American Anti-Slavery Society

1833–1870 — Abolition and Emancipation in the United States

The American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) was a leading Abolitionist organization, dedicated to eliminating slavery in the United States. The organization was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 4, 1833.

William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist, Portrait

William Lloyd Garrison. Image Source: Library of Congress.

American Anti-Slavery Society Facts

  • The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1833.
  • William Lloyd Garrison wrote the society’s constitution.
  • The society was headquartered in New York City from 1840 to 1870.
  • By 1843, the AASS was supporting lectures by Frederick Douglass.
  • Garrison and other members of the AASS viewed the U.S. Constitution as a pro-slavery document.
  • The Liberty Party broke away from the AASS in 1839 because its members disagreed, and did not see the U.S. Constitution as a pro-slavery document.

American Anti-Slavery Society Significance

The American Anti-Slavery Society is important to United States history for the role it played in organizing the Abolition Movement. The society’s efforts ultimately led to the Emancipation Proclamation and Constitutional Amendments that abolished slavery, bestowed Civil Rights on blacks, and gave black men the right to vote. AASS support for the rights of women also contributed to the organization of the Seneca Falls Convention.

The American Anti-Slavery Society, a Short History of the Organization that Led the Fight for Emancipation

The idea of Abolition started in the American Colonies, even before the American Revolution and American Revolutionary War. Some religious groups, such as the Quakers in Pennsylvania, opposed slavery, as did free blacks, many of whom escaped enslavement, particularly in the Southern Colonies. By the 1830s, the Abolition Movement was more organized and gained momentum.

Founding the American Anti-Slavery Society

In 1831, the Black National Convention was held in Philadelphia. Although the organizers of that convention had invited a small number of white men to participate, it was decided that a more substantial, biracial organization would be necessary to work toward the eradication of slavery.

Two years later, the founding convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) was shaped by three men, all of whom were prominent Abolitionists:

  1. William Lloyd Garrison
  2. Arthur Tappan
  3. Lewis Tappan

Beriah Green presided over the convention, and Arthur Tappan was chosen as the first president of the AASS, however, most of the 60 attendees were white. Prominent blacks in attendance were Robert Purvis, James G. Barbadoes, and James C. McCrummell. There were also four Quaker women in attendance, including Lucretia Mott.

Lucretia Mott, Seated, LOC
Lucretia Mott. Image Source: Libary of Congress.

AASS Constitution

William Lloyd Garrison wrote the AASS Constitution, committing its members to the pursuit of emancipation through nonviolent actions. 

Membership and Local Chapters

Following the convention, membership in the organization grew. By 1835 there were at least 400 chapters and 1,350 by 1838. It is estimated there were more than 250,000 members, including African Americans and women. However, meetings were often segregated and blacks and women met separately. 

The AASS chapters were well-known for promoting Abolition through resolutions, petitions, and publishing articles in journals and newspapers. Many of the members also delivered speeches to help support the anti-slavery movement.

Petitions to Congress Culminate in the Gag Rule

The AASS chapters sent thousands of petitions to Congress, calling for the end of slavery. By 1836, some members of the House of Representatives were so overwhelmed that the House passed the Gag Rule. The rule prohibited the reading of Abolitionist petitions on the floor of the House. By 1844, anti-slavery members of the House, including former President John Quincy Adams, were able to have the Gag Rule rescinded.

John Quincy Adams, Portrait, Photograph
John Quincy Adams. Image Source: Wikimedia.

The Influence of William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips

William Lloyd Garrison was one of the most well-known Abolitionists of the era. In 1830, he founded a popular anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator. In 1832, he founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society.

In 1835, Garrison attended a meeting of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, however, during the proceedings, he was attacked by a mob. The incident led Wendell Phillips, a prominent Boston lawyer, to throw his support behind the anti-slavery movement. 

Phillips wrote articles for The Liberator and gave speeches against slavery. He gave one of his most popular speeches in 1837 following the assassination of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy. 

Garrison and Phillips were supporters of women’s rights and were associated with leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement and the Seneca Falls Convention.

