A Moment in the Decades Long Battle Against American Slavery

When looking back at important social justice movements, it is very easy to lose sight of the duration of the movement.  Our eyes jump to key events like the passage of the 14th and 19th amendments ending slaving and guaranteeing women the right to vote, or passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 that put largely ended mass child labor in the United States, and we sometimes forget that each of those key moments were the result of generations long efforts by people standing up to injustice and cruelty.

Women were fighting for voting rights before the Civil War ended in 1865, but a federal guarantee of that right did not come to pass until 55 years later in 1920.  There were people speaking out against the institution of slavery in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War. (See Timeline of Events Relating to the End of Slavery)

This meeting report on resolutions passed by the West Newbury Anti-Slavery Society  was printed in the September 24, 1841 issue of The Liberator. I was over 24 more years before the United States banned slavery with the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865.

One thing we can take from this is the knowledge that while change rarely happens quickly, it does happen if the people confronting injustice do not give up hope and never stop fighting.

William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator was a weekly abolitionist newspaper published in Boston. The paper held true to the founder’s ideals. 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.

WEST NEWBURY, Sept. 6, 1841.

Brother. Garrison:

Agreeably to a vote passed at the annual meeting of the West Newbury Anti-Slavery Society, the following preamble and resolutions, offered by A.P. Jaques, at the last quarterly meeting, and, subsequently, unanimously adopted, are now offered for publication in the Liberator:

Whereas, we regard slavery as destructive to the peace, prosperity and liberties of these United States, by ‘reducing men to property,’ and ‘by sinking immortality into merchandise;’ and whereas, we believe it is a sin against God, a violation of the most sacred rights of man, and a disgrace to our country, and, if not abolished, will prove our country’s ruin; and whereas, we believe it practicable, by appeals to the moral principles and interests of the people, to awaken public sentiment throughout the nation, which will result in its entire abolition, and prevent a general convulsion; and whereas, it is a duty we owe to the oppressed and the oppressor, to justice and to God, to do every thing in our power to bring about its extinction’; therefore,

  • Resolved, That in view of the glorious results already brought about by discussing the subject of slavery, we will not cease to agitate it, so long as our land is crimsoned with the blood of slaves, and deluged in such an awful flood of guilt— until the oppressor’s chain is broken, and the image of God is acknowledged to be a man.
  • Resolved, That the anti-slavery societies are the instruments, under God, which will eventually accomplish this great work of delivering and elevating the colored man, and placing him on an equality with his brother.
  • Resolved, That we regard the colonization movement as a scheme ‘shaped in iniquity, and in sin conceived’— fraught with evil, and nothing but evil, inasmuch as it would drive a man from the home of his father to dwell amongst savages in the filthy swamps of Liberia.
  • Resolved, That we are solely dependent on the blessing of God, and the guidance of His spirit, for the success of our enterprise.
  • Resolved, That on the anti-slavery platform, we will extend the right hand of fellowship to every human being, whether they be Jew or Gentile, Christian or infidel, male or female, a believer that human government is of divine approval, or a non-resistant.
  • Resolved, That it is with pleasure we view the recent organization of a vigilant committee in Boston,* for the protection of the fugitive from injustice— to rescue him from the jaws of human blood-hounds of the south, and the vampyre kidnappers of the north; and we rejoice that there are men, whose noble and generous hearts prompt them to sacrifice their own peace and enjoyment, for the purpose of giving comfort and consolation to the afflicted and distressed; and we bid them God speed in their much needed and glorious undertaking.
  • Resolved, That we have strict confidence in the honesty and integrity of him who ‘met priest, bishop, and titled dignitary— who, when the people were shivering in their shoes, lest the priests should anathematize them, blew his trumpet blast, and aroused the slumbering nation— lifted his ponderous battle-axe, and beat down their castle about their ears, and told the people to walk out and be free’— and we honor his self-sacrificing and devoted heart.
  • Resolved, That it is with joy and satisfaction we behold ‘the influence of William Lloyd Garrison is’ not ‘on the wane,’ but that ‘slavery, at the mention of his name, trembles, and her blood pushes back to the seat of life,’ as does that of a lesser criminal when we speak to him of the law or a rope.
  • Resolved, That we recommend to every abolitionist that independent journal, and terror to slavery and pro-slavery preachers, the LIBERATOR, as worthy their support and weekly perusal.
  • The following resolution was offered by bro. P. Pillsbury, at one of our meetings, for the purpose of giving bro. T.P. Beach, of Campton, N.H. an opportunity to speak, after the business for which the meeting was called had been transacted. Unanimously adopted.
  • Resolved, That it is the duty of all ministers, churches and Christians, to do all they can, consistently with their other duties, for the abolition of slavery throughout the world.

Bro. Thomas P. Beach, having been invited to give a public lecture before the Society, came forward, and offered the following preamble and resolutions, which, after having been ably discussed by him, and an opportunity given for any person who wished to speak in the negative, were adopted by a rising vote of the house, no one voting in the negative:

Whereas, Slavery robs its victims of the Bible, the Sabbath, and the dearest privileges and institutions of Christianity— annihilates marriage, and all the solemn and interesting obligations of the family relation, thus heathenizing them; and whereas, the condition of the slave is inconceivably more dreadful than that of the most degraded heathen on the globe— and all this so palpably evident, that none can plead ignorance as an excuse for silence and inaction; and whereas, this is exclusively a moral question, as much so as the discussing of intemperance, idolatry, or Sabbath-breaking, and, consequently, moral measures the only ones to be relied upon as a remedy for the evil; therefore,

  • Resolved, That those who engage in the fearless, humble and persevering advocacy of injured humanity, and in ministering to Christ’s hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison, in the person of the perishing slave, are enlisted in the most purely benevolent enterprise of the age, and will, under God, succeed.
  • Resolved, That those ministers and Christians, of whatever denomination, which refuse to use such means faithfully, and in the spirit of anti-slavery’s original platform, do countenance the horrible system of slavery; are recreant to their Christian professions; cannot succeed in their professed benevolent enterprises, and give lamentable evidence that their interest in them is merely selfish, formal and hypocritical.

B. BROWN, Jr. President. / A.P. JAQUES, Secretary.

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