The Anti-Slavery Crusade by Jesse MacyA Chronicle of the Gathering Storm

This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1919
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days


Scanned by Dianne Bean.
Proofed by Doug Levy.





















The Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln marks the beginning of the end of a long chapter in human history. Among the earliest forms of private property was the ownership of slaves. Slavery as an institution had persisted throughout the ages, always under protest, always provoking opposition, insurrection, social and civil war, and ever bearing within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Among the historic powers of the world the United States was the last to uphold slavery, and when, a few years after Lincoln’s proclamation, Brazil emancipated her slaves, property in man as a legally recognized institution came to an end in all civilized countries.

Emancipation in the United States marked the conclusion of a century of continuous debate, in which the entire history of western civilization was traversed. The literature of American slavery is, indeed, a summary of the literature of the world on the subject. The Bible was made a standard text-book both for and against slavery. Hebrew and Christian experiences were exploited in the interest of the contending parties in this crucial controversy. Churches of the same name and order were divided among themselves and became half pro-slavery and half anti-slavery.

Greek experience and Greek literature were likewise drawn into the controversy. The Greeks themselves had set the example of arguing both for and against slavery. Their practice and their prevailing teaching, however, gave support to this institution. They clearly enunciated the doctrine that there is a natural division among human beings; that some are born to command and others to obey; that it is natural to some men to be masters and to others to be slaves; that each of these classes should fulfill the destiny which nature assigns. The Greeks also recognized a difference between races and held that some were by nature fitted to serve as slaves, and others to command as masters. The defenders of American slavery therefore found among the writings of the Greeks their chief arguments already stated in classic form.

Though the Romans added little to the theory of the fundamental problem involved, their history proved rich in practical experience. There were times, in parts of the Roman Empire, when personal slavery either did not exist or was limited and insignificant in extent. But the institution grew with Roman wars and conquests. In rural districts, slave labor displaced free labor, and in the cities servants multiplied with the concentration of wealth. The size and character of the slave population eventually became a perpetual menace to the State. Insurrections proved formidable, and every slave came to be looked upon as an enemy to the public. It is generally conceded that the extension of slavery was a primary cause of the decline and fall of Rome. In the American controversy, therefore, the lesson to be drawn from Roman experience was utilized to support the cause of free labor.

After the Middle Ages, in which slavery under the modified form of feudalism ran its course, there was a reversion to the ancient classical controversy. The issue became clearly defined in the hands of the English and French philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In place of the time-honored doctrine that the masses of mankind are by nature subject to the few who are born to rule, the contradictory dogma that all men are by nature free and equal was clearly enunciated. According to this later view, it is of the very nature of spirit, or personality, to be free. All men are endowed with personal qualities of will and choice and a conscious sense of right and wrong. To subject these native faculties to an alien force is to make war upon human nature. Slavery and despotism are, therefore, in their nature but a species of warfare. They involve the forcing of men to act in violation of their true selves. The older doctrine makes government a matter of force. The strong command the weak, or the rich exercise lordship over the poor. The new doctrine makes of government an achievement of adult citizens who agree among themselves as to what is fit and proper for the good of the State and who freely observe the rules adopted and apply force only to the abnormal, the delinquent, and the defective.

Between the upholders of these contradictory views of human nature there always has been and there always must be perpetual warfare. Their difference is such as to admit of no compromise; no middle ground is possible. The conflict is indeed irresistible. The chief interest in the American crusade against slavery arises from its relation to this general world conflict between liberty and despotism.

The Athenians could be democrats and at the same time could uphold and defend the institution of slavery. They were committed to the doctrine that the masses of the people were slaves by nature. By definition, they made slaves creatures void of will and personality, and they conveniently ignored them in matters of state. But Americans living in States founded in the era of the Declaration of Independence could not be good democrats and at the same time uphold and defend the institution of slavery, for the Declaration gives the lie to all such assumptions of human inequality by accepting the cardinal axiom that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The doctrine of equality had been developed in Europe without special reference to questions of distinct race or color. But the terms, which are universal and as broad as humanity in their denotation, came to be applied to black men as well as to white men. Massachusetts embodied in her state constitution in 1780 the words, “All men are born free and equal,” and the courts ruled that these words in the state constitution had the effect of liberating the slaves and of giving to them the same rights as other citizens. This is a perfectly logical application of the doctrine of the Revolution.

The African slave-trade, however, developed earlier than the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence. Negro slavery had long been an established institution in all the American colonies. Opposition to the slave-trade and to slavery was an integral part of the evolution of the doctrine of equal rights. As the colonists contended for their own freedom, they became anti-slavery in sentiment. A standard complaint against British rule was the continued imposition of the slave-trade upon the colonists against their oft-repeated protest.

In the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, there appeared the following charges against the King of Great Britain:

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.”

Though this clause was omitted from the document as finally adopted, the evidence is abundant that the language expressed the prevailing sentiment of the country. To the believer in liberty and equality, slavery and the slave-trade are instances of war against human nature. No one attempted to justify slavery or to reconcile it with the principles of free government. Slavery was accepted as an inheritance for which others were to blame. Colonists at first blamed Great Britain; later apologists for slavery blamed New England for her share in the continuance of the slave-trade.

The fact should be clearly comprehended that the sentiments which led to the American Revolution, and later to the French Revolution in Europe, were as broad in their application as the human race itself–that there were no limitations nor exceptions. These new principles involved a complete revolution in the previously recognized principles of government. The French sought to make a master-stroke at immediate achievement and they incurred counterrevolutions and delays. The Americans moved in a more moderate and tentative manner towards the great achievement, but with them also a counter-revolution finally appeared in the rise of an influential class who, by openly defending slavery, repudiated the principles upon which the government was founded.

At first the impression was general, in the South as well as in the North, that slavery was a temporary institution. The cause of emancipation was already advocated by the Society of Friends and some other sects. A majority of the States adopted measures for the gradual abolition of slavery, but in other cases there proved to be industrial barriers to emancipation. Slaves were found to be profitably employed in clearing away the forests; they were not profitably employed in general agriculture. A marked exception was found in small districts in the Carolinas and Georgia where indigo and rice were produced; and though cotton later became a profitable crop for slave labor, it was the producers of rice and indigo who furnished the original barrier to the immediate extension of the policy of emancipation. Representatives from their States secured the introduction of a clause into the Constitution which delayed for twenty years the execution of the will of the country against the African slave-trade. It is said that a slave imported from Africa paid for himself in a single year in the production of rice. There were thus a few planters in Georgia and the Carolinas who had an obvious interest in the prolongation of the institution of slavery and who had influence enough, to secure constitutional recognition for both slavery and the slave-trade.

The principles involved were not seriously debated. In theory all were abolitionists; in practice slavery extended to all the States. In some, actual abolition was comparatively easy; in others, it was difficult. By the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, actual abolition had extended to the line separating Pennsylvania from Maryland. Of the original thirteen States seven became free and six remained slave.

The absence of ardent or prolonged debate upon this issue in the early history of the United States is easily accounted for. No principle of importance was drawn into the controversy; few presumed to defend slavery as a just or righteous institution. As to conduct, each individual, each neighborhood enjoyed the freedom of a large, roomy country. Even within state lines there was liberty enough. No keen sense of responsibility for a uniform state policy existed. It was therefore not difficult for those who were growing wealthy by the use of imported negroes to maintain their privileges in the State.

If the sense of active responsibility was wanting within the separate States, much more was this true of the citizens of different States. Slavery was regarded as strictly a domestic institution. Families bought and owned slaves as a matter of individual preference. None of the original colonies or States adopted slavery by law. The citizens of the various colonies became slaveholders simply because there was no law against it.* The abolition of slavery was at first an individual matter or a church or a state policy. When the Constitution was formulated, the separate States had been accustomed to regard themselves as possessed of sovereign powers; hence there was no occasion for the citizens of one State to have a sense of responsibility on account of the domestic institutions of other States. The consciousness of national responsibility was of slow growth, and the conditions did not then exist which favored a general crusade against slavery or a prolonged acrimonious debate on the subject, such as arose forty years later.

* In the case of Georgia there was a prohibitory law, which was disregarded.

In many of the States, however, there were organized abolition societies, whose object was to promote the cause of emancipation already in progress and to protect the rights of free negroes. The Friends, or Quakers, were especially active in the promotion of a propaganda for universal emancipation. A petition which was presented to the first Congress in February, 1790, with the signature of Benjamin Franklin as President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, contained this concluding paragraph

“From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally, and is still, the birthright of all men, and influenced by the strong ties of humanity and the principles of their institutions, your memorialists conceive themselves bound to use all justifiable endeavors to loosen the bonds of slavery, and to promote the general enjoyment of the blessings of freedom. Under these impressions they earnestly entreat your attention to the subject of slavery; that you will be pleased to countenance the restoration to liberty of those unhappy men, who, alone, in this land of freemen, are groaning in servile subjection; that you will devise means for removing this inconsistency of character from the American people; that you will promote mercy and justice towards this distressed race; and that you will step to the very verge of the power vested in you for discouraging every species of traffic in the persons of our fellowmen.”*

* William Goodell, “Slavery and Anti-Slavery,” p. 99.

The memorialists were treated with profound respect. Cordial support and encouragement came from representatives from Virginia and other slave States. Opposition was expressed by members from South Carolina and Georgia. These for the most part relied upon their constitutional guaranties. But for these guaranties, said Smith, of South Carolina, his State would not have entered the Union. In the extreme utterances in opposition to the petition there is a suggestion of the revolution which was to occur forty years later.

Active abolitionists who gave time and money to the promotion of the cause were always few in numbers. Previous to 1830 abolition societies resembled associations for the prevention of cruelty to animals–in fact, in one instance at least this was made one of the professed objects. These societies labored to induce men to act in harmony with generally acknowledged obligations, and they had no occasion for violence or persecution. Abolitionists were distinguished for their benevolence and their unselfish devotion to the interests of the needy and the unfortunate. It was only when the ruling classes resorted to mob violence and began to defend slavery as a divinely ordained institution that there was a radical change in the spirit of the controversy. The irrepressible conflict between liberty and despotism which has persisted in all ages became manifest when slave-masters substituted the Greek doctrine of inequality and slavery for the previously accepted Christian doctrine of equality and universal brotherhood.


