a book about Harrisburg...
by George F. Nagle
Members of the Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society call for a state convention. Summer 1836.
Members call for a state anti-slavery convention in Harrisburg, in December 1836. It would be held a few weeks later than planned.
Delegate John Greenleaf Whittier reported on the preceedings in Harrisburg for The Liberator.
The Harrisburg Anti-Slavery Convention
The need for a state organization to oversee all the local auxiliaries was apparent. Calls went out for a statewide convention to be held at the end of 1836, and Harrisburg was chosen as the location. The initial date set for the convention was 19 December 1836, but it was postponed until the following January. Delegates began arriving in town during the last week of January 1837, and the convention got underway on Monday, 31 January at Shakespeare Hall, on the northeast corner of Locust Street and Court Alley.
The Harrisburg Anti-Slavery Society appointed thirteen delegates to attend the convention in its hometown, while Junius Morel attended as the lone delegate of the Dauphin County Anti-Slavery Society, the town’s African American organization. More than three hundred people from across the state, including about two hundred delegates and their servants, descended upon Harrisburg, filling most of the local hotel space.
Competition among local hoteliers for delegates was strong, and self-appointed convention correspondent John Greenleaf Whittier reported, in a published letter to William Lloyd Garrison, that great excitement was generated among the delegates by news that Garrison had arrived in town for the convention and had registered at Henry Buehler’s Golden Eagle Tavern, on the square. Knowing that Garrison was not planning to attend, Whittier investigated, and sure enough, found Garrison’s name on the hotel register. But upon further inquiry, he determined that “somebody connected with the establishment had placed [Garrison's] name on the arrival-book, in order to attract thither the delegates who were constantly arriving.”
Even if Garrison was not in town, many other lights of the anti-slavery movement were. Whittier reported that Lancaster County Quaker Thomas Whitson, a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, “is now with us, firm as a rock, and true as steel.” He also mentioned New Yorker Lewis Tappan, who was in town representing the national society, and Charles C. Burleigh, who he noted was “moving all before him wherever he goes.” Present also was Dr. F. Julius LeMoyne, of Washington, Pennsylvania, an AAS agent and president of the Washington County Anti-Slavery Society, one of the first local societies to be formed in the state. LeMoyne had studied medicine at Jefferson Medical College, in Philadelphia, at about the same time as Harrisburg abolitionists William and Hiram Rutherford.
Dr. Bartholomew Fussell was again present, as was Lindley Coates, of Lancaster. Dr. LeMoyne was appointed President of the convention, while Dr. Fussell and Lindley Coates were appointed to two of the eight vice president posts. Reverend Nathan Stem, the president of the Harrisburg Anti-Slavery Society, also received an appointment as vice president. Whittier reported details of a petition by delegates for the use of the hall of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for an anti-slavery lecture. Representatives George Ford of Lancaster County and William Morton of Beaver County supported the measure and presented resolutions giving use of the hall to the convention for the day and evening of 1 February, but the measure was not considered for debate. Representative Morton tried to get use of the hall for the evening only and succeeded in getting a debate on the question, but the state House still rejected any use of the hall by abolitionists. Delegates appeared to be unfazed by the rejection, which were probably proposed for the sake of publicity.
There were other attempts to take advantage of the proximity to state lawmakers. A resolution passed the first day cordially invited the governor, all state officials, and all state lawmakers to attend the convention. Apparently some did, as Whittier reported, “Many members of the senate and house of representatives were present,” on the first day. He noted that many were not there as sympathizers, though, and that “the politicians of all parties who cluster around Harrisburg, are evidently alarmed at the signs of the times. They tremble to see the moral power of Pennsylvania about to be called into action.”
Delegate Benjamin Lundy helped organize the Harrisburg Anti-Slavery Convention.
