On Slavery And Abolitionism: Essays And Letters

Paperback | May 5, 2015

bySarah Grimke, Angelina GrimkeIntroduction byMark Perry

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A collection of historic writings from the slave-owner-turned-abolitionist sisters portrayed in Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Invention of Wings

Sarah and Angelina Grimké’s portrayal in Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel, The Invention of Wings, has brought much-deserved new attention to these inspiring Americans. The first female agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society, the sisters originally rose to prominence after Angelina wrote a rousing letter of support to renowned abolitionist William Garrison in the wake of Philadelphia’s pro-slavery riots in 1935.  Born into Southern aristocracy, the Grimkés grew up in a slave-holding family. Hetty, a young house servant, whom Sarah secretly taught to read, deeply influenced Sarah Grimké’s life, sparking her commitment to anti-slavery activism.  As adults, the sisters embraced Quakerism and dedicated their lives to the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. Their appeals and epistles were some of the most eloquent and emotional arguments against slavery made by any abolitionists. Their words, greeted with trepidation and threats in their own time, speak to us now as enduring examples of triumph and hope.

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A collection of historic writings from the slave-owner-turned-abolitionist sisters portrayed in Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Invention of WingsSarah and Angelina Grimké’s portrayal in Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel, The Invention of Wings, has brought much-deserved new attention to these inspiring Americans. The first female agents for the ...

Sara Grimké (1792–1873) and Angelina Grimké (1805–1879) were the daughters of a slave-owning Charlestown judge, and dedicated their lives to promoting abolition and women’s rights.Mark Perry is an historian and author of nine books, including Lift Up Thy Voice.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:352 pages, 7.78 × 5.09 × 0.56 inPublished:May 5, 2015Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