It was a mere accident that the line drawn by Mason and Dixon between Pennsylvania and Maryland became known in later years as the dividing line between slavery and freedom. The six States south of that line ultimately neglected or refused to abolish slavery, while the seven Northern States became free. Vermont became a State in 1791 and Kentucky in 1792. The third State to be added to the original thirteen was Tennessee in 1796. At that time, counting the States as they were finally classified, eight were destined to be slave and eight free. Ohio entered the Union as a State in 1802, thus giving to the free States a majority of one. The balance, however, was restored in 1812 by the admission of Louisiana as a slave State. The admission of Indiana in 1816 on the one side and of Mississippi in 1817 on the other still maintained the balance: ten free States stood against ten slave States. During the next two years Illinois and Alabama were admitted, making twenty-two States in all, still evenly divided.

The ordinance for the government of the territory north of the Ohio River, passed in 1787 and reenacted by Congress after the adoption of the Constitution, proved to be an act of great significance in its relation to the limitation of slavery. By this ordinance slavery was forever prohibited in the Northwest Territory. In the territory south of the Ohio River slavery became permanently established. The river, therefore, became an extension of the original Mason and Dixon’s Line with the new meaning attached: it became a division between free and slave territory.

It was apparently at first a mere matter of chance that a balance was struck between the two losses of States. While Virginia remained a slave State, it was natural that slavery should extend into Kentucky, which had been a part of Virginia. Likewise Tennessee, being a part of North Carolina, became slave territory. When these two Territories became slave States, the equal division began. There was yet an abundance of territory both north and south to be taken into the Union and, without any special plan or agitation, States were admitted in pairs, one free and the other slave. In the meantime there was distinctly developed the idea of the possible or probable permanence of slavery in the South and of a rivalry or even a future conflict between the two sections.

When in 1819 Missouri applied for admission to the Union with a state constitution permitting slavery, there was a prolonged debate over the whole question, not only in Congress but throughout the entire country. North and South were distinctly pitted against each other with rival systems of labor. The following year Congress passed a law providing for the admission of Missouri, but, to restore the balance, Maine was separated from Massachusetts and was admitted to the Union as a State. It was further enacted that slavery should be forever prohibited from all territory of the United States north of the parallel 36 degrees 30′, that is, north of the southern boundary of Missouri. It is this part of the act which is known as the Missouri Compromise. It was accepted as a permanent limitation of the institution of slavery. By this act Mason and Dixon’s Line was extended through the Louisiana Purchase. As the western boundary was then defined, slavery could still be extended into Arkansas and into a part of what is now Oklahoma, while a great empire to the northwest was reserved for the formation of free States. Arkansas became a slave State in 1836 and Michigan was admitted as a free State in the following year.

With the admission of Arkansas and Michigan, thirteen slave States were balanced by a like number of free States. The South still had Florida, which would in time become a slave State. Against this single Territory there was an immense region to the northwest, equal in area to all the slave States combined, which, according to the Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise, had been consecrated to freedom. Foreseeing this condition, a few Southern planters began a movement for the extension of territory to the south and west immediately after the adoption of the Missouri Compromise. When Arkansas was admitted in 1836, there was a prospect of the immediate annexation of Texas as a slave State. This did not take place until nine years later, but the propaganda, the object of which was the extension of slave territory, could not be maintained by those Who contended that slavery was a curse to the country. Virginia, therefore, and other border slave States, as they became committed to the policy of expansion, ceased to tolerate official public utterances against slavery.

Three more or less clearly defined sections appear in the later development of the crusade. These are the New England States, the Middle States, and the States south of North Carolina and Tennessee. In New England, few negroes were ever held as slaves, and the institution disappeared during the first years of the Republic. The inhabitants had little experience arising from actual contact with slavery. When slavery disappeared from New England and before there had been developed in the country at large a national feeling of responsibility for its continued existence, interest in the subject declined. For twenty years previous to the founding of Garrison’s Liberator in 1831, organized abolition movements had been almost unknown in New England. In various ways the people were isolated, separated from contact with slavery. Their knowledge of this subject of discussion was academic, theoretical, acquired at second-hand.

In New York and New Jersey slaves were much more numerous than in New England. There were still slaves in considerable numbers until about 1825. The people had a knowledge of the institution from experience and observation, and there was no break in the continuity of their organized abolition societies. Chief among the objects of these societies was the effort to prevent kidnapping and to guard the rights of free negroes. For both of these purposes there was a continuous call for activity. Pennsylvania also had freedmen of her own whose rights called for guardianship, as well as many freedmen from farther south who had come into the State.

The movement of protest and protection did not stop at Mason and Dixon’s Line, but extended far into the South. In both North Carolina and Tennessee an active protest against slavery was at all times maintained. In this great middle section of the country, between New England and South Carolina, there was no cessation in the conflict between free and slave labor. Some of these States became free while others remained slave; but between the people of the two sections there was continuous communication. Slaveholders came into free States to liberate their slaves. Non-slaveholders came to get rid of the competition of slave labor, and free negroes came to avoid reenslavement. Slaves fled thither on their way to liberty. It was not a matter of choice; it was an unavoidable condition which compelled the people of the border States to give continuous attention to the institution of slavery.

The modern anti-slavery movement had its origin in this great middle section, and from the same source it derived its chief support. The great body of active abolitionists were from the slave States or else derived their inspiration from personal contact with slavery. As compared with New England abolitionists, the middlestate folk were less extreme in their views. They had a keener appreciation of the difficulties involved in emancipation. They were more tolerant towards the idea of letting the country at large share the burdens involved in the liberation of the slaves. Border-state abolitionists naturally favored the policy of gradual emancipation which had been followed in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Abolitionists who continued to reside in the slave States were forced to recognize the fact that emancipation involved serious questions of race adjustment. From the border States came the colonization society, a characteristic institution, as well as compromise of every variety.

The southernmost section, including South Carolina, Georgia, and the Gulf States, was even more sharply defined in the attitude it assumed toward the anti-slavery movement. At no time did the cause of emancipation become formidable in this section. In all these States there was, of course, a large class of non-slaveholding whites, who were opposed to slavery and who realized that they were victims of an injurious system; but they had no effective organ for expression. The ruling minority gained an early and an easy victory and to the end held a firm hand. To the inhabitants of this section it appeared to be a self-evident truth that the white race was born to rule and the black race was born to serve. Where negroes outnumbered the whites fourfold, the mere suggestion of emancipation raised a race question which seemed appalling in its proportions. Either in the Union or out of the Union, the rulers were determined to perpetuate slavery.

Slavery as an economic institution became dependent upon a few semitropical plantation crops. When the Constitution was framed, rice and indigo, produced in South Carolina and Georgia, were the two most important. Indigo declined in relative importance, and the production of sugar was developed, especially after the annexation of the Louisiana Purchase. But by far the most important crop for its effects upon slavery and upon the entire country was cotton. This single product finally absorbed the labor of half the slaves of the entire country. Mr. Rhodes is not at all unreasonable in his surmise that, had it not been for the unforeseen development of the cotton industry, the expectation of the founders of the Republic that slavery would soon disappear would actually have been realized.

It was more difficult to carry out a policy of emancipation when slaves were quoted in the market at a thousand dollars than when the price was a few hundred dollars. All slave-owners felt richer; emancipation appeared to involve a greater sacrifice. Thus the cotton industry went far towards accounting for the changed attitude of the entire country on the subject of slavery. The North as well as the South became financially interested.

It was not generally perceived before it actually happened that the border States would take the place of Africa in furnishing the required supply of laborers for Southern plantations. The interstate slave-trade gave to the system a solidarity of interest which was new. All slave-owners became partakers of a common responsibility for the system as a whole. It was the newly developed trade quite as much as the system of slavery itself which furnished the ground for the later anti-slavery appeal. The consciousness of a common guilt for the sin of slavery grew with the increase of actual interstate relations.

The abolition of the African slave-trade was an act of the general Government. Congress passed the prohibitory statute in 1807, to go into effect January, 1808. At no time, however, was the prohibition entirely effective, and a limited illegal trade continued until slavery was eventually abolished. This inefficiency of restraint furnished another point of attack for the abolitionists. Through efforts to suppress the African slave-trade, the entire country became conscious of a common responsibility. Before the Revolutionary War, Great Britain had been censured for forcing cheap slaves from Africa upon her unwilling colonies. After the Revolution, New England was blamed for the activity of her citizens in this nefarious trade both before and after it was made illegal. All of this tended to increase the sense of responsibility in every section of the country. Congress had made the foreign slave-trade illegal; and citizens in all sections gradually became aware of the possibility that Congress might likewise restrict or forbid interstate commerce in slaves.

The West Indies and Mexico were also closely associated with the United States in the matter of slavery. When Jamestown was founded, negro slavery was already an old institution in the islands of the Caribbean Sea, and thence came the first slaves to Virginia. The abolition of slavery in the island of Hayti, or San Domingo, was accomplished during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. As incidental to the process of emancipation, the Caucasian inhabitants were massacred or banished, and a republican government was established, composed exclusively of negroes and mulattoes. From the date of the Missouri Compromise to that of the Mexican War, this island was united under a single republic, though it was afterwards divided into the two republics of Hayti and San Domingo.

The “horrors of San Domingo” were never absent from the minds of those in the United States who lived in communities composed chiefly of slaves. What had happened on the island was accepted by Southern planters as proof that the two races could live together in peace only under the relation of master and slave, and that emancipation boded the extermination of one race or the other. Abolitionists, however, interpreted the facts differently: they emphasized the tyranny of the white rulers as a primary cause of the massacres; they endowed some of the negro leaders with the highest qualities of statesmanship and self-sacrificing generosity; and Wendell Phillips, in an impassioned address which he delivered in 1861, placed on the honor roll above the chief worthies of history–including Cromwell and Washington Toussaint L’Ouverture, the liberator of Hayti, whom France had betrayed and murdered.

