The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume III: The United States, 1830-1846; Volume IV: The United States, 1847-1858; and Volume V: The United States, 1859-1865 (review)
- Civil War History
- The Kent State University Press
- Volume 39, Number 1, March 1993
- pp. 84-86
- Additional Information
84CIVIL WAR HISTORY The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume III: The United States, 18301846 ; Volume IV: The United States, 1847-1858; and Volume V: The United States, 1859-1865. Edited by C. Peter Ripley. Assistant editors, Roy E. Finkenbine, Michael F. Hembree, and Donald Yacovone. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991 and 1992 (V). Pp. xxx, 521; xxvi, 443; xxviii, 435. $50.00 each.) The Black Abolitionist Papers exist in two quite different versions. The first version, published on seventeen reels of microfilm between 1981 and 1984, contains almost fourteen thousand documents by three hundred black men and women associated with the antislavery movement. The second version consists of five books, published between 1985 and 1992, containing 435 documents of varying length; 237 are in the three volumes particularly under review here. For those who have not seen them, something should also be said about volume 1, The British Isles, 1830-1865, and volume 2, Canada, 1830-1865. These are not specifically concerned with slavery, antislavery, and emancipation in the British Empire, but rather with the antislavery activities of African Americans from the United States who, for a variety of reasons, migrated, escaped, or went lecturing and fundraising to those friendly (by comparison with their homeland) places. Though there are disadvantages in this approach, there is an undeniable advantage in having major, comprehensive volumes on blacks from the United States in Canada and in the British Isles. Editor C. Peter Ripley is quite forthright about the purpose of all five volumes: the documents are here to illustrate a history whose major themes are set forth in his substantial introductions to volumes 1, 2, and 3, and even more in the thoroughly researched and superbly detailed introductions and endnotes for each selection. (The introduction to the third volume applies also to the fourth and fifth.) The desired result is achieved: a representative and comprehensive history of the black abolitionists of the United States for the period 1830-1865, identifying every leader, organization, dispute, crisis, and accomplishment. Women appear as well as men, often illustrating the early and extensive involvement of the struggle for women's rights with the struggle for African-American liberty. As others have noted when commenting on these volumes, it is especially valuable to see the cast of characters so enlarged and to hear so many fresh and distinctive voices we have heretofore never known. The five volumes also serve as a guide to sources and published scholarship , especially on the antislavery movement, but on much else besides. Every library that undertakes to collect books on American History will need these volumes, and every serious student of the African-American experience and of the antebellum era will have many occasions to consult them. BOOK REVIEWS85 The virtues of this production are very much its own; the limitations of which I now complain—if they are truly limitations—are representative of both traditional United States scholarship from the time of George Bancroft and of neo-abolitionist scholarship in the United States since the 1960s. Why mention Bancroft? Because the black abolitionists and the editors of their papers both accept, implicitly, the almost divinely ordained perfection of the political order of the United States, although emphasizing more than Bancroft would allow that the dreadful flaws of slavery and racial prejudice marred that perfection. Why 1830 to 1865? Because the editors accept the quite traditional view that the "real" antislavery movement began with the rise of Garrisonian immediatism. But a wider-ranging view holds that the single most important development in antislavery between 1807 and 1865 was not the appearance of Garrison but the triumph of British Abolitionism in 1833—a triumph toward which black and white abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic had contributed for many years. The Black Abolitionist Papers can hardly ignore this event, but, as if limited in historical view by its choice of time and place, scarcely has an inkling of its significance. One does not wish to minimize Garrison's importance, but antislavery had been gaining victories since the fall of Napoleon, both in the form of mounting pressure on West Indian planters and in the liberal movement for independence in Latin America...