10. Reconstruction and the Rupturing of Garrisonian Abolitionism, 1863–1865
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232 10 reconstruction and the rupturing of garrisonian abolitionism, 1863–1865 T ensions between American and British Garrisonians eased slightly when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery in 1865. After 1863, prominent European liberals in Britain and France also swelled the ranks of the Union’s transatlantic allies. In an open letter published in England and republished in the Liberator, John Stuart Mill now identified “the prospects of the human race” with the Union cause. And in January 1865, the London Emancipation Society, led by Thompson’s son-in-law Chesson, presented a congratulatory address to Lincoln through the American minister in London, with signatures by French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher, English freethinker and labor radical George Holyoake, and Karl Blind, one of the European exiles in the Ashursts’ extended circle.1 But as transatlantic relationships slowly healed, new tensions arose within the AASS, caused primarily by Lincoln’s actions on slavery prior to 1863 and his halting steps since then on the question of black suffrage. The president’s revocation of military orders of emancipation by Fremont and Hunter, and his proposals for colonization and gradual emancipation, made a growing number of Garrisonians more sympathetic to the arguments of the vocal abolitionist minority , led by Pillsbury and the Fosters, who had always excoriated Lincoln as criminally conservative. As early as April 1862, Phillips submitted resolutions at an antislavery meeting holding Lincoln “culpable” for the perpetuation of slavery . By July he was calling Lincoln “a second-rate man” and intimating that he preferred Fremont for president.2 Finally, in 1864, a deep rift opened within the American Anti-Slavery Society over whether to support Lincoln’s reelection, eventually rupturing the friend- 233 Reconstruction and the Rupturing of Garrisonian Abolitionism, 1863–1865 ship between Garrison and Phillips and grieving their British allies. As in the case of earlier ruptures with British friends, however, the debate over Lincoln emerged from shared premises that rested near the center of Garrisonian thinking . Phillips and Garrison both took seriously, as they always had, the need to watch events carefully and consider how best to influence politicians. And as A. J. Aiséirithe notes in the most recent study of the Garrisonians’ wartime disagreements , “one of the ironies of the multivalent dispute between Garrison and Phillips is that they ended up not so very apart.”3 Indeed, Phillips and Garrison remained united in their fundamental commitments to make democracy work, to keep American society agitated, and to abolish slavery. The rupture between them, as they conceded in candid moments, was primarily about means rather than ends. Nonetheless, the disagreements made apparent the slightly different inclinations that had guided each man’s thinking about the problem of democracy for decades, leading Garrison towards non-resistance and Phillips towards Tocqueville. And their rupture also illuminated questions that had never seemed so pressing before, including the question of how to measure public opinion and whether elected officials should lead or be led by its movements. arguing over lincoln The rupture between Phillips and Garrison appeared slowly, because in 1861 and 1862 both men agreed on several points. Northern public opinion was moving in the direction of emancipation. When the government did begin to use emancipation as an instrument of war in 1862, Phillips and Garrison also remained united on the need to ensure that military policies were liberating in fact as well as in theory. For example, after Major General Nathaniel P. Banks was installed in Union-occupied New Orleans in December 1862 as commander of the Gulf, abolitionists united in denouncing the early labor policies he instituted, which resulted in most former slaves in Louisiana being required by Union military forces to work, for fixed wages, on or near their former plantations.4 The trouble between Phillips and Garrison did not really begin until 1864, when Phillips, over Garrison’s objections, began to support a campaign to nominate Fremont and unseat Lincoln. Phillips opposed Lincoln’s reelection primarily because he doubted Lincoln would extend suffrage to black southerners, which would be the only way for freedpeople to protect their interests against 234 Part III: Events aristocratic former masters. “The North has democratic institutions, and their essence is this—no class is safe which has not the means to protect itself. . . . [A]nd hence we have given the ballot, which is the Gibraltar of self-defence, to every class.” Phillips wanted a president who agreed with this crucial feature of American...



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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