Archiver > QUAKER-ROOTS > 1999-11 > 0943100915

From: Densmore <>
Subject: Quaker abolitionists/Re: [Q-R] List owner
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1999 07:28:35 -0500 (EST)

> > Weren't all Quakers abolitionists? Why were some people kicked out because
> > they were abolitionists?

After the 1770s, all Quakers were anti-slavery Quakers, even before this
period, are prominent in the anti-slavery movements. I was looking at the
leadership of the New York Manumission Society in the 1820s and of the
committee that handled the work of the Manumission Society, the great
majority were clearly members of New York Yearly Meeting, and of those I
couldn't clearly identify as members, most had the same family names as as
some of the leading Quakers-- in my sample, only one individual was
clearly NOT a Quaker.

The issue is distinguishing between anti-slavery, which Quakers were, and
abolitionists. An abolitionist was generally understood as someone who
advocated the immediate, unconditional and uncompensated abolition of
slavery. The emphasis of this approach, as opposed to various schemes for
gradual and/or compensated emancipation, comes in the 1820s with the
publication of a pamphlet titled "Immediate Not Gradual Emancipation" by
English Quaker Elizabeth Heyrick (I've probably misspelled her last name)
which had a great influence on Garrison and others.

The abolitionist movement after 1830 in the United States, as expressed in
the American Anti-Slavery Society, the Liberator, the National
Anti-Slavery Standard, attempted to develop a mass base, and very public
attack on slavery. This was very different from the older movement, which
was pretty quiet, more focused on moral suasion and in influencing
governmental bodies with lengthly studies and lobbying. It is the
difference between presenting a congressman with a book saying why slavery
is wrong versus publishing tracts and almanacs that one attempts to put
into the hands of the entire population containing graphic woodcuts of
slaves being whipped and auctioned off.

This leads to a Quaker dilemma:

Is approach of the abolitionists simply "speaking truth to power" and the
extention of traditional Quaker witness, or is is opposing the evil of
slavery with the evils of contention and conflict. Wrong may be opposed in
a wrongful manner.

Can Quakers unite with non-Quakers even in a good cause (the same concerns
about abolitionist also applied to the temperance movement) without
denying some of their other testimonies? Conservative Quakers objected to
reform meetings because they were full of such unquakerly behavior as hymn
singing, set prayers (rather than people speaking from scripts rather than
being led by the spirit) and "hierling priests." A good deal of the
argument about whether abolitionist lectures should be granted the use of
meeting houses to speak in in the 1830s and 1840s was based on the fact
that (1) these were paid lecturers; and (2) speaking from prepared texts.
In other words, a Quaker could have agreed 100% with the message of an
abolitionist lecturer and still not think it appropriate for him or her to
be given use of the meeting house. This issue split Quakers

There is a popular myth that all Quakers were active abolitionist and
agents of the underground railroad. That isn't true. However, the depth of
Quaker anti-slavery is misunderstood for a several reasons. First, the
abolitionist press is full of denounciations of Quakers for being
insufficiently anti-slavery. I was reading some of this for western New
York in the 1840s. If you didn't know the facts, it would be easy to stop
there. However, for this area, all of this unhappiness with Quakers is
being voiced by -- are you ready? -- Quakers. Of the four anti-slavery
lecturers moving though western New York in the early 1840s, at least
three were Quakers. Of the agents for the Liberator and the Anti-Slavery
Standard in western New York, virtually all were Quakers. Of the officers
of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society, more than 80% were Quakers.
This is at a time when I doubt that Quakers were more than about 1% of the

The active abolitionist minded Quakers were disturbed by the more
conservative Quakers insistance that Quakers shouldn't meddle with the
world or mix with non-Quakers and should wait on the Lord for the end of

I don't know of a case of a Friend being kicked out of meeting for being
an abolitionist. There was a very contentious case in NYS with the
disownment of Isaac Hopper and others for their involvement with the
Anti-Slavery Standard set off by the Standard's publication of articles
critical of Quaker George Fox White's statements in meeting critical of
abolitionists. [Hopper didn't write these statements, but they were
written by Oliver Johnson, who lived for a time with the Hopper Family
(and later became a Progressive Friend), in a paper edited by Lydia M.
Child, who was living with the Hooper family at the time. The abolitionist
Friends of course believed that Hopper was being attacked for his
outspoken abolitionist attitudes. The Quaker attacked in the Standard,
George Fox White, was himself proud of his anti-slavery credentials, his
non use of the labor of slaves and work to convince slave owers of the
error of their ways. These squabbles among Quakers over what to do about
slavery don't, I think, make sense, unless you realize how close the two
sides were-- family quarrels can be bitter, particularily when you are
maintaining that the people involved should be held to a higher moral
standard than outsiders.

I've seen statements from New York Quaker meetings (not just the
Progressive Friends) that are supportive of underground railroad
activities. New York may have been more radical on this issue than other

Enough on that topic for now-- I have to make breakfast.

Christopher Densmore

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