In 1827 the Baptist minister Rev. Nathaniel Paul of Albany, New York, exhorted African Americans to “enter the field with a fixed determination to live and die in the holy cause” of abolition. David Walker, the author of Appeal . . . to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829), also called the fight against slavery and for black rights a “holy cause.”1 While historians have written extensively about the origins of immediate abolition in the religious revivals and reform movements of this time, they have until recently ignored its black roots. The story of black abolitionist radicalism has still not been fully told. Not just black protest but instances of slave rebellion ignored in histories of abolition shaped immediate abolition.
Initially, immediatism represented a mindset rather than a fully articulated program for emancipation. Outstanding abolitionists from the revolutionary era could be called immediatists for their strong condemnation of slavery as an unmitigated evil and belief in racial equality. Practical implementation of abolition could vary from the legislative plans of the American Convention to a more fiery call to arms. By the 1820s a perfect storm of social and moral reform movements, the British example, and southern intransigence had laid the foundation for the rise of immediate abolition.2 A growing band of abolitionists, predominantly black, formed an insistent voice of protest in a nation committed to racial slavery.
Interracial immediatism brought together the moral and religious sensibility of white reform efforts and the antislavery tactics of early abolitionists in Britain and the United States with the black tradition of protest. Just as the First Great Awakening and the rise of evangelical Christianity contributed to the growth of antislavery in the eighteenth century, the Second Great Awakening fostered the moral argument against slavery as an eradicable sin and facilitated its spread.3 Abolition’s distinct roots in the black protest tradition, however, made it a uniquely radical, interracial social movement that challenged the parameters of religious benevolence.
BLACK ROOTS OF IMMEDIATISM
African Americans had long fashioned a radical critique of the slaveholding Republic. There is an existing literature on black abolitionists who preceded Garrison in opposing colonization and calling for racial equality, but slave resistance has yet to be incorporated in the rise of immediate abolition.4 The only example of immediatism before the 1830s was the Haitian Revolution. The black roots of immediatism can be traced to the slave rebellions of this era as well as to free black militancy. Free and enslaved resistance formed two sides of the same coin.5
Slave rebels inspired abolitionists. Despite recent claims that authorities and witnesses under duress concocted a slave conspiracy, it is highly likely that in 1822 a literate free black carpenter, Denmark Vesey, tried to orchestrate a slave uprising in Charleston, South Carolina. Vesey, who had bought his freedom on winning a lottery, planned a black exodus to Haiti. Two domestic servants revealed the conspiracy. Vesey and his principal lieutenants, Rolla Bennett, Peter Poyas, the African conjurer Gullah Jack Pritchard, and Monday Gell, were executed. Thirty-five slaves were hanged, while others were transported out of the state, whipped, or acquitted. That Vesey or any of the enslaved artisans and servants arrested should imagine President Boyer of Haiti as their liberator and that they were aware of the antislavery speeches of Sen. Rufus King during the Missouri Crisis and of South Carolina’s law of 1820 that made manumission harder by requiring the sanction of the legislature indicated their political sophistication. Vesey was a class leader in the AME Church, which had been visited by members of Allen’s Philadelphia church in 1817. State authorities harassed church members and used the conspiracy as an excuse to destroy it and banish Rev. Morris Brown and Rev. Henry Drayton. Brown succeeded Allen as head of the AME.6
Vesey and his followers may have failed in the short run, but they helped sow the seeds of slavery’s destruction. The conspiracy generated a host of proslavery pamphlets in South Carolina. The state passed new restrictive laws on slavery, including the notorious Negro Seamen’s Act, which imprisoned all visiting black sailors in violation of federal law and treaties, and Carolinian planter politicians began their antebellum career as leading spokesmen of disunion and slavery. Abolitionists drew the opposite lesson. Commenting on the conspiracy, Theodore Dwight, who had praised the Haitian Revolution, wrote that African slaves “kidnapped by white men and dragged into endless slavery, cannot be expected to be contented with their situation.” Walker, the son of a free black woman and an enslaved father, born around 1796 in North Carolina and also a member of the AME, visited Charleston during the conspiracy. In the 1850s the fugitive slave abolitionist Henry Bibb published an account of Vesey’s conspiracy, while Henry Highland Garnet and Douglass evoked Vesey’s example. In a fitting coda, Robert Vesey, his son, helped rebuild the Charleston church in 1865, after emancipation. Four years later Garnet described the murder of one of Vesey’s hapless betrayers in the streets of New York.7
Slave rebellion gave birth to radical abolitionism. Even before the Vesey conspiracy, the Camden slave plot in South Carolina and Bussa’s rebellion in Barbados in 1816 gave notice of slaves’ restiveness. Following on the heels of Vesey, the Demerara rebellion of 1823 in present-day Guyana, involving over ten thousand slaves, played an important role in British abolitionists’ turn to immediatism. The enslaved themselves were inspired by rumors of freedom, Wilberforce’s reputation as a powerful friend, abolitionists’ attempts to ameliorate the conditions of slavery, and evangelical Christianity in the person of the missionary John Smith. Like the men who assumed leadership in Vesey’s conspiracy, the leaders of the Demerara revolt, Quamina, the African deacon, and his son Jack Gladstone, were skilled slaves with positions of authority in their plantations and in Smith’s Bethel church. They had called for withholding of labor. As was the case in most slave rebellions, much of the violence was visited on slaves rather than perpetrated by them.
Not noticed by historians, in 1824 Elizabeth Heyrick coupled her call for immediatism with a defense of the Demerara slave rebels. According to Heyrick, Haiti was living proof of its success, and she blamed the massacres of the revolution on the excesses of planters. In an addendum to her pamphlet on immediate abolition, she reported that the slave insurgents in Demerara had been hanged, some receiving the “protracted torture” of a thousand lashes and being forced to work in chains for the rest of their lives. Are slave rebellions “not in the cause of self-defense from the most degrading and intolerable degradation?” she asked rhetorically. The British extolled Greek resistance to tyranny but handed the slave rebels “a gibbet.”8 Heyrick coupled her call for immediate abolition with a passionate defense of slave resistance.
Besides the large slave rebellions that marked the rise of immediatism, free blacks adopted a militant stance. Robert Wedderburn from Jamaica became a well-known advocate not just of black freedom but also of English radicalism. The son of a Scottish slaveholder and a slave mother who was sold while she was pregnant on the condition that her unborn child would be free, Wedderburn served in the Royal Navy and migrated to England in 1778. His first publication, in 1795, recounted his conversion to Wesleyan Methodism, but he went on to become a freethinker. A follower of the English radical Thomas Spence, who advocated the common ownership of land, Wedderburn published his short-lived antislavery periodical, The Axe Laid to the Root, or A Fatal Blow to Oppressors (1817), in the form of addresses to slaves and planters. In his first number he demanded “in the name of God, in the name of natural justice, and in the name of humanity, that all slaves be set free.” He asked the slaves “not to follow the example” of Haiti but praised the Haitian rebels and the Jamaican Maroons. Anticipating the Demerara rebellion, he called on slaves to withhold their labor from their masters for an hour by organizing what can only be called a sleep-in. As a Spencean, he counseled them to never forfeit their rights to the land they toiled because then their “oppressors would have the power to starve you to death.” Wedderburn connected the sufferings of the landless English poor with the oppression of slaves and signed himself as a “West-Indian, a lover of liberty.” In his second address, he recommended a plan of government that was as much a blueprint for a postemancipation utopian black polity as a critique of British and slave society. Ironically, officials who spied on him recorded many of his incendiary speeches for history.
