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Moral Commerce

Moral Commerce: Quakers and the Transatlantic Boycott of the Slave Labor Economy

Julie L. Holcomb
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: Cornell University Press,
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    Moral Commerce
    Book Description:

    How can the simple choice of a men's suit be a moral statement and a political act? When the suit is made of free-labor wool rather than slave-grown cotton. In Moral Commerce, Julie L. Holcomb traces the genealogy of the boycott of slave labor from its seventeenth-century Quaker origins through its late nineteenth-century decline. In their failures and in their successes, in their resilience and their persistence, antislavery consumers help us understand the possibilities and the limitations of moral commerce.

    Quaker antislavery rhetoric began with protests against the slave trade before expanding to include boycotts of the use and products of slave labor. For more than one hundred years, British and American abolitionists highlighted consumers' complicity in sustaining slavery. The boycott of slave labor was the first consumer movement to transcend the boundaries of nation, gender, and race in an effort by reformers to change the conditions of production. The movement attracted a broad cross-section of abolitionists: conservative and radical, Quaker and non-Quaker, male and female, white and black.

    The men and women who boycotted slave labor created diverse, biracial networks that worked to reorganize the transatlantic economy on an ethical basis. Even when they acted locally, supporters embraced a global vision, mobilizing the boycott as a powerful force that could transform the marketplace. For supporters of the boycott, the abolition of slavery was a step toward a broader goal of a just and humane economy. The boycott failed to overcome the power structures that kept slave labor in place; nonetheless, the movement's historic successes and failures have important implications for modern consumers.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-0607-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: A Principle Both Moral and Commercial
    (pp. 1-12)

    In May 1840, New York businessmen Thomas McClintock and Richard P. Hunt presented American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison with four yards of olive wool suiting that had been manufactured at Hunt’s Waterloo woolen mill. The gift to the publisher of the Liberator was intended to publicize the free-produce cause. McClintock and Hunt were antislavery Quakers who boycotted the products of slave labor: McClintock helped establish the Free Produce Society of Pennsylvania, while Hunt chose to manufacture free-labor wool rather than slave-grown cotton.¹ In separate letters of appreciation to McClintock and Hunt, Garrison wrote of his plans to have the fabric...

  6. Chapter 1 Prize Goods: The Quaker Origins of the Slave-Labor Boycott
    (pp. 13-35)

    In her history of the American free-produce movement, Ruth Nuermberger describes abstention from slave-labor goods as the “the most advanced” form of Quaker antislavery, identifying Benjamin Lay as “the first abstainer on record” and John Woolman as “the first to impress the idea” upon other Quakers. Framing abstention in this way, however, limits its genesis to the more eccentric (Lay) or the more saintly (Woolman).¹ Lay, a former sailor, settled in Philadelphia in 1731, after living in the British sugar colony of Barbados.² Lay later documented the horrors of plantation life in All Slave-keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage,...

  7. Chapter 2 Blood-Stained Sugar: The Eighteenth-Century British Abstention Campaign
    (pp. 36-62)

    By the early 1770s, in the North American colonies, the simultaneous expansion of Quaker antislavery and consumer society had influenced the development of a small, but committed, community of Friends who abstained from a variety of consumer goods, including the products of slave labor. Quaker abstention linked the processes of sectarian reform and consumption, disciplining men and women to avoid the immorality of slavery and commerce. Quaker abstention was therefore both antislavery and anticommerce. Colonial Quakers like John Woolman carried the idea of abstention to Britain where it garnered little interest until the late 1780s when abolitionists, many of them...

  8. Chapter 3 Striking at the Root of Corruption: American Quakers and the Boycott in the Early National Period
    (pp. 63-88)

    American opponents of slavery followed the progress of the British boycott of slave-grown sugar. Reprints of William Fox’s Address to the People of Great Britain were published in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, while excerpts of Fox’s Address appeared in various American newspapers, including Dunlap’s Daily American Advertiser (Philadelphia). On May 14, 1792, Dunlap’s reported that “upwards of 12,000 persons” in Limerick, Ireland, had “discontinued the use of sugar.” Later that same month, the New York Journal and Patriotic Register reprinted a British news item that three hundred families in Worcester, southwest of Birmingham, were abstaining from sugar. These same...

