For their fourth meeting in Dundee, the abolitionists moved from George Gilfillan’s church in School Wynd to the larger Bell Street Chapel. On this occasion Frederick Douglass and James N Buffum were joined by Henry Clarke Wright, with whom they had shared a platform in Perth.
As with the earlier meetings, we reproduce the reports from the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser and the Northern Warder, preceded by the more detailed account that appeared in the Dundee Courier.
In recent years, Douglass’ speech here has attracted special attention. It was anthologised in Great Scottish Speeches (2011), formed the basis of a poem by Aonghas MacNeacail commissioned by the Empire Café (2014), and is commemorated by a plaque mounted on the wall of the chapel (now the Bell Street Music Centre) for one of the set-pieces of the BBC television series Black and British (2016).1
In the course of last week, four public meetings have been held, at which addresses on the subject of American slavery have been delivered by a Mr Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave; Mr Buffum, a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society; and, on the fourth occasion, by the Rev. Henry C. Wright of Philadelphia. The novelty of a slave addressing a Scottish audience, altogether apart from the interest felt in the subject, could not fail to draw together a numerous assembly; and consequently the School Wynd Chapel, where the first three meetings were held, was on the two occasions so fearfully crowded that admission by tickets had to be afterwards resorted to to [sic] prevent danger.
Mr Buffum is an excellent speaker, and depicted in glowing language the horrors and miseries of American slavery; but by far the most interesting speaker is Mr Douglass himself. In chaste and vigorous language, – such as was indeed surprising from the lips of a person, who, from his own simple narrative, has had so many difficulties to overcome in acquiring learning and information (teaching a slave to read being a criminal offence severely punishable) – he opened up the secrets of the dark prison house of slavery as it exists in the southern states of the Union. His own personal experience, the horrid scenes he had witnessed, the sufferings of the slaves, four of his own sisters and a brother being still among the number, the instruments of torture (specimens of which, consisting of a collar to prevent repose, handcuffs and anklets, with the lash, all commonly in use, were exhibited) were all described in a pathetic, earnest, and impressive manner. The evils resulting to the masters from such a system – the effect which it has in searing and hardening their hearts – the revolting state of concubinage in which the female slaves, in addition to their other sufferings, are kept (Douglass himself being the offspring of a connection of this description) found in the speaker an eloquent exponent.
Slavery has been, however, often described; and even its worst features, as they are exhibited in the boasted land of professed universal freedom, have been frequently held up to the public. We therefore pass over the first three meetings to give a short sketch of the fourth one, which was held in Bell Street Chapel, on the evening of Friday, – the principal subject then considered being the fellowship which the Free Church, after casting off connection with the State here, had so suddenly struck up with the American slaveholders. The meeting was very numerously and respectably attended.
Mr Buffum, who was the first speaker, said it was now too late in the day to talk of Christianity in connection with such a system of slavery as that in the United States. Yet to such a horrid system the Free Church of this country, professing to represent the religious feeling of Scotland (although he did not believe the assertion), had offered the hand of fellowship, and, as a price for their countenance and support, had taken the money wrung from the blood of the slaves. Unless the Free Church cut loose their connection with slavery, they would be dragged down to perdition with it. (Applause.)
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.
[American Slavery and the American Churches]
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, 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.
[The Free Church Delegation to the United States]
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 the 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 those 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, Meshech, 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 again 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.)
[The Slaveholder’s Sermon]
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 cantingly, 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 wherever 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 on 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 marvelous 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 that 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 leave 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 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 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 in 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.)
[Slavery and the Southern Press]
He would read from the New Orleans Picayune of July 8, 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.2 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.)
The Rev. Henry C. Wright of Philadelphia exposed the inconsistency of those men who would refuse to be present at a funeral where a Residuary was permitted to offer up a prayer, and would yet go 3500 miles to form a fellowship with man-stealers. He took up the Warder of Thursday last,3 and in an eloquent and happy speech, in the course of which he was repeatedly cheered, ably and sarcastically exposed the fallacies and sophistries contained in an article therein defending the Free Church in its conduct respecting the retaining of the slave-money.
He asked, had Dr Cunningham on his recent visit to America been seized and sold as a slave (and he would have brought a good price) and the money been offered to the Free Church, would they have accepted it? How then could they receive the price of the body and soul of the injured African? After putting two or three cases of this kind, he said, let the Free Church declare what they will against the system (the usual way in which they permitted the individuals to escape, by blaming the system), the institution, or even the slaveholders themselves, it would be of no effect so long as they retained the money. With this the slaveholders bought their Christian fellowship, and they could not take back the fellowship unless they gave up the price. This was the position taken by Dr Candlish himself, who says, ‘The question of the acceptance of the money turns on present communion.’ They were the only Church in Great Britain and Ireland who had not repudiated communion with such a body.