Wedderburn’s other significant work, his autobiography titled The Horrors of Slavery, was published the same year as Heyrick’s immediatist pamphlet in 1824 but has been ignored by historians of abolition. It was dedicated to the pious Wilberforce, who visited him in prison when he was jailed for blasphemy. (His satirical Cast-Iron Parsons on the invention of robotic parsons in much the way machines were replacing starving “labourers and artizans” is suspected of having been ghostwritten by a fellow Spencean.) Employing a familiar trope in slave narratives, Wedderburn emphasized his personal testimony against slavery, against “the injustice and inhumanity of my father” and the cruelty visited on the rebellious and resourceful enslaved women who raised him, his mother and his grandmother. Like the West Indians William Davidson, a fellow Spencean, and William Cuffay, who was active in Chartism, Wedderburn saw no conflict between abolition and social radicalism. He was buried in 1835 in a pauper’s unmarked grave with the scores of poverty-stricken blacks and whites to whom he had preached.9
The 1820s witnessed a turn toward radicalism among black abolitionists in the United States too. By the early nineteenth century Baltimore had the largest free black population in the country, the free outnumbering enslaved blacks there by a ratio of three to two. It emerged as a center of abolitionism, rivaling Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The line between slavery and freedom in Baltimore was blurred by runaway slaves, kidnapped free blacks, a vigorous domestic slave trade, and African American churches and schools feeding antislavery activism. In his farewell address to the people of color in 1824, Elisha Tyson conventionally exhorted free blacks to model conduct, but he also asked them to render “assistance . . . to those of your color.” To an overflow audience in the city’s largest black church he proposed forming an antislavery society, and a subscription was collected for the “cause of emancipation.” Tyson visualized an independent black abolitionist organization, and in 1826 African Americans formed the Baltimore Society for the Protection of Free People of Color, replacing the defunct white society.10
Black abolitionism in Baltimore was spurred by the debate over colonization. John H. Latrobe and Charles G. Harper, the son of Robert Goodloe Harper, revived the local colonization movement, attracting Quakers like Moses Sheppard, a cousin of Tyson’s. Even Tyson, who had worked with Coker, solicited the help of the ACS in the repatriation of Africans rescued from the illegal Atlantic slave trade. Harper ran on a colonizationist platform against the abolitionist Daniel Raymond for the state legislature in 1826, forcing Raymond to include colonization in his plan for emancipation. The same year Latrobe and Harper ghostwrote a procolonization memorial on behalf of African Americans to the citizens of Baltimore after convening meetings at the city’s black Methodist churches. Harper complained that African Americans forced him to edit the memorial so that aspersions against them would be removed, and most seemed to have opposed it. But the ACS published it as a reflection of black support for colonization. It read in part, “But if you have every reason to wish for our removal, how much greater are our inducements to remove!” and it promised to carry “your language, your customs, your opinions and Christianity” to the “desolate shore” of Africa. Colonizationists’ attempt to represent them provoked black Baltimoreans to speak out against colonization. By the end of the decade William Watkins, Coker’s successor in the Sharp Street Methodist Church and a teacher, emerged as the leading critic of colonization.11
For abolitionists, the issue of black rights at home became intertwined with the abolition of slavery. As early as 1807 New Jersey clarified that its constitution did not allow women or blacks to vote. In 1811 New York passed a law requiring African Americans to prove their freedom before being granted the franchise, and in 1818 Connecticut disfranchised blacks while providing for adult manhood suffrage for whites. In 1821 the New York constitutional convention followed suit by raising the property-holding qualification for voting for black men while eliminating it for white men. Though some northern Republicans had endorsed slavery restriction, most seemed intent on whittling away black rights. Legal discrimination went hand in hand with popular racism. “Bobalition” broadsides caricaturing African Americans, their institutions, parades, manners, speech, and politics became ubiquitous in northern cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Republican newspapers like Mordecai Noah’s National Advocate and Enquirer whipped up antiblack sentiment. A white mob in 1822 destroyed New York’s African Grove Theatre, which was founded by William Brown and had hosted the famous black actors Ira Aldridge and James Hewlett.12
The final abolition of slavery in New York in 1827 came on the heels of increasing restrictions on black citizenship. Despite debates over how best to commemorate the event, African Americans marked the occasion in halls festooned with the names of Jay, Wilberforce, Clarkson, Tompkins, and a bust of Boyer. In his oration at the African Zion Church, William Hamilton attacked the new blasphemy of racism that “the Negroes have no souls, they are not men, they are a species of ourang outang. . . . They are a species inferior to white men.” If there was a difference between the races, he pointedly added, then “the difference is in favor of the people of colour.” American slavery, he observed sarcastically, bespoke “superior legislation and . . . superior minds.” He boldly took on Jefferson on race: “I know I ought to speak with caution; but an ambidexter philosopher, who can reason contrarywise, first tells you ‘that all men are created equal . . . ,’ next proves that one class of men are not equal to another, which by the bye, does not agree with axioms in geometry, that deny that things can be equal, and at the same time unequal to one another.”
Black abolitionists used the occasion to launch an assault on slavery and racism. Austin Steward, a former slave from Virginia, in his speech commemorating emancipation in Rochester, asked, “Why should we remember, in joy and exultation, the thousands of our countrymen who are to-day, in this land of gospel light, this boasted land of civil and religious liberty, writhing under the lash and groaning beneath the grinding weight of Slavery’s chain?” Free blacks in the South celebrated the end of slavery in New York. In Fredericksburg they raised toasts to New York, hoping that Virginia would follow suit, and to the memory of Rufus King. In Baltimore they drank toasts to Jay, Tyson, and Lundy’s Genius. Making their sentiments on colonization clear, one toast pronounced, “Emancipation without emigration, but equal rights on the spot; this is republicanism.”13
Black abolitionists in New York issued indictments of the slaveholding Republic rather than simply evoke its ideals. Instead, they praised Anglo-American abolitionists. In a speech on July 5, Paul demanded universal rather than partial emancipation. Whether Paul chose July 5 to avoid white attacks or as a black protest against the Fourth of July, his tactic was widely adopted. In New York City a parade with representatives from various black societies celebrated the demise of slavery that day. Frederick Douglass also delivered his famous Fourth of July oration on the fifth. Paul highlighted American hypocrisy:
It is a fact that can neither be denied or controverted, that in the United States of America, at the extirpation of fifty years after its becoming a free and independent nation, there are no less than fifteen hundred thousand human beings still in a state of unconditional vassalage. . . . Yet America is the first in the profession of the love of liberty, and loudest in proclaiming liberal sentiments towards all other nations, and feels herself insulted, to be branded with anything bearing the appearance of tyranny or oppression. Such are the palpable inconsistencies that abound amongst us and such is the medley of contradictions which stain the national character, and renders the American republic a by-word, even among despotic nations.
At the same time, Paul linked abolition with anticolonization and citizenship rights. In a speech in Troy on the second anniversary of abolition in New York, he denounced colonization as “utterly chimerical and absurd” and declared, “We claim this as our country, as the land of our nativity.”14
With the publication in 1827 of Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper, black abolitionism took off. Founded by Samuel Cornish and coedited by a young John Russwurm, it became the voice of black protest. In their prospectus for the newspaper, the two editors argued that the press was the most economical way to achieve the “moral, religious, civil and literary improvement of our injured race.” Moreover, “daily slandered, we think that there ought to be some channel of communication between us and the public: through which a single voice may be heard, in defence of five hundred thousand free people of colour.” Its opening editorial, written by Cornish, proclaimed, “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.” Cornish was a pioneer in many ways. Born free in Delaware and trained in the Philadelphia Presbytery, he had founded the First Colored Presbyterian Church in New York in 1824. By the time Cornish left its active editorship, Freedom’s Journal had over a thousand subscribers, an overwhelming majority of them African American.15
Freedom’s Journal articulated the concerns of and connected communities across the North, building on networks established by earlier black organizations and churches. The newspaper, in the words of its editors, was “a medium of intercourse between our brethren in different states.” It acquired agents even in Canada, Britain, and Haiti. Its list of agents was a veritable who’s who of black abolitionism: Walker in Boston, the brothers Thomas and Nathaniel Paul and Steward in Rochester, Hezekiah Grice in Baltimore, John B. Vashon in Pennsylvania, and John Remond in Salem. It also published black abolitionists, including Forten, Watkins, Walker, Hamilton, and Peter Williams Jr. Lundy reprinted pieces from it in the Genius, and the American Convention recommended it. The editors advocated abolition by federal law or constitutional amendment, even though they published articles in favor of gradual abolition. They made their position clear: “Give as much importance as we may to other subjects, to us SLAVERY is an all absorbing one.”
Black abolitionists used the newspaper to advertise their uncompromising rhetoric. In a long article, the writer, Aristides, adopting the name of an ancient Athenian statesman, called slavery “a record of crime” and “perpetual warfare.” To those defenders of slavery who argued that it had existed since antiquity, he replied that so had robbery and murder. Proslavery had its origins in a “depraved heart.” American liberty had been purchased with the slaves’ blood. The Sage of Monticello held in “perpetual bondage his fellow-men!!! No man’s patriotism appears better upon paper, but how is it developed upon his plantation?” Aristides concluded that colonization was a “barbarous and cunning” trick cloaked in religion to get rid of free blacks and perpetuate slavery. Since Walker used the same term, “the colonizing trick,” in his Appeal, and Hamilton had voiced a similar critique, either could have been Aristides.16
Freedom’s Journal did not hesitate to take on the “insolent remarks of a Southern Editor” in defense of abolitionists and manumission societies. The latter were “the man of colour’s ‘best friends,’” not, as the offending editor had claimed, the slaveholders. An article on the domestic slave trade warned that unless the evils of slavery were ended, “the day will come, when all we have read about Spartacus and his servile band—of the horrors of the revolutionary scenes of St. Domingo, will be re[en]acted before our eyes.” Another on a southern Baptist minister pursuing his escaped slave referred to the perversions and misinterpretations of the Bible by proslavery clergymen. The paper also refuted the racist opinions of other newspapers. A correspondent accused Noah of scurrility and assured him that he had no desire, nor did he consider it an “honour,” to marry his daughter, sleep in his bed, or walk arm in arm with him. In a long rebuttal entitled “Major Noah’s Negroes,” the editors accused him of making an “unmanly and slanderous attack on the coloured population” and of being “the cat’s paw” of slaveholders. The next year a committee of black Philadelphians led by William Whipper, F. C. Webb, and James Cornish, among others, published their riposte to the editor of a Philadelphia newspaper who had referred to free blacks as eyesores fit only for colonization. Russwurm published a series of numbers “On the Varieties of the Human Race,” disputing the “racial science” of the day and attributing all human variation to climate.17
Freedom’s Journal visualized its stated goals of African American emancipation, enlightenment (education), and citizenship (exercising the right to vote) within a broader transnational context, for example, “the establishment of the Republic of Hayti” and “liberal ideas in South America,” where abolition had resulted at times in black citizenship and office holding. The editors published materials from the British Antislavery Reporter and the proceedings of the London Antislavery Society. Despite the failure of Haitian emigration, the newspaper revealed that Haiti, or “the firm establishment of a free government by those who lately were in the bonds of slavery,” exercised a powerful influence on the black abolitionist imagination. They noted that “no one wished” the Haitian Revolution well, as they had the American and French ones. The fact that “in their glorious career, alone and unaided . . . the Haitians withstood the power of the greatest monarch,” Napoleon, “struck [them] with astonishment and admiration.” In its first year of publication, Freedom’s Journal devoted many pages to the history of Haiti and to a glowing biography of Toussaint Louverture. The next year the editors published a melodramatic historical fiction, “Theresa—A Haytien Tale,” set during the revolution.18The newspaper’s full-throated defense of the Haitian Revolution underscores that it was more than just a vehicle of uplift for the literate black middle class. Its advocacy of education and self-improvement was intrinsically connected to its politics of radical abolition.
