Sentiments of Abolitionists (1832)

This piece on the positions held by abolitionists first appeared in the Hudson Observer & Telegraph and was reprinted to a national audience in William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper, The Liberator, on December 1, 1832.

Garrison was a journalistic crusader who advocated the immediate emancipation of all slaves and gained a national reputation for being one of the most radical of American abolitionists. The Liberator denounced the Compromise of 1850, condemned the Kansas-Nebraska Act, damned the Dred Scott decision and hailed John Brown’s raid as “God’s method of dealing retribution upon the head of the tyrant.”

The slaveholders in the South demanded the end of the incendiary paper and the state of Georgia offered a $5,000 reward for Garrison’s capture. The Liberator was a mighty force from the beginning and became the most influential newspaper in the antebellum antislavery crusade.

After the end of the Civil War in December 1865, Garrison published his last issue of The Liberator, announcing “my vocation as an abolitionist is ended.”

Sentiments of Abolitionists

Abolitionism utters none of that foolishness which its opponents put in its mouth. It does not talk about ‘turning loose,’ ‘intermarrying,’ and all that sort of stuff. It is no such thing that the slaves ask. If they were fond of whitening, they have enough of it now, in all conscience.

I will endeavor to give a birds-eye view of the position occupied by the abolitionists.

Foundation Principles.

I. All men are descended from the same first parents. – Proof. Acts, 17: 26. Common consent of historians and philosophers.

II. All men have immortal souls by which they are distinguished from the brutes that perish. – Proof. Gen. 1: 26, 27.

III. All men are bound to regard their fellow men, in whatever circumstances, as brethren. – Proof. Mat. 5: 43, 44.

IV. All men are born free and equal. – Proof. The confession of many tyrants.

V. No man can justly be deprived of his liberty, except when awaiting a speedy trial for some crime, or after an equitable conviction thereof. – Proof. Deut. 1: 16, 17. Amos 2: 6. Common law.

VI. No man can be justly retained in bondage, who has been unjustly bound. – A moral axiom which needs no proof.

VII. That law is unjust which leaves any man to be governed, in any respect, by the irresponsible caprice of an individual. – Proof. It violates the object of all law; viz. the protection of every man’s rights.

VIII. To withhold wages from a laborer is a violation of the eighth commandment of the Decalogue. – Proof. James 5: 4. It is taking the property of another without his consent.

From such principles as these grow the doctrine of…

Immediate Abolition.

This doctrine may be thus stated:

1. The slave traders were guilty because they stole men. The original purchasers were guilty because they knew the slaves were stolen men. The present owners are still more guilty, because, knowing all this, they know moreover that the curse of God rests on the whole system.  See Mat. 23: 35, 36 Ezek. 18: whole chapter.


2. Justice requires that the slaves be immediately emancipated, and placed under the full protection of the law and that their color should be no obstruction to their exercising all the rights of freemen.

3. The exhibition of this doctrine to the wrongdoers is the only rational and scriptural way of promoting a reformation.  See Prov. 24: 24, 25. Ezek. 3: 18, also 33: 8, 14.

4. The friends of humanity are loudly called upon to combine their voices in favor of the total, immediate abolition of slavery.

Although these considerations are perfectly decisive yet the abolitionists are ready to descend to the ground of political expediency.  They hold…

1. Immediate emancipation would be safe to the masters. – History and experience must decide. It has always been safe. For instance, 500,000 slaves were emancipated at once in St. Domingo with perfect safety. Rebellions and servile wars have always arisen from persistence in oppression.

2. It would be profitable to the masters. – I speak not of their immortal souls, but of the precious dust. It would double the value of their lands. They would get more work for the same money.

3. It would benefit the slaves. – Men are better off than brutes. It would make men of them. It would take the cramping irons off from their souls.

4. It would benefit the country. – Union is strength. It would promote union. It would give 2,000,000 of valuable citizens to the republic. It would destroy 2,000,000 of enemies.

5. It would benefit the world. – Strong national distinctions present the chief obstacle to universal peace and free government. It would be a blow at such distinctions— in sight of the world.

6. It is no less practical than any other valuable moral reformation. – If we despair of it, we may as well despair of the world, and take our exit.

7. It need not be objected that such sentiments will excite the slaves to rebellion. – That would be the fault of the masters. We preach to the masters, not to the slaves. To the slaves, we say, ‘vengeance belongeth to the Lord.’ Leave your cause with Him.

The foregoing principles necessarily lead the abolitionists to the following, on Colonization. Here I distinguish between Colonization in the abstract and the Colonization Society. And both are considered only in regard to their bearing as remedies for slavery.

I. Colonization, as a remedy for slavery, is inappropriate and wrong, because:

1. It presents a physical instead of a moral remedy for a moral evil. You may separate men without making them better, but make them better, and they will need no separation. ‘We should take men as they are’— not separate the black and the white ocean-wide before we try upon them the motives of the gospel.

2. It admits of only a gradual abolition of slavery.

3. It, of course, proceeds upon the assumption that we may forsake sin by degrees.

4. It makes slaveholding profitable— adds a powerful motive to perpetuate it— and thus counteracts itself.

5. It sanctifies prejudice.

II. The American Colonization Society, as a remedy for American Slavery, is fundamentally wrong,  because:

1. It admits the doctrine of tyrants and men stealers, that man can have property in man.  See Psalm 50: 18.

2. It removes the free black, the natural friend of the slave. ‘The only mirror from which liberty can be reflected into the bosom of the slave.’

3. It disparages and insults the whole body of free blacks.

4. It seeks to remove a useful class of laborers. Could it succeed, it would leave the whole South a desert.

5. It removes them to a comparatively insalubrious climate.

6. The Colonization of any considerable portion of our black population to Africa will work mischief to its aborigines— History being the judge.

7. Inasmuch as the slaves are held, not merely by the lust of money, but by the lust of power and the lust of pleasure,— there are but two motives in the universe that can effect their complete emancipation, viz. compunction of conscience and fear; but the society watches, mute, about the bed of conscience, and it quells fear, by opening a safety ‘drain;’ therefore it rivets the chain of the slave.

8. It dishonors the Gospel, in despairing of its power over prejudice.  See Rom. 1: 16, and II Cor. 10: 4, 5.

The advocates of the society must do something more than to show the success of the little colony at Liberia. We do not object to the colony, but to its being magnified into the remedy or any part of the remedy for slavery— to its absorbing the whole philanthropy of the land, which ought to be concentrated on the point of total abolition.

I would invite all those who love truth, and especially those ministers of the gospel who take up collections for the Colonization Society, to examine the position of the abolitionists, and if they see cause, to attack it manfully. But I would advise them by all means before they commit themselves in the war, to read at least a dozen numbers of the Liberator and Mr. Garrison’s ‘Thoughts on African Colonization.’

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