Edinburgh: 28 April 1846

Edinburgh, from the Calton Hill, engraved by T. A. Prior from a sketch by R. Johnson, in The Land We Live In: A Pictorial and Literary Sketch-Book of the British Empire, Vol II (London: Charles Knight, [1848?]), between pages 73 and 74.
With the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland due to be held in Edinburgh at the end of May, the abolitionists planned to intensify their campaign with a series of meetings in the capital. In Glasgow they had enjoyed the support of the Glasgow Emancipation Society, who booked venues and publicised their lectures.  The more cautious Edinburgh Emancipation Society was less helpful, the committee unwilling to call a meeting that might antagonise the Free Church, and it was left to Henry Clarke Wright to travel to Edinburgh on 22 April and make arrangements.1 Returning the following day he

reported that he had obtained the use of Mr. M’Gilchrist’s Church, in Rose Street, for a Public Meeting on the evening of Tuesday the 28th, and the Church of Mr French in College Street, for the evening of Wednesday the 30th; and had also arranged for a Public Meeting of the Ladies of Edinburgh, on the morning of the 30th. Messrs THOMPSON, DOUGLASS, and BUFFUM arrived in Edinburgh on Monday evening, the 27th of April, and proceeded to the York Temperance Hotel, in Nicholson Street. They were joined by Mr. WRIGHT during the following day. These gentlemen found the city in a state of deep excitement on the subject of their visit, and the vexed question to which it had reference.2

The morning after his arrival, Douglass wrote to his friend Amy Post in Rochester, New York:

I am now in Edenburgh (Scotland.) It is a beautiful city, the most beautiful I ever saw – not so much on account of the buildings as on account of its picturesque position. I have no time even had I the ability to discribe it. I am putting up at the ‘york hotel.’ There sets Geo. Thompson By the window and there sets James N. Buffum near the fire. We came here yesterday from Glasgow – and shall lecture here this evening. Scotland is all in a blaze of antislavery excitement – in consequence of our exposures of the proslavery conduct of the free church of Scotland.3

We reproduce below the lengthy report of the Tuesday meeting as it subsequently appeared in a pamphlet entitled The Free Church Alliance with Manstealers; followed by the briefer account published in the Scotsman the following day.


Tuesday Evening, April 28th.

This spacious and commodious Church is situated in the New Town, at the back of Princes’ Street. On the present occasion it was crowded to excess, by a highly respectable audience. Not only was every pew occupied, but in every part where standing room could be obtained, whether above or below, there was a dense mass of human  beings. The entrance of the speakers from the door leading from the Session-house was the signal for loud and prolonged cheers.

In a few moments Mr. George Thompson ascended the pulpit stairs, and was hailed with enthusiastic applause. Mr. Thompson appeared deeply affected by his reception, and, at the same time, to labour under deep embarrassment, arising from the nature of the duty he was about to discharge. On silence being restored, he proceeded in a low and solemn tone to say, that he desired, in the first place, to return his fervent thanks to the esteemed minister and managers of the Church in which he then stood, for their liberality and kindness in granting it on that occasion. (Loud cheers.)

He now had the extreme sorrow of addressing his friends in Edinburgh on the question of slavery under a far different aspect from that which he anticipated when he was last among them. He came (he did not hesitate to own) to oppose the Free Church of Scotland – not that he wanted to enlist their prejudices against that church as such, or decry them in public estimation as, in other respects, a body of Christians; but, inasmuch as they had, by a recent act, inflicted one of the deepest wounds on human freedom that had been experienced for a century, he should denounce that act, and do his best to bring them to repentance.

With his friends, he had celebrated the extinction of slavery in the British colonies; but little did he dream that it would ever fall to his lot to oppose in this country any Christian body on these principles, and far less that of the Free Church, who had in this matter broken the hearts of the friends of liberty, by giving the means of exultation to the slaveholders in America.

He had arrived in the city for the purpose of fearlessly stating his views on the relations of the Free Church to the momentous question of slavery. He was accompanied by gentlemen on this mission, in whose Christian principles and practice he had the fullest confidence. He came to sympathise and to identify himself with them, because he had seen epithets and charges of an invidious nature heaped against them. He had seen them associated with principles which both he and his friends deprecated. He wished to be included in the same bill of indictment with them, and what was therefore cast at them, would be thrown against him likewise. (Loud cheers.)

