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Racial Nationalism and Its Challengers: Theodore Parker, John Rock, and the Antislavery Movement Paul Teed On the evening of March 5, 1858, a group of white abolitionists joined members of Boston's small black community at Faneuil Hall to celebrate the eighty-seventh anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Called together by black abolitionist and historian William Cooper Nell, the gathering was intended in part as a protest against the Supreme Court's denial ofblack citizenship in the Dred Scott decision. Focusing on the role of Crispus Attucks in the origins of the Revolutionary struggle, Nell expected that his impressive list of speakers would commemorate the heroic participation ofblackAmericans in preserving American liberty and thus undermine both the logic and morality of the court's opinion. Instead, however, the meeting became the setting for a dramatic confrontation between two of Boston's most well-known antislavery activists, Dr. John S. Rock and the Reverend Theodore Parker. John Rock had a score to settle with Theodore Parker, and the issue was race. As a black abolitionist, Rock was incensed over a recent speech at the Massachusetts State House in which Parker had celebrated the historic courage and industry of the Anglo-Saxon race in eloquent terms while intimating that the inherent absence of bravery in black slaves had prevented them from overthrowing their oppressors. Challenging his white colleague to explain precisely how isolated and repressed slaves could overthrow "twenty millions of intelligent, brave white men," Rock denied any lack of courage in his race and insisted that blacks possessed a fighting spirit that could be seen The author would like to thank R. Kent Newmyer and James B. Stewart for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. Civil War History, Vol. XLI, No. 2 © 1995 by The Kent State University Press racial nationalism143 in the "martyrdom" of Crispus Attucks as well as in the struggle for freedom in Haiti. "The black man is not a coward," he asserted. "If the white man will fight the black man in Africa or in Haiti and the black man does not come off the victor, I am deceived in his prowess." Rock also castigated Parker for his romantic view ofAnglo-Saxon character. "The courage ofthe Anglo-Saxon is best illustrated in his treatment of the negro," he suggested. "A score or two of them pounce upon a poor negro, tie and beat him, and then call him a coward because he submits.'" Treated so often with respect and deference by Boston blacks because of his repeated efforts on behalf of the city's fugitive slave population, Parker was surprised by the vehemence ofRock's criticism and struggled to defuse the tension that Rock's speech had created. "My friend Dr. Rock said a great many good things ofthe African race," he began haltingly. "If I cannot agree with all that he said, I am sorry." Nevertheless, Parker was certain that his own characterization of both Africans and Anglo-Saxons was essentially accurate and set out to review and defend his views. "I have said a hundred times that [the African race] was the most pacific race of men on earth, the least revengeful , the most merciful, the slowest to strike." In comparison with aggressive, liberty-loving Anglo-Saxons "who would rather enslave twenty men and kill twenty more than be a slave himself," Parker asserted with complete confidence that Africans were meek and mild. Without satisfying Rock's demand for an explicit plan, however, Parker was willing to hold out the possibility that blacks would play some role in their own emancipation. "Slavery will not be exterminated with one blow," he predicted, "and I hope the black man will do his part."2 Not surprisingly, Parker and Rock left the hall that evening without resolving their differences. While it has received little attention in abolitionist historiography, the Parker-Rock controversy indicates the persistence of racial conflict within the antislavery movement on the eve of the Civil War as well as the ways in which race was linked with violence in debates over the future of the American nation and the shape ofa postemancipation society. Widespread belief in the inherent qualities of races, held by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 142-160
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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