When Weld departed from Oberlin he took his six recruits to Cleveland. "There," one of them recalled, "was opened a school of abolition, where, copying documents, with hints, discourses, and suggestions, we spent two weeks in earnest and most profitable drill."

But if Weld excelled as an organizer, he was no mere closet strategist. Having put his young men into action, he returned to the firing line, inspiring them by his example. He had learned his methods from Finney, and his tactics were to speak for two hours or more, night after night, until he brought conviction to his listeners. Joseph Tuttle, later to be president of Wabash College, hearing Weld speak at St. Albans, in Licking County, Ohio, testified that he was stirred more powerfully than at any other time in his life. "Never have I seen an audience more excited," he declared."... The speaker was a very manly, noble looking man. He used no notes, but spoke with the utmost precision and fluency .... His imagination was brilliant, his humor, at times, overpowering, and his invective in all respects the most terrible I ever heard. His voice was wonderful in its compass and power." James G. Birney recorded in his diary that he had never known such "a rare combination of talents." "I give him one year to abolitionize Ohio," was his prediction.

But the opposition was girding for defense. A meeting in Cleveland denounced abolitionists as "unwise, dangerous, and deserving the emphatic reprehension and zealous opposition of every friend of peace." Other gatherings branded Weld and men of his type as "traveling disseminators of treason and discord," and reprobated their doctrines as "tending directly to a civil war and a dissolution of the Union by breaking up the original pact." Birney reported that he thought it best to leave Kentucky and wanted Weld's advice about setting up an abolition paper in Cincinnati. Weld found himself beset by risks and difficulties.

Arriving in town in his shag overcoat, his linsey-woolsey suit and cowhide boots, Weld usually sought out the local Presbyterian minister and obtained permission to hold a meeting in his church. More often than not, however, his first meeting incited a riot. After the first night, use of the church would be denied, and his subsequent meetings were held in a store, a warehouse, a private home, or a barn. Usually Weld's persistence wore down the indignation of the mobs, and after the first two or three nights he suffered no further molestation. Then it was that Weld got down to work, becoming, in Lyman Beecher's words, "logic on fire .... As eloquent as an angel and powerful as thunder!" Local celebrities who heckled him--especially clergymen or lawyers--were challenged to debate; and many of them were finally induced to make public admission of error. Although Weld and Lyman Beecher had never got along too well, Weld had profited from one of Beecher's lessons. "Young gentlemen," the doctor had admonished the Lane students, "don't stand before a looking glass and make gestures. Pump yourselves brim full of your subject till you can't hold another drop, and then knock out the bung and let nature caper."

Weld regarded slavery solely as a moral issue, a question of right versus wrong. "As a question of politics and national economy, I have passed it with scarce a look or word," he declared, "believing that the business of abolitionists is with the heart of the nation, rather than with its purse strings." It was to conscience that he directed his appeal, trying to bring to bear "the accumulated pressure of myriad wrongs and woes and hoarded guilt."

Like Finney, from whom he learned the tactics of evangelism, Weld used his abolition converts as co-laborers, sending them among the audience to urge others to repentance. At the last of his series of meetings he asked all believers to rise; sometimes the whole audience stood up. At Steubenville, when Weld made this appeal, a young lawyer, Edwin M. Stanton, rose from the front row and, turning to the audience with uplifted arms, encouraged them all to rise. At Jefferson, Joshua R. Giddings and his law partner, Ben Wade, were moved by Weld's eloquence to take the lead in organizing a local society, and Giddings entertained Weld at his house. In Steubenville, the pacific Weld must have been startled by what his oratory had wrought when Ben Tappan, brother of Arthur and Lewis, offered "in sober earnest" to subscribe five hundred dollars for powder and ball to set the Negro free. At North Bend, near Cincinnati, William Henry Harrison heard Weld lecture and defended his right to voice his views without disturbance. But Ben Tappan backslid quickly when he ran for the United States Senate, a retrogression for which his brother Lewis did not fail to chide him; and Harrison trod warily around the slavery issue when he was nominated for president in 1840. Abolition inclinations were no boon to those who sought political office.

