Table of Contents

Felix Gregory De Fontaine

The History of American Abolitionism (1787-1861)

Four Great Epochs: Narratives of the Ordinance of 1787, Compromise of 1820, Annexation of Texas, Mexican War, Abolition Riots, Slave Rescues, Compromise of 1850, Kansas Bill of 1854

© Madison & Adams Press, 2018. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.

ISBN 978-80-268-8334-0

Editorial note: This eBook follows the original text.


Table of Contents

The Spirit of the Age — Two Classes of Abolitionists — Their Objects — The Sources of their Inspiration — Influences upon Church and State — Proposed Invasions upon the Constitution — Effect upon the Slave States, &c., &c.

One of the commanding characteristics of the present age is the spirit of agitation, collision and discord which has broken forth in every department of social and political life. While it has been an era of magnificent enterprises and unrivalled prosperity, it has likewise been an era of convulsion, which has well nigh upturned the foundations of the government. Never was this truth more evident than at the present moment. A single topic occupies the public mind — Union or Disunion — and is one of pre-eminently absorbing interest to every citizen. Upon this issue the entire nation has been involved in a moral distemper, that threatens its utter and irrevocable dissolution. Union — the child of compact, the creature of social and political tolerance — stands face to face with Disunion, the natural off-spring of that anti-slavery sentiment, which has ever warred against the interests of the people and the elements of true government, and struggles for the maintenance of that sacred pledge by which the United States have heretofore been bound in a common brotherhood. Like the marvellous tent given by the fairy Banou to Prince Achmed, which, when folded up, became an ornament in the delicate hands of women, but, spread out, afforded encampment to mighty armies; so is this question of abolitionism, to which the present overwhelming trouble of our land is to be traced, in its capacity to encompass all things, and its ability to attach itself even to the amenities and refinements of life. It has entered into everything, great and small, high and low, political, theological, social and moral, and in one section has become the standard by which all excellence is to be judged. Under the guise of philanthropic reform, it has pursued its course with energy, boldness and unrelenting bitterness, until it has grown from “a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand” into the dimensions of the tempest which is to-day lowering over the land charged with the elements of destruction. Commencing with a pretended love for the black race, it has arrived at a stage of restless, uncompromising fanaticism which will be satisfied with nothing short of the consummation of its wildest hopes. It has become the grand question of the day — of politics, of ethics, of expediency, of justice, of conscience, and of law, covering the whole field of human society and divine government.

In this view of the subject, and in view also of the surrounding unhappy circumstances of the country which have their origin in this agitation, we give below a history of abolition, from the period it commenced to exist as an active element in the affairs of the nation down to the present moment.


There are two classes of persons opposed to the continued existence of slavery in the United States. The first are those who are actuated by sentiments of philanthropy and humanity, but are at the same time no less opposed to any disturbance of the peace or tranquility of the Union, or to any infringement of the powers of the States composing the confederacy. Among these may be classed the society of “Friends,” one of whose established principles is an abhorrence of war in all its forms, and the cultivation of peace and good will amongst mankind. As far back as 1670, the ancient records of their society refer to the peaceful and exemplary efforts of the sect to prevent the holding of slaves by any of their number; and a quaint incident is related of an eccentric “Friend,” who, at one of their monthly meetings, “seated himself among the audience with a bladder of bullock’s blood secreted under his mantle, and at length broke the quiet stillness of the worship by rising in full view of the congregation, piercing the bladder, spilling the blood upon the floor and seats, and exclaiming with all the solemnity of an inspired prophet, ‘Thus shall the Lord spill the blood of those that traffic in the blood of their fellow men.’”

The second class are the real ultra abolitionists — the “reformers” who, in the language of Henry Clay, are “resolved to persevere at all hazards, and without regard to any consequences, however calamitous they may be. With them the rights of property are nothing; the deficiency of the powers of the general government is nothing; the acknowledged and incontestible powers of the State are nothing; civil war, a dissolution of the Union, and the overthrow of a government in which are concentrated the fondest hopes of the civilized world, are nothing. They are for the immediate abolition of slavery, the prohibition of the removal of slaves from State to State, and the refusal to admit any new State comprising within its limits the institution of domestic slavery — all these being but so many means conducive to the accomplishment of the ultimate but perilous end at which they avowedly and boldly aim — so many short stages, as it were, in the long and bloody road to the distant goal at which they would ultimately arrive. Their purpose is abolition, ‘peaceably if it can, forcibly if it must.’”

