Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) was a national celebrity known for his public speaking during the Civil War. For most of his life he read, thought, spoke, and wrote a great deal about how to build public opinion in favor of social justice.

A Mayflower descendant and graduate of Harvard College and Law School, Wendell Phillips was, among other things:

  • a white person who worked for more than forty years to promote equal rights for black Americans.
  • a man who championed women's rights
  • one who inherited wealth but argued for the rights of workers.

He drew a lot of criticism for using sarcasm and ridicule against defenders of slavery and prejudice, particularly if they were politicians, or otherwise held power and influence.

He became famous in part for calmly facing down violent mobs. During the Secession Winter, he was very nearly assassinated.

During the Civil War he became a national celebrity, known for giving powerful, riveting speeches that were attended by thousands and read by hundreds of thousands.

He continually insisted that Boston and Massachusetts must always serve as models of liberty and justice not only for the rest of the country but for the whole world as well.

He was widely credited with the power to shape Northern public opinion, and he used history and the humanities as his primary tools to do so.

His mother, wife, closest friends and colleagues were smart women with forceful personalities.

He joined the abolitionist movement in his twenties. While serving as the president of the American Anti-Slavery Society from 1865 to 1870, he called for the removal of the word "white" from every law.

In protest against the federal government's support of slavery, he did not vote during the middle twenty years of his life (from his thirties to his fifties).

He publicly opposed President Lincoln's election to a second term.

After the Civil War, while advocating the rights of workers, he called for reform of federal policy toward Native Americans and spoke in favor of movements for Irish independence

Photo Gallery and More

More about Wendell Phillips

Wendell Phillips and John Brown

Phillips’ Statue in the Boston Public Garden, front view, January 2011 (courtesy of Héléne Quanquin)


Contact Information:

Email: wendellphillips.bicentennial@gmail.com