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CHAPTER VI.: IMPRESSIONS ABROAD. - 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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Danger to be averted—A refuge sought abroad—Voyage on the Steamship Cambria—Refusal of first-class passage—Attractions of the forecastle-deck—Hutchinson family—Invited to make a speech—Southerners feel insulted—Captain threatens to put them in irons—Experiences abroad—Attentions received—Impressions of different members of Parliament, and of other public men—Contrast with Life in America—Kindness of friends—Their purchase of my person, and the gift of the same to myself—My return.
AS I have before intimated, the publishing of my “Narrative” was regarded by my friends with mingled feelings of satisfaction and apprehension. They were glad to have the doubts and insinuations which the advocates and apologists of slavery had made against me, proved to the world to be false, but they had many fears lest this very proof should endanger my safety, and make it necessary for me to leave a position which in a signal manner had opened before me, and one in which I had thus far been efficient in assisting and arousing the moral sentiment of the community against a system which had deprived me, in common with my fellow-slaves, of all the attributes of manhood.
I became myself painfully alive to the liability which surrounded me, and which might at any moment scatter all my proud hopes, and return me to a doom worse than death. It was thus I was led to seek a refuge in monarchical England, from the dangers of Republican slavery. A rude, uncultivated fugitive slave, I was driven to that country to which American young gentlemen go to increase their stock of knowledge—to seek pleasure, and to have their rough democratic manners softened by contact with English aristocratic refinement.
My friend, James N. Buffum, of Lynn, Mass., who was to accompany me, applied on board the steamer “Cambria,” of the Cunard line, for tickets, and was told that I could not be received as a cabin passenger. American prejudice against colour had triumphed over British liberality and civilisation, and had erected a colour test as condition for crossing the sea in the cabin of a British vessel.
The insult was keenly felt by my white friends, but to me such insults were so frequent, and expected, that it was of no great consequence whether I went into the cabin or into the steerage. Moreover, I felt that if I could not go into the first cabin, first cabin passengers could come into the second cabin, and in this thought I was not mistaken, as I soon found myself an object of more general interest than I wished to be, and, so far from being degraded by being placed in the second cabin, that part of the ship became the scene of as much pleasure and refinement as the cabin itself. The Hutchinson family from New Hampshire—sweet singers of anti-slavery songs, and the “good time coming”—were fellow-passengers, and often came to my rude forecastle-deck and sang their sweetest songs, making the place eloquent with music and alive with spirited conversation. They not only visited me, but invited me to visit them; and in two days after leaving Boston one part of the ship was about as free to me as another. My visits there, however, were but seldom. I preferred to live within my privileges, and keep upon my own premises. This course was quite as much in accord with good policy as with my own feelings. The effect was, that with the majority of the passengers all colour distinctions were flung to the winds, and I found myself treated with every mark of respect from the beginning to the end of the voyage, except in one single instance; and in that I came near being mobbed for complying with an invitation given me by the passengers and the captain of the “Cambria” to deliver a lecture on slavery. There were several young men—passengers from Georgia and New Orleans; and they were pleased to regard my lecture as an insult offered to them, and swore I should not speak. They went so far as to threaten to throw me overboard, and but for the firmness of Captain Judkins, they would probably, under the inspiration of slavery and brandy, have attempted to put their threats into execution. I have no space to describe this scene, although its tragic and comic features are well worth description. An end was put to the mêlée by the captain’s call to the ship’s company to put the salt-water mob-ocrats in irons, at which determined order the gentlemen of the lash scampered, and for the remainder of the voyage conducted themselves very decorously.
This incident of the voyage brought me, within two days after landing at Liverpool, before the British public. The gentlemen so promptly withheld in their attempted violence toward me, flew to the press to justify their conduct, and to denounce me as a worthless and insolent negro. This course was even less wise than the conduct it was intended to sustain; for, besides awakening something like a national interest in me, and securing me an audience, it brought out counter statements, and threw the blame upon themselves, which they had sought to fasten upon me and the gallant captain of the ship.
My visit to England did much for me every way. Not the least among the many advantages derived from it was the opportunity it afforded me of becoming acquainted with educated people, and of seeing and hearing many of the most distinguished men of that country. My friend, Mr. Wendell Phillips, knowing something of my appreciation of orators and oratory, had said to me before leaving Boston: “Although Americans are generally better speakers than Englishmen, you will find in England individual orators superior to the best of ours.” I do not know that Mr. Phillips was quite just to himself in this remark, for I found in England few, if any, superior to him in the gift of speech. When I went to England that country was in the midst of a tremendous agitation. The people were divided by two great questions of “Repeal:”—the repeal of the corn laws, and the repeal of the union between England and Ireland.
Debate ran high in Parliament, and among the people everywhere, especially concerning the corn laws. Two powerful interests of the country confronted each other: one venerable from age, and the other young, stalwart, and growing. Both strove for ascendancy. Conservatism united for retaining the corn laws, while the rising power of commerce and manufactures demanded repeal. It was interest against interest, but something more and deeper: for, while there was an aggrandizement of the landed aristocracy on the one side, there was famine and pestilence on the other. Of the anti-corn law movement, Richard Cobden and John Bright, both then members of Parliament, were the leaders. They were the rising statesmen of England, and possessed a very friendly disposition toward America. Mr. Bright, who is now the Right Honourable John Bright, and occupies a high place in the British Cabinet, was friendly to the loyal and progressive spirit which abolished our slavery and saved our country from dismemberment. I have seen and heard both of these great men, and if I may be allowed so much egotism, I may say I was acquainted with both of them. I was, besides, a welcome guest at the house of Mr. Bright, in Rochdale, and treated as a friend and brother among his brothers and sisters. Messrs. Cobden and Bright were well-matched leaders. One was in large measure the complement of the other. They were spoken of usually as Cobden and Bright, but there was no reason, except that Cobden was the elder of the two, why their names might not have been reversed.
