Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union

By Stanley Harrold | Go to book overview

chapter four
True Democracy in the Shadow of Slavery

Bailey described himself as the guardian of an antislavery outpost in Cincinnati, "under the very shadow of slavery." Located across the Ohio River from the slave state of Kentucky, the city served as the most important center of western trade between the North and South, and Bailey claimed Cincinnati was beset by more proslavery influences than any other community in the free states. Yet he believed publishing the Philanthropist in that city was vital to the success of the antislavery movement in general and to the Ohio Liberty party in particular.

In the first place, in the early 1840s when most abolitionists had ceased attempting to convince slaveholders to liberate their slaves, much in Bailey's life convinced him that it could still be done, so long as he fought for freedom of the press, maintained his proximity to the slave states, and commanded the respect of southerners. He knew slaveholders personally; some of them were his inlaws in southeastern Virginia; others he met on steam- boats on the Ohio River and during trips to Kentucky and Virginia. They were people, he said, "capable of appreciating sound argument, open to appeals to . . . humanity and patriotism."1

In the second place, Bailey realized that southern Ohio might be fertile ground for the Liberty party if he pursued the correct tactics. Like other portions of the lower Northwest, southern Ohio had been settled by Pennsylvanians and southerners who were not evangelical Protestants and who did not oppose slavery on moral grounds. In Cincinnati there were also large numbers of German and Irish immigrants who did not share--and to varying degrees distrusted--the outlook of native-born evangelicals. All of these groups tended to have working-class views and to put their faith in the Democratic party rather than the Whig. Antiblack sentiments were prevalent

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