Edinburgh: 4 June 1846

George Square, Edinburgh: 19th-century engraving
George Square. From J. B. Gillies, Edinburgh Past and Present (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1886), p. 180.

At another crowded meeting at Edinburgh’s Music Hall on George Street on Thursday 4 June, Douglass, George Thompson and Henry Clarke Wright continued to register their responses to the recent debate on slavery at the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland (held at Tanfield Hall, Canonmills), which they attended on Saturday 30 May. While the report in the Edinburgh Evening Post focused on Douglass’ speech, the Scotsman paid more attention to that of George Thompson.

Douglass takes great care to produce evidence of the unapologetically pro-slavery character of the American churches, quoting resolutions passed by the ruling bodies of those churches who welcomed the Free Church deputation in 1844. But the abolitionists knew that they would now need to change their strategy, having failed to convince the Free Church to reconsider its position.  And Thompson takes the opportunity to announce the formation of a new anti-slavery organisation

which will, form this time forth, as opportunity occurs, by every legitimate means, seek to advance, methodically and zealously, the cause of negro emancipation throughout the world. The society would not be a movement in reference to the Free Church of Scotland, but for promoting the cause of universal emancipation; as well by the conversion of certain persons in the Free Church to opinions more consistent with the claims of humanity and the dictates of religion, as by the dissemination of anti-slavery opinions throughout the world. … The society was to have nothing whatever to do with politics or religion, so that all sects and parties could join it; the basis of union and co-operation being to lift the slave out of the horrible pit and miry clay into which he had been put by the oppression of his fellow-man, and to place him in a state of personal liberty.

The Scottish Anti-Slavery Society (as it became known) would, Thompson hoped, unite the different viewpoints of the existing local abolitionist societies in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere. However, it made little impact and barely lasted two years.1

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


The last of the series of meetings on the subject of the connection of the Free Church with the slaveholding Churches of America we held in the Music Hall, on the evening of Thursday last – Councillor Stott in the chair. The large hall was, as usual, crowded, and the audience, if possible, was more enthusiastic than on former occasions.

Mr Douglass, who first addressed the meeting, said – Without any discussion upon this question, we have dealt for the most part with the naked statements respecting the condition of the churches of the Southern States of the American Union, We have taken the ground generally whereby we could make the audience aware and acquainted with the facts in regard to the views held by the churches in the Southern States on the question of slavery; but as the argument recently put forth at Canonmills is based upon a presumption that the slaveholding churches of the Southern States of the American Union disapprove of slavery, and are anxious to get rid of that institution, it makes it necessary that I refer to statistics, showing that so far from their being averse to slavery, they are its most strenuous advocates.

Therefore, during the few moments which I shall occupy your attention, I shall point to the doings of several large and influential religious bodies of Baptists, of Methodists, of Independents, of Episcopalians, which would prove the whole religious sentiment of the South to be in perfect unison with slaveholding; but it is not material at this time, since the unison against which we are now contending is a unison between the Free Church of Scotland and the slaveholding churches of the United States. I wish the audience to bear in mind that we have no objections whatever to their being in unison or common intercourse with the Church in America or the Church in the United States; our testimony is only lifted against the slaveholding churches. (Applause.)

I myself feel in union with those churches in America who are not slaveholding; I love them, and I believe that a slave may look with hope to their proceedings for deliverance. I am in unison with a class of churches in the United States, but not with the slaveholding churches – (hear) – it is with the anti-slavery churches that I am in fellowship. I want to show you how much you may rely on the statements of the leaders of the Free Church of Scotland, by showing the utter falsity of their position, when they maintain that the slaveholding religionists of the Southern States are anxious and desirous for Emancipation.

I will read to this meeting their proceedings from documents of distinguished Assemblies, Synods, Presbyteries, and other ecclesiastical courts of the United States; but, in the mean time, I shall merely confine myself to one or two.