  9. Chapter 4 I Am a Man, Your Brother: Elizabeth Heyrick, Abstention, and Immediatism
    (pp. 89-106)

    The abolition of the slave trade by Britain in 1807 and the United States in 1808 did not lead to the abolition of slavery as many had hoped. By 1823 opponents of slavery in Britain realized that merely enforcing the ban on the international slave trade was not enough. In January of that year, British abolitionists organized the London Anti-Slavery Society with the goal of gradual emancipation. Following the establishment of the Anti-Slavery Society, an aging Thomas Clarkson once again toured Great Britain to generate support for the cause. More than two hundred auxiliaries were established and nearly eight hundred...

  10. Chapter 5 Woman’s Heart: Free Produce and Domesticity
    (pp. 107-122)

    Elizabeth Heyrick’s Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition was reprinted in the United States by Quaker printers in Philadelphia and New York shortly after its British publication. It was also serialized in Benjamin Lundy’s Genius of Universal Emancipation.¹ Lundy’s publication was an important source of information about women’s activism and free produce in the 1820s. He printed reports, addresses, and publications from British female antislavery societies as well as accounts from American organizations. Two months after the last installment of Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition appeared in the Genius, Lundy published “The Slave Ship,” an antislavery poem written by a young Quaker woman,...

  11. Chapter 6 An Abstinence Baptism: American Abolitionism and Free Produce
    (pp. 123-146)

    Supporters of the boycott of slave labor, particularly after 1831, worked to reconcile free-produce principles with radical abolitionism. This effort is evident in the founding of three early antislavery societies. In January 1832, twelve men, including William Lloyd Garrison, gathered in the schoolroom of the African Baptist Church on Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts, to approve and sign the constitutional document of the New England Anti-Slavery Society (NEASS), the first American association committed to the immediate abolition of slavery. The men did not include a free-produce statement in the constitution of the NEASS.¹ Eight months later, the women of Lenawee...

  12. Chapter 7 Yards of Cotton Cloth and Pounds of Sugar: The Transatlantic Free-Produce Movement
    (pp. 147-168)

    British and American supporters of the boycott of slave labor were encouraged by Parliament’s abolition of the apprenticeship system and the full emancipation of the British Empire’s slaves in August 1838. Political success led British abolitionists to establish three national organizations in 1839. In March, Quakers Joseph Pease and William Howitt and British abolitionist George Thompson organized the British India Society (BIS). All three men were known for their activism. Pease had helped found the Peace Society in 1817 while Thompson had toured the United States in the 1830s on behalf of the abolitionist cause. Howitt, a popular writer, had...

  13. Chapter 8 Bailing the Atlantic with a Spoon: Free Produce in the 1840s and 1850s
    (pp. 169-187)

    Debates over antislavery ideology and strategy prompted a decline in the membership of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in the 1840s. In this period, the society initiated new standards for membership, requiring adherence to nonresistance. The members of the PFASS also shifted their attention away from organizing public lectures and collecting signatures on petitions, focusing instead on the annual antislavery fair. Increasingly, the society narrowed its definition of “proper antislavery work.”¹ In 1844, Lucretia Mott acknowledged the “diversity of operations” in the abolitionist movement, but warned abolitionists to exercise caution lest they become too “engrossed with [their] favorite department” in...

  14. Conclusion: There Is Death in the Pot!
    (pp. 188-194)

    Henry and Anna Richardson produced three pamphlets in support of Garnet’s free-produce tour of England: A Revolution of the Spindles for the Overthrow of American Slavery, Conscience versus Cotton, and There Is Death in the Pot! The first two tracts reflect the boycott’s shift in focus to slave-grown cotton in the nineteenth century while the third, with its graphic title, captured both the past and the present of the boycott of slave labor. The phrase, “there is death in the pot,” is a reference to the prophet Elisha who commanded his servant to gather herbs to make a stew for...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 195-244)
  16. Index
    (pp. 245-252)