- Black Christian Republicanism: The Writings of Hilary Teage (1805–1853), Founder of Liberia by Carl Patrick Burrowes
Hilary Teage, an American-born Liberian repatriate, Baptist minister, political leader, champion of the republic, and editor of the Monrovia Liberia Herald, is best known as the author of the 1847 Liberian Declaration of Independence. By including the declaration as the final document in this wide-ranging collection of Teage's writings, Carl Patrick Burrowes reminds us of the [End Page 153] broader context and wide scope of Teage's work. By drawing attention to Teage, a neglected figure in Liberian historiography, Burrowes wants to encourage a more complex understanding of Liberia's founding generation, but the book does more than that. In Burrowes's extensive introduction, he reintroduces Teage as a central figure in the history of black nationalism and argues for a sea change in the historiography of nineteenth-century African American intellectual culture in the black Atlantic.
Teage was born into slavery in 1805 in Goochland County, Virginia, not far from Thomas Jefferson's family home. The connection to Jeffersonian political thought is one that Burrowes explores through his nuanced discussion of Teage's ideological background. Burrowes argues that Teage's early life in the religious and political ferment of Virginia—he left the United States for Liberia at the age of sixteen—deeply influenced his political leadership. By tracing Teage's journey through the physical geographies of American slavery and Liberian colonization, Burrowes also maps Teage's writings across the intellectual landscape of the late Enlightenment.
Burrowes takes fine measure not only of Teage's ideas on religion, moral philosophy, politics, and race but also of the cosmology that held those ideas together. He argues that Teage's writings "represent one of the earliest intellectual integrations of the previously disparate elements of black nationalism, Protestant Christianity, and republicanism" and exemplify the "absence of a firm division between the secular and the sacred in African-American cosmology" (pp. xv, xvi). Burrowes notes that we tend to think more about Teage's contemporaries, such as John B. Russwurm or Martin Delany, but neglect the more elusive intellectual traditions of black nationalism emerging from the American South. In Teage, Burrowes argues, the southern context and the filters of his informal education in the Baptist culture of Richmond, Virginia, produced a less authoritarian and more flexible vision of the black Enlightenment.
To highlight the breadth and depth of Teage's intellectual life and his public pursuits, Burrowes includes a varied selection of letters, essays, speeches, state papers, sermons, and poems. The documents are carefully annotated, making Teage's writings accessible to a wide readership and providing an indispensable foundation for the work of other scholars. Throughout the body of Teage's writing, we see the power of the press and the connections between the world of ideas and the world of action—evidence to support Burrowes's characterization of Teage as "the kind of intellectual sociologist Antonio Gramsci described as a 'permanent persuader'" (p. 33).
The permanent persuasions in Teage's Liberia come across as part of a predominantly masculine culture. Burrowes writes that "Teage's religious and political thought was undergirded by a view of humans as potential co-creators with God of a limitless future," a view that Burrowes claims had an important effect on Teage's understanding of womanhood, women's political rights, and women's power (p. 38). There are two very helpful endnotes on women and Liberia's founding, but beyond its appearance in a few paragraphs, the gendered nature of virtue and power in Black Christian Republicanism: The Writings of Hilary Teage (1805–1853), Founder of Liberia is left for others to consider. [End Page 154]
Nonetheless, this remarkable book offers a fresh perspective on African American and Liberian intellectual history by attending closely to Teage's extensive contributions to a transatlantic conversation. Teage...