Hopeful Presbytery, in South Carolina, is one with which the Free Church of Scotland is in the closest communion, and hear how anxious and desirous they are for emancipation. The following are resolutions adopted at one of their meetings held not very long ago:–

  1. Resolve that slavery existed in the Church of God since the time of Abraham, and to this day members of the Church of God hold slaves which were bought with money, or born in their own homes, which is in conformity with the duties recognised and defined in the Old and New Testament.
  2. Emancipation is not mentioned amongst the duties of the masters to the slave, while a strict obedience to the word of the masters is enjoined upon the slave. Exactly in keeping with the teaching of Dr Cunningham.
  3. No instance can be produced in which the master is reproved, much less excommunicated, for the single act of holding domestic slaves from the days of Abram down to the date of the modern Abolitionists.2

You can easily see that the language of Dr Cunningham at Canonmills bears the closet resemblance to that of this Presbytery in South Carolina.

Mr Douglass next alluded to the resolutions of another Presbytery in the same State, and one with which the Free Church of Scotland were as closely connected. They are as follows:–

  1. Whereas sundry persons in Scotland and England, and in the north and east of our own country have denounced slavery as obnoxious to the laws of God, some of whom presented to the General Assembly of our Church a petition, praying for the abolition of the relation between master and slave, and whereas from their statements, in reasoning and circumstances connected therewith, it is most manifest that these persons know not what they say, and with this ignorance discover a spirit of insurrection, resolve – Is it that they are anxious to get rid of slavery? No! – as the Kingdom of the Lord is not of this world, and as the laws of his Church are such that none has a right to alter or abolish, they cannot conform to any new institutions of these men, whether political or civil.
  2. Slavery existed since the days of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were all slaveholders – (laughter) – and Apostle Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. We are not in the Kingdom of Heaven, till the time we find that he wrote a Christian letter to this slaveholder, which still stands in the canon of sacred Scriptures, and the slavery which existed in the days of the Apostle does now exist.3

Mr Douglass next referred to the Charleston Union Presbytery. It was the Rev. Dr Smyth of that Presbytery who preached a sermon, welcoming the deputation of the Free Church of Scotland to the free United States. it is presumed that their sentiments were then in unison with Dr Smyth’s, for he would not countenance that deputation if he received an impression that these men were anxious to get rid of slavery; but it is most probable that they were received by Dr Smyth on the same terms as they were received by the other ministers of the Presbyterian Churches of South Carolina. Hear what they say:–

  1. The slavery which exists amongst us is a political institution with which the ecclesiastical judicatories have not the smallest right to interfere, and we all know that such an interference would be a great moral wrong, and fraught with the most dangerous and pernicious consequences, and our consciences being identified with this solemn conviction, it is our duty to maintain them under any circumstances.
  2. It is the opinion of this Presbytery that slavery, so far from being a sin in the sight of God, is nowhere condemned in his Holy Word, but in the circumstances, acting in accordance with the example set forth by the Apostle Paul, we have a parental regard for those servants whom God has committed to our charge.4

Mr Douglass then read extracts from the decisions of the Synods of Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, of the same nature as those above mentioned, and then went on to say that the book from which he read those extracts was now before the public for the last six years, and not one statement was called in question, not one fact denied, although the subject no doubt underwent the strictest criticism.

Drs Cunningham and Candlish peak of publications and proceedings of organised associations, and of being greatly disturbed by some parties in the land. But who, pray, have we disturbed? We have disturbed the slaveholders – we have disturbed the pro-slavery minister – we have disturbed the man-stealing Church. We have not only unmasked the conduct of those religious men who devour the widow’s means under the pretence of making long prayers – (hear, hear) – but those who make widows by tearing asunder what God had joined together. ‘Greatly disturbed the Free Church!’ What for? It is not because they left the Establishment – it is not for peculiar religious views; but because they have allied themselves to those who have trampled on the rights of their fellow-beings – because they allied themselves to man-stealers, and threw themselves across the pathway to emancipation. (Applause.)

Therefore it is that we have disturbed them, and mean to continue disturbing them. (Applause.) We must continue to disturb them until they let go the necks and throats of those they hold in bondage. We are bound to disturb them – we are bound to cry out – to call upon Almighty God who denies any rest or peace to the wicked. (Applause.) We shall never give them rest so long as we live, and have health and strength; as our hearts sympathize with the poor slave we shall agitate this question, not only in America, England, and Ireland, but in Scotland. (Applause.)