Freedom’s Journal emerged as a staunch critic of the ACS. Influential colonizationists ended their subscription to the newspaper. In 1829 the New York State Colonization Society was formed with the backing of the wealthy philanthropist Gerrit Smith. The editors differentiated black-led emigration movements like Cuffe’s, whose memoir they published, and Haitian emigration from colonization. Writing as “A Man of Color,” Forten pointed out that the procolonization memorial of Baltimore blacks was opposed by two-thirds of those present and that the main aim of the ACS was to force the emigration of southern free blacks by making their condition intolerable. Watkins, writing as “A Colored Baltimorean,” wrote, “It appears very strange to me that those benevolent men should feel so much for the condition of free coloured people, and, at the same time . . . feel so little concern for those who are held in bondage by themselves.” In a critique of colonization, Investigator remarked, “The measures of the Colonization Society, have not only been contrary to the wishes of our brethren, but against their repeated remonstrances.” The editors published long procolonization letters from John H. Kennedy of Philadelphia and from a subscriber disgruntled with their anticolonization position. In reply, Investigator reasoned, “Colonizing the free people of colour in Africa is never going to facilitate emancipation, but rather to retard its progress.” Another anticolonizationist, Clarkson, observed that the same antiblack spirit that made South Carolina imprison free black sailors motivated colonizationists.19
By 1828 Freedom’s Journal had lost much of its original vitality, reprinting more articles and making frequent appeals for payment of past dues. Russwurm, who took over the editorial duties from Cornish in September 1827, became increasingly ambivalent about colonization. Earlier he had contemplated migrating to Haiti. On February 14, 1829, Russwurm announced that his views on colonization had “materially altered” and acknowledged that he was advancing “doctrines in opposition to the majority of the readers.” It was, he felt, “a waste of words to talk of ever enjoying citizenship in this country.” He published a defense of the ACS and of the “flourishing colony” of Liberia and started publishing more procolonization articles. Once Russwurm decided to support colonization, the newspaper collapsed within a month. Boston Crummell, in whose house the paper was founded, asked him to cease printing it. Black abolitionists disavowed Russwurm after he migrated to Liberia in September. Russwurm asked the “young men . . . wasting the best days of their lives in the United States” to flock to “this land as the last asylum of the unfortunate.” He took over as editor of the Liberian Herald, which colonizationists pronounced “free of those tinges of barbarism . . . rarely found entirely blanched from the African intellect.” To Russwurm, Liberia was “a republic in miniature” and presented a “great field of usefulness” for African Americans, who would be like “pilgrims in search of Liberty.” He was one of only a handful of black abolitionists to embrace colonization.20
If the honor of publishing the first black abolitionist newspaper goes to New York, the founding of the first black abolitionist organization took place in Boston. In 1826 black Bostonians founded the General Colored Association (GCA), devoted to “racial betterment and slave abolition.” The organization lasted as a separate entity until 1832, when it became a part of Garrison’s NEASS. Rev. Thomas Paul, John Telemachus Hilton, James Barbadoes, Joshua Easton, William G. Nell, and Walker were prominent GCA members. It met to pass resolutions in favor of Freedom’s Journal and raised funds for the safe return of Abduhl Rahhahman (Abd al Rahman Ibrahima), a Muslim prince enslaved in Mississippi. He was manumitted and traveled around the country to raise money for his family’s freedom and his transportation back to Africa. Free black communities throughout the North contributed money to their “fellow countryman,” the one instance in which they were willing to cooperate with the ACS, which eventually arranged for Ibrahima’s transportation to Liberia. But Ibrahima, who was forced to leave his enslaved children and grandchildren behind, sent back decidedly unfavorable accounts of the colony and died shortly after his arrival. In their public dinner for him, black Bostonians drank toasts not to the ACS but to Lundy and Wilberforce. Thomas Dalton, the president of the GCA, raised a glass to “Liberty and Equality. . . . May the time be not far distant when the sons and daughters of Africa who are now in bondage, shall be enabled to exclaim ‘We are free.’”
A majority of the GCA, like most African Americans, worked in menial or black-dominated service professions. Dalton was a bootblack, Hilton and Barbadoes barbers. Its most dynamic member was Walker, who had settled in Boston as a used clothes dealer by 1825. He became a pillar of the community, joining the African Masonic Lodge and the black Methodist May Street Church pastored by Rev. Samuel Snowden, a former slave and ardent abolitionist. In his address of 1828 before the GCA’s semiannual meeting, Walker issued a call for abolitionist organization among blacks. As he put it, “Do not two hundred and eight years of intolerable sufferings teach us the actual necessity of a general union among us?” Five hundred thousand free blacks united, he exhorted, could perform “mighty deeds” in the cause of abolition. The same year Hosea Easton delivered a ringing address against racial prejudice to the free black community in Providence and called for cultivating “the principles of concord and unanimity among us.” Easton, who began his address by comparing America’s reputation for liberty with its avarice as illustrated by the slave trade and the “hellish scourge” of slave whippings, condemned the “Colonizing Craft” as a “diabolical pursuit.”21
Walker’s Appeal, the first abolitionist pamphlet of the second wave, was not a lone voice of black radicalism, as is commonly depicted, but its most effective statement. Abolitionists like Garrison, Maria Stewart, and Garnet invoked it long after the author’s premature death. Published in three editions, it urged black resistance to slavery, criticized the American Republic and the colonization movement, and contained a rebuttal of racist and, in Walker’s opinion, anti-Christian views of African Americans. His object, Walker stated in the preamble, was “a spirit of enquiry and investigation respecting our miseries and wretchedness in this Republican Land of Liberty!!!!!” He cataloged the long list of political and civil rights denied to most free black people: the right to vote, hold office, and sit on juries, among others. Whites not only reduced black people to the “wretched state of slavery” but also inflicted on them “insupportable insult” by claiming that they were not part of the “human family” and descended from “Monkeys or Orang-Outangs.” Walker felt that the “charges of Mr. Jefferson [must] be refuted by blacks themselves.” Jefferson’s speculations on racial inferiority had “in truth injured us more, and . . . been as great a barrier to our emancipation as any thing that has ever been advanced against us,” as they had “sunk deep into the hearts of millions of the whites and never will be removed this side of eternity.” Walker retorted that whites were an “unjust, jealous, unmerciful, avaricious and blood thirsty set of beings,” the “natural enemies,” murderers, tyrants, and oppressors of African Americans. As in “Hayti, the glory of the blacks and the terror of tyrants,” Walker predicted, “my colour will root some of them out of the face of the earth.”
Education, or knowledge of their oppression, religion, or African American Christianity, and political unity held the key to black liberation for Walker. He used instances of betrayal of slave resistance to assert that blacks should stamp out ignorance, submission, and treachery to their race. It was the task of free men of color in particular, he wrote, to “go to work and enlighten your brethren” and not be satisfied with servile positions. Walker’s call for self-improvement and resistance complemented each other. His aim was the “entire emancipation of your enslaved brethren all over the world.” Walker targeted slaveholding Christianity, which taught blacks to submit to slavery, and warned instead of divine vengeance: “I tell you Americans! That unless you speedily alter your course, you and your Country are gone!!!!!! . . . your destruction is at hand, and will be speedily consummated unless you REPENT.” He mocked whites’ empire of religious benevolence, especially efforts to colonize free blacks. Reformers and ministers formed societies against intemperance, Sabbath breaking, and infidelity, while ignoring the “fountainhead” of evil, slavery.