Abolitionists found support for their position in the contention that other communities had abolished slavery without such accompanying horrors as occurred in Hayti and without serious race conflict. Slavery had run its course in Spanish America, and emancipation accompanied or followed the formation of independent republics. In 1833 all slaves in the British Empire were liberated, including those in the important island of Jamaica. So it happened that, just at the time when Southern leaders were making up their minds to defend their peculiar institution at all hazards, they were beset on every side by the spirit of emancipation. Abolitionists, on the other hand, were fully convinced that the attainment of some form of emancipation in the United States was certain, and that, either peaceably or through violence, the slaves would ultimately be liberated.


At the time when the new cotton industry was enhancing the value of slave labor, there arose from the ranks of the people those who freely consecrated their all to the freeing of the slave. Among these, Benjamin Lundy, a New Jersey Quaker, holds a significant place.

Though the Society of Friends fills a large place in the anti-slavery movement, its contribution to the growth of the conception of equality is even more significant. This impetus to the idea arises from a fundamental Quaker doctrine, announced at the middle of the seventeenth century, to the erect that God reveals Himself to mankind, not through any priesthood or specially chosen agents; not through any ordinance, form, or ceremony; not through any church or institution; not through any book or written record of any sort; but directly, through His Spirit, to each person. This direct enlightening agency they deemed coextensive with humanity; no race and no individual is left without the ever-present illuminating Spirit. If men of old spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, what they spoke or wrote can furnish no reliable guidance to the men of a later generation, except as their minds also are enlightened by the same Spirit in the same way. “The letter killeth; it is the Spirit that giveth life.”

This doctrine in its purity and simplicity places all men and all races on an equality; all are alike ignorant and imperfect; all are alike in their need of the more perfect revelation yet to be made. Master and slave are equal before God; there can be no such relation, therefore, except by doing violence to a personality, to a spiritual being. In harmony with this fundamental principle, the Society of Friends early rid itself of all connection with slavery. The Friends’ Meeting became a refuge for those who were moved by the Spirit to testify against slavery.

Born in 1789 in a State which was then undergoing the process of emancipating its slaves, Benjamin Lundy moved at the age of nineteen to Wheeling, West Virginia, which had already become the center of an active domestic slave-trade. The pious young Quaker, now apprenticed to a saddler, was brought into personal contact with this traffic in human flesh. He felt keenly the national disgrace of the iniquity. So deep did the iron enter into his soul that never again did he find peace of mind except in efforts to relieve the oppressed. Like hundreds and thousands of others, Lundy was led on to active opposition to the trade by an actual knowledge of the inhumanity of the business as prosecuted before his eyes and by his sympathy for human suffering.

His apprenticeship ended, Lundy was soon established in a prosperous business in an Ohio village not far from Wheeling. Though he now lived in a free State, the call of the oppressed was ever in his ears and he could not rest. He drew together a few of his neighbors, and together they organized the Union Humane Society, whose object was the relief of those held in bondage. In a few months the society numbered several hundred members, and Lundy issued an address to the philanthropists of the whole country, urging them to unite in like manner with uniform constitutions, and suggesting that societies so formed adopt a policy of correspondence and cooperation. At about the same time, Lundy began to publish anti-slavery articles in the Mount Pleasant Philanthropist and other papers.

In 1819 he went on a business errand to St. Louis, Missouri, where he found himself in the midst of an agitation over the question of the extension of slavery in the States. With great zest he threw himself into the discussion, making use of the newspapers in Missouri and Illinois. Having lost his property, he returned poverty-stricken to Ohio, where he founded in January, 1821, the Genius of Universal Emancipation. A few months later he transferred his paper to the more congenial atmosphere of Jonesborough, Tennessee, but in 1824 he went to Baltimore, Maryland. In the meantime, Lundy had become much occupied in traveling, lecturing, and organizing societies for the promotion of the cause of abolition. He states that during the ten years previous to 1830 he had traveled upwards of twenty-five thousand miles, five thousand of which were on foot. He now became interested in plans for colonizing negroes in other countries as an aid to emancipation, though he himself had no confidence in the colonization society and its scheme of deportation to Africa. After leading a few negroes to Hayti in 1829, he visited Canada, Texas, and Mexico with a similar plan in view.

During a trip through the Middle States and New England in 1828, Lundy met William Lloyd Garrison, and the following year he walked all the way from Baltimore to Bennington, Vermont, for the express purpose of securing the assistance of the youthful reformer as coeditor of his paper. Garrison had previously favored colonization, but within the few weeks which elapsed before he joined Lundy, he repudiated all forms of colonization and advocated immediate and unconditional emancipation. He at once told Lundy of his change of views. “Well,” said Lundy, “thee may put thy initials to thy articles, and I will put my witness to mine, and each will bear his own burden.” The two editors were, however, in complete accord in their opposition to the slave-trade. Lundy had suffered a dangerous assault at the hands of a Baltimore slave-trader before he was joined by Garrison. During the year 1830, Garrison was convicted of libel and thrown into prison on account of his scathing denunciation of Francis Todd of Massachusetts, the owner of a vessel engaged in the slave-trade.

These events brought to a crisis the publication of the Genius of Universal Emancipation. The editors now parted company. Again Lundy moved the office of the paper, this time to Washington, D.C., but it soon became a peripatetic monthly, printed wherever the editor chanced to be. In 1836 Lundy began the issue of an anti-slavery paper in Philadelphia, called the National Inquirer, and with this was merged the Genius of Universal Emancipation. He was preparing to resume the issue of his original paper under the old title, in La Salle County, Illinois, when he was overtaken by death on August 22, 1839.

Here was a man without education, without wealth, of a slight frame, not at all robust, who had undertaken, singlehanded and without the shadow of a doubt of his ultimate success, to abolish American slavery. He began the organization of societies which were to displace the anti-slavery societies of the previous century. He established the first paper devoted exclusively to the cause of emancipation. He foresaw that the question of emancipation must be carried into politics and that it must become an object of concern to the general Government as well as to the separate States. In the early part of his career he found the most congenial association and the larger measure of effective support south of Mason and Dixon’s Line, and in this section were the greater number of the abolition societies which he organized. During the later years of his life, as it was becoming increasingly difficult in the South to maintain a public anti-slavery propaganda, he transferred his chief activities to the North. Lundy serves as a connecting link between the earlier and the later anti-slavery movements. Eleven years of his early life belong to the century of the Revolution. Garrison recorded his indebtedness to Lundy in the words: “If I have in any way, however humble, done anything towards calling attention to slavery, or bringing out the glorious prospect of a complete jubilee in our country at no distant day, I feel that I owe everything in this matter, instrumentally under God, to Benjamin Lundy.”

Different in type, yet even more significant on account of its peculiar relations to the cause of abolition, was the life of James Gillespie Birney, who was born in a wealthy slaveholding family at Dansville, Kentucky, in the year 1792. The Birneys were anti-slavery planters of the type of Washington and Jefferson. The father had labored to make Kentucky a free State at the time of its admission to the Union. His son was educated first at Princeton, where he graduated in 1810, and then in the office of a distinguished lawyer in Philadelphia. He began the practice of law at his home at the age of twenty-two. His home training and his residence in States which were then in the process of gradual emancipation served to confirm him in the traditional conviction of his family. While Benjamin Lundy, at the age of twenty-seven, was engaged in organizing anti-slavery societies north of the Ohio River, Birney at the age of twenty-four was influential as a member of the Kentucky Legislature in the prevention of the passing of a joint resolution calling upon Ohio and Indiana to make laws providing for the return of fugitive slaves. He was also conspicuous in his efforts to secure provisions for gradual emancipation. Two years later he became a planter near Huntsville, Alabama. Though not a member of the Constitutional Convention preparatory to the admission of this Territory into the Union, Birney used his influence to secure provisions in the constitution favorable to gradual emancipation. As a member of the first Legislature, in 1819, he was the author of a law providing a fair trial by jury for slaves indicted for crimes above petty larceny, and in 1826 he became a regular contributor to the American Colonization Society, believing it to be an aid to emancipation. The following year he was able to induce the Legislature, although he was not then a member of it, to pass an act forbidding the importation of slaves into Alabama either for sale or for hire. This was regarded as a step preliminary to emancipation.

The cause of education in Alabama had in Birney a trusted leader. During the year 1830 he spent several months in the North Atlantic States for the selection of a president and four professors for the State University and three teachers for the Huntsville Female Seminary. These were all employed upon his sole recommendation. On his return he had an important interview with Henry Clay, of whose political party he had for several years been the acknowledged leader in Alabama. He urged Clay to place himself at the head of the movement in Kentucky for gradual emancipation. Upon Clay’s refusal their political cooperation terminated. Birney never again supported Clay for office and regarded him as in a large measure responsible for the pro-slavery reaction in Kentucky.

Birney, who had now become discouraged regarding the prospect of emancipation, during the winter of 1831 and 1832 decided to remove his family to Jacksonville, Illinois. He was deterred from carrying out his plan, however, by his unexpected appointment as agent of the colonization society in the Southwest–a mission which he undertook from a sense of duty.

In his travels throughout the region assigned to him, Birney became aware of the aggressive designs of the planters of the Gulf States to secure new slave territories in the Southwest. In view of these facts the methods of the colonization society appeared utterly futile. Birney surrendered his commission and, in 1833, returned to Kentucky with the intention of doing himself what Henry Clay had refused to do three years earlier, still hoping that Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee might be induced to abolish slavery and thus place the slave power in a hopeless minority. His disappointment was extreme at the pro-slavery reaction which had taken place in Kentucky. The condition called for more drastic measures, and Birney decided to forsake entirely the colonization society and cast in his lot with the abolitionists. He freed his slaves in 1834, and in the following year he delivered the principal address at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society held in New York. His gift of leadership was at once recognized. As vice-president of the society he began to travel on its behalf, to address public assemblies, and especially to confer with members of state legislatures and to address the legislative bodies. He now devoted his entire time to the service of the society, and as early as September, 1835, issued the prospectus of a paper devoted to the cause of emancipation. This called forth such a display of force against the movement that he could neither find a printer nor obtain the use of a building in Dansville, Kentucky, for the publication. As a result he transferred his activities to Cincinnati, where he began publication of the Philanthropist in 1836. With the connivance of the authorities and encouragement from leading citizens of Cincinnati, the office of the Philanthropist was three times looted by the mob, and the proprietor’s life was greatly endangered. The paper, however, rapidly grew in favor and influence and thoroughly vindicated the right of free discussion of the slavery question. Another editor was installed when Birney, who became secretary of the Anti- slavery Society in 1837, transferred his residence to New York City.

