After speaking in Liverpool on Monday the 19th, Frederick Douglass, George Thompson and William Lloyd Garrison left the next morning to catch the night steamer from Fleetwood, fifty miles up the Lancashire coast. Garrison recalled:
The voyage from Fleetwood to Ardrossan was very irksome, the sea being much excited, and many of the passengers quick sick. We arrived in Edinburgh on Wednesday afternoon, only a few hours before the evening meeting, very much exhausted, (especially dear Thompson), and quite unfit, both in mind and body, to address a public assembly. The meeting was a very good one, nevertheless.1
The meeting at Brighton Street Chapel was chaired by John Wigham, Jr, at whose house in Salisbury Road Douglass probably stayed.2 Wigham’s cousin (also John) was married to Jane Smeal; Jane and his daughter Eliza were active abolitionists in Edinburgh.
Of particular interest perhaps is Douglass’ story about an old friend from Baltimore whom he saw by chance in Liverpool the previous morning. Douglass learned that he was put to work as a ship’s cook, but claimed freedom when his vessel was forced to take shelter from a storm in Nassau in the British Bahamas. The story bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Madison Washington, invoked several times in Douglass’ speeches in Britain and Ireland in 1845-47, and later became the subject of his novella, The Heroic Slave (1852).
The most detailed account of the meeting appeared in the Scotsman. This is reproduced below along with the shorter reports in the Edinburgh Evening Post and Caledonian Mercury, followed by a hostile review by an unnamed ‘Edinburgh correspondent’ of the Dumfries and Galloway Standard.
For an overview of Douglass’s activities in Edinburgh during the year, see Spotlight: Edinburgh.
On Wednesday evening a meeting was held in Brighton Street Church, for the purpose of affording an opportunity to Messrs George Thompson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Frederick Douglas, to defend the position that slaveholding under all circumstances is a crime of unequalled magnitude – that no slaveholder ought to be admitted within the pale of the Christian church; and that the conduct of the Free Church and the recent proceeding of the Evangelical Alliance in reference to American slavery ought to be condemned. John Wigham, jun., Esq., occupied the chair. The church was crowded.
The CHAIRMAN said he desired to say a few words with regard to his friend, William Lloyd Garrison. They were aware that he had been very much traduced, and that reports and insinuations had been forwarded to this country injurious to his character. He had, for the last fourteen or fifteen years, been a most zealous anti-slavery advocate in the United states, but especially in the city of Boston; and Mr Garrison had doubtless felt it to be his duty conscientiously to say some hard things against the pro-slavery party of all descriptions in the Union, but particularly against the clergy; and the consequence of this had been that they had raised a sort of hue and cry against him, with a view to stop his usefulness in the cause in which he was engaged. He (Mr Wigham) did not mean to say that the clergy alone were to blame, but there was no doubt that the circumstance of Mr Garrison having represented their actings in certain terms, was the cause of this dislike; and hence they had brought a number of charges against him – that he was a breaker of the Sabbath, a non-government man, and an infidel.
Now, he (Mr W.) had taken some pains to inquire into these matters, and had, from both Mr Garrison’s enemies and friends, asked for full information. He did not pretend exactly to explain his friend’s political views in regard to the constitution of America, but with regard to the great charge of Mr Garrison being an infidel, he denied it in toto, after this examination. He had satisfied himself that Mr Garrison was a Christian man – that he reverenced the Scriptures – that he held the divinity of Christ, with all the attributes ascribed to him in the New Testament. It was a cruel aspersion of his character to call him an infidel. He had some peculiar views about the first day of the week, or the Sabbath, as it was called. He did not think that day better than other days. He was an every day Christian, and his whole life had been most exemplary.
The chairman then read an extract of a letter from Mr James Buffum, bearing testimony in favour of Mr Garrison’s character and exertions in behalf of the oppressed, and stating, that the impression on his mind was, that Mr Garrison was zealously devoted to the cause of doing good to his fellow-creatures, and of serving his Maker and his Saviour. (Applause.)
Mr FREDERICK DOUGLAS then rose and said, that when he came to this place he did not expect to say one word, but to have the whole time to be occupied by his friends Garrison and Thompson. But he had been requested to relate a circumstance of deep interest to himself, and one which he thought would gratify every British and every Scottish heart. Yesterday morning, while taking breakfast with a friend of his in Liverpool, he happened to look out at the window, and who should he see on the street but a beloved coloured brother – a brother who had been a slave with him, and had wrought side by side with him in Baltimore, eight years ago, but whom he had not seen since that time. He could not tell how he felt at seeing such a brother slave in this land – freed from American republicanism, freed from American democracy, and freed from American religion, standing on the British soil disenthralled. (Applause.)
