The Revival and Anti-Slavery

Theodore Dwight Weld, American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses — this was, prior to the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the most influential anti-slavery publication. Weld had been a leading abolition speaker. When his voice failed, he took up the pen. He also married Angelina Grimké, one of the first women to speak before so-called promiscuous audiences, i.e., composed of both sexes. She too was a leading abolitionist orator. Weld is, to use Emerson's expression, a representative man of the 1830s and 1840s. He was a Finney convert. Then he attended Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, which was founded by Lyman Beecher to head off Jesuit and Catholic influence in the West. Beecher was the patriarch of one of the most influential families in the 19th century. Weld organized his fellow students to work with the free black population of the city, something local whites disapproved of vigorously. Beecher attempted to placate both the students and the Board of Trustees. Weld and his fellow students, calling themselves the "Band of Seventy," left Lane for the new Oberlin College where Charles Grandison Finney became both president and professor of theology. Upon graduation, many of the Band became anti-slavery activists. The story of the Lane Seminary Debates is gripping and an excellent way to see how evangelical fervor translated into radical reform. Materials include:

That Beecher and the Lane Board of Trustees had good reason to fear that student activism endangered the existence of the seminary is clear from the pro-slavery riot in Cincinnati two years later.

William Lloyd Garrison, founder and publisher of The Liberator, who helped organize the Anti-Slavery Society, also helped to break it apart. The immediate occasion was the role of women. Many, including Arthur and Lewis Tappan, Weld, and his new wife, thought that the matter was too controversial and took attention away from the anti-slavery cause. Garrison, Abby Kelley, and other "ultras," as they came to be called, believed their duty was to stand upon principle. In 1840 the Garrisonians chose several female delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. The convention voted not to seat them. This rebuff did not persuade the Garrisonians to restrict the roles of women in their society. Even though some historians associate the evangelical impulse in the anti-slavery movement with the Tappans and Weld, Garrison also saw the sin of slavery in evangelical terms. In 1854, for example, he proclaimed:

What then is to be done? Friends of the slave, the question is not whether by our efforts we can abolish slavery, speedily or remotely – for duty is ours, the result is with God; but whether we will go with the multitude to do evil, sell our birthright for a mess of pottage, cease to cry aloud and spare not, and remain in Babylon when the command of God is "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." Let us stand in our lot, "and having done all, to stand." At least, a remnant shall be saved.

  • Here is an excerpted version of Garrison's 1854 address, "No Compromise with Slavery!" As in the passage quoted above, the speech is filled with religious terms and references. You can ask students to highlight several examples and then to track down the references. For example, in the excerpt above, the quotation is from the Book of Revelation, chapter 18:
    [1] And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.
    [2] And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
    [3] For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
    [4] And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
    [5] For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

The reference to selling our birthright is to Genesis, chapter 25. Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac. Esau, who was very hungry, asked his brother for some pottage. Jacob insisted that he sell his birthright in exchange. "Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright." The reference to the remnant that shall be saved is from Romans, chapter nine, and refers to the refusal of many Jews to accept Jesus: [27] "Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved. . . ."

There is an online searchable King James Bible at the University of Michigan that makes it simple to track down biblical references. Once students have researched the references, they can discuss how they inform Garrison's thinking.