Jacksonian Miscellanies, #60

June 9, 1998

JMISC #60: Founding the New England Anti-Slavery Society

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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The following is from William Lloyd Garrison 1805-1879, The Story of His Life, Told by His Children, vol I (New York: Century 1885), pp277-290. I'm trying something new here, which is that when you see something like {p278}, it indicates the start of page 278 in the scanned text. Footnotes are, as in the past but with an addition, like so*

I.e. deeply indented and surrounded by double parentheses, but in addition, the footnote number used on the page is given.

All of this is so that you can if you wish give an "as quited in" type citation with exact information about the original source.

I took some time off and skipped several issues in case that wasn't obvious, because of work pressures, my own lack of efficiency and a death in the family (a very dear 90 year old grandfather - not unexpected, but requiring time with family).



THE first step towards the formation of an antislavery society in accordance with the doctrines advocated by the Liberator ­ was taken in Boston on Sunday, November 13, 1831, when fifteen persons assembled in Mr. Sewall's office on State Street, on the understanding "that if the apostolic number of twelve should be found ready to unite upon the principles that should be thought vital, and in a plan of operations deemed wise and expedient," an association should then and there be organized. Among them were Mr. May and Mr. Oliver Johnson, who have both given an account of the proceedings. Mr. Garrison took the initiative, by describing "what the Abolitionists of Great Britain had done, since, under the inspiration of Elizabeth Heyrick, they had put their movement on the ground of immediate, in distinction from gradual, emancipation. He wanted societies formed in America upon the same principle, and could not be satisfied with any scheme of gradualism." For two hours the question was discussed, not whether immediate emancipation was right and safe, but whether on the one hand popular prejudice would not be unduly excited, and on the other the friends of gradual emancipation be repelled from the new society, by its positive committal to immediatism. "Mr. Garrison was firm in the conviction that the vitality of the movement depended upon a frank avowal of fundamental principles, however unpopular they might be; {p278}and the vote upon the question showed that nine were in favor of organizing upon his plan, while six were opposed." Mr. May was consequently obliged to return home without witnessing the completion of the organization.

Nevertheless the attempt was not abandoned. On Friday, December 16, another meeting was held at the same place, with ten present*,

and, "after considerable discussion, David Lee Child, Samuel E. Sewall, William Lloyd Garrison, Ellis Gray Loring, and Oliver Johnson were appointed a committee to draft a constitution for an Anti­Slavery Society, to be reported January 1, 1832." Then for the first time Mr. Garrison gave public intimation of the movement, and, in the Liberator of the following day, called for the names of those who were ready to join it. On Sunday evening, the first of January, 1832, the draft of the constitution was reported to a meeting containing some new faces; among them, Alonzo Lewis, William Joseph Snelling, Dr. Gamaliel Bradford*,

Dr. Abner Phelps, and the Rev. Abijah Blanchard, editor of an anti­masonic religious paper, who opened the meeting with prayer. The body of the constitution was adopted, "with a few unimportant alterations and additions," as the records read, but also with one highly significant of the conservative influences against which Mr. Garrison had had to contend in committee: "Voted, that 'Philo­African' be struck out [of the first article, denoting the Society's title], and 'New­England Anti-Slavery' be substituted."The choice marked the dominance of the same positive and aggressive spirit that put the Liberator and not the Safety­Lamp at the head of the movement for immediate emancipation. The preamble was referred for revision to another committee*

to be {p279}reported to an adjourned meeting appointed for the evening of Friday, January 6, in the school­room under the African Baptist Church, in Belknap Street.

"Of that adjourned meeting," says Mr. Johnson, "my recollections are very vivid. A fierce northeast storm combining snow, rain and hail in about equal proportions, was raging, and the streets ­ were full of slush. They were dark, too, for the city of Boston in those days was very economical of light on "Nigger Hill."*

It almost seemed as if Nature was frowning upon the new effort to abolish slavery. But the spirits of the little company rose superior to all external circumstances."

