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First National Abolition Convention Addresses the Citizens of the United States
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“Freedom and slavery cannot long exist together. An unlimited power over the time, labour, and posterity of our fellow-creatures, necessarily unfits men for discharging the public and private duties of citizens of a republic…. What people will advocate freedom, with a zeal proportioned to its blessings, while they view the purest republic to the world tolerating in its bosom a body of slaves?...”

Thirty-two delegates from nine abolition societies in six states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland) met on January 1, 1794 in Philadelphia’s City Hall. The convention prepared this petition to citizens, and other petitions and addresses to Congress, state legislatures, and other abolition societies, all calling for gradual modes of emancipation and improvements in the conditions of African Americans, both enslaved and free.

[ABOLITION]. Address of a Convention of Delegates from the Abolition Society, to the Citizens of the United States. New York: William Durell, 1794. 7 pp., 4.8 x 8.2 in.

Inventory #27075       Price: $3,750


“United to you by the ties of citizenship, and partakers with you of the blessings of a free government, we take the liberty of addressing you upon a subject, highly interesting to the credit and prosperity of the United States….

    Much has been done by the citizens of some of the states to abolish this disgraceful traffic, and to improve the condition of those unhappy people, whom the ignorance, or avarice of our ancestors had bequeathed to us as slaves; but the evil still continues, and our country is yet disgraced <4> by laws and practices, which level the creature man with a part of the brute creation… Freedom and slavery cannot long exist together. An unlimited power over the time, labour, and posterity of our fellow-creatures, necessarily unfits men for discharging the public and private duties of citizens of a republic…. It is unfriendly to the present exertions of the inhabitants of Europe, in favour of liberty. What people will advocate freedom, with a zeal proportioned to its blessings, while they view the purest republic <5> to the world tolerating in its bosom a body of slaves?...

    Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity. It prostrates every benevolent and just principle of action in the human heart. It is rebellion against the authority of a common FATHER… <6> <7>

    We shall conclude this address by recommending to you,

    First, To refrain immediately from that species of rapine and murder which has improperly been softened with the name of the African trade. It is Indian cruelty, and Algerine piracy, in another form.

    Secondly, To form societies, in every state, for the purpose of promoting the abolition of the slave-trade, of domestic slavery, the relief of persons unlawfully held in bondage, and for the improvement of the condition of Africans, and their descendants among us.

    The Societies, which we represent, have beheld, with triumph, the success of their exertions, in many instances, in favour of their African brethren; and in a full reliance upon the continuance of divine support and direction, they humbly hope, their labours will never cease, while there exists a single slave in the United States.


Historical Background

The convention elected Joseph Bloomfield (1753-1823) as president. He had freed his own slaves at a public ceremony on July 4, 1783, at Woodbridge, New Jersey, and was president of the New Jersey Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He commanded a brigade of militia in the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion later in 1794, and as Democratic-Republican Governor of New Jersey (1801-1802, 1803-1812) and Congressman from New Jersey (1817-1821). They chose John McCree as secretary. He served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and for Improving the Condition of the African Race, organized in 1775.


Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) of Philadelphia, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of five members of the agenda committee. The committee’s report as adopted called for a memorial to Congress by U.S. citizens to abolish the slave trade and to prohibit the outfitting of foreign ships in U.S. ports to be used in the international slave trade. It also called for petitions to state legislatures to end slave importation and for addresses to other abolition societies, encouraging them to continue their work on behalf of African Americans, both enslaved and free. Finally, it called for an address to citizens of the United States. The Convention then appointed smaller committees to prepare each of these memorials and addresses.


