Abolition Movement

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from The New Encyclopedia of Social Reform

[Source: The New Encyclopedia of Social Reform (1908), 1-3.]

ABOLITION MOVEMENT: Abolitionist is a term used in the United States specifically for those who favored and sought to effect the abolition of slavery. We here consider the subject simply in the United States. (For the general history of the abolition of slavery, see SLAVERY.) It should not be for~otten, however, that the abolition movement tn the United States was but a part of this more general movement. Two tendencies, one from Christianity, the other from French naturalism and revolutionism, contributed mainly to the abolitionist movement in America. Its first open expression was among the Society of Friends or Quakers. As early as 1671 George Fox, in England, had spoken against slavery, and in 1696 the Pennsylvania Quakers advised their members against the slave trade. In 1774 all persons engaged in the traffic, and in 1776 all who would not emancipate their slaves, were excluded from membership among the Friends. John WOOLMAN (1720-73) and Anthony Benezet (1713-84) were prominent in this stage of the movement. In 1774 a Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery was fonned by James Pemberton and Dr. Benjamin RUSH, and in 1787 was reconstructed under the presidency of FRANKLIN. The arguments of these earliest antislavery writers and workers were drawn mainly from general philosophic, humanitarian, and Christian principles. WIth Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Patrick Henry, and other Southerners, all of whom deplored and often spoke against, altho most of them practised, slavery, other reasons entered in. Wliile not insensible to the humanitarian arguments, the)" based their position Ia.ttelyon the above-mentioned French political principles then spreading through this country, and tlius regardea slavery as a giant evil, inconsistent alike with the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the spirit of Christianity. Other abolition societies were organized: In New York (1785), Rhode Island (1786), Maryland (17 89), Connecticut (1790), Virginia (1791), New Jers~y (1792). The abolition of the slave trade by Great Britain in 18°7, and by the United States in 1808, was a great advance. In 1777 Vermont formed a constitution abolishing slavery, and was soon followed by Massachusetts and other states, while many others gradually abolished it. In 1819-20, the opponents of slavery made a stem resistance to the admission of Missouri as a slave state, but were defeated. The struggle, however, resulted in the so-called Missouri Compromise (1820), whereby slavery was le~alized to the south of 36° 30' N. Lat., and prohibIted in all states that might be fonned nortli of it (Mason and Dixon's line). California, however, tho lying partly south of this line, was admitted as a free state (1850), the Southern party obtaining in compensation the amendment of the Fugitive Slave Law, making it penal to harbor runaway slaves or to aid in therr escape. But this is to anticipate. From 1801-4l there were various efforts participated in by efferson, Henry Clay, and James Madison, in t e South, and Bishop Hopkins, Rufus King, President Harrison, and Dr. Channing in the North, to colonize the blacks in Africa. Liberia was declared indel?endent in 1847_. In 1831-32 the insWTeCtion of Nat Turner in Virginia excited a strong desire for gradual abolition. The first leader in immediate abolition was William Lloyd GARRISON, a Massachusetts printer who (1829:"JO) worked with LUNDY on his "The Genius of Universal Emancipation," published at Baltimore. In 1831 he began publishing Th. Liberator in Boston, and by 1832 tne New England Antislavery Society was formed. In 1833 Garnson visited England and AboHUon secured from Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay, Henry Brougham, and others, a condemnation of the colonization societies. Garrison's principles were, in his own words-and they soon became the principles of all abolitionists, however they differed in method-that •• the right to enjoy liberty is inalienable"; that "to invade it is to usurp the prerogative of Jehovah"; that "every man has a right to his own body, to the products of his labor, to the protection of law, and to the common advantages of society." He said: "We plant