Weld and other pioneer speakers encountered mobs so frequently that they came to consider a riot as part of their introduction. Often the disturbers were merely exuberant youths, who cropped the manes and tails of horses tethered outside the meetinghouse, and confined their assaults to a few barrages of eggs--preferably those of an advanced maturity. All too frequently, however, there were more vicious participants, who, fired with liquor, might become extremely dangerous. At a Presbyterian church in Circleville, Weld was struck on the head with a stone thrown through a window. While he stopped his discourse momentarily to allow his head to clear, some of the men in the audience hung their cloaks in the windows, and Weld, recovering his senses, went on to finish his address. The next night the use of the church was denied him; but he held forth to a capacity audience in a store room, while stones and clubs showered against the shutters.

As Weld left the building, he was greeted by an angry crowd outside the door. Many of the disturbers had disguised their faces with lampblack, and all were armed with stones and eggs and nails. "But the Lord restrained them," Weld reported," . . . and not a hair of my head was injured. Next evening, same state of things, with increase of violent demonstrations. The next, such was the uproar that a number of gentlemen insisted upon forming an escort and seeing me safely to my lodgings, which they did. This state of things lasted till I had spoken six or seven times, then hushed down and for the latter course [I] had a smooth sea. I lectured fourteen times . .. and now Circleville may be set down as a strong abolition center."

Often these mobs were instigated by the "respectable" element in a town; occasionally the "better element" participated in the rioting. This may have been the case at Chardon, where Weld fell victim to an extraordinary technique. Speaking on the second floor of the courthouse, he had scarcely taken his place behind the judge's bench when he heard a rhythmic tramp, tramp, tramp, ascending the stairs. The door of the courtroom was flung open and a body of men in regular formation, four abreast, came marching up the aisle. Ascending the platform, they crowded Weld to the aisle, down the aisle to the door, on down the steps, and out into the street; then, returning to the courtroom, they used the same technique to disperse the crowd.

On another occasion Weld reported: "I had hardly begun to speak again when a mob gathered with tin horns, sleigh bells, drums, etc., and ding dong'd like bedlam broke loose; valorously pelted the ladies with rotten eggs, and performed divers other feats all strictly in keeping." Still Weld persisted, and by the close of the meeting he had gained thirty or forty converts.

He seemed almost irresistible if folk would only listen. At Painesville, where a mob invaded his meeting with a bass drum, one of the assailants became so interested in the few words he was able to catch above the thumping of the drum that he begged the drummer to desist, and when that worthy paid no heed to his entreaties he silenced him by kicking in the drumhead.

Weld found that his greatest danger came when he emerged from the meetinghouse and had to confront the mob. Sometimes, as was the case at Circleville, his sympathizers formed a bodyguard to see him to his lodgings; but more often Weld simply drew himself up to his full height, folded his arms, and stood surveying his tormentors. He had learned that such is the psychology of mobs that they were reluctant to assault a man with folded arms.

Weld's co-workers, meeting the same sort of hostility that he encountered, were not always so fortunate as he was. In Nashville, Amos Dresser received twenty lashes on his bare back when abolition pamphlets were discovered in his luggage. Weld's friend Charles Stuart was driven out of Plainfield, Connecticut, by a crowd of angry farmers armed with buggy whips. At Berlin, in Trumbull County, Ohio, Marius Robinson was dragged from a store where he was sleeping at ten o'clock one Saturday night, taken down the road about a mile, stripped naked, tarred and feathered and driven in a wagon about ten miles farther from town. Set down at daybreak on Sunday morning, he was taken in by a farmer and his wife, who gave him clothing. He had a deep gash in his hip, inflicted when he was dragged over a rack of scythes in the store, and a piece of flesh came off his arm with the tar. But he would only rest until evening, when, going on to the next village, he delivered a lecture on "the Bible view of slavery." He was "considerably bruised and sore," he said, making light of his hurts when he wrote to Weld, "but lectured the better for it."