Twenty-three years before Lincoln’s famous utterance in which he proclaimed the doctrine that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and before Seward’s declaration of an irrepressible conflict between slavery and freedom, Birney had said: “There will be no cessation of conflict until slavery shall be exterminated or liberty destroyed. Liberty and slavery cannot live in juxtaposition.” He spoke out of the fullness of his own experience. A thoroughly trained lawyer and statesman, well acquainted with the trend of public sentiment in both North and South, he was fully persuaded that the new pro-slavery crusade against liberty boded civil war. He knew that the white men in North and South would not, without a struggle, consent to be permanently deprived of their liberties at the behest of a few Southern planters. Being himself of the slaveholding class, he was peculiarly fitted to appreciate their position. To him the new issue meant war, unless the belligerent leaders should be shown that war was hopeless. By his moderation in speech, his candor in statement, his lack of rancor, his carefully considered, thoroughly fair arguments, he had the rare faculty of convincing opponents of the correctness of his own view.

There could be little sympathy between Birney and William Lloyd Garrison, whose style of denunciation appeared to the former as an incitement to war and an excuse for mob violence. As soon as Birney became the accepted leader in the national society, there was friction between his followers and those of Garrison. To denounce the Constitution and repudiate political action were, from Birney’s standpoint, a surrender of the only hope of forestalling a dire calamity. He had always fought slavery by the use of legal and constitutional methods, and he continued so to fight. In this policy he had the support of a large majority of abolitionists in New England and elsewhere. Only a few personal friends accepted Garrison’s injunction to forswear politics and repudiate the Constitution.

The followers of Birney, failing to secure recognition for their views in either of the political parties, organized the Liberty party and, while Birney was in Europe in 1840, nominated him as their candidate for the Presidency. The vote which he received was a little over seven thousand, but four years later he was again the candidate of the party and received over sixty thousand votes. He suffered an injury during the following year which condemned him to hopeless invalidism and brought his public career to an end.

Though Lundy and Birney were contemporaries and were engaged in the same great cause, they were wholly independent in their work. Lundy addressed himself almost entirely to the non-slaveholding class, while all of Birney’s early efforts were “those of a slaveholder seeking to induce his own class to support the policy of emancipation. Though a Northern man, Lundy found his chief support in the South until he was driven out by persecution. Birney also resided in the South until he was forced to leave for the same reason. The two men were in general accord in their main lines of policy: both believed firmly in the use of political means to effect their objects; both were at first colonizationists, though Lundy favored colonization in adjacent territory rather than by deportation to Africa.

Women were not a whit behind men in their devotion to the cause of freedom. Conspicuous among them were Sarah and Angelina Grimke, born in Charleston, South Carolina, of a slaveholding family noted for learning, refinement, and culture. Sarah was born in the same year as James G. Birney, 1792; Angelina was thirteen years younger. Angelina was the typical crusader: her sympathies from the first were with the slave. As a child she collected and concealed oil and other simple remedies so that she might steal out by night and alleviate the sufferings of slaves who had been cruelly whipped or abused. At the age of fourteen she refused to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church because the ceremony involved giving sanction to words which seemed to her untrue. Two years later her mother offered her a present of a slave girl for a servant and companion. This gift she refused to accept, for in her view the servant had a right to be free, and, as for her own needs, Angelina felt quite capable of waiting upon herself.

Of her own free will she joined the Presbyterian Church and labored earnestly with the officers of the church to induce them to espouse the cause of the slave. When she failed to secure cooperation, she decided that the church was not Christian and she therefore withdrew her membership. Her sister Sarah had gone North in 1821 and had become a member of the Society of Friends in Philadelphia. In Charleston, South Carolina, there was a Friends’ meeting-house where two old Quakers still met at the appointed time and sat for an hour in solemn silence. Angelina donned the Quaker garb, joined this meeting, and for an entire year was the third of the silent worshipers. This quiet testimony, however, did not wholly satisfy her energetic nature, and when, in 1830, she heard of the imprisonment of Garrison in Baltimore, she was convinced that effective labors against slavery could not be carried on in the South. With great sorrow she determined to sever her connection with home and family and join her sister in Philadelphia. There the exile from the South poured out her soul in an Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. The manuscript was handed to the officers of the Anti- slavery Society in the city and, as they read, tears filled their eyes. The Appeal was immediately printed in large quantities for distribution in Southern States.

Copies of the Appeal which had been sent to Charleston were seized by a mob and publicly burned. When it became known soon afterwards that the author of the offensive document was intending to return to Charleston to spend the winter with her family, there was intense excitement, and the mayor of the city informed the mother that her daughter would not be permitted to land in Charleston nor to communicate with any one there, and that, if she did elude the police and come ashore, she would be imprisoned and guarded until the departure of the next boat. On account of the distress which she would cause to her friends, Miss Grimke reluctantly gave up the exercise of her constitutional right to visit her native city and in a very literal sense she became a permanent exile.

The two sisters let their light shine among Philadelphia Quakers. In the religious meetings negro women were consigned to a special seat. The Grimkes, having first protested against this discrimination, took their own places on the seat with the colored women. In Charleston, Angelina had scrupulously adhered to the Quaker garb because it was viewed as a protest against slavery. In Philadelphia, however, no such meaning was attached to the costume, and she adopted clothing suited to the climate regardless of conventions. A series of parlor talks to women which had been organized by the sisters grew in interest until the parlors became inadequate, and the speakers were at last addressing large audiences of women in the public meeting-places of Philadelphia.

At this time when Angelina was making effective use of her unrivaled power as a public speaker, she received in 1836 an invitation from the Anti-slavery Society of New York to address the women of that city. She informed her sister that she believed this to be a call from God and that it was her duty to accept. Sarah decided to be her companion and assistant in the work in the new field, which was similar to that in Philadelphia. Its fame soon extended to Boston, whence came an urgent invitation to visit that city. It was in Massachusetts that men began to steal into the women’s meetings and listen from the back seats. In Lynn all barriers were broken down, and a modest, refined, and naturally diffident young woman found herself addressing immense audiences of men and women. In the old theater in Boston for six nights in succession, audiences filling all the space listened entranced to the messenger of emancipation. There is uniform testimony that, in an age distinguished for oratory, no more effective speaker appeared than Angelina Grimke. It was she above all others who first vindicated the right of women to speak to men from the public platform on political topics. But it must be remembered that scores of other women were laboring to the same end and were fully prepared to utilize the new opportunity.

The great world movement from slavery towards freedom, from despotism to democracy, is characterized by a tendency towards the equality of the sexes. Women have been slaves where men were free. In barbarous ages women have been ignored or have been treated as mere adjuncts to the ruling sex. But wherever there has been a distinct contribution to the cause of liberty there has been a distinct recognition of woman’s share in the work. The Society of Friends was organized on the principle that men and women are alike moral beings, hence are equal in the sight of God. As a matter of experience, women were quite as often moved to break the silence of a religious meeting as were the men.

For two hundred years women had been accustomed to talk to both men and women in Friends’ meetings and, when the moral war against slavery brought religion and politics into close relation, they were ready speakers upon both topics. When the Grimke sisters came into the church with a fresh baptism of the Spirit, they overcame all obstacles and, with a passion for righteousness, moral and spiritual and political, they carried the war against slavery into politics.

In 1833, at the organization of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia, a number of women were present. Lucretia Mott, a distinguished “minister” in the Society of Friends, took part in the proceedings. She was careful to state that she spoke as a mere visitor, having no place in the organization, but she ventured to suggest various modifications in the report of Garrison’s committee on a declaration of principles which rendered it more acceptable to the meeting. It had not then been seriously considered whether women could become members of the Anti-Slavery Society, which was at that time composed exclusively of men, with the women maintaining their separate organizations as auxiliaries.

The women of the West were already better organized than the men and were doing a work which men could not do. They were, for the most part, unconscious of any conflict between the peculiar duties of men and those of women in their relations to common objects. The “library associations” of Indiana, which were in fact effective anti-slavery societies, were to a large extent composed of women. To the library were added numerous other disguises, such as “reading circles,” “sewing societies,” “women’s clubs.” In many communities the appearance of men in any of these enterprises would create suspicion or even raise a mob. But the women worked on quietly, effectively, and unnoticed.

The matron of a family would be provided with the best riding-horse which the neighborhood could furnish. Mounted upon her steed, she would sally forth in the morning, meet her carefully selected friends in a town twenty miles away, gain information as to what had been accomplished, give information as to the work in other parts of the district, distribute new literature, confer as to the best means of extending their labors, and return in the afternoon. The father of such a family was quite content with the humbler task of cooperation by supplying the sinews of war. There was complete equality between husband and wife because their aims were identical and each rendered the service most convenient and most needed. Women did what men could not do. In the territory of the enemy the men were reached through the gradual and tentative efforts of women whom the uninitiated supposed to be spending idle hours at a sewing circle. Interest was maintained by the use of information of the same general character as that which later took the country by storm in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In course of time all disguise was thrown aside. A public speaker of national reputation would appear, a meeting would be announced, and a rousing abolition speech would be delivered; the mere men of the neighborhood would have little conception how the surprising change had been accomplished.

