Taking a Stand

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"And who has not longed for the day when 'every yoke shall be broken and the oppressed go free.'" Illinois Anti-Slavery Convention, 1837

Proponents of abolition became more vocal in the 1830s, and tensions grew between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in Illinois. Abolitionists formed societies, established newspapers, aided runaway slaves, battled in the courts and sought political power. Considered radical by the majority of the population, they were met with fierce and often violent opposition.

Illinois College in Jacksonville was a center of the abolitionist movement in Illinois. President Edward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, was an outspoken opponent of slavery who helped organize the Illinois State Antislavery Society in 1837. Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner helped three black women to freedom, and student Samuel Willard was prosecuted and fined for attempting to free an escaped slave. Other students were indicted for harboring runaway slaves, and two houses near the college are believed to have been part of the Underground Railroad.

Founded in 1837 by anti-slavery advocates from New York State, Galesburg and Knox College also were significant hubs of abolitionist and Underground Railroad activity in west-central Illinois. The Knox College founding document, called the Circular and Plan, opposed slavery and declared that the college would be accessible to students regardless of their financial means and regardless of their race.

Mary Brown Davis was one of the most prominent woman abolitionists in Illinois. Despite being the daughter of a prominent Virginia slaveholder, she was staunchly anti-slavery from a young age. After settling in Peoria (she later moved to Galesburg and then Chicago), she began to write regularly for the Western Citizen, the abolitionist paper. Davis was pivotal in establishing the Peoria Female Anti-Slavery Society and worked with other women to seek repeal of Illinois' Black Laws.

"But, to be plain, you are dissatisfied with me about the negro. Quite likely there is a difference of opinion between you and myself upon that subject. I certainly wish that all men could be free, while I suppose you do not." Abraham Lincoln, 1863

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