Equally dauntless were James A. Thome and John W. Alvord, both Lane rebels. Alvord was "a joyous warrior" who seemed almost to welcome mob violence and always saw the comic side of his adventures. "Last night Midd[l]ebury puked," he wrote to Weld, recounting an experience in that Ohio village. "Her stomach had evidently been overloaded" with the two abolition repasts he and Thome had given her," he continued. "Spasmodic heavings and retchings were manifest during the whole day. Toward night symptoms more alarming. The com[mittee] of arrangements . . . came to us and affected to be terribly frightened--advised that the meeting be omitted. We told them it was their concern--we had no personal fear--and if the house was unlocked and lighted we should be there. 6 oclock came ....A goodly number soon gathered in, and Bro [ther] Thome proceeded to lecture. All still until about 8 [o'clock] when in came a broadside of Eggs. Glass, Egg shells, whites and yolks flew on every side. Br. Thom[e']s Fact Book received an egg just in its bowels and I doubt whether one in the House escaped a spattering. I have been trying to clean off this morning, but cant get off the stink. Thome dodged like a stoned gander. He brought up at length against the side of the desk, cocked his eye and stood gazing upward at the flying missiles as they stream[e]d in ropy masses through the house. I fear he'll never stand the 'Goose Egg' without winking. He apologizes to me this morning by saying he thought the stove was crackin!!!! Well to go on. The audience soon got seated again and Br. T. went on. In about 20 minutes, we heard again the yell of the mob outside, and directly another crash told us that another Egg plaster was on its way. They now continued the fire some time like scattering musketry, mingled with their howlings. There was about 40 of them. A Mr. Kent, a merchant of this place, attempted to go out, when a volley was discharged at him and one of them hit him plump in the right eye. He cam[e] back groaning most piteously. I understand that he says this morning that he is an abolitionist. It being now 9 o'clock, a resolution was passed unanimously to meet in the same place on Friday eve. They then appointed a committee to bring if possible the rioters to justice and the meeting adjourned. The meeting was composed of some of the best men of the village and all appeared firm. The Committee appointed are none of them abolitionists, but are well on the way. I think this will bring the people here to a stand. The mob threaten today dreadfully. Whether the citizens will cower before them or not [we] dont know. There are a few determined men here, but the mob are set on by men of influence most of whom are church members. Abolitionists heretofore in this place have always been mobbed out. We must try to carry the day this time if possible. Have just heard that 26 panes of glass are broken and many eggs smashed without coming through .... "

As a postscript to this letter Thome added his own comment. "Weld--What I have to say is that this story of Johns about me 'is just as mean as purssly,'" he protested. "I was brave as a warrior; but I did really think the stove was exploding with a tremendous force. So soon as I was undeceived, I was bold as a Lion. It was a ludicrous scene though after all. Don't you believe me?"

At one place where Thome tried to hold a meeting in a church, the minister threatened to bar the door with a club. Thome was often "egged," but he thought the eggs did great good, hatching abolitionists by bringing public condemnation of disorder. Edward Weed, another Lane rebel, agreed. "These mobocrats are all great cowards," he mocked, "and seldom do anything but make great swelling threats, curse, swear, blackguard, throw eggs, snowy balls and get drunk .... I have been in a great many mobs but have never apprehended a great deal of danger. They always further the cause." Weld and his young abolitionist lecturers had faith that God would guard them from all harm.

At another village, a few antiabolition emissaries sneaked into a meetinghouse before a scheduled abolition meeting and stopped the stovepipe with rags. But the abolitionists reported scornfully that like most proslavery efforts "it resulted in nothing but smoke." When the meeting began, the hostile crowd outside put a large dog through the window. But the antislavery oratory lulled him, and he lay down and slept.

