Though the Declaration of Independence called for life and liberty for all, the US Constitution, adopted in 1787, recognized slavery in the new nation. Eventually, some states decided to outlaw slavery within their own borders. The federal government left this decision to the individual states (until 1865, when a Constitutional Amendment outlawed slavery throughout the country). This flyer was posted in New York. What does the flyer reveal about some Northerners’ fears regarding what might happen to the country as a whole if the abolitionist cause succeeded?
This source can help students think about the resistance that abolitionists faced as they worked to end the practice of slavery. This flyer reveals the fear among some Northerners that the abolitionist movement threatened to tear apart the country. At the same time, opposition to the abolitionist movement was even stronger in the South. As abolitionist societies grew in number and publicly proclaimed the need to end slavery, slave states grew more protective of their right to continue slavery. One way that Southern states worked to resist abolitionism was to promote in Congress measures to protect slave owners. In 1836, the US Congress created a gag rule against petitions to end slavery, so that the matter of ending slavery would not be debated in Congress. These Southern states promoted “states’ rights” — the right for Southern states to continue slavery — above the rights of individuals held in slavery. Southerners had not always held this position. Southern legislators had backed national powers early in the nation’s history and approved of the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, but in the 1830s they began to develop a more defensive vision of states’ rights. By the time of the Civil War this latter vision fueled the belief in the need for secession.
Outrage, Fellow Citizens, An abolitionist, of the most revolting character is among you, exciting the feelings of the North against the South. A seditious lecture is to be delivered this evening, at 7 o'clock, at the Presbyterian Church in Cannon-street. You are requested to attend and unite in putting down and silencing by peaceable means this tool of evil and fanaticism. Let the Rights of the States guaranteed by the Constitution be protected. Feb. 27, 1837. The Union Forever!