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Chapter 9: organization: New-England Anti-slavery Society.—Thoughts on colonization.—1832.

With difficulty an association is formed in Boston on the basis of Garrison's doctrine. After a lecturing tour in New England, he makes a destructive attack on the American Colonization Society in a pamphlet called “thoughts on African Colonization.”

The first step towards the formation of an antislavery society in accordance with the doctrines advocated by the Liberator was taken in Boston on Sunday, November 13, 1831, when fifteen persons assembled in Mr. Sewall's office on State Street, on the understanding ‘that if the apostolic number of twelve should be found ready to unite upon the principles that should be thought vital, and in a plan of operations deemed wise and expedient,’ an association should then and there be organized. Among them were Mr. May and Mr. Oliver1 Johnson, who have both given an account of the proceedings. Mr. Garrison took the initiative, by describing ‘what the Abolitionists of Great Britain had done, since, under the inspiration of Elizabeth Heyrick, they had put their movement on the ground of immediate, in distinction from gradual, emancipation. He wanted societies formed in America upon the same principle, and could not be satisfied with any scheme of gradualism.’ For two hours the question was discussed, not whether immediate emancipation was right and safe, but whether on the one hand popular prejudice would not be unduly excited, and on the other the friends of gradual emancipation be repelled from the new society, by its positive committal to immediatism. ‘Mr. Garrison was firm in the conviction that the vitality of the movement depended upon a frank avowal of fundamental principles, however unpopular they might be; [278] and the vote upon the question showed that nine were in favor of organizing upon his plan, while six were opposed.’ Mr. May was consequently obliged to return home without witnessing the completion of the organization.

Nevertheless the attempt was not abandoned. On Friday, December 16, another meeting was held at the same place, with ten present,2 and, ‘after considerable discussion, David Lee Child, Samuel E. Sewall, William Lloyd Garrison, Ellis Gray Loring, and Oliver Johnson were appointed a committee to draft a constitution for an Anti-Slavery Society, to be reported January 1, 1832.’ Then for the first time Mr. Garrison gave public intimation of the movement, and, in the Liberator of the 3 following day, called for the names of those who were ready to join it. On Sunday evening, the first of January, 1832, the draft of the constitution was reported to a meeting containing some new faces; among them, Alonzo Lewis, William Joseph Snelling, Dr. Gamaliel Bradford,4 Dr. Abner Phelps, and the Rev. Abijah Blanchard, editor of an anti-masonic religious paper, who opened the meeting with prayer. The body of the constitution was adopted, ‘with a few unimportant alterations and additions,’ as the records read, but also with one highly significant of the conservative influences against which Mr. Garrison had had to contend in committee: ‘Voted, that “Philo-African” be struck out [of the first article, denoting the Society's title], and “New-England Anti-slavery” be substituted.’ The choice marked the dominance of the same positive and aggressive spirit that put the Liberator and not the Safety-Lamp at the head of the movement for immediate emancipation. The preamble was referred for revision to another committee,5 to be [279] reported to an adjourned meeting appointed for the evening of Friday, January 6, in the school-room under the African Baptist Church, in Belknap Street.

‘Of that adjourned meeting,’ says Mr. Johnson, ‘my recollections are very vivid. A fierce northeast storm, combining snow, rain and hail in about equal proportions, was raging, and the streets were full of slush. They were dark, too, for the city of Boston in those days was very economical of light on “Nigger hill.” 6 It almost seemed as if Nature was frowning upon the new effort to abolish slavery. But the spirits of the little company rose superior to all external circumstances.’

Mr. Child presided, and the preamble, as drawn by Mr. Snelling, was read as follows:

‘We, the undersigned, hold that every person, of full age7 and same mind, has a right to immediate freedom from personal bondage of whatsoever kind, unless imposed by the sentence of the law, for the commission of some crime. We hold that man cannot, consistently with reason, religion, and the eternal and immutable principles of justice, be the property of man. We hold that whoever retains his fellow-man in bondage is guilty of a grievous wrong. We hold that a mere difference of complexion is no reason why any man should be deprived of any of his natural rights, or subjected to any political disability. While we advance these opinions as the principles on which we intend to act, we declare that we will not operate on the existing relations of society by other than peaceful and lawful means, and that we will give no countenance to violence or insurrection.’

This declaration manifestly disregarded the point of expediency raised at the first meeting, which was again the cause of much earnest discussion without unanimity8 being reached; Messrs. Child, Loring and Sewall withholding their signatures from the perfected instrument.9 [280] The twelve persons, all white, who accepted the preamble and affixed their names, were William Lloyd Garrison. Oliver Johnson, Robert B. Hall, Arnold Buffum, William J. Snelling, John E. Fuller, Moses Thacher, Joshua Coffin, Stillman B. Newcomb, Benjamin C. Bacon, Isaac Knapp, and Henry K. Stockton10—not more than one or two of whom, says Mr. Johnson, ‘could have put a hundred dollars into the treasury without bankrupting themselves,’ whereas two at least of those not in perfect accord with them had hitherto been the pecuniary mainstay of the Liberator. What, however, must have seemed most discouraging to Mr. Garrison was his failure, after a year of argument in public and in private, to convince his truest and most necessary friends of the high expediency of immediatism. Nevertheless, ‘as the little11 company . . . were stepping out into the storm and darkness from the African school-house where their work was accomplished, Mr. Garrison impressively remarked: “We have met to-night in this obscure school-house; our numbers are few and our influence limited; but, mark my prediction, Faneuil Hall shall ere long echo with the principles we have set forth. We shall shake the Nation by their mighty power.” ’ [281]

The first publication of the Constitution of the New-England Anti-Slavery Society was made in the Liberator12 of February 18, 1832, together with a list of officers (including Arnold Buffum,13 President, Joshua Coffin, Secretary, and W. L. Garrison, Corresponding Secretary), and an expository Address from the pen of the Rev. Moses14 Thacher, one of the Counsellors. The second article of the Constitution was as follows:

‘The objects of the Society shall be to endeavor, by all means sanctioned by law, humanity and religion, to effect the abolition of slavery in the United States, to improve the character and condition of the free people of color, to inform and correct public opinion in relation to their situation and rights, and obtain for them equal civil and political rights and privileges with the whites.’

Regular meetings were provided for on the last Monday of every month,15 and an annual meeting on the second Wednesday in January; and the Board of Managers were authorized to appoint agents to be employed in any part of the United States, ‘in obtaining or communicating intelligence, in the publication or distribution of tracts, books or papers, or in the execution of any measure which may be adopted to promote the objects of the Society.’ Auxiliary societies contributing to its funds, and sending delegates to its meetings, would be recognized in any part of New England. The Address was occupied with a defence [282] of the doctrine of immediate emancipation, and, as a corollary, with a denunciation of the aims and methods of the Colonization Society; and concluded with a warning to those who would temporize with slavery, of the danger of slave insurrections.

Of the seventy-two names appended, mostly in autograph, to the Constitution in the Society's records, perhaps a quarter were those of colored men, some of whom were barely able to write. The local membership was at the outset considerably smaller than the total just given. Such was the body pitted against the American Colonization Society, against (as events proved) the American Church, against the American Union. Its first action, at a meeting held in the

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