But they would be more delighted to know how he obtained his freedom. About eight years ago his master saw it for his interest to let him out as a cook on board of a vessel sailing from Boston; and while in this capacity he, one evening, by stress of weather, was driven into the port of Nassau, in New Providence, over which waves the British flag, and under whose waving no slave clanks his fetters, or rattles his chains. (Applause.) Here he met with a coloured man, who asked him if he was a slave. He answered that he was. Then, said this person, if you have not signed the articles of your ship with your own consent, but by the consent of a slaveholder, you are not bound by the contract; you are now on British soil, and you are a free man. Taking the Apostle’s advice, and finding he could have freedom, he preferred to use it rather. (A laugh.) However, the captain, the mate, and the crew, at once made after him on British soil; and pretending that he had stolen something, chased through the town the poor runaway from slavery. Poor Harry made his way to the woods, and coming into contact with a large thicket of briars, he plunged himself into it to avoid detection. He was, however, overtaken; and when he was dragged out, he presented a spectacle that should have moved any human heart. His arms, face, and back, were stuck full of briars. When he came out, he cried with a loud voice that he was a slave, and that these men wanted to carry him back to slavery. This appeal at once warmed the hearts of the persons around him, and they said he should not go back to bondage, and he did not go back. He was now a British seaman, and being a British sailor, wherever he went he was under the protection of British law.
Mr GARRISON – Except he goes to America.
Mr DOUGLAS – Well, but he did not intend to go there. (Laughter.) Almost the last words he said to him (mr D.) were, whoever else might go back to America he would never go back, at least to the slave-holding states. (Applause.)
He thought they would like to hear that story, and he was very glad to have it in his power to tell it to them; for it was but one illustration of the great fact that the British heart was right on the subject of slavery. Here they were meeting, in all parts of the country, coloured men; whence did they come? From the United States! What was their history? Only ask them to exhibit their backs, and they would see that they were scored and lacerated with the lash of slavery. Ask these men how such stripes came there; and they would tell them that it was by the hand of some Christian slaveholder of America. It was a glorious fact that the moment a slave set his foot on British soil he became free. This country may be disgraced by apologists for slavery, but thanks be to God, no slave trader could lay his foul clutches on an American bondsman wherever British law obtains and wherever British institutions exist. (Applause.)
Mr LLOYD GARRISON next came forward, amid great applause, and addressed the meeting. He was amazed that he should be charged with being an infidel by men who held their brother as they property; for surely, if the slave-holder was not an infidel of the worst kind before God and man, there was no such thing as infidelity at all. (Applause.) They had been charged with departing from their proper mission, and entering upon a war with the Free Church and the Evangelical Alliance. But why did they do so? Not because they had forgotten the slave – no; but because the Free Church had placed itself on the side of the slaveholder, and against the slave, and because the Evangelical Alliance had bowed the knee to the Moloch of slavery, and refused to say one word against his bloody and impious reign. (Cheers.)
Mr Garrison next alluded to his late visit to Belfast, and complained that some of the papers there were filled with malignant abuse of him, and with the foulest misrepresentations of his religious principles, solely for the purposes of deterring persons from attending meetings of the anti-slavery deputation. But the real question was as to his fidelity to the anti-slavery movement. Had any one dared to arraign him that he was not a staunch and true abolitionist? No; not one of his traducers had attempted to impeach his character on that point. The emancipation of the slave was their text, and abiding by it, he would ask had the Free Church yet come to the conclusion of sending back the money? (Cheers.) If it had not, then it was to be charged with being one of the great bulwarks which supported and protected slavery in the United States, entertaining with religious friendship men who treat those made in the image of God as marketable commodities.
He did not wish to pick a quarrel with the Free Church, or with any religious denomination whatever; all he asked was, that they should wash their hands of such heinous crimes and have nothing to do with thieves and idolaters.
After some farther remarks, Mr Garrison concluded by remarking that he did not believe that greater pro-slavery men could by possibility have been selected from the twenty millions of American people, than the delegates who were sent over to the Evangelical Alliance. Some of them were slaveholders, all of them gave the right hand of fellowship to men-stealers, and were eager in going with the mobocracy in denouncing the abolitionists, to make them odious to the whole world. (Applause.)
The CHAIRMAN, then, in name of the Anti-Slavery ladies of Edinburgh, presented Mr Garrison with an elegant silver tea service, consisting of tea-pot, coffee-pot, cream-pot, sugar-basin, &c., and also a purse (the work of a young lady who is a daughter of one of the oldest abolitionists in Edinburgh) containing ten sovereigns.3 On the coffee-pot was engraved the following inscription: – ‘Presented to Mr William Lloyd Garrison, Boston, United States, by the friends of freedom in Edinburgh, as an expression of their gratitude for his unwearied and successful exertions in the cause of slavery, and for his labours in exposing the cruelty and wickedness of slaveowners.’ On the tea-pot were inscribed the 12th and 13th verses of the 29th chapter of Job.
