The Address in Context

Garnet’s “Address to the Slaves” seems radical when read in isolation, but it is important to remember the context in which his address emerged. Garnet intended “Address” to be a public statement backed by the 1843 Colored Convention itself—not an individual publication or sentiment. This is why Garnet broached “Address” at the convention and why such contention around its acceptance existed. Thus the modern reader must remember that his words were meant to be a public assertion of the convention’s intentions, a manifesto, and a vehicle for forging a sustainable national Black movement.

Common Feelings

Although we commonly think of Garnet’s “Address” as a radical statement—a feeling reinforced by the emotional response and contention at the 1843 Convention—his sentiments reflect issues addressed at previous conventions. Garnet’s address came shortly after state conventions in New York and Pennsylvania, which offered similarly pitched addresses to free Black citizens and white voters [1]. In this way, we might think of Garnet’s address as the crescendo of a line of thinking that was already well in the works. Rather than a uniquely radical text, it is an argument that is well grounded in a larger debate about the best ways to advance a national Black agenda.

Moreover, although much of the debate in the 1843 Convention centers upon the proposed direction of the sentiments to the “Slaves” [“Address to the Slaves’] indicated in the title, it was also not the first convention to address slaves. White abolitionists Gerrit Smith and William Lloyd Garrison delivered addresses to slaves within the past year, which were printed on behalf of the New York and New England Antislavery Societies [2].

In the following table, the assertions made in the 1840 New York State Convention are examined alongside those of Garnet’s address.


While neither list is exhaustive of the arguments of either document, what becomes apparent is that Garnet, in some ways, was taking the arguments that were being played out locally and extending them to the national stage. If Garnet’s address were radical, it was so in that it extended the already contentious precepts made about free Blacks of New York and used them to include slaves as rights-bearing citizens. “Forget not that you are native born American Citizens,” Garnet tells them, “and as such, you are justly entitled to all the rights granted to the freest.”

Credits

Written by Jake Alspaugh, graduate student of English, University of Delaware

References

[1] Convention of the Colored Inhabitants of the State of New York (1840 : Albany, NY), “Convention of the Colored Inhabitants of the State of New York, August 18-20, 1840,” ColoredConventions.org, accessed May 12, 2016, http://coloredconventions.org/items/show/230.; State Convention of the Colored Freemen of Pennsylvania (1841 : Pittsburgh, PA), “Proceedings of the State Convention of the Colored Freemen of Pennsylvania, Held in Pittsburgh, on the 23d, 24th and 25th of August, 1841, for the Purpose of Considering their Condition, and the Means of Its Improvement. (Copy 2),” ColoredConventions.org, accessed May 12, 2016, http://coloredconventions.org/items/show/240. 

[2] For an excellent book-length analysis of these three addresses, see Stanley Harrold's The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism: Addresses to the Slaves.