The Stanton Brothers at Lane Theological Seminary

Lane Seminary Print
Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Ohio History Connection. 

Led by Theodore Weld, a number of Lane students organized a series of debates on the abolition of slavery.  President Beecher recognized Weld as a brilliant, sincere reformer, but Beecher's position as an abolitionist was conservative.  Like most of the Lane faculty and board of trustees, Beecher supported the American Colonization Society's goal to free black slaves gradually and to send them as colonists to Africa.  The Lane debates, which included students from slave-holding families, took place at Lane for two and a half hours a night for eighteen nights, and addressed the following questions: 

     1) Should slaveholding states immediately abolish slavery?

     2) Should Christians condone the doctrines of the American Colonization Society?  

Weld's reasoning, and that of other radical abolitionist debaters, led many to answer "Yes" to the first question and "No" to the second. 

With growing support from those who saw slavery as a sin and deportation as "kidnapping,” Weld and his followers established an Anti-Slavery Society on campus.  In Cincinnati, they immersed themselves in the black community with whom they ate and worshipped as equals and for whom they established Sunday and evening schools as well as a circulating library (Weld, qtd. in Abzug 95).  The Board of Trustees responded by banning the Anti-Slavery Society at Lane and by forbidding discussion of slavery among students on threat of expulsion.  Over forty students left Lane in protest.  

The "Lane Rebels," as they were labeled, published their reasons for leaving in William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper, The Liberator.  Free inquiry, they asserted, was their duty and their right as men in pursuit of truth.  They acted on what they found to be true:  slavery denied black men their God-given rights and thus slavery was to be "immediately renounced" ("Defence [sic] of the Students," The Liberator. 5.2. 10 Jan. 1835).  Henry Stanton was among those who signed the article and left.  

His brother Robert did not sign.  Robert continued to study at Lane for two more years.  He left, however, without graduating from the theological program.  He traveled to New Orleans, where, in 1838, he obtained his license to preach (Reilly 36).  In 1839, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister in Woodville, Mississippi.  Robert's ministries in the Deep South strengthened his resolve to achieve a religious solution to the problem of slavery. 

After Henry Stanton left Lane, he did not join other Lane Rebels welcomed at Oberlin College.  Like his mentor and friend, Theodore Weld, Henry gave up a career in the church to become a full time agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.  Henry was among those who established the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1835.  As a delegate from Hamilton County, Henry was elected secretary.  Among the resolutions the Society passed was this: “That the Christian Church is eminently criminal in the indulgence she has shown to the acknowledged sin of slave holding....” (Proceedings Ohio Anti-Slavery Convention, 1835).  Henry's work strengthened his resolve to achieve a political solution to the problem of slavery.  As abolitionists, the Stanton brothers were choosing different paths.