Rochester (NY) Frederick Douglass' Paper, "Freedom's Battle at Christiana," September 25, 1851

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    "Freedom's Battle at Christiana," Rochester (NY) Frederick Douglass' Paper, September 25, 1851.
    Newspaper: Publication
    Frederick Douglass' Paper
    Newspaper: Headline
    Freedom's Battle at Christiana
    Date Certainty
    Zak Rosenberg
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.


    The fight at Christiana between the slavecatchers and the alleged fugitive slaves, continues to excite general discussion. The sensation produced by the death of the kidnappers is not surpassed by that which occurred throughout the country on hearing of the fate of the Cuban invaders. The failure of these two patriotic expeditions, undertaken so nobly by our law-abiding citizens, must long be regarded as among the most memorable events of this eventful year.

    Everybody seems astonished, that in this land of gospel light and liberty, after all the sermons of the Lords, Lathrops, Spencers, Coxes, Springs, Deweys, Sharpes, Tyngs, and a host of other Doctors of Divinity, there should be found men so firmly attached to liberty and so bitterly averse to slavery, as to be willing to peril even life itself to gain the one and avoid the other. Pro-slavery men especially are in a state of amazement at the strange affair. That the hunted men should fight with the biped bloodhounds that had tracked them, even when the animals had a "paper" authorizing them to hunt, is to them inexplicable audacity. 'Tis not that the negroes fought the kidnappers (no, let no one misrepresent) that we are astonished, but that they should fight them and kill them when they knew they had "papers." That they should kill the men-hunters is, perhaps, natural, and may be explained in the light of the generally admitted principles "that self-preservation is the first law of nature;" but, the rascals! they killed their pursuers, when they knew they had "papers!" Just here is the point of difficulty. What could have got into these men of sable coating? Didn't they know that slavery, not freedom, is their natural condition? Didn't they know that their legs, arms, eyes, hands and heads, were the rightful property of the white men who claimed them?

    Can we in charity suppose these negroes to have been ignorant of the fact that our "own dear Fillmore" (that whom there is none higher-no, according to northern Whigery, not even in the heavens above nor in the earth beneath) did, on the eighteenth day of September, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty of the Christian era, and in the seventy-fifth year of the freedom and independence of the American people from the bondage of a foreign yoke, approve and send forth a decree, (with all the solemn authority of his great name,) ordaining that thereafter, MEN SHOULD CEASE TO BE MEN! Oh! ye most naughty and rebellious fellows! Why stand ye up like men, after this mighty decree? Way have not your hands become paws, and your arms, legs? Why are you not down among four-footed beasts with the fox, the wolf and the bear, sharing with them the chances of the chase, but constituting the most choice game-the peculiar game of this free and Christian country? We say again that here is the point of difficulty which demands explanation. For you see, friends and brethren, if the story gets afloat that these negroes of Christiana did really hear the words of the mighty FILLMORE commanding them to be brutes instead of men, and they did not change as ordered, why, the dangerous doctrine will also get afloat presently that there is a law higher than the law of FILLMORE. If his voice cannot change the nature of things, it is certain that there is a power above him, and that that frightful heresy, (which has been so justly condemned by the most learned clergy,) called the "Higher Law," will be received, the evil consequences of which, even the great Daniel cannot portray.

    We have said that the pro-slavery people of this country don't know what to make of this demonstration on the part of the alleged fugitive slaves of Christiana. This, however, is possibly a mistake. There is in that translation a lesson which the most obtuse may understand, namely, that all NEGROES ARE NOT SUCH FOOLS AND DASTARDS AS TO CLING TO, life WHEN IT IS COUPLED WITH CHAINS AND SLAVERY.

    This lesson, though most dearly bought, is quite worth the price paid. It was needed. The lamb -like submission with which men of color have allowed themselves to be dragged away from liberty, from family and all that is dear to the hearts of man, had well-nigh established the impression that they were conscious of their own fitness for slavery. The frequency of arrests, and the ease with which they were made quickened the rapacity, and invited these aggressions of slave-catchers. The Christiana conflict was therefore needed to check these aggressions and to bring the hunters of men to the sober second thought. But was it right for the colored men to resist their enslavers? We answer, Yes, or the whole structure of the world's theory of right and wrong is a lie. If it be right for any man to resist those who would enslave them, it was right for the men of color at Christiana to resist. If an appeal to arms may even be innocently made, the appeal in this instance was innocently made; and if it were wrong in them to fight, it can never be right in any case to fight. For never were there, never can there be more sacred rights to defend then were menaced on this occasion. Life and liberty are the most sacred of all man's rights. If these may be invaded with impunity, all others may be, for they comprehend all others. But we take still higher ground. It was right in the light of absolute justice, which says to the aggressor, he that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity, and he that taketh the sword shall perish by the sword. The man who rushes out of the orbit of his own rights, to strike down the rights of another, does, by that act, divest himself of the right to live; if he be shot down, his punishment is just.

