After five meetings in a row in Ayrshire, Frederick Douglass and James Buffum rested in Kilmarnock over the weekend, and returned to Paisley, to address their fourth meeting at the Secession Church, Abbey Close on Monday 30 March. The subject was Temperance, and they were joined on the platform by Robert Reid, who had spoken alongside them at the earlier Temperance Meeting in Glasgow on 18 February. There is considerable overlap in the content of the two meetings.
We reproduce below the reports in the Renfrewshire Advertiser and Glasgow Saturday Post, which both appeared on 4 April.
For an overview of Frederick Douglass’ activities in Paisley during the year see: Spotlight: Paisley.
On Monday evening last, a public meeting of the inhabitants of Paisley was held in the Secession Church, Abbey Close, for the purpose of discussing the subject of Temperance. Mr Wm. Melvin occupied the chair, and introduced
Mr Robert Reid of Glasgow, who said he owed the meeting an apology for rising to speak on the present occasion, as he believed they were brought together principally for the purpose of hearing their American friends. He then went on at some length to condemn the drinking customs of the respectable portion of the community. It was, he said, the moderate drinking of the pious christians which they had to dread more than the debasing habits of the poor drunkard; and until they got the respectable portion of the community to abandon the use of intoxicating liquors their efforts would not be crowned with the desired success.
Mr James N. Buffum said it gave him great pleasure to stand before them and say a word upon so good a subject as temperance. He had been engaged in bringing about the reformation in America, but more as a labourer than a speaker. He then proceeded to give a history of the temperance reformation in the United States, in the course of which he introduced some rather amusing anecdotes.
He said that on one occasion, when the sale of intoxicating liquors was prohibited by the legislature, a cunning Yankee had bought a pig, got it shaved, and striped it over with paint; he then advertised the exhibition of the pig, promising a glass of spirits to all who paid fourpence for the sight; after this, when a man was seen tipsy, it was said that he had got too much of the striped pig.
He said he recollected of speaking once opposite an inn when the owner was standing on the stair listening to him. At the conclusion of his address he called upon the innkeeper to come forward to the platform and endeavour to refute what he had been saying. He went into the house and brought out two dogs. He pulled their ears and set them to fighting. The people felt annoyed; but he told them they had brought out their best orators and it would be nothing but justice to hear them out. (Laughter.)
The temperance cause, however, had triumphed in America; and the Rev. Mr Lewis, of Free Church notoriety, had stated that he only saw two persons in America intoxicated, and these were from Dundee, the place from which he came.
Mr Frederick Douglass then came forward and said, – Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to stand on this platform; I regard it a pleasure and a privilege – one which I am not very frequently permitted to enjoy in the United States, such is the prejudice against the coloured man, such the hatred, such the contempt in which he is held, that no temperance society in the land would so far jeopardise its popularity as to invite a coloured man to stand before them. He might be a Webster in intellect, a Channing in literature, or a Howard in philanthropy, yet the bare fact of his being a man of colour, would prevent him from being welcomed on a temperance platform in the United States.
This is my apology. I have been excluded from the temperance movement in the United States because God has given me a skin not coloured like yours. I can speak, however, in regard to the facts concerning ardent spirits, for the same spirits which make a white man drunk make a black man drunk too. Indeed, in this I can find proof of my identity with the family of man. (Laughter.) The effect of drink on the one and the other is the same.
The coloured man in the United States has great difficulties in the way of his moral, social, and religious advancement. Almost every step he takes towards mental, moral, or social improvement is repulsed by the cold indifference or the active mob of the white. He is compelled to live an outcast from society; he is, as it were, a border or selvage on the great cloth of humanity, and the very fact of his degradation is given as a reason why he should be continued in the condition of a slave.
The blacks are to a considerable extent intemperate, and if intemperate, of course vicious in other respects, and this is counted against them as a reason why their emancipation should not take place. As I desire, therefore, their freedom from physical chains, so I desire their emancipation from intemperance, because I believe it would be the means – a great and glorious means – towards helping to break their physical chains, and letting them go free.
