Address of the Liberty Party
to the Colored People of the Northern States

Adopted in Convention, 14–15 June 1848, Buffalo, N. Y.

This work may be cited as “Address of the Liberty Party to the Colored People of the Northern States,” in Proceedings of the National Liberty Convention, Held at Buffalo, N. Y., June 14th & 15th, 1848; Including the Resolutions and Addresses Adopted by that Body, and Speeches of Beriah Green and Gerrit Smith on that Occasion (Utica, N. Y.: S. W. Green, 1848), pp. 10–13.

Page numbers appear in blue: 10, 11, 12, 13

BRETHREN—We are engaged “arm and soul,” in breaking the chains of three millions of Slaves.  We need your help.  You are under peculiar obligations to give it.  From the fact, that you and these slaves belong to the same variety of the human family, and that many of you, and all of your ancestors, have been slaves, it is but natural, that the horrors of slavery should be ever before you, and ever arousing you to efforts for the deliverance of its victims.  Nevertheless, so far from your being the most prompt and efficient helpers of our work, you are among the greatest hinderances [sic] to it.

The doctrine of the slaveholders is, that the negro is fit for no other condition than slavery.  We need not say, that our doctrine is, that every man is fit for liberty, and no man for slavery.  The slaveholders hope for your ill-doing and debasement, that their doctrine may, thereby, be justified.  We hope for your well-doing and elevation, that it may, thereby, be refuted.  Readily and joyfully, do we admit, that many of you are doing much to refute it.  Many of you are manifesting many qualities of head and heart, which prove the negro to be as much a man as is any other variety of man.  A few of you are adorning learned professions.  Most of you are industrious; and many of you, combining economy with industry, are enabled to enjoy the comforts, and, in not rare instances, the elegancies and refinements of life.  Nevertheless, it remains true, that, as a people, you are doing far less than you should, to shame the slavebolders out of their wicked and absurd doctrine, that the negro is fit for slavery only.

Now, say not, in vindication of yourselves, that you can afford to be brought into comparison with the whites.  You are under the necessity of being better than the whites, because the prejudice of color, which, in this land, is as mighty as it is mad, is for them and against you.  They sail with the tide; you against it.  They may be idlers, and yet be respected.  But, if your industry relax, you are denounced as lazy.  They may be spendthrifts, without greatly, or, at all, harming their reputation.  But, yours is ruined, unless you are rigid economists.  They may indulge in intoxicating drinks, and, yet, be counted with the sober.  You must be tetotallers, [sic] or pass for drunkards.  Profanity and licentiousness in them may go unrebuked.  But you cannot be guilty of these vices, without being disgraced and made vile by them.  They can afford to be without knowledge—even, without the knowledge of the alphabet.  But, the most ignorant of them will make merry over your ignorance, and despise you for it.  They can join secret societies, and yet be respected.  But, if you indulge in the puerilities and fooleries of the Regalia and processions of secret [11] societies, you are laughed at for the nonsense, and are denounced for such wicked waste of your wages.

We said, that you are under the necessity of being better than the whites.  We admit that it is unreasonableness and cruelty, which have forced this necessity upon you.  But, is it for that reason a less wholesome necessity?  Are you, therefore, to be less thankful to God for it?—and less prayerful to Him for that measure of grace, which will enable you to live up to the whole extent of the demands of this necessity?  Happy, thrice happy, the people, who are compelled to have, if they but show themselves worthy to have, a higher standard of circumspection, propriety, and wisdom, than have others!  Happy, thrice happy, the people, who are under peculiar obligations to be industrious, and frugal, and learned, and virtuous, if, only, a heart be given them to respond to these obligations!

One cause of your inferior condition—that inferior condition which is so much in the way of the anti-slavery enterprise, and which reflects so much dishonor upon it—is too prominent and powerful, to be passed over on this occasion.  We refer to your clustering in cities and large villages, and resigning yourselves to menial occupations.  It is no dishonor to an individual to be a servant.  But, for a whole people to become servants, is to sink themselves in disgrace.  They will, in some cases, be, very naturally, thought fit for nothing higher.  And, true it is, that the occupation of a servant, if association with none but servants be combined with it, must fit for nothing higher than the occupation of a servant.  Now, such are the circumstances of the great body of those of you, who are congregated in populous places; and, hence, the ignorance, groveling spirit, and destitution of manly independence, which characterise them.

