Stoking the "Abolition Fire in the Capitol": Liberty Party Lobbying and Antislavery in Congress
Abstract

Abstract:

One of the most crucial and underappreciated political weapons in the arsenal of antebellum abolitionists was their innovative and influential lobbying strategy. Abolitionist agitators, working independently in the late 1830s and through the Liberty Party in the early 1840s, targeted a small number of sympathetic congressmen who could insert antislavery arguments into debates that would reach a broad northern audience. Though only a small fraction of the electorate, political abolitionists thereby profoundly altered congressional politics. Abolition lobbyists especially encouraged antislavery representatives to provoke proslavery overreactions that could be used to substantiate abolitionist warnings that a southern "Slave Power" controlled the national government. Political abolitionists' Slave Power argument, however, also represented a pointed critique of the Second Party System of Whigs and Democrats. Because both major parties relied on cross-sectional support, abolitionists contended that no genuine antislavery policymaking could be expected from either. Liberty Party leaders thus publicly assailed prominent, ostensibly antislavery Whigs as structurally complicit with the Slave Power, while simultaneously privately beseeching the very same Whig politicians to precipitate new congressional controversies. By skillfully managing these complicated relationships, Liberty partisans were able to exploit Congress as a forum through which they could further popularize their anti-Slave Power message