One of the first serious petitions presented to the legislature was one proposed by Benjamin Lundy, who called for passage of a state law giving the right to a jury trial to accused fugitive slaves. Lundy was interested in keeping alive a bill that had been languishing in committee for several weeks. Lundy’s petition was also presented by Representative Ford, and after considerable debate, it was moved along in the form of a resolution to the state Judiciary Committee to make further inquiries, but it would not make it much further. Most Pennsylvania legislators were satisfied with the current conditions of the state’s Personal Liberty Laws, and did not want to cause additional irritation for their counterparts in Virginia and Maryland with stringent new standards.
If state representatives were not receptive to the requests of the abolitionists, Governor Joseph Ritner, “the sturdy farmer,” was. Perhaps it helped that the governor’s son, Henry A. Ritner, was attending the convention as a delegate from the Buffalo Anti-Slavery Society, of Washington County. The chief executive welcomed a delegation, which included John Greenleaf Whittier, to his Front Street home. Whittier wrote, “His Excellency met us at the door, shook us heartily by the hand, and ushered us into his plain parlor. He said he rejoiced that we had been able to hold our Convention in peace.”
In fact the relatively uneventful four days of the convention, which was attended by nearly three hundred persons who “had the abolition doctrine so indelibly stamped upon their minds,” and which was held in the midst of a notoriously anti-abolitionist town, was a novelty in itself. No violent incidents marred the proceedings during the entire run of the convention. If anything, Harrisburg’s gentry enjoyed and were highly entertained by the extra hubbub created by the sudden influx of so many intent people. One attendee, in speaking with a local resident, was told, “Of all the incidents (which were many) calculated to attract the attention, none had the desired effect but the Circus and the Abolition Convention.”63
Jonathan Blanchard in Harrisburg
Jonathan Blanchard addressed the Harrisburg convention several times. He spoke on the morning of the second day, chastising clergymen who identified slave holding as a sin, yet refused to take a stand for immediate emancipation of slaves. This speech was a not so subtle slap at Harrisburg’s leading Presbyterian minister Reverend DeWitt, who tolerated the pro-Southern sympathies of many of his congregants while denouncing the concept of slavery in general. Blanchard charged that such men held “clouded moral perceptions,” giving as an example some conversation he recently had with one such clergyman expressing these very views. He summed up his version of their argument with the following statement: “It is wrong, they say, for a Christian to hold slaves. Nevertheless, he is bound to hold them until he has perfectly satisfied himself that all the consequences of emancipation will be good.” That reasoning, the New Englander explained, was blurring “the eternal distinction between right and wrong.” In the style of a classic Great Awakening sermon, he thundered, “Theirs is the morality of the dark ages. It is like killing a miser for his money.”
This was the style that must have endeared Jonathan Blanchard to his anti-slavery mentor Theodore Weld, leading Weld to recruit Blanchard for the cause. But Blanchard also had his sentimental side, and it came out a few days later in the convention. He spoke again in the late morning of the last day, calling for the recognition of the role of women in the anti-slavery cause. Blanchard recalled the work of British abolitionist Elizabeth Heyrick, whose 1824 pamphlet Immediate, not Gradual Abolition defined the aims of most of the women’s anti-slavery societies in Great Britain, in contrast to the gradualist aims of the official, and male dominated, Anti-Slavery Society. Her name was already well known to many, if not most, of the delegates, as Heyrick’s pioneering pamphlet had been republished in Philadelphia the previous year by the Philadelphia Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. Blanchard reserved high praise for her work, crediting her efforts for “the deliverance of 800,000 bondsmen of Great Britain.”
Heyrick, a schoolteacher who was greatly influenced by the writings of Thomas Paine, had created a tight network in Great Britain of women’s anti-slavery auxiliaries, all of which advocated immediate emancipation instead of gradual emancipation. In 1830, as treasurer of the largest female anti-slavery society in England, she played her trump card by threatening to withhold from the official male society all of the considerable funding supplied by these female-run auxiliary societies, unless the official organization reconsidered its views on immediate emancipation. As the female societies supplied over twenty percent of the general fund, the male-dominated official society had little choice but to acquiesce, and within months had adopted immediate emancipation as its goal. The ultimate triumph was achieved three years later, in 1833, when Great Britain abolished slavery throughout the empire.
