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This is a book abouttheAmerican antislavery movement, the nation's most important reform movement of the nineteenth century. The antislavery effort contributed to the coming of the Civil War and affected issues of race in ways that continue to impact American society on theverge ofthe twenty-firstcentury. Because ofits importance, the antislavery movement has inspired countless studies. Many of them focus on the abolitionists-the men and women who were the most outspoken opponents of slavery. The purpose of this book is to clarify the characteristics and role of these individuals by analyzing their involvement in efforts within the South to destroy slavery. The American campaign to end the enslavement ofblack people was part of an international effort in western civilization that had its roots in the industrial revolution and associated cultural developments of the eighteenth century. In the United States, in particular, there was significant progress against slavery following the War for Independence as northern stateseither abolished itorprovided for gradual emancipation within their borders. During the same period the national government barred slaveryfrom the NorthwestTerritory, and the United States Constitution enabled Congress to terminate the country's foreign slave tr~de by 1808.1 But the Constitution also implicitly sanctioned slavery. In the cotton-growing states of the deep South and to a lesser extent in the mixed agricultural economies of the states of the upper South, human bondage continued to thrive. The international demand for cotton powered slavery's westward expansion and the formation of new slave states in the Southwest. Consequently, the final struggle over slavery in the United States was geographically determined. Antislaveryforces in the North challenged the proslavery forces of the South. Nevertheless, the advocates of African-American freedom faced considerable proslavery 2 The Abolitionists and the South sentimentin the North, and, as this book emphasizes, slavery's southern defenders were ever fearful ofabolitionist activities in their midst. The struggle reached its peak between 1831 and 1865. In the former year, William Lloyd Garrison initiated his newspaper, the Liberator, in Boston with a demand that slavery be immediately abolished, and in Virginia Nat Turner led the nation's largest slave revolt. In the latteryear, the northern victory in the Civil War led to the total abolition of slavery in the country. Northern abolitionists, like Garrison, used to be credited with sparking this most intense phase of the antislavery movement. The relationship ofthese dedicated reformers to the sectional controversy made them a perennially popular and controversial topic inAmerican history. But, since the 1960s, a generation of historians has developed a more constricted interpretation ofthe abolitionists' significance. Beginning with the abolitionists themselves, writers have distinguished between them and a broader antislavery effort. Although this distinction has not always been precise, historians during the past several decades have increasingly defined abolitionists quite narrowly as individuals who advocated-on the basis of moral principle -the immediate emancipation ofthe slaves and equal rights for blacks in the United States. Active membership in organizations pledged to these goals has become the chief means of identifying such persons.2 The abolitionists, according to this definition, were a small, vociferous portion of the larger antislavery movement. The movement also included a much more numerous group that concentrated its efforts against the extension ofslavery into western territories while rejecting abolitionist demands for immediate northern action to end slavery in the southern states. The nonextensionists did not belong to immediate abolitionist organizations. They were chiefly motivated by political and economic considerations rather than by moral principles , although Christian precepts played a role, and many of them were as antiblack as antislavery. Many nonextensionists identified with the Free Soil party in 1848 and most of them became Republicans in the mid-1850s.3 Accordingly, neither ofthese political parties was abolitionist. Theywere designed to stop the expansion ofslavery and curtail the power ofslaveholders in the national government, not to emancipate southern slaves immediately. Introduction 3 This precise distinction between immediate abolitionists and nonextensionists has been very useful in clarifying our understanding ofwho the abolitionists were, what their relationship to northern culture was, and how the antislavery movement developed. But, as historians have emphasized the distinction, they have inevitably narrowed perceptions of the influence abolitionists wielded over the antislavery movement and the sectional struggle as well. Once considered to have been at the center of the sectional controversy, abolitionists are now placed on its periphery. As the perception of abolitionist influence has contracted, historians-with some exceptions -have turned to analyzing the inner world ofthe immediatists.4 During...


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