Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V.: ONE HUNDRED CONVENTIONS. - The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882
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CHAPTER V.: ONE HUNDRED CONVENTIONS. - Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882 
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882, written by himself; with an Introduction by the Right Hon. John Bright, ed. John Lobb (London: Christian Age Office, 1882).
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ONE HUNDRED CONVENTIONS.
Anti-slavery Conventions held in parts of New England, and in some of the Middle and Western States—Mobs, Incidents, &c.
THE year 1843 was one of remarkable anti-slavery activity. The New England Anti-Slavery Society at its annual meeting, held in the spring of that year, resolved, under the auspices of Mr. Garrison and his friends, to hold a series of one hundred conventions. The territory embraced in this plan for creating anti-slavery sentiment included New Hampshire. Vermont, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. I had the honour to be chosen one of the agents to assist in these proposed conventions, and I never entered upon any work with more heart and hope. All that the American people needed, I thought, was light. Could they know slavery as I knew it, they would hasten to the work of its extinction. The corps of speakers who were to be associated with me in carrying on these conventions were Messrs. George Bradburn, John A. Collins, James Monroe, William A. White, Charles L. Remond, and Sydney Howard Gay. They were all masters of the subject, and some of them able and eloquent orators. It was a piece of great good fortune to me, only a few years from slavery as I was, to be brought into contact with such men. It was a real campaign, and required nearly six months for its accomplishment.
Those who only know the State of Vermont as it is to-day, can hardly understand, and must wonder that there was need for anti-slavery effort within its borders forty years ago. Our first convention was held in Middlebury, its chief seat of learning, and the home of William Slade, who was for years the co-worker with John Quincy Adams in Congress; and yet in this town the opposition to our anti-slavery convention was intensely bitter and violent. The only man of note in the town whom I now remember as giving us sympathy or welcome was Mr. Edward Barber, who was a man of courage as well as ability, and did his best to make our convention a success. In advance of our arrival, the college students had very industriously and mischievously placarded the town with violent aspersions of our characters, and the grossest misrepresentations of our principles, measures, and objects. I was described as an escaped convict from the State Prison, and the other speakers were assailed not less slanderously. Few people attended our meeting, and apparently little was accomplished by it. In the neighbouring town of Ferrisburgh the case was different and more favourable. The way had been prepared for us by such stalwart anti-slavery workers as Orson S. Murray, Charles C. Burleigh, Rowland T. Robinson and others. Upon the whole, however, the several towns visited showed that Vermont was surprisingly under the influence of the slave power. Her proud boast that no slave had ever been delivered up to his master within her borders did not hinder her hatred of anti-slavery. What was true of the Green Mountain State in this respect, was most discouragingly true of New York, the State next visited. All along the Erie canal, from Albany to Buffalo, there was apathy, indifference, aversion, and sometimes mob-ocratic spirit evinced. Even Syracuse, afterwards the home of the humane Samuel J. May, and the scene of the “Jerry rescue,” where Gerrit Smith, Beriah Greene, William Goodell, Alvin Stewart, and other able men afterwards taught their noblest lessons, would not at that time furnish us with church, market, house, or hall in which to hold our meetings. Discovering this state of things, some of our number were disposed to turn their backs upon the town, and shake its dust from their feet, but of these, I am glad to say, I was not one. I had somewhere read of a command to go into the hedges and highways and compel men to come in. Mr. Stephen Smith, under whose hospitable roof we were made at home, thought as I did. It would be easy to silence anti-slavery agitation if refusing its agents the use of halls and churches could effect that result. The house of our friend Smith stood on the south-west corner of the park, which was well covered with young trees, too small to furnish shade or shelter, but better than none. Taking my stand under a small tree, in the south-east corner of this park, I began to speak in the morning to an audience of five persons, and before the close of the afternoon meeting I had before me not less than five hundred. In the evening I was waited upon by the officers of the Congregational church, who tendered the use of an old wooden building, which they had deserted for a better, but still owned; and here our convention was continued during three days. I believe there has been no trouble to find places in Syracuse in which to hold anti-slavery meetings since. I never go there without endeavouring to see that tree, which, like the cause it sheltered, has grown large and strong and imposing.
I believe my first offence against our Anti-Slavery Israel, was committed during these Syracuse meetings. It was on this wise: Our general agent, John A. Collins, had recently returned from England full of communistic ideas, which ideas would do away with individual property, and have all things in common. He had arranged a corps of speakers of his communistic persuasion, consisting of John O. Wattles, Nathaniel Whiting, and John Orvis to follow our anti-slavery conventions, and while our meeting was in progress in Syracuse, a meeting, as the reader will observe, obtained under much difficulty, Mr. Collins came in with his new friends and doctrines, and proposed to adjourn our anti-slavery discussions and take up the subject of communism. To this I ventured to object. I held that it was imposing an additional burden of unpopularity on our cause, and an act of bad faith with the people, who paid the salary of Mr. Collins, and were responsible for these hundred conventions. Strange to say, my course in this matter did not meet the approval of Mrs. W. H. Chapman, an influential member of the board of managers of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and called out a sharp reprimand from her, for my insubordination to my superiors. This was a strange and distressing revelation to me, and one of which I was not soon relieved. I thought I had only done my duty, and I think so still. The chief reason for the reprimand was the use which the liberty party papers would make of my seeming rebellion against the commanders of our Anti-Slavery Army.