Blanchard also cited female abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, who, like Heyrick, had also published in favor of immediate abolition, and more significantly, had begun the tradition of holding anti-slavery fairs as fundraisers. He also talked about Maria Weston Chapman, who, among her many other anti-slavery duties, took over management of the Boston Anti-Slavery Bazaar from Lydia Maria Child. Blanchard was followed by other speakers who praised the work of women in the movement, yet when the topic was finished, no resolutions were proposed or passed to give women more power in the organization. Just as at the 1833 Philadelphia convention, at which the AAS was created, women attending the Harrisburg convention were not permitted to hold delegate status.64
Jonathan Blanchard’s appearance at the convention was fortunate, as the New England abolitionist spent only a year in Pennsylvania, from October 1836 to October 1837, as a traveling lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society. In that short time, though, the young, intense student of the ministry managed to inspire numerous influential people, and converted many to the abolitionist cause.
He was himself introduced to abolitionism at the age of twenty-one while serving as an instructor at Plattsburg Academy, in New York. The Vermont native, a graduate of Middlebury College, was teaching at Plattsburg in order to earn enough money to continue his studies for the ministry. He eventually enrolled in Andover Theological Seminary, taking with him the ideas that religious leaders ought to take a fierce moral stance against slavery, a concept that the seminary administration did not embrace. The young theologian became more and more dissatisfied with his situation, as he was unable to reconcile his strong anti-slavery beliefs with the practice being taught at his institution, so in the autumn of 1836 he left the seminary to work for the American Anti-Slavery Society as a traveling lecturer, or agent.
Theodore Weld and The Seventy
Prior to Blanchard’s appointment, the anti-slavery agency system in Pennsylvania had been foundering outside of Philadelphia, with much of the work of spreading the word to the interior counties falling on the back of Samuel Gould, the agent who had been challenged in Harrisburg by the borough council, and who lectured in Alexander Graydon’s parlor. In September 1836, the society added a number of new agents, including the conflicted seminarian Jonathan Blanchard, and another fiery young man, James Miller McKim of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Although its work in Pennsylvania was lagging up to this point, the successes that traveling AAS agents had recently produced in Ohio, New York, and the New England states inspired society manager and former speaker Theodore Dwight Weld to rethink its methods, which had relied heavily on tracts and publications. Weld, who as a college student had been strongly influenced by evangelist Charles Grandison Finney and served as a member of his Holy Band, sought to heat up the agency system by melding the excitement and fervor of a camp meeting with the principles of “free discussion” and equality.
With the society’s blessing, Weld began a search for a large number of passionate, intelligent, and charismatic men to spread the abolitionist message. He found many of them in his former alma mater, Oberlin College. Weld had been accepted by Oberlin after leaving Lane Theological Seminary along with a number of other students whose anti-slavery debates in 1834 were suppressed by the Lane administration because they were causing controversy. It was Weld who had initiated the debates by spreading the slave emancipation views he acquired from his work with Finney, and it was Weld who, as the spiritual leader of those suppressed, led the Lane Rebels in protest out of the seminary and on to Oberlin. Years later, in his search for talented evangelistically styled speakers, Weld turned to his contacts from Oberlin College.
He also scoured other venues, and found Blanchard mired in moral mediocrity at Andover Theological Seminary. Weld must have recognized a kindred soul in Blanchard, whose frustrations at not being able to convince his instructors that inaction in the face of moral injustice was not acceptable in the ministry. For his part, Blanchard’s heart must have leapt to hear the older Weld express his Finneyesque conviction that “faith without works is dead.” Weld recruited Blanchard for the job of traveling agent on the spot, adding him to his list of names.
