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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

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The Pacific Appeal was the leading African American newspaper on the West Coast during the early 1860s.  A newly-published set of eight antislavery poems from the journal's inaugural 1862 volume captures the sense of expectancy within the African American community for the imminent end of US slavery.  These poems include the work of James Madison Bell, a San Francisco plasterer, brickmason, and poet.  Read more... 
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A Sermon to the Medical Students

An 1849 moral reform sermon in Philadelphia by Lucretia Mott, with antislavery content. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.

 

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) was a Quaker leader, proto-feminist, and abolitionist.  During the early 1820s she became involved in antislavery speaking after moving to Philadelphia.  As a minister, she joined the Hicksite branch of the Quaker movement and its involvement in social reform.  She became a central antislavery figure in Philadelphia, then nationally due to her extensive speaking tours.  Mott was deeply involved in the American Anti-Slavery Society and many other reform groups; together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton she organized the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls in 1848.  For further biographical information, see Beverly Wilson Palmer (ed.), Selected Letters of Lucretia Coffin Mott (University of Illinois Press, 2002), and Margaret Hope Bacon, Valiant Friend: The Life of Lucretia Mott (Walker and Co., 1980).

 

As a center for medical education, Philadelphia attracted many medical students from the Southern states.  They eventually departed en masse prior to the Civil War.  See Daniel Kilbride, “Southern Medical Students in Philadelphia, 1800–1861: Science and Sociability in the ‘Republic of Medicine’” Journal of Southern History 65 (1999) 4.  In this sermon to medical students held in the Friends Meeting House on Cherry Street, Mott created a well-remembered disturbance by her remarks against slavery directed towards an audience she realized would likely take objection.  A bracketed comment (15) records that some members of the audience objected and left the meeting.

 

The sermon begins with expressions of care that the city not corrupt students (5) and finds the origin of self-respect in the cultivation of individual conscience (7).  Mott argues that they live in an age when individuals are rejecting schismatic dogmas and finding a Christian “light of truth in themselves.” (8)  In this new age “The former dependence on the monopoly of the pulpit is broken, and the people are thinking and acting for themselves…” (11)  It is this reformation that has given rise to the temperance and antislavery movements.  Addressing slavery as evil and sin, she challenges the audience directly to ask “How far, by permission, by apology, or otherwise, you are found lending your sanction to a system which degrades and brutalizes three millions of our fellow human beings [?]” (14)  The temptations surrounding students, Mott suggests, include acquiescence to the sin of slavery.  Mott’s messianic concluding rhetoric draws a picture of social reforms advancing in all directions, including a peace movement that will achieve universal justice. (18ff)

 

For further on the social context of Mott’s work and her sermon, see Nancy Isenberg, “’Pillars in the Same Temple and Priests of the Same Worship’: Woman’s Rights and the Politics of Church and State in Antebellum America,” The Journal of American History 85 (June 1998) 1: 98-128, and Ira V. Brown, “Cradle of Feminism: The Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, 1833-1840,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 102 (1978) 2: 143-166.

 

- Joe Lockard