"TO MAKE THIS WHOLE LAND THE SLAVEHOLDER'S HUNTING GROUND": FIRST EDITION OF GERRIT SMITH'S 1850 SPEECH, DECLARING "LAW IS FOR THE PROTECTION OF RIGHTS—NOT FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF RIGHTS"
(SLAVERY) SMITH, Gerrit. Substance of the Speech Made by Gerrit Smith, in the Capitol of the State of New York, March 11th and 12th, 1850. Albany: Jacob T. Hazen, 1850. Octavo, period-style half calf gilt, marbled boards; pp. (1-3), 4-25, (26-27), 28-30. $1500.
First edition of the bold abolitionist's Speech proclaiming the Constitution "does not allow the three million of our colored countrymen to be held in slavery," a close friend of Frederick Douglass, who "openly embraced Smith's version of an antislavery interpretation of the Constitution," delivered the same decade as John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid, substantially financed by Smith.
Smith, a wealthy philanthropist, was "among the most outspoken" of white abolitionists (Jackson, Force and Freedom, 65). Once linked to William Lloyd Garrison's view of the Constitution as a "covenant with death," Smith split from Garrison and became a founder of both the Liberty Party and its successor, the Radical Abolitionist Party. He was, as well, key in forging a close interracial alliance between Frederick Douglass, Black abolitionist and physician James McCune Smith, and John Brown. The four men shared the goal of achieving "a 'radical change' in government." By the early 1850s, Douglass "openly embraced Smith's version of an antislavery interpretation of the Constitution" (Blight, 213). To Smith, Douglass, and figures as Alvan Stewart and Lysander Spooner, "the Constitution empowered—even required—Congress to abolish slavery in the southern states by direct legislation… As an editor, Douglass had always engaged with national politics. Now the federal authority at the base of slavery's stranglehold on America became his intensive focus" (Blight, 214; emphasis in original).
This very scarce first edition captures the force of Smith's groundbreaking 1850 Speech and clearly demonstrates the breadth of his constitutional argument. Declaring "law is for the protection of rights—not for the destruction of rights" (emphasis in original), he cites passages in the Declaration and Bill of Rights, and addresses the pivotal "three-fifths" clause. Smith proclaims the Founding Fathers did not intend "to make this whole land the slaveholder's hunting ground," and asserts the Constitution "does not allow the three million of our colored countrymen to be held in slavery." He would use his wealth to help establish a Black settlement at North Elba, N.Y., which was "John Brown's permanent residence from 1854 until his death" (Stauffer, Black Hearts, 3). After Harpers Ferry and Brown's execution, Smith faced demands that he be tried as an "accessory after the fact." While he "publicly denied it, Smith gave warm encouragement and financial assistance" to Brown and the Harpers Ferry insurrection. Yet "guilt over the failure of Brown's raid and fear of possible arrest as a co-conspirator caused Smith to commit himself to the Utica State Lunatic Asylum" (ANB). In time, he publicly retreated from his Radical Abolitionist stance and died in 1874. Sabin 82670.
A fine copy.