1841: Isaac Dillon Cadwallader to Joel Wood

The signature on this letter has been partially destroyed but I believe it was written by Isaac Dillon Cadwallader (1825-1880) who would have been 16 at the time. Isaac’s parents were Rees Cadwalader (1790-1862) and Hannah Dillon (1787-1829) of Zanesville, Muskingham county, Ohio, but Reece relocated to Salem in Columbiana county sometimes in the 1830s. In the 1840s when this letter was written, Salem was an emerging antislavery community. The Anti-Slavery Bugle began publication in nearby New Lisbon (now Lisbon) in June 1845 but moved its press to Salem in September of that year. Their motto was “No Union with Slaveholders.” As Quakers, the Cadwallader family were staunch antislavery proponents.

The letter was addressed to Cadwallader’s friend, Joel Wood (1814-1892) of Martin’s Ferry, Belmont county, Ohio, to whom he sent his letter. Joel was married to Elizabeth McGrew (1819-1908) in 1837. He was described as an abolitionist, merchant, teacher, member of the school board, and the First President and Director of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad. Joel and his wife became members of the Quaker Society in 1837.

Charles C. Burleigh, a leader in the Antislavery movement in the United States. He spoke in 1841 of The American Idea—“the idea of the perfectness and inalienability of human rights, that he receives all his rights from his creator and none from the government.”

Most of Cadwallader’s letter refers to the series of antislavery speeches that took place in Ohio by itinerant lecturers in the summer and fall of 1841. Arresting his attention in particular was Charles Calistus Burleigh, the “well-traveled Connecticut-born lecturer who edited the National Anti-Slavery Standard.” Burleigh would later contribute editorials for Salem’s, Anti-Slavery Bugle. Oliver Johnson, another agent of the American Antislavery Society, joined Dr. Erasmus D. Hudson and Burleigh for part of the 1841 tour. In a letter from October of that year, Hudson revealed that he and Burleigh had, “over the course of several weeks, spoken in a courthouse, a private home, a Methodist and Friends meeting houses, an Associate Reformed Church, , and a public hall, and had conducted multiple outdoor meetings.” [See: Race and Riots: Fighting Slavery and Prejudice in the Old Northwest by Dana Elizabeth Weiner]

We surmise from Cadwallader’s letter that he was, at the time, disappointed with his fellow Quakers who did not warmly embrace the abolitionist movement as much as himself. Though history has taught us that Quakers shared anti-slavery sentiments generally, there were also a large number that believed the abolitionists too radical in their actions which would lead most certainly to violence. In short, they valued “peace” more than equality. Cadwallader summed it best when he wrote, “Some of the Quakers here say the slaves are better off than they would if set at liberty; and unless they would go to someplace by themselves, they had better remain slaves as they are.”


First day afternoon
September 11, 1841

Dear friend,

I have just this minute finished reading thy letter and as I always do, feel as if I must answer it immediately—or at least begin. Thy last letter I did not get till after I wrote or, of course, I should have mentioned. We had 3/4 of a notion to start yesterday but on looking about, found we could not leave home yet. I have my corn to cut up & a house to build & plaster, & a well to dig and wall, &c. &c. before cold weather. But notwithstanding all this, I have not entirely given out going to Martinsville. That sets near my heart.

Taking thy letter in order, the next thing that needs attention is my estimate of Burleigh and Thomas. Nothing could be more literally true than thy description of the order of Thomas’ speaking, judging by all thee has to judge by. His [ ] speech such was most decidedly the character of that splendid speech. But if I were to judge him only by that speech, I should do him unpardonable injustice. Splendor and elegance, though ministers of his will, are by no means his stronghold. He is much more close  and logical in his reasoning than Burleigh & of statistical facts, he is the embodiment. I never heard any man who could in the same length of time present anything like the amount of facts & at the same time never utter one dry prosaic sentence. In this matter-of-fact business, I think Burleigh is deficient, though I cheerfully accord to him all you claim for him, only precedence of Thomas. I have heard each of them four  different times. Burleigh will merit the name given him by [William Lloyd] Garrison—“the antislavery Patrick Henry.” I watched him close by when with him, and if P. Henry was what writ described him, then there is a deep similitude between them. The same impatience of set rules, the same abhorrence of dry matters-of-fact, & of details, the same aversion to studied preparation and laborious arrangement, the same loose and  unbridled liberty of imagination.

