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The Struggle for Equality

The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction

JAMES M. MC PHERSON
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 496
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvf1m
  • Book Info
    The Struggle for Equality
    Book Description:

    Originally published in 1964, The Struggle for Equality presents an incisive and vivid look at the abolitionist movement and the legal basis it provided to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson explores the role played by rights activists during and after the Civil War, and their evolution from despised fanatics into influential spokespersons for the radical wing of the Republican Party. Asserting that it was not the abolitionists who failed to instill principles of equality, but rather the American people who refused to follow their leadership, McPherson raises questions about the obstacles that have long hindered American reform movements.

    This new Princeton Classics edition marks the fiftieth anniversary of the book's initial publication and includes a new preface by the author.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5223-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE TO THE PRINCETON CLASSICS EDITION
    (pp. ix-xii)
    James M. McPherson
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    James M. McPherson
  5. KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-8)

    In this study the term “abolitionist” will be applied to those Americans who before the Civil War had agitated for immediate, unconditional, and universal abolition of slavery in the United States. Contemporaries of the antislavery movement and later historians have sometimes mistakenly used the word “abolitionist” to describe adherents of the whole spectrum of antislavery sentiment. Members of the Free Soil and Republican parties have often been called abolitionists, even though these parties were pledged officially before 1861 only to the limitation of slavery, not to its extirpation. It is a moot question whether such radical antislavery leaders as Charles...

  7. I THE ELECTION OF 1860
    (pp. 9-28)

    The election of 1860 confronted Garrisonian abolitionists with a dilemma. For the first time an avowedly antislavery party had an excellent chance of winning the presidency. This intoxicating prospect was too much for some Garrisonians, especially those of the younger generation, who forsook the antipolitical traditions of the movement and gave positive support to Abraham Lincoln. A majority of Garrisonians, however, remained true to their principles, refused to give an explicit endorsement to the Republican party (though hoping for its victory), and criticized the party sharply for its antislavery shortcomings.

    Garrisonians had always taken an ambivalent attitude toward antislavery political...

  8. II SECESSION AND THE COMING OF WAR
    (pp. 29-51)

    We appear to be on the eve of the oddest Revolution that History has yet seen,” wrote Edmund Quincy as the cotton states prepared to leave the Union. “A Revolution for the greater security of Injustice, and the firmer establishment of Tyranny!”¹ The South did indeed launch a revolution in the winter of 1860-1861, but its final outcome was rather different from what the revolutionists hoped.

    Even before South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860, pressure began to build up in the North for concessions and conciliation to save the Union. Dozens of compromise proposals were introduced into Congress. These...

  9. III THE EMANCIPATION ISSUE: 1861
    (pp. 52-74)

    This war plays the deuce with peace principles,” declared pacifist William Furness three weeks after the firing on Sumter. Another peace-minded abolitionist, Samuel J. May, confessed at the outbreak of war that “the conduct of the rebels and the impending fate of our country has shaken my confidence in theextremeprinciples of the non-resistants.”¹ The coming of a war which they hoped would destroy slavery posed a serious moral dilemma for pacifist abolitionists. Only a small number of abolitionists were actual nonresistants, but nearly all nineteenth-century reformers professed peace sentiments to some degree. The constitutions of most antislavery societies...

  10. IV EMANCIPATION AND PUBLIC OPINION: 1861-1862
    (pp. 75-98)

    Dissatisfied with the progress of the antislavery cause, Gerrit Smith and Henry Cheever wanted to hold a national convention of abolitionists in Washington or Philadelphia on September 24 to publicize the demand for emancipation. All branches of the abolitionist movement would be represented at the proposed convention. Cheever consulted Garrison, who threw cold water on the project. “Such a Convention, called by the parties and persons suggested by you, ‘pronounced abolitionists,’ would be more likely to excite popular prejudice at this crisis, and thus to damage a movement for the abolition of slavery under the war power, than to do...

  11. V THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION AND THE THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT
    (pp. 99-133)

    A sharp contest still raged within the ranks of the abolitionists between those who supported the government in its war against rebellion and those who refused to support any government that was not thoroughly abolitionist. W. O. Duvall, who belonged to the latter group, criticized Gerrit Smith for his support of the Union. “Of what use, for Heaven’s sake, has this government ever been to you or me?” asked Duvall. “It was never anything but a gigantic swindler and robber; and yet you argue that there is no sacrifice too great for its continuance.” Duvall also had some harsh words...