After a week of deliberations, the convention issued several documents, including this Address to Citizens, prepared by a committee of Benjamin Rush, Delaware Quaker abolitionist Warner Mifflin (1745-1798), and Isaac H. Starr, also of Delaware.[1]

The convention published its address to abolitionist societies in the form of a circular letter. In that, the delegates declared, “The advantages to be derived from this meeting are so evident, that we have agreed earnestly to recommend to you, that a similar meeting be annually convened, until the great object of our association—the liberty of our fellow-men—shall be fully and unequivocally established.”[2]

The memorial to Congress addressed the one aspect of the slave trade that Congress in 1790 had left open for petitioning. It urged Congress to prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in the slave trade and outfitting foreign ships for that trade. The convention authorized Joseph Bloomfield to submit the memorial to Congress, which he did on January 28, 1794. Both houses referred it to committees without debate. The House committee, chaired by Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut, reported on it and a 1793 Quaker petition from Rhode Island on February 11 and received authorization to draft a bill, which the committee presented on February 28. The bill outlawed the building or equipping in any American port of vessels destined for the slave trade, and prohibited American citizens from engaging in the slave trade. On March 22, 1794, Congress passed a law prohibiting American ships from participating in the international slave trade and imposing fines for violators.[3] Congress strengthened the act in 1800 by sharply raising the fines. Although other factors contributed to the passage of the act, the abolition convention’s memorial had arrived at an auspicious moment.

British abolitionist Samuel Hoare, writing for the London society, exulted to the Pennsylvania abolition society a few months later: “Indeed if the Friends of the Africans in America do continue to go on in the regular and harmonious Manner in which they have begun, cooperating with one another at the same time through the whole Union, holding annual Conventions, persevering to awaken Men’s Minds by the Principles they profess and the Rights and Blessings they enjoy, and calling publickly on one State to follow the beneficent Example of another.... We cannot but believe that the Dawn of that Day is not far off, when Skin shall no longer afford a handle for Injury and a seat for prejudice, but that black and white then shall be seen living together throughout the united States as Friends and Brethren....”[4] Reflective of the early optimism of these abolitionists, John Rodgers, the chairman of the committee of correspondence for the New York society, wrote to James Pemberton in June 1794: “we have hitherto been able only to lop off some of the branches of Slavery, but we hope soon to lay the axe to the roots of the tree itself.”[5]

The convention continued to meet nearly annually for more than forty years, adopting a constitution in 1803 and establishing its formal title as “The American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and Improving the Condition of the African Race.” Except for 1829 and 1832, the Convention’s regular sessions were held in Philadelphia, and at least thirty societies from eleven states and the District of Columbia were represented in its sessions over the forty years of its existence. After a poorly attended meeting in 1832, the Convention met again in 1837 only formally to disband and distribute its assets.[6]

William Durell (ca. 1766-1845) was a printer and bookseller in New York City from ca. 1794-to 1810. He began by publishing “toy books” and proceeded to larger works, including more than 100 volumes of British classics. In 1798, Durell was indicted for a violation of the Sedition Act for publishing an article comparing President John Adams to traitor Benedict Arnold. He was released on $4,000 bail, a huge sum in that day, and was tried and received a sentence of four months in prison in May 1800.

Condition: Disbound; foxing; minor wear.

Evans 26531; Sabin 81755. The last copy found in auction records sold in 1957.

OCLC lists holdings at 16 institutions, but some, such as the University of West Florida, and Faulkner University School of Law may capture online sources rather than original copies, per a look at those institutions’ card catalogs.

Census of Copies:

· American Antiquarian Society

· Berea College

· British Library

· Brooklyn Historical Society

· Faulkner University, Jones School of Law (?)

· Hampton University

· Library of Congress

· Massachusetts Historical Society

· New York Historical Society

· New York Public Library

· Simon Fraser University

· University of Michigan, William Clements Library

· University of Pennsylvania

· University of Toledo

· University of West Florida (?)

· Yale University

[1] Minutes of the Proceedings of a Convention of Delegates from the Abolition Societies Established in different Parts of the United States, Assembled at Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Zachariah Poulson Jr. 1794),10.

[2] Gazette of the United States and Evening Advertiser (Philadelphia, PA), April 14, 1794, 2:4.

[3] An Act to prohibit the carrying on the Slave Trade from the United States to any foreign place or country, March 22, 1794, 1 Stat. 347.

[4] Samuel Hoare to Pennsylvania Abolition Society, July 10, 1794, Cox-Parrish-Wharton Papers, 11:97, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

[5] John Rodgers to James Pemberton, June 24, 1794, Pennsylvania Abolition Society Collection (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1976), reel 11.

[6] Robert Duane Sayre, “The Evolution of Early American Abolitionism: The American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and Improving the Condition of the African Race, 1794-1837,” Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1987.

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