Utterly destitute of Constitutional or other rightful power; living in totally distinct communities, as alien to the communities in which the subject on which they would operate resides, as far as concerns political power over that subject, as if they lived in Asia or Africa, they nevertheless promulgate to the world their purpose to immediately convert without compensation four millions of profitable and contented slaves into four millions of burdensome and discontented negroes.

This idea, which originated and still generally prevails in New England, is the result of that puritanical frenzy which has always characterized that section of the country, and made it the natural breeding ground of the most absurd “isms” ever concocted. The Puritans of to-day are not less fanatical than were the Puritans of two centuries ago. In fact, they have progressed rather than retrograded. Their god then was the angry, wrathful, jealous god of the Jews — the Supreme Being now is the creation of their own intellects, proportioned in dimensions to the depth and fervor of their individual understandings. Then the Old Testament was their rule of faith. Now neither old nor new, except in so far as it accords with their consciences, is worth the paper upon which it is written. Their creeds are begotten of themselves, and their high priests are those who best represent their peculiar “notions.” The same spirit which, in the days of Robespierre and Marat, abolished the Lord’s day and worshipped Reason, in the person of a harlot, yet survives to work other horrors. In this age, however, and in a community like the present, a disguise must be worn; but it is the old threadbare advocacy of human rights, which the enlightenment of the age condemns as impracticable. The decree has gone forth which strikes at God, by striking at all subordination and law, and under the specious cry of reform it is demanded that every pretended evil shall be corrected, or society become a wreck — that the sun must be stricken from the heavens if a spot is found upon his disc.

The abolitionist is a practical atheist. In the language of one of their congregational ministers — Rev. Henry Wright, of Massachusetts: —

“The God of humanity is not the God of slavery. If so, shame upon such a God. I scorn him. I will never bow to his shrine; my head shall go off with my hat when I take it off to such a God as that. If the Bible sanctions slavery, the Bible is a self-evident falsehood. And, if God should declare it to be right, I would fasten the chain upon the heel of such a God, and let the man go free. Such a God is a phantom.”

The religion of the people of New England is a peculiar morality, around which the minor matters of society arrange themselves like ferruginous particles around a loadstone. All the elements obey this general law. Accustomed to doing as it pleases, New England “morality” has usually accomplished what it has undertaken. It has attacked the Sunday mails, assaulted Free Masonry, triumphed over the intemperate use of ardent spirits, and finally engaged in an onslaught upon the slavery of the South. Its channels have been societies, meetings, papers, lectures, sermons, resolutions, memorials, protests, legislation, private discussion, public addresses; in a word, every conceivable method whereby appeal may be brought to mind. Its spirit has been agitation! — and its language, fruits and measures have partaken throughout of a character that is thoroughly warlike.

“In language no element ever flung out more defiance of authority, contempt of religion, or authority to man. As to agency, no element on earth has broken up more friendships and families, societies and parties, churches and denominations, or ruptured more organizations, political, social or domestic. And as to measures! What spirit of man ever stood upon earth with bolder front and wielded fiercer weapons? Stirring harangues! Stern resolutions! Fretful memorials! Angry protests! Incendiary pamphlets at the South! Hostile legislation at the North! Underground railroads at the West! Resistance to the Constitution! Division of the Union! Military contribution! Sharpe’s rifles! Higher law! If this is not belligerence enough, Mohammed’s work and the old Crusades were an appeal to argument and not to arms.”

What was philanthrophy in our forefathers has become misanthrophy in their descendants, and compassion for the slave has given way to malignity against the master. Consequences are nothing. The one idea preeminent above all others is abolition!

