My Opposition to War

Frederick Douglass

Citation Information:  Frederick Douglass, “My Opposition to War: An Address Delivered in London, England, on May 19, 1846.” Liberator, 3 July 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. 261.

My Opposition to War: An Address Delivered in London, England, on May 19, 1846

Liberator, 3 July 1846.

  1. I experience great pleasure in rising to support the resolution which has been so ably advocated by the gentleman preceding me. You may think it somewhat singular, that I, a slave, an American slave, should stand forth at this time as an advocate of peace between two countries situated as this and the United States are, when it is universally believed that a war between them would eventuate in the emancipation of three millions of my brethren who are now held in most cruel bonds in that country. I believe this would be the result; but such is my regard for the principle of peace—such is my deep, firm conviction that nothing can be attained for liberty universally by war, that were I to be asked the question as to whether I would have my emancipation by the shedding of one single drop of blood, my answer would be in the negative. (Loud cheers.)
  2. I am opposed to war, because I am a believer in Christianity. I am opposed to war, because I am a lover of my race. The first gleam of Christian truth that beamed upon my dark mind, after having escaped the clutches of those who held me in slavery, was accompanied by the spirit of love. I felt at that moment as if I were embracing the whole world in the arms of love and affection. I could not have injured one hair of the head of my worst enemy, although that enemy might have been at that very time imbruing his hands in the blood of a brother or a sister. I believe all who have experienced this love, who are living in the enjoyment of this love, feel this same spirit, this same abhorrence of injuring a single individual, no matter what his conduct happens to be.
  3. One of my reasons for hating war, and by which my attention was first attracted to its many evils, was a circumstance which occurred a few years since in the city of New-York. During the revolutionary war, an attempt was made to bombard many of our cities on the coast. Some of the bomb-shells had been recently found that were thrown during that war. One was taken from the shores of New Jersey, and sent to an ironmonger in the city of New-York. When in the shop, one of the workmen took it out of doors, and finding it had not been discharged, he commenced with a hammer and chisel to take out its contents; and in so doing, by one stroke with the hammer, a spark was emitted, and at once the shell exploded, blowing the poor man to atoms—his legs one way, his arms another, his skull, his whole person was shattered by this single bomb. Pieces passed into several dwellings and three or four women and one or two children were killed in consequence of that single bomb-shell. The thought struck me, what must be the state of things when hundreds of these are thrown into innocent families, not among the hostile parties, not among those on the field of battle, armed and equipped, infuriated with the spirit of war, but into the domestic circle, among children some of whom may have been intended by the Creator to fill a prominent place in the reformation and purification of the world—these all destroyed by the demon, war. On reading an account of this, I thought if I had power within me, it should be used, whenever it could, in opposition to the demoniacal spirit of war. (Cheers. )
  4. Some people contend that they can fight in love. I have heard individuals say they could go to war in love. Yes, this foul reproach has been brought upon Christianity, and ministers have been heard to say that they could go to war in love. This was answered very well by an advocate of peace in the United States, and I am happy to inform the , good people here that advocates of peace are multiplying in the United States. (Cheers.) An advocate of peace was arguing this question with a , brother who was a minister of the gospel. The minister was against it; in fact, they were both ministers. He was asked, ‘If he believed Christianity was a religion of love? If the spirit of Christ breathed love?’ He admitted it—he said, ‘God is love.’ ‘Then,’ said the other, ‘all that dwell in him should dwell in love.’ This he admitted at once. ‘Then we should do nothing but what can be done in entire consistency with love?’ Of course this must be granted. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘can you go to war in love?’ ‘Oh! yes.’ (Laughter and cheers.) ‘Can you kill an enemy in love?’ ‘Oh! yes. I can conceive of circumstances when I should be bound by love to kill him.’ ‘What, throw bomb-shells, shoot cannon, use the sword in love?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well,’ said my good friend, ‘if you can do all these things in love, what can you do in hate?’ (Laughter and cheers.)
  5. I believe, if there is one thing more than another that has brought a reproach upon the Christian religion, it is the spirit of war. Why, a little while ago, in the Congress of the United States, a member arose and proposed the appropriation of a large sum to the support of the chaplaincy in the navy. Our Congress is made up of various materials; among the number there is an infidel, the son of Robert Owen. That infidel, Mr. Owen, rose in his place at once, and opposed the proposition to support the chaplaincy; and on what ground, do you suppose? He did it, he said, on patriotic grounds. He was opposed to the introduction of the Scriptures in the navy, for, he said, ‘If the principles of Christianity, if the doctrines inculcated in the New Testament are carried out in the lives of our soldiers, they would do the very opposite to that for which we enlist them in the service. (Cheers.) Instead of shooting their enemies, they would love them; instead of butchering them, they would bind up their wounds; instead of blowing them into atoms, they would seek to preserve their lives.’ He added, ‘I am utterly and unequivocally opposed to any support being given to the chaplaincy—they would preach the doctrines of the New Testament.’ What a stain, what a blot: an infidel rising up and rebuking ministers claiming to be ministers of the God of love; rebuking them for their delinquency, and preaching a higher Christianity than those to whom he has been accustomed to look! (Cheers.)