They were about equally fitted for their respective parts in the great movement of which they were the distinguished leaders, and neither was likely to encroach upon the work of the other. The contrast was quite marked in their persons as well as in their oratory. The powerful speeches of the one, as they travelled together over the country, heightened the effect of the speeches of the other, so that their difference was as effective for good, as was their agreement. Mr. Cobden—for an Englishman—was lean, tall, and slightly sallow, and might have been taken for an American or Frenchman. Mr. Bright was, in the broadest sense, an Englishman, abounding in all the physical perfections peculiar to his countrymen—full, round, and ruddy. Cobden had dark eyes and hair, a well-formed head, high above his shoulders, and, when sitting quiet, had a look of sadness and fatigue. In the House of Commons, he often sat with one hand supporting his head. Bright appeared the very opposite in this and other respects. His eyes were blue, his hair light, his head massive, and firmly set upon his shoulders, suggesting immense energy and determination. In his oratory Mr. Cobden was cool, candid, deliberate, straight-forward, yet at times slightly hesitating. Bright, on the other hand, was fervid, fluent, rapid; always ready in thought or word. Mr. Cobden was full of facts and figures, dealing in statistics by the hour. Mr. Bright was full of wit, knowledge, and pathos, and possessed amazing power of expression. One spoke to the cold, calculating side of the British nation, which asks “if the new idea will pay?” The other spoke to the infinite side of human nature—the side which asks, first of all, “is it right? is it just? is it humane?” Wherever these two great men appeared, the people assembled in thousands. They could, at an hour’s notice, pack the Town Hall of Birmingham, which would hold seven thousand persons, or the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, and Covent Garden Theatre, London, each of which was capable of holding eight thousand.
One of the first attentions shown me by these gentlemen, was to make me welcome at the Free Trade Club in London.
I was not long in England before a crisis was reached in the anti-corn law movement. The announcement that Sir Robert Peel, then Prime Minister of England, had become a convert to the views of Messrs. Cobden and Bright, came upon the country with startling effect, and formed the turning point in the anticorn law question. Sir Robert had been the strong defence of the landed aristocracy of England, and his defection left them without a competent leader, and just here came the opportunity for Mr. Benjamin Disraeli the Hebrew—since Lord Beaconsfield. To him it was in public affairs, the “tide which led on to fortune.” With a bitterness unsurpassed, he had been denounced by Daniel O’Connell as a lineal descendant of the thief on the cross. But now his time had come, and he was not the man to permit it to pass unimproved. For the first time, it seems, he conceived the idea of placing himself at the head of a great party, and thus become the chief defender of the landed aristocracy. The way was plain. He was to transcend all others in effective denunciation of Sir Robert Peel, and surpass all others in zeal. His ability was equal to the situation, and the world knows the result of his ambition. I watched him narrowly when I saw him in the House of Commons, but I saw and heard nothing there that foreshadowed the immense space he at last came to fill in the mind of his country and the world. He had nothing of the grace and warmth of Peel in debate, and his speeches were better in print than when listened to,—yet when he spoke, all eyes were fixed, and all ears attent. Despite all his ability and power, however, as the defender of the landed interests in England, his cause was already lost. The increasing power of the anti-corn law league—the burden of the tax upon bread, the cry of distress coming from famine-stricken Ireland, and the adhesion of Peel to the views of Cobden and Bright, made the repeal of the corn laws speedy and certain.
The repeal of the union between England and Ireland was not so fortunate. It is still, under one name or another, the cherished hope and aspiration of her sons. It stands little better or stronger than it did six-and-thirty years ago, when its greatest advocate, Daniel O’Connell, welcomed me to Ireland, and to “Conciliation Hall,” and where I first had a specimen of his truly wondrous eloquence. Until I heard this man, I had thought that the story of his oratory and power were greatly exaggerated. I did not see how a man could speak to twenty or thirty thousand people at one time, and be heard by any considerable number of them; but the mystery was solved when I saw his vast person, and heard his musical voice. His eloquence came down upon the vast assembly like a summer thunder-shower upon a dusty road. He could stir the multitude at will, to a tempest of wrath, or reduce it to the silence with which a mother leaves the cradle-side of her sleeping babe. Such tenderness—such pathos—such world-embracing love! and, on the other hand, such indignation—such fiery and thunderous denunciation, and such wit and humour, I never heard surpassed, if equalled, at home or abroad. He held Ireland within the grasp of his strong hand, and could lead it whithersoever he would, for Ireland believed in him and loved him, as she has loved and believed in no leader since. In Dublin, when he had been absent from that city a few weeks, I saw him followed through Sackville Street by a multitude of little boys and girls, shouting in loving accents: “There goes Dan! there goes Dan!” while he looked at the ragged and shoeless crowd with the kindly air of a loving parent returning to his gleeful children. He was called “The Liberator,” and not without cause; for, though he failed to effect the repeal of the union between England and Ireland, he fought out the battle of Catholic emancipation, and was clearly the friend of liberty the world over. In introducing me to an immense audience in Conciliation Hall, he playfully called me the “Black O’Connell of the United States;” nor did he let the occasion pass without his usual word of denunciation of our slave system. O. A. Brownson had then recently become a Catholic, and taking advantage of his new Catholic audience, in “Brownson’s Review,” had charged O’Connell with attacking American institutions. In reply, Mr. O’Connell said: “I am charged with attacking American institutions, as slavery is called; I am not ashamed of this attack. My sympathy is not confined to the narrow limits of my own green Ireland, my spirit walks abroad upon sea and land, and whereven there is oppression, I hate the oppressor, and wherever the tyrant rears his head, I will deal my bolts upon it; and wherever there is sorrow and suffering, there is my spirit to succour and relieve.” No transatlantic statesman bore a testimony more marked and telling against the crime and curse of slavery, than did Daniel O’Connell. He would shake the hand of no slaveholder, nor allow himself to be introduced to one, if he knew him to be such. When the friends of repeal in the Southern States sent him money with which to carry on his work, he, with ineffable scorn, refused the bribe, and sent back what he considered the blood-stained offering, saying he would “never purchase the freedom of Ireland with the price of slaves.”