Mr GARRISON, in reply, said, any man who assumed to be a reformer, should be careful how he received gifts, lest it might seem to be his object to be remunerated for his labours by the pelf of this world. He would have felt entirely unwilling to accept these generous gifts were it not for the peculiar circumstances in which he was now placed on both sides of the Atlantic; and if the enemies of freedom were not endeavouring to hedge up his way, and to cover him with popular odium, for the purpose of protecting the slave system. But he would receive them, because through him they were a testimony and a proof in behalf of many others associated with him in the anti-slavery cause, and far more worthy to receive them than himself; and they would also be a reply to the aspersions cast upon his character. He would take them, because he wanted the slaveholders, the abolitionists, and the coloured population of America, to see them.
He deserved no credit for what he had done. His conduct was only worthy of notice as a matter of contrast, for, while many persons in the United States were overawed by the presence of slavery, he had been enabled by the grace of God to stand forward and confront it. He did not understand how men, having love to God, could look on thousands of their race deprived of all their rights, and not say one word against the enslavers. He had done nothing but his duty to God and his fellow-men in denouncing this system, and he hoped he would never compromise this duty. He would rather be sacrificed on the altar of popular fury than yield one title of the Christian law.
These gifts were peculiarly agreeable to him, because they came from the anti-slavery women of Edinburgh. (Cheers.) If ever slavery was to be extirpated from the world, it would be because women pioneered the way. They had felt this in America. The women there had made the most generous and courageous sacrifices – they were instant in season and out of season, to cheer the friends of the slave in the darkest hours. It was so, in the agitation in this country for the abolition of West India slavery. His friend, George Thompson, was a witness that he spoke the truth. It was not the published opinions of Clarkson, Wilberforce, or Buxton, and other champions of emancipation, that hurried slavery to its eternal overthrow in the West India colonies; but it was the pamphlet of a woman connected with the Society of Friends, Elizabeth Heyrick, which, urging immediate emancipation, electrified the country, and sent forth advocates to plead the immediate freedom of the slave. She ought to be remembered on every occasion on which the friends of the slavery cause were gathered together.
Mr Garrison then went on to eulogise the exertions of the Society of Friends in the cause of human freedom, and said, that were all the churches throughout the world to take the same position, slavery would soon be sent to the pit from which it emanated.
He concluded by saying, that if ever, in an evil hour, he proved treacherous to the cause of freedom, the gifts before him would be witnesses against him; and if ever he struck hands with slavery, he would justly forfeit all claim to them, and any true friend of liberty might take them from him. Mr Garrison resumed his seat amid great applause.
Mr G. THOMPSON then rose to address the meeting, and was received with enthusiastic applause. This was an occasion which he had long desired to see in Edinburgh – a sight to behold which he had yearned many years – to witness his beloved brother standing in the presence of the assembled thousands of this city to vindicate himself from the foul charges which had been brought against him. (Cheers.) He had thought it a hard and strange thing that those who professed to love the slave, when they cast their eye over the field of battle, and saw the struggle going on for the liberation of three millions of God’s family from bonds, should be more anxious to discharge their weapons at the champion of the oppressed, than at the enemies of these oppressed three millions. (Applause.) If they really loved the slave, they must love the man who was now present. They might deplore his errors in opinion, if there really be any to deplore; but the man they would be constrained to love. He had often looked, but in vain, to see the traducers of Mr Garrison quote some portion of his writings in proof of the various charges which they had brought against him.
The other day, however, the Rev. Mr Lorimer, at a meeting of the Free Church Presbytery of Glasgow, quoted, in proof of the infidelity of the abolitionists of America, a resolution passed at a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society in New York, at which Mr Garrison presided. The resolution stated that the meeting ‘rejoiced in the present declining state of American religion, inasmuch as it voluntarily came forth to baptise and to sanction slavery, which Mahommedanism had abolished, and Catholicism condemned.’ Mr Thompson, at great length, defended this resolution, and showed that Mr Lorimer had put a construction on it which it did not bear. Who, he asked, would not wish to see the decline of a religion which baptised and sanctioned slavery? and that was all that was meant by the resolution.
After referring to the abolition of slavery by the Bey of Tunis, and the denunciation of it by a bull of the late Pope, as bearing out this resolution, he noticed the proceedings of the Evangelical Alliance, and said he had recently taken the verdict of 20,000 of his countrymen upon that subject, and of these 20,000 persons, only seven had held up their hands in favour of the Alliance.
