The Antislavery Bulwark: The Antislavery Origins of the Civil War – Session 4

The Antislavery Bulwark: The Antislavery Origins of the Civil War – Session 4


– I’m Catherine Clinton. I’m a professor at the University
of Texas in San Antonio, and a research professor at
Queen’s University in Belfast. At the outset, I was asked
to offer a paper on behalf of some of the legendary
figures in abolitionism who could no longer be
with us on this panel. Really towering and important scholars such as the late LaWanda Cox, whose seminars held for several
years at City University were very stimulating and
engaging series of encounters, to which she invited
distinguished scholars like Herbert Gutman, emerging scholars like Armstead Robinson, and let graduate students in to peep at these very awesome, that’s my seat, Jim. (audience laughter) Thank you. You sit front and center, Jim, and we all are here to thank you so much for that very stimulating panel. (applause) And a wonderful day. I felt privileged to get to
re-encounter Betty Fladeland, whose death in 2008 robbed us of such an anti-slavery champion, her pioneering works,
her presidency of SHEAR. It did not surprise me,
but I was pleased to learn in preparation for the program that Professor Fladeland had been mentored by Alice Felt Tyler,
whose Freedom’s Ferment was part of the… Which intersects nicely
with David Blight’s keynote, which talked about the way in which we have
historiographical transformations and interpretation of the abolitionist movement. Merle Curti in his review said that Tyler was eschewing the pseudo-psychological interpretation of certain earlier writers, that she rejected the
condemnation of the reformers that was characterized by
the work of some writers whose sympathies seem
to have been enlisted as a defense of the Old South. He cites her expanding and rich look at this important time
in American history, even said that she
reinforces some of the points made by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. But following this trail, I read a review of Arthur
Schlesinger Jr.’s review of this book, and of course his own Age
of Jackson came out in 1945, a year after Freedom’s Ferment. Arthur, of course, didn’t need accolades, as he received a Pulitzer Prize, to assure himself of his
work’s own rightness, but in his assessment of Tyler’s book, he suggested in The New England Quarterly that “Mrs. Tyler sticks so
faithfully to the canon” that we can examine the
adequacy of this canon. He became agitated over social history, which is “a revolt against the sterility “of institutional and political history.” According to Schlesinger,
Tyler commits a series of sins. He includes the omission of Andrew Jackson to be fully treated as one of these sins. “For all of its pleasant
style and useful scholarship, “Freedom’s Ferment may
serve its main purpose “by suggesting the extent
to which the sideshow theory “is leading us up a
historical blind alley.” Well, I would suggest 60 years later that I’m not just gonna
allow Schlesinger to stand in for what I would call a
dismissive school of criticism of abolitionist scholarship as a sideshow, as I have suggested the
work of pioneering scholars like Kraditor, Fladeland, and Cox, may be well-integrated, but so, too, should the scholarship of
a generation of scholars who’ve been nurtured. I’m glad that we’re gonna
have a beginning here, Jim, but I think we need to go
back and reflect, perhaps, on the, and I hate to be
the one dropping the f-bomb, but the feminist scholarship, the early work of Ellen
DuBois, Nancy Hewitt, the vital studies by Christine
Bolt, Sylvia Hoffert, Eleanor Flexner, Blanche Glassman Hersh, William and Jane Pease, Stacey Robertson, Kathryn Kish Sklar, Jean Yellin, Wendy Venet, and the incomparable body of
work by Julie Roy Jeffrey. This also includes important
biographical studies very near to my heart by again, Stacey Robertson, Gerda Lerner, Dorothy Sterling, Margaret Bacon, Nell Painter, Margaret
Washington, among others. We all know the battle
over lists and inclusion doesn’t often happen up here on panels, but it’s more in the
bars, over dinner tables, and in the blogosphere. I know that my inclusion today is not because I wrote
my first seminar paper at Princeton 40 years ago on Maria Weston Chapman, who by the way is being
treated to a new biography, The Weston Sisters, coming out next year with UNC Press by Lee V. Chambers. But because I am both a
scold and a Cassandra. My repeated warnings, an update of Abigail Adams’ revolutionary advice to her
husband, “Remember the ladies,” has been really my crusade. If we’re gonna spend hours
in impassioned debate over language and interpretation, and sometimes reading these things, I think it’s not really… How can we spend so much time on words, although Sean almost convinces me the importance of these words. But certainly I live now
in the state of Texas, where the words of personhood
and how we interpret life and how we interpret property and how we interpret state intervention is very much a part of our day. So I do welcome the very
bracing, wonderful debate. Slaves, free blacks, women, we’re persons. They were denied citizenship
and legal status, and they needed a law to catch
up with modes of revolution, with what was set in motion
by the revolution of war, what was set in motion by
the realities of liberty. The emancipationist impulse
remains a power unleashed. And the role of abolitionism
is a stirring force which will unleash the next
three distinguished speakers. I’ve not asked them to keep to a text, but I’ve asked them really to comment on what they’ve heard here today, what they’ve learned over
their collective 120 years of scholarship. I’m asking each of them to speak, and then we will all assemble
up here on the platform. But they’re coming up, and so I’ll begin with Eric Foner, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. His list of awards and honors is long, serving as both the Pitt
Professor in Cambridge, the Harmsworth at Oxford, his alma mater, which he attended between
his stint as an undergraduate and a doctoral candidate at Columbia. His publications have
influenced several generations, from Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, Tom Paine, Reconstruction, which garnered five major awards, to The Fiery Trial in 2010, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize. Rather than rest on
his laurels after that, as we’ve all heard, his new
work will be coming forward, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of
the Underground Railroad to be published later this year. As a public intellectual, we’ve all appreciated his
commentary, his essays, his game show efforts
on The Weakest Lincoln, and especially my favorite, advising on the Hall of
Presidents at Disney World, which I think you know really
tops the list of influence. But James Brewer Stewart
is Emeritus Professor who will follow Professor Clinton, Emeritus Professor at Macalester College, training generations
of bright young people who left his campus for grad school. Thank you so much. He began his publishing
career with Joshua Giddings, The Tactics of Radical Politics, then published his
influential Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery in 1976, with a revised edition in 1996, which has kept it a bestseller. In 2008 his Abolitionist Politics and the Coming of the Civil War in some ways anticipated
our debates here today. His influential studies of
Wendell Phillips in ’96, William Lloyd Garrison in ’93, and Venture Smith in 2010, have really enriched our
appreciation of individual action in the field. His Sisterhood and
Slavery, co-edited in 2007, highlights a commitment to broadening our portfolio of understanding,
president of SHEAR. But I do wanna mention, as well, that his activist campaigning, his becoming a founding
member and director of Historians Against Slavery, which has taken him to countless campuses, which allow him to champion
slavery is not to be forgotten and we as academics and
trainers of students can have a role in
transforming our society, just as the abolitionist movement did a century and a half ago. So Historians Against Slavery, you can find a pamphlet out in the hall. And Sean Wilentz moved
quickly from Columbia to Balliol to Yale University, where he took a post at Princeton in 1979. He has been head of American Studies from 1995 to 2006. He’s held several chairs. Since 1998 he’s the Sidney
and Ruth Lapidus Professor. An impressive range of publications, I’m sure most of us are
familiar with Chants Democratic, published in 1984. His work on the kingdom of Matthias, centered here in New York
City, is one of my favorites, and his Rise of American Democracy in 2005 was named a best book. It won the Bancroft Prize, followed by his biography
of Andrew Jackson, his Age of Reason, sorry, Age of Reagan. Age of Reagan. (audience laughter) Quite a slip there, in 2008, but of course his legendary and envied role as a public scholar means that his accompaniment
of President Clinton on trips to Spain, Ethiopia, Rwanda, for the Clinton Global Initiative shows he’s looking to connecting
the past and the present, as well as serving on
the board of trustees at Princeton University Press and a contributing editor
of The New Republic. Perhaps his most envied position
is the scholar-in-residence at dylan.com. But on that note, we welcome
such a distinguished group, beginning with Professor Foner. (applause) – Thank you, Catherine. Thanks to Jim Oakes, again, and the others for organizing this fabulous conference. This panel originally had even a longer… History of history on it, that David Brion Davis
was supposed to be here, unfortunately is ill and not able to come. Jim McPherson, who couldn’t come, although he’s in good health,
so don’t worry about that. And then Jim Stewart and me. To quote the famous historian Yogi Berra, “it was deja vu all over again.” All of us who had written
about this long ago in one way or another, kinda hearing a new generation of scholars addressing these questions
is very gratifying. Personally, for myself, to have issues that were raised
in my first book long ago, and even earlier than that, my senior thesis at Columbia on the Free Soil Party, which was mentioned just
a little before this and which became the basis of
my first published article, so there’s still life in those issues yet. And then particularly to share
the panel with Jim Stewart. We first met in the summer of 1967. By the way, when you
said there’s, how many, 120, 100, 200 years of history on this, that’s only Jim and me. Sean is not even counted in that. But we met in 1967 in the Western Reserve Historical Society, where he was doing work
on his dissertation having to do with Joshua Giddings, and I was doing work on
the Republican Party, so we overlapped. The only thing I really
remember about that is there was a tornado warning, and we all were herded into, this doesn’t happen in
