This Day in History

Sept. 16, 1837: Abolitionist William Whipper Advocated Non-Violence

Time Periods: Early 19th Century: 1800 - 1849
Themes: African American, Slavery and Resistance

William Whipper. Published in The Underground Railroad by William Still, Philadelphia, 1879.

William Whipper was an African-American abolitionist and businessman from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania who played an active role on the Underground Railroad, furnishing food and transportation assistance to people escaping from slavery.

On September 16, 1837 he published “An Address on Non-Resistance to Offensive Aggression” in The Colored AmericanIn the article he outlined his commitment to a non-violent response to the evils of slavery.

. . .[a] fatal error arises from the belief that the only method of maintaining peace, is always to be ready for war.

This landmark essay predated Henry David Thoreau’s on civil disobedience by 12 years. It was also debated at the time, as Jeff Biggers describes in Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition. Biggers quotes Henry Highland Garnet (in a forum with Frederick Douglass), who said,

Brethren, arise, arise! Strike for your lives and liberties. Now is the day and the hour. Let every slave throughout the land do this, and the days of slavery are numbered. You cannot be more oppressed than you have been — you cannot suffer greater cruelties than you have already. Rather die freemen than live to be slaves. Remember that you are FOUR MILLIONS!

When teaching about the early advocates of non-violence, and debates over non-violence as an approach, be sure to include the abolitionists.

Read more about Whipper in The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha.

Whipper’s nephew and namesake, William J. Whipper, played an active role during Reconstruction and is featured in the lesson, When the Impossible Suddenly Became Possible: A Reconstruction Mixer.