The Abolitionists
edited by Louis Ruchames

An anthology of selections by American abolitionists, arranged in chronological order.

William Lloyd Garrison:
Garrison was persuaded to become an abolitionist by Benjamin Lundy, a Quaker from New Jersey. (15)

Garrison relied primarily on Negro contributions and subscriptions to finance The Liberator. (16)

"So accustomed was American society of that day—including many who were honestly anti-slavery—to speak in soft tones of slavery and the slaveholder, that Garrison's language seemed outlandish and violent. Yet what he wrote was never coarse or vulgar, and to the fair-minded observer today, remembering the villainy that had to be described and the indifference to be overcome, it appears appropriate and necessary." (16—17)
Garrison came to the conclusion that "The only moral and just course for the North was disunion or secession, which would ultimately result in the fall of slavery." (23)

In 1865, Lincoln said, "I have been only an instrument. The logic and moral power of Garrison, and the anti-slavery people of the country and the Army, have done all." (24)

Garrison wrote:

"I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there no cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man, whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present! I am in earnest. I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD." (31)
John Greenleaf Whittier:
"And what is this system which we are thus protecting and upholding? A system which holds two millions of God's creatures in bondage, which leaves one million females without any protection save their own feeble strength, and which makes even the exercise of that strength in resistance to outrage punishable with death! which considers rational, immortal beings as articles of traffic, vendible commodities, merchantable property—which recognizes no social obligations, no natural relations—which tears without scruple the infant from the mother, the wife from the husband, the parent from the child..." (48—49)
Elizur Wright:
"The firm expression of an enlightened public opinion, on the part of non-slave-holders, in favor of instant abolition, is an effectual, and the only effectual means of securing abolition in any time whatsoever..." (60)
American Anti-Slavery Society:
"Their grievances, great as they were, were trifling in comparison with the wrongs and sufferings of those for whom we plead. Our fathers were never slaves—never bought and sold like cattle—never shut out from the light of knowledge and religion—never subjected to the lash of brutal taskmasters." (79)

"Every man has a right to his own body—to the products of his own labor—to the protection of law—and to the common advantages of society. It is piracy to buy or steal a native African, and subject him to servitude. Surely, the sin is as great to enslave an American as an African. Therefore we believe and affirm—that there is no difference, in principle, between the African slave trade and American slavery" (80)

"We maintain that no compensation should be given to the planters emancipating their slaves... Because the holders of slave are not the just proprietors of what they claim; freeing the slave is not depriving them of property, but restoring it to its rightful owner; it is not wronging the master, but righting the slave—restoring him to himself... Because, if compensation is to be given at all, it should be given to the outraged and guiltless slaves, and not to those who have plundered and abused them." (81)

David Ruggles:
"How could "nature" excite such a repugnance [between races], and uneducated children know it not? ... In south America, white and colored persons live together on terms of perfect equality, no "repugnance" exists natural or artificial; and certainly nature is true to herself. If the "repugnance" of N. America is natural, why is it not natural in S. America?" (86)
David Child was one of the first to see that the war for Texas was, on the American side, a war to extend slavery into an area where it had already been abolished by the old or Mexican Constitution of Texas. (107) Henry C. Write:
"All human governments that ever did or do exist, are, in the main, only efforts of man to acquire dominion over man. The very spirit of slaveholding pervades every government on the globe. (112)
Gerrit Smith:
"When, then, this right of free discussion is invaded, this home-bred right, which is yours, and is mine, and belongs to every member of the human family, it is an invasion of something which was not obtained by human concession, something as old as our own being, a part of the original man, a component portion of our own identity, something which we cannot be deprived of without dismemberment, something which we never can deprive ourselves of without ceasing to be MEN." (114)

"I knew before that slavery would not survive free discussion. But the demands recently put forth by the South for our surrender of the right of discussion, and the avowed reasons of that demand, involve a full concession of this fact, that free discussion is incompatible with slavery. The South, by her own showing, admits that slavery cannot live unless the North is tongue-tied. Now you, and I, and all these Abolitionists, have objected to this: One is, we desire and purpose to employ all our influence lawfully and kindly and temperately to deliver our Southern brethren from bondage, and never to give rest to our lips or our pens till it is accomplished. The other objection is that we are not willing to be slaves ourselves. The enormous and insolent demands put forth by the South show us that the question is now, not only whether the blacks shall continue to be slaves, but whether our necks shall come under the yoke." (116)

Francis Jackson:
"Happily, one point seems already to be gaining universal assent, that slavery cannot long survive free discussion. Hence the efforts of the friends and apologists of slavery to break down this right. And hence the immense stake, which the enemies of slavery hold, in behalf of freedom and mankind, in its preservation. The contest is therefore substantially between liberty and slavery." (120)
Wendell Phillips:
"James Otis thundered in this Hall when the king did but touch his pocket. Imagine, if you can, his indignant eloquence, had England offered to put a gag upon his lips. (147)
Angelina E. Grimke:
"The great fundamental principle of Abolitionists is, that man cannot rightfully hold his fellow man as property. Therefore, we affirm, that every slaveholder is a man-stealer. ... It matters not whether this be done in Guinea, or Carolina; a man is a man, and as a man he has inalienable rights, among which is the right to personal liberty." (153)

"The only difference I can see between the original man-stealer, who caught the African in his native country, and the American slaveholder, is, that the former committed one act of robbery, while the other perpetuates the same crime continually. Slaveholding is the perpetrating of acts, all of the same kind, in a series, the first of which is technically called man-stealing. The first act robbed the man of himself; and the same state of mind that prompted that act, keeps up the series, having taken his all from him; it keeps his all from him, not only refusing to restore, but still robbing him of all he gets, and as fast as he gets it. Slaveholding, then, is the constant or habitual perpetration of the act of man-stealing." (154)

Wendell Phillips:
"Resolved, That secession from the present United States government is the duty of every abolitionist; since no one can take office, or throw a vote for another to hold office, under the United States Constitution, without violating his anti-slavery principles, and rendering himself an abettor of the slaveholder in his sin." (193) "NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS" (196)
Theodore Parker:
"What is the idea of the abolitionists? Only this, That all men are created free, endowed with unalienable rights; and in respect of those rights, that all men are equal." (200)
Wendell Phillips:
"We expect to accomplish our object long before the nation is made over into saints or elevated into philosophers." (222)
Theodore Weld:
"self-right is the foundation of all right, the nucleus, the centre, from which all other rights radiate... Take away the right to myself, and where is my right to my coat, or my book, or my anything else? (253)
Louis Ruchames:
"The recourse to a very cautious "moderation" in language, and the avoidance of any language likely to antagonize the slaveowner, simply minimized the inherent evils of the institution and the responsibility of the slaveowner for the suffering of the slave and made it more difficult to awaken the public conscience to a recognition of the evil; the appeal to self-interest foundered upon the reality of slavery as a source of wealth to the master and his family; the policy of gradual emancipation provided an excuse for doing nothing immediately and salved the consciences of those who were indisposed to take vigorous action; while colonization, recommended by the American Colonization Society since 1816—and by many who were sincerely interested in helping the slave—actually hindered emancipation and the struggle for equal rights for the Negro." (14—15)

A recurring theme of the abolitionists was that "duties are ours and results are God's." (211)

Year Read: 1998

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