To a Friend, It is a matter of real regret to me that I am not able to be with you on the occasion of the birthday of our worthy friend, Edwin Thompson [abolitionist]. I have known him as a faithful and self-sacrificing advocate (of) all good causes. More than 50 years ago, I met him at the convention which formed the First Temperance Society in Essex County, and about the same time, at the formation of the Essex Anti-Slavery Society. Since then, his genial face and cheering voice has been rarely missed wherever the Friends of Temperance and Freedom met together. He was always a welcome speaker. Like President Lincoln, he had the gift of story-telling, and his stories were always to the purpose, putting to shame his opponents with ready wit and humor. Through the long Anti-Slavery struggle, his labors were unremitting, but he was always brave and hopeful and, in the midst of persecution, never posed as a martyr. His enthusiasm of humanity was remarkable healthful; there was no whine or cant in it, and he heartily enjoyed it, for it was its own exceeding great reward. It is fitting that we should honor him and congratulate him that his 78th birthday finds him the same cheerful, warm-hearted man we have known so long; and, (it) will not be amiss if we give him some substantial and unsolicited assurance of our esteem and love. O this end, I enclose my mite with the best wishes for his health and happiness. Signed, I am, truly thy friend, John G. Whittier"
Whittier is depicted so often as the gentle Quaker that the fiery politician within him is often forgotten. He declared himself an abolitionist in the pamphlet ‘Justice and Expediency’ (1833) and went to the unpopular National Antislavery Convention. In 1834–35 he sat in the Massachusetts legislature; he ran for Congress on the Liberty ticket in 1842 and was a founder of the Republican Party. He also worked staunchly behind the scenes to further the abolitionist cause.