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Chapter 9 gives attention to some of the voices and groups that were often excluded during the founding period. From the destitute dreams of a complete make-over of property laws, to individuals mistrusting all governments, to Native Americans, to women, and—last but not least—African Americans; what was their place and role in the body politic? The chapter includes selections from Thomas Skidmore’s The Rights of Men; from the American Transcendentalists; from speeches by Native Americans, including Tecumseh and Pushmataha; and from the early nineteenth-century women’s rights movement as represented by Abigail Adams, Mary Wollstonecraft, who as widely read among American women, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The arguments of these authors reveal inherent tensions between the liberal and the republican view of society, i.e., between the idea of fundamental equality of all individuals, regardless of their race, gender, or beliefs, and the classical republican recognition of diversity among members of society. The chapter thus raises questions about the relative merit of abstract and descriptive representation.
Douglass’s women’s rights activism was shaped by his multiple identities and experiences as an enslaved, then free Black man, an abolitionist, an activist and politician, a husband, a father, and a friend. It was also influenced by the various networks through which he navigated. Douglass was both a key figure of antebellum (mostly white) women’s rights meetings and an active participant at the Colored Conventions held regularly throughout the nineteenth century where, alongside abolition and the advocacy of Black rights, the situation of women was often raised in debate. Despite his self-description as a “woman’s-rights-man,” however, the consistency of Douglass’s feminist positions was weakened by the complexities inherent in maintaining a stable reform coalition centered on universal rights before and after the Civil War, when women’s rights were often pitted against racial equality, and the limitations of the early feminist movement, including its all too frequent exclusion of Black women from debates.
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