ourselves upon the Declaration of our Independence and the truths of Divine revelation as upon the everlasting rock. We shall send forth agents to lift u.p everywhere the voice of remonstrance, of wammg, of entreaty, and of rebuke. We shall circulate unsparingly and extensively antislavery tracts and periodicals. We shall enlist the pulpit and the press in the cause of the suffering and the dumb. We shall aim at a purification of the churches from all participation In the guilt of slavery. We shall spare no exertions nor means to bring the whole nation to speedy repentance." Such were the principles, and such, at least in the earlier stages, were the methods of the abolitionists. Garrison was a firm believer in Christ. He proclaimed himself a follower of the Prince of Peace. Human life he came to regard as sacred above all things. Capital punishment and war, as well as slavery, were to him and to most abolitionists an abhorrence. Viewing the subject thus from the standpoint of morals rather than of any political expediency, slavery was to him a sin not to be gradually abolished, but to be left. In The LilHwator (vol. i. No. I, Saturday, Jan. I, 1831), he wrote: "1 wi] be as harsh as truth and as uncomprotnising a: justice. On this subject I do not wish to thin] or speak or write with moderation. No, No Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a tnoder· ate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wif€ from the hands of the ravisher; tell the 1llotheJ to ~dual1y extricate her babe from the fire intc which it has fallen, but urge me not to use moderation in a case like the [resentl I aut in earnest; I will not equivocate; will not excuse: I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard." From the beginning, Garrison had declared for no union with slaveholders, and proclaimed' the Constitution "a covenant with death and an . agreement with hell." In Dec.• 1833. fte Amerl the American Anti-Slavery Society ..btl · was formed, with Beriah Green as i8lioae. l:i• JporehsnidGe.ntWahnitdtierL,esweicsreTtaanpeps.anThaenoddore D. Weld, Samuel J. May, and Wendell Phillips began lecturing. In 1833, Miss Prudence Crandall, in Connecticut, opened her school to negro girls. She was ostracized, the legislature forbade such schools, and she was imprisoned. Riots against abolitionists became frequent. Prices, ranging from '3,000 to '20,000, were reported to be set by the South on the heads of several of the leading abolitionists. The latter sum was offered by six Mississippians for Garrison's head, and the same amount, made up publicly in New Orleans, was offered for the person of Arthur Tappan. In 1837 a slave was burned to death over a slow fire in St. Louis; and for his words in denouncing this, Rev. Elijah P. LOVEJOY, a Presb~erian minister who had established an abolitionIst newspaper in Alton, Ill., was mobbed and killed. Garrison, in Boston, was seized by a mob, dragged by a rope half naked through the streets, and was only rescued by a posse comitatus and conveyed to the mayor's office. Abolitionist lecturers and sympathizers were denounced from the pulpit and subjected to every indignity. Judge BIRNEY declared that .. the American churches were the bulwarks of American slavery." Such were some of the obstacles that abolitionist .. apostles" had to contend with. Yet while the majority of pulpits either denounced the Garrisonian agitation or else were silent on the subject of slavery, there were ministers in all denominations who were outspoken in their denunciation of this great wrong, and valiantly espoused the cause of the slave. In the Unitanan denomination alone 170 ministers signed a protest against slavery, many of them preaching fearlessly against it, and willing1r sacrificing favor and popularity in the cause 0 freedom. As a not unnatural result of the popular prejudice and indifference, the Garrisonian wing now became very radical. They were accused of advocating every kind of innovation, from woman's rights to free love, and were freely denounced as "come-outers" and .. infidels." Birney, the Tappans, Gerrit Smith, Whittier, John Jay, Edward Beecher, Thomas Morris, and others left the original organization of the Garrisonians, and in 1840 organized the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. They felt that the time was come for the organization of a new political party, while the Garrisonians