Frederick Douglass' Paper
Rochester: 29 July 1853



  MR. PRESIDENT:—There are many persons who believe that the Anti-Slavery movement of this country has perished and passed away. They think it has spent its force, lived out its time, and finally been gathered to its place among defunct humbugs of the world. And whilst they rejoice that the fierce lion of abolitionism has been tamed into subjection, they welcome to their loving embrace the meek lamb of Slavery, and thank God that the millenial day of peace, so long and so devoutly prayed for by hunker politicians and doctors of divinity, has at last been ushered in.

  [. . .]


  But not to dwell upon minor facts, let me observe that not long after the total suppression of agitation was resolved upon, a woman, having got entirely "out of her sphere," wrote a book which has not only lit up the fires of agitation, to an unexampled degree throughout the whole extent of this country, but has carried the torch to the ends of the earth. Uncle Tom's Cabin, the world's great missionary of freedom, and the harbinger of deliverance to the African race, is the glory, not less than the wonder of our age; and it is not strange that Mrs. Stowe should regard it as having risen "on the mighty stream of a divine purpose." How many readers has this work in the United States [illegible] It is impossible to say with any claim [illegible] copies already published & sold, and the avidity with which the work has been sought after by all classes, and in all sections of the country. I think we may safely set it down at one million! It is more than three times this number according to the Literary World, which estimates ten readers to every copy sold. But I desire to speak within bounds. A million of American readers of an abolition book; a million of men and women pouring out their tears over the wrongs of three millions in chains; a million of hearts throbbing responsive to the sufferings of the slave! Is this the entertainment to which our finality friends invited us two or three years ago? Could the most sanguine among us at that time have dreamed of so wonderful a progress? And this million of readers of Uncle Tom must swell into millions; and when light has thus found its way to their minds, scattering the mists which have so long shrouded them in cold indifference, and arousing the common humanity of our nature to a sense of the enormity of slavery, the triumph of freedom will draw nigh. The seed will have been planted that must ripen into fruit; for when the minds and hearts of men are once kindled by a gigantic wrong, their fire can only be quenched by its overthrow. A great moral revolution can never go backwards, because the spirit which sustains it is the spirit of God. As well might we attempt to turn back the whole tide of civilization, and blot out Christianity itself, as to control those quickened moral agencies that are undermining the fabric of American slavery.


  But let us follow this agitating missionary across the Atlantic. It will be remembered that only a few months after its publication in the United States, editions of it amounting to four thousand copies were issued in England alone! Its readers there, of course, must now be counted by millions! The rage for it among all classes has no parallel in the history of English literature. It is served up for the masses in sixpenny editions, dramatized and acted on the stage, coined into poetry and song, and thus moulded into the great heart of the nation as a "household word." Its popularity is not less in France. Some hundred thousand copies have been sold, whilst the leading papers of Paris are filled with Uncle Tom literature. It is to be found in every one of the numerous circulating libraries of the city.—Notwithstanding large importations from abroad, there have been eleven or twelve translations of the work. Engraved portraits of Mrs. Stowe, we are informed, are displayed from shop windows, whilst artists are employed in transferring to canvas the graphic scenes from her pages. The theatres of Paris are crowded to overwhelming with spectators and listeners to the dramatic scenes founded on the wonderful American book. In Italy, several editions of it have been printed, and some of the daily papers have been sending it forth in chapters, after the fashion in Paris on its first introduction into that city. It has created quite a sensation in Germany, in Prussia, in Austria, and in Russia, and is finding its way into every part of Christendom, as rapidly as human instrumentalities can carry it. It is favored by the European democracy, from a sincere desire to see our country purged from the loathsome blot of slavery; it is favored or connived at by the advocates of despotism, because, as they suppose, their own peculiar institution is strengthened by the exposure of a blacker villainy in the great model republic. Who then will venture to guess at the number of readers of Uncle Tom on the continent, or calculate the influence of the public opinion thus formed? Our pro-slavery foreign diplomacy, appalled at the spectacle, [illegible] all his arts in vain to stifle and turn back the Christian sentiment of the [illegible] in the old world. This sentiment will be heard not only in Europe, but in our own slaveholding and slave-[illegible] States. It can no more be [illegible] to Europe, [. . .] to its foundations by the public opinion of the civilized world. Slaveholders understand this. They believe and tremble. Their fear of Uncle Tom's Cabin is not an idle or childish one, but a rational fear, springing from a conviction that the civilization and christianity of the world are against them, and that the lights which they are kindling cannot be extinguished. Hence their present exasperation. They are beginning to learn that agitation will have its way, and that every attempt to fetter it only aggravates the evil intended to be assuaged.—They find that they have verged upon a new era, in which their beloved institution, stripped of its long permitted immunity from the right of search, is to be scourged from its hiding-place, and compelled to stand up in its unveiled ugliness before the judgment seat of the world.


