View the H-SHEAR Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in H-SHEAR's October 2004 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in H-SHEAR's October 2004 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the H-SHEAR home page.
Response to W. Caleb McDaniel, by Stanley Harrold I thank W. Caleb McDaniel for his sophisticated review of my book on the Addresses to the Slaves. At a time when at least one major historical journal limits book reviews to 450 words, it is a luxury to have one's work receive extended careful analysis. I do not agree with everything McDaniel writes. I am nevertheless indebted to him for his thoughtful and engaging essay. I also thank H-SHEAR for providing this forum. The Addresses to the Slaves are strikingly ambiguous regarding peaceful versus violent means, their audiences, and the relationship between northern abolitionists and southern slaves. They invite an approach that holds ambivalence, contingency, contradiction, impreciseness, and error, rather than clarity and certainty, to be reflective of a past reality. Yet I did not want _The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism_ to be ambiguous. I strove to describe ambiguity clearly, which is a more difficult task than I realized. McDaniel understands things in the book differently than I intended them to be understood. This will be the case with other readers as well, and that is as it should be. My contention is that the Addresses, despite their ambiguity and the differences among them, mark a turning point in the antislavery movement. As Gerrit Smith stated, northern abolitionists during the 1830s had directed their antislavery appeal only to southern masters and northerners. They rejected having anything to do with slaves. This, Smith declared, was a "guilty error" that implicitly recognized the right of masters to their slaves and impeded antislavery progress. It did not take an extraordinary imagination on Smith's part to reach this conclusion. By 1842 appeals to white sentiment in the North and South had made little progress against slavery. As Garnet indicated in his Address, abolitionists had to open "more effectual door." Once again it did not require a great imagination to conceive what that more effectual door might be. Slave escapes had been increasing, two spectacular slave revolts had occurred at sea, and a few abolitionists were going south to help slaves escape. From that point onward abolitionists, both black and white, became more aggressive in their rhetoric and actions, more willing to advocate violent means, and more engaged with slaves. But I did not mean to use this "rise" of more aggressive and inclusive abolitionism as a "determinate trope." A more aggressive abolitionism did not spring fully formed from the Addresses to the Slaves, rather it arose gradually and hesitantly with plenty of contradictions. Much of the book deals with the opposition among Garrisonian and political abolitionists to the Addresses, to the debates between Garnet and Frederick Douglass concerning violent means, and to a debate over whether or not enslaved men had the masculinity to be effective allies. Members of Smith's interracial faction of radical political abolitionists worked the hardest to create an abolitionist-slave alliance. _The Rise of Aggressive Abolitionism_ does not contend that slaves were the "immediate" audience of the Addresses. Instead they were a "distant" audience. But does that mean abolitionists were not increasingly aggressive, or that they did not become more likely to contact slaves and embrace slaves as allies as time passed? I see no contradiction between an imagined abolitionist slave alliance and the real development of such an alliance. The Addresses were more an acknowledgement of a transformation underway than the initiators of a transformation. By the late 1830s white abolitionists had increased their cooperation with "front line" African Americans, and slaves in the underground railroad. This involvement continued throughout the 1840s and 1850s. The large Fugitive Slave Convention at Cazenovia, New York in August 1850 brought black and white, female and male abolitionists together with fifty escaped slaves pledged to provide violent assistance to slave revolt. Abolitionists and escaping slaves were allies during the 1850s as they used violently aggressive tactics in a defensive struggle against the Fugitive Slave Law. Contrary to McDaniel, John Brown's most recent biographer indicates that Brown did find slave allies. "The raiders," writes Louis A. DeCaro Jr., "enjoyed initial success in attracting slaves from Virginia and Maryland." According to DeCaro, slaves burned "the barns of all the jurors" who convicted Brown. Not until 1863, however did a massively aggressive abolitionist-slave alliance emerge, as Abraham Lincoln finally endorsed the enlistment of thousands of black Union troops (most of whom were still claimed as slaves by their masters) in what had become a war to abolish slavery. Notes . Keith P. Griffler, _Front Line of Freedom: African Americans and the Forging of the Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley_ (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004). . Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., _"Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown_ (New York: New York University Press, 2002), 264, 268, 275. Stanley Harrold South Carolina State University firstname.lastname@example.org