Report from the County of Madison

Gerrit Smith

This letter was copied from this source.

13 November 1843

To Abolitionists:

ELECTION DAY is past!—and now, in behalf of the friends of the slave in the County of Madison, and State of New-York, I declare to you, that we “have fought a good fight—have kept the faith.”  We have “fought” earnestly, strenuously, untiringly.  We have “kept” the whole anti-slavery “faith.”  We have stood up for all its righteous and glorious principles; and have stood by each other.  We have pursued slavery, hotly and unsparingly, into all its hiding-places, whether in the Church or in the State.  We have dealt impartially with proslavery demagogues, and proslavery ministers, and proslavery schools, and proslavery churches—and unmasked them all.

At an early day, the duty of voting for the slave was felt by a few persons in this County.  Our first systematic effort to get votes for him was in 1837.  By means of much toil—of much riding, and writing, and speaking—we induced about fifty of the inhabitants of the County to vote that year upon anti-slavery principles.

In the year 1840, the year of the organization of the Liberty Party, about 230 anti-slavery votes were cast in this County.  And here I would say something of the origin of this Party, because of the persevering attempts made by a few persons in New England to stigmatize that origin.

In the Autumn of 1839, a Meeting held in Warsaw, Wyoming Co., N. Y., did, at the instance of the lamented Myron Holley, adopt the policy and raise the standard of Independent Nominations, and name Mr. Birney and Dr. Lemoyne for President and Vice President.  Generally, however, abolitionists regarded this Meeting as quite too small and local to justify its nomination of National candidates.

In common with the great body of abolitionists, I had not, at this time, given up my reliance on the interrogation-system.  But, very soon after, a train of thought passed through my mind, leaving the conviction that this reliance should be given up.  The like train of thought had perhaps (though I know not that it had) previously passed through other minds.  I saw now, for the first time, and I was surprised that I had not seen it before, that no National party in this country, whether ecclesiastical or political, is, so long as the system of American slavery endures, to be trusted on the question of slavery.  It was now evident to me, that every such party is necessarily proslavery—and that it is so for the simple reason, that the South, making slavery her paramount interest, will abide in no party, will come into no party, save on the condition that such party shall not attack slavery.  Some may say that the Liberty Party is a National Party, and is, therefore, involved in my condemnation of all National Parties.  To this I reply—that it is, in its hopes and objects, a National Party: but that, until the South has come into it, which cannot be until she has let go of slavery, it cannot be an actual National Party.

January 20th, 1840, I left home to attend the Anti-slavery Convention at Arcade, Wyoming Co., and that at Bloomfield, Ontario Co. went directly to Rochester, where I had several interviews with Mr. Holley.  He agreed that he should meet me at Geneseo, and that we should go thence, in my sleigh, to Arcade.  The so met me, and we so went to Arcade.  The Convention was very large.  As was previously arranged between us, Mr. Holley introduced the proposition for a National Meeting to nominate candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency; and he and I sustained it with speeches.  William L. Chaplin also gave the proposition his effective advocacy.  It was warmly opposed.  Its fate for a time was doubtful.  But it finally prevailed—and by a large majority.  Whether the Call for the National Meeting was written by Mr. Holley or by myself, I do not recollect; nor do I recollect, with sufficient certainty to say what they were, our reasons for preferring to have the Meeting held on or about the first day of April.  As the first day of the month was the most suitable day of the week for the Meeting, I suggested that day.  Mr. Holley acquiesced in my suggestion—playfully remarking, however, that we should be called “April fools.”  His prediction was verified.  The Liberator was, I believe, the first newspaper to call us “April fools.”

The week after the Arcade Convention, I met with Mr. Holley in the Bloomfield Convention.  We both labored hard, but in vain, to get the latter Convention to respond to the Call for a National Meeting, put forth by the former.  Owing to painful bodily ailments, I went to my lodgings as soon as this important matter was disposed of.  Mr. Volley followed me in a few minutes, and sent to my bed-room for me.  I know not whether he was somewhat disheartened by our failure in the Bloomfield Convention, or whether he thought I was—probably the latter.  So it was, however, that he asked me whether I still thought that the Call for the National Meeting should be printed.  There was nothing in the rejection of it by the Bloomfield Convention which made me doubt the propriety of its being printed; and, therefore, without a moment’s hesitation, we agreed that Mr. Holley should forthwith send the Call to the press.

