Chapter 3 Preface
American abolitionists’ long crusade to end slavery stands out as one of the nation’s most inspiring social movements. However, the abolitionist movement never spoke with a single, unified voice. In fact, some of the movement’s most significant impediments were its own internal divisions. In 1844 newspaper editor Jonathan B. Turner wrote in the Illinois Statesman that “there has already arisen so many various [abolitionist] sects . . . that the term ‘abolition’ like the term ‘orthodox’ really means nothing more than that a man may believe ‘some things as well as others,’ provided he sticks hard to the name.” Abolitionists had many different ideas about how to achieve abolition and how the slaves, once they were freed, should be treated.
One of the main divisions was between those who favored gradual emancipation and those who favored the immediate abolition of slavery. Gradual emancipation had been the norm in the Northern states during the earliest phases of the abolitionist movement, during the eighteenth century when several Northern states instituted plans for freeing slaves over a period of several years, in some cases compensating slaveholders for their loss. However, the 1793 invention of the cotton gin made slaves more vital than ever to the Southern economy, deflating abolitionists’ hopes that slavery might gradually fade away in the South. Opponents of slavery instead began calling for immediate abolition. They...
(The entire section is 830 words.)
Emancipation Should Be Gradual
In the preceding enquiry into the absolute rights of the citizens of united America, we must not be understood as if those rights were equally and universally the privilege of all the inhabitants of the United States, or even of all those, who may challenge this land of freedom as their native country. Among the blessings which the Almighty hath showered down on these states, there is a large portion of the bitterest draught that ever flowed from the cup of affliction. Whilst America hath been the land of promise to Europeans, and their descendants, it hath been the vale of death to millions of the wretched sons of Africa. The genial light of liberty, which hath here shone with unrivalled lustre on the former, hath yielded no comfort to the latter, but to them hath proved a pillar of darkness, whilst it hath conducted the former to the most enviable state of human existence. Whilst we were offering up vows at the shrine of Liberty, and sacrificing hecatombs upon her altars; whilst we swore irreconcilable hostility to her enemies, and hurled defiance in their faces; whilst we adjured the God of Hosts to witness our resolution to live free, or die, and imprecated curses on their heads who refused to unite with us in establishing the empire of freedom; we were imposing upon our fellow men, who differ in complexion from us, a slavery, ten thousand times more cruel than the utmost extremity of those grievances and oppressions, of which we complained.
(The entire section is 3530 words.)
Emancipation Should Be Immediate
Since the deception practised upon our first parents by the old serpent, there has not been a more fatal delusion in the minds of men than that of the gradual abolition of slavery. Gradual abolition! do its supporters really know what they talk about? Gradually abstaining from what? From sins the most flagrant, from conduct the most cruel, from acts the most oppressive! Do colonizationists mean, that slave-dealers shall purchase or sell a few victims less this year than they did the last? that slave-owners shall liberate one, two or three out of every hundred slaves during the same period? that slave-drivers shall apply the lash to the scarred and bleeding backs of their victims somewhat less frequently? Surely not—I respect their intelligence too much to believe that they mean any such thing. But if any of the slaves should be exempted from sale or purchase, why not all? if justice require the liberation of the few, why not of the many? if it be right for a driver to inflict a number of lashes, how many shall be given? Do colonizationists mean that the practice of separating the husband from the wife, the wife from the husband, or children from their parents, shall come to an end by an almost imperceptible process? or that the slaves shall be defrauded of their just remuneration, less and less every month or every year? or that they shall be under the absolute, irresponsible control of their masters? Oh no! I place a higher value upon their good sense,...
(The entire section is 2624 words.)
Emancipation Is Impractical
We shall now . . . inquire seriously and fairly, whether there be any means by which we may get rid of slavery. . . .
We will examine first, those schemes which propose abolition and deportation; and secondly, those which contemplate emancipation without deportation.
1st. Emancipation and Deportation.—In the late Virginia Legislature, where the subject of slavery underwent the most thorough discussion, all seemed to be perfectly agreed in the necessity of removal in case of emancipation. Several members from the lower counties, which are deeply interested in this question, seemed to be sanguine [positive] in their anticipations of the final success of some project of emancipation and deportation to Africa, the original home of the negro. “Let us translate them,” said one of the most respected and able members of the Legislature, (Gen. Broadnax,) “to those realms from which, in evil times, under inauspicious influences, their fathers were unfortunately abducted. . . .”