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IntroductionFebruary 21, 1838, was a bright and sunny day in Boston, though the burgeoning metropolis remained gripped by a winter chill. Such frigid temperatures were hardly unknown to the city’s residents, who had endured a heavy snowfall just weeks before, and they weren’t enough to keep the city’s most important families, as well as the merely curious, from gathering at the Massachusetts Statehouse. There, during an afternoon session, a woman was scheduled to address a committee of the State Legislature, an event so unusual as to be unprecedented.1Many of our century would be surprised to learn that the women of our early republic were confined to their own spheres of home and family, but this was the tradition in nineteenth-century America, and had been so for as long as anyone could remember. Then, too, not only were women expected to remain silent in public, it was considered inappropriate for them to speak out on any political issue, and particularly on slavery—the most contentious issue of the era.But that is precisely what Angelina Grimké, not only a woman but a Southerner, planned to do on that sunny Wednesday. Which explains why so many of the good citizens of Boston, and others from as far away as Springfield and Worcester, crowded the pavement in front of the statehouse, packed themselves into the legislative hearing room and even, several hours before Grimké’s appearance, clung to the railings of the legislature’s stairwells.“The attendance of so many people at a legislative hearing was quite out of the ordinary,” historian Gerda Lerner tells us, “especially since no public notice had been given, but news of this kind could be trusted to travel speedily by word of mouth.”2 And so it did: By two o’clock the statehouse, and the courtyard and steps leading to it, were so packed with onlookers that arriving legislators had to fight their ways through the crowd to take the seats reserved for them in the hearing room.Angelina Grimké knew that her appearance would draw attention, but when she alighted from her carriage just minutes before she was scheduled to appear, she was shocked by the sheer number of people who’d come to hear her. For a moment she felt unequal to the task. “I never was so near fainting under the tremendous pressure of the feeling,” she later remembered. “My heart almost died within me. The novelty of the scene, the weight of the responsibility, the ceaseless exercise of the mind thro’ which I had passed for more than a week—all together sunk me to the earth. I well nigh despaired.”Fortunately, Angelina was escorted to the statehouse by Maria Weston Chapman, a native Bostonian, wife of a well-known New England merchant, and an uncompromising abolitionist. Chapman was that most unusual of nineteenth-century women: She refused to be silenced—enduring catcalls during abolitionist rallies attended by the smattering of men who not only loathed the abolitionist movement but were equally scandalized by the fact that women had founded and led it. Maria was on Angelina’s arm as the two climbed the statehouse steps, reassuring her that her appearance before the legislature would be a triumph. “God strengthen you, my sister,” Chapman said.3A hush fell as the two entered the hearing room, and soon thereafter the committee chairman called on Angelina to speak. Whatever rustling there was in the gallery ceased then, and a hush fell on the hearing room as the Charleston, South Carolina, woman stood to face the legislators. At first her voice was so soft that many in the room had to lean forward to hear her, but then it took on a surprising strength, so that her words rang out for all to hear.I stand before you as a southerner, exiled from the land of my birth by the sound of the lash, and the piteous cry of the slave. . . . I stand before you as a moral being . . . and as a moral being I feel that I owe it to the suffering slave, and to the deluded master, to my country and the world, to do all that I can to overturn a system of complicated crimes, built up upon the broken hearts and prostrate bodies of my countrymen in chains, and cemented by the blood and sweat and tears of my sisters in bonds.4Angelina Grimké spoke for two hours on that February day in 1838. A silence greeted her last words as she defiantly eyed the legislators seated before her. But then, and much to her own surprise, those in the seats behind her, and in the galleries, rose in a thunderous applause. • • • Angelina Grimké’s speech to the Massachusetts legislature made headlines across the nation and was a turning point for the abolitionist movement, the moment from which we can date the remarkable growth that culminated, more than two decades later, in the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. But as important as Angelina’s Boston appearance was, it would not have been possible without the support of her older sister, Sarah. Born in 1792, the third year of George Washington’s first term as president, Sarah was Angelina’s lifelong teacher, guide, and intellectual mentor.Sarah and Angelina spent their formative years in South Carolina, the daughters of Judge John Faucheraud Grimké and his wife, Mary, who were the owners of a large plantation in South Carolina’s up-country, called Belmont, and a spacious home in Charleston. When John wasn’t managing Belmont, he and his family spent their time in the city, then the nation’s fourth largest, where “the Judge” and Mary, known affectionately as “Polly” to her husband, could be seen, every Sunday, leading their fourteen children (Sarah was the eighth child, Angelina the last) to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church.John Grimké, a devout Episcopalian, supported his family through the sale of cotton, sea rice, beef, and vegetables, and led them in prayers each afternoon and evening. The Grimkés owned hundreds of slaves, housing them under the stairway of their Charleston house and in the extensive slave quarters at Belmont. One of these slaves was Hetty, an eleven-year-old house servant who was Sarah’s playmate and (or so Sarah believed) her equal. That belief lasted until the day that her father discovered that Sarah had been teaching Hetty to read, in violation of South Carolina’s strict slave codes—which he’d helped write. Hetty was punished, and the two were separated, with the Judge’s daughter given a strict lecture.The incident marked a turning point in Sarah’s development. Her father had been angrier than she’d ever seen, and his discipline nearly as harsh. He threatened to beat Hetty if he ever found her reading. Sarah was enraged and, in defiance of her father, vowed to continue her instruction of the Grimké slaves, albeit in secret. Years later she identified the event as planting the seeds of her antislavery activism. “I took an almost malicious satisfaction in teaching my little waiting-maid at night, when she was supposed to be occupied in combing and brushing my locks,” she later wrote. “The light was put out, the keyhole screened, and flat on our stomachs before the fire, with the spelling-book under our eyes, we defied the law of South Carolina.”5The relationship with Hetty transformed Sarah’s thinking on slavery, as did the books in her father’s library. In addition to scolding her for teaching Hetty how to read, Sarah’s father also barred her from his library when he caught her reading one of his law books. Even so, it didn’t take long for John Grimké to conclude that Sarah was a different kind of a child. Bookish, reflective, inquisitive, and uncomfortable in social settings, he grew to admire his daughter’s rebellion, and so, eventually, he began to purposefully overlook her indiscretions, steering himself away from his library when he knew she was in there. If she had been born a man, he once remarked, “she would have made the greatest jurist in the country.”The law books, and Sarah’s religious views, had an impact. She became an abolitionist before the movement got its name, openly questioning her father on the state’s slave codes, confronting her religious teachers on their defense of the institution, and regularly condemning her mother’s harsh treatment of the family’s servants. And so it was that on Sunday afternoons Sarah gathered the slave children, with Hetty in the lead, to read from the Bible. The Judge was disturbed by this practice, but