He then minutely detailed what had been done in the Alliance on the subject of American slavery up to the resolution to which that body came on the 29th of August – that the branches of the Alliance would admit to membership only those slaveholders who were such involuntarily, and not for their own interests. To talk of an involuntary slaveholder was, he said, to make the God the author of the sin which the slaveholder committed, and to say that there were slaveholders in the United States who were so, from no fault of their own, was saying that which was notoriously untrue and nonsensical. In this matter that body was guilt of a most fearful compromise, and its members, scores of whom he could name, voted in defiance of principles which they had deliberately avowed previous to joining the Alliance. Would any one rise in that vast assembly and tell him that the adoption of that resolution was not a deliberate compromise of the convictions and principles of hundreds of the English members of the Alliance? He would prove this from the lips of the members of that body who had confessed that it was so. (Hear.)
This deed was done on Saturday night. The Sabbath meditations of the Americans brought them to the conclusion, that the resolution would not do for them, and they determined to go in a body to the Conference on Monday morning, and have it repealed. They did so. One party in the Conference sought to conciliate them, by moving that the obnoxious resolution should be placed among the miscellaneous proceedings of the Conference, and form no part of the general organisation. This, however, was not enough. Another party moved that the whole of the proceedings on the subject of slavery be rescinded. This the British delegates feared to do suddenly, and the result was, that after another day spent in discussion, the whole matter was referred to a committee, to report to the Conference on the 1st September. This committee came up on the Tuesday morning, and counselled that the whole of the documents on the subject of slavery should be struck out of the proceedings of the Alliance, and that the branches to be hereafter formed should be recommended to form their alliances according to the peculiar circumstances of the countries in which they were formed. This counsel was adopted, and the consequence was, that after four days of incessant deliberation, prayer, reading of the Scriptures, and cogitations of committees, the Conference determined to record no opinion on the question of slaveholding, and deliberately refused to exclude slaveholders from their alliance. (Cries of ‘Shame.’) All this was a concession to the pro-slavery feeing of the American delegates. (Hear, hear.)
Now, the question was, is there any thing to condemn in the conduct of the Alliance? They had been told that there was no slaveholder in the Alliance. There was a slaveholder among them. There was the notorious Dr Smythe from Charlestown – (hisses) – a man who, before he entered the Alliance, had been to Ireland, to the town where he was born (Belfast), and had presented himself before the General Assembly of the Irish Presbyterian Church, and had been refused admission. His name was not even mentioned in that Assembly, though he sat there from day to day listening to the proceedings. He thought proper, while there, to utter a foul libel upon his friend Frederick Douglas, which he persisted in, until he received an intimation from a respectable firm that there was such a thing in this country as a law of libel, when he immediately confessed the falsehood of that which he had before asserted.4(Cheers.)
And yet this man was admitted into the Evangelical Alliance, and his speeches were listened to upon the subject of slavery. Now what was the charge he brought against that Alliance? It was this, that they deliberately refused to pass any sentence of condemnation upon slavery. He knew about a hundred men in that Alliance who had stood with himself upon anti-slavery platforms, to denounce the pro-slavery character of the American Churches. There were leading members of that Alliance who, in 1840 and 1843, in conventions of abolitionists from various parts of the world, voted for resolutions condemning all religious communion with slaveholders.5 (Cheers.)
Among the many who had sought to defend the Alliance, there was one gentleman pre-eminently worthy of respectful notice, and he was the only defender of the Alliance whom he should on that occasion refer to. He could not refer to a writer more respectable or talented, or one whom he more sincerely esteemed, and venerated, and loved. Upon getting to Scotland, he found that there had been most industriously circulated throughout the country a letter from the Rev. Dr Wardlaw, which was originally inserted in the Patriot newspaper.6 That reverend and respected gentleman, in the first place, expressed his own view of slavery, a view in which he (Mr Thompson) most cordially agreed with him.
I must say, for myself, I will not yield in my abhorrence of the infernal system of slavery, to Garrison, to Thompson, or to any man breathing. It is one of those subjects on which I feel it in no small trial of temper to speak or write with patience, and am strongly tempted to put violence among the virtues. American slavery, in all its characteristics, its bearings, and its results, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, I regard as, of all accursed things on the face of the earth, one of the most accursed.
What did he say respecting communion with slaveholders?
Nothing in the condition of the slaveholder can ever be an excuse for our implicating ourselves more or less, directly or indirectly, in the evil, by anything, or any measure, either of communion or connivance. If they cannot keep their hands clean, that can be no reason why we should defile ours – why we should defile them even by clasping theirs.
