Colonization and Its Discontents: Emancipation, Emigration, and Antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania

By Soderlund, Jean R. | The Historian, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Colonization and Its Discontents: Emancipation, Emigration, and Antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania


Soderlund, Jean R., The Historian


Colonization and Its Discontents: Emancipation, Emigration, and Antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania. By Beverly C. Tomek. (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2012. Pp. xxiii, 296. $65.00.)

Pennsylvania has received significant attention as the center of Quaker opposition to slavery during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and as the first government, in 1780, to enact a gradual abolition law. The colony/state had a record of reform that was both moderate and earlier than elsewhere in North America. Individuals who wanted an immediate end to slavery on the basis of its immorality and injustice, including Quakers William Southeby, John Woolman, and Anthony Benezet, had to settle for the more gradual approach of patient lobbying and publication that eventually swayed their more conservative colleagues in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and the Pennsylvania legislature.

Beverly C. Tomek offers an interesting analysis of antislavery movements in Pennsylvania, starting with the development of opposition to slavery among Friends then focusing more intensely on the Pennsylvania Colonization Society (PCS) and its relationships with other antislavery organizations during the early nineteenth century. She argues that other historians have been remiss in discounting the PCS's work against involuntary bondage, contending instead that the society's goals were more humanitarian than its parent, the American Colonization Society (ACS). Tomek offers evidence that the PCS shared some members with the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS), which had acted strenuously to enforce and expand the powers of the gradual abolition act during the late eighteenth century but took a less vigorous role particularly in comparison with the stances of African American leaders in Philadelphia and the Garrisonian Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. …

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