Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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ABOLITION AND ABOLITIONISTS (in U. S. HISTORY). I. GRADUAL ABOLITION (1776-1830). At the beginning of our national history abolition was a desire rather than a purpose, a matter of sentiment rather than of endeavor. In this sense every humane and thinking man, north or south, was an abolitionist. It would be waste of space to quote the words of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry, Mason, Laurens, and other southerners, in order to show the drift of feeling in the south on this subject. All concurred in deploring the existence of slavery in their section, and in hoping that in some way not yet imagined its gradual and peaceful abolition would finally be accomplished. In the north the feeling was the same, except that the Quakers, or Society of Friends, had, since 1760, taken higher ground, and had made slave-holding and slave-trading matter for church discipline. In 1777 Vermont, not yet admitted to the Union, formed a state constitution abolishing slavery. State constitutions were formed by Massachusetts, including Maine, in 1780, and by New Hampshire in 1783, which the courts at once construed as abolishing slavery. Gradual abolition was secured by statute in Pennsylvania in 1780, in Rhode Island and Connecticut in 1784, in New York in 1799, and in New Jersey in 1804. Abolition of slavery in the Northwest territory, north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi, including the present states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota, was secured by the ordinance of 1787. Here the process of abolition ceased for a long time, except that in 1817 New York totally abolished slavery after July 4, 1827, and that slavery in part of the Louisiana purchase, including the present states of Iowa, Oregon, Kansas, Nebraska, a part of Colorado, and part of Minnesota, was abolished by the Missouri compromise (see COMPROMISES, IV, V), whose validity was rejected by the supreme court (see DRED SCOTT CASE); but the provision for abolition was embedded in the state constitutions of the states named as they were severally admitted. In process of time gradual abolition took effect in the states which had adopted it by statute, but so slowly that there were, in 1840, 674 slaves in New Jersey, 331 in Illinois, 64 in Pennsylvania, and from 1 to 17 in Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, respectively. In 1850 slavery had disappeared in all these states except New Jersey, which still had 236 slaves in 1850 and 18 in 1860, the latter number being "apprentices for life," under the state act of April 18, 1846. In 1831-32 the insurrection of Nat Turner excited a strong desire for gradual abolition in Virginia, which was with great difficulty smothered after a three weeks' debate in the legislature.


—ABOLITION SOCIETIES, based on the idea of gradual abolition, were formed in Pennsylvania in 1774, in New York in 1785, in Rhode Island in 1786, in Maryland in 1789, in Connecticut in 1790, in Virginia in 1791, and in New Jersey in 1792. These societies held annual conventions, and their operations were viewed by the more humane slave-holders with some favor, since they aimed at nothing practical or troublesome, except petitions to congress, and served as a moral palliative to the continuance of the practice. The abolition of the African slave-trade by Great Britain in 1807, and by the United States in 1808, came as a great relief to the abolition societies, which had grown discouraged by the evident impossibility of effecting anything in the south, and were now ready to accept this success as the limit of possibility for the present. Their annual national meetings became more infrequent and soon ceased altogether, though some state branches remained alive.


—COLONIZATION SOCIETY. In 1801 Jefferson and Governor James Monroe, of Virginia, had considerable correspondence on the subject of colonizing free blacks out of the country. In the autumn of 1816 a society for this purpose was organized in Princeton, N. J. Dec. 23, 1816, by resolution, the Virginia legislature commended the matter to the attention of the general government, and a few days afterwards the society was re-organized at Washington as the "National Colonization Society," its president being Bushrod Washington, and its organ, "The African Repository." Its expressed object was to encourage emancipation by procuring a place outside of the United States, preferably in Africa, to which free negroes could be aided in emigrating. Its indirect object was to rid the south of the free black population, which had already become a nuisance. Its branches spread into almost every state, and for fourteen years its organization was warmly furthered by every philanthropist in the south as well as in the north. Henry Clay, Charles Carroll and James Madison, in the south, were as hearty colonizationists as Bishop Hopkins, Rufus King, President Harrison and Dr. Channing, in the north. And it is noteworthy that, although the society made no real attack on slavery, as an institution, nearly every person noted after 1831 as an abolitionist was before that year a colonizationist. Benjamin Lundy's travels through North America were for the purpose of finding a location for a free black colony in Texas or elsewhere in Mexico. James G. Birney was for some time the society's agent and superintendent for Alabama and Tennessee. Gerrit Smith, the Tappans, and many others, began their career as colonizationists and ended it as abolitionists.