For the most part, abolitionists were pacifists and would not resist attack. But there were exceptions. At the anniversary meeting of the Ohio State Society at Granville, in April, 1836, the beleaguered antislavery men rushed out of their meeting armed with clubs and dispersed a mob. The proslavery element sent to nearby towns for reinforcements and the next night, about eleven o'clock, so Thome reported to Weld, a mob of two hundred with a fiddler making music at their head advanced on the barn where the abolition meeting was in progress. But so many of the abolitionists had provided themselves with cudgels that the mob dared not attack. The barn was some distance outside the village, and at the conclusion of the meeting the abolitionists, men and women, walked back in double file. As they passed the tavern that served as proslavery headquarters, someone shouted, "egg the squaws," and a heavy barrage was let loose. An abolitionist and his lady were jostled into a ditch, and this started a free-for-all. Several abolitionists were knocked down with clubs and one mobster was stabbed with a dirk.

Donn Piatt, attending an abolition meeting in Ohio which was dispersed by rioters, heard more curses from the audience than he would have credited a group of reformers with knowing.

The hostility that Weld and his men encountered was typical of what was happening throughout the country. For the South, buffeted by antislavery blasts, had begun to fight back. Southern mails were closed to antislavery pamphlets. Southern states appealed to Northern legislatures to make abolition agitation a penal offense. Nonimportation agreements were projected against those Northern cities that "show hostility or a criminal indifference to our rights and interests." Meetings were held throughout the North to assure the South of Northern sympathy. The Northern press demanded measures to suppress the agitation, and in Massachusetts and Rhode Island there were legislative hearings to determine what should be done. But Northern legislatures were reluctant to abridge the right of free speech, so self-appointed guardians of tranquillity sometimes took matters in hand.

On October 21, 1835, William Lloyd Garrison was seized by an antiabolition mob in Boston. Led through the streets with a rope around his waist, he was saved from what might have been a severe manhandling by being locked up in protective custody. Prominent among his assailants were men in broadcloth, some even in high hats, and a number of the younger bullies appeared to be merchants' clerks.

Michigan and New Jersey also witnessed rioting. The colored section of Philadelphia was raided, burned, and looted for three days. Tar and feathers were applied to abolitionists in Indiana. George Thompson, an English abolition orator who was imported to serve the cause in America, was turned out of his lodgings in New York City and mobbed in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The wildest rumors circulated. Five thousand dollars were said to have been offered on the New York stock exchange for Arthur Tappan's head. It was rumored that one city in the South had offered three thousand dollars for Tappan's ears, and that New Orleans had raised a purse of twenty thousand dollars for anyone who would kidnap Garrison.

The whole country was in ferment; so much so that the more moderate antislavery sympathizers began to express alarm. Weld's former mentor, Charles Grandison Finney, foresaw the possibility of civil war. "Will not our present movements in abolition result in that?" he protested to Weld. "Have you no fear of this?" he asked. "If not, why have you not? Nothing is more manifest to me than that the present movements will result in this, unless our present mode of abolitionizing the country be greatly modified." Finney's suggested solution was to make the abolition movement subsidiary to a great religious revival. Salvation should be urged upon the nation; and with awareness of sin, abolition would come peaceably and naturally. "I tell you again that unless we have such an extensive Revival of religion as to soften the church and alarm the world we are all among the breakers," Finney warned. But reformers are seldom mindful of alarms. Weld and his men continued their work with undiminished zeal.

One of the strongest prejudices the abolitionists were obliged to combat stemmed from misunderstanding of their purposes. By "immediate" emancipation they had in mind the beginning at once of a project which would reach fulfillment over a period of years; but the ambiguity of this expression induced many persons to believe that their purpose was not only to free the blacks but to grant full social and political rights to all of them at once. Indeed, some of the more radical abolitionists subscribed to this idea, a fact which made it all the more difficult for those whose zeal stopped short of such an unconditional policy to treat it as a misconception.

