October 14, 1836 — Sandiford Hall, Female Anti-Slavery Society, Philadelphia PA
DEAR SISTERS — As children of the same Heavenly Father, probationers in the same world of trial and sorrow, and inhabitants of the same State, we have felt our minds turned towards you in the love of the gospel, with the sincere desire that in this day of awful responsibility, you may not be found, either actively or passively, throwing your influence into the seal of oppression, cruelty and wrong, rather than into that of freedom, mercy and justice. We do believe there are many women in Philadelphia whose hearts deeply respond to the cries of the widow and the orphan, which float on every Southern breeze, saluting our ear with the thrilling tones of anguish, as they exclaim, in almost hopeless despair, “Plead our cause, and deliver us from the oppression of man.”
It is to arouse this latent feeling of sympathy for the suffering slave into active benevolence that we thus address you. It is earnestly to entreat your cooperation in the great work of Emancipation, that we now appeal to you. Shall that appeal be unavailing? Will you answer us with the cold and heartless excuse that “the north has nothing to do with slavery?” Will you tell us that this is too agitating a subject, and that you do not like to mingle in, or be accessory to that excitement which already exists? Will you say that Woman’s duties lie within the hallowed precincts of home, not in the field of controversy, or the halls of Congress; where man lets loose the storms of passion, and instead of listening to the voice of woman’s entreaty for the rescue “him who hath none to help him” brands her with the epithet of demon, and would fain rob him of the right of petition, and the privileges of a citizen, in order to close her lips for ever in behalf of her outraged sisters, who are bought and sold as sheep and oxen, in the heart of our boasting Republic. O no! “we are persuaded better things of you,” and things that will accompany the salvation of the slave. We believe you understand too well that copartnership of iniquity, into which the free States have entered with the slave States, to say that the North has nothing to do with slavery. You know that the prison in which these innocent captives are constantly immured in the District of Columbia, are built with Northern, as well as Southern money. You know that although “Congress has exclusive power to legislate for the District of Columbia in all cases whatever,” that it is because Northern senators and Northern representatives deny this power, that the centre of our American Republic is now a slave market, presenting to the whole world the disgusting anomaly of the seat of government of a proud republic being the very heart of the most horrible system of abject slavery that the world ever saw. You also know that it is said the northern States are bound to deliver up all runaway slaves to their masters. In so doing, we virtually deny that great foundation principle of our Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, and have an inalienable right to live, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” You know that our State is peculiarly liable to the inroads of the slaveholder, who is permitted to throw his helpless victims into our prisons, whilst he makes the necessary preparations for carrying them off into hopeless bondage. You know that in our beautiful metropolis, there is a regularly organized system of kidnapping, and that the free as well as the bond are often stolen away by their brethren and sold as Joseph was, to Southern traders. And here, in order to avoid the exposure of this nefarious system, instead of resorting to our public prisons, which the slaveholder has a legal right to do, and which right he does sometimes exercise, it is well known that a noted kidnapper in our city of brotherly love, confines these miserable creatures in an apartment of his own house, where they are chained and watched until, by their legal or pretended owners they are dragged back into abject slavery. You know, too, that Northern manufacturers, merchants and consumers are constantly supporting and encouraging this system of outrage and oppression, by purchasing to a large amount the products of the unrequited labor of the slave; thus meriting the reproach which was formerly uttered against the Jews, “when thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him.” Yes! We are now clothing and feeding ourselves with the cotton, rice, and sugar, which we know the Southern planter never has paid his slaver for laboring to cultivate. You must be aware, then, that the North, as a co-partner in the sin of slavery, is loudly called upon to labor for its entire abolition.
If, then, it is the duty of the North to labor for its entire abolition, as Northern citizens we are bound, dear sisters, to put forth all our energies in this mighty work. Yes, although we are women, we still are citizens, and it is to us, that the captive wives and mothers, sisters and daughters of the South have a peculiar right to look for help in this day of approaching emancipation. Shall we slumber over their wrongs now, when those wrongs have begun to excite the public attention and sympathy, which it is absolutely necessary should be called into powerful action before slavery can be overthrown? Slaveholders know this — they understand full well the ultimate tendency of the increasing excitement on this subject, they feel that it has shaken the great prison house of the South to its very foundation, and therefore they and their sinful apologists would frighten us into silence by the doctrine of human expediency, and the fear of the consequences of “remembering them that are in bonds as bound with them,” and opening our mouths for the dumb in order to “deliver the oppressed out of the hand of the spoiler.”
