Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

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Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World

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The Martyrdom of Abolitionist Charles Torrey

E. Fuller Torrey

During his brief yet remarkable career, abolitionist Charles Torrey -- called the "father of the Underground Railroad" by his peers -- assisted almost four hundred slaves in gaining their freedom. A Yale graduate and an ordained minister, Torrey set up a well-organized route for escaped slaves traveling from Washington and Baltimore to Philadelphia and Albany. Arrested in Baltimore in 1844 for his activities, Torrey spent two years in prison before he succumbed to tuberculosis. By then, other abolitionists widely recognized and celebrated Torrey's exploits: running wagonloads of slaves northward in the night, dodging slave catchers and sheriffs, and involving members of Congress in his schemes. Nonetheless, the historiography of abolitionism has largely overlooked Torrey's fascinating and compelling story.

The Martyrdom of Abolitionist Charles Torrey presents the first comprehensive biography of one of America's most dedicated abolitionists. According to author E. Fuller Torrey, a distant relative, Charles Torrey pushed the abolitionist movement to become more political and active. He helped advance the faction that challenged the leadership of William Lloyd Garrison, provoking an irreversible schism in the movement and making Torrey and Garrison bitter enemies. Torrey played an important role in the formation of the Liberty Party and in the emergence of political abolitionism. Not satisfied with the slow pace of change, he also pioneered aggressive abolitionism by personally freeing slaves, likely liberating more than any other person. In doing so, he inspired many others, including John Brown, who cited Torrey as one of his role models.

E. Fuller Torrey's study not only fills a substantial gap in the history of abolitionism but restores Charles Torrey to his rightful place as one of the most dedicated and significant abolitionists in American history.

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No Taint of Compromise

Crusaders in Antislavery Politics

Frederick J. Blue

No Taint of Compromise highlights the motives and actions of those who played instrumental if not central roles in antislavery politics—those who undertook the yeoman's work of organizing parties, holding conventions, editing newspapers, and generally animating and agitating the discussion of issues related to slavery. They were a small but critical number of voices who, beginning in the late 1830s, battled the institution of slavery through political activism. Frederick J. Blue provides an in-depth account of the trials and accomplishments of eleven men and women who, in the face of great odds and powerful opposition, insisted that emancipation and racial equality could only be achieved through the political process: Alvan Stewart, a Liberty party organizer from New York; John Greenleaf Whittier, a Massachusetts poet, journalist, and Liberty activist; Charles Henry Langston, an Ohio African American educator; Owen Lovejoy, a congressman from Illinois; Sherman Booth, a journalist and Liberty organizer in Wisconsin; Jane Grey Swisshelm, a journalist in Pennsylvania and later Minnesota; George W. Julian, a congressman from Indiana; David Wilmot, a congressman from Pennsylvania; Benjamin and Edward Wade, a senator and a congressman, respectively, from Ohio; and Jessie Benton Frémont of Missouri and California, wife of the Republican presidential nominee.Their stories, brought together in this comparative biographical study, enrich our understanding of the political crisis over slavery that led to the Civil War.

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The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery

Garrisonian Abolitionists and Transatlantic Reform

W. Caleb McDaniel

In The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery, W. Caleb McDaniel sets forth a new interpretation of the Garrisonian abolitionists, stressing their deep ties to reformers and liberal thinkers in Great Britain and Europe. The group of American reformers known as “Garrisonians” included, at various times, some of the most significant and familiar figures in the history of the antebellum struggle over slavery: Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, and William Lloyd Garrison himself. Between 1830 and 1870, American abolitionists led by Garrison developed extensive networks of friendship, correspondence, and intellectual exchange with a wide range of European reformers—Chartists, free trade advocates, Irish nationalists, and European revolutionaries. Garrison signaled the importance of these ties to his movement with the well-known cosmopolitan motto he printed on every issue of his famous newspaper, The Liberator: “Our Country is the World—Our Countrymen are All Mankind.” That motto serves as an important but underappreciated cue for McDaniel’s study, which shows that Garrison and his movement must be placed squarely within the context of transatlantic mid-nineteenth-century reform. Through exposure to contemporary European thinkers—such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Giuseppe Mazzini, and John Stuart Mill—Garrisonian abolitionists came to understand their own movement not only as an effort to mold “public opinion” about slavery but also as a measure to defend democracy in an Atlantic World still dominated by aristocracy and monarchy. While convinced that democracy offered the best form of government, Garrisonians recognized that the persistence of slavery in the United States revealed problems with the political system. They identified minority agitators as necessary to the health of a democratic society. Ultimately, Garrisonians’ transatlantic activities reveal their deep patriotism, their interest in using “public opinion” to affect American politics, and their similarities to other antislavery groups. By following Garrisonian abolitionists across the Atlantic Ocean and exhaustively documenting their international networks, McDaniel challenges many of the timeworn stereotypes that still cling to their movement. He argues for a new image of Garrison’s band as politically savvy, intellectually sophisticated liberal reformers, who were well informed about transatlantic debates regarding the problem of democracy.