As an evidence of the feeling which is entertained in England on the subject, he read the following extract from a letter he had received the other day from the rev. T. P. Mursell of Leicester (the successor of the celebrated Robert Hall):–
‘The letter to Dr Chalmers and others I think most admirable. If these gentlemen are not heartily ashamed of the favourable aspect they have turned towards the most hideous and sinful of all practices, there are hundreds of thousands both at home and abroad who are ashamed for them. The name of Chalmers has been sullied, and his reputation will suffer as long as that name is known, by his speeches on the American question. But when men forsake the high ground of principle for the swampy marshes of policy they must expect to sink. The money of slaveholders presented a temptation which the distinguished leaders of the Free Church could not withstand. That money, with the disgrace it brings with it, will prove their curse.’
The name of Dr Chalmers, which he formerly revered, he never heard now without loathing and abhorrence for his defence of man-stealers. After some farther remarks on the connection between the Free Church and man-stealers, and asking if they would associate with sheep-stealers (a less aggravated kind of theft), he referred in highly eulogistic terms to the late Dr Andrew Thomson of St George’s, Edinburgh, as a great and talented advocate of abolition. He then went over some of the arguments advanced by the Free Church, and showed that their conduct was even condemned by eminent ministers within their own body – by the Rev. Henry Grey, Drs Duncan and Willis. Dr Duncan asks –
‘Is every Free church to have a slave-stone in it? Is this the commencement of the Free Church of Scotland? What! Is the association between the Free Church and a stone wet with the blood of the slave? Is one of our first acts to be a soft denuncation of slavery and a practical participation in its fruits?’ ‘Has this Church nothing to do but to sit down at the Lord’s table with these unmakers of men – with such traders in human flesh? As for myself, I could not eat a common meal with them: It would choke me.’ ‘I would count it foul scorn to associate with such men.’
The language of Henry Grey is –
‘Have we separated ourselves from our Moderate brethren to form alliance with man-stealers? Do we remove from us a brother that walketh disorderly – a drunkard, a fornicator, an adulterer – to unite ourselves with fornicators, such even as are hardly named among the Gentiles – men polluted with incests, renouncers of marriage rights, man-stealers, murderers, sellers of their own offspring, stained with the blood of innocents, leprous with sin?’4
These were the sentiments of some of their most eminent ministers, but they had as yet had no visible effect. He was desirous, if the Free Church did not set about restoring the money, that the people of Scotland should raise the £3000 by subscription, and go to the Free Church leaders and say, ‘Here is the money; if you do not send it back we will, to show that you do not represent the religious feeling of the people of Scotland.’ (Cheers.) He had already received numerous offers of liberal subscriptions if such a course was necessary. (Great cheering.) Mr Wright concluded by proposing the following resolutions, which were carried by acclamation:–
‘1. That all who hold Christian fellowship with slaveholders are accessory to the robbery, concubinage, and all the crimes and pollutions necessarily involved in slave-breeding and slave-trading; and virtue and humanity, as well as Christianity, demand that the ministers and Churches of this Kingdom should exclude all who perpetuate these deeds of guilt and infamy from their pulpits and communion.
‘Whereas the Reverend Dr Candlish and other leaders of the Free Church have declared that the question of retaining the money of slaveholders depends solely on the right of fellowship with them as Christians, therefore resolve – (2.) That this meeting earnestly recommend to the people of that Church to urge their General Assembly to send back the money obtained of slaveholders, to obtain which they have pledged to those man-stealers their Christian countenance and fellowship; and thus to annul their compact with death, an [sic] place themselves in a position to bear a consistent and efficient testimony against slavery.’
(The exposé of the doings of the Free Church made by these lecturers wherever they have been is in numerous instances taking the scales from the eyes of those who were formerly her most uncompromising and devoted adherents. As an instance, we may mention that at the meeting on Friday night, and elsewhere, we heard several of her friends declare that they will not contribute one additional sixpence towards her support till the ‘blood-stained money is sent back.’)
Dundee Courier, 2 February 1846
LECTURES ON AMERICAN SLAVERY
Friday evening, being the last night of Messrs Buffum and Douglass’s stay in Dundee, the place of lecture was changed from School Wynd to Bell Street Chapel, for greater accommodation; and here, as on former evenings, the audience could scarcely find seats.
