Phillips, Wendell

Phillips, Wendell,

1811–84, American reformer and orator, b. Boston, grad. Harvard (B.A., 1831; LL.B., 1834). He was admitted to the bar in 1834 but, having sufficient income of his own, he abandoned his law practice to devote his life to fighting for sound causes, chiefly the abolition of slavery. Revolted by the mobbing (1835) in Boston of abolitionist William Lloyd GarrisonGarrison, William Lloyd,
1805–79, American abolitionist, b. Newburyport, Mass. He supplemented his limited schooling with newspaper work and in 1829 went to Baltimore to aid Benjamin Lundy in publishing the Genius of Universal Emancipation.
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 and prodded by his brilliant young wife, the former Ann Terry Greene, he entered wholeheartedly into the abolitionist crusade. His eloquent protest (1837) in Faneuil Hall on the assassination of the abolitionist editor Elijah P. LovejoyLovejoy, Elijah Parish,
1802–37, American abolitionist, b. Albion, Maine, grad. Waterville (now Colby) College, 1826, and later studied theology at Princeton. In 1833 he became editor of the Observer, a Presbyterian weekly in St. Louis.
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 marked the beginning of his long and distinguished career as a lecturer. Phillips frequently contributed to the Liberator and, like its publisher, Garrison, refused to identify his abolitionism with any political party. He also followed Garrison in other causes, notably women's rights. He was a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London (1840), opposed the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas, came to advocate the dissolution of the Union, and aroused considerable hostility by his vehement denunciations of slaveholding. In the Civil War he attacked Lincoln for his moderate stand on emancipation of the slaves and opposed Lincoln's renomination. Phillips held that the government owed blacks not merely their freedom, but land, education, and full civil rights as well. This led to a break between him and Garrison in 1865 when Garrison proposed to dissolve the American Anti-Slavery Society on the grounds that its purpose had been fulfilled. Phillips became the society's president and kept it active until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment enfranchised the blacks. While most of the victorious crusaders for abolition were content to rest on their laurels, Phillips continued his agitation for social reform, speaking for many unpopular causes—prohibition, woman's suffrage, the abolition of capital punishment, currency reform (see greenbackgreenback,
in U.S. history, legal tender notes unsecured by specie (coin). In 1862, under the exigencies of the Civil War, the U.S. government first issued legal tender notes (popularly called greenbacks) that were placed on a par with notes backed by specie.
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), and the rights of labor. He was the unsuccessful candidate of the Labor and Prohibition parties for the governorship of Massachusetts in 1870. Phillips's advanced doctrines became indistinguishable from those of Marxian socialism, and he defended the Commune of Paris of 1871 and Russian nihilism. As an orator he was rated with Edward Everett and Daniel Webster; his style, however, was easy and colloquial.


See his Speeches, Lectures, and Letters (1st series, 1863; 2d series, 1891); biographies by J. A. Green (1943, repr. 1964), O. Sherwin (1958), and I. Bartlett (1961, repr. 1973).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Phillips, Wendell


Born Nov. 29, 1811, in Boston; died there Feb. 2, 1884. US public figure; one of the leaders of the abolitionist movement.

Phillips was educated in law at Harvard University. In the late 1830’s he became a traveling agent and later one of the leaders of the American Antislavery Society, acting as its president from 1865 to 1870. He became famous as an outstanding orator. In 1860, Phillips was sharply critical of the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War he was a supporter of extreme measures for conducting the war, and during Reconstruction he proposed that the rebel leaders be banished from the country and that their lands be confiscated and distributed among the former slaves.

In the 1870’s Phillips joined the working-class movement. He proposed a program that provided for the overthrow of the system of hired labor, the abolishment of capitalist corporations and privileged classes, and the introduction of an eight-hour workday. He supported independent political action by the working class without grasping, however, the integral system of scientific socialism. In 1871 he declared his solidarity with the Paris Commune; he associated himself with the First International. Phillips declared his sympathy with the revolutionary movement in Russia in 1881.


Speeches, Lectures and Letters, series 1–2. Boston-New York, 1863–91.


Marx, K. “Abolitsionistskie vystupleniia v Amerike.” K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 15.
Engels, F. A. Bebeliu. (Letter.) K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 35, pp. 142–43.
Zakharova, M. N. Narodnoe dvizhenie v SShA protiv rabstva, 1831–1860. Moscow, 1965. Pages 75–76,126,400–07.
Sherwin, O. Prophet of Liberty. New York, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Phillips, Wendell

(1811–84) orator, reformer; born in Boston, Mass. A graduate of Harvard College (1831) and Law School (1834), he soon abandoned his legal practice, and, influenced by his abolitionist wife (Ann Terry Greene) and his Calvinist upbringing, dedicated himself to lecture on behalf of abolition, even at the expense of dissolving the Union; in many respects he was the most radical of the abolitionists. He also espoused such causes as women's rights and humane treatment of the mentally ill, earning a national reputation on the lecture circuit. After the Civil War, Phillips, unlike many abolitionists, turned to seeking social justice for blacks, succeeding William Lloyd Garrison as president of the American Anti-Slavery Society (1865). He grew concerned with the welfare of all workers, and, becoming increasingly radical, he upheld violence as a labor tactic and denounced corporate wealth and the wage and profit system.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.