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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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The Natick Resolution, or, Resistance to Slaveholders the Right and Duty of Southern Slaves and Northern Freemen

A militant antislavery tract calling for violent overthrow of slavery, published by Henry Clarke Wright in Boston in 1859. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.

Teaching Guide to Henry Clarke Wright's The Natick Resolution (PDF), Joe Lockard 



This militant antislavery tract was published immediately prior to John Brown’s execution in December 1859. Its author, Rev. Henry Clarke Wright (1797-1870), had been associated with Garrissonian abolitionism for many years and contributed a column to The Liberator. Faced with the imminent execution of Brown, however, Wright’s original pacifism gave way to calls for the violent end of slavery. In this all, Wright joined the rising militancy of the abolitionist movement, endorsed by figures such as Emerson, Thoreau, Wendell Phillips, Lysander Spooner, James Redpath, and others.

Wright had been one of the leading organizational figures of New England abolitionism for many years. He was active during the 1830s in the American Peace Society and later in the New England Non-Resistance Society, and influenced William Lloyd Garrison’s belief in pacifism. See Merle E. Curti, “Non-Resistance in New England,” New England Quarterly (1929) 34-57. Although an ordained minister, Wright was vehemently anti-clerical and Frederick Douglass denounced him as an “infidel.” Wright spent 1842-1847 as a lecturer in Europe, and he wrote a pacifist text entitled Defensive War Proved to Be a Denial of Christianity and of the Government of God (1846). Not only was Wright involved in antislavery and pacifist politics, he was also an early and radical advocate of women’s rights, children’s rights, and new roles for men.

The Natick Resolution, one of many tracts Wright published over his lifetime, dates from a November 20, 1859, public meeting in the town of Natick, Massachusetts. The meeting resolved “That it is the right and duty of the slaves to resist their masters, and the right and duty of the people of the North to incite them to resistance, and to aid them in it.” US senator Henry Wilson was in attendance at the meeting and did not object to the resolution, on which point he later defended himself on the US Senate floor. The tract is composed of a series of letters from Wright to John Brown, Virginia governor Henry Wise, William Lloyd Garrison, and others.

Wright’s rhetoric calls for complete resistance, in every form, to the institution of slavery. John Brown symbolizes the heroicism of such resistance. At one point, Wright compares Brown to Christ and finds Brown superior, writing “The sin of this nation, as it was asserted in that meeting, is to be taken away, not by Christ, but by John Brown. Christ, as represented by those who are called by his name, has proved a dead failure, as a power to free the slaves. John Brown is and will be a power far more efficient.” (9) The Natick Resolution was well-recognized immediately prior to the Civil War as a leading document of militant abolitionism.

For further, see Lewis Perry, Childhood, Marriage, and Reform: Henry Clarke Wright, 1797-1870 (Chicago, 1980).

- Joe Lockard