Can any consequences be worse than the consequences of slavery itself? Is it not a system which wrests the sceptre of supreme dominion from the hand of Jehovah, and places it in the hand of his erring creature man? Does it not nullify all the commandments of the Decalogue, and despise the restrictions which God imposed upon the Jewish master, by subjecting the American citizen, not to temporary servitude, but to perpetual hereditary and hopeless bondage? Does it not destroy the free agency of man in the slave, by reducing him to a mere thing, a human brute, a chattel personal? Does it not rob him of the precious gift of intellect, by withholding from him those means of instruction, by which that intellect would be enabled to expand and grow up to the strength and dignity of an immortal intelligent being, prepared to engage with the spirit and the understanding also in the service of his great Creator, and in those moral reformations which are but just begun in our world? We pity the absurdity of the Chinese mother, who binds her infant’s feet in bandages to prevent their growing to that size which the increasing stature of her child demands for its support and easy locomotion. — We wonder at the cruelty of the Indian father who compresses the skull of his child between two boards to flatten its head into a frightful and unnatural shape — but what are these doing in comparison to the violent efforts which the slaveholder is making, not to keep the feet of his slave as diminutive as an infant’s, not to force his head in an unsightly form, but to fetter the mind, and as far as in his power, to bind the soul, the immortal part of his slave, with the strong bandages of oppression and ignorance; to keep an intelligent and responsible being as ignorant of his own rights, and the duties of his fellow-creatures towards him as the new-born infant; and to teach him just enough of religion to ensure his obedience to his master, but not enough to show him his supreme allegiance to his God. Say, we beseech you, which is inflicting the deepest injury upon the victims of their power? The former are Heathens, “they know not what they do,” they are crushing the body only; but the latter are professed Christians who stand up to the world with the Bible in their hands, and are not ashamed to tell us that the holy book sanctions this soul-crushing, heart-rending system of oppression.
Say, our sisters, is it a time for us to keep silence? Is it a time for woman to shrink from her duty as a citizen of the United States, — as a member of the great human family, — as a professor of that pure and merciful religion which never can cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, until slavery is completely abolished. Shall we too bow down to this hideous idol, (as too many northern representatives have done,) and suffer its blood-stained wheels to roll over our souls also, and lay all those feelings of sympathy and compassion for the poor and the friendless, which are bound up in the heart of woman, prostrate in the dust before it? Shall we not rather arise in the strength of moral power, and present our petitions in behalf of our suffering brethren and sisters who are doomed to a more dread fate than even that to which wicked Haman consigned the Jews, — when woman’s voice was heard in the royal house of the eastern monarch, and woman’s petition achieved the salvation of millions of her fellow creatures from “the mouth of the sword.” Let us then go up, year after year, and year after year, to our proud Capitol with the faith of an Esther, with the untiring perseverance of the importunate widow, to entreat Congress to redress the wrongs of the widow and the orphan, and to break the fetters which bind 7,000 of the inhabitants of the District of Columbia.
The subjoined form of petition is recommended, and we earnestly entreat every woman who feels an interest in the slave, to circulate it in the city or town, the village or hamlet in which she may reside, in order to procure as many signatures as possible. She will probably meet with many a cold reception and heartless excuse, as she travels from house to house, to ask for the name only of their inmates to this petition for the abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia; but this should rather stimulate to still more determined perseverance in this work of faith and labor of love, as affording melancholy evidences of the power of this system even over the hearts of northern women, by inducing them to become partakers in the sin of slavery, in so far as their passive concurrence in the perpetuation of this institution can make them such. Let this petition, then, or a better, be circulated with the most industrious zeal, as though each woman who endeavoured to procure signatures did indeed “remember them that are in bonds as bound with them,” and as though she did love her neighbor as herself.
We know, dear sisters, that our feeble efforts cannot of themselves rouse you into action. We therefore pray, that He, who alone can wake the living tones of sympathy and love in the heart of woman into harmony and sound, may condescend to sweep the c[h]ords of feeling with his Almighty hand, and bring up from the deep recesses of your souls the calm remonstrance, the dignified appeal, the earnest petition into the halls of Congress.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States on Congress assembled:
The memorial of the undersigned, ladies of Philadelphia and its vicinity, respectfully represents:
That your memorialists, believing that Slavery is a sin against God, and inconsistent with our declaration that equal liberty is the birth-right of all, and acknowledging a participation in this great injustice, earnestly solicit your body to adopt such measures as your wisdom, influenced by a due regard to the inalienable rights of man, may suggest, for the extinction of Slavery in the District of Columbia, and the Territories of the United States, and for the suppression of the Slave Trade between the States.
Source: Address of the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Philadelphia to the Women of Pennsylvania with the Form of a Petition to the Congress of the U. States (Philadelphia: Merrihew and Gunn, Printers, 1836), pp. 2-8.