he felt powerless to discipline his daughter. What Sarah was doing was a secret subversion of all that he and his family stood for. Yet how could he punish a child for teaching others about God?Sadly, the year that Sarah turned twelve, Hetty died of an identified childhood ailment and was laid to rest in the slave cemetery of Charleston. Sarah was nearly inconsolable; it was for this reason that she celebrated the birth, in 1805, of Angelina, convincing her parents that she be named the child’s godmother. She stood proudly before the font in St. Philips as her “precious Nina” was baptized. As she later wrote: “I had been taught to believe in the efficacy of prayer, and I will remember, after the ceremony was over, slipping out and shutting myself up in my own room, where, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I prayed that God would make me worthy of the task I had assumed, and help me to aid and direct my precious child.”6The two Grimké girls were inseparable. Sarah took charge of Angelina’s religious training, monitored her daily chores, and proselytized her about the evils of slavery. But the two were also markedly different. Round-faced, short, and painfully shy, Sarah was obsessed by religious questions, while Angelina, angular and outspoken, focused on politics. Over the years that followed, as both converted to Quakerism and then made their way north, the differences between the two grew more distinct—while becoming more intellectually compatible. Sarah searched for ways to reform herself, while Angelina was interested in reforming society. Sarah sought personal salvation, but Angelina sought justice. • • • After traveling to Philadelphia for medical treatment, with Sarah as his lone companion, John Grimké died in Long Branch, New Jersey, in August 1819.7 Three months later Sarah finally made her way back to Charleston, meeting Quaker Israel Morris on the way. Several months later she became a Quaker convert and returned to Philadelphia, attending meetings of the Society of Friends at their Arch Street Meeting House. Sarah spent the next ten years in study and contemplation, overcoming her innate shyness about speaking in public and pledging her life to being “a protector of the helpless” and a “pleader for the poor and unfortunate.”Inevitably, Angelina followed in her wake, having also adopted Quakerism. But while Sarah left Charleston to search for God, Angelina left Charleston in a search for social justice—and to remove herself from the stench of slavery. “Sometimes I think that the children of Israel could not have looked towards the land of Canaan with keener longing than I do to the North,” she wrote at the time. “I do not expect to go there and be exempt from trial, far from it; and yet it looks like a promised land, a pleasant land, because it is a land of freedom.”8It didn’t take long for either woman, however, to become as disenchanted with the North as they were with the South, for while there were no slaves in Philadelphia, racial prejudice remained prominent. While it was Sarah who first commented on it, in her diary and letters, it was Angelina who first protested it, disagreeing openly with the Quaker admonition that its followers abstain from political activities. When, in the summer of 1835, the abolitionist newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison was attacked by a Boston mob, Angelina penned a letter for his newspaper, The Liberator. “If persecution is the means which God has ordained for the accomplishment of this great end, EMANCIPATION,” she wrote, “I feel as if I could say, LET IT COME; for it is my deep, solemn, deliberate conviction, that this is a cause worth dying for.”9When Garrison reprinted the letter, to Angelina’s surprise, Sarah worried that Philadelphia’s Quaker leaders would repudiate them, cutting them loose not simply from a set of beliefs that Sarah practiced and admired, but from her second family. But when threatened with expulsion by the Society of Friends, Angelina refused to renounce what she’d written. It was then, in the summer of 1835, the famous “abolition summer” of American history, that Sarah and Angelina’s relationship changed. Before the publication of Angelina’s letter, Sarah had been her intellectual mentor; now it was Angelina who took the lead, guiding Sarah into a career of antislavery activism.When, after the publication of Angelina’s letter, the two were exiled from Philadelphia’s Quaker community, Angelina found a new home for her and Sarah among the leaders of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. By 1836, Sarah and Angelina Grimké had befriended Lucretia Mott, the society’s founder. It was under Mott’s guidance that the sisters were able to escape the suffocating conservatism of the Arch Meeting and strike out on their own. In 1836 they lectured at Quaker meetings in Rhode Island, and the next summer Angelina agreed to conduct an antislavery lecture tour in Massachusetts. Sarah, still pursuing her religious calling, was skeptical, but now Angelina led the way.It was in preparation for that tour—in the summer of 1836—that Angelina wrote “An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,” perhaps the most eloquent and emotional argument against slavery made by any abolitionist. “Oh that it could be rained down into every parlor in our land,” Elizur Wright, who published it, wrote. Eventually, Angelina Grimké’s “Appeal” acquired a notoriety that few other antislavery publications achieved. Cut off now from her Quaker family, Sarah quietly followed Angelina’s lead—though not for long.In the fall of 1836, after attending an organizing meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York, Sarah once again found her voice. While “An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States” did not have the emotional power of Angelina’s “Appeal,” its attack on Christian orthodoxy sparked a fiery reaction: It was confiscated by state agents at the Charleston customs house and copies of the “Epistle” that eluded their cordon were burned on the city’s piers. Sarah’s writing was not only learned and detailed, it struck at the heart of the “peculiar institution.” The “Epistle” was meant to undermine and embarrass Southern ministers who used the Bible to defend the indefensible, and it did.As important, however, Angelina’s “Appeal” and Sarah’s “Epistle” evidenced a new and powerful current inside the abolitionist movement that highlighted the importance women had in developing the movement’s ideas. While William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld (who would marry Angelina in 1838), Theodore Wright, Gerrit Smith, Lewis Tappan, and Wendell Phillips played crucial leadership roles in the welter of groups that shaped Northern antislavery opinion, the great organizers of the abolitionist crusade, as well as its most important intellectual figures, were women.In 1837, in her “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Women” (eleven years before a meeting at Seneca Falls officially established the women’s rights movement), Sarah repudiated the notion that God had reserved a special “domestic sphere” for females. Her message was unmistakable and aimed not simply at slaveholders but at men who believed that women should be seen at church and heard only at the dinner table: “Our powers of mind have been crushed, as far as man could do it, our sense of morality has been impaired by his interpretation of our duties; but no where does God say that he made any distinction between us, as moral and intelligent beings.”10 • • • Students and scholars will find in this volume the most important writings of Sarah and Angelina Grimké. But their words are not simply a part of the past; they are as accessible now to the general public as they were at a time when black Americans were held in chains. The Grimké sisters did not write simply for clergymen or women but for everyone—and their appeals and epistles are a part of the foundation of our republic. So it is that this introduction cannot be concluded without mentioning the obvious: The election of America’s first African American president has sparked a renewed interest in a part of our history that many would rather forget.So, too, the reader is urged to focus renewed attention on the careers of Sarah and Angelina after the war that began in their hometown of Charleston was concluded at Appomattox—some twenty-five years after their most important written work. For the simple truth is that both women knew that the crusade they led was not complete. In February 1868, while reading through a short article in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, Angelina noted that two Grimkés unknown to her and Sarah, Archibald and Francis, were then attending Lincoln University, outside of Philadelphia. She was stunned but sensed immediately that the two young men were her nephews, the children of her and Sarah’s brother Henry Grimké. Their mother, as Angelina would soon learn, was Nancy Weston, who had been Henry’s slave, nurse—and wife.There was never any question of what Angelina, and Sarah, would do. They supported Archibald and Francis and brought them proudly into their lives. Ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly, the two, the Grimké brothers, spent their adult years in the same crusade their two aunts, the Grimké sisters, had founded—working not for the emancipation of the slave but for equal rights. Like Angelina and Sarah, they were both crusaders and intellectuals, putting in place the paving stones of the civil rights movement.It is the fashion among historians to dismiss fictional treatments of history, blithely commenting that the truth is much less romantic. Most recently, Ain Gordon’s drama “If She Stood,” with Angelina and Sarah as its main characters, was staged during the Philadelphia Arts Festival in 2013 and Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Invention of Wings,11 inspired in part by Sarah Grimké, became a number one New York Times bestseller.These two works demonstrate that such extraordinary lives can inspire a broad and modern audience through the power of fiction.These women, Sarah and Angelina, were, in fact, larger than life. And the words that they spoke and the essays and letters they wrote—greeted with trepidation in their own time—speak to us now as examples of triumph and hope.And so it is, in reading the works of Angelina and Sarah Grimké contained in this volume, we extol their work and beliefs, though not simply because they were southerners and women. But because they were Americans.NOTES 1. Angelina Grimké’s Massachusetts Statehouse appearance is the centerpiece of Gerda Lerner’s biography of the Grimké Sisters. See Gerda Lerner, The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967). 2. Ibid., p. 5. 3. Ibid., p. 5. 4. The events leading up to and following Angelina’s statehouse appearance and its place in abolitionist history is discussed at length in my own work, Lift Up Thy Voice (New York: Viking, 2001). For her speech, see page 329. 5. Ibid., p. 2. 6. Ibid., p. 27. 7. John Grimké’s journey north is filled with mystery, as is his death. Aged seventy, he sought expert medical opinion on his failing health, but Philadelphia doctors could not identify his ailment. But it also seems likely that Judge Grimké made the journey at least in part, to escape Polly, his increasingly unstable wife—and may well have been seeded by his own doubts about slavery. It is very likely he passed these on to his daughter, Sarah, his favorite child. [From text above, it seems Sarah had doubts about slavery before he did, and she seeded his.] 8. Mark Perry, Lift Up Thy Voice, pp. 83–84. Angelina’s decision to follow her sister Sarah to Philadelphia marked a final break with her mother, with whom she argued endlessly. Mary spent extravagantly and lectured Angelina endlessly, disapproving of her religion and her ideas. 9. See page 125. 10. See page 41. 11. Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings (New York: Viking, 2014).The pieces in this collection were selected under the guidance of Grimké sisters biographer Mark Perry to represent the major works of Sarah and Angelina Grimké. All writings are printed verbatim from first editions. The transcript of Angelina Grimké’s “Address to the Massachusetts Legislature” is found in the March 2, 1838, edition of The Liberator. Obvious misspellings and typographical errors have been silently corrected.Sarah and Angelina Grimké’s great grandparents were Germans from the French borderlands. The acute accent in the family surname denotes that Huguenot background, but over time, it was dropped from the name. When signing her letters, Sarah omits the accent, however, Angelina retains it, perhaps to indicate that her ancestry was Catholic rather than Protestant (though this is purely speculation). In this volume, we have employed the accented surname throughout to conform to popular usage in modern scholarship and culture.SARAH M. GRIMKÉAN EPISTLE TO THE CLERGY OF THE SOUTHERN STATES“And when he was come near, he beheld the city and wept over it, saying—If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace.” Luke xix, 41–42.BRETHREN BELOVED IN THE LORD:It is because I feel a portion of that love glowing in my heart towards you, which is infused into every bosom by the cordial reception of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that I am induced to address you as fellow professors of his holy religion. To my dear native land, to the beloved relatives who are still breathing her tainted air, to the ministers of Christ, from some of whom I have received the emblems of a Saviour’s love; my heart turns with feelings of intense solicitude, even with such feelings, may I presume to say, as brought the gushing tears of compassion from the Redeemer of the world, when he wept over the city which he loved, when with ineffable pathos he exclaimed, “O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” Nay, these are the feelings which fill the hearts of Northern Abolitionists towards Southern slave-holders. Yes, my brethren, notwithstanding the bon fire at Charleston—the outrages at Nashville on the person of Dresser—the banishment of Birney and Nelson—the arrest and imprisonment of our colored citizens—we can still weep over you with unfeigned tenderness and anxiety, and exclaim, O that ye would even now listen to the christian remonstrances of those who feel that the principle they advocate “is not a vain thing for YOU, because it is YOUR LIFE.” For you the midnight tear is shed, for you the daily and the nightly prayer ascends, that God in his unbounded mercy may open your hearts to believe his awful denunciations against those who “rob the poor because he is poor.” And will you still disregard the supplications of those, who are lifting up their voices like the prophets of old, and reiterating the soul-touching enquiry. “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Oh, that I could clothe my feelings in eloquence that would be irresistible, in tones of melting tenderness that would soften the hearts of all, who hold their fellow men in bondage.A solemn sense of the duty which I owe as a Southerner to every class of the community of which I was once a part, likewise impels me to address you, especially, who are filling the important and responsible station of ministers of Jehovah, expounders of the lively oracles of God. It is because you sway the minds of a vast proportion of the Christian community, who regard you as the channel through which divine knowledge must flow. Nor does the fact that you are voluntarily invested by the people with this high prerogative, lessen the fearful weight of responsibility which attaches to you as watchmen on the walls of Zion. It adds rather a tenfold weight of guilt, because the very first duty which devolves upon you is to teach them not to trust in man.