Abolitionist Held As Spy During War Of 1812, Founded New York Anti-Slavery Society, Wrote Brilliant Anti-Slavery Arguments

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ALVAN STEWART (1790-1849) was an abolitionist lawyer. He was arrested in Canada as a spy after the outbreak of the War of 1812 and was held as a prisoner. He devoted a great deal of time to temperance and anti-slavery causes. In 1835, he formed and became the first president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society where he raised money, organized meetings and held public debates. His planned meetings were broken up several times by angry mobs.  Steward argued that slavery violated the U.S. Constitution.

One-page, 6 1/2 x 8 1/2, ALS, Washington, February 27, 1845, on matters of speeches and the tariff, to Richard L. Pease. In part, “I regret to inform you that I have not a copy of my own speeches on the tariff or any delivered by other members at the former sessions of Congress.

“There has been no discussion on the subject at this session. Consequently, it is out of my power to grant your request. It would have given me much pleasure to have complied with.”

In 1837, Stewart shocked the anti-slavery movement by arguing that the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment empowered the federal government to abolish slavery in the states. That speech marked the dramatic debut of radical antislavery constitutionalism. In May of 1845, Stewart delivered a speech to the New Jersey Supreme Court,

"Legal Argument For the Deliverance Of Persons” from Bondage." This, along with his other works are still held today as some of the most brilliant and persuasive legal principles towards making slavery unconstitutional.

At the time this letter was written, the Walker Tariff was adopted by the United States by the Democrats. It made substantial cuts in the high rates of the “Black Tariff” of 1842, which had been enacted by the Whigs. The Walker Tariff reduced tariff rates from 32% to 25%. It led to an increase in trade and was one of the lowest tariffs in American history.

The University of Miami holds some of Stewart’s papers.

Folds and light toning. Else excellent and very readable.

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