Lessons from History

By Meehan, Mary | The Human Life Review, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Lessons from History


Meehan, Mary, The Human Life Review


John Greenleaf Whittier, the Quaker poet, was also a shrewd political organizer. While working for the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1837, he spent much time on anti-slavery petitions to Congress. "How are you getting on in regard to petitions?" Whittier wrote a fellow abolitionist. "Are they in circulation-or are they lying in the drawers, or wearing out in the pockets, of the persons who have them!" Referring to William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper, he suggested, "Thunder at them through the Liberator and scare them into the work."'

Instructions for petition-gatherers combined political thoroughness with literary grace: "Let petitions be circulated wherever signers can be got.... Follow the farmer to his field, the wood-chopper to the forest. Hail the shopkeeper behind his counter; call the clerk from his desk; stop the waggoner with his team; forget not the matron, ask for her daughter."2

Today's right-to-life movement has no poet laureate; but it does resemble the abolitionist movement in many ways, including attention to political detail. Like the abolitionists, most right-to-lifers have deep religious convictions. Also like the abolitionists, they face a deeply-entrenched evil, one with strong support in the political and financial establishments. John Cardinal O'Connor recently said that pro-lifers have "the loneliness of the long-distance runner."3 They are in good historical company. Protest against slavery in the United States dates back at least to 1688. Quakers were active against it in the early 1700s, and the first national anti-slavery organization was started in 1794. Yet abolitionists had to struggle on until 1865, when the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment finally abolished slavery.

Whittier and many other activists of the last anti-slavery phase lived to see slavery abolished, although not in the way they had hoped. Their victory was marred in three major respects: 1) Abolition was achieved by a horrific war, not by the peaceful means that the Quakers and so many other abolitionists advocated and practiced; 2) the ex-slaves did not win either political or economic equality in the South; 3) Northern racism, a sometime target of abolitionists, remained strong after emancipation. Some of this might have been avoided with a different and more comprehensive strategy. I stress the "might" because the pro-slavery forces were extremely powerful, often violent, and fiercely resistant to change. In any case, right-to-lifers can learn a great deal by studying both the successes and the failures of abolitionists.

Starting on a positive note, they might consider the brilliant organizing that abolitionists did in the 1830s. Theodore Dwight Weld, formerly a Protestant seminarian, organized an effort to "abolitionize" Ohio in 1834-36. The Rev. Lyman Beecher, himself a famous preacher, described Weld as "logic on fire.... As eloquent as an angel and powerful as thunder!" Weld trained other young men; he and they spoke all over Ohio, did tremendous educational work, and helped organize local anti-slavery societies. In doing all of this they had to face down mobs many times. According to Weld biographer Benjamin Thomas, they "came to consider a riot as part of their introduction."4

So effective was Weld that the American Anti-Slavery Society chose him to recruit and train "The Seventy," a group of abolitionist lecturers to be sent all over the North. They were patterned after the seventy disciples of the New Testament, though they did not actually reach quite that number in the field. Most were Protestant ministers or seminarians. The Seventy did for other states what Weld and his first colleagues had done for Ohio: they "abolitionized" entire states in one of the most successful organizing campaigns in American history.

Today, despite decades of educational work and protest, there are still states where the anti-abortion movement is weak, especially in the Northeast and on the West Coast. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Lessons from History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.