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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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No Slave-Hunting in the Old Bay State: An Appeal to the People and Legislature of Massachusetts

An 1860 tract from the American Anti-Slavery Society containing speeches by Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, and Charles C. Burleigh. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.

 

This tract consists of three speeches by major abolitionist orators; they are a public appeal in behalf of fugitive slaves threatened with rendition to slave-masters by the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. The first two speeches by Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison were given before a legislative committee in Massachusetts; the third by Charles C. Burleigh was given on the same topic before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.
 
All three speeches call upon the legislature and judiciary to overrule federal law requiring the return of fugitive slaves. Phillips invokes traditions of freedom in Massachusetts and argues that the South has violated a constitutional compact to safeguard freedom, freeing Massachusetts to pass its own laws guarding the true constitutional spirit. Garrison holds that this antislavery petition to the state legislature reflects popular will: “Do the people still rule in the Old Bay State? I take it they do; and I affirm that they are ready for this measure. They want no delay, no paltering, no dodging; but they want a decree, simple, plain, explicit, which shall protect every fugitive slave coming within our borders.” (14)  He employs arguments of popular sovereignty against the enforcement of federal law. Burleigh also refers to arguments that a national compact has been violated, but concludes by asserting the superiority of divine law and that “this compact is not binding by reason of its immorality.” (23)  For another perspective on the same issues, see Lydia Maria Child, The Duty of Disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act (1860).
 
Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) was a Boston attorney and abolitionist. He graduated from Harvard College in 1831 and Harvard law school in 1833. He remained a practicing lawyer for only a few years until he joined with William Lloyd Garrison and the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1836. Together with Garrison and Frederick Douglass, Phillips gained a reputation as one of the most powerful abolitionist speakers. He eventually replaced Garrison at the leadership of the AAS in 1865 and remained active as an advocate for Native Americans and women’s suffrage. For biographies on Phillips, see Oscar Sherwin, Prophet of Liberty: The Life and Times of Wendell Phillips (New York: Bookman Associates, 1958), and James Brewer Stewart, Wendell Phillips: Liberty's Hero (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986). For a collection of his voluminous writings, see Phillips, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1884) 2 vols.
 
William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), the leading organizer of the US abolitionist movement, served as publisher of The Liberator from 1831-1865. He founded the American Anti-Slavery Society, the New-England Anti-Slavery Society, and other abolitionist institutions. For further information, see Henry Mayer’s excellent biography, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000).
 
Charles C. Burleigh (1810-1878) was a Connecticut-born antislavery journalist, social reform speaker, and activist in the Garrisonian wing of the abolitionist movement. During the early 1830s he edited a Connecticut newspaper, The Unionist, and late in the decade he edited the Pennsylvania Freeman for the Eastern Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Burleigh had a great reputation as an antislavery speaker. One historian described him as “a long, thin figure in high water pantalons that dangled above his ankles with a downward curve of the nose and flowing sandy beard. He was the laughing stock of every audience until he began to speak. He was the ablest debater among the Abolitionists—fluid, intense, logical, clear.” Oscar Sherwin, “Whipmaster and Scouts,” Phylon 8 (1947) 1:39-52 at 43. Burleigh was also known as an anti-death penalty reformer, women’s suffrage advocate, temperance activist, and campaigner against cruelty to animals. Burleigh’s best-known work was Thoughts on the Death Penalty (Philadelphia: Merrihew and Thompson, 1845), an early treatise opposing capital punishment.
 
- Joe Lockard