Abolitionists: Wendell Phillips


1 Note cards in Black Pen & Ink with White Envelopes (reproduction): 

Wendell Phillips, (1811-1884

 A foremost orator of the abolitionist movement, was born in Boston, MA. His distinguished family had come from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. His father was a wealthy and influential lawyer, who, among other public offices, served as the first mayor of Boston in 1822. Wendell Phillips took the expected steps of a well-born, aristocratic Bostonian and attended Boston Latin, Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He graduated from law school in 1833 and entered practice the next year. In 1835 Phillips witnessed the near-hanging of William Lloyd Garrison by a mob composed largely of “gentlemen of property and standing.” Phillips dated his “conversion” to the abolitionist cause from that event. On June 14, 1837 in Lynn, Massachusetts, he attended an antislavery convention for the first time and delivered his maiden speech. In 1837 a newspaper editor, Elijah Lovejoy, had been murdered by a proslavery mob in Alton, Illinois, and around five thousand Bostonians thronged Faneuil Hall on December 8th for a protest meeting. James Austin, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, took the floor and harangued the meeting, denouncing Lovejoy and comparing his murderers to the patriots who threw the tea into the harbor at the Boston Tea Party prior to the American Revolution. The crowd roared its approval. Phillips then mounted the platform and delivered a passionate counterattack, pointing to the portraits of some of those same patriots which hung in Faneuil Hall, and stating that they would have rebuked Austin. The speech brought the crowd around and vaulted him to fame. Phillips was a Garrisonian abolitionist, believing, like Garrison, that the union would have to be dissolved to achieve abolitionist goals. He gave the prime of his life to the cause and after the start of the Civil War he was at times critical of Abraham Lincoln and his administration. When Garrison resigned as President of the American Antislavery Society in 1865 at the close of the Civil War, Phillips took the reins and continued in that capacity until April of 1870 when the Society was disbanded upon the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment which gave the right to vote to all male citizens regardless of race. For the remainder of his life he agitated for the women’s rights, prohibition and other reform causes, never forgetting the African Americans. Wendell Phillips was a visitor to Gerrit Smith in Peterboro.


Inducted in 2007 to the

National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum

5255 Pleasant Valley Road        P.O. Box 55 Peterboro NY 13134


Artwork by Joseph Flore


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