Anti-Slavery Society

In 1831 Arthur Tappan and Lewis Tappan established the first Anti-Slavery Society in New York. When two years later it became a national organization, Tappan was elected its first president. William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld, Samuel Eli Cornish, Robert Purvis, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown soon emerged as the main figures in the organization. Its main supporters were from religious groups such as the Quakers and from the free black community.

Two sisters, Angelina Grimke and Sarah Grimke became the first women to lecture for the Anti-Slavery Society. This brought attacks from religious leaders who disapproved of women speaking in public. Sarah Grimke wrote bitterly that men were attempting to "drive women from almost every sphere of moral action" and called on women "to rise from that degradation and bondage to which the faculties of our minds have been prevented from expanding to their full growth and are sometimes wholly crushed." Refusing to give up their campaign, the sisters now became pioneers in the struggle for women's rights.

Women gradually became very active in the Anti-Slavery Society. Some of these women, including Susan Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and Amelia Bloomer were later to play a leading role in the struggle for woman's suffrage.

The Anti-Slavery Society organised meetings, arranged the signing of petitions, printed and distributed anti-slavery propaganda and employed people to go on lecture tours of the United States. By 1840 the society had 250,000 members, published more than twenty journals and 2,000 local chapters.

Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in 1851
Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in 1851

Some members of the Anti-Slavery Society considered the organization to be too radical. They objected to the attacks on the US Constitution and the prominent role played by women in the society. Some leaders, such as William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass were as committed to women's rights as they were to the abolition of slavery. Others, such as Arthur Tappan, Lewis Tappan, Gerrit Smith, Samuel Eli Cornish and James Birney disagreed with this view.

Great controversy was created when three women, Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott and Maria Weston Chapman were elected to the executive committee of the Anti-Slavery Society. Lewis Tappan argued that: "To put a woman on the committee with men is contrary to the usages of civilized society."

In 1840 a group including Arthur Tappan, Lewis Tappan, James Birney, Samuel Eli Cornish and Gerrit Smith left the Anti-Slavery Society and formed a rival organization, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. This new organization refused to support the woman's rights movement and instead concentrated exclusively on the subject of slavery.

The abolition of slavery became the policy of the Liberal Party (1840-48), the Free-Soil Party (1848-54) and the Republican Party (founded in 1854). The Anti-Slavery Society was dissolved after the passing of the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction Acts in 1867.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) John G. Whittier described the first Anti Slavery Convention held in 1833 (c. 1840)

Committees were chosen to draft a constitution for a national Anti-Slavery Society, nominate a list of officers, and prepare a declaration of principles to be signed by the members. Dr. A. L. Cox of New York, while these committees were absent, read something from my pen eulogistic of William Lloyd Garrison; and Lewis Tappan and Amos A. Phelps, a Congregational clergyman of Boston, afterwards one of the most devoted laborers in the cause, followed in generous commendation of the zeal, courage, and devotion of the young pioneer. The president, after calling James McCrummell, one of the two or three colored members of the convention, to the chair, made some eloquent remarks upon those editors who had ventured to advocate emancipation. At the close of his speech a young man rose to speak, whose appearance at once arrested my attention.

I think I have never seen a finer face and figure; and his manner, words, and bearing were in keeping. "Who is he?" I asked of one of the Pennsylvania delegates. "Robert Purvis, of this city, a colored man," was the answer. He began by uttering his heart-felt thanks to the delegates who had convened for the deliverance of his people.

He spoke of Garrison in terms of warmest eulogy, as one who had stirred the heart of the nation, broken the tomb-like slumber of the Church, and compelled it to listen to the story of the slave's wrongs. He closed by declaring that the friends of colored Americans would not be forgotten. "Their memories," he said, "will be cherished when pyramids and monuments shall have crumbled in dust. The flood of time, which is sweeping away the refuge of lies, is bearing on the advocates of our cause to a glorious immortality."

A list of officers of the new society was then chosen: Arthur Tappan, of New York, president, and Elizur Wright, Jr., William Lloyd Garrison, and A. L. Cox, secretaries.

