The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony


Appeal by SBA, "Send in the Petitions"

To the Readers of the National Anti-Slavery Standard [1] in the State of New York.

Have you signed your names to the Petition to our State Legislature for a law to prevent the capture and return of fugitive slaves?[2] Have you solicited the names of all your neighbors and sent them up to Albany? If you have not already done so, I pray you lose no time, but copy the petition below— which is now in the hands of a Select Committee, who will this week report a Personal Liberty bill, virtually like that of Vermont— and go about the work in earnest.[3] Plead with every man and woman to give you their names and their influence, as you would do were the outraged, fleeing fugitive one of your own household. Especially do I appeal to women to circulate the petition, remembering that one-half the slaves are women, helpless, defenceless creatures, with no law, no religion, no public sentiment to shield them from the sensual Legrees who hunt them.[4]
Mothers! I appeal to you to devote the present hour, day and week to this work. Nerve yourselves up to go from house to house, from office to office, and roll up long lists of signatures, as you would do were it your own loved daughters you would rescue from the auctionblock. Daughters! work as if it were your precious mothers you would save from the terrible sundering of every bond of affection. How can women remain quietly in their pleasant homes, or carelessly go about, doing their accustomed visiting, while such a momentous question is pending in our State Legislature? What if you should meet the chilling, hard-hearted look of indifference and contempt; what if you should be told that you had better go home and mind your own family; the consciousness that you are but doing the simplest act of kindness that you would have others do for you, were you the sufferer; the knowledge that your own best nature, the good angels and God approve your work, will cause all opposition and hatred of the slave to fall powerless before you. If you are disheartened, and feel that the cause of freedom is retrograding, then all the more urgent is my appeal to you to take the petition in hand, and go forth among the people. The many hearty "God-speeds" will cheer and encourage you; the many recognitions of the slave's right to freedom, on our own soil, at least will bring hope to your spirit, and strengthen your faith in the sure triumph of the right. If you profess love for the slave, make it manifest now by your actions. Send up toAlbany your own name, and as many others as you can obtain, and thus contribute your mite toward making the Legislature feel that the people demand that New York shall be free, in fact as in name.
Members of the Legislature friendly to the enactment of a law of freedom to every human being, the moment he sets foot on New York soil, express no doubt of the passage of the bill in the House, and even have strong hope that it may pass the Senate.
Send in your petitions without delay. Direct to the Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Shotwell Powell, Albany, N.Y.[5]
Copies of the Petition may be had by addressing Lydia Mott, Albany, N.Y. Remember to enclose stamps to pay return postage.
Susan B. Anthony
National Anti-Slavery Standard, 26 February 1859. Also in Liberator, 25 February 1859.
    [1.] The Standard was the official organ of the American Anti-Slavery Society, established in 1840 and published in New York City.
    [2.] The petition, printed with this appeal, asked for a personal liberty law that would bar state and federal officers in New York from delivering slaves to anyone claiming their services. In 1857, the newly Republican assembly, but not the senate, approved a similar bill. At the antislavery meeting in Albany, 31 January to 2 February 1859, Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison both advocated the law as an assertion of state sovereignty in opposition to a federal government dominated by slavery's supporters. The first petitions were delivered to the assembly on February 2, but appeals were made for more signatures until the session ended in April. SBA spent six weeks in and around the capital, working with Aaron Powell, to keep the legislature informed about campaigns in other states, supply the members with copies of abolitionist speeches, and organize lectures. A select committee of the assembly reported a bill on 26 February, and it passed on 8 April. The senate took no action. (SBA daybook, pp. 54-55, 106-9, 204-5, and SBA to W. L. Garrison, 28 February, 8, 19 March 1859, in Film, 8:620ff, 9:223-31; National Anti-Slavery Standard, 8 January, 12, 26 February 1859; Liberator, 22 February 1859; Journal of the New York Assembly, 2 February, 8 April 1859, pp. 243, 1182; Morris, Free Men All, 182-85, 190-92; Rosenberg, "Personal Liberty Laws," 37-39 .)
    [3.] "An act to secure freedom to all persons within this state" became law in Vermont in November 1858. It promised freedom to any slave who entered the state and threatened slave hunters with incarceration. (Siebert, Vermont's Anti-Slavery and Underground Railroad Record, 64-65; Rosenberg, "Personal Liberty Laws," 39 .)
    [4.] A reference to Simon Legree, the despicable slaveowner in Uncle Tom's Cabin, who kept the slave Cassy as his mistress.
    [5.] Shotwell Powell (1818-?) was a Quaker farmer from South Bristol, Ontario County, and a Republican member of the assembly. He presented the abolitionists' petitions and chaired the select committee formed to consider them. Powell reintroduced the measure in 1860. (Murphy, New York State Officers, 1859, 212-13; Morris, Free Men All, 192 .)