The Grimke sisters were raised in the cradle of slavery on a 100 slave plantation in South Carolina. This was the antebellum period (1781-1860) the time when Americans tried and failed to resolve the question of slavery and prevent The Civil War.
At only 5 years old, after Sarah saw a slave being brutally whipped she tried to board a steamer to run away from home to a place where there were no slaves.
Sarahs held his 14 children to the highest standards of discipline and sometimes required them to work in their fields picking cotton.
"Perhaps I am indebted partially to this for my life-long detestation of slavery, as it brought me in close contact with these unpaid toilers."
At the age of 12 Sarah became godmother to her baby sister Angelina who was the 13th born child. She shared her views on the immorality of manslaving with her young sibling. This commitment foreshadowed the lifelong bond the sisters had with one another.
While in Pennsylvania at 27 years old, Sarah encountered members of the Quakers, who she felt shared her liberal views on slavery and gender equality. She converted and moved to Philadelphia in 1821 and 7 years later, Angelina had also become a Quaker and moved north to be with her sister.
In 1835, Angelina writes a letter to the editor of an abolitionist newspaper detailing her first-hand knowledge of slavery being raised on a Southern plantation. He publishes the letter and it draws the outrage of southerners who opposed its abolitionist message and northerners, including the Quakers, who felt that women had no business writing or speaking about something as controversial as slavery.
"If persecution is the means which God has ordained for the accomplishment of this great end, emancipation, then let it come; for it is my deep, solemn deliberate conviction, that this is a cause worth dying for."
Angelina chose not to recall the letter. The Grimke sisters found themselves famous and at the center of the anti-slavery movement.
"To remain silent in the face of evil is itself a form of evil" - Angelina Grimke
This outcry over women as abolitionists prompted Sarah, in 1836, to write Letters on the Equality of the Sexes.
The same year, Angelina follows with a compelling 36 page document Appeal to the Christian Women of the South
She argued that women could and should end slavery through their influence.
"I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters of those who do; and if you really suppose you can do nothing to overthrow slavery, you are greatly mistaken."
By citing biblical references to support her argument, she addressed Southern women in sisterly, reasonable tones.
"It is true, I am going to tell you unwelcome truths"
She advocated teaching slaves to read, and freeing any slaves her readers might own. She urged her readers to ignore wrongful laws and do what was right. She closed by strongly suggesting her readers to study,pray,listen to their conscience and speak out.
"Arise and gird yourselves for this great moral conflict"
Sarah then publishes a pamphlet titled An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States
In that essay, Sarah confronts Biblical arguments typically used by the clergy to justify slavery.
Also in 1836, they went on a lecture tour, addressing Congregationalist churches, speaking in 67 cities in 23 weeks. Angelina was emerging as a dynamic and fearless public speaker in a time when a woman speaking to a mixed audience was considered scandalous. They were bitterly attacked for both their opinions and their delivery.
"Women are taught early that to appear to yield is the only way to govern."
The criticism helped them to understand that social limitations on women were not much different than slavery. Both were denied the right to vote and the right to a secondary education, and both were treated as second-class citizens.
I ask no favors for my sex...All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks."
They argued that white women had a natural bond with female, black slaves. The bond as women. This idea was extreme even for radical abolitionists. The sisters staunchly defended a woman’s right to publicly speak but by the end of the year, the sisters were being denounced by the same Congregationalist pulpits that had sponsored their tour.
"I know nothing of a man's right, or a woman's rights; human rights are all that I recognize" - Sarah Moore Grimke
In 1838, Angelina marries fellow abolitionist preacher Theodore Weld. Weld was not a Quaker, and consequently Angelina was expelled. Sarah was also expelled for attending the wedding.
We present a curiosity we have found...
In ‘36, the year Angelina publishes the Appeal to Southern Women, Abraham Lincoln is a member of the Illinois legislation. By ‘65, he is well known as the president who won The Civil War. What is not well known is that he became famous and was elected president by arguing that slavery should be allowed in the states that it already existed.
By 1965, two weeks before the end of the bloody Civil War-his opinion has changed.
We found no documented proof that Lincoln had exposure to Angelina Grimke but it is a curious thing that both use the identical biblical phrase to promote the same opinion, 25 years apart.
It must needs be that offenses come, woe unto that man through who they come
Angelina’s meaning being that even though the slaveholding Southerners of her time did not create slavery, they engaged in it and would be held accountable for their actions on Judgement Day.
Lincolns change of opinion and meaning was that North and South were united in paying the moral debt they both owed for participating in slavery.
Was Lincoln, who had always been careful to distance himself from the most strident abolitionists, now quoting the Southern abolitionist woman who, twenty-five years before the Civil War began, predicted that offenses would come? Was he saying, now only weeks before the end of the War, that they had indeed come as Grimke predicted? We think maybe he was.