Stephen S. Foster

Born in Canterbury, New Hampshire, radical abolitionist Stephen Symonds Foster (1809-81) studied at Dartmouth College. In 1837, a year before his graduation, he helped to organize the New Hampshire Young Men’s Anti-Slavery Society. Foster briefly attended Union Theological Seminary in New York, but by 1839 he had repudiated the ministry. He developed his criticisms of American churches most fully in The Brotherhood of Thieves; or, A True Picture of the American Church Clergy (1843). His practice of interrupting a church service to speak out against complicity with slavery frequently provoked violent reaction. Though Foster and his wife Abby Kelley, whom he married in 1845, were agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society for nearly twenty years, their relationship with the Garrisonians was at best one of strained cooperation. Although Foster believed that the Constitution was a proslavery document, he periodically dabbled in politics. In 1843-44 he endorsed the Liberty party. In the late 1850s, having altered his view of the nature of the Constitution, Foster sought to establish a disunion party "whose avowed aim . . . [would] be the overthrow of the government . . .& whose will . . .[would] be expressed through the ballot box." In the mid-1850s, he also argued in favor of slave rebellion in his Revolution the Only Remedy for Slavery (1855). A proponent of distributing land to the freedmen, Foster was disappointed with federal Reconstruction policies. He devoted the last years of his life to agitating on behalf of temperance and women’s rights. Parker Pillsbury, Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles (Concord, N.H., 1883), 123-55; Lillie B. Chace Wyman, "Reminiscences of Two Abolitionists," New England Magazine, n.s. 27:536-50 (January 1903); Parker Pillsbury, "Stephen Symonds Foster," Granite Monthly, 5:369-75 (August 1882); Pease and Pease, Bound With Them in Chains, 191-217; Louis Filler, "Parker Pillsbury: An Anti-Slavery Apostle," New England Quarterly, 19:315-37 (September 1946); Jane Hanna Pease, "The Freshness of Fanaticism: Abby Kelley Foster: An Essay in Reform" (Ph.D. diss., University of Rochester, 1969), 65-84, 118-21, 125-26, 133-34, 143-44, 161-65, 184-87, 195-205, 217-18, 237-44; Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 6 vols. (New York, 1888-89), 2:514-15; NCAB, 2:328-29; DAB, 6:558-59.

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