Mr. Child presided, and the preamble, as drawn by Mr. Snelling, was read as follows:

This declaration manifestly disregarded the point of expediency raised at the first meeting, which was again the cause of much earnest discussion without unanimity being reached; Messrs. Child, Loring and Sewall withholding their signatures from the perfected instrument.*

{p280}The twelve persons, all white, who accepted the preamble and affixed their names, were William Lloyd Garrison, Oliver Johnson, Robert B. Hall, Arnold Buffum, William J. Snelling, John E. Fuller, Moses Thacher, Joshua Coffin, Stillman B. Newcomb, Benjamin C. Bacon, Isaac Knapp, and Henry K. Stockton*­-

not more than one or two of whom, says Mr. Johnson, could have put a hundred dollars into the treasury without bankrupting themselves," whereas two at least of those not in perfect accord with them had hitherto been the pecuniary mainstay of the Liberator. What, however, must have seemed most discouraging to Mr. Garrison was his failure, after a year of argument in public and in private, to convince his truest and most necessary friends of the high expediency of immediatism. Nevertheless, "as the little company . . . were stepping out into the storm. and darkness from the African school­house where their work was accomplished, Mr. Garrison impressively remarked: 'We have met to­night in this obscure School­house; our numbers are few and our influence limited; but, mark my prediction, Faneuil Hall shall ere long echo with the principles we have set forth. We shall shake the Nation by their mighty power.'

{p281}The first publication of the Constitution of the New England Anti­ Slavery Society was made in the Liberator of February 18, 1832, together with a list of officers (including Arnold Buffum*,

President, Joshua Coffin, Secretary, and W. L. Garrison, Corresponding Secretary), and an expository Address from the pen of the Rev. Moses Thacher, one of the Counsellors. The second article of the Constitution was as follows:

Regular meetings were provided for on the last Monday of every month*,

and an annual meeting on the second Wednesday in January; and the Board of Managers were authorized to appoint agents to be employed in any part of the United States, " in obtaining or communicating intelligence, in the publication or distribution of tracts, books or papers, or in the execution of any measure which may be adopted to promote the objects of the Society." Auxiliary societies contributing to its funds, and sending delegates to its meetings, would be recognized in any part of New England. The Address was occupied with a defence {p282}of the doctrine of immediate emancipation, and, as a corollary, with a denunciation of the aims and methods of the Colonization Society; and concluded with a warning to those who would temporize with slavery, of the danger of slave insurrections.

Of the seventy­two names appended, mostly in autograph, to the Constitution in the Society's records, perhaps a quarter were those of colored men, some of whom were barely able to write. The local membership was at the outset considerably smaller than the total just given. Such was the body pitted against the American Colonization Society, against (as events proved) the American Church, against the American Union. Its first action, at a meeting held in the Liberator office, was to instruct the Board of Managers to memorialize Congress for the abolition of slavery "in the District of Columbia and in the Territories of the United States under their jurisdiction," and to begin the work of popular agitation by preparing the Address above cited and procuring the delivery of another by its president, Arnold Buffum. In due course it had standing committees to assist in placing colored lads at trades, and to endeavor to get colored children into the public schools; to improve the existing schools for colored children and to build up others; and to inquire into all cases of inhabitants of New England who might be kidnapped, and take the necessary steps to procure their liberation at the Society's expense*.

It considered a memorial for the repeal of §7 of the Act of 1786, prohibiting the intermarriage of blacks and whites; sought to find support for a free­produce grocery in Boston; and resolved to undertake to raise $50,000 toward establishing a manual­labor school for colored youth, through solicitations "both in England and America." Mr. Garrison's motions, as preserved in the {p283}records, looked to the preparation for the annual meeting in 1833 of reports on the foreign and domestic slave trade, on colonization, on the condition of the free people of color at large, on slavery in the United States and in the District; and to the despatch of an agent through the New England towns to deliver addresses and make collections on behalf of the Society. By his motion, too, Wilberforce and Clarkson were elected honorary members of the Society. On several of the important committees already enumerated, and on others pertaining to practical management and efficient propagandism, his name is to be found; and when the Society, which had begun by declaring the Liberator its official organ, towards the close of the year concluded that a monthly publication would better serve that purpose, he was one of three nominated by the Board to superintend the publication of it. In these and in other ways to be considered presently, he helped justify the Society's declaration in the first number of the Abolitionist, that, "probably, through its instrumentality, more public addresses on the subject of slavery, and appeals in behalf of the contemned free people of color, have been made in New England, during the past year [1832], than were elicited for forty years prior to its organization."

At the monthly meeting in May, Mr. Garrison was appointed a delegate to represent the Society at the second annual Convention of the People of Color, to be held in Philadelphia during the next fortnight; and having accepted an invitation to be the guest of Robert Purvis*

during his stay in that city, he set out on the first of June, leaving his paper in the friendly charge of Messrs. Lewis and Coffin. His part in the Convention consisted chiefly in opposition to colonization ; Mr. Gurley, the Secretary of the Colonization Society, having made a speech on the second day, to which Mr. Garrison made an immediate and effective rejoinder. Fragments of an address which the latter delivered at the close of the Convention {p284}were published by request in the Liberator. The strain was singularly solemn, fervent, and hopeful.