  12. VI THE NEGRO: INNATELY INFERIOR OR EQUAL?
    (pp. 134-153)

    One of the most formidable obstacles to the abolition of slavery and the extension of equal rights to free Negroes was the widespread popular and scientific belief, North as well as South, in the innate inferiority of the Negro race. Most white Americans took it for granted that Negroes were by nature shiftless, slovenly, childlike, savage, and incapable of assimilation as equals into white society. Since the beginning of the antislavery movement abolitionists had been confronted by arguments that Negroes belonged to a separate and inferior species of mankind; that they would work only under compulsion; that they could not...

  13. VII FREEDMEN’S EDUCATION: 1861-1865
    (pp. 154-177)

    In an optimistic mood, Wendell Phillips told an assemblage of abolitionists on the Fourth of July 1861, that “these days of anti-slavery gatherings for the purpose of emancipation, I believe, will be soon over.” Emancipation was sure to come as a result of the war, and the duty of abolitionists would then be “to watch for the welfare of this victim race, guard it during its pupilage, shelter it by patronage, by protection, by privilege, by recognizing its claim to an equal manhood.” A year later William Goodell asserted that “as soon as slavery shall be abolished, there will be...

  14. VIII THE CREATION OF THE FREEDMEN’S BUREAU
    (pp. 178-191)

    The abolitionists began urging the government to adopt a uniform administrative policy toward the freedmen as soon as it became clear that some degree of emancipation would result from the Civil War. The administrative situation during most of the war was chaotic. One system of caring for the contrabands and utilizing their labor prevailed in Virginia, another at Port Royal, another in Louisiana, and still another in the Mississippi Valley north of Louisiana. There were frequent conflicts of authority regarding freedmen’s affairs between the Army and the Treasury Department. Military officers in command of occupation forces believed that the disposition...

  15. IX MEN OF COLOR, TO ARMS!
    (pp. 192-220)

    The enlistment of Negro troops in the Union Army beginning in late 1862 was one of the most revolutionary features of the Civil War. Colored men had fought in the American Army during the Revolution, and New Orleans Negroes had helped Andrew Jackson defend the city against the British in 1815, but since 1792 Negroes had been barred by federal law from the state militias and there were no Negroes in the regular United States Army. In 1859 the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill repealing the ban on Negro militia service. But Governor Nathaniel Banks vetoed the measure because it...

  16. X THE QUEST FOR EQUAL RIGHTS IN THE NORTH
    (pp. 221-237)

    By 1863 the Civil War had become a revolution of freedom for 4 million slaves. The antislavery crusade, however, envisaged not only a negative freedom—the absence of chattelism—but a positive guaranty of equal protection of the laws to all men. Once freedom was won, most abolitionists were ready to proceed with the next step in the revolution—equality.

    “This is a war not of geographical sections, nor of political factions, but of principles and systems,” declared Theodore Tilton in 1863. “Our war against this rebellion is … a war for social equality, for rights, for justice, for freedom.”...

  17. XI THE BALLOT AND LAND FOR THE FREEDMEN: 1861-1865
    (pp. 238-259)

    Reconstruction emerged as a burning issue even before the war began. At first the word “reconstruction” was used by Democrats and conservatives to designate a restoration of the Union on the basis of compromise with the Confederacy. In this form radicals and abolitionists shunned the term. By the second year of the war, however, “reconstruction” was beginning to acquire its later meaning of a genuinereconstructionof southern society and politics. In January 1862, George Cheever published an article in theIndependentoutlining a theory of reconstruction very similar to the later “conquered provinces,” “state suicide,” and “forfeited rights” theories...

  18. XII THE REELECTION OF LINCOLN
    (pp. 260-286)

    The announcement of Lincoln’s reconstruction policy in December 1863, crystallized radical opposition to the president. The resulting Republican intraparty struggle over the 1864 presidential nomination produced a schism in abolitionist ranks. Ever since the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Wendell Phillips had been growing impatient with Lincoln’s apparent failure to recognize that the revolutionary character of the war required more than mere freedom for the Negro. Garrison, on the other hand, while critical of many presidential policies, was inclined to approve the growth of Lincoln’s antislavery sentiments since 1861 and to trust to the future for further advances. During 1864...

