Anti-slavery petitions

Like many Quakers, the Corsons of Plymouth Meeting were active in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad, and at least one member of the family was involved with the American Anti-Slavery Society.


In 1834, the newly formed American Anti-Slavery Society urged it’s members to petition Congress on various issues relating to slavery and its abolition.  This morning I found two such petitions in the Corson Family Papers.

This first one is to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.  You can get a better look at it by clicking on the image.


And this one is to end the domestic interstate slave trade.


If you compare the two petitions, you’ll notice that they have the same names in almost the same order.  It’s likely they were circulated at the same time.

Now, since they’re here in Montgomery County and not the National Archives, it seems likely that these petitions did not make it to Congress.  I looked through some more of the collection to find an answer.  I started with Dr. Hiram Corson’s diaries, which are extensive.  Unfortunately, he did not keep his diaries during the 1830’s and early 1840’s, when the petitions were most common.  So I took a quick look through Alan Corson’s papers and found some correspondence with Jacob Fry, Jr., the congressman for Pennsylvania’s 5th district from 1835 to 1839.

Here’s a letter presenting this or a similar petition to the congressman:


So, I checked out the Honorable Mr. Fry.  The internet came up with very little, but when I turned to our old card catalog, I found a brief biography of Fry in Lives of the Eminent Dead and Biographical Notices of Prominent Living Citizens of Montgomery County, PA by Moses Augé.  It turns out that Fry was a Democrat.

Petitions sent in by the various anti-slavery groups caused much controversy in Washington.  Congressman (and former president) John Quincy Adams championed the petitions, bringing them to the floor of the House.  The Democrats managed to stifle the small but growing abolition movement by voting to table all petitions (meaning they could not be debated).  Known as the “Gag” Rule, it remained in place until 1844.  According to Augé, Fry supported the Gag Rule, “doubtless from convictions of duty” to President Van Buren.

So, it’s likely these petitions never got anywhere, at least in the short run.

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