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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
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LETTER

FROM WENDELL PHILLIPS, ESQ.
BOSTON, APRIL 22, 1845.

My Dear Friend:

You remember the old fable of "The Man and
the Lion," where the lion complained that he should
not be so misrepresented "when the lions wrote his-
tory."
I am glad the time has come when the "lions
write history." We have been left long enough to
gather the character of slavery from the involuntary
evidence of the masters. One might, indeed, rest
sufficiently satisfied with what, it is evident, must
be, in general, the results of such a relation, with-
out seeking farther to find whether they have fol-
lowed in every instance. Indeed, those who stare at
the half-peck of corn a week, and love to count the
lashes on the slave's back, are seldom the "stuff" out
of which reformers and abolitionists are to be made.
I remember that, in 1838, many were waiting for
the results of the West India experiment, before
they could come into our ranks. Those "results" have
come long ago; but, alas! few of that number have
come with them, as converts. A man must be dis-
posed to judge of emancipation by other tests than
whether it has increased the produce of sugar,—and
to hate slavery for other reasons than because it
starves men and whips women,—before he is ready
to lay the first stone of his anti-slavery life.
I was glad to learn, in your story, how early the
most neglected of God's children waken to a sense
of their rights, and of the injustice done them. Ex-
perience is a keen teacher; and long before you had
mastered your A B C, or knew where the "white
sails" of the Chesapeake were bound, you began, I
see, to gauge the wretchedness of the slave, not by
his hunger and want, not by his lashes and toil, but
by the cruel and blighting death which gathers over
his soul.
In connection with this, there is one circumstance
which makes your recollections peculiarly valuable,
and renders your early insight the more remarkable.
You come from that part of the country where we
are told slavery appears with its fairest features. Let
us hear, then, what it is at its best estate—gaze on
its bright side, if it has one; and then imagination
may task her powers to add dark lines to the picture,
as she travels southward to that (for the colored
man) Valley of the Shadow of Death, where the
Mississippi sweeps along.
Again, we have known you long, and can put the
most entire confidence in your truth, candor, and
sincerity. Every one who has heard you speak has
felt, and, I am confident, every one who reads your
book will feel, persuaded that you give them a fair
specimen of the whole truth. No one-sided portrait,
—no wholesale complaints,—but strict justice done,
whenever individual kindliness has neutralized, for
a moment, the deadly system with which it was
strangely allied. You have been with us, too, some
years, and can fairly compare the twilight of rights,
which your race enjoy at the North, with that "noon
of night" under which they labor south of Mason
and Dixon's line. Tell us whether, after all, the half-
free colored man of Massachusetts is worse off than
the pampered slave of the rice swamps!
In reading your life, no one can say that we have
unfairly picked out some rare specimens of cruelty.
We know that the bitter drops, which even you have
drained from the cup, are no incidental aggravations,
no individual ills, but such as must mingle always
and necessarily in the lot of every slave. They are the
essential ingredients, not the occasional results, of
the system.
After all, I shall read your book with trembling
for you. Some years ago, when you were beginning
to tell me your real name and birthplace, you may
remember I stopped you, and preferred to remain
ignorant of all. With the exception of a vague de-
scription, so I continued, till the other day, when
you read me your memoirs. I hardly knew, at the
time, whether to thank you or not for the sight of
them, when I reflected that it was still dangerous,
in Massachusetts, for honest men to tell their names!
They say the fathers, in 1776, signed the Declaration
of Independence with the halter about their necks.
You, too, publish your declaration of freedom with
danger compassing you around. In all the broad lands
which the Constitution of the United States over-
shadows, there is no single spot,—however narrow or
desolate,—where a fugitive slave can plant himself
and say, "I am safe." The whole armory of North-
ern Law has no shield for you. I am free to say that,
in your place, I should throw the MS. into the fire.
You, perhaps, may tell your story in safety, en-
deared as you are to so many warm hearts by rare
gifts, and a still rarer devotion of them to the service
of others. But it will be owing only to your labors,
and the fearless efforts of those who, trampling the
laws and Constitution of the country under their
feet, are determined that they will "hide the out-
cast," and that their hearths shall be, spite of the
law, an asylum for the oppressed, if, some time or
other, the humblest may stand in our streets, and
bear witness in safety against the cruelties of which
he has been the victim.
Yet it is sad to think, that these very throbbing
hearts which welcome your story, and form your best
safeguard in telling it, are all beating contrary to the
"statute in such case made and provided." Go on,
my dear friend, till you, and those who, like you,
have been saved, so as by fire, from the dark prison-
house, shall stereotype these free, illegal pulses into
statutes; and New England, cutting loose from a
blood-stained Union, shall glory in being the house
of refuge for the oppressed,—till we no longer merely
"~hide~ the outcast," or make a merit of standing idly
by while he is hunted in our midst; but, consecrat-
ing anew the soil of the Pilgrims as an asylum for the
oppressed, proclaim our WELCOME to the slave so
loudly, that the tones shall reach every hut in the
Carolinas, and make the broken-hearted bondman
leap up at the thought of old Massachusetts.

God speed the day!

~Till then, and ever,~
~Yours truly,~
~WENDELL PHILLIPS~
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