Excerpt 5, from Univ. of Mich. Prof. Dwight L. Dumond
Antislavery: the Crusade for Freedom in America
(Ann Arbor: Univ of Michigan Press (1961),
pages 87-88 and 90-95)
Note his discussion of reasons for pre-Civil War
mass white emigrations fleeing from the South.
Antislavery sentiment [in the South] was expressed in the early years [of the U.S.A.] only by men who lived in states where the slave power was too weak to prevent it, or by men powerful enough—most of them slaveholders from Virginia—to defy the slave power, or by men who lived in the nonslaveholding communities of the South. Just as soon as, and wherever the slave power became consolidated, antislavery utterances were silenced. [Ed Note: Compare the similar tobacco effects censorship taboo.] It was consolidated, it was militant, it was on the march, by the 1830's; and far from reconstructing its defenses from a feeling of desperation and exasperation, it was reaching out to silence its critics everywhere and to expand its power to the whole of the continent. It moved from strength and a sense of power, not from fear and weakness.
One reason, indeed the primary reason, for this . . . sense of power . . . was the fact that the South had lost its balance and sense of proportion. As . . . slavery and the power of the slaveholders began to dominate the lower South, liberals moved out. They went to the free states. They became the most outspoken critics of slavery, and they knew whereof they spoke. Most of them were slaveholders previous to their migration, or came from slave-holding families. They were exiles in a very real sense, for some of them, certainly, would have been killed had they ventured back to the South.
The migration of these people was NOT [emphasis added, Ed.] a part of the westward movement. People moved west from the Carolinas, and Georgia, and Virginia, just as they moved west from New York, Pennsylvania, and New England. They moved southwest and northwest. We can identify many such. They moved for diverse reasons: to get away from the restraints and conventions of old, established communities, to find more elbow room, to get land or cheaper land. There is a voluminous literature on the subject, familiar to everyone.
Some of these people were honest, hard-working people of all sorts from homestead farmers to carpenters and woodcutters who found intolerable the stigma on honest toil in the slave country. Some farmers moved because the entire economy was geared to the needs [Ed. wishes] of slaveholding planters, and marketing and shipping became increasingly difficult as plantations developed. Some were paid high prices for their lands. Some were bitter because legislatures dominated by slaveholders, who could afford private instruction for their children, refused to build public schools.
Let us dwell a moment on this point of nonslaveholders' grievances. The legislature of North Carolina, for example, refused until 1840 to provide in any way for a system of public education. In consequence, the Census of 1850 showed 80,000 illiterate free persons in the state. One writer puts the figure at 71,150 persons over twenty-one years of age. The argument over schools and roads became so serious that it finally led to threats of violence. Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick, professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina, said of migration from that state:
|Ed. Note: Note the depopulation, white flight, from the slave state of Virginia, cited by Alvan Stewart,
Legal Argument (1845), pp 49-50. See also
Rev. John G. Fee (1851) pp 147-148; and Abraham Lincoln Peoria Speech, pp 232-233.
Sen. Charles Sumner cited background.
"Of my neighbors, friends and kindred, nearly one-half have left the State since I was old enough to remember. Many is the time I have stood by the loaded emigrant wagon and given the parting hand to those whose faces I was never to look upon again. They were going to seek homes in the free West, knowing, as they did, that free and slave labor could not both exist and prosper in the same community."
Still more to the point was the statement of Henry Ruffner, president of Washington College (Lexington, Va.), in 1847. Saying that Virginia had lost by emigration 300,000 more persons than all of the old free states, he continued:
"She has sent—or we should rather say, she has driven from her soil—at least one third of all the emigrants, who have gone from the old States to the new. More than another third have gone from the other old slave states. . . . These were generally industrious and enterprising white men, who found by sad experience, that a country of slaves was not the country for them. It is a truth, a certain truth, that slavery drives free laborers,—farmers, mechanics, and all, and some of the best of them too—out of the country, and fills their places with negroes."
All of this was part of the westward movement—very important in the slavery controversy as we shall see—but not in this particular aspect of it. The movement we are talking about was a distinct, easily recognizable, and clearly defined migration of people away from the slave power. These were men and women who simply refused to live in the atmosphere of slavery. They were cultivated men and women in the finest tradition of those who had preceded them in the contest: of Franklin, Rush, and Rice, for example.
