Peterboro: [N.P.], March 13, 1871. First edition. Broadside measuring 8.5 x 14 inches and printed on recto. A Near Fine example, with faint tape ghosts on several small, closed tears at the ends of the original vertical and horizontal foldlines; faint spotting to the upper margin not affecting text, some toning to verso, else clean and fresh. Smith's outcry against the abuse, kidnapping, and threatened lynching of West Point's first black cadet, James Webster Smith, is both relevant and scarce. OCLC reports only 12 institutionally preserved copies and its only appearance at auction was over 45 years ago; the present is the only example on the market.
In 1870, James Webster Smith, a formerly enslaved man, became the first Black cadet at West Point. From his arrival, he faced bigotry and violence. "Word traveled around campus that a 'colored cadet' had enrolled. Several cadets threatened to resign, while some advocated maiming him for life. One cadet said, 'I'd rather die than drill with the black devil'" (Reid). Between 1870 and 1874, "such acts of violence continued, from cadets stepping on his toes during drill, to vandalism of his room and uniform" and for acting in his own defense. "Cadet Smith was tried on several occasions for conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline and for conduct unbecoming a gentleman"; each of these sentences was disapproved until finally West Point "found Smith deficient in philosophy and formally discharged him from the academy" (he would go on to become a professor of natural philosophy and science) (Reid).
During this period, the year 1871 was among the most violent. A mob of cadets kidnapped Smith and his two Black classmates from their beds, taking them to the woods and threatening to tar, feather, and hang them from trees. Following the violence, two of the students withdrew from West Point, leaving Smith as the lone Black cadet.
It is this incident which Gerrit Smith publicizes and decries in the present broadside. A philanthropist, reformer, and cousin of the famed activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Smith was best known for his anti-racist and abolitionist work. A close associate of William Lloyd Garrison and a financial backer of John Brown, he wrote numerous broadsides calling to the end of slavery, the purchase of land tracts to be provided to freed people, and the expansion of Black Americans' rights after the Civil War. Here, he serves as an ally, a white man calling out white supremacy and demanding systemic change not only broadly but specifically within the military. Lynch mobs are a fact regardless of geography, he declares; "whether the mobs be at the South or at the North, the pro-slavery education of the country goes far to account for them. The mobs occurring at West Point are to be counted neither as Northern or Southern but as strictly national--the mobocrats in these instances are being supported, educated, and owned by the nation." Smith points out the enduring "caste-spirit which grows so rankly out of slavery," condemning anyone who claims that the mob had honourable or patriotic motives. Indeed, the only brave, honourable men were the Black cadets. For Smith, the solution to the larger problem is clear and its inaction should be immediate. "The Government must testify to its own impartiality and consistency. Thus it will testify if it suppresses its own mob-ruled school. Let it not delay to stamp out the pro-slavery mob spirit at West Point. To do this effectually, it must stamp out the Academy itself -- for that spirit, ever fostered in the Academy, inheres in it ineradicably. That spirit trained traitors to officer the Great Rebellion; and that Academy as long as it shall be permitted to live, will train enemies to republican simplicity and republican institutions...Government cannot continue this school without alienating from itself the best portion of the American people." (Item #4468)