Monday, 16 January 2012

“Send Back the Money!” Frederick Douglass in Scotland

Continuing my research into Frederick Douglass’s life, his controversial tour of Scotland deserves attention. Douglass visited Britain from 1845-1847, and spent several months in Scotland, lecturing about slavery in cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paisley, and Dundee. Before he arrived there however, he caught wind of a campaign by local anti-slavery societies, directed against the Free Church of Scotland. In 1843, an independent sect calling itself the Free Church broke from the established Church of Scotland, defying their authoritarian methods. To raise money for their new organisation, Free Church missionaries were sent to the United States, collecting over £3,000 from Southern slaveholders. The abolitionists denounced the Free Church for supporting slavery, and when Douglass arrived in Scotland, his oratorical skill set this campaign ablaze:

“When the slaves of America heard of a free church, we had reason to believe that the day of our redemption drew near…they accepted the slave-holders’ invitation, took their money; paralysed their own Christian feelings, turned a deaf ear to the groan of the slave as they went on their way through the South – they were dumb on the question of slavery – were invited by the slave-owners to their pulpits – dined at their tables, at in their pews –heard them preach to their slave congregations – took the blood money, which was offered them, and brought it to Scotland, to pay the Free Church ministers. I charge them with having gone into a land of man-stealers – among men whom they knew to be man-stealers – they struck for the sake of money…tell them to send back to America that blood stained money!” (Frederick Douglass, “A Call for the British Nation to Testify Against Slavery” in Exeter, England, August 28 1846.)

Over 1,200 people came to hear this speech.

In 1846, a number of songs were composed (or adapted) to focus on the Free Church controversy:

“SEND back the Money! send it back!
'Tis dark polluted gold;
'Twas wrung from human flesh and bones,
By agonies untold:
There's not a mite in all the sum
But what is stained with blood;
There's not a mite in all the sum
But what is cursed of God.

Send back the Money! send it back!
Partake not in their sin
Who buy and sell, and trade in Men,
Accursed gains to win:
There's not a mite in all the sum
An honest man may claim;
There's not a mite but what can tell
Of fraud, deceit, and shame…

Then send the money back again!
And send without delay;
It may not, must not, cannot bear
The light of British day.”

Unfortunately for the abolitionists, the Free Church stood firm and refused to return the money. However, the impact of Douglass’s popular Scottish campaign would prove influential, particularly during one summer in London, 1846…more on this soon!

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