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Date: Thu, 03 Nov 2005 12:12:01 -0500 From: Richard Newman <email@example.com> Like others, I have really enjoyed the string of e-mails on abolitionism. I cannot remember a more gripping group of responses in the past few months. I wanted to offer just a few thoughts but also let people know that this discussion is quite timely: John Stauffer and I will be co-directing an NEH summer seminar for schoolteachers on abolitionism at the Library Company this summer in Philadelphia. It is co-sponsored by SHEAR. Another post with information on the seminar will be available soon. But if any of you know teachers interested in attending such a seminar, please have them e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org As for this exciting discussion over abolitionism, politics, etc, prompted by Michael Pierson, Frederick Blue and Matt Mason et al's dialogue on No Taint of Compromise, I thought it important to highlight the fact that no abolitionist group should actually receive credit for ending slavery -- or even having a plan which brought about slavery's demise. That honor, most of us would agree, belongs rather ironically to the Confederacy. and of course to runaway southern slaves. No crucible of Civil War, no mass emancipation. Thus to talk about Garrisonians as less effective than practical abolitionists of various stripes is off the mark. Indeed, one might argue that once the Civil War began, all of these roles that we have been outlining were reversed: Garrison was a forceful proponent of union-backed emancipation, the arming of the slaves and recruiting of free blacks, while many practical abolitionists worried that this would be a much too radical step for Northern, not merely southern, whites to accept. But I would not even go to those lengths to resurrect Garrisonians. For before the war, they articulated views of equality and justice which became the foundation of American race relations into our own time. As Gordon Wood has argued in connection with revolutionary ideology, people need words and ideas to make actions meaningful. Garrisonians' emphasis on the essential nature of freedom for all regardless of race emancipated, as it were, antislavery reformers from an 18th-century discourse which connected black freedom claims to masters' notions of compensation or at least to societal notions of safety (witness gradual emancipation laws!). Of course, this very discourse on equal rights flowed from African-American protest. Thus, the fact that Garrisonians and many black abolitionists later parted ways over tactics, though of obvious importance, may also be viewed as less significant in the long run, especially(to repeat what I said above) when we remember that the Civil War was not immediately about abolitionism. To read Free-Soilers' and many Republicans' speeches these days requires constant reminders to our students that their racism was "part of its time" or was "not as bad as that of others." To read Garrisonians, on the other hand, is to step into a truly modern discourse of rights and liberties -- with no qualifications, except those that say this radical form of abolitionism may not have addressed every practical concern of a corrupt political system at the time. Do we say this of Malcolm X. in the 1960s? (I.e., that he was "precious" because he was not in the south battling segregationists). Do we say this even of Martin Luther King in the 1950s? (I.e., that his support of nonviolence rather than rigorous party politics was disconnected from on the ground activism?) Do we say this even of Frederick Douglass in the 1840s, when he refused to countenance Henry Highland Garnet's address to the slaves? (I.e., Douglass' emphasis on what he termed "the moral means" was completely ineffectual?) Finally, let us not forget that to be a Garrisonian activist was no precious affair at any point during the antebellum era. With perhaps no greater than two to five percent of the population abolitionist, it meant something real and concrete in a local community to stand for immediate emancipation, full black equality and so forth -- and it meant something very definite to critique publicly the hypocrisy of northern as well a Southern politicians. Martin Luther King spent nights in jail for his beliefs; so too did William Lloyd Garrison. There is absolutely nothing precious or unpractical about that. It was and remains courageous. Of course, reading Fred Blue's wonderful work, or that of Stan Harrold and Jim Stewart, reminds us that there was indeed a spectrum of abolitionist activity, and that we need to constantly pay attention to time, place and context. But to talk about full emancipation in any way requires paying homage to Garrisonians as well as black activists and others. Cheers to all for a great conversation! Rich Newman ----- End forwarded message -----