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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Wednesday June 12th 2024

199 Years later Wendell Phillips is still in “All the news that”'s fit to print.”

Wendell Phillips from the Library of Congress

Wendell Phillips, Phillips Community”'s namesake, still makes news as the agitator and moral guide.  The following article was in the New York Times this month.  Following the article, we have printed an e-mail exchange between the author of the article and James B. Stewart, Macalaster College, St. Paul.  Stewart is a professor of history and scholar/author of the life of Wendell Phillips.

On Dec. 3rd 2010, The Alley Newspaper will celebrate Wendell”'s 199th birthday with a special carrot cake from Franklin Street Bakery at St. Paul”'s Church on 28th St and 15th Ave. from 6:00- 8:00 PM along with a Fundraising Silent Auction.

Next year, The Alley will have a special 200th Anniversary of Wendell”'s birthday.  We”'re hoping to have James Stewart join us that day to help underscore the still relevant admonitions of Ann Green Phillips and Wendell Phillips.

The Abolitionist”'s Epiphany

By Adam Goodheart

Boston, Nov. 7, 1860

Throughout most of the nation”'s history, it had taken weeks for votes to be counted and for Americans to find out who their new president was. But by 1860, telegraph lines ”“ more than 50,000 miles of them ”“ had spread so far and wide across the country that the results were in the morning editions of the next day”'s papers.

In Boston that night, Wendell Phillips strode onstage to address a large audience of abolitionists in the Tremont Theatre, just off the Common. Phillips, one of the nation”'s most prominent antislavery leaders, had been skeptical of Abraham Lincoln from the beginning. To him, the unknown Midwesterner ”“ born in Kentucky to Virginian parents, he must have noted with alarm ”“ was going to be just one more mediocre politician to warm the presidential chair for another four years, while black Americans continued to languish in bondage. Addressing an anti-slavery meeting that summer, just after the Republicans announced their nominee, Phillips had sneered: “Who is this huckster in politics? Who is this county court advocate? ”¦ What is his recommendation? It is that nobody knows anything good or bad of him”¦. His recommendation is that his past is a blank.” In an article he wrote for The Liberator, the leading abolitionist newspaper, a month later, Phillips went further still: he turned in a manuscript headlined “ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SLAVE-HOUND OF ILLINOIS.”

But by November, his feelings had changed. It wasn”'t anything the candidate had said ”“ for he had said almost nothing. Rather, it was how Americans had rallied around Lincoln with an outpouring of antislavery feeling. A few weeks earlier, Phillips had watched Republicans parade through Boston carrying banners reading “No More Slave Territory” and “The Pilgrims Did Not Found an Empire for Slavery.” But the most welcome sight of all was the company of “West Boston Wide Awakes”: two hundred black men marching proudly in uniform, keeping stride in perfect tempo with their white comrades, under a banner that said “God Never Made a Tyrant or a Slave.”

So now, less than 24 hours after Lincoln”'s election, it was a chastened Phillips who addressed the crowd at the Tremont Theatre. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he intoned as the hall fell momentarily quiet, “if the telegraph speaks truth, for the first time in our history, the slave has chosen a President of the United States.”

Adam Goodheart, author of  “1861: The Civil War Awakening.”

James B. Stewart

St. Paul, MN

November 8th, 2010

10:19 am

November 8th, 2010

10:19 am

“As Phillips”'s most recent and most widely recognized biographer (not cited by the author of this piece) I don”'t get the point, and if there is one, it is grossly misleading. For most of the Civil War Lincoln had no more virulent critic than Phillips. The impression offered here that Phillips permanently embraced him in 1861 is totally false. Because Phillips believed that Lincoln stood for white supremacy even after issuing the emancipation proclamation, he supported John C. Fremont as Lincoln”'s replacement in the 1864 elections. I do hope that the scholarship in this author”'s forthcoming book is better than it is here!!!”

Adam Goodheart

Chestertown, Maryland

November 8th, 2010

11:18 am

“Mr. Stewart is certainly correct that Phillips, like many abolition leaders, remained deeply skeptical (in some cases, harshly critical) of Abraham Lincoln throughout the Civil War. But there is no denying his enthusiasm the night after the Republicans”' electoral victory. As I point out in my column, “It wasn”'t anything the candidate had said ”“ for he had said almost nothing. Rather, it was how Americans had rallied around Lincoln with an outpouring of antislavery feeling.” This is clear from the full text of Phillips”'s address, which began:

”'LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: If the telegraph speaks truth, for the first time in our history the slave has chosen a President of the United States. [Cheers.] We have passed the Rubicon, for Mr. Lincoln rules to-day as much as he will after the 4th of March. It is the moral effect of this victory, not anything which his administration can or will probably do, that gives value to this success. Not an Abolitionist, hardly an antislavery man, Mr. Lincoln consents to represent an antislavery idea.”'

”Other activists who supported Lincoln also grew increasingly disaffected when he failed to live up to their hopes ”“ not that this should remind us of anything more recent.

My very brief “Disunion” columns cannot possibly do more than present snapshots of moments of the past, although I hope that over time these will add up to something larger for those readers who stick with it. We will be revisiting Phillips and his fellow abolitionists. For those who want a more in-depth look, I would certainly recommend Mr. Stewart”'s book, among others.”

James B. Stewart

November 8th, 2010

4:11 pm

“The authoritative book on the history of the concept of “disunion” and the crisis over slavery that Goodheart is addressing was published just this year by Elizabeth Varon, DISUNION AND THE COMING OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, 1787-1859. It seems to me that interested readers might wish to consider his analysis of this subject in light of her very substantial examination over multiple decades.”

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