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Chapter 5: shall the

A clerical plot to subvert the management of the Massachusetts Society, discredit the Liberator, and establish an organ in place of it under clerical control, is unmasked by Garrison and defeated at all points. A secession takes place, and the Massachusetts abolition Society is founded, with the Abolitionist for its organ. The New Organizationists have the support of the Executive Committee of the American A. S. Society, who have been alienated from Garrison by his views on the Sabbath and on woman's rights, and especially by his non-resistant or so-called nogovernment doctrines, which interfere with their endeavor to convert the A. S. Organization into a political Party of voters. Garrison's opposition to a Third Party is generally seconded by abolitionists outside of New York State, and the Albany and Cleveland A. S. Conventions fail to end in nominating candidates for President and Vice-President.

Up to the year 1839, the momentum of the antislavery agitation had overcome all obstacles from without, all minor differences within. Look where you will—in the growth of its State and local organizations, the increase of its membership and resources, the multiplication of its organs, its progress within church and party lines, its success in alarming the Slave Power— its development had assumed tremendous proportions. Internally, but one danger had, from the beginning, menaced it, namely, sectarianism; and to this, Mr. Garrison's steadfastly unsectarian character and determination had hitherto proved an insurmountable barrier. The Unitarian attempt to muzzle him with a 1 censorship; the Orthodox Congregational contrivances of an2 American Union and an ‘Evangelical Anti-Slavery Society’; Pastoral Letters and Clerical Appeals, had all failed of their object to depose and silence him by drawing off his supporters. No organization, however plausible its philanthropic excuse for being, could endure upon the simple basis of hostility to an individual, and that individual the founder of the movement to which it was necessary to do homage while trying to divert or subvert it. Nor would the sectarian issue over the right of female members of the anti-slavery societies to take an equal part in the regular proceedings—to vote, to speak, to serve on committees—have furnished a practicable basis of schism in the ranks. Combine with the clerical, [259] the sabbatarian, and the anti-woman prejudices against Mr. Garrison those aroused by his latest peace doctrines, and the cord would still have been insufficient to bind the monster. The American sense of humor would, sooner or later, have been touched by the spectacle of ministers panic-stricken at a reformer who repudiated all violence, in the spirit and example and on the express authority of their Master. To all appearance this was the weakest strand in the quadruple cord. To show how it unexpectedly became the strongest, will be the burden of the present chapter.

In surveying the anti-slavery field up to this time, two centres of activity are preeminent: Boston, the fountain of the agitation, the home of the Liberator; and New York, the seat of the Parent Society, the home of the Emancipator. Remark, also, Utica, the seat of the New York State Society, and home of Goodell and his Friend of Man; home, likewise, of Alvan Stewart, whose nearly successful effort to commit the American Society to the doctrine of Federal control over slavery in the States3 was recorded in the last chapter. Not far to the west, at Peterboroa, lives Gerrit Smith, anxious, as we have seen, to convert the moral basis of the anti-slavery4 organization into a political one; and still beyond, in Rochester, lives Myron Holley, known as yet chiefly as an anti-Mason and as the man to whom, perhaps, next to De Witt Clinton, New York owed her magnificent Erie Canal.5 In this central belt of the State was now maturing a political anti-slavery party movement which Mr. Garrison—not alone nor most strenuously—resisted on purely anti-slavery grounds; which found it necessary to break his opposition, and which accordingly joined in the clerical hue-and-cry against the non-voting conclusion of his non-resistant premises—a conclusion addressed to non-resistants alone, however applicable to abolitionists Once more the disintegrating sectarian influences [260] united in a grand attack on the Liberator and its editor, and if again without success according to their prime intention, nevertheless with deplorable consequences to the cause of the slave.

The chief agitator in the new direction was Henry B. Stanton, who was shortly to marry a cousin of Gerrit Smith, and who now, with less tolerance than the latter, endeavored, in conjunction with ‘some half a dozen clerical brethren, to make it a moral and religious duty for every abolitionist entitled to vote to go to the polls; and if he refused, on any ground whatever, then to brand him as recreant to the cause of the slave. This,’ said Mr. Garrison, in February, 1839, ‘is the whole6 matter in a nut-shell.’ Mr. Stanton, as an employee of the New York Executive Committee, was not unacquainted with their disposition to ‘cashier’ Mr. Garrison7 for his course in regard to the Clerical Appeal. He judged, from the feeling manifested by Phelps and other Massachusetts dissidents concerning the woman question, that the occasion for cashiering was now ripe. He openly acquitted the Liberator of blame for discussing questions8 not connected with slavery; he cared nothing for the editor's views about the Sabbath or Perfectionism or woman. His sole argument was, that any man subscribing to the Declaration of Sentiments of the NonResist-ance Society was thereby disqualified from being an abolitionist under the Constitution of the American Society. To this view he first gave public utterance in9 a speech delivered before the Middlesex Anti-Slavery Society at Cambridgeport, Mass., on January 22, 1839, following it up at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Society the next day.10 His official connection and the express application of his remarks to Mr. Garrison [261] showed the hostile animus of the New York Executive Committee, and prepared the abolitionists of the East for the speedy development of the breach which already existed between it and the Massachusetts Board of Managers.

