DOCUMENT 4 (1: 53-62): World's Anti-Slavery Convention, London, England, June 1840

The call for that Convention invited delegates from all Anti-Slavery organizations. Accordingly several American societies saw fit to send women, as delegates, to represent them in that august assembly. But after going three thousand miles to attend a World's Convention, it was discovered that women formed no part of the constituent elements of the moral world. In summoning the friends of the slave from all parts of the two hemispheres to meet in London, John Bull never dreamed that woman, too, would answer to his call. Imagine then the commotion in the conservative anti-slavery circles in England, when it was known that half a dozen of those terrible women who had spoken to promiscuous assemblies, voted on men and measures, prayed and petitioned against slavery, women who had been mobbed, ridiculed by the press, and denounced by the pulpit, who had been the cause of setting all American Abolitionists by the ears, and split their ranks asunder, were on their way to England. Their fears of these formidable and belligerent women must have been somewhat appeased when Lucretia Mott, Sarah Pugh, Abby Kimber, Elizabeth Neal, Mary Grew, of Philadelphia, in modest Quaker costume, Ann Green Phillips, Emily Winslow, and Abby Southwick, of Boston, all women of refinement and education, and several, still in their twenties, landed at last on the soil of Great Britain. Many who had awaited their coming with much trepidation, gave a sigh of relief, on being introduced to Lucretia Mott, learning that she represented the most dangerous elements in the delegation. The American clergymen who had landed a few days before, bad been busily engaged in fanning the English prejudices into active hostility against the admission of these women to the Convention. In every circle of Abolitionists this was the theme, and the discussion grew more bitter, personal, and exasperating every hour.

The 12th of June dawned bright and beautiful on these discordant elements, and at an early hour anti-slavery delegates from different countries wended their way through the crooked streets of London to Freemasons' Hall. Entering the vestibule, little groups might be seen gathered here and there, earnestly discussing the best disposition to make of those women delegates from America. The excitement and vehemence of protest and denunciation could not have been greater, if the news bad come that the French were about to invade England. In vain those obdurate women had been conjured to withhold their credentials, and not thrust a question that must produce such discord on the Convention. Lucretia Mott, in her calm, firm manner, insisted that the delegates had no discretionary power in the proposed action, and the responsibility of accepting or rejecting them must rest on the Convention.

At eleven o'clock, the spacious Hall being filled, the Convention was called to order. The venerable Thomas Clarkson, who was to, be President, on entering, was received by the large audience standing; owing to his feeble health, the chairman requested that there should be no other demonstrations. As soon as Thomas Clarkson withdrew, Wendell Phillips made the following motion:

" That a Committee of five be appointed to prepare a correct list of the members of this Convention, with instructions to include in such list, all persons bearing credentials from any Anti-Slavery body."

This motion at once opened the debate on the admission of women delegates.

Mr. Phillips: When the call reached America we found that it was an invitation to the friends of the slave of every nation and of every clime. Massachusetts has for several years acted on the principle of admitting women to an equal seat with men, in the deliberative bodies of anti-slavery societies. When the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society received that paper, it interpreted it, as it was its duty, in its broadest and most liberal sense. If there be any other paper, emanating from the Committee, limiting to one sex the qualification of membership, there is no proof; and, as an individual, I have no knowledge that such a paper ever reached Massachusetts. We stand here in consequence of your invitation, and knowing our custom, as it must be presumed you did, we had a right to interpret " friends of the slave," to include women as well as men. In such circumstances, we do not think it just or equitable to that State, nor to America in general, that, after the trouble, the sacrifice, the self-devotion of a part of those who leave their families and kindred and occupations in their own land, to come three thousand miles to attend this World's Convention, they should be refused a place in its deliberations.

One of the Committee who issued the call, said: As soon as we heard the liberal interpretation Americans had given to our first invitation, we issued another as early as Feb. 15, in which the description of those who are to form the Convention is set forth as consisting of " gentlemen."