But I must go on and read; I find that I am forgetting what I intended to do, thinking on the Free Church. (Laughter.) Mr Douglass then read some further extract from the proceedings of Synods and other ecclesiastical courts, and then resumed by saying that slaveholders were quite careless regarding what might be said about slavery in general, or as it existed in Cuba or Brazil.

Slaveholding in either of these places, or in any quarter of the world, might be denounced as a great crime, but it was nothing sinful in the United States – it was not in the nature of things – because we slaveholders or masters of slaves are excellent good Christians, and if there is any doubt we beg to refer to Drs Cunningham, Candlish, and Chalmers of Scotland. (Applause.)

I thought, when down at Canonmills the other day, how consistent was the theology I heard there with that of the slave state of Maryland, from which I once ran away. They often preach to the slaves from this text, – ‘Servants obey your masters.’ They tell those in bondage to obey their masters, – 1st., because the Almighty commanded them to obey their masters; 2d, because the Lord brought them from Africa to that Christian country; 3d, because their happiness was dependent on their obedience. They preach from that text to the slave; but they sometimes venture to preach from this text, ‘All things whatsoever you would men do unto you, do ye the same to them.’ And how do you think they apply these words? Do they say ‘Slaveholders, do unto your slaves as you think your slaves would do unto you’? No! That would be the natural mode of preaching; but the slaveholders can depart from the principle laid down by our blessed Saviour. They have this way of preaching from the text, namely – all things whatsoever you would men to do unto you do ye the same unto them – therefore, masters do unto your slaves what you would have your slaves do unto you, if you yourselves were slaves, preserving the relation all the while between the master and the slave, and doing nothing to militate against this relation – taking care not to call in question the authority the slaveholder holds over his slaves, or opposing it in any way whatever.

This is just what was done at Canonmills the other day: they commiserated the poor slave-holder – they had compassion on him for having fallen into so unfortunate a predicament. (Laughter.) They had no sympathy with the man who was burning in the fire; but they were well able to sympathise with the man who was making up the fire around him. They had no sympathy with the unfortunate who was tied to the whipping post; but they had a great deal of pity for the monster who was applying the lash to his back. Oh! they had compassion on him who stands in need of sympathy – who had fallen into such an unfortunate predicament. It was providence that placed him in it. (Hear and laughter.) I could go on and give you a multiplicity of extracts, if George Thompson was not present.

Mr Douglass then read a letter written in 1835 by Dr Plummer, at the time the Abolitionists were prohibited from going to the south, under the pain of instant death. In some parts their houses were ransacked, their property destroyed, and their dwellings burnt over them, and several were killed on the spot. The cry in the south was death – instant death to the Abolitionists; and the first moment a minister or any other person, no matter whether a public or private individual, went to lecture on the subject of slavery, that moment his tongue was cut out. At this time it was very dangerous for any man to make use of the word ‘slavery’ in the south – it was then that Dr Plummer wrote a letter, recommending the burning of all Abolitionists who passed the Potomack, and in urging the necessity of such punishment, quoted the opinions of Montesquieu, Burke, and Coleridge, three eminent masters of the science of human nature, who each affirmed that all men who were slaves must be jealous of their liberty, and, at the same time, that of a Mr Pennyson, who pronounced the Southern States to be the ‘cradle of liberty.’5

Mr Douglass subsequently read extracts from the letters of Dr Anderson and the Rev. Mr Witherspoon of Alabama, both of whom defended slavery by making referenes to the Scriptures; and urged the same method of punishing the Abolitionists as that recommended by Dr Plummer.

And at the conclusion of his address, in showing the falsity of the statements of the leaders of the Free Church said that, at the very time Dr Cunningham was in New York, an announcement was made in the New York newspapers, by a Mr George Smith and other gentlemen, offering 1000 dollars for the liberation of a certain number of slaves; but not a single slaveholder came forward to accept the proposal, notwithstanding all that Drs Cunningham and Candlish would have us to believe, that slaveholders were anxious to get rid of slavery.

