The NATIONAL CONVENTION OF BLACK FREEMEN was a 3-day conference that began in Cleveland on 6 Sept. 1848. Presided over by Frederick Douglass, the convention brought together 50-70 free black leaders from the Old Northwest and Canada, including WILLIAM H. DAY of Ohio and Clevelander JOHN MALVIN. Some sessions were held in the courthouse and public sessions were well attended. Black delegates were reportedly treated well by local hotels and other facilities.
The convention passed resolutions favoring business education, equality before the law regardless of color, affiliation with the antislavery cause , statistical studies on the status of Negroes, and frequent state and local conventions. Delegates’ backgrounds—mostly self-made men—influenced the debate over issues such as business education and what kinds of work were considered honorable. An attempt to declare all work as honorable was defeated by those who looked down upon menial labor. Another hotly debated issue was the role of women at the convention. Although supposedly all blacks who attended were accepted as members of the convention, the women present were not allowed to participate at first. A compromise was finally reached which held that the general convention invitation of “persons” included women. One historian has argued that despite its initial reluctance, it was the first national convention to recognize that women had a right to participate. The convention debated whether it should endorse Martin Van Buren’s Free-Soil party in the upcoming presidential election. Delegates criticized both the Whigs and the Democrats for having “betrayed the sacred cause of human freedom” with their stands on slavery. Only after much debate did the convention endorse the Free-Soil party.
Bell, Howard. “The National Negro Convention, 1848.” Ohio Historical Quarterly 67 (Oct. 1958): 357-68.