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Theodore Dwight Weld

Theodore Dwight Weld

Theodore Dwight Weld (1803-1895) was an American reformer, preacher, and editor. He was one of the most-influential leaders in the early phases of the antislavery movement.

Theodore Weld was born in Hampton, Conn., on Nov. 23, 1803, the son of a Congregational minister. Sent to Phillips-Andover to prepare for the ministry, he was forced to leave because of failing eyesight; he tried lecturing and later entered Hamilton College in New York. Here he was especially influenced by evangelist Charles Grandison Finney, who conducted revivalist meetings in the area. Weld toured with Finney's "holy band, " leaving for Oneida Institute in 1827 to complete his ministerial studies.

Weld soon converted to the antislavery cause. "I am deliberately, earnestly, solemnly, with my whole heart and soul and mind and strength, " he wrote in 1830, "for the immediate, universal, and total abolition of slavery." The New York philanthropists Lewis and Arthur Tappan hired Weld as an agent for the Society for the Promotion of Manual Labor to lecture and also to choose a site for a theological seminary for Finney. Weld chose Lane Seminary, and when the Tappans installed the Reverend Lyman Beecher as president, Weld remained as a student. However, Weld and other "Lane rebels" left in 1834 to train agents for the new national American Antislavery Society. Weld himself was a powerful speaker, and his famous agents, the "Seventy, " preached abolition across the West.

In 1837, his voice failing, Weld went to New York to edit the society's books and pamphlets. His The Bible against Slavery (1837) summarized religious arguments against slavery, while American Slavery as It Is (1839, published anonymously), a compilation of stories and statistics, served as an arsenal for abolitionist speakers and writers. In 1838 Weld married Angelina Grimké, one of two sisters he had helped train as antislavery speakers.

By the late 1830s antislavery forces formed a significant bloc in Congress, led by John Quincy Adams. Weld helped to develop the "petition strategy, " which forced the slavery issue into open debate. In 1843, feeling that abolition was established as a political issue, Weld, in poor health, retired to New York. In 1854 he founded an interracial school in New Jersey. He died Feb. 3, 1895, in Massachusetts.

Weld's passion for anonymity and fear of pride tended to osbcure his role in the antislavery movement, on which he exerted an enormous influence. He trained more than a hundred agents for the cause, directed its strategy for a decade, and influenced many of its leaders.

Further Reading

The best biography of Weld is Benjamin P. Thomas, Theodore Weld (1950). Additional information is in Gilbert H. Barnes and Dwight L. Dumond, Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké Weld and Sarah Grimké (2 vols., 1934). For Weld's place in the antislavery movement see Gilbert H. Barnes, The Antislavery Impulse, 1830-1844 (1933); Louis Filler, The Crusade against Slavery, 1830-1860 (1960); and Martin Duberman, ed., The Antislavery Vanguard: New Essays on the Abolitionists (1965).

Additional Sources

Abzug, Robert H., Passionate liberator: Theodore Dwight Weld and the dilemma of reform, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. □

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Weld, Theodore Dwight

Theodore Dwight Weld, 1803–95, American abolitionist, b. Hampton, Conn. In 1825 his family moved to upstate New York, and he entered Hamilton College. While in college he became a disciple of the evangelist Charles G. Finney and was influenced by Charles Stuart, a retired British army officer who urged Weld to enlist in the cause of black emancipation. While studying for the ministry at Oneida Institute he traveled about lecturing on the virtues of manual labor, temperance, and moral reform. After 1830 he became one of the leaders of the antislavery movement working with Arthur Tappan and Lewis Tappan, New York philanthropists, James G. Birney, Gamaliel Bailey, Angelina Grimké, and Sarah Grimké. He married Angelina Grimké in 1838. Weld chose Lane Seminary at Cincinnati, Ohio, for the ministerial training of other Finney converts and studied there until the famous antislavery debates he organized (1834) among the students led to his dismissal. Almost the entire student body then requested dismissal, and it was from these theological students that Weld and Henry B. Stanton selected agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society. The "Seventy," as the agents were called, gave character and direction to the antislavery movement and successfully spread the abolitionist gospel throughout the North. From 1836 to 1840, Weld worked at the New York office of the antislavery society, serving as an editor of the society's paper, the Emancipator, and contributing antislavery articles to newspapers and periodicals. He also directed the national campaign for sending antislavery petitions to Congress and assisted John Quincy Adams when Congress tried Adams for reading petitions in violation of the gag rule. While in Washington he advised the Northern antislavery Whigs, many of whom (e.g., Ben Wade, Thaddeus Stevens) were converted to the cause by Weld or one of his agents. After 1844 he retired from public participation in the movement to found a school, Eaglewood, near Raritan, N.J. During the Civil War, at the urging of William Lloyd Garrison, he came out of retirement to speak for the Union cause and campaign for Republican candidates. Most famous of his writings (none was published under his own name) was American Slavery As It Is (1839), on which Harriet Beecher Stowe partly based Uncle Tom's Cabin and which is regarded as second only to that work in its influence on the antislavery movement. Many historians regard Weld as the most important figure in the abolitionist movement, surpassing even Garrison, but his passion for anonymity long made him an unknown figure in American history.

See Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké Weld and Sarah Grimké 1822–1844, ed. by G. H. Barnes and D. L. Dumond (2 vol., 1934); biography by B. P. Thomas (1950); G. H. Barnes, The Antislavery Impulse, 1830–1844 (1933).

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"Weld, Theodore Dwight." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Weld, Theodore Dwight

Weld, Theodore Dwight (1803–95) US campaigner for the abolition of slavery. He was leader of the more moderate wing of the abolitionist movement. In 1839 he and his wife, Angelina Grimké, published American Slavery As It Is.

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