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THE ANTISLAVERY "COMEOUTER" SECTS: A Neglected Dimension of the Abolitionist Movement John R. McKivigan Thanks to the pioneering research of Gilbert H. Barnes and Dwight L. Dumond, historians have long been aware of the primary importance that early abolitionists attached to obtaining the endorsement of the nation's churches for their immediate emancipation program. Most studies of abolitionism, however, note a great curtailment of such efforts after the 1830's in reaction to the repeated refusals of most denominations to make more than the mildest antislavery gestures. According to standard accounts of the years following the schism of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1840, most abolitionists either followed the lead ofWilliam Lloyd Garrisonin repudiating the churches as hopelessly corrupted by slavery or switched their energies from religious to political antislavery activities. As a result of the shift of resources to other antislavery tactics, church-oriented abolitionist efforts after 1840 are often portrayed as diffuse, decentralized, and ineffectual.1 Such interpretative assumptions unfortunately have caused historians to neglect a significant post-1840 innovation in church-oriented tactics, the creation of antislavery "comeouter" sects. During the 1840's and 1850's, tens of thousands of abolitionists left their former denominations and founded new churches based on uncompromised antislavery principles. The most important of these now nearly forgotten religious denominations were the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, the Free 1 Gilbert Barnes, The Antislavery Impube, 1830-1844 (New York, 1933), 103, and Dwight L. Dumond, Antisfovery Origins of the Civil War (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1939), 35, and Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America (Ann Arbor, 1961), 179, first noted the close ties between the antislavery movement and the churches and contended that American abolitionism shifted from religious to political channels in the 1840's. More recently, Aileen S. Kraditor, MeansandEnds in American Abolitionism (New York, 1969); Gerald Sorin, Abolitionism: A New Perspective (New York, 1972); James B. Stewart, Holy Warriors: The American AbolitionistsandAmerican Shvery (New York, 1976), and others have reasserted the importance of the Garrisonians' apolitical and secular tactics in the 1840's and 1850's, but ignore church-oriented abolitionist activities in the same years. Civil War History, Vol. XXVI, No. 2 Copyright © 1980 by The Kent State University Press 0009-8078/80/26?1-0003 $00.95/0 COMEOUTER SECTS143 Presbyterian Church, the American Baptist Free Missionary Society, the Franckean Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends, and the Progressive Friends. The creation of these sects was a dramatic protest against the churches' failure to eradicate vestiges of tolerance for slavery. The history of the comeouter sects reveals that the church-oriented phase of the abolitionist movement remained vigorous despite the rise of competing antislavery tactics.2 The antislavery comeouter sect phenomenon derived its main inspiration from the abolitionists' theological arguments against fellowship with slaveholders. Like the early abolitionists, the comeouters believed slaveowning to be sinful and the churches guilty of tolerating sinners in their membership. After years of unsuccessful effort to reform the religious denominations, many zealous abolitionists resolved to heed the Biblical injunction to "Come out from her, my people, that ye receive not of her plagues."3 Comeouters considered separation from a contaminated religious body not only a means of protecting one's own soul, but also forceful testimony against the churches' unsafe and unchristian course. The comeouter sects cited the precedent of earlier Christians, from the fourth century Donatists to the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, who had felt impelled to secede from a sinning church and form new communions restricted to the uncorrupted. Following the example of these previous reformers, the comeouter sects attempted to establish uncompromised institutional bases from which to carry on the work of freeing churches from sins. Historians have seldom distinguished the comeouter sect movement from practices of Garrisonian abolitionists also dubbed "comeouterism ." As observed earlier, many members of the post-1840 American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) repudiated all ties with organized Christian bodies. These abolitionists were motivated by anticlerical and perfectionistic religious beliefs as well as the desire to protest the churches' complicity with slavery. Although only a minority of Garrisonians formally abandoned their old denominations, those coming-out included some of the most prominent spokesmen...