Primary Resources Archive
Dr. Osgood's Letters
In a series of letters originally published in the Boston Recorder, Springfield abolitionist Dr. Samuel Osgood debates the merits of abolitionism with the Rev. Ralph Emerson, D.D.
Osgood wrote eight letters to Rev. Emerson, seven of which were republished in the Springfield Weekly Republican (and reproduced here) in the fall and winter of 1838. In these letters, Osgood makes a case for abolitionism and anti-slavery societies. Rev. Emerson opposed the institution of slavery but made it clear that he also opposed abolition societies, such as the Hampden County Anti-Slavery Society, of which Osgood was a member. For Emerson, abolitionists did little but fan the flames of an already passionate debate. Emerson is quoted in one of Osgood's letters as saying that he preferred the older, more gradual, and less confrontational means of opposing slavery.
Indeed, in Osgood's third letter of the series he quotes Rev. Emerson as saying, "If the north is ever to resume her moral influence on the South, it appears to me indispensable, that the South should again hear the same clear, harmonious, unbroken voice” the voice “of every son of freedom at the north. “And the return of that voice I should expect the more speedily, if every society that wears either the name or imputed character of anti-slavery, were disbanded and forgotten.”
As he makes clear throughout these letters, Osgood is convinced that the old, gradual, and non-confrontational approach to opposing slavery had failed and that a new method must be attempted.
The fact that these two men, both of whom opposed slavery, could have such divergent views on how to achieve abolition illustrates the tensions and differences that first had to be overcome if the institution of slavery was to end. These letters also demonstrate the surprising amount of opposition that existed in the north against inflaming the south over the issue of slavery.
Dr. Osgood's Letter No. 2 - September 29, 1838 - Springfield Weekly Republican [PDF]
Dr. Osgood's Letter No. 3 - October 13, 1838 - Springfield Weekly Republican [PDF]
Dr. Osgood's Letter No. 4 - October 20, 1838 - Springfield Weekly Republican [PDF]
Dr. Osgood's Letter No. 5 - October 27, 1838 - Springfield Weekly Republican [PDF]
Dr. Osgood's Letter No. 6 - November 3, 1838 - Springfield Weekly Republican [PDF]
Dr. Osgood's Letter No. 7 - November 10, 1838 - Springfield Weekly Republican [PDF]
Dr. Osgood's Letter No. 8 - December 1, 1838 - Springfield Weekly Republican [PDF]
Rev. Ralph Emerson's Final Response to Dr. Osgood - January 5, 1839 Springfield Weekly Republican [PDF]
In this final letter of the series Rev. Emerson makes his case against Abolitionism on religious grounds. For Emerson, the true purpose of a Christian preacher is to tend to his flock and spread the word of god and Christ, not necessarily agitate for the end of slavery. Indeed, Emerson argues that the abolitionist movement is actually hurting the Christian cause by distracting preachers from finding new converts, both at home and abroad. In addition, he argues that abolitionism does a disservice by causing Christians to argue amongst each other. In short, Emerson believes that Christians, be they preacher or a member of the flock, should focus on their devotion to god and finding salvation rather than advocate for the end of slavery.