Fortunately, life loses meaning for our choicest souls unless they can help the underprivileged and oppressed. The mere sight of the victims of prejudice and greed, in slavery, was unbearable to these people. Honorable men and women, given to honest thinking, simply could not breathe in an atmosphere where they not only could do nothing about it, and say nothing about it, but were expected to condone and publicly approve it. The rapid rise of the slave power bore them down and drove them out. -
Once out of the reach of the slave power, these people were free to speak and to write, which they did with telling effect. [Their writing] is our finest evidence as to what slavery really was, because these people had been slaveholders, had been reared in slave communities, had gone into exile rather than be silent about it, and were free to tell what they knew. They were relatively free from violence, they could find publishers and establish printing presses, and the public was willing to read and listen.
Naturally, they became leaders in the antislavery movement. They would have been [so in the south], had they been allowed to remain in the slave states. Among them were
James Gillespie Birney, foremost exponent [Ed. Note: see book list] of constitutional theory and champion of civil rights;
Edward Coles, governor of Illinois and staunch opponent of slavery expansion;
Levi Coffin, "president" of the underground railroad;
John Rankin, defender of the faith in one General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church after another;
Angelina Grimké, champion of women's rights and coauthor of the greatest indictment of slavery ever written
and a host of others of equal stature.
Preachers were among the first to feel the pressure for conformity, because there never was a more pronounced moral issue [Ed Note. See books by Rev. Weld, Fee, Cheever, Stowe, Pillsbury, etc.], and the slave power insisted it was and must remain a political question. Eventually [Ed Note, like many German churches in Nazi Germany] the Southern churches accepted that point of view, officially at least, but not until a good many incidents occurred.
The Baptist David Barrow [1753-1819] was one of these men. He was born in 1753 and preached in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina. In 1795 he founded the Portsmouth-Norfolk church and installed Jacob Bishop, a Negro, as pastor, with a mixed Negro-white congregation. He was subjected to much criticism and some violence, and moved in 1798, under strong pressure, to Kentucky. In Kentucky in 1805 he was expelled from the North District Association of Baptists because of his views on slavery, wrote his pamphlet Involuntary, Unlimited, Perpetual, Absolute, Hereditary Slavery Examined on the Principles of Nature, Reason, Justice, Policy, and Scripture, and served as president of the Kentucky Abolition Society for many years. He died in 1819.
David Rice was a Virginia Presbyterian and a graduate of Princeton. He was much older than Barrow, having been born in 1733, and having begun his ministry in 1767. He left Virginia in 1783 because of opposition to his antislavery principles and went to Kentucky, where he established the first grammar school in the West, helped to found Transylvania, and served as chairman of its board of trustees for many years . . . . He afterward was active in the Kentucky Abolition Society, which failed to survive.
We are more familiar with the work of Barrow and Rice because they left us written records of their antislavery views, but there were others in this area. William Hickman, born in Virginia in 1747, settled near Lexington, Kentucky, in 1784 and became pastor of the Baptist Church at Forks of the Elkhorn. The Elkhorn Association censured him in 1805 saying
"this Association judges it improper for ministers, churches, or associations, to meddle with emancipation from slavery or any other political subject, and as such, we advise ministers and churches to have nothing to do therewith in their religious capacities."Hickman threw the slaveholders out of his church, but was forced to resign. . . .
Here was the record of honest, sincere frontier preachers who failed to gain more than a momentary hearing in their struggle against slavery, just as Rice had failed in the constitutional convention of the state. There was no central governing body of the Baptist churches to which they could carry an appeal. But over the long view, they did not fail, because other men were coming from the deep South to build on the foundations they had laid and this was soon to become a very important area of antislavery activity.
George Smith, born in Virginia in 1747 Episcopalian parents, went to Kentucky as a Baptist preacher in 1804. His strong antislavery views made him exceedingly unpopular, but he preached until his death in 1820. Carter Tarrant, one of the earliest settlers in Logan County, Kentucky, came from Virginia and preached at the Hillsboro and Clear Creek churches. He and a member of his church, John Sutton, founded the first antislavery church in Woodford County. He died while serving as a chaplain in the Army in the War of 1812. Another antislavery church was founded at Bardstown by Joshua Carman, in 1796, but failed to survive.
