Frederick Douglass, “The Pro-Slavery Mob and the Pro-Slavery Ministry” (1861)

(image: “Expulsion of Negroes and Abolitionists from Tremont Temple, Boston, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1860,” Harpers Weekly, December 15, 1860).

Frederick Douglass

In December 1860 and January 1861, mobs had shut down multiple anti-slavery meetings in the North. Douglass himself had been in attendance at a in Boston, December 3, 1860, in honor of John Brown, until a mob broke up the meeting and they were forced to move to another venue. In January 1861, Samuel May, a Unitarian pastor, had a meeting shut down in Syracuse, New York, and then the mob burned him in effigy at the town square. But in addition to mobs, several pro-slavery sermons and articles had also been published in December and January, by Presbyterians like James Boylan Shaw, Henry Van Dyke, and James Henley Thornwell, as well as Episcopal bishop John Henry Hopkins.

Frederick Douglass connected the two, and blasted away at both in a remarkable article published in the March 1861 issue of his Douglass Monthly, titled “The Pro-Slavery Mob and the Pro-Slavery Ministry” (original available here).

“The Pro-Slavery Church and the Pro-Slavery Ministry”

I have transcribed the article here, and added explanatory footnotes (with links) to the figures and events referenced by Douglass:


Here are a few choice quotes from the article (though, as it is only a few pages long, you really should just read the whole thing):

These two Powers have been harmoniously and simultaneously active, since the second of December, in the service of the American slave system.  The union and concert between them is as admirable as their work is hateful and diabolical.  The causes that have moved the one to pelt us with brickbats, have equally moved the other to pester us with sermons.—The weapons of the one are brutal, and those of the other spiritual; but they amount to about the same thing in the end.

Color makes all the difference in the application of our American Christianity. To the whites it is full of love and tenderness. To the blacks it is full of hate and bitterness. The same Book which is full of the Gospel of Liberty to one race, is crowded with arguments in justification of the slavery of another.

But the rowdies have been scarcely more active in their devotion to our National Barbarism than the Reverends.  The higher we go up in the scale of ecclesiastical gradation, the more heartless and cruel do we find the enemies of our cause.

We argue with no such disputants. It would be insulting to  Common Sense, an outrage upon all right feeling, for us, who have worn the heavy chain, and felt the biting lash, to consent to argue with Ecclesiastical Sneaks who are thus prostituting their Religion and Bible to the base uses of popular and profitable iniquity.  They don’t need light, but the sting of honest rebuke. They are of their father the Devil, and his works they do, not because they are ignorant, but because they are base.

The Sermons of Drs. Vandyke, Hopkins, Thornwell, and others, to prove that God is well pleased with slaveholding and slave-catching, and that those are the chief of sinners who oppose the slave system and seeks its abolition, may well give inaffable joy to the hearts of Atheists, and of all who wish to see the Bible sink beneath the waves of universal contempt.  What reverence can men have for a Book that authorizes one race to make beasts of burden of another?  What love can a man have for a God who plunges him in the hell of Slavery? A thousand times over, give us the Religion or no Religion of the Infidel, with its Justice and Humanity, than the Religion of Slavery as taught by these crafty and cruel Doctors of Divinity.

We are at the end of argument with such persons. If they press the Bible into the service of Slavery, so much the worse for the Bible.  We are quite tired of quoting text against text, not because we cannot find as many on our side, the side of Liberty, as these Doctors find on the side of Slavery, but because we have had enough of these arguments.  The man that will go to God, or to the Bible, to look for arguments in support of a desire to work his brother man without wages, is a hypocrite as well as a scoundrel, and is below the level of argument.


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