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The Debate Over Slavery

Antislavery and Proslavery Liberalism in Antebellum America

David Ericson

Publication Year: 2000

Frederick Douglass and George Fitzhugh disagreed on virtually every major issue of the day. On slavery, women's rights, and the preservation of the Union their opinions were diametrically opposed. Where Douglass thundered against the evils of slavery, Fitzhugh counted its many alleged blessings in ways that would make modern readers cringe. What then could the leading abolitionist of the day and the most prominent southern proslavery intellectual possibly have in common? According to David F. Ericson, the answer is as surprising as it is simple; liberalism.

In The Debate Over Slavery David F. Ericson makes the controversial argument that despite their many ostensible differences, most Northern abolitionists and Southern defenders of slavery shared many common commitments: to liberal principles; to the nation; to the nation's special mission in history; and to secular progress. He analyzes, side-by-side, pro and antislavery thinkers such as Lydia Marie Child, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Thomas R. Dew, and James Fitzhugh to demonstrate the links between their very different ideas and to show how, operating from liberal principles, they came to such radically different conclusions. His raises disturbing questions about liberalism that historians, philosophers, and political scientists cannot afford to ignore.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-

I wish to thank the following scholars for their "friendly" comments on the many earlier versions of individual chapters of this manuscript—John Diggins, Louisa Green, Russell Hanson, Philip Klinkner, Robert Martin, Joanna Scott, the late Richard Sinopoli, and Rogers Smith—as well as several anonymous reviewers of the full...

Part I

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1. The Liberal Consensus Thesisand Slavery

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pp. 3-13

This book is a study of American antislavery and proslavery rhetoric spanning the years from 1832 to 1861. Throughout, I assume that rhetoric mattered. Rhetoric mattered in this period of American history not because the antislavery and proslavery arguments themselves abolished the Southern institution of racial slavery...

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2. The Antislavery and Proslavery Arguments

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pp. 14-36

In this chapter, I develop a schema of antislavery and proslavery arguments for use in the following chapters that examine specific antislavery and proslavery figures. Since this schema is intended to support a "liberal consensus" thesis, I begin by distinguishing liberal from nonliberal ideas and liberal from nonliberal antislavery and...

Part II

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3. Child, Douglass, and Antislavery Liberalism

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pp. 39-61

The antislavery movement in the antebellum North attempted to launch a process of institutional change. The abolitionists worked to destroy one institution—Southern slavery—and to replace it with another set of institutions—universal male citizenship, equal liberty under law, and competitive labor markets. They viewed these...

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4. Wendell Phillips Liberty and Union

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pp. 62-90

In his later antislavery writings and speeches, Phillips elaborated on the "house divided" argument and the various options it left open. When he first used this argument, the Garrison abolitionists, with whom he was long associated, were still unionists. They hoped to appeal to what they saw as the latent antislavery sentiments of the people of the South...

Part III

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pp. 91-

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5. Dew, Fitzhugh, and Proslavery Liberalism

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pp. 93-120

The proslavery movement in the antebellum South attempted to forestall a process of institutional change. The defenders of slavery were ultimately not successful in preventing the abolition of the Southern institution of racial slavery, an event that unleashed a process of institutional change that at least partially remade the South in the...

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6. James H. Hammond Slavery and Union

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pp. 121-153

The multiple meanings of the "house divided" argument structured James Henry Hammond's political career. At various times in his career as governor of South Carolina, United States representative and senator, and local statesman-in-waiting, Hammond took four different positions on the argument. Early in his career, he professed...

Part IV

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pp. 155-

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7. The “House Divided” and Civil-War Causation

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pp. 157-165

Lincoln believed that the Northern definition of liberty was clearly the superior one, since it was the definition of the sheep, as opposed to the definition of the wolf. The shepherd who armed himself with the first definition to drive "the wolf from the sheep's throat" seemed to have the better of the argument, although his advantage was not as great as...

Notes

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pp. 167-233

Index

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pp. 235-240

About the Author

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pp. 241-


E-ISBN-13: 9780814722909
E-ISBN-10: 0814722903
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814722121
Print-ISBN-10: 0814722121

Page Count: 252
Publication Year: 2000

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Subject Headings

  • Antislavery movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slavery -- Political aspects -- History -- 19th century. -- United States
  • Southern States -- Intellectual life.
  • Southern States -- Race relations.
  • United States -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • Abolitionists -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Liberalism -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slavery -- Southern States -- Justification.
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