Edinburgh: 25 May 1846

19th-century engraving of Edinburgh Castle
Castle and Allan Ramsay’s House. From J. B. Gillies, Edinburgh Past and Present (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1886), p. 101.

Frederick Douglass and George Thompson returned to Edinburgh from London on Saturday 23 May, and addressed a crowded meeting at the Music Hall on George Street on the evening of Monday 25 May.  The two reports in Edinburgh Evening Post and a briefer one in the Scotsman (reproduced below) focussed on Thompson’s speech, in which he responded to a recently-published pamphlet entitled The Free Church and Her Accusers, styled as a letter to Thompson, and signed by ‘A Free Churchman.’1.

Of particular interest, however, is this passing remark of Thompson:

Besides Mr Douglass, another slave has come from America to plead the cause. Mr Thompson does not promise that he will be quite so eloquent and effective as Mr Douglass, still his plain and simple story will no doubt produce its effects.

He is referring to Moses Roper, on his second tour of Britain and Ireland, promoting his autobiography A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery (1838). Roper does not appear to have been supported by anti-slavery networks, as Douglass was, and this is a rare acknowledgement of his existence by the better-funded and more widely-publicised Garrisonian abolitionists. Roper held meetings in smaller towns and villages rather than the big cities, but reached rural areas unvisited by Douglass, especially in the north of Scotland.

In March 1846 he was in Berwick, where he made arrangements for the publication of a revised edition of his Narrative, and appeared at various venues in Jedburgh, Hawick, Dumfries and Maybole. On 28 May Roper would speak in Alloa, and over the following two months addressed audiences in Perth, Auchtermuchty, Cupar, Dundee, Dunning, Crieff, Methven, Kirriemuir, Forfar, Aberdeen and Elgin.

It is perhaps not surprising that a Free Church paper like the Northern Warder unfavourably contrasted the ‘grossly abusive style of declamation’ of Douglass and his colleagues, with the strictly autobiographical lectures of Roper, praised for the way in which, dwelling on ‘his own sufferings under slavery,’ he ‘exercises rather more discretion in his vocation.’ The paper urged its readers to go and hear him speak, because he actually displays ‘a very different spirit’ from the ‘Send Back the Money’ campaigners.2

For an overview of Douglass’s activities in Edinburgh during the year, see Spotlight: Edinburgh.


On Monday night, Mr George Thompson and Frederick Douglass, who have returned from London, again appeared at the Music Hall. Councillor Stott presided. The Hall was crowded to overflow; not only the seats, but the orchestra and lobbies were crammed to exceess, and numbers were compelled to return home, not being able to gain admission.

Mr Douglass first rose and briefly detailed their proceedings in London during the preceding week, where the subject had created the greatest interest.

‘The lion of the evening,’ Mr Thompson, followed, and in an eloquent and electriying speech of nearly three hours’ duration, discussed several pages of the Free Church pamphlet, sifting paragraph after paragraph, and exposing the whole as a labyrinth of the grossest falsehood and slander.

In taking it up, he said he laboured under a disadvantage in replying to an anonymous opponent. Why was it anonymous? ‘A Letter to George Thompson by a Free Churchman.’ He asked again why it was anonymous? Was the man ashamed of it? (Laughter and applause.) As it appeared to himself his conclusions were irresistible, and why did he put forward so shabbily unanswerable arguments. (Applause.)

It would not be a manly act in any man to publish a letter addressed to a public man, and putting no name to it. (Hear.) He would be glad if he was able to mention the name of the gentleman, but he was prepared to tell him that he would treat him personally with the utmost courtesy. If he had known him, he could be able to come to terms with him. But perhaps it would be a difficult matter to bring forward a single name. (Hear, and applause.) He thought he could distinguish Jacob’s voice and Esau’s hand in that pamphlet. (Hear, hear, and cheers.) He thought it had not one but many fathers. (Laughter and great cheering.) He was quite sure that he who had written it had depended a great deal on his neighbour’s efforts. (Hear, and laughter.) He would be perfectly justified in treating it with silence, but it was convenient to notice it. (Laughter.) Perhaps it was the more necessary to notice it, as he was told that a large number of copies had been sold. That was so much the better for the publisher – it might be for the writer. (Laughter.)

Mr Thomson then took up the pamphlet, and began with the title, ‘The Free Church and her Accusers;’ and went over about three pages, replying to and rebutting every charge amidst the reiterated plaudits of the audience. The remainder he reserved for the meeting on Wednesday evening, when he would take care that every charge would be replied to.

