Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waging the American anti-slavery campaign

In 1835, the main organization in the American abolitionist movement was facing a conundrum. Too few people throughout the country knew about the American Anti-Slavery Society or its objectives. The solution: a postal campaign to create awareness and, of course, solicit donations to help pay for the campaign.

 Arthur Tappan, left, and William L. Garrison
The organization had been founded two years earlier by a Boston abolitionist newspaper editor, William Lloyd Garrison; a New York silk importer; and journal publisher, Arthur Tappan, among others. It’s hardly surprising, with Garrison and Tappan on the team, that they selected the production of anti-slavery literature as their medium of choice, though Garrison had become an increasingly radical public speaker on the subject.

An 1835 pamphlet produced by the society to further its aims of ending slavery in America is in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. It contains eleven articles, all variations on the anti-slavery theme. The pamphlet, titled The Anti-Slavery Record, is marked Volume 1, Number 9, and was part of a continuing series.

One article, The Desperation of a Mother, tells in graphic detail the harrowing tale of a slave woman in Missouri whose children were to be taken away by a slave trader the next day and resold far away. The woman, who had been chained to keep her from interfering, managed to free herself during the night. She killed her children, and then herself, in order to prevent what she obviously considered a fate worse than death.

Another article, The Doctrine of the Bible in Regard to Slavery, sets straight the record for pro-slavery citizens who consistently and incorrectly tried to make the case that the Holy Bible supports the practice.

Ultimately, the organization achieved its goals, though not until after the Civil War and adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870.

The society was beset by its own internal problems. The two main founders, Garrison and Tappan, had a philosophical difference of opinion. Tappan fought passionately for the emancipation of slaves but, curiously, took a dim view of giving women any say in the affairs of the nation. He opposed women's suffrage and felt women should be kept from positions of responsibility within society, including within the American Anti-Slavery Society.

That didn’t square with Garrison’s philosophy that women ought to be allowed full participation not only in the Society, but within American society in general. Some of Garrison’s friends included Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone, who, no doubt, influenced his thinking on the subject.

Tappan eventually resigned as president of the American Anti-Slavery Society and formed a separate anti-slavery organization in which no women were allowed participation. Garrison became president of the AAS and continued to publish his own abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, until 1865, when he declared his work finished, shut down his paper, resigned his presidency and went into retirement.

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