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  • Of One Blood: Abolitionism and the Origins of Racial Equality
  • Gary B. Nash
Of One Blood: Abolitionism and the Origins of Racial Equality. By Paul Goodman. (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998) 303 pp. $35.00.

Goodman made great scholarly contributions with his studies of the connection between political reform, religion, and social relations in New England. His analyses of the rise of the Democratic-Republican Party in Massachusetts in the 1790s and the emergence of Antimasonry in New England in the 1820s and 1830s have furthered our understanding of how much ordinary people have contributed to fulfilling the promise of the universalistic ideals set forth in the nation’s founding documents. In this posthumous book, Goodman has put his stamp on studies of abolitionism in the antebellum era. The book primarily strives to disclose the recruitment and changing ideas of radical abolitionists in New England, though its arguments extend to New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio as well.

All three of Goodman’s books are organized around how “the great transition” from an agricultural subsistence society to a commercial, [End Page 528] manufacturing society spawned various reform movements. In Of One Blood, Goodman turns to the consuming issue of race in the antebellum era. His book is significant in two ways: First, his investigation of the social sources of radical abolitionism provides the best analysis to date of why some Protestant evangelicals embraced abolitionism and why many more did not. Second, his analysis of how free northern blacks became crucial in converting tepid opponents of slavery into immediatist abolitionists and how free black leaders obliged white reformers to examine their consciences extends a line of inquiry initiated by Quarles three decades ago.1

In regard to the recruitment of white radical abolitionists in New England, Goodman’s central finding is that the minority who embraced the campaign for immediate abolition were those most alarmed by how the “market revolution” undermined values about equality inherited from the revolutionary era, the virtue of production labor, and traditional male and female roles. This argument is made carefully through the study of individual leaders in New England and a demographic analysis of rank-and-file members of the abolitionist societies that flourished in the 1830s after David Walker, William Lloyd Garrison, and others had initiated the radical abolitionist campaign. Goodman chose not to enter directly into the extended debate between David Brion Davis, Thomas Haskell, and others concerning the relationship between abolitionism and capitalism. But his evidence can be taken to stand somewhere between the positions of Davis and Haskell.2

The weight of Goodman’s argument is that although the spread of a commercial mentality may have created a “humanitarian sensibility” that would no longer allow a merely “passive sympathy” with the plight of enslaved blacks—to use Haskell’s phrases—the recruiting grounds of radical abolitionism were the sectors of New England society filled with those most alarmed by the rising world of market relations—failed businessmen, tradesmen, and small producers displaced by factory industrialism; farmers; small proprietors; and professionals—a mixture of middling people. Turning to the Davis argument, that in England the abolitionist campaign was led by a business elite at the forefront of creating industrial slavery, Goodman finds that their rough New England counterparts—aristocratically inclined merchants, land speculators, and high placed lawyers and ministers—were, for the most part, “intensely and even violently hostile to the spread of abolitionism” (xiv).

In regard to his second argument, that free blacks played a pivotal role in galvanizing white abolitionism, Goodman adds to the growing number of historians who have discovered a far more dynamic role for black men and women than previously recognized. This line of thought resurrects the position of Lewis Tappan in the 1830s that the strenuous [End Page 529] opposition of free blacks to expatriation provided the first inspiration for Garrison and others to oppose it. Goodman presses the case, seconded by Quarles in the 1960s, that the new militancy of free northern blacks in opposing the expatriation schemes of the American Colonization Society as a cruel hoax converted men such as Garrison to their side. Once free black organization and self-expression reached new...

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pp. 528-530
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