American Anti-Slavery Society Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The foundation of the American Anti-Slavery Society reflected a new and more militant trend in the abolitionist movement, away from nonviolent gradualism and toward radical immediatism.

Summary of Event

The tumult of reform and revivalism that swept over the northern and western areas of the United States during the 1830’s and 1840’s produced a number of voluntary associations and auxiliaries. Perhaps the most important of these was the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), which was founded by Elizur Wright and others in December, 1833. Sixty delegates gathered in Philadelphia to form the national organization, electing Arthur Tappan, a wealthy New York businessman, as president. They also approved a Declaration of Sentiments, drawn up by William Lloyd Garrison, Samuel May May, Samuel , and John Greenleaf Whittier Whittier, John Greenleaf , that called for immediate, total, and uncompensated abolition of slavery through moral and political action. In signing the declaration, the delegates pledged themselves to American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] Abolitionism;American Anti-Slavery Society Philadelphia;American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] [kw]American Anti-Slavery Society Is Founded (Dec., 1833) [kw]Anti-Slavery Society Is Founded, American (Dec., 1833) [kw]Slavery Society Is Founded, American Anti- (Dec., 1833) [kw]Society Is Founded, American Anti-Slavery (Dec., 1833) [kw]Founded, American Anti-Slavery Society Is (Dec., 1833) American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] Abolitionism;American Anti-Slavery Society Philadelphia;American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] [g]United States;Dec., 1833: American Anti-Slavery Society Is Founded[1830] [c]Human rights;Dec., 1833: American Anti-Slavery Society Is Founded[1830] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Dec., 1833: American Anti-Slavery Society Is Founded[1830] [c]Organizations and institutions;Dec., 1833: American Anti-Slavery Society Is Founded[1830] Wright, Elizur Tappan, Arthur Tappan, Lewis Garrison, William Lloyd [p]Garrison, William Lloyd;and American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] Truth, Sojourner Tubman, Harriet Birney, James Gillespie Weld, Theodore Dwight

do all that in us lies, consisting with this declaration of our principles, to overthrow the most execrablesystem of slavery that has ever been witnessed upon earth . . . and to secure to the colored population of the United States, all the rights and privileges which belong to them as men and Americans.

Like other reform societies of the day, the AASS organized a system of state and local auxiliaries, sent out agents to convert people to its views, and published pamphlets and journals supporting its position. The society grew rapidly. By 1838, it claimed 250,000 members and 1,350 auxiliaries.

Before the 1830’s, most opponents of slavery advocated moderate methods such as gradual and “compensated” emancipation—which would have granted remunerations to former slave owners. Some abolitionists favored resettlement of free African Americans to Liberia Liberia in West Africa West Africa;and African American settlers[African American settlers] by the American Colonization Society American Colonization Society , which had been founded in 1817. The formation of a national organization based on the principle of immediatism, or immediate and total emancipation, symbolized the new phase that antislavery agitation entered during the early 1830’s—radical, uncompromising, and intensely moralistic.

The shift to immediatism had several causes, including the failure of moderate methods; the example of the British, who abolished slavery in their empire in 1833; and, probably most important, evangelical religion. Abolitionists of the 1830’s inherited from earlier antislavery reformers the notion that slavery was a sin. This notion, coupled with the contemporaneous evangelical doctrine of immediate repentance, shaped the abolitionist doctrine of immediate emancipation.

Sojourner Truth.

(Library of Congress)

Given the influence of evangelical doctrines and methods, it is not surprising that abolitionists emphasized moral suasion over political methods. The demand for immediate emancipation was a purely moral demand: Abolitionists were calling for immediate repentance of the sin of slavery, an action that they believed would necessarily lead to emancipation itself. They hoped to persuade people to emancipate the slaves voluntarily and to form a conviction of guilt as participants in the national sin of slavery. In effect, abolitionists were working for nothing less than a total moral reformation.

The AASS represented the union of two centers of radical abolitionism, one in Boston, the other based around Cincinnati. William Lloyd Garrison Garrison, William Lloyd [p]Garrison, William Lloyd;and American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] , the key figure among New England abolitionists, began publishing The Liberator in 1831 and soon organized the New England Anti-Slavery Society, based on the principle of immediate abolition. Garrisonian abolitionists galvanized antislavery sentiment in the Northeast, where they were later aided by the New York Anti-Slavery Society New York Anti-Slavery Society[New York AntiSlavery Society] , which was founded by William Jay, William Goodell, and brothers Lewis and Arthur Tappan Tappan, Lewis Tappan, Arthur in 1834. Meanwhile, the West also was shifting from gradualism and colonization to radical abolitionism. In the West, Western Reserve College Western Reserve College and Lane Seminary were seedbeds for the doctrine of immediate emancipation. Theodore Dwight Weld Weld, Theodore Dwight , a young man who had been converted to evangelical Christianity by Charles Grandison Finney Finney, Charles Grandison , organized a group of antislavery agents known as the Seventy, who preached the gospel of immediatism throughout the Midwest.

Although leadership in the antislavery movement remained predominantly white, free African Americans were a significant vital force in the movement as well. Prior to 1800, the Free African Society Free African Society Philadelphia;Free African Society of Philadelphia and black spokespersons such as astronomer Benjamin Banneker Banneker, Benjamin and church leader Richard Allen Allen, Richard had denounced slavery in the harshest terms. By 1830, fifty black-organized antislavery societies existed, and African Americans contributed to the formation of the AASS in 1833.