Cleveland all that often, but we were herded into the basement, where the old newspapers were held. So it didn’t bother me, I’m just still working. (audience laughter) But anyway… So Jim asked us, I guess, to just comment with some thoughts about what was said yesterday and today, and maybe some things that were left out. A couple of things that strike me about how the papers here today kinda fit together in a
new perspective, really, in many ways, one is what you might call kind of a long emancipation. In other words, this fits in with many
other things going on. Historians not to know
how to count, you know? We think the 19th century
went from 1789 to 1914. There’s now a Long Civil Rights Movement, there’s a Long Reconstruction, and there’s a Long Emancipation, which I think is very valuable. 1830, or the early 1830s, was
a turning point in some ways, but as we have heard in many papers, these issues go back long before that. Slavery was a political issue from the Constitutional Convention on up, in the early republic. And the 1830s was not as sharp a break. Many of the ideas espoused by the so-called radical abolitionists were actually repeated
things that were said in the 1810s and ’20s
and even before that. So I think that’s a very
valuable way of looking at this. The second point, of course,
we’ve heard a lot about it, is the complicated
interplay or interaction between abolitionism and
political antislavery. They are not sealed off from one another. They’re not the same thing, but their relationship is often symbiotic, not confrontational. I personally was always
annoyed at a certain brand of literature about Abraham Lincoln which poses Lincoln as the quintessential
pragmatic politician, and the abolitionists as his opponents, who are by definition
impractical and visionary, because they don’t always
agree with Lincoln, see eye to eye to him. Lincoln didn’t see it that way, and I think after the papers of today it’s very hard for any
historian to see it that way. Their relationship was complicated, but it certainly was not just antagonistic between pragmatism and utopianism. Jim also asked us to think about what might have been left out or could use more attention
after the conference here. I think one thing is we need to think more about the role of colonization in the antislavery movement
and antislavery thinking. This is not always comfortable for those who admire many aspects of the antislavery movement. Obviously the colonization
movement was deeply racist in important ways, but colonization was part of a plan, in fact, it goes back to Oakes’
point just a few minutes ago of state emancipation. In other words, it was a way
of trying to persuade states to abolish slavery, which was the only way
slavery could be abolished before the Civil War. It was a way of getting
emancipation with the consent of slave owners. We heard this morning,
I didn’t even know this, that even Rufus King
in that radical speech, said, well, actually
we should colonize them after the slaves have become free. Why did he think that? Or why did Lincoln for 10 years, 1852 to 1862, persistently advocate the colonization of African Americans
outside of this country? And by the way, luckily for Lincoln, for maybe somebody is
responsible for this, Lincoln gave two speeches before the Illinois Colonization Society that are lost. And we have the outline of one of them. If the text of those speeches existed, Lincoln’s reputation might not
be exactly what it is today. But more important is
why did Lincoln think this was such an important feature? Lincoln was on the board of managers of the Illinois Colonization Society. This was not just something he threw out in a speech to appease racist
listeners or something. For whatever reason, he
thought this was important. To me, the reason is, this is part of the only way you can think about abolishing slavery, which is getting states to agree to it. And slave owners are never
going to agree to emancipation if it means a giant new
free black population right on their doorstep. But anyway, it needs more attention. Now another thing that I
think needs more attention. The original title of my dissertation when I was working on it was not Free Soil, Free Men. It was, with a bow to
then Eugene Genovese, The Political Economy of Antislavery. I was gonna write the… If I can digress for a second, at that time you had
to register your title, your dissertation title with the American Historical Association. You actually sent a postcard down, and then they said okay and you carved out that
little piece of turf. Well, I did that and I
got back a note saying, well, actually someone else
is writing that dissertation. (audience laughter) The nightmare of any
graduate student, right? McDermott, McDermott is writing
your, he’s registered it. So I said, my god, what am I gonna do? I went to my supervisor,
Richard Hofstadter, and I said, “McDermott is
writing my dissertation. “What do I do?” (audience laughter) Brilliant guy, Hofstadter. He said, “Forget about McDermott. “You go and do what you wanna do, “and he’ll probably never even finish.” (audience laughter) And Hofstadter was right. McDermott never finished. I don’t know what happened to him! (laughter and applause) He’s probably selling insurance
or something somewhere. But anyway. I had to come up with a
different title, which I did. But I would still like to
hear about political economy a little more here. For example, the only
railroad we heard about today was the Underground Railroad,
which was extremely important. What is the connection of, we have heard about
antislavery as a moral issue, as a political issue, as
a constitutional issue, as a legal principle. We have not heard about economic interest as it affected the politics. And we know that politics is not just about morality and legality. I’ve been called many things, one of them being a neo-Beardian. I’m not trying to go back to the notion of the tariff being the
cause of the Civil War. But the form that antislavery
politics took in the 1850s was powerfully affected by
the economic transformation going on in the North at that time, the reorientation of
northwestern agricultural trade from the South to the East, the beginnings of a factory system. In other words, we have
to relate antislavery back to the emerging capitalist
society of the North. In other words, if there
was one takeaway, I think, from my first book, it’s that
antislavery is not just anti. It’s part of an affirmation
of a particular kind, what I called free labor society, and I think that element must
be included in a full picture of what the antislavery
movement is, who it speaks to, who votes, we didn’t
hear much about voters. Who actually votes for
antislavery candidates as opposed to not? There are people who
didn’t follow in this path. What is the social basis of
the antislavery movement? All those things, well, we
need to just look more at. David Blight said last night that he found abolitionists
a little too self-righteous, and he wouldn’t like to spend
a lot of time with them. Personally, I would like to have dinner with William Lloyd Garrison. I’m not sure I’d like to go on a drive across the country with him. (audience laughter) But I’d be interested in
chatting with him about things. I wanna reinforce a point that David made, which we all, I guess,
know, but sometimes ignore, which is the problem of
reading history backward, creating a straight line. Early antislavery, 1830s abolitionism, Free Soil, Republican,
Civil War, abolition. It’s easy, once things have happened, to create such a straight
line retrospectively. In a certain sense, I think to understand
political antislavery we have to get the Civil
War out of our heads for a while. People that we’ve been talking about today did not know that they were living in the Antebellum Period, right? (audience laughter) In some ways antislavery
was a desperate effort to find a way of ending
slavery peacefully. Peacefully, that was the only way to do it before the Civil War in a society where the
obstacles to that were enormous. It was almost impossible. In 1852, Lincoln said in a letter, he said, this is too difficult for me. This problem is too difficult for me. I cannot imagine how we’re
gonna get rid of slavery. He said, it may take violence in the end. There’s no other way that I can think of. Lincoln knew, we’d heard about
state-by-state abolition, Lincoln knew that Henry
Clay, his political idol, had spent 50 years trying
to persuade Kentucky, not the center of gravity
of slavery in this country, to abolish slavery peacefully. He started out in 1799 as a young guy in the Kentucky Constitutional Convention. He failed. 50 years later there’s another
constitutional convention, 1849. Clay says, we’ve gotta have a
plan of gradual emancipation. Forget it, nobody wanted
to listen to that. We know what happened when
Lincoln took state emancipation to Delaware, even in the
beginning of the Civil War. 1,800 slaves? This is not Mississippi. They told him to get lost. Forget it, Lincoln, we’re
not getting rid of slavery. No way. In other words, we should not think of
the antislavery movement as a growing triumph sort of
toward the goal of abolition. The freedom national plan,
which Jim has explained very, very well in his books and The Scorpion’s Sting, that once you’ve surrounded slavery, it would sort of kill itself off. Non-slave owners would rise up. Would that really have worked? Not a chance, in my humble opinion, although that’s what the
Republicans and others said their plan was. In 1858 The Chicago Tribune,
great antislavery newspaper, wrote, “No man living will see
the end of American slavery.” No man living. That’s 1858. In other words, these guys didn’t think they were on the verge
of a tremendous triumph. They thought they had failed in many ways. I mean, Frederick Douglass
is about to go to Haiti when the Civil War breaks out. He was so despondent, and even though he opposed
immigration for a long time, he finally said, well, maybe that’s it. Maybe we do have to get out of here. In other words, this morning we heard
people asking questions about the weakness of slavery. Slavery was not weak. Slavery was strong. There were more slaves in
the United States in 1860 than there ever had been in history. In fact, there were more slaves
in the Western Hemisphere in 1860 than there ever
had been in history. Despite the abolition of
slavery in the British Empire and in the new Spanish independent nations of the Spanish Empire. Slavery was growing, thriving, and getting rid of it
was not gonna be easy, which basically is only a way of saying that war created the condition, it was only the Civil War
that created the conditions for eliminating slavery. Now, David last night
reminded us of the danger of glorifying war, and I fully agree with that. Justifying war, bloodshed. I hate war, but I think
another way of looking at it is what W. E. B. Du Bois
said in Black Reconstruction. I’m sort of paraphrasing. He said, war is murder,
force, and anarchy. But sometimes good comes out of it. And that, I think, is the