  Mrs. Stowe has impressively taught them this lesson. Her book has proved the forerunner of an agitation that no human power can control, and in which slaveholders themselves have been forced, in self-defence, to do their part. To counteract the wonderful effects of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a work is duly prepared and sent forth from the South, entitled "Uncle Tom's Cabin as it is;" but notwithstanding its deceptive title and pictorial advantages, it seems quietly to have sunk into its grave, without any other result than somewhat to increase the popularity of the book it was intended to destroy. Then we have "Marcus Warland," a tale of the South, by Mrs. Caroline Lee Hentz, who says of her work, "a native of the North, and a dweller of the South, with affections strongly clinging to both of the beautiful divisions of our country, I trust that I have brought to the task an unprejudiced mind, a truthful spirit, and an honest and earnest purpose." She then proceeds to picture slavery as a most delightful institution, prolific in all the higher virtues, and the bond of which is one of "affection, gratitude, tenderness and esteem." Another work is sent forth entitled "Uncle Tom in England, or a proof that Black is White, a Sequel to Uncle Tom's Cabin," which is filled with the usual twaddle of slaveholders about the poverty and wretchedness of the laboring masses where slavery is unknown. Mr. J. Thornton Randolph favors us with a work entitled "The Cabin and the Parlor; or Slaves and Masters," abounding in similar arguments, and treating at considerable length of the wretched condition of the free negroes in our Northern States. Mrs. Sarah J. Hale, about the same time, resurrects from a sleep of twenty-five years a book which she sends forth under the title of "Northwood," as an additional auxiliary in the great work of suppressing agitation. "Uncle Tom's Cabin contrasted with Buckingham Hall," is another work, similar in character and spirit to those I have named. I may next mention "The Lofty and the Lowly, or Good in All, and None All Good," by Miss McIntosh, who declares that she, too, loves all of these United States. Her object, she says, is to give "a true and loving portraiture of the social characteristics" of both sections of our country; and she proceeds to depict the slaveholder as all that is noble and heroic in human character, and slavery itself is the blessed thing which it seems to a Southern fanatic, whilst all her villains are from the North. Among the replies to Uncle Tom's Cabin I must not omit to mention one by "A Carolinian," which for a Southern work, is moderate and rather deprecatory in its tone, conceding much of the ground occupied by anti-slavery men. In order to counteract his agitation, "A North Carolinian" has ably replied to it. The abolitionists are overtaken by an awful visitation in a work entitled "Aunt Fillis's [illegible] Life as it is" by Mrs. Mary H. Eastman. She affirms that slavery is "authorized by God, permitted by Jesus Christ, sanctioned by good men in all ages," and that she is "utterly opposed to amalgamation, root and branch." Recently, a most remarkable book has made its appearance, entitled "A choice of evils, or thirteen years in the South, by a Northern man." Its author is a Mr. Hooker, of Philadelphia. Among other things he astonishes the world with the discovery that slavery is not only an unspeakable blessing, but a great "missionary institution for the conversion of the heathen."