It was not long after my seeing Mr. O’Connell that his health broke down, and his career ended in death. I felt that a great champion of freedom had fallen, and that the cause of the American slave, not less than the cause of his country, had met with a great loss. All the more was this felt, when I saw the kind of men who came to the front when the voice of O’Connell was no longen heard in Ireland. He was succeeded by the Duffys, Mitchells, Meagher, and others,—men who loved liberty for themselves and their country, but were utterly destitute of sympathy with the cause of liberty in countries other than their own. One of the first utterances of John Mitchell on reaching the United States, from his exile and bondage, was a wish for a “slave plantation. well stocked with slaves.”
Besides hearing Cobden, Bright, Peel, Disraeli, O’Connell, Lord John Russell, and other Parliamentary debaters, it was my good fortune to hear Lord Brougham when nearly at his best. He was then a little over sixty, and that for a British statesman is not considered old; and in his case there were thirty years of life still before him. He struck me as the most wonderful speaker of them all. How he was ever reported I cannot imagine. Listening to him, was like standing near the track of a railway train, drawn by a locomotive at the rate of forty miles an hour. You were riveted to the spot, charmed with the sublime spectacle of speed and power, but could give no description of the carriages, nor of the passengers at the windows. There was so much to see and hear, and so little time left the beholder and hearer to note particulars, that when this strange man sat down, you felt like one who had hastily passed through the wildering wonders of a world’s exhibition. On the occasion of my listening to him, his speech was on the postal relations of England with the outside world, and he seemed to have a perfect knowledge of the postal arrangements of every nation in Europe, and, indeed, in the whole universe. He possessed the great advantage, so valuable to a Parliamentary debater, of being able to make all interruptions serve the purposes of his thought and speech, and carried on a dialogue with several persons without interrupting the rapid current of his reasoning. I had more curiosity to hear this man than any other in England, and he more than fulfilled my expectations.
While in England, I saw few literary celebrities, except William and Mary Howitt, and Sir John Bowering. I was invited to breakfast by the latter in company with Wm. Lloyd Garrison, and spent a delightful morning with him, chiefly as a listener to their conversation. Sir John was a poet, a statesman, and a diplomat, and had represented England as minister to China. He was full of interesting information, and had a charming way of imparting his knowledge. The conversation was about slavery, and about China, and as my knowledge was very slender about the “Flowery Kingdom,” and its people, I was greatly interested in Sir John’s description of the ideas and manners prevailing among them. According to him, the doctrine of substitution was carried so far in that country that men sometimes procured others to suffer even the penalty of death in their stead. Justice seemed not intent upon the punishment of the actual criminal, if only somebody was punished when the law was violated.
William and Mary Howitt were among the kindliest people I ever met. Their interest in America, and their well-known testimonies against slavery, made me feel much at home with them at their house in that part of London known as Clapham. Whilst stopping there, I met the Swedish poet and author—Hans Christian Andersen. He, like myself, was a guest, spending a few days. I saw but little of him, though under the same roof. He was singular in his appearance, and equally singular in his silence. His mind seemed to me all the while turned inwardly. He walked about the beautiful garden as one might in a dream. The Howitts had translated his works into English, and could of course address him in his own language. Possibly his bad English and my destitution of Swedish, may account for the fact of our mutual silence, and yet I observed he was much the same towards every one. Mr. and Mrs. Howitt were indefatigable writers. Two more industrious and kind-hearted people did not breathe. With all their literary work, they always had time to devote to strangers, and to all benevolent efforts, to ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy. Quakers though they were, they took deep interest in the Hutchinsons—Judson, John, Asa, and Abby, who were much at their house during my stay there. Mrs. Howitt not inaptly styled them a “Band of young apostles.” They sang for the oppressed and the poor—for liberty and humanity.
Whilst in Edinburgh, so famous for its beauty, its educational institutions, its literary men, and its history, I had a very intense desire gratified—and that was to see and converse with George Combe, the eminent mental philosopher, and author of “Combe’s Constitution of Man,” a book which had been placed in my hands a few years before by Dr. Pelig Clark, of Rhode Island, the reading of which had relieved my path of many shadows. In company with George Thompson, James N. Buffum, and William L. Garrison, I had the honour to be invited by Mr. Combe to breakfast, and the occasion was one of the most delightful I met in dear old Scotland. Of course in the presence of such men, my part was a very subordinate one. I was a listener. Mr. Combe did the most of the talking, and did it so well, that nobody felt like interposing a word, except so far as to draw him on. He discussed the corn laws, and the proposal to reduce the hours of labour. He looked at all political and social questions through his peculiar mental science. His manner was remarkably quiet, and he spoke as not expecting opposition to his views. Phrenology explained everything to him, from the finite to the infinite, I look back to the morning spent with this singularly clear-headed man with much satisfaction.
