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Race and Rights

Fighting Slavery and Prejudice in the Old Northwest,1830–1870

Dana Elizabeth Weiner

Publication Year: 2013

In the Old Northwest from 1830-1870, a bold set of activists battled slavery and racial prejudice. This book is about their expansive efforts to eradicate southern slavery and its local influence in the contentious milieu of four new states carved out of the Northwest Territory: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. While the Northwest Ordinance outlawed slavery in the region in 1787, in reality both it and racism continued to exert strong influence in the Old Northwest, as seen in the race-based limitations of civil liberties there. Indeed, these states comprised the central battleground over race and rights in antebellum America, in a time when race's social meaning was deeply infused into all aspects of Americans' lives, and when people struggled to establish political consensus.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-8


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pp. ix-10

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pp. xi-14

This book is all the richer thanks to the support and help of scores of wonderful people. The research for this project began when I worked with an inspiring cohort of supportive faculty as a graduate student at Northwestern University. From the outset, Stephanie McCurry has shared her formidable intellect and excellent advice. Susan Pearson was instrumental in the development and guidance...

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pp. 1-11

From the moment the Continental Congress created the Northwest Territory in 1787, the region was at the front lines of debate over the meaning of race and rights in the new nation. After over a year of squabbling between northern and southern delegates in the Congress, Nathan Dane of Massachusetts took over as leader of the Committee on the Western Territory and pushed through...

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1 / Activist Taproots: Place, Reform, and the Quest for Unity

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pp. 12-33

Antislavery and anti-prejudice activists believed they must mold the Old Northwest according to their ideals of a virtuous community. This was an immensely difficult mission. When he toured the region in 1841, antislavery lecturer Dr. Erasmus Hudson faced down abundant challenges. These included numerous anti-abolitionists who tried to silence his meetings, but he remained...

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2 / Scrubbing at the “Bloody Stain of Oppression”:A Human Rights Movement against Unjust Laws, 1830–1849

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pp. 34-75

In February 1843, the New Garden, Indiana, Free Labor Advocate and Anti-Slavery Chronicle announced the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling that the Ohio Constitution permitted men who officials could identify as “nearer white than mulattoes” to vote. While white abolitionist editor Benjamin Stanton recognized the revised interpretation as progress, he ...

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3 / “Stand Firm on the Platform of Truth”: Freedom of Assembly and Local Antislavery Organizations in the Old Northwest

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pp. 76-96

As a state we influence the west, the west influences our nation, and our In 1843, the McLean County Anti-Slavery Society struggled to meet in Bloomington, Illinois. As elsewhere in the Old Northwest, activists there found that securing freedom of assembly was arduous, and involved substantial risk of violence. The Reverend Levi Spencer’s 1840s experi-...

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4 / “The Palladium of Our Liberties”: Freedom of the Press in the Old Northwest, 1837–1848

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pp. 97-133

In the antebellum era, the newspaper was a central tool for transforming the nation, and freedom of the press was thus essential to activists. The members of the Ohio American Anti-Slavery Society who gathered at Cadiz in October 1842 proclaimed abolitionist periodicals a vital means to awaken others to the ills of slavery. Newspapers could publicize both slavery’s true “nature and...

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5 / “An Odd Place for Navigation”: Itinerant Lecturers and Freedom of Speech,1830–1849

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pp. 134-176

John O. Wattles of Ohio toured Indiana in September 1842, crossing the north-central portion of the state, seeking out compatriots, attending and holding meetings, and observing the local progress of the antislavery campaign. In Grant County, he found and worked with steadfast new allies, “firm friends of...

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6 / Itinerant Lecturers in a Fracturing Nation, 1850–1861

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pp. 177-199

In March 1861, Josephine S. Griffing ridiculed small-town Old Northwest people by detailing how controversy ensued when she spoke publicly in the region. In a letter to the Liberator, Griffing delicately poked fun at the ignorance of one woman she met in her sojourn across Indiana that year. Near the town of Warsaw, her hostess asked quietly “whether I was a woman. ‘They say,’ said she [of...

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7 / The Potential for Radical Change: The Turbulent 1850s, the Civil War, and Resilient Racism

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pp. 200-233

The Old Northwest’s racialized laws were the “error[s]” the Illinois Convention noted, which remained unresolved when they met, and indeed continued beyond 1870. Much as this history opened with an examination of the context of race and law in the Old Northwest, so in closing it explores how these same...

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pp. 234-236

Old Northwest activists grappled with the immense challenge of secur-ing rights regardless of race in their reluctant region. While the battles over slavery and the “Black Laws” were inescapable for residents there, they were not merely of local concern. The Old Northwest was vital to the larger antislavery and anti-prejudice campaigns of its era. As activists ...

Appendix: Old Northwest Population Statistics, 1800–1870

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pp. 237-238


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pp. 239-290


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pp. 291-316


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pp. 317-327

E-ISBN-13: 9781609090722
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875804576

Page Count: 325
Illustrations: 6
Publication Year: 2013