Within a few hours of coming to this house, I have, as John Bunyan [47] would have said, ‘lighted upon a certain[‘] pamphlet,4 made up of extracts from a book written by one of the Free Church delegates to the United States – the Rev. George Lewis of Dundee. To that pamphlet is affixed a preface, which I will also make the preface to my speech, and the ground-work of some remarks.5 This I consider both just and necessary, as my friends before you are implicated in the charges here made, as well as the characters of those who are not present to defend themselves against their calumniators. I will read this precious and anonymous specimen of Free Church clerical vilification, sentence by sentence, and give my answers to each. (Cheers.)

1. There is a party in the United States of America, which arrogates to itself distinctively the title of Abolitionists, and claims the exclusive credit of seeking the emancipation of the oppressed negroes.

To this I reply, that I know of no such party. I know of many parties who are seeking ‘the emancipation of the oppressed negroes’ – such are the Garrison party, the Liberty party, the anti-Texas party, (composed of men of all creeds in politics and religion,) the free-produce party, the Episcopal Methodist party, the American and Foreign party, and others; but not one of these claims ‘exclusive credit.’ In all, their fundamental principle is the same – all equally condemn the Free Church delegates. As a proof of this let me state, that when Mr. Lewis and his colleagues landed in America they were met by a remonstrance from the Committee representing the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society – a Society opposed to that which my friends here represent, but only in reference to the means and instrumentalities by which the common cause should be promoted; and in that remonstrance I find the following words: ‘It is with astonishment and grief that we have learned that you have commenced a tour through the slave states of this Union, with a view to solicit funds, as well of slaveholders as of other persons. Doubtless you will be warmly greeted, especially by that portion of the people who hold their fellow-men and fellow-Christians in bondage.’ ‘Will you now, as you are witnesses of that iniquity that filled you with deep disgust at a distance, make common cause with that religion, and clasp hands with its defenders, and accept their blood-stained offering. The fiend can well afford to pay you tens of thousands, for he knows that your countenance is worth millions to him. If he can purchase the silence of the successors of John Knox and Andrew Thomson, if he can number them among his allies, he may well think his victory complete.’ (Loud cheers.)

Now, my friends, let us see who signed this remonstrance, against whom the charge of heresy or unsoundness was never brought – ARTHUR TAPPAN, an office-bearer in the Presbyterian Church – (cheers) – SIMEON S. JOCELYN, a Congregational Evangelical minister at New Haven – (cheers) – LEWIS TAPPAN, a Presbyterian office-bearer in the Broadway Tabernacle – (cheers) – Theodore S. Wright, an orthodox Presbyterian minister in New York – Seth W. Benedict, a Baptist, and others, all men of the most approve evangelical sentiments. Thus have I disposed of the first sentence in this preface, and proved it to be false.6 (Cheers.) [48]

2. Many of the leaders of this party have acquired an unhappy notoriety as the prime Apostles of Infidel and Socialist principles, and their measures have been characterised by violence and recklessness.

Who the leaders are referred to are, I cannot tell, for no names are given. I believe I know the leaders of all the various Anti-Slavery parties in the United States, and, above all, I am most intimate, and have been for years, with the leaders of that party, with which my friends now present are most closely connected; and I do not know of one man among them tainted with either Infidel or Socialist principles, or who has obtained any notoriety for being so, except among those Slaveholders and their abettors, with whom Mr. Lewis took ‘sweet counsel.‘ These are those who said of our Saviour, whose cause Mr. Lewis betrayed in the southern states. ‘He hath a devil;’ and I know that the cry has been raised against all who have uplifted their voices in favour of no union with slaveholders, ‘They are Infidels and Socialists;’ but I, who know the men so reviled, know that there are no men in the world whose reverence for Christianity is deeper, or whose practice of it is ore consistent, than those here so foully and so cruelly maligned.

