The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To Frederick William Chesson
26 September 1853
[Published in The Anti-slavery Watchman (London), No. 1, 1 November 1853, pp. 15-16.]
Frederick William Chesson (1833-1888) had just embarked upon a philanthropic career, becoming secretary of the Peace Conference Committee in Manchester and editing The Anti-slavery Watchman, a new monthly pro-Garrisonian paper published in London. He was particularly concerned about stirring up public opinion against slavery in the United States, and was the founder of the Emancipation Society. Subsequently he made a name for himself as secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society, becoming involved in numerous organizations for the amelioration of downtrodden people, as a champion of freedom throughout the world. See "Frederick William Chesson" The Aborigines Friend, Vol. 3, new series (March 1889), pp. 513-23.
He wrote the following letter to Finney:
Sept 7th 1853.
Rev & Dear Sir/
As one intimately
connected with the Anti Slavery cause in
this country I take the liberty of
mentioning to you the following
circumstance. On Friday last at an
Anti Slavery meeting, which was held
in the Friends Meeting House in this city,
a gentleman of color, who had resided
in Oberlin, publicly stated that you are in
favor of obedience to the Fugitive Slave Law,
and in proof of that assertion he cited
the case of a fugitive slave who was
reclaimed at Oberlin, and when returned
to Slavery, he alleged was justified by
you. This, if I mistake not, was
the exact tenor of his charge. We cannot
of course, believe it; but we should
like to have a denial in toto from
your pen;-- not only a denial of
the truth of the particular story
which he narrated, but also of
your being in favor of obedience
to the Fugitive Slave Law. If I remember
rightly he also ascribed certain pro-
slavery acts to the Oberlin Church,
or to one, or some of the deacons. --
I need not point out to
you the serious damage which
uncontradicted charges of this character
do to the reputation of any person, however
high his position, against whom they
are made. I felt it to be my duty,
therefore, to apprize you of their
existence; so that you may have an
opportunity of rebutting them. --
Awaiting your reply with respect
Yours very faithfully
F. W. Chesson
Rev Professor Finney. --
F. W. Chesson
Peace Conference Committee
Finney's reply was as follows:
PROFESSOR FINNEY, AND THE FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW.
This eminent Divine, and certain persons connected with the congregationalist church at Oberlin, having been charged at a recent Anti-slavery meeting, with occupying a pro-slavery position with regard to the Fugitive Slave Law, a letter was addressed to President Finney on the subject, and the following is a copy of his reply, which we publish with much gratification.--
26th September, 1853.
I have just received yours of the 7th inst., and regret that you did not mention the name of the coloured man to whom you allude. The story as you relate it is wholly false. I do not, nor did I ever for one moment hold it to be right to enforce the monstrous Fugitive Slave Bill, (for I cannot call it Law.) I abhor it, and would no sooner approve its enforcement than I would approve blasphemy. I am happy to say that no slave was ever reclaimed from Oberlin by the operation of that, or any other enactment or statute. I cannot imagine what the man should allude to. Perhaps it might have been the case of a coloured woman who it is said (for I was not at Oberlin at the time nor for some months after) voluntarily returned to her master against the strong remonstrances of her friends here. Of that, of course, I did not approve, when I heard of it. I am not sure that there were not two such women who were here a short time since, and were persuaded back together. I know nothing of it except what I saw in the Oberlin papers which were sent at the time. I presume no person in Oberlin, of the least respectability, would aid in the inforcement of that infamous enactment, or of any other enactment by the operation of which a man was to be made, or acknowledged to be a chattel. As to his allegation respecting the Church in Oberlin I would say this church has at different times passed strong resolutions condemnatory of Slavery, and pro-slavery action in politics, and on sundry questions; and omitting, I believe, to express their strong condemnation of the Fugitive Slave Bill. For your satisfaction I will ask the church clerk to transcribe these resolutions, and send them with this. What act it was of some deacon, or member to which he alluded I cannot say. Probably as much of truth in this as in other parts of his story. Our English friends will have to be on their guard against receiving the statements of many who call themselves Abolitionists respecting those on this side whose views they undertake to represent in England. I rejoice to see the progress that is making both in England and this country in favor of Freedom. May the Lord bless and prosper you my brother.
F. W. CHESSON. C. G. FINNEY.
The Church clerk after stating that there was "a most decided, and unanimous expression of feeling" on the part of "nearly the entire community" against the Fugitive Slave Law, concludes thus "I subjoin a copy of the last Resolution passed by our Church (we have but one here) connected with the subject of Slavery, which will afford you a sufficiently correct idea of its feeling in regard to that question."--
"Resolved that such is the present position of the two great political parties with respect to Slavery that sympathy and co-operation with either of them would be presumptive evidence of want of Christian principle, and of disqualification for Church membership."
Yours with much respect,
GEO. P. WYETT,
Clerk of the Church.
We think that these letters will raise President Finney, and the Abolitionists of Oberlin, still higher in the esteem, and regard of the British public. If the American Churches would but adopt the Resolution of the Oberlin Church as quoted by Mr. Wyett, we should not long have to deplore the existence of American Slavery.