Wendell Phillips, (born November 29, 1811, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.—died February 2, 1884, Boston), abolitionist crusader whose oratorical eloquence helped fire the antislavery cause during the period leading up to the American Civil War.
After opening a law office in Boston, Phillips, a wealthy Harvard Law School graduate, sacrificed social status and a prospective political career in order to join the antislavery movement. He became a close associate of the abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison and began lecturing for antislavery societies, writing pamphlets and editorials for Garrison’s The Liberator, and contributing financially to the abolition movement.
He joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and frequently made speeches at its meetings. So highly regarded were his oratorical abilities that he was known as “abolition’s Golden Trumpet”. Like many of his fellow abolitionists who honored the free produce movement, Phillips took pains to avoid cane sugar and wear no clothing made of cotton, since both were produced by the labor of Southern slaves.
It was Phillips’s contention that racial injustice was the source of all of society’s ills. Like Garrison, Phillips denounced the Constitution for tolerating slavery. He disagreed with the argument of abolitionist Lysander Spooner that slavery was unconstitutional, and more generally disputed Spooner’s notion that any unjust law should be held legally void by judges.
In 1845, in an essay titled “No Union With Slaveholders”, he argued for disunion:
The experience of the fifty years … shows us the slaves trebling in numbers — slaveholders monopolizing the offices and dictating the policy of the Government — prostituting the strength and influence of the Nation to the support of slavery here and elsewhere – trampling on the rights of the free States, and making the courts of the country their tools. To continue this disastrous alliance longer is madness. The trial of fifty years only proves that it is impossible for free and slave States to unite on any terms, without all becoming partners in the guilt and responsible for the sin of slavery. Why prolong the experiment? Let every honest man join in the outcry of the American Anti-Slavery Society. (Quoted in Ruchames, The Abolitionists pg. 196)