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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 16: The South and the Slavery Controversy, 1793 - 1860


Theodore Dwight Weld (1803 - 1895)

Weld was the leader of the abolitionist Lane rebels, the Wests most influential antislavery preacher, and the author of American Slavery As It Is, the most important abolitionist propaganda book besides Uncle Toms Cabin.

He was converted by Charles Finney and joined Finneys holy band of young men who wanted to convert the world. Welds first causes were temperance and manual labor, but the English abolitionist Charles Stuart converted him to antislavery.

He and his fellow antislavery Lane Seminary students worked in the poverty-stricken black community of Little Africa in Cincinnati. After he led the Lane rebels out of the seminary, he traveled and lectured constantly on behalf of the antislavery cause.

In 1838 he married Angelina Grimké, who with her sister Sarah had left South Carolina to become a prominent abolitionist. Angelina helped Weld write American Slavery As It Is, but they both eventually retired from active crusading to raise their family and organize a school in New Jersey.

Quote: Slavery, with its robbing of body and soul from birth to death, its exactions of toil unrecompensed, its sunderings from kindred, its frantic orgies of lust, its intellect levelled with dust, its baptisms of blood, and its legacy of damning horrors to the eternity of the spiritslavery in this land of liberty, and light, and revivals of millenial gloryits days are numbered and well-nigh finished.The nation is shaking off its slumbers to sleep no more. (1934)

REFERENCE: Robert Abzug, Passionate Liberator: Theodore Dwight Weld and the Dilemma of Reform (1980).


William Lloyd Garrison (1805 - 1879)

Garrison was the most famous American abolitionist, an advocate of nonresistance, and editor of The Liberator.

His father, a Canadian sea captain who drank heavily, deserted the family when Garrison was a child. Garrison received little education and practiced a number of trades before becoming a printer in Maryland.

He first crusaded for nationalism and temperance, then for moderate abolition, before being converted to radical abolition. Besides attacking slavery, The Liberator promoted many other causes, including peace, womens rights, temperance, and abolition of capital punishment.

Garrison eventually denounced the northern churches and the Constitution for their compromises with slavery. He was often threatened by antiabolitionist mobs, and several southern states offered rewards for his arrest. Despite his pacifism, he supported the Civil War as a means to end slavery.

Quote: I am earnestI will not equivocateI will not excuseI will not retreat a single inchand I will be heard. (The Liberator, 1831)

REFERENCE: Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (2000).


Frederick Douglass (1817 - 1895)

Douglass was a former slave who became the leading pre-Civil War black abolitionist and the most influential African American of the nineteenth century.

Douglasss original name was Frederick Bailey. His father was white and his mother a black slave from whom he was separated at an early age. His first escape attempt failed, and he landed in jail. He was trained as a ship caulker in Baltimore and escaped to New York in 1838 by disguising himself as a sailor.

He moved to Boston, changed his name to Douglass to avoid capture, and worked as a common laborer for three years. After a speech before an antislavery meeting, he became an abolitionist agent. He eventually split with Garrison and formed his own paper, The North Star. After the Civil War he was prominent in Republican politics and served in various federal positions, such as minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891.

Quote: I have been frequently asked how I felt when I found myself in a free state.It was a moment of the highest excitement I ever experienced.This state of mind, however, very soon subsided; and I was again seized with a feeling of great insecurity and loneliness. I was yet liable to be taken back, and subjected to all the tortures of slavery. This in itself was enough to damp the ardor of my enthusiasm. (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 1845)

REFERENCE: William McFeely, Frederick Douglass (1990).


Martin Delany (1812 - 1885)

Delany was the pioneering black nationalist and author who advocated that African Americans leave the United States.

He was born a free man in Virginia. His grandfather was said to have been an African chief who was captured and sold to America, and traditions and memories of Africa remained alive in Delanys family.

Delany moved to Pennsylvania, became involved in the black convention movement, and started a black newspaper. For a time he worked with Garrison and Douglass but despaired of abolitionism after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and began working to encourage blacks to leave America.

In 1856 he moved to a fugitive-slave community in Canada. Before his exploratory trip to Africa in 1859 - 1860, Delany communicated with African Americans in Liberia. Upon his return to the United States, he served in the army during the Civil War. He later became involved in Republican politics in South Carolina during Reconstruction.

Quote: I care but little what white men think of what I say, write or do; my sole desire is to benefit the colored people. This being done I am satisfiedthe opinion of every white person in the country or the world to the contrary notwithstanding. (Letter to Frederick Douglass, 1852)

REFERENCE: Victor Ullman, Martin R. Delany: The Beginnings of Black Nationalism (1971).



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