Humanities › History & Culture Abolitionist Pamphlet Campaign Mailing of "Incendiary" Pamphlets Created a Crisis in 1835 Share Flipboard Email Print The Black Freedom Struggle Introduction Slave Revolts, Abolition, and the Underground Railroad Nat Turner's Rebellion How Slaves Resisted Abolitionist Pamphlet Campaigns The Underground Railroad The Fugitive Slave Act Women Abolitionists The Missouri Compromise and Dred Scott John Brown and His Raid Slavery and the Civil War Emancipation Reconstruction Resistance to Black Codes Radical Reconstruction The Black Church Opposition to Reconstruction: The Rise of the KKK and Other Hate Groups Early 20th Century Rise of Pan-Africanism The Harlem Renaissance Black Soldiers in WWI and WWII Understanding the Jim Crow South The Black Press and Jim Crow The National Association of Colored Women The Southern Civil Rights Movement The SCLC SNCC The Black Panthers 1950s 1960 - 1964 1965 - 1969 Freedom Songs Black Power Politics and Race in Late 20th Century Redlining and Housing Segregation Black Representation in Government: Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisolm, and more Affirmative Action Resisting Racism in Policing and the Justice System Rodney King The War on Drugs The Million Man March Police Racism, Violence, and Black Lives Matter Resisting Racism Today A mob broke into a post office and burned abolitionist pamphlets in Charleston, South Carolina. Fotosearch/Getty Images By Robert McNamara History Expert Robert J. McNamara is a history expert and former magazine journalist. He was Amazon.com's first-ever history editor and has bylines in New York, the Chicago Tribune, and other national outlets. our editorial process Robert McNamara Updated February 01, 2020 In the summer of 1835 the growing abolitionist movement attempted to influence public opinion in the slave states by mailing thousands of anti-slavery pamphlets to addresses in the South. The material inflamed southerners, who broke into post offices, seized bags of mail containing the pamphlets, and made a spectacle of burning the pamphlets in the streets as mobs cheered. The mobs of southerners interfering with the postal system created a crisis at the federal level. And the battle over use of the mails illuminated how the issue of slavery was splitting the nation decades before the Civil War. In the North, calls to censor the mails were naturally seen as a violation of Constitutional rights. In the slave states of the South, the literature produced by the American Anti-Slavery Society was viewed as a dire threat to southern society. On a practical level, the local postmaster in Charleston, South Carolina, requested guidance from the postmaster general in Washington, who essentially dodged the issue. After a spasm of demonstrations in the South, in which effigies representing abolitionist leaders were burned as anti-slavery pamphlets were thrown into bonfires, the battleground moved on to the halls of Congress. President Andrew Jackson even mentioned the mailing of the pamphlets in his annual message to Congress (the forerunner of the State of the Union Address). Jackson advocated suppressing the literature by having federal authorities censor the mails. Yet his approach was challenged by an eternal rival, Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who advocated for local censorship of federal mail. In the end, the campaign of the abolitionists to mail pamphlets southward was essentially abandoned as being impractical. So the immediate issue of censoring the mails died out. And the abolitionists changed tactics and began to concentrate on sending petitions to Congress to advocate for the end of slavery. Strategy of the Pamphlet Campaign The idea of mailing thousands of anti-slavery pamphlets into the slave states began to take hold in the early 1830s. The abolitionists couldn't send human agents to preach against slavery, as they would be risking their lives. And, thanks for the financial backing of the Tappan brothers, wealthy New York City merchants who had become devoted to the abolitionist cause, the most modern printing technology was made available to spread the message. The material produced, which included pamphlets and broadsides (large sheets designed to be passed around or hung as posters), tended to have woodcut illustrations depicting the horrors of slavery. The material may look crude to modern eyes, but in the 1830s it would have been considered fairly professional printed material. And the illustrations were particularly inflammatory to southerners. As slaves tended to be illiterate (as was generally mandated by law), the existence of printed material showing slaves being whipped and beaten was seen as particularly inflammatory. Southerners claimed the printed material from the American Anti-Slavery Society was intended to provoke slave uprisings. And knowing the abolitionists had the funding and personnel to turn out printed material of substantial quality was disturbing to pro-slavery Americans. End of the Campaign The controversy over censoring the mails essentially ended the pamphlet campaign. Legislation to open and search the mails failed in Congress, but local postmasters, with the tacit approval of their superiors in the federal government, still suppressed the pamphlets. Ultimately, the American Anti-Slavery Society accepted that mass-mailing pamphlets into the slave states simply wasn't going to work as a tactic as was simply a waste of resources. And, as the abolitionists saw it, their campaign had attracted attention and their point had been made. The anti-slavery movement began to concentrate on other initiatives, most prominently the campaign to create strong anti-slavery action in the House of Representatives. The campaign to submit petitions about slavery to Congress began in earnest, and eventually led to a crisis on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress from the slave states were able to enact what became known as the "gag rule" which prohibited discussion of slavery issues in the House of Representatives. The pamphlet campaign may have only lasted for about a year, but it was an important point in the history of anti-slavery sentiment in America. By agitating against the horrors of slavery it provoked a reaction which brought the issue to a wide public.