He became a widely known preacher by the time he was 27. His vigorous preaching during his tours of the U.S. and Canada (after 1775), his attacks on slavery, and his inclination toward Unitarianism gained him a wide following. In 1827-28 opposition to his preaching caused the Society of Friends to split into sects, the Orthodox and the Liberal, or Hicksite.
When Elias Hicks was preaching in Virginia, many years ago, he took occasion to bear a powerful testimony against the sin of slavery. Among the large audience collected together by the fame of his eloquence were several planters; and they, of course, were sorely aggrieved by his remarks. One in particular was so filled with wrath, that he swore vehemently he would blow out the preacher's brains, if he ventured near his plantation. When this threat was repeated to Elias, he quietly put on his hat and proceeded straightway to the forbidden spot. In answer to his inquiries, a slave informed him that his master was then at dinner, but would see him in a short time. The preacher seated himself, and waited quietly until the planter entered the room. In serene tones he addressed him thus: "Friend, I understand thou hast threatened to blow out the brains of Elias Hicks, if he comes near thy plantation. I am Elias Hicks!" What could brute force do in a dilemma like this? To have taken pistols and deliberately shot an unresisting guest would have been too assassin-like. It would have been a deed of ill appearance; and moreover it could not be done, by reason of a restraining power within. Earnestly, as the planter might wish the preacher in heaven, he could not, under such circumstances, help to send him thither. He did the best he could to sustain his position. He stammered forth, in surly tones, an acknowledgment that he did make use of such a threat; and he considered it perfectly justifiable when a man came to preach rebellion to his slaves. "Friend," replied Elias, "I came to preach the Gospel, which inculcates forgiveness of injuries upon slaves, as well as upon other men; but tell me, if thou canst, how this Gospel can be truly preached without showing the slaves that they are injured, and without making a man of thy sentiments feel as if they were encouraged in rebellion.