- Colonization and Its Discontents: Emancipation, Emigration, and Antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania
Colonization and Its Discontents examines antislavery thought in Pennsylvania between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Using individual case studies, Beverly Tomek discusses the Pennsylvania Colonization Society (PCS), the gradualist Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS), and the immediatist Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society (PAAS). Tomek shows “how these three distinct but overlapping abolitionist groups collectively, though not always cooperatively, fought to end slavery in the United States” (xx). On the whole Tomek’s book is successful, though with some weaknesses. [End Page 602]
Pennsylvanians began gradually to abolish slavery in 1780, but Tomek shows that some Pennsylvanians confronted slavery as a national issue and believed they still had work to do. Even the PCS, motivated by “elements of humanitarianism mixed with white self-preservation through racial control” (9), was “undoubtedly . . . antislavery” (1). Tomek’s case studies keep her discussion from being abstract and disembodied. The representative figures of humanitarianism and self-interest for the PCS are the Quaker Benjamin Coates and the political economist Mathew Carey, respectively.
Pennsylvania encompassed a spectrum of antislavery thought, with Carey’s self-interested colonization inspired by his nationalist political economy at one end and James Forten’s insistence that African Americans become equal citizens at the other. Yet due to shared commitments, distinctions along the spectrum blurred. Carey had little to do with Forten yet worked with humanitarian colonizers who worked with gradualists and even some immediatists. The distinction between the PAS and the PAAS was even more difficult to draw. Tomek describes a broad antislavery culture whose members were profoundly uncomfortable in a slaveholding republic, a culture that included Carey. Carey gave thousands of dollars to the PCS, which, unlike the national American Colonization Society (ACS), insisted that colonization be connected to manumission and not solely to removal of free blacks.
In the specific (but by no means narrow or insignificant) claim for an antislavery culture, I am convinced by Tomek’s argument. Yet Tomek and other scholars need to confront venerable categories such as “antislavery.” We need to ask how meaningful most claims to oppose slavery were prior to the Civil War, even the claims of many who regularly and consciously spoke of their abhorrence for the institution.
Carey provides a good start to such a discussion, because I think Tomek is not quite right about him. She argues that Carey’s nationalist political economy led him to see slavery as backward, and, once he discovered the ACS, Carey came to see “colonization as a way of ridding the nation of an outdated system of production” (66). Yet Tomek senses a more complicated story of the thoroughly tangled relationships between nationalist commitments to economic development and the nation’s primary institution of production: organizing labor through the denial of freedom. In discussing Carey’s economic nationalism and the harmony of sectors Carey expected his political economy to produce, Tomek writes that for Carey “cooperation would create a strong interstate exchange network that would link the areas together in a system of mutual reciprocity and dependence” (81). In a passage not found in Tomek’s study, Carey was explicit about what [End Page 603] “reciprocity” meant: “the transportation of raw materials from the southern to the middle and eastern states and of manufactured articles from the latter to the former.”1
Economic nationalists like Carey could imagine a domestic market of producers and consumers only because, in the most fundamental ways, they assumed millions of forced producers of raw materials and consumers of manufactured articles. The only way to replace the world markets they believed would disappear as peace and production returned to Europe in the post-Napoleonic era was to maintain a forced market of millions that the United States could control for its own purposes. Carey spent the 1820s seeking to show planters how much his political economy offered them. His chief concerns were their unwillingness to understand how much the American System provided a slaveholding...