Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Convention
created in Philadelphia
December 6, 1833
written by William Lloyd Garrison
The Convention assembled in the city of Philadelphia, to organize
a National Anti-Slavery Society, promptly seize the opportunity to
promulgate the following Declaration of Sentiments, as cherished by
them in relation to the enslavement of one-sixth portion of the
More than fifty-seven years have elapsed, since a band of patriots
convened in this place, to devise measures for the deliverance of this
country from a foreign yoke. The corner-stone upon which they founded
the Temple of Freedom was broadly this -- 'that all men are created
equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable
rights; that among these are life, LIBERTY,
and the pursuit of happiness.' At the sound of their trumpet-call,
three millions of people rose up as from the sleep of death, and
rushed to the strife of blood; deeming it more glorious to die
instantly as freemen, than desirable to live one hour as slaves. They
were few in number -- poor in resources; but the honest conviction that
Truth, Justice and Right were on their side, made them invincible.
We have met together for the achievement of an enterprise, without
which that of our fathers is incomplete; and which, for its magnitude,
solemnity, and probable results upon the destiny of the world, as far
transcends theirs as moral truth does physical force.
In purity of motive, in earnestness of zeal, in decision of
purpose, in intrepidity of action, in steadfastness of faith, in
sincerity of spirit, we would not be inferior to them.
Their principles led them to wage war against their oppressors,
and to spill human blood like water, in order to be free. Ours forbid the doing of evil that good may come, and
lead us to reject, and to entreat the oppressed to reject, the use of
all carnal weapons for deliverance from bondage; relying solely upon
those which are spiritual, and mighty through God to the pulling down
of strong holds.
Their measures were physical resistance -- the marshalling in
arms -- the hostile array -- the mortal encounter. Ours shall be such only
as the opposition of moral purity to moral corruption -- the destruction
of error by the potency of truth -- the overthrow of prejudice by the
power of love -- and the abolition of slavery by the spirit of
Their grievances, great as they were, were trifling in comparison
with the wrongs and sufferings of those for whom we plead. Our fathers
were never slaves -- never bought and sold like cattle -- never shut out
from the light of knowledge and religion -- never subjected to the lash
of brutal taskmasters.
But those, for whose emancipation we are striving -- constituting at
the present time at least one-sixth part of our countrymen -- are
recognized by law, and treated by their fellow-beings, as marketable
commodities, as goods and chattels, as brute beasts; are plundered
daily of the fruits of their toil without redress; really enjoy no
constitutional nor legal protection from licentious and murderous
outrages upon their persons; and are ruthlessly torn asunder -- the
tender babe from the arms of its frantic mother -- the heart-broken wife
from her weeping husband -- at the caprice or pleasure of irresponsible
tyrants. For the crime of having a dark complexion, they suffer the
pangs of hunger, the infliction of stripes, the ignominy of brutal
servitude. They are kept in heathenish darkness by laws expressly
enacted to make their instruction a criminal offence.
These are the prominent circumstances in the condition of more
than two millions of our people, the proof of which may be found in thousands of indisputable facts, and in
the laws of the slaveholding States.
Hence we maintain -- that, in view of the civil and religious
privileges of this nation, the guilt of its oppression is unequalled
by any other on the face of the earth; and, therefore, that it is
bound to repent instantly, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the
oppressed go free.
We further maintain -- that no man has a right to enslave or imbrute
his brother -- to hold or acknowledge him, for one moment, as a piece
of merchandise -- to keep back his hire by fraud -- or to brutalize his
mind, by denying him the means of intellectual, social and moral
The right to enjoy liberty is inalienable. To invade it is to
usurp the prerogative of Jehovah. Every man has a right to his own
body -- to the products of his own labor -- to the protection of law -- and
to the common advantages of society. It is piracy to buy or steal a
native African, and subject him to servitude. Surely, the sin is as
great to enslave an American as an African.
Therefore we believe and affirm -- that there is no difference, in
principle, between the African slave trade and American slavery:
That every American citizen, who detains a human being in
involuntary bondage as his property, is, according to Scripture, (Ex.
xxi. 16,) a man-stealer:
That the slaves ought instantly to be set free, and brought under
the protection of law:
That if they had lived from the time of Pharaoh down to the
present period, and had been entailed through successive generations,
their right to be free could never have been alienated, but their
claims would have constantly risen in solemnity:
That all those laws which are now in force, admitting the right of
slavery, are therefore, before God, utterly null and void ; being an audacious usurpation of the Divine
prerogative, a daring infringement on the law of nature, a base
over-throw of the very foundations of the social compact, a complete
extinction of all the relations, endearments and obligations of
mankind, and a presumptuous transgression of all the holy
commandments; and that therefore they ought instantly to be abrogated.
