Gamaliel Bailey

An American antislavery editor and a founder of the Republican party, Gamaliel Bailey (1807-1859) helped make the antislavery movement a major force in national politics in the mid-19th century.

Gamaliel Bailey was born on Dec. 3, 1807, in Mount Holly, N.J., the son of a Methodist minister. He was raised in Philadelphia, Pa., and graduated in 1827 from Jefferson Medical College. Restless and ill, Bailey shipped out on a trading vessel, which took him to China. He returned home expecting to practice medicine, but instead became the editor of Mutual Rights and Methodist Baptist in Baltimore, Md. When the paper failed, he joined an expedition to Oregon but was stranded in St. Louis, Mo. He walked east to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he settled.

In 1834 the great debate over slavery that took place at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati persuaded Bailey of the virtues of abolitionism. He became secretary of the Ohio Anti-Slavery society and joined James G. Birney in editing Birney's weekly, the Philanthropist. With Birney away lecturing and engaging in organizational activities much of the time, Bailey became the active and competent editor of this conservative abolitionist journal. He soon fully succeeded Birney and made the paper a strong western voice of gradualist abolition.

Bailey's appeal to reason did not save him from mob assaults, which he bore with fortitude, and from which he gained increasing respect. The 1840 schism in antislavery ranks separated radicals from moderates, and Bailey supported the new, moderate American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Bailey's vision, however, went beyond the Liberty party of 1840 and 1844; he desired a broad-based party which could attract all shades of antislavery opinion. In 1847 he founded the National Era in Washington, D.C. Although William Lloyd Garrison derogated it as "tainted with the spirit of compromise," it had an immediate effect on national politics.

Bailey drew together varied contributors, including the poet-reformer John Greenleaf Whittier. He mixed articles of general interest with those of sharp antislavery opinion. In July 1851 he began to serialize Harriet Beecher Stowe's epoch-making Uncle Tom's Cabin. By 1853 the National Era had 25,000 subscribers. Bailey also developed an antislavery "salon," which brought together congressmen and others concerned with antislavery measures.

In 1855 Bailey met with antislavery Democrats to organize opposition to the Federal government's plans to make Kansas a proslavery territory. In 1856, at great sacrifice, he issued a daily edition of the National Era on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate John C. Frémont. Bailey interested himself in the Dred Scott case of 1857, which engaged hitherto-neutral northerners in the struggle against slavery extension.

Bailey did not live to witness the Republican triumph in 1860, and, indeed, he was superseded by practical Republicans, to whom antislavery was more a political issue than a moral crusade. His health, always delicate, required a trip to Europe in 1853. In 1859 he set out for Europe again; he died aboard ship on June 5. He was buried in Washington.

Further Reading on Gamaliel Bailey

Histories of the Republican party pay Bailey scant attention. Theodore Clarke Smith, The Liberty and Free Soil Parties in the Northwest (1897; repr. 1967), recognizes his importance. Louis Filler, The Crusade against Slavery, 1830-1860 (1960), places him in the antislavery movement.

Additional Biography Sources

Harrold, Stanley, Gamaliel Bailey and antislavery union, Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1986.