"How Can I Help Abolish Slavery?" or, Counsels to the Newly Converted
An 1855 recruiting tract by Boston activist Maria Weston Chapman, from the Anti-Slavery Tract series. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
Maria Weston Chapman (1806-1885), the daughter of a comfortable and well-connected Boston family, entered the antislavery cause in the early 1830s. Beginning in 1835, she helped organize the Boston Anti-Slavery Bazaar, which was to serve as a fund-raising device for antislavery causes for many years. She joined and served in leadership roles in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, the New England Anti-Slavery Society, the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, and the American Anti-Slavery Society. For many years she edited The Liberty Bell, the annual book produced for the Anti-Slavery Bazaar. Chapman worked closely with William Lloyd Garrison, providing editorial assistance for The Liberator and The National Anti-Slavery Standard.
Chapman’s publications include Songs of the Free and Hymns of Christian Freedom (1836), Right and Wrong in Massachusetts (1839), and she edited a posthumous edition of her friend Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography (1871).
“How Can I Help Abolish Slavery?” (1855), issued in the Anti-Slavery Tracts series, is a rhetorical exploration of reasons for joining the abolitionist cause via membership in the American Anti-Slavery Society. Chapman approaches this as an evangelical religious movement dedicated to the cause of freedom, one that calls upon its adherent members for unwavering service to humanity. She begins by listing the reason not to join – profiting from “the sacred cause of human rights” (p. 1) – and false or inadequate responses to the slavery issue, including emigration and colonization of Africa (1-2), partisan politics and gradualism (2-3), purchase of slaves for liberation (3-4), raising local vigilance committees to aid slave escape (4), education and Christianization projects (4-5), and free labor and free produce schemes (5-6). Chapman presents the Anti-Slavery Society as a holistic, devoted, selfless, and quintessentially Christian response towards the institution of slavery. The purpose of the Society is no less than a complete moral reformation of United States society. To join this Society, as Chapman frames the decision for readers, is to join a moral elite that will fight slavery and anti-black prejudice in order to rescue the nation from its “long night of terror and despair.” (9) A copy of the Society’s constitution, whose introduction bases itself on the Declaration of Independence, is appended to Chapman’s text.
For further, see Clare Taylor, Women of the Antislavery Movement: The Weston Sisters (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1995).
For Chapman's short story Pinda: A True Tale (1840), see the ALP edition at http://antislavery.eserver.org/prose/pinda/
- Joe Lockard