This was sound doctrine. This was all for which he contended. He did not ask that any man should speak more strongly of slavery than Dr Wardlaw had spoken in the eloquent passage first read. If the Alliance would adopt these words of Dr Wardlaw, he would be as earnest in his condemnations of that Alliance as he was now in sincere in the condemnation of that body.
The doctor, nevertheless, went on to say, that the Alliance had been maligned; and he quoted a short passage from a speech of his (Mr T.’s) in Exeter Hall in which he spoke of the Alliance ‘preferring a union with Drs Cox, Emery, Smythe, and Olin, to the maintenance of principle.’ He did not, if he recollected right, mention Dr Wardlaw in Exeter Hall, unless to express his deep regret that he should be amongst men who had acted as the Alliance had done; for he was given to understand that the doctor had in the Conference expressed similar sentiments to those in the letter which now lay before him. He certainly said on that occasion, and would say not, that the interests of the slave were abandoned – that the abolition principle was compromised to please the American delegates who were present in that assembly.
This he knew, and this Dr Wardlaw, he thought, must know. He knew that if these sixty American delegates had not been there, there would have been no hesitation in sanctioning the amendment of Mr Hinton. But, be that as it might, he knew that that amendment was rejected.
The doctor then went on to say – and he held him to his words –
if the Alliance does indeed consist, in whole or in part, of ‘those who would maintain slavery’ – I at once admit the justice of the conclusion in which you yourself have come, that ‘no consistent anti-slavery man can remain a member of this so-called Evangelical Alliance.’
If Dr Wardlaw would abide by these words, he would prove that he was not, and could not be, according to his own declaration, a member of the Alliance, without falsifying what he had written in this letter. ‘Show me,’ says Dr Wardlaw, ‘in that Alliance any one who maintains slavery.’
Mr Thompson then proceeded to point out from the speeches and actings of Dr Olin and the Rev. Samuel H. Cox of America, that they were uncompromising defenders of slavery.
But to take another specimen of the Alliance. The Rev. Mr Clowes, a clergyman of the Church of England, came forward at Norwich to defend the Alliance, and in his (Mr T.’s) presence declared, that if his father had left him slaves, he would have kept a powerful hand over them for the good of their souls. (Hear.)
Take again the president of the Alliance, Sir Culling Eardley Smith. That gentleman, on being questioned in a public meeting at Aylesbury, boldly said that one of the most Christian minded members of the Alliance was a Brazilian mining slaveholder, and an intimate friend of his, and so highly did he esteem his Christian character, that he would sooner abandon the Alliance than cease to hold Christian fellowship with that slaveholder.
Take the Rev. Mr Ewbank, another member of the Alliance, who, in reply to Dr Wardlaw, distinctly advocated the admission of slaveholders.
Who then were they to take as trustworthy exponents of the principles of the Alliance, and how could Dr Wardlaw belong to it when he found fellow members advocating such views as those which he had brought forward? Was not his rev. friend bound by his own letter to come out from the Alliance? (Cheers.)
Mr Thompson then went on to say that he was ready to confirm what Mr Garrison had said, that out of 60 or 70 American delegates who came to this country, there were not above six of them who would be regarded as abolitionists in the United States, or as aught by practical enemies to the abolition movement. And yet Dr Wardlaw said in another part of his letter,
Our American brethren who were with us are anti-slavery men like ourselves.
Now, of what importance were the doings of the Alliance upon the question of slavery? Of great importance. What had transpired since the Alliance? The Free Church of Scotland had claimed the Alliance as its own. The Free Church of Scotland had boldly declared, through her organs, that herself and the Alliance were one; ergo – and it was a very modest assertion – the voice of Christendom was in favour of the views of the Free Church.
Mr Thompson then called attention to the proceedings of the Old School Presbyterian Assembly of the United States, in reference to a letter from the Synod of Canada, on the subject of slavery. This letter, which very likely emanated from Dr Burns of the Free Church, was treated with the utmost contempt. The American brethren had triumphed; but he would appeal from the Free Church of Scotland to the free people of Scotland, and from the Evangelical Alliance of England to the people of England, and he would ay to them, You must not put your trust in these bodies. Let the cause of the slave be taken up by you. let the anti-slavery character of both be vindicated by you; and in your individual character do what you can to arouse both the one and the other from the domination to which they have subjected themselves by an alliance with slavery.
Hoping to have an opportunity of attending another meeting next week, Mr Thompson concluded a long and able speech by proposing a vote of thanks to the Chairman.
The meeting then separated.