The year opened, in fact, on a serious but as yet private difference between these two bodies as to their financial relations. Soon after the Parent Society was founded,11 difficulties began to arise, as to collections and credits, between them and their auxiliaries, caused naturally by the overlapping of agencies, State and national, and the confusion of accounts both in giving and receiving moneys on behalf of the cause. These became so intolerable that at the New York anniversary in May, 1838, the American Society recommended that each State work12 its own territory, and guarantee stated payments to the national treasury, on condition that the American agents should not interfere except to cooperate with the local organization. This was agreed to by the Massachusetts Board, which made a pledge of $10,000, payable in instalments—a sum only slightly below that already paid in for the year ending May 1, 1838, which surpassed the contribution from New York State, was five times as large as that from Ohio (with many more societies to draw from), and more than all the rest of New England, with Pennsylvania into the bargain. Owing to various causes, however, the instalment of November 1 was in arrear, and the Massachusetts Board was summoned by the Executive Committee to recede at once from the contract and throw open their territory to American collectors. To this the Board objected, alleging old13 embarrassments that would return in force, and protesting against the centralization of the anti-slavery direction. No body of men, they said, ought to be entrusted with exclusive charge of the enterprise. They would cast no reflection on the present Executive Committee, but its successors might be of a very different stripe. The politician and the sectary were lying in wait to capture the [262] anti-slavery organization in the plenitude of its strength, and prudence demanded a distribution of power.

That the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society was to be the battle-ground between the opposing forces, was known a full month in advance.14 The strategy of the clerical schismatics had been revealed to the Board by the Rev. Philo C. Pettibone, of Andover, and steps were instantly taken to baffle it. Mr. Pettibone had received in December, 1838, a letter from15 Torrey, which ‘dwelt on the great influence of Mr. Garrison in Massachusetts, and thence argued that it would not be safe to attack him or the Liberator openly; on the great need of a new paper—which he (Mr. Torrey) had ascertained by sounding the clergymen throughout the State, and they were for it to a man.’ ‘Now, Brother P.,’ in substance continued the writer, ‘have on a full delegation at the Annual Meeting at 10 o'clock in the morning, prepared to stay two days. Have them pledged to go for the new paper, and to spar the annual report, and we will show them how it is done.’ On January 4, 1839, Mr. Garrison wrote to Mr. May, urging him to be present at the meeting, and apprising him of the ‘deplorable and alarming conspiracy’:

The game, thus far, has been so adroitly played that not16 a few well-meaning abolitionists have been drawn into it. Phelps and Torrey are foremost in the matter, backed up by Stanton, St. Clair, and others. They expect, by drilling, to be able at the annual meeting to so change the present Board of Managers as to be able to do as they please. There is no mistake in all this,—and it is a sad revelation. Our Board fully understand the movement, and, in order to counteract it as far as possible, have this day resolved to publish a monthly sheet, (rather larger than the Human Rights), to be called the Abolitionist, and to be edited by a committee, consisting of Wendell Phillips, Edmund Quincy and myself,17 for gratuitous [263] distribution on the part of auxiliary societies. More than this our cause does not require. An effort will be made, by the plotters, at the annual meeting, to wholly change this publication—and perhaps with success. The “woman question” will also be another bone of contention. Whichever way it may be decided, we may expect to see a withdrawal from the Society; but if it be decided right, I care not how many of the sectarians leave. The less we have of them, the better. I am inclined to think that bros. Scott and Colver will both go in favor of a new18 paper. If this hostility to the Liberator were carried on openly, I should care little about it; but it is fomented secretly, and in a mean and treacherous manner. I could tell you some instructive facts and occurrences, had I more room. . . .

In the next paper, I mean to throw out signals, to call in to19 the annual meeting all the unflinching and trusty friends of our cause in this State and elsewhere. I shall call no names, but plainly allude to what is brewing. . . .

Within two days, my head has troubled me, something after the manner of last winter. My Report is not yet begun, but it shall be ready—rely upon it.

The editorial page of the Liberator for January 11, 1839, was well calculated to disturb the secret plotters against its existence. First, in order, to arrest their attention, was a letter from

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