proper tone or moral stance to take about the Civil War, that good can come out of war, which is, in itself, horrible. The historians who David Blight mentioned who talk nowadays about compromise, the old Blundering Generation school back, they should have solved this peacefully, don’t consider the cost of avoiding war. The cost of war is pretty easy to see. The cost of avoiding war
is a little more murky. If war had been avoided,
slavery would have survived, I think, almost into the
20th century, certainly. How far, I don’t know. Some economists say, well,
maybe the 1930s, The Depression, it would have become uneconomical. It would have survived a long, long time. And any abolition under
those circumstances would have been couple with other things, like probably colonization of some kind. And if war had been avoided
in the secession crisis, look at the compromise
plans that were put forward, that maybe they could have
avoided war if they were adopted, I don’t know. Stephen A. Douglas proposed
a national sedition act to make criticism of
slavery a federal crime. In other words, to avoid
war there were other costs, like democracy and freedom of speech. (audience laughter) This is not to justify war, but it’s to say that… If we’re gonna say that the war should have been avoided at all costs, then I think one has to put
forward a plausible scenario for the abolition of
slavery in the United States without the Civil War,
which I have never seen. Maybe someone can come up with it. So basically I come away where
David started last night, with the thought that the
Civil War, despite everything, was an irrepressible conflict. So thank you very much. (applause) – Good afternoon. I wanna explain what’s
been going on with me for the past… Well, almost 24 hours, 48 hours. Before all of this started, all of the people who gave papers sat in a seminar room someplace else, talking to each about their own papers and what they would change in
what they’d already written, given what other people had
told them from their papers. I had the absolutely fabulous experience of just being able to sit back, not participate, not have
to put on my game face, none of that. But just to listen to this
dialogue or conversation keep wrapping around itself until after a while I began to figure out that I had enough of it in my head to try and think sort of
seriatim through the whole thing. What I’m gonna try to do now is to go through basically five questions, two suggestions, and one concluding thought, which are all in one way designed to see how far this big
new direction can take us. What I’m doing is I’m not
criticizing what’s been done. What I’m trying to do instead is to get into it from ne angles so that we can enhance the
conversation and deepen it. And I must say this is great fun for me, because back when I was
giving my presidential address at SHEAR in 2005, I made
this absolutely nasty remark about the fact that political history and the history of reform movements, particularly antislavery,
live in alternate universes. And back then they did. They just passed like ships in the night and nobody cared. And now here we are. So actually, all I’m trying to do is to say this is a very
fulfilling occasion. It began when Eric and I rode out the tornado in Cleveland. (laughs) That’s another interesting
part about all this, and this does get to something that Mike Pinkster talked about, about using history in one way or another to try to speak to the present. While I was doing my work in Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio exploded with the assassination
of Martin Luther King. And what happened in the streets included the burning of a high school in a black community named
after Joshua Giddings. There were half-tracks and tanks going down Chester Avenue in Cleveland when I was doing my research. The reverberation between then and now has been with me ever since. Which is why I do
Historians Against Slavery, and do believe in a
variety of different ways that we did get into this business, because something annoyed us about the way the dark-skinned people are treated in the world. And we might want to be a
little bit more forthcoming about that motivation
when we write things. So anyway, I promised five questions, two suggestions, and
one concluding thought. You gotta remember here that what we’re talking about is something that begins with
Mansfield, goes to Madison, who hasn’t been talked about
a lot, but I hope Sean does because he’s very crucial in ways that are terribly surprising in this whole personhood development. We go from Lord Mansfield to James Madison to Rufus King to Salmon
Chase to Abraham Lincoln. Which is a huge transit of time. And if you’re gonna have a longue duree, which is I think what
people are gunning for here, you have to be able to
show how this thing adapts as time passes. And as other knowledge
that’s sitting out there about the way the politics
and political culture works impinges on this longue
duree as it moves along. So my five questions
are really about that. I wanna know about
competing political values, and I was so glad that
Manisha talked about that with respect to Lincoln, but right now I’m
reading a biography draft of Edward Everett written by Matt Mason. Now Edward Everett believes in personhood. He’s also a doughface. He’s somebody who values the Union in very, very strong ways, has deep political convictions that go way beyond the whole business of advancing his political career. He is all over the place
with conflicting values that have to do with personhood and Union, and there are a lot of people like him. The reason he’s so interesting to me is because Edward Everett
is a great orator, and he lives right next
door to another great orator named Wendell Phillips,
whose biography I’ve written. The point is that they’re in
conversation with each other because they’re dueling
for the same audiences. It seems to me that it’s
really, really important to try to pull out this dialogue, because it’s a very painful
dialogue for everybody, and it’s central to what’s going on. That’s question number one. I want to know about
religious imagination. It’s amazing to think about morality as it’s been discussed in political terms for this whole period of time without any real reference at all to the idea that somehow morality is grounded in some sort
of spiritual experience, ’cause it is. We don’t even have to go
back to talk about how much we discuss religious identity and the creation of antislavery. What we’ve done now is
talked about Quakers and pretty much that’s it. I would like to suggest that
during the period of time that this big longue duree is going on, the United States, westward expansion is filled
up by denominationalism, and that these denominations
in a variety of different ways behave like political parties. In other words, they tend to try and bridge
sectional differences in order to be able to create
a common religious culture and a common sense of faith, and at the same time coming together across
cultural differences, you begin to see slavery close up and the same kinds of afflictions
that begin to take over the two-party system in American politics starting in the 1830s is something you’ll find happening
in denominations as well. And personhood is all
over these denominations. That’s number two. Third is something we’ve
talked about already, because Eric talked about it. Elections and electorates. I couldn’t second more
what we heard about women. I mean, we have this huge rich literature, and I’m particularly
close to Stacey Robertson. We do a lot of different things together, and she’s taught me a great, great deal in her last big book,
Hearts Beating for Liberty, about how female abolitionism
goes well beyond petitioning, goes well beyond antislavery affairs, to really be involved in the creation of local
political cultures. Another person who talks about this a lot and we’ll hear more from is Bob Gross in all the research that he’s been doing on those kinds of question
in Lexington and Concord, where women rule. They just do. And political culture
is established there. There’s been a long discussion
in all this paper presenting about how important local concerns are, how important it is to
have enclaves of freedom of one kind or another. I think you have to really
start down at that level, because I think Alan Kraut was
right a long, long time ago when he titled one of his
articles on the Liberty Party Vote as You Pray, Pray as You Vote. That’s number three. I wanna know more about
evolving constructions of race, which has been something
that’s been bothering me for a long, long time that I wrote about quite a
bit at the end of the ’90s. ‘Cause I don’t think it’s
the same set of experiences in broad form to have dark skin in an urban area in 1790 as it is in 1830. I think it’s much harder. My feeling is that
there’s a strong evolution that goes from patronage, and I think we’ve heard a lot
about that in Sarah’s paper, of privileged whites doing a
variety of different things in manumission societies in New York in tandem with ordinary
African-American people, and opening up a whole
range of legal and… Emancipatory routes for them. By 1830 what you have, I
think, is herrenvolk democracy. All the black people that
used to live in Cincinnati now live in Canada as a consequence of
the riot there in 1829. On into the 1830s the
violence simply continues. I want to know how personhood
fits into all that. That really takes me
to my last suggestion, which is to really talk
about how personhood itself evolves as it’s applied. One of my favorite people,
obviously, Joshua Giddings, would stand up on the floor of Congress, talk about personhood, and then talk about divorcing the federal government from slavery and then laughing at slaveholders as the slaves rose in
insurrection in the South and the federal government
refused to send in the troops. Personhood from him
endorsed slave violence, and I don’t believe it
did for Lord Mansfield. There’s got to be a
way to be able to trace the evolution of this
concept all the way through. So those are my five suggestions for developing things. Now I have two other
suggestions because I’ve found that this whole conference has invited me to
reperiodize the narrative of the sectional conflict. I couldn’t believe this
happened to me, but it did. You know, you usually
do what Eric was doing just a few minutes ago. You sort of roll through
the convenient dates and we start with the gag rule
and we go into Mexican War, and then we go to Compromise of 1850. Such and such. I think that there are two
absolutely crucial moments in the coming of the Civil War narrative trying very hard not to
anticipate the war coming, okay? I’ll give you that. I think that the decade of the 1820s and on into the mid-1830s is
an absolutely crucial time. The world is different
at the end of that period than it is at the beginning. There’s a legacy of the Missouri crisis. There’s all this racial modernity that I’ve been talking about and writing about in other places. Sarah… How do I say your name? I have it written down here. – [Sarah] Gronningsater. – Thank you very much. She shows you that there’s