—LIBERIA. At first free negroes were sent to the British colony of Sierra Leone. In 1820 the society tried and became dissatisfied with Sherbroke Island, and Dec. 15, 1821, a permanent location was purchased at Cape Mesurado. In 1847 the colony declared itself an independent republic under the name of Liberia, its capital being Monrovia.


—II. IMMEDIATE ABOLITION (1830-60). In 1829-30 William Lloyd Garrison, a Massachusetts printer, engaged with Lundy in publishing "The Genius of Universal Emancipation," at Baltimore, flung a fire-brand into the powder magazine so long covered by the decorous labors of colonization and gradual abolition societies. He insisted on immediate abolition, meaning thereby not instant abolition so much as the use of every means at all times toward abolition without regard to the wishes of slave-owners. The effects were almost immediately apparent. Abolition, with its new elements of effort and intention, was no longer a doctrine to be quietly and benignantly discussed by slave-owners, and from 1830 the name of abolitionist took a new and aggressive significance. Garrison's first efforts were directed against the colonization society. Jan. 1, 1831, he began publishing "The Liberator," in Boston, and through its pages converted so many colonizationists, that the "New England Anti-Slavery Society," founded on "immediate" abolition, was formed Jan. 1, 1832. In 1833 Garrison visited England, and secured from Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay, Daniel O'Connell, and other English abolitionists, a condemnation of the colonization society. In December, 1833, the "American Anti-Slavery Society" was formed in Philadelphia by an abolition convention, Beriah Green being president, and Lewis Tappan and John G. Whittier, secretaries. From this time the question became of national importance. Able and earnest men, such as Theodore D. Weld, Samuel J. May, and Wendell Phillips, traversed the northern states as the agents of the national society, founding state branches and lecturing everywhere on abolition. The consequent indignation in the south found a response in the north with many who saw that the south would never willingly accept "immediate" abolition, and that the continuance of the abolition agitation would involve sectional conflict, and perhaps a convulsion which would destroy the Union. Abetted or tacitly countenanced by this class, a more ignorant and violent class at once began to break up abolition meetings by mob violence. In Connecticut, in 1833, Miss Prudence Crandall, of Canterbury, Windham county, opened her school to negro girls. The legislature, by act of May 24, 1833, forbade such schools, and Miss Crandall was imprisoned under the act. As this was ineffectual, she was ostracized by her neighbors, and finally, by arson and violence, her school was broken up. In the autumn of 1834 George Thompson, who had been instrumental in securing British emancipation in the West Indies, came to Boston, and for a year lectured through out the north. He was denounced as a paid agent of the British government for the destruction of the Union, was mobbed, and finally escaped from Boston in disguise, in November, 1835. For some years abolition riots were epidemic throughout the north. Nov. 7, 1837, Elijah P. Lovejoy, a Presbyterian minister, who had established an abolition newspaper in Alton, Ill., was mobbed and shot to death. May 17, 1838, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Hall, an abolitionist building, dedicated three days before, was burned by a mob. Abolition riots then became only sporadic, but never ceased entirely until 1861.


