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The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism

The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism: Addresses to the Slaves

Stanley Harrold
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism
    Book Description:

    The American conflict over slavery reached a turning point in the early 1840s when three leading abolitionists presented provocative speeches that, for the first time, addressed the slaves directly rather than aiming rebukes at white owners. By forthrightly embracing the slaves as allies and exhorting them to take action, these three addresses pointed toward a more inclusive and aggressive antislavery effort.

    These addresses were particularly frightening to white slaveholders who were significantly in the minority of the population in some parts of low country Georgia and South Carolina.The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionismincludes the full text of each address, as well as related documents, and presents a detailed study of their historical context, the reactions they provoked, and their lasting impact on U.S. history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5699-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    On three occasions during the early 1840s an American antislavery leader, speaking before a northern audience, claimed to address “the Slaves of the United States.” Each did so, however, in a highly tentative manner. On January 19, 1842, Gerrit Smith, the wealthy white philanthropist who led political abolitionists in upstate New York, urged slaves to disregard state and federal law by escaping. But simultaneously he called on them to obey their masters and not use violent means. On May 31, 1843, William Lloyd Garrison, the most famous white abolitionist, proclaimed that in the name of the Declaration of Independence slaves...

  5. Chapter One Ambiguous Manifestos
    (pp. 17-36)

    There is no mistaking the urgency with which Gerrit Smith, William Lloyd Garrison, and Henry Highland Garnet frame their Addresses to the Slaves. They perceive the antislavery struggle to be at a turning point that simultaneously promises opportunity and danger. Their message simply put is that the movement can no longer regard slaves to be passive recipients of northern abolitionist benevolence. Instead, to destroy slavery, abolitionists must embrace slaves as partners in the cause of emancipation. They must contemplate a more aggressive and perhaps violent abolitionism. For several reasons all three men worried about these new departures. They did not...

  6. Chapter Two Circumstances
    (pp. 37-52)

    Beyond a sense of crisis among abolitionists, which led Smith, Garrison, and Garnet to advocate communicating with enslaved men in order to demand action, several circumstances shaped the Addresses to the Slaves. They were products of an antislavery movement that had for many years contended that the Bible and America’s revolutionary heritage justified slave revolt. They were written and endorsed by immediate abolitionists who, despite the breakup of the AASS, continued to have a great deal in common and to communicate with one another. Ideas spread from individual to individual, meeting to meeting, and faction to faction. In particular, the...

  7. Chapter Three Proceedings
    (pp. 53-70)

    All three Addresses to the Slaves depart from abolitionist rhetoric of the 1830s by advocating communication with slaves in order to encourage unrest. For years historians have assumed that black abolitionists were more enthusiastic than white abolitionists about such departures. Yet this is not borne out in the immediate reactions to the Addresses, as Smith’s and Garrison’s respective conventions endorsed theirs and Garnet’s refused to endorse his. The reason for this important difference in the fates of the Addresses lies in the proceedings of the three meetings, which reveal a relationship between abolitionist factionalism and widely differing views concerning aggressive...

  8. Chapter Four Goals and Reactions
    (pp. 71-96)

    By the early 1840s some abolitionists believed that their movement had to become more aggressive if it were to succeed. Looking back over the previous decade, they perceived that proslavery forces had put them on the defensive. The reaction to Nat Turner’s revolt had led most of them publicly to forswear communicating with slaves and to mute their admiration for slave rebels. Northern antiabolitionist mobs had forced them to defend themselves. In the South the threat of proslavery violence had driven antislavery whites northward. In 1835 mobs forced James G. Birney from Kentucky, whipped northern abolitionist Amos Dresser in Nashville,...

  9. Chapter Five Abolitionists and Slaves
    (pp. 97-116)

    The Addresses to the Slaves and the reactions, or lack thereof, to them indicate a great deal about American abolitionism during the 1840s. Together they set advocates of aggressive antislavery apart from those who opposed direct action in the South. They separate those who embraced slaves as allies from those who appealed mainly to white audiences. Among the former were radical political abolitionists and church-oriented abolitionists. Among the latter were Garrisonians and the great majority of Liberty abolitionists. Garrisonians tended to ignore Garrison’s Address, to criticize Smith’s and Garnet’s, and to advocate disunion as the only means of ending northern...