A beautiful and graceful woman, in the prime of life, with a face beneath her plain cap as finely intellectual as that of Madame Roland, offered some wise and valuable suggestions, in a clear, sweet voice, the charm of which I have never forgotten. It was Lucretia Mott, of Philadelphia. The president courteously thanked her, and encouraged her to take a part in the discussion.

(2) Mauris Robinson was recruited to theAnti-Slavery Society by Theodore Weld. In 1837 he travelled around the country trying to gain support for the campaign to end slavery. He wrote about his experiences in a letter to his wife, Emily Robinson, on 25th January 1837.

Since I wrote you a week since I have been upon the go-go-go. Have spoken ten times, been mobbed thrice, once most rousingly. On Saturday last I went to Hartford in this county. Stopped at the tavern and found it full of men who had come to mob me. I talked with them some, got my dinner and at two o'clock the bell rung. I went and found a respectable number of decent orderly intelligent people commingled with about 20 white savages. I kept talking amidst great confusion for about three quarters of an hour when I found myself unable, to be heard and told them if any one of them would speak I would give way but we could not all talk at once. One of them commenced an oration when the audience moved an adjournment to a private house. Then we formed a abolition society of about 40 members. The mob swearing we should never have a society. We then appointed another meeting for the evening. When we were disturbed as before. Whenever I commenced speaking they commenced singing and thus alternated for some time until finally we adjourned to the schoolhouse for a prayer meeting. I was told by the leader that I could not speak in Hartford. I replied that I would try it next Monday at one o'clock.

Monday morning the ruffians began to assemble, only, having been warned out the day previous, every one with his cudgel in his hand. About 300 of them were assembled by eleven o'clock. The veriest savages I ever saw. At the hour of meeting a fearless, noble band of women assembled but we were delayed in commencing and the women went to praying that the Lord would make the wrath of men to praise him. The meeting-house was on the opposite side of the Square of the town.

The mob was in the vicinity of the house where I was, when I made my appearance they commenced their ribaldry and

shouts, pushing each other upon me, etc. They then made a rush ahead of me for the house. I finally got in, took my stand on the seat of the pulpit and made an effort to be heard. Succeeded in pronouncing one sentence so as to be

heard and then confusion, curses, cries of drag him out, kill him, etc., accompanied with brandishing of clubs succeeded. Finally their Captain General got as near to me as he could and with his club raised proposed terms to me.

They were that in twenty minutes I should leave town never to return or lecture there again. I told them that I was an American citizen and could not so far forget my duty and my rights as such as to render obedience to their direction. By this time I had opened the door of the room thinking that a retreat to the open air would give me a better field for action. One of the mobocrats in obedience to the cry, drag him out, aided me in my design, as he seized me by the left arm and pulled away with all his might to drag me from the pulpit.

I finally got out of doors. About a half dozen of the men had hold of me in the public square for a half hour. A man has just called for me - it is most sundown and I must go five miles and lecture tonight. Suffice it to say that the Lord delivered me out of their hands and that evening I lectured four miles distant and formed a society. Farewell, dear wife. The Lord is my protection. Have no fears on my account.

(3) William Lloyd Garrison met Frederick Douglass after his escaped from slavery in 1838. After hearing hm speak at a meeting in 1841 he arranged for Douglass to become an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.

A beloved friend from New Bedford prevailed on Frederick Douglass to address the convention. He came forward to the platform with a hesitancy and embarrassment, necessarily the attendants of a sensitive mind in such a novel position. After apologizing for his ignorance, and reminding the audience that slavery was a poor school for the human intellect and heart, he proceeded to narrate some of the facts in his own history as a slave, and in the course of his speech gave utterance to many noble thoughts and thrilling reflections.

I shall never forget his first speech at the convention - the extraordinary emotion it excited in my own mind. I think I never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment; certainly, my perception of the enormous outrage which is inflicted by it, on the godlike nature of its victims, was rendered far more clear than ever.