It would detain the reader too long, and make this volume too large, to tell of the many kindnesses shown me while abroad, or even to mention all the great and noteworthy persons who gave me a friendly hand and a cordial welcome; but there is one other, now long gone to his rest, of whom a few words must be spoken, and that one was Thomas Clarkson—the last of the noble line of Englishmen who inaugurated the anti-slavery movement for England and the civilized world—the life-long friend and co-worker with Granville Sharpe, William Wilberforce, Thomas Fowell Buxton, and other leaders in that great reform which has nearly put an end to slavery in all parts of the globe. As in the case of George Combe, I went to see Mr. Clarkson in company with Messrs. Garrison and Thompson. They had by note advised him of our coming, and had received one in reply, bidding us welcome. We found the venerable object of our visit seated at a table, where he had been busily writing a letter to America against slavery; for, though in his eighty-seventh year, he continued to write. When we were presented to him, he rose to receive us. The scene was impressive. It was the meeting of two centuries. Garrison, Thompson, and myself were young men. After shaking hands with my two distinguished friends, and giving them welcome, he took one of my hands in both of his, and, in a tremulous voice, said, “God bless you, Frederick Douglass! I have given sixty years of my life to the emancipation of your people, and if I had sixty years more they should all be given to the same cause.” Our stay was short with this great-hearted old man, He was feeble, and our presence greatly excited him, and we left the house with something of the feeling with which friends take final leave of a beloved friend at the edge of the grave.
Some notion may be formed of the difference in my feelings and circumstances while abroad, from an extract from one of a series of letters addressed by me to Mr. Garrison, and published in the Liberator. It was written on the 1st day of January, 1846.
“My Dear Friend Garrison,—
“Up to this time, I have given no direct expression of the views, feelings, and opinions which I have formed respecting the character and condition of the people of this land. I have refrained thus purposely. I wish to speak advisedly, and, in order to do this, I have waited till, I trust, experience has brought my opinion to an intelligent maturity. I have been thus careful, not because I think what I say will have much effect in shaping the opinions of the world, but because what influence I may possess, whether little or much, I wish to go in the right direction, and according to truth. I hardly need say that in speaking of Ireland, I shall be influenced by no prejudices in favour of America. I think my circumstances all forbid that. I have no end to serve, no creed to uphold, no government to defend; and as to nation, I belong to none. I have no protection at home, or resting-place abroad. The land of my birth welcomes me to her shores only as a slave, and spurns with contempt the idea of treating me differently; so that I am an outcast from the society of my childhood, and an outlaw in the land of my birth. ‘I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.’ That men should be patriotic, is to me perfectly natural; and as a philosophical fact, I am able to give it an intellectual recognition. But no further can I go. If ever I had any patriotism, or any capacity for the feeling, it was whipped out of me long since by the lash of the American soul-drivers. In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky, her grand old woods, her fertile fields, her beautiful rivers, her mighty lakes, and star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked—my joy is soon turned to mourning. When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slaveholding, robbery, and wrong; when I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean, disregarded and forgotten, and that her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood of my outraged sisters, I am filled with unutterable loathing, and led to reproach myself that anything could fall from my lips in praise of such a land. America will not allow her children to love her. She seems bent on compelling those who would be her warmest friends, to be her worst enemies. May God give her repentance before it is too late, is the ardent prayer of my heart. I will continue to pray, labour, and wait, believing that she cannot always be insensible to the dictates of justice, or deaf to the voice of humanity. My opportunities for learning the character and condition of the people of this land have been very great. I have travelled from the Hill of Howth to the Giant’s Causeway, and from the Giant’s Causeway to Cape Clear. During these travels I have met with much in the character and condition of the people to approve, and much to condemn; much that has thrilled me with pleasure, and much that has filled me with pain. I will not, in this letter, attempt to give any description of those scenes which give me pain. This I will do hereafter. I have enough, and more than your subscribers will be disposed to read at one time, of the bright side of the picture. I can truly say I have spent some of the happiest days of my life since landing in this country. I seem to have undergone a transformation. I live a new life. The warm and generous co-operation extended to me by the friends of my despised race; the prompt and liberal manner with which the Press has rendered me its aid; the glorious enthusiasm with which thousands have flocked to hear the cruel wrongs of my down-trodden and long-enslaved fellow countrymen pourtrayed; the deep sympathy for the slave, and the strong abhorrence of the slaveholder everywhere evinced; the cordiality with which members and ministers of various religious bodies, and of various shades of religious opinion have embraced me and lent me their aid; the kind hospitality constantly proffered me by persons of the highest rank in society; the spirit of freedom that seems to animate all with whom I come in contact, and the entire absence of everything that looks like prejudice against me, on account of the colour of my skin, contrasts so strongly with my long and bitter experience in the United States, that I look with wonder and amazement on the transition. In the Southern part of the United States, I was a slave—thought of and spoken of as property; in the language of law, ‘held, taken, reputed, and adjudged to be a chattel in the hands of my owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions, and purposes, whatsoever.’ (Brev. Digest., 224.) In the Northern States, a fugitive slave, liable to be hunted at any moment like a felon, and to be hurled into the terrible jaws of slavery—doomed by an inveterate prejudice against colour, to insult and outrage on every hand—Massachusetts out of the question—denied the privileges and courtesies common to others in the use of the most humble means of conveyance—shut out from the cabins on steamboats, refused admission to respectable hotels, caricatured, scorned, scoffed, mocked, and maltreated with impunity by any one—no matter how black his heart—so he has a white skin. But now behold the change! Eleven days and a half gone, and I have crossed three thousand miles of perilous deep. Instead of a democratic government, I am under a monarchical government. Instead of the bright, blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft, gray fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel becomes a man! I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as a slave, or offer me an insult. I employ a cab—I am seated beside white people—I reach the hotel—I enter the same door—I am shown into the same parlour—I dine at the same table—and no one is offended. No delicate nose grows deformed in my presence. I find no difficulty here in obtaining admission into any place of worship, instruction, or amusement, on equal terms, with people as white as any I ever saw in the United States. I meet nothing to remind me of my complexion. I find myself regarded and treated at every turn with the kindness and deference paid to white people. When I go to church I am met by no upturned nose and scornful lip, to tell me—‘We don’t allow niggers in here.’ ”
