Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Huguenot Roots of Constitutional Abolitionism

Benjamin Parham Aydelotte's role in laying the foundation for the constitutional abolitionist movement in Cincinnati and across the US has sofar received little attention from scolars. A comment by Jonathan Blanchard in an april 1842 letter to Thaddeus Stevens reads:
'Chase, may be considered at the bottom of the political enterprise in this City. They have started a Liberty roll, which I see is signed by Henry Starr, a very wealthy Lawyer of this place: Dr Aydelotte, President of Woodward College and other men who are regarded by the people as Dr. Schmucker is by the people of your neighborhood as to standing and influence'
Well connected with friends like Daniel Drake, who had taught with James Blythe at Transylvania University, Aydelotte knew everything about the debate on slavery in the region. Aydelotte's commencement speech at Woodward College june 29th 1843 is one of the strongest constitutional abolitionist documents that I have ever read. One comment stands out:
'This is a subject that has awakened the thoughts and touched the harts of men of all parties, from Washington and Jefferson, down to Adams, and Jay, and Key of our day. And the wise and the pious of every religious domination have, with the Edwards, and Benezets, and Finleys, of former times, united their counsels and their prayers for the removal of this great national evil.'
An interesting comment while closely related to his own family background. His son John Henshaw aydelott, who was a city missionary in Cincinnati, wrote this about his father's background:
'Benjamin Parham Aydelott, M. D., D. D., was born in Philadelphia, in 1795, being on his father's side of direct French Huguenot blood, while his mother came of the original Quaker stock, who were the first settlers of Philadelphia. His father being an officer in the US Navy, was necessarily absent from home the larger part of his time, and for this reason his boyhood training fell almost entirely upon his mother, whose great ambition was that her son should become a physician. He was sent while quite a lad to the "Protestant Episcopal Academy" at Cheshire, Conn., where he graduated, and then entered the "College of Physicians and Surgeons" of New York City, from which he graduated in 1815. In 1816, he was united in marriage to Miss Caroline Dob, of New York, by Rev. Christian Bork.'

It gives insight in how the Aydelotte family continued to consider itself Huguenot, allthough founding members of the first presbyterian church in the US in Snow Hill. He had apparently attended Princeton, but I haven't yet found a lot of details about that. But his ideological link with Anthony Benezet (a huguenot Quaker), John Jay (a huguenot Episcopalian) and Princeton, through Snow Hill, obviously play a huge role in how he understands the American revolution.

It's also interesting to note how much his mother wanted him to be a physician. Might have been triggered by the experience of the yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793. The large number of french speaking Haïtian refugees that arrived in Philadelphia and Baltimore and the French revolution made politics and theology a hotly debated issue in early 19th century America. Aydelotte would most likely have read Age of Revelation by Elias Boudinot as well.

Still wondering which Finleys he is alluding to in the above comments. I myself would think it to be Samuel Finley, the architect of the American revolution & uncle of Benjamin Rush, and not Robert Finley, the founder of the American Colonization Association. The ambiguity might be intentional. And I find it highly unlikely that Aydelotte would praise Robert Finley while the opposition to slavery at Princeton fractured in 1816 between the Elias Boudinot - and the Robert Finley approach. Or was the warfair between the two approaches not there at that time? Robert Finley had married the foster daughter of Boudinot. And he was connected to the above mentioned Key.

Elias Boudinot's views on religious tolerance and opposition to slavery led him to found the American Bible Society in 1816. Samuel P Chase was the president of the Young American Bible Society in Cincinnati. This society was founded in 1816 as an abolitionist society, the same year the American Colonization Society was founded. Elias Boudinot worked closely with William Jay in preparing the constitution of this society

