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IX THE L I M I T A T I O N S OF A N T I S L A V E R Y THE REVOLUTION ENDED WITH ALL THE STATES HAVING PROhibited the slave trade but with only two having moved against slavery itself. Yet it was perfectly clear that the principles for which Americans had fought required the complete abolition of slavery; the question was not if, but when and how.Although the majority of Americans failed to face this question, thus effectively answering the when with later, some men felt that abolition must come soon if not at once. No one, of course, pondered the possibility of direct revolutionary action—except, as will become evident in the next chapter, by Negroes themselves. Much of the energy of antislavery was discharged into newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets, leaving its traces lying scattered confetti-like throughout this literature. If the antislavery organizations are also taken into account, it is possible to detect a significant chronological pattern which dovetails with the timing of economic changes in the South and the development of American nationhood. Unquestionably there was an element of causality here, but it should not be overestimated. Certain characteristics of antislavery thought may also be said to help account for the decline of antislavery after the early lygo's. These characteristics pertained especially to the nature of Revolutionary ideology, and accordingly it is scarcely surprising that the Quakers stand out as exceptions; indeed certain incompatibilities emerged between the religious and secular impulses in antislavery. The over-all pattern was rendered still more interesting and complex by development of two additional interrelated impulses, humanitarianism and sentimentality, which themselves were not altogether compatible. All of which suggests that antislavery was not merely destroyed from without but weakened from within. [342] The Limitations of Antislavery 1. THE PATTERN OF ANTISLAVERY The first effective private societies for public secular reform in America had originated long before the Revolution as attempts to cope with increasingly pressing problems of urban life. The antislavery societies which sprouted up after the Revolution introduced an important new dimension, for while they were locally sponsored and aimed at local problems concerning Negroes, they shared similar problems and purposes which caused them to draw together into a national reform organization. It remained true, though, that most of the effective work was done at the local level, where benevolent individuals were able to derive satisfaction from tangible, if infrequent, local victories. Most antislavery societies were ostensibly state-wide, but in fact their memberships and activities centered in the larger cities, where organization was most feasible. In Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, that is, in states facing great but not insuperable difficulties, there were also a few local societies, but south of Virginia there were no antislavery organizations (except Friends Meetings in North Carolina ) : the name "South Carolina Abolition Society" would have been a contradiction in terms. The first secular antislavery organization was founded in 1775, The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes, Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Philadelphia was in several respects the most likely place for the antislavery movement to start. A variety of successful reformist organizations, most of them sparked by Benjamin Franklin, offered good example; there was an appreciable Negro population, both slave (a call to action) and free (a pattern to follow); and Quakers had always been in the vanguard of antislavery.1 Not civic consciousness, however, but a freedom suit in the courts first suggested formation of a society. The case affords a certain prophetic irony: the slave in question was an Indian rather than a Negro, and the suit was lost.2 Inactive during the war, the Pennsylvania Society reorganized in 1784 and bent its efforts especially toward "the relief of free negroes unlawfully held in bondage."3 Kidnapping of free Negroes cen1 . Turner, Negro in Pa., 209-15. For abolition societies more generally, Mary S. Locke, Anti-Slavery in America from the Introduction of African Slaves to the Prohibition of the Slave Trade (1619-1808) (Boston, 1901), 97-110. 2. Turner, Negro in Pa.,209. 3. In the 1780*5 the official designation was "The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and for Improving the Condition of the African Race." [343] W H I T E O V E R B L A C K tered in Pennsylvania, though the problem existed in all the states. In New York, where slavery remained...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469600765
Related ISBN
9780807834022
MARC Record
OCLC
861793501
Pages
696
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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