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Home > Debates

Debates

Colored conventions responded to a variety of issues reflective of larger racial, political, economic, gendered, and religious concerns that characterized antebellum America. Education rights, voting rights, the acquisition of landed property, and moral uprightness informed many conversations in convention minutes. Debates erupted around immigration and colonization, relations with white abolitionists, the best means for abolishing slavery, political alignment, and interpretations of the Constitution as an anti- or pro-slavery document. Throughout, the specter of the American Colonization Society loomed, decried as an organization of devils dressed in angels’ clothing.[1]

Each decade of the conventions movement found new or renewed issues and interests. In early convention years, for instance, delegates worked toward defining common goals for racial uplift and the abolishment of slavery. Groups formed around establishing a Black press, central banking, and a college. In the mid- to late-1840s, conversation revolved around the morality and efficacy of outright rebellion in abolishing slavery, a conversation which gained traction with publications like Henry Highland Garnet’s incendiary “Address to the Slaves of the United States of America” (originally written and rejected as a speech at the 1843 Convention) and Frederick Douglass’ 1849 “Slumbering Volcano.” “Militancy, mental and physical” Howard Holman Bell said, “was on the upswing.”[2] The 1850s saw continued disputes between those who envisioned the United States as their homeland, by right and by blood, and those who felt they might find a better home beyond the seas.

Coming Soon: A collection of historical texts that speak to the various debates and ongoing conversations African Americans were heatedly engaged during the conventions movement. 

Notes

[1] The American Colonization Society was a concerted and long-lived effort to depose African Americans to Africa. The organization argued that African Americans would fare better on that continent and would be a Christian influence on Africans. The group included prominent politicians like Henry Clay. African Americans had mixed responses to the arguments of the ACS. See, for instance, Garnet's "Address."

[2] Howard Holman Bell. Minutes of the Proceedings of the National Negro Conventions, 1830-1864. New York: Arno Press, 1969.