To give you some idea of the strength of this prejudice and passion against the coloured people, I may state that they formed themselves into a temperance procesion in Philadelphia, on the day on which the legislature in this country had by a benevolent act awarded freedom to the negroes in the West Indian islands. They formed themselves into a procession with appropriate banners, but they had not proceeded up two streets before they were attacked by a reckless mob, their procession broken up, their banners destroyed, their houses and churches burned, and all because they had dared to have a temperance procession on the 1st of August. They had saved enough to build a hall, beside their churches. These were not saved, they were burned down, and the mob was backed out by the most respectable people in Philadelphia.
These are the difficulties which beset their path. And yet the Americans, those demons in human shape, they speak to us, and say that we are morally and religiously incapacitated for enjoying liberty with themselves. I am afraid I am making this an anti-slavery meeting. (Cheers.)
I want to state another fact. The black population pay sufficient tax to government to support their own poor, besides 300 dollars over and above. This is a fact which no American pale-face can deny. (Cheers.) I, however, love white people when they are good; but this is precious seldom.
I have had some experience of intemperance as well as of slavery. In the Southern States, masters induce their slaves to drink whisky, in order to keep them from devising ways and means by which to obtain their freedom. In order to make a man a slave, it is necessary to silence or drown his mind. It is not the flesh that objects to being bound – it is the spirit. It is not the mere animal part – it is the immortal mind which distinguishes man from the brute creation. To blind his affections, it is necessary to bedim and bedizzy his understanding. In no other way can this be so well accomplished as by using ardent spirits?
On Saturday evening, it is the custom of the slaveholder to give his slaves drink, and why? because if they had time to think, if left to reflection on the Sabbath day, they might devise means by which to obtain their liberty. I knew once what it was to drink with the ardour of an old soker. I lived with a Mr Freeland who used to give his slaves apple brandy. Some of the slaves were not able to drink their own share, but I was able to drink my own and theirs too. I took it because it made me feel I was a great man. I used to think I was a president.
And this puts me in mind of a man who once thought himself a president. He was coming across a field pretty tipsy. Happening to lay himself down near a pig-sty, and the pig being out at the time, he crawled into it. After a little, in came the old sow and her company of pigs. They commenced posing at the intruder. An individual happening to pass at the time, heard a voice demanding order, order. He went forward and looked, when he saw a fellow surrounded by the pigs calling for order, order. (Laughter.) He had imagined he was the president of a meeting, and was calling for order.
There are certain objections urged against the temperance reform. One very frequently urged, runs thus: – The gospel of Jesus Christ was given for the purpose of removing all the ills that ought to be removed from society; therefore we can have no union with teetotalism because it is out of the church. It is treason to go out of her borders and join a teetotal society. There is as much truth in this as you can hang a few falsehoods upon. There is a truth at the beginning. It will remove slavery, it will remove war, it will remove licentiousness, it will remove fraud, it will remove adultery. All the ills to which flesh is heir will be removed by an application to them of the truths of the gospel. What we want is to adopt the most efficacious means of applying gospel truth.
I dined the other day with six ministers in Perth. With the exception of one, they all drank whisky, and that one drank wine. So disgusted was I that I left, and that night I delivered a temperance lecture. I need not tell you that I was never again invited to dine at that house. I told the people at Perth that the ministers were responsible for a great part of the drinking habits among the people. The ministers have the influence to aid in removing this curse from the community; 1st, by abandoning drinking habits themselves; and, 2d, by doing what they can to make others follow their example. If the ministers used their moral influence, Scotland might soon be redeemed from this curse; and why? Because the ministers had done it in the United States. A man would not be allowed to stand in an American pulpit if it was known that he tippled the whisky. We feel that it is not proper that a minister of the gospel in the nineteenth century should be a man to mar the advancement of this cause, by using these intoxicating beverages.
Our success has been glorious, for in Lynn I never saw a bare-footed child in winter – I never saw a beggar in the streets in winter – I never saw a family without fuel in winter. And why have we this glorious result? Because no money is spent for whisky.
