Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens

Publication Year: 1838

Purvis, Robert. Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens, Threatened with Disfranchisement, to the People of Pennsylvania. (Philadelphia: Printed by Merrihew & Gunn, 1838).
PHS call number: PAM E 185.93 .P4 A7

Reading suggestions

See especially pages 1-4 (2 pages). Please note that pages 2-3 are not missing—this is a printing error, and the text from page 1 continues on page 4.

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Source note

Robert Purvis (1810-1898) was a prominent Philadelphia area abolitionist of white and Jewish Moroccan heritage. Married to Philadelphia abolitionist Harriet Forten, who was also of mixed racial heritage, Purvis helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society and was active in helping fugitive slaves escape from slaveholding states on the Underground Railroad. Purvis was on a committee that included James Forten, Sr., Forten’s son James (Purvis’s father-in-law and brother-in-law), and a few other African American Philadelphians who joined to write the Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens. They wrote this document in response to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention’s proposed amendment that would deny the right of African Americans to vote, and released it before the amendment was approved in a very close popular vote.

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Reading questions
  1. Who wrote this document, and what was their purpose for writing it? 
  2. The author states that the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention took away the right to vote from African Americans, and that this right is important for all people, but perhaps especially for African Americans. What reason does he give? 
  3. How does the author link this decision to deny black suffrage with the patriots who fought in the revolutionary war (page 1)? Is this an effective comparison? 
  4. The author argues that if a government is despotic for some people, it is despotic for all people. For whom do you think this argument would be most convincing at the time it was written? 
  5. Unlike Fox in Document 1, the author of this document acknowledges that women are denied suffrage under the constitution. What reason does the author give for why women don’t need the right to vote, but African Americans do (pages 1-4)? 
  6. One of the reasons the author gives for why African Americans should retain their right to vote is that the Colonization Movement is gaining ground, and African Americans should have a say on this subject. What are the author’s objections to the Colonization Movement? 
  7. The author refers his readers back to the language of the 1790 Pennsylvania Constitution that protects the right to vote for “every freeman” who is over 21, pays taxes, and is a resident of the state. How does this author’s interpretation of that language differ from Judge John Fox, the author of Document 1?  
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Source type
History Topics
African American History
Black Voting Rights
Civil Rights
Time Period
Slavery, Sectionalism, and Social Reform (1815-1861)