I tell Mr. Lewis that these men have  been living the life of Christ, and have endured the spoiling of their goods, the buffeting of their persons, and the assassination of their reputation for the cause of Christ, while he has merely been bearing the name of Christ, has known only the baptism of John, and the ordination of the Presbytery – has been revelling in the hospitalities of menstealers and oppressors – has been obtaining their money by his recreant silence on the subject of their sins, and has been using his lips and his pen to cover them with the black venom of his bigotry and malice.

3. The consequence of their (the American abolitionists) extravagant proceedings, and of the more prominent positions in their counsels being taken by men whose sentiments are at variance with Christianity, with social order, and public morality, has been to detach from their ranks the large majority of those ministers and laymen in the Free States opposed to slavery, whose counsels and co-operation alone could have lent moral weight and influence to the movement.

I know not how to reply to this unsupported, scandalous, and wicked calumny. Here are no names, no quotations, no references, but a sweeping assertion that those who occupy the more prominent positions in the American Anti-Slavery Society are the enemies of Christianity, of social order, and of public morality! Come forth, thou nameless accuser of the brethren! (Loud cheers.) Come forth, I say! I publicly charge thee with falsehood of the blackest kind; – I challenge thee to support these imputations; – I defy thee to name the parties who deserve them. Did I know thee, I would brand thee to thy teeth, with forming, in ignorance or malice, a baseless and atrocious libel against the truest and the best of men. Come forth! thou moral scavenger, and then –

Thy name – thy human name – shall hang on high,
Exalted ‘midst thy less abhorred compeers,
To fester through the infamy of years.7

[49] (Immense cheers.) Oh! the vile cowardice of those who dare not discuss the merits of this question, but, forsaking the weapons of truth and manly argument, seek to silence their opponents by drawing their bowie-knives in the dark, and stabbing them to the heart. (Cheers.) Truly, the men, their weapons, and their cause, are well matched!

4. Instead, therefore, of advancing the cause of ABOLITION, these so-called Abolitionists have brought the very name into contempt, and have indefinitely postponed the dawning of the day which shall witness the breaking of the chains of the oppressed millions who groan in slavery, in the midst of a people boasting themselves the freest in the world.

Another falsehood. The men who, in their own country, have lived down mobs and persecutions – who have multiplied abolitionists by thousands, and Anti-Slavery Churches by hundreds – who have purified the New England States, and lifted the hated doctrine of Emancipation from the dust, to occupy the high places of the land, and to be spoken through the lips of Senators and Governors – who have abolished jailors and Jim Crow cars, and negro pews – who have shaken every religious denomination and society to its centre on the question – who have held their meeting in State Houses, and their bazaars in Fanuil Hall – who are feared where they were once contemned, respected by those who once reviled them, and loved with fervour, instead of being scorned with malignity – these men have brought the very name of abolition into contempt, and have postponed indefinitely the dawning of the day of freedom! Out upon such foolishness and falsehood!

Why, the very men who bought Mr. Lewis with a mess of pottage, and purchased the Free Church for the sum of £3000, would not say so. I know they rage, and foam, and fulminate in the south; I know that they sing hymns one day with dear brother Lewis, and the next drive their converted negroes to the auction block, and then attend Lynch Committees to concert measures for the overthrow of Abolitionism; but the feeling farthest from their hearts is that of contempt, or the supposition that the efforts of the Abolitionists are to be disregarded. Mr. Lewis has himself told us, in twenty different parts of his book, of their sensitiveness, their fears, and their exertions on the subject; and then he says that the very name is held in contempt. The wish is father to the thought. It is not abolition, but the name of Mr. Lewis, and the falsehood of his preface-writer, that will hereafter be held in contempt.

5. Having accomplished nearly all the mischief which was possible on the other side of the Atlantic, these quasi Abolitionists have lately sent a deputation of three of their number to this country, who are now, and have for several months back, been perambulating the land, addressing public meetings, and everywhere most efficiently sustaining, by their extravagant, reckless, and calumnious speeches, this evil reputation which American Abolitionists have so unhappily won for themselves.