These competing societies are at the heart of the debate on slavery in the first half of the 19th century. Let's see what William Jay thought of the American Colonization Society in 1835 as written down in his Inquiry into the character and tendency of the American Colonization , and Anti-Slavery Societies. It includes, as expected, a frontal attack of Henry Clay (just search on Clay in the document). It closely follows John Birney's letter on colonization of july 14 1834.  September 15th of 1834 John Birney had an interview with Henry Clay of which we can find a transcript in his Birney's biography:
'He spoke of Mr. Robert J. Breckenridge having put himself down in popular estimation by his having advocated emancipation, and that he and Mr. John Green - two gentlemen of great worth - had disqualified themselves for political usefulness by the part they had taken in reference to salvery'
Robert J. Breckenridge 'became a hard-line member of the Old School faction, and played an influential role in the ejection of several churches in 1837. In 1849 Robert J. Breckenridge had lobbied for a new Kentucky state constitution providing for gradual emancipation. His article on this topic in the Princeton Review of october 1849. In 1857 Breckenridge gave a speech on Henry Clay, might give some interesting insights. It was Breckenridge who made sure Kentucky stayed inside the Union in 1860 and he presided over the Republican National Convention that renominated Abraham Lincoln in 1864. He was rewarded for his Old School Presbyterian stances by being elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church's General Assembly in 1841'. In October 1835, Birney and his family moved to Cincinnati. January 8th 1836 James Birney states (see James Birney and his times page 231)
 'Mr. Clay has deliberately enrolled himself among the opponents...of the liberty of the press and of speech'
Elias Boudinot descended from one of the founders, and the first elder, of the French Church in New York:
'It is a suggestive incident that among the acts of hostility to which he had been subject before his emigration, was a judicial prosecution for employing a private tutor of the Reformed faith in the education of his children.'
William Jay talks about a local president of the American Colonization Societ blocking the opening of a shool for colored girls in Connecticut:
'In the signleness of its object it has often been compared to the Bible Society; what would have been thought of SUCH an appeal to the American Bible Society?'
From John Jay's correspondence with William Wilberforce, Elias Boudinot, Benjamin Rush and Anthony Benezet emerges a clear picture. Especially Jay and Boudinot's involvement in the 1819 campaign to prevent Missouri's admission to the union as a slave state is noteworthy while it coincides with John Quincy Adams/Henry Jay's efforts in removing James Blythe as President of Transylvania University. Note that:
'Leadership of the drive to restrict slavery in Missouri had been assumed by Presbyterian and Congregationalist churchmen'
The James Blythe vs. Henry Clay lawsuite on land in Missouri further indicates that these two were not on friendly terms. In addition during this time Henry Clay threatened to break up the Union. Elias Boudinot at that time was President of both the Society of the Cincinnati and the American Bible Society. John Jay's november 1819 letter to Elias Boudinot on 'the Missouri question' gives us insight into their approach at the time.

One other common denominator of the different leading Huguenots seems to be their choice to become more then Huguenots. This idea is reflected in the constitution of the American Bible Society.

The join-or-die spirit summarized by Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the declaration of independence. Working together in spite of differences. The tensions among the different presbyterians (English, Scottish, French) at Princeton were managed well by Samuel Finley. Working together with Whitefield, Edwards and finally bringing back together the Old- and New Lights. Attracting John Witherspoon closed the circle. But tensions remained, half of the teachers left when John Witherspoon arrived. The problems surrouding Samuel Stanhope Smith later on are symptoms of the same problem.


The bulletin de la Société de l'histoire du protestantisme Francaise discusses how historians have perceived the influence of Huguenots in the US. One detail is overlooked (page 73), the fact that in the presbyterian leadership Huguenots played a huge role, as mentioned above (Boudinot, Aydelotte,  Annis Stockton Boudinot, Julia Rush Stockton ), not just Scots-Irish and New England puritans. The beauty and strength of Princeton (during the time of Samuel Davies and Samuel Finley) was the ability to bring together people from so many different backgrounds which was essential to it's thoughtleadership leading up to the American revolution.  This probably explains why Samuel Finley was a New Sider, but working hard for reconciliation with the Old Siders.

further reading , a letter to Henry Clay   , 
 

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