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Life in Oxford

The Abolitionist Movement

Ohio, as well as Oxford, was reeling with the advent of the Civil War. Being so close to the border, many people had southern sympathies. On February 8, 1863 the Oxford public gathered at the Presbyterian Church on Church Street and Poplar Avenue to hear Swing preach a “political sermon.” In his sermon Swing compares slavery with a snake “anxious to crush, hungry for a glutton’s feast.” He goes on to say, “But Slavery does not only consume states. It ruins the souls of men. It changes the halls of Congress into a convention of pugilists and duelists.” Swing hated slavery for what it did to the human spirit. Swing championed the cause of the Abolitionist Movement.

The Abolitionist Movement began in 1816 when Benjamin Lundy founded the Union Humane Society in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. Lundy expressed the sinfulness of slavery, its wastefulness in economic terms and the danger it represented to the lives of Americans and to the preservation of the Union. The growth of the abolition movement coincided with the rapid urbanization and shift to nonagricultural employment. The socioeconomic developments of the 1820s brought about reform in the country and the question of slavery was receiving more thought. Lundy influenced the beliefs of William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison became the one of the most famous abolitionists of the early 19th century. He was the creator of The Liberator, an anti-slavery newspaper. Another well-known abolitionist was John Brown, but unlike most abolitionists at the time, Brown did not just act with his voice, he acted with aggression. In 1859, he tried to start a slave uprising, but failed.

The Abolitionist movement spilt in the 1850s over the question of the Constitution. Garrison and his followers believed that the Constitution was a pact with slavery and that it welcomed and supported the institution. Garrison called for immediate emancipation. The other group of abolitionists like Lysander Spooner and Fredrick Douglas believed that the Constitution rejected slavery but that slavery existed outside of the power of the Constitution, and because the Constitution did not legal authority over it, and the Constitution was supposed to be the supreme law, that slavery should be abolished.

At Miami, the first anti-slavery society was formed in 1834. They held their first meeting on June 12th, 1834. In southern Ohio, many had to choose which side to be on. After David Swing’s sermon on slavery, an article appeared in the Cincinnati Inquirer calling his sermon nothing but “dirty pulpit politics.” The writer penned his name MIAMI.  

William Llyod Garrison was a leader in the Anti-Slavery movements. His writings influenced Swing's convictions on slavery. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-10320

Miami University         William Holmes McGuffey