I am a temperance man because I am an anti-slavery man; and I am an anti-slavery man because I love my fellow men. There is no other cure for intemperance but total abstinence. Will not temperance do, says one? No. Temperance was tried in America, but it would not do. The total abstinence principle came and made clean work of it. It is not seen spreading its balmy influence over the whole of that land. It is seen in making peace where there was war. It has planted light and education where there was nothing but degradation, and darkness, and misery.
It is your duty to plant – you cannot do all, but if you plant, God has promised, and will give the increase. We shall see most gloriously this cause yet triumph in Scotland. Is there a man within the sound of my voice who does not know that nine-tenths of the crime, misery, disease, and death, of these lands is occasioned by intemperance? You may talk of the charter and the corn-laws, but until you have banished the demon intemperance, you cannot expect one day of prosperity in your land. In the name of humanity then I call upon you to abandon your bowl. To those who would feel it no sacrifice, I say give it up. To those who would consider it a sacrifice, I say it is time you had given it up, and then we shall see our cause progressing gloriously. Were this meeting all teetotallers, and to pledge themselves to work in the cause, twelve months would see a most miraculous change in Paisley.
Many thanks now for your kind patience; pardon me if I have said anything amiss, anything inconsistent with truth. Mr Douglass resumed his seat amid much applause.
Mr Buffum intimated, that next week they would likely have another meeting on the subject of slavery.
The Chairman stated that it was in contemplation to invite their American friends, Messrs. Buffum and Douglass, to a soiree, in the course of a week or two, and that it was expected Mr George Thompson, the celebrated anti-slavery lecturer, would be present on the occasion.
The church was literally packed in all corners, and the meeting broke up about eleven o’clock.
Renfrewshire Advertiser, 4 April 1846
FREDERICK DOUGLAS ON ABSTINENCE
On Monday evening a meeting was held in Mr Nisbet’s church, Paisley, on temperance. The church was crowded to excess to hear the coloured orator. Mr Wm. Melvin, cloth merchant, was in the chair. He said, as he was about to introduce to them some very interesting advocates of this cause, he would not detain them, but request Mr Reid, of Glasgow, to come forward.
Mr Reid said, one great hindrance to the progress of this movement was that men and women would not think for themselves. Their minds were slaves to custom, and he wished them to assert the freedom of mind, Mr Douglas (said Mr R.) tells you of slavery in America. Allow me to tell you of the debasing slavery of drink, and lead you to breathe the spirit of freedom. We will not ask you to look to the low tippling shops, where you would be disgusted by the squalid rags and filth of the dram drinker; but we request you to think of the more dangerous drinking habits of the Christian minister. In the haunts of wretchedness we have less to dread; it is the table of friendship, surrounded by smiling faces, which fascinates and ruins. Mr Reid noticed that drinking habits were giving way, and instanced the cruel custom, now abolished here, of funeral services.
Mr Melvin then introduced Mr Buffum, the American. Mr B. said, he would notice the efforts which had been so successfully made in America for the suppression of drinking. At the revolution their government had committed the error of giving an allowance of spirits to the army. This practice had tended to make them a nation of drunkards. He (Mr B) had been engaged in trying to stem the torrent, and they had been successful.
He mentioned the case of a drunkard who, when striking at his wife, missed her and killed his own child. At a meeting held in America, while he (Mr Buffum) was speaking, a dram seller brought out two dogs and, pulling their ears, set them to fighting. Some cried ‘Go on.’ ‘No, no,’ said Mr B., ‘we have invited discussion on the subject, and these tipplers have produced two of their best orators, and we must hear them out.’ The joke, he said, had a powerful effect, and went the round of the press. At another meeting large stones were thrown at him – but they missed their mark.
