New England Antislavery Society

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NEW ENGLAND ANTISLAVERY SOCIETY (NEAS). This group was the first antislavery association among white activists to demand immediate, unconditional abolition of slavery and equal rights for black Americans, without compensation to the slaveowners and without colonization (forced expatriation) of the freed slaves. William Lloyd Garrison helped to found the NEAS in 1831. By the next year it had several thousand members, white and black, male and female, and a dozen local affiliates, and had served as inspiration for nearly fifty local groups distributed across the North from Maine to Ohio. In 1835 the NEAS bowed to its own success by agreeing to become a state auxiliary of the American Antislavery Society and renaming itself the Massachusetts Antislavery Society.

Garrison was inspired to establish the NEAS because of his attraction in the 1820s to the morality and discipline of the temperance benevolent movement. Garrison committed himself to abolitionism in 1828 after meeting Benjamin Lundy, a zealous Quaker newspaper editor. Garrison founded the NEAS because he believed that abolitionism needed an organization on the model of other benevolent organizations. Garrison recruited to help him Isaac Knapp and Oliver Johnson, journalists he knew through his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator; Samuel J. May, who, as a Unitarian minister, illustrated how abolitionism did not originate only in evangelical sects; Ellis Gray Loring, an attorney, who in 1851 would be involved in the celebrated rescue of a black man; Frederick Jenkins, who a slaveowner claimed was his escaped slave Shadrach; Lydia Maria Child, a novelist and historian of the condition of women; and Arnold Buffum, a Quaker businessman who became the first president of the NEAS.

From its outset the Society maintained petition campaigns against the slave trade and formed committees to inquire into the problem of segregated schooling, to protect free Negroes against the danger of kidnappers, and to develop opportunities for young black youths as apprentices in the skilled trades. However, its most important achievement was its attack on the American Colonization Society (ACS). Before the 1830s the ACS was the main abolitionist organization among whites in the United States. Its philosophy was that abolition had to be accompanied by the physical and political separation of the races. Its supporters by and large saw the establishment of a colony in Africa as an act of benevolence for freed slaves and poor free people of color, as well as a safety valve for troublesome elements. NEAS lecturers used Garrison's book, Thoughts on African Colonization (1832), to attack the ACS as a racist organization that actually pandered to the slaveowners' interests. When the ACS publicly attacked the NEAS as a low-class organization, the strategy backfired. Thousands of Northern working-class laborers became alienated from the ACS, and began to consider NEAS's commitment to immediate abolition. Colonization lost its support among abolition-ists as a result of the attacks on the NEAS. Around 1835 Garrison began urging his followers to nonviolent civil disobedience of laws that required private citizens to assist in the return of fugitive slaves. At the same time the abolitionists also began circulation of antislavery tracts to ministers, legislators, and editors in the South. These strategies would be the most controversial component of abolitionism until the late 1850s.


Mayer, Henry. All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. The best biography of Garrison and his leadership of the NEAS.

Stewart, James B. Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976.

Timothy M.Roberts

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New England Antislavery Society

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New England Antislavery Society