A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Our Fanaticism!


A banner used at antislavery events and an article published in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review reflect radically different points of view, and radically different uses of the word "fanaticism."


Selection from the Massachusetts Historical Society: Our Fanaticism!, Cotton Banner, [1840s].
Selection from the Library of Congress: "The Conspiracy of Fanaticism." The United States Democratic Review, Volume 26, Issue 143, May 1850. Pages 391 (starting with “The first and most effectual step…”) to 394 (ending with “…practical application of this detestable dogma.”)

Questions to Consider


  1. What are the three main ideas contained in the banner?
  2. According to the article, why are abolitionists so dangerous? What are they willing to give up or ruin to succeed in their one mission? Why are they "fanatics"?


  1. By whom are abolitionists called "fanatics"? Why? What actions might have caused this label to be applied to them? How do they turn this from a negative to a positive trait for the banner?
  2. What is the position of this magazine on slavery? Look at the date of publication. What is happening in Congress in 1850? Who is the “senator from New York” mentioned in the article, and what role does he play in the events of that year? (Hint: he went on to become Lincoln’s Secretary of State during the Civil War)


  1. Is this banner more or less effective with the addition of the first line? Read the banner text out loud in the tone you think suits it best.
  2. What is the overarching message that the magazine's writer wants the reader to come away with?


  1. The second part of the banner combines a phrase from the Declaration of Independence and a passage from the Bible. How would pro-slavery Southerners counter the words of these two documents that they also believed in? How can you explain the difference in their interpretations?
  2. What background does this magazine piece provide on the fears of those opposed to abolition? How does the author attempt to instill fear in his readers? What is the tone of his article?


  1. Write a definition of "fanaticism" from the point of view of the banner's creator.
  2. Write a definition of "fanaticism" from the point of view of the article's author.
  3. Write your own definition of "fanaticism," and explain how the two opposing documents in this section affected your choice of words.