Gerrit Smith

Gerrit Smith was an abolitionist and mentor to Frederick Douglass. Smith had been somewhat of a pariah in abolitionist circles due to his belief that abolition could come about through political means. This was contrary to the beliefs of William Lloyd Garrison who believed that the Constitution was, at its core, a pro-slavery document. While Douglass started his career as a speaker as a strong Garrisonian, his interactions with Smith changed his mind. He broke with the Garrisonians and joined up with Smith, starting a rival newspaper.

“Smith wrote to his pupil in June 1851 with ‘much joy’ that Douglass had accepted this interpretation. ‘I have observed for years that you were coming to this conclusion,’ Smith accurately said. But ‘far more joyful’ was the student’s realization that ‘slavery is incapable of legalization,’ and that ‘law is for the protection, not for the destruction of rights.’”[1]

Gerrit Smith died on December 28, 1874 at the age of 77. He was buried in Peterboro Cemetery in Peterboro, New York.

Exact Grave GPS: 42.971238, -75.677104

[1] David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018), 216.

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