American Missionary Association

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1846

Led by a mix of evangelical pastors and funded by Lewis Tappan and other public-minded philanthropists, the American Missionary Association was created in upstate New York in 1846. It promulgated Christian principles, opposed slavery, educated blacks, and promoted racial equality. By linking eastern abolitionists with those in Ohio, Illinois, and other parts of what was then “the West,” the group exerted an important influence on American politics and culture.

The association supported missions for runaway slaves in Canada and for liberated slaves in Jamaica. It paid teacher salaries for schools serving African Americans in border states. It helped American Indians, Chinese immigrants in California, and the poor in Hawaii, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Egypt, and other overseas locations. The AMA helped anti-slavery ministers plant hundreds of new churches across the Midwest.

In the lead-up to the Civil War, Lewis Tappan and other AMA leaders denounced the Democratic Party as pro-slavery, and nurtured anti-slavery political parties that eventually coalesced in the birth of the Republicans. During the Civil War itself, the AMA fielded a corps of missionaries and teachers that followed in the wake of the Army. They seized every opportunity to educate, comfort, and evangelize.

After the war, the AMA aided freedmen, and founded schools. The association also chartered eight colleges that became the core of what are now referred to as America’s historically black colleges and universities. By 1888, 7,000 teachers trained by the American Missionary Association were instructing hundreds of thousands of pupils in Southern states.