a whole new generation of really serious black people who are up and running in the 1820s and are gonna make a huge
mark in the 1830s and ’40s. We also know that there is this closure, this shutdown that
we’ve been talking about ever since 1819, and that’s all implicated
to this two-party system. It seems to me that that sets a situation in American politics that
had never been there before, and through which the
whole concept of personhood has to be addressed as it goes through. Okay, and that’s one place where I would change the narrative if I were just trying to write it, Civil War for Dummies. I’d do it that way. The last thing that I would do from the standpoint of reperiodizing, I would write a chapter on the
political crisis of 1851-52. And the reason I would do this is because while I disagree
with practically everything else Michael Holt writes about it with respect to political motivation and its relationship to moral questions, he’s right about one thing. He’s right about the fact that at the end of the Compromise of 1850, once that thing is in place, once everybody stood up
and said, this is finality, and that’s the term they used and that’s why I think
Eric’s point is so important, about how you feel being an abolitionist as you get into the 1850s and further on, there’s a Union Party now. Neither of the two major parties is gonna say another word about slavery because the slavery question is settled. Now, Holt goes on to say you have to invent a bunch of new issues to get everybody riled up again, and it’s all got sort of
a cynical tinge to it. But he’s right about the
fact that voter participation in that ’52 election
is way, way, way down. There’s a kind of alienation of voters that we should vibrate
to all over the place, given where we find ourselves today with the Republican
and right wing takeover of where we are. Nobody has a political outlet
to say anything about slavery. Period. So what do they do instead? They do vigilance committees. They do Uncle Tom’s Cabin. They get themselves involved in what you would call
surrogate politics, I think, and that kind of surrogate politics is very, very militant, very frustrating, very difficult to do, and I think people come out of
that two-year period of time with a very different understanding of their relationship to
slavery than they did in 1849. And so when Stephen A. Douglas floats out this new way to be able to
think about all this stuff, he’s running into a northern electorate that he can’t recognize. And personhood is all
implicated in all that as well. Those are my two periodization pieces. How much more time do I have? Oh, I’m gonna do, it’s good. (audience laughter) Now I have one concluding thought, and I’m really, really puzzled about this. And it does get me back to
why I got into this business in the first place and why, I’m really glad that Eric talked about the tornado and all that. I remember how excited I
was when I read his book. At the same time I think
about the other people who were addressing political history and the sectional crisis at that time. One is Hans Trefousse,
who used to be here. He wrote biographies of everybody and then he did a book on
the Radical Republicans, the whole first chapter of which was antebellum political history. I even go back further. In a way it seems kind of like… Of course there’s Dick
Sewell, who should be here. I mean, if anybody besides Eric is the modern progenitor of
what we’re talking about now, he’s the guy. And I’m gonna tell him that
when I get his e-mail address back from David Blight so that he can know how alive and well he is in this room. But it even took me back
to Gilbert Hobbs Barnes. I was going back to a chapter
called The Broadening Impulse, which is the last chapter of his original book that got us going on this
stuff in the first place. When I look at the way that Corey Brooks has developed all this
and put so much depth and embellishment into that line, which is not, in some sense,
a new line of investigation. It’s so much more deeply
and comprehensively done the way that Corey does it that it’s really, really surprising. Take that in one place and leave it there. The flowering of political
history is wonderful, but I am totally flummoxed by the fact that I can’t connect
personhood to equality. To racial equality. It’s very, very hard for me to do. When I hear that there’s
a Republican Party that’s expecting non-slave
holders in the South to follow Hinton Helper, to create an antislavery coalition that’s going to abolish
slavery state by state, I can’t see equality there anywhere. The whole Free Soil
business still seems to me something that leaches out the deeper kind of egalitarian vision that abolitionists have had
ever since the very beginning. And Eric will probably
want to just tell me to get off the stage when I say this, but it seems to me that
if you go into a Civil War with such an emphasis
on abolishing slavery and so little discussion
of racial equality, you’re gonna come out the end with a book by Michael Perman called Reunion Without Compromise. And when you do that, yeah, the amendments
are terribly important. I don’t want to be misunderstood at all. The amendments are
absolutely the lifeblood of what we have to fight for
and continue to work with. But at the same time, it seems to me that what
upholds reconstruction in the long run is not a white commitment
to much of anything. Albion Tourgee got it right when he talked about bricks without straw. What holds it up is
African-American courage and political agency. And at the same time,
radical reconstruction as we would like to think about it is pretty, pretty short
as a congressional thing, even though it’s got a long history as it plays itself out in
the former slave states. So I leave this whole
question of personhood and its relationship to equality in a very, very skeptical mood, and I’d like somebody
to help me with that. Thank you. (applause) – Somebody drop a pencil? (audience laughter) That’s yours, oh. Very good. (audience laughter) Little bit of housekeeping, just a little bit of housekeeping. I wanna thank the organizers, not just for putting on the conference, but for doing a conference
that involved old people and young people together. And I mean that. That meeting that Jim
was just talking about, that seminar we had, to see people who are in their 60s and people who have not yet gotten their dissertations barely done talking together about
history the way they were, that’s very rare in our profession. And you guys set it up that way. And watching what happened this morning, it’s just been great. So I thank you for that,
really very, very much. I’m here pinch hitting for Jim McPherson. I’m glad that Catherine mentioned Jim. David Davis was my dissertation advisor. I taught in a seminar with
Jim McPherson for 25 years. So their absence is not an
absence, it’s a presence, and I’m here to say that. There’s that. No tornado stories. What else do I wanna talk about? Okay, no more of that beginning stuff. I wanted to actually
look back a little bit. Rather than looking to what we need to do to go further into the future, I wanna take a little bit more of a look at where this conference,
this new beginning, what it’s breaking from. What we’re saying no to, or maybe saying, I don’t quite get it. I don’t believe it. It’s implicit throughout the papers, and I want to get into that. First of all, John this morning
talked about how hard it was to get the proposition across to American historians, let
alone the American people, that slavery was the
cause of the Civil War. It’s taken us 50 years to get that. Except that’s not quite right. Slavery wasn’t the cause of the Civil War. Institutions don’t cause wars, rebellions. They just don’t. Wars and rebellions come
out of political crises involving human beings, in which one side won’t abide anything other
than rebellion or war. So that’s what we’re talking about. That’s the cause of the Civil War. It’s not about slavery, it’s about the conflict over slavery and how that conflict developed. That is to say it’s about
antislavery and proslavery. Those are the causes of the Civil War. And to the extent, and
I believe this is true, to the extent that
antislavery was the greatest and certainly the most
effective revolutionary force in modern history to be fought against by the counterrevolutionary
upholders of slavery, then I think you can say that antislavery led to the Civil War. But it started long before 1830. It started actually, as John said, long before 1775. It’s a very long story. Great revolutionary
movements don’t just happen. It takes a while for them to happen. The question we’re really
grappling with, then, is what was this antislavery that helped lead to the Civil War? Here I think the conference
and where we’re going really is breaking with, and this is gonna be something
of a caricature, I admit. But I think insofar as it
carries any plausibility, hang in there with me. An account of what antislavery was about. We start with the American Revolution, which was, according to what I think is the dominant narrative, basically conservative regarding slavery. Strengthened slavery
more than anything else. If there are heroes they were the British. Lord Dunmore freeing
slaves in Virginia, right? That’s what the Revolution was about. There were humanitarian
efforts, to be sure. Manumissions in Virginia after the war, gradual emancipation of the North. But there weren’t that many
manumissions, it turns out. And gradual emancipation, well, it was really deeply conservative. Hemmed in by white racism. It freed no slaves. It left the children of those slaves to stay in some sort of bondage, some sort of involuntary
servitude for decades. So what? All capped off by the
American Constitution, a fundamental proslavery document. In so many ways. We’ll get into that about Madison when I get to the other stuff. Okay. So all capped off to a Constitution that’s fundamentally proslavery, a covenant with death. Garrison was basically right. Garrison was basically right. Thereafter slavery only picks up steam. The election of 1800, 1801 brings the election of the negro
president Thomas Jefferson, elected only because of the 3/5 Clause, which begins the Virginia dynasty, which begins a long period
of slave holder domination. The slave power begins in 1800, 1801, when John Adams is removed and Thomas Jefferson comes in, okay? It keeps on going in that direction. The 3/5 Clause really does work. The Constitution, proslavery Constitution, ensures slave holder domination
of the federal government. There is some kind of
antislavery out there. It’s very genteel. It’s very federalist. It’s very quiet. It doesn’t really get anything done. But it’s there, and it fades away. Gradual emancipation ends in 1804. That’s it, no more. So the abolitionist stirrings are there. There’s the Hillhouse amendments. There’s all that stuff that
floats around Congress, but it always gets defeated. One thing after another. This thing does happen
in Missouri, though. What was that about? Kind of comes and goes, though, right? And the South won. Slavery is introduced, not introduced, is allowed
