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3. Conflict and Continuity in Transatlantic Abolitionism, 1840–1854
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66 3 conflict and continuity in transatlantic abolitionism, 1840–1854 T he 1840s proved to be an even more active decade of transatlantic abolitionist networking than the previous one, but the decade opened with setbacks. Nathaniel Paul—the black abolitionist who had battled colonizationism in England from 1832 to 1836—died in 1839. Then, in January 1840, Charles Follen was killed in a steamship accident off the coast of New York, depriving abolitionists of a promising link to European liberals and unconverted New Englanders who admired the cultured German. Meanwhile, even as the ocean took Follen to his rest, abolitionists’ transatlantic networks were being battered by intense, internecine quarrels over religion, political strategy, and the role of abolitionist women. These conflicts reached a high-water mark in the summer after Follen’s death, when a divisive meeting of the AASS split the society in two. Only a few weeks later, at a contentious London meeting known as the “World’s Convention,” disagreements between American abolitionists also divided British abolitionists. Garrison emerged from these schisms in control of the AASS, but by 1841 the organization had been severely reduced by mass defections to the abolitionist Liberty Party, led by James Birney, and a new organization founded by the evangelical abolitionist Lewis Tappan.1 Many abolitionists shared blame for these conflicts. But at the root of the 1840 splits were different strategic and ideological conclusions about what should be done in the aftermath of the “reign of terror.” Memories of mob violence encouraged “Garrisonian” loyalists to insist on unfettered freedom of speech and agitation at a time when others believed abolitionists should focus on slavery and avoid other controversial topics—creating a tactical gap that proved impossible to bridge. Nonetheless, transatlantic abolitionist networks expanded, multiplied, and diversified in the decade after 1840, even as they divided. An 67 Conflict and Continuity in Transatlantic Abolitionism, 1840–1854 unprecedented number of black abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, Charles Lenox Remond, and William Wells Brown also crossed the Atlantic in these years, skillfully navigating among abolitionist factions and helping to ensure the continued vitality of transatlantic abolitionism. And when Thompson returned for a second American tour in 1851, American abolitionists were more intimately connected to Europeans by ties of acquaintance, travel, and correspondence than ever before.2 Unfortunately, these networks only made anti-abolitionists more convinced than ever that Garrisonians were self-righteous, rootless fanatics who did not love their country. One 1847 satire on “World’s Conventions,” published in New York, pictured a gathering of “worthless humbugs from abroad” who enjoyed puffing themselves up “like bladders filled with wind,” while another typical screed, published in 1851, described abolitionists as “philanthropic slough-hounds that are tracking patriotism to its death”—reformers who “set up philanthropism as their supreme deity, and fall down before their rotten god, and worship!” If Garrisonians could not abide the evils of their country, sneered Massachusetts minister George Putnam in 1847, they should “seek a better place to live.”3 Even Garrison’s abolitionist critics grew increasingly severe as the 1840s went on, especially when he began to preach that the Constitution was a proslavery document and that northerners should demand a dissolution of the Union with the South. Some former defenders of Garrison thought of the adoption of “No Union with Slaveholders” as the official motto of the AASS in 1844 as a turn “to the right-about-face.” Others wondered how “disunionists” like Garrison and Phillips could consistently remain in the United States, paying taxes and enjoying citizenship, while refusing to support the Constitution. To Garrisonians, meanwhile, such questions sounded too much like Putnam’s suggestion that they love their country or leave it. “I was born here,” observed a testy Phillips in 1844. “I ask no man’s permission to remain.”4 Yet these conflicts also obscured many continuities in Garrisonian abolitionism even after the schism of 1840. First, Garrisonians expanded their transatlantic networks because they still believed that “moral Lafayettes” could mobilize Americans’ shame. Writing from England in 1840, Remond declared that abolitionists were trying to annihilate American slavery so that “not a vestige remains to remind the future traveller, that such a system ever cursed our country, and made us a hissing and a by-word in the mouth of every subject of every Monarch, King, Queen, Despot, Tyrant, Autocrat and Czar of the civilized and uncivilized 68 Part I: Origins world!” Likewise, when Garrison returned for a third trip to England in 1846, he repeated his...



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Subject Headings

  • Antislavery movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slavery -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Democracy -- Philosophy
  • Garrison, William Lloyd, 1805-1879.
  • Phillips, Wendell, 1811-1884.
  • American Anti-Slavery Society.
  • Abolitionists -- United States -- Biography
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