The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To "The Friends of Freedom"
26 July 1848
[Published in the Daily True Democrat (Cleveland), 2 August 1848]
Finney's approach to the abolition of slavery was consistent throughout his career. He was unwavering as an abolitionist but took issue with many of the leaders of the movement over the best means to be employed in bringing it about. This generated doubts about his commitment to the cause. With the entry of the anti-slavery movement into the political arena he, and other leaders at Oberlin, were slow to get involved in third party politics. When they did, they backed the Liberty Party; but in 1843, when they gave their support to a Whig, there was dismay and concern about their commitment to the cause. With the resurgence of political abolitionism in 1848, people looked to see where they would stand in relation to the Free Soil Party. As the great National Free Soil Convention was about to be held in Buffalo, New York on August 9 and 10, 1848, the following letter was published in the Cleveland Daily True Democrat:
For the True Democrat.
TO THE FRIENDS OF FREEDOM.
Amid scenes like the present, no one can be an uninterested spectator of the events which are transpiring around him. Every one also, who has influence with the public (and who has not?) is bound to throw that influence in favor of what truth, right and wisdom demand. A crisis in the history of our Republic has arrived, in which old party bands are sundered, party lines are being swept away, party animosities are being forgotten and absorbed by the spirit of patriotism, and the true friends of humanity and of their country are, in the fundamental examination of original principles, endeavoring to find a new and permanent basis for future union and co-operation for the common good. The friends and foes of freedom are now marshalling in opposing lines for a great conflict, on the issue of which the destiny of our nation for many years, not to say ages to come, is pending. It has been suggested to us that a portion of the public might wish to know our position at the present time. We therefore set forth the following articles, as expressing our views of what is now demanded of the friends of freedom, and especially of political Abolitionists:
1. In our judgment he is a true Abolitionist who sincerely holds chattle slavery, in all its forms, to be intrinsically wrong, and who is heartily devoted, in the use of all the means which he honestly judges to be lawful and wise, to its total extinction. He is a political Abolitionist who holds that wherever the State or National Legislature have the power to legislate in favor of or against slavery, its future legislation should be in favor of freedom and against oppression, and who will hereafter make the attainment of this result a permanent object at the ballot box.
2. The first and great aim of the friends of freedom at the present time, should be to emancipate our National Government from the dominion of the Slave Power, and the total prevention of the extension of Slavery over any of the territories now under the jurisdiction of this Government. These, in our judgment, present the GREAT issues of the approaching Presidential election. To meet these issues, we think that all the friends of freedom should unite in a patriotic forgetfulness of former party pledges, party ties and predilections.
3. Should the coming Buffalo Convention present candidates for the first offices in the gift of this nation &endash; candidates openly and honorably devoted to these objects, and who do not stand committed against any of the other important measures involved in the Anti-Slavery movement, they will receive our hearty support.
4. Under the influence of such principles and sentiments, we intend, the most of us at least, to attend that Convention, and hope to meet the thousands of the friends of freedom, and of our "Liberty friends" especially, there.
C. G. FINNEY,
Oberlin, July 26. 1848.
The Convention was attended by Gerrit Smith who explained in a letter to the editor of the New York Landmark why he would not be voting for Martin Van Buren, the man nominated by the convention for President. He could vote for no-one who was not an abolitionist nor a land reformer nor committed positively to carrying out "in all directions, the principle of the equal rights of all men":
I am well aware, that but few are left to govern their votes by such considerations, as govern my own. Of the seventy thousand, who belonged to the Liberty party, perhaps not one thousand will insist, that their candidates be abolitionists: and of all the Land-Reformers, perhaps, not one thousand will insist, that their candidates be Land-Reformers. When I see such wise and good men, as compose the faculty of Oberlin Institute, adapting their ethics to the emergency, and teaching, that the civil Ruler may, in most respects, be a man of negative, instead of positive merits--and that, even in such Anti-Slavery matters, as are, confessedly, "important," it will answer, if he only do not "stand committed against" the right--when I see such a sad surrender of principle, I expect nothing better than that but here and there one will be found able to keep himself from being carried off in the floods of defection.
Alas, that even the wise and the good should entertain such low and false views of Civil Government! But, it is not strange that they should. Ministers refuse to preach Bible politics; and if a layman presume to preach them, Ministers and their people conspire against him for his unpardonable offence. God's is a positive character. He is not indifferent, or undecided, in respect, either to the right, or the wrong. He is for the right, and against the wrong, always and everywhere. And so should be the Civil Ruler in the sphere of politics, where he is the representative--"the minister of God."
(Gerrit Smith, letter to J. K. Ingalls, editor of the Landmark, dated Peterborough, August 15, 1848, as reprinted in The Anti-Slavery Standard [New York], 31 August 1848, p. 1. See also Oliver Dyer, O.D.'s Phonographic Report of the Proceedings of the National Free Soil Convention at Buffalo, N.Y. August 9th and 10th., 1848 [Buffalo, N.Y.: Andrews & Boyle, 1848])
See Clayton Sumner Ellsworth, "Oberlin and the Anti-Slavery Movement Up to the Civil War" (Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, 1930), pp. 103-16.