Scotsman, 24 October 1846
A meeting was held on Wednesday night in Brighton Church for the purpose again hearing Messrs George Thompson, William L. Garrison, Henry C. Wright, and Frederick Douglass on the subject of American slavery. Admittance was by tickets at a small charge, and the church was crowded to overflow. Mr John Wigham, jun., was called to the chair.
The Chairman briefly opened the proceedings by referring to the many vile aspersions which the enemies of Mr Garrison and of the slave had advanced against him, with the view of neutralising his efforts in behalf of humanity, and, amongst the rest, that he was an infidel. He (the chairman) had carefully investigated into the character of Mr Garrison, and he denies the charge most emphatically, and in toto. He was satisfied that Mr Garrison was a Christian man who reverenced Holy Scriptures, and held the divinity of Christ with all his attributes, as mentioned in the New Testament.
Mr Douglass related to the fortunate circumstances by which a man, who had been a fellow-slave with him at Baltimore eight years ago, had effected his freedom, and whom he had accidentally met on Monday in Liverpool. The slave in question had been employed by his master as cook on board a vessel, which having been driven by stress of weather into Nassau, New Providence, he with great difficulty gained his freedom, because he was on ground which enjoyed the liberty of the British flag.
Mr Lloyd Garrison next came forward, amid great applause, and addressed the meeting. He was amazed that he should he charge with being an infidel by men who held their brother as their property; for surely if the slaveholder was not an infidel of the worst kind before God and man, there was no such thing as infidelity at all. (Applause.) They had been charged with departing from their proper mission, and entering upon a war with the Free Church and the Evangelical Alliance. But why did they do so? Not because they had forgotten the slave? no; but because the Free Church had placed itself on the side of the slaveholder, and against the slave, and because the Evangelical Alliance had bowed the knee to the Moloch of slavery, and refused to say one word against his bloody and impious reign. (Cheers.)
Mr Garrison next alluded to his late visit to Belfast, and complained that some of the papers there were filled with malignant abuse of him, and with the foulest misrepresentations of his religious principles, solely for the purpose of deterring persons from attending the meetings of the anti-slavery deputation. But the real question was as to his fidelity to the anti-slavery movement. Had any one dared to arraign him that he was not a staunch and true abolitionist? No; not one of his traducers had attempted such a charge. The emancipation of the slave was their test, and abiding by it, he would ask had the Free Church yet come to the conclusion of sending back the money? (Cheers.) If it had not, then it was to be charged with being one of the great bulwarks which supported and protected slavery in the United States, entertaining with religious friendship men who treat those made in the image of God as marketable commodities. He did not wish to pick a quarrel with the Free Church, or with any religious denomination whatever; all he asked was, that they should wash their hands of such heinous crimes and have nothing to do with thieves and idolaters.
After some farther remarks, Mr Garrison concluded by remarking, that the delegates from America at the Evangelical Alliance were all pro-slavery men, some of them being themselves slaveholders, all of them giving the right hand of fellowship to men-stealers, and eager in going with the mobocracy in denouncing the abolitionists, to make them odious to the whole world.
The Chairman then addressed Mr Garrison, and in name of the anti-slavery ladies of Edinburgh, presented him with an elegant silver coffee and teapot, sugar basin, and cream ewer, as a mark of the high estimation in which they held him for his labours in behalf of the slave, more especially those of the United States; and also with a handsome purse containing ten sovereigns, the gift of a lady, daughter of one of the oldest friends of freedom in Edinburgh.
Mr Garrison having received the memento, amid loud and reiterated cheering, proceeded to acknowledge his thanks for so generous a donation. He said he received it as a testimony in behalf of the cause in which he was engaged, and the coadjutors with whom he was associated. It formed their reply to the aspersions made on his character, and he would gladly take it that the American slaveholders might see it – that the apologist of slavery might see it, and because he wanted the coloured population of America to see it. (Cheers.)
Mr Thompson addressed the assemblage at great length. He said that, about ten years ago, every leading church in this country stood up in opposition to slavery, and Dr Candlish, Dr Cunningham, Mr Lorimer, and Mr Begg, and other clergymen, took a prominent part in the cause, never standing up on the platform without denouncing the conduct of the American churches as a curse to man and a defiance of the will of God. He then referred to the present opinions, which were decidedly opposed to those they previously held. Mr Thompson’s address was characterised with his usual eloquence and tact, and frequently elicited enthusiastic applause.
The proceedings did not terminate till late in the evening.
