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Phillips, Wendell (1811-1884)

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884)

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Orator

Beacon Hill. Bostonians looking back on the life of Wendell Phillips observed that he was born on Beacon Street and died on Common Street. He epitomized the exclusive social circle that his cousin Oliver Wendell Holmes dubbed the Brahmins, an allusion to the caste system of India. The Phillips family tree led directly back to one of the Puritan ministers who arrived on the Arbella with John Winthrop; Wendell Phillipss father served as a mayor of Boston and was buried in a grave between Samuel Adams and James Otis upon his sudden death after a year in office. Phillipss closest boyhood friends were future historian John Lothrop Motley and Thomas Appleton, son of the visionary manufacturer whose textile mills at Lowell generated fortunes for the Boston elite. Phillips was the only student in his Harvard College class for whom a private carriage called on every Saturday morning.

Abolitionist. After preparing briefly for a career in law Phillips was introduced to the antislavery movement by his future wife, Anne Greene, who had moved upon the death of her parents into the household of her cousin Maria Weston Chapman, one of the central figures in Boston abolitionism. Phillips made his debut for the cause at a meeting in Faneuil Hall after the murder of abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois, in November 1837. Stirred to respond when the attorney general of Massachusetts defended the mob that attacked Lovejoy as a legitimate successor to the mobs led by Samuel Adams, Phillips demonstrated his quiet, mesmerizing speaking style and his passion for preserving the integrity of Boston that had been consecrated by the prayers of Puritans and the blood of patriots.

Radical Vanguard. Phillips soon became chief lieutenant of abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison, delivering addresses for the cause and developing its theoretical premises. He joined Garrison in spurning any participation in politics, which he considered incompatible with the promotion of moral principles. Although Phillips sometimes shared goals with antislavery politicians, his rigid insistence on complete conformity with every implication of abolitionism led him into conflicts with men as sympathetic to his cause as Horace Mann and Charles Sumner. When the Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln for president, Phillips branded him the Slave-Hound of Illinois because in proposing the gradual abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia while in Congress, Lincoln had included temporary arrangements for the retrieval of fugitive slaves. Particularly outraged by the pursuit of runaways into Boston, Phillips joined Garrison in adopting the motto No Union with Slavery and calling for Massachusetts to break all ties with the Southern states.

Politics. Notwithstanding Phillipss policy of disunion, he declared support for the war after the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Contrary to the declared federal intent to avoid interference with slavery, he welcomed every opportunity that the war provided to strike at the institution. He also came to take a more active role in politics, including strong support for a radical challenge to the reelection of Lincoln. Political involvement helped undermine Phillipss relationship with Garrison, who had entered the fray on Lincolns side. When the war ended, Garrison moved to dissolve the American Anti-Slavery Society on the ground that it had fulfilled its purpose. Phillips engineered the defeat of the proposal and upon Garrisons retirement assumed the presidency of the organization, for which he adopted the new motto No Reconstruction without Negro Suffrage. His efforts over the next five years were rewarded by the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in March 1870.

New Directions. Phillips concentrated in the 1870s on labor reform as the emerging issue of the future. After declining for decades to seek office as an antislavery politician despite advantages that gave him excellent prospects for success, he accepted the nomination for governor of Massachusetts on the Labor Reform ticket in 1870. He called for legislation to limit working hours and also distinguished his campaign through his defense of Chinese immigrants that employers sought to exploit and laborers sought to exclude. In the years following this unsuccessful candidacy his program for labor shifted to support for expansion of the money supply through circulation of paper currency. These views on regulation and finance were even more unpopular within Phillipss social class than his abolitionism had been. He also spoke in support of many other political causes during the 1870s, including the enforcement of civil rights in the South, woman suffrage, and temperance, as well as delivering many addresses on casual topics. From the end of the war until his retirement in 1880 he was the most popular lecturer in the country, the last of the great orators of New England. He died on 2 February 1884.

Sources

Irving H. Bartlett, Wendell Phillips: Brahmin Radical (Boston: Beacon, 1961);

James Brewer Stewart, Wendell Phillips, Libertys Hero (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986).

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Wendell Phillips

Wendell Phillips

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), American abolitionist and social reformer, became the antislavery movement's most powerful orator and, after the Civil War, the chief proponent of full civil rights for freed slaves.

Wendell Phillips was born on Nov. 29, 1811, into a wealthy, aristocratic Boston family. Gifted, handsome, and brilliant, he excelled in his studies at Harvard, where he graduated in 1831, and in the study of law, which he undertook with the great Joseph Story. Phillips was admitted to the bar in 1834 and opened an office in Boston. In 1835, from his office window, he saw William Lloyd Garrison being dragged through the street by a mob, an event that changed his attitude toward slavery. Phillips's meeting with Ann Terry Greene, an active worker in the Boston Female Antislavery Society, increased his interest in the abolition movement. They were married on Oct. 12, 1837. He wrote later that "my wife made an out-and-out abolitionist of me, and always preceded me in the adoption of various causes I have advocated."