Everyone recruited by Weld had to be highly dedicated to the cause. Almost all were talented, well-educated professional men capable of making a comfortable living in the world. As traveling agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society, however, they earned a grand total of eight dollars a week, plus expenses, “and brickbats in the bargain.” Weld understood the sacrifice he was asking of his abolition proselytizers, and he undertook a novel team-building approach to induct them into their new roles.
All the new talent, including the young Jonathan Blanchard and James Miller McKim, were gathered together for an intensive training session at the society headquarters in New York in the late fall of 1836. There, under the tutelage of Weld, they were “drilled, disciplined and aroused” on the subject of slavery and the aims of the society. The sessions were described as being “for the purpose of kindling, warming, ‘combustionizing’ and in short getting the whole mass to a welding heat.” Weld christened his army of fired-up agents “The Seventy,” and turned them loose on the countryside, and in particular, he sent them down the turnpikes and back roads into the rural townships of Pennsylvania.65
Jonathan Blanchard had an opportunity to spend a month in the Harrisburg area before the “combustionizing” sessions in New York, and he spent the time busily preaching and lecturing to groups, families, and congregations. It was at this time, during the last week of October 1836, that he delivered his infamous sermon at Reverend DeWitt’s Presbyterian Church, as described in Mary Ellen Graydon’s account, which scandalized the “superlatively sensitive” congregants and mortified the church’s pastor. During the next week, he lectured just north of the state capital, in the nearby towns of Dauphin, Halifax, and Millersburg, before returning to the borough.
The week after that he was in New York for Theodore Weld’s training sessions, and by early December was back in Harrisburg, renewed and invigorated, and ready to take on the midstate’s socially embedded colonizationists and politically entrenched pro-South sympathizers. He would need all of his energy and enthusiasm for the assignment. In the following weeks, twenty-five of his next thirty meetings were disrupted to some degree by the opposition, some to the extent of violent assault.
After each event, whether it went well or not, he would retreat to the welcoming Market Street parlor of the Graydon family, who played host to him during his months in Harrisburg, and recount the day’s successes or failures. In each instance, he analyzed and dissected his performance, forever looking for new angles “to help the righteous cause.” Finally, at the end of January, he could turn his attention to the convention, which was conveniently being held a few short blocks from where he was staying. Here, he would be preaching to the converted, but he did not pass up the opportunity to sit down and speak with anyone who could be an ally.66
One of those persons was the former state legislator from Gettysburg, Thaddeus Stevens, who, though currently in between terms, happened to be in Harrisburg during the abolitionist show at Shakespeare Hall. The Adams County legislator had been active in local colonization activities and anti-abolition rallies as late as 1835, but Stevens’ anti-slavery sentiment had been strengthening and growing more radical during the previous year. Of particular importance to him was the concept of "free discussion," and he was repelled by the increasing tolerance for suppression of free discussion by the opponents of abolition. Only a month before the Harrisburg convention, Stevens’ political mentor, Governor Ritner, had strongly attacked slavery in his annual address to the state legislature—an address that many of Stevens’ contemporaries thought bore his mark of collaboration:
Thaddeus Stevens treated Jonathan Blanchard to dinner just before the convention, and listened to his views on slavery and human rights. The crusty politician, who already bore the scars of nasty political battles, found in the young seminarian-turned-social-reformer a worthy and dedicated fellow warrior. He was anxious to bring Blanchard to Gettysburg, and to allow the fearless agent to pit his debating skills against the local anti-abolition men who that December had turned the anti-slavery meeting of William Reynolds, Michael Clarkson, and James McAllister into a melee. Stevens backed his commitment to Blanchard and the cause with a substantial donation, and the newly appointed AAS agent agreed to speak in Gettysburg after the convention.