—In the south the import of the single word "immediate" was instantly perceived. By unofficial bodies rewards were offered for the capture of prominent abolitionists, a suspension of commercial intercourse with the north was threatened, and northern legislatures were called upon to put down abolition meetings by statute. Southern grand juries indicted several abolitionists, and, when the accused naturally declined to appear for trial, their extradition as "fugitives from justice" was demanded by the state governor, but without success. The anti-slavery society had been quick to take advantage of the United States mails as an easy and secure means of introducing its publications into the south, where the society's private agents would have had short shrift. Remonstrances were at once sent to the postmaster general against this use of the mails, and he, while he regretted his official inability to interfere, gave southern postmasters a strong hint that they would do well to settle the difficulty by rejecting abolitionist publications from the mails. President Jackson, in his message of Dec. 2, 1835, requested congress to pass a law forbidding the circulation of abolitionist publications in the mails. A bill to this effect was introduced in the senate, carried just far enough to compel Van Buren, a candidate for the presidency, to take open ground in its favor, and then lost. In its stead, the care of abolition documents was left, with excellent success, to the states and the post-masters.


—Congress, in accepting the District of Columbia, had re-enacted the whole body of Virginia and Maryland law, and thus left slavery in full existence; but few persons seem to have denied the power of congress to abolish slavery in the District at will. From February, 1833, a vast number of petitions were introduced, praying congress to abolish slavery in the District, and, after 1836, to abolish the "gag rules" by which the house had resolved to lay all such petitions on the table without consideration. (See ADAMS, J. Q.; PETITION.)


—The Garrisonian abolitionists were, from the first, the radical wing. They believed in no union with slave-holders; they declared the constitution "a league with death and a covenant with hell," on account of its slavery compromises, and for this reason refused to vote, hold office or recognize the government; they attacked the churches freely and angrily, for sympathy with slavery; they made the public speaking of female members a prominent part of their work; and woman's rights, free love, community of property, and every novel social theory, found among them the first and most sympathetic audience. Many who would willingly have joined in opposition to slavery, were repelled by dread of the odium, theological and social, consequent upon a public identification with Garrisonian license of thought, speech and action; and a large and growing element in the American anti-slavery society felt that its influence was thus impaired. In 1838 the annual report of the society made the suggestion that abolitionist candidates for office should be nominated and supported. On this convenient rock the society split into two parts in the following year. The political abolitionists, including Birney, the Tappans, Gerrit Smith, Whittier, Judge Jay, Edward Beecher, Thomas Morris, and others, seceded and left the original society name and organization to the Garrisonians, who at once became, in the opinion of the seceders, "a woman's rights, non-government, anti-slavery society." In 1840 the seceders organized the "American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society," and under this name prosecuted their work with more success than the original society of irreconcilables.


—THE LIBERTY PARTY. Nov. 13, 1839, a convention of abolitionists met at Warsaw, N. Y., and incidentally nominated James G. Birney for president, and Francis J. Lemoyne, of Pennsylvania, for vice-president. Birney had been a slave-holder in Kentucky and Alabama, and was now corresponding secretary of the national society. These nominations were confirmed by a national convention at Albany, April 1, 1840, mainly composed of New York delegates, which adopted the name of the "liberty party." The nominees declined the nomination, but received 7,059 votes in the presidential election of 1840, ranging from 42 in Rhode Island to 2,798 in New York. Liberty party tickets were now put forth in various local elections, and the political abolitionists went into training for the election of 1844. Aug. 30, 1844, the liberty party's national convention met at Buffalo. Clay had made public, Aug. 16, a temporizing letter to the effect that he "would be glad to see" Texas annexed at some future day. (See ANNEXATIONS, III). His letter cut off the slight previous possibility that the Buffalo convention might be induced to refrain from nominations. Birney and Thomas Morris, of Ohio, were nominated, and an active canvass was begun, quite as much against Clay as against Polk. In the presidential election of 1844, Birney and Morris received 62,300 votes, all in northern states, ranging from 107 in Rhode Island to 15,812 in New York. Had the Buffalo convention refrained from nominations this vote would have gone to Clay; at the least, it could not have gone to Polk. Clay would thus have had a popular majority in the Union, and the electoral votes of Michigan and New York would have gone to him instead of to Polk, giving Clay 146 and Polk 129 electoral votes. The liberty party's first appearance in national politics had therefore resulted in the election of Polk, the annexation of Texas, and the addition of a vast amount of slave soil to the United States. But it seems also to have convinced the thinking abolitionists that a union of the northern voters in favor of abolition, pure and simple, was, as yet, impossible. Slavery restriction, the exclusion of slavery from the territories lately acquired from Mexico, offered a more promising field, and the abolitionists, therefore, in the next two presidential elections voted the ticket of the free-soil party. In 1856 and subsequent years, they followed the fortunes of the republican party, which was also based on slavery restriction, but they always retained a semi-detached organization, acting rather as auxiliaries than as an integral portion of the republican party.