Dr. Bowring: I think the custom of excluding females is more honored in its breach than in its observance. In this country sovereign rule is placed in the hands of a female, and one who has been exercising her great and benignant influence in opposing slavery by sanctioning, no doubt, the presence of her illustrious consort at an anti-slavery meeting. We are associated with a body of Christians (Quakers) who have given to their women a great, honorable, and religious prominence. I look upon this delegation from America as one of the most interesting, the most encouraging, and the most delightful symptoms of the times. I can not believe that we shall refuse to welcome gratefully the co-operation which is offered us.

The Rev. J. Burnet, an Englishman, made a most touching appeal to the American ladies, to conform to English prejudices and custom, so far as to withdraw their credentials, as it never did occur to the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society that they were inviting ladies. It is better, said he, that this Convention should be dissolved at this moment than this motion should be adopted.

The Rev. Henry Grew, of Philadelphia: The reception of women as a part of this Convention would, in the view of many, be not only a violation of the customs of England, but of the ordinance of Almighty God, who has a right to appoint our services to His sovereign will.

Rev. Eben Galusha, New York: In support of the other side of this question, reference has been made to your Sovereign. I most cordially approve of her policy and sound wisdom, and commend to the consideration of our American female friends who are so deeply interested in the subject, the example of your noble Queen, who by sanctioning her consort, His Royal Highness Prince Albert, in taking the chair on an occasion not dissimilar to this, showed her sense of propriety by putting her Head foremost in an assembly of gentlemen. I have no objection to woman's being the neck to turn the head aright, but do not wish to see her assume the place of the head.

George Bradburn, of Mass.: We are told that it would be outraging the customs of England to allow women to sit in this Convention. I have a great respect for the customs of old England. But I ask, gentlemen, if it be right to set up the customs and habits, not to say prejudices of Englishmen, as a standard for the government on this occasion of Americans, and of persons belonging to several other independent nations. I can see neither reason nor policy in so doing. Besides, I deprecate the principle of the objection. In America it would exclude from our conventions all persons of color, for there customs, habits, tastes, prejudices, would be outraged by their admission. And I do not wish to be deprived of the aid of those who have done so much for this cause, for the purpose of gratifying any mere custom or prejudice. Women have furnished most essential aid in accomplishing what has been done in the State of Massachusetts. If, in the Legislature of that State, I have been able to do anything in furtherance of that cause, by keeping on my legs eight or ton hours day after day, it was mainly owing to the valuable assistance I derived from the women. And shall such women be denied seats in this Convention? My friend George Thompson, yonder, can testify to the faithful services rendered to this cause by those same women. He can tell you that when " gentlemen of property and standing" in "broad day " and " broadcloth," undertook to drive him from Boston, putting his life in peril, it was our women who made their own persons a bulwark of protection around him. And shall such women be refused seats here in a Convention seeking the emancipation of slaves throughout the world? What a misnomer to call this a World's Convention of Abolitionists, when some of the oldest and most thorough-going Abolitionists in the world are denied the right to be represented in it by delegates of their own choice.

And thus for the space of half an hour did Mr. Bradburn, six feet high and well-proportioned, with vehement gesticulations and voice of thunder, bombard the prejudices of England and the hypocrisies of America.

George Thompson: I have listened to the arguments advanced on this side and on that side of this vexed question. I listened with profound attention to the arguments of Mr. Burnet, expecting that from him, as I was justified in expecting, I should hear the strongest arguments that could be adduced on this, or any other subject upon which he might be pleased to employ his talents, or which he might adorn with his eloquence. What are his arguments? Let it be premised, as I speak in the presence of American friends, that that gentleman is one of the best controversialists in the country, and one of the best authorities upon questions of business, points of order, and matters of principle. What are the strongest arguments, which one of the greatest champions on any question which he chooses to espouse, has brought forward? They are these:

lst. That English phraseology should be construed according to English usage.