I was confined to my house for many weeks after my return home: but, bolstered up in bed, I was able to write letters, not a few, to promote attendance on the National Meeting.  That Meeting, as you recollect, was held in Albany, and put Mr. Birney in nomination for President, and Mr. Morris for Vice President.  It was in this situation that I wrote a very long letter to Mr. Goodell, dated February 8th, 1840, giving an account of the Arcade and Bloomfield Conventions and of other matters.  It was published in the Friend of Man.  In that letter, I speak of the new party as the “Liberty Party.”  Perhaps others had previously so spoken of it.  The New-York State Antislavery Convention, held the following Autumn in Syracuse, acquiesced in the name “Liberty Party;” but Mr. Noble, and I recollect not what other members of the Convention, preferred the name of “Freeman’s Party.”

I supposed that Mr. Holley was the first projector of the Liberty Party: but I have seen it mentioned that there are a few New England gentlemen who were not behind hint in this respect.  The industriously circulated idea, that the Liberty Party had its origin in religious sectarianism and in opposition to woman’s rights, is so far as Mr. Holley, or Mr. Chaplin, or I, had to do with that origin, not a little ludicrous.  And even if it were true, that the Liberty Party originated with Mr. Birney, Mr. Leavitt, Mr. Wright, Mr. Stanton, &c. &c., and that they are, as certain newspapers still affirm, unprincipled men—there, nevertheless, would be nothing in such facts to justify the condemnation of the Liberty Party—nothing in them to make that condemnation other than ungenerous and unjust, foolish and absurd.

But, to return to the history of the progress of the anti-slavery cause in this County.  Months before the Town Meeting last Spring, it was determined by a handful of individuals, that the town of Smithfield, in which is the Village of Peterboro, should, the Lord willing, be carried for the slave, at that Meeting.  It was so carried: and that instance of success was worth more to the American antislavery cause than a donation of fifty thousand dollars—much as might be clone by means of such a donation to multiply anti-slavery lecturers and anti-slavery publications.  It taught abolitionists what they can do in their respective communities, if they will but put forth the amount of labor necessary to do it.  Scarcely had the town of Smithfield declared itself for the slave, before abolitionists, in various parts of our County, were moved by this victory to hope that the County itself might be brought to follow the glorious example of one her towns.  Wherever we found abolitionists, however few, determined to carry their town, in that town our cause prospered greatly.  But, in those towns—where we could find none of sufficient courage in the power of our good cause to believe that it could, however much helped by its friends, work its way to success, there that good cause dragged.  I am happy to be able to say, that, in a majority of our fourteen towns, there were, even several weeks before the Election, persons, who were determined that it should not be their fault if the antislavery cause did not triumph in their respective towns.  How much of the rapid progress of antislavery truth in this County, the last few months, is owing to my preaching of politics on Sunday, is not for me to say.  My meetings were held in the open air, and were, generally, very large.  In one of them, four thousand persons were present.  In others, fifteen hundred: and in others, between two and three thousand.  I trust, that no other than Bible politics were preached in any of them.  To bring reproach upon these Meetings, it is often said, that Liberty Party politics were preached in them.  If, however, I have preached Liberty Party politics in them, it must be, at least so far as I preached them, because they are identical with Bible politics;—for, in these Meetings, I have confined myself strictly to the explanation and inculcation of the politics of the Bible.

