The constitution of the first female abolitionist society, started by free Black women in Massachusetts.
Salem Anti-Slavery Society
Constitution of the Salem Female Antislavery Society
Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, Preamble and Constitution, undated. Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society Records. Courtesy of the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Rowley, MA.
Whereas it is our belief that the principle upon which all slavery is founded, viz., that man may, in some cases, innocently hold property in man, is a false principle.
Because we believe the idea that humans can innocently own other humans is false.
And whereas we are fully convinced that the system based upon it is subversive of every precept of Christianity, and hostile to the best interests of all who are exclusive under its influence; — causing unjust and oppressive distinctions in the human family; — injuring the morals and tending to destroy all the kind and noble affections of one class – and blotting out from the other, as far as the most systematic degradation can do it — the impress of the divine image. Therefore, —
And because we believe that the system of slavery goes against every Christian value, creates false distinctions between humans, injures the morals of slaveholders, and robs enslaved people of their right to respect and dignity.
We, whose names are annexed, actuated by a sense of duty, agree to associate ourselves for the following purposes.
We who sign this document agree to work towards these common goals.
1st To manifest our entire disapprobation of the system of slavery as existing in our own country, and our decided rejection of the principle upon which it is tolerated, — and
First, we will show the world our disgust for the system of slavery.
2nd To aid in disseminating such sentiments upon this subject as we deem correct, contemplating it exclusively in a moral point of view. And though we effect nothing, by this effort, we will hope for the commendation once bestowed by our Lord; — She hath done what she could.
Second, we will share these views with the world. We will stick to moral arguments, not political actions. We know these don’t make real change, but God knows that it is all we are allowed to do.
The following are the principles which as a society we adopt; —
These are the ideas we will share with the world.
1st. Slavery should be immediately abolished. For if to hold slave is a sin, — to emancipate them immediately, must be a duty.
First, slavery should be immediately abolished. If holding a slave is a sin, then immediately freeing them is a duty.
2nd. The people of color, enslaved or free, have a perfect right to a home in this Country; — and nothing should be done to discourage them from wishing to remain here.
Second, all people of color, whether they are enslaved or free, have the right to live in the United States. No one should try to make them leave the country.
3rd. It is a duty, resting upon us, to endeavor, constantly, to elevate the condition of this class of people among ourselves; and to show that we do not consider them a distinct and lower caste, on account of their color; — but that we are ready to acknowledge them as friends and equals, whenever their characters and attainments shall justify it.
Third, it is our duty to elevate members of the Black community to equality with white people, so long as their behavior and achievements are worthy.
Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, Preamble and Constitution, transcription, undated. Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society Records. Courtesy of the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Rowley, MA.
The Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society (SFASS) was founded in Salem, Massachusetts in 1832. It was established by and for free Black women. It was the first female abolitionist society founded in the United States.
Free Black women all over the United States struggled to find outlets for their political and social activism in the antebellum period. Organizations founded by white activists often treated Black women as second-class members on account of their race. And organizations founded by Black men often treated Black women as second-class members on account of their sex. By founding their own groups and societies, like the SFASS, Black women could take leadership roles and focus on the issues that they felt most strongly about without the interference of people who looked down on them.
In addition to promoting abolitionism, the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society fought segregationist laws and practices in their community, helped people who were newly freed or had recently escaped from slavery find safety and economic security, provided educational and job training opportunities for free Black youth, and lobbied against plans to move all free Black people in the United States back to Africa. The group disbanded in 1866 after the U.S. government abolished slavery in the entire nation.
About the Resources
In 1834, the members of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society wrote and signed a formal constitution. In the preamble of the constitution, they laid out for the first time all of their core beliefs. Any woman who agreed to uphold those beliefs was allowed to join the society, regardless of the color of her skin.
It should be noted that the women framed their work in the realm of morality, not politics. This was to protect themselves from being accused of stepping outside the bounds of appropriate middle-class behavior.
abolitionist: A person or group that wanted to end the practice of slavery.
antebellum: Before the American Civil War.
constitution: A document that outlines the laws of a government or society.
preamble: The introduction section of a constitution.
segregationist: Something that supports the separation of races.
What are the core principles of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society?
What do these core principles reveal about the status of Black people in the United States in the 1830s?
Why does the SFASS stress the right of free Black people to choose to live in the United States?
What is the significance of the first female anti-slavery society being founded by and for women of color?
The records for the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society are available online. Invite students to explore the SFASS records to learn more about the day-to-day operations of the society.
Ask students to investigate the position and goals of the American Colonization Society and then write about how the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society felt about this movement.