2d. That it was never contemplated by the anti-slavery committee that ladies should occupy a seat in this Convention.

3d. That the ladies of England are not here as delegates.

4th. That he has no desire to offer an affront to the ladies now present.

Here I presume are the strongest arguments the gentleman has to adduce, for he never fails to use to the best advantage the resources within his reach. I look at these arguments, and I place on the other side of the question, the fact that there are in this assembly ladies who present themselves as delegates from the oldest societies in America. I expected that Mr. Burnet would, as he was bound to do, if he intended to offer a successful opposition to their introduction into this Convention, grapple with the constitutionality of their credentials. I thought he would come to the question of title. I thought he would dispute the right of a convention assembled in Philadelphia, for the abolition of slavery, consisting of delegates from different States in the Union, and comprised of individuals of both sexes, to send one or all of the ladies now in our presence. I thought he would grapple with the fact, that those ladies came to us who have no slavery from a country in which they have slaves, as the representatives of two millions and a half of captives. Let gentlemen, when they come to vote on this question, remember, that in receiving or rejecting these ladies, they acknowledge or despise [loud cries of No, no]. I ask gentlemen, who shout 11 no," if they know the application I am about to make. I did not mean to say you would despise the ladies, but that you would, by your vote, acknowledge or despise the parties whose cause they espouse. It appears we are prepared to sanction ladies in the employment of all means, so long as they are confessedly unequal with ourselves. It seems that the grand objection to their appearance amongst us is this, that it would be placing them on a footing of equality, and that would be contrary to principle and custom. For years the women of America have carried their banner in the van, while the men have humbly followed in the rear. It is well known that the National Society solicited Angelina Grimke to undertake a mission through New England, to rouse the attention of the women to the wrongs of slavery, and that that distinguished woman displayed her talents not only in the drawing-room, but before the Senate of Massachusetts. Let us contrast our conduct with that of the Senators and Representatives of Massachusetts who did not disdain to hear her. It was in consequence of her exertions, which received the warmest approval of the National Society, that that interest sprung up which has awakened such an intense feeling throughout America. Then with reference to efficient management, the most vigorous anti-slavery societies are those which are managed by ladies.

If now, after the expression of opinion on various sides, the motion should be withdrawn with the consent of all parties, I should be glad. But when I look at the arguments against the title of these women to sit amongst us, I can not but consider them frivolous and groundless. The simple question before us is, whether these ladies, taking into account their credentials, the talent they have displayed, the sufferings they have endured, the journey they have undertaken, should be acknowledged by us, in virtue of these high titles, or should be shut out for the reasons stated.

Mr. Phillips, being urged on all sides to withdraw his motion, said: It has been hinted very respectfully by two or three speakers that the delegates from the State of Massachusetts should withdraw their credentials, or the motion before the meeting. The one appears to me to be equivalent to the other. If this motion be withdrawn we must have another. I would merely ask whether any man can suppose that the delegates from Massachusetts or Pennsylvania can take upon their shoulders the responsibility of withdrawing that list of delegates from your table, which their constituents told them to place there, and whom they sanctioned as their fit representatives, because this Convention tells us that it is not ready to meet the ridicule of the morning papers, and to stand up against the customs of England. In America we listen to no such arguments. If we had done so we had never been here as. Abolitionists. It is the custom there not to admit colored men into respectable society, and we have been told again and again that we are outraging the decencies of humanity when we permit colored men to sit by our side. When we have submitted to brick-bats, and the tar' tub and feathers in America, rather than yield to the custom prevalent there of not admitting colored brethren into our friendship, shall we yield to parallel custom or prejudice against women in Old England? We can not yield this question if we would; for it is a matter of conscience. But we would not yield it on the ground of expediency. In doing so we should feel that we were striking off the right arm of our enterprise. We could not go back to America to ask for any aid from the women of Massachusetts if we had deserted them, when they chose to send out their own sisters as their representatives here. We could not go back to Massachusetts and assert the unchangeableness of spirit on the question. We have argued it over and over again, and decided it time after time, in every society in the land, in favor of the women. We have not changed by crossing the water. We stand here the advocates of the same principle that we contend for in America. We think it right for women to sit by our side there, and we think it right for them to do the same here. We ask the Convention to admit them; if they do not choose to grant it, the responsibility rests on their shoulders. Massachusetts can not turn aside, or succumb to any prejudices or customs even in the land she looks upon with so much reverence as the land of Wilberforce, of Clarkson, and of O'Connell. It is a matter of conscience, and British virtue ought not to ask us to yield.

