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8.9.6 Lecture Delivered at the Franklin Hall, Boston, 1832, by Maria W. Stewart

Stewart, Maria W.

Quoted in Maria W. Stewart: America's First Black Woman Political Writer, Essays and Speeches, edited and introduced by Marilyn Richardson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 47.

Women played a large and important part in the later abolitionist movement. Maria Stewart, a black woman living in Boston, wrote and delivered powerful speeches against slavery and racial discrimination. Stewart was born free in Connecticut but became orphaned at age five and worked for a family in that state until adulthood. Historians believe Stewart was the first woman to stand before a public audience made up of men and women to deliver a political speech (she made the first of four such speeches in 1832). She argued against colonization in her first speech. How did Stewart use the Declaration of Independence to make her case? 

A shifting political and social culture in the 1830s meant that abolitionist societies began to accept women as well as black Americans. The New England Anti-Slavery Society became the first black-white integrated society (1832), and the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society established itself as an integrated society in 1834. Beginning in the 1830s, women made up a large proportion of abolitionists. Abolitionist societies of the 1830s were more likely to push for an immediate end to slavery and to argue that slave owners had no right to own human beings; this stood in contrast to the gradual emancipation promoted by early abolitionist societies that acknowledged the legal rights of slave owners. Maria Stewart's political career took place in Boston, and Massachusetts was a prime spot for abolitionist sentiment. The state instituted early laws that allowed for intermarriage between blacks and whites, as well as laws that integrated schools.

. . . the whites have so long and so loudly proclaimed the theme of equal rights and privileges, that our souls have caught the flame also, ragged as we are. As far as our merit deserves, we feel a common desire to rise above the condition of servants and drudges. I have learnt, by bitter experience, that continual hard labor deadens the energies of the soul, and benumbs the faculties of the mind; the ideas become confined, the mind barren, and, like the scorching sands of Arabia, produces nothing; or, like the uncultivated soil, brings forth thorns and thistles. Again, continual hard labor irritates our tempers and sours our dispositions; the whole system becomes worn out with toil and failure; nature herself becomes almost exhausted, and we care but little whether we live or die. It is true, that the free people of color throughout these United States are neither bought nor sold, nor under the lash of the cruel driver; many obtain a comfortable support; but few, if any, have an opportunity of becoming rich and independent; and the employments we most pursue are as unprofitable to us as the spider's web or the floating bubbles that vanish into air.