Blanchard fulfilled that promise in March, appearing at numerous venues in that Adams County town, generally in front of crowds that included large numbers of rowdies, although members of the local anti-slavery society were also in attendance as moral support. The AAS agent appeared in a series of debates and spoke in defense of abolitionism, while local men Cooper and Smyser spoke against it, frequently offering resolutions denouncing the aims of the society.
Although most of the public debates at the courthouse were orderly, Blanchard was regularly jeered and occasionally pelted with objects, and sometimes had to dodge bricks, but with the help of Stevens, who appealed to the crowd to respect Blanchard’s right to speak, he not only survived, but occasionally prevailed in these events.67 Blanchard and Stevens became good friends, and if the young AAS agent did not significantly enhance Stevens’ anti-slavery beliefs, then at the least, in the words of one Stevens’ biographer, “Blanchard’s arguments buttressed Stevens’ belief in antislavery.”68
The arguments of Jonathan Blanchard seem to have significantly influenced the views of another important person in Harrisburg during his assignment here. Harrisburg attorney Charles Coatesworth Rawn spent a rainy November afternoon listening to the Reverend Blanchard speak on the topic of anti-slavery at the Harrisburg Masonic Hall, on Walnut Street. Rawn, as noted earlier, was a supporter of the local colonization society, and had even made a notable public speech a year earlier at the large anti-abolitionist meeting held in the borough’s market sheds on the square.
C. C. Rawn was also one of the main composers of the petition presented to the U.S. Senate by Pennsylvania Senator James Buchanan, “praying that Congress would make appropriations to transport to Africa the free people of color; and that the constitution might be submitted for amendment on that point, if it does not now give the power.” Although Rawn’s name was originally associated with the petition, and was published by the local Jacksonian Democratic newspaper the Keystone in an article that ran alongside the petition when it reprinted it in January 1837 under the title “Memorial to Congress on the Subject of Colonization,” there is evidence that he was already seriously rethinking his stance on colonization during this time. His willingness to attend a lecture on an opposing point of view the previous fall is one indication.
Jonathan Blanchard’s 11 November 1836 speech at the Masonic Hall, a location that was frequently used as a public venue for such events, would have attracted an audience that included people on both sides of the issue. Crowds would gather to hear a discourse on any current topic if the speaker was skillful and engaging enough. If he was then challenged by someone in his audience on the points of his presentation and a vigorous debate ensued, so much the better.
Rawn does not appear to have gone to the lecture to challenge Blanchard on abolition, and he seems to have attended alone. Although his motives for going, and his impressions of the speaker and his topic are not noted in his journal entry that day, his later actions indicate that he was favorably impressed with what he saw and heard. Jonathan Blanchard left Harrisburg a few days after his speech at the Masonic Hall, to attend Theodore Weld’s training in New York. Upon his return to Harrisburg, in early December, Charles C. Rawn again went to hear him speak.
It was on Sunday, 11 December, a day that Rawn described as being clear and beautiful. The devout attorney spent the morning in church with his wife and mother-in-law, and listened to the Reverend DeWitt conduct services in the Presbyterian Church, which was then located on Second Street, between Chestnut and Mulberry streets. That evening, Rawn again attended services in the Presbyterian Church, but the preacher for the evening services was the Reverend Blanchard. Rawn’s journal entry for the day includes no comment on the younger preacher’s performance, or reaction to his sermon.
Two days later, on 13 December, Rawn concluded a busy workday by entertaining visitors in his home. He welcomed the Reverend DeWitt again, at seven-thirty, and they talked about slavery. Rawn shared his opinion that slavery should be abolished in the nation’s capital, an idea long advocated by Northern abolitionists and strongly resisted by Southern sympathizers. DeWitt, he recorded, seemed pleased to hear him say that. Rawn then recorded another opinion, which was much stronger. He wrote that he was “decidedly in favor” of opening up the topic of the abolition of slavery to public discussion.69 His endorsement of the concept of free discussion is another big step toward the views of the abolitionists, and away from the views of the colonizationists.