James A. Thome told Weld how he tried to meet objections founded on this fallacy in a lecture delivered at Akron. "First," he explained, "I was particularly careful to disclaim certain things which are confounded with abolitionism; such as social intercourse, amalgamation, etc. I further stated that we did not claim for the slave the right of voting immediately, or eligibility to office. Also that we did not wish them turned loose, having the possession of unlicensed liberty; nor even to be governed by the same code of Laws which are adapted to intelligent citizens. That on the contrary we believed that it would be necessary to form a special code of Laws restricting them in their freedom, upon the same general principles that apply to foreigners, minors, etc."

Thome was challenged by a lawyer who expressed astonishment at such assertions. He would embrace abolitionism himself if those were its doctrines; but he could not believe that Thome had rightly represented it. "He proceeded then to give his view of abolition," recounted Thome, "and after he had dressed it up in a bear-skin, he fell upon it like a whole kennel of hell-hounds, and he tore it to pieces most adroitly. I complimented him for his skill and voraciousness, and hoped that he would have a happy digestion of his bear-skin and straw. I then proceeded to state what abolition was; and I blazed and threw sky-rockets, and talked of human rights, touched upon the Amer[ican] Revolution and brought heaven and earth together. I did all the speaking on our side--spoke four times--followed each time by some lawyer or other important personage. Each successive opponent emulated the first dog, in barking at a man of straw, and tearing bearskins."

Weld and his coworkers found their most receptive audiences in the villages and small towns. The cities, where the business interests often had dealings in the South, and where the workingmen feared the economic competition of free Negroes, were almost uniformly hostile. James G. Birney saw little hope of winning "the aristocracy and the thoughtless rabble" of the cities and large towns; the country's hope lay in its "honest yeomanry." "Let the great cities alone," Weld adjured Lewis Tappan, "they must be burned down by backfires. The springs to touch in order to move them lie in the country." "Sometimes in Ohio," Weld later recalled, "I found it utterly impossible to find rest for the sole of my foot in the capital of a county; but spend a few weeks in the towns around it among the yeomanry and instead of being thrust out, I would be invited and importuned to go to the county seat."

"I do hope your Ex[ecutive] Com[mittee] will speedily take up this matter of City bombardment," he further wrote to Lewis Tappan. "I hope in conscience that New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, Providence, Albany, etc will be let alone for the present season. Let them lie fallow. Or better let them hold their own and be satisfied with that and let every thing in the shape of agents, papers, etc., be poured upon the country--the country--the villages--and smaller cities in the interior. In that way the city will feel the effect of lectures more vastly than [if] they were fulminated in her."

Weld and his coworkers in Ohio found the Western Reserve to be a most fertile ground. Settled by New Englanders, this area in the northeastern section of the state was now more like the New England of the eighteenth century than was New England itself. Yet even here there was hostility at first, and Weld encountered stones and eggs at Ravenna. But appeal to the Puritan conscience was not in vain, and as Weld and his young cohorts worked back and forth across this region it became more nearly unanimous for abolition than any other area in the United States. In December, 1835, the Western Reserve Synod of the Presbyterian Church took an unprecedented step when it passed an antislavery resolution by unanimous vote--the same resolution, incidentally, that it had voted down the year before. "If the pricks we have given the monster do not make him roar this winter in his den, I am mistaken," gloated Elizur Wright.

The effectiveness of Weld and his young colleagues is attested by the annual reports of the American Antislavery Society. When the society held its annual meeting on May 12, 1835, Elizur Wright was proud to announce that 220 local societies were reporting to the national organization. Massachusetts led with forty-seven, followed by New York with forty and Ohio with thirty-eight. But by the time of the next annual meeting, on May 10, 1836, there were 527 societies, and Ohio was far in the lead with 133. Next came New York with 103 and Massachusetts with 87. Garrison may have been much better known, but Weld and his young coworkers were doing stupendous work.


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