to continue in Missouri. And out of that comes the
invention of the Democratic Party. The most racist,
reactionary, proslavery force in American politics of the 19th century. Why? Because the southern and then Republicans, the southerners allied
with doughface northerners to get Missouri through. The Missouri crisis happens. Why it happened, we’re not quite sure, but it only furthered the domination of the emerging slave power. The only semblance of
slavery was colonization. To the extent that there
was anybody talking about the need to maybe end slavery, it was the American Colonization Society, which had, I’m not sure I
agree completely with Eric. There’s a lot of racism there, but there’s also a lot of white people who were saying, we’ve been
really bad to the slaves. And if we free them,
they’re gonna hate us, and it’s not a good idea, and they can do better somewhere else. There was sort of a
benevolent view of all this. Reparations, if you will. In fact, the word was
actually used, reparations. But that was antislavery. Not much to write home about. Then things began to change in the reaction against colonization. Colonization proved to be, in some ways, the turning point, because the reaction against colonization by blacks above all and then by the Garrisonians, when Garrison breaks with
the colonizationists, starts abolitionism. That’s where it all begins. An enormous, wonderful movement arose of heroic men and women fighting for racial equality
as well as the end of slavery, but facing enormous suppression, the gag rule, all the rest, and then finally splitting
among themselves, really not getting that much done, even though they give a great example to the American people. Then, though, America
starts expanding west. And then we have Texas and
we have the Mexican War, and a lot of white northerners
want to stop slavery getting that land. So antislavery comes up a different way. But these are not abolitionists. These are primarily anti-southern, pro-free labor, white supremacists who want to keep the West lily white and try to keep slavery out. They have an antislavery animus, no question about it, but they’re hardly egalitarian. And ending the suffering of black slaves is not at the top of their minds. That’s not what they
are about fundamentally. It’s those people who elect
Abraham Lincoln president in 1861. The South, in a fit of madness: I mean, why would they do this? He’s gonna leave slavery
alone in the South. Why are they doing this? They secede! Crazy, crazy, nuts. (audience chuckling) Eventually, though, this
is a warning for the Union. It is only the contraband slaves and the abolitionists who push
Lincoln and the Republicans to go for the Emancipation Proclamation. And then, as Nevins said,
war became revolution. Okay, does that sound familiar? (audience laughter) I mean, it’s almost like
you’re supposed to say, yeah? Okay, so? There’s been a pushback
against this narrative for about 10 years. And it’s been a very hard slog. I’ll tell you some stories. I think this conference
marks a breakthrough. Marks a breakthrough in
breaking with that narrative. In very important ways, in part because, well,
mainly because that narrative is fallacious. It’s fallacious in conception,
it’s fallacious in facts, and it’s fallacious in execution. If you’ve been attending, and you’ve all been attending these talks, one paper after another
has been punching big holes in that narrative. One after another. We find, for example, that
radical antislavery thought came way before the American Revolution. John Blanton showed us this. It’s there with the Diggers, the Ranters, the beginnings of Protestant dissent. Antislavery’s there. I’m in a sort of odd, position, actually. I contributed a paper to this conference that you haven’t heard, and
now I get to comment on it. (audience laughter) Which is brilliantly conceived, and I have to thank the
organizers for that, too. But basically I found out, I discovered, I think I’ve discovered. I don’t know if I’ve convinced Eric yet. I’m still trying. That there were a series of
debates in ladelphia in 1787 that no one has seen before. And they involve precisely the
issue of property and slaves. Can you have as property human beings? The issue actually came up. It came up repeatedly. The South Carolinians with
the help of the Georgians, they’re pushing it very, very hard, and the North, with the
help of Madison, says no. What that means is that… What that means is that greater minds than anybody in this room, Abraham Lincoln, Salmon
Chase, didn’t quite get it. They were more right than they knew. Roger Taney and the complete case for the confederacy in
secession, is based on a lie. Or, I’ll make it softer. An historical falsehood. So that’s a different kind of constitution than we were talking about. Slavery’s protected, but it’s not quite what we thought. Gradual emancipation. Gradual emancipation
isn’t so conservative. Gradual emancipation
opens up possibilities. After emancipation, after
these laws are passed, the action doesn’t stop. There are all sorts of actions going on, to allow slaves to marry. To allow slaves, not just
the people who are freed as indentured servants,
but allow slaves to marry. That’s not coming willy nilly from the New York state legislature. That’s coming because the cause continues, and it’s not just a bunch
of effete federalists. To me, effete federalists… It’s kind of, what should we say? It’s redundant. (audience laughter) But I say that with a smile and a cheer and you all know that
I’m just kidding, right? But it’s not just a bunch of rich guys sitting around, paying a lot of dues to drink sherry and, no. They’re working very hard and they’re working with Absalom Jones. They’re working very hard with all of the black ministers in town in Philadelphia and New York, primarily. The alliance between whites and blacks, that didn’t come out of Garrison. That had been there all along. That had been there all along. And it was in part because of what was going on
with gradual emancipation. Sarah’s paper in particular shows how gradual emancipation
was a kind of incubator for antislavery, as well as changing the
status of those people. There was something not so gradual about gradual emancipation. There’s a difference between
being an indentured servant and being a slave. A fundamental difference. I mean, indentured
servants can get married, can own property. The chattel principle’s broken. That happened immediately. And there are lots of other
little curlicues in those laws that were passed. Some slaves actually did get freed in the first couple of years because of the ways that
the laws were designed. But even apart from that, it set something up for the future. It set something up that we
think only started later. In fact, it was part of
this grand sweep of things. So again, things don’t look so simple. The politics of, I think of it as the divorce
of slavery and state. That’s really what the Free
Soil people were about. I’m not saying that this all
came out of the Jacksonians. Believe me. But insofar as they were
talking about getting rid of the money power by
divorcing bank and state, so the Free Soilers were talking about ending the slave power by divorcing slavery and state. Basically what they were about. That looks very different from the white supremacist,
anti-southern people who just wanted to get the
slavery out of the West. There’s a fundamental commitment there that goes much deeper. Well, I could go on with
the rest of the papers. I suspect I’ve got one minute left, right? Okay. My point is only that I don’t
know where this is all going. I mean, I suppose if
I had 10 more minutes, I’d give you my rap about
where it’s all going. But I’ll spare you that. But something’s happening here. Something is really happening here, and I’m not gonna quote Bob Dylan, but something is happening here. (audience laughter) For that, I think we’ve all been treated to an extraordinary display
of intellectual fireworks, of opening up possibilities
in the study of history that we didn’t know were there. And for that, I think the conference has been an enormous success. Thank you. (applause) – Well, success or not, we certainly have had a rousing time, and you be the judge, and we
like to have more questions. Please, if you don’t mind, just frame your comments
in the form of a question. So who would like to go first? – [James] Or maybe it’s just
too late for everybody here. – Here comes a question, whoops. – [Catherine] Yes sir, step right up. And what’s your name? – [Bob] I’m Bob Williams. I’m from the University of Massachusetts Department of African-american Studies. – [Catherine] Oh thank you, Bob, okay. – [Bob] I’m a PhD candidate. I was curious… Last year I read The Fiery Trial, an extraordinary work, by the way. And one of the things I
really was fascinated by was looking at the evolution of Lincoln, specifically the impact that
the exigencies of the war had on his thinking about slavery, and how this was kind of
a transformational period, that transition space. I’m wondering how you
think, Professor Foner, the exigencies of that transition space changed the Republican
Party as an institution going into that, and how does this contend with
the Freedom National thesis? – That’s an excellent question. It would require quite a long
answer, maybe a book, really, which we don’t have time for here. But interestingly, it raises another thing which needs to be discussed more, which is exactly the Republican
Party as an institution. It’s a carrier of ideas, but
it also becomes very quickly a powerful institution with its own institutional
needs and imperatives. And the war solidifies the
Republican Party very quickly. When Lincoln is elected, the Republican Party is
only a few years old, and it’s a collection of state parties with very different
constituencies and elements from the Democrats, the
Whigs, the Free Soilers. It becomes something very
coherent very quickly because of the pressure of war. I think that’s very important. I don’t think it has a lot to do with either Freedom National or any other particular idea. I think, as we’ve heard, most Republicans seem to hold that idea, as we’ve heard, that slavery
is a state institution and the federal government
should have no connection with it and can quarantine it, etc, etc. But the war is a revolutionary experience. People’s ideas change rapidly. Their experiences change rapidly. Lincoln is only one example of how people two years into the war are
saying and doing things that would have been inconceivable in 1860 in normal times. So the war is the crucible of change, both in the country and
in the party itself. I agree with that. – [Catherine] And the inconceivability was earlier this morning I received an e-mail from Jim McPherson, where he said very much he
was sorry not to be here and wished us all well in our discussion. So the gentleman over here on the left. – Professor Foner–
– Your name? – [Shawn] Shawn Griffin,
I’m a PhD candidate here at the Graduate Center.
