Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union

By Stanley Harrold | Go to book overview

chapter three
A Liberal Party

The years from 1838 to 1841 were turbulent and momentous for Bailey and the antislavery cause. The disagreements over tactics that had become evident in 1837 led to the breakup of the American Anti-Slavery Society into two antagonistic groups. The minority, centered in New England and led by William Lloyd Garrison, continued to advocate abolition within the context of sweeping social reform. Garrison and his followers were steadfast in their reliance on moral suasion to transform northern public opinion on the issues of slavery and race, and they continued to oppose independent political action by abolitionists. The majority, which was centered in New York and continued to favor concentration on the single issue of slavery, was itself divided--although less clearly--among those abolitionists who concentrated their energies on church-oriented opposition to slavery and gave their political allegiance to the Whig party, and those who emphasized third-party action as a means of rapidly abolitionizing one or the other of the major parties.1

Because Bailey was well-removed from the eastern center of the controversy and because he faced different circumstances, he pursued a course during these years that did not fit easily into categories established in the East. He began to advocate an approach to political action that was similar to but distinct from that of most of the leading eastern advocates of a third party. His own forays into politics in the late 1830s combined with the emerging concept of a Slave Power conspiracy made independent political action increasingly attractive to him. But Bailey realized that the creation of an abolitionist political party could divide the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society and actually retard efforts to create a broad-based antislavery movement that could appeal to southerners as well as northerners. He was keenly aware that to succeed

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