Mr H. C. Wright was received with much applause. He said, I am requested to notice a report which is in circulation in Edinburgh, that the deputation of the Free Church of Scotland, who went to America, did not receive a remonstrance from the Abolitionists there, as stated by Mr George Thompson and others who addressed the people of Edinburgh. What we have to say to that is simply this, that the delegation were warned by a solemn, earnest, and affectionate remonstrance from the Abolitionists of New York, not to go to the Southern States and join in communion with the slaveholders; but they went and asked alms from the slaveholders, and the fact is not denied.

They dare not deny it. This remonstrance was addressed to them. It was signed by gentlemen whom I know perfectly well, and with whom I am intimately acquainted. I know that the remonstrance was circulated in New York and Philadelphia, just as far as the papers of the country could give it circulation. I have heard it stated that when they arrived on the other side of the Atlantic, my friend, Mr Douglass, met them on the wharf and personally remonstrated with them; but that is so far untrue, as far as I have heard. But that they were warned and remonstrated with is known to the whole world. It was laid before them in the public prints, and their attention must have been called to the remonstrance which was specially addressed to them, and I have been told by direct correspondence that it was sent to them by those who drew it up; but whether it was received and read by them I cannot demonstrate.

I wish to notice another thing. The awful hardening effect which slavery in America has upon the slaveholder, has, it appears, entitled him to the fellowship of the Free Church. They sympathise with him, because, say they, he has been placed in that unhappy condition by the providence of God. (Hear, hear.) The fact is, that slavery destroys the moral perceptions and constitutions of all those concerned in the business. We cannot help being amused while we see men holding up to execration the poor man who steals a loaf of bread to save himself from starvation, who could not justify him by any means before a criminal court, but immediately consign him to the villain’s dungeon; yet those very men who could not justify that poor man are happy to receive the ‘man-stealer’ into their bosoms as a Christian. (Applause.) These very men would startle so much at the idea of a blasphemer, a liar, or a person who might be found drunk on the streets, that they would excommunicate him from their Christian fellowship. The Free Church of Scotland even do it to-day. I venture to say that the ministers and elders of the Free Church of Scotland would excommunicate from their fellowship the man who would be proved to be a liar, unless he repented, or the man who could be proved to be a blasphemer, or the man who could be proved to be a common thief. Men of that description they would unhesitatingly excommunicate from their communion; but the man who has no scruples to steal a fellow-being, and makes him an article of merchandise, that man they receive into their communion as a respectable and honourable Christian. (Applause.)

The man who could steal your coat or your hat they would not receive into their pulpits of Synods, or the General Assembly, as a good Christian minister; not they. They would bring him to a criminal court, and send a policeman after him to take him before the court, and afterwards consign him to the villain’s dungeon. But the man who could go into his neighbour’s house and deliberately take the child from his neighbour’s arms, and rob his house of its precious contents – the man who could go to the nurseries for immortal children, and carry them to the market, selling them like beasts to the highest bidder – that man, the Free Church, has the audacity to vindicate before the people of Scotland as a Christian Church; or if he professes to be a minister of the Lord Jesus, they receive him as a Doctor of Divinity. Such is the moral sentiment of Drs Cunningham and Candlish, as displayed by their speeches before the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. (Applause.)

They did not feel for those who were in bonds as if they were in bonds with them, but they felt with the slaveholder who wield the lash, and they take care to repress the beautiful sentiment of the Apostle Paul, where he commands us to ‘feel with those who are in bond as if in bonds with them.’ They make it read – ‘Feel with the slaveholder as if in bonds with him;’ and their sympathy is with one whose conduct is directly opposed to the whole spirit of Christianity.