A State Society is Born in Harrisburg
Jonathan Blanchard and all the other two hundred delegates to the Harrisburg Anti-Slavery Convention had one overriding goal, in addition to spreading the gospel of abolitionism, which they hoped to accomplish during their four days in town. That was the creation of a state anti-slavery society to oversee and manage the activities and courses of the many local societies. A resolution was passed early on the first day of the convention, affirming that goal, stating, “This convention will now proceed to form a State Anti-Slavery Society.” Committees were announced, and many of the Harrisburg delegates found jobs with one of the various committees formed to carry out the groundwork to accomplish the goal.
Alexander Graydon and Samuel Cross were appointed to the Committee to Draft a Report on Slavery in the District of Columbia. William W. Rutherford served on the Committee that reported on the slave trade being carried on between the states. Mordecai McKinney set about revising resolutions so that the business of the convention could be accomplished more effectively. One of his resolves was concerned with how the convention could make an appropriate response to the laws of Pennsylvania as they pertained to the recovery of fugitive slaves. As might be expected, this resolution triggered considerable debate, as every delegate had strong views on this subject. The convention president found it expedient to set up a separate committee just to handle this subject, and he appointed McKinney to lead it.
In addition, it was found necessary to add another resolution limiting each speaker to no more than two addresses not exceeding fifteen minutes each on any one subject. Verbose speakers were not the only problem that the convention officers dealt with on the first day. A brief resolution dispensing with “all professional titles” helped move things along, among the various doctors, attorneys, judges, and ministers of the gospel in attendance. With regard to religion, the Committee on Business quickly found that it needed to propose a rather unique resolution to limit religious expression during work sessions, if anything was to be accomplished. The members of the committee prefaced their resolution with a bit of explanatory text, perhaps to smooth over any ruffled feathers: “Inasmuch as this body is composed of persons conscientiously differing from each other in their modes of divine worship, but all acknowledging their dependence on Almighty God for guidance and instruction. Therefore, Resolved, That no outward form of religious devotion shall be observed by this Convention.” The resolution passed unanimously. With such obstacles as speakers prone to prolixity, inflated egos, and conflicting religious views thus banished from the convention floor, the officers brought the first day to a close and adjourned the convention until nine o’clock the next morning.
The second day brought the creation of more committees and the reading of more congratulatory letters from the managers of local anti-slavery organizations. The resolutions offered ceased being solely functional and practical, as on the first day, and began to reflect the dogma of the Garrisonian abolitionists. One resolution, however, had a much more personal use, which was to mourn the recent loss of longtime abolitionists Thomas Shipley and Edwin Atlee. Both men were members of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and both, as proponents of immediate emancipation, had been instrumental in starting the American Anti-Slavery Society. Shipley and Atlee, however, represented more to the delegates than just the passing of a previous generation of abolitionists. They were exemplars of the fully committed anti-slavery activist. Both men had lived their lives in devotion to their belief in racial equality and social justice, and had proved that devotion by repeatedly putting their fortunes, social standing, and even their lives in jeopardy on behalf of the African American residents of Philadelphia.
Shipley had personally protected fugitive slaves, had provided legal counsel to African Americans in need, and had shielded African Americans from harm during race riots in Philadelphia in the year prior to his death. Atlee had been similarly active on behalf of Pennsylvania’s African American residents, and as a result, both men were held in high esteem by the Philadelphia African American community. Robert Purvis eulogized Shipley shortly after his death in a sermon at St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, in Philadelphia. At the convention, Harrisburg delegate Reverend Nathan Stem was appointed to the Committee to convey the condolences of the convention delegates to the bereaved families.70
On the final day of the convention, the preamble and constitution for the new state association were submitted and unanimously adopted, and officers were elected. F. Julius LeMoyne was elected to serve as the first President of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Harrisburg minister Nathan Stem was elected one of six Vice-Presidents. Alexander Graydon was appointed a manager of the society, as was William M. Reynolds, of Adams County.