They were naturally anxious to know what the Free Assembly would do, and they would remain in Edinburgh till the sitting was over. According to the acts of that Assembly would all their plains be laid. They were already preparing for them in England. From Land’s End to Berwick-on-Tweed would be heard like thunder a shout coming over the Cheviot Hills, ‘Send back the money!’ – (tremendous cheering) – and across the Channel from the Green Isle, where the slaveholder’s dollars were spat upon, would be heard the same shout – ‘Send back the money!’

Edinburgh Evening Post, 30 May 1846


The Free Church have resolved to meet the present popular agitation against their lucrative intercourse with the slave-dealing churches of America with a face of brass. They are not to move from the position they have assumed, – no, not one hair’s breadth. Mr Begg, on Thursday evening, speaking in the name of his Church, declared in the Free Assembly, that they were resolved to continue their fellowship with the slave churches; and ‘above all, (he concluded,) not to send back the money – no, not one farthing.’ This emphatic and unqualified announcement was received by the representatives of the Free Church with great applause. So far, therefore, as the Free sect themselves are concerned, the question is now settled.

It is surmised that this bold and decided resolution on the part of the Free Church to identify themselves with the rich slaveholders in the United States, has been formed preparatory to the despatch of another begging deputation across the Atlantic. We know not how this may be; but we should conceive that such a braving of public opinion, even amongst their own members, many of whom but ill suppress their real views of the conduct of their leaders, or rather, as they should be called, drivers on this subject, would hardly be attempted after what has lately occurred. Such a proceeding would be nothing short of suicidal. These infatuated men, however, obviously imagine that, with their well-cultivated powers of assurance and sophistry, which they are exerting to the uttermost, they will eventually be enabled to stem the tide of public odium which has so strongly turned against them; and he would be indeed a bold prophet who should hazard a prediction as to their future course. There is one thing clear, – they may safely reckon upon the gratitude of the slave-holding churches, and we need not say in what shape that feeling is best appreciated by the Free Church. We must, however, declare most sincerely, that their whole proceedings in regard to this matter are a scandal and a disgrace to the very name of Christianity.

On the evening of Monday last, another great meeting on the subject of slavery in America, and a demand on the Free Church to return the money, was held in the Music Hall, George Street. Mr George Thompson occupied the whole evening – about three hours – in an unusually eloquent and pointed demonstration of slavery in the United States and its abettors, without one dissentient voice raised against him. Our friends at a distance can scarcely conceive the intense hold this subject has taken on the public mind here. The immense room was filled to overflowing. The orchestra was crammed from top to  bottom, and hung with a galaxy of ladies and gentlemen, like the drop scene of a theatre. The room itself, and all the passages were crowded – hundreds could not get seats.

Mr Thompson was more than usually solemn and energetic. He seemed really to throw his feelings and his heart into the subject about which he spoke. For three complete hours he kept the immense audience hanging on his lips. We were anxious to judge of the sort of people who were there, and of the tone of the meeting. We must say that it occurred to us, that it was quite a fair representation of the popular party in Edinburgh, and of the mass of public opinion. Mr Thompson sometimes hit hard – but there was not a free voice to raise a solitary hiss. The public mind flowed with him.

The Free Church, as a party, he frankly acknowledged, had lost all moral influence in Scotland. He said they had occasioned a disruption in in the Church of Scotland some years ago, but that, if he was not mistaken, a disruption among themselves was also nearly at hand. The whole was a most withering exposure. The public mind is completely carried along with the new movement. The Free Church must, they shall, ‘Send back the Money!’

Besides Mr Douglass, another slave has come from America to plead the cause. Mr Thompson does not promise that he will be quite so eloquent and effective as Mr Douglass, still his plain and simple story will no doubt produce its effects.

Edinburgh Evening Post, 30 May 1846

AMERICAN SLAVERY AND THE FREE CHURCH. – On Monday night, Mr George Thompson, who has returned from London, again appeared in the Music Hall, and, in a speech of three hours’ duration, replied to the arguments that have been circulated by the Free Church party, in defence of their connection with the American churches, which countenance slavery. The hall was crowded to overflowing, not only the seats but the orchestra and lobbies being crammed to excess.

Scotsman, 27 May 1846


  1. The Free Church and her Accusers in the Matter of American Slavery; Being a Letter to Mr. George Thompson, Regarding His Recent Appearances in this City (Edinburgh: John Johnstone, 1846).
  2. Northern Warder, 11 and 25 June, 1846.