‘Evil reputation’! These men are strangers, who have had nothing to recommend them but the cause they advocate, and their own talents and virtues. They have been welcomed by the sincerest friends of freedom – they have occupied numerous churches – they have received the countenance and co-operation [50] of large numbers of the members of the Free Church – they have addressed a great many public meetings, and in all have carried the hearty unanimous votes of their hearers – they are daily increasing the number of their friends and supporters, and are forcing the dignitaries of the church and the organs of Mr. Lewis to do double work, to save themselves from defeat by their former adherents – and, when all this has come to pass, they have only won for themselves the evil reputation ascribed to their brethren over the water – that is, the reputation of being Infidels, Socialists, and the enemies of Christianity, public morality and social order! (Cheers.)

Let this harmless scribe know that these gentlemen do not happen to be a deputation – further, that not one of the came here on the Free Church question, but that they are independent in their actions – uncontrolled in their movements and their plans, and that the apostacy of Mr. Lewis and his friends is the sole cause of their perambulations through the land – perambulations during which they have arraigned Mr. Lewis in his own town; who, when they challenged him to appear and justify his conduct, was non est inventus; but who, when they had left, forthwith became as valiant, or nearly so, as he had been in America, and proceeded to answer his frank and honest accusers – not with arguments but with two pages of abuse from a kindred and fraternal pen. (Cheers.)

6. The Free Church has been the chief butt of the assaults of these vagrant orators. She is the only Church which has of late years formally protested against slavery, and remonstrated with the Churches in the slave states of America with respect to its existence in the midst of them.

This is extremely edifying. For the last ten years, and during the whole of the time that the gentlemen who are now the most shining luminaries in the Free Church constellation were waging war against their Voluntary brethren, the United Secession Synod, the Reformed Presbyterians, the Relief Synod, the Baptist Associated Churches, and the Congregational Union of Scotland, have been almost every year adopting the most uncompromising remonstrances against slavery in the United States, and sending them across the Atlantic. And now we are modestly told that the Free Church – the Church that has fellowshipped slaveholders, and put the plunder of the slaves into her sustenation fund – is the only Church which has of late years protested against slavery!

But, perhaps, this writer means that she is the only Church that has protested against slavery in the same way as herself. If so, I am most entirely of his opinion. She is the only Church, bond or free, that has remonstrated against slavery by apologising for slaveholders, by taking slaveholders into her fellowship, and by receiving into her possession the substance wrung from God’s poor. From this time to the end of the world may she stand alone in this respect; and may the censure with which she is visited by a warning to other churches how they pretend to be enemies of slavery, while they give countenance, encouragement, and strength to those who support the system. I have now done with Mr. Lewis and his pamphlet. Hereafter I shall pursue a higher quarry. (Loud cheers.)

Mr. THOMPSON then commented on the conduct of Dr. Cunningham in a strain similar to that adopted at Glasgow, and con- [51] cluded by reading a challenge he had sent to the Doctor, and also caused to be placarded through the city. After some lengthened remarks on the subject, Mr. Thompson introduced Mr. Douglass.

After an able address from Mr. DOUGLASS, which seemed to produce a deep impression upon the audience,

Mr. WRIGHT then rose, and stated that he had a proposition to make, to the effect, that his friend, Mr. Douglass, should present a Memorial on this question to the Free Church Assembly at their meeting next month, signed by himself, presenting it for himself, and claiming to be heard by that body. (Immense applause.)

Mr. THOMPSON warmly seconded the proposition. Mr. Douglass had every claim to be heard. He represented three millions of slaves – he knew from experience the curse of slavery – the iron had entered his soul – the lash had scourged his back; – and as for talent, no member of the Free Assembly would be degraded by an entrance into the lists with Frederick Douglass. To the Assembly let him go; if refused a hearing, let him sit there and bear a silent testimony against the conduct of that body. (Cheers.)

He would conclude the meeting by a word of friendly warning to the Free Church. That body, or rather the leaders of that body, might think themselves strong enough to withstand the demand, but they would find themselves mistaken. The tide was rising that would  bear them down if they much longer resisted. But he would rather appeal to their love than to their fears. If, then, they loved their church – if they did not wish that the light that was in her might become darkness – if they desired her usefulness, her perpetuity, and her prosperity, let them make haste to repair the error that had been committed, or as surely as she had been raised up, so surely would she be cast down, and become a bye-word and a proverb. (Cheers.)