He wished us to go on, as we also had great need of reformation. Lately on a Saturday evening he went into the Glasgow police office, and he saw, in the course of two hours, fifteen persons brought in drunk. Three of them were women with babies at their breast. He also visited some of the lanes in Glasgow, where the most wretched poverty was to be seen, much of it the effect of drunkenness; some were without beds and every other comfort – and no wonder; in Glasgow, they have to support 2500 dram shops or houses; in Perth, 300; in Belfast 520; in Arbroath, 200. He told us of a drunken teacher who was met in his county by an old friend, who asked him what he was about now? ‘O,’ said he, ‘I am engaged in the “glorious temperance reform.”‘ ‘How comes that,’ said his friend, ‘and you drunk?’ ‘O,’ said he, ‘my brother lectures, and I illustrate the subject.’
Mr Frederic Douglas said he was not backward to speak on this subject. He had seen much of the evil effects of intemperance in the United States; for whisky affected the black man as well as the white – which proved that they were the same species, though differing in the colour of the skin. He felt happy in addressing such an assembly, for in America no Abstinence Society would jeopardise their cause by allowing a coloured man to speak at their meetings; every difficulty was thrown in the way of the mental and moral improvement of the coloured men.
Blacks are, of couse, intemperate; in the southern states masters give their slaves apple brandy, in order to enslave the immortal mind: they try to blunt their moral affections, in order to support their own despotism: they know that if their slaves get time to think, they may aspire to liberty – they may seize the battle-axe to free themselves. I was one of those who were taught to get drunk, and I was quite ready to drink my own share and that of my more weakly neighbours, and then work tricks on them, thinking myself a great man – like the drunkard who laid down in a pig-stye, and when the old one and her pigs came in, squalling and turning him up with their noses, was heard calling out majestically ‘Order, order,’ thinking himself chairman of the meeting! – but on one of these occasions a fellow-slave gave me such a stroke on the head with a longpole as sobered me; and from that day I resolved, and have kept, my resolution never again to use spirits as a beverage.
You may talk of radical reform – you may talk of corn-law repeal – but without temperance you never can be well; greater wages will only make your mechanics more unhappy, as they will get the power of making themselves more beastly and wretched.
In the state of Massachusetts there are four counties where there are no ardent spirits sold but for medicinal purposes, and there I never saw a squallid, homeless wretch; I never saw a child without shoes, nor a minister of the gospel who tasted spirits. Some object to signing the pledge, as it is signing (they say) away their liberty. Why, the ladies are not always unwilling to do so; some will even catch at the first offer. No, Sir, this is no abridgement of liberty; the mind, when thus set free, springs into a nobler existence, prepared to receive the truth and practice it, ,some will say: It is not abstinence but the gospel of God which is destined to remove all the evils of human nature. It is true the gospel will do so, but how can its truths be applied to those who are unfit to receive any truth, who are beggared by their own folly? and how can it be properly applied by those who spend their evenings tippling at toddy?
My friends, you must not slack in your efforts till you shake Paisley to its centre – you must endeavour to stop the stream of wretchedness which is blighting and blasting every virtue.
In the United States I assisted in this good work among the people of colour, and as you have heard, we were successful – numbers were raised from filth and poverty to decency and comfort. Six years ago we began to form processions and one was attempted. In the city of Washington on the day when Britain snapt the chains from 800,000 of her coloured subjects in the West Indies. They had started from the slumbers of the grave of intoxication, and felt interested in the freedom of British slaves. The procession was orderly and peaceable, and the people well-dressed; but, instead of eliciting applause, they had not proceeded through more than two or three streets when they were furiously attacked by white people. O what degraded slimy reptiles these palefaced Americans are. The intelligent coloured people had resolved to celebrate the triumph of temperance and freedom; but their emblems or flags were torn, their houses burned, and themselves beaten and driven out to wander with their wives and children for three days and nights, bleeding, hungry, and cold – these American demons in human shape refusing them shelter; and yet it is an undeniable fact that in that city of Washington the people of colour pay £500 more than their own poor receive.
Mr Douglas was much cheered during his address.
It was announced by the chairman that the great Anti-Slavery lecturer, Mr George Thompson, was expected in Paisley in a few weeks, when it was intended to give these gentlemen a soiree in honour of their exertions.
Glasgow Saturday Post, 4 April 1846