Gerrit Smith, Philanthropy (American National Biography)

John R. McKivigan, "Smith, Gerrit," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
The Smith family fortune was threatened by the nationwide financial depression of the late 1830s, but Gerrit ultimately survived the crisis richer than ever. In the 1840s and 1850s his annual income from his landholdings and investments in banking and railroads typically exceeded $60,000.

Smith's great fortune allowed him to become one of the leading philanthropists of the early nineteenth century. Although he was antisectarian in his personal religious beliefs, Smith gave generously to the American Bible Society, the American Tract Society, and the American Sunday School Union….Smith became a leader and major financial sponsor of state and national organizations promoting temperance, prison reform, international peace, and land reform. He also supported his wife's and his daughter Elizabeth Smith Miller's active participation in the women's rights movement.

The cause that captured the greatest portion of Smith's attention was the campaign to end slavery. At first Smith supported efforts to colonize slaves in Africa, but in 1835 he joined the more militant abolitionist movement that demanded immediate emancipation of the slaves. He also supported self-improvement efforts of northern free blacks as a means of combating pervasive racial prejudice. He distributed thousands of acres of unimproved land in upstate New York to poor black families to help them become economically independent. Smith initially believed that the abolitionist mission was exclusively one of moral suasion: to "publish the truth about slavery."
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