Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
FOREIGN SLAVE TRADE

The organizational meeting of the Convention of Abolition Societies in Philadelphia, January 1, 1794, issued an address to the citizens of the United States in which it emphasized the obligations of justice, humanity, and benevolence toward slaves and free Negroes; and urged the states to "refrain immediately from that species of rapine and murder which has improperly been softened by the name of African trade." This address was prepared by Benjamin Rush, Warner Mifflin, and Isaac H. Starr.1 Its memorial to Congress, as we have seen, resulted in the Act of 1794, which was a feeble attempt to assist Britain and France in suppressing the trade to their colonies. It did not attempt to regulate and control the trade to the United States, probably because men shrank from exposing anything so repulsive, or because its depravity was so complete as to defy reform.

It was appropriate that Warner Mifflin should have been associated with Benjamin Rush in the preparation of the address to the people. He had been raised a slaveholder on the eastern shore of Virginia. He had freed his wife's slaves in 1774, and his own the following year. Through his influence the Mifflin families gave freedom to nearly one hundred slaves, and in the Quaker tradition they assisted them in every possible way to become established in independent status. His influence was not as great as that of Woolman or Benezet, but he traveled widely in the cause of freedom, appeared before many legislatures, and was instrumental in securing legislative sanction to private manumissions in Virginia. He had sent a memorial to Congress under date of November 22, 1792, protesting against the foreign and domestic slave trade. The House of Representatives had engaged in the bitter debate over petitions in February 1790; it had received and buried in committee the petitions from the various abolition societies in December 1791; and it now did what Southerners had wanted to do in the first instance -- refused to accept it and returned it to Mifflin. Sharp things were said about Mifflin's opposition to the war. His petition was denounced as unconstitutional, mischievous, disturbing to the harmony of the Union, and likely to precipitate insurrections among the slaves. Stung by this insult from Congress, Mifflin promptly published A Serious Expostulation with the Members of the House of Representatives of the United States.2

This remonstrance followed the pattern of David Cooper's A Serious Address to the Rulers of America, published ten years earlier. It quoted from the Articles of Association ( October 20, 1774), the Address to the Inhabitants of Canada ( May 29, 1775), the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms ( July 6, 1775), the Address to People of England ( July 8, 1775), the Address to Ireland ( July 28, 1775), the Declaration of Independence ( July 4, 1776), and the Observations on the American Revolution ( 1779). Criticism of his antislavery activities and his advocacy of peace principles continued to such a degree that in 1796 he published The Defense of Warner Mifflin Against Aspersions Cast on Him on Account of His Endeavors to Promote Righteousness, Mercy, and Peace Among Mankind.3

-76-

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