Mr. Ashurst: You are convened to influence society upon a subject connected with the kindliest feelings of our nature; and being the first assembly met to shake hands with other nations, and employ your combined efforts to annihilate slavery throughout the world, are you to commence by saying, you will take away the rights of one-half of creation This is the Principle which you are putting forward.

The Rev. A. Harvey, of Glasgow: It was stated by a brother from America, that with him it is a matter of conscience, and it is a question of conscience with me too. I have certain views in relation to the teaching of the Word of God, and of the particular sphere in which woman is to act. I must say, whether I am right in my interpretations of the Word of God or not, that my own decided convictions are, if I were to give a vote in favor of females, sitting and deliberating in such an assembly as this, that I should be acting in opposition to the plain teaching of the Word of God. I maybe wrong, but I have a conscience on the subject, and I am sure there are a number present of the same mind.

Captain Wanchope, R. N., delegate from Carlisle: I entreat the ladies not to push this question too far. I wish to know whether our friends from America are to cast off England altogether, Have we not given 120,000,000 of our money for the purpose of doing away with the abominations of slavery? Is not that proof that we are in earnest about it?

James C. Fuller: One friend said that this question should have been settled on the other side of the Atlantic. Why, it was there decided in favor of woman a year ago.

James Gillespie Birney: It has been stated that the right of women to sit and act in all respects as men in our anti-slavery associations, was decided in the affirmative at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in May, 1839. It is true the claim was so decided on that occasion, but not by a large majority; whilst it is also true that the majority was swelled by the votes of the women themselves. I have just received a letter from a gentleman in New York (Louis Tappan), communicating the fact, that the persistence of the friends of promiscuous female representation in pressing that practice on the American Anti-Slavery Society, at its annual meeting on the twelfth of last month, had caused such disagreement among the members present, that he and others who viewed the subject as he did, were then deliberating on measures for seceding from the old organization.

Rev. C. Stout: My vote is that we confirm the list of delegates, that take votes on that as an amendment, and that we henceforth entertain this question no more. Are we not met here pledged to sacrifice all but everything, in order that we may do something against slavery, and shall we be divided on this paltry question and suffer the whole tide of benevolence to be stopped by a straw? No! You talk of being men, then be men! Consider what is worthy of your attention.

Rev. Dr. Morrison: I feel, I believe, as our brethren from America and many English friends do at this moment, that we are treading on the brink of a precipice; and that precipice is the awaking in our bosoms by this discussion. feelings that will not only be averse to the great object for which we have assembled, but inconsistent, perhaps, in some degree, with the Christian spirit which, I trust, will pervade all meetings connected with the Anti-Slavery cause. We have been unanimous against the common foe, but we are this day in danger of creating division among heartfelt friends. Will our American brethren put us in this position.

Will they keep up a discussion in which the delicacy, the honor, the respectability of those excellent females who have come from the Western world are concerned? I tremble at the thought of discussing the question in the presence of these ladies-for whom I entertain the most profound respect-and I am bold to say, that but for the introduction of the question of woman's rights, it would be impossible for the shrinking nature of woman to subject itself to the infliction of such a discussion as this.

As the hour was late, and as the paltry arguments of the opposition were unworthy much consideration-as the reader will see from the specimens given-Mr. Phillips' reply was brief, consisting of the correction of a few mistakes made by different speakers. The vote was taken, and the women excluded as delegates of the Convention, by an overwhelming majority.

