American Colorphobia

A friend in New-York, in a private note to us, expresses regret that we should have descended so far as to notice the scurrilous attack of the notorious Mike Walsh upon Frederick Douglass, and especially that we copied into the last number of the Liberator, Walsh’s brutal and defamatory article. We are not sure that our friend is not right in his judgment in this matter. Though the Refuge of Oppression is a department of our paper, the express object of which is to make permanent record of the various forms of hostility to the anti-slavery cause, its faithful advocates, and the free colored population,—and though we have found it necessary to print in it, numerous malignant and ferocious articles, to illustrate the character and spirit of our opponents,—yet there are limits even to an indulgence of this kind; and some of these attacks are either so peurile and paltry, or so indecent and revolting, as to forbid their publication even in a department consecrated to infamy. (¶ 1)

Reluctant as we felt to insert the offensive article alluded to, it so undisguisedly expressed the venomous hatred which so generally prevails in this country toward the free colored people—mark! in exact proportion as they become enlightened and refined—(none is cherished toward the slave population, for they are completely crushed, and excite no fear of rivalry)—that we were satisfied it not only carried its own antidote with it, but would help to overthrow, by reaction, the odious spirit of complexional caste which it was designed to eternize. (¶ 2)

In another column, a letter will be found from Mr. Douglass, in denial and refutation of the foul charge brought against him, (this was quite needless,) and in particular reference to an article in the Albany Switch, a paper so habitually obscene and libellous, we understand, as to have no tangible proprietor, publisher, or editor. (¶ 3)

The only thing we regret is, that one of the best and noblest of her sex, in her humane anxiety to secure for Mr. Douglass the usual accommodations granted to white travellers on the Hudson river, that his health might not be perilled by exposure, should have effected her purpose by a violation of the rules of the boat, which preclude any colored person from occupying a state room, or obtaining a comfortable berth. These rules are most unreasonable and cruel; but they are not to be subverted by stealth, which only irritates and hardens the spirit which framed them. They must be conquered openly, and through much suffering. We highly appreciate her generous self-forgetfulness, and the humane impulses by which she was actuated; but we think she committed an error of judgment. With the harmlessness of the dove, she did not in this instance blend the wisdom of the serpent; and thus she subjected herself and friend to foul reproaches and frenzied maledictions. It shows that too much heed cannot be given to the apostolic admonition, to shun the very appearance of evil. It happens, unfortunately, that Capt. Cruttenden, of the Hendrick Hudson, is peculiarly inimical to the abolitionists, and raving with colorphobia; and hence, there is no lack of disposition on his part to put the vilest construction upon an act as pure, as disinterested, and as benevolent, as was ever conceived by the human heart, or executed by human will. We are told that he formerly kept the City Hotel in New-York, and derived no small amount of patronage from Southern sojourners in that city. Possibly he is a slave-owner; or, if not, it is not, we opine, on account of any scruples of conscience. Let him and his boat be remembered by the friends of justice and humanity, as they travel up or down the Hudson river, and both shunned as far as practicable. (¶ 4)

There is nothing which excites more unfeigned astonishment in the old world, than the prejudice which dogs the footsteps of the man of color in this pseudo republic. True, there are many absurd, criminal, aristocratic distinctions abroad, which ought to cease; but these are also found, to a great extent, in the United States, and have been common to all countries, and in every age. They originate in the pride of wealth, in successful enterprise, in educational superiority, in official rank, in civil, military, and ecclesiastical rule. For these, there may be framed some plausible excuses. But to enslave, brutalize, scorn and insult human beings solely on account of the hue of the skin which it has pleased God to bestow on them; to pronounce them accursed, for no crime on their part; to treat them substantially alike, whether they are virtuous or vicious, refined or vulgar, rich or poor, aspiring or grovelling; to be inflamed with madness against them in proportion as they rise in self-respect, and improve in their manners and morals; this is an act so unnatural, a crime so monstrous, a sin so God-defying, that it throws intothe shade all other distinctions known among mankind. Thank God, it is confined to a very small portion of the globe; though, strange to tell, it is perpetrated the most grossly, and in a spirit the most ferocious and inexorable, in a land claiming to be the pattern-land of the world—the most enlightened, the most democratic, the most Christian. Complexional caste is tolerated no where excepting in the immediate vicinage of slavery. It has no foundation in nature, reason, or universal custom. But, as the origin of it is to be traced to the existence of slavery, so its utter eradication is not to be expected until that hideous system be overthrown. Nothing but the removal of the cause can destroy the effect. That, with all its desperate efforts to lengthen its cords and strengthen its stakes, the Slave Power is continually growing weaker, is most clearly demonstrated in the gradual abatement of the prejudice which we have been deploring; for strong and terrible as that prejudice now is, it has received a very perceptible check within the last ten years, especially in New England. (¶ 5)

No one can blame the intelligent and virtuous colored American for turning his back upon the land of his nativity, and escaping from it with the precipitancy that marked the flight of Lot out of Sodom. To remain in it is to subject himself to continual annoyance, persecution, and outrage. In fifteen or twenty days, he can place his feet on the shores of Europe—in Great Britain and Ireland—where, if he cannot obtain more food or better clothing, he can surely find that his complexion is not regarded as a crime, and constitutes no barrier to his social, intellectual, or political advancement. He who, with this powerful temptation to become an exile before him, is resolved to remain at home, and take his lot and portion with his down trodden brethren—to lay his comfort, reputation, and hopes on the altar of freedom—exhibits the true martyr spirit, and is deserving of a world’s sympathy and applause. Such a man, in eminent degree, is Frederick Douglass. Abroad, beloved, honored, admitted to the most refined circles, and eulogised by the Jerrolds, the Howitts, and a host of Britain’s highest intellects;—at home, not without numerous friends and admirers, it is true, yet made the object of popular contumely, denied the customary rights and privileges of a man, and surrounded by an atmosphere of prejudice which is enough to appal the stoutest heart, and to depress the most elastic spirit. Such is the difference between England and America; between a people living under a monarchial form of government, and a nation of boasting republicans!—O what crimes are perpetrated under the mask of democratic liberty! what outrages are consummated under the profession of Christianity! (¶ 6)

Fleecy locks and dark complexion
Cannot forfeit Nature’s claim;
Skins may differ, but affection
Dwells in white and black the same. (¶ 7)