The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery
Garrisonian Abolitionists and Transatlantic Reform
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
On April 14, 1865, hours before Abraham Lincoln sat down for the last time at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison sat down for the first time in Charleston, South Carolina. More than three decades before, Garrison had founded the Boston Liberator, a newspaper dedicated to universal, immediate slave emancipation. In 1833, he helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), a group devoted to ...
PART I: ORIGINS
1. The Education of William Lloyd Garrison, 1818–1833
On July 5, 1824, William Lloyd Garrison—then an eighteen-year-old journalist with Federalist inclinations in politics and Romantic tastes in poetry— delivered a patriotic oration in Newburyport, Massachusetts. It did not sound at all like the speech of a future Constitution-burner. On the contrary, like most Fourth of July orators, Garrison described the United States “government [as] the most enlightened, the most liberal, and the most virtuous on ...
2. The Troublous Ocean of Transatlantic Abolitionism, 1833–1840
Garrison’s first time crossing the Atlantic Ocean shared one thing with all his future crossings: sea-sickness. On May 1, 1833, his New York–to– Liverpool packet ship had not even cleared the bay before Garrison’s stomach was “vanquished” by “a petty tumult among the waves!” Thirteen years later, after five more crossings of “the restless deep,” Garrison confessed...
3. Conflict and Continuity in Transatlantic Abolitionism, 1840–1854
The 1840s proved to be an even more active decade of transatlantic abolitionist networking than the previous one, but the decade opened with setbacks. Nathaniel Paul—the black abolitionist who had battled colonizationism in England from 1832 to 1836—died in 1839. Then, in January 1840, Charles Follen was killed in a steamship accident off the coast of New ...
PART II: IDEAS
4. The Problem of Public Opinion
Between 1830 and 1854, Garrisonians were transformed from unknown Americans into an infamous, tightly knit movement with dense connections to European reformers. But Garrisonians remained a diverse lot: no single theology or socioeconomic marker united all members of the AASS, who sometimes struggled to keep their community intact. Garrisonians generally...
5. The Problem of Nationalism
Not all Garrisonians drew so directly from Tocqueville, but others echoed Phillips’s ideas about democracy. Certainly Garrison agreed that “there is nothing like agitation,” and that “we have too little, instead of too much dissent among us.” “If we had not innumerable facts to prove the general corruption of the times,” said the Liberator in 1846, “the fear of free speech and...
6. The Problem of Aristocracy
Experience and reflection brought both Garrison and Phillips to stark conclusions about the dangers of democratic government. Both men concluded, for different reasons, that agitation outside of political office was necessary to counteract those dangers. But neither man concluded that some other form of government would be better than democracy. As Phillips...
7. The Problem of Influence
By the mid-1840s, Garrisonians agreed with a growing number of antislavery northerners about the dangers posed by the Slave Power. As historian Leonard L. Richards notes, “hostility toward slave oligarchs . . . provided common ground” for a wide range of people—including anti-expansion Whigs, antislavery Jacksonians, and political abolitionists—precisely because...
PART III: EVENTS
8. Transatlantic Revolutions and Reversals, 1848–1854
For all their heady talk of Christian perfection”—one historian has noted— Garrison and “his disciples were liberal nineteenth-century reformers” who “were not so very different from others of their kind—Richard Cobden, John Bright, and Daniel O’Connell.” But most Americans at the time could only hear “talk of Christian perfection” when they listened to Garrison...
9. The Civil War and the Rupturing of Transatlantic Abolitionism, 1854–1863
At Framingham, Garrisonians still believed their primary role was to agitate, but the temptation to politics did not go away. Neither did their questions about how to measure or deal with political influence. Even in the dark days of the Pierce administration, there were some antislavery men in Congress who raised those questions anew. Phillips “rejoice[d] beyond measure”...
10. Reconstruction and the Rupturing of Garrisonian Abolitionism, 1863–1865
Tensions between American and British Garrisonians eased slightly when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery in 1865. After 1863, prominent European liberals in Britain and France also swelled the ranks of the Union’s transatlantic allies. In an open letter published in England and republished ...
On April 7, 1865, one week before Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and Garrison’s visit to Fort Sumter, the Liberator published an excerpt from an essay by Mary Grew, one of the delegates excluded from the World’s Convention of 1840. Grew depicted the closing of the war as a moment of congratulation for abolitionists, whose long faith in agitation had finally been...
BAA British and American Abolitionists: An Episode in Transatlantic Under-standing, ed. Clare Taylor. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, BPL Boston Public Library, Anti-Slavery Collection, Rare Books and Manu-CWJSM Robson, John M. The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. 33 vols. To-Garrison and Garrison, Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Francis Jackson Garrison. William ...