James Gilliland was born (1761) and reared in South Carolina. He was opposed to slavery, and, after graduating from Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, returned to South Carolina to preach in 1796. He was charged by twelve members of his congregation with political treason for preaching against slavery, and the Presbyterian Synod of the Carolinas, meeting at Morganton, November 3, 1796, decreed that he could not speak publicly for emancipation. He obeyed for a time, but moved to the greatest single mecca for emancipated slaves and ex-slave holders. Brown County, Ohio, in 1805. Here, he served as pastor of the Red Oak church for thirty-nine years, to a congregation of ex-slaveholders and other emigrants from the South. He was an uncompromising advocate of immediate emancipation and was second on the list of vice-presidents of the American Anti-Slavery Society when it was organized in 1833. He was affectionately known as Father Gilliland and founded churches at Ripley, Russellville, Decatur, and Georgetown.
There was born in Virginia in 1749 a most remarkable man, Samuel Doak [1749-1830], who graduated from Princeton in 1775 and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Hanover, Virginia. He married, moved to Fork Church, North Carolina (later Tennessee), and founded (1783) at Little Limestone, near Jonesboro, Martin Academy, with a charter from the state. He founded Washington College in 1795 and served as its president until 1818, at which time he founded, at New Bethel, Tusculum Academy. He was opposed to slavery; freed his slaves and sent them to Brown County, Ohio; and trained a host of young preachers, nearly all of whom went to the Old Northwest. Among them were Gideon Blackburn, John Rankin, and David Nelson. Sometime in the 1820's, Doak moved to Ohio, where he died in 1830.
Doak's son-in-law was John Rankin [1793-1886], born in Tennessee, in 1793. He studied under Doak, later married his daughter, and was licensed to preach in 1817. He was a staunch opponent of slavery and active in the Kentucky Abolition Society while preaching at Carlisle in 1817-21. He then moved to Ripley, Ohio, where he served as pastor of the Presbyterian Church for forty-four years. He converted his home into a haven of refuge for fugitives crossing the river and was mobbed many times by irate Kentuckians. A series of his letters first published in 1823 and reprinted in book form as Letters on American Slavery, Addressed to Mr. Thomas Rankin, Merchant at Middlebrook, Augusta County, Virginia, remains one of the twenty-five most important antislavery publications. He later served as a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society, but his most important contribution was in the Presbyterian General Assemblies, where year after year he led the fight against slavery until the schism of 1837.
There came also to the Chillicothe Presbytery in early years, James H. Dickey, born in Virginia in 1780, and William Dickey, a native of South Carolina. James began his ministerial career as a missionary in Tennessee, but freed the slaves inherited by himself and his wife, and went to South Salem, Ohio, in 1810, where he became widely known for his antislavery work. William Dickey moved with his family from South Carolina to Kentucky where he preached for seventeen years. He went to Ohio, organized a church at Bloomingsburg in 1818, and served as its pastor for forty years.
Finally, there came from Pennsylvania by way of Kentucky, Samuel Crothers. He had intended to make Winchester, Kentucky, his home, but moved to Ross County, Ohio, where he preached from 1810 to 1820 and then went to Greenfield, where he organized the Paint Valley Abolition Society. Gilliland, Rankin, the two Dickeys, and Samuel Crothers made the Chillicothe Presbytery of Ohio an antislavery stronghold before 1820. Rankin quickly emerged as a national figure in the movement.
Another of the giants in the movement was Levi Coffin, born in North Carolina in 1789. He was of a family of Quakers, by instinct and tradition opposed to slavery. Opposition to his religious instruction of the slaves in the New Garden area led to his migration to Newport, Indiana, in 1826. Here he devoted as much time to aiding the fugitives as to business, helped three thousand slaves on their way to freedom, and ultimately became the most important figure in that exciting phase of antislavery work. He was in Cincinnati during the riotous forties and continued his aid to freedmen until long after the Civil War.
