Heritage \ Writings \

James G. Birney's Influence on Michigan Pioneer Politics
while residing in settlement of Lower Saginaw (now, Bay City, MI)

1890 - Birney and Free-soil Party, excerpts related to Birney. (Added Feb., 2009)

Historical Collections, Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, Vol. XVII, 1892

ANNUAL MEETING, JUNE 11 AND 12, 1890.

MICHIGAN IN HER PIONEER POLITICS

By A. D. P. Van Buren.

Page 247:

James G. Birney of Kentucky entered heartily into the reform as writer and lecturer, and from first to last, gave his time, money and his entire influence to the work of anti-slavery reform. And it was reform that told in American politics; reform that not only reached the test of political power at the ballot box, but was held there by party organization till that party gained the ascendency and was put in control of the government. Thus James G. Birney successfully introduced ethics into American politics. He was Wilberforce, who, having begun anti-slavery reform, did not cease in his work till the problem of American slavery, through administrative ascendency, was solved by the freedom of 6,000,000 slaves.

There are pages in Michigan history that are replete with genuine reform in aid of this national anti-slavery movement, which was so well begun by Benjamin Lundy and continued by James G. Birney. There were enough liberty men in the State from the start, to keep the reform sentiment alive in the minds, feelings and hearts of the people. And when the time came, as it did in 1841, for political action, they put Jabez S. Fritz in nomination as free soil candidate for governor, who received 1,223 votes, while Philo C. Fuller, whig candidate, got 15,439, and John S. Barry, democratic candidate, was elected with 29,993 votes. Among the nine abolitionists at Battle Creek who voted for Jabez S. Fritz, in 1841, were Erastus Hussey, Henry Willis, Silas Dodge, Dea. Isaac Mason, Elder John Harris. The other four names I have forgotten. The democrats and whigs laughed at and jeered these abolition voters. But they calmly bore the taunts. I remember that Mr. Hussey said to them “you old party men may laugh at and ridicule us as much as you please, the day is coming when we will be honored for the very act you are now deriding!” It took only nineteen years to make this prediction true, in the election of Abraham Lincoln president, in 1860.

The “under ground railroad,” starting at a point on the Ohio river, the border line between the land of slavery and freedom, went through Ohio and Michigan to Detroit, and thence across the river into Canada, the land of refuge and the home of the escaped slave.

Battle Creek was one of the best known and important stations on this road. To say that it was the home of Hon. Erastus Hussey is enough to establish that fact. He was the great friend of the fugitive slave, and has been the means of aiding hundreds of them to reach Canada. With him labored Henry Willis, as well as Dr. S. B. Thayer, Orland Moffatt, Silas Dodge and others of the same place. Connected with this road were Dr. N. M. Thomas, of Schoolcraft, Dr. Uriah Upjohn, who was free-soil candidate for congress, and Dea. Hydenburg of Kalamzoo, Dea. Simeon Mills and his brothers, and the Mays of Gull Prairie.

In 1843, James G. Birney was the free-soil nominee for Governor, receiving 2,776 votes against 21,392 for John S. Barry. James G. Birney was also the free-soil nominee for Governor in 1845, getting 3,023 votes, while Alpheus Felch, democratic nominee was elected with 20,123 votes. In 1847, Chester Gurney of Centerville, was the free-soil candidate for Governor, receiving 2,585 votes, while Epaphroditus Ransom, democrat, was elected with 24,639 votes. In 1852, Isaac P. Christiancy was the free-soil candidate for Governor, getting 5,850 votes, while Robert McClellan, democrat, was elected with 28,827.

Thus James G. Birney became the leader who mustered, drilled and trained the abolition forces in Michigan for a still larger and more important field – that of our national politics, and there, in two presidential contests he led them against their old foes, and although not gaining the victory, yet he handed them over to other leaders with whom, increased in numbers and discipline, they constituted the “old guard” that turned the tide of battle in favor of the republicans in the presidential contest in 1860.

(Skipped portion of page 249, all of 250 & 251.)