George Thompson: I hope, as the question is now decided, that Mr. Phillips will give us the assurance that we shall proceed with one heart and one mind.

Mr. Phillips replied: I have no doubt of it. There is no unpleasant feeling in our minds. I have no doubt the women will sit with as much interest behind the bar* as though the original proposition had been carried in the affirmative. All we asked was an expression of opinion, and, having obtained it, we shall now act with the utmost cordiality.

Would there have been no unpleasant feelings in Wendell Phillips' mind) bad Frederick Douglass and Robert Purvis been refused their seats in a convention of reformers under similar circumstances? and, had they listened one entire day to debates on their peculiar fitness for plantation life, and unfitness for the forum and public assemblies, and been rejected as delegates on the ground of color, could Wendell Phillips have so far mistaken their real feelings, and been so insensible to the insults offered them, as to have told a Convention of men who had just trampled on their most sacred rights, that "they would no doubt sit with as much interest behind the bar, as in the Convention"? To stand in that august assembly and maintain the unpopular heresy of woman's equality was a severe ordeal for a young man to pass through, and Wen. dell Phillips, who accepted the odium of presenting this question to the Convention, and thus earned the sincere gratitude of all womankind, might be considered as above criticism, though he may have failed at one point to understand the feelings of woman.

The fact is important to mention, however, to show that it is almost impossible for the most liberal of men to understand what liberty means for woman. This sacrifice of human rights, by men who bad assembled from all quarters of the globe to proclaim universal emancipation, was offered up in the presence of such women as Lady Byron, Anna Jameson, Amelia Opie, Mary Howitt, Elizabeth Fry and our own Lucretia Mott. The clergy with few exceptions were bitter in their opposition. Although, as Abolitionists, they had been compelled to fight both Church and Bible to prove the black man's right to liberty, conscience forbade them to stretch those sacred limits far enough to give equal liberty to woman.

The leading men who championed the cause of the measure in the Convention and voted in the affirmative, were Wendell Phillips, George Thompson, George Bradburn, Mr. Ashurst, Dr. Bowring, and Henry B. Stanton. Though Daniel O'Connell was not present during the discussion, having passed oat with the President, yet in his first speech, he referred to the rejected delegates, paying a beautiful tribute to woman's influence, and saying be should have been happy to have added the right word in the right place and to have recorded his vote in favor of human equality.

William Lloyd Garrison, having been delayed at sea, arrived too late to take part in the debates. Learning on his arrival that the women had been rejected as delegates, he declined to take his seat in the Convention; and, through all those interesting discussions oil a subject so near his heart, lasting ten days, he remained a silent spectator in the gallery. What a sacrifice for a principle so dimly seen by the few, and so ignorantly ridiculed by the many! Brave, noble Garrison! May this one act keep his memory fresh forever in the hearts of his countrywomen!

The one Abolitionist who sustained Mr. Garrison's position, and sat with him in the gallery, was Nathaniel P. Rogers, editor of the Herald of Freedom, in Concord, New Hampshire, who died in the midst of the Anti-Slavery struggle. However, the debates in the Convention had the effect of rousing English minds to thought oil the tyranny of sex, and American minds to the importance of some definite action toward woman's emancipation.

As Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wended their way arm in arm down Great Queen Street that night, reviewing the exciting scenes of the day, they agreed to hold a woman's rights convention on their return to America, as the men to whom they had just listened had manifested their great need of some education on that question. Thus a missionary work for the emancipation of woman in "the land of the free and the home of the brave" was then and there inaugurated. As the ladies were Dot allowed to speak in the Convention, they kept up a brisk fire morning, noon, and night at their hotel on the unfortunate gentlemen who were domiciled at the same house.

* The ladies of the Convention were fenced off behind a bar and curtain, similar to those used in churches to screen the choir from the public gaze.