By Robert Fanuzzi
Echoes of Thomas Paine and Enlightenment inspiration resonate through the abolitionist stream and within the efforts of its leaders to create an anti-slavery interpreting public. In Abolition's Public Sphere Robert Fanuzzi seriously examines the writings of William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, and Sarah and Angelina Grimke and their mammoth abolition exposure campaign-pamphlets, newspapers, petitions, and public gatherings-geared to an viewers of white male voters, loose black noncitizens, ladies, and the enslaved. together with provocative readings of Thoreau's Walden and of the symbolic area of Boston's Faneuil corridor, Abolition's Public Sphere demonstrates how abolitionist public discourse sought to reenact eighteenth-century situations of revolution and democracy within the antebellum period. Fanuzzi illustrates how the dissemination of abolitionist tracts served to create an "imaginary public" that promoted and provoked the dialogue of slavery. notwithstanding, via embracing Enlightenment abstractions of liberty, cause, and growth, Fanuzzi argues, abolitionist method brought aesthetic issues that challenged political associations of the general public sphere and winning notions of citizenship. Insightful and thought-provoking, Abolition's Public Sphere questions usual models of abolitionist background and, within the approach, our figuring out of democracy itself. Robert Fanuzzi is an affiliate professor of English at St. John's college, long island.
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Extra info for Abolition's Public Sphere
Elizur Wright, a founding member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and one of the many abolitionist critics of nonresistance, found himself insisting on the place and role of the state in any antislavery initiative: “If you follow out your doctrine,” he argued, “surely you must cease having anything to do with Congress and State legislatures. ”23 As Wright clearly saw, nonresistance displaced the struggle for liberty from the sphere of constitutionally guaranteed rights, juridical positivism, and legislative sovereignty circumscribed by the state to what he considered a no-man’s land of political impotence.
Epithets may be rightly applied, it is true, and yet be uttered in a bad spirit, or with a malicious design,” he wrote. “What then? ”41 By invoking these legalistic standards, he evidently wanted abolitionist criticism to be seen as undermining the conWdence of the people in their government. He wanted his own libel of Todd to have this criminal intent, and he straightaway admitted that the truth of his printed criticism was irrelevant. Introducing himself to his readers in 1831 in one of his Wrst editorials for The Liberator, he attempted to prove that the reputed slave trader in fact represented the state: Slavery is legal.
Why, sir, that whole section of the country was racked to its every centre, and violence was everywhere awakened toward the active friends of the helpless. 48 For Garrison, the abolitionists’ moment of crisis was not merely their Wnest hour but their utopian moment, the point at which the “active friends of the helpless” gained the role of principle actor in a grand political drama. In this narrative construction, all the signs of the abolition movement’s disparity with the trends and temper of the time—the violent opposition to the discussion of abolition, the contrary disposition of popular opinion—obtained as evidence of an underlying continuity with a distant but sweeping historical movement synonymous with progress itself.
Abolition's Public Sphere by Robert Fanuzzi