We further believe and affirm -- that all persons of color, who
possess the qualifications which are demanded of others, ought to be
admitted forthwith to the enjoyment of the same privileges, and the
exercise of the same prerogatives, as others; and that the paths of
preferment, of wealth, and of intelligence, should be opened as widely
to them as to persons of a white complexion.
We maintain that no compensation should be given to the planters
emancipating their slaves:
Because it would be a surrender of the great fundamental
principle, that man cannot hold property in man:
Because slavery is a crime, and therefore is not an article to be
Because the holders of slaves are not the just proprietors of what
they claim; freeing the slave is not depriving them of property, but
restoring it to its rightful owner; it is not wronging the master, but
righting the slave -- restoring him to himself:
Because immediate and general emancipation would only destroy
nominal, not real property; it would not amputate a limb or break a
bone of the slaves, but by infusing motives into their breasts, would
make them doubly valuable to the masters as free laborers; and
Because, if compensation is to be given at all, it should be given
to the outraged and guiltless slaves, and not to those who have
plundered and abused them.
We regard as delusive, cruel and dangerous, any scheme of
expatriation which pretends to aid, either directly or indirectly, in the emancipation of the slaves, or to be a
substitute for the immediate and total abolition of slavery.
We fully and unanimously recognise the sovereignty of each State,
to legislate exclusively on the subject of the slavery which is
tolerated within its limits ; we concede that Congress, under the
present national compact, has no right to interfere with any of the
slave States, in relation to this momentous subject :
But we maintain that Congress has a right, and is solemnly bound,
to suppress the domestic slave trade between the several States, and
to abolish slavery in those portions of our territory which the
Constitution has placed under its exclusive jurisdiction.
We also maintain that there are, at the present time, the highest
obligations resting upon the people of the free States to remove
slavery by moral and political action, as prescribed in the
Constitution of the United States. They are now living under a pledge
of their tremendous physical force, to fasten the galling fetters of
tyranny upon the limbs of millions in the Southern States; they are
liable to be called at any moment to suppress a general insurrection
of the slaves; they authorize the slave owner to vote for three-fifths
of his slaves as property, and thus enable him to perpetuate his
oppression; they support a standing army at the South for its
protection and they seize the slave, who has escaped into their
territories, and send him back to be tortured by an enraged master or
a brutal driver. This relation to slavery is criminal, and full of
danger: IT MUST BE BROKEN UP.
These are our views and principles -- these our designs and
measures. With entire confidence in the overruling justice of God, we
plant ourselves upon the Declaration of our Independence and the
truths of Divine Revelation, as upon the Everlasting Rock.
We shall organize Anti-Slavery Societies, if possible, in every
city, town and village in our land.
We shall send forth agents to lift up the voice of remonstrance,
of warning, of entreaty, and of rebuke.
We shall circulate, unsparingly and extensively, anti-slavery
tracts and periodicals.
We shall enlist the pulpit and the press in the cause of the
suffering and the dumb.
We shalt aim at a purification of the churches from all
participation in the guilt of slavery.
We shall encourage the labor of freemen rather than that of
slaves, by giving a preference to their productions: and
We shall spare no exertions nor means to bring the whole nation to
Our trust for victory is solely in God. We may be personally
defeated, but our principles never. Truth, Justice, Reason, Humanity,
must and will gloriously triumph. Already a host is coming up to the
help of the Lord against the mighty, and the prospect before us is
full of encouragement.
Submitting this Declaration to the candid examination of the
people of this country, and of the friends of liberty throughout the
world, we hereby affix our signatures to it; pledging ourselves that,
under the guidance and by the help of Almighty God, we will do all
that in us lies, consistently with this Declaration of our principles,
to overthrow the most execrable system of slavery that has ever been
witnessed upon earth; to deliver our land from its deadliest curse; to
wipe out the foulest stain which rests upon our national escutcheon;
and to secure to the colored population of the United States, all the
rights and privileges which belong to them as men, and as
Americans -- come what may to our persons, our interests, or our
reputation -- whether we live to witness the triumph of Liberty, Justice
and Humanity, or perish untimely as martyrs in this great, benevolent,
and holy cause.