previous next
[159] appointment of delegates to it by various anti-slavery organizations in Baltimore,—a ‘National Anti-Slavery Tract Society,’ the ‘First Baltimore Branch of the Anti-Slavery Society of Maryland,’ and a ‘Convention of the Anti-Slavery Societies of Maryland,’—but these seem to have possessed no vitality, and to have had little more than ‘a local habitation and a name.’ The Convention adopted an Address to the Public,1 and adjourned to meet two years later.

An extraordinary sensation was caused at the South during the winter of 1829-30 by the appearance of “Walker's appeal,” a pamphlet written by an obscure and unknown colored man in Boston,2 who printed and circulated it among people of his color as widely as his means would permit. It seems singular that a production

1 In this Address the Convention recapitulated its objects and methods, which were substantially those of all the State Societies of the close of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. The anti-slavery sentiment of that period was organized, (1) with a view to getting rid of slavery, whose abolition was regarded as a foregone conclusion; (2) to protect the free blacks against kidnapping and reenslavement; (3) to establish schools for, and otherwise improve the condition of, the colored people. It was satisfied with gradual emancipation (as in Pennsylvania), and with the prohibition of slave importations. Its sense of responsibility for slavery was chiefly for that under its own eyes and in its own State. Its mode of action was confined to memorials to legislative bodies and governors, and to the courts. It did not feel that responsibility for slavery everywhere which Garrison was now seeking to enforce, nor did it, while attacking slavery on grounds adopted by him, personally arraign the slaveholder, hold him criminal for not immediately emancipating his slaves, and seek to make him odious and put him beyond the pale of intercourse. Hence its failure to awaken any interest in the public mind, or to disturb the consciences and peace of the slaveholders.

2 David Walker was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, Sept. 28, 1785, of a free mother and a slave father, following, by slave law, the condition of the former. He travelled extensively through the South, regarding the degradation and sufferings of his race with a bitter sympathy, acquired a sufficient education, and read and pondered such general historical works as were procurable. At the age of forty-two, being then a resident of Boston, he opened a store on Brattle Street for the sale of second-hand clothes. From this unpromising laboratory there issued, two years later, an octavo pamphlet of 76 pp., now very rare, entitled “Walker's Appeal, in four articles, together with a Preamble to the Colored Citizens of the World, but in particular, and very expressly, to those of the United States of America. Written in Boston, in the State of Massachusetts, Sept. 28th, 1829. Boston: Published by David Walker. 1829.” The author had already delivered an address before the General Colored Association of Boston, which was printed in Freedom's Journal, Dec. 20, 1828. He now urged the free colored people to make the slave's cause their concern, as inseparably connected with their own condition, and to aspire to be something more than barbers and bootblacks. His first article set forth ‘Our wretchedness in consequence of slavery’; his second, ‘Our wretchedness in consequence of ignorance’; his third, ‘Our wretchedness in consequence of the preachers of the religion of Jesus Christ’; his fourth, ‘Our wretchedness in consequence of the colonizing plan.’ This last was so full and thorough an exposure of the animus of the Colonization Society that it might almost seem to have been the leading motive of the pamphlet. But Jefferson's disparaging estimate of the capacity of the negro is also examined and confuted at such length as to entitle his “Notes on Virginia” to be considered at least equally the occasion of the “Appeal.” Its tone was distinctly religious and prophetic. ‘For although the destruction of the oppressors God may not effect by the oppressed, yet the Lord our God will bring other destructions upon them—for not unfrequently will he cause them to rise up one against another, to be split, divided, and to oppress each other, and sometimes to open hostilities with sword in hand’ (p. 5). The meek and unresisting character of the blacks was sternly censured; but while contending for the right of self-defence, Walker counselled entire forgiveness of the past if the slaveholders would let their victims go in peace. The pamphlet ended with quotations from the Declaration of Independence and some Methodistical hymns.

It had at once so great a vogue that a second edition was called for, and, reaching the South, it produced much consternation among the whites, especially in the seaboard slave States, where incoming vessels were searched for it. On Dec. 12, 1829, the Mayor of Savannah addressed the Mayor of Boston (Harrison Gray Otis) with reference, as would appear, to the possible punishment of the author. Mayor Otis replied that, ‘notwithstanding the extremely bad and inflammatory tendency of the publication,’ the author had not made himself amenable to the laws of Massachusetts; that he was an old-clothes dealer, and openly avowed to an emissary from the Mayor's office the sentiments of his book, declaring that he meant to circulate it by mail at his own expense, if need be. Mayor Otis expressed his determination to warn sea-captains and others of the consequences of transporting incendiary writings into the Southern States. He sent (February 10, 1830) a copy of this letter to Governor Giles of Virginia, at the same time belittling the weight of the “Appeal,” from ‘the insignificance of the writer, the extravagance of his sanguinary fanaticism,’ and ‘the very partial circulation’ of the book, which had caused no excitement in Boston. The Governor submitted these documents to the House of Delegates on February 16, and the communication was laid on the table. (See Richmond Enquirer, Feb. 18, 1830, and Boston Courier, Feb. 26; the Abolitionist, monthly, 1.98; Williams's History of the negro race in America, 2.553.)

From internal evidence it appears that the third edition of the “Appeal” was published shortly after March 6, 1830. It was wholly reset, and contained many corrections and important additions, both to the body of the text and in the shape of notes. The additions were for the most part explicitly indicated, and were designedly of a character to justify the epithet ‘sanguinary’ applied by Mayor Otis. They favored a servile insurrection as soon as the way was clear; the superiority of the blacks in numbers and their greater (historic) bravery in battle being dwelt upon. Walker also insisted more plainly on his having had a divine commission to write, and in truth he may be regarded as a sort of John the Baptist to the new anti-slavery dispensation. It is curious that no allusion is made in the “Appeal” to Lundy's labors on behalf of the slave. Walker did not long survive the third edition of his pamphlet, dying on June 28, 1830— some thought by foul play, as a price was set upon his head at the South; but this surmise was incorrect. His noble intensity, pride, disgust, flerceness, his eloquence and his general intellectual ability, have not been commemorated as they deserve. (See May's “Recollections,” p. 133, and Lib., 1.17.) He is a unique figure in the anti-slavery movement. The late Rev. Henry Highland Garnet reprinted the “Appeal” in 1858, but this edition has become as scarce as the original. A copy of the third edition is in the May Collection at Cornell University, inscribed ‘Rev. Samuel J. May, from his friend and admirer, Wm. Lloyd Garrison.’ Mr. Garrison was never acquainted with Walker.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: