Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

ANGELINA GRIMKÉ: WOMEN'S RIGHTS
Chapter 22

The men who were making the decisions in this gigantic enterprise -- and that meant Weld, Stanton, Birney, Wright, Lewis Tappan -- always were able to reconcile their differences and to make whatever accommodations of personal interest were necessary to achieve a maximum effort against slavery. Speaking of these officers of the society, Catherine Birney, who knew the antislavery movement as well as anyone, said in 1885: "Their moderation, good judgment, and piety had been seen and known of all men. Faithful in the exposure of unfaithfulness to freedom on the part of politicians and clergymen, they denounced neither the Constitution nor the Bible. Their devotion to the cause of abolition was pure; for its sake they suppressed the vanity of personal notoriety and of oratorical display... Such was their honest aversion to personal publicity, it is now almost impossible to trace the work each did. Some of their noblest arguments for Freedom were published anonymously. They made no vainglorious claims to the original authorship of ideas. But never in the history of reform was work better done than the old American Anti-Slavery Society did from its formation in 1833 to its disruption in 1840."1

These men were constantly distressed, however, by Garrison's conduct of the Liberator. He used intemperate language. He departed from a discussion of issues to deal in personalities. He confused the issue of slavery by excessive championing of women's rights. He was a pacifist and an anarchist. The women's rights issue was a deviation which dissipated the strength of the antislavery movement. The rejection of governmental authority, denunciation of the Constitution as a proslavery document, and refusal to exercise the franchise or to countenance coercion by the government in enforcement of law constituted a misconception of the duties and responsibilities of citizenship and a totally unsound interpretation of the Constitution.

Garrison did not represent the antislavery men of New England, or Massachusetts, or all of Boston. The idea that all of new England was Garrisonian is at odds with the facts. He had the support of some wealthy patrons in Boston and of some very able women, but others who recognized his contribution to the antislavery cause -- and that included the New York group -- deplored his aberrations. Internal pressures finally split the national society asunder in 1839. Meanwhile, the women made a rather remarkable contribution in Boston. The most important of these women by all odds was Angelina Grimké of Charleston, South Carolina.

Angelina, and her elder sister Sarah, were daughters of the aristocratic, Oxford-trained Judge John F. Grimké of the South Carolina Supreme Court. They came from a combination of French Huguenot, English Puritan, and Irish stock. One brother, Thomas Smith Grimké, was a leader of the lawabiding elements in the state during the Nullification controversy. He was an orator, a man of letters, a bold advocate of reforms. He and the two girls were born humanitarians. Another brother, Frederick Grimké, was a member of the Supreme Court of Ohio and author of Nature and Tendencyof Free Institutions

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