Deportation Is Impractical
Fortunately for reason and common sense, all these projects of deportation may be subjected to the most rigid and accurate calculations, which are amply sufficient to dispel all doubt, even in the minds of the most sanguine, as to their practicability.
We take it for granted, that the right of the owner to his slave is to be respected, and, consequently, that he is not required to emancipate him,...
(The entire section is 2391 words.)
Emancipation Is Practical
Q. But don’t you think it would be dangerous to turn the slaves at once loose upon the community?
A. The abolitionists never desired to have them turned loose. They wish to have them governed by salutary laws, so regulated as effectually to protect both master and slave. They merely wish to have the power of punishment transferred from individuals to magistrates; to have the sale of human beings cease; and to have the stimulus of wages applied, instead of the stimulus of the whip. The relation of master and laborer might still continue; but under circumstances less irksome and degrading to both parties. Even that much abused animal the jackass can be made to travel more expeditiously by suspending a bunch of turnips on a pole and keeping them before his nose, than he can by the continual application of the whip; and even when human beings are brutalized to the last degree, by the soul-destroying system of slavery, they have still sense enough left to be more willing to work two hours for twelve cents than to work one hour for nothing.
Q. I should think this system, in the long run, must be an unprofitable one.
A. It is admitted to be so. Southerners often declare that it takes six slaves to do what is easily performed by half the number of free laborers. . . .
Q. But the masters say the negroes would cut their throats, if they were emancipated.
A. It is safer to judge by uniform experience...
(The entire section is 2631 words.)
William Lloyd Garrison Made a Minor Contribution to the Abolitionist Movement
Garrison was twenty-two years of age [in 1827]. He had learned the printer’s trade on the Newburyport Herald, then had edited and published the Free Press. He published here the first writings of young John Greenleaf Whittier. In January 1828 he became editor of the Boston National Philanthropist, a temperance paper. Three months later he listened to [abolitionist Benjamin] Lundy’s discussion of slavery. Lundy was back in Boston again in August 1828, and Garrison heard him speak again, this time at the Federal Street Baptist Church. Shortly afterward, Garrison assumed the editorship of the Bennington (Vt.) Journal of the Times on condition he might discuss antislavery, temperance, peace, and moral reform as well as politics. This was the beginning of his career as a reformer and Christian anarchist. He was at this point, with reference to slavery, a Lundy colonizationist, urging the formation of antislavery societies, the petitioning of Congress for abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and transportation elsewhere of liberated slaves and free Negroes willing to go. He circulated and sent to Congress a petition for abolition in the District signed by 2,352 citizens of Vermont. This petition, written by himself, reveals one of his great weaknesses, about which we shall say much later: ignorance of American history, constitutional law, and previous antislavery tradition and literature. Speaking of slavery in the District of...
(The entire section is 1840 words.)
William Lloyd Garrison Made an Important Contribution to the Abolitionist Movement
[William Lloyd] Garrison’s mind worked on two levels, the moral and the practical. On the one, his approach to issues was determined by principle; on the other, by tactics and strategy. The level of his argument fluctuated, as it did during the Civil War when he scourged Lincoln on principles, yet pleaded the value of expediency. Fundamentally, his approach to things was simple and consistent. He judged everything by two standards of moral right—natural law as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and Christian ethic as expressed in the Bible. To him these were essentially one, emanating from the same divine source. Any idea or institution which violated either, in part or whole, therefore was wrong. The final judgment rested with individual conscience, the roots of which lay in God. A world of conscience so rooted was Garrison’s “kingdom to be established on earth,” in which the individual’s own soul became the arbiter of action and the judge of institutions—a kingdom in which men voluntarily ceased to sin, established justice, and worshiped God in a “magistracy of holiness and love.”
Garrison’s Religious Zeal
The central fact of Garrison’s life was his religious faith. The Bible was the only book he ever really read, and his abolitionism itself sprang directly from his belief that slavery violated God’s law. “It was not on account of your complexion or race, as a people, that I espoused your cause,” he...
(The entire section is 2385 words.)