We have glanced at the pernicious influence of your inferior condition on the anti-slavery cause.  As that condition rises or sinks, so rises or sulks this cause.  As that condition rises, so does the slaveholder become weak.  As it sinks, so does he become strong.  Be what you should, and can be; and the enslavement of your race would no longer be possible.  In the development of your dignity and capabilities, the slaveholder would, awe-struck, behold what manhood, what dignity, what capabilities, he had been trampling on, is the persons of his slaves.  His slaveholding heart would now die within him.  The rod of the oppressor would fall from his relaxed grasp, and the oppressed would go free.

We will advert to one of the benefits, which would result to yourselves, from the great improvement, which should take place in you condition.  Your political rights, as well as other rights of your manhood, are, now, withheld from most of you.  Our Maker knows, that men will rob, when they can do it, with impunity.  He knows, that they will be guilty of the ineffable meanness of robbing those of their rights, who are too weak to protect their rights.  Hence, His command:  “Rob not the poor because he is poor.”  It is, because you are so generally poor, being so generally servants, and because you [12] are, therefore, accounted vile, that you are plundered of your political rights.  Had the colored people of this State been scattered over the State on farms and in mechanic shops, and been, every way, as, in that case, they would have been, the equals of the white men among them—strong as is the prejudice against color, their respectability would have extorted from that prejudice the right of suffrage.  Nay, that prejudice, melted away before that respectability, this right would have been yielded up unresistingly, willingly, gladly.

But the way, in which you mostly wrong and degrade yourselves, and retard the progress of the anti-slavery cause, remains to be specified.

It is a sad truth—and as strange as sad—that great numbers of the colored people of the Northern States are bound up with pro-slavery, ecclesiastical, and political parties.  We do not complain, that you cherish the Methodist, or Presbyterian, or any other religious creed.  But, we insist, that you, who are in fellowship with pro-slavery religionists of whatever denomination, are the deadliest traitors to your brethren in bonds.  By means of that fellowship, your religion, such as it is, endorses slavery; and it is the religious endorsement of slavery, which more than anything else, keeps it in countenance.  Better, infinitely better, for your poor lashed and bleeding, and chained brothers and sisters—and, may we not add, for yourselves also—that you should never see the inside of a Church, nor the inside of a Bible, than that you should, by your pro-slavery connections, sanctify their enslavement.

Again, we are not now complaining, that you hold these or those views of political economy.  But, most deeply, do we complain, that you should connect yourselves with, and vote with, political parties, which, together with the pro-slavery churches, are the great props of American slavery.  A colored man voting for a slaveholder for a civil office, or for one who thinks a slaveholder fit for it!  What a cruel perfection of treachery to the poor Southern slave is this!  How it murders him in the house of his friends!  Better renounce your right to vote, and your right to personal liberty, and go down and grind in the Southern Prison House, loaded with the ignominious and galling chains of slavery, than make such a heartless and murderous use, as this, of your suffrages and personal liberty.

At the last Presidential Election, there were, probably, five votes cast by colored men for Henry Clay, where one was cast by them for James G. Birney:—and, this, too, notwithstanding, that the former exceeds any other man in responsibility for the sufferings of the negro race, and that the latter has, for conscience sake, emancipated his twenty-eight slaves, and thereby, both made himself an outcast from the society, which had cherished him, and reduced himself to poverty.  What unparalleled infatuation was this preference for Henry Clay!

Impressive scene would be the secession from pro-slavery churches and pro-slavery political parties of every colored person connected with them!  Slavery could not long survive a scene so influential and [13] Heaven-blest.  Oh, that such a scene were at hand!  Oh, that it were, already, one of the definitions of a negro:  “A person, who would sooner lose his head than belong to a pro-slavery church!”  And, oh, that it were, already, another of these definitions:  “A person who would sooner lose his head than belong to, or vote with, a pro-slavery political party!”  When these shall be among the definitions of a negro, negro slavery will be ready to vanish.