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Chapter 7: the World's Convention.—1840.

Garrison's passage is over-long, and on arriving he finds that the Convention, under sectarian influences, has excluded all female delegates from America. He thereupon refuses to enter it, and sits as a spectator in the gallery. He receives much social attention, and, in company with N. P. Rogers, makes a tour in Scotland and Ireland, returning to America in August. In the meantime the New Organizationists have been blackening his character at home and abroad.

Neither in Liverpool nor yet in London was James Cropper ready with hospitable welcome, as seven years ago. The good man had passed away in1 February, leaving a name less familiar to the world at2 large than those of some of his coadjutors in the cause of abolition, but a solid claim to the gratitude of the oppressed hardly inferior to that of the most distinguished.3 The personal introduction which in 1833 he gave Mr. Garrison to the leaders of the British antislavery host, was now, indeed, unnecessary; but no other member of the Society of Friends could have had so much influence with the managers of the World's Convention (largely of the same Society), to avert the [367] disgrace which the combined forces of transatlantic and cisatlantic sectarianism had already consummated when Mr. Garrison reached Liverpool.4

The Convention had opened on Friday, June 12, at5 Freemasons' Hall, Great Queen Street, with about five hundred delegates. Clarkson, in his 81st year, lame and nearly blind, accompanied by his daughter and a little grandson, was escorted to the chair and introduced by Joseph Sturge. His speech, shorn of one-third—the part relating to oppression in British India, which,6 having been committed to writing, had fallen under the keen eye of the censorship—was solemn and affecting. The delegates, full of deference and admiration, forbore to applaud the veteran, whose nerves were not equal to the excitement; even the customary cheers for O'Connell were withheld on his entering to make the first address. On Clarkson's departure, his place was supplied by a temporary chairman, whereupon Wendell Phillips rose to move a committee of five to prepare a7 correct list of members, with instructions ‘to include the names of all persons bearing credentials from any anti-slavery society.’

The question thus raised was, whether the Convention was a self-constituting body. The American delegates who had reached London some days in advance of the session, found that the Executive Committee of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society had assumed the oversight of credentials, and the authority to determine who should and who should not sit in the Convention. This was effected by an order to deposit the8 credentials with the Secretary, and receive in return the [368] tickets without which admission to the hall would be denied. To the women delegates on the Massachusetts list, tickets were not issued. This refusal was officially communicated by a deputation from the Committee in the following terms:

A letter having been read, addressed to the Secretary,9 dated Boston, 24th April, signed by Francis Jackson, President, and W. L. Garrison, Corresponding Secretary, of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, stating that several ladies have been appointed as delegates to the approaching Convention, it was unanimously

Resolved, That the Committee, in the original summons of the Convention, did not contemplate, collectively or individually, the admission of ladies.

That at a subsequent period, in the letter of the 15th of10 February, extensively circulated on both sides of the Atlantic, the invitation is addressed to gentlemen exclusively.

That the subject having been brought seriously and deliberately before this Committee on the 15th of May, it was unanimously determined that ladies were inadmissible as delegates, and it is now again resolved, without a single dissentient voice, that this opinion be confirmed and respectfully communicated to the parties in question.

‘We told them,’ wrote Mr. Phillips to the Liberator,

we11 could not submit to their determination—that we had come to a Convention which would, of course, settle the qualifications of its own members. They assured us we had mistaken the nature of the meeting. It might have been called, “ by a poetical license,” a World's Convention, but was in fact only a Conference with the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and, as such, they should settle who were to be admitted as members.

We replied, it would be our duty to bring that question before the Convention. (By “we” and ‘us’ I mean the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania delegation. Of the New York friends, some stood aloof—more joined with the Committee, and argued their cause most stoutly.) It was confessed by more than one that letters had been received from America on this point; and they, with other things, were the occasion, no doubt, of those explanatory papers sent to the United [369] States, in which it was insinuated, rather than expressed, that12 membership would be limited to gentlemen. Professor Adam and myself waited on the Committee, stating our surprise that, all having been requested to come early, no one had been invited to sit with the Committee, and protesting against their assumption of power to settle the terms of membership. They heard us very kindly about fifteen minutes. We were then, on the motion of J. Sturge, politely requested to retire and leave them to deliberate on what we had said.

In this state of things the Convention met, amid earnest requests to us on all sides to avoid outraging English feeling and bringing division into so noble a body. Reverend divines thought it [their] duty to intercede with us personally, and eminent abolitionists painted in glowing colors the ruin which impended. All persisted in giving an exclusively English character to the meeting, and interpreting the terms of their invitation by English usages; while we allowed this would be right had we come to an English meeting, but wholly refused to have a World's Convention measured by an English yardstick.

In speaking to his motion, Mr. Phillips said that several13 ladies from Massachusetts had been refused admission to the Convention, and were naturally aggrieved. The call embraced the friends of abolition everywhere. The Massachusetts and American Societies had admitted women to an equal share in their deliberations. Their delegates had, under the call, a right to a place in the Convention. Cries of No, no! greeted this assertion. Professor Adam thereupon declared that if women had no right there he had none: his credentials were from the same persons and the same Society. George Stacey, an influential Quaker, explained that the system in England was uniform, in business matters, to exclude women unless announced as associated. Dr. John Bowring said the custom was more honored in the breach than in the observance: ‘What! American women coming to England as the representatives of the anti-slavery associations, not to be welcomed among them? What! are they not to be welcomed with honor, not to be put in the seats of dignity?’ He could not doubt the adoption of [370] Mr. Phillips's motion. The Rev. J. Burnet, a leader among the Dissenters, entreated the Convention to be calm. He had a great respect for ladies—he continued, in his condescending way; but we must put an English interpretation on English phraseology. The female delegates excluded ‘were placed on a level with their own wives and daughters’—an ingenious perversion of the truth. The Rev. Henry Grew, one of the Pennsylvania delegates, confessed that the admission of females to take a part in the Convention did not accord with his views of propriety. The Rev. Nathaniel Colver asserted that a large portion of the American abolitionists thought as the English did on this subject. Mr. Stacey proposed, as a substitute for Mr. Phillips's motion: ‘That this Convention, upon a question arising as to the admission of females appointed as delegates from America to take their seats in this body, resolve to decide this question in the negative.’

Upon this the debate was renewed. The Rev. Elon Galusha said that he represented a numerous American constituency which discountenanced the equal participation of women. George Bradburn, on the other hand, held that this would no longer be a World's Convention with women left out. ‘It had been said, if the women were admitted, they would take sides. Why, had they not as good a right to take sides as the men?’ Col. Jonathan P. Miller,14 of Vermont, felicitated himself on having come from an American State which had never been troubled with a woman question. The women there were among the primeval abolitionists, and had been merely seconded by their husbands. Charles Stuart ‘was persuaded, having been in the United States,15 and [371] being thoroughly acquainted with the great body of abolitionists, that in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts the most uncompromising friends of liberty and of the slave were against the reception of lady delegates as recommended’—a statement bearing the brand of New Organization veracity. George Thompson confessed he had deprecated the introduction of this question, and had anticipated it with dread, though he maintained the right of the American societies to send female delegates. He had himself invited some of them, but not intentionally as delegates. Having labored till the eleventh hour to prevent the question from being mooted in the Convention, he now earnestly requested his American friends to withdraw their motion. Mr. Phillips, however, declined to take the responsibility, and the debate was once more renewed.

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