Building a new nation out of a wilderness required vision, hard work, and a strong sense of responsibility to future generations on the part of the early Americans. These pioneers had to create not only a stable political structure, but also a viable economic and social system--and the success of America depended on the solidity of these early foundations.
The collected papers of both Peter Smith and his son, Gerrit Smith, span more than a century of important American history and provide a unique perspective on the vital issues of their eras. Both father and son made many valuable contributions to the economic and social development of America. Students of American history, political science, and sociology will discover documents on land development and land reform among other issues.
While Gerrit Smith was successful in expanding his father's business empire, his consuming passion was reform. One of his earliest concerns was religion, and he was involved in the work of the American Sunday School Union and the American Home Missionary Society, among other organizations. (See also The American Sunday School Union Papers, 1817-1915.)
These papers also include a wealth of material on Gerrit Smith's active involvement as an abolitionist. As President of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society, he published approximately 50 essays on slavery, helped slaves escape to Canada, and in some cases purchased slaves and set them free. Gerrit was also an advocate of temperance, maintaining throughout his life that alcohol was responsible for most of the crime and poverty in the world.
He supported women's rights movements and responded with speeches, funds, and letters to requests for help from feminists such as Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony. The correspondence, business and land records, writings, files, and maps featured in this collection reflect the many and diverse causes he supported during his lifetime. Also included are materials collected after his death.
The New York Times summed up Gerrit Smith's contributions to 19th-century American history this way following his death in 1874: "The history of the most important half century of our national life will be imperfectly written if it fails to place (Smith) in the front rank of the men whose influence was most felt in the accomplishments of its results."