On rare occasions the public presentation of the anti-slavery view would be undertaken prematurely, as in 1840 at Pendleton, Indiana, when Frederick Douglass attempted to address a public meeting and was almost slain by missiles from the mob. Pendleton, however, was not given over to the enemy. The victim of the assault was restored to health in the family of a leading citizen. The outrage was judiciously utilized to convince the fair-minded that one of the evils of slavery was the development of minds void of candor and justice. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Pendleton disturbance there was another great meeting in the town. Frederick Douglass was the hero of the occasion. The woman who was the head of the family that restored him to health was on the platform. Some of the men who threw the brickbats were there to make public confession and to apologize for the brutal deed.

In the minds of a few persons of rare intellectual and logical endowment, democracy has always implied the equality of the sexes. From the time of the French Revolution there have been advocates of this doctrine. As early as 1820, Frances Wright, a young woman in Scotland having knowledge of the Western republic founded upon the professed principles of liberty and equality, came to America for the express purpose of pleading the cause of equal rights for women. To the general public her doctrine seemed revolutionary, threatening the very foundations of religion and morality. In the midst of opposition and persecution she proclaimed views respecting the rights and duties of women which today are generally accepted as axiomatic.

The women who attended the meetings for the organization of the American Anti-Slavery Society were not suffragists, nor had they espoused any special theories respecting the position of women. They did not wish to be members of the men’s organizations but were quite content with their own separate one, which served its purpose very well under prevailing local conditions. James G. Birney, the candidate of the Liberty party for the Presidency in 1840, had good reasons for opposition to the inclusion of men and women in the same organization. He knew that by acting separately they were winning their way. The introduction of a novel theory involving a different issue seemed to him likely to be a source of weakness. The cause of women was, however, gaining ground and winning converts. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were delegates to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention at London. They listened to the debate which ended in the refusal to recognize them as members of the Convention because they were women. The tone of the discussion convinced them that women were looked upon by men with disdain and contempt. Because the laws of the land and the customs of society consigned women to an inferior position, and because there would be no place for effective public work on the part of women until these laws were changed, both these women became advocates of women’s rights and conspicuous leaders in the initiation of the propaganda. The Reverend Samuel J. May, of Syracuse, New York, preached a sermon in 1845 in which he stated his belief that women need not expect to have their wrongs fully redressed until they themselves had a hand in the making and in the administration of the laws. This is an early suggestion that equal suffrage would become the ultimate goal of the efforts for righting women’s wrongs.

At the same time there were accessions to the cause from a different source. In 1833 Oberlin College was founded in northern Ohio. Into some of the first classes there women were admitted on equal terms with men. In 1835 the trustees offered the presidency to Professor Asa Mahan, of Lane Seminary. He was himself an abolitionist from a slave State, and he refused to be President of Oberlin College unless negroes were admitted on equal terms with other students. Oberlin thus became the first institution in the country which extended the privileges of the higher education to both sexes of all races. It was a distinctly religious institution devoted to radical reforms of many kinds. Not only was the use of all intoxicating beverages discarded by faculty and students but the use of tobacco as well was discouraged.

Within fifteen years after the founding of Oberlin, there were women graduates who had something to say on numerous questions of public interest. Especially was this true of the subject of temperance. Intemperance was a vice peculiar to men. Women and children were the chief sufferers, while men were the chief sinners. It was important, therefore, that men should be reached. In 1847 Lucy Stone, an Oberlin graduate, began to address public audiences on the subject. At the same time Susan B. Anthony appeared as a temperance lecturer. The manner of their reception and the nature of their subject induced them to unite heartily in the pending crusade for the equal rights of women. The three causes thus became united in one.

Along with the crusade against slavery, intemperance, and women’s wrongs, arose a fourth, which was fundamentally connected with the slavery question: Quakers and Southern and Western abolitionists were ardently devoted to the interests of peace. They would abolish slavery by peaceable means because they believed the alternative was a terrible war. To escape an impending war they were nerved to do and dare and to incur great risks. New England abolitionists who labored in harmony with those of the West and South were actuated by similar motives. Sumner first gained public notice by a distinguished oration against war. Garrison went farther: he was a professional non-resistant, a root and branch opponent of both war and slavery. John Brown was a fanatical antagonist of war until he reached the conclusion that according to the Divine Will there should be a short war of liberation in place of the continuance of slavery, which was itself in his opinion the most cruel form of war.

Slavery as a legally recognized institution disappeared with the Civil War. The war against intemperance has made continuous progress and this problem is apparently approaching a solution. The war against war as a recognized institution has become the one all-absorbing problem of civilization. The war against the wrongs of women is being supplanted by efforts to harmonize the mutual privileges and duties of men and women on the basis of complete equality. As Samuel May predicted more than seventy years ago, in the future women are certain to take a hand both in the making and in the administration of law.


The year 1831 is notable for three events in the history of the anti-slavery controversy: on the first day of January in that year William Lloyd Garrison began in Boston the publication of the Liberator; in August there occurred in Southampton, Virginia, an insurrection of slaves led by a negro, Nat Turner, in which sixty-one white persons were massacred; and in December the Virginia Legislature began its long debate on the question of slavery.

On the part of the abolitionists there was at no time any sudden break in the principles which they advocated. Lundy did nothing but revive and continue the work of the Quakers and other non- slaveholding classes of the revolutionary period. Birney was and continued to be a typical slaveholding abolitionist of the earlier period. Garrison began his work as a disciple of Lundy, whom he followed in the condemnation of the African colonization scheme, though he went farther and rejected every form of colonization. Garrison likewise repudiated every plan for gradual emancipation and proclaimed the duty of immediate and unconditional liberation of the slaves.

The first number of the Liberator contained an Address to the Public, which sounded the keynote of Garrison’s career. “I shall contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population–I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice on this subject–I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation–I am in earnest–I will not equivocate–I will not retreat a single inch, and I WILL BE HEARD!”

The New England Anti-Slavery Society, of which Garrison was the chief organizer, was in essential harmony with the societies which Lundy had organized in other sections. Its first address to the public in 1833 distinctly recognized the separate States as the sole authority in the matter of emancipation within their own boundaries. Through moral suasion, eschewing all violence and sedition, its authors proposed to secure their object. In the spirit of civil and religious liberty and by appealing to the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty party of 1840 and 1844, by the Freesoil party of 1848, and later by the Republican party, and that nearly all of the abolitionists continued to be faithful adherents to those principles, are sufficient proof of the essential unity of the great anti-slavery movement. The apparent lack of harmony and the real confusion in the history of the subject arose from the peculiar character of one remarkable man.

The few owners of slaves who had assumed the role of public defenders of the institution were in the habit of using violent and abusive language against anti-slavery agitators. This appeared in the first debate on the subject during Washington’s administration. Every form of rhetorical abuse also accompanied the outbreak of mob violence against the reformers at the time of Garrison’s advent into the controversy. He was especially fitted to reply in kind. “I am accused,” said he, “of using hard language. I admit the charge. I have not been able to find a soft word to describe villainy, or to identify the perpetrator of it.” This was a new departure which was instantly recognized by Southern leaders. But from the beginning to the bitter end, Garrison stands alone as preeminently the representative of this form of attack. It was significant, also, that the Liberator was published in Boston, the literary center of the country.

There is no evidence that there was any direct connection between the publication of the Liberator and the servile insurrection which occurred during the following August.* It was, however, but natural that the South should associate the two events. A few utterances of the paper were fitted, if not intended, to incite insurrection. One passage reads: “Whenever there is a contest between the oppressed and the oppressor–the weapons being equal between the parties–God knows that my heart must be with the oppressed, and always against the oppressor. Therefore, whenever commenced, I cannot but wish success to all slave insurrections.” Again: “Rather than see men wearing their chains in a cowardly and servile spirit, I would, as an advocate of peace, much rather see them breaking the heads of the tyrant with their chains.”

* Garrison himself denied any direct connection with the Nat Turner insurrection. See “William Lloyd Garrison, the Story of His Life told by His Children,” vol. I, p. 251.

George Thompson, an English co-laborer with Garrison, is quoted as saying in a public address in 1835 that “Southern slaves ought, or at least had a right, to cut the throats of their masters.”* Such utterances are rare, and they express a passing mood not in the least characteristic of the general spirit of the abolition movement; yet the fact that such statements did emanate from such a source made it comparatively easy for extremists of the opposition to cast odium upon all abolitionists. The only type of abolition known in South Carolina was that of the extreme Garrisonian agitators, and it furnished at least a shadow of excuse for mob violence in the North and for complete suppression of discussion in the South. To encourage slaves to cut the throats of their masters was far from being a rhetorical figure of speech in communities where slaves were in the majority. Santo Domingo was at the time a prosperous republic founded by former slaves who had exterminated the Caucasian residents of the island. Negroes from Santo Domingo had fomented insurrection in South Carolina. The Nat Turner incident was more than a suggestion of the dire possibilities of the situation. Turner was a trusted slave, a preacher among the blacks. He succeeded in concealing his plot for weeks. When the massacre began, slaves not in the secret were induced to join. A majority of the slain were women and children. Abolitionists who had lived in slave States never indulged in flippant remarks fitted to incite insurrection. This was reserved for the few agitators far removed from the scene of action.

* Schouler, “History of the United States under the Constitution,” vol. V, p. 217.

Southern planters who had determined at all hazards to perpetuate the institution of slavery were peculiarly sensitive on account of what was taking place in Spanish America and in the British West Indies. Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, and united with Colombia in encouraging Cuba to throw off the Spanish yoke, abolish slavery, and join the sisterhood of New World republics. This led to an effective protest on the part of the United States. Both Spain and Mexico were advised that the United States could not with safety to its own interests permit the emancipation of slaves in the island of Cuba. But with the British Emancipation Act of 1833, Cuba became the only neighboring territory in which slavery was legal. These acts of emancipation added zeal to the determination of the Southern planters to secure territory for the indefinite extension of slavery to the southwest. When Lundy and Birney discovered these plans, their desire to husband and extend the direct political influence of abolitionists was greatly stimulated. To this end they maintained a moderate and conservative attitude. They took care that no abuse or misrepresentation should betray them into any expression which would diminish their influence with fair-minded, reasonable men. They were convinced that a clear and complete revelation of the facts would lead a majority of the people to adopt their views.

