Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Fear of Arrest
 
Douglass gave a lecture in Brooklyn and another in Philadelphia, raised a small sum of money, and then set out for Chambersburg.  Traveling with Shields Green, one of John Brown’s black supporters, Douglass entered the barbershop of Henry Watson and told the black man why he was in town.  Watson immediately set about making arrangements for a public lecture in Chambersburg, which would give Douglass a legitimate reason for being there.  He then directed Douglass and Green to the quarry at the edge of town, where Brown and his band of men were waiting.
 
They sat down on the rocks to talk, and Douglass soon discovered that Brown seemed to have forgotten his plans for establishing communities of fugitive slaves in the mountains.  … Now Brown was obsessed with the idea of taking the Harpers Ferry arsenal, which he viewed both as the emblem of the military power of a government he had learned to hate and as a source of arms with which to wage war against the slaveholders protected by that power.  Suddenly Douglass saw the whole enterprise in a different light: he was convinced it was doomed.
 
When, later in the day, Douglass met the pathetically small group of brave but, he now thought, deluded men who were determined to follow their leader’s bidding, he was still more dismayed.  … Douglass told Brown that he was “going into a perfect steel trap, and that once in he would not get out alive.”  Douglass saw no safety in Brown’s plan to protect himself by taking civilian hostages: “Virginia,” he later claimed to have declared, “would blow him and his hostages sky-high, rather than he should hold Harpers Ferry an hour.”
 
Undaunted, Brown continued for two days his attempts to persuade Douglass to join his force, saying, “I want you for a special purpose.  … When I strike, the bees will begin to swarm, and I want you to help hive them.”  Brown’s likening a rising of human beings to a swarm of stinging bees, with Douglass as the queen bee who could control them, must have made the whole enterprise seem mad. 
 
Douglas said no to Brown’s final plea that he join him, and left. 
 
On October 16, 1859, leading an army of twenty-two, Brown moved on Harpers Ferry; with expert reconnoitering and extraordinary nerve, they did manage to seize the arsenal.  Shields Green and Jeremiah Sanderson, another of Brown’s black soldiers, were sent out to rally the slaves in the region to the revolt.  As the two left on their futile assignment, they saw Robert E. Lee’s detachment of marines surrounding the arsenal.  Sanderson said to Green that they had better keep going; they could do nothing now to save Brown, but Green went back into the arsenal, saying he “must go down to de ole man.”  The rebels were all either captured or, like Green, killed (McFeely 196-197).
 
The Philadelphia newspapers of October 18 were full of the news of Brown’s raid.  That night Frederick Douglass delivered a lecture at National Hall.  The following morning he received a “very elegantly written note” from Amanda Auld Sears, Thomas and Lucretia Auld’s daughter.  She was now the wife of John Sears, a Philadelphia coal merchant.  She had heard Douglass speak the night before and wished to meet with him.
 
Choosing, whether conscious or not, to ignore the storm over one of the most sensational events in the nation’s history, an event in which he knew he was implicated, Douglass went to Sears’s office in response to the invitation.  Presumably, Amanda Sears had given Douglass her husband’s business address, but at first Sears resisted talking to Douglass at all; when he relented, he remained distant, saying that he greatly resented the attacks Douglass had made on the father-in-law, Thomas Auld, in his books.  Only reluctantly did he at length permit Douglass to call on his wife.  When the slave went to visit the mistress, he was dismayed to find the Sears’s parlor full of people, curious about the caller.  Douglass had been afraid that he might not recognize Amanda as a grown woman, but he did so immediately, and the two fell into an intimate conversation.  Amanda ignored Douglass’s years-old hortatory attacks on her father, referring instead to his affectionate recollection of her mother, Lucretia Anthony Auld, in the Narrative.  Forthrightly, she told him that she agreed with him that slavery was a wrong.  After more than two decades Douglass was pulled back into one of his families.  Years later he found out that soon after his reunion with Amanda, her father, Thomas Auld, learned of the visit and told her that she had been right to reach out and bring Frederick back (McFeely 198).
 
Almost immediately Douglass had to leave the city and go into hiding.  Amongst the papers taken from John Brown was a note written by Douglass dated December 7, 1857: “My dear Cpt. Brown, I am very busy at home.  Will you Please, come up with my son Fred and take a mouthful with me?”  The Philadelphia newspapers published the note but omitted “1857.”  Virginia’s governor, Henry Wise, subsequently demanded that President Buchanan assist in arresting Brown’s allies, included “Frederick Douglass, a negro man … charged with … inciting servile insurrection” (McFeely 198).  The note itself did not prove that Douglass was a part of Brown’s conspiracy, but Douglass had good reason to fear imminent arrest.  People in Philadelphia knew that he had brought money to Brown from the city, accompanied by Shields Green.  The authorities would soon know that as well.  Also, a fact that Douglass did not know, a teacher at Harpers Ferry knew that Brown had boasted that Gerrit Smith and Frederick Douglass knew of the insurrection.
 
