Letters to Catherine Beecher
Angelina E. Grimke
Boston: Isaac Knapp, 1838



HAVERHILL, Mass. 7th mo. 23th, 1837.

  DEAR FRIEND: Thou sayest, 'the best way to make a person like a thing which is disagreeable, is to try in some way to make it agreeable.' So, then, instead of convincing a person by sound argument and pointed rebuke that sin is sin, we are to disguise the opposite virtue in such a way as to make him like that, in preference to the sin he had so dearly loved. We are to cheat a sinner out of his sin, rather than to compel him, under the stings of conviction, to give it up from deep-rooted principle.

  If this is the course pursued by ministers, then I wonder not at the kind of converts which are brought into the church at the present day. Thy remarks on the subject of prejudice, show but too plainly how strongly thy own mind is imbued with it, and how little thy colonization principles have done to exterminate this feeling from thy own bosom. Thou sayest, 'if a certain class of persons is the subject of unreasonable prejudice, the peaceful and Christian way of removing it would be to endeavor to render the un-


fortunate persons who compose this class, so useful, so humble, so unassuming, &c. that prejudice would be supplanted by complacency in their goodness, and pity and sympathy for their disabilities.' 'If the friends of the blacks had quietly set themselves to work to increase their intelligence, their usefulness, &c., and then had appealed to the pity and benevolence of their fellow citizens, a very different result would have appeared.' Or in other words, if one person is guilty of a sin against another person, I am to let the sinner go entirely unreproved, but to persuade the injured party to bear with humility and patience all the outrages that are inflicted upon him, and thus try to soothe the sinner 'into complacency with their goodness' in 'bearing all things, and enduring all things.' Well, suppose I succeed:—is that sinner won from the evil of his ways by principle? No! Has he the principle of love implanted in his breast? No! Instead of being in love with the virtue exhibited by the individual, because it is virtue, he is delighted with the personal convenience he experiences from the exercise of that virtue. He feels kindly toward the individual, because he is an instrument of his enjoyment, a mere means to promote his wishes. There is no reformation there at all. And so the colored people are to be taught to be 'very humble' and 'unassuming,' 'gentle' and 'meek,' and then the 'pity and generosity' of their fellow citizens are to be appealed to. Now, no one who knows anything of the influence of Abolitionists over the colored people, can deny that it has been peaceful and christian; had it not been so, they never would have seen those


whom they had regarded as their best friends, mobbed and persecuted, without raising an arm in their defence. Look, too, at the rapid spread of thorough temperance principles among them, and their moral reform and other laudable and useful associations; look at the rising character of this people, the new life and energy which have been infused into them. Who have done it? Who have exerted by far the greatest influence on these oppressed Americans? I leave thee to answer. I will give thee one instance of this salutary influence. In a letter I received from one of my colored sisters, she incidentally makes this remark:—'Until very lately, I have lived and acted more for myself than for the good of others. I confess that I am wholly indebted to the Abolition cause for arousing me from apathy and indifference, and shedding light into a mind which has been too long wrapt in selfish darkness.' The Abolition cause has exerted a powerful and healthful influence over this class of our population, and it has been done by quietly going into the midst of them, and identifying ourselves with them.

  But Abolitionists are complained of, because they, at the same time, fearlessly exposed the sin of the unreasonable and unholy prejudice which existed against these injured ones. Thou sayest 'that reproaches, rebukes and sneers were employed to convince the whites that their prejudices were sinful, and without any just cause.' Without any just cause! Couldst thou think so, if thou really loved thy colored sisters as thyself? The unmeasured abuse which the Colonization Society was heaping upon this de-


spised people, was no just cause for pointed rebuke, I suppose! The manner in which they are thrust into one corner of our meeting-houses as if the plague spot was on their skins; the rudeness and cruelty with which they are treated in our hotels, and steamboats, railroad cars and stages, is no just cause of reproach to a professed christian community, I presume. Well, all that I can say is, that I believe if Isaiah or James were now alive, they would pour their reproaches and rebukes upon the heads and hearts of those who are thus despising the Lord's poor, and saying to those whose spirits are clothed by God in the 'vile raiment' of a colored skin, Stand thou there in yonder gallery, or sit thou here in 'the negro-pew.' 'Sneers,' too, are complained of. Have abolitionists ever made use of greater sarcasm and irony than did the prophet Elijah? When things are ridiculous as well as wicked, it is unreasonable to expect that every cast of mind will treat them with solemnity. And what is more ridiculous than American prejudice; to proscribe and persecute men and women, because their complexions are of a darker hue than our own? Why, it is an outrage upon common sense; and as my brother Thomas S. Grimke remarked only a few weeks before his death, 'posterity will laugh at our prejudices.' Where is the harm, then, if abolitionists should laugh now at the wicked absurdity?

  Thou sayest, 'this tended to irritate the whites, and to increase their prejudices against the blacks.' The truth always irritates the proud, impenitent sinner. To charge abolitionists with this irritation, is some


thing like the charge brought against the English government by the captain of the slaver I told thee of in my second letter, who threw all his human merchandize overboard, in order to escape detection, and then charged this horrible wholesale murder upon the government; because, said he, they had no business to make a law to hang a man if he was found engaged in the slave trade. So we must bear the guilt of man's angry passions, because the truth we preach is like a two-edged sword, cutting through the bonds of interest on the one side, and the cords of caste on the other.