In the last of his four articles Walker concentrated on a systematic refutation of colonization. Recognizing the earlier efforts of Watkins, “that very judicious colored Baltimorean,” and quoting extensively from colonization speeches, he charged that the real purpose of the ACS was to rid the country of free black people and keep slaves “secure in wretchedness and ignorance” and render them more obedient. Walker wrote, quoting “the truly Reverend Divine” Allen, “this land which we have watered with our tearsand our blood, is now our mother country.” He recommended Cornish’s short-lived anticolonization newspaper Rights of All, which had succeeded Freedom’s Journal, to all his brethren. Americans had “grown fat on our blood and groans” and the “colonizing trick” was merely a way to perpetuate racial slavery. Walker quoted the Declaration not just to evoke its ideals but also, like the freedom petitioners of the eighteenth century, to compare its relatively trivial complaints with the cruelties and murders inflicted on blacks and their fathers by whites and their fathers without any provocation. His appeal was a powerful indictment of American slaveholding republicanism and a revolutionary call for abolition.22
The year that Walker issued his Appeal, Robert Alexander Young published The Ethiopian Manifesto. Unlike Walker, Young was not part of the black abolitionist milieu. He was a “working class preacher” of mixed race from Baltimore, “who plied his trade in the streets of New York City.” Young, like Walker, stated that blacks enjoyed few “rights of government” as “our race” was reduced to an enslaved state, and “to raise it from its degenerate sphere, and instill into it the rights of men, are the ends intended of these our words.” Again like Walker, he castigated slaveholders as “cruel fellow-men” and a “fiendish cast of men” for their barbarities and warns them that “intuitive justice” and “an outraged and goading conscience” required them to free their slaves. He counseled slaves to submit “to your present state of suffering” because God himself would break their “vile shackles of slavery.” Young’s ideas were somewhat eclectic, perhaps the reason his work was neglected by his contemporaries. He ended with a mystical prediction of a messiah, a white man born of a black woman in Granada, who would become their “liberator from the infernal state of bondage.”23
The publication of these two pamphlets coincided with one of the era’s worst race riots, which took place in Cincinnati. Bordering slavery, the city had an economy with a southern orientation. It seemed “little better” than Virginia to emigrants like John Malvin. During the 1820s the city’s black population had grown, established a branch of the AME, and founded black schools. Led by Malvin, black Cincinnatians demanded the repeal of Ohio’s Black Law of 1807, which required blacks to post a bond of five hundred dollars when entering the state. Despite Malvin’s success in negotiating a six-month stay in enforcing the law, white opposition to the black presence came to a head in August 1829, when mobs burned black homes, businesses, churches, and schools in a weeklong spree of racially motivated violence. The Ohio Colonization Society fanned the flames by calling for the removal of “this class of people as a serious evil among us,” and the ACS upheld state laws regulating the settlement of black people. Even though free blacks here as elsewhere rejected colonization, emigrationists led by James C. Brown made plans to buy land in Upper Canada and form an all-black colony named Wilberforce. In 1824 African Americans had organized the Cincinnati Haytien Union to explore the possibility of emigrating to Haiti. The riot accelerated the exodus of nearly two thousand African Americans from the city, a substantial number of whom moved to Wilberforce on land purchased by Israel Lewis and Thomas Crissup. Their plight became a national cause célèbre among African Americans. Wilberforce, portrayed by abolitionists as a model black community, attracted emigrants like Steward and Paul but was torn by dissension and lack of funds. Malvin moved to Cleveland and remained active in the struggle to repeal the state’s black laws.24
During its short publication history Cornish’s Rights of All documented black outrage over the Cincinnati riot and the brazen attempt, legal and extralegal, to drive black Americans from their homes. As he wrote, “The conduct of the authorities to the colored people of Ohio, forms a blot in the history of our country, that would have stamped with everlasting infamy and disgrace the most barbarous nation of the dark ages.” Cornish protested the silence of the white press at the “cruel illegality” of the black laws and contended that they were unconstitutional, as they prevented blacks from New York from migrating freely to Ohio. In an editorial entitled “Barbarism in America,” Cornish called upon African Americans not to leave their “native land.” He linked the tendency to view blacks as a “separate people,” an “extraneous mass,” and a “dangerous evil” with efforts to colonize them. Cornish, nevertheless, recommended black emigration to Canada, illustrating that black opposition to colonization never implied accommodation to racism.25
New York’s black abolitionists took the lead in advocating emigration. Williams gave an anticolonization speech for the benefit of the “Colored Community of Wilberforce” in Upper Canada on the Fourth of July, 1830. Anticipating the themes and indeed the words of Douglass’s famous Fourth of July speech, he stated, “The festivities of this day serve to impress upon the minds of reflecting men of colour a deeper sense of cruelty, the injustice, and oppression of which they have been victims.” While “others rejoice,” he said, “they mourn.” Williams maintained that black freedom in the North was defective, as it had been separated from equality. He used words that black abolitionists would often repeat: “We are natives of this country, we ask only to be treated as well as foreigners.” Williams criticized settler colonialism in general, noting the ruin of Native Americans, and appealed for support of their “brethren exiled from Cincinnati.” A year later black New Yorkers met to pass resolutions against the formation of a colonization society in the state. Its address dissected colonizationist discourse, “which acknowledging our wrongs commits a greater by vilifying us.” The ACS were “less friendly to our welfare as citizens of the United States.” Writing from Liberia, Russwurm opposed Canadian emigration.26
In response to the Cincinnati riot and to foster Canadian emigration, African Americans convened a national convention in 1830. The idea came initially from Grice, was seconded by black New Yorkers, and ultimately called by the seventy-year-old Allen in Philadelphia. Delegates included Whipper from Pennsylvania, Steward from New York, and Abraham Shadd, the son of Jeremiah Shadd, from Delaware. The national conventions met annually until 1835 and were revived in 1843; during this hiatus state conventions met regularly. Until the Civil War and even beyond they were powerful symbols of black political organization, articulating the demands of and debates within black communities and encouraging activism at the state and local levels. As the American Convention became virtually defunct after 1829 and before the organization of the American Anti Slavery Society (AASS) in 1833, black conventions were the only national antislavery gatherings. The first national black convention established the “American Society of Free persons of Colour, for improving their condition in the United States; for purchasing lands; and for the establishment of a settlement in the Province in Upper Canada” and elected Allen president. Its address to the free people of color called attention to “our forlorn and deplorable situation” and “laws [that] have been enacted in some of the states of this great republic, to compel an unprotected and harmless portion of our brethren, to leave their homes and seek an asylum in foreign climes.” It rejected colonization but promoted emigration to Canada. Abolitionists, including Garrison, would support Canadian emigration throughout the antebellum period. Finally, it recommended the formation of local auxiliaries. Grice founded the Legal Rights Association in Baltimore.27
The abolitionist nature of the national black convention and the spur it gave to interracial immediatism became more evident at its second meeting in 1831. Its ranks now included Sipkins, Hamilton, Thomas L. Jennings, Williams, Peter Vogelsang, Crummell, Thomas Downing, Philip Bell, and James W. C. Pennington from New York, Forten, Robert Purvis, Whipper, and Robert Douglass Sr. from Philadelphia, and Hosea Easton, Robert Roberts, Barbadoes, and Snowden from Boston. With the death of Allen, these men constituted its leadership. Abolitionists such as Lundy, Garrison, Arthur Tappan, Simeon Jocelyn, and Thomas Shipley of the PAS attended its proceedings and received a special vote of thanks. Instead of Canadian emigration, a black manual labor school in New Haven proposed by Garrison and Jocelyn emerged as its main concern.
The convention adopted the role of the American Convention, recommending abolitionist newspapers like Lundy’s Genius, Garrison’s Liberator, and the African Sentinel and Journal of Liberty, a black newspaper edited by a John Stewart in Albany. Stewart’s proposal called the “descendants of Africa” to “destroy that hydra-headed, canker worm of prejudice, encourage education, Temperance and morality, and urge the distribution of equal justice and equality.” The convention set aside July 4 as a day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer” to break the “shackles of slavery” and obtain “our sacred rights.” It disdained “public processions” in favor of political organization, not just as a nod to white racism or middle-class respectability but as a more sustained, permanent, and modern form of black protest. According to its address, “the spirit of persecution” in “this boasted land of freedom” was the cause of its meeting. Commending the progress of general emancipation in Britain and Denmark, it added, “Would to God we could say thus of our own native soil.” Garrison remarked, “The colored people begin to feel their strength, and begin to use it.” According to Joseph Willson, who published a book on Philadelphia’s blacks, “To the ‘first annual Convention’ certainly belongs the credit of having blown the first great blast, by which the people were awakened to the importance of their own united and energetic action, in removing their disabilities and securing equal rights with other men.”28
Except in 1834 the early national conventions met in Philadelphia, the antislavery capital of the country and home to an activist free black community. By 1831 the city boasted of numerous benevolent, literary, and fraternal organizations, women’s organizations outnumbering male societies twenty-nine to sixteen. These local black associations in northern cities were important stepping-stones to a national organization. Leadership of the conventions, like that of black churches and societies, remained firmly in male hands. Along with Allen, Forten, and his son-in-law Purvis, Whipper emerged as a leading voice of black abolitionism. He was born in Lancaster in 1804 and began his career as a laborer, a “steam scourer” of clothes. In 1835 he moved to Columbia, where he developed a successful partnership with Stephen Smith, a businessman dealing in lumber and coal. Whipper was active in black civic life and one of the main figures in the convention movement of the 1830s. In an address in 1828 to the Colored Reading Society for Mental Improvement, Whipper delineated the benefits of a liberal education and castigated slaveholders for their antislave literacy laws. These “avowed advocates of slavery” claimed to be religious and moral, but, he exclaimed, “I deny them the privilege, for there is not a slaveholder under the canopy of heaven possesses one of these titles, or else I am mistaken in the articles of justice.” He was sorry to note that the national government contained a “majority of these misanthropists.” Whipper hoped that the reading society would produce a Wilberforce, Jay, Clarkson, Franklin, or Rush, his pantheon of abolitionist heroes. A race riot in Philadelphia in 1829 and the popularity of Edward Clay’s racist illustrations lampooning black Philadelphians led Forten to call a meeting to subscribe to Rights of All and promote a national abolitionist organization.29
The decade that incubated black abolitionism began and ended with dramatic instances of slave resistance. In 1831 two major slave revolts shook the foundations of Anglo-American slavery. On August 22 Nat Turner led a slave uprising in Southampton County, Virginia. The transcriber of Turner’s “Confessions,” the Virginian attorney and planter Thomas Gray, recognized the import of an “open rebellion of the slaves . . . attended with such atrocious circumstances of cruelty and destruction.” Coming on the heels of Walker’s pamphlet and the publication of Garrison’s Liberator, the revolt became irrevocably linked to the birth of radical abolitionism. Walker had sent copies of his Appeal to the Baptist minister Rev. Henry Cunningham in Savannah and the New England–born editor Elijah Burritt in Milledgeville, Georgia, who fled north shortly afterward. The pamphlet also surfaced among free blacks and slaves in Virginia and North Carolina and was carried by sailors to the lower south ports of Charleston and New Orleans. The Virginian governor John Floyd was convinced that Turner’s rebellion was the product of “Yankee peddlers,” reform societies, and the “incendiary publications of Walker, Garrison and Knapp.” A wave of slave resistance in North Carolina and Louisiana, of which Turner’s revolt was a culmination, alarmed authorities, who passed repressive laws against slaves, free blacks, and suspected abolitionists.30
Born in 1800, the year Gabriel was hanged and Vesey bought his freedom, Turner and the people around him believed he was destined for greatness. Communicating with the “Spirit,” which sent him many signs to start a rebellion, Turner, a slave preacher, chose July 4 as the day to start the rebellion, but bad weather delayed his plan. He wanted to march to the town of Jerusalem, seize an arsenal, and escape to the Dismal Swamp, a hideout for “outlyers” and Maroons. Nearly sixty slaves followed him, and fifty-seven white men, women, and children were killed. Turner was captured after eluding authorities for a few days. When asked by Gray, “Do you not find yourself mistaken now?” Turner uttered his most famous words: “Was not Christ crucified?” Gray, who accused him of “gloomy fanaticism” and murder, evinced reluctant admiration of Turner for his “natural intelligence and quickness of apprehension” and his “calm, deliberate composure.” In its memorable description of Turner in prison, bloodied and in rags “yet daring to raise his manacled hands to heaven, with a spirit soaring above the attributes of man,” Gray’s Confessionscontributed to his legend. Thirty rebels were sentenced to death, nineteen were hanged, and many were transported out of the state. In a final act of desecration, physicians dissected Turner’s body, keeping gruesome mementos. Hundreds of slaves and free blacks fell victim to white vigilantism, far exceeding the number of whites who had died in the rebellion. Three fugitive slaves from the area, Harriet Jacobs, Charity Bowers, and Henry “Box” Brown, left vivid accounts of the reign of terror in the aftermath of the revolt.