It was at this point that the role of women in the struggle against slavery was recognized by a resolution, and discussed at length. Jonathan Blanchard, who seconded the resolution, recalled the deeds of Elizabeth Heyrick and mentioned southern activist Angelina E. Grimké, whose published works had been publicly burned in South Carolina, and Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, the young poet whose abolition-themed body of work regularly enriched Benjamin Lundy’s Genius of Universal Emancipation, and whose collected poems were sold to fund anti-slavery causes long after her untimely death at age twenty-six.
It is intriguing that Blanchard stopped short of praising any Pennsylvania women then involved in the cause, citing “delicacy” as a forbidding reason. Apparently, he saw a danger in naming active Pennsylvania women. His references to Grimké and Chandler hint at the social forces that were often brought to bear against women who broke out of their traditional roles to embrace political or social causes. Charles C. Burleigh added his thoughts, remarking on the steadfast courage of some anti-slavery women he had witnessed, when assailed by a hostile mob: “We want that courage which can calmly meet shame, reproach, and insult, in the path of duty, offering no violence itself, and unawed by the violence of others.”
Burleigh also cited the work of an African American woman, a former slave, then in New York, who stole her freedom, then rescued eleven other slaves “and is still devoting her time, her efforts, and the money her honest and persevering industry has acquired, to this work of humanity.” Unfortunately, Burleigh did not name the woman who had brought eleven of her brethren out of slavery, but the speaker who followed him, Lewis Tappan, did. Tappan identified this woman as Hester Laing. At the mention of her name, fellow New Yorker Amos A. Phelps added that Laing had recently brought to the AAS office in New York a petition calling for the abolition of slavery in the nation’s capital, with six hundred names, all collected personally by her.
A series of additional resolutions followed these outstanding examples of female activism in the cause, yet not one of the resolutions mentioned women, or attempted to give an increased management or governing role to women in the new state society. Women were in attendance at Harrisburg in admirable numbers, yet their work, which was every bit as important and vital to the success of the cause as that of the men, was relegated to one short resolution on the final day, which stated “we hail with great encouragement” their efforts and influence.71
The only true disagreement at the convention came with the introduction of a resolution calling on all abolitionists to make “the principles of universal freedom and of political equality” a test for all political candidates, and that they not vote for candidates who did not embrace those principles. The idea of forming an “Abolition Party,” as some of the delegates believed was the underlying purpose of this resolution, was not palatable to many, and opposition to the resolution was voiced. Even if it was not for the purpose of establishing a distinct party, delegate Eli Dillin complained, “The resolution might be misunderstood.” Dillin was backed up by James Loughhead, of Pittsburgh, who described the cause as “moral warfare. Its unpopularity had thus far kept our ranks pure. He dreaded to see the day, when from motives self-aggrandizement, unprincipled politicians should profess an attachment to our cause.”
Poet John Greenleaf Whittier took issue with such ideas, noting that the national society had just spent considerable effort in gathering petitions across the country in support of the society platform against slavery in the District of Columbia, and against the admission of Texas to the union as a slave state. He asked “Why then give our votes one day for a member of Congress, who we know will throw our petitions unread, upon the table, and the next day send him these petitions, and wonder that he does not make an abolition speech upon them?...So long as we gave our votes in favour of such men,…we had no right to complain.” Benjamin Lundy agreed, stating that he “could not, for one, forget his duty to the slave, even at the ballot box.” In the face of such a disparity of opinion, the resolution was hastily withdrawn.
scrape was behind them, the officers moved to finish the remaining
agenda items, as the Harrisburg convention was entering its final hours.
