Gerrit Smith, the “insane” philanthropist

by Al Benson Jr.

Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America

Gerrit Smith was an interesting character, in some ways different than the other members of the Secret Six that financed and supported abolitionist/terrorist John Brown. Smith was an ardent abolitionist and “social reformer” like the rest, but he had also been involved in politics, running for president a couple times. He also ran for the governorship of the state of New York on an anti-slavery platform.

Mr. Smith had some “interesting” relatives, too, one of which was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the main movers and shakers of the women’s suffrage movement that manifested itself at a convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 and was heavily influenced by Spiritualism, according to the book Radical Spirits that I have previously mentioned. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was Gerrit Smith’s first cousin, and, in fact, she met her future husband, Henry Stanton, also an active abolitionist, at the home of the Smith family in Peterboro, New York. The town had been named for Gerrit Smith’s father. And, in 1840, the candidate for president for the Liberty Party, James G. Birney, married Elizabeth Potts Fitzhugh, who was Smith’s sister-in-law. So as you can see, Smith was connected via family to some of the big wheels of his day.

In June of 1848 Smith was nominated as the Liberty Party’s presidential candidate. Needless to say, he didn’t make the cut, but he did manage to get elected in 1852 to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Free Soiler. He had some rather interesting political views.

According to Smith felt that: “…The Federal government and the states should prohibit the liquor traffic within their specific jurisdictions; and that government officers, so far as practicable, should be elected by a direct vote of the people.” So, not only was he an advocate of prohibition ahead of his time, but he was also an advocate of almost pure democracy. The radicals today that want to do away with the Electoral College have nothing on Gerrit Smith. He was there ahead of them.

Smith seems to have had a genuine concern for poor and black people, to the extent that he gave numerous farms of 50 acres each to indigent families. Wikipedia noted: “In 1846, hoping to help black families become self-sufficient and to provide them with property ownership needed to vote in New York, Smith attempted to colonize approximately 120,000 acres of land in North Elba, New York, near Lake Placid in Essex County with free blacks.” Although this was a commendable personal effort on his part, the plan fell through for several reasons. Among them was the difficulty of farming in the Adirondack region, the lack of experience in house building, and the bigotry of their white neighbors.

Whatever your agenda might be, you can’t reasonably blame the bigotry of whites in Northern New York State on the folks down in Dixie. Some ultra-liberals will no doubt try, but such a leap of imagination is comparable to today’s liberals believing that trucks and trucks of Democratic ballots were actually missing in the recent mid-term elections–just enough to give the Democrats a victory if such foolishness is to be believed! And it shouldn’t!

Part of the North Elba plan was to provide terrorist John Brown and his family a home up there. I doubt it would have worked. Brown seems to  have had a difficulty making a go of much of anything except terrorism–his one shining accomplishment.

The website charitably observed of John Brown that: “On October 16th 1859, John Brown led a small group of his soldiers in a raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia…” This was an overtly friendly description of Brown’s group. Sorry folks, they were not “soldiers”  they were terrorists, plain and simple, and to label them as “soldiers” does a grave disservice to those searching for accurate history.

The same website also notes that Gerrit Smith knew Brown a decade before the Harper’s Ferry fiasco and notes that: “When John Brown went to Kansas to fight against slavery interests, Smith raised money to support his military operations…When Brown raided the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, he had a check for $100 in his pocket sent to him by Gerrit Smith.” This website toned down Brown’s terrorist activities and made him sound like a legitimate military commander instead of the terrorist he really was. People who don’t know the full story about Brown may be taken in by such efforts. Did these people sanitize Brown on purpose? If so, they wouldn’t be the first.

J. C. Furnas, in his excellent book The Road to Harper’s Ferry has commented about Gerrit Smith. Furnas noted on page 354 that: “Smith may be the easiest of the Six to account for. I cannot fully explain how men of such bottom and intelligence as Howe’s, Parkers, and Higginson’s could enroll under a banner so Bedlamite as Old Brown’s…” But of Gerrit Smith he said: “The figure he cut is still most familiar:  the self-dramatizing millionaire addicted to causes, perhaps neo-Fascist, perhaps in guilt-assuaging subsidy of movements Reddish-to-Red; only in Smith’s time the ‘down with us’ impulse took other forms.”

And Furnas noted that “Word of Harper’s Ferry sent him into an emotional panic necessitating three months in an insane asylum.” Apparently he was confined in the state asylum in Utica.

There seems to be some difference of opinion as to whether Smith was fully aware of all that Brown planned on doing at Harper’s Ferry.

At one point the Chicago Tribune claimed that Smith had full knowledge of what Brown’s plans were. Smith responded to that accusation by suing the paper for libel, while claiming that he had no such knowledge.  He claimed he only thought John Brown wanted guns so the slaves that ran away to join up with him would be able to defend themselves against any who might attack them. According to Wikipedia (which surprised me) “Smith’s claim was countered by the Tribune, which produced an affidavit , signed by Brown’s son, swearing that Smith had full knowledge of all the particulars of the plan, including the plan to instigate a slave uprising. In writing later of these events, Smith said, “That affair excited and shocked me, and a few weeks after I was taken to a lunatic asylum. From that day to this I have had but a hazy view of dear John Brown’s great work.”

Smith was more than willing to finance Brown’s terrorism, but when asked about it, he suddenly had “but a hazy view of John Brown’s great work.” They tell me pigs fly, too, but I don’t believe that anymore than I believe Gerrit Smith!

Furnas also informed us that Smith’s second wife “…joined in his espousal of the Millerite end-of-the-world craze in the mid-1840s…As  his library showed he was almost professionally religious, preaching lay sermons in local pulpits lacking ordained ministers and founding at Peterboro a free-wheeling non-denominational congregation the unspoken credo of which was that Gerrit Smith was right on any topic that interested him.”

Otto Scott, in his book The Secret Six: The Fool as Martyr has noted Gerrit Smith’s view of Christianity in this country when he counseled twenty or thirty black families that had settled on his land. According to Scott, Smith sent them all letters: “…telling them to ‘turn your backs upon American Christianity and American politics as upon the Devil himself, for he is their author.’ He was bitter against the churches for  differing  with him on various theological points and on a political issue.”

So this was where Gerrit Smith was at–dare to disagree with him and he pronounced you the devil’s spawn. A typical Yankee/Marxist attitude! Yet this attitude made him a perfect follower and financial supporter of a terrorist like Brown. Why work slowly to remove what you perceive as evils when you can finance terrorists to do it for you so much more quickly?

How much different was Gerrit Smith than some of our advocates today of the modern “peace movement” whose only solution to the world’s problems seems to be some form of redistribution of the wealth (our wealth redistributed to them and their Marxist friends).

These are the people who, for decades now, have promoted the use of the so-called “peace symbol.” After the end of the Viet Nam War this symbol kind of went out of style for awhile, but I’ve noticed of late that it seems to be making a rather startling comeback, especially on clothing for young people.

Have you ever wondered what the “peace symbol” really was? Take a good look at it. It is nothing more than a Christian cross, turned upside down with the arms on it broken–denying the power of Jesus Christ! When you get right down to it, denying the power of Jesus Christ is really what it was all about for many in Gerrit Smith’s day as well as for now. Gerrit Smith would have loved the “peace symbol.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s