From the schools of Samuel Doak in Tennessee came a number of men. Gideon Blackburn was born in Virginia, in 1772. His family moved to Tennessee, where he attended Martin Academy. He was licensed to preach at twenty, founded a church at New Providence in 1792, and conducted a school for Cherokee children from 1804 to 1810. He became pastor of the Presbyterian church at Louisville in 1823, and president of Centre College at Danville in 1827. He went to Illinois in 1833, assisted Elijah P. Lovejoy in organizing the Illinois Antislavery Society, and founded Blackburn College at Carlinville.
David Nelson, born in Tennessee in 1793, studied under Doak, served as a surgeon in the War of 1812, became pastor of the Presbyterian church in Danville in 1828, rose to national prominence as director of education for the church, freed his slaves in Kentucky and went to Palmyra, Missouri, as president of Marion College. He was driven from his pulpit and from the state for advocating compensated emancipation, and barely escaped with his life into Illinois.
Thomas Morris was born in Virginia in 1776. He was bitterly opposed to slavery and moved to Ohio in 1795, where he studied law at night while making a living, as a brickmaker, for a family of eleven children. He served in the Ohio legislature from 1806 to 1830, as chief justice of the state from 1830 to 1833, and as United States senator from 1833 to 1839. In the Senate he led the fight for the right of petition, fought Calhoun's resolutions of 1837, and delivered a masterful defense of civil rights in debate with Henry Clay. He was read out of his party and promptly joined in the political movement to abolish slavery.
Two Virginians of equal stature went to Illinois to escape slavery, and their combined efforts probably kept that state free. James Lemen settled at New Design in 1786, organized the first eight Baptist churches, all on an antislavery basis, diligently counteracted the many proslavery petitions sent to Congress while William Henry Harrison was governor of Indiana Territory, and organized "The Baptized Church of Christ, Friends of Humanity, on Cantine Creek," with a constitution
"denying union and communion with all persons holding the doctrine of perpetual, involuntary, hereditary slavery." This close-knit organization gave tremendous weight to Lemen's work as a member of the first Constitutional Convention.
"The church," it was said, "properly speaking, never entered politics, but presently, when it became strong, the members all formed what they called the 'Illinois Anti-Slavery League,' and it was this body that conducted the anti-slavery contest. It always kept one of its members and several of its friends in the territorial legislature, and five years before the constitutional election in 1818 it had fifty resident agents—men of like sympathies—in the several settlements throughout the territory quietly at work."
Edward Coles was born in Virginia in 1786, of wealthy, slaveholding parents. He was educated at Hampden-Sidney College and William and Mary College, served as private secretary to President Madison from 1809 to 1815, and went to Russia on a diplomatic mission in 1816. Coles made plans to free his slaves as early as 1815. In the spring of 1819 he took his slaves by boat to the West and gave them freedom and land upon which to start a new life. He immediately made common cause with the antislavery forces of Lemen's association, was elected [Illinois] governor in 1822 by a narrow margin, and was a tower of strength in preventing adoption of a new proslavery constitution.
Finally, there came into this area two stalwarts of the later movement: William T. Allan and James A. Thome.
Allan was the son of the Presbyterian minister at Huntsville, Alabama, and Thome the son of a wealthy slaveholding planter of Augusta, Kentucky. Both came to Lane Seminary, Cincinnati, in 1833, under the influence of Theodore Weld. Both took part in the great debate there, and in the contest over academic freedom . . . . Both joined the exodus to Oberlin, became antislavery lecturers and ministers, and remained active in the movement until slavery was abolished.
Thome went to the British West Indies for the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1836 [Ed Note, see resultant book and context]; Allan was undoubtedly the most powerful force in Illinois for freedom after Governor Coles removed to Philadelphia in the early 1830's.
George Bourne [1780-1845] was born in Westbury, England, in 1780. He came to America and became pastor of the Presbyterian church at South River, Virginia, in 1814. Two years of contact with slavery so shocked him that he published, in 1816, The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable. He was immediately charged with heresy and condemned by the Presbyterian Council. He went to Germantown, Pennsylvania, ultimately joined the Dutch Reformed Church, and wrote some bitter denunciations of slavery:
Bourne's attack upon slavery was bold. Some would say that it was extreme, but no one knew better than he the relentless fashion in which the slave power was silencing its critics, and he retaliated in kind. [Ed Note: See list of his writings and context]
The list of exiles grows long; but there were others:
- An Address to the Presbyterian Church, Enforcing the Duty of Excluding All Slaveholders from the "Communion of Saints";
- Man Stealing and Slavery Denounced by the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches;
- Picture of Slavery in the United States of America ; and
- Slavery Illustrated in Its Effects upon Women and Domestic Society.