– Thank you, Shawn, okay. – [Shawn] Professor Foner,
since you raised the idea of political economy, you wrote some years ago, many years ago, on politics and ideology
in the age of the Civil War about whether or not the idea
that we’ve been discussing for much of the day,
that the abolitionists, that the antislavery movement isolated this idea of property and human beings as the one that could and
should not be commodified, and you wondered in politics and ideology whether that isolation of that idea, and I may be misquoting you here, but something to the effect of, did that foreclose the possibility
of more radical reforms of northern society, either
in the antebellum period or later on with its implications
for the post-war period? I just wonder if you or
anyone else on the panel has thoughts about that–
– Yeah, just, I mean, you know, David Brion Davis raised this back in his book, The Problem of Slavery
in the Age of Revolution. I wrote a little article one time about the labor movement and
the abolitionist movement. I mean, the argument being
that the isolation of slavery, of property in human
beings as uniquely evil, tended to divert criticism or attention from other forms of property
and other forms of inequality. I wouldn’t argue that in the
stark way that I just did, but it is interesting that, and we didn’t talk about it today, but most abolitionists
criticized greed, materialism. They saw slavery as an
example of a broader… Excessive interest in economic
profit in the country, but I don’t think they
had much of a critique of class relations, property relations. Maybe it was too early for that. The early labor movement
was quite critical of the abolitionists
for their indifference to quote unquote wage slavery at the time. So I think without assigning
blame one way or the other, I think this question of property, which has been discussed a
lot this last day or two, there’s more to come. There was the question of
marriage, which has been raised, property in women under coverture, and the general question of property. But if property in human
beings is illegitimate, does that mean all the other
forms of property relations are therefore okay? Some people said absolutely. This is one extreme exception to an otherwise pretty just society, and there are others who said, no, this slavery is an example of a larger problem of inequality. So that debate went on long
after the Civil War, obviously. – Just an additional thought. The person that I think is
most attuned to this problem over the course of his whole career within abolitionism is Wendell Phillips. – Yes. – And it’s fascinating to watch Phillips try to figure this out
before the Civil War and he can’t do it. He spends a lot of time
talking about poverty in Europe while he’s doing his tour. He’s trying to ask himself
the question at that time, is poverty slavery? And he keeps saying no. It’s the same kind of response that Garrison had to England, and to the dark satanic mills
and all that sort of thing. Once slavery is abolished, or once slavery is on the
carpet for being abolished in the middle of the war, suddenly it becomes possible for him to expand his horizons
beyond the easy acceptance of the idea that there is such
a thing as slavery of sex, because that’s what his wife told him. To be able to go further
on to really start to think about property relations. But that’s real late for a guy’s career. And then after that he
ends up in a labor movement where his basic recipe
is everybody oughta vote. There’s very little understanding of really strong class conflict. The idea is that politics
solves class conflict. So we’re a long ways away from talking about all
that in a serious way. – If I can just jump in, too, on this, it’s a fascinating question. On the working class business, though, I mean, there is a way in which, first of all, first things first. Wage labor, well, but we
have slavery to deal with. Slaves would love to be wage laborers. So there’s a sense there’s a way in which we’re gonna take the
real problem and deal with it and then whatever happens happens. But that’s not a defense
of capitalist wage labor, that’s just a matter
of political priorities and the overwhelming problem of slavery. Secondly, the constituency thing, the research that I’ve
read on the Liberty Party and the Free Soilers shows a great deal of working class support
for those parties. Lynn, all the factory
towns, they’re going for, and it’s not the managers
who are voting for it. In fact, they’re voting against it. They’re the Cotton Whigs. But the question of
property is interesting too, because there’s a lot, this is a stage in the development of
American political economy, where lots of different kinds of property are being invented, not
just slavery and free labor. There’s the whole panoply of
stocks, bonds, what have you. The land question, which is crucial for the Republican Party. There’s a whole party
that develops saying no. We should have freedom to land, land should not be commodified. That’s a big deal. But that’s happening across the board, so it’s a matter, I think,
of stepping back in part, getting back to political economy, seeing where the entire country was in this question of property
that Jim’s making so central, seeing where it is across the board. Because now that we’ve opened it up, it becomes a bigger deal. – [Catherine] Yes sir, your name? – [Michael] Yes, Michael Walters, doctor of letters
candidate, Drew University. You may have addressed this
question just previously, but this may require some elaboration. – [Catherine] Let them do the elaborating. (audience laughter) – [Michael] Chattel slavery is gone, but given the vast degrees
of income inequality, and given that around the world, the incident in Bangladesh
with the workers dying in the factory a few years ago, to what extent can the
slave power of the 1850s be compared to corporate
conglomerates today trying to keep wages down in the world, and thus creating, not chattel slavery, but a world in which workers are at the mercy of these conglomerates? – I’ll try it. (laughter and scattered applause) It’s supposed to be the kind of stuff that I should be able to answer. Where we have to start, I’m gonna try and make this really simple. The slavery that we’re talking about was embedded in law. And John C. Calhoun could
wave the statute book at you and show that slavery was legal, and all of these new forms
of property documenting they were talking about, with
insurance and stocks and bonds and all that kind of stuff, that Sean’s just been talking about, is applied to slavery all over the place. And Seth Rockman, who teaches at Brown, has this huge database
showing just how much of the northern economy
was completely dominated by the products of slave labor, or things made to make the
products of slave labor. So that’s old slavery. New slavery you can begin to understand when you understand that North Korea has an antislavery code. Slavery all over the world is now a floating signifier, okay? The two systems are so radically
different from each other that it’s very difficult to make any kind of
clear, straight analogy between the one and the other. It’s just impossible to do. The importance of your
question is its heuristic value in being able to see why that
transference doesn’t happen. You begin to see modern
slavery more clearly, and I’ll take this a lot farther and say that the African-American
experience, if you know it right, with slavery and subsequent
forms of oppression, is a history that allows you, by a combination of analogies,
comparisons, contrasts, to be able to see this
invisible institution a whole lot more than you ever did before. And so the answer about wage slavery is really difficult. Think about somebody coming
from the Chinese countryside who’s impoverished, who’s gonna go work at one of these huge corporations assembling your cell phone. And don’t think about the miners who are excavating rare metals in order to be able to make this happen who are working behind barbed wire in northern China as well. She goes into a huge
factory, an assembly place, which is, again,
surrounded by barbed wire, guarded by people with machine guns. Lives in dormitories,
can’t get off campus, and you talk to her
about why she’s doing it, and she says, I want to do this. Because that’s better than
starving in the countryside. The whole business of beginning to learn what coerced labor is is the best outcome of asking the question whether or not it’s slavery. You understand what I’m trying to say? But it’s a much more complicated situating in the present as
a result of being assisted by the set of contrasts from the past that allows you to get there. That’s the best I can do for now. I can do a lot more, but that’s all I got. – [Catherine] Thank you. Gentleman here, your name? – [Robert] Robert Spiegelman,
I teach sociology at Fordham. – [Catherine] Great. – [Robert] Okay, a couple of things. There were some allusions
in the papers read to sophisticated critiques
of the slave power, which I’d like to hear a little more of. Specifically, did any of those critiques in the abolitionist and antislavery camps actually have any kind of
class analysis going on there? To wit, in New York City at the time, did the slavers, which I think they did, know that the Bank of New York was a shipping industry creature that helped finance their
slaving operations in part, and cotton, as the panel knows? – [Catherine] Okay, so you’d
like them to ask the question– – [Robert] Well, no, I have a little more. – [Catherine] Very short, please. – [Robert] Okay, I’ll
make it really short. – [Catherine] Thank you. – [Robert] Did they know that Moses Taylor was hooked up with the