  So goes the agitation in the South. But it rages in the North also. Hildreth's "White Slave," a work of great power, is having a decided run, not only at home, but across the water. "A peep into Uncle Tom's Cabin," by Aunt Mary, designed for juvenile readers, is destined to a good service, whilst the "Key," recently from the press, will probably meet with as warm a reception as that work itself, and must exert a powerful influence. In further proof of the epidemic character of agitation, I might mention the publication of a third edition of "Cousin Frank's Household, or scenes in the Old Dominion," by Pocohontas; "Manuel Pereira, or the Sovereign Rule of South Carolina, with views of Southern Laws, Life and Hospitality," by F. C. Adams; "Uncle Tom at home, a review of the reviewers of Uncle Tom's Cabin," by the same writer; the "Writings of John Jay on the Slavery question," a volume of speeches by the Hon. Joshua R. Giddings; Sumner's "White Slavery in the Barbary States;" a work by Wm. Goodell, entitled "Slavery and Anti-Slavery, a history of the great struggle in both hemispheres, with a view of the Slavery question in the United States;" and another work, by the same author, entitled "The American Slave Code, in theory and practice, its distinctive features shown by its Statutes, Judicial decisions, and illustrated facts." The newspapers and reviews of our country, both in the free and slave States, are freighted with the new literature. The Literary World for some time endeavored to ignore it, but it was finally compelled to notice "the Uncle Tom epidemic," and to attempt a solution of it. It was evidently puzzled, and asks, "Was there never a book before? Has the world never been blessed with genius, or has art striven in vain until now, and has printing been a dead letter, and have mankind, aroused by Uncle Tom from a sleep of two centuries, awakened at this late hour, for the first time, to the fact that there are books to read?" It then goes on to confess that the "multitudinous" success of Uncle Tom is to be accounted for mainly "by the enthusiasm in behalf of the cause in support of which it has been written," that of "slave emancipation?" How very consoling to its [illegible] proclivities! Graham's Magazine has been in great travail of spirit, whilst its bad temper and coarse language have called upon it a broadside of artillery from the liberal press. In the meantime, the Duchess of Sutherland and other distinguished English ladies, having published an address to the people of this country calmly expressing their views upon the question of American Slavery, Mrs. Julia Gardner Tyler became intensely "agitated," and in order to silence the Duchess and "the rest of mankind," published an address in reply. Several of our Northern papers, desiring to aid Mrs. Julia in the work of putting down agitation, copied her address, and some of them, as the New York Tribune and the Saturday Visiter, held it up to the scorn and contempt of all sensible and decent people.

  Thus everybody is agitating. The anti-slavery man agitates, because he believes the truth is on his side, and that that has nothing to fear, and everything to hope, from the frank discussion. The pro-slavery man agitates, because that is his method of convincing everybody that agitation is a curse, and a [illegible]. Agitation pervades the common air. It [. . .] the fire-side, in the [. . .], in our [illegible] and railway cars, and on board our steamboats.—The old and the young, the rich and the poor, the wise and the simple, are alike its victims. It has acquired a sort of omnipresence. The very effort to escape it, only seems to draw it nearer to us; and were it possible to banish the contagion entirely from our thoughts, it would be at the cost of our moral annihilation. Its abode is wherever human hearts beat; and while oppression lasts, it can only cease with their pulsations. Never has there been such a tide in our affairs as at this time. Never have the enemies of slavery had such reasons to feel encouraged as the facts I have presented furnish. Never has the slaveholder seen his day of judgment so visibly and rapidly approaching. Every attempt to cloak the hideous deformity of the great dragon of slavery, only seems to unmask it to the gaze of the world. Every diabolical device designed to crush our cause, is turned into a weapon of aggression and defence. Slaveholders themselves are now among our most efficient helpers. Their unhallowed rule has at length set the world to thinking, its great heart to beating, and its great voice to agitating, whilst their intended finality has been hissed out of the land. And yet President Pierce, in his Inaugural, tells us that he fervently hopes the question is at rest! Let us thank God for such a rest as the world is now having, and pray for its increase; and as respects slaveholders and dough-faces, let us take comfort from the scriptural assurance that there is no rest for the wicked.