I remember about two years ago there was in Boston, near the south-west corner of Boston Common, a menagerie. I had long desired to see such a collection as I understood was being exhibited there. Never having had an opportunity while a slave, I resolved to seize this, and as I approached the entrance to gain admission, I was told by the door-keeper, in a harsh and contemptuous tone, “We don’t allow niggers in here.” I also remember attending a revival meeting in the Rev. Henry Jackson’s meeting-house, at New Bedford, and going up the broad aisle for a seat, I was met by a good deacon, who told me, in a pious tone, “We don’t allow niggers in here.” Soon after my arrival in New Bedford, from the South, I had a strong desire to attend the Lyceum, but was told, “They don’t allow niggers there.” While passing from New York to Boston on the steamer “Massachusetts,” on the night of the 9th of December, 1843, when chilled almost through with the cold, I went into the cabin to get a little warm. I was soon touched upon the shoulder, and told, “We don’t allow niggers in here.” A week or two before leaving the United States, I had a meeting appointed at Weymouth, the house of that glorious band of true abolitionists—the Weston family and others. On attempting to take a seat in the omnibus to that place, I was told by the driver—and I never shall forget his fiendish hate—“I don’t allow niggers in here.” Thank heaven for the respite I now enjoy! I had been in Dublin but a few days when a gentleman of great respectability kindly offered to conduct me through all the public buildings of that beautiful city, and soon afterwards I was invited by the Lord Mayor to dine with him. What a pity there was not some democratic Christian at the door of his splendid mansion to bark out at me approach, “They don’t allow niggers in here!” The truth is, the people here know nothing of the republican negro-hate prevalent in our glorious land. They measure and esteem men according to their moral and intellectual worth, and not according to the colour of their skin. Whatever may be said of the aristocracies here, there is none based on the colour of a man’s skin. This species of aristocracy belongs pre-eminently to “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” I have never found it abroad in any but Americans. It sticks to them wherever they go. They find it almost as hard to get rid of as to get rid of their skins.
The second day after my arrival in Liverpool, in company with my friend Buffum, and several other friends, I went to Eaton Hall, the residence of the Marquis of Westminster, one of the most splendid buildings in England. On approaching the door, I found several of our American passengers who came out with us in the “Cambria,” waiting for admission, as but one party was allowed in the house at a time. We all had to wait till the company within came out, and of all the faces expressive of chagrin, those of the Americans were pre-eminent. They looked as sour as vinegar, and as bitter as gall, when they found I was to be admitted on equal terms with themselves. When the door was opened, I walked in on a footing with my white fellow-citizens, and, from all I could see, I had as much attention paid me by the servants who showed us through the house, as any with a paler skin. As I walked through the building, the statuary did not fall down, the pictures did not leap from their places, the doors did not refuse to open, and the servants did not say, “We don’t allow niggers in here.”
My time and labours while abroad were divided between England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Upon this experience alone I might fill a volume. Amongst the few incidents which space will permit me to mention, and one which attracted much attention and provoked much discussion in America, was a brief statement made by me in the World’s Temperance Convention, held in Covent Garden Theatre, London, August 7, 1846. The United States was largely represented in this convention by eminent divines, mostly doctors of divinity. They had come to England for the double purpose of attending the World’s Evangelical Alliance, and the World’s Temperance Convention. In the former these ministers were endeavouring to procure endorsement for the Christian character of slaveholders; and, naturally enough, they were adverse to the exposure of slaveholding practices. It was not pleasant to them to see one of the slaves running at large in England, and telling the other side of the story. The Rev. Samuel Hanson Cox, D.D., of Brooklyn, N. Y., was especially disturbed at my presence and speech in the Temperance Convention. I will give here, first, the reverend gentleman’s version of the occasion in a letter from him as it appeared in the New York Evangelist, the organ of his denomination. After a description of the place, Covent Garden Theatre, and the speakers, he says:
“They all advocated the same cause, showed a glorious unity of thought and feeling, and the effect was constantly raised—the moral scene was superb and glorious—when Frederick Douglass, the coloured abolition agitator and ultraist, came to the platform, and so spake, à la mode, as to ruin the influence of almost all that preceded! He lugged in anti-slavery, or abolition, no doubt prompted to it by some of the politic ones, who can use him to do what they would not themselves adventure to do in person. He is supposed to have been well paid for the abomination.
“What a perversion, an abuse, an iniquity against the law of reciprocal righteousness, to call thousands together, and get them, some certain ones, to seem conspicuous and devoted for one sole and grand object, and then all at once, with obliquity, open an avalanche on them for some imputed evil or monstrosity, for which, whatever be the wound or injury inflicted, they were both too fatigued and hurried with surprise, and too straightened for time to be properly prepared. I say it is a streak of meanness! It is abominable! On this occasion Mr. Douglass allowed himself to denounce America and all its temperance societies together, as a grinding community of the enemies of his people; said evil, with no alloy of good, concerning the whole of us, was perfectly indiscriminate in his severities; talked of the American delegates, and to them, as if he had been our schoolmaster, and we his docile and devoted pupils, and launched his revengeful missiles at our country without one palliative, and as if not a Christian or a true anti-slavery man lived in the whole of the United States. The fact is, the man has been petted, and flattered, and used, and paid by certain abolitionists, not unknown to us, of the ne plus ultra stamp, till he forgets himself; and, though he may gratify his own impulses, and those of old Adam in others, yet sure I am that all this is just the way to ruin his own influence, to defeat his own object, and to do mischief—not good—to the very cause he professes to love. With the single exception of one cold-hearted parricide, whose character I abhor, and whom I will not name, and who has, I fear, no feeling of true patriotism or piety within him, all the delegates from our country were together wounded and indignant. No wonder at it. I write freely. It was not done in a corner. It was inspired, I believe, from beneath, and not from above. It was adapted to re-kindle on both sides of the Atlantic the flames of national exasperation and war. And this is the game which Mr. Frederick Douglass and his silly patrons are playing in England and in Scotland, and wherever they can find ‘some mischief still for idle hands to do.’ I came here his sympathizing friend; I am such no more, as I know him. My own opinion is increasing that this spirit must be exorcised out of England and America before any substantial good can be effected for the cause of the slave. It is adapted only to make bad worse, and to inflame the passions of indignant millions to an incurable resentment. None but an ignoramus or a madman could think that this way was that of the inspired apostles of the son of God. It may gratify the feelings of a self-deceived and malignant few, but it will do no good in any direction—least of all to the poor slave! It is short-sighted, impulsive, partisan, reckless, and tending only to sanguinary ends. None of this with men of sense and principle.