Page 252:

Thus we have given the story of the rise and growth of the anti-slavery movement, which as we have seen was first started by Benjamin Lundy, further advanced by Lovejoy, and really made national through party organization by James G. Birney. For, with the name of James G. Birney is associated the very genesis of the true, successful abolition party, and with the name of Martin VanBuren is associated the very political power which carried the abolition movement into the party organization, which held it there, until its creed was formulated in that party's platform at the national convention at Buffalo in 1848.

It is said that some of the greatest achievements in this life have sprung form acts recorded on the fly leaves of history. The Benjamin Lundy “liberty men,” the practical old line of abolitionists, the “Wilmot proviso men,” the John P. Hale “free-soilers,” the old radical whigs and democrats, all united, and met in convention, “under the oaks” at Jackson in 1854, and here, on that ever memorable occasion, like the barons at Runnymede, they not only made some grand history for their country, but their action resulted in securing the magna charta of freedom to six millions of their enslave fellow beings. This we can truly call the greatest achievement in American politics.

Let us review, in outline, the growth and progress of this great movement. In 1840 the liberty party nominated as their president James G. Birney, of New York, and Francis J. Lemoyne, of Pennsylvania, vice president, and they received 7,509 votes. In 1844, the liberty party again put James G. Birney in the field as their president, and Thomas Morris of Ohio, for vice president, and they received 62,300 votes.

In 1848, the same party, now “free-soilers,” put in nomination Martin VanBuren for president and Charles Francis Adams to vice president, who got 291,263 votes. In 1852 the free-soilers nominated John P. Hale of New Hampshire, for president, and Geo. W. Julian of Ind., for vice president who got 156,149 votes. In 1856, the young republican party followed the lead of John C. Feemont for president and William L. Dayton of N. J., for vice president, who got 1,341,264 votes. Here the old line whigs who had not joined the free-soilers, and later republicans, nominated Millard Fillmore for president, and Andrew J. Donaldson, of Tennessee, for vice president. This was the American or know nothing party, and got 874,534 votes, almost twice as many as Freemont needed to elect him. In 1860 the republicans went into power under Abraham Lincoln for president, and Hannibal Hamlin for vice president, getting 1,866,352 votes.

Skipped to page 255:

The stronghold of the abolitionists in central Michigan was the little brown Quaker “meeting house” in Battle Creek. Here, in this unpretentious little building, use to gather many of the distinguished abolition orators and their fellower. Battle Creek was the home of the Husseys, the Meritts, the Cornells, the Laphams, the Suttons, all Quakers and all abolitionists or moral reformers. Consequently here came, in those anti-slavery days, Parker, Pilsbury, C. C. Burleigh, Stephen S. Foster, and Abbey Kelley Foster, Henry C. Wright, Garrisonians of the genuine type, and like their leader the most impracticable, yes, incorrigible, class of reformers known in the history of American political annals. This small number of resolute, ultra abolitionists who care little for the union in comparison with the one cause of human rights, and whose moral fervor found in the compromises of the constitution, so dear and sacred to all American statesmen, only a covenant with hell, this class were, as far as cooperation in any practical reform was concerned, of no benefit to the genuine anti-slavery movement of Lundy, Lovejoy, Birney and their compeers. Neither did Gerrit Smith aid the true reform party movement, for he believed that congress had power to abolish slavery in the states where it existed. Hence like the Garrisonians he was impracticable as a reformer of his day. That these ultra abolitionists did great good to the cause of anti-slavery, by their bold and able discussion of the question of human freedom, is undeniable. But for all effectual, practical abolition reform they were of no use to the great moral conflict by which the reform party eventually succeeded in getting into power. While the great political anti-slavery movement was going on, these ultra abolitionists under the lead of Garrison, Phillips and others had decided to oppose all voting and all political efforts under the constitution. They adopted as their motto -- “No union with slaveholders.” Nothing but a dissolution of the union would accomplish their object. This republic was not a model, but a warning to nations, -- “dissolve the union and abolish slavery,” was their battle cry. Wendell Phillips said on one occasion “Thank God, I am not a citizen of the United States!”

