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James Redpath, John Brown, and Abolitionist Advocacy of Slave Insurrection John R. McKivigan In the preface to his 1859 book, The Roving Editor, abolitionist James Redpath presented the reader with a revealing description of his attitude toward violent means to end slavery: I am a Peace-Man—and something more. I would fight and kill for the sake of peace. Now, slavery is a state of perpetual war. I am a Non-Resistant—and something more. I would slay every man who attempted to resist the liberation of the slave.1 James Redpath is of historical significance as an example of the younger generation of abolitionists who, in the 185Os, rejected the longstanding commitment of their seniors in the movement to nonviolent means to end slavery. Redpath's extreme views were the product of his personal exposure to the system of slavery during three tours through the South during the 185Os and of his contact with other militant abolitionists, including John Brown, during the same period. From the mid- 185Os to the secession crisis, Redpath established himself as one of the leading propagandists of Northern support for slave insurrection . In a series of newspaper articles and three books written in that decade, Redpath sought to persuade the Northern public that Southern slaves were prepared to revolt if given encouragement and assistance by friends in the free states. At the start of their organized activities, American abolitionists tried to dissociate their campaign from violent methods, particularly inciting slave insurrections. They advocated moral suasion, and in the 1840s, the ' James Redpath, The Roving Editor; or, Talks with Slaves in the Southern States (New York: A. B. Burdick, 1859), vii. Civil War History, Vol. XXXVII, No. 4, ° 1991 by the Kent State University Press 294CIVIL WAR HISTORY followers of William Lloyd Garrison went even further and endorsed the theory of nonresistance, which renounced all forms of coercion.2 Abolitionist attitudes toward violence became less doctrinaire as early as the mid- 1830s. The Elijah Lovejoy murder in 1837 caused a serious debate among abolitionists concerning the use of physical means of selfdefense . More to the point of this paper, the denunciations of slave insurrections by most early abolitionists were as much pragmatic as principled. They discountenanced slave revolts because of their presumed hopeless character and the consequent negative repercussions.3 The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and efforts to resist its enforcement caused further erosion in the abolitionist commitment to nonviolent means. In adopting the tactics of direct action to assist fugitives, abolitionists courted violent confrontation with slaveholders and legal authorities. Resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law catalyzed a small number of younger abolitionists to champion action not merely to assist fugitives but to destroy the very institution of slavery. The fighting in Kansas between free- and slave-state factions in the mid- 185Os further encouraged some abolitionists to sanction violence in the name of freedom.4 As a result of these trends, the doctrine of nonresistance began to collapse during the 185Os, and prominent Garrisonians began to advocate disunionism as a means of preparing the way for slave revolts. Veteran political abolitionists joined with more moderate antislavery Northerners in raising funds to arm the Free-State settlers of Kansas. A few nonGarrisonian abolitionists, such as Theodore Parker, preached in support of violent antislavery tactics as a way to purify the North of its complicity in the institution.5 It was in this changing intellectual climate in the 2 John Demos, "The Antislavery Movement and the Problem of Violent 'Means'," New England Quarterly 37 (Dec. 1964):503-4; Robert H. Abzug, "The Influence of Garrisonian Abolitionists' Fear of Slave Violence on the Antislavery Argument," Journal of Negro History 22 (Jan. 1970): 15-28; James B. Stewart, Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery (New York: Hill and Wang, 1976), 98, 108, 152.¦' Demos, "The Antislavery Movement," 508-9, 501; Lawrence J. Friedman, Gregarious Saints: Self and Community in American Abolitionism, 1830-1870 (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982), 196, 200-202; Merton L. Dillon, The Abolitionists: Growth of a Dissenting Minority (DeKaIb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press, 1974), 53, 220-21. 4 William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease, "Confrontation and Abolition...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 293-313
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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