Mr Buffum, in addressing the Meeting, anticipated that it might be supposed he was destitute of the love of country in speaking only of the stains and stigmas of the American Government; but it was love of country prompted him to do so. The surgeon who amputated a limb from a patient who would otherwise have died, was his patient’s friend; and he, in speaking of slavery and of churches built by the price of slaves, did so only with the motive that America and the Free Church of Scotland should separate themselves from slavery. So deeply was slavery interwoven with American law, there was no institution, civil or religious, free from its baneful influence. The English Government deservedly took credit to themselves for the emancipation of eighty thousand slaves, and such conduct had much influence on the slavery question of America. Not very long ago a voice came like a whirlwind across the Atlantic – it was the voice of the one hundred and thirty Churches of Scotland petitioning against slavery. The times had changed since then – the Church of Scotland had become divided against itself – the representatives of one of its parties had gone across the Atlantic, entered into an alliance with the slave-holder, and returned home with the fruits of that alliance to build temples for the Free Church. At the farthest corners of America the voice of Daniel O’Connell was heard, like an earthquake, protesting against the deed; and Scotland, to be free from the stains entailed upon her by the act of her representatives, must reverberate the echo of Daniel O’Connell, and send back the money.5 Slavery was doomed – a leprosy spot was on it, which increased with the increasing intelligence of the age; and, unless the Free Church severed herself from it, she would be dragged into her troubled vortex, and share her destruction. Mr Buffum sat down admist much cheering.
Mr DOUGLASS, in speaking of the connexion of the Free Church, and the American Churches, did not intend to speak against the Free Church proper – he did not intend to say that Doctors Candlish, Cunningham, Chalmers and others, had done right or wrong in severing themselves from the State. False representations had gone out against him, and he assured the audience that he was here only to arouse the People of Scotland to acts of humanity and justice – to heal the hurt, and let the prisoner go free.
[Slavery and the American Churches]
Mr Douglass then read a long passage from Isaiah, confirmatory of this spirit; after which he referred to the condition of three millions of slaves living in the most abject bondage in the United States of America. Not one right common to humanity was left them; the religionist and the slave-holder had mutually combined to take them away; the light of religion was purposely forbidden to the slave. It was punishable by death to teach the Black population to read. This law had its origin in the belief that, when instructed, the Black man would become dissatisfied with his condition. Infidelity and Atheism, in their boldest and blackest form, overspread the United States; and their causes were clear. A system of plunder and oppression affected all the religions of the land; the psalm rose up in the temple, and the slave rattled his irons under the very altar, held up his manacled hands, and imploringly asked, ‘How long shall this be?’ and that altar answered back, ‘FOR EVER!’
[The Free Church Deputation]
The Churches of America had their walls built by the wages of unrighteousness. From Scotland, a land whose voice was sacred – whose brooks sung music, and whose every hill was dear – from a Church in this land calling herself free, claiming the life, the impersonification of love and Christianity, a Deputation leave their homes, and, with the expression of love and good-will to man on their lips, they go to the United States, and, in face of repeated remonstrances from the Anti-Slavery Party, strike fellowship with hands stained in human blood.6 (Cheers and faint hisses.) He liked to hear hisses; it proved that his facts told; innocence had nothing to fear; and he would ask, did Mr Lewis go to America? did he return with slave money?
The Free Church vindicated their deeds by saying, that, by the American laws, the slave-holder was bound to retain his slaves. This was utterly false; there was not a slave-holder in America who might not say to his slave, I have lived too long on your muscles and sinews – conscience will not admit me to claim property of your blood – go, and from henceforth be free. There were but three States in America where the slave-holder might not emancipate the slave on the ground, and in these three States he had only to become guarantee for the slave. Had the Doctors who defend slavery lived in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they would likely have bowed down to the sound of the Psaltery; and the spirit of Dr Chalmers’s defence says, – Bow down to the golden image – submit to the laws that be – but you will come out unscathed. But there was a spirit above all human enactments written on his heart to abhor rapine and blood; and, while such did exist, his heart would turn in revolt and loathing from the possession of human blood.