    Now what are the facts in the case, for these have been most scandalously misrepresented by the newspapers? The slave-holder's side of the story has been told, but the other side has been dumb, for colored men cannot write. Could they speak for themselves, we dare be sworn that they would testify substantially as follows: Early in the evening of September tenth, a colored man, a fugitive slave, went to the house of Wm. Parker, a sober, well-behaved, and religious man of color, and said to him, William, there is a warrant out for the arrest of some of us, and it is said the kidnappers will be up to-night from Philadelphia. What had we better do? The answer to this, was worthy of the man. Come to my house said Parker. Accordingly, five men of color, all told, spent the night at William's house. They sat up late in apprehension of an attack, but finally went to bed, but sleep they could not. About two hours before day-light, one of the colored men went into the yard, and on raising his eyes, saw, at that unseasonable hour, fifteen men, coming stealthily along the lane. He ran into the house, and told the inmates that the slave-catchers had come, and the truth of his story was soon confirmed, for but a minute elapsed before the whole fifteen men in Parker's yard. The man who went into the yard, did not fasten the door securely, and it was therefore easily forced. The slaveholders rushed into the lower part of the house, and called upon the occupants to give themselves up. Here commenced the conflict. The kidnappers undertook to force their way up stairs, but were met, and compelled to retreat. A parley ensued. Gorsuch was spokesman for himself and his kidnapping comrades, and Parker for himself and guests. Gorsuch said, you have got my property in your house. I have not, said Parker; there is no property here but what belongs to me. I own every trunk, and chair and article of furniture about this house and none but robbers and murderers would make any attack upon me at this hour of the night. You have got my men in your house said Gorsuch, and I will have them, or go to hell in the attempt to get them. Parker said I have got none of your men, I never owned a man in my life. I believe it to be a sin to own men; I am no slave-owner. Gorsuch here interrupted Parker, saying, I don't want to hear your abolition lecture. After a long parley, during which Parker repeatedly advised the slave-catchers to go away, stating that he did not wish to hurt them, although they had fired into his house fifteen times, shooting once through his hat crown, the five colored men came down the stairs, and walked in front of the slave-catchers, and both parties were now arrayed face to face. Parker then took the old man, Gorsuch, by the arm, and said to him, old man, we don't want to harm you. You profess to be a Christian; you are a Methodist class-leader, and you ought to be ashamed to be in such business. At this point, the young Gorsuch, said, "father, do you allow a 'nigger' to talk so to you? why don't you shoot him, father?" Parker then answered: "Young man, I would say to you just what I have said to your father. You had better go about your business." Young Gorsuch then fired at Parker, but missed him, and he Gorsuch, was instantly shot down. There was now a general shooting, and striking with clubs, during which the elder Gorsuch was killed, his son shot through the lungs, and his nephew dangerously wounded. We must not omit to state that the first plan to take the advice of the colored preacher (as Parker is called,) was the Marshal from Philadelphia. He topped his boom before the heat of the battle came on, undoubtedly feeling that he had barked up the wrong tree, and that it was best for him to make tracks! The time occupied in parleying between the two parties, was full two hours.

    The colored men who are alleged to have taken part in the conflict at Christiana, are to be tried, we are informed, for high treason! This is to cap the climax of American absurdity, to say nothing of American infamy. Our government has virtually made every colored man in the land an outlaw, one who may be hunted by any villa in who may think proper to do so, and if the hunted man, finding himself stript of all legal protection, shall lift his arms in his own defense, why, forsooth, he is arrested, arraigned, and tried for high treason, and found guilty, he must suffer death!

    The basis of allegiance is protection. We owe allegiance to the government that protects us, but to the government that destroys us, we owe no allegiance. The only law which the alleged slave has a right to know anything about, is the law of nature. This is his only law. The enactments of this government do not recognize him as a citizen, but as a thing. In the light of the law, a slave can no more commit treason than a horse or an ox can commit treason. A horse kicks out the brains of his master. Do you try the horse for treason? Then why the slave who does the same thing? You answer, because the slave is a man, and he is therefore responsible for his acts. The answer is sound. The slave is a man, and ought not to be treated like a horse, but like a man, and his manhood is his justification for shooting down any creature who shall attempt to reduce him to the condition of a brute.
    But there is one consolation after all about this arraignment for treason. It admits our manhood. Sir Walter Scott says, that treason is the crime of a gentleman. We shall watch this trial in Philadelphia, and shall report the result when it transpires. Meanwhile, we think that fugitives may sleep more soundly than formerly.

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