—Oh my brethren, is this duty faithfully performed? Is not the idea inculcated that to you they must look for the right understanding of the sacred volume, and has not your interpretation of the Word of God induced thousands and tens of thousands to receive as truth, sanctioned by the authority of Heaven, the oft repeated declaration that slavery, American slavery, stamped as it is with all its infinity of horrors, bears upon it the signet of that God whose name is LOVE?Let us contemplate the magnificent scene of creation, when God looked upon chaos and said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” The dark abyss was instantaneously illuminated, and a flood of splendor poured upon the face of the deep, and “God saw the light that it was good.” Behold the work of creation carried on and perfected—the azure sky and verdant grass, the trees, the beasts, the fowls of the air, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea, the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night, and all the starry host of heaven, brought into existence by the simple command, Let them be.But was man, the lord of this creation, thus ushered into being? No, the Almighty, clothed as he is with all power in heaven and in earth, paused when he had thus far completed his glorious work—“Omnipotence retired, if I may so speak, and held a counsel when he was about to place upon the earth the sceptered monarch of the universe.” He did not say let man be, but “Let us make man in OUR IMAGE, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing, that creepeth upon the earth.” Here is written in characters of fire continually blazing before the eyes of every man who holds his fellow man in bondage—In the image of God created he man. Here is marked a distinction which can never be effaced between a man and a thing, and we are fighting against God’s unchangeable decree by depriving this rational and immortal being of those inalienable rights which have been conferred upon him. He was created a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor, and designed to be God’s vicegerent upon earth—but slavery has wrested the sceptre of dominion from his hand, slavery has seized with an iron grasp this God-like being, and torn the crown from his head. Slavery has disrobed him of royalty, put on him the collar and the chain, and trampled the image of God in the dust.Eternal God! when from thy giant hand,Thou heaved the floods, and fixed the trembling land:When life sprung startling at thy plastic call;Endless her forms, and man the Lord of all—Say, was that lordly form, inspired by thee,To wear eternal chains and bow the knee?Was man ordained the slave of man to toil,Yoked with the brutes and fettered to the soil?This, my brethren, is slavery—this is what sublimates the atrocity of that act, which virtually says, I will as far as I am able destroy the image of God, blot him from creation as a man, and convert him into a thing—“a chattel personal.” Can any crime, tremendous as is the history of human wickedness, compare in turpitude with this?—No, the immutable difference, the heaven-wide distinction which God has established between that being, whom he has made a little lower than the angels, and all the other works of this wonderful creation, cannot be annihilated without incurring a weight of guilt beyond expression terrible.And after God had destroyed the world by a flood because of the wickedness of man, every imagination of whose heart was evil, and had preserved Noah because he was righteous before him, He renewed man’s delegated authority over the whole animate and inanimate creation, and again delivered into his hand every beast of the earth and every fowl of the air, and added to his former grant of power, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you, even as the green herb have I given you all things.” Then, as if to impress indelibly upon the mind of man the eternal distinction between his rational and immortal creatures and the lower orders of beings, he guards the life of this most precious jewel, with a decree which would have proved all-sufficient to protect it, had not Satan infused into man his own reckless spirit.Permission ample was given to shed the blood of all inferior creatures, but of this being, bearing the impress of divinity, God said, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require, at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man, at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the IMAGE OF GOD made he man.” Let us pause and examine this passage.—Man may shed the blood of the inferior animals, he may use them as mere means—he may convert them into food to sustain existence—but if the top-stone of creation, the image of God had his blood shed by a beast, that blood was required even of this irrational brute: as if Deity had said, over my likeness I will spread a panoply divine that all creation may instinctively feel that he is precious to his Maker—so precious, that if his life be taken by his fellow man—if man degrades himself to the level of a beast by destroying his brother—“by man shall his blood be shed.”This distinction between men and things is marked with equal care and solemnity under the Jewish dispensation. “If a man steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” But “he that stealeth a man and selleth him or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” If this law were carried into effect now, what must be the inevitable doom of all those who now hold man as property? If Jehovah were to exact the execution of this penalty upon the more enlightened and more spiritually minded men who live under the Christian dispensation, would he not instantly commission his most tremendous thunderbolts to strike from existence those who are thus trampling upon his laws, thus defacing his image?I pass now to the eighth Psalm, which is a sublime anthem of praise to our Almighty Father for his unbounded goodness to the children of men. This Psalm alone affords irrefragable proof that God never gave to man dominion over his own image, that he never commissioned the Israelites to enslave their fellow men. This wasAuthority usurped from God not given—. . . . . . . Man over menHe made not Lord, such title to himselfReserving, human left, from human free.This beautiful song of glory to God was composed three thousand years after the creation, and David who says of himself, “The spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue,” gives us the following exquisite description of the creation of man and of the power with which he was intrusted. “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and all the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea.”David was living under that dispensation to which slave-holders triumphantly point as the charter of their right to hold men as PROPERTY; but he does not even intimate that any extension of prerogative had been granted. He specifies precisely the same things which are specified at the creation and after the flood. He had been eminently instrumental in bringing into captivity the nations round about, but he does not so much as hint that Jehovah had transferred the sceptre of dominion over his immortal creatures to the hand of man. How could God create man in his own image and then invest his fellow worms with power to blot him from the world of spirits and place him on a level with the brutes that perish!The same Psalm is quoted by the Apostle Paul, as if our heavenly Father designed to teach us through all the dispensations of his mercy to a fallen world, that man was but a little lower than the angels, God’s vicegerent upon earth over the inferior creatures. St. Paul quotes it in connection with that stupendous event whereby we are saved from eternal death. “But we see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Here side by side the apostle places “God manifest in the flesh” and his accredited representative man. He calls us to view the master-piece of God’s creation, and then the master-piece of his mercy—Christ Jesus, wearing our form and dying for our sins, thus conferring everlasting honor upon man by declaring “both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” It is then, the Lord’s brethren whom we have enslaved; the Lord’s brethren of whom we say “slaves shall be deemed, taken, reputed, and adjudged, chattels personal in the hands of their owners and possessors to all intents and purposes whatever.”—Laws of South Carolina.And here I cannot but advert to a most important distinction which God has made between immortal beings and the beasts that perish.