Douglass received unanticipated help from a telegraph operator.  James Hern received a message from Washington ordering the sheriff of Philadelphia County to arrest Douglass.  Not only did the anti-slavery telegraph operator delay the delivery of the message three hours but he went to the house where Douglass was staying to warn him personally.
 
Douglass was dispatched on a ferry to Camden, New Jersey, transferred to a steamer to New York, took a ferry across the Hudson River to Hoboken, and spent an anxious night at the boarding house where Otilla Assing lived.  The New York newspapers furiously reported the news of Brown’s insurrection and conspiracy.  Avoiding probable arrest at the train station in New York, Douglass, with Assing, borrowed a carriage and drove it to Paterson, New Jersey, when he boarded a train to Rochester.  The day after he reached home he stepped onto a boat for Canada.  In November he sailed for England.
 
He had planned a lecture tour of the British Isles before Brown’s capture.  Since he was already a fugitive in Canada, he decided to do the tour and remove himself further from the possibility of capture.  He stayed with Julia Griffiths Crofts and her clergyman husband of less than one year in Halifax well into January before he began his tour.
 
At first he did not mention John Brown specifically in his speeches.  Eventually, as a fair measure of popular opinion in the North turned to embrace Brown as a martyr in the cause to eradicate slavery, Douglass honored the man.  Slaveholders, Douglass insisted, were in insurrection against a nation awakened by Brown and anti-slavery crusaders.  Slavery was not guaranteed by the Constitution; it was a violation of the document.  Liberty must now rule the land, not slavery, Douglass declared.  Black people, free as well as enslaved, must be given back their plundered rights.
 
Upon receiving news of the unexpected death, March 13, 1860, of his daughter, Anna, Douglass booked passage to recross the Atlantic.  He was ashore at Portland, Maine, traveled to Montreal by train, and crossed Lake Ontario to reach Rochester, uncertain that he would remain free from arrest.  Northern politicians had, fortunately for Douglass, moved to curtail Southern insistence that those allied to John Brown be prosecuted.  They did not wish to support further protection by the federal government of slaveholders’ interests.  Douglass was now free to resume his abolitionist quest.
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- John Brown's Schemes
 
In June 1855 Frederick Douglass was attending a meeting of the Radical Abolitionist Party in Syracuse when John Brown rose and appealed to the convention for “men and means to defend freedom in Kansas” (McFeely 187).  The delegates sent him on his way with sixty dollars.  Violence erupted the following spring.  Proslavery forces attacked free-soil settlers of Lawrence, Kansas.  Brown retaliated.  “At Pottawatomie, Kansas, in May 1856, after he and his band had dragged three proslavery men named Doyle, from their cabins, Brown shot the father in the head with a pistol while the two sons were hacked to death and their bodies mutilated with broadswords” (McFeely 188-189).
 
Later, Brown met with Douglass in Rochester on his way to Boston to raise additional money.  In confidence, Brown told Douglass of two schemes he had planned.  One he called the Subterranean Pass Way.  A corridor extending north from the Valley of Virginia through Pennsylvania and New York to Canada would be opened and guarded by men in frequently spaced stations.  Slaves would be moved in large numbers to freedom beyond the American border.  The other plan was his old dream of establishing a sanctuary for black runaways in the Alleghany Mountains.
 
In Boston, William Lloyd Garrison sternly criticized Brown for his killings and refused to participate in Brown’s money-for-guns campaign.  However, other influential New Englanders, who had abandoned their non-violent opposition to slavery, listened to hear what Brown now planned.  “In Kansas, where the fighting over slavery had been savage, there were few slaves.  Virginia, by contrast, was the state with the largest number of slaves, and these were the ones Brown pledged to lead in revolt.  The Bostonians listened with fascination; soon a cabal, known later as the Secret Six, began to form.  These eminently respectable divines, intellectuals, businessmen, and landed gentry were mesmerized by the fifty-six year old revolutionary and his grand design” (McFeely 190).  One of the six would be Gerrit Smith.
 
