The American Slavery Collection


Watch the New Video: “Did Abolitionists Cause the Civil War?” by Manisha Sinha

For the past ten years, Manisha Sinha has immersed herself in the 19th century and the world of abolitionists. The fruits of Sinha’s scholarship, a comprehensive history of the abolition movement, The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press, 2016), arrives in bookstores this month.

Her work is already challenging some of the conventional ideas associated with abolition. For example, Sinha—Professor of Afro-American Studies and History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—extends the movement’s chronological boundaries to the 18th century and demonstrates that abolition was a radical movement that involved many issues in addition to the emancipation of slaves. Perhaps most importantly, Sinha also brings light to the largely forgotten impact on the abolition movement of free and enslaved African Americans.   

Speaking at a Readex breakfast event during the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Boston earlier this month, Sinha shared the major findings of her decade-long dive into abolition history and how she went about conducting research for the book. In the full presentation, Sinha describes her many trips to repositories to review physical documents, and even joked the time she spent at the American Antiquarian Society—which she describes as “the best place to do research”—almost reached the level of an occupation.

“They got me there for a year on an NEH fellowship, and I never left!” Sinha told the audience.

Watch the New Video: “Did Abolitionists Cause the Civil War?” by Manisha Sinha

“The Shameful, Sinful, Cowardly, Brutish Deed”: Highlights from the American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

The December release of the American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes a history of Pennsylvania Hall, which stood completed for three days before being burned to the ground by rioters, a collection of dialogues for school children, including the script on slavery excerpted below, and an 1853 edition of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, which includes his views on slavery.


History of Pennsylvania Hall (1838)

In 1838, the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society built Pennsylvania Hall to serve as a forum for the free exchange of ideas and principles. Three days after its construction was completed, the hall was destroyed in a fire set by an anti-abolitionist mob. The History of Pennsylvania Hall includes the texts of speeches given within its walls as well as this description its beautiful interior:

Behind the arch was a dome divided into panels, supported by pilasters and an entablature of the Grecian Ionic order, —the whole forming a chaste and beautiful arrangement. On this forum was a superb desk or altar, with a rich blue silk panel; behind this stood the president’s chair; on each side of this was a carved chair for the vice presidents; next to these were sofas; in front of which stood the secretary and treasurer’s tables, with chairs to match. All these articles were made of Pennsylvania walnut of the richest quality; the chairs were lined with blue silk plush; the sofas with blue damask moreen; and the tables were hung with blue silk.

“The Shameful, Sinful, Cowardly, Brutish Deed”: Highlights from the American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

“I Love My Country More Than I Love My Party”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

The November release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes a speech by an eventual vice-president of the United States in which he renounces his party. Also described below is letter by the second president of the Continental Congress to his son as well as a beautifully illustrated retrospective of life in antebellum Virginia.


Senator Hamlin's Withdrawal from the Democratic Party (1856)

By Hannibal Hamlin

Hannibal Hamlin (1809–1891)I ask the Senate to excuse me from further service as Chairman of the Committee on Commerce. I do so because I feel that my relations hereafter will be of such a character as to render it proper that I shall no longer hold that position. I owe this act to the dominant majority in the Senate. When I cease to harmonize with the majority, or tests are applied by that party with which I have acted to which I cannot submit I feel that I ought no longer to hold that responsible position.

Senator Hamlin made this request just six days after his party’s national convention in early June 1856. Hamlin’s Democratic Party had suffered heavy losses in the previous midterm elections and was now fracturing over the platform’s plank allowing an extension of slavery to the territories. Hamlin supported the Missouri Compromise and the Wilmot Proviso, both of which attempted to regulate the extension of slavery in the West and territory seized in the Mexican-American War. In 1856, the Democratic Party’s platform embraced the Kansas-Nebraska Act which effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise. 

Continuing with the sentiment that his party had left him, Hamlin resumed:

“I Love My Country More Than I Love My Party”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

“A Crime of the Deepest Dye”: Speeches from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

The October release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes speeches illustrating the growing controversy surrounding America’s peculiar institution in the decade leading up to the Civil War.

Highlighted here are speeches from the floor of the House of Representatives, the floor of the Senate of Massachusetts, and a street corner in Alton, Illinois.


Ohio congressman Joshua Reed GiddingsPayment for Slaves (1849)

Speech of Representative Joshua Reed Giddings

In dissenting to legislation before the U.S. House of Representatives—the “Bill To Pay the Heirs of Antonio Pacheco for a Slave Sent West of the Mississippi with the Seminole Indians in 1838”—Ohio congressman Joshua Reed Giddings makes both an emotional and technical argument after giving a brief background of the case.

The claimant, in 1835, residing in Florida, professed to own a negro man named Lewis….The master hired him to an officer of the United States, to act as a guide to the troops under the command of Major Dade, for which he was to receive twenty-five dollars per month.

It is unclear whether Lewis deserted the army or was captured by the enemy when Dade was defeated, but Lewis was recaptured in 1837 by U.S. General Jesup who…

“A Crime of the Deepest Dye”: Speeches from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

“The Synagogue of Satan”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

The July release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society contains a review of the debate before the Virginia Legislature on the abolition of slavery, a defense of the Methodist Episcopal Church’s position on slavery, and an essay interpreting the liberal philosophy that inspired the U.S. Constitution through the lens of religion.