One of the final pieces of business involved setting a meeting location
for the first annual meeting of the newly established Pennsylvania
Anti-Slavery Society, and Harrisburg was again chosen as “the
most eligible place,” after which, the convention adjourned.72
50. Sharpe, Family Retrospect, 55-56.
51. “Resolution of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, December 24, 1829, Read and laid upon the table, Colonization Society,” Serial Set vol. no. 199, Session vol. no. 1, 21st Congress, 1st Session, House Report 24.
52. “A Voice from Harrisburg,” Liberator, 8 October 1831.
53. “Obituary, Dr. Hiram Rutherford,” in Egle, Notes and Queries, Annual Volume 1900, 15:78-79; H.R. (Hiram Rutherford), “Pastors and Elders,” in Egle, Notes and Queries, 4th ser., vol. 1, 100:323-324.
54. Sharpe, Family
55. Sharpe, Family
56. Sharpe, Family
Retrospect, 55. A copy of Alexander Graydon’s advertisement
for anti-slavery publications can be found in the Pennsylvania
Telegraph, 27 July 1837. A transcript of the advertisement,
including a list of all twenty-nine titles he offered for sale, is
at the Afrolumens Project, at http://www.afrolumens.org/ugrr/dgraydon.htm.
57. Entries 28 August 1835 and 1 September 1835, “The Rawn Journals” (accessed 17 February 2009).
58. John L. Myers, “The Early Antislavery Agency System in Pennsylvania, 1833-1837,” in Pennsylvania History 31, no. 1 (January 1964): 67-71; Egle, Notes and Queries, 4th ser., vol. 1, 100:324; Liberator, 13 February 1836.
59. George Ross, Biography Of Elder John Winebrenner--Semi-Centennial Sketch (Harrisburg: Dr. George Ross, 1880), 20; Barton, Illustrated History, 42.
60. Ira V. Brown, “Pennsylvania, ‘Immediate Emancipation,’ and the Birth of the American Anti-Slavery Society,” Pennsylvania History 54, no. 3 (July 1987): 165-166.
61. Brown, “Immediate Emancipation,” 166-169; Liberator, 15 June 1833.
62. G. Craig Caba, Gettysburg: 1836 Battle Over Slavery (Gettysburg: G. Craig Caba, 2004), n.pag. (5-8).
63. Liberator, 10 December 1836, 11, 18 February 1837.
64. Liberator, 18 February 1837; Elizabeth Heyrick, Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition, Or, An Inquest Into the Shortest, Safest, and Most Effectual Means of Getting Rid of West Indian Slavery (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society / Merrihew and Gunn, 1836).
65. Myers, “Early Antislavery Agency System,” 68-77.
66. Myers, “Early
Antislavery Agency System,” 78-79; Sharpe, Family Retrospect,
67. Liberator, 17 December 1836; “Abolition Discussion,” Gettysburg Star and Republican Banner, 20 March 1837. Thaddeus Stevens biographer Hans L. Trefousse, on the subject of Thaddeus Stevens helping to write Joseph Ritner’s December 1837 Address to the Pennsylvania Legislature, simply notes, “It was said that he was instrumental in drafting the governor’s message.” Hans L. Trefousse, Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth Century Egalitarian (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2001), 49-50.
68. Trefousse, Thaddeus Stevens, 50.
69. Entries 11 November 1836, 11 December 1836 and 13 December 1836, “The Rawn Journals” (accessed 17 February 2009).
70. Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Convention Assembled to Organize a State Anti-Slavery Society, at Harrisburg on the 31st of January and 1st, 2d and 3d of February 1837 (Philadelphia: Merrihew and Gunn, 1837), 1-36.
71. Ibid., 36-76.
72. Ibid., 76-78.
Caution: Copyrighted material. Published September 2010.
© 2010 George F. Nagle
This is the first in a series of books from the Afrolumens Project. Drawing on a large number of sources, and making good use of the treasure trove of information on the pages of the Afrolumens Project, this is the first truly comprehensive history of Harrisburg's African American community.
Both volumes also available on Amazon.