continued to radically urge their doctrines through all parties. As a result, in 1840, the LIBERTY PARTY was organized, and in 1840 J. G. Birney was nominated for llresident, and Thomas Earle, of Pennsylvania, VIce-president, polling 7,059 votes. In 1844 Birney and Morris polled 62,3°0 votes. These were drawn mainly from· voters for Clay. As a result, Polk was elected, Texas annexea. and a vast amount of slave soil added to the United States. The policy then began to prevail in the North of advocating limitation of the slave area, and this led to the formation of the FRBB SorL PARTY. In this the Liberty Party was mainly merged, tho a few continued to vote a Liberty Party ticket to a much later date. In 1848 ex-President Van Buren was nominated as president by the Free-Soilers, and polled 291,363 votes. Meanwhile, the anitation over the Fugitive Slave Law was conung to a head. The Constitution having recognized slavery by Art. iv., Sec. 2 of that document, it was declared that persons held to service or labor in one state under the laws thereof, and escaping to another, should be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor might be due. To this was added the amendment referred to above on the admission of California as a free state. The demand was made by the Free-Soil Part'y that this be repealed; yet in 1852 it polled a dttninished vote. The same year Haniet Beecher Stowe published her" Uncle"Tom's Cabin," which at once produced a remarkable effect in enlightening the people and arousing in them a sense of the injustice and evil of slavery. In 18SS Captain John BROWN went to Kansas to vote, and to fight as well, against the efforts of Missouri border ruffianism and squatter sovereignty to establish slavery in Kansas. The leading abolitionists were eagerly engaged in helping slaves to escape to Canada by means of the "underground railroad," or a series of houses whose inmates were willing to shelter and aid slaves in their secret flight to the North. In 1856 the Free-Soil Party was largely merged in the newly formed Republican Party, with Gen. John C. Fremont as standard-bearer. He ~l1ed, however, only 114 electoral votes to 174 byJames Buchanan, the Democratic candidate. In 1856, May 19th and 20th, Charles Sumner delivered his speech in the United States Senate on "The Crime Against Kansas." The speech was an exposure of the cruel injustice of the government of the United States toward the free citizens of Kansas, and was strong and fearless both in its argument and its invective. Whittier said that "it was the severe and awful truth which the sharp agony of the national crisis de.. manded!' It caused intense excitement among the pro-slavery members of the Senate. After the adjournment of the Senate, as Sumner sat writing at his desk, he was assaulted by Preston S. Brooks, of South Carolina, and was so severely injured that it was four years before he could again take his place in the Senate, tho Massachusetts left it urifilled during his absence; he suffered from the effects of the murderous assault as long as he lived. In 1857 the validity of the Missouri Compromise was rejected by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision. (See DRED SCOTT.) In J859 John Brown made his effort to rouse the slaves at Harper's Ferry, was captured, and on Dec. 2d, hanged. In 1860 the success of the Republican Party led to the firing u~ Fort Sumter (April 12, 13, 1861) and the opening of the war. The war was not begun to abolish slavery, but simply to put down the rebellion. But the antislavery feeling grew. The fugitive slave laws were abolished in . 1864. On Jan. I, 1863. Lincoln issued, as a war measure, his emancipatory proclamation; and finally, in 1865, Congress passed the amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery in the United States. On Ayril 9, 1870, the American Anti-Slavery Society dIsbanded, believing its work fully done. (See NEGRO; SLAVERY; PHILLIPS; GARRISON, etc.) RaPBRaNcKs: Among the best are UMud SItJIIs, ~ Von Holst, vol. i.; Ris, aNd Fall of UN Slaw PO'IIIW, by WUson; Al'IN'NCafl COfIflic,. b-yGree1ey: SI'ftclws, by GarriIOD: PDli· '"01 HUkwy of'M R,lwUion. b-y McPherson; UJI&W TDfK'$ Cobi". by Mrs. H. B. Stowe; TM Slaw P...--Its CItarGCkr. Car_. aJUl Probabw D,si~,". by John E. Cairnes; Acts of 1M ANli-Slawry AI'O"WI~!ltou(JI'ius of GGrrUtnJ, Philiii', aflll B,OfInI. by Parker rwsbulj.