Black orators, especially escaped slaves such as Frederick Douglass Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] and Sojourner Truth Truth, Sojourner , moved large audiences with their impassioned and electrifying oratory. African Americans also helped run the Underground Railroad, Underground Railroad through which Harriet Tubman Tubman, Harriet alone led more than three hundred slaves to freedom. Generally, African American abolitionists shared the nonviolent philosophy of the Garrisonians, but black anger often flared because of the racism they found within the antislavery ranks. Influenced by tactical and race considerations, white abolitionist leaders such as Garrison Garrison, William Lloyd [p]Garrison, William Lloyd;and American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] and Weld Weld, Theodore Dwight limited their African American counterparts to peripheral roles or excluded them from local organizations. Discriminatory policies within the AASS American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] glaringly contradicted the organization’s egalitarian rhetoric.


The late 1830’s marked the high point of the movement for immediate abolition through moral suasion. Abolitionism, like other crusades of the time, was hard hit by the Panic of 1837, Panic of 1837;and abolitionism[Abolitionism] Abolitionism;and Panic of 1837[Panic of 1837] which reduced funds and distracted attention away from reform. At the same time, abolitionists faced an internal challenge as the AASS divided into radicals and moderates. One issue causing the split was women’s rights. Moderate abolitionists tolerated and even welcomed women in the society, so long as their activities were confined to forming auxiliary societies, raising money, and circulating petitions. They refused, however, the request that women be allowed to speak in public on behalf of abolitionism or to help shape the AASS’s American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] policies. They also wanted to prevent abolitionism from being distracted or diluted by involvement with any other secondary reform. At the Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840, Garrison and a group of radical followers used the issue of women’s rights to capture the organization for themselves. When they succeeded in appointing a woman to the society’s business committee, moderates and conservatives seceded and formed another organization, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.

Another issue that divided abolitionist ranks was that of political action. Some abolitionists, convinced that political action, not merely moral suasion, was necessary to effect emancipation, formed the Liberty Party Liberty Party in 1840 and nominated James Gillespie Birney Birney, James Gillespie for president of the United States. During the 1840’s and 1850’s, a small group of abolitionists, some of them militant “come-outers” such as Garrison Garrison, William Lloyd [p]Garrison, William Lloyd;and American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] and Wendell Phillips, continued to rely on moral suasion. The majority of abolitionists, however, moved gradually into the political arena, where they became involved in the Free-Soil movement Free-Soil movement[Free Soil movement];and abolitionism[Abolitionism] Abolitionism;and Free-Soil movement[Free Soil movement] and other aspects of the sectional conflict leading to the Civil War (1861-1865).

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abbott, Richard H. Cotton and Capital: Boston Businessmen and Antislavery Reform, 1854-1868. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991. Examines the activities and ideology of a group of Bostonian businessmen who fostered abolition. Meticulously researched and annotated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chesebrough, David B. Frederick Douglass: Oratory from Slavery. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Biographical study that emphasizes Douglass’s oratory skills and techniques, which were central to Douglass’s effectiveness as an abolitionist leader.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. New York: Little, Brown, 2004. Meticulously detailed biography that places Tubman’s life within the context of the abolitionist movement and the nineteenth century American South.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Filler, Louis. The Crusade Against Slavery, 1830-1860. New York: Harper & Row, 1960. Comprehensive treatment of the people and groups who made up the antislavery movement and the relation of the movement to other reform activities of the period. Excellent bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Friedman, Lawrence J. Gregarious Saints: Self and Community in American Abolitionism, 1830-1870. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Fresh and challenging analysis of the antislavery movement, written from a psychological perspective and focusing on the movement’s first-generation immediatists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kraut, Alan M., ed. Crusaders and Compromisers. Essays on the Relationship of the Antislavery Struggle to the Antebellum Party System. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983. These essays broke new ground by concentrating on politics, juxtaposing the antislavery crusaders to the national political struggles before the Civil War. An excellent anthology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Larson, Kate Clifford. Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York: Ballantine, 2004. Comprehensive account of the life of the heroic conductor of the Underground Railroad. Based in part on new sources, including court records, contemporary newspapers, wills, and letters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McKivigan, John R. The War Against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984. Corrects a number of old interpretations and offers new insights into the impact of antislavery crusaders on northern churches and major Northeast denominations. Based on primary sources; reflects more recent scholarship.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Perry, Lewis, and Michael Fellman, eds. Antislavery Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Abolitionists. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979. Fourteen original, thought-provoking essays based on a variety of interpretive and methodological approaches. Attempts to see abolition in the context of the larger society of which it was a part.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rogers, William B.“We Are All Together Now”: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and the Prophetic Tradition. New York: Garland, 1995. Describes how Douglass and Garrison drew on the tradition of biblical prophecy in their struggle against slavery, intemperance, and the oppression of women and minorities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, John L. The Liberator: William Lloyd Garrison. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963. In tracing Garrison’s career, the author surveys not only the antislavery movement but also the many other reforms in which the well-known editor was engaged.

Congress Bans Importation of African Slaves

African Methodist Episcopal Church Is Founded

Social Reform Movement

Southerners Advance Proslavery Arguments

Garrison Begins Publishing The Liberator

Turner Launches Slave Insurrection

Oberlin College Opens

Amistad Slave Revolt

Douglass Launches The North Star

Underground Railroad Flourishes

Stowe Publishes Uncle Tom’s Cabin

National Council of Colored People Is Founded

Last Slave Ship Docks at Mobile

Thirteenth Amendment Is Ratified

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Frederick Douglass; William Lloyd Garrison; Sojourner Truth; Harriet Tubman. American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society] Abolitionism;American Anti-Slavery Society Philadelphia;American Anti-Slavery Society[American AntiSlavery Society]

Categories: History