During the first half of the 19th century, citizens in the young country of the United States of America found plenty of topics of dissension. Besides fighting British, Native Americans, North Africans, and Mexicans in military conflicts, residents quarreled on the home front about such diverse subjects as Federal power (banking, tariffs, taxation, etc.) versus state power, the merits of temperance and the influence of alcohol, the right to vote for free blacks and women, infrastructure improvements, and public schools. But perhaps the single most divisive issue of the period was slavery. Hot topics ranged from westward expansion of slavery and passage of a gradual emancipation on a state level to a full-blown and immediate unconditional national emancipation and complete abolition of the institution.
The abolitionist movement progresses in many forms, from small independent local advocates to national anti-slavery societies and conventions. Fiery newspapermen such as William Lloyd Garrison and a host of others (black and white) stirred the pot, while nationally known speakers toured the country espousing their respective views. Often they met with violence and abuse, both verbal and physical, in their efforts. Abolitionists were run out of some towns, including the Reverend C. J. Hutchins here in York PA whose southern-sympathizing Presbyterian congregants disagreed with his occasional anti-slavery messages.
One of the most active religious leaders in the anti-slavery movement was Bishop Charles P. McIlvaine, an Ohio-based evangelical author and preacher in the American Episcopal Church. He was also an emissary of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, who used the bishop’s frequent ties to the United Kingdom to benefit the Union war effort and to foster support among the international denomination, including for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Largely overlooked in modern histories, McIlvaine’s efforts have essentially been forgotten by most students of the period. But, that has been nicely rectified by a new book by Richard W. Smith, a retired professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.
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