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Address on the Opening of Pennsylvania Hall


Tract with a dedication poem by John Greenleaf Whittier for the May 1838 opening of Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia; the hall was burned down the same weekend by an anti-abolitionist mob. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.


John Greenleaf Whittier wrote this dedicatory long poem to celebrate the May 1838 inauguration of Pennsylvania Hall, a large building constructed on Broad Street in Philadelphia to serve as a headquarters for the antislavery movement. A mob burned the building down the same weekend as its inaugural conference, one of the most historic of the conflicts between abolitionists and anti-abolitionist mobs. The mob called for Whittier, well-known as an antislavery editor and writer, to be hung.

This folio tract with Whittier’s ‘Address’ was probably published and sold at the inauguration ceremonies. Inspired by the Hall’s neoclassical façade, Whittier begins by comparing its architecture to classical Roman buildings. Although Pennsylvania Hall might be less majestic than its classical models, he suggests, it has a loftier purpose of spreading freedom, by contrast to temples in Roman and Greek slave societies. The poem argues that Pennsylvania Hall represents a newer and greater civilization, one founded on principles of peaceful debate towards achieving social justice. It praises Pennsylvania as a harbor to freedom, inspired by William Penn, and cites the early antislavery opinions of Benjamin Lay, Benjamin Franklin, and early German settlers. The poem, probably the most broadly Hegelian of Whittier’s poems in its vision of an historical progress towards freedom, envisions that freedom as a metaphysical achievement attained through a rational engagement with Truth.

For further, see Ira V. Brown, “Racism and Sexism: The Case of Pennsylvania Hall,” 37 Phylon (1976) 2: 126-136.

— Joe Lockard