I wish to direct attention to the Scriptural argument of these reverend gentlemen. They tell us that Paul sent Onesimus back to slavery; – they tell us that St Paul commanded slaves to be obedient to their masters. I am not going to criticise the word kurios or doulos, but I only wish to state that Dr Cunningham and Dr Candlish, though they have broadly, loudly, and publicly declared that these words kurios and doulos means slaveholder and slave, I deny that Paul used any such word. Although he used the words servant and master, that does not necessarily imply the relation of slaveholder and slave, and, therefore, we call upon these gentlemen who have so construed that passage to interpret it in the manner which is always done when any doubt occurs in reference to a word or verse, namely, to construe the language so to harmonize with the general spirit of the writer as manifested in all his works. And is the general spirit of the Apostle Paul, as manifested in his epistles to the Romans and Corinthians – or in his general teaching  does he exhibit the spirit of a slave-holder? (Cries of No! no!)

How, then, would these gentlemen dare to constitute that passage as signifying slaveholder and slave? I venture to say that if Dr Cunningham and Dr Candlish were slaves, they would not talk a single word about sympathy with the slaveholder, or of Paul’s having sent Onesimus back to Philemon. it is because the spirit of sympathy towards the slaveholder, is in their hearts that they interpret this passage in the way they do. (Hear.)

Mr Wright went on further to animadvert on passages of Dr Cunningham’s, and ridiculed the idea of his pretending not to comprehend the argument of the Rev. Mr M’Beath,6 who opposed them in the Free Assembly, and urged the breaking off of the alliance.

The meeting then adjourned.

Edinburgh Evening Post, 10 June 1846


On Thursday evening another public meeting was held in the Music Hall, for the purpose of denouncing the intercourse of the Free Church of Scotland with the slave-holding churches of America. The hall was not so crowded as on Tuesday evening. Councillor Stott again occupied the chair.

Mr DOUGLAS was the first speaker. His address, which was very brief, was confined to a refutation of the statement of Dr Cunningham, that the Presbyterian Churches in the Southern States of America were averse to slavery, and desirous for the emancipation of the slaves. Instead of this being the case, Mr Douglas said he would prove, and that from the best of all evidence – the deliverances of the Synods and Presbyteries of these very Churches – that not ony are they the strenuous advocates of the system, but the most virulent impugners of those who seek its abolition. He read extracts from the records of the Harmony Presbytery of South Carolina, the Synod of Virginia, &c., to show that these Churches held that slavery existed in the Church of God from the time of Abraham to the present day – that emancipation was not mentioned among the duties of a master to a slavery, while obedience, even to a froward master, was enjoined upon the slave – that they ‘consider the dogma fiercely promulgated by the said anti-slavery associations, that slavery, as it actually exists in our slave-holding States, is necessarily sinful, and ought to be immediately abolished, and the conclusions that naturally follow from that dogma, as directly and palpably contrary to the plainest principles of common sense and common humanity, and to the clearest authority of the Word of God.’

Mr Douglas also quoted the sentiments of Dr Smythe, who preached a sermon before the deputation from the Free Church, on their arrival in America. This rev. doctor, on whom the high honour was devolved of welcoming the deputation to the United States, held, first, ‘that slavery as it exists in America is a political institution with which ecclesiastical judicatories have not the smallest right to interfere, and a regulation in reference to which any such interference would be morally wrong, and fraught with the most pernicious consequences;’ – and, secondly, ‘that slavery, so far from being a sin in the sight of God, is nowhere condemned in the word of God, but, on the contrary, is accordant with the example of patriarchs and prophets.’

It was easy to see, said Mr Douglas, where Dr Cunningham had been for the arguments which he had used in the Free Assembly. The resemblance was so striking and palpable that there was no mistaking it. (Applause.) The Synod of Virginia, in introducing the deliverance adverted to above, had the following words: – ‘Whereas, the public proceedings of such organisations (Anti-Slavery Societies) having greatly disturbed, and are still disturbing the peace,’ &c.

This was in sentiment, if not in language, what Dr Candlish had told the General Assembly on Saturday last. Disturb them, forsooth! we are bound to disturb them – and we shall continue to disturb them. And why? Because we are carrying out the prophecy of Almighty God, ‘that there shall be no peace to the wicked:’ and because we are unmasking a religion which not only ‘devours widows’ houses, but for a pretence makes long prayers.’ (Applause.)

