Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

Chapter 26
LYNCH LAW

William Leggett, writing in the New YorkEvening Post, July 11, 1834, made a most significant pronouncement, saying: "We may keep a vigilant eye upon them [abolitionists] and procure them to be indicted and visited with legal punishment whenever their proceedings become obnoxious to the law. But till then they are entitled to all the privileges and immunities of American Citizens, and have a right to be protected in their persons and property against all assailants whatsoever.'1

This editorial comment was occasioned by a riot on the previous day in New York City. There had been earlier instances of mob violence. When the organizational meeting of the New York City Anti-Slavery Society had been announced for October 2, 1833, a mob had taken possession of Clinton Hall, and the meeting had been held in Chatham Street Chapel. In that event the mob had been summoned by placards which read: "Notice -- to all persons from the South -- All persons interested in the subject of a meeting called by J. Leavitt, W. Greene, W. Goodell, J. Rankin, Lewis Tappan, at Clinton Hall, this evening at 7 o'clock, are requested to attend at the same hour and place. Many Southerners." Another had read: "All citizens who may feel disposed to manifest the true feeling of the state on this subject are requested to attend.'2

Opposition to the American Anti-Slavery Society, which was organized two months later, continued to build up during the winter and early summer; and, beginning July 10, 1834, the longest of all riots on record against antislavery people occurred in the city. The colonization society was deeply involved in the affair.3 The mob first met at Chatham Street Chapel where antislavery meetings were customarily held. It organized and passed resolutions approving the colonization society. It then fanned out through the city committing acts of violence against the Negroes themselves. Lewis Tappan suffered substantial losses. His home was plundered, and his furniture was piled in the yard and burned. The mercantile establishment of the Tappan brothers was invaded, but, being business property, was protected by the police.4 The churches of the Reverend A. L. Cox and Reverend H. G. Ludlow were gutted of all furniture, benches, and pulpits.5 Three Negro churches were damaged. The furniture and organ of St. Phillips African Episcopal Church were burned. A school house, a barbershop, and at least twenty homes, all belonging to Negroes, were destroyed. The Negro homes were so completely wrecked that the owners had to apply to charity for the necessaries of life.6 Order was not restored until the governor sent troops into the city.

It was in the midst of this riot that Leggett had written his editorial in reference to the privileges and immunities -- including, among other natural rights, the right to protection of persons and property -- of American citizens. The following day, July 12, 1834, he said: "The fury of demons seems to have entered into the breasts of our misguided populace. Like those ferocious animals which, having once tasted blood, are seized with an insatiable thirst for gore, they have had an appetite awakened for outrage, which nothing but the most extensive and indiscriminate destruction seems

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