—No one can doubt that by the fall of man the whole creation underwent a change. The apostle says, “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together.” But it was for man alone that the Lord Jesus “made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant.” When he came before his incarnation to cheer his servants with his blessed presence, when he visited Abraham and Manoah, he took upon himself a human form. Manoah’s wife says, “a man of God came unto me.” And when he came and exhibited on the theatre of our world, that miracle of grace “God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,” what form did he wear? “Verily,” says the apostle, “he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham:” Oh, my brethren, he has stamped with high and holy dignity the form we wear, he has forever exalted our nature by condescending to assume it, and by investing man with the high and holy privilege of being “the temple of the holy Ghost.” Where then is our title deed for enslaving our equal brother?Mr. Chandler of Norfolk, in a speech in the House of Delegates of Virginia, on the subject of negro slavery in 1832, speaking of our right to hold our colored brethren in bondage, says:As a Virginian, I do not question the master’s title to his slave; but I put it to that gentleman, as a man, as a moral man, as a Christian man, whether he has not some doubts of his claim to his slaves, being as absolute and unqualified as that to other property. Let us in the investigation of this title go back to its origin—Whence came slaves into this country?—From Africa. Were they free men there? At one time they were. How came they to be converted into slaves?—By the stratagem of war and the strong arm of the conqueror; they were vanquished in battle, sold by the victorious party to the slave trader; who brought them to our shores, and disposed of them to the planters of Virginia..............The truth is, our ancestors had no title to this property, and we have acquired it only by legislative enactments.But can “legislative enactments” annul the laws of Jehovah, or sanctify the crimes of theft and oppression? “Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees . . . . . to take away the right from the poor of my people.” Suppose the Saviour of the world were to visit our guilty country and behold the Christianity of our slave holding states, would not his language be, “Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, enslave your fellow men, but I say unto you “Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you,” and set your captives free!The sentiment—Man over manHe made not lord—is the sentiment of human nature. It is written, by the Almighty, on the soul, as a part of its very being. So that, urge on the work of death as we may, in the mad attempt to convert a free agent into a machine, a man into a thing, and nature will still cry out for freedom. Hear the testimony of James McDowell, in the House of Delegates, in Virginia in 1832.As to the idea that the slave in any considerable number of cases can be so attached to his master and his servitude, as to be indifferent to freedom, it is wholly unnatural, rejected by the conscious testimony of every man’s heart, and the written testimony of the world’s experience.................You may place the slave where you please, you may oppress him as you please, you may dry up to the uttermost the fountain of his feelings, the springs of his thought, you may close upon his mind every avenue of knowledge, and cloud it over with artificial night, you may yoke him to your labors as the ox which liveth only to work, you may put him under any process, which without destroying his value as a slave, will debase and crush him as a rational being, and the idea that he was born to be free will survive it all. It is allied to his hope of immortality—it is the ethereal part of his being, which oppression cannot reach; it is a torch lit up in his soul by the hand of Deity, and never meant to be extinguished by the hand of man.I need not enter into an elaborate proof that Jewish servitude, as permitted by God, was as different from American slavery, as Christianity is from heathenism. The limitation laws respecting strangers and servants, entirely prohibited cruelty and oppression, whereas in our slave states, “THE MASTER MAY, AT HIS DISCRETION, INFLICT ANY SPECIES OF PUNISHMENT UPON THE PERSON OF HIS SLAVE,”* and the law throws her protecting ægis over the master, by refusing to receive under any circumstances, the testimony of a colored man against a white, except to subserve the interests of the owner.—“It is manifest,” says the author (a Christian Minister) of “A calm enquiry into the countenance afforded by the Scriptures to the system of British Colonial Slavery” “that the Hebrews had no word in their language equivalent to slave in the West Indian use of that term. The word obed, is applied to both bond servants and hired, to kings and prophets, and even to the Saviour of the world. It was a general designation for any person who rendered service of any kind to God or man. But the term SLAVE, in the Colonial sense, could not be at all applied to a freeman.” The same word in the Septuagint which is translated servant, is also translated child, and as the Hebrew language is remarkable for its minute shades of distinction in things, had there been, as is asserted, slaves in Judea, there would undoubtedly have been some term to designate such a condition. Our language recognizes the difference between a slave and a servant, because those two classes actually exist in our country. The Burmese language has no word to express ETERNITY, hence a missionary remarked that it was almost impossible to convey to them any conception of it. So likewise among the ancient Greeks and Romans there was no word equivalent to humility, because they acknowledged no such virtue. The want of any term therefore in the Hebrew, to mark the distinction between a slave in the proper sense of the term and other servants, is proof presumptive to say the least, that no such condition as that of slave was known among the Jews of that day.To assert that Abraham held slaves is a mere slander. The phrase, translated “souls that they had gotten in Haran,” Gen. 12: 5, has no possible reference to slaves, and was never supposed to have any allusion to slavery until the commencement of the slave trade in England, in 1563. From that time commentators endeavored to cast upon Abraham the obloquy of holding his fellow creatures in bondage, in order to excuse this nefarious traffic. The Targum of Onkelos thus paraphrases this passage “souls gotten, i. e. those whom they had caused to obey the law.” The Targum of Jonathan calls them “Proselytes.” Jarchi, “Those whom they had brought under the wings of Shekinah.” Menochius, “Those whom they converted from idolatry.” Luke Franke, a Latin commentator, “Those whom they subjected to the law.” Jerome calls them “Proselytes.” Here is a mass of evidence which is incontrovertible. Abraham’s business as “the friend of God” was to get souls as the seals of his ministry. Would he have been called from a heathen land to be the father of the faithful in all generations, that he might enslave the converts he made from idolatry? As soon might we suspect our missionaries of riveting the chains of servitude on souls that they may have gotten, as seals of their ministry, from among those to whom they proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. Would heathen then, any more than now, be attracted to a standard which bore on it the inscription SLAVERY? No, my brethren; and if our downtrodden slaves did not distinguish between Christianity, and the Christians who hold them in bondage, they could never embrace a religion, which is exhibited to them from the pulpit, in the prayer-meeting, and at the domestic altar, embodied in the form of masters, utterly regardless of the divine command, “Render unto your servants that which is just.” From the confidence which Abraham reposed in his servants we cannot avoid the inference that they clustered voluntarily around him as the benefactor of their souls, the patriarch of that little community which his ministry had gathered.Again, it is often peremptorily asserted that “the Africans are a divinely condemned and proscribed race.” If they are, has God constituted the slave holders the ministers of his vengeance? This question can only be answered in the negative, and until it can be otherwise answered, it is vain to appeal to the curse on Canaan, or to Hebrew servitude, in support of American slavery. As well might the bloodstained Emperor of France appeal to the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, and challenge the Almighty to reward him for the work of death which he wrought on the fields of Marengo and Leipsic, because God invested his peculiar people, with authority to destroy the nations which had filled up the measure of their iniquity. The express grant to the Jews to reduce to subjection some of the Canaanitish nations and to exterminate others, at once condemns American slavery, because those who derive their sanction to hold their fellow men in bondage from the Bible, admit that a specific grant was necessary to empower the Israelites to make bond-men of the heathen; and unless this permission had been given, they would not have been justified in doing it. It is therefore self-evident that as we have never been commanded to enslave the Africans, we can derive no sanction for our slave system from the history of the Jews.Another plea by which we endeavor to silence the voice of conscience is, “that the child is invariably born to the condition of the parent.” Hence the law of South Carolina, says “ALL THEIR (THE SLAVES) ISSUE AND OFFSPRING, BORN, OR TO BE BORN, SHALL BE, AND THEY ARE HEREBY DECLARED TO BE, AND REMAIN FOREVER HEREAFTER ABSOLUTE SLAVES, AND SHALL FOREVER FOLLOW THE CONDITION OF THE MOTHER.” To support this assumption, recourse is had to the page of inspiration. Our colored brethren are said to be the descendants of Ham who was cursed with all his posterity, and their condition only in accordance with the declaration of Jehovah, that he visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children.