They make great allowance for the position of the master, but they are destitute of sympathy for the slave – they commiserate the position of the man who is building up the fire but they have no sympathy for the unfortunately being who is burning in that fire. It was a fact quite notorious that the slaveholding churches had been warned and remonstrated with again and again, not only  by many of the churches in America, but by the churches of this country, and yet, in the fact of that fact, and with the recorded deliverances of these slaveholding churches in favour of the system, as a political and civil institution with which the church has no right to interfere, the Free Church of Scotland were determined still to keep up an intercourse with the supporters and the actual abettors of this accursed system.

Oh but the Free Church had discovered that there was a material difference between slave-holding and slave-having! This was a distinction without a difference; and for this part, he could not see how the one could exist without the other. It had been said in the Assembly of the Free Church, in support of this distinction, that many of the slave-holders were anxious to liberate their slaves, but they could not. It was no doubt true that two or three individuals made this pretension in some of the American newspapers, about three or four years ago; and it was perhaps on this circumstance that the argument of the leaders of the Free Church was based. But it was no less true that almost the same week as that announcement appeared, an advertisement was inserted in a New York paper, stating that if any slave-holder was in that position, a sum of not less than 10,000 dollars would be advanced to overcome any difficulties that might be in the way of liberating the slaves. (Applause.)

Was that offer accepted? No; not a single individual in the whole southern states came forward to take advantage of this proposition. Surely, after this, the people of Edinburgh would pause before they believed the statements of these gentlemen on the subject of slavery. (Applause.)

Mr MENZIES, Edinburgh, here rose and made some observations in contradiction of an assertion which appeared in a pamphlet lately published, that the rev. Dr Andrew Thomson had associated with slave-holders in the kirk-session of St George’s.

Mr GEORGE THOMPSON said that hitherto in this city he and those associated with him in the deputation, had confined their operations to the delivery of addresses; but they were now anxious to put into some form and embodiment the feelings and sympathy which had been manifested by the various audiences gathered together in that hall and elsewhere; and, therefore, they had resolved to propose to the meeting that night the formation of a society which will, form this time forth, as opportunity occurs, by every legitimate means, seek to advance, methodically and zealously, the cause of negro emancipation throughout the world. The society would not be a movement in reference to the Free Church of Scotland, but for promoting the cause of universal emancipation; as well by the conversion of certain persons in the Free Church to opinions more consistent with the claims of humanity and the dictates of religion, as by the dissemination of anti-slavery opinions throughout the world. (Great applause.)

The society was to have nothing whatever to do with politics or religion, so that all sects and parties could join it; the basis of union and co-operation being to lift the slave out of the horrible pit and miry clay into which he had been put by the oppression of his fellow-man, and to place him in a state of personal liberty. (Applause.)

In regard to the course which the members of the Free Church ought to follow in this movement, it was not for the deputation to dictate; but for themselves, he would say, that they deemed it their sacred duty to carry on the work in reference to this Church. They had embarked in it, counting the cost, without reference to the time it would take, the money it would require, or the labour it might impose upon them. (Great applause.)

Whatever opinions others might entertain respecting it, they were prepared, in this great cause, to sacrifice, it might be, personal friendships, to alienate for a time, if it must be so, those with whom they were previously in terms of affectionate intercourse. This might occur to many of them. It had occurred to himself. He had already made these sacrifices. (Applause.)

He did not hate the Free Church, because there were certain persons in that Church whose views he repudiated, and whose conduct he denounced on this question of slavery. He was convinced that the time would come when those who took part in this movement would be regarded as the best friends of that Church – when she has put away from her this excrescence on her otherwise pure and unsullied character – when she has brought on herself in consequence of the act of her leaders. (Applause.)

He believed there was not a person in connection with that Church but would yet be grateful to them for the position which they had maintained. He would tell them that there would be no rest in Scotland, England, or in any part of Great Britain, until the Free Church put away from her this stain upon her character. (Great applause.)

The CHAIRMAN then read a draft of the rules of the proposed society, which were unanimously approved of by the meeting.

