To Gerrit Smith

13 September 1852


[MS in the Gerrit Smith Papers, Syracuse University]


Oberlin 13. Sept. 1852.

My Dear Br. Garret Smith.

Since I received your circular I have

been wanting to write to you & ask you to consider

well the principle involved in your voting as

you did for candidates of your view at the

convention at Pitsburgh. Suppose each mem

ber of the convention had done the same, &

suppose all voters should do the same. Would

not government be an impossibility, as no repre

sentatives could be elected.

Will you consider, my brother the question of

Political Sectarianism in its various be[ar]

ings & ascertain what arguments can just[ify]

Political that would not equally justify religiou[s]

sectarianism or scism? Is it not true that in

cases where, from the nature of the case, men

must act by majorities, in masses, & not merely

as individuals, it is wrong to secede except for

fundamental heresy? Is not patience, labor, ar

gument the remedy for all other errors either

in politics or religions? I regard the question of

liberty & slavery as vital & fundamental in

politics & therefore justify & demand secession

for the slavery heresy. But temperance, Land

Reform, Womans rights &c. though important &

to be sought by all means consistent with uniting

of political action, yet I do not can not regard

them as fundamental as liberty is in government.

I quite agree with you that slavery can never be lega

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lized in any proper sense of the term legalized.

The word law, as you know, is so defined by writers

as to admit that to be statutory law which

conflicts with natural justice, & they only in

sist upon strict construction in such cases.

Law writers all admit that Legislators can

set aside the common law by their enactments.

It is in this loose & erroneous sense of the

term law that the mas[s]es understand it.

I deny that legislators have any right to

legislate against the common law as natural

justice, & maintain that all valid legislation

[is] only declaratory of common law, & in no

case an abrogation of it. I have longed to

go into court & try to turn up from the

foundations some of the long admitted prin

ciples upon which both legislations & juris

prudence have proceeded. I want to know you

better My Brother & converse more fully with you

than I have hitherto done. You will allow me

to say that I can not regard you as quite sound

on the question of political scism. I think your

position is divisive & sectarian, & inconsistent

with your religious views on the same subject.

I infer this from your political action. But I

may misapprehend you. Mrs F. unites in kindest regards

to yourself & Mrs. Smith. Your Brother. C. G. Finney.


[along the left-hand side of page 2]

P.S. The religious interest here continues [ ]t increases.


The following reply to Finney's letter is from the copy in a letter-book in the Gerrit Smith Papers, George Arents Research Library, Syracuse University:


Peterboro Sept 18 1852

Chs G. Finney

My Dr Brother,

This day's mail brings me your welcome letter. I shall, always, be glad to receive a letter from you - for I count you not only as a friend and brother, but as my instructor also.

You think me to be more catholic in my religion than in my politics - In other words, as sectarian in my politics, as I am antisectarian in my religion.

1s I hold, that the christians of the place are the church of the place. My church party, therefore, in Peterboro consists of the christians of Peterboro.

2 My political party in Peterboro consists of all, who [ ]tly aim to go for all the political rights of all subjects of Government - black and white, male and female.

Now, I may be wrong in making my political party [no] more comprehensive - but I am not inconsistent. I rigidly ex[clude] from my church party all, who, I think, are not christians, and, too, I rigidly exclude from my political party all, who do not [come] up to my standard of membership. Were you living in Peterb[oro,] and should you admit to me your unwillingness to have the b[lack] man clothed with the right of suffrage, I should, even tho[ugh] you agreed with me in all other things, deny, that you belonged [to] my political party.

You think, that I was wrong, in refusing to vote at Pittsburgh for Hale and Julian. Perhaps, I was. But, when y[ou] say, that the refusal was inconsistent with my liberality in Ch[urch] matters, I reply, that it was not necessarily so, I might not have regarded them as belonging to my political party - and, hence my refusal to vote for them.

But, there is another phase to this subject. Were you living here, I might recognize you, and most heartily too, as a member both of my church party and of my political party. But I should not, therefore, be bound, in consistency, to vote for you, either as an ecclesiastical officer, or political officer. Whilst I might believe, that you had the qualifications for the membership, I might,

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and with perfect consistency, deny, that you had the qualifications for the office.

Allowing, then, that I regarded Hale and Julian as members of my political party, nevertheless I might have regarded them as unadapted to carry out and honor the principles of that party in the high offices to which they were nominated.

To go with the majority is, I admit, an important duty, but you will agree with me, that it is no duty at all, until we have first settled it that the candidate belongs to our party - that is, [hold]s the great, vital, distinctive principles of our party, and is, also, fit for the proposed office.

You say, that you quite agree with me, that slavery cannot be legalized. I thought at Pittsburgh, that you did not: and, I doubt whether you do now agree with my sense of the language. Do you hold with me, that we are no more to respect an enactment for slavery than an enactment for murder? - and that, when the Government officials come to our neighborhood for the purpose of plunging one of our colored neighbor into slavery, we are as much bound to resist them, as if they had come for the purpose of murdering him?

Remember me very affectionately to Mrs. Finney. My poor wife is still quite feeble. She is at Rockaway to try the effect of sea-bathing. My recollections of my visit to Oberlin are very pleasant. I rejoice to learn, that your revival continues. I have often thought, that I should love to pass through an Oberlin revival. I have never been better than a half way christian. I want to be a whole one.

With great regards,

your friend and brother,

Gerrit Smith.


The circular was probably the printed letter "To the Liberty Party of the County of Madison," August 13, 1852.

The antislavery convention at Pittsburgh on August 11-12, was organized by the Free Soil party in an attempt to unite all antislavery factions in a new Free Democratic Party. With some difficulty a platform was agreed upon, and John P. Hale and George W. Julian were nominated for President and Vice President. However, Gerrit Smith and his circle, declaring themselves the "Democratic League", put forward an alternative platform for more radical reform. (See Schuyler C. Marshall, "The Free Democratic Convention of 1852" in Pennsylvania History, Vol. 22, No. 1 (January 1955), pp. 146-167; and Lawrence J. Friedman, "The Gerrit Smith Circle: Abolitionism in the Burned-Over District" in Civil War History, Vol. 26, No. 1 [March 1980], p. 32.)

A tear in the manuscript has removed parts of the text.