  10. Chapter Six Convergence
    (pp. 117-140)

    As the sectional struggle intensified during the late 1840s and thereafter, what became of the Addresses to the Slaves? Nothing became of William Lloyd Garrison’s. Because it was incompatible in 1843 with the views of most of the members of his faction, it had negligible long-term impact. In contrast, Gerrit Smith’s and Henry Highland Garnet’s Addresses helped shape the direction of radical political, most black, and some Garrisonian abolitionist thought and action. They became key documents in an evolving northern abolitionist relationship with slaves and with violent means.

    The visions of antislavery action in Smith’s and Garnet’s Addresses differ. Smith’s...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 141-150)

    Following the national election of 1856, there were rumors that slaves in the upper South might revolt. In response, Henry C. Wright, a prominent white Garrisonian,suggestedthat abolitionists call on them to do so. “We owe it as our duty to ourselves and to humanity, to excite every slave torebellionagainst his master,” Wright declared. A year later Charles L. Remond, one of the black Garrisonians who had opposed Garnet’s Address to the Slaves, responded to the Dred Scott decision byproposingto prepare another, more explicitly incendiary, address to the slaves. “If we recommend to the slaves...

  12. The Addresses and Related Documents

    • “Address of the Anti-Slavery Convention of the State of New-York to the Slaves in the U. States of America”
      (pp. 153-162)
      Gerrit Smith

      The doctrine obtains almost universally, that the friends of the slave have no right to communicate with him—no right to counsel and comfort him. We have, ourselves, partially at least, acquiesced in this time-hallowed delusion: and now, that God has opened our eyes to our great and guilty error, we feel impelled to make public confession of it; to vindicate publicly our duty to be your advisers, comforters and helpers; and to enter upon the discharge of that duty without delay.

      Why do abolitionists concede, that their labors for the slave must be expended directly upon his master: and...

    • "Rights of a Fugitive Slave"
      (pp. 163-168)
      Nathaniel E. Johnson

      The State Anti-Slavery Convention have published an address to the slaves of the South, in which the following passage occurs:

      This is also the place for saying a few words to you on the subject of theft. We are aware that an almost irresistible tendency of slavery is to make thieves of its victims. But we entreat you not tosteal.“Not purloining” is an apostolic injunction on slaves as well as other servants. Let all your toil go unrequited, rather than seek an equivalent, at the expense of trampling on conscience, and polluting the soul by violating a divine...

    • “Address to the Slaves of the United States”
      (pp. 169-178)
      William Lloyd Garrison

      Assembled in Convention, from all parts of New-England, in Faneuil Hall, the old CRADLE OF LIBERTY, in the city of Boston, we, the friends of universal emancipation—the enemies of slavery, whether at home or abroad—your advocates and defenders—would improve this opportunity to address to you words of sympathy, of consolation, of encouragement and hope.

      We wish you to know who you are—by whom and for what purpose you were created—who are your oppressors, and what they profess to receive as self-evident truths, in regard to the rights of man—who are your friends, and in...

    • “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America”
      (pp. 179-188)

      The following Address was first read at the National Convention held at Buffalo, N.Y., in 1843. Since that time it has been slightly modified, retaining, however, all of its original doctrine. The document elicited more discussion than any other paper that was ever brought before that, or any other deliberative body of colored persons, and their friends. Gentlemen who opposed the Address, based their objections on these grounds. 1. That the document was war-like, and encouraged insurrection; and 2. That if the Convention should adopt it, that those delegates who lived near the borders of the slave states, would not...

    • “A Letter to the American Slaves from those who have fled from American Slavery”
      (pp. 189-196)
      Gerrit Smith

      AFFLICTED AND BELOVED BROTHERS:—The meeting which sends you this letter, is a meeting of runaway slaves. We thought it well, that they, who had once suffered as you still suffer, that they, who had once drank of that bitterest of all bitter cups, should come together for the purpose of making a communication to you.

      The Chief object of this meeting is, to tell you what circumstances we find ourselves in—that, so, you may be able to judge for yourselves, whether the prize we have obtained is worth the peril of the attempt to obtain it.

      The heartless...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 197-222)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-238)
  15. Index
    (pp. 239-248)