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James G. Birney (1792-1857)

1857 obit. Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - May 2008.

Spirit of the Times - Saginaw City - Tuesday, December 1, 1857


Hon. James G. Birney. Late of this county, died at Englewood, near Perth Amboy, New Jersey, on Tuesday evening last, the 24th inst. We copy the following biographical notice of the deceased from the New York Evening Post, of the 25th:

Mr. Birney was born in 1793, at Danville, Kentucky. His father, a native Ireland, was a man whose enterprise had accumulated wealth, which employed with generosity, conferred upon him popularity and social position. His mother was a beautiful and accomplished American lady of the name of Reed.

At the age of nineteen, two years after a distinguished graduation at Nassau Hall, New Jersey, Mr. Birney became a student in the office of Mr. Dallas at Philadelphia.

Returning to his native State in 1814, he commenced the practice of law, and at the age of twenty-two was chosen a member of the Legislature. At this time he contracted a marriage with a lady of great personal attractions and distinguished family. Three years after he had become a planter in Alabama, and the owner of thirty-five slaves. Subsequently resuming the practice of his profession at Huntsville, he gathered an extensive and profitable business. Just before his return to Kentucky he served with distinction in the Legislature of Alabama.

Mr. Birney's career attracts peculiar interest from the beginning of his connection with the anti-slavery movement. Early in life the wrongs inflected by the whites on the Indians touched his heart, and called out his indignant eloquence both of tongue and pen. Sympathy for one class of suffering human beings naturally led to sympathy for another; and accordingly he was soon greatly interested in the welfare of the negro. The plan of emancipation which at first seemed to him the most feasible was that of the colonizationalists, and to advocate their views he abandoned a lucrative and honorable profession.

In 1834 he caused a deed of emancipation for the six slaves he had brought with him from Alabama, to be entered at the office of the County Clerk for the county where he resided; and announced his intention to starting an anti-slavery newspaper in the State of Kentucky. When no printer could be persuaded to undertake the mechanical part of the enterprise there, he commenced the publication in Ohio, but not without exciting dangerous hostility. The recital of the perils to which he and his family were exposed is almost incredible, and shows the change of sentiment which has since taken place to make Ohio one of the freest in sentiment of the Western states.

Just before the death of his father, Mr. Briney caused such a disposition to be made of the paternal estate, that all the slaves, twenty-one in number, should fall to him; and on the occurrence of that event, he set them at liberty, making suitable provision for their comfort. About this time his wife died, the mother of eleven children, of whom, we believe, five are still living.

In 1840 Mr. Birney visited England, and took a prominent part in the anti-slavery movements which then agitated that country. In 1841 he married the sister-in-law of Hon. Gerritt Smith, a lady of the family of Fitzhugh, who survives to cherish his memory.

In 1844 Mr. Birney's eminent ability, high character, and the distinction conferred upon him by his anti-slavery course, conspired to indicate him as the most suitable candidate of the Liberty Party for President. Convinced that the cause of freedom would gain nothing by the election of Mr. Clay over Mr. Polk, he resisted all the overtures made by the whig party to induce him to withdraw in favor of Mr. Clay; and chiefly to Mr. Birney's conscientious persistency, the friends of that statesman are in the habit of ascribing his disastrous defeat.

Since then Mr. Birney's name has been rarely before the public. During the last twelve years he has suffered from severe attacks of paralysis, against which, in the opinion of his physicians a brain less powerful than his could not have sustained itself so long. More recently his symptoms have been aggravated by heart disease, and other ailments which follow in its train. After a slow, though painless decay of years , he expired peacefully on the 24th of November, almost to the last moment in the possession of his faculties.

A Few years since he removed from Michigan to New Jersey in order that he might end his days among friends of the reform to which he had devoted his prime, and that his youngest might enjoy the advantage of Mr. Weld's school at Englewood. Although his health did not permit him take an active part in politics after the struggle of 1844, he was no uninterested spectator of events. During the last Presidential canvass he warmingly supported the Republican cause, voting for Freemont, and preparing several political articles of more than ephemeral value. By his death the cause of universal philanthropy has lost a trustworthy and self-sacrificing supporter, and a wide circle of acquaintances a valued friend; his name will occupy a conspicuous place in the history of reform when that history shall be written.

Related Pages/Notes
James G. Birney
James G. Birney

Birney family

1860 newspaper article.
People Referenced
Birney, James G. (father)
Clay, Henry
Fitzhugh family
Polk, President
Smith, Gerritt
Subjects Referenced
Alabama Legislature
Englewood, NJ
Dansville, KY
Huntsville, AL
Liberty party
Nassau Hall, NJ
Perth Amboy, NJ
NY Evening Post
Philadelphia, PA
Republican party
Western states
Internet References
None at this time.
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.