and must suffer greatly; for of all pain, I believe that of suspense is the most severe. By the way, one of the charges I have preferred against master Thomas Auld, and one which he seems the most angry about, respects his meanness; and the fact illustrative of this trait brought forward in my Narrative, is that he once owned a young woman, a cousin of mine, whose right hand had been so burnt as to make it useless to her through life—and finding this young woman of little or no value to him, he very generously gave her to his sister Sarah. Seized, I suppose, with a similar fit of benevolence, he has transferred his legal right of property in my body and soul, to his less fortunate brother Hugh. And master Hugh (for so I suppose I must call him,) seems to be very proud of the gift, and means to play the part of a hungry blood-hound in catching me. Possess your soul in patience, dear master Hugh, and regale yourself on the golden dreams afforded by the prospect—”First catch your rabbit,” &c. &c.
- But I am wandering. My visit to this city has been exceedingly gratifying, on account of the freedom I have enjoyed in visiting such places of instruction and amusement as those from which I have been carefully excluded by the inveterate prejudice against color in the United States. Botanic and Zoological gardens, Museums and Panoramas, Halls of Statuary and Galleries of Paintings, are as free to the black as the white man in London. There is no distinction on account of color. The white man gains nothing by being white, and the black man loses nothing by being black. “A man’s a man for a’ that.” I went on Tuesday morning, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, to see Cremore Garden, a place of recreation and amusement—a most beautiful and picturesque spot, delightfully situated on the bank of the Thames, at the west end of the city. I was admitted without a whisper of objection on the part of the proprietor or spectators. Every one looked as though they thought I had as much right there as themselves, and not the slightest dislike was manifested toward me on account of my Negro origin, unless a gentleman from Boston, who was in the Garden while I was there, be an exception— and I will not say that he was. He had just brought to the Garden a panorama of Boston, rolled up in a long case, which was so heavy as to require eight men to carry it. Soon after its arrival, the proprietor told me what it was. I then said I knew Boston, and should be glad to see a panorama of it, but was informed it would not be presented for exhibition for two or three weeks, as the place was not quite ready for it. My American friend, whom I took to be the artist, on learning that I knew Boston, at once made toward me, without the slightest ceremony or circumlocution ordinarily resorted to by gentlemen when approaching a stranger, and bolting up to me, he asked, in much the same tone which a white man employs when addressing a slave by the way-side—”Well, boy, who do you belong to?”—”Do you know Boston?” “Yes, Sir.” “Well, if you know Boston, you know it is the handsomest city in the world!” This left me without a doubt as to the Yankee origin of my friend, and I felt quite at home in his presence. He eloquently descanted on the beauties of Boston, quoting various authorities as proof of his position, that Boston is the most beautiful city in the world. I replied, that Boston is a very handsome city, but I thought not the handsomest in the world— and proceeded to speak of Edinburgh. But a very few moments convinced me, that my patriotic friend had no ear for the praise of any other city than Boston; so we separated. We, however, met again in the course of half an hour, when his tone was quite altered, and his manner quite changed. We had a very pleasant interview. He asked if my name was Douglass, and being answered in the affirmative, expressed pleasure at seeing me, and said he had frequently heard of me since he came to this country.
- There is one remarkable peculiarity in all the Americans with whom I have had the pleasure to meet on this side of the Atlantic, and that is, their adaptability to circumstances! Persons, who would feel themselves disgraced by being seen conversing with me in Boston, find no difficulty in being seated at the same table with me in London!
- On Wednesday, I went to see the “assembled wisdom” of this great nation—Parliament. Through the kindness of my friend George Thompson, I gained admission to the Speaker’s Gallery, which is quite a privilege. Here I found myself beside the Rev. Mr. Kirk, of Boston, who seemed in no way shocked at being seated on the same bench with a Negro, but rather pleased with having met me. I was fortunate in the choice of the time of going, for I could not have selected three hours when I could have heard a greater number of distinguished members. A bill was before the House, for restricting the hours of factory labor. Sir James Graham, Sir John Hobhouse, Lord George Bentinck, son of the Duke of Portland, Mr. Gisbourne, Mr. Wakely, Mr. Farrend, Mr. John Bright, Mr. Crawford, Mr. Brotherton, Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, and several other members, addressed the House on the subject. When the vote was to be taken, the galleries were cleared, so that the spectator is not allowed to see who votes for or against a measure. I was much pleased with the respectful manner with which members spoke of each other. Never having enjoyed the privilege of witnessing the legislative proceedings of our great nation, I cannot say in what respect they differ, or in what respect the one is to be preferred to the other. All I know is, if I should presume to go into Washington as I have into London, and enter Congress as I have done the House of Parliament, the ardent defenders of democratic liberty would at once put me into prison, on suspicion of having been “created contrary to the Declaration of American Independence.” On failing to prove a negative, I should be sold into slavery, to pay my jail fees! ‘Hail, Columbia, happy land!’ Under these circumstances, my republican friends must not think strange, when I say I would rather be in London than Washington. Liberty in Hyde Park is better than democracy in a slave prison—monarchical freedom is better than republican slavery—things are better than names. I prefer the substance to the shadow.
- Since I came to this city, I have had the honor to be made a member of the Free Trade Club, composed in part of some of the most distinguished and influential gentlemen in the kingdom. But I must not speak of this, lest I should rouse the ire of the New York Express, or provoke the fiery indignation of Bennett’s [New York] Herald.
- I have enjoyed a fine opportunity of becoming acquainted with Mr. George Thompson. I have been with him in private and in public—at home and abroad—when in the heat of intense excitement, and when mantled with the most tranquil repose—and in all circumstances, I have found him equal to the highest estimate I had formed of the man. He is the first great orator of whom I had formed a very high opinion, on the first hearing of whom I did not feel a degree of disappointment. He is far above any opinion I had formed of him. I have found him to be, emphatically, the man of every meeting which I have attended since I came to London. The announcement of his name is attended with demonstrations of applause, such as are seldom called forth by the mention of any other name.
- Mr. Thompson is now deeply engaged in exposing the corrupt and despotic rule of the East India Company, and his labors in that department are equal to all his time and strength. Yet, such is his devotion to the cause of the American slave, that he is resolved to devote one or two weeks more to the agitation now going on in Scotland, against Christian fellowship with slaveholders, to induce the Free Church to send back the blood-stained money. As usual, you see him battling for the right.
- But I must close this already too lengthy letter, or I would say more of this friend of God and man. Long may he live to plead the cause of our common humanity—to open his mouth for the dumb—to demand liberty for the heart-broken captive, unconditional emancipation for the whip-scarred slave, succor for the afflicted, mercy for the suffering, and justice for the oppressed!
Yours to the end,
The Liberator, June 26, 1846