“We all wanted to reply, but it was too late; the whole theatre seemed taken with the spirit of the Ephesian uproar; they were furious and boisterous in the extreme, and Mr. Kirk could hardly obtain a moment, though many were desirous in his behalf to say a few words, as he did, very calmly and properly, that the cause of temperance was not at all responsible for slavery, and had no connection with it.
Now, to show the reader what ground there was for this tirade from the pen of this eminent divine, and how easily Americans parted with their candour and self-possession when slavery was mentioned adversely, I will give here the head and front of my offence. Let it be borne in mind that this was a world’s convention of the friends of temperance. It was not an American or a white man’s convention but one composed of men of all nations and races; and as such, the convention had the right to know all about the temperance cause in every part of the world, and especially to know what hindrances were interposed in any part of the world, to its progress. I was perfectly in order in speaking precisely as I did. I was neither an “intruder,” nor “out of order.” I had been invited and advertised to speak by the same committee that invited Doctors Beecher, Cox, Patton, Kirk, Marsh, and others, and my speech was perfectly within the limits of good order, as the following report will show:
“Mr. Chairman—Ladies and Gentlemen:—
“I am not a delegate to this convention. Those who would have been most likely to elect me as a delegate could not, because they are to-night held in abject slavery in the United States. Sir, I regret that I cannot fully unite with the American delegates in their patriotic eulogies of America, and American temperance societies. I cannot do so for this good reason: there are at this moment three millions of the American population, by slavery and prejudice, placed entirely beyond the pale of American temperance societies. The three million slaves are completely excluded by slavery, and four hundred thousand free coloured people are almost as completely excluded by an inveterate prejudice against them, on account of their colour. [Cries of shame! shame!]
“I do not say these things to wound the feelings of the American delegates. I simply mention them in their presence and before this audience, that, seeing how you regard this hatred and neglect of the coloured people, they may be inclined on their return home to enlarge the field of their temperance operations, and embrace within the scope of their influence, my long-neglected race. [Great cheering, and some confusion on the platform.] Sir, to give you some idea of the difficulties and obstacles in the way of the temperance reformation of the coloured population in the United States, allow me to state a few facts.
“About the year 1840, a few intelligent, sober, and benevolent coloured gentlemen in Philadelphia, being acquainted with the appalling ravages of intemperance among a numerous class of coloured people in that city, and, finding themselves neglected and excluded from white societies, organized societies among themselves, appointed committees, sent out agents, built temperance halls, and were earnestly and successfully rescuing many from the fangs of intemperance.
“The cause went nobly on till August 1, 1842, the day when England gave liberty to eight hundred thousand souls in the West Indies. The coloured temperance societies selected this day to march in procession through the city, in the hope that such a demonstration would have the effect of bringing others into their ranks. They formed their procession, unfurled their teetotal banners, and proceeded to the accomplishment of their purpose. It was a delightful sight. But, sir, they had not proceeded down two streets before they were brutally assailed by a ruthless mob; their banner was torn down, and trampled in the dust, their ranks broken up, their persons beaten and pelted with stones and brickbats. One of their churches was burned to the ground, and their best temperance hall utterly demolished.” [“Shame! shame! shame!” from the audience—great confusion, and cries of “Sit down” from the American delegates on the platform.]
In the midst of this commotion, the chairman tapped me on the shoulder, and, whispering, informed me that the fifteen minutes allotted to each speaker had expired; whereupon the vast audience simultaneously shouted: “Don’t interrupt!” “don’t dictate!” “go on!” “go on!” “Douglass!” “Douglass!” This continued several minutes, when I proceeded as follows. “Kind friends, I beg to assure you that the chairman has not in the slightest degree sought to alter any sentiment which I am anxious to express on this occasion. He was simply reminding me that the time allotted for me to speak had expired. I do not wish to occupy one moment more than is allotted to other speakers. Thanking your for your kind indulgence, I will take my seat.” Proceeding to do so again, “there were cries of “Go on!” “go on!” with which I complied for a few minutes, but without saying anything more that particularly related to the coloured people of America. I did not allow the letter of Dr. Cox to go unanswered through the American journals, but promptly exposed its unfairness. That letter is too long for insertion here. A part of it was published in the Evangelist, and in many other papers, both in America and in England. Our eminent divine made no rejoinder, and his silence was regarded at the time as an admission of defeat.