Although Garrison held the office of president of the AASS from 1843 to 1865, he was disorganized and focused on his newspaper, where he published editorials that were often seen as extreme, even to Northerners who sought an end to slavery. Most northerners preferred a gradual end to slavery, but Garrison argued for immediate emancipation, without compensation of any kind to slaveholders.

At one point, Garrison supported the secession of northern states from the Union, and even publicly burned a copy of the U.S. Constitution on July 4, 1854.

Theodore Weld and The Emancipator

Theodore Dwight Weld, a minister and political organizer, was also a member of the AASS and was a more skilled organizer than Garrison. In 1834, he was teaching at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, when he organized a series of student debates on slavery. The debates led to students organizing anti-slavery groups, leading the school to suspend Weld.

In 1838, Weld married Angelina Grimké, an abolitionist and women’s rights leader, tightening the relationship between the two movements. 

Weld served as the editor of the AASS newspaper, The Emancipator, from 1836 to 1840. He wrote many articles, under pseudonyms, including “American Slavery as It Is,” which was printed in 1839. The article helped inspire “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

AASS Publications and Lectures

The AASS produced various books and periodicals, including Human Rights, Slave’s Friend, Quarterly Anti-Slavery Magazine, and the Anti-Slavery Record. Each publication, along with The Emancipator, attracted articles from Abolition leaders and helped raise money to fund operations. The AASS also sponsored lectures by prominent Abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, who published his own newspaper, The North Star.

Frederick Douglass, Escaped Slave and Abolitionist
Frederick Douglass in his later years. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Disagreement with the American Colonization Society

Within the AASS, there was a debate about what to do if the slaves were freed, and it was a contentious issue. The American Colonization Society advocated resettling free blacks in Africa, but the AASS argued against it, believing it would only perpetuate slavery in other parts of the world. Garrison was an outspoken critic of the American Colonization Society and several issues of The Emancipator were devoted to clarifying the stance of the AASS against colonization.

Women and the Abolition Movement

The inclusion of women in the movement and the AASS was controversial, even though more than 100 anti-slavery societies had been founded by women by the latter half of the 1830s. Female Abolitionists were just as active as their male counterparts when it came to writing petitions, publishing articles and journals, and holding conventions.

In 1840, the internal disagreement over the membership of women in the AASS reached a crossroads. The Tappan brothers opposed the full participation of women in the AASS because they were worried the organization would lose support from churches. They decided to break away from the AASS and formed the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.

Exclusion from the World Anti-Slavery Convention Leads to Seneca Falls

Afterward, the AASS made Abigail Kelley Foster a member of its business committee and designated three female members — Foster, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton — as delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London. 

Unfortunately, when the women arrived, they were not allowed to participate in the proceedings and were given seats where they could do nothing more than observe. Although Garrison and others joined the women in protest, it was during the convention that Mott and Stanton came up with the idea for a Women’s Rights Convention. In 1848, the two women played important roles in organizing the Seneca Falls Convention.

American Anti-Slavery Society Impact

The influence of the AASS contributed to:

The American Anti-Slavery Society dissolved in 1870, following the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted black men the right to vote.

American Anti-Slavery Society APUSH

Use the following links and videos to study the American Anti-Slavery Society, the Abolition Movement, and the Civil War for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

American Anti-Slavery Society APUSH Definition

The American Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1833 by prominent Abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan, was dedicated to the immediate Abolition of slavery in the United States. It played an important role in advancing the Abolitionist cause through the distribution of anti-slavery literature, organizing lectures and rallies, and promoting social and political change. The society’s efforts contributed to the emergence of a nationwide Abolitionist movement and helped pave the way for the eventual emancipation of enslaved individuals in the United States during the Civil War.

American Anti-Slavery Society APUSH Video

This video from American Experience discusses William Lloyd Garrison, one of the most influential members of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title American Anti-Slavery Society
  • Date 1833–1870
  • Author
  • Keywords American Anti-Slavery Society, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Arthur Tappan, Lewis Tappan, Wendell Phillips, Theodore Weld, Gag Rule, American Colonization Society
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 1, 2023