Abolitionist Activities

Although anti-slavery feelings had been strong among Quakers and other religious groups during the American Revolution, during the early 1800's religious belief in the equality of all citizens began to transform into more militant action. William Harned (172) was affiliated with the American Tract Society, founded in 1825 in Mahattan, which published and distributed religious tracts and literature. Over time, these publications began to take positions on the slave issue, which lead to an incresingly more militant crusade during the 1830s.

In December 1833 a group of delegates of both races and genders met in Philadelphia to form The American Anti-Slavery Society, an abolitionist organization supported by the merger of a group of evangelical reformers in New York City led by Harned associate Lewis Tappan (*see note on Lewis and his brother below) and a group from Boston favoring immediate abolition led by William Lloyd Garrison. In the 1830s the society flooded the mails with abolitionist literature and organized a massive petition campaign. As early as 1837 another family member, William Anthony Harned (132), was an active Illinois abolitionist leader charged with inciting a riot when he and several others fought to protect the printing press of an abolitionist minister in Alton, IL.

By 1840 Garrison and his followers were convinced that the movement should be expanded to include equal rights for women. The New York faction, led by the Tappans, withdrew over disagreements regarding this change in focus and formed the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. When the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1840, William Harned (172) became General Agent for this newly formed society, and oversaw the publication of large numbers of anti-slavery treatises, books and pamphlets which were distributed throughout American society. In fact, he developed it into one of the largest American publishers prior to the Civil War. In addition, he took an active part in furthering the interests of escaped slaves. In 1848 he interceded on behalf of Paul Edmondson and his family.

Abolitionists exercised a particularly strong influence on religious life, contributing heavily to schisms that separated the Methodists (1844) and Baptists (1845), while founding numerous independent antislavery "free churches." In higher education abolitionists, with financial support from the Tappans and others, founded Oberlin College, the nation's first experiment in racially integrated coeducation, the Oneida Institute, which graduated an impressive group of African-American leaders, and Illinois's Knox College, a western center of abolitionism.

All these activities provoked widespread hostile responses from North and South, most notably violent mobs, the burning of mailbags containing abolitionist literature, and the passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a "gag rule" that banned consideration of antislavery petitions. The Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850. Subsequently, Harned family members, including William's son Wilfred Hall Harned in Philadelphia, were joining many other activists by supporting the "Underground Railway" which assisted slaves in escaping to freedom in the North. Social unrest over American slavery was one of many factors contributing to the secession of the Southern states, the formation of the Confederacy, and the American Civil War.

*Lewis Tappan, an American abolitionist born in Northampton, Mass made a fortune in the dry-goods business in New York City and with his brother and partner Arthur gave generously of his time and money to various causes, especially to the antislavery movement. He contributed to the establishment of Kenyon and Oberlin colleges in Ohio, was elected (1833) the first president of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and after splitting with William Lloyd Garrison, helped organize (1840) and became president of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.

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