First day evening 19th. Last fourth day I went to N[ew] Lisbon to hear Burleigh, &c., &c. We also nominated two persons to the legislature—one for the Senate and one for the lower House. The rest of the ticket we left blank. The Whigs derided, remonstrated, threatened, coaxed, and flattered, but all would  not do, we would nominate candidates. Last year the Locos [Democrats] had a majority of about 50, year before about 200, and [the] year before [that] 500. So you see the Whigs counted on carrying the ticket and I think they would if they had have shown any respect to abolitionists. But they rejected the persons they had formerly used partly because they were too antislavery. I was at the nomination meeting of the Whigs and was in the nomination committee and done all I could to get a good ticket—so did others—but they would not hear to  us, or heed us, but thought we would “go it” as we had been doing. They now see the error of their ways and find too late that we are not always going to be doe [dough] faces. As we stand now, neither ours nor theirs  can be elected, so you see we vote for ours as a matter of principle; they for theirs “for because.” We expect to get 200 perhaps. If we do, we can control them hereafter. I was urged by some to receive the  nomination on our ticket, but I was afraid it might hurt my prospects in future, and beside I hated to be bored as I know the candidates will be. And besides, I was on the committee and my name was published as going it to the death for that ticket.

Well I heard Burleigh four or five times at Lisbon and find it necessary to change my opinion of him somewhat. I find he is more of a thinker and a better reasoner than I had thought. He takes new and radical grounds, such as he has thought out himself, & they are no doubt correct. He defined democracy in a way new to the professed democrats. I’ll give an example or two. He said the majority, merely because they were a majority, had no right to rule even one man. And he translated the old democratic proverb into english (i.e.) “The greatest good to the greatest number,” and all being the “greatest number.” The  sentence should read The greatest good of all. This is the pure unadulterated democracy. But the  discourse I was most pleased with was not strictly—or at least not exclusively—antislavery. His text was, “Our country and its destiny.” This thee sees was a subject broad enough for his mighty intellect but not  too broad. Here he struck out into a new and (except himself) an untried and untrodden path and wrung out of the chaotic mass of ideas and theories that are worth years of intellectual grubbing to obtain the principle of which he called the “American idea.”

He took a rapid view of the geographical situation of our country in relation to others, showing it is not likely to be affected by other countries nor be interrupted  by them in carrying out any idea it might think fit. Then he showed its capabilities of living within itself, its diversity of climate and soil, &c., &c. Then that it was out from under the shadow of the thrones of  Europe and not ruled by its barbarous customs handed down from the dark ages. Then that the new  country was settled by a peculiar kind of people, or at least entertaining peculiar principles—the very principles that were intended to be carried out to perfection in this country—that is, “the individuality of man.” This, he says, is the destiny of our country. The idea that it is intended to work out—“The  American Idea”—the idea of the perfectness and inalienability of human rights, that he receives all his rights from his creator and none from the government. He says the Declaration of Independence was the first  political document that recognized this idea. He says all former governments recognized the doctrine that individual interests and even life and liberty might be sacrificed to the public good. This he calls false and dangerous doctrine, & at war with the foundation doctrine of the American government. The ancient republics were merely free republics, not as this is intended to be—a republic of free men.

I have given but the most imperfect sketch of his speech. Indeed it would be but a mere outline if I was to do all I could. I have some faint hopes of seeing thee face to face sometime this fall. I had expected it long before now but I now find it will not be in less time than one month if that soon. I have this confounded house on hand and can get no one to work at it and fifty other things to do beside. I wish you would come. It would suit my convenience much better and I think you could certainly leave home more easily than we can.

“Some of the Quakers here say the slaves are better off than they would if set at liberty; and unless they would go to some place by themselves, they had better remain slaves as they are.”

I. D. Cadwallader, 19 September 1841

29th. Yesterday I received a letter from I. B. Brook on the subject of your Quaker Antislavery Society asking for useful information &c. and that I should attend the neighboring meetings and give notice at the close that all who wish to form a Friends Antislavery Society will stop &c. I believe the most pertinent  information I have for him is that I have not the honor of belonging to that quiet, loving dead sea of a religious body & of course cannot perform the service he asks at my hands & if I was a member, it  would require the courage of a Bonaparte to beard the proslavery lion in his den. I am willing and anxious to do anything I can to forward your enterprise but I have my doubts whether you can effect anything in this society by that kind of action that you cannot effect in the ordinary societies. I know the true objection with Friends is not so much to the union with other folks as it is to the antislavery doctrine  itself, though it is nothing more nor less than Quaker doctrine. Some of the Quakers here say the slaves are better off than they would if set at liberty; and unless they would go to some place by themselves, they had better remain slaves as they are. This is called wholesome doctrine. By the way, who is this I. B. Brook?  If you will specify any kind of information, I will give it if I can.

If thee starts away East or West or any other direction, thee will be so good as to let me know so that I need not go there while thee is not home. This is only to provide [ ] but I am much  afraid we cannot get off till it is too cold to enjoy a visit and in that case we will not go till Spring.

Deb sends her usual compliments to [ ]

—   J. D. Ca…

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