Declaration of the National Anti-Slavery Convention, 1833

The American Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1833, was the nation’s most prominent organization dedicated to the abolition of slavery. These excerpts from the “Declaration” made at its founding convention in Philadelphia reflect the founders’ belief that they were extending republican principles but also contain the seeds of later differences in tactics and goals.


. . . More than fifty-seven years have elapsed since a band of patriots convened in this place, to devise measures for the deliverance of this country from a foreign yoke. The corner stone upon which they founded the Temple of Freedom was broadly this--"that all men are created equal; and they are endowed by their Creator, with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness." At the sound of their trumpet-call three millions of people rose up as from the sleep of death, and rushed to the Strife of blood; deeming it more glorious to die instantly as freeman, than desirable to live one hour as slaves. . . .

. . . Their principles led them to wage war against their oppressors, and to spill human blood like water, in order to be free. Ours forbid the doing of evil that good may come, and lead us to reject, and to entreat the oppressed to reject, the use of all carnal weapons for deliverance from bondage; relying solely upon those which are spiritual, and mighty through God . . .

Their measures were physical resistance--the marshalling in arms--the hostile array--the mortal encounter. Ours shall be such as only the opposition of moral purity to moral corruption--the destruction of error by the potency of truth--the overthrow of prejudice by the power of love--and the abolition of slavery by the spirit of repentance. . . .

But those for whose emancipation we are striving--constituting at the present time at least one-sixth part of our countrymen,--are recognized by the law, and treated by their fellow beings, as marketable commodities, as goods and chattels, as brute beasts; are plundered daily of the fruits of their toil without redress; really enjoying no constitutional nor legal protection from licentious and murderous outrages upon their persons; are ruthlessly torn asunder--the tender babe from the arms of its frantic mother--the heart-broken wife from her weeping husband--at the caprice or pleasure of irresponsible tyrants. For the crime of having a dark complexion, they suffer the pangs of hunger, the infliction of stripes, and the ignominy of brutal servitude. They are kept in heathenish darkness by laws expressly enacted to make their instruction a criminal offence . . .

The right to enjoy liberty is inalienable. To invade it, is to usurp the prerogative of Jehovah. Every man has a right to his own body--to the products of his own labor--to the protection of law, and to the common advantages of society. It is piracy to buy or steal a native African, and subject him to servitude. Surely the sin is as great to enslave an American as an African.

. . . all those laws which are now in force, admitting the right of slavery, are therefore before God utterly null and void; being an audacious usurpation of the Divine prerogative, a daring infringement on the law of nature, a base overthrow of the very foundations of the social compact, … a presumptuous transgression of all the holy commandments--and that therefore they ought instantly to be abrogated . . .

Because the holders of slaves are not the just proprietors of what they claim; freeing the slaves is not depriving them of property. . . it is not wronging the master, but righting the slave--restoring him to himself . . .

We regard as delusive, cruel, and dangerous, any scheme of expatriation which pretends to aid, either directly or indirectly, in the emancipation of the slaves . . .

We shall organize Anti-Slavery Societies, if possible, in every city, town and village, in our land . . .

We shall circulate, unsparingly and extensively, anti-slavery tracts and periodicals.

We shall enlist the pulpit and the press in the cause of the suffering and the dumb.

We shall aim at a purification of the churches from all participation in the guilt of slavery.

We shall encourage the labor of freemen rather than that of slaves, by giving a preference to their productions: and

We shall spare no exertions nor means to bring the whole nation to speedy repentance.

Our trust for victory is solely in God. We may be personally defeated, but our principles never. Truth, Justice, Reason, Humanity, must and will gloriously triumph. Already a host is coming up to the help of the Lord against the mighty, and the prospect before us is full of encouragement . . .

Source: Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860—American Memory Collection, Library of Congress