Say What? James McCune Smith on Revolutionary Conservatism

Left: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts Archives & Rare Books Division., ‘Dr. James McCune Smith.’ NYPL Digital Collection, 1891. Right: US Capitol Building under repair, Washington, D.C., 2016 Amy Cools

‘We will save the form of government and convert it into a substance’

James McCune Smith, ‘The Destiny of the People of Color’ (1843),
published in The Works of James McCune Smith, 2006

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Say What? James McCune Smith on the Exportation of Prejudice

L, James McCune Smith, via Wikimedia Commons; R, The Caledonia, via Upper Canada History blog, both public domain

…'[A]n American ship is an epitome of the great and rising country, whose Star Spangled Banner proudly floats o’er her deck. “E Pluribus Unum” “From many nations” were the men gathered who felled the trees and chipped the timbers and moulded them into “one” harmonious and beautiful craft that

“Walks the waters like a thing of life”-

“From many nations” are the men gathered under the command of him who “moves the monarch of her peopled deck.” Would that the parallel might here end! And that gathering something of the spirit of liberty from the ocean which she cleaves, and the chainless wind which wafts her along, she might appear in foreign ports a fit representative of a land of the free, instead of a beautiful but baneful object, like the fated box of Pandora, scattering abroad among the nations the malignant prejudice which is a canker and curse to the soil, whence she sprung.’

~ James McCune Smith, travel journal entry August 1832*,
published in The Works of James McCune Smith, 2006

*Smith was nineteen years old when he wrote this, a former slave who, early in life, took his destiny into his own hands through his intellectual accomplishments. He wrote this as he sailed to Scotland to study at the University of Glasgow where he would receive his Bachelors, Masters, and Doctor of Medicine degrees. He would go on to become a renowned physician, scientist, writer, and abolitionist.

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Say What? George Combe on Human Nature

George Combe, 1836, by Sir Daniel Macnee, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

‘Man obviously stands pre-eminent among sublunary objects, and is distinguished by remarkable endowments above all other terrestrial beings. Nevertheless no creature presents such anomalous appearances as man. Viewed in one aspect he almost resembles a demon; in another he still bears the impress of the image of God.’

~ George Combe, The Constitution of Man Considered in Relation to External Objects, 1835

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Say What? Frederick Douglass on Race Relations

Frederick Douglass c. 1855, and the first edition of his North Star, Dec 3 1847, public domain via the Library of Congress

‘We are here, have been here, and we are to stay here. To imagine that we shall ever be eradicated [by removal to Africa], is absurd and ridiculous. We can be re-modified, changed, and assimilated, but never extinguished. The white and black must fall or flourish together. We shall neither die out, nor be driven out, but we shall go with you, remain with you, and stand either as a testimony against you, or as an evidence in your favor, throughout all your generations.’

~ Frederick Douglass ‘Henry Clay and Colonization Cant, Sophistry, and Falsehood:
An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York, on Feb 2, 1851’,
published in the North Star on Feb. 6, 1851

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Say What? Thomas Hobbes on Reason and the Nature of Evil

Panthéon, Temple of Reason, Paris, France

‘[T]he passions [affectus animi] which arise from animal nature are not themselves evil, though the actions that proceed from them sometimes are, namely, when they are harmful and contrary to duty. Unless you give infants everything they want, they cry and get angry, they even beat their own parents, and nature prompts them to do so. But they are not to blame, and are not evil, first, because they cannot do any harm, and then because, not having the use of reason, they are totally exempt from duties. If they continue to do the same things when they are grown up and have acquired the strength to do harm, then they begin to be evil and to be called so. Thus an evil man is rather like a sturdy boy, or a man of childish mind, and evil is simply want of reason at an age when it normally accrues to men by nature governed by discipline and experience of harm.’

~ Thomas Hobbes, from On the Citizen: ‘Preface to the readers’, 1642

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Say What? Colin MacLaurin on Evidence, Reason, and Knowledge

Left, logarithmic radial photo of the universe by Pablo Budassi. Right, Isaac Newton’s entry on ‘Furnace’ in his notebook, 1666, Special Collections University of Chicago Library, both public domain via Wikimedia Commons

‘It is not therefore the business of philosophy, in our present situation in the universe, to attempt to take in at once, in one view, the whole scheme of nature; but to extend, with great care and circumspection, our knowledge, by just steps, from sensible things, as far as our observations or reasonings from them will carry us, in our enquiries concerning either the greater motions and operations of nature, or her more subtle and hidden works.’

Colin MacLaurin, An Account of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophical Discoveries1748

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Say What? Frederick Douglass on Originalist Interpretations of the United States Constitution

‘The fact that Mr. [James] Madison can be cited on both sides of this question [of slavery] is another evidence of the folly and absurdity of making the secret intentions of the framers the criterion by which the Constitution is to be construed.’

~ Frederick Douglass, ‘The Constitution of the United States: is it Pro-Slavery or Anti-Slavery?’
Speech delivered in Glasgow, Scotland, March 26th, 1860

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!