In the growing city of Rochester we had in every way a better reception. Abolitionists of all shades of opinion were broad enough to give the Garrisonians, for such we were, a hearing. Samuel D. Porter and the Avery family, though they belonged to the Gerrit Smith, Myron Holly, and William Goodell school, were not so narrow as to refuse us the use of their church for the convention. They heard our moral suasion arguments, and in a manly way met us in debate. We were opposed to carrying the anti-slavery cause to the ballot-box, and they believed in carrying it there. They looked at slavery as a creature of law; we regarded it as a creature of public opinion. It is surprising how small the difference appears as I look back to it, over the space of forty years; yet at the time, this difference was immense.
During our stay at Rochester we were hospitably entertained by Isaac and Amy Post, two people of all-bounding benevolence, the truest and best of Long Island, and Elias Hicks, Quakers. They were not more amiable than brave, for they never seemed to ask, What will the world say? but walked straight forward in what seemed to them the line of duty, please or offend whomsoever it might. Many a poor fugitive slave found shelter under their roof, when such shelter was hard to find elsewhere, and I mention them here in the warmth and fulness of earnest gratitude.
Pleased with our success in Rochester, we—that is Mr. Bradburn and myself—made our way to Buffalo, then a rising city of steamboats, bustle, and business. Buffalo was too busy to attend to such matters as we had in hand. Our friend, Mr. Marsh, had been able to secure for our convention only an old dilapidated and deserted room, formerly used as a post-office. We went at the time appointed, and found seated a few cabmen in their coarse, every-day clothes, whips in hand, while their teams were standing on the street waiting for a job. Friend Bradburn looked around upon this unpromising audience, and turned upon his heel, saying he would not speak to “such a set of ragamuffins,” and took the first steamer to Cleveland, the home of his brother Charles, and left me to “do” Buffalo alone. For nearly a week I spoke every day in this old post-office, to audiences constantly increasing in numbers and respectability, till the Baptist church was thrown open to me; and when this became too small, I went on Sunday into the open Park and addressed an assembly of four or five thousand persons. After this my coloured friends, Charles L. Remond, Henry Highland Garnett, Theodore S. Wright, Amos G. Beaman, Charles M. Ray, and other well-known coloured men, held a convention here, and then Remond and myself left for our next meeting in Chester county, Ohio. This was held in a great shed, built by the abolitionists, of whom Dr. Abram Brook and Valentine Nicholson were the most noted, for this special purpose. Thousands gathered here and were addressed by Bradburn, White, Monroe, Remond, Gay, and myself. The influence of this meeting was deep and wide-spread. It would be tedious to tell of all, or a small part of all that was interesting and illustrative of the difficulties encountered by the early advocates of anti-slavery in connection with this campaign, and hence I leave this part of it at once.
From Ohio we divided our forces and went into Indiana. At our first meeting we were mobbed, and some of us got our good clothes spoiled by evil-smelling eggs. This was at Richmond, where Henry Clay had been recently invited to the high seat of the Quaker meeting-house, just atter his gross abuse of Mr. Mendenhall, because of his presenting him a respectful petition, asking him to emancipate his slaves. At Pendleton this mob-ocratic spirit was even more pronounced. It was found impossible to obtain a building in which to hold our convention, and our friends, Dr. Fussell and others, erected a platform in the woods, where quite a large audience assembled. Mr. Bradburn, Mr. White, and myself were in attendance. As soon as we began to speak, a mob of about sixty of the roughest characters I ever looked upon ordered us, through its leaders, to “be silent,” threatening us, if we were not, with violence. We attempted to dissuade them, but they had not come to parley but to fight, and were well armed. They tore down the platform on which we stood, assaulted Mr. White, knocking out several of his teeth; dealt a heavy blow on William A. White, striking him on the back part of the head, badly cutting his scalp and felling him to the ground. Undertaking to fight my way through the crowd with a stick which I caught up in the mélée, I attracted the fury of the mob, which laid me prostrate on the ground under a torrent of blows. Leaving me thus, with my right hand broken, and in a state of unconsciousness, the mob-ocrats hastily mounted their horses and rode to Andersonville, where most of them resided. I was soon raised up and revived by Neal Hardy, a kind-hearted member of the Society of Friends, and carried by him in his wagon about three miles in the country to his home, where I was tenderly nursed and bandaged by good Mrs. Hardy, till I was again on my feet, but as the bones broken were not properly set my hand has never recovered its natural strength and dexterity. We lingered long in Indiana, and the good effects of our labours there are felt at this day. I have lately visited Pendleton, now one of the best Republican towns in the State, and looked again upon the spot where I was beaten down, and have again taken by the hand some of the witnesses of that scene, amongst whom was the kind, good lady—Mrs. Hardy—who, so like the good Samaritan of old, bound up my wounds, and cared for me so kindly. A complete history of these hundred conventions would fill a volume far larger than the one in which this simple reference is to find a place. It would be a grateful duty to speak of the noble young men, who forsook ease and pleasure, as did White, Gay, and Monroe, and endured all manner of privations in the cause of the enslaved and down-trodden of my race. Gay, Monroe, and myself, are the only ones who participated as agents in the one hundred conventions who now survive. Mr. Monroe was for many years consul to Brazil, and has since been a faithful member of Congress from the Oberlin District, Ohio, and has filled other important positions in his State. Mr. Gay was managing editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, and afterwards of the New York Tribune, and still later of the New York Eiening Post.