The Lost Museum Archive

Correspondence between Barnum and Editor of the Washington Union

Barnum claimed that he was presenting Lind as much for her reputation for "extraordinary benevolence and generosity" as for her artistry, and he promoted her philanthropy in part by announcing, after her first New York City performance, the charities to which she would be donating her share of the night's proceeds. (Barnum had chosen the charities himself with an eye toward gaining publicity, and ticket sales, among particular social groups.) As this letter exchange demonstrates, Barnum's promotional gambit took a controversial turn when it became embroiled in the politics of abolition, a question of growing national importance in 1850.

The following "Correspondence" between P. T. Barnum and Thomas Ritchie, Editor of the Washington Union, was published in the National Antislavery Standard, December 26, 1850:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 1850.

DEAR SIR: I understand that there is an insiduous report in secret circulation, calculated, if not designed, to injure the success of Mílle Lind in this city and in the South. It is insinuated that, besides the numerous acts of beneficence which she has conferred on our countrymen, and which do her so much honor, she has presented an association of abolitionists in the North with one thousand dollars, for the purpose of promoting their alarming and detestable projects.

Do me the favor to say whether this report is not without the slightest foundation.

Yours, respectfully,


BARNUM'S HOTEL, Baltimore, Dec. 14, 1850.

DEAR SIR: In reply to your letter yesterday, inquiring whether there is any truth in the report that Mílle Jenny Lind has given a donation to an association of Abolitionists, I beg to state most emphatically that there is not the slightest foundation for such a statement. I feel no hesitation in saying that this lady never gave a farthing for any such purpose, and that her oft expressed admiration for our noble system of government convinces me that she prizes too dearly the glorious institutions of our country to lend the slightest sanction to any attack upon the Union of these States.

I have the honor to remain your very obedient servant.


The National Antislavery Standard's editor then reflected:

So that matter is settled, and Jenny Lind's harmony is not to dissolve the Union, and the Swedish Songstress is certain of escaping the animadversions which attended her countrywoman, Miss Bremer, on her recent visit to the South.

The question, however, being asked, as it was sure to be, as to Miss Lind's position, it was not difficult to predict the answer. Barnum is too old a showman not to know how to advise her to proceed in the distribution of her charitable donations in the expectation of this very crisis. But is Barnum himself free from suspicion? We can tell Father Ritchie that, long ago, when the man's ambition had never soared above a woolly horse or a Fejee mermaid, he has actually so far shown his charitable disposition towards the free colored people--and as a consequence, his sympathy with the slave--as to throw open to them, on a given day, the doors of his Museum. Of course it was done with a due regard to the colored people's shillings, but we submit it to the Union, the Republic, and the Southern Press generally, whether that fact in the past life of the great Barnum should not be inquired into.

The editorial referred approvingly to Barnum's one-time admission of free African Americans to the Museum on March 1, 1849, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Source: Published in National Antislavery Standard, 1850