Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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STEWART, Alvan, reformer, born in South Granville, Washington County, New York, 1 September, 1790; died in New York city, 1 May, 1849. His parents removed when he was five months old to Crown Point, New York, and in 1795, losing their possessions through a defective title, to Westford, Chittenden co.. Vt., where the lad was brought up on a farm. In 1808 he began to teach and to study anatomy and medicine. In 1809 he entered Burlington college, Vermont, supporting himself by teaching in the winters, and, visiting Canada in 1811, he received a commission under Governor Sir George Prevost as professor in the Royal school in the seigniory of St. Armand, but he returned to college in June, 1812. After the declaration of war he went again to Canada, and was held as a prisoner. On his return he taught and studied law in Cherry Valley, New York, and then in Paris, Kentucky, making his home in the former place, where he practised his profession and won reputation. He was a persistent advocate of protective duties, of internal improvements, and of education. He removed to Utica in 1832, and, though he continued to try causes as counsel, the remainder of his life was given mainly to the temperance and antislavery causes. A volume of his speeches was published in 1860. Among the most conspicuous of these was an argument, in 1837, before the New York state anti-slavery convention, to prove that congress might constitutionally abolish slavery; on the "Right of Petition" at Pennsylvania hall, Philadelphia, and on the "Great Issues between Right and Wrong" at the same place in 1838; before the joint committee of the legislature of Vermont; and before the supreme court of New Jersey on a habeas corpus to determine the unconstitutionality of slavery under the new state constitution of 1844, which last occupied eleven hours in delivery. His first published speech against slavery was in 1835, under threats of a mob. He then drew a call for a state anti-slavery convention for 21 October, 1835, at Utica. As the clock struck the hour he called the convention to order and addressed it, and the programme of business was completed ere the threatened mob arrived, as it soon did and dispersed the convention by violence. That night the doors and windows of his house were barred with large timbers, and fifty loaded muskets were provided, with determined men to handle them, but the preparations kept off the menaced invasion. "He was the first," says William Goodell, the historian of abolitionism, "to insist earnestly, in our consultations, in committee and elsewhere, on the necessity of forming a distinct political party to promote the abolition of slavery." He gradually brought the leaders into it, was its candidate for governor, and this new party grew, year by year, till at last it held the balance of power between the Whigs and Democrats, when, uniting with the former, it constituted the Republican party. The characteristics of Mr. Stewart's eloquence and conversation were a strange and abounding humor, a memory that held large resources at command, readiness in emergency, a rich philosophy, strong powers of reasoning, and an exuberant imagination. A collection of his speeches, with a memoir, is in preparation by his son-in-law, Luther R. Narsh.
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