Turner inspired a great many abolitionists in the antebellum period. Garnet evoked the legacy of slave rebellion embodied by Turner, Vesey, Toussaint, and the later shipboard rebellions led by Cinque and Madison Washington. William Wells Brown said Turner was a “martyr to the freedom of his race,” and J. Sella Martin included Turner “among the bravest and best in history.” Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote a sympathetic account of Turner’s rebellion, as he did of Vesey’s conspiracy. Harriet Beecher Stowe made her slave character in Dred the son of Vesey and modeled him after Turner. In Martin Delany’s novel, the slave rebel Blake traveled in the South and Cuba, where he heard slaves talk about Vesey and Turner. John Brown, who in 1859 would himself lead an aborted revolt, was an admirer of Turner. The Anglo African in 1859 invoked both Brown and Turner to demand action against slavery. In a speech on black military recruitment during the war, Douglass referred to Turner’s rebellion, an instance of black men taking up arms against slaveholders, as worthy of emulation.31
Turner’s rebellion put emancipation on the agenda of Virginia’s legislature in 1831–32. William Henry Roane, the grandson of Patrick Henry, presented, among other measures, a Quaker petition for gradual abolition, and Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Jefferson’s grandson, introduced a plan for gradual emancipation and the deportation of free blacks. While representatives from the western, predominantly nonslaveholding part of the state favored its “whitening” through emancipation and colonization, slaveholders rallied behind racial slavery and against even the most gradualist, antiblack plans for abolition. The legislature passed a law further proscribing free black rights and recommending colonization as a way to get rid of its free rather than its slave population. Over a hundred free blacks from Southampton County left for Liberia in the wake of the rebellion. Thomas R. Dew’s famous review of the Virginia debates articulated the upper south’s proslavery position that masqueraded as antislavery. While vociferously opposing all plans for emancipation as impractical and defending slavery, he hoped for an eventual end to slavery. Maryland restricted free black rights, and a similar debate proved to be a boon to the new Maryland State Colonization Society, which was incorporated and received government funding. In 1833 it declared emancipation to be one of its goals and founded a new colony in Cape Palmas, located to the south of Liberia.32
Turner’s revolt bred fears of slave rebelliousness. Samuel Warner, a northern antislavery writer, believed it was the start of a more widespread rebellion in adjoining North Carolina and Maryland and that the slave rebels, like the Haitians, had one object in mind, “the extermination of whites.” He concluded that they should not be doomed to “cruel bondage” in a “Land of liberty” and that the ideas of the Declaration and the Constitution’s Bill of Rights be extended to African Americans. The anonymous Nero letter in Governor Floyd’s possession, which posited that oppression bred revenge, seemed to confirm suspicions that abolitionists were instigating rebellions. Nero, a Bostonian and runaway slave from Virginia, advised that his race would “not shrink from our holy and laudable purpose of vengeance.” Besides a rebellion led by a Haitian-trained “Chief,” the letter warned of abolitionist agents. The proslavery Virginian aristocrat Benjamin Watkins Leigh, ironically adopting the pseudonym Appomattox, conjectured that “the seditious practices of negro preachers, . . . the machinations of the organized convention of free blacks in Philadelphia, . . . the dissemination of the incendiary writings of The Liberator, or The African Sentinel, or The Genius of Universal Emancipation,” and the slavery debates would destroy slavery.33
While slave resistance prompted debates over emancipation in America, it precipitated British abolition. In December 1831 the charismatic Samuel “Daddy” Sharpe led the so-called Baptist War or Christmas Rebellion in Jamaica, which involved nearly sixty thousand slaves. It was preceded by a wave of slave resistance and free black activism in the West Indies. Free “coloreds” in Jamaica had won equal rights in 1830, and earlier in the year British abolitionists launched a huge petition campaign for the immediate abolition of slavery. With its long history of Maroon wars and slave rebellions it was perhaps inevitable that Jamaica was the site of the largest slave revolt in the history of the British colonies. Slaveholders blamed Baptist missionaries, in whose church Sharpe was a deacon, and abolitionists for the rebellion. Fourteen whites died, and colonial authorities ruthlessly killed over five hundred slaves in reprisal and imprisoned Baptist missionaries. The slave rebels, who planned a strike in the beginning, had mainly burned down the symbols of their oppression, factories and plantations. Like Turner, Sharpe evoked crucifixion, confessing that he would rather “die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery.” The abolitionist minister Henry Bleby, who published his firsthand account decades later, wrote that Sharpe was “immolated at the polluted shrine of slavery.” Initially alarmed at the uprising, British public opinion veered toward antislavery when news of its brutal suppression and mistreatment of missionaries made its way home. As Bleby noted, the revolt dealt a wound to colonial slavery and “accelerated its destruction.” One week after Sharpe’s execution in 1832, Parliament appointed a select committee to explore the expediency of “effecting the Extinction of Slavery throughout the British Dominions.” The Reform Act, which democratized parliamentary elections, and abolitionist petitions ensured the passage of emancipation in 1833.34
The year of Sharpe’s rebellion witnessed the publication of the first female slave narrative. Written by Mary Prince, a slave who was brought to England, it detailed the brutalities of West Indian slavery. It ran through three editions in the first year of its publication. Prince left her abusive owners and eventually sought assistance from the Anti-Slavery Society. She was determined to make the slaves’ case: “I have been a slave—I have felt what a slave feels and I know what a slave knows; and I would have all the good people in England know it too, that they may break our chains, and set us free.” Her abolitionist employer, Thomas Pringle, made it clear that the narrative, though written by her amanuensis Susannah Strickland, was her idea. Prince’s story was marked by family separation and slave sales, where “strange men” examined her like a butcher examined animals for slaughter. She referred to her owners’ treatment of her as being transferred from “one butcher to another.” In her descriptions of frequent whippings, which Pringle’s wife vouched left her back “distinctly scarred, as if it were chequered,” of her ceaseless and painful labor making salt, and her hints that her second, “indecent master” abused her, Prince directly responded to those who were convinced that slaves were better off than the English working poor.
Prince was forced to choose between slavery and staying with her husband in Antigua and freedom in England. In at least two other cases, including the well-known one of the slave Grace in 1827, enslaved women who “voluntarily” returned to colonial slavery did not benefit from the protections of the Somerset decision. Prince’s narrative led to two lawsuits for libel, one brought by Pringle against Blackwood’s Magazine for challenging its authenticity, and the other by her last owners, Mr. and Mrs. Woods, against Prince and the antislavery society. Described even by her benefactors as being self-important and proud, Prince testified that she had chosen to live with a white man, a Captain Abbot, for seven years. Like another female slave author, Harriet Jacobs, Prince defied gender conventions and made unconventional choices in order to elude her enslavers. Her testimony performed abolitionist work that was just as important as that of the petitions and writings of Englishwomen that marked the turn to immediatism in Britain.35 Even more than the first wave of abolition, the second was an interracial radical movement shaped by black protest.
Historians have traditionally dated the second wave of abolition to the publication of Garrison’s Liberator. But Garrison himself was keenly aware of its antecedents in the Quaker-dominated first wave, the British abolition movement, and the black tradition of protest. At the paper’s inception, immediatism was defined by its largest constituency, the activist black communities in the urban North, Canada, and even Haiti. What distinguished Garrisonians from previous generations of abolitionists was how firmly Garrisonianism’s roots lay in black abolitionism.
