Slavery on Trial: Law, Abolitionism, and Print Culture

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Slavery on Trial - Law - Abolitionism - and Print Culture by Jeannine | Fruugo

Get to Know Us. Customer Service. What I found is that they were just ordinary American citizens, and many non-citizens, actually. Ordinary people: black and white, men and women.

US law has long seen people of African descent as fugitives

But really to see them as part of a broader movement, with its own ideology, with its own print culture, with its own organizations. Absolutely, I do. I think that somehow the notion that abolitionists were these northern, middle class bourgeois reformers who were basically armchair philosophers who had no idea about the reality of slavery is a caricature that is derived from defensive responses by Southern politicians and slaveholders to the rise of the abolition movement. Many of them had simply erased the black presence in the movement.

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I also did not want to do a book that only looked at African Americans in isolation, as many had done before me. Because I think if you do that you cannot understand their impact on the broader movement.

It was very important to me to reimagine the movement as an interracial movement, and to look at the oppositional space that it created for these interactions to take place. There were relationships of cooperation, sometimes of conflict, too. In order to do that, I thought it was important for me to write the broader history of abolition and look at the emergence, especially, of fugitive slaves in the movement.

So, the latter half of the book is really devoted to what I call fugitive slave abolitionists, of whom Frederick Douglass was only the most outstanding—there were a whole slew of them.

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I guess you could say, perhaps, some historians have placed anti-slavery activism from whites in one camp, and slave resistance in another, and you join those together. What are some specific acts of slave resistance that you could share with us that really drove the movement, that informed how people thought about the abolition of slavery in the United States? For the early period, I talk a lot about the impact of the Haitian Revolution on the abolitionists imagination. This is true not just for the French and the British, but also for American abolitionists. I have, I think, ample documentation in the book on that.

And what was interesting to me is that Garrison was one of two editors to defend Nat Turner.


Now, Garrison is a pacifist; he believes in non-violent tactics, and, to me, just the statements that he makes on slave resistance and slave rebellions become a very important window into the abolitionist mindset on this issue. Now, besides certain slave rebellions that push Anglo-Americans on the issue, I also look at the famous Christmas rebellion that acts as a catalyst for British abolition. I look, really, at what I call these fugitive slave abolitionists who fed into the movement.

If you look at many of these iconic cases around fugitive slaves, or slaveholders sojourning with their slaves in the north, you can actually tease out this relationship between grassroots black activism and anti-slavery law and politics. I looked at many of these court cases and what I found was that alliances were being built, not just amongst black and white abolitionists, and abolitionist lawyers, but also with anti-slavery politicians. So, the notion that these abolitionists are these crazy agitators with no understanding of politics, and that they were not into reading in that sphere is rather simplistic and goes against the historical record.

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  7. Many of these cases—the Latimer case in Massachusetts—all of this leads to Craig vs. In addition to being very active in the movement to abolish slavery, which was perhaps as radical as some people have thought it was, abolitionists were involved in many other reform movements as well. Do you think that the history of abolition can tell us something about other reform movements, either contemporaneously or perhaps after emancipation as well?

    They look to the plight of free white wage workers in the north, also. Many of them are involved with the international peace movement. So, it was interesting for me to look at all these transnational networks of protest that abolitionists were cultivating and the ways in which contemporary radical movements overlapped with abolition.

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    This is not just true for white abolitionists, as is usually told, but true of black abolitionists, like James W C Pennington and William Wells Brown, who attended international peace congresses, become known in the movement, and became known to European radicals and revolutionaries.

    Certainly, abolitionists form a lot of connections with European revolutionaries during the revolutions: there are connections with Russian reformers fighting against serfdom, there are connections with Indian nationalists questioning British rule. To me these international connections were really important because historians have pretty much ignored them, and it was important to tell that story. Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison date unknown.