It is worthy of notice in this connection that most abolitionists know little or nothing of slavery and slaveholders beyond what they have learned from excited, caressed and tempted fugitives, or from a superficial, accidental or prejudiced observation. From distorted facts, gross misrepresentations, and frequently malicious caricatures, they have come to regard Southern slaveholders as the most unprincipled men in the Universe, with no incentive but avarice, no feeling but selfishness, and no sentiment but cruelty.

Their information is acquired from discharged seamen, runaway slaves, agents who have been tarred and feathered, factious politicians, and scurrilous tourists; and no matter how exaggerated may be the facts, they never fail to find willing believers among this class of people.

In the Church, the missionary spirit with which the men of other times and nobler hearts intended to embrace all, both bond and free, has been crushed out. New methods of Scriptural interpretation have been discovered, under which the Bible brings to light things of which Jesus Christ and his disciples had no conception. Assemblings for divine worship have been converted into occasions for the secret dissemination of incendiary doctrines, and thus a common suspicion has been generated of all Northern agency in the diffusion of religious instruction among the slaves. Of the five broad beautiful bands of Christianity thrown around the North and the South — Presbyterian, old school and new, Episcopalian, Methodist and Baptist, to say nothing of the divisions of Bible, tract and missionary societies — three are already ruptured — and whenever an anniversary brings together the various delegates of these organizations, the sad spectacle is presented of division, wrangling, vituperation and reproach, that gives to religion and its professors anything but that meekness of spirit with which it is wont to be invested.

Politically, the course of abolition has been one of constant aggression upon the South.

At the time of the Old Confederation, the amount of territory owned by the Southern States was 647,202 square miles; and the amount owned, by the Northern States, 164,081. In 1783, Virginia ceded to the United States, for the common benefit, all her immense territory northwest of the river Ohio. In 1787, the Northern States appropriated it to their own exclusive use by passing the celebrated ordinance of that year, whereby Virginia and all her sister States were excluded from the benefits of the territory. This was the first in the series of aggressions.

Again, in April, 1803, the United States purchased from France, for fifteen millions of dollars, the territory of Louisiana, comprising an area of 1,189,112 square miles, the whole of which was slaveholding territory. In 1821, by the passage of the Missouri Compromise, 964,667 square miles of this was converted into free territory.

Again, by the treaty with Spain, of February, 1819, the United States gained the territory from which the present State of Florida was formed, with an area of 59,268 square miles, and also the Spanish title of Oregon, from which they acquired an area of 341,463 square miles. Of this cession, Florida only has been allowed to the Southern States, while the balance — nearly six-sevenths of the whole — was appropriated by the North.

Again, by the Mexican cession, was acquired 526,078 square miles, which the North attempted to appropriate under the pretence of the Mexican laws, but which was prevented by the measures of the Compromise of 1850. Of slave territory cut off from Texas, there have been 44,662 square miles.

To sum this up, the total amount of territory acquired under the Constitution has been, by the

Northwest cession   286,681 square miles.
Louisiana cession   1,189,112 do.
Florida and Oregon cession   400,731 do.
Mexican cession   526,078 do.
Total   2,377,602 do.

Of all this territory the Southern States have been permitted to enjoy only 283,713 square miles, while the Northern States have been allowed 2,083,889 square miles, or between seven and eight times more than has been allowed to the South.

The following are some of the invasions that have been from time to time proposed upon the Constitution in the halls of Congress by these agitators:

1. That the clause allowing the representation of three-fifths of the slaves shall be obliterated from the Constitution; or, in other words, that the South, already in a vast and increasing minority, shall be still further reduced in the scale of insignificance, and thus, on every attempted usurpation of her rights, be far below the protection of even a Presidential veto.

Next has been demanded the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, in the forts, arsenals, navy yards and other public establishments of the United States. What object have the abolitionists had for raising all this clamor about a little patch of soil ten miles square, and a few inconsiderable places thinly scattered over the land — a mere grain of sand upon the beach — unless it be to establish the precedent of Congressional interference, which would enable them to make a wholesale incursion upon the constitutional rights of the South, and to drain from the vast ocean of alleged national guilt its last drop? Does any one suppose that a mere microscopic concession like this would alone appease a conscience wounded and lacerated by the “sin of slavery?”

