The American Slavery Collection


“Casting Pearls before Swine” – Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

The December release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes both pro- and anti-slavery perspectives as well as a retrospective view of U.S. slavery at the close of the 19th-century.



A View of the American Slavery Question (1836)
By Elijah Porter Barrows, Jr., Pastor of the First Free Presbyterian Church, New York

Pastor Elijah Barrows prepared this discourse on slavery “with particular reference to the condition of his own church.” He notes that its members were “divided in their views, and disunited in their feelings, on this much agitated subject.”  Hoping to unify his New York congregation in support of abolishing slavery, Barrows begins his argument by drawing attention to Louisiana Code, Article 3:

A slave is one who is in the power of a master to whom he belongs. The master may sell him, dispose of his person, his industry, his labor; he can do nothing, possess nothing, nor acquire any thing but which must belong to his master.

Barrows then takes that definition to a logical and stark conclusion:

“Casting Pearls before Swine” – Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

Cutting the “Cord of Caste”—The Impact of British Activist George Thompson on American Abolitionist Societies

George Donisthorpe Thompson (1804-1878) was a British abolitionist who often pointed out America’s role in the perpetuation of slavery. Lecturing in the United States in 1834, Thompson attracted the attention of both abolitionists and slavery supporters. He left the U.S. “to escape the assassin’s knife,” a claim supported by the Hobart Town Courier, which reported that attempts to “burn and murder” Thompson had been made in several American towns. New abolitionist societies formed in the wake of Thompson’s speaking tour, and the November release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society contains the annual reports from three such societies, each of which was organized by women. First Annual Report of the Ladies’ New-York City Anti-Slavery Society (1836)
Cutting the “Cord of Caste”—The Impact of British Activist George Thompson on American Abolitionist Societies

A “Dirty and Diabolical Business”—Dividing Lines Over Slavery and Slave-Catching in 19th-Century America

The October release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes documents illustrating the deep religious, political, and legal divisions within 19th-century American society over the issue of slavery.

An Address, Delivered on the Fourth of July, 1836 (1836)
By Charles Fitch, Pastor of the Free Congregational Church, Boston

“We hold it to be self-evident, that God has created all men equal, and endowed them with certain unalienable rights, and that among these rights, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
    
That is my text—and if ever one sentence was written in the English language, which expresses more than any other, the true spirit of those who would abolish slavery throughout the world, it seems to me to be this. It comprises just everything for which abolitionists contend. It covers the whole ground, and reaches the farthest possible extent of all their avowed principles, and of all the measures which they contemplate, or which they desire to see used, for the deliverance of their fellow-men who are held in chains.

Thus begins this address by Pastor Fitch who was adamant that “God has given men equal rights, according to the Declaration of American Independence” and “he who will not allow [African-Americans] these rights, is a transgressor of [God’s] law.”  Nor did Fitch equivocate between types of slave owners, saying:

A “Dirty and Diabolical Business”—Dividing Lines Over Slavery and Slave-Catching in 19th-Century America

The Paradox of Self Government, Individual Rights, and Slavery: The Lecompton Constitution

The August release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes several speeches about the proposed constitutions under which Kansas, first as a territory and then as a state, would be governed. The Topeka Constitution of 1855, the first of four proposed constitutions, would have banned slavery in Kansas. In response to the Topeka Constitution, the territorial legislature, consisting mostly of slave-owners, met at the designated capital of Lecompton to produce a rival document. The Lecompton Constitution enshrined slavery, protected slaveholder rights, and provided for a referendum that allowed voters the choice of allowing more slaves to enter the territory. Free-state supporters, who comprised a large majority of actual settlers, boycotted the vote. In fact, the proposed Lecompton Constitution was so divisive that territorial Governor Robert Walker, a strong defender of slavery but opposed to the blatant injustice of the constitution, resigned rather than implement it.

The Paradox of Self Government, Individual Rights, and Slavery: The Lecompton Constitution

“Flying to be Free”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection

The May release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society features several items offering a diverse set of abolitionist arguments. These range from appeals to faith, to the Declaration of Independence, and to the overall framework of American government. Among the other items in this month’s release are a rare collection of anti-slavery songs for the harp and—perhaps rarer—a call for compromise in American politics.

Slavery in America: A Reprint of an Appeal to the Christian Women of the Slave States of America (1837)
By Angelina E. Grimké 
“Flying to be Free”: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection

American Slavery through the Voices of Politicians, Pamphleteers, and Novelists

The April release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes an 1848 speech by U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis, an illustrated French translation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a response to a Southern pamphleteer’s claims of injustice, material from Ulysses S. Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign, and more.

Speech of Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, on the Oregon Bill (1848)

Prior to becoming the President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis served as the United States Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce and earlier as both a Representative and Senator from Mississippi. In 1848 Davis delivered a speech in the U.S. Senate against prohibiting slavery in the Territory of Oregon. He argued that citizens moving from different states to the territory would not be treated equally; specifically, he had in mind citizens of slave states who moved to Oregon with their human property. Davis lamented:

Now, for the first time in our history, has Congress, without the color of compact or compromise, claimed to discriminate in the settlement of Territories against the citizens of one portion of the Union and in favor of another.

Reality Versus Fiction. A Review of a Pamphlet Published at Charleston, S.C. Entitled, “The Union, Past and Future, How It Works and How to Save It.”(1850)

By Elias Hasket Derby

American Slavery through the Voices of Politicians, Pamphleteers, and Novelists

Perspectives on Slavery and Secession: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

Is slavery justified by the Bible? Is slavery an un-Christian institution or a commercial necessity? In early 19th-century America the answer to such questions depended on whom you asked. The initial release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes not only examples of these differing perspectives, but also retrospective accounts of both slavery and the secession movement.

The Rights and Duties of Slave-holders: Two Discourses, Delivered on Sunday, November 27, 1836, in Christ Church, Raleigh, North Carolina (1837)
By George Washington Freeman
Perspectives on Slavery and Secession: Highlights from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

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