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Civil War History 47.3 (2001) 259-261



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Book Review

Of One Blood:
Abolitionism and the Origins of Racial Equality


Of One Blood: Abolitionism and the Origins of Racial Equality. By Paul Goodman. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Pp. xxi, 303. $35.00 cloth; $16.95 paper.)

In Of One Blood, the late Paul Goodman revisits critical questions about the 1830s abolitionist movement, including its social and ideological origins, its relation to other antebellum reforms, and its posture on issues of race and gender. As Goodman observes, the question of why a minority of antebellum whites embraced abolitionism still begs an answer. Historians have long recognized the movement's roots in evangelical Christianity. Yet why did so few Christians heed its call?

Goodman's answer is twofold. Before the 1830s, the favorite white solution to the problem of slavery was colonization, a racist program that tied black emancipation to removal overseas. Most free blacks, however, spurned emigration, striving instead to establish themselves as equal Americans. According to Goodman, personal contact with these blacks shattered the racial stereotypes of conscientious whites, forcing them to renounce prejudice, reject colonization, and proclaim instead the twin aims of immediate liberation and full racial equality. [End Page 259]

Yet black argument and black example were not enough to dislodge most white prejudices. Here enters Goodman's second theme. The only whites primed to perceive the egalitarian truths before them were those already alienated by the onslaught of commercial values and practices that historians now call "the market revolution." Goodman illustrates this argument through William Goodell, whose experience "epitomized" the abolitionist conversion process. Through abolitionism, Goodell and others "sought to give order and stability to a society in which they perceived the old standards of morality and behavior being swept away by market forces that undermined republican virtue and sent Americans in pursuit of the chimeras of wealth, luxury, and aristocracy" (69).

Goodman's final sections trace the fruits of abolitionist commitment. Purified by their estrangement from the white majority, the abolitionists' egalitarianism prompted them to challenge inequities of class and gender as well as race. Their enduring legacy was a conviction of all peoples' common humanity that still shines as a guiding beacon today.

Deftly weaving individual stories into a fluent whole, Goodman's narrative is meaty and tantalizing. He is especially good at presenting the deterrents to abolitionism and the mindset it took to overcome them. Of One Blood satisfies cravings in recent historiography for a vibrant American anticapitalist tradition and for black agency in the antislavery crusade, but the causal links sustaining these points weaken under scrutiny. On Goodman's own showing, abolitionist commitment was more cause than consequence of interracial intimacy. Associating with blacks demonstrated white reformers' egalitarianism, but did not prompt it. "Garrison's encounter with the free black population of Baltimore was what ultimately converted him from colonizationist to abolitionist" (42). But he had already condemned racism before going to Baltimore. That white abolitionists took their cues from blacks remains to be shown. The British example, itself a powerful abolitionist inspiration, proved that personal contact was not prerequisite to conviction.

As for opposition to the market revolution as an abolitionist marker, it may work for William Goodell but it certainly does not for Lewis or Arthur Tappan. Goodman defines the market revolution so vaguely as to render his causal assertions about its relation to abolitionism untestable. There was nothing novel or unique in denouncing wealth and greed. Christians had been damning money-changers in the temple for centuries. And the particulars of Goodell's charge--sloth, luxury, licentiousness--were hardly the hallmarks of Jacksonian entrepreneurs (including the Tappans), who proclaimed and practiced an opposite set of values--work, thrift, and self-restraint. As Goodman shows, abolitionists seized with alacrity the tools of coordination, communication, and publicity that market integration made possible. Goodman grounds abolitionism in criticism of "the new bourgeois social order," yet abolitionist assaults on pride and privilege championed that very order (81). Goodman's reading of abolitionist condemnations of "aristocracy" to mean "market society" cannot...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 259-261
Launched on MUSE
2001-09-01
Open Access
No
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