It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind, that, if Frederick Douglass could be persuaded to consecrate his time and talents to the promotion of the anti-slavery enterprise, a powerful impetus would be given to it, and a stunning blow at the same time inflicted on northern prejudice against a colored complexion.

(4) In his book, Life and Times, Frederick Douglass explained how he was asked to become a lecturer for the Anti-Slavery Society in 1841.

I had not been quite three years from slavery and was honestly distrustful of my ability, and I wished to be excused. Besides, publicity might discover me, to my master, and many other objections presented themselves. But Mr. Collins was not to be refused, and I finally consented to go out for three months, supposing I should in that length of time come to the end of my story and my consequent usefulness.

Here opened for me a new life - a life for which I had had no preparation. Mr. Collins used to say when introducing me to an audience, I was a "graduate from the peculiar institution, with my diploma written on my back." The three years of my freedom had been spent in the hard school of adversity. My hands seemed to be furnished with something like a leather coating, and I had marked out for myself a life of rough labor, suited to the hardness of my hands, as a means of supporting my family and rearing my children. Young, ardent, and hopeful, I entered upon this new life in the full gush of unsuspecting enthusiasm. The cause was good, the men engaged in it were good, the means to attain its triumph, good.

In this enthusiastic spirit I dropped into the ranks of freedom's friends and went forth to the battle. For a time I was made to forget that my skin was dark and my hair crisped. I found, however, full soon that my enthusiasm had been entravagant, that hardships and dangers were not all over, and that the life now before me had its shadows also, as well as its sunbeams.

Many came, no doubt from curiosity to hear what a negro could say in his own cause. Fugitive slaves were rare then, and as a fugitive slave lecturer, I had the advantage of being the first one out. Up to that time, a colored man was deemed a fool who confessed himself a runaway slave, not only because of the danger to which he exposed himself of being retaken, but because it was a confession of a very low origin. Some of my colored friends in New Bedford thought very badly of my wisdom in thus exposing and degrading myself.

(5) Henry Highland Garnet, speech on slavery in Buffalo, New York (16 August 1843)

Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, the first of our injured race were brought to the shores of America. They came not with glad spirits to select their homes, in the New World. They came not with their own consent, to find an unmolested enjoyment of the blessings of this fruitful soil. The first dealings which they had with men calling themselves Christians, exhibited to them the worst features of corrupt and sordid hearts; and convinced them that no cruelty is too great, no villainy, and no robbery too abhorrent for even enlightened men to perform, when influenced by avarice, and lust. Neither did they come flying upon the wings of Liberty, to a land of freedom. But, they came with broken hearts, from their beloved native land, and were doomed to unrequited toil, and deep degradation. Nor did the evil of the bondage end at their emancipation by death. Succeeding generations inherited their chains, and millions have come from eternity into time, and have returned again to the world of spirits, cursed and ruined by American Slavery.

The propagators of the system, or their immediate ancestors very soon discovered its growing evil, and its tremendous wickedness and secret promises were made to destroy it. The gross inconsistency of a people holding slaves, who had themselves "ferried o'er the wave," for freedom's sake, was too apparent to be entirely overlooked. The voice of Freedom cried, "emancipate your Slaves." Humanity supplicated with tears, for the deliverance of the children of Africa. Wisdom urged her solemn plea. The bleeding captive plead his innocence, and pointed to Christianity who stood weeping at the cross. Jehovah frowned upon the nefarious institution, and thunderbolts, red with vengeance, struggled to leap forth to blast the guilty wretches who maintained it. But all was vain. Slavery had stretched its dark wings of death over the land, the Church stood silently by—the priests prophesied falsely, and the people loved to have it so. Its throne is established, and now it reigns triumphantly.

Nearly three millions of your fellow citizens, are prohibited by law, and public opinion (which in this country is stronger than law), from reading the Book of Life. Your intellect has been destroyed as much as possible, and every ray of light they have attempted to shut out from your minds. The oppressors themselves have become involved in the ruin. They have become weak, sensual, and rapacious. They have cursed you—they have cursed themselves—they have cursed the earth which they have trod. In the language of a Southern statesman, we can truly say "even the wolf, driven back long since by the approach of man now returns after a lapse of a hundred years, and howls amid the desolation of slavery.

