Monarchies and Freedom, Republics and Slavery: An Address Delivered in Bristol, England, April 1, 1847
Bristol Mercury and Western Counties Advertiser, April 3, 1847.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS then came forward amidst loud cheers, and commenced his address with some remarks on the inveterate prejudice entertained against the negroes by the white population of the United States; a feeling that met the black man everywhere, and, following him through life, did not cease even in the grave-yard, where his bones were not allowed to rest in proximity with those of the whites. In view of this indomitable hate and prejudice, and of the power which must be exerted by the British to overcome it, he felt deeply grateful to the audience for the sympathy they had shown him. The feeling alluded to was not a prejudice against colour, though it assumed to be. It assumed that God had implanted in the bosom of the white a strong aversion to the black, that there was between the two an impassable barrier, and that they could not live together in a community on equal terms. So they reasoned in the United States; but the prejudice was not against the colour, for men liked black in itself well enough, and had no objection to black hats or clothes, but it was against the condition in which black was found in that land. While the black was [in] what was regarded as his proper position, a slave, no one shrunk from him. While he himself was a slave, his master, and even his sensitive mistress, had no objection to sit beside him in the same carriage.
How, then, was the prejudice accounted for in the Northern States? Colour of skin had identified people with a certain condition, that condition was a degraded one, and while in it the black was considered in his appropriate place. The moment, however, that he attempted to raise himself from that degraded position, then the concentrated force of public scorn was brought into play to crush him back again. This feeling was almost as cruel as slavery itself, and it made only this difference in the situation of the free coloured man, that he was the slave not of an individual, but of the community. No matter how mean, debased, or dissolute a white man might be, he had full license to beat, insult, and trample on a free coloured man, however respectable. Society looked down upon him, he was repulsed from learning handicrafts, and, even in free New York, he was not allowed to drive a horse or cart on his own account. In no part of America were negroes allowed to enjoy any of the common privileges of citizens excepting in Massachusetts, and there only till lately. In railway trains they paid highly for inferior accommodation in a proscribed car, and on board steamboats they were driven to take their stand amongst cattle on the fore-deck. The feeling was universal, and the question, "Would you have the negro enjoy equal rights with us?" was deemed a sufficient answer to all abolitionists.
Whence came this hate? The negroes had not injured them; no, they had injured the negroes; and, seeing in many coloured men a contradiction to their theory of the black inferiority, it made them the more angry, and the more resolute to crush it. No coloured man was allowed by government to bear a mail bag, or to do anything implying trust, the object being to impress him with the notion that he was inferior. They degraded him in all possible ways, and then made degradation a pretext for oppression. They said the negro was morally and religiously inferior to themselves, and penalties were enacted, in some parts reaching even to death, against instructing him.
In some of the New England States the negroes had succeeded in getting schools, and statistics showed that, from 5 to 8 or 10 years, black children were as apt to improve as white, but as soon as they passed 12 the white overtook them and left them behind. Why was this? The child of 8, 10, or 12 years learned because it was taught; when older, it began to look forward to the future, to ask itself why it learnedto mark out some field of usefulness. All this formed a stimulant to the white child to improve; but the coloured child found he could have no standing in business or anything else, and he lost all inducement to learn.
The same feeling against the black was the origin of further disabilities. There were 71 crimes for which a black was punishable by death, one only of which entailed the same penalty on a white. In no case could a black give testimony against a white, and, in the Southern States, seven or eight negroes who met together for purposes of improvement, were liable to be taken up and sentenced to 39 lashes each. And, even granting the inferiority of the negroes for which the American contended, where in the Old or New Testament could a pretext be found for crushing them on account of their weakness?
The speaker then contrasted his reception in this country. He had been here nineteen months, during which time he had delivered probably as many as 300 addresses; he had travelled through all parts of the United Kingdom, and by all modes of conveyance, and never had he met with one in whom he could discern the slightest dislike towards him on account of his colour. He would go back to America and make them acquainted with the fact, that in England the negro was regarded as a man. And this would tell, for Americans could not be insensible to the fact that liberty in Hyde-park was worth more than slavery in Columbiathat freedom in a monarchy was better than servitude in a republic. He would make them acquainted with what he had met with, and wring from shame what was denied to justice. He was not there to stir up hatred against America, or to invoke political or military power in support of the slave; he was there to tell them, and (through them) America, the truth, and to express his honest feelings about that nation, which would, he believed, be soon rebuked, and rebuked faithfully, for her slave system.
Mr. Douglass then proceeded to narrate how prejudice followed the negro to the churches, and forbad his kneeling down in communion with the white, except among the Roman Catholics, where no distinction of persons was known. The uniformity of this treatment had in a great degree driven them to infidel halls, where all were considered on a level. After anecdotes illustrating this, he passed to the position of the anti-slavery question in America.
The war at present waged by the Americans with the Mexicans was carried on with no higher or holier motive than that of upholding and propagating slavery. In 1829 Mexico, although a semi-barbarous state, had declared the entire abolition of slavery in her territories. The consequence was a decrease in the value of slaves in the border states of America, as the liability of escape to the land of liberty was increased. What was the desperate purpose of the United States? By conniving with their emigrant citizens, they stirred up a revolt against Mexico in Texas, which, by the battle of San Jacinto, was ultimately severed from the mother country. Their next step was kindly to recognise the independence of Texas, and in 1844 it was annexed to the Union. An army of men was sent to protect the Texians; they crossed the boundary of the Rio del Norte, and the Mexicans firing at the invaders, the United States at once recognised a war, waged for no other purpose than that of extending and perpetuating slavery.
But the wisdom of the crafty had been confounded; for the nonslaveholding statesthough not from any great hatred of slaveryhad, in several legislatures, resolved not to allow any servitude to exist in lands acquired by conquest from the Mexicans; and it was his opinion that this resolution of the House of Representatives would be ratified by the Senate. Slavery would be thus circumscribed, and a mark of national disapprobation would be set upon it, from which it could never recover.
Another point of success he had to narrate was, the abolition of slavery in the state of Delaware. Here he took it that the brick was knocked down at the end of the row, by which all the others would come down. The speaker then noticed the progress which the anti-slavery question had made within the last six years, and proceeded triumphantly to rebut the charge of infidelity which had been brought against the abolitionists.
Mr. Douglass then referred, with hope, to the effects which would be produced by increased contact between ths country and America, arising from our abandonment of the restrictive system, mutual exchange of literatures, the holding of meetings such as the National Convention and World's Temperance Convention, and the frequent visits of literary and pleasure-taking tourists. After some further remarks, Mr. Douglass concluded his address (which lasted nearly two hours), by expressing, in a strain of much impassioned eloquence, his grateful thanks for the reception he had met with from the citizens of Bristol.