—UNDERGROUND RAIL-ROAD. During the period 1850-60 the most active exertions of the abolitionists were centred in assisting fugitive slaves to reach places of safety in Canada. (See FUGITIVE SLAVE LAWS.) From the border of the slave states to Canada, chains of communication were formed by persons living about a day's journey apart. These were constantly engaged in secreting runaways, providing them with outfits and passing them on to the next post, or in bringing back intelligence of those who had already escaped. In addition to these duties, committees in the larger cities were busied in providing for the rescue, by law or by force, of captured slaves from the hands of the officers. The whole organization was commonly known as the "Underground Railroad."


—III. FINAL ABOLITION (1810-65). The secession of a number of southern states in 1860-61, and the establishment of a de facto government in the south, was welcome to the extreme abolitionists, who rejoiced to be rid of the slave-holders and of political union with them. But the first shock of actual warfare brought to the surface an intense determination throughout the north and west that secession should not be allowed to become an accomplished fact. The ensuing war (see REBELLION) was begun in the spirit of the congressional resolution of July, 1861, that the war "was not prosecuted with the purpose of interfering with the established institutions of the southern states." But the southern leaders had not taken into account the fact that their system of slavery offered a fair mark for confiscation by an enemy which they could in no way retaliate. This species of warfare was early begun by the federal government. The act of Aug. 6, 1861, forfeited all claim, by the master, to the services of slaves employed in arms or labor against the government. This was not strictly a confiscation, but only a bar to proof of ownership. No blow at slavery, as an institution, was intended, and when proclamations abolishing slavery were issued by Gen. J. C. Fremont, in Missouri, Aug. 30, 1861, and by Gen. David Hunter, in South Carolina, May 9, 1862, they were promptly disavowed by the president. But the next session of congress, 1861-62, saw a more decidedly anti-slavery feeling. An additional article of war, March 13, 1862, prohibited the army from returning fugitive slaves; various other acts were passed to hinder the rendition of fugitive slaves in the northern states; slavery in the territories (see WILMOT PROVISO) was abolished, June 19; and the act of July 17 freed the captured, deserted or fugitive slaves of all persons engaged in rebellion, and authorized the employment of negro soldiers. The fugitive slave laws were not finally abolished until June 28, 1864. In all these provisions no invasion of slavery as a state institution was made; all were meant as blows at the tender spot of the confederacy.


—The president's own wish was at first for compensated emancipation, and, in accordance with his special message of March 6, a joint resolution of April 10, 1862, declared that the United States ought to co-operate with any state which should adopt gradual "abolishment" of slavery, by paying the state for the slaves emancipated. The act of April 16, 1862, abolished slavery in the District of Columbia on this principle; but the border states were deaf to the repeated entreaties of the president up to the close of the session of congress in July. In September the president, yielding to the growing anti-slavery feeling in the north, issued his preliminary proclamation, followed, Jan. 1, 1863, by the emancipation proclamation. But this, by its terms, did not affect the slaves in loyal states, or within the federal lines, nor did it affect the principle of slavery even in the rebellious states. Had the war ended without further action against slavery, every slave in the rebellious states would, indeed, have been a free man, but there would have been no bar to the immediate importation of fresh supplies of slaves from the states where slavery had not been abolished.