Another interesting circumstance connected with my visit to England, was the position of the Free Church of Scotland with the great Doctors Chalmers, Cunningham, and Candlish at its head. That church had settled for itself the question which was frequently asked by the opponents of abolition at home—“What have we to do with slavery?” by accepting contributions from slaveholders; i.e., receiving the price of blood into its treasury, with which to build churches and pay ministers for preaching the gospel; and worse than this, when honest John Murray of Bowlein Bay, with William Smeal, Andrew Paton, Frederick Card, and other sterling anti-slavery men in Glasgow, denounced the transaction as disgraceful, and shocking to the religious sentiment of Scotland, this Church, through its leading divines, instead of repenting and seeking to amend the mistake into which it had fallen, caused that mistake to become a flagrant sin by undertaking to defend, in the name of God and the Bible, the principle not only of taking the money of slave-dealers to build churches and thus extend the gospel, but of holding fellowship with the traffickers in human flesh. This, the reader will see, brought up the whole question of slavery, and opened the way to its full discussion. I have never seen a people more deeply moved than were the people of Scotland on this very question. Public meeting succeeded public meeting, speech after speech, pamphlet after pamphlet, editorial after editorial, sermon after sermon, lashed the concientious Scotch people into a perfect furore. “Send back the money!” was indignantly shouted from Greenock to Edinburgh, and from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. George Thompson of London, Henry C. Wright, J. N. Buffum, and myself from America, were of course, on the anti-slavery side, and Chalmers, Cunningham, and Cavendish, on the other. Dr. Cunningham was the most powerful debater on the slavery side of the question, Mr. Thompson the ablest on the anti-slavery side. A scene occurred between these two men, a parallel to which I think I have never witnessed before or since. It was caused by a single exclamation on the part of Mr. Thompson, and was on this wise:
The general assembly of the Free Church was in progress at Cannon Mills, Edinburgh. The building would hold twenty-five hundred persons, and on this occasion was densely packed, notice having been given that Doctors Cunningham and Candlish would speak that day in defence of the relations of the Free Church of Scotland to slavery in America. Messrs. Thompson, Buffum, myself and a few other anti-slavery friends attended, but sat at such distance and in such position as not to be observed from the platform. The excitement was intense, having been greatly increased by a series of meetings held by myself and friends, in the most splendid hall in that most beautiful city, just previous to this meeting of the general assembly. “Send back the money!” in large capitals, stared from every street corner; “Send back the money!” adorned the broad flags of the pavement; “Send back the money!” was the chorus of the popular street-song; “Send back the money!” was the heading of leading editorials in the daily newspapers. This day, at Cannon Mills, the great doctors of the church were to give an answer to this loud and stern demand. Men of all parties and sects were most eager to hear. Something great was expected. The occasion was great, the men were great, and great speeches were expected from them.
In addition to the outward pressure there was wavering within. The conscience of the Church itself was not at ease. A dissatisfaction with the position of the Church touching slavery was sensibly manifest among the members, and something must be done to counteract this untoward influence. The great Dr. Chalmers was in feeble health at the time, so his most potent eloquence could not now be summoned to Cannon Mills, as formerly. He whose voice had been so powerful as to rend asunder and dash down the granite walls of the Established Church of Scotland, and to lead a host in solemn procession from it as from a doomed city, was now old and enfeebled. Besides, he had said his word on this very question, and it had not silenced the clamour without nor stilled the anxious heavings within. The occasion was momentous, and felt to be so. The Church was in a perilous condition. A change of some sort must take place, or she must go to pieces. To stand where she did was impossible. The whole weight of the matter fell on Cunningham and Candlish. No shoulders in the Church were broader than theirs; and I must say, badly as I detested the principles laid down and defended by them, I was compelled to acknowledge the vast mental endowments of the men.
Cunningham rose, and his rising was the signal for tumultuous applause. It may be said that this was scarcely in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion, but to me it served to increase its grandeur and gravity. The applause, though tumultuous, was not joyous. It seemed to me, as it thundered up from the vast audience, like the fall of an immense shaft, flung from shoulders already galled by its crushing weight. It was like saying “Doctor, we have borne this burden long enough, and willingly fling it upon you. Since it was you who brought it upon us, take it now and do what you will with it, for we are too weary to bear it.”
The Doctor proceeded with his speech—abounding in logic, learning, and eloquence, and apparently bearing down all opposition; but at the moment—the fatal moment—when he was just bringing all his arguments to a point—that point being that “neither Jesus Christ nor His holy apostles regarded slaveholding as a sin”—George Thompson, in a clear, sonorous, but rebuking voice, broke the deep stillness of the audience, exclaiming “Hear! Hear! Hear!” The effect of this simple and common exclamation is almost incredible. It was as if a granite wall had been suddenly flung up against the advancing current of a mighty river. For a moment speaker and audience were brought to a dead silence. Both the Doctor and his hearers seemed appalled by the audacity, as well as the fitness of the rebuke. At length a shout went up to the cry of “Put him out!” Happily no one attempted to execute this cowardly order, and the discourse went on; but not as before. The exclamation of Thompson must have re-echoed a thousand times in the memory of the Doctor, who, during the remainder of his speech, was utterly unable to recover from the blow. The deed was done, however; the pillars of the Church—the proud Free Church of Scotland—were committed, and the humility of repentance was absent. The Free Church held on to the blood-stained money, and continued to justify itself in its position.
One good result followed the conduct of the Free Church: it furnished an occasion for making the people thoroughly acquainted with the character of slavery, and for arraying against it the moral and religious sentiment of that country; therefore, while we did not procure the sending back of the money, we were amply justified, by the good which really did result from our labours.
I must add one word in regard to the Evangelical Alliance. This was an attempt to form a union of all Evangelical Christians throughout the world, and which held its first session in London, in the year 1846, at the time of the World’s Temperance Convention there. Some sixty or seventy ministers from America attended this convention, the object of some of them being to weave a world-wide garment with which to clothe evangelical slaveholders; and in this they partially succeeded. But the question of slavery was too large a question to be finally disposed of by the Evangelical Alliance, and from its judgment we appealed to the judgment of the people of Great Britain, with the happiest effect—this effort of our countrymen to shield the character of slaveholders serving to open a way to the British ear for antislavery discussion.
I may mention here an incident somewhat amusing and instructive, as it serves to illustrate how easily Americans could set aside their notoriously inveterate prejudice against colour, when it stood in the way of their wishes, or when in an atmosphere which made their prejudice unpopular and un-Christian.