The meeting was then concluded, and the great assembly quietly dispersed.

Free Church Alliance with Manstealers. Send Back the money. Great Anti-Slavery Meeting in the City Hall, Glasgow, Containing Speeches Delivered by Messrs. Wright, Douglass, and Buffum, from America, and by George Thompson, Esq. of London; with a Summary Account of a Series of Meetings Held in Edinburgh by the Above Named Gentlemen (Glasgow: George Gallie, 1846), pp. 46–51.


AMERICAN SLAVERY.– Last night, a public meeting was held in the Rev. Mr M’Gilchrist’s Church, Rose Street, on the subject of the connection of the Free Church of Scotland with the slave-holding states of America. The meeting was  held under the auspices of a deputation from the Anti-Slavery Association, consisting of Mr George Thompson, Mr H. C. Wright, Mr Buffum and Mr Frederick Douglass, formerly an American slave. The church was crowded to excess by a highly respectable audience.

Mr George Thompson commenced the proceeding by a long address, in which he commented upon the conduct of the Free Church, not only in holding communion with the slave-holding churches of America, but in having allowed money, subscribed by slaveholders, to come into their treasury to pollute and defile it. Mr Thompson expressed his determination to continue his exertions from month to month, and from year to year, until the Free Church consented to send back the money. He stated that he had written a challenge to the Rev. Dr Cunningham, one of the Free Church deputation to the United States, to meet him on Wednesday evening, and discuss the subject at a public meeting.

Mr Frederick Douglass, lately an American slave, next addressed the meeting in a very interesting speech. He touchingly described the cruelties to which the slaves in the southern states of America were exposed, and showed that such of the slaveholders as made a profession of Christianity were of all others the hardest task-masters. He also touched on the subject as connected with the subscriptions received from these states by the Free Church, and gave it as his opinion that noting would have a greater moral effect in weakening the cause of slavery in America than the sending back of this money.

Mr H. C. Wright proposed that Mr Douglas should be sent to the General Assembly of the Free Church with a memorial to this effect, drawn up by himself, as the representative of the three millions of human beings now in a state of slavery in America. This was unanimously agreed to.

Scotsman, 29 April 1846; reprinted with minor variations Caledonian Mercury, 30 April 1846, and Edinburgh Evening Post, 2 May 1846


  1. The Edinburgh Ladies’ Emancipation Society was more sympathetic to Douglass and the other Garrisonian abolitionists and worked closely with them.
  2. Free Church Alliance with Manstealers. Send Back the money. Great Anti-Slavery Meeting in the City Hall, Glasgow, Containing Speeches Delivered by Messrs. Wright, Douglass, and Buffum, from America, and by George Thompson, Esq. of London; with a Summary Account of a Series of Meetings Held in Edinburgh by the Above Named Gentlemen (Glasgow: George Gallie, 1846), pp. 43. Douglass addressed a ‘Ladies’ Meeting’ at the same church the next afternoon (Wednesday 29th). The next two meetings were held at College Street Church (Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th), although Douglass did not appear to speak at them.
  3. Frederick Douglass to Amy Post, Edinburgh, 28 April 1846, in The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series Three: Correspondence, Volume 1: 1842–52, edited by John R. McKivigan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 122.
  4. Thompson adapts a phrase from the beginning of The Pilgrim’s Progres – ‘As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where there was a Denn…’: John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (London: J. Haddon, 1847), p. 1.
  5. George Lewis, Slavery and Slaveholders in the United States of America: Being Excerpts from ‘Impressions of America and the American Churches’ (Edinburgh: W. P. Kennedy, 1846). The Preface to this pamphlet, as Thompson indicates, was unsigned.
  6. American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, Letter from the Executive Committee of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society to the Commissioners of the Free Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: Myles Macphail, [1844]). Reprinted in the Liberator, 26 April 1844.
  7. Thompson is quoting from Lord Byron, ‘A Sketch’: see George Clifton, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Lord Byron (London: James Robins, 1825), p. 318.