—In his message of Dec. 1, 1862, the president again brought up his favorite project. He now recommended the adoption of three amendments to the constitution, providing (1) for the issue of bonds to compensate states which should abolish slavery before 1900; (2) for the validation of the emancipation proclamation and kindred measures; and (3) for colonizing free negroes out of the country. Bills to compensate Missouri and Maryland for abolishing slavery were introduced, by members from those states early in 1863, and received favorable votes in both houses; but the shortness of the session prevented their final passage. In West Virginia, by constitutional amendment adopted March 26, 1862, gradual emancipation after July 4, 1863, was secured. In Missouri the state convention, which had originally been called to consider an ordinance of secession, was re-convened, and passed, June 24, 1863, an ordinance of emancipation, taking effect gradually after July 4, 1870. Congress, by act of Feb. 24, 1864, emancipated negro soldiers, a compensation of $300 for each being paid to loyal owners, and by act of March 3, 1865, emancipation was extended to the wives and children of such soldiers. This measure closed the record of attempts at gradual, partial or compensated abolition of slavery.


—Oct. 12-13, 1864, Maryland adopted a new constitution whose 23d article finally abolished slavery in the state. Ordinances of immediate emancipation, without submission to popular vote, were passed Feb. 13, 1864, by a convention of delegates from those portions of Virginia within the federal lines, and, Jan. 11, 1865, by a new state convention in Missouri. A recapitulation of all these partial assaults on slavery will make it apparent that, after Jan. 11, 1865, slavery had a legal existence only in the states of Kentucky and Delaware, if the action of Maryland, secured by soldiers' votes, and of irregular conventions in Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas were valid. To resolve all doubts, and give the corpse of slavery a legal burial, a constitutional amendment in 1865 (see CONSTITUTION, IV.) was passed and ratified, by which slavery and involuntary servitude, except for crime, was abolished within the United States. The same year saw the cessation of the publication of "The Liberator," and the dissolution of the American anti-slavery society. The work of both had been done, and done mainly, after all, by the "political" abolitionists. By yielding the impossible point of present abolition in the States, and joining with the republicans in the demand for the restriction of slavery to state limits, they had aided in bringing on a conflict of a slave-holding section against the federal Union. In such a conflict it was inevitable that every blow at rebellion should rebound upon slavery. Had the conflict been postponed until the north and west could have been united in the ultra Garrisonian object of a crusade against slavery, it would not have come until the population and destructive power of both sections had grown so large that the peaceable formation of two or more nationalities on this continent would have been imperatively demanded by humanity. (See SLAVERY; EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION; REBELLION; UNITED STATES.)


—I. See Von Holst's United States, 277, etc.; Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slave Power; Greeley's American Conflict; The African Repository; Jay's Miscellaneous Writings on Slavery; Earle's Life of Benjamin Lundy; Goodell's Slavery and Anti-Slavery. II. See Garrison's Speeches; May's Recollections; Johnson's Recollections; Gidding's Speeches in Congress, Exiles of Florida, and History of the Rebellion; Beriah Green's Sketch of Birney; Charles Osborn's Journal; Lovejoy's Life of Lovejoy; Tappan's Life of Tappan; Child's Life of Isaac T. Hopper; Frothingham's Life of Gerrit Smith; Gerrit Smith's Speeches in Congress; Still's Underground Railroad; and authorities under articles referred to. III. See Raymond's Life of Lincoln; Arnold's Life of Lincoln; Poore's Federal and State Constitutions; McPherson's Political History of the Rebellion; later authorities under REBELLION and SLAVERY; and authorities under EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION. For acts of Aug. 6, 1861; July 17, 1862, and April 16, 1862, see 12 Stat. at Large, 319 (§ 4); 589 (§§ 9-11); 376. For acts of Feb. 24, 1864, and March 3, 1865, see 13 Stat. at Large (38th Cong.), 6 (§ 24), 571. For final abolition of slavery in territories, see WILMOT PROVISO; in the Union, see CONSTITUTION, IV. (Amendment XIII).


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