Descended from indentured servants and born on December 12, 1805, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Garrison in his early years led a life that contributed to his empathy for the enslaved and working poor. Abandoned by his father, he suffered long separations from his devout mother, experienced extreme poverty and hunger, ran away from his guardians, and was put to hard labor as a child before he settled down as a printer’s apprentice. At the Newburyport Herald, Garrison learned how to set type. Yet in journalism he discovered not a calling but a means to an end. After writing for a succession of newspapers associated with reform, he was invited to edit the Journal of the Times, a newspaper in Bennington, Vermont, that was a proponent of John Quincy Adams. The paper under Garrison contained so many antislavery pieces that it earned the commendation of Lundy and the American Convention.36
Garrison commenced his abolitionist career with an unusually radical Fourth of July address at Boston’s Park Street Church in 1829. His words mirrored those of black abolitionists comparing the “pitiful detail of grievances” in the Declaration with the much greater “wrongs which our slaves must endure!” He was “sick of our unmeaning declamation in praise of liberty and equality; of our hypocritical cant about the unalienable rights of man”; and his cheeks blushed with shame at his “country’s barbarity and despotism.” He too warned of God’s vengeance, “the catastrophe of republican America” on a day meant to celebrate it. The Haitian Revolution would pale in comparison, he predicted. This was not a conventional Fourth of July address but an abolitionist jeremiad. Garrison called for making slaves “useful, intelligent and peaceable citizens” and argued that if the enslaved were white no constitutional scruples would prevent their emancipation. The ACS had sponsored Garrison’s speech, but he was not, as is commonly assumed, a member. Ten days later Garrison attended a celebration on the abolition of the slave trade organized by the African Freehold Society, a black benevolent organization. Garrison took note of the audience’s audible disapproval of the two speakers, a clergyman and temperance advocate who orated that the slaves should not be freed without a long period of preparation and an ACS spokesman who also recommended gradualism and colonization.37 Garrison’s doubts on colonization became convictions.
Garrison came into sustained contact with Baltimore’s black abolitionists later that year, when he accepted Lundy’s invitation to coedit the Genius. He virtually took over the editing of the paper from Lundy, who devoted most of his time to Haitian emigration, and started publishing black abolitionists’ denunciations of colonization. Watkins and Jacob Greener played a crucial role in pushing Garrison toward an anticolonization stance. Greener, a teacher, printer, and agent for the Genius, like Watkins, was a champion of black education. Earlier, Lundy had published Watkins’s toasts on Haitian independence and advertised Greener’s school for indigent children. Lundy and Garrison lived in a Quaker boardinghouse with them, practicing and preaching interracialism. Garrison soon announced his conversion to immediatism.
In a way, Garrison served an apprenticeship not only with Lundy but also with Watkins and Greener. Watkins debated black advocates of colonization like John Hepburn. He excoriated the “Americo-African empire” of Liberia and Rev. George McGill’s claim that black Americans were “received and treated as white men” there. Colonizationists should be fighting the “demon of slavery” and a domestic slave trade that even Hepburn acknowledged annually shipped “one thousand or more, before all the virtue and wisdom of our Republic, without shame.” Greener was known to disrupt colonization meetings and ask that the money raised be invested in black education instead. When a Reverend Hewitt drew attention to black degradation in the cause of temperance, “A Colored Observer” noted that “moral degradation can never justify oppression.” Garrison in his editorial comment seconded that it was a “flimsy excuse” for slavery. Watkins eventually migrated to Canada, and his son, William J. Watkins, and adopted niece, Frances Ellen Watkins, became prominent abolitionists. Greener’s sons became agents for the Liberator, and his grandson, Richard T. Greener, a professor in South Carolina during Reconstruction.38
Not just the anticolonizationist stance of black Baltimoreans but also Garrison’s exposure to the prolific border state slave trade influenced him. He was imprisoned for libel after revealing in the Genius’s Black List that a prominent merchant, Francis Todd from his hometown in Massachusetts, participated in the slave trade. In prison Garrison witnessed slave traders and slaveholders apprehend and sell recalcitrant slaves. Rather than focus on his alleged martyrdom, he wrote that he felt ashamed that he done so little for the plight of the enslaved. Arthur Tappan bailed him out, and he left Baltimore in 1830 as an advocate of immediate abolition and black rights and a critic of colonization. He made a series of anticolonization speeches in Philadelphia and New York to mixed audiences of African Americans and white abolitionists and in Jocelyn’s black church in New Haven. Tried in absentia, he was fined one thousand dollars. Garrison regarded his case as a matter of the freedom of the press and refused to pay it.39
Lundy did not wholly approve of the “sweeping denunciations” of colonization by this “intrepid advocate of African emancipation.” But Lundy also disapproved of the ACS because, as he commented, it was interested not in the “abolition of slavery” but in the “removal of the free people of color.” After Garrison’s departure, he reverted to a monthly edition of the Genius and, on leaving Baltimore, wrote, “The spirit of tyranny in Maryland became too strong and malignant for me.” Baltimore soon ceased to be a center of abolition. In the next two years Lundy traveled in the North and Canada, printing the Genius wherever he could. In 1831 the Liberator quickly overtook it as the premier abolitionist newspaper. Lundy also traveled to Texas and Mexico to establish a black colony. He promoted an emancipation scheme by which the federal government would buy slaves and settle them in the southwest. Yet Texas became a bastion of slavery, not of black freedom. In one of his last antislavery contributions, Lundy denounced the introduction of slavery to Texas. He published an abolitionist newspaper devoted to free produce and opposed to Texas annexation, the National Enquirer, in Philadelphia and died in 1839 in Illinois, printing the last copies of the Genius there.40
Garrison took abolition in a new direction organizationally and ideologically. He had published the prospectus for his abolitionist newspaper in August 1830 and managed to solicit one hundred dollars from Tappan for it. After failing to acquire a press in Washington, Garrison, together with the printer and his longtime collaborator Isaac Knapp, published the Liberator in Boston. The first issue appeared on January 1, 1831, a day fraught with meaning for black Americans, as it marked the abolition of the African slave trade and the founding of Haiti in 1804. Forten also subsidized the printing of the newspaper with a check for fifty-four dollars for twenty-seven subscriptions. A month later he sent Garrison another twenty dollars with new subscribers. Four hundred and fifty of the five hundred subscribers to the Liberator in its first year were African Americans, sustaining the young editor with their financial, moral, and political support. In turn, Garrison published their speeches and letters, proceedings of local meetings and the national conventions, and the obituaries of Thomas Paul and Richard Allen. Even after the subscription list of the newspaper expanded to over two thousand, African Americans remained a quarter of its readers.
The paper, Garrison explained, did not belong to whites—“they do not sustain it”—but “emphatically to the people of color—it is their organ.” The Liberator, Forten wrote, revived “our drooping hopes.” Tappan, a successful merchant, asked Garrison not to include his name in the list of agents for fear of angering his clientele, but black abolitionists willingly became the Liberator’s first agents: Watkins and Greener in Baltimore, Cornish and Bell in New York, Vashon in Pittsburgh, and Joseph Cassey in Philadelphia. Stewart, the editor of the defunct African Sentinel of Albany, was an agent. The agents Abraham Shadd in Delaware, John Remond in Salem, Massachusetts, and Jehiel C. Beman in Middletown, Connecticut, headed distinguished abolitionist families. Local black leaders such as Henry Ogden in New Jersey and James E. Ellis, George Wyllis, and Alfred Niger in Providence were also agents. Black emigrants, including William Bowler in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Steward in Wilberforce, Canada, spread the word about the paper among blacks in emancipated spaces. Cassey, who had been recommended by Forten, was an especially effective agent, gaining for the Liberator a foothold in Philadelphia’s activist black community. Charles Lenox Remond, the son of John Remond, became a successful agent and the first black lecturer for immediatism. Garrison’s first apprentice was an African American, the son and namesake of Thomas Paul; his practice of hiring black apprentices would continue for much of his lifetime.41
When his white “coadjutors” asked Garrison to temper his language, black people sustained him in his judgment to be “as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice.” Garrison adopted not just the black abolitionist program of anticolonization and citizenship but also its style and rhetoric. He told African Americans that “your rights, and the defence of your character, will be the leading object of the paper,” observing that they had been “struggling against wind and tide.” In his letters to blacks he signed off as their unflinching and untiring advocate. Garrison published a series of what he called truisms mocking American racism: all men are equal except Africans; whites who kill tyrants are heroes, and a slave who killed his master is called a murderer and burned; slaves have no intellect and southern laws against literacy “are owing simply to an itch for superfluous legislation”; and so on. He followed Freedom’s Journal in publishing anticolonization articles by African Americans. As A Colored Baltimorean, Watkins wrote that he would rather live under the cruel laws of Maryland than be “driven like cattle to the pestilential clime of Liberia.” Garrison was initially mistaken for a black man. When he met an astonished Thomas Fowell Buxton a year later in England, he received this misconception as the best compliment.42
The impact of black abolitionism on Garrison can be gauged by his reaction to Walker and Turner. While he wrote that he deprecated violence, he defended both men. Even Lundy criticized Walker’s Appeal as a “bold, daring, inflammatory pamphlet” and as the “wildest strain of reckless fanaticism,” but Garrison could barely conceal his admiration for Walker’s rhetoric, choosing the Appeal as the first abolitionist work to be reviewed at length and respectfully in his newspaper. An anonymous reviewer, V, published large extracts from Walker verbatim and praised it for its correct facts and “just inferences.” V liked Walker’s spirit and closed by saying, “Well done David Walker.” To those who would question its authorship and its intentions, Garrison replied that no white man was capable of writing such a tract and that “if any people were ever justified in throwing off the yoke of their tyrants, the slaves are that people.” Walker’s widow gave their son the middle name Garrison.
