Who Opposed the Abolitionists?
Second Presbyterian Church
Abolitionists and Underground Railroad operatives confronted strong opposition in the North as well as the South. They faced prison, financial ruin, and death, especially in the South. Most whites viewed abolitionists as misguided troublemakers at best. At worst they were considered traitors, inciting mass murder, and intending to “amalgamate” blacks and whites.
The sudden rise of the Abolition Movement deeply alarmed white Northerners, but Southerners were particularly outraged by their message. Fears of slave revolts like the bloody Haitian Revolution of 1791–1803 and Virginia’s 1831 Nat Turner’s Rebellion were always on Southerners’ minds. David Walker’s 1829 “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” called for slaves to rise up against their masters and to defend themselves. Abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets were numerous enough by 1820 that South Carolina instituted penalties for anyone bringing written anti-slavery material into the state. Several Southern states formally requested that Northern states to suppress abolition groups and their literature.
A backlash of anti-abolition riots broke out in many Northern cities between 1831 and 1835, including New York, Philadelphia, and Utica. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted a gag rule, automatically tabling abolitionist proposals and petitions. In 1834 Alvan Stewart and Beriah Green were burned in effigy by a Utica Mob. Many of Utica’s political and business leaders and workmen opposed anti-slavery activity, especially conventions and newspapers. With Utica’s prosperity growing, they feared it could damage Utica’s reputation with Southerners and national political parties.
Anticipating resistance, Stewart and Green convened the convention at 9:00, an hour earlier than announced. A resolution was quickly passed that formally established the New York State Anti-Slavery Society.By 10:00, a large group of anti-abolitionists had gathered at the Utica Academy. A "committee of 25," led by Judge Chester Hayden and U.S. Representative Samuel Beardsley, disrupted the convention and demanded that it disband immediately. When the abolitionists refused to leave, the riot ensued.There was much noise, hymn books and other missiles were thrown about, personal attacks were made, and violence threatened against Alvan Stewart.