The Fortunate Heirs of Freedom: Abolition & Republican Thought

By Daniel J. McInerney | Go to book overview

4
POWER, PASSION. & PERSONALITY
ABOLITION & AMERICAN POLITICS

THE REPUBLICAN PERSPECTIVE that abolitionists brought to historical and religious matters also manifested itself in their handling of political questions on power and governance. In its 1835 Annual Report, the American Anti-Slavery Society touched on all three subjects as it discussed why the tyranny of slavery was the "dry rot to all the props that can sustain a good government." The "awards of Divine Justice" insured that acts of enslavement would lead to the collapse of liberty. Past experience demonstrated that chattel-based societies like that of ancient Greece would find themselves "engaged in endless broils [because] they were Slaveholding states." Both God's intentions and history's direction revealed to the Society a fundamental principle of political order and administration: it was simply "impossible for a pure republican government to subsist long upon a foundation of tyranny" before it descended into despotism.1 The logic of republicanism ran steadily through these categories of thought, justifying the necessity and urgency of abolition.

The American Anti-Slavery Society's view of republican government illustrates abolitionism's informing political logic. Reformers conceived of power's structure and uses in terms of a coherent body of republican assumptions. Through this frame of reference, abolitionists defined three critical issues: the key forces operating in American politics; the role reformers ought to assume; and the proper course of action their movement should follow. Ironically, the abolitionists' shared body of assumptions generated a considerable degree of confusion, misunderstand-

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