Mr H. C. WRIGHT next addressed the meeting. He began by proving that the Free Church deputation had been remonstrated with against visiting the slave states, immediately after their arrival in America, but to this remonstrance they had leant a deaf ear. He maintained that, as the Free Church refused to hold communion with a thief or a robber, they were bound, on the same principles, to abstain from associating in the ordinances of religion with the slave-holder, who seized the body of his fellow-men, and made an article of merchandise of it. He insisted that if the Free Church were consistent in acting upon their declaration that slavery, per se, was sinful, they must recognise and treat the slaveholder as a sinner; and he argued that if there was any doubt as to the phraseology of Scripture on the subject, that doubt should be given in favour of justice and humanity – acting on the beautiful sentiment of the Apostle Paul, to feel with them in bonds as bound with him. (Applause.)

Mr GEORGE THOMPSON again rose, and, as on the former occasion, was received with tremendous applause. He ridiculed the doctrine propounded by Drs Candlish and Cunningham, that a man brought unhappily by birth, inheritance, or education into the position of a slave-holder, was to be justified for remaining in that position when so many facilities existed for emancipating slaves. He contended that even the extreme case of a man’s whole substance being embarked in slaves, formed no palliation for remaining in a state of sin. The Free Church by their late act, had fellowshipped all the Presbyterian churches in the slave states of America; and this they had done without citing, or perhaps, without being able to cite, one instance of a Presbyterian minister living and labouring in his vocation south of Washington, who was not a slave-holder to a larger or smaller extent. (Applause.)

The fact was, that many of them were planters as well as ministers. There was no excuse or palliation whatever for these men in the circumstances in which they were placed. If they remained in the United States they were bound, as Christians and philanthropists, to lift up an emphatic testimony against it; and falling that, if they were so shocked at the system that they could no longer remain in this Sodom, their talents would easily procure them a livelihood elsewhere. They are what they are, because they have chosen to be what they are. Even admitting, for the sake of argument, these ministers are bound hand and foot by the law, to act as they have done, and are still doing, the law did not for one moment diminish the amount of their guilt; for a man was called upon not only to bear testimony against the sin of his locality, but against the sin of his age, his country, and his government. (Cheers.)

His duty is not done if he has no direct participation in the system; hence we honour the martyrs of Scotland for the noble testimony which they bore – hence we are about to see erected in this city a monument to the great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, who lives in our recollection, and is embalmed in our hearts, because of the faithful testmony which he bore in the troubled times in which he lived. (Applause.)

A Christian is bound to bear testimony against sin, by whomsoever and howsoever committed. After criticising Dr Duncan‘s distinction between a slave-holder and a slave-haver, Mr Thompson commented on Dr Candlish’s insinuation that he and those associated with him in this movement, were actuated by malice or jealousy towards the Free Church. Dr Candlish did not, although he knew that he (Mr T.) sympathised with the Free Church in every step of its progress. (Applause.)

To insinuate that he was actuated by malice towards the Free Church, was an ad captandum falsehood. It was an appeal to the esprit de corps, but it would by-and-bye, be seen who was in the right and who in the wrong. If Dr Candlish and Dr Cunningham had said that he and those who acted along with him, were, perhaps, a little too warm and a little too personal, he would have cheerfully and at once overlooked such a reflection, if they had but condescended to consider the principle involved in this movement. These falsehoods would, in the end, recoil on themselves. They might anathematise them, and curse them, but curses, like chickens, sometimes went home to roost. (Laughter and applause.)

He would ask, even according to their own standards, when they confessed that slavery, as a system, is sinful, whether they are not bound to discipline those who, being slaveholders, sin themselves, and tempt others to sin?

Mr Thompson then commented on the disingenuousness of the organs of the Free Church, holding up the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1845 as a proof the Free Church had done its duty on the question of American Slavery, when, as it has not turned out, on the admission of Dr Candlish himself, that that deliverance was not only not sent to the churches of America, but in fact was never intended to be sent – its object being more as a rule of conduct for the church at home. Instead of going forward, the Free Church has been going backward since 1845, abandoning themselves to deeper guilt and infamy, and to some extent obliterating, by their last act, their former testimony against slavery. (Applause.)

