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Abolitionist Politics and the Coming of the Civil War

Abolitionist Politics and the Coming of the Civil War

James Brewer Stewart
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Abolitionist Politics and the Coming of the Civil War
    Book Description:

    Before the Civil War, slaveholders made themselves into the most powerful, most deeply rooted, and best organized private interest group within the United States. Not only did slavery represent the national economy's second largest capital investment, exceeded only by investment in real estate, but guarantees of its perpetuation were studded throughout the U.S. Constitution. The vast majority of white Americans, in North and South, accepted the institution, and proslavery presidents and congressmen consistently promoted its interests. In Abolitionist Politics and the Coming of the Civil War, James Brewer Stewart explains how a small group of radical activists, the abolitionist movement, played a pivotal role in turning American politics against this formidable system. He examines what influence the movement had in creating the political crises that led to civil war and evaluates the extent to which a small number of zealous reformers made a truly significant political difference when demanding that their nation face up to its most excruciating moral problem. In making these assessments, Stewart addresses a series of more specific questions: What were the abolitionists actually up against when seeking the overthrow of slavery and white supremacy? What motivated and sustained them during their long and difficult struggles? What larger historical contexts (religious, social, economic, cultural, and political) influenced their choices and determined their behavior? What roles did extraordinary leaders play in shaping the movement, and what were the contributions of abolitionism's unheralded “foot soldiers”? What factors ultimately determined, for better or worse, the abolitionists' impact on American politics and the realization of their equalitarian goals?

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-166-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Narratives

    • From Moral Suasion to Political Confrontation American Abolitionists and the Problem of Resistance, 1831–1861
      (pp. 3-32)

      In January 1863, as warfare raged between North and South, the great abolitionist orator Wendell Phillips addressed an enormous audience of over ten thousand in Brooklyn, New York. Just days earlier, President Abraham Lincoln, in his Emancipation Proclamation, had defined the destruction of slavery as the North’s new and overriding war aim. This decision, Phillips assured his listeners, marked the grand culmination “of a great fight, going on the world over, and which began ages ago . . . between free institutions and caste institutions, Freedom and Democracy against institutions of privilege and class.”¹ A serious student of the past,...

  6. Contexts

    • Modernizing “Difference” The Political Meanings of Color in the Free States, 1776–1840
      (pp. 35-58)

      As the decade of the 1830s opened, people living in the states “north of slavery” found themselves facing unprecedented dangers and opportunities that resulted from rapidly accumulating racial tensions. As crises multiplied, headlines of that time (even in generic form) conveyed their enormity and potential for violence—Nullification Spirit Sweeps South Carolina—Jackson Demands Cherokee Removal—Slaves Revolt and Murder in Southampton County, Virginia—Walker’sAppealFound among Southern Negroes—Garrison Demands Race Amalgamation—Abolitionists Gather Women and Negroes in Promiscuous Assemblies—Mobs Attack Negro Neighborhoods. At no previous time in the history of the “free states” did so many...

  7. Commitments

    • The Roberts Case, the Easton Family, and the Dynamics of the Abolitionist Movement in Massachusetts, 1776–1870
      (pp. 61-88)
      George R. Price

      As one of Boston’s most militant black abolitionists, Benjamin Roberts surprised no one when he filed a desegregation lawsuit against the city school committee in 1848. This familiar and important story ultimately set formidable precedents in the struggle for racial equality and in the history of American law. The plaintiff inRoberts v. the Boston School Committeesought admission of his five-year-old daughter, Sarah Roberts, into the city’s all-white public school system and an end to the grossly inferior facility reserved exclusively for “colored” Americans (as these Bostonians preferred to call themselves). By demanding the integration of all Boston public...

    • William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and the Symmetry of Autobiography Charisma and the Character of Abolitionist Leadership
      (pp. 89-110)

      When explaining the motivations of America’s white abolitionists, many historians emphasize the importance of “grassroots” approaches. Yet, the problem of motivation can also be fruitfully investigated by considering the movement “from the top down,” in this instance by comparing the biographies of William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. By examining the lives of these two preeminent abolitionists and then by suggesting their impact on their less well-­known associates, it becomes possible to understand the leadership of Garrisonian abolitionism as well as the sources of the movement’s collective motivation.

      In the following analysis, qualities of leadership and the biographical elements that...

  8. Consequences

    • Joshua Giddings, Antislavery Violence, and the Politics of Congressional Honor
      (pp. 113-138)

      To historians of the American conflict over slavery, the censure and re-election of Congressman Joshua Giddings is a familiar but important story. In 1842 Giddings defied the House of Representatives’ “gag rule” by presenting resolutions that defended the right of slaves on ships in international waters to rise in bloody insurrection. After the U.S. House had voted his censure for this action, Giddings resigned his seat and appealed to his constituents in northeastern Ohio’s Western Reserve. They re-elected him by a crushing majority, arming him with an explicit mandate to offer his resolutions again. This Giddings did in defiance of...

    • The Orator and the Insurrectionist
      (pp. 139-171)

      “I regard you as providentially raised up to be the James Otis of the new revolution,” wrote William Lloyd Garrison to Wendell Phillips in 1857. The year before, Thomas Wentworth Higginson had also offered him the same challenging thought: “Some prophetic character must emerge as the new crisis culminates. . . . Your life has been merely preliminary to the work that is coming for you.”¹ The Kansas-Nebraska Act opened this new crisis, and in its aftermath Wendell Phillips began to fulfill this prophetic role that he too had long yearned to attain. After Stephen A. Douglas’s bill became law,...

    • The New Haven Negro College and the Dynamics of Race in New England, 1776–1870
      (pp. 172-202)

      In 1831, a group of black and white abolitionists embarked on a path-breaking experiment: they would establish an academic institution devoted to educating young African Americans, and, most unprecedented, it would be funded by philanthropists of both races. Modeling their scheme on the manual labor schools already popular in Germany and England, the planners adopted a curriculum designed to help students “cultivate habits of personal industry and obtain a useful mechanical or agricultural occupation, while pursuing classical studies.” Organizers expected to attract talented candidates from all parts of the North, and they focused as well on the British West Indies,...

    • Reconsidering the Abolitionists in an Age of Fundamentalist Politics
      (pp. 203-226)

      The era we refer to as the “Jacksonian Era” or the “Era of the Market Revolution” can just as accurately be termed the “Era of Bible Politics.” As we know, people in the antebellum era quarreled incessantly over whether their nation ought to be refashioned as a “Christian Republic.” Should the lives of Americans and the mandates of their institutions accord with sacred scripture? If your answer was yes, then (depending on chronology) mail on Sunday, the existence of Mormonism, and the issuance of liquor licenses must be prohibited. Masons must abolish their lodges. Catholic conspiracies must be exposed. Those...

  9. Index
    (pp. 227-236)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)