The Abolitionists: A Collection of Their Writings

By Louis Ruchames | Go to book overview
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Introduction

"The character of a city is determined by the character of the men it crowns," once remarked Wendell Phillips, quoting the Greek orator Aeschines. Applying the lesson to modern times, there are few periods in American history that offer as remarkable an opportunity for the molding of American character to the highest standards of humanity as that in which the men and women known as Abolitionists lived and wrought. Devoted to the ideals of brotherhood and equality of opportunity for all men, their consciences seared by the heartlessness of slavery in the South and racial prejudice in the North, they consecrated their lives to the eradication of both evils. Encompassed by both indifference and hostility, subjected to social ostracism, economic sanctions and physical violence for daring to condemn institutions and customs which were regarded as vital to the welfare of American society and therefore sacrosanct, they stubbornly and heroically continued their efforts until victory in the war against slavery was achieved.

The nature of the revolution wrought by the Abolitionists may best be assessed by placing ourselves in the year 1829, immediately before the rise of the modern Abolitionist movement. In December of that year, the American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and Improving the Condition of the African Race held its twentyfirst biennial convention at Washington, D. C., with delegates present from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D. C., and Alexandria, Virginia. Formed thirty-five years earlier in an attempt to unite the efforts of existing state and local anti-slavery groups, the organization's successes and failures during the intervening years were highlighted in three notable reports to the convention.

In the first, Benjamin Lundy, one of the great anti-slavery pioneers, enumerated its successes. These were an increase in the number of anti-slavery advocates from very few to thousands, some of them "among the most influential characters in the nation"; the complete abolition of slavery in certain states, particularly Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and

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