  19. XIII SCHISM IN THE RANKS: 1864-1865
    (pp. 287-307)

    In 1865 there occurred a schism in the Garrisonian abolitionist movement comparable in importance to the division of 1840. One of the main causes of the schism of 1865 was the sharp clash between the followers of Garrison and Phillips over the presidential election of 1864, but there were other causes, dating back many years. The controversy between Pillsbury and Foster, on the one hand, and Garrison on the other regarding the attitude of abolitionists toward the Republican party was long-standing and foreshadowed the conflict of 1864. During the early war years Wendell Phillips exercised a mediating influence between the...

  20. XIV ANDREW JOHNSON AND RECONSTRUCTION: 1865
    (pp. 308-340)

    The problem of reconstruction occupied the mind of every politician and reformer in the winter of 1864-1865. Abolitionists applauded an intimation by Lincoln in his annual message of a willingness to compromise with congressional radicals on the issue.¹ The thorny problem of the readmission of Louisiana under the Banks-Hahn Constitution of 1864 was dumped into the House Committee on Rebellious States in December. The chairman of this committee was James Ashley of Ohio, a radical antislavery man and a friend of several leading abolitionists. Ashley and Thomas Eliot, a radical Republican from Massachusetts, evidently negotiated a compromise with Lincoln whereby...

  21. XV THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT AND THE ELECTION OF 1866
    (pp. 341-366)

    In his first annual message to Congress on December 2, 1865, President Johnson restated his belief that he had no right to prescribe suffrage qualifications in the southern states and declared that the reconstructed state governments provided ample protection and security for all citizens. Radical abolitionists derided the message. They noted again the president’s inconsistency in appointing provisional governors and prescribing certain conditions for reconstruction but denying the right to fix suffrage requirements. As for the protection and security of citizens, one needed only to read the black codes or scan the daily reports of atrocities against freedmen to perceive...

  22. XVI MILITARY RECONSTRUCTION AND IMPEACHMENT
    (pp. 367-385)

    The prestige and influence of the abolitionists climbed to new heights after the 1866 elections. The mood of the North reached a postwar peak of radicalism in the winter of 1866-1867, and as the chief exponents of this mood the abolitionists saw their popularity increase correspondingly. Abolitionist lecturers reaped a rich harvest. Phillips, Anna Dickinson, Tilton, and Frederick Douglass embarked on ambitious tours of the Middle West, delivering an average of nearly one hundred political lectures apiece during the season. Everywhere they went these orators enriched the treasuries of local lecture bureaus. During the winter of 1866-67 the small town...

  23. XVII EDUCATION AND CONFISCATION: 1865-1870
    (pp. 386-416)

    Abolitionists played an important part in the efforts to bring education and land to the freedmen. Garrison noted at the end of 1864 that emancipation would meet the southern Negroes “just where slavery leaves them—in need of everything that pertains to their physical, intellectual, and moral condition.” Here was a vast field for philanthropic effort, and Garrison urged his fellow abolitionists to fulfill their obligations to the freed slaves. TheAnti-Slavery Standardasserted that reconstruction of the South “must be social as well as political…. It must reach to the very groundwork of social order.” The freedmen would have...

  24. XVIII THE CLIMAX OF THE CRUSADE: THE FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT
    (pp. 417-432)

    The presidential election of 1868 was crucial for the cause of Negro suffrage: a Republican victory would insure continuation of the congressional reconstruction program; a Democratic triumph would probably foreshadow the overthrow of radical reconstruction and the readmission of southern states without Negro suffrage. It was almost inevitable that General Grant, the nation’s foremost military hero, would be the leading contender for the presidency. Both the Republicans and the Democrats realized that Grant would probably be the next president, and from 1865 to 1868 they jockeyed to win his political affections.

    As early as 1866 Wendell Phillips began trying to...

  25. BIBLIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
    (pp. 433-450)
  26. INDEX
    (pp. 451-474)