Radical Abolitionists on the Sin of Slavery
November 25, 1861. The radical abolitionists who had railed against slavery for more than thirty years were driven by their belief that slavery was a sin. That belief was the foundation of their movement, and the outbreak of war in 1861 did not relieve them of its burden. Certainly they believed that slaveholders were the greatest sinners — and they urged them to repent, but they also accepted personal responsibility for the sins of the nation.
Rowland Thomas Robinson and Rachel Gilpin Robinson of Ferrisburgh, Vermont, had joined the abolitionist crusade in the early 1830s. As Quakers and nonresistants, they would never have chosen war — not even to end the sin of slavery.
Letters exchanged in November 1861 between the Robinsons in Ferrisburgh and their daughter Anne Robinson Minturn in Waterloo, New York, express the family’s continuing concern with sin and God’s retribution, and the role of both in the war.
Anne wrote her father on November 10, 1861:
How I wish I could see you all & hear what you think of the times — to believe that the Rebels will conquer seems almost to doubt that God is against oppression — but to me things look favorable for them. I suppose we of the North deserve all the trouble, humiliation & adverse fate that we have met — for our complicity in sin — and if we could recognize our punishment as coming from the Lord it should be easier to bear — then when it seems as now, the result of the incompetence or worse of intriguing politicians. Has not [prominent abolitionist and General John Charles] Fremont behaved most nobly in the terrible position in which he has been placed? I hope if there is any country to preside over four years hence, he will be our President — not that it is any longer an honor to be President — but as a just retribution to his enemies. . . . I see from the Tribune that you are talking of Seceding in Vermont — that’s some of Mr. Bigelow’s work is not it? I almost wish all the North would secede from Abe & Seward & Cameron.
On November 25, 1861, Anne’s mother, Rachel, replied:
. . . thy letter to thy father was duly received and filled our hearts with mingled emotions – some of them very far from joyous, I assure thee — indeed, there is not much of joy connected with this separation, or anything else, in these troubled, dark days: — yet Hope still has a place in my heart — strange as it may seem — for I believe God is still a living God — a righteous judge — and tho for our sins we may need severe chastisement and deep humiliation — Truth and Right will eventually triumph over sin and all its abominations, and we become a purified nation.
Rokeby Museum, Ferrisburgh, Vermont