The Crusade against Slavery, 1830-1860

The Crusade against Slavery, 1830-1860

The Crusade against Slavery, 1830-1860

The Crusade against Slavery, 1830-1860

Excerpt

In that ferment of reform in which the generation of Americans before the Civil War participated, the movement to abolish the "peculiar institution" still holds the central place. It was an age of humanitarian preoccupations, in which reformers ranged over the whole spectrum of social change. They seldom advanced a single cure for all social ills. Instead, they turned from bankruptcy reform to public education, from women's rights to temperance and vegetarianism, from spiritualism to the abolition of capital punishment. Above all, the more earnest and courageous were ready and anxious to come to grips with the slavery question.

In the truest sense of that overworked term the reformer of that era was a radical, a radical in the sense in which Ralph Waldo Emerson would have used that term. In a famous public address delivered in 1841, Emerson declared that "the idea which now begins to agitate society has a wider scope than our daily employments, our households, and the institutions of property. We are to revise the whole of our social structure, the state, the school, religion, marriage, trade, science, and explore their foundations in our own nature; we are to see that the world not only fitted the former men, but fits us, and to clear ourselves of every usage which has not its roots in our own mind."

To these root-and-branch changes the reformer, notably the antislavery advocate, brought a sense of the vitality of American democracy, a broad humanitarianism, a Utopian vision, an evangelical fervor, and--it seemed to his opponents--a holier-than-thou attitude. To remodel his world he appealed to reason; he invoked the aid of religion; he engaged in enormous factual research; he fought his battles in the courts as well as in the press; he resorted to political action; he took grave personal risks; he engaged in conspiracies; and at times . . .

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