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GARRISONIAN abolitionists in the WEST: Some Suggestions for Study Douglas A. Gamble In 1845, a sizeable and persistent Garrisonian abolition movement emerged from a lengthy gestation west of the Appalachian Mountains. Based in Salem, Ohio, and led by the Western AntiSlavery Society, it provided during the sixteen years of its existence many of the nation's most extreme and persistent manifestations of the radical doctrine 'NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS.' Yet this movement has remained unstudied, a fact which contributes to the false impression that the radical demands of Garrisonianism came only from New England. In fact, not only were there Garrisonians in the rural Old Northwest , they differed in social composition and ideology from the more famous and cosmopolitan "moral suasionists" in and around Boston. If historians are accurately to place abolitionism within ante-bellum society, they cannot ignore the movement's factions. There is, of course, considerable value in studying abolitionism as an entity within a larger cultural matrix and reform ideology, but such a focus can obscure differences within abolitionism which can help historians analyze and explain the variety of the public behavior of the many groups and individuals involved in ante-bellum reform. This study attempts to prepare the way for such an analysis and explanation of the factions of Garrisonianism and of their occasionally quite different responses to the tactical questions which troubled the movement. It focuses on the Western Anti-Slavery Society, an organization whhich was closely associated with eastern Garrisonians but which during the 1850's allied with those eastern moral suasionists who challenged Garrison's leadership. Until the late 1830's, abolitionists in the East and West had differed but slightly in their view of what techniques were appropriate for the movement. The Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, which was formed in 1835, was not very different from its parent organization, the American Anti-Slavery Society. Both were led by evangelical Protestants who insisted upon the sinfulness of slavery and concentrated on persuading white Americans that such a sin could not be tolerated by a nation dedicated to freedom and Christianity.1 1 [Ohio Anti-Slavery Society], Proceedings of the Ohio Anti-Shvery Convention 52 By late in 1837, however, disagreements about the extent to which churches should devote their resources to abolition and women should shape the course of the movement undermined eastern abolitionism 's early unity. So did occasionally violent Northern opposition to the revolutionary implications of the movement. A few abolitionists, for whom William Lloyd Garrison was a spokesman, concluded that abolitionism could not be a mass movement. True radicals, they believed that the real enemy was not just slavery but all forms of oppression. They hoped for a revolution in popular morality to achieve what they saw as the promises of Christianity and the Declaration of Independence; they declared that such a revolution could not be effected by adhering to doctrines and tactics which, while hostile to slavery, were tolerant of sexual discrimination , racism, and coercion. They believed that the success of abolitionism would not in itself make America just, and thus they supported such other decidedly unpopular causes as women's rights and non-resistance. Other abolitionists, including the leadership of the A.A.S., reacted differently. They began organizing a broadly-based antislavery political party, hoping to employ the machinery of government for abolitionism. They thought, however, that the success of such a party was jeopardized by the public's association of the advocates of non-resistance and women's rights with the abolition movement. By early in 1838, the lines were drawn for a confrontation between abolitionists of these fundamentally opposing views.2 Most of the support for Garrison's emerging radical position was in the East, and the disputes all but sundered abolitionism there. Western abolitionists, however, generally ignored them until after the formal schism within the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1840. This was especially true in Ohio, where the state's antislavery leadership, which was dominated by Presbyterian and Congregational ministers, nearly matched Garrison in his condemnation of the inaction of the churches on the slavery issue. The Ohio AntiSlavery Society also was beginning to allow women an active role in abolitionism. At its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 52-68
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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