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Arthur Tappan in Abolitionists

Arthur Tappan (1786-1865) was an American abolitionist from Northampton, Massachusetts. He became very wealthy from the dry goods business that he ran with his brother and partner, Lewis, in New York City. Tappan was a generous philanthropist and abolition was one of his chief causes. He organized the first state Anti-Slavery Society in New York and was then elected the first president of the national American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. He split with William Lloyd Garrison in 1840 and helped organize the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, where he also served as president. The rupture came because Garrison's followers were more radical than the Tappans; Garrisonians wanted a new government that forbade slavery from the start, and they considered the United States Constitution to be a pro-slavery document that was also illegal because it denied African-Americans their freedom. The Tappans pursued a more moderate route that led to the emergence of the Liberty Party, which they founded along with Theodore Dwight Weld, in 1840. Garrison scorned this sort of political action as futile, but the Tappans believed it could work. The Liberty Party lasted eight years and influenced many local elections where legislators were persuaded to adopt antislavery platforms. When it dissolved in 1848, many of the former members joined up with the Free Soil Party (which was then absorbed into the Republican Party in 1854).

Tappan's courage and generosity often made him the target of hostile northern anti-abolitionist mobs. Yet his commitment to the cause remained steadfast. When Arthur Tappan supported white pastor Simeon S. Jocelyn's proposal for a black college in New Haven, Connecticut (in 1831), local residents stoned his house on Temple Street to demonstrate their opposition to the plan. In 1832, Tappan financed William Lloyd Garrison's Thoughts on African Colonization, an attack on the American Colonization Society. With Tappan's support, the pamphlet gained a wide circulation, reaching as far west as Ohio. He helped to found and served as president of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS), the first national abolitionist organization. When the AAS mailed out some 385,000 inflammatory pamphlets to the South in 1835, southern governments put a price on Tappan's head: in East Feliciana, Louisiana, and Mount Meigs, Alabama, he was worth $50,000; New Orleans offered $100,000 for his delivery.

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