¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 On July 4, 1854, Henry David Thoreau delivered an address to a group of agitated abolitionists in Framingham, Massachusetts. This address, which would later be transformed into “Slavery in Massachusetts,” was largely a response to the return of fugitive slave Anthony Burns to his Virginian owner. Thoreau’s decision to deliver this lecture was not out of character: Thoreau pursued an active role in abolitionist efforts, condemning the Fugitive Slave Act, championing John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, refusing to pay the poll tax in Massachusetts, and aiding fleeing slaves through his involvement in the Underground Railroad.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 According to Sandra Harbart Petrulionis, Thoreau, upon deciding to deliver a lecture at this meeting, began to develop his speech by drawing “from his 1854 commentary about Anthony Burns and earlier journal entries in April 1851 regarding fugitive slave Thomas Sims.” Thoreau edited and revised this prose to transform it into his public address. Thoreau’s lecture was first printed by William Lloyd Garrison in the June 21, 1854 issue of The Liberator. According to the edition edited by Wendell Glick for Reform Papers (The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, Princeton University Press, 1973), Garrison likely “requested and received Thoreau’s holograph text at Framingham after Thoreau delivered his lecture” (333). From there, Thoreau’s address was reprinted by Horace Greeley in the New-York Daily Tribune on August 2nd, 1854, followed by a printing in The National Anti-Slavery Standard on August 12, 1854.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The present text of “Slavery in Massachusetts” follows the 1906 Houghton Mifflin edition. (You can download a copy in pdf from the Walden Woods Project.) The text was prepared by Abraham Hauser, Harris Schwab, Eileen Reinhardt, and Jessica Palmeri as their final project for the Spring 2018 Honors Seminar in Critical Reading at SUNY Geneseo.