The fact was, that just at the moment the slave-holding churches of America were kicked out of all other denominations, they were admitted into fellowship by the Free Church, because they had subscribed the paltry sum of L.3000 to the treasury of the Free Church. This L.3000 the Free Church still held; but he had no doubt that, as a Church, she would be glad to get quit of it but for the pride of two men in their Assembly. (Cheers.)

It was not the fear of losing this £3000 – it was not fear of losing connection with the Southern States of America, because they all must confess that connection was not a very creditable one, and would not do them much good but it was the pride of two men that prevented the Free Church from sending back the money.

Mr Thompson then mentioned that it was the intention of Mr Buffum to proceed immediately to America, and that he proposed collecting all the information that could be acquired regarding the ministers with whom the Free Church deputation had associated when in America, o that he would have his quiver full against the meeting of the General Assembly of the Free Church in May 1847. (Cheers.)

He (Mr T.) would again repeat that he was not an enemy of the Free Church. He was in search of the man-stealer, and he was not to be arrested in his progress because he happened to find him in the General Assembly at Canonmills. (Applause.)

He therefore gave the Free Church Assembly timely warning, that he would keep up this agitation, year after year, until the money was sent back. They will learn a bitter lesson if they do not send it back. He had fallen into a slight mistake on Tuesday evening, when he mentioned that an elder of Mr Begg’s congregation had left it on account of the question of slavery. He had since learned that the gentleman was a deacon. Now, such a mistake was quite excusable on his (Mr T.’s) part, because he was not accustomed to distinguish the one office from the other, and in some churches, they all knew, the office of the deacon was synonymous with that of the elder. While, therefore the mistake was a slight one, the general fact was ominously significant. (Applause.)

Mr Thompson then showed that all the other religious denominations in the country had acted a different part from the Free Church; and he went on to say that it was a curious coincidence that the Free Church should be retrograding on the subject of slavery at the very time when many of the uncivilised notions of the globe were relaxing and abolishing the system; and at a time when the theology of this country was becoming a decidedly anti-slavery theology. It was also somewhat singular that this should have occurred at a period when the missionaries of the Free Church in India – Dr Duff and others – were denouncing the Government of India for its horrid connection with the idolatry of that country. The cry of ‘Send back the money’ would, he had no doubt, before next Assembly, haunt Drs Candlish and Cunningham like an evil genius in the privacy of their study, and when they emerged in the light of day, it would salute them on the pavements as they walked along the streets, until at length they became convinced, converted, and contrite men, and anxious for this fellowship being abandoned. (Great applause.)

After a vote of thanks to the chairman, the meeting separated.

 Scotsman, 6 June 1846 (repr. Caledonian Mercury, 8 June 1846)



  1. See Iain Whyte, ‘Send Back the Money!’: The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2012), p. 112.
  2. Douglass quotes from resolutions of Hopewell Presbytery, South Carolina, from James Gillespie Birney, The American Churches the Bulwarks of American Slavery (London: Johnston and Barrett, 1840), p. 30.
  3. Douglass quotes from resolutions of Harmony Presbytery, South Carolina, from James Gillespie Birney, The American Churches the Bulwarks of American Slavery (London: Johnston and Barrett, 1840), p. 30.
  4. Douglass quotes from resolutions of Charleston Union Presbytery, South Carolina, from James Gillespie Birney, The American Churches the Bulwarks of American Slavery (London: Johnston and Barrett, 1840), p. 31.
  5. Abridged versions of Plumer’s remarks (which quoted ‘one of Pennsylvania’s gifted sons’, rendered here as ‘Mr Pennyson’) were included in James Gillespie Birney, The American Churches the Bulwarks of American Slavery (London: Johnston and Barrett, 1840), pp. 33-34.
  6. Wright is referring to Rev. James MacBeth, minister of Lauriston Free Church in Glasgow, a leading critic of the Free Church’s refusal to break ties with the American churches.