The early Abolitionists were denounced as fanatics, or “fan-a-tics,” according to the pronunciation of some of their detractors. They were treated as if partially insane. The writer when a boy attended the trial of a cause between two neighbors in a court of low grade. It was what was called a “cow case,” and involved property worth, perhaps, as much as twenty dollars. One of the witnesses on the stand was asked by a lawyer, who wanted to embarrass or discredit him, if he were not an Abolitionist. Objection came from the other side on the ground that the inquiry was irrelevant; but the learned justice-of-the-peace who presided held that, as it related to the witness’s sanity, and that would affect his credibility, the question was admissible. It is not, perhaps, so very strange that in those days, in view of the disreputableness of those whose cause they espoused, and the apparently utter hopelessness of anything ever coming out of it, the supporters of Anti-Slaveryism should be suspected of being “out of their heads.”
Although Don Quixote, who, according to the veracious Cervantes, set out with his unaided strong right arm to upset things, including wind-mills and obnoxious dynasties, has long been looked upon as the world’s best specimen of a “fanatic,” he would ordinarily be set down as a very Solomon beside the man who would undertake single-handed to overthrow such an institution as American slavery used to be. Such a man there was, however. He really entered on the job of abolishing that institution, and without a solitary assistant. Strange to say, he was neither a giant nor a millionaire.
According to Horace Greeley, “Benjamin Lundy deserves the high honor of ranking as the pioneer of direct and distinctive Anti-Slaveryism in America.”
He was slight in frame and below the medium height, and unassuming in manner. He had, it is said, neither eloquence nor shining ability of any sort.
At nineteen years of age he went to Wheeling, Virginia, to learn the trade of a saddler. He learned more than that. Wheeling, as he tells us, was then a great thoroughfare for the traffickers in human flesh. Their coffles passed through the place frequently. “My heart,” he continues, “was grieved at the great abomination. I heard the wail of the captive, I felt his pang of distress, and the iron entered into my soul.”