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Throughout the antebellum period, the beliefs in force and direct action splintered the abolitionist movement. Black leadership believed moral suasion failed to protect black people and produce liberation. For some time, Douglass’s endorsement of Garrison’s ideology was out of step with black leaders that wanted the ability to defend their humanity. This essay illustrates how Douglass’s thinking evolved regarding the utility of moral suasion and the direction of the movement overall. Through the force of events, Douglass’s stance in the abolitionist movement shifted from nonresistance to political violence. In time, he conceded and then advocated for emancipation by violent means. Douglass’s stance and celebrity shaped the movement. He helped usher the movement from a group of religious outsiders to a political force who welcomed a war of abolition.
The material conditions of the years between 1800 and 1830 rendered Black authors and much of African American literature “out of bounds.” Contributors engage literature by people of African descent outside of slavery’s fetters, or Black cultural producers creating work deemed untoward, or literatures developed outside the covers of bound books. In this period, the idea of Black literature was plagued not only by prohibitions on literacy and circumscription on Black people’s mobility, but also by ambivalence about what in fact would have been acceptable public discourse for people of African descent. This volume explores African American literature that elided the suppression of African American thought by directly confronting the urgencies of the moment, especially themes related to the pursuit and the experience of freedom. Transitions in the social, political, and cultural conditions of the decades in question show themselves in literary production at the turn of the nineteenth century. This volume focuses on transitions in organizational life (section 1), in mobility (section 2), in print circulation (section 3), and in visual culture (section 4).
This chapter explores the ways in which the interracial immediatist abolition movement of the early 1830s fashioned a conception of abolition as the fulfillment of commitments made at the time of the Revolution but which subsequent actions had left unmet. Casting themselves as acting in parallel to the founding fathers and expressing concern for the possibility of transmitting an unfulfilled revolutionary settlement to posterity, abolitionists sought to navigate their relationship with the nation’s founding documents. Attempting to systematize this relationship, some came to argue that the Constitution ought to be interpreted in accordance with the Declaration of Independence. Others would go further and argue that the Declaration was more fundamental than the U.S. Constitution itself. Just as earlier arguments had cultivated a sense of American national identity tied to the principle of equality, these variations furthered the association of the claim that “all men are created equal” with the American sense of self and contributed to the formation of a national identity with significant ideological content.
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