Another of these aggressions is that which was proposed under the pretext of regulating commerce between the States — namely, that no slave, for any purpose and under any circumstances whatever, shall be carried by his lawful owner from one slaveholding State to another; or, in other words, that where slavery now is there it shall remain forever, until by its own increase the slave population shall outnumber the white race, and thus by a united combination of causes — the fears of the master, the diminution in value of his property and the exhausted condition of the soil — the final purposes of fanaticism may be accomplished.

Still another in the series of aggressions was that attempted by the Wilmot Proviso, by which Congress was called upon to prohibit every slaveholder from removing with his slaves into the territory acquired from Mexico — a territory as large as the old thirteen States originally composing the Union. It appears to have been forgotten that whether slavery be admitted upon one foot of territory or not, it cannot affect the question of its sinfulness in the slightest degree, and that if every nook and corner of the national fabric were open to the institution, not a single slave would be added to the present number, or that, if excluded, their number would not be a single one the less.

We might also refer to the armed and bloody opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law, to the passage of Personal Liberty Bills, to political schemes in Congress and out, and to systematic agitation everywhere, with a view to stay the progress of the South, contract her political power, and eventually lead, at her expense, if not of the Union itself, to the utter expurgation of this “tremendous national sin.”

In short, the abolitionists have contributed nothing to the welfare of the slave or of the South. While over one hundred and fifty millions have been expended by slaveholders in emancipation, except in those sporadic cases where the amount was capital invested in self-glorification, the abolitionists have not expended one cent.

More than this: They have defeated the very objects at which they have aimed. When Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, or some other border State has come so near to the passage of gradual emancipation laws that the hopes of the real friends of the movement seemed about to be realized, abolitionism has stepped in, and, with frantic appeals to the passions of the negroes, through incendiary publications, dashed them to the ground, tightening the fetters of the slave, sharpening authority, and producing a reaction throughout the entire community that has crushed out every incipient thought of future manumission.

Such have been the obvious fruits of abolition. Church, state and society! Nothing has escaped it. Nowhere pure, nor peaceable, nor gentle, nor easily entreated, nor full of mercy and good fruits; but everywhere forward, scowling, uncompromising, and fierce, breaking peace, order and structure at every step, crushing with its foot what would not bow to its will; defying government, despising the Church, dividing the country, and striking Heaven itself if it dared to obstruct its progress; purifying, pacifying, promising nothing, but marking its entire pathway by disquiet, schism and ruin.

We come now to the train of historical facts upon which we rely in proof of the foregoing assertions.

From 1787 to 1820.

Table of Contents

The Ordinance of 1787 — The Slave Population of 1790 — Abolitionism at that time — The Importation of Slaves the Work of Northerners — Statistics of the Port of Charleston, S. C., from 1804 to 1808 — Anecdote of a Rhode Island Senator, &c., &c.

The first great epoch in the history of our country at which the spirit of abolitionism displayed itself was immediately preceding the formation of the present government. From the close of the Revolutionary War, in 1783, to the sitting of the Constitutional Convention, was a space of only four years. Two years more brings us to the adoption of the Constitution, in 1789. It was in the summer of 1787, and at the very time the Convention in Philadelphia was framing that instrument, that the Congress in New York was framing the ordinance which was passed on the 13th of July, 1787, by which slavery was forever excluded from all the territory northwest of the river Ohio, which, three years before, had been generously ceded to the United States by Virginia, and out of which have since been organised the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

According to the first census, taken in 1790, under the Constitution, when every State in the Union, with one exception, was a slave State, the number of slaves was as follows: —

  States.   No. of Slaves.
1 Massachusetts
2 New Hampshire   158
3 Rhode Island   948
4 Connecticut   2,764
5 New York   21,340
6 New Jersey   11,423
7 Pennsylvania   3,737
8 Delaware   8,887
9 Maryland   103,036
10 Virginia   305,057
11 North Carolina   100,571
12 South Carolina   107,094
13 Georgia   29,264
Territory of Ohio   3,417
Total   697,696