(Skipped page 256:)

Page 257:

But to Hon. Erastus Hussey of Battle Creek, to I. P. Christiancy of Monroe, and to Hon. Hovey E. Clark of Detroit, and their compeers in Michigan, all credit and honor is due for their able and successful efforts in carrying on the great moral conflict that resulted or culminated in the formation of the national republican party under oaks at Jackson, July 6, 1854. They differed from Garrison and his impracticable school, and could not, and did not work with them. Garrison had written when in jail in Boston,

“I am an abolitionists,
And glory in the name,
Although by slavery's minions hist,
And coved o'er with shame.”

Lundy, Lovejoy, Birney, and their co-workers, were just as good abolitionists as Wm. Loyd Garrison and his co-workers, and did a thousand times more for the anti-slavery cause and for the emancipation of the southern slaves.

(Skipped pages 258 – 267)

BENJAMIN LUNDY.

As Benjamin Lundy was the originator of this great moral movement I give here a brief sktech of his career, and also of James G. Birney and Elijah P. Lovejoy, who so successfully continued the great reform he began; Lundy was a genuine reformer.

His “Genius of Emancipation” published monthly (1822) became the instrument of what is called modern abolitionism, and foreshadowed the beginning of successful abolitionism. He also published the “Weekly Recorder,” an indefinite title, which was his way of sugaring what soon became the region where it was published, Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, a very bitter pill. Benjamin Lundy was a Quaker of the Hixite school. There is a history of the anti-slaver cause, made up of acts not recorded in books, which constitutes the true history of Benjamin Lundy's life. William Lloyd Garrison said of Lundy -- “It is to b>Benjamin Lundy that I owe all that I am as the friend of the slave.” Lundy removed in his old age to Illinois. The Garrison and the Gerrit Smith parties sent their lecturers through that state and the northwest. But it was of very little avail against the organized opposition of the old parties. But the liberty party proper led by Lundy grew stronger at every election, and finally commanded the entire situation. For the real anti-slaver movement west of the Ohio had none of the clizue issues, and side issues that divided the anti-slavery reformers of the easter n cities. Lundy not only gave life, and spirit to the cause n the west, but he begat sonsRanklin, Giddings, Gamaliel, Bailey, Washburn and Lincoln. These sons carried out his doctrine, the government of the fathers, the Declaration of Independence being the bond of Union and interpreter of the constitution. They were his anti-slavery followers, voting abolitionists under the constitution. They were liberty party men on a large basis, voting citizens, regarding slavery as a political power that must be destroyed by political influences. This movement finally commanded the entire situation, and gave existence to the republican party and Lincoln to the presidency, as the legitimate growth of the policy that had shaped its course from the beginning – all of it carried forth under the banner that Lundy had first set up on the western prairies.

JAMES G. BIRNEY.