The County of Madison contains but forty thousand inhabitants.  Its antislavery vote, a year ago, was 580.  At this Election, our highest candidate has 1785 votes.  Our lowest, 1732.  Our candidate for Clerk runs ahead of the Whig candidate for Clerk.  The highest Whig candidate has 1846.  The lowest, 1759.  The Democratic vote is about 3150.  In three of the towns, the Liberty Party vote is greater than the Democratic.  In more than half of them, it is greater than the Whig vote.  This partial victory over the Whig party—over one of our two giant proslavery foes—is indeed very grateful.  But the writer is amongst those who entertained considerable hope, that we should achieve a decisive victory over both of them.  This hope was based on the apathy of the Democratic and Whig parties, and on the expectation that the total vote of the County, the present year, would be very small.  But it turns out that for the last ten or fifteen days before the Election this apathy was broken up, and that the effort to rally both Whigs and Democrats to the polls was great and successful.  Had the total vote of the County been as small as it has been once or twice within the last six years, twenty-two or twenty-three hundred ballots would probably have elected our ticket:—Though the writer promised his correspondents but 2000 anti-slavery votes from the County of Madison, he nevertheless continued to indulge the alternately feeble and confident hope that there would be two or three hundred more of such votes than were needful to fulfil his promise.

Whilst the Democratic vote is but between three-fourths and seven-eighths, and the Whig but between one-half and five-eighths of what they respectively were last Fall, the Liberty Party vote is more than trebled.  To carry the County for the slave, next Fall, we need not treble, nor even double, our present vote.  It will suffice, if the vote we then give be but one-half greater than that we have now given.  To increase our present vote to this extent will require but little labor, compared with that of trebling our last Fall’s vote.  Far less labor than that would bring every town in the County to the side of the slave, at the Town Meetings, next Spring.  May I not give the promise to the abolitionists of the Nation, in the undoubting confidence that the abolitionists of the County will fulfil it—that Madison will be, at the approaching Town Meetings, not a Whig County, nor a democratic County, but an anti-slavery County?  Such success of our dear cause in this County would be the knocking of a stone out of the arch of American slavery—would be the making of a breach in the blood-cemented structure, which could never be repaired.  Taught by her success that they can follow her example, other Counties would quickly follow it: and but a few years would pass away ere American slavery would be no more.  Such is my hope of the rapid progress of the anti-slavery cause; and this hope will certainly be realized, if we remain true to ourselves and to the principles by which we profess to be governed.  I would that there were no occasion for misgivings in respect to the conduct of abolitionists.  It is no compliment to abolitionists to say, that they are better than anti-abolitionists; no compliment to the Liberty Party to say, that it is better than the other political parties of the country: for these other political parties—for anti-abolitionist—have manifestly no higher standard of conduct than unprincipled, atheistic, expediency.  But abolitionists—but the Liberty Party—profess to be conformed to what is right—to what God says is right.  With them, expediency is not the rule of right—but right the rule of expediency.  The organization of the Liberty Party was a novel and bold experiment.  To form a political party on the basis of an honest, uncalculating, adherence to the right and the true, was an undertaking so foreign to custom—so utterly unprecedented—that there is no wonder it was stared at as impracticable and fanatical.  The experiment was well worth making, even if it had been made in the face of all probability of success.  God grant that, for the honor of human nature and for the sake of His enslaved poor, it may prove successful; but I frankly confess, that the scenes at Canastota, the 20th and 21st days of last September, have somewhat diminished my expectations of its success.  There was immodest self-advancement there—there was slander there—there was perfidy there: and, what is most alarming, the Liberty Party State Convention assembled there voted, if not a sanction of these indecent and guilty exhibitions, certainly no rebuke of them.  For making these free remarks, I may be thought to be but a poor Liberty party man.  Let me say, however, that I disclaim all such connexion with that party or other parties, as requires me to be silent about its or their errors.  I love that Party—and one proof that I do, is that my heart still bleeds under the recollection of the scenes to which I have now referred.  I love that Party—and another proof that I do, is that I am now recording my testimony against the conduct which has so deeply disgraced it—conduct which must be atoned for in the amplest manner ere the mutual confidence of all its members can be fully re-established; ere the claims of the Liberty Party of the State of New-York to respectability and to the character of uprightness can again be made perfectly good; and ere that section of the Party will be entitled to expect the continued enjoyment of the Divine blessing.

Your friend,


PETERBORO, November 13, 1843.