These men, in their mission to America, pretended to be representing Scotland, but he believed they were misrepresenting it at every turn; and their members would yet rise against them and compel them to return this blood-stained money. Many might complain why he did not go and reason with their leaders – why did he not call and remonstrate with Dr Cunningham and Mr Lewis. He believed the better way was to change the public mind. These men had accepted money against the remonstrance of the Anti-Slavery Society of America. Had they anticipated that the public opinion of the country would have come down like an avalanche upon them, they would not have dared to take this money; but they thought they could do so secretly; and he intended going through every town in Scotland, and telling of the deeds of these men that had blooded their hands with the slaves, till he shamed them to return the fruits of their labour.
Mr Douglass next drew a graphic picture of the slave-holding Churches in America, the neglect of all interests of the slave, and the utter sycophancy of the pastor to the slave-holder. He next read extracts from sermons, not sanctioned only by individual clergymen, but before whole Presbyteries. These extracts were to prove that slavery existed in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and hence it should continue to exist. Who had heard of the good old slave holders, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? As well might they reason that, as adultery had existed in these good old days, it should continue to exist.
He next read a eulogy on Dr Chalmers, from a New Orleans Newspaper, well known for its slave-holding propensities; and on the same page a slave advertisement of a poor Black who had made his escape, – a piece out of his ear, lumps on back and neck and walked rather lame. The eulogy on Dr Chalmers was relative to his letter condemnatory of the spirit that would narrow the union of Christian Churches. At the conclusion of Mr Douglass’s speech, three cheers were given to send back the money. He would not leave the country till it was sent back.
Mr WRIGHT, in addressing the Meeting, wished the People of Dundee and the People of Scotland distinctly to understand his sentiments on this subject. He did not condemn the Free Church for the mere taking of money from the United States, but because, in the taking of this money, the Free Church had bound herself to hold communion and fellowship with the slave Churches in America. His question was – Shall Christianity be associated with slavery? And he felt sure that Scotland from sea to sea would resist such union.
Previous to 1816 a law was in existence in America, that all who bought or sold slaves should not be admitted into the Church. At 1816 the slave-holders became so numerous and powerful as to get this prohibition done away; and since that time he has been freely admitted to all the privileges of the altar. He believed nine out of ten of the members of the Free Church of Scotland reprobated this alliance with the slave Churches in America. Their leaders had gone over the Atlantic, and entered into union with the American Churches. By this deed the leaders of the Free Church had powerfully kept back the spirit of emancipation. Grant that the Free Church was otherwise a pure and good Church – that very goodness and purity shed but a false lustre on the slave Churches of America, which served to prolong the reign of corruption. He reprobated the overbearing spirit of the Free Church in their endeavours to overawe the People of Scotland.
He next alluded to the spirit that threw the whole blame from the individuals upon the institutions.7 Of all the wicked hypocrisies under Heaven, this was the most disgusting. Robbery in London was an institution; why might not the robber throw the blame from himself, and say he was bound to obey the laws of this institution; and the same argument held good with the Free Church, in going three thousand miles, entering into alliance with the slave Churches, and throwing the whole blame on the slave-holders. He cared not for the Free Church’s condemnation of slavery, while it held out the right hand of fellowship to slave Churches. Institutions were made for men, and not men for institutions. The Free Church had little scruple in making use of the money obtained from slaves. Suppose Dr Cunningham was sold as a slave for 1000l., which price is laid up in the pocket of Mr Lewis. If the People of Dundee, or the Free Church, knew this money was the price of Cunningham, would they take it? And how dared they take the price of a poor Negro? How dared they form alliance with the man who sold the poor fallen slave? They would not hold fellowship with the man who sold Dr Cunningham, but they held it with the man who sold the slave; and the day was not far distant when the Free Church, should she not cut herself loose from slavery, she would sink with it.
He next read an extract from a letter of the late Dr Andrew Thomson, condemnatory of the views of the Free Church and Dr Chalmers; a list of slave advertisements; and, after a long and eloquent speech, sat down amidst great cheering.
Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 3 February 1846
AMERICAN SLAVERY. – Messrs Douglas and Buffum’s lectures on this subject, noticed by us last week, have been continued on several evenings since that time. On Friday evening [30 January] the place of meeting was changed from School Wynd to Bell Street chapel, where, as formerly, large crowds were present. The subject of that and the previous lecture was changed from an exposition of the slave system of america, to a discussion of the conduct of the Free Church in consenting to receive money from churches in which are slave holding members. The speakers, finding that this theme suits well the taste of their audience, dwell upon it at great length, and with abundant want of justice and good sense. On Friday they were joined by Mr Wright, the person who distinguished himself a few months ago by his irrational abuse of the Free Church, and whose appearance on this occasion was exactly what the character of the man would have led us to expect. Loud applause at intervals greeted the speakers, more particularly when something stronger, and more flagrantly unjust than ordinary, was said against the Free Church.