The debate in the Virginia Legislature in the session which met three months after the Southampton massacre furnishes a demonstration that the traditional anti-slavery sentiment still persisted among the rulers of the Old Dominion. It arose out of a petition from the Quakers of the State asking for an investigation preparatory to a gradual emancipation of the slaves. The debate, which lasted for several weeks, was able and thorough. No stronger utterances in condemnation of slavery were ever voiced than appear in this debate. Different speakers made the statement that no one presumed to defend slavery on principle–that apologists for slavery existed but no defenders. Opposition to the petition was in the main apologetic in tone.

A darker picture of the blighting effects of slavery on the industries of the country was never drawn than appears in these speeches. Slavery was declared to be driving free laborers from the State, to have already destroyed every industry except agriculture, and to have exhausted the soil so that profitable agriculture was becoming extinct, while pine brush was encroaching upon former fruitful fields. “Even the wolf,” said one, “driven back long since by the approach of man, now returns, after the lapse of a hundred years, to howl over the desolations of slavery.” Contrasts between free labor in northern industry and that of the South were vividly portrayed. In a speech of great power, one member referred to Kentucky and Ohio as States “providentially designated to exhibit in their future histories the differences which necessarily result from a country free from, and a country afflicted with the curse of slavery.”

The debate was by no means confined to industrial or material considerations. McDowell, who was afterwards elected Governor of the State, thus portrays the personal relations of master and slave “You may place the slave where you please–you may put him under any process, which, without destroying his value as a slave, will debase and crush him as a rational being–you may do all this, and the idea that he was born to be free will survive it all. It is allied to his hope of immortality–it is the ethereal part of his nature which oppression cannot reach–it is a torch lit up in his soul by the hand of the Deity, and never meant to be extinguished by the hand of man.”

Various speakers assumed that the continuance of slavery involved a bloody conflict; that either peaceably or through violence, slavery as contrary to the spirit of the age must come to an end; that the agitation against it could not be suppressed. Faulkner drew a lurid picture of the danger from servile insurrection, in which he referred to the utterances of two former speakers, one of whom had said that, unless something effective was done to ward off the danger, “the throats of all the white people of Virginia will be cut.” The other replied, “No, the whites cannot be conquered–the throats of the blacks will be cut.” Faulkner’s rejoinder was that the difference was a trifling one, “for the fact is conceded that one race or the other must be exterminated.”

The public press joined in the debate. Leading editorials appeared in the Richmond Enquirer urging that effective measures be instituted to put an end to slavery. The debate aroused much interest throughout the South. Substantially all the current abolition arguments appeared in the speeches of the slave-owning members of the Virginia Legislature. And what was done about it? Nothing at all. The petition was not granted; no action looking towards emancipation was taken. This was indeed a turning-point. Men do not continue to denounce in public their own conduct unless their action results in some effort toward corrective measures.

Professor Thomas Dew, of the chair of history and metaphysics in William and Mary College and later President of the College, published an essay reviewing the debate in the Legislature and arguing that any plan for emancipation in Virginia was either undesirable or impossible. This essay was among the first of the direct pro-slavery arguments. Statements in support of the view soon followed. In 1885 the Governor of South Carolina in a message to the Legislature said, “Domestic slavery is the corner-stone of our republican edifice.” Senator Calhoun, speaking in the Senate two years later, declared slavery to be a positive good. W. G. Simms, Southern poet and novelist, writing in 1852, felicitates himself as being among the first who about fifteen years earlier advocated slavery as a great good and a blessing. Harriet Martineau, an English author who traveled extensively in the South in 1885, found few slaveholders who justified the institution as being in itself just. But after the debates in the Virginia Legislature, there were few owners of slaves who publicly advocated abolition. The spirit of mob violence had set in, and, contrary to the utterances of Virginia statesmen, free speech on the subject of slavery was suppressed in the slave States. This did not mean that Southern statesmen had lost the power to perceive the evil effects of slavery or that they were convinced that their former views were erroneous. It meant simply that they had failed to agree upon a policy of gradual emancipation, and the only recourse left seemed to be to follow the example of James G. Birney and leave the South or to submit in silence to the new order.


With the changed attitude of the South towards emancipation there was associated an active hostility to dearly bought human liberty. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of worship, the right of assembly, trial by jury, the right of petition, free use of the mails, and numerous other fundamental human rights were assailed. Birney and other abolitionists who had immediate knowledge of slavery early perceived that the real question at issue was quite as much the continued liberty of the white man as it was the liberation of the black man and that the enslavement of one race involved also the ultimate essential enslavement of the other.

In 1831 two slave States and six free States still extended to free negroes the right to vote. During the pro-slavery crusade these privileges disappeared; and not only so, but free negroes were banished from certain States, or were not permitted to enter them, or were allowed to remain only by choosing a white man for a guardian. It was made a crime to teach negroes, whether slaves or free men, to read and write. Under various pretexts free negroes were reduced to slavery. Freedom of worship was denied to negroes, and they were not allowed to assemble for any purpose except under the strict surveillance of white men. Negro testimony in a court of law was invalid where the rights of a white man were involved. The right of a negro to his freedom was decided by an arbitrary court without a jury, while the disputed right of a white man to the ownership of a horse was conditioned by the safeguard of trial by jury.

The maintenance of such policies carries with it of necessity the suppression of free discussion. When Southern leaders adopted the policy of defending slavery as a righteous institution, abolitionists in the South either emigrated to the North or were silenced. In either case they were deprived of a fundamental right. The spirit of persecution followed them into the free States. Birney could not publish his paper in Kentucky, nor even at Cincinnati, save at the risk of his life. Elijah Lovejoy was not allowed to publish his paper in Missouri, and, when he persisted in publishing it in Illinois, he was brutally murdered. Even in Boston it required men of courage and determination to meet and organize an anti-slavery society in 1832, though only a few years earlier Benjamin Lundy had traveled freely through the South itself delivering anti-slavery lectures and organizing scores of such societies. The New York Anti-Slavery Society was secretly organized in 1832 in spite of the opposition of a determined mob. Mob violence was everywhere rife. Meetings were broken up, negro quarters attacked, property destroyed, murders committed.

Fair-minded men became abolitionists on account of the crusade against the rights of white men quite as much as from their interest in the rights of negroes. Salmon P. Chase of Ohio was led to espouse the cause by observing the attacks upon the freedom of the press in Cincinnati. Gerrit Smith witnessed the breaking up of an anti-slavery meeting in Utica, New York, and thereafter consecrated his time, his talents, and his great wealth to the cause of liberty. Wendell Phillips saw Garrison in the hands of a Boston mob, and that experience determined him to make common cause with the martyr. And the murder of Lovejoy in 1837 made many active abolitionists.

It is difficult to imagine a more inoffensive practice than giving to negro girls the rudiments of an education. Yet a school for this purpose, taught by Miss Prudence Crandall in Canterbury, Connecticut, was broken up by persistent persecution, a special act of the Legislature being passed for the purpose, forbidding the teaching of negroes from outside the State without the consent of the town authorities. Under this act Miss Crandall was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned.

Having eliminated free discussion from the South, the Southern States sought to accomplish the same object in the North. In pursuance of a resolution of the Legislature, the Governor of Georgia offered a reward of five thousand dollars to any one who should arrest, bring to trial, and prosecute to conviction under the laws of Georgia the editor of the Liberator. R. G. Williams, publishing agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society, was indicted by a grand jury of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, and Governor Gayle of Alabama made a requisition on Governor Marcy of New York for his extradition. Williams had never been in Alabama. His offense consisted in publishing in the New York Emancipator a few rather mild utterances against slavery.

Governor McDuffie of South Carolina in an official message declared that slavery was the very corner-stone of the republic, adding that the laboring population of any country, “bleached or unbleached,” was a dangerous element in the body politic, and predicting that within twenty-five years the laboring people of the North would be virtually reduced to slavery. Referring to abolitionists, he said: “The laws of every community should punish this species of interference with death without benefit of clergy.” Pursuant to the Governor’s recommendation, the Legislature adopted a resolution calling upon non-slaveholding States to pass laws to suppress promptly and effectively all abolition societies. In nearly all the slave States similar resolutions were adopted, and concerted action against anti-slavery effort was undertaken. During the winter of 1835 and 1836, the Governors of the free States received these resolutions from the South and, instead of resenting them as an uncalled-for interference with the rights of free commonwealths, they treated them with respect. Edward Everett, Governor of Massachusetts, in his message presenting the Southern documents to the Legislature, said: “Whatever by direct and necessary operation is calculated to excite an insurrection among the slaves has been held, by highly respectable legal authority, an offense against this Commonwealth which may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor at common law.” Governor Marcy of New York, in a like document, declared that “without the power to pass such laws the States would not possess all the necessary means for preserving their external relations of peace among themselves.” Even before the Southern requests reached Rhode Island, the Legislature had under consideration a bill to suppress abolition societies.

When a committee of the Massachusetts Legislature had been duly organized to consider the documents received from the slave States, the abolitionists requested the privilege of a hearing before the committee. Receiving no reply, they proceeded to formulate a statement of their case; but before they could publish it, they were invited to appear before the joint committee of the two houses. The public had been aroused by the issue and there was a large audience. The case for the abolitionists was stated by their ablest speakers, among whom was William Lloyd Garrison. They labored to convince the committee that their utterances were not incendiary, and that any legislative censure directed against them would be an encouragement to mob violence and the persecution which was already their lot. After the defensive arguments had been fully presented, William Goodell took the floor and proceeded to charge upon the Southern States which had made these demands a conspiracy against the liberties of the North. In the midst of great excitement and many interruptions by the chairman of the committee, he quoted the language of Governor McDuffie’s message, and characterized the documents lying on the table before him as “fetters for Northern freemen.” Then, turning to the committee, he began, “Mr. Chairman, are you prepared to attempt to put them on?”–but the sentence was only half finished when the stentorian voice of the chairman interrupted him: “Sit down, sir!” and he sat down. The committee then arose and left the room. But the audience did not rise; they waited till other abolitionists found their tongues and gave expression to a fixed determination to uphold the liberties purchased for them by the blood of their fathers. The Massachusetts Legislature did not comply with the request of Governor McDuffie of South Carolina to take the first step towards the enslavement of all laborers, white as well as black. And Rhode Island refused to enact into law the pending bill for the suppression of anti-slavery societies. They declined to violate the plain requirements of their Constitution that the interests of slavery might be promoted. Not many years later they were ready to strain or break the Constitution for the sake of liberty.

