Thursday, June 18, 2009

Abolitionist Clergymen?

I saw a comment on another blog where someone claimed that "the vast majority of the prominent abolitionists [were] clergymen." My bullshit detector immediately went into high gear. But who to prove that this is false?

Well, this is far from a rigorous proof, but... I took Wikipedia's list of notable opponents of slavery, filtered out anyone who was not either American or Canadian, excluded people who did not have a Wikipedia article (because then I'd have to do actual research!), excluded a couple of non-clergy whose anti-slavery credentials I felt were insufficient... and then grouped the remainder into "Clergy" or "Not Clergy".

See the results below...

1. Richard Allen (former slave, American Methodist)
2. Henry Ward Beecher (American)
3. William Henry Brisbane (American)
4. Samuel Cornish (Presbyterian of African heritage, American)
5. Calvin Fairbank (American)
6. Charles Finney (American)
7. Amos Noë Freeman (American)
8. Henry Highland Garnet (American)
9. Elias Hicks (American)
10. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (American
11. Absalom Jones
12. Joseph Ketley
13. Joshua Leavitt (American), editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Emancipator
14. Jermain Loguen (former slave, American)
15. Elijah Lovejoy (American)
16. Henry G. Ludlow (American)
17. Samuel Joseph May (American)
18. Samuel Oughton (American), advocate of black labour rights in Jamaica)
19. Theodore Parker (American)
20. John Rankin (American)
21. James Sherman
22. Joseph Tracy (American)
23. Samuel Ringgold Ward (born into slavery, American)
24. John Woolman (American Quaker)

Not Clergy
1. John Adams (American President)
2. John Quincy Adams (American President)
3. Bronson Alcott (American)
4. Louisa May Alcott (American)
5. Susan B. Anthony (American)
6. Gamaliel Bailey (American)
7. Anthony Benezet (American)
8. Henry Bibb, publisher Voice of the Fugitive newspaper (Canadian)
9. John Bingham - Jayhawker and Senator (American)
10. George Brown (Canadian)
11. John Brown (American)
12. Aaron Burr (American politician)
13. Benjamin Butler (American)
14. Mary Ann Shadd Cary, publisher Provincial Freeman newspaper (Canadian)
15. Elizabeth Buffum Chace (American activist)
16. Maria Weston Chapman (American)
17. Salmon P. Chase (American)
18. Lydia Maria Child (American)
19. Ward Chipman (Canadian)
20. Cassius Marcellus Clay (American)
21. Levi Coffin (American)
22. Martin Delany (son of a slave, American)
23. Richard Dillingham (American)
24. Frederick Douglass (former slave, American politician)
25. Ralph Waldo Emerson (American)
26. Charles Follen
27. Charlotte Forten (American)
28. James Forten (American)
29. Benjamin Franklin (American)
30. John C. Frémont (American)
31. Thomas Garret (American)
32. William Lloyd Garrison (American)
33. Ulysses Grant (American)
34. Horace Greeley (American)
35. Angelina Grimké (American)
36. Sarah Moore Grimké (American)
37. Alexander Hamilton (American)
38. Theophilus Harrington (American)
39. Laura Smith Haviland (American)
40. Lewis Hayden (former slave, American)
41. Isaac Hopper (American)
42. Julia Ward Howe (American)
43. Samuel Gridley Howe (American)
44. Robert G. Ingersoll (American)
45. John Jay (American)
46. Abby Kelley
47. James H. Lane (Senator)
48. Benjamin Lay
49. Hart Leavitt (American), Underground Railroad operator, Massachusetts
50. Roger Hooker Leavitt (American), Underground Railroad operator, Massachusetts[2]
51. Abraham Lincoln (American President)
52. James Russell Lowell (American)
53. Maria White Lowell (American)
54. Benjamin Lundy (American)
55. Lucretia Mott (American)
56. Frederick Law Olmsted (American)
57. John Parker (abolitionist) (former slave, American)
58. Francis Daniel Pastorius (German-American)
59. Wendell Phillips (American)
60. James Shepherd Pike (American), journalist
61. Mary Ellen Pleasant (American)
62. John Wesley Posey (American)
63. Gabriel Prosser (insurrectionist, American Slave)
64. Robert Purvis (American)
65. Charles Lenox Remond (American)
66. Ernestine Rose (American)
67. Benjamin Rush (a founder of America)
68. John Brown Russwurm (Jamaican & American)
69. Dred Scott
70. Samuel Sewall
71. William H. Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln (American)
72. Gerrit Smith
73. Silas Soule
74. Lysander Spooner
75. Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War under Lincoln
76. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
77. Henry Stanton
78. Thaddeus Stevens (American)
79. Maria W. Stewart (American)
80. William Still (American)
81. Harriet Beecher Stowe (American)
82. Charles Sumner (American)
83. Arthur Tappan (American)
84. Henry David Thoreau (American)
85. Sojourner Truth (American)
86. Harriet Tubman abolitionist (American)
87. Nat Turner insurrectionist, former slave (American)
88. Denmark Vesey insurrectionist, former slave (American)
89. Benjamin Wade (American)
90. David Walker (abolitionist) (son of a slave, American)
91. Theodore Dwight Weld (American)
92. John Greenleaf Whittier (American)
93. Henry Wilson (American Vice President)

That's one heck of a small "vast majority"!

Interestingly, though, I did see a trend... the vast majority appeared to be either politicians, journalists, lawyers, educators, or clergy. In other words, the most prominent abolitionists tended to be people with access to a public forum.

Or, to put it another way... people who had a "pulpit" from which to express their opinion. (Bah-dum!)


  1. Benjamin "Spoons" Butler was an abolitionist? I thought he was just an opportunist.

  2. Hmmm... well, first I should admit up front that for the most part, I was just slavishly following the list from Wikipedia. So there are probably some in here that don't belong.

    It seems that the argument for "Spoons" being an abolitionist is that he refused to return slaves to their owners... but it appears the reason he did so was less out of principle, and more so that he could get cheap labor.

    Wikipedia blurb

    It's possible the former slaves had a somewhat better life working for the Union army than for Southern plantation owners, as the Wikipedia entry seems to imply... but I agree this is a piss-poor argument to classify him as an "abolitionist".

    I've also been told that Lucretia Mott should probably be under the "clergy" category. She was a Quaker, and while Quakers don't actually have clergy per se, her job was pretty much to go around being a Quaker preacher.

    So there are definitely some errors in this list, but I am pretty sure the overall conclusion is still valid.