Phillips enlisted in the cause at a meeting on Dec. 8, 1837, to protest the death of antislavery editor Elijah Lovejoy in Illinois. After the attorney general of Massachusetts condoned the Illinois mob, Phillips sprang to the platform: his eloquent defense of Lovejoy catapulted him into the ranks of abolitionist leaders. Breaking with his family and friends and relinquishing his law practice, he joined Garrison and became, next to Garrison, New England's best-known abolitionist. The true reformer, Phillips said, must be prepared to sacrifice everything for his cause; he is "careless of numbers, disregards popularity, and deals only with ideas, consciences, and common sense." Like Garrison, Phillips attacked what he believed to be the "proslavery" Constitution, rejected political action, and ultimately demanded the division of the Union if slavery was not immediately abolished. A persuasive and elegant speaker, he could be so denunciatory that he was several times nearly mobbed.

During the early Civil War, Phillips censured Abraham Lincoln's reluctance to free the slaves, calling him "a first-rate second-rate man" whose "milk-livered administration" conducted the war "with the purpose of saving slavery." He welcomed the Emancipation Proclamation but violently opposed Lincoln's reelection in 1864, and in 1865 he resisted Garrison's attempts to terminate the American Antislavery Society. Phillips maintained that the African Americans' freedom would not be achieved until they possessed the ballot and full civil and social rights. Garrison lost, and Phillips remained president of the society until 1870.

Phillips's other causes included prohibition, women's rights, prison reform, greenbacks, an 8-hour day, and Labor unions. He helped organize the Labor Reform Convention and the Prohibition party in Massachusetts, and both nominated him for governor in 1870. A revolutionary idealist, he envisioned an American society "with no rich men and no poor men in it, all mingling in the same society … all opportunities equal, nobody so proud as to stand aloof, nobody so humble as to be shut out." His political involvement, however, and his increasing radicalism, which led him to advocate "the overthrow of the whole profit-making system …, the abolition of the privileged classes …, and the present system of finance, " alienated some of his friends and reduced his effectiveness as a reform leader.

Phillips remained popular on the lyceum circuit, speaking sometimes 60 times a year and earning up to $15, 000 annually. He died on Feb. 7, 1884.

Further Reading

Three excellent biographies of Phillips are Ralph Korngold, Two Friends of Man: The Story of William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, and Their Relationship with Abraham Lincoln (1950); Oscar Sherwin, Prophet of Liberty: The Life and Times of Wendell Phillips (1958); and Irving H. Bartlett, Wendell Phillips: Brahmin Radical (1961).

Additional Sources

Bartlett, Irving H., Wendell and Ann Phillips: the community of reform, 1840-1880, New York: Norton, 1979.

Sherwin, Oscar, Prophet of liberty: the life and times of Wendell Phillips, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975, 1958.

Stewart, James Brewer, Wendell Phillips, liberty's hero, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986. □

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Phillips, Wendell

Wendell Phillips, 1811–84, American reformer and orator, b. Boston, grad. Harvard (B.A., 1831; LL.B., 1834). He was admitted to the bar in 1834 but, having sufficient income of his own, he abandoned his law practice to devote his life to fighting for sound causes, chiefly the abolition of slavery. Revolted by the mobbing (1835) in Boston of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and prodded by his brilliant young wife, the former Ann Terry Greene, he entered wholeheartedly into the abolitionist crusade. His eloquent protest (1837) in Faneuil Hall on the assassination of the abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy marked the beginning of his long and distinguished career as a lecturer. Phillips frequently contributed to the Liberator and, like its publisher, Garrison, refused to identify his abolitionism with any political party. He also followed Garrison in other causes, notably women's rights. He was a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London (1840), opposed the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas, came to advocate the dissolution of the Union, and aroused considerable hostility by his vehement denunciations of slaveholding. In the Civil War he attacked Lincoln for his moderate stand on emancipation of the slaves and opposed Lincoln's renomination. Phillips held that the government owed blacks not merely their freedom, but land, education, and full civil rights as well. This led to a break between him and Garrison in 1865 when Garrison proposed to dissolve the American Anti-Slavery Society on the grounds that its purpose had been fulfilled. Phillips became the society's president and kept it active until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment enfranchised the blacks. While most of the victorious crusaders for abolition were content to rest on their laurels, Phillips continued his agitation for social reform, speaking for many unpopular causes—prohibition, woman's suffrage, the abolition of capital punishment, currency reform (see greenback), and the rights of labor. He was the unsuccessful candidate of the Labor and Prohibition parties for the governorship of Massachusetts in 1870. Phillips's advanced doctrines became indistinguishable from those of Marxian socialism, and he defended the Commune of Paris of 1871 and Russian nihilism. As an orator he was rated with Edward Everett and Daniel Webster; his style, however, was easy and colloquial.

See his Speeches, Lectures, and Letters (1st series, 1863; 2d series, 1891); biographies by J. A. Green (1943, repr. 1964), O. Sherwin (1958), and I. Bartlett (1961, repr. 1973).

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Phillips, Wendell

Phillips, Wendell (1811–84) US social reformer. He made a speech in Boston in favour of emancipation of slaves in 1836. He became a close associate of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and was president of the Antislavery Society (1865–70). He also advocated women's and workers' rights and temperance.

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