In the general crusade against liberty churches proved more pliable than States. The authority of nearly all the leading denominations was directed against the abolitionists. The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church passed in 1836 a resolution censuring two of their members who had lectured in favor of modern abolitionism. The Ohio Conference of the same denomination had passed resolutions urging resistance to the anti-slavery movement. In June, 1836, the New York Conference decided that no one should be chosen as deacon or elder who did not give pledge that he would refrain from agitating the church on the subject.

The same spirit appeared in theological seminaries. The trustees of Lane Seminary, near Cincinnati, Ohio, voted that students should not organize or be members of anti-slavery societies or hold meetings or lecture or speak on the subject. Whereupon the students left in a body, and many of the professors withdrew and united with others in the founding of an anti-slavery college at Oberlin.

A persistent attack was also directed against the use of the United States mails for the distribution of anti-slavery literature. Mob violence which involved the post-office began as early as 1830, when printed copies of Miss Grimke’s Appeal to the Christian Women of the South were seized and burned in Charleston. In 1835 large quantities of anti-slavery literature were removed from the Charleston office and in the presence of the assembled citizens committed to the flames. Postmasters on their own motion examined the mails and refused to deliver any matter that they deemed incendiary. Amos Kendall, Postmaster-General, was requested to issue an order authorizing such conduct. He replied that he had no legal authority to issue such an order. Yet he would not recommend the delivery of such papers. “We owe,” said he, “an obligation to the laws, but a higher one to the communities in which we live, and if the former be perverted to destroy the latter, it is patriotism to disregard them. Entertaining these views, I cannot sanction, and will not condemn, the step you have taken.” This is an early instance of the appeal to the “higher law” in the pro-slavery controversy. The higher law was invoked against the freedom of the press. The New York postmaster sought to dissuade the Anti-slavery Society from the attempt to send its publications through the mails into Southern States. In reply to a request for authorization to refuse to accept such publications, the Postmaster-General replied: “I am deterred from giving an order to exclude the whole series of abolition publications from the Southern mails only by a want of legal power, and if I were situated as you are, I would do as you have done.”

Mr. Kendall’s letters to the postmasters of Charleston and New York were written in July and August, 1835. In December of the same year, presumably with full knowledge that a member of his Cabinet was encouraging violations of law in the interest of slavery, President Jackson undertook to supply the need of legal authorization. In his annual message he made a savage attack upon the abolitionists and recommended to Congress the “passing of such a law as will prohibit, under severe penalties, the circulation in the Southern States, through the mail, of incendiary publications.”

This part of the President’s message was referred to a select committee, of which John C. Calhoun was chairman. The chairman’s report was against the adoption of the President’s recommendation because a subject of such vital interest to the States ought not to be left to Congress. The admission of the right of Congress to decide what is incendiary, asserted the report, carries with it the power to decide what is not incendiary and hence Congress might authorize and enforce the circulation of abolition literature through the mails in all the States. The States should themselves severally decide what in their judgment is incendiary, and then it would become the duty of the general Government to give effect to such state laws. The bill recommended was in harmony with this view. It was made illegal for any deputy postmaster “to deliver to any person whatsoever, any pamphlet, newspaper, handbill, or other printed paper, or pictorial representation touching the subject of slavery, where by the laws of the said State, territory, or district their circulation is prohibited.” The bill was defeated in the Senate by a small margin. Altogether there was an enlightening debate on the whole subject. The exposure of the abuse of tampering with the mail created a general reaction, which enabled the abolitionists to win a spectacular victory. Instead of a law forbidding the circulation of anti-slavery publications, Congress enacted a law requiring postal officials under heavy penalties to deliver without discrimination all matter committed to their charge. This act was signed by President Jackson, and Calhoun himself was induced to admit that the purposes of the abolitionists were not violent and revolutionary. Henceforth abolitionists enjoyed their full privileges in the use of the United States mail. An even more dramatic victory was thrust upon the abolitionists by the inordinate violence of their opponents in their attack upon the right of petition. John Quincy Adams, who became their distinguished champion, was not himself an abolitionist. When, as a member of the lower House of Congress in 1831, he presented petitions from certain citizens of Pennsylvania, presumably Quakers, requesting Congress to abolish slavery and the slave-trade in the District of Columbia, he refused to countenance their prayer, and expressed the wish that the memorial might be referred without debate. At the very time when a New England ex-President was thus advising abolitionists to desist from sending petitions to Congress, the Virginia Legislature was engaged in the memorable debate upon a similar petition from Virginia Quakers, in which most radical abolition sentiment was expressed by actual slaveowners. Adams continued to present anti-slavery memorials and at the same time to express his opposition to the demands of the petitioners. When in 1835 there arose a decided opposition to the reception of such documents, Adams, still in apparent sympathy with the pro-slavery South on the main issue, gave wise counsel on the method of dealing with petitions. They should be received, said he, and referred to a committee; because the right of petition is sacred. This, he maintained, was the best way to avoid disturbing debate on the subject of slavery. He quoted his own previous experience; he had made known his opposition to the purposes of the petitioners; their memorials were duly referred to a committee and there they slept the sleep of death. At that time only one voice had been raised in the House in support of the abolition petitioners, that of John Dickson of New York, who had delivered a speech of two hours in length advocating their cause; but not a voice was raised in reply. Mr. Adams mentioned this incident with approval. The way to forestall disturbing debate in Congress, he said, was scrupulously to concede all constitutional rights and then simply to refrain from speaking on the subject.

This sound advice was not followed. For several months a considerable part of the time of the House was occupied with the question of handling abolition petitions. And finally, in May, 1836, the following resolution passed the House: “Resolved, That all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers relating in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery or the abolition of slavery, shall, without being either printed or referred, be laid on the table, and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon.” This is commonly known as the “gag resolution.” During four successive years it was reenacted in one form or another and was not repealed by direct vote until 1844.

When the name of Mr. Adams was called in the vote upon the passage of the above resolution, instead of answering in the ordinary way, he said: “I hold the resolution to be a direct violation of the Constitution of the United States, of the rules of this House, and of the rights of my constituents.” This was the beginning of the duel between the “old man eloquent” and a determined majority in the House of Representatives. Adams developed undreamed-of resources as a debater and parliamentarian. He made it his special business to break down the barrier against the right of petition. Abolitionists cooperated with zeal in the effort. Their champion was abundantly supplied with petitions. The gag resolution was designed to prevent all debate on the subject of slavery. Its effect in the hands of the shrewd parliamentarian was to foment debate. On one occasion, with great apparent innocence, after presenting the usual abolition petitions, Adams called the attention of the Speaker to one which purported to be signed by twenty-two slaves and asked whether such a petition should be presented to the House, since he was himself in doubt as to the rules applicable in such a case. This led to a furious outbreak in the House which lasted for three days. Adams was threatened with censure at the bar of the House, with expulsion, with the grand jury, with the penitentiary; and it is believed that only his great age and national repute shielded him from personal violence. After numerous passionate speeches had been delivered, Adams injected a few important corrections into the debate. He reminded the House that he had not presented a petition purporting to emanate from slaves; on the contrary, he had expressly declined to present it until the Speaker had decided whether a petition from slaves was covered by the rule. Moreover, the petition was not against slavery but in favor of slavery. He was then charged with the crime of trifling with the sensibilities of the House; and finally the champion of the right of petition took the floor in his own defense. His language cut to the quick. His calumniators were made to feel the force of his biting sarcasm. They were convicted of injustice, and all their resolutions of censure were withdrawn. The victory was complete.

After the year 1838 John Quincy Adams had the effective support of Joshua R. Giddings from the Western Reserve, Ohio–who also fought a pitched battle of his own which illustrates another phase of the crusade against liberty. The ship Creole had sailed from Baltimore to New Orleans in 1841 with a cargo of slaves. The negroes mutinied on the high seas, slew one man, gained possession of the vessel, sailed to Nassau, and were there set free by the British Government. Prolonged diplomatic negotiations followed in which our Government held that, as slaves were property in the United States, they continued to be such on the high seas. In the midst of the controversy, Giddings introduced a resolution into the House, declaring that slavery, being an abridgment of liberty, could exist only under local rules, and that on the high seas there can be no slavery. For this act Giddings was arraigned and censured by the House. He at once resigned, but was reelected with instructions to continue the fight for freedom of debate in the House.

In the campaign against the rights of freemen mob violence was first employed, but in the South the weapon of repressive legislation was soon substituted, and this was powerfully supplemented by social and religious ostracism. Except in a few districts in the border States, these measures were successful. Public profession of abolitionism was suppressed. The violence of the mob was of much longer duration in the North and reached its height in the years 1834 and 1835. But Northern mobs only quickened the zeal of the abolitionists and made converts to their cause. The attempt to substitute repressive state legislation had the same effect, and the use of church authority for making an end of the agitation for human liberty was only temporarily influential.

As early as 1838 the Presbyterian Church was divided over questions of doctrine into Old School and New School Presbyterians. This served to forestall the impending division on the slavery question. The Old School in the South became pro-slavery and the New School in the North became anti-slavery. At the same time the Methodist Church of the entire country was beset by a division on the main question. In 1844 Southern Methodist Episcopalian conferences resolved upon separation and committed themselves to the defense of slavery. The division in the Methodist Church was completed in 1846. A corresponding division took place in the Baptist Church in 1845. The controversy was dividing the country into a free North and an enslaved South, and Southern white men as well as negroes were threatened with subjection to the demands of the dominant institution.