At the entrance to the House of Commons I had one day been conversing for a few moments with Lord Morpeth, and just as I was parting from him I felt an emphatic push against my arm, and, looking around, I saw at my elbow the Rev. Dr. Kirk of Boston. “Introduce me to Lord Morpeth,” he said. “Certainly,” said I, and introduced him; not without remembering, however, that the amiable Doctor would scarcely have asked such a favour of a coloured man at home.
The object of my labours in Great Britain was the concentration of the moral and religious sentiment of its people against American slavery. To this end, I visited and lectured in nearly all the large towns and cities in the United Kingdom, and enjoyed many favourable opportunities for observation and information. I should like to write a book on those countries, if for nothing else, to make grateful mention of the many dear friends whose benevolent actions towards me are ineffaceably stamped upon my memory, and warmly treasured in my heart. To these friends, I owe my freedom in the United States.
Mrs. Ellen Richardson, an excellent member of the society of friends, assisted by her sister-in-law, Mrs. Henry Richardson,—a lady devoted to every good word and work—the friend of the Indian and the African, conceived the plan of raising a fund to effect my ransom from slavery. They corresponded with Hon. Walter Forward of Pennsylvania, and through him, ascertained that Captain Auld would take one hundred and fifty pounds sterling for me; and this sum they promptly raised, and paid for my liberation; placing the papers of my manumission in my hands, before they would tolerate the idea of my return to my native land. To this commercial transaction, to this blood-money, I owe my immunity from the operation of the fugitive slave law of 1793, and also from that of 1850. The whole affair speaks for itself, and needs no comment now that slavery has ceased to exist in the United States, and is not likely ever again to be revived.
Some of my uncompromising anti-slavery friends in America failed to see the wisdom of this commercial transaction, and were not pleased that I consented to it, even by my silence. They thought it a violation of anti-slavery principles, conceding the right of property in man, and a wasteful expenditure of money. For myself, viewing it simply in the light of a ransom, or as money extorted by a robber, and my liberty being of more value to me than one hundred and fifty pounds sterling, I could not see either a violation of the laws of morality or of economy. It is true, I was not in the possession of my claimants, and could have remained in England, for my friends would have generously assisted me in establishing myself there. To this I could not consent. I felt it my duty to labour and suffer with my oppressed people in my native land. Considering all the circumstances, the Fugitive Slave Bill included, I think now as then, that the very best thing was done in letting Master Hugh have the money, and thus leaving me free to return to my appropriate field of labour. Had I been a private person, with no relations or duties other than those of a personal and family nature, I should not have consented to the payment of so large a sum, for the privilege of living securely under our glorious republican (?) form of government. I could have lived elsewhere, or perhaps might have been unobserved even in the United States; but I had become somewhat notorious and withal quite as unpopular in some directions as notorious, and I was therefore, much exposed to arrest and capture.*
Having remained abroad nearly two years, and being about to return to America, not as I left it—a slave—but a freeman, prominent friends of the cause of emancipation intimated their intention to present me with a testimonial, both on grounds of personal regard for me, and also of the cause to which they were so ardently devoted. How such a project would have succeeded I do not know, but many reasons led me to prefer that my friends should simply give me the means of obtaining a printing press and materials, to enable me to start a paper, advocating the interests of my enslaved and oppressed people. I told them that perhaps the greatest hindrance to the adoption of abolition principles by the people of the United States was the low estimate everywhere in that country placed upon the negro as a man; that because of his assumed natural inferiority, people reconciled themselves to his enslavement and oppression, as being inevitable if not desirable. The grand thing to be done, therefore, was to change this estimation, by disproving his inferiority and demonstrating his capacity for a more exalted civilization than slavery and prejudice had assigned him. In my judgment, a tolerably well-conducted press in the hands of persons of the despised race, would, by calling out and making them acquainted with their own latent powers, by enkindling their hope of a future, and developing their moral force, prove a most powerful means of removing prejudice and awakening an interest in them. At that time there was not a single newspaper regularly published by the coloured people in the country, though many attempts had been made to establish such, and had from one cause or another failed. These views I laid before my friends. The result was, that nearly two thousand five hundred dollars were speedily raised towards my establishing such a paper as I had indicated. For this prompt and generous assistance, rendered upon my bare suggestion, without any personal effort on my part, I shall never cease to feel deeply grateful, and the thought of fulfilling the expectations of the dear friends who had given me this evidence of their confidence, was an abiding inspiration for persevering exertion.
Proposing to leave England, and turning my face towards America in the spring of 1847, I was painfully reminded of the kind of life which awaited me on my arrival. For the first time in the many months spent abroad, I met with proscription on account of my colour. While in London I had purchased a ticket, and secured a berth, for returning home in the “Cambria”—the steamer in which I had come from thence—and paid therefor the round sum of forty pounds, nineteen shillings sterling. This was first cabin fare; but on going on board I found that the Liverpool agent had ordered my berth to be given to another, and forbidden my entering the saloon. It was rather hard after having enjoyed for so long a time equal social privileges, after dining with persons of great literary, social, political, and religious eminence, and never, during the whole time, having met with a single word, look, or gesture, which gave the slightest reason to think my colour was an offence to anybody—now to be cooped up in the stern of the “Cambria,” and denied the right to enter the saloon, lest my presence should disturb some democratic fellow-passenger. The reader can easily imagine what must have been my feelings under such an indignity.
This contemptible conduct met with stern rebuke from the British Press. The London Times, and other leading journals throughout the United Kingdom, held up the outrage to unmitigated condemnation. So good an opportunity for calling out British sentiment on the subject had not before occurred, and it was fully embraced. The result was, that Mr. Cunard came out with a letter expressive of his regret, and promising that the like indignity should never occur again on his steamers; which promise, I believe, has been faithfully kept.
[* ]The following is a copy of these curious papers, both of my transfer from Thomas to Hugh Auld, and from Hugh to myself:—