(1849) Frederick Douglass, “On Mexico”

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1850
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On June 8, 1849, Frederick Douglass gave a major oration at Faneuil Hall in Boston soon after he returned from Europe. The speech addressed a number of issues including the politics of Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. After his main address, Douglass returned to the podium following an eulogy by William Lloyd Garrison on Scottish abolitionist John Murray. Douglass used this opportunity to critique the recently ended war with Mexico. His remarks appear below.

It is a poor rule that won’t work both ways. Most people think their Lord is like themselves. A certain very pious man was horribly shocked by hearing an abolitionist say that the Negro was made in the image of God. The Lord is in their image, they seem to think, and the devil in the image of the black man.

I desire to bear my testimony, after hearing the eulogy pronounced by Mr. Garrison, with regard to our departed brother and co-laborer, John Murray, of Scotland. About three years ago I had the pleasure of bidding that noble man farewell on the shores of Scotland; and I remember well the deep interest he took in the antislavery questions of this country. His last battle in behalf of the slave was with the Free Church of Scotland; and while he lived, that Church, for its alliance with slaveholders—for receiving their money into its treasury, and extending to them its fellowship in return—obtained no repose. He bore a noble testimony against it; he had borne a noble testimony against slavery before. For the last twenty-eight years, John Murray stood up in Scotland, the firm, the untiring, the devoted friend of the slave. There are two or three colored persons, at least, now in this Hall, who have shared his generous hospitality, and received his hearty “God-speed” in their endeavors to break down slavery and prejudice against color in this country, by creating a public sentiment on that side of the Atlantic that should react in favor of human liberty here. I have no more to say respecting this good man; his consistent and irreproachable character is his best eulogy.

Some one has asked me to say a word about General Worth. I only know General Worth by his acts in Mexico and elsewhere, in the service of this salveholding and slave-trading government. I know why that question is put: it is because one of your city papers, which does not rise to the dignity of being called a paper—a sheet of the basest sort—has said that my tongue ought to be cut out by its roots because, upon hearing of the death of that man, I made use of the remark—(it is not stated in what connection I made it, or where)—that another legalized murderer had gone to his account. I say so yet! I will not undertake to defend what I then said, or to shop up his character or history. You know as well as I do, that Faneuil Hall has resounded with echoing applause of a denunciation of the Mexican war, as a murderous war—as a war against the free states—as a war against freedom, against the Negro, and against the interests of workingmen of this country—and as a means of extending that great evil and damning curse, negro slavery. Why may not the oppressed say, when an oppressor is dead, either by disease or by the hand of the foeman on the battlefield, that there is one the less of his oppressors left on earth? For my part, I would not care if, to-morrow, I should hear of the death of every man who engaged in that bloody war in Mexico, and that every man had met the fate he went there to perpetrate upon unoffending Mexicans. A word more. There are three millions of slaves in this land, held by the United States Government, under the sanction of the American Constitution, with all the compromises and guaranties contained in that instrument in favor of the slave system. Among those guaranties and compromises is one by which you, the citizens of Boston, have sworn, before God, that three millions of slaves shall be slaves or die—that your swords and bayonets and arms shall, at any time at the biding of the slaveholder, through the legal magistrate or governor of a slave State, be at his service in putting down the slaves. With eighteen millions of freemen standing upon the quivering hearts of three millions of slaves, my sympathies, of course, must be with the oppressed. I am among them, and you are treading them beneath your feet. The weight of your influence, numbers, political combinations and religious organizations, and the power of your arms, rest heavily upon them, and serve at this moment to keep them in their chains. When I consider their condition—the history of the American people—how they bared their bosoms to the storm of British artillery, in order to resist simply a three-penny tea tax, and to assert their independence of the mother country—I say, in view of these things, I should welcome the intelligence to-morrow, should it come, that the slaves had risen in the South, and that the sable arms which had been engaged in beautifying and adorning the South were engaged in spreading death and devastation there. There is a state of war at the South at this moment. The slaveholder is waging a war of aggression on the oppressed. The slaves are now under his feet. Why, you welcomed the intelligence from France, the Louis Philippe had been barricaded in Paris—you threw up your caps in honor of the victory achieved by Republicanism over Royalty—you shouted aloud—“Long live the republic!”—and joined heartily in the watchword of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”—and should you not hail, with equal pleasure, the tidings from the South that the slaves had risen, and achieved for himself, against the iron-hearted slaveholder, what the republicans of France achieved against the royalists of France?