"A FAITH FOR FREEDOM"
THE POLITICAL GOSPEL OF ABOLITION
HISTORIANS HAVE LONG HELD that the roots, character, and conduct of the abolition movement grew out of evangelical Protestantism. In his 1853 history of the movement, reformer William Goodell wrote that "missionary and evangelizing orators . . . were God's instruments for putting into the minds of others 'thoughts that burned,' for the emancipation of the enslaved." Dwight L. Dumond echoed this point almost nine decades later, describing abolition as "a powerful religious crusade" in which "[f]rom first to last churches were the forums, preachers the most consistent and powerful advocates, and the sin of slavery the cardinal thesis of the new social philosophy." Bertram Wyatt-Brown's 1969 study of Lewis Tappan supported the line of argument, noting that "[t]he abolitionist movement was primarily religious in its origins, its leadership, its language, and its methods of reaching the people."1
A large body of work has examined the relationship between abolition and evangelicalism. One set of studies focuses on the doctrinal influence of religion on antislavery, emphasizing the importance of beliefs in human efficacy and millennialism for the life of faith as well as for acts of reform. Believers capable of accepting the grace of God could also prepare the way of the Lord; the faithful body that detected and immediately denounced sin, especially the sin of slavery, purified not only themselves but also their churches and world in anticipation of Christ's coming.2 A second set of studies examines the organizational role of religion in abolition, describing the institutional base of evangelical churches, the schisms that rocked religious groups, the tactics drawn from the "Benevolent Empire" of reform, and the leadership cadre that emerged out of seminaries and congregations.3 A third group of