Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

Chapter 21
THEODORE WELD: THE AGENCY SYSTEM

The Lane Seminary students withdrew from that institution on October 21, 1834, and intensified their welfare work among the Negroes of Cincinnati. Theodore Weld and Henry B. Stanton left Cincinnati about the same time to begin work as agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Weld stayed in Ohio, Stanton went to Rhode Island. These two men were the masters of argumentation and antislavery philosophy. They had great physical stamina, courage, and devotion to the cause. No other person ever remotely approached the achievements of either in the movement except Birney, and his talents lay elsewhere than in public address.

This was the crucial test. It was clear by this time that antislavery literature would not arouse the nation. Newspapers, periodicals, and pamphlets were invaluable sources of inspiration and education, and they provided a cohesive element to the movement, but at least a few people in any given community had to be aroused and enlisted in the cause before this literature could come into the community and through these few people be passed on to others. Agents, more specifically, lecturers, whether local men or from outside, had to awaken the community and do it effectively enough to establish a local antislavery society. No one among the earlier agents of the society had been even moderately successful. It was Weld and Stanton who proved the efficacy of the agency system and thereby saved the movement.

Weld began his work at Ripley, in the church of his old friend, John Rankin. He spoke elsewhere in the churches of the antislavery preachers from the South, below Chillicothe, then moved north through Frankfort and Bloomingsburg to Circleville.1 This area, embracing several counties, was already organized as the Paint Valley Anti-Slavery Society. When Weld finished his work here, the society had 4,000 members and was the largest in the nation. In fact, at the end of Weld's lecture tour in Ohio that state had onethird of all the antislavery societies in the country. Weld went from Circleville to Putnam and paved the way for organization there, in April 1835, of the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society. The students from Lane Seminary had gone to Oberlin meanwhile and were just beginning their work in the spring term of 1835.

Weld went from Putnam to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. His work among the delegates was remarkably successful, owing no doubt in part to the long-continued activities of John Rankin in the church. In his report to Elizur Wright, Weld said: "I find that forty-eight Commissioners in the assembly are decidedly with us on the subject of slavery -- believing slavery a sin and immediate emancipation a duty. Twenty-seven of this number are ministers in slave states. Last year, it is not known that there were more than two decided immediate abolitionists in the Assembly... This year immediate abolitionists constitute nearly onefourth part of the Assembly."2

Weld returned to Ohio by way of Washington, Pennsylvania, and took a number of former Lane Seminary rebels from Oberlin to Cleveland. He trained them during August and September 1835

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