Although denying charges of inciting rebellions, Garrison clearly aligned himself with slave resistance. Garrison was a pacifist but, remarking on Turner’s rebellion and its brutal aftermath, he wrote, “A dastardly triumph, well becoming a nation of oppressors.” Slave rebels, Garrison judged, deserved no more censure than the revolutionary generation or contemporary European freedom fighters most Americans admired. In any other circumstance, he claimed, another Virginian slave rebel, Gabriel, would be revered as a revolutionary hero. Garrison refused as well to repudiate the Haitian Revolution. He published an imaginary dialogue between Washington and Toussaint, to the former’s disadvantage, and a sympathetic history of Haiti, which he claimed “has been so misunderstood and misrepresented, affords unanswerable evidence” for immediatism. Southerners, who demanded Garrison’s arrest and the shutting down of the Liberator, and northern newspapers, conservatives, and colonizationists viewed his words as provoking slave rebellion. The state of Georgia put a price of five thousand dollars on his head. Garrison became used to receiving death threats and even published some. Boston’s mayor, Harrison Gray Otis, sent a sheriff to intimidate him and dismissed the newspaper as one read mainly by black people. Garrison provoked outrage as a madman, a fanatic, or, in Reverend Bacon’s assessment, a man who prided himself in winning the support of blacks.
African Americans rallied around Garrison. During this time he lectured mainly to black audiences, his speech published as An Address to the Free People of Color (1831). In Philadelphia he stayed at the home of Purvis and formed a lifelong bond with the Forten–Purvis family. Addressing the national convention, Garrison said he never addressed black audiences without feeling ashamed of his skin color. To him, blacks’ support “outweighs in consolation all the abuse heaped on me.”43
If Watkins, Forten, and Walker converted Garrison on colonization, the rise of Garrisonian abolition reinvigorated black opposition to it. African Americans throughout the North held meetings, passed resolutions, and made speeches endorsing the Liberator and condemning colonization. In Boston, Robert Roberts, the author of a popular manual on domestic work, chaired an anticolonization meeting. In Philadelphia, Forten, Whipper, and Purvis pronounced Garrison “the efficient and unwavering advocate of human rights.” In New York, Peter Vogelsang and Thomas Jennings led a meeting recommending the Liberator. In Baltimore, Watkins and William Douglass denounced colonization as selfish policy and not in accordance with black wishes. In Brooklyn, Pennington, and in Pittsburgh, Vashon led anticolonization meetings. In smaller, northern towns, including Hartford and Middletown, Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island, Nantucket and Salem, Massachusetts, Columbia and Lewistown, Pennsylvania, Trenton, New Jersey, and Rochester, New York, black gatherings criticized the ACS and praised Garrison. In Cincinnati they drank toasts to Allen, Williams, Boyer, and Garrison. In a meeting at the Boyer Lodge in New York, a younger generation of black abolitionists, among them William P. Johnson, David Ruggles, and Thomas Van Rensselaer, congratulated Garrison for the “bold and fearless stance” he had taken on behalf of the “colored race.” From Boston’s black abolitionists came word that “the descendants of Africa had their eyes fixed” on him. They resolved, “Go then friend and patron of our cause; and whatsoever aid we can render you shall be promptly rendered.”44
The upsurge of anticolonization, pro-Liberator meetings among African Americans led Garrison to publish Thoughts on African Colonization in 1832. A year earlier the Massachusetts Colonization Society had been organized by reputed antislavery men such as Theodore Sedgwick, Benjamin F. Varnum, and Charles Tappan, the brother of Arthur and Lewis. In response Garrison called for the organization of a National Anti-Slavery Society and promised to expose the false philanthropy, emancipation “on condition of banishment,” of the ACS. The book, which contained extensive materials from the speeches and pamphlets of colonizationists and the African Repository, summarized and expanded on the black abolitionist argument against it. Garrison presciently critiqued colonization’s imperialist consequences: “If the gospel cannot be propagated but by the aid of the sword . . . it is better to leave the pagan world in darkness.” He also differentiated between black-led emigration efforts to Haiti, Mexico, and Canada and African colonization, contending that the former areas were too close for slaveholders’ comfort. He published Steward’s and Paola Brown’s glowing reports on Wilberforce and a letter signed by a “colored female” from Philadelphia who recommended emigration to Mexico in the Liberator. Garrison deplored the fact that colonization incited the persecution of African Americans, rattling off a series of recent laws, beginning with Ohio’s, which restricted black rights. He recapitulated black denunciations of colonization, including what he called the “conciliatory and generous language” of Walker, who was “denounced as a blood-hound and monster,” and Easton’s, Watkins’s, and Forten’s words. His most effective indictment of colonizationists lay in their accommodation to and incitement of an unchristian and unrepublican racial prejudice. The ACS, he charged, derived “malignant satisfaction” from the oppression of free blacks, and he mounted a spirited defense, pointing to their rich institutional life. To those who accused him of fostering anticolonization sentiment among blacks, he set the record straight. He had followed African Americans on this issue rather than vice versa. The second part of his book was entirely devoted to reproducing the proceedings of anticolonization black meetings.45
In yet another respect Garrison followed in black footsteps. From John Marrant to Paul Cuffe, black abolitionists traveled to Britain to build an international “antislavery wall” against American slavery. Immediately preceding Garrison was Nathaniel Paul, who was sent to Britain to raise money for Wilberforce. Once there Paul delivered anticolonization speeches at the cost of his original mission. In letters to Garrison he warned of the ACS agent Elliot Cresson’s efforts to win British support for colonization. By 1833 Garrison decided to travel to Britain to oppose colonization and to raise funds for a black manual labor school. Black Bostonians led by Primus Hall, Hilton, and Barbadoes, and Forten, Purvis, Robert Douglass, and James McCrummell in Philadelphia approved of his mission. A meeting in New York led by Jennings, Vogelsang, Sipkins, and Johnson asked Garrison to stop Cresson from spreading “detestable misrepresentations of our known wishes.” In his farewell address to the people of color, Garrison promised to plead their cause and argue against colonization. African Americans plied him with donations, gifts, and even food. In England, Paul and the British abolitionists Charles Stuart, who had written pamphlets against colonization, Joseph Phillips, and James Cropper were indispensable allies. Stuart forwarded five hundred dollars to Garrison for his proposed manual labor school. Paul lectured with Garrison and lent him money to return home. When Garrison returned, Vashon presented him with another sixty dollars. Garrison formed connections with British abolitionists, especially the radical George Thompson, a lecturing star of the antislavery society’s agency system, and the Irish nationalist Daniel O’Connell.46
Paul’s and Garrison’s British lecture tour was the first triumph of interracial immediatism. While Cresson avoided debating Paul, whom he dismissed as a “mulatto” preacher, and Garrison, his cause was effectively dead. The newly formed British colonization society was minuscule and excoriated by abolitionists. Garrison capped his stay with a large meeting at Exeter Hall, where he accused the slaveholding Republic “of disfranchising and proscribing nearly half a million free people of color . . . of suffering a large portion of her population to be lacerated, starved and plundered . . . of trafficking in the bodies and souls of men . . . of stealing the liberties of two millions . . . of being callously indifferent to the accumulated wrongs and sufferings of her black population.” Paul defended Garrison from Cresson’s allusion to his imprisonment. Garrison was imprisoned for opposing the slave laws of the United States that gave men the liberty to buy and sell human beings, a standard by which, Paul warranted, the entire antislavery society of Britain could be jailed. The Exeter meeting resulted in the abolitionist “Protest against colonization,” signed by Wilberforce, Buxton, Allen, George Stephen, and Macaulay. Paul’s appeals were effective enough to prevent the aging Clarkson from lending his name to colonization, but he remained neutral. In 1841 Clarkson, in a public letter to Garrison, would finally repudiate colonization. Paul married an Englishwoman and returned to his church in Albany, where he died in 1839.47
While abolitionists were a despised American minority, British abolitionists represented a powerful example to them. As Garrison wrote, it cheered his spirits to be in a country where so much was being done for African emancipation. In 1833, just before his return, he witnessed the passage of the abolition bill in the reformed House of Commons and received news of Wilberforce’s death. Besides the PAS, Rev. Benjamin F. Hughes of the African Presbyterian Church in New York and Whipper were the first to eulogize him. Recalling Wilberforce’s “eloquent and forcible appeals,” Whipper detailed his long antislavery career with great precision. In contrast to the victorious history of abolition in Britain, he noted that “the oppressed of all nations and castes” could gain shelter in the United States “EXCEPT THOSE OF AFRICAN ORIGIN.” Abolitionists hailed the British precedent not because they were naïve but to hold the slave-holding Republic in contempt. And they reserved their admiration not for the government but for abolitionists. Garrisonians were critical of the British government’s implementation of emancipation, which compensated slaveholders and decreed a long period of apprenticeship for former slaves. They acknowledged that “though the proposed measure is far from doing complete justice to the slave, it is yet immeasurably in advance of the present system.”48
In calling for the immediate, uncompensated (to slaveholders) abolition of slavery and black rights Garrison gave the movement its programmatic clarity. He personally “converted” white immediatists, including the Unitarian minister Samuel J. May, the attorneys Samuel E. Sewall, a descendant of his antislavery Puritan namesake, and Ellis Gray Loring, the editors Oliver Johnson and David Lee Child, the German Charles (Karl) Follen, a professor at Harvard, and Robert B. Hall of Connecticut. Knapp and his future in-laws, the Benson family, soon joined him. The Bensons had been active in the revolutionary era abolition movement, as were the Quaker Garrisonians, the hatter Arnold Buffum and Joshua Coffin. Whittier, taught by Coffin and befriended by Garrison, was a natural convert. Garrison published May’s discourse on slavery and early champions of black equality like Jocelyn. From Ohio, he published not just the black abolitionists Rev. Owen and Rev. David Nickens but also the lectures of Professors Beriah Green and Elizur Wright of Western Reserve College. He announced the conversion from colonization to immediatism of Arthur Tappan, a financier of religious and moral reform, including temperance and antiprostitution. Through Tappan he recruited Theodore Dwight Weld, the most outstanding itinerant lecturer for reform.
