The Ransom of Douglass

January 15, 1847

Tells of how, soon after his arrival in England there were people intent on effecting legal emancipation of Douglass, “provided his ransom could be effected at a fair market value.” Garrison mentions names of some of the leaders in the effort, Anna Richardson, George Thompson, and says, “I also contributed my mite.”  The total sum came to about $725.  This ransoming has raised questions among Abolitionists, who have often maintained that to offer money to secure emancipation of a person is tantamount to saying that the slaveholder had a right to his “property”.  Garrison tries to explain his position….  “I still hold firmly to the doctrine laid down in the Declaration of Sentiments, adopted in Philadelphia in 1833, as I did at that time when I wrote that instrument.. …’We maintain that no compensation should be given to the planters emancipating their slaves, because it would be a surrender of the great fundamental principle, that ‘man cannot hold property in man.’   Now what was the assumption intended to be disclaimed by this empathic language?  Most certainly not that it would be wrong to contribute money for the redemption of the pining bondman from his cruel fate, provided that the right of the kidnapper to make the pecuniary exaction was not conceded, but expressly disclaimed……The claim for ‘compensation’ which the Declaration reprobates, is that which is put forth by those who maintain that the slaves are bona fide property—that the slaveholders are guilty of no wrong in holding slaves — that emancipation ought not to be granted, unless the masters are remunerated.  But what analogy exists between the affirmation of the right of the slaveholder to be compensated for his slave, and the compliance with his demand, though in open denial of his right, in order to extricate from a horrible doom, ‘a man and a brother’?  I see none whatever.”