With the name of James G. Birney is associated the very genesis of the republican party – even before it was name as such. No greater change in public opinion has ever been witnessed than was brought about by the work of the old abolition leaders. They were in no sense united. William Lloyd Garrison and others of his kind held aloof from all political action. They denounce the constitution and refused cooperation with the large wing of the party who believed in exerting the powers of the nation to restrain slavery and prevent any additional territory or state's admission with human slavery. Of this class Mr. Birney was the leading pioneer, and for many years the most active and efficient advocate. He traveled from state to state, visited legislatures and commanded attention. It was thus that in the winter of 1837-38 he visited every state capital from Maine to Ohio and Michigan in which a legislative body was in session. In Massachusetts and Pennsylvania he was instrumental in having enacted laws which gave fleeing slaves a trial by jury; Connecticut repealed her black laws, and nearly every other state visited, passed resolutions demanding the right of petition, and expressed opposition to the admission of Texas with slavery. Anti-slavery societies were formed everywhere east and west, and unpaid agents and lecturers traversed the country scattering books and pamphlets and challenging in debate. The anti-slavery leaders soon saw their disadvantage in not having representation in Congress. John C. Alvord of Massachusetts was elected, and great hopes and expectations rested with him, as he was a prominent leader. But his death occurred before taking his seat. John Quincy Adams was elected the same year. William Slade, of Vermont; Benjamin Wade and J. R. Giddings, of Ohio; John P. Hale, of New Hampshire; Seth M. Gates, of New York. With such men as these in the front and the determined efforts of statesmen to strengthen their lines, the great battle was fully on in “the repeal of the Missouri compromise” measures, and never again settled until the surrender of Appomattox. The part played by women in the great movement was full equal to that of the men, although small mention is made of it in the volume. It is even doubtful whether any ten men did as much to mass public sentiment behind the anti-slavery cause as did Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Quaker church, always the open enemy of slavery, sent out a host of women workers lead by that noble and eloquent woman Lucretia Mott, aided by Lucy Stone and others. Mr. Birney was a Kentuckian, and his grandfather and father were slaveholders, but were really opposed to the institution. Mr. Birney graduated at Princeton in 1810. He returned to Kentucky and married Agatha, daughter of Judge McDowell. In 1816 he was elected to the Kentucky legislature. From Kentucky he moved to Alabama, settled upon a plantation, and began the practice of law in the Huntsville circuit. He and his wife had both inherited a number of slaves, which they took with them to their new home in Alabama. He proved himself to be a poor farmer, and in addition had the misfortune common to the country, to bet heavily and lose. He was compelled to mortgage slaves and farm, and afterward sold out his slaves to an intimate friend who promised to treat them kindly. In 1826 he joined the American Colonization society and began to take an active interests in it. He was appointed attorney for the Cherokee Indians, a very important trust. During all this time he was making fa full study of slavery and becoming more and more convinced that it was crime. When convinced of this he resolved to move northward. He wrote in November, 1833, to Gerrit Smith of New York, his convictions, and set about looking for some place where he could settle and take “a stand against slavery.” he stopped for a time in Kentucky, freed the remaining half dozen slaves yet held by him and soon after we find him in Cincinnati taking active part with anti-slavery leaders, of which from that time on he was the principle leader. The men and women who were living at that time, and were lookers on or actors in the stirring events will read the history recited with great interest. It is told by somewhat broken and disconnected methods, and small justice is done to the many great men who took an active part in this pioneer movement. Sameul Lewis, Gamaliel Baily, Benjamin Stanton, Arnold Buffum, Owen Lovejoy, J. R. Gidding, Ben Wade, G. W. Julian, Levi Coffin, Chas. Osborne, Edward Harwood, and scores of others upon whom Birney leaded for support in every movement are barely mentioned – and many of these not mentioned in the chapters. And yet the history is wholly incomplete without them. But with such faults it is yet entertaining and instructive history, and in its results the grandest movement for the actors in all the century. The volume makes up 413 pages and is printed with clear type on good paper.

  • The full book (digitized) may be read at [Books: Google.com]

    1890 Second Edition - Birney lays foundation for Republican party. (Added Jan., 2010)

    Michigan Historical Collections, Vol. 17, Issue II, 1910

    REPORTS OF OFFICERS AND PAPERS READ
    at the
    ANNUAL MEETING, 1890

    MICHIGAN IN OUR NATIONAL POLITICS.

    By A. D. P. Van Buren

    Page 247.
    We have said there were but two political parties in Michigan fifty years ago. This is true, but while the old Democratic and Whig parties were carrying on their biennial and quadrennial campaigns and fight their political battles over the National Bank, the American tariff questions, and looking to the material advancement of the nation, a radical reform was at work among the people.

    There was an obscure individual, a man little known then, save by the stirring appeals of human freedom to the people wherever he sojourned, or by his spirited and aggressive attacks against American slavery, which he published in his anti-slavery paper, or delivered in his addresses as he went from town to town along the line of the border states, and in other parts of the country. This was Benjamin Lundy, the quiet, unobtrusive Quaker, though determined and aggressive philanthropist and reformer. He was arousing the people to a sense of the great sin of human slavery in our country. As the Greek patriots awakened their countrymen to a sense of danger from Macedonian invasion, by going from place to place and writing on the rocks “Arouse, Greeks from your slumbers,” so Benjamin Lundy went from place to place giving the signal of warning to his countrymen to arouse them to a sense of danger from the encroachments of human slavery. He soon had aid from others. Elijah P. Lovejoy of Illinois joined in the reform, as editor and advocate of freedom to all men. James G. Birney of Kentucky entered heartily into the reform as writer and lecturer, and, from first to last, gave his time, money and his entire influence to the work of anti-slavery reform. And it was reform that told in American politics; reform that not only reached the test of political power at the ballot box, but was held there by party organization till that party gained the ascendency and was put in control of the government. Thus James G. Birney successfully introduced ethics into American politics. He was our Wilberforce, who, having begun anti-slavery reform, did not cease in his work till the problem of American slavery, through administrative ascendency, was solved by the freedom of 6,000,000 slaves.