After scrambling to find twelve men, the “apostolic” number, who would endorse his brand of immediate abolition, Garrison in 1832 again chose January 1 on which to convene the inaugural meeting of the NEASS in the basement of the historic black Baptist church on Belknap Street. Boston’s black abolitionists, already organized in the GCA, signed their names alongside the twelve, which included its first president, Buffum, Knapp, Hall, Coffin, and Johnson. Sewall, Loring, and Child, who balked, came around. The GCA worked with the NEASS on a petition campaign against slavery in the District of Columbia. The NEASS encouraged black employment and passed resolutions defending free blacks against colonizationist strictures. In his inaugural address, Hall held up Haiti as an exemplar of immediatism. Within two years, the NEASS acquired nearly two thousand members, and Buffum’s and Garrison’s lecture tours laid the foundations of immediatism in New England.49
Garrison unveiled the tactic of “moral suasion” or persuasion, which was geared to awakening public opinion on slavery and racism. For him, the most important abolitionist work was the conversion of white Americans, convincing them to recognize African Americans as their “fellow countrymen.” In his sermon On Prejudice, May preached that “it behooves every one, if he would not be made the blind instrument of injustice, oppression, cruelty, to bear in mind that he is individually responsible for his conduct and his feelings.” In advocating moral suasion, Garrison was strongly influenced by John Rankin’s Letters on Slavery. Garrison reprinted them in the Liberator and in a book as a successful example of moral suasion, the method employed by early Quaker abolitionists. Originally published in 1824 in the newspaper Castigator and two years later as a book, Rankin’s letters were meant to convert his brother in Virginia, who he learned had purchased slaves. Rankin felt it was his duty to liberate his mistaken brother of his racial prejudices and his “love of gain,” which made him enslave black people. His stance against the “twin born” evils of slavery and racism and his opinion that slaves should be given all the “privileges of freemen” aligned well with Garrisonianism. He referred to his fellow Presbyterian John Gloucester as proof of black equality. Having lived in the South, Rankin testified to slavery’s “scenes of blood and cruelty” and the disruption of families through the interstate slave trade. Rankin’s brother freed his slaves and, like Rankin, moved to Ohio.
Another minister, Rev. James Duncan of Indiana, championed immediatism as early as 1824 in his A Treatise on Slavery. Duncan’s writings reprehended slavery as a “heinous sin” and criticized northern gradual emancipation laws for robbing the slaves of their labor and liberty until they reached adulthood. Slavery, Duncan wrote, was the “double robbery” of a slave’s person and labor. He predicted a Haitian Revolution in America and praised the Vesey rebels as the “fifty martyrs suffering death in Charleston . . . for attempting that which their cruel prosecutors and murderers would have considered heroic virtue in their own persons, if their condition had been the same as the slaves.” Duncan avowed that it was the duty of slaves to escape slavery, and if they rose “in rebellion against their tyrants,” citizens of the free states and the federal government were forbidden by “moral law” to assist in their suppression. Duncan claimed that slavery violated the Constitution, making him popular with political abolitionists, and argued that African Americans had a “natural right” to American citizenship. Evangelical abolitionists, searching for non-Garrisonian origins of immediatism, resurrected his book in the 1840s.50
With the addition of the Tappan brothers, Weld, Wright, Green, Joshua Leavitt, the editor of the New York Evangelist, and William Goodell, the editor of the Genius of Temperance, immediatism acquired an influential evangelical wing. Weld, a follower of Stuart, who had traveled to Canada and America, and the popular preacher Charles Grandison Finney, proved to be the most effective proselytizer for abolition, and Lewis Tappan its most effective manager. Abolition soon treaded the path of Finney’s religious revivals from the “burned over” districts of upstate New York to the Western Reserve district of Ohio. New England emigrants to upstate New York, western Ohio, and the upper tier of the states of the old northwest were particularly susceptible to abolition. Nearly fifty antislavery societies modeled after the NEASS sprang up in places like Bath and Portland, Maine, where around five hundred African Americans heard Garrison lecture, Providence, Plainfield in Connecticut, Rochester, Paint Valley, Ohio, Farmington in Michigan territory, and in Quaker-settled Lancaster and Chester counties, Pennsylvania. Owen Brown, the father of John Brown, was the secretary of the Western Reserve Anti Slavery Society in Ohio, founded by Professors Wright and Green and the college president, Charles B. Storrs. In New Haven, Jocelyn and Timothy Dwight, the namesake and son of the Yale president, started an antislavery society. By October 1833 the New York Anti Slavery Society (NYASS) was founded by the Tappans, Goodell, Wright, Leavitt, and Williams. Cornish and his protégé Theodore S. Wright, also a Presbyterian minister, joined the society.51 Most evangelicals remained colonizationists and decried abolition. Eventually Garrison’s religious and philosophical radicalism led him to part ways with the evangelical wing of abolition, but its accession added to the strength, prestige, and resources of immediatism.
Garrison proposed the formation of a national society devoted to abolition and black rights. In 1831 Arthur Tappan had convened a meeting attended by Bourne, Jocelyn, Weld, Leavitt, and Goodell to form an antislavery organization, but nothing came of it. On his return from England, Garrison persuaded the Tappans and their followers to issue a call for a meeting in Philadelphia, home to the still-active PAS. Garrison no doubt chose Philadelphia because of its history as the capital of Quaker-inspired abolition and its activist black community. While some, like Robert Vaux, who were sympathetic to Cresson and colonization, shunned the meeting, others, including Evan Lewis, Shipley, and Edwin Atlee, joined the AASS. On December 3, 1833, sixty-three delegates assembled at Adelphi Hall, which belonged to a black benevolent society. Garrison stayed at the home of the black dentist James McCrummell, where he wrote the society’s declaration. Six black abolitionists were named managers of the new society, McCrummell, Purvis, Barbadoes, who accompanied Garrison from Boston, Williams, Vashon, and Shadd, who had moved from Delaware to Chester County. The first three also attended the founding convention. Blacks in Carlisle selected J. Miller McKim, a young abolitionist minister whose daughter Lucy, a pioneering collector of slave songs, would marry Garrison’s son, as their delegate.
A large New York delegation led by Tappan and Goodell and a western contingent led by Green and Wright attended the founding convention. Besides some members of the PAS, Bourne, Moses Brown, and George Benson were present. New England immediatists, including Sewall, May, Jocelyn, Hall, and a young Congregationalist clergyman named Amos Phelps, who became an effective agent for the society, also were there. Quakers, especially Hicksites such as James Mott and, on Garrison’s urging, Whittier, formed the largest group present. When none of the venerable Philadelphia Quakers agreed to preside, Green was chosen president on the suggestion of Lucretia Mott, the wife of James and one of four Quaker women observing the meeting from the gallery. She proffered editorial changes to the declaration and mentored McKim. While Garrison was the ideologue of the movement, its managers emerged from the New York wing. Arthur Tappan was named president, Wright, secretary of domestic correspondence, and, after his successful British tour, Garrison, secretary of foreign correspondence. Weld, who could not attend because of ill health, wrote, “I am deliberately, earnestly, solemnly, with my whole heart and soul and mind and strength, for the immediate, universal, and total abolition of slavery.”52
All agreed on the central role of Garrison in the organization of the AASS. The convention singled out two men for special praise, Lundy and Garrison. In his speech Lewis Tappan averred that Garrison had pushed the antislavery movement forward single-handedly by nearly a quarter of a century. Purvis spoke of the high esteem “colored Americans” had for him. Garrison composed the pivotal document of the convention, the Declaration of Sentiments. It claimed to represent the two million enslaved and announced that American “oppression is unequalled by any other on the face of the earth.” Arguing for “immediate and general” emancipation and equal rights for “all persons of color,” it rejected as “delusive, cruel, and dangerous any scheme of expatriation.” Distinguishing the program of American abolition from its British counterpart, Garrison emphasized that no compensation should be given to slaveholders: “If compensation is to be given at all, it should be given to the outraged and guiltless slaves.” The declaration laid out the AASS’s goals: to organize societies, employ agents, print and circulate antislavery literature, purify proslavery churches, and boycott slave-produced goods. Of all the literature he had written, Whittier reminisced, he was proudest of having his name associated with the declaration.
The AASS constitution balanced the radical aims of the declaration with circumspect means. It specified using moral suasion or “arguments addressed” to the “understanding and consciences” of slaveholders to abandon slavery and to persuade Congress to act in constitutionally permissible ways to end slavery in the District of Columbia, to outlaw the slave trade, and to not admit any new slave states. It followed Whittier’s pamphlet Justice and Expediency, which called for immediate abolition but stressed the constitutional power of the federal government to abolish slavery in areas under its jurisdiction. It also made the elevation of the “character and condition of the people of color” a central concern, while it explicitly discountenanced physical force. The AASS appointed Garrison, May, Phelps, and Weld agents of the society. Wright pressured Weld to accept the commission. Green closed the convention with a rousing call for abolition to be “entwined around the very fibers of our hearts.”53
The founding of the AASS broke the national consensus over slavery and race. It would be wrong, however, to blame abolitionists for the disappearance of the supposed southern moderation on slavery. Proslavery extremism predated radical abolitionism. Even before the rise of immediatism, South Carolinian planter politicians, during the nullification crisis of 1828–33 over federal tariff laws, had served notice that they would defend the permanence of slavery at any cost, including secession. Coming soon after British emancipation, the specter of an interracial abolition movement alarmed slaveholders.54 Interracial immediatism, even in its infancy, posed a latent threat to slaveholders’ political and economic power, and they recognized it as such.