In the decades before the Civil War, the cotton manufacturers in Lowell and other textile manufacturing centers of the North understood that their industry, and therefore their fortunes, depended upon the South's "peculiar institution," black slavery. The hundreds of thousands of slaves who toiled in the fields to grow and harvest raw cotton agonized the consciences of many Northerners, to the extent that abolitionist committees sprang up all over the North. But in Lowell and Lawrence, in Manchester New Hampshire and other textile centers, profits came before conscience.
The cotton manufacturers, the "Lords of the Loom," believed that whatever their personal opinion about slavery, if it were abolished, their new manufacturing industry would collapse. Without slavery, they thought, their supply of raw cotton would diminish because whites would not work the fields, not even if they, unlike the slaves, were paid. So abolitionism was frowned upon in Lowell and other Northern textile centers.
Nevertheless, anti-slavery agitators occasionally appeared in Lowell, to speak if not to organize. In 1834, the English abolitionist, George Thompson, was mobbed and driven out of town. In 1843, the most famous American abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, spoke in Lowell with, apparently, no threat to his personal safety. A few years earlier in Boston, Garrison had been chased by a mob of men who wanted to lynch him--and would have, if he had not been saved by the sheriff, who put Garrison in jail for safekeeping. A number of the well-dressed gentlemen in that mob were connected to the cotton manufacture, as shareholders if nothing else. They hated the radical Garrison, who demanded freedom not only for black slaves in the South, but for American women everywhere.
Garrison's gift for incendiary speech was sharpened by his writing for his newspaper, The Liberator. Because the United States Constitution sanctioned slavery in the Southern states, he thundered to an appreciative crowd one Fourth of July, it was a "covenant with death and an agreement with Hell." Garrison's outrageous demands for woman suffrage split the abolitionist movement, just as the slavery issue split the Whigs. The conflict between "Conscience" and "Cotton" Whigs killed the old Whig party and gave birth to the new, antislavery Republican Party in the 1850's.
Despite the prevailing pro-slavery sentiment, some Lowell cotton manufacturers were so troubled by the issue of slavery--the institution that enabled them to make their fortunes--that they tried to appease their consciences by helping the abolitionists in their struggle. Amos A. Lawrence, the son of the eponymous A.A. Lawrence who gave his name to the city downriver from Lowell, sent cases of "Beecher's Bibles" to the antislavery faction in "Bleeding Kansas". Those "Bibles"--which were actually rifles--and the blood they spilled brought home to the northern manufacturers as nothing else had that the struggle for the Union, the result of the struggle over slavery, would inevitably end in the carnage of the Civil War.
Richard O. Boyer. The Legend of John Brown
Timothy Patrick McCarthy (ed.). Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism
Lawrence Lader. The Bold Brahmins: New England's War against Slavery
Henry Mayer. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery
David S Reynolds. John Brown, Abolitionist
John Stauffer. The Black Hearts of Men
James B. Stewart. Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery
Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom's Cabin