Some who opposed mob violence became active abolitionists; others were led to defend the rights of abolitionists because to do otherwise would encourage anarchy and general disorder. The same was true of those who defended the right of petition and the free use of the mails and the entire list of the fundamental rights of freemen which were threatened by the crusade against abolitionists. Birney’s contention that unless the slave is freed no one can be free was thus vindicated: the issue involved vastly more than the mere emancipation of slaves.

The attack made in defense of slavery upon the rights of freemen was early recognized as involving civil war unless peaceable emancipation could be attained. So soon as John Quincy Adams faced the new spirit in Congress, he was convinced that it meant probable war. As early as May, 1836, he warned the South, saying: “From the instant that your slaveholding States become the theater of war, civil, servile, or foreign, from that moment the war powers of the Constitution extend to interference with the institution of slavery.” This sentiment he reiterated and amplified on various occasions. The South was duly warned that an attempt to disrupt the Union would involve a war of which emancipation would be one of the consequences. With the exception of Garrison and a few of his personal followers, abolitionists were unionists: they stood for the perpetual union of the States.

This is not the place to give an extended account of the Mexican War.* There are, however, certain incidents connected with the annexation of Texas and the resulting war which profoundly affected the crusade against slavery. Both Lundy and Birney in their missions to promote emancipation through the process of colonization believed that they had unearthed a plan on the part of Southern leaders to acquire territory from Mexico for the purpose of extending slavery. This discovery coincided with the suppression of abolition propaganda in the South. Hitherto John Quincy Adams had favored the western expansion of our territory. He had labored diligently to make the Rio Grande the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase at the time of the treaty with Spain in 1819. But though in 1825 he had supported a measure to purchase Texas from Mexico, under the new conditions he threw himself heartily against the annexation of Texas, and in 1838 he defeated in the House of Representatives a resolution favoring annexation. To this end Adams occupied the morning hour of the House each day from the 16th of June to the 7th of July, within two days of the time fixed for adjournment. This was only a beginning of his fight against the extension of slavery. There was no relenting in his opposition to pro-slavery demands until he was stricken down with paralysis in the streets of Boston, in November, 1846. He never again addressed a public assembly. But he continued to occupy his seat in Congress until February 23, 1848.

* See “Texas and the Mexican War” (in “The Chronicles of America”).

The debate inaugurated in Congress by Adams and others over the extension of slave territory rapidly spread to the country at large, and interest in the question became general. Abolitionists were thereby greatly stimulated to put into practice their professed duty of seeking to accomplish their ends by political action. Their first effort was to secure recognition in the regular parties. The Democrats answered in their platform of 1840 by a plank specifically denouncing the abolitionists, and the Whigs proved either noncommittal or unfriendly. The result was that abolitionists organized a party of their own in 1840 and nominated James G. Birney for the Presidency. Both of the older parties during this campaign evaded the issue of the annexation of Texas. In 1844 the Whigs again refrained from giving in their platform any official utterance on the Texas issue, though they were understood to be opposed to annexation. The Democrats adroitly asserted in their platform their approval of the re-annexation of Texas and reoccupation of Oregon. There was a shadowy prior claim to both these regions, and by combining them in this way the party avoided any odious partiality towards the acquisition of slave territory. But the voters in both parties had become interested in the specific question whether the country was to enter upon a war of conquest whose primary object should be the extension of slavery. In the North it became generally understood that a vote for Henry Clay, the Whig candidate, was an expression of opposition to annexation. This issue, however, was not made clear in the South. In the absence of telegraph and daily paper it was quite possible to maintain contradictory positions in different sections of the country. But since the Democrats everywhere openly favored annexation, the election of their candidate, James K. Polk, was generally accepted as a popular approval of the annexation of Texas. Indeed, action immediately followed the election and, before the President-elect had been inaugurated, the joint resolution for the annexation of Texas passed both Houses of Congress.

The popular vote was almost equally divided between Whigs and Democrats. Had the vote for Birney, who was again the candidate of the Liberty party, been cast for Clay electors, Clay would have been chosen President. The Birney vote was over sixty-two thousand. The Liberty party, therefore, held the balance of power and determined the result of the election.

The Liberty party has often been censured for defeating the Whigs at this election of 1844. But many incidents, too early forgotten by historians, go far to justify the course of the leaders. Birney and Clay were at one time members of the same party. They were personal friends, and as slave holders they shared the view that slavery was a menace to the country and ought to be abolished. It was just fourteen years before this election that Birney made a visit to Clay to induce him to accept the leadership of an organized movement to abolish slavery in Kentucky. Three years later, when Birney returned to Kentucky to do himself what Henry Clay had refused to do, he became convinced that the reaction which had taken place in favor of slavery was largely due to Clay’s influence. This was a common impression among active abolitionists. It is not strange, therefore, that they refused to support him as a candidate for the Presidency, and it is not at all certain that his election in 1844 would have prevented the war with Mexico.

Northern Whigs accused the Democrats of fomenting a war with Mexico with the intention of gaining territory for the purpose of extending slavery. Democrats denied that the annexation of Texas would lead to war, and many of them proclaimed their opposition to the farther extension of slavery. In harmony with this sentiment, when President Polk asked for a grant of two million dollars to aid in making a treaty with Mexico, they attached to the bill granting the amount a proviso to the effect that slavery should forever be prohibited in any territory which might be obtained from Mexico by the contemplated treaty. The proviso was written by an Ohio Democrat and was introduced in the House by David A. Wilmot, a Pennsylvania Democrat, after whom it is known. It passed the House by a fair majority with the support of both Whigs and Democrats. At the time of the original introduction in August, 1846, the Senate did not vote upon the measure. Davis of Massachusetts moved its adoption but inadvertently prolonged his speech in its favor until the hour for adjournment. Hence there was no vote on the subject. Subsequently the proviso in a new form again passed the House but failed of adoption in the Senate.

During the war the Wilmot Proviso was the subject of frequent debate in Congress and of continuous debate throughout the country until the treaty with Mexico was signed in 1848. A vast territory had been acquired as a result of the war, and no decision had been reached as to whether it should remain free or be opened to settlement by slave-owners. Another presidential election was at hand. For fully ten years there had been ever-increasing excitement over the question of the limitation or the extension of slavery. This had clearly become the topic of supreme interest throughout the country, and yet the two leading parties avoided the issue. Their own membership was divided. Northern Democrats, many of them, were decidedly opposed to slavery extension. Southern Whigs with equal intensity favored the extension of slavery into the new territory. The platforms of the two parties were silent on the subject. The Whigs nominated Taylor, a Southern general who had never voted their party ticket, but they made no formal declaration of principles. The Democrats repeated with colorless additions their platforms of 1840 anti 1844 and sought to win the election with a Northern man, Lewis Cass of Michigan, as candidate.

There was, therefore, a clear field for a party having fully defined views to express on a topic of commanding interest. The cleavage in the Democratic party already begun by the debate over the Wilmot Proviso was farther promoted by a factional division of New York Democrats. Martin Van Buren became the leader of the liberal faction, the “Barnburners,” who nominated him for President at a convention at Utica. The spirit of independence now seized disaffected Whigs and Democrats everywhere in the North and Northwest. Men of anti-slavery proclivities held nonpartizan meetings and conventions. The movement finally culminated in the famous Buffalo convention which gave birth to the Freesoil party. The delegates of all political persuasions united on the one principle of opposition to slavery. They adopted a ringing platform closing with the words: “Resolved, That we inscribe on our banner ‘Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men,’ and under it will fight on, and fight ever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions.” They accepted Van Buren as their candidate. The vote at the ensuing election was more than fourfold that given to Birney in 1844. The Van Buren supporters held the balance of power between Whigs and Democrats in twelve States. Taylor was elected by the vote of New York, which except for the division in the party would have gone to Cass. There was no longer any doubt of the fact that a political force had arisen which could no longer be ignored by the ruling parties. One of the parties must either support the new issue or give place to a party which would do so.

A political party for the defense of liberty was the fulfillment of the aspirations of all earnest anti-slavery men and of all abolitionists not of the radical Garrisonian persuasion. The national anti-slavery societies were for the most part limited in their operations to the Atlantic seaboard. The West organized local and state associations with little reference to the national association. When the disruption occurred between Garrison and his opponents in 1840, the Western abolitionists continued their former methods of local organization. They recognized no divisions in their ranks and continued to work in harmony with all who in any way opposed the institution of slavery. The political party was their first really effective national organization. Through party committees, caucuses, and conventions, they became a part of the forces that controlled the nation. The older local clubs and associations were either displaced by the party or became mere adjuncts to the party.

The lines for political action were now clearly defined. In the States emancipation should be accomplished by state action. With a few individual exceptions the leaders conceded that Congress had no power to abolish slavery in the States. Upon the general Government they urged the duty of abolishing both slavery and the slave-trade in the District of Columbia and in all areas under direct federal control. They further urged upon the Government the strict enforcement of the laws prohibiting the foreign slave-trade and the enactment of laws forbidding the interstate slave-trade. The constitutionality of these main lines of action has been generally conceded.

Abolitionists were pioneers in the formulation of political platforms. The declaration of principles drawn up by Garrison in 1833 and adopted by the American Anti-Slavery Society was of the nature of a political platform. The duty of voting in furtherance of the policy of emancipation was inculcated. No platform was adopted for the first political campaign, that of 1840; but four years later there was an elaborate party platform of twenty-one resolutions. Many things had happened in the eleven years intervening since the declaration of principles of the American Anti-Slavery Society. In the earlier platform the freedom of the slave appears as the primary object. That of the Liberty party assumes the broad principle of human brotherhood as the foundation for a democracy or a republic. It denies that the party is organized merely to free the slave. Slaveholding as the grossest form of despotism must indeed be attacked first, but the aim of the party is to carry the principle of equal rights into all social relations. It is not a sectional party nor a party organized for a single purpose. “It is not a new party, nor a third party, but it is the party of 1776, reviving the principles of that memorable era, and striving to carry them into practical application.” The spirit of ’76 rings, indeed, throughout the