American Slavery As It Is

Theodore Dwight WELD   |   Angelina GRIMKE   |   Sarah GRIMKE

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"THE MOST IMPORTANT ANTISLAVERY PUBLICATION BEFORE UNCLE TOM'S CABIN": EXCEEDINGLY RARE FIRST EDITION OF AMERICAN SLAVERY AS IT IS, "THE GREATEST… THE MOST DEVASTATING OF ALL INDICTMENTS OF SLAVERY"

[WELD, Theodore Dwight; GRIMKÉ, Angelina; GRIMKÉ, Sarah]. American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839; pp vi, (7), 8-224. Octavo, period-style wrappers with original front panel laid down. $3600.

First edition of the monumental abolitionist work by Weld and the Grimké sisters that drew upon over 20,000 Southern newspapers to use first-hand accounts and slaveholders' own words against them, a searing indictment of slavery that Harriet Beecher Stowe virtually memorized, saying she "kept this book in her work basket by day and slept with it under her pillow by night, till its facts crystallized into Uncle Tom's Cabin," very scarce in original wrappers.

This electrifying 1838 abolitionist work by Timothy Weld, Angelina Grimké and Sarah Grimké "was the most important antislavery publication before Uncle Tom's Cabin" (Lerner, Feminist Thought, 27). It had such a profound effect on Harriet Beecher Stowe that she "all but memorized American Slavery As It Is, later telling Angelina Grimké that she 'kept this book in her work basket by day and slept with it under her pillow by night, till its facts crystallized into Uncle Tom's Cabin'" (Crunden, Brief History, 94). It remains "the greatest of the antislavery pamphlets… the most devastating of all indictments of slavery… in all probability, the most crushing indictment of any institution ever written." To historian Dwight Dumond, this seemingly modest volume "is as close as history can come to the facts" (Anti-Slavery, 247-50).

American Slavery As It Is was propelled by Weld, "one of the great humanitarian reformers of the 19th century" (Berry, From Bondage to Liberation, 137). In 1837, during the Grimké sisters' abolitionist lectures in New England, "Weld wrote to them and said that their attacks on slaveholders would be particularly powerful because 'you are Southerners'" (Muelder, Theodore Dwight Weld, 100). By 1838, the same year he married Angelina Grimké, all three had become convinced new antislavery tactics were required. They decided the slaveholder could best be condemned by his own words: that "Southern newspapers and the testimony of those who viewed slavery personally might provide the most telling case against bondage. Beginning late in 1838, working six hours a day and for six months, the sisters searched through more than 20,000 copies of Southern newspapers, marking and clipping proofs of slavery's depravity. Meanwhile Weld had prepared a form letter requesting testimony from those who had visited or were then living in the South. This mosaic of clippings and firsthand accounts, tied together by trenchant analyses by Weld himself, became American Slavery As It Is. Two of the 1,000 witnesses were Sarah and Angelina; each contributed lengthy descriptions of slavery as they had known it in Charleston" (Abzug, Passionate Liberator, 210-212).

Portraying "the treatment of slaves in the American south as heartless and brutal… the text was organized to answer questions the public frequently asked about slaves and slaveholders… It described overworked and exhausted men and women who were flogged, mutilated and sometimes 'branded with red-hot irons.' The book gave accounts of young boys forced to brutally fight one another for the amusement of their masters, described female slaves bred like livestock, and related stories of runaway slaves shot to death while trying to escape" (Muelder, 64). To support their testimony "the Grimkés and Weld deposited the newspaper clippings and other sources for their book at the New York City office of the American Anti-Slavery Society to enable the skeptical and the curious to examine it firsthand. American Slavery delivers what it promises. Over the course of some 200 pages, the authors lay out their indictment of slavery, drawing on the words of clergymen, judges, merchants, lawyers, physicians, professors, overseers and drivers… They also cite court records, highlighting such cases as State v. Mann (1830), in which the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that slaveholders could not be prosecuted for assaulting their slaves. By far the most powerful sources are the runaway advertisements culled from Southern newspapers. Under the heading 'Brandings, Maimings, Gunshot Wounds, &c.,' for example, are 119 quotations from representative newspapers… But American Slavery is more than a collage of horrors. In its final section, entitled 'Objections Considered—Public Opinion,' its authors probe the psychology of denial and offer cogent insights that have become the staples of the modern-day historiography of slavery… a fitting capstone to a decade of earnest agitation" (Varon, Disunion!, 138-40). Occasionally found with "Anti-Slavery Examiner No. 10" (not present here); no priority established. Blockson 9148. Sabin 102547.

Text generally fresh with light scattered foxing, expert cleaning to first 8 leaves.

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