    There are pages in Michigan history that are replete with genuine reform in aid of this national anti-slavery movement, which was so well begun by Benjamin Lundy and continued by James G. Birney. There were enough liberty men in the State from the start, to keep the reform sentiment alive in the minds, feelings and hearts of the people. And when he time came, as it did in 1841, for political action, they put Jabes S. Fritz in nomination as Free-soil candidate for governor, who received 1,223 votes, while Philco C. Fuller, Whig candidate, got 15,439, and John S. Barry, Democratic candidate, we elected with 20,993 votes. Among the nine abolitionists at Battle Creek who voted for Jabez S. Fritz, in 1841, were Erastus Hussey, Henry Willis, Silas Dodge, Dea. Isaac Mason, Elder John Harris. The other four names I have forgotten. The Democrats and Whigs laughed at and jeered these abolition voters. But they calmly bore the taunts. I remember that Mr. Hussey said to them “you old party men may laught at and ridicule us as much as you please, the day is coming when we will be honored for the very act you are now deriding!” It took only nineteen years to make this prediction true, in the election of Abraham Lincoln president, in 1860.

    Page 248.
    In 1843, James G. Birney was the Free-soil nominee for governor, receiving 2,776 votes against 21,392 for John S. Barry. James G. Birney was also the Free-soil nominee for governor in 1845, getting 3,023 votes, while Alpheus Felch, Democratic nominee was elected with 20,123 votes. In 1847, Chester Gurney of Centerville, was the Free-soil candidate for governor, receiving 2,585 votes while Epaphroditus Ransom, Democrat, was elected with 24,639 votes. In 1852, Isaac P. Christiancy was the Free-soil candidate for governor, getting 5,580 votes, while Robert McClelland, Democrat, was elected with 23,827.

    Thus James G. Birney became the leader who mustered, drilled and trained the abolition forces in Michigan for a still larger and more important field – that of our national politics,, and there, in two presidential contests he led them against their old foes, and although not gaining the victory, yet he handed them over to other leaders with whom, increased in numbers and discipline, they constituted the “old guard” that turned the tide of battle in favor of the Republicans in the presidential contest of 1860.

    Candidate for Gov. (Added Feb., 2009)

    Political Parties in Michigan, 1837-1860, by Floyd B. Streeter, (1918)

    Page 62.

    James G. Birney, who at this time was a resident of the Saginaw Valley, took the stump in the campaign. In 1843 he was nominated as candidate for Governor and L. F. Stevens for Lieutenant Governor. This year the abolitists nominated candidates in all three congressional districts, six candidates for the State Senate and at least twelve for representatives. The part polled 2,776 votes in November. Two years later Birney became an invalid, and since Michigan had no other leader to take up his work the party began to decline.

    (Added Feb., 2009)

    The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922. (1922)

    ANTI-SLAVERY SENTIMENT

    Page 463.

    Under its fundamental charter, the ordinance of 1787, and in the sentiment of a majority of its people, Michigan was opposed to the system of slavery in itself, and especially opposed to its extension in new territory. The harsh methods sometimes used in enforcing the fugitive slave law of 1793 and the more severe law of 1850 were sources of constant irritation. The feeling first found political expression in a small way in 1840 when the “liberty party” in Michigan gave James G. Birney, a resident of the state, 321 votes for President. Four years later, under the same name it gave the same candidate 3639 votes. In 1848, under the name of “Fee Soil” it gave Martin Van Buren 10,393. In 1852 the Free Soil vote fell to 7,237.

