Means and Ends in American Abolitionism
by Aileen S. Kraditor

The subtitle is Garrison and His Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834—1850. The first 150 pages could be reduced to about 10 pages by making the point once instead of time after time. The point is that Garrison was not the one who drove out the abolitionists who disagreed with him. Instead, Garrison's critics who disagreed with him about women's rights, voting, and political action broke with him when he refused to accede to their demands to limit the movement to those who agreed with them on these other issues. The author proves this over and over. The book gets more interesting in the last 75 pages when she moves on to other topics.

Lysander Spooner is mentioned several times. He apparently wrote a foolish book to prove the US Constitution was not a pro-slavery document. This was when he still believed in the validity of the Constitution. Given that the Constitution is valid, and given that, slavery is wrong because it violated natural law, Spooner had to reinterpret the plain meaning of the Constitution to make it conform to natural law. This was done before James Madison's note on the Constitutional Convention were published, but it is still an exercise in wishful thinking and denial of the plain facts as everyone knew them. It makes me question the soundness of Spooner's book Trial by Jury. Maybe he was also engaging in wishful thinking rather than in history of the law when he wrote that book.

David Child and Lydia Maria Child are mentioned several times each as important leaders in the abolitionist movement. See my notes on An Appeal in Behalf of that Class of Americans called Africans by Lydia Maria Child and Tongue of Flame: The Life of Lydia Maria Child by Milton Meltzer.

Wendell Phillips comes across well in quotations against the Constitution and in favor of northern secession.

... the minority of Northerners who were aware of their section's complicity in the crime of slavery and worked in a variety of ways to publicize that complicity and end it were no more pathological than German anti-Nazis thirty years ago. The unrealism was not the abolitionists' for feeling guilty but their neighbors' for not feeling guilty. (21)
The transcendentalists were personally opposed to slavery, but the transcendentalist had "no objective standard by which he could deny the slaveholder's own version of truth," (24) so the spirit of transcendentalism was incompatible with a movement for change.
"The Quakers, in believing the Bible an inspired (but not the only) source of revelation, had a criterion, which the transcendentalists did not, for choosing between the abolitionist's and the slaveholder's intuitions." (36)
Garrison adopted the tactic of always stating the moral principle he was ultimately aiming to achieve.
"As Angelina Grimke explained, all human beings have the same rights because they are all moral beings. To suppose that sex gave a man more rights and responsibilities than a woman "would be to deny the self-evident truth, that 'the physical constitution is the mere instrument of the moral nature.'" Sex, she insisted, had no more to do with rights than did color." (45)
The core of Garrison's philosophy "was an insistence that every human being was equally, strictly, individually responsible to God to do His will as revealed in the New Testament. It repudiated governments based on force because force was incompatible with this equality, violated what Garrison interpreted as Christ's prohibition of coercion of any sort, and substituted human for divine authority." (59)

Because of the contradictory statements in the Bible, Garrison was forced, especially after he read Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason, to take a non-literal interpretation and to reject those statements that contradicted natural law.

"The Bible, if Opposed to Self-Evident Truth, I Self-Evident Falsehood." (93)

"Fines and prison terms were at that period (1836) imposed for more "offenses" than is the case today, including "offenses" that now are considered matters of private opinion." (108)

"Political action is not moral action, any more than a box on the ear is an argument." Garrison (177)

"Not Garrison but Wendell Phillips and Dr. William Ingersoll Bowditch worked out the detailed theory of the Constitution as a proslavery document." (208)

Wendell Phillips wrote,
"God, ... when he established the right, saw to it that it should always be the safest and best. He never laid upon a poor finite worm the staggering load of following out into infinity the complex results of his actions." (213)
The Garrisonians believed the slaveholders dominated the policies of the federal government. For instances: "the splitting off of Kentucky from Virginia, giving the slaveholders another state; the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and admission of the State of Louisiana; the War of 1812; the tariff (presumably that of 1816); the Missouri Compromise; nullification and the tariff compromise; the Florida war; the annexation of Texas; the Mexican War; and the conquest of the Mexican Cession—all by means of the federal government acting as the instrument of the slave powers." (240)

Edmund Quincy wrote:

"If wage slaves are worse oppressed than chattel slaves, why do we not see them clamoring for owners?" (251)
The Rhode-Island Anti-Slavery Society wrote:
"We expect not to dissuade men from their sins by concealing from them the fact that their conduct is sinful." (257)

"... innate moral capacities of slaveholders would permit conversion regardless of economic interest in holding their slaves." (271)

"Acceptance of immediatism was the sign of an immediate transformation within the reformer himself" "Surely, the same process could take place within the slaveholder." (271)

"gradualism cannot "lay hold of men's consciences."" (272)

Year Read: 1998


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