Andrew Bankson of Tennessee who came to Illinois in 1808, became a state senator, and worked actively in the antislavery cause;
William Brisbane of South Carolina who freed his slaves, moved to Cincinnati in 1835 and ultimately to Wisconsin, where he was pastor of the Baptist Church in Madison and chief clerk of the state senate;
Alexander Campbell of Virginia, who went to Kentucky in 1796 and to Ripley, Ohio, in 1803, where he freed his slaves, served in the Ohio legislature and in the United States Senate, and became the first vice-president of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1835;
Peter Cartwright, of Virginia, who moved to Kentucky in 1790, and from fear that his daughters would marry slaveholders, to Illinois in 1824, where he served in the state legislature and ran against Lincoln for Congress in 1846;
Obed Denham of Virginia, who went to Ohio in 1797, founded the town of Bethel, and endowed a Baptist church for those
"who do not hold slaves, nor commune at the Lord's Table with those that do practice such tyranny over their fellow creatures."
William Dunlop who went from Kentucky to Ohio in 1796, freed his slaves and settled them on land near Ripley, and further proved his steadfastness in the cause by paying $1600 for the release of John B. Mahan when he was kidnapped and taken to Kentucky for trial on a charge of abducting slaves;
Samuel Grist of Virginia, who bought land in Brown County, Ohio, for one thousand slaves to whom he gave not only farms but livestock and tools; and
Risdom Moore, who lived from 1760 until 1812 in his native state of Delaware, then in North Carolina, and then in Georgia, moved to Illinois in the latter year, freed his slaves, served as speaker in the territorial legislature, and as a member of the state legislature, was burned in effigy by proslavery men because of his activities in behalf of the Negroes and against slavery.
This does not by any means exhaust the list. There were hundreds who came North to escape slavery and worked quietly for emancipation in local anti-slavery societies and at the ballot box. There were the two—James G. Birney and Angelina Grimké—whose lives are woven inextricably into every phase of the struggle. Finally, there were the thousands of fugitives who settled in Northern communities and by their industry and good citizenship bore mute testimony of the falsity of the proslavery doctrines, and thousands, too, who bore the indestructible marks of cruelty.
The people who have been here mentioned, with very few exceptions left the South about 1800, shortly before or shortly after the turn of the century, when the Revolutionary impulse for emancipation was checked and the South was dedicated to perpetual slavery. They left because so-called security regulations impinged upon their freedom to discuss slavery, to educate or preach to the slaves, and to ease their distress and set them free; or because they feared the baneful influence of slavery upon their children, or because they lost faith in the future of the slave country. Almost all of them were slaveholders who freed their slaves at tremendous financial sacrifice. There was no quibbling on their part about gradual emancipation, or compensated emancipation, and they did not participate in that refined form of brigandage known as "allowing the slaves to purchase their freedom." They emancipated them, and in most cases brought them North and gave them a start as free men.
These people, also, were not lowly people seeking to improve their economic status. All of them were men of assured positions and security in their communities.
If there is one thing crystal clear about the antislavery movement up to this point—and it continued to be true to the end—it is this: it was an intellectual and moral crusade for social reform and common decency in human relationships, initiated and carried through at great personal sacrifice by men of property and high position in religious and educa tional institutions, in public life, and in the professions. These exiles from the South were that kind of people.
Those who became active in the agitation against slavery were devoted to the cause and effective in their contributions. One does not ask, Could slavery have been abolished without Rankin, Coles, Birney, and Angelina Grimké? One shudders at the possible consequences to the Presbyterian church, to the state of Illinois, to the Constitution, to women's rights, had these great intellects and courageous souls become hostages to the slave power.
[Ed Note. See writings of free Northern clergy writers, by Rev. Weld, Fee, Cheever, Stowe, Pillsbury, etc.]