 An Essay on Slavery (1849)

By Thomas Roderick Dew  

Thomas Roderick Dew was an educator and writer who served as the 13th president of the College of William & Mary. In 1832, Dew published a review of the debate in the Virginia legislature on the merits and ramifications of the abolition of slavery following Nat Turner’s slave rebellion.

Dew favored the continuation of slavery, arguing that laws should not be changed in the aftermath of a crisis:

“The Synagogue of Satan”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

“But for this Stain”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

The June release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes hard-to-find imprints arguing for and against slavery as well as a speech from the floor of the House of Representatives defending the First Amendment.


An Appeal to the People of the United States (1825)

By A Georgian



The author of this appeal writes of the wrongs committed by “the corrupt…in poisoning the public mind” against the South and reminds readers that “the union was formed in a spirit of compromise” that included the recognition of states’ rights. He continues,

The right of property in their slaves and the right of representation in three fifths of that portion of their population, was reserved to the slave states. They are rights, which without their consent can never be alienated. They were left in possession of these states, which without them, would never have become parties to the compact. When they are attempted under any pretence to be wrested from them, the compact falls to the ground. Interference in any shape tends to a violation of this compact: because every interference depreciates the value of the slave as property, weakens the power which master possesses over him, and finally destroys it; when once this is effected, not only the property, but the life of the owner and his family is sacrificed to the relentless fury of an ignorant and barbarous enemy.

“But for this Stain”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

“The Zeal of the Bigot”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

The May release of the American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes rare items discussing the charge of religious fanaticism within the abolition movement and an economic approach to ending slavery by a future advisor to President Lincoln.


Immediate Abolition Vindicated (1838)

By Elderkin Jedediah Boardman, A.B., Pastor of the First Church in Randolph, Vt.  

Rev. Elderkin J. Boardman was born in Bethel, Vermont, on June 1, 1791. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1815 and later became a student of theology, graduating from the Andover Theological Seminary in 1820. Boardman was one of the first outspoken abolitionists in Vermont.

Addressing the Randolph Female Anti-Slavery Society on June 26, 1838, Boardman refuted the charge of religious fanaticism levied against abolitionists as merely a pretense to oppose a policy of immediate abolition:

Religion is now the same that it ever has been. Human nature is the same. And in the same circumstances, we always expect to see the same results. Whenever religion is arrayed against the leading sins and corruptions of the age, it is called fanaticism by the wicked, and its advocates, the disturbers of the peace, the injurious to society. We see an instance of this in our own times, and country; in which religion is directed against the abominations of slavery under the form of abolition societies.

Later, Boardman argued for the righteousness of the abolitionist movement, saying:

“The Zeal of the Bigot”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

“Bullets, Bayonets, and the Loud-Mouthed Cannon”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

The April release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes an Englishman’s perspective on the slave trade, opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law from both sides of the Atlantic, and a speech before the House of Representatives urging the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.


Records of a Voyage to the Western Coast of Africa (1833)
By Peter Leonard

In 1830, His Majesty’s frigate the Dryad set sail as part of a British “naval force employed on the African station for the suppression of the slave trade.” Peter Leonard, the author of this work, served as the ship’s surgeon and upon his return to England in 1832 wrote about his experiences. He aimed “to make known the horrors which attend the Slave Trade…[and] to expose some of the defects of the laws and treaties, having for their object the suppression of the disgraceful traffic in human beings…”

Leonard reported:

…that the aboriginal inhabitants of Africa continue to be forcibly dragged from their homes; and…sold as any other commodity might be, and lorded over by their miscalled Christian brethren of creation, because, forsooth, their physical and moral perception has not been furbished by the chicanery and cunning of artificial society, and because, in them, the “human face divine” happens to be of a darker shade, and their facial angle less accordant with our ideas of symmetry and fair proportion.

“Bullets, Bayonets, and the Loud-Mouthed Cannon”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

“Loathing and Contempt” on the Abolitionist Campaign Trail: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1860-1922

The March release of The American Slavery Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes the American Anti-Slavery Society’s compilation of early American documents supporting slavery. Also included are two speeches by the abolitionist senator from Ohio, Benjamin Franklin Wade.


The Constitution. A Pro-Slavery Compact: Selections from the Madison Papers, &c. (1844)


In 1844, the American Anti-Slavery Society published a critique of the United States Constitution in which they drew on extracts from James Madison’s reports on the Constitutional Convention, state conventions, and debates of the first Federal Congress to illuminate the inherent contradictions within the Constitution; namely that of codifying the institution of slavery while purporting to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

These extracts develop most clearly all the details of that “compromise,” which was made between freedom and slavery, in 1787; granting to the slaveholder distinct privileges and protection for his slave property, in return for certain commercial concessions on his part toward the North. They prove also that the Nation at large were fully aware of this bargain at the time, and entered into it willingly and with open eyes. 

The society also included extracts from Article 1, Sections 8 and 9, and Article 4, Sections 2 and 4, of the Constitution of the United States:

“Loathing and Contempt” on the Abolitionist Campaign Trail: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1860-1922

“An Engine of the Most Diabolical Oppression”: Highlights from the American Slavery Collection

Many works in the February release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society illustrate the backlash against the abolitionist movement in early 19th-century America. Not only were attempts made to silence abolitionists at religious conferences but also their petitions were refused to be heard in the United States House of Representatives.   
Debate on "Modern Abolitionism," in the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held in Cincinnati, May, 1836 (1836)
“An Engine of the Most Diabolical Oppression”: Highlights from the American Slavery Collection

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