Abstract

This article argues that white abolitionist rhetoric about families, patriarchy, and sex roles changed significantly in the late 1850s. From 1830 to about 1855, white abolitionists critiqued slavery for failing to live up to the generous patriarchal standards that southern planters claimed for themselves. Slavery, abolitionists argued, entailed sexual assault, slave breeding, and the division of families, not kindness and sympathy. In the 1850s, three new reform movements influenced abolitionist rhetoric. The women's rights movement, sex reformers, and the anti-Mormon polygamy campaign taught many white abolitionists that even generous patriarchy was a flawed familial model. Because the memberships in the reform movements overlapped, abolitionists soon found themselves willing to question whether patriarchy was an acceptable benchmark for judging slavery. Many abolitionists now proclaimed that the issue of whether slaves lived in luxury or want was irrelevant; what mattered was that slaves did not possess political, religious, or economic free will. This argument was most fully developed by Lydia Maria Child in "the Patriarchal Institution," a pamphlet published in 1860. Because the article shows that abolition was influenced by three newer reform groups, it argues that historians need to study the broader world of reform. We have long established the influence of abolition on women's rights, but we can also recognize that the newer groups returned the favor by developing ideas that fundamentally altered the logic of abolitionism.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0620
Print ISSN
0275-1275
Pages
pp. 383-415
Launched on MUSE
2005-10-17
Open Access
No
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