  • Related Pages/Notes
    James G. Birney

    Notes to document:
  • Lower Saginaw had its beginnings in 1836, when the Saginaw Bay Company purchased the former Indian reserve property owned by John Riley, with the intent of establishing a settlement here. However, the financial crisis of 1836, set them back, and it wasn't until 1838 that the property was platted. However, a financial panic in the nation curtailed their growth and were on the verge of bankrupcty. The company was purchased by partnership consisting of James G. Birney, James Fraser and Dr. Daniel H. Fitzhugh, the later a brother-in-law to Birney. At that time Lower Saginaw was attached to Saginaw County, Bay County was not organized until 1857.
    Related Links:
    Birney: Liberty Party
    {Saginaw News Article}
    Birney: Final Years
    Birney: Death (NY Post)
    Birney: Bio. & Family
  • People Referenced
    Adams, Charles F.
    Adams, John Q.
    Alvord, John C.
    Bailey, Gamaliel
    Barry, John S.
    Birney, James G. (subject)
    Buffum, Arnold
    Burleigh, C.C.
    Christiancy, Isaac P.
    Coffin, Levi
    Cornell,
    Dayton, William L.
    Dodge, Henry
    Dodge, Silas
    Donaldson, Andrew J.
    Felch, Alpheus
    Fillmore, Millard
    Foster, Stephen
    Freemont, John C.
    Fritz, Jabez S.
    Fuller, Philo C.
    Gamaliel,
    Garrison, William L.
    Gates, Seth M.
    Giddings, J.R.
    Gurney, Chester
    Hale, John P.
    Hamlin, Hannibal
    Harris, John
    Harwood, Edward
    Hussey, Erastus
    Hydenburg,
    Julian, George W.
    Kelley, Abbey
    Lapham,
    Lemoyne, Francis J.
    Lewis, Samuel
    Lincoln, Abraham
    Lovejoy, Elijah P.
    Lovejoy, Owen
    Lundey, Benjamin
    Mason, Isaac
    Mays,
    McClellan, Robert
    McDowell, Agatha
    McDowell, Judge
    Mills, Simeon
    Meritt,
    Moffatt, Oraland
    Morris, Thomas
    Mott, Lucretia
    Osborne, Charles
    Parker,
    Phillips, Wendell
    Pilsbury,
    Ranklin,
    Ransom, Epaphroditus
    Slade, William
    Smith, Gerrit
    Stanton, Benjamin
    Stevens, L.F.
    Stone, Lucy
    Stowe, Harriet B. Mrs.
    Sutton,
    Thayer, S.B.
    Thomas, N.M.
    Upjohn, Uriah
    VanBuren, Martin
    Wade, Benjamin
    Washburn,
    Wilburforce
    Willis, Henry
    Wright, Henry C.
    Subjects Referenced
    Abolition movement
    Amer. Colonization Soc.
    Battle Creek, MI
    Bay City, MI
    Buffalo, NY
    Canada
    Centerville, MI
    Cherokee Indians
    Democrat party
    Detroit, MI
    Free Soil party
    Garrisonians
    Hixite school
    Illinois
    Indiana
    Jackson, MI
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Kentucky
    Liberty party
    Maine,
    Massachusetts
    Michigan Senate
    Michigan House
    Monroe, MI
    Mt. Pleasant, OH
    New Hampshire
    New Jersey
    Ohio River, OH
    Pennsylvania
    Princeton
    Quaker church
    Quaker meeting house
    Republican party
    Saginaw River, MI
    Saginaw Valley
    Slavery
    Slavery (anti)
    Tennessee
    Vermont
    Underground railroad
    Whig party
    Internet References

    Gerrit Smith
  • [Biography] New York History Net.
  • [Article] by Dave Rogers, of MyBayCity.com, on Gerrit's connection to Bay City, MI, through his relationship with Birney.


    [Harriet Beecher Stowe]


    [Benjamin Lundy]


    [Erastus Hussey]


    [Isaac P. Christiancy]
  • WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.