Slavery, Cruelty, and the Rise of Humanitarianism
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Americans and Europeans recoiled from the infliction of pain with a depth of disgust unknown to their ancestors. Earlier generations had not enjoyed pain, but their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century descendants turned vast amounts of moral energy against it. They created a cause. Or, rather, they created countless causes...
1 Self-Denial, Martyrdom, and the Formation of Quaker Humanitarianism
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At first glance eighteenth-century Quakers seem unlikely humanitarians. Pain appalled few early eighteenth-century Americans, but in the young Society of Friends it upset fewer still. Instead of finding suâering repugnant, many eighteenth-century Quakers gloried in the idea (if not the practice) of martyrdom. The Societyâs theology encouraged members to embrace and even relish the opportunity to testify to the truth by enduring pain patiently...
2 Humanity, Human Nature, and the Problem of Cruelty
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Alate eighteenth-century observer listening in on American moral rhetoric would hardly need good ears to catch the words humaneness, sympathy, or benevolence. A chorus of Quakers, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and countless others joined in a refrain denouncing those who inflicted pain on helpless victims. Across the religious spectrum, voices insisted...
3 Moral Responsibility and Removal, 1800â1832
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Humanitarian sentiment thrived in the early nineteenth century. Moral objections to cruelty abounded in American public culture, and activists drew on this concern to challenge the morality of the slave trade. They did not convince everyone, but the willingness of many slaveholders to denounce the cruelty of the trade weakened any chance of defending the trade as humane...
4 Politicizing Humaneness, 1832â1839
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By 1830 humaneness had grown deep roots in American moral thinking, but beneath the surface those roots were tangled. Humaneness could mean any number of things in practice, and early reform eâorts only reinforced the tendency to define humanitarianism broadly. The attraction of early rhetoric about cruelty lay in that malleability and capaciousness. Consciously or unconsciously, early reformers pitched their cases...
5 Suited for Slavery, 1840â1851
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By 1839, when Theodore Dwight Weld published American Slavery as It Is, proslavery and antislavery activists had committed themselves to proving slaveryâs humaneness or cruelty. Both sides also expected such proof to settle the debate. Humaneness gained moral power precisely because humaneness seemed so clear; it demanded an end to the deliberate infliction of unnecessary pain...
6 The Contradictions of Benevolence, 1852â1861
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By 1852 the debate over slavery and the debate over its humaneness had grown practically inseparable, albeit theoretically distinguishable. Decades earlier, that overlap had provoked less concern: both sides believed that the meaning of humaneness was clear. But the ensuing decades had shattered that illusion: invoking humanitarianism did not settle the debate or establish moral clarity. The malleability of the shared cultural sensibility of humaneness sapped attempts...
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In March 1865, as the Civil War was drawing to a close, Abraham Lincoln famously reflected that Northerners and Southerners ââread the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.âââ Lincoln could have easily added that the warring regions also invoked the aid of humaneness against each other. Yet sharing a moral language and appealing to similar moral principles did not mean that Americans shared concrete moral convictions...
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In the course of completing this book, I have relied on the generosity of many people and institutions, and it is a true pleasure to thank those who have played a role in shaping me or this book. A Charlotte W. Newcombe fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation gave me invaluable free time for writing. The University of Notre Dame funded five years of graduate work, including a service-free year for my research travel...
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Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 10 halftones
Publication Year: 2011
Series Title: New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History
Series Editor Byline: Jeffrey Sklansky, Series Editor