The cause of keeping slavery out of the territories, thereby insuring that the states eventually formed out of them would be free, was the one unifying bond of those who had founded a new political party.  The Republican Party nominated John C. Fremont for the Presidency in 1856 and failed to win the election, but they increased their agitation against the spread of slavery and increased their numbers.  They, and abolitionists like Douglass, who sought to restrict if not eradicate slavery by lawful means, were soon delivered a stunning blow.  On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, speaking for the nine justices of the Supreme Court, declared in Dred Scott v. Sanford that “a slave, an ex-slave, or a descendant of slaves could not be a citizen of the United States, and that Congress, being constitutionally required to protect property-including slaves-could not prohibit slavery in the territories” (McFeely 191).  According to the Court, everything that the Republican Party had struggled for and that abolitionists had demanded was constitutionally unlawful.  John Brown had an additional incentive to pursue his unlawful schemes; those who sympathized with him had more reason to listen to him.
 
Brown toured the North, talking of Kansas but searching for support for his projected war on Virginia slaveholders.  On the 28th of January, 1858, he was back in Rochester and would stay at Frederick Douglass’s house for three weeks.  He busied himself drafting a constitution for the separate state he planned to create for slaves in the Alleghany Mountains.  During spare moments he talked to Douglass about his general aims.  Several times he gathered the Douglass children around him and with the use of blocks he outlined his plan for guerilla warfare.  The unnamed state would need a commander-in-chief of the army, cabinet members, and a president.  “Even if Douglass thought the scheme farfetched, he may, in private, have liked to imagine himself as the president.  In any case, there is no evidence that he tried to block this boldest-yet plan to end slavery.  … Years later, he spoke proudly of having a copy [of the constitution] in Brown’s hand, perhaps the original, … written under his roof” (McFeely 192).
 
Near the end of March Brown and one of his sons journeyed to Chatham, Canada, to meet with black and white supporters and establish a rebel state in exile.  Brown hoped that prominent black leaders like Douglass and Harriet Tubman would attend and pledge their support of his scheme.  On May 8 before a gathering of thirty-five black men and twelve white men, Brown presented his constitution, proclaimed his provisional government, and named himself commander-in-chief.  Douglass and Tubman did not attend.  Only one man of any prominence did.  “Any black person would have realized that no matter who was at the actual head of the conspiracy-in this instance, Brown, of course-the ones most at risk would be those who were black” (McFeely 193).  Also absent were members of the Secret Six.
 
Those who met at Chatham pledged themselves to secrecy, but soon information about Brown’s planned venture in Virginia was circulating amongst blacks in Canada and the United States.  Brown’s military strategist, an Englishman named Hugh Forbes, ostensibly seeking funds for Brown, was sent to New York by Douglass to meet with Ottila Assing, who had agreed to introduce him to many of her liberal German friends.  Soon afterwards Assing discovered that instead of raising funds for Brown, the Englishman sought to extort funds for his own behalf.  He was prepared to expose Brown to the New York newspapers and did tell two anti-slavery U.S. Senators, Wilson of Massachusetts and Seward of New York, of Brown’s plans.
 
Brown’s target was the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, a picturesque town on the Potomac River well west of Washington and due south of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in what was then Virginia.  Arms seized at the arsenal would be given to the slaves, who, Brown was sure, would instantly rise to join his insurrection.  (There were less than 5,000 slave men in the immediate region, which was also inhabited by more than 100,000 white people)  … aware that if two senators knew their secret, half of Washington probably knew it, the Secret Six insisted that Brown go to Kansas,  He did so, and while in the area, made an attack on a proslavery community in Missouri to cloak the fact that his true target was still in Virginia.
 
The maneuver worked, Forbes disappeared from the scene, and though Brown remained a hunted man, the War Department, led by the extraordinarily inept John B. Floyd, dropped its guard.  In the spring of 1859, rejecting any further postponement, Brown secretly led his tiny band of followers to a farm near a quarry outside Chambersburg to prepare for the campaign to free the slaves.
 
 
The rumors that Brown would bring the drastic cure of an armed revolt were enticing.  … What the skeptical [black] Americans thought Brown lacked was any notion of how swift retribution had been in this country when slaves, like those who marched with Nat Turner, had revolted.  And did he understand how the nonslaveholding North felt about black people gaining power?  Black Americans had learned to be cautions.  Slave and free, they were exceedingly reluctant to risk bringing down upon themselves the lethal vengeance of white society by actively participating in an insurrection.  But that did not keep them, in the privacy of their own homes and meeting halls, from cheering Brown on.
 
At no point in the eleven years that he had know of Brown’s hopes for an insurrection did Douglass repudiate the plan; indeed, there is no evidence that he even counseled caution.  It was very much in character for Douglass to be flattered by Brown’s repeated insistence that as a leader of his people, he was crucial to the enterprise; curiosity at the very least compelled him to go and have a look for himself.  Early in the fall of 1859, John Brown, Jr., called on Douglass, and other black leaders in northern New York State and Canada, in the attempt to build a phalanx of antislavery support for the insurrection.  Brown, his son insisted, greatly needed Douglass’s help (McFeely 193-195).
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.