  As to our increasing the prejudice against color, this is just like the North telling us that we have increased the miseries of the slave. Common sense cries out against the one as well as the other. With regard to prejudice, I believe the truth of the case to be this: the rights of the colored man never were advocated by any body of men in their length and breadth, before the rise of the Anti-Slavery Society in this country. The propagation of these ultra principles has produced in the northern States exactly the same effect, which the promulgation of the doctrine of immediate emancipation has done in the southern States. It has developed the latent principles of pride and prejudice, not produced them. Hear John Green, a Judge of the Circuit Court of Kentucky, in reference to abolition efforts having given birth to the opposition against emancipation now existing in the South: 'I would rather say, it has been the means of manifesting that opposition, which previously existed, but laid dormant for want of an exciting cause.' And just


so has it been with regard to prejudice at the North—when there was no effort to obtain for the colored man his rights as a man, as an American citizen, here was no opposition exhibited, because it 'laid dormant for want of an exciting cause.'

  I know it is alleged that some individuals, who treated colored people with the greatest kindness a few years ago, have, since abolition movements, had their feelings so embittered towards them, that they have withdrawn that kindness. Now I would ask, could such people have acted from principle? Certainly not; or nothing that others could do or say would have driven them from the high ground they appeared to occupy. No, my friend, they acted precisely upon the false principle which thou hast recommended; their pity was excited, their sentiments of generosity were called into exercise, because they regarded the colored man as an unfortunate inferior, rather than as an outraged and insulted equal. Therefore, as soon as abolitionists demanded for the oppressed American the very same treatment, upon the high ground of human rights, why, then it was instantly withdrawn, simply because it never had been conceded on the right ground; and those who had previously granted it became afraid, lest, during the era of abolition excitement, persons would presume they were acting on the fundamental principle of abolitionism—the principle of equal rights, irrespective of color or condition, instead of on the mere principle of 'pity and generosity.'

  It is truly surprising to find a professing Christian excusing the unprincipled opposition exhibited in New


Haven, to the erection of a College for young men of color. Are we indeed to succumb to a corrupt public sentiment at the North, and the abominations of slavery at the South, by refraining from asserting the right of Americans to plant a literary institution in New Haven, or New York, or any where on the American soil? Are we to select 'some retired place,' where there would be the least prejudice and opposition to meet, rather than openly and fearlessly to face the American monster, who, like the horse-leach, is continually crying give, give, and whose demands are only increased by compromise and surrender? No! there is a spirit abroad in this country, which will not consent to barter principle for an unholy peace; a spirit which seeks to be 'pure from the blood of all men,' by a bold and christian avowal of truth; a spirit which will not hide God's eternal principles of right and wrong, but will stand erect in the storm of human passion, prejudice and interest, 'holding forth the light of truth in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation;' a spirit which will never slumber nor sleep, till man ceases to hold dominion over his fellow creatures, and the trump of universal liberty rings in every forest, and is re-echoed by every mountain and rock.

  Art thou not aware, my friend, that this College was projected in the year 1831, previous to the formation of the first Anti-Slavery Society, which was organized in 1832? How, then, canst thou say that the circumstances relative to it occurred 'at a time when the public mind was excited on the subject?' I feel quite amused at the presumption which thou appearest to think was exhibited by the projectors of this insti-


tution, in wishing it to be located in New Haven, where was another College 'embracing a large proportion of southern students,' &c. It was a great offence, to be sure, for colored men to build a College by the walls of the white man's 'College, where half the shoe-blacks and waiters were colored men.' But why so? The other half of the shoe-blacks and waiters were white, I presume; and if these white servants could be satisfied with their humble occupation under the roof of Yale College, why might not the colored waiters be contented also, though an institution for the education of colored Americans might presume to lift its head 'beside the very walls of this College?' Is it possible that any professing christian can calmly look back at these disgraceful transactions, and tell me that such opposition was manifested 'for the best reasons?' And what is still worse, censure the projectors of a literary institution, in free, republican, enlightened America, because they did not meekly yield to 'such reasonable objections,' and refused 'to soothe the feelings and apprehensions of those who bad been excited' to opposition and clamor by the simple fact that some American born citizens wished to give their children a liberal education in a separate College, only because the white Americans despised their brethren of a darker complexion, and scorned to share with them the privileges of Yale College? It was very wrong, to be sure, for the friends of the oppressed American to consider such outrageous conduct 'as a mark of the force of sinful prejudice!' Vastly uncharitable! Great complaints are made that 'the worst motives were ascribed to some of the most re-


spectable, and venerated, and pious men who opposed the measure.' Wonderful indeed, that men should be found so true to their principles, as to dare in this age of sycophancy to declare the truth to those who stand in high places, wearing the badges of office or honor, and fearlessly to rebuke the puerile and unchristian prejudice which existed against their colored brethren! 'Pious men!' Why, I would ask, how are we to judge of men's piety—by professions or products? Do men gather thorns of grapes, or thistles of figs? Certainly not. If, then, in the lives of men we do not find the fruits of christian principle, we have no right, according to our Saviour's criterion, 'by their fruits ye shall know them,' to suppose that men are really pious who can be perseveringly guilty of despising others, and denying them equal rights because they have colored skins. 'A great deal was said and done that was calculated to throw the community into an angry ferment.' Yes, and I suppose the friends of the colored man were just as guilty as was the great Apostle, who, by the angry, and excited, and prejudiced Jews, was accused of being 'a pestilent fellow and a mover of sedition,' be cause he declared himself called to preach the everlasting gospel to the Gentiles, whom they considered as 'dogs,' and utterly unworthy of being placed on the same platform of humaan rights and a glorious immortality.

  Thy friend,