(6) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

When I first went to the Northern States, which is about ten years ago, although I was free as to the law, I was made to feel severely the difference between persons of different colours. No black man was admitted to the same seats in churches with the whites, nor to the inside of public conveyances, nor into street coaches or cabs: we had to be content with the decks of steam-boats in all weathers, night and day, - not even our wives or children being allowed to go below, however it might rain, or snow, or freeze; in various other ways, we were treated as though we were of a race of men below the whites.

But the abolitionists boldly stood up for us, and through them things are much changed for the better. Now, we may sit in any part of many places of worship, and are even asked into the pews of respectable white families; many public conveyances now make no distinction between white and black. We begin to feel that we are really on the same footing as our fellow citizens. They see we can and do conduct ourselves with propriety, and they are now admitting us in many cases to the same standing with themselves.

During the struggles which have procured for us this justice from our fellow-citizens, we have been in the habit of looking in public places for some well-known abolitionists, and if none that we knew were there, we addressed any person dressed as a Quaker; these classes always took our part against ill usage, and we have to thank them for many a contest in our behalf. We were greatly delighted by the zealous efforts and powerful eloquence in our cause of George Thompson, who came from our English friends to aid our suffering brethren. He was hated and mobbed by bad men amongst the whites; they put his life in great danger, and threatened destruction to all who sheltered him. We prayed for him, and did all we could to defend him. The Lord preserved him, and thankful were we when he escaped from our country with his life.

At that time, and ever since, we have had a host of American friends, who have laboured for the cause night and day; they have nobly stood up for the rights and honour of the coloured man; but they did so at first in the midst of scorn and danger. Now, thank God, the case is very different Mr. William Lloyd Garrison, who was hunted for his life by a mob in the streets of Boston has lately been chairman of a large meeting in favour of abolition, held in Fanueil Hall, the celebrated public hall of Boston, called "the Cradle of Liberty."

(7) William Seward, speech, Rochester, New York (25th October, 1858)

The slave system is one of constant danger, distrust, suspicion, and watchfulness. It debases those whose toil alone can produce wealth and resources for defense to the lowest degree of which human nature is capable, to guard against mutiny and insurrection, and this wastes energies which otherwise might be employed in national development and aggrandizement.

In states where the slave system prevails, the masters directly or indirectly secure all political power and constitute a ruling aristocracy. In states where the free-labor system prevails, universal suffrage necessarily obtains and the state inevitably becomes sooner or later a republic or democracy.

The two systems are at once perceived to be incongruous - they are incompatible. They never have permanently existed together in one country, and they never can. Hitherto, the two systems have existed in different states, but side by side within the American Union. This has happened because the Union is a confederation of states. But in another aspect the United States constitute only one nation. Increase of population which is filling the states out to their very borders, together with a new and extended network of railroads and other avenues, and an internal commerce which daily becomes more intimate, is rapidly bringing the states into a higher and more perfect social unity of consolidation. Thus, these antagonistic systems are continually coming into closer contact, and collision results.

(8) John Rock, lecture given at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (23rd January, 1862)

The educated and wealthy class despise the Negro because they have robbed him of his hard earnings or, at least, have got rich off the fruits of his labor; and they believe if he gets his freedom, their fountain will be dried up, and they will be obliged to seek business in a new channel.

The lowest class hate him because he is poor, as they are, and is a competitor with them for the same labor. The poor, ignorant white man, who does not understand that the interest of the laboring classes is mutual, argues in this wise: "Here is so much labor to be performed, that darkey does it. If he was gone, I should take his place."

Through 240 years of indescribable tortures, slavery has wrung out of the blood, bones, and muscles of the Negro hundreds of millions of dollars and helped much to make the nation rich. At the same time, it has developed a volcano which has burst forth, and, in a less number of days than years, has dissipated this wealth and rendered the government bankrupt!