Northern Warder, 5 February 1846
- Great Scottish Speeches, edited by David Torrance (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2011); Aonghas MacNeacail, ‘saor bho shaorsa’ / ‘free from freedom’, in Yonder Awa: Poetry from the Empire Café, edited by Louise Welsh ([Glasgow]: Empire Café, 2014); Black and British: A Forgotten History, Part III, ‘Moral Mission’ (broadcast BBC 2, 23 November 2016).
- An editorial note relating to this passage in the Frederick Douglass Papers points out that the editorial appeared in the 3 July 1845 issue of the paper, and that the issue containing the quoted advertisements has not been traced: The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, Volume 1: 1841–46, edited by John W. Blassingame (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 154–55.
- Although the Northern Warder of 29 January 1846 had reported Douglass’ speeches at School Wynd Chapel fairly uncritically, on another page of the newspaper an article entitled ‘The Testimony of the Free Church Against Slavery’ offered a defence of the Church’s position, insisting that it had very clearly denounced slavery as a ‘heinous sin’, and had given the American churches ‘an earnest remonstrance on the matter in which they are at fault.’ If the Church was wrong to accept money from these churches, the argument continued, then ‘the greater guilt must be upon those who make gains by the toils of the slave,’ such as the grocer, the draper, the druggist. Indeed, ‘the vast majority of merchants are making their gains by slave produce; and there is hardly a man, woman, or child in this country who is not encouraging slavery, in using the produce of slave labour, either in what enters their mouths, or warms their bodies, or adorns their persons, or shelters them from the pelting rains.’ The article does not specify those who had criticised the Church for their actions, although another article in the same issue makes passing reference to a ‘rancorous and lying tract identifying the Free Church with slavery, which was circulated by a vagrant declaimer, who peregrinated the country some months ago, and which some of our readers may have seen.’ This ‘vagrant declaimer’ was almost certainly Henry Clarke Wright, author of a pamphlet, American Slavery Proved to be Theft and Robbery; with a Letter to Dr Cunningham (Edinburgh: Quintin Dalrymple, 1845), who had been lecturing on the subject across Scotland since the previous Spring. This might explain his eagerness to rebut their claims, and the especially negative response from the Warder in its report of this, the 30 January, speech of his – ‘the person who distinguished himself a few months ago by his irrational abuse of the Free Church, and whose appearance on this occasion was exactly what the character of the man would have led us to expect.’
- These remarks by Dr John Duncan and Dr Henry Grey were made at a meeting of the Free Church Presbytery of Edinburgh on 12 March 1845. See Iain Whyte, ‘Send Back the Money!’: The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery (Cambridge: James Clarke, 2012), pp. 61–3.
- The ‘Send Back the Money’ campaign was probably inspired, or at least emboldened, by the example of Daniel O’Connell. In a notorious speech at a meeting of the Repeal Association in Dublin on 11 May 1843, he declared his intention to refuse ‘blood-stained money’ from pro-slavery Repeal groups in the United States. The speech was reported in the Liberator, 9 and 30 June 1843, and in the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter, 9 August 1843.
- At a public meeting in March 1844, the Glasgow Emancipation Society condemned the Free Church’s solicitation of funds from the American churches. Minutes of Glasgow Emancipation Society committee meeting, 14 March 1844 (Smeal Collection, Mitchell Library, Glasgow: Reel 1); Glasgow Argus, 18 March 1844 (repr. Liberator, 26 April 1844). And the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, in an initiative of its own, wrote an open letter to the Free Church condemning its actions, a letter which would be distributed outside the Free Church’s General Assembly the following month. American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, Letter from the Executive Committee … to the Commissioners of the Free Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: Myles Macphail, ) (repr. Liberator, 26 April 1844). On its distribution at the General Assembly, see Michael W. Honeycutt, ‘William Cunningham: His Life, Thought, and Controversies’ (PhD diss., University of Edinburgh, 2002), p. 169n.
- Wright is probably referring to a letter Chalmers wrote to the Witness defending the Free Church’s position, insisting that a ‘distinction ought to be made between the character of a system and the character of the persons whom circumstances have implicated therewith.’ Thomas Chalmers to editor, Edinburgh, 12 May 1845 (Witness, 14 May 1845). Douglass mocked this argument in several of his speeches, including one he gave in Arbroath two weeks later on 12 February 1846.