Gerrit Smith

Gerrit Smith (1797-1874) inherited a considerable fortune in undeveloped real estate in central and western New York, and supported such reforms as temperance and the abolition of slavery. Between 1828 and 1835, he donated large sums of money to the American Colonization Society, but abandoned the movement in 1835, when his sympathies shifted to the immediatist abolitionists after their meetings suffered from a series of mob assaults. Smith then became a member of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. In the 1840s, he divided approximately 140,000 acres of land in upstate New York among three thousand black settlers, thus enabling them to qualify to vote. Smith was a founder and frequent candidate of the Liberty party, running for governor of New York on that ticket in 1840, and winning a seat in Congress in 1852. When the Free Soil merger with moderate antislavery Democrats and Whigs lured away many Liberty party supporters, Smith helped bankroll the truncated party until 1860. Smith befriended Frederick Douglass when the latter moved to Rochester and frequently assisted in financing the Frederick Douglass' Paper. Like Douglass, Smith supported John Brown, but psychological pressures caused by the Harper Ferry Raid's failure brought on the first of a series of bi-polar episodes that greatly reduced his subsequent reform activities. Ralph Volney Harlow, Gerrit Smith: Philanthropist and Reformer (New York, 1939); Lewis Perry, Radical Abolitionism: Anarchy and the Government of God in Antislavery Thought (Ithaca, N.Y., 1973), 170-80; Gerald Sorin, The New York Abolitionists: A Test Case of Political Radicalism (Westport, Conn., 1971), 269-87; John R. McKivigan and Madeleine Leveille, "The 'Black Dream' of Gerrit Smith, New York Abolitionist," Syracuse University Library Associates Courier, 20:61-76 (Fall 1985); NCAB, 2:322-23; DAB, 17:270-71.

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