9. The Civil War and the Rupturing of Transatlantic Abolitionism, 1854–1863
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210 9 the civil war and the rupturing of transatlantic abolitionism, 1854–1863 A t Framingham, Garrisonians still believed their primary role was to agitate , but the temptation to politics did not go away. Neither did their questions about how to measure or deal with political influence. Even in the dark days of the Pierce administration, there were some antislavery men in Congress who raised those questions anew. Phillips “rejoice[d] beyond measure ” when Gerrit Smith, a onetime foe, was elected to Congress in 1852, hailing it as “a striking sign of the times.” Likewise, when Hale chastised proslavery southerners during Congressional debates over welcoming Kossuth, Garrisonians noted his efforts approvingly. In 1853, Phillips even declared that “our opinions differ very little from those of our Free Soil friends, or of intelligent men generally, when you really get at them.”1 By 1854 there were even some striking similarities between Garrisonians’ speeches and those of an antislavery politician whose name they did not yet know: Abraham Lincoln. In 1854, while Garrison was burning the Constitution in Framingham, Lincoln was in Illinois, fuming over the passage of the KansasNebraska Act and helping to build a new Republican Party determined to revoke it. But Lincoln was also, like Garrison, keeping an eye on events in Europe. In an October speech in Peoria, he expressed special concern that American slavery was injuring the cause of democracy abroad: “Already the liberal party throughout the world, express the apprehension ‘that the one retrograde institution in America, is undermining the principles of progress, and fatally violating the noblest political system the world ever saw.’” Those lines were actually a quotation that Lincoln took from an 1854 editorial in the liberal London Daily News, a newspaper that was generally friendly to “popular government” and the republican experiment in the United States. “We 211 The Civil War and the Rupturing of Transatlantic Abolitionism, 1854–1863 have ever been among the heartiest well-wishers of the Americans,” the Daily News had said only a few weeks before Lincoln spoke. But liberal Englishmen now feared, on behalf of “the Liberal Party throughout Europe,” that “the one retrograde institution in America is undermining the principle of progress, and fatally vitiating the noblest political system that the world ever saw.” As proof, the paper pointed especially to the conduct of proslavery American diplomats like Pierre Soulé and George Sanders, whose behavior was “a symptom of peril which all true Americans should take heed to without the loss of a moment.”2 Lincoln, like Garrison, did “take heed” of what Sanders and Soulé were doing . His Peoria speech focused primarily on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but the European escapades of the Pierce administration and their effect on “the liberal party throughout the world” provided an ominous backdrop for the whole address, which concluded by reminding Americans of their responsibility to model republicanism for the world. The expansionist ambitions of the Democratic Party, Lincoln warned, were soiling “our republican robe” and “trail[ing] it in the dust,” while northern congressmen like John Pettit were “call[ing] the Declaration of Independence ‘a self-evident lie’”—a nadir that Garrison had also cited only a few months before at Framingham.3 Garrisonians did not notice Lincoln’s Peoria speech, but its themes were indicative of a new era in antislavery politics; in the Republican Party, Garrisonians would find increasing evidence of what seemed like sympathy with their own views, causing them to hope their agitation was finally influencing politics. In 1856, James Miller McKim told Webb that the “the Republicans now acknowledge that we have the correct philosophy: that is that the first thing to be done is to enlighten & convert the people.” Many disunionists, he reported, had even decided to “make no especial opposition” to Republicans in that year’s presidential contest and would instead “wish well to the Republican candidate as the best man, and will speak & act accordingly.” Indeed, only two years after he had burned the Constitution, Garrison came close to making a public presidential endorsement , declaring “that if there were no moral barrier to our voting, and we had a million votes to bestow, we should cast them all for the Republican candidate.”4 These statements showed how far Garrison remained from Noyes and Rogers , and they deeply troubled some other Garrisonians who feared Garrison was deserting the non-resistant faith. Abby Kelley—one of Garrison’s allies of longest standing—insisted in 1858 that “our business is, to cry unclean, unclean...



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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