American Anti-Slavery Society
Theodore Dwight Weld, student leader of slavery debate at Lane Seminary, ca. 1832-1834.
The American Anti-Slavery Society was one of the most prominent abolitionist organizations in the United States of America during the early nineteenth century.
In 1833, abolitionists Theodore Weld, Arthur Tappan, and Lewis Tappan founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. These men provided local and state anti-slavery societies, including the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, with an organization that could take their cause to the national level. The American Anti-Slavery Society hoped to convince both white Southerners and Northerners of slavery's inhumanity. The organization sent lecturers across the North to convince people of slavery's brutality. The speakers hoped to persuade people that slavery was immoral and ungodly to convince them to oppose slavery. The American Anti-Slavery Society also bombarded the United States Congress with petitions calling for the end of slavery. Rather than addressing the slavery issue, Congress imposed "the gag rule." The gag rule stated that the Congress would not accept any petitions from the American people that pertained to slavery.
Unlike earlier organizations, American Anti-Slavery Society members called for an immediate end to slavery. Most of the society's members also demanded that African Americans receive the same political, economic, and social rights as white people. Leadership of the American Anti-Slavery Society soon passed to William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison was perhaps the most vocal and best-known opponent of slavery before the Civil War. Under his leadership, the organization attracted more than 150,000 members.
In 1840, the American Anti-Slavery Society split. Garrison and his supporters called for the creation of a new government that prohibited slavery from the very beginning. He contended that the United States Constitution was an illegal document because it denied African Americans their freedom. If the South would not agree to form a new nation that outlawed slavery, Garrison said that the North should secede from the United States and create its own country.
Some members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, including most members of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, thought that Garrison's views were too radical. They agreed that slavery was wrong but also believed that the United States Constitution had created a legitimate government under which the people had the right to end oppression. These abolitionists hoped to elect people of their beliefs to political offices to make laws ending slavery. To achieve this end, these abolitionists formed the Liberty Party.
Another reason contributed to the split within the American Anti-Slavery Society. Garrison's followers called for women to receive prominent roles within the abolitionist movement. Not all abolitionists agreed that women were the equals of men and refused to take direction from people that they believed to be inferior. Abolitionists remained divided until the end of the American Civil War in 1865, when the United States ended slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment. The American Anti-Slavery Society disbanded in 1870.
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- Stewart, James Brewer. Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1996.
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- Thomas, John L. The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison: A Biography. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1963.