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American Anti-Slavery Society Choices

1. Situation: Earlier this century an organization formed called the American Colonization Society. The aim of this group is to free slaves and to pay for them to be relocated in Africa. Recently, people favoring colonization approached your organization. They have asked you to contribute funds to support buying some people out of slavery and sending them to Africa. They also would like to use your organization’s name in their publicity.
Question: Will the American Anti-Slavery Society contribute funds for colonization and allow its name to be used in this effort?


2. Situation: In addition to the horrors of slavery in the South, racial discrimination in the North is also a huge problem. There is segregation in the North, especially in schools. There are laws in the North against intermarriage. There are even some Northern churches that oppose slavery but don’t allow blacks as members. Blacks are discriminated against throughout the North. Not a single state in the country treats people equally regardless of one’s race. Recently, some members have proposed that to protest racism in the North, the AASS leaders should not accept speaking engagements in churches that refuse to allow blacks to be members.

Question: a) Should the American Anti-Slavery Society spend time and money opposing racial discrimination in the North as well as slavery in the South?

b) Specifically, should the AASS prohibit its leaders from speaking in churches that refuse to allow blacks to be members?


3. Situation: Many of the people in the abolition movement are white women. As they work against slavery, they’ve come to realize how much they are discriminated against. Even in some antislavery gatherings, women are not allowed to speak or to be leaders. In almost every state, married women cannot own property. Husbands even control the wages earned by women outside the home. In almost every state, the father can legally make a will appointing a guardian for his children in the event of his death. Should the husband die, a mother can have her children taken away from her. In most states, it is legal for a man to beat his wife. New York courts have ruled that, in order to keep his wife from nagging, a man can beat her with a horsewhip every few weeks! Women are not allowed to vote in any state.

A number of prominent women—many of them active in the abolition movement—have organized a women’s rights convention for Seneca Falls, New York in July of this year. This will be the first time that women in the United States have organized a meeting to discuss the condition of women. Some of the organizers would like the American Anti-Slavery Society to endorse this gathering.

Question: Should the American Anti-Slavery Society publicly endorse this gathering?


4. Situation: In 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act and President Millard Fillmore signed it into law. The law made it much easier for slave owners to recapture slaves who had escaped into free Northern states. In fact, it made it easier for slave owners to capture free blacks and to claim that they are escaped slaves. The law denies a jury trial to anyone accused of escaping. The law requires the national government to prosecute any Northern whites who help slaves escape to freedom, or who harbor them.

This is going to lead to a bunch of bounty hunters running around the North, looking for escaped slaves. And it will make all free blacks in the North more insecure. In short, this is a terrible new law that puts the U.S. government even more clearly on the side of the slave owners. There is now no doubt: The slave owners are determined to keep slavery forever, and to strengthen it.

In response, many people active in the American Anti-Slavery Society believe that we must also step up our efforts. Some of our members want to organize armed groups to protect escaped slaves and to prevent slave catchers and government officials from re-enslaving people. One strategy would be to organize—and to arm—large groups of people to resist the bounty hunters, and to attack the courts and jails where fugitive slaves are being held.

Question: Should we support armed attempts to stop the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act? If not, how should we respond to this new law?


Situation 5: Last year, in 1857, the Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott case that the Western

territories of the United States may not prohibit slavery. Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote for the majority of the court that no black person in the United States had “any rights which the white man is bound to respect.” To many people in the abolition movement, this means that slavery cannot be ended with laws or through nonviolence.

There are more slaves in the United States than ever before—more than 4 million of them. And slavery is the country’s biggest business—yes, business—with slaves valued at more than $4 billion. Slaves in the United States are worth more than all the banks, railroads, and factories put together. To think that slavery can be argued away seems more and more ridiculous.

There is one man in particular who argues for action, not talk. His name is John Brown. He led the fight to have Kansas admitted to the United States as a free state rather than a slave state—and he killed pro-slavery people in the process. Brown is now raising money—as much as $25,000—to “continue my efforts in the cause of freedom.” You know that Brown intends to physically confront the forces of slavery, although you’re not sure exactly how. Privately, Brown has been asking AASS members to donate guns if they have them. You know that Brown has approached anti-slavery blacksmiths, asking them to make pikes—ferocious-looking double-edged blades attached to long poles. He also is raising money to hire a military instructor.

Question: Should you and other members of the American Anti-Slavery Society support John Brown with either money or guns? If not, what’s your alternative?

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