Edinburgh Evening Post, 24 October 1846
AMERICAN SLAVERY. – At the request of the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society, Messrs George Thompson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Frederick Douglass, last night addressed a numerous meeting (admitted by tickets) in Brighton Street Church, on the subject of slavery in the United States, and the conduct of the Free Church and the Evangelical Alliance in reference to its holding followship [sic] with those Churches in America which admitted to the communion those who held their fellow-men in bondage. The chair was occupied by J. Wigham Esq. In the course of the evening Mr Garrison was presented with five handsome pieces of silver plate, consisting of a tea service and tray, the gift of the ladies of Edinburgh, as a token of their esteem and admiration, on behalf of those enslaved. Mr G. was also presented with a very handsome purse, containing L.20, the gift, as the chairman said, of a young lady, the daughter of one of the oldest abolitionists in Edinburgh. Mr Garrison returned thanks, and thanks having been given to the chairman, the meeting separated.
Caledonian Mercury, 22 October 1846
(From an Edinburgh Correspondent.)
On the evening of Wednesday, the 21st inst., Messrs Thompson, Douglass and Garrison held another of their Anti-slavery meetings as they are technically called. When we entered, Douglass, the runaway slave, was haranguing his audience from the pulpit – for Brighton Street chapel was the place of meeting. This ‘fugitive,’ by the bye, is a singularly gifted individual, of whose speeches one may with all safety pronounce this opinion, that what of them is ‘true is now new, and what is new is not true.’
Aware of this, his coadjutors have him, generally speaking, first disposed of, in shape of what, we may venture to call a tentaculum or feeler, wherewith he sounds the moral depths of his audience, so that those who are to come after him may know what hidden shoals to steer clear of. The sea, if we may so speak, or rather the ‘sea of heads,’ is quite of the voluntary ‘caste,’ for no sooner does the orator discern a rock a-head, which may chance to be either the Free Church or Evangelical Alliance, than he may anticipate, as a matter of course, the hoarse murmurings of the troubled waters, when emphatically he calls upon the former to ‘SEND BACK THE MONEY.’
The latter – the Evangelical Alliance – requires more tackling in order to reach, and the method of doing so is quite characteristic. The first thing done is to inform the audience that the American delegates are ‘pro-slavery’ men of the worst stamp, who, if they should hear anything in the Conference in opposition to their sentiments on slavery were prepared at once to break up the Alliance – a consummation this which the British, and especially the Free Church brethren, were not desirous of. The deliberations of the Americans in committee are detailed in such a way, that of course the pious sensibilities of the audience are affected as if by an electric shock. Then, as regards the resolution come to by the Alliance, it is disposed of in a quite off-hand manner. In it the Free Church rejoices, therein finding a pretext for covering its unhallowed fellowship; in fact, were it was passed the resolution was a ‘consummation devoutly to be wished.’ But we are anticipating things as they actually occurred.
When Douglass had sounded the depths before him, the latest importation under the New Tariff, in the person of Lloyd Garrison, Esq., ascended into the pulpit. His appearance is quite characteristic of the race. All the world know, of course, the leading features of an American’s toilette. As regards his locks, they possess that lanky-go-backness peculiar to the nation; and his collar that graceful dependence over the stock which all Americans delight in, when they have, that is to say, a collar to turn down. Our expectations of him were high, but they were sadly disappointed, for we had heard much of his oratorical powers, piety, and godliness. In his call upon the Free Church to ‘Send back the money,’ there was no new feature; we thought perhaps he might have altered the phrase, in order to dissipate the staleness of the expression – for example, he might have said, instead of ‘Send back the money,’ Remit the pecuniary circulation. Doubts, however, as to the capabilities of his audience to comprehend the change might perhaps lead him to retain the old term. In his remarks there was nothing which we hadn’t heard a hundred times before. As for argumentation there was none; the only attempt of the kind was one which at first had some plausibility in it, and it was this: After speaking at some length upon the misrepresentations of his religious sentiments, alluding, of course, as all the world knows, to his infidel views of the Sabbath, (which had been promulgated far and wide to the damage of the anti-slavery cause), he went on to say, and asked ‘what would your own Anti-Corn-Law League have been had some enemy within the camp refused to co-operate with Cobden and Bright, because these gentlemen differed in religious sentiments from him?’ Yes, Mr Garrison, the absurdity of such an exhibition is abundantly manifest. But the same question as regards your own League (which is liberal enough to embrace men of every shade of religious opinion, as you yourself remarked) resolved itself into quite another feature. And it is this: Can I, as a member of one of the noble Churches of Christ, co-operate with you for the annihilation of slavery upon a platform, whence judgment is given forth pronouncing my Church to be no Church at all, because it can and does recognise in many of the slave-holders brethren in the Lord – judgment, I repeat, coming from the lips of men who know not what Socinianism means, and you are one of those, for such was your declaration on the evening of Wednesday, the 21st inst. Had that individual whose case you supposed, so raged against the church of Cobden and Bright, would, think you, the Anti-Corn-Law League ever have carried the day? Take the lesson home to yourself, and, as an ‘honourable man,’ ‘for you are all honourable,’ thunder all your eloquence against the stronghold of slavery itself, rouse the lion in his den, or, like to a skilful physician, exhibit your remedies where they are most needed, in those parts stricken with disease, and not in the extremities or confines of the world; so doing, Ovid’s maxim is your own: Opiferque per orbem Dicor – ‘And am the great physician called.’ – Dryden.
