Denouncing the Brotherhood of Thieves

Stephen Symonds Foster's critique of the anti-abolitionist clergy

Troy Duncan, Chris Dixon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Stephen Symonds Foster's abolitionist colleagues were startled when he appeared before the 1844 New England Antislavery Convention holding in one hand an iron collar and in the other a set of manacles. Describing the performance, the Reverend Adin Ballou recounted that as Foster waved the two objects before his audience he cried out, "Behold here a specimen of the religion of this land, the handy work of the American church and clergy." Foster's audience should perhaps not have been surprised by his actions in 1844, for dramatic gestures had been part of his antislavery repertoire since the late 1830s, when he established himself as one of abolitionism's most feisty and resolute proponents. Apparently contemptuous of the conventions of polite society, his notoriety grew principally from his practice of interrupting church services for the purpose of exposing the clergy's involvement in the evil of slavery, a situation he believed rendered them as morally culpable as those who owned slaves. Realizing, too, the power of the written word, Foster forcefully restated his charges in his 1843 publication The Brotherhood of Thieves, or A True Picture of the American Church and Clergy, which proved to be one of the most influential tracts issued by the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-117
JournalCivil War History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Denouncing the Brotherhood of Thieves: Stephen Symonds Foster's critique of the anti-abolitionist clergy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this