Frederick Douglass Redux
9 March, 2015
“There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.” So said Frederick Douglas of the United States a decade before the Civil War. And so might any of the last eight presidents of the United States – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama – have said. All presided over a continuing holocaust.
The oration of Frederick Douglas at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York on 5 July, 1852 has been given the title, “The Conscience of the Nation Must be Aroused,” taken from a line in the address. The annual Independence Day address was sponsored by the Ladies of the Rochester Anti Slavery Sewing Society. Born a slave on a Maryland plantation in 1817, he educated himself with the help of his master’s wife, escaped in 1838, and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he worked for the antislavery cause.
The hortatory message rises in indignation as he begins with the “Present” situation, describing the reality of slavery and proceeds through the concepts of “Religious Liberty,” the “Church Responsible” and the comparisons with Britain and that nation’s successful abolition of slavery. Any American of the twenty-first century cannot help but think of the current holocaust known as “abortion” or “reproductive freedom” when he reads this jeremiad. The self-deception which refused the humanity of the black man, today refuses the humanity of the child in the womb.
Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!
The humanity of various classes of human beings is denied from time to time and from nation to nation. And so it was then, in America, and much of the world. And yet, Douglas gave no quarter as he brought down the axe of righteous judgment, declaring: “There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong.”
How strange is the irony of a people who are alleged to revel in freedom and to have shone the light of freedom to the world and yet to have indulged in such a ignominy:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than. all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which lie is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every day practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
And not only is the nation to which he was sold into bondage to be indicted for its political and personal sins, but the People of God are to be charged with sin by omission.
But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines, who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion, and the bible, to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for christianity . . .
The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery.
The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”
Let the religious press, the pulpit, the sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds, and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.
In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church, and ministry of the country, in battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American theology have appeared-men, honored for their so called piety, and their real learning. The LORDS of Buffalo, the SPRINGS of New York, the LATHROPS of Auburn, the COXES and SPENCERS of Brooklyn, the GANNETS and SHARPS of Boston, the DEWEYS of Washington, and other great religious lights of the land, have, in utter denial of the authority of Him, by whom they professed to be called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example of the Hebrews, and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, they teach that we ought to obey man’s law before the law of God.”
My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher, of Brooklyn, Samuel J. May, of Syracuse, and my esteemed friend* on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that, upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.
So also, now, God’s churches in our land have not used their gifts and resources to oppose the Government’s approbation and sponsorship of this evil. We might well offer a word of defense on behalf of God’s people of that time. Slavery is not categorically condemned in God’s word. A man might indeed prefer to be another’s slave if he cannot provide for himself. And he might well offer his ear to be pierced as a sign of his permanent submission to a master he trusts for the mutual benefit. Slavery had always been a feature of the human condition through the ages. What the Scriptures provided, holy as they are, was a prohibition against man stealing – a capital crime. And it was this crime upon which the whole European and American slave market was built. Yes, the Christian Europeans purchased African slaves primarily from Islamic traders and so belied civilization with a barbarity outdone only by today’s worldwide childslaughter known as abortion rights.
To be sure, there is no excuse for tolerating, let alone promoting the murder of innocents. It is both extreme selfish personal indulgence and a globalist environmental heresy which supplies the basis for this ongoing holocaust. And it is a crime more pernicious than the slavery so well damned by Frederick Douglas.