—I need only remark that Canaan, not Ham, was the object of Noah’s prophecy, and that upon his descendants it has been amply fulfilled.But we appeal to prophecy in order to excuse or palliate the sin of slavery, and we regard ourselves as guiltless because we are fulfilling the designs of Omnipotence. Let us read our sentence in the word of God: “And he said unto Abraham, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs and shall serve them, and I will afflict them four hundred years, and also that nation whom they shall serve, I WILL JUDGE.” That nation literally drank the blood of the wrath of Almighty God. The whole land of Egypt was a house of mourning, a scene of consternation and horror. What did it avail the Egyptians that they had been the instruments permitted in the inscrutable counsels of Jehovah to accomplish every iota of the prophecy concerning the seed of Abraham?Appeal to prophecy! As well might the Jews who by wicked hands crucified the Messiah claim to themselves the sanction of prophecy. As well might they shield themselves from the scathing lightning of the Almighty under the plea that the tragedy they acted on Calvary’s mount, had been foretold by the inspired penman a thousand years before. Read in the 22d Psalm an exact description of the crucifixion of Christ. Hear the words of the dying Redeemer from the lips of the Psalmist: “My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” At that awful day when the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books are opened, and another book is opened, which is the book of life, and the dead are judged out of those things which are written in the book ACCORDING TO THEIR WORKS—think you, my brethren, that the betrayer and the crucifiers of the Son of God will find their names inscribed in the book of life “because they fulfilled prophecy in killing the Prince of Peace? Think you that they will claim, or receive on this ground, exemption from the torments of the damned? Will it not add to their guilt and woe that “To Him bare all the prophets witness,” and render more intense the anguish and horror with which they will call upon “the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb?”Contemplate the history of the Jews since the crucifixion of Christ! Behold even in this world the awfully retributive justice which is so accurately pourtrayed by the pen of Moses. “And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people from the one end of the earth even unto the other, and among those nations shalt thou find no ease.” And can we believe that those nations who with satanic ingenuity have fulfilled to a tittle these prophecies against this guilty people, will stand acquitted at the bar of God for their own cruelty and injustice, in the matter? Prophecy is a mirror on whose surface is inscribed in characters of light, that sentence of deep, immitigable woe which the Almighty has pronounced and executed on transgressors. Let me beseech you then, my dear, though guilty brethren, to pause, and learn from the tremendour past what must be the inevitable destiny of those who are adding year after year, to the amount of crime which is treasuring up “wrath against the day of wrath.” “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land! The prophets prophecy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so, and what will ye do in the end thereof?” “Thus saith the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets, Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall.”The present position of my country and of the church is one of deep and solemn interest. The times of our ignorance on the subject of slavery which God may have winked at, have passed away. We are no longer standing unconsciously and carelessly on the brink of a burning volcano. The strong arm of Almighty power has rolled back the dense cloud which hung over the terrific crater, and has exposed it to our view, and although no human eye can penetrate the abyss, yet enough is seen to warn us of the consequences of trifling with Omnipotence. Jehovah is calling to us as he did to Job out of the whirlwind, and every blast bears on its wings the sound, Repent! Repent! God, if I may so speak, is waiting to see whether we will hearken unto his voice. He has sent out his light and his truth, and as regards us it may perhaps be said—there is now silence in heaven. The commissioned messengers of grace to this guilty nation are rapidly traversing our country, through the medium of the Anti-Slavery Society, through its agents and its presses, whilst the “ministering spirits” are marking with breathless interest the influence produced by these means of knowledge thus mercifully furnished to our land. Oh! if there be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, what hallelujahs of angelic praise will arise, when the slave-holder and the defender of slavery bow before the footstool of mercy, and with broken spirits and contrite hearts surrender unto God that dominion over his immortal creatures which he alone can rightly exercise.What an appalling spectacle do we now present! With one hand we clasp the cross of Christ, and with the other grasp the neck of the down-trodden slave! With one eye we are gazing imploringly on the bleeding sacrifice of Calvary, as if we expected redemption though the blood which was shed there, and with the other we cast the glance of indignation and contempt at the representative of Him who there made his soul an offering for sin! My Christian brethren, if there is any truth in the Bible, and in the God of the Bible, our hearts bear us witness that he can no more acknowledge us as his disciples, if we wilfully persist in this sin, than he did the Pharisees formerly, who were strict and punctilious in the observance of the ceremonial law, and yet devoured widows’ houses. We have added a deeper shade to their guilt, we make widows by tearing from the victims of a cruel bondage, the husbands of their bosoms, and then devour the widow herself by robbing her of her freedom, and reducing her to the level of a brute. I solemnly appeal to your own consciences. Does not the rebuke of Christ to the Pharisees apply to some of those who are exercising the office of Gospel ministers, “Wo unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widow’s houses, and for a pretence make long prayers, therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.”How long the space now granted for repentance may continue, is among the secret things which belong unto God, and my soul ardently desires that all those who are enlisted in the ranks of abolition may regard every day as possibly the last, and may pray without ceasing to God, to grant this nation repentance and forgiveness of the sin of slavery. The time is precious, unspeakably precious, and every encouragement is offered to us to supplicate the God of the master and of the slave to make a “right way” “for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.” Ezra says, “so we fasted and besought the Lord, and he was entreated for us.” Look at the marvellous effects of prayer when Peter was imprisoned. What did the church in that crisis? She felt that her weapons were not carnal, but spiritual, and “prayer was made without ceasing.” These petitions offered in humble faith were mighty through God to the emancipation of Peter. “Is the Lord’s arm shortened that it cannot save, or his ear grown heavy that it cannot hear?” If he condescended to work a miracle in answer to prayer when one of his servants was imprisoned, will he not graciously hear our supplications when two millions of his immortal creatures are in bondage? We entreat the Christian ministry to co-operate with us to unite in our petitions to Almighty God to deliver our land from blood guiltiness; to enable us to see the abominations of American slavery by the light of the gospel. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Then may we expect a glorious consummation to our united labors of love. Then may the Lord Jesus unto whom belongeth all power in heaven and in earth condescend to answer our prayers, and by the softening influence of his holy spirit induce our brethren and sisters of the South “to undo the heavy burdens, to break every yoke and let the oppressed go free.”My mind has been deeply impressed whilst reading the account of the anniversaries held last spring in the city of New York, with the belief that there is in America a degree of light, knowledge and intelligence which leaves us without excuse before God for upholding the system of slavery. Nay, we not only sustain this temple of Moloch; but with impious lips consecrate it to the Most High God; and call upon Jehovah himself to sanctify our sins by the presence of his Shekinah. Now mark, the unholy combination that has been entered into between the North and the South to shut out the light on this all important subject. I copy from a speech before the “General Assembly’s Board of Education.” As an illustration of his position, Dr. Breckenridge referred to the influence of the Education Board in the Southern States. “Jealous as those States were, and not without reason, of all that came to them in the shape of benevolent enterprise from the North, and ready as they were to take fire in a moment at whatever threatened their own peculiar institutions, the plans of this Board had conciliated their fullest confidence: in proof of which they had placed nearly two hundred of their sons under its care, that they might be trained and fitted to preach to their own population.” The inference is unavoidable that the “peculiar institution” spoken of is domestic slavery in all its bearings and relations; and it is equally clear that the ministry educated for the South are to be thoroughly imbued with the slave-holding spirit, that they may be “fitted to preach to their own population,” not the gospel of Jesus Christ, which proclaims LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVE, but a religion which grants to man the privilege of sinning with impunity, and stamps with the signet of the King of heaven a system that embraces every possible enormity. Surely if ye are ambassadors for Christ, ye are bound to promulgate the whole counsel of God. But can ye preach from the language of James, “Behold the hire of your laborers which is of you kept back by fraud crieth, and the cries of them which have reaped, are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.” Multitudes of other texts must be virtually expunged from the Bible of the slave holding minister; every denunciation against oppression strikes at the root of slavery. God is in a peculiar manner the God of the poor and the needy, the despised and the oppressed. “The Lord said I have surely seen the affliction of my people, and have heard their cry by reason of their task-masters, for I know their sorrows.” And he knows the sorrows of the American slave, and he will come down in mercy, or in judgment to deliver them.In a speech before the “American Seamen’s Friend Society,” by Rev. William S. Plumer of Virginia, it is said, “The resolution spoke of weighty considerations, why we should care for seamen, and one of these certainly was, because as a class, they had been long and criminally neglected. Another weighty consideration was that seamen were a suffering race.”......... “And who was the cause of this? Was it not the Church who withheld from these her suffering brethren, those blessed truths of God, so well calculated to comfort those who suffer?” Oh my brother! while drawing to the life a picture of a class of our fellow beings, who have been “long and criminally neglected,” of “a suffering race,” was there no cord of sympathy in thy heart to vibrate to the groans of the slave? Did no seraph’s voice whisper in thine ear “Remember them which are in bonds?” Did memory present no scenes of cruelty and oppression? And did not conscience say, thou art one who withholds from thy suffering colored brethren those blessed truths of God so well calculated to comfort those who suffer? Can we believe that the God of Christianity will bless the people who are thus dispensing their gifts to all, save to those by whose unrequited toil, we and our ancestors for generations past have subsisted?Let us examine the testimony of Charles C. Jones, Professor in the Theological Seminary, Columbia, S. C. relative to the condition of our slaves, and then judge whether they have not at least as great a claim as seamen to the sympathy and benevolent effort of Christian Ministers. In a sermon preached before two associations of planters in Georgia in 1831, he says: “Generally speaking, they (the slaves) appear to us to be without God and without hope in the world, a nation of HEATHEN in our very midst. We cannot cry out against the Papists for withholding the scriptures from the common people, and keeping them in ignorance of the way of life, for we withhold the Bible from our servants, and keep them in ignorance of it, while we will not use the means to have it read and explained to them. The cry of our perishing servants comes up to us from the sultry plains as they bend at their toil; it comes up to us from their humble cottages when they return at evening, to rest their weary limbs; it comes up to us from the midst of their ignorance and superstition, and adultery and lewdness. We have manifested no emotions of horror at abandoning the souls of our servants to the adversary, the “roaring lion, that walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”On the 5th of December, 1833, a committee of the synod of South Carolina and Georgia, to whom was referred the subject of the religious instruction of the colored population, made a report in which this language was used.Who would credit it that in these years of revival and benevolent effort, in this Christian republic, there are over TWO MILLIONS of human beings in the condition of HEATHEN, and in some respects in a worse condition. From long continued and close observation, we believe that their moral and religious condition is such that they may be justly considered the HEATHEN of this Christian country, and will bear comparison with heathens in any country in the world. The negroes are destitute of the gospel, and ever will be under the present state of things.In a number of the Charleston Observer (in 1834,) a correspondent remarked: “Let us establish missionaries among our own negroes, who, in view of religious knowledge, are as debasingly ignorant as any one on the coast of Africa; for I hazard the assertion that throughout the bounds of our Synod, there are at least ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND SLAVES, speaking the same language as ourselves, who never heard of the plan of salvation by a Redeemer.”The Editor, Rev. Benjamin Gildersleeve, who has resided at least ten years at the South, so far from contradicting this broad assertion, adds, “We fully concur with what our correspondent has said, respecting the benighted heathen among ourselves.”

Table of Contents

An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States (1836)

Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women (1837)

“Slavery and the Boston Riot”(1835)

An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836)

An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States (1837)

Letters to Catharine M. Beecher, in Reply to an Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism, Addressed to A.E. Grimké (1838)

Address to the Massachusetts Legislature, February 21, 1838