The Turn to Immediatism
Should slavery be eliminated gradually, without upsetting the framework of the broader society and by sending African Americans to Africa, or should it be ended immediately with calls for full African American inclusion and equality? In 1828, when Abdul Rahman was on his speaking tour of the North, efforts at immediate abolition were not yet fully underway, but by 1830 the tide had begun to shift among activists, who were increasingly frustrated with the slow pace and racist rhetoric of the American Colonization Society.
African American leaders were instrumental in this shift. For instance, William Lloyd Garrison, a white abolitionist, transformed his perspective after spending time with a number of African American leaders, such as Benjamin Lundy, reading their works, including David Walker's Appeal and listening to their experiences and perspectives. By the mid-1830s, few African Americans were speaking of colonization. Instead, as Goodman notes, "racial prejudice was the principal enemy, and the ACS, its most potent disseminator, had to be crushed."
African American voices organizing resistance to slavery found willing ears as a confluence of factors came together. Wage labor, in which workers were paid an hourly wage for their work, was more and more common in the North, and white workers seeking to find dignity in their labor found the idea of coerced slavery at odds with the changing economy. In addition, word of the massive mobilizing efforts against slavery in Britain had made its way to the United States: change was possible! The Second Great Awakening, a Christian religious revival movement, was taking place about the same time. Methodists, Baptists, and others were holding camp meetings and working for social reform; many saw slavery as the "national sin" against which they needed to struggle.
In 1831 the first national African American convention was held. It was attended by white abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan, who worked alongside black leaders to struggle for the end of slavery. Unlike earlier antislavery groups, whose membership was often entirely white, the new immediatist organizations, such as the American Anti-Slavery Society founded by Garrison and Tappan, included black members, such as Frederick Douglass, a key lecturer for the organization, though there were still tensions regarding the full equality of blacks.
These varied streams joined together in a mighty river, and by the late 1830s, there were more than 1,000 local organizations working against slavery in the United States, with more than 100,000 members.
William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison, born to the son of a Baptist mother in Massachusetts in 1805 and soon abandoned by his father, became the founding figure of the "immediatist" abolition movement that emerged in the early 1830s, calling for the immediate freeing of enslaved Africans.
Garrison met Benjamin Lundy in 1828. Lundy soon asked him to coedit the Genius of Universal Emancipation with him, which he did, beginning in 1829. In Baltimore, he had a number of experiences that transformed his perspective and led him to emphasize more and more the need for immediate emancipation for enslaved people. First, he lived in the same boarding house as Lundy and several African American abolitionists, from whom he learned more fully about the experience facing black people. He read David Walker's Appeal, and he was sued, covicted and jailed for libel against a slave trader, based on his writings in Genius.
In January 1831 Garrison published the first issue of the Liberator, the newspaper that would serve as the mouthpiece for the abolition movement. In that first issue, he penned this powerful challenge: "Let Southern oppressors tremble -- let their Northern apologists tremble -- let all the enemies of the persecuted Blacks tremble. . . . Urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch-AND I WILL BE HEARD!"
Later that year he was one of the few white people that attended the first Black National Convention in Philadelphia, and two years later, in 1833, Garrison and others formed the American Anti-Slavery Society.
To access the full text of Garrison's Address, Delivered before the Free People of Color, in Philadelphia, click here
To learn more about Garrison and the Trans-Atlantic Abolition Movement, click here
Arthur Tappan was among the participants in the first meeting Abdul Rahman had upon his arrival in New York City. He and his brother Lewis, wealthy businessmen, were active abolitionists and later key financial backers of the American Antislavery Society, which they helped found in 1833. Tappan also provided support to Prudence Crandall, a Connecticut abolitionist jailed after opening a school for African American girls.
Both Arthur and Lewis were evangelical Christians, spurred in their antislavery efforts by a deeply-rooted faith. In his autobiography of Arthur, Lewis explained that Arthur believed "all men" were to be seen "without distinction of complexion or condition." Certainly, they were impressed by Abdul Rahman, of whom Lewis wrote, "Abdual Rahaman was . . . well educated, tall and dignified in appearance, and read the Arabic language fluently and wrote it with elegance. His princely bearing and intelligence excited much interest."
Over the course of Abdul Rahman's time in New York, he and Tappan spoke at great length about religion and more, including the possibility of building a partnership to build trade connections to the interior of Africa. Tappan was deeply invested in Abdul Rahman, purchasing a house frame to be transported with Abdul Rahman to Liberia and then later, after Abdul Rahman's death, endeavoring, though unsuccessfully, to purchase his children's freedom.
Celebration of the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C., April 19, 1866
© Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-33937
Wood carving of Anthony Benezet (Source: Historical poetical and pictorial American scenes / by J.W. Barber, 1850)
© Courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.