First National Bank there? Did they know that Philadelphia and Boston had similar connections? Did they think that England
was gonna stay with them as a trading partner, etc, etc? So, in other words,
there’s the longue duree, but there’s also a context, and I wanna ask people to address, what was this critique from the antislavery abolitionist camp when it comes to class and those kinds of
institutional forces, if any? And so I wanna applaud Eric
bringing that to the fore– – Many, many people were aware of the kind of connections
that you suggest. The antislavery movement,
one of its slogans was the Lords of the Loom
and the Lords of the Lash, the factory owners, and using the cotton
produced by the slave owners. New York City was totally tied in with the marketing, shipping,
financing, insuring, you name it, of the cotton crop. By the way, there were
slaves in New York City after 1827 on the streets of New York, because it wasn’t until 1840 that New York abolished what
they called slave transit. These guys could come up to New York and have a slave with them
for nine months until 1840, so even after abolition you
saw slaves on the streets here. So that was pretty well known. In fact, New Yorkers publicized it. New York, they advertised
in the newspapers, southerners, we’ve got
things for you in our shop– – 1861. 1861, was it in DuBois? I think somebody wanted New
York to secede from the Union and join the confederacy. – Right, that’s what Fernando Wood said. – Fernando Wood, the free
republic of New York. – But the question of class conflict, I mean, that’s a long story, but I think, no. The abolitionists, who had a
modern sense of class conflict at this time? Nobody. They talked about class,
they talked about, yes, the slave-owning class, etc, but the abolitionist was not
attuned to class relations within the North, maybe because, as Sean said, slavery was the overriding evil. But they were uncomfortable talking. When they heard about wage
slavery from the labor movement, it wasn’t simply saying, well, let’s deal with slavery first. They said, no, no, no. The wage relationship is fundamentally different from slavery because you can leave your
job, you can negotiate, which of course is a strong argument. The labor movement said, well, what about all
these exploited workers? Why don’t you say anything about that? So this debate went on and on in that way. But one shouldn’t look for the modern rhetoric of class conflict, whatever it is, back in the 1830s. – [Robert] But was the South so crazy to think that they could get away with the secessionist break when they had allies with that? – Were they crazy? Well, Sean said that was
part of the old view, that they were crazy. So today we think they’re very rational. – They had their eyes on Cuba. They had eyes on bigger
things than New York City, let me tell ya. – [Catherine] Let’s see if we
can get in some more voices. Yes. – [Roy] Hi, I’m Roy Rodgers. I’m a PhD candidate here at
the Graduate Center in history. My question is for Dr. Wilentz, but also for the panel and
the conference more broadly. One of the things that, this new narrative that’s
being developed here, that I think doesn’t
have a clear answer to and maybe you can provide one, is I’m convinced that
the first emancipation was a much more clear
white/black successful alliance that made real political gains, but this new narrative doesn’t
really have an explanation of why those alliances broke down by the ’20s and by the ’30s. The old narrative has
a clear answer, right, that they were weak
alliances and white racism can easily overpower them. But if they were more successful, as I think particularly the
first session today showed, why would they have broken down? What is causing this? – [Catherine] Okay, thanks. – Sarah would know more about this than I, but they don’t completely
break down, first of all. And they continue. There is a continuity, actually, between the first and
the second emancipations. All kinds of whites and blacks
who were involved before 1825 and are involved after 1830. So it’s not as if these two things are two different movements. There is something happening, though. There is what in this little
group that’s assembled is called a shutdown. There is a process whereby after Missouri and after Denmark Vesey and after all of that stuff, the Whigs and Democrats
agree: we gotta stop this. They’re not called Whigs yet, they’re called National Republicans. We’ve gotta stop this. We cannot have slavery in
national political discussion. That is what breaks things
down more than anything else. And that’s what requires
the reinvention of, and I still think that the Garrisonians should be called political
abolitionists, to an extent, at least in 1833, the reinvention of all of that. It doesn’t break down, though, for really that long. The Abolition Society is
still going in 1827, ’28. They’re not dead. They’re limping. (laughs) But they’re not dead, and then
they required to be reborn. – [Eric] They’re on life support. – They’re on life support. But then Garrison gives it to them. – Yeah, another part of
that answer, I think, can be approached this way. It’s, I think, sort of miraculous that there is that continuity. Because it seems to me that there is something
very much more vicious that begins to become a
racial project in the North starting after the Missouri Compromise and is clearly in place just at the same time you’re
having Nat Turner’s rebellion, just at the same time that
you’re having nullification, just at the same time that The Liberator gets published for the first time. And the fact that there’s this survival in what now is a herrenvolk democracy, I think that it’s amazing that you can get that kind of continuity, because you’re moving
from an earlier period, where you can see those alliances being based on clientage and deference, and now we’re in the
world of self-made men, where those kinds of relations
are a lot harder to sustain. I’m writing a piece right
now for another anthology on Wendell Phillips and his whole approach to the business of
working with black people. This is maybe one of
the wealthiest families in the United States. He’s one of the most
perfectly bred aristocrats there is in the whole wide world. He wants to live in a world of deference because he was brought up in a Beacon Hill even though he doesn’t live there anymore, and having to just struggle
through in this world to try to figure out how to develop constructive
relationships and sustain them with African-American people anytime after 1830, the people who do it are
really amazing, it seems to me. – [Catherine] Gentleman over here. – [Matt] Hi, I’m Matt Axtell, I’m a grad student at Princeton. My question is for Professor Foner. I wrote down two things that you said. I was hoping you could try
to put them together for me. First, to understand
political abolitionism, we need to get more out of our minds, the war out of our minds. And the second is, and
this might be a paraphrase, is that slavery only ends with war. So to put those two together, you have a political movement
that one of its goals is to end slavery non-militarily, and then if slavery only
ends with military action, when we get the war out of our minds are we just studying a political movement that in some ways failed on its own terms? – Well, you know the old phrase, consistency is the hobgoblin
of little minds, right? (audience laughter) When I say get the war out of our mind, we have to come back eventually to it, but I’m just saying we
can’t write this history as the inevitable march toward war. That’s not how people were thinking in the 1830s, ’40s, and ’50s, that they were involved in a movement that was going to culminate in war and that was going to use
war to abolish slavery. I think the point is
once the war takes place, you have two things simultaneously. On the one hand, as Jim as been arguing, you have a preexisting set of ideas about how you might attack slavery. The cordon of freedom,
whatever you want to call it, freedom national, state
emancipation, whatever, those ideas were forged
in a different world, in a different circumstance,
for a different context, for a context of peace. But nonetheless, they’re still there, and people can use them in
a different context of war. On the other hand, military
emancipation is going on also, which is a completely new thing. Nobody before the Civil War was saying, hey, let’s have a war and
abolish slavery that way, except maybe, I don’t know, Alvin Stewart or somebody? – [Sean] John Quincy Adams. – When I say get the war out of our mind, I’m just saying we can’t understand these people before the war as if they are planning a process which is going to produce war, ’cause that’s not how they’re thinking. Once the war happens, it’s
a whole new situation, but they’re still the same people. They’re drawing on ideas
from before the war to figure out what to do now in a totally different context. – [Catherine] Gentleman over there. – [Kiran] My name is Kiran Schnor, I’m a student at Hopkinson High School. My question is a bit
more about historiography than anything else. The speech that Professor
Wilentz just made is kind of eye-opening to me because I probably haven’t
had been in the trenches to change this narrative like some people who are here and speaking today, because I’m still in high school. (audience laughter) Yeah, it does tend to affect it that way. – [Catherine] Wait ’til your freshman year to change the narrative, okay? Thanks. – [Kiran] What I’m interested in is I still get that kind of narrative where I go to high school, and I think we’re a
fairly progressive school when it comes to history. While it not be the full-blown, the South was stupid to do this, antislavery didn’t exist
