Documenting the Abolitionist Movement: Gamaliel Bailey Correspondence (C1482)

The Manuscripts Division has recently acquired a significant collection of the correspondence of Gamaliel Bailey (1807–59), a leading American abolitionist, who helped found the Republican Party and played a dominant role in shaping the direction of the abolitionist movement, particularly its influence and visibility within the national political arena. He was able to accomplish this largely through his role as the editor of prominent antislavery newspapers, including James G. Birney’s Philanthropist and the Washington, D.C.-based National Era. The Gamaliel Bailey Correspondence, 1839-1868, consists primarily of letters between Bailey and his close friends and associates, statesman Salmon P. Chase (1808–73) and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John McLean (1785–1861). Other friends and business associates, including John McLean’s wife, Sarah B. McLean, are represented to a lesser extent. Among other things, the letters document the abolitionist movement, particularly within the state of Ohio, and the business of the newspapers Bailey edited as well as antislavery journalism more broadly. The finding aid is available at

Editing the National Era from the paper’s founding in 1847 until his death, Bailey combined antislavery articles with popular literature, and used the paper to promote his philosophy of using politics as a way to end slavery in the United States. Several years into its publication, Bailey in a letter dated October 24, 1855, to Salmon P. Chase, discusses how the Era’s success was ironically resulting in the paper’s demise: “I am now on the eve of reviewing the [subscription] list of the Era. The Know Nothings have done me all the damage they could, and will not trouble me much this year. The indications are that I should hold on to what I have, perhaps increase some: but I cannot expect much. The Era has been a signal success, but times have changed. So many local papers have adopted its policy in relation to slavery, that it is no longer regarded such a necessity as it once was…I see clearly that there is no other paper which understands so thoroughly the philosophy of our movement, and points out so definitely what is to be done…but the thinkers alone appreciate this—while the crowd sees no difference except that the Era is $1.50 and the others, $1 a year. But I am content to look forward to the time when the Era shall not be needed.”

In 1851–52, Bailey published Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the National Era in serial form. In a letter dated June 28, 1857, Bailey provides some details regarding the story’s publication: “In the beginning of the year 1851, I remitted to Mrs. H.B. Stowe $100., and requested her to write just when, how, what, and much as, she might see proper. This was my mode of dealing with my contributors. I heard nothing from her for several months, when she wrote me that she was proposing to publish in the Era a story, to be entitled, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or the Man That was a Thing. She soon sent me two chapters, with the title modified, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lonely. Neither of us supposed it would be long, but it grew upon her– it was a work of real imagination and my subscribers became greatly excited about it…”

The letters also document the political maneuvering of the Liberty, Free Soil, and subsequently, the Republican Parties at the state and national levels; and the political careers and presidential aspirations of both Chase and McLean. Bailey’s correspondence reveals that he was not committed to any one candidate or even to any one party—”I never was a party man or politician,” he said in a letter dated June 28, 1857. He was dedicated solely to the antislavery cause. In several letters to Chase, Bailey discusses whether Chase or William H. Seward—a dominant figure in the Republican Party in its formative years—was the more viable Republican candidate for the Presidency. Although he notes that he favors his friend over Seward, in a letter dated October 24, 1855, Bailey explains that he would back the more popular Seward if it resulted in the advancement of the antislavery cause: “Personally, I care nothing for Mr. Seward’s elevation, and can have no interest in it—but were he the candidate selected honestly by the Party of the People, or Republicans, as they choose to be called, I would support him earnestly, for the sake of the principle. Personally, I care for the political elevation to the Presidency of no man but yourself but I would not split the movement on my attachment to you…I should work simply from devotion to the cause itself. I do not now believe that we can carry the election of 1856—but we can throw it into Congress. This would startle the nation, and secure us the vantage ground for 1860.”

Gamaliel Bailey Correspondence, 1839-1868, is a noteworthy addition to Princeton’s vast collection of Americana manuscripts. For information about using this collection, contact

Bailey letter

Ohio Antislavery Society Financial Appeal Circular sent to Salmon P. Chase
from Gamaliel Bailey, Corresponding Secretary, August 31, 1839.