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Nineteenth Century Abolition: American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, circa 1840-1859

Page One of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society Minute Book, May 17, 1848.

This minute book of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society contains minutes of the society's executive committee dating from May 17, 1848 to May 1, 1855. Additional minutes follow for March 16-November 7, 1859. The volume also contains a list of members of the committee and the society's by-laws. Minutes reflect discussions on the general business of the society, business transactions, publications and letters received by the society from other abolitionists, and the society's printing and distribution of various abolitionist tracts and pamphlets.

The American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (AFASS) was founded in May 1840 by a group of abolitionists who had left the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) due to a series of doctrinal differences within the AASS. Founders of the AFASS included Arthur and Lewis Tappan, Amos Phelps, and William Jay, who disagreed with William Lloyd Garrison and others within the AASS who argued that women's rights, opposition to governmental institutions, and other views were fundamental parts of abolitionist doctrines. They also disagreed with AASS members, such as James G.Birney and Elizur Wright Jr., who argued that abolitionists should found a new political party and enter electoral politics. After Garrison's faction captured a majority of delegates to the 1840 annual meeting of the AASS, the Tappan’s and their supporters seceded in order to form a new organization that more faithfully reflected their abolitionist principles.

The AFASS upheld the literal truth of Scripture and believed that the triumph of abolitionism would result from appeals to the consciences of individuals by means of "moral suasion" and not through politics or attacking individuals' religious denominations. Another tenant of the organization was that it denied women the right to vote in society proceedings. Other abolitionists argued against the society's traditional views on scripturalism and viewed the society as a vehicle for the abolitionist views of the Tappan brothers.

Throughout its existence, the society produced tracts and pamphlets espousing its views, but was largely inactive between annual meetings and had difficulty attracting members. The AFASS stopped holding regular annual meetings in 1855, but the executive committee met as late as 1859. Highlights of reported discussions include the topic of political aspects of the extension of slavery, preparation of an address to the "Friends of Liberty" regarding the policy of adhering the Liberty Party principles, preparation of an address to the French government congratulating it on passage of a decree for the manumission of all slaves in French colonies and dependencies, a lawsuit in Maryland that resulted in the liberation of 15 slaves, the society's relationship to pro-slavery or slaveholding ecclesiastical bodies, support for John Brown, and the creation of a depository for society publications and the eventual closing of that depository.

In total, the minute book occupies 143 pages of a bound volume.

Image from the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society Minute Book. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission

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