in large quantities, everybody qualifies it. I had to go to my English teacher to get that kind of definitive analyzation that you just made. And so my question is, what gave rise to that whole narrative? Why did historians feel the
need to make that narrative, and why did people accept it for so long? (whistles) (audience laughter) – You know, wait ’til
you get to college, man. (audience laughter) – No, I think you should
apply to Columbia. We need students like this. – No, Princeton, Princeton! – Macalester has a really
good history department. (laughs) – I’ll give a little bit of it, okay? I think there was a turn in the early ’60s where the North had to look
worse than it actually was. And it had to do with civil rights. The civil rights movement
had to do with equality. When you made the issue equality, the North doesn’t look so good, right? But equality wasn’t
necessarily the issue in 1850, in the 1850s. So that, by the time you get to the 1850s, the North, Abraham Lincoln, they’re looking milquetoast, right? We’re not gonna abolish
slavery in the South. Well, of course they can’t do that by the Constitution the way they see it, but they just looked like
wimpy antislavery people. And that was based on an idea of there being a kind of
universal racist consensus in the North, I believe. I completely agree with Jim
that something is happening that’s making racism much more vicious. I don’t believe that
there was that consensus. – No, that’s right. – But I think that that is part of what lies behind the idea that the antislavery
commitment in the North was much weaker than it was. It was, in fact, not that weak at all. – Just to add to that a little bit. The politics of being a graduate student in the 1960s when it came to questions of things like SDS, questions
of interracial alliances, and the whole business of Black Power, began to develop a
historiography that went with it, where Bill and Jane Pease, for example, in their book in the early 1970s are talking about two abolitionisms, one black and one white. It’s as if the two things existed on other sides of the
moon from each other. That really is a reflection
of a tremendous amount of racial tension that’s
going on right in this society while people are writing these books. It’s perfectly understandable. It also was a moment where, after struggle after
struggle after struggle that goes all the way back to William Nell writing about the colored patriots of the American Revolution
before the Civil War, all the way through John Hope Franklin, all the way through Benjamin Quarles, to take black abolitionists seriously, while the segregating
of these two movements is not the move that
we wanna make anymore, it did highlight black abolitionism in a way that was never before. – [Catherine] In deference, we will have three more questions. So I want you each to
please just state your name, your question succinctly,
all three of you, one, two, three. And then our three panelists
will each get to pick one. (laughter) So please tell us your name and go ahead. – [Kerima] Hi, my name is Kerima Lewis and I teach at Bridgewater
State University in Massachusetts. – Thank you. – [Kerima] The discussion today
has been very enlightening, even though I’m an Early Americanist, but one of the things, and I think I’m following
up from Professor Stewart, who was talking about these two camps of blacks and whites, and what I wanted to hear more about to make the black
abolitionists come alive, because you know, when you talk about them in a group so to speak, but to make their experience come alive is to understand what
they were going through during this period of history. What that entrenched racism was about, how they couldn’t find jobs, and how they were subject to kidnapping and just the life experiences and what was their
relationship in New York with enslaved people. Even though they’re going through all that they’re going through, they’re still trying to participate in this abolitionist movement, and I think the audience needs to know what life was like for free blacks who were dedicating their lives to saving their enslaved
brothers and sisters. I just would like to hear, and I don’t think I heard
a lot in this conference about the participation of free blacks in this movement, which I
think was just as important in this alliance with whites to rid this country of slavery. – [Catherine] Okay, thank you, next. – [Lisa] Hi, my name is Lisa Kapp, and I teach at a high school in Brooklyn, the Saint Ann’s School. And I just wanted to ask
you while you’re here which document or two would you single out as one that would illuminate
some of this new narrative, even for high school juniors or seniors? – [Catherine] Great question. Final question? Take notes, gentleman. – [Andrew] My name’s Andrew Lang, and– – Speak up a little bit.
– I can’t hear you. Move in to the mic. – [Andrew] Is that it? Okay. Professor Stewart, you were talking about–
– Your name? – [Andrew] My name is Andrew Lang. – Thanks.
– And you talked about changing ideas of race and the
rise of herrenvolk democracy, and I was wondering if you could talk more about what that looked like and what kind of democracy
was it changing from and what kind of democracy
it was changing to. – The first question and your question are the same question. – Right.
– Right. – So you can answer them both. – You can answer both. (audience laughter) – Okay. There was a guy named, I
think his name was William or Edward Abdy, who was a British foreign traveler who came to the United
States and found himself in Hartford in 1834, when a pastor who was succeeded by a guy named J.W.C. Pennington was trying to establish a church there, someone whose biography
I’ve helped to write, a guy named Hosea Easton, black minister. Edward Abdy talked
about how shocked he was to see little street urchins, white kids, pelting African-American
men and women with rocks and screaming at them, “Nigger,
nigger, nigger, nigger.” The whole business of day-to-day activity as a high profile African-American
community organizer, expositor of religious
equality, any such thing, is one of the most dangerous
things in the world that you can do in the 1830s. I’m really surprised, in a
variety of different ways, that there was as many black abolitionists in that period of time that were willing to put their head out of
a foxhole as actually did. There’s an earlier way of being able to look at the African-American experience that has something to do with elite, very well-positioned
African-American people, particularly in Philadelphia, who do represent a black elite. This is towards the end of the
18th century into the 19th. And a third way to be able
to get involved with this would be to bring Shane White up here, who has done all of his stuff on African-American street culture and the whole business of daily life and the kinds of ways in which
African-American lower orders organized themselves in a
variety of different ways that are terribly surprising
and really, really interesting. So all I’m trying to suggest is there’s no one answer to that question. There are moments of stark terror. There are moments of satire. There are subversive things that go on. And there are people like James Forten, who is an extremely wealthy African-American
sailmaker in Philadelphia, who can sit down with Benjamin Franklin and talk to him, or Albert Gallatin, about anything he wants. That’s the best I can do. – [Catherine] And there
is a book by Shirley Yee on African-American women abolitionists, a kind of prosopography,
a group biography. And I believe the documents question, for some of you who’ve been
benefited by a fellowship from the Gilder Lehrman Institute, you might think of some
of the wonderful documents available here in New York. – This is available at any library. We had a whole paper about it, and that’s the Rufus
King speeches from 1819. The reason I say that is because it shows how early on how deeply radical was coming out. But also because, now Mike Johnson may
disagree with me about this, but allegedly, Denmark Vesey in Charleston used those speeches to recruit
people to his conspiracy. That’s what came out during the trials. Now, whether that was coerced, who knows? I can see Mike’s students
are already shaking, no, no, no. Maybe they were out to get King, but the point is, that’s a
document that’s not just there for what it said, but for how
it was read, how it was used. Even if they didn’t do that, the southerners were scared enough of that that they said that Denmark
Vesey was doing that, so it doesn’t really matter. That’s the one I’d do. – I would just add, and
this you can find anywhere, it’s online, obviously, the Declaration of Sentiments of the American
Anti-Slavery Society, 1830, what is it, 1833? – Yes. – Because that’s where you
get, in their own words, what they stand for, what they want, how they wanna go about it, and it’s a much more complex and nuanced document than many times one might read in a sentence in a textbook or something like that. If you just show that to students, you say, this is what a group of both black and white abolitionists were demanding in 1833, and it helps to set the
country on this course. So take a look at that. – [Catherine] And if
you want to know more, read all the books that
have been mentioned today, all the books coming
out of this conference, and thank the great public
university and our co-chairs, Jim Oakes, John Stauffer. (applause)

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    Gaston Lachaille

    His proposition is absurd. We might as well blame the Jews for starting WW2, because they didn’t accept persecution by the Nazis.

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