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The Problem of Emancipation

The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War

Edward Bartlett Rugemer

“A most persuasive work that repositions the American debates over emancipation where they clearly belong, in a broader Anglo-Atlantic context.”—Reviews in History While many historians look to internal conflict alone to explain the onset of the American Civil War, in The Problem of Emancipation, Edward Bartlett Rugemer places the origins of the war in a transatlantic context. Addressing a huge gap in the historiography of the antebellum United States, he explores the impact of Britain's abolition of slavery in 1834 on the coming of the war and reveals the strong influence of Britain's old Atlantic empire on the United States' politics. He demonstrates how American slaveholders and abolitionists alike borrowed from the antislavery movement developing on the transatlantic stage to fashion contradictory portrayals of abolition that became central to the arguments for and against American slavery. Richly researched and skillfully argued, The Problem of Emancipation explores a long-neglected aspect of American slavery and the history of the Atlantic World and bridges a gap in our understanding of the American Civil War. “Most discussions about the roots of the American Civil War seldom stray beyond the nation’s borders, but Rugemer makes a persuasive case for why that should change.” —Charleston (SC) Post and Courier “A tremendous contribution to the greatest issue and ongoing controversy in pre–twentieth-century American historiography: the causes of the American Civil War. I was quite unprepared for Rugemer’s crucial discoveries as he studied the way dozens of southern and northern newspapers responded to the British West Indian slave insurrections, to the British act of emancipation, and to the consequences of this so-called Mighty Experiment. Few historians have shown such sophistication in analyzing the rapidly changing pre–Civil War media and the shifts in public opinion.”—David Brion Davis, author of Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World

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Revolutionary Emancipation

Slavery and Abolitionism in the British West Indies

Claudius K. Fergus

Skillfully weaving an African worldview into the conventional historiography of British abolitionism, Claudius K. Fergus presents new insights into one of the most intriguing and momentous episodes of Atlantic history. In Revolutionary Emancipation, Fergus argues that the 1760 rebellion in Jamaica, Tacky’s War—the largest and most destructive rebellion of enslaved peoples in the Americas prior to the Haitian Revolution—provided the rationale for abolition and reform of the colonial system. Fergus shows that following Tacky’s War, British colonies in the West Indies sought political preservation under state-regulated amelioration of slavery. He further contends that abolitionists’ successes—from partial to general prohibition of the slave trade—hinged more on the economic benefits of creolizing slave labor and the costs of preserving the colonies from destructive emancipation rebellions than on a conviction of justice and humanity for Africans. In the end, Fergus maintains, slaves’ commitment to revolutionary emancipation kept colonial focus on reforming the slave system. His study carefully dissects new evidence and reinterprets previously held beliefs, offering historians the most compelling arguments for African agency in abolitionism.

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Rites of August First

Emancipation Day in the Black Atlantic World

Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie

Thirty years before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the antislavery movement won its first victory in the British Parliament. On August 1, 1834, the Abolition of Slavery Bill took effect, ending colonial slavery throughout the British Empire. Over the next three decades, "August First Day," also known as "West India Day" and "Emancipation Day," became the most important annual celebration of emancipation among people of African descent in the northern United States, the British Caribbean, Canada West, and the United Kingdom and played a critical role in popular mobilization against American slavery. In Rites of August First, J. R. Kerr-Ritchie provides the first detailed analysis of the origins, nature, and consequences of this important commemoration that helped to shape the age of Anglo-American emancipation. Combining social, cultural, and political history, Kerr-Ritchie discusses the ideological and cultural representations of August First Day in print, oratory, and visual images. Spanning the Western hemisphere, Kerr-Ritchie's study successfully unravels the cultural politics of emancipation celebrations, analyzing the social practices informed by public ritual, symbol, and spectacle designed to elicit feelings of common identity among blacks in the Atlantic World. Rites of August First shows how and why the commemorative events changed between British emancipation and the freeing of slaves in the United States a generation later, while also examining the connections among local, regional, and international commemorations. While shedding light on an important black institution that has been long ignored, Rites of August First also contributes to the broader study of emancipation and black Atlantic identity. Its transnational approach challenges local and national narratives that have largely shaped previous investigations of these questions. Kerr-Ritchie shows how culture and community were truly political at this important historical moment and, most broadly, how politics and culture converge and profoundly influence each other.

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The River Flows On

Black Resistance, Culture, and Identity Formation in Early America

Walter C. Rucker

The River Flows On offers an impressively broad examination of slave resistance in America, spanning the colonial and antebellum eras in both the North and South and covering all forms of recalcitrance, from major revolts and rebellions to everyday acts of disobedience. Walter C. Rucker analyzes American slave resistance with a keen understanding of its African influences, tracing the emergence of an African American identity and culture. Rucker points to the shared cultural heritage that facilitated collective action among both African- and American-born slaves, such as the ubiquitous belief in conjure and spiritual forces, the importance of martial dance and the drum, and ideas about the afterlife and transmigration. Focusing on the role of African cultural and sociopolitical forces, Rucker gives in-depth attention to the 1712 New York City revolt, the 1739 Stono rebellion in South Carolina, the 1741 New York conspiracy, Gabriel Prosser's 1800 Richmond slave plot, and Denmark Vesey's 1822 Charleston scheme. He concludes with Nat Turner's 1831 revolt in Southampton, Virginia, which bore the marks of both conjure and Christianity, reflecting a new, African American consciousness. With rich evidence drawn from anthropology, archaeology, and religion, The River Flows On is an innovative and convincing study.

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Wendell Phillips, Social Justice, and the Power of the Past

edited by A J Aiséirithe and Donald Yacovone

Born into an elite Boston family and a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School, white Massachusetts aristocrat Wendell Phillips’ path seemed clear. Yet he rejected society’s expectations and ignored his own wealth, giving most of it away by the time of his death in 1884. Instead he embraced the most incendiary causes of his era and became a radical advocate for abolitionism and reform. Only William Lloyd Garrison rivaled Phillips’s importance to the antislavery and reform movements, and no one equaled his eloquence or intellectual depth. His presence on the lecture circuit brought him great celebrity both in America and in Europe and helped ensure his reputation as an iconic pursuer of social justice extended for generations after his death. In Wendell Phillips, Social Justice, and the Power of the Past, the world’s leading Phillips scholars explore the themes and ideas that animated this activist and his colleagues.

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