During the 1830s through 1850s, antislavery activity in Michigan was organized roughly into two channels, each represented by organizations with similar names: the Michigan State Anti-Slavery Society and the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society. The Michigan State Society was the predominant antislavery organization during the 1830s and 1840s, and under the leadership of James Gillespie Birney and others, its members urged active participation in the political sphere. Ultimately, supporters of the Society contributed to the formation of the abolitionist Liberty Party, which twice nominated Birney for the presidency (1840 and 1844), garnering over 60,000 votes in 1844, drawing on a substantial base of support in Michigan, New York, and northern Indiana. After the party was effectively dissolved following the rise of the Free Soil Party, however, the Michigan State Society declined in significance and had become moribund by the early 1850s.
At a convention held in Adrian in October, 1853, several veterans of the antislavery movement in Michigan, including Harriet deGarmo Fuller and her husband Edwin, organized a new society for the state. The Michigan Anti-Slavery Society, advocating the principles of William Lloyd Garrison, soon became a vigorous and strident instrument for reform. Committed to non-violent action, these abolitionists were -- in their own terms -- purists and radicals who disdained affiliation with any group, organization, or ideology that was tainted by association with slavery. They rejected the U.S. Constitution that accepted slavery and all laws that authorized the extension of the rights of slave holders into free states, while refusing rights to the enslaved. At their meetings, the members of the Society resolved that "between the radical abolitionist [sic] of the North and the Slave holders of the South, there is no middle ground; any more than between the worshippers of one living and true God, and those of idols...," (vol. 4: 13) and they insisted that Slavery could never be abolished "by a Governmental organization in which liberty and Slavery have a common ballot-box, a common judiciary, and a common executive" (4: 50-51), leaving as their only option for reform, collective action by the morally and spiritually committed. Nothing less than "the practical enforcement of the golden rule and the declaration of Independence, without regard to complexional differences among the people" could satisfy their political and social demands, or meet their goal of "claiming for those who are held in an iron bondage, only what the white inhabitants of this country assume to be theirs by a natural and heaven derived right" (4:13-14).
Members of the M.A.S.S. refused affiliation with churches that accepted slave holders into membership and many objected to any participation in the political process, arguing that it was hopelessly compromised by the slave power. Many members, like the Fullers, recognized a link between the oppression of the slave and the oppression of women in American society, and expanded their efforts to include the struggle for women's rights. Some members, like S. S. Foster (Abby Kelley Foster's husband) were willing, if necessary, to contemplate secession from the union. The disillusionment and suspicion that such moral purists felt rings throughout the minutes of their conventions, and, though always smaller than the Michigan State Society, their zeal and tight organization made the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society a vibrant and lively organization during the mid-1850s, when they were the only effective antislavery organization in the state.
Throughout this decade, Harriet deGarmo Fuller was a tireless worker for the abolition of slavery and the rights of women, standing with her husband, Edwin, and other members of her family at countless meetings and fairs. Edwin had been a member of the State Central Committee of the Michigan State Anti-Slavery Society in October, 1852, but in October of the following year, he and Harriet joined avidly into the formation of the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society. Harriet served as a vice president of the Society in 1853-54, and became its recording secretary in 1856. As members of the executive committee of the M.A.S.S., the Fullers traveled throughout southern Michigan and northern Indiana and Ohio, organizing antislavery meetings, fund raising events, and lectures.