His social experience was memorable:

And to Mr. Purvis himself he writes, immediately upon his return home:

In the letter to his friend Dole he continues:

The address was in fact delivered in Boylston Hall, and afterwards on the same day at Lynn. It was remarked that, contrary to the usage of the time, the Rev. Joshua N. Danforth, an agent of the Colonization Society, who officiated on the previous Sunday at the Essex Street Church, refused to read the printed notice of the address. Twelve days later, in the one church sure to open its doors to him, the Baptist Church in Belknap Street, Mr. Garrison delivered another address, on the "Progress of the Abolition Cause," before the African Abolition Freehold Society, in commemoration of the Act of Parliament, in 1807, making the slave trade piracy. In this discourse, afterwards printed by request, occurs a striking apostrophe to Clarkson and Wilberforce, and the following personal passages:

Towards the latter part of August the Board of Managers of the New­England Anti­Slavery Society appointed Mr. Garrison an agent "to deliver addresses, etc., for a period not exceeding three months," with compensation at the rate of one hundred dollars for that period, and his expenses. In accordance with this commission he began a tour which embraced the central and eastern parts of Massachusetts, the northern part of Rhode Island, and Maine from Portland to Bangor-­the last a region wholly new to him. In a series of letters to the Liberator he described his experiences from week to week. Explaining at the outset his motives in going about, he placed first justice to himself :

An instance in point occurred at the house of the venerable Moses Brown, in Providence*,

on Mr. Garrison's return from the Philadelphia Convention:

Worcester was the first place visited by Mr. Garrison, his choice being influenced by the fact that an Anti-Masonic Convention was to be held there, on September 5, to which he had been appointed delegate for Suffolk County.*

Though heartily in sympathy with its objects,*

he appears to have taken no active part in its proceedings; and having spoken on slavery in the Town Hall, after a church had been refused him, be drove through the beautiful scenery of the Blackstone Valley to Providence. The sight of the numerous factory villages on the way confirmed his traditional views on the tariff : "Although I have long since withdrawn from the field of politics, I feel a strong interest in the perpetuity of that system which fosters and protects the industry of the American people." So, later, at Hallowell, Maine, he found "an intelligent, clear­headed, and industrious population, whom it is not easy to mislead by any political impostures, and who are fully aware that the protection of American industry is the life­blood of the nation." In Providence he renewed his visit to Moses Brown, enjoyed the companionship of Henry Benson, and made several addresses to the colored people, whom he helped form a temperance society.

{p289}In Portland, which he reached by boat from Boston, he was the guest of Nathan Winslow, "one of the most thoroughgoing friends of the abolition cause in our land,"*

and was also the object of marked attentions from the colored citizens. His public addresses were well attended and respectfully listened to. Among his converts was General Samuel Fessenden, a man of fine presence, a lawyer of the highest standing, and one of the pillars of the Colonization Society in Maine. He had been induced to listen to Mr. Garrison's discourse on the subject from the Rev. Dr. Nichols's*

pulpit, and was so much affected as to be moved to tears by it. With eyes still suffused, he awaited the speaker on his exit from the church, and accompanied him to Mr. Winslow's where conversation lasted till past midnight.*

In Hallowell, writes Mr. Garrison, "the first individual upon whom, as in duty bound, I called, was Mr. Ebenezer Dole, a philanthropist whose name is familiar to the readers of the Liberator­-the first life­member of the New­England Anti­Slavery Society­-the friend of the poor and needy, and supporter of the various benevolent operations of the times ­- whose interest in the abolition cause is unsurpassed -­ and to whom I labor under very onerous obligations. Our meeting was a cordial one." On his return from Bangor, he stopped at Waterville, where he was entertained by the President of the College, {p290}the Rev. Jeremiah Chaplin,*

and spoke to the students on colonization. At Augusta he attended a meeting called by the Rev. Cyril Pearl, in aid of the Colonization Society, and so embarrassed the agent by his questions and impressed the audience by his appeal in opposition, that the vote was emphatically in the negative.*

In the Liberator announcing the editor's departure for Philadelphia appeared the first advertisement of an octavo pamphlet of 240 pages, of which the full title read: 'Thoughts on African Colonization: or an impartial exhibition of the doctrines, principles and purposes of the American Colonization Society. Together with the resolutions, addresses and remonstrances of the free people of color. By Wm. Lloyd Garrison.' For a motto it bore these two texts : "Out of thine own mouth will I Condemn thee." "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good." The preface opened with these words:

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