So much on this point, we hasten on. The slavery question, of course, was never mooted. In concluding, he prayed that he might be kept true to his principles, both here and on the other side of the Atlantic.
Having finished, he was on the point of sitting down, when his ‘dear friend’ George Thompson, lifting up a tray on which were placed some silver plate, consisting of a coffee and tea-pot, sugar-basin, and cream-jug, turned round, and handed it to the chairman, Mr Whigham, who presented it to our friend Garrison, in name of the ‘women of Edinburgh,’ as also a purse, wrought by a young damsel, said to contain ten sovereigns.
In acknowledging the gift, he thanked the donors from the bottom of his heart, but said that, in other circumstances, he would have felt it to be his duty not to accept it, inasmuch as there were others far worthier of it than he. (We will wait in patience to see if his disinterestedness will have any weight with the ‘women of Edinburgh’ in remembering the claims of George Thompson upon their generosity.) Meanwhile, however, he would accept of it, as through him it would speak to those upon the other side of the Atlantic. He was anxious that the slaveholders should see his gift, and what is more striking still, he is anxious that the slaves themselves should see it. But how this is to be accomplished we cannot make out, unless he give a series of ‘tea shines’ through the various slave states; breakfasts also would perhaps enable him to get more quickly through with this work. Of course, 3d. a-head is the least that can be expected for the privilege of seeing the plate, and drinking a cup of the Chinese beverage poured out from the tea-pot be honoured. He (Garrison) gave us to understand that, if ever he was tempted to forget his principles, this gift would be no longer his, and any one would have the right to enter into his house and carry off the present as his own. We are not much afraid, however, of him forsaking his principles, or of his ‘right hand forgetting its cunning.’ As to the right of any one entering his abode, and carrying off what was no longer his, because he had made shipwreck of his faith, it teaches some so-called ministers of the Gospel in our own land what they would have suffered had the event of May, 1843, taken place, not in Scotland, but in America.
After Garrison had resumed his seat, we were favoured with a repetition of George Thompson‘s second-hand eloquence and arguments. In seeing him speak, we are forcibly reminded of the poet’s line –
which, when freely translated, means, Much ado about nothing. We left George in the middle of his harangue, after proving that Dr Wardlaw can no longer remain a remember of the Evangelical Alliance, seeing that there are many members thereof with as warm a side to slavery and all its horrors as was ever the veriest taskmaster under Pharaoh of the Egyptians.
We conclude, trusting that we have not trespassed too long upon your patience.
C.G.R., Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 28 October 1846.
- William Lloyd Garrison to Elizabeth Pease, Perth, 25 October 1846, reprinted in The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison. Volume 3: No Union with Slave-Holders, edited by Walter M. Merrill (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1973), p. 445.
- Douglass wrote a letter from here on 30 October 1846. See The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series Three: Correspondence, Volume 1: 1842–52, edited by John R. McKivigan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 178 n2.
- This gift later caused Garrison some difficulty. He was charged duty on it (which he could ill afford) when he arrived in Boston, leading him to write a letter of complaint to the customs official, reprinted in the Liberator (25 December 1846), which, in an appended note, informed readers that the gift was then on display at Faneuil Hall, presumably as part of the annual Christmas bazaar. In a subsequent article we learn that anti-slavery women had clubbed together and made good Garrison’s loss (Liberator, 30 July 1847).
- Rev Dr Thomas Smyth, of the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston, was responsible for raising much of the money donated to the Free Church in the American South. In letters to Thomas Chalmers he expressed frustration on hearing mild abolitionist statements from some Free Church leaders, concerned of ‘the possibility of having our gifts reciprocated by anathema and abuse.’ During his visit to Belfast in 1846 (where he was asked to exclude himself from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland) Smyth repeated a rumour he had heard of Douglass visiting a brothel in Manchester. Douglass’ lawyers forced him to retract. See Alasdair Pettinger, Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846: Living an Antislavery Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018), pp. 66-7, 79, 92.
- The first World Anti-Slavery Convention was held at Exeter Hall, London in June 1840. A second followed in 1843.
- Ralph Wardlaw, ‘The Evangelical Alliance and Slavery’, London Patriot, 8 October 1846; reprinted Northern Warder, 22 October 1846.