June 2018 (vol. 8, no. 2)

June 2018 (vol. 8, no. 2)

Volume 8, Number 2
June 2018



Christopher Phillips

Southern Cross, Northern Star: Why the Middle Mattered—and Matters—in Civil War History

This essay represents the acceptance speech for the Watson Brown Prize for the best book published on the Civil War era in the calendar year 2016. Tad Brown, president of the Watson-Brown Foundation, awarded the prize to Christopher Phillips for his book The Rivers Ran Backward, published by the Oxford University Press. These remarks were given at the annual banquet of the Society of Civil War Historians (SCWH), held during the Southern Historian Association annual meeting on November
10, 2017, in Dallas, Texas. The SCWH judges and administers the book prize.

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Manisha Sinha 

Guest Editor’s Note

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Joseph Yannielli

Mo Tappan: Transnational Abolitionism and the Making of a Mende-American Town

Established in the early 1850s in what is now southern Sierra Leone, Mo Tappan was a direct descendant of the Amistad slave revolt and served as a transatlantic extension of the American abolitionist movement. Named after philanthropist Lewis Tappan, the town was a symbolic, intentional community. As the forward operating station of the Mendi Mission, it was a hub of education, commerce, and cultural exchange. It was the site of the first systematic studies of the Mende language, the first printed material in Mende, and some of the earliest recorded examples of Mende literature and folklore. It also housed multiracial families of African and American missionaries who pushed a radical agenda of religious discipline, social justice, and economic transformation. Until recently, very little was known about Mo Tappan, its origins, or its operations. The discovery of a large cache of material belonging to John Brooks, the community’s founder and primary leader, sheds new light on the making and unmaking of this unique Mende-American town.

Keywords: Abolitionism, Amistad, John Brooks, Mende, Mendi Mission, Mo Tappan, Sierra Leone, Slavery

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Natalie Joy

The Indian’s Cause: Abolitionists and Native American Rights

This essay examines abolitionist support for Native Americans before the Civil War. It argues that Native American rights were of central concern to abolitionists, and that Indians shaped abolitionism. Organized abolitionist participation in the Indian’s cause began in 1829, after an antiremoval movement emerged in response to the election of Andrew Jackson. Antiremovalists, including black and white abolitionists, opposed relocating eastern Indians and were particularly involved in protesting the removal of the Cherokee Nation. Among the insights abolitionists gained through their participation in the antiremoval movement was that slaveholders were responsible for Indian removal. By the late 1830s, Cherokee removal and the ongoing Second Seminole War convinced abolitionists that southerners were using the federal government to expand and protect slavery. From that point on, abolitionists regularly made Indian removal a central component of their argument against the Slave Power.

Keywords: Indian removal, antislavery, abolitionism, Cherokee, antiremoval, colonization, Indian rights, Second Seminole War

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Sean Griffin

Antislavery Utopias: Communitarian Labor Reform and the Abolitionist Movement

This essay examines the relationship between communitarian and cooperative labor reform and antislavery, and argues that the reformist projects of radical labor activists overlapped with those of abolitionists in significant and overlooked ways. From Frances Wright’s Nashoba experiment in the 1820s to the Fourierist communities of the 1840s, communitarian reformers shared important assumptions with abolitionists about the superiority of free labor, the illegitimacy of property in man, and the role of market forces in the commodification of wage labor and human beings. In the 1840s, labor activists associated with Fourierist reform engaged in a critical but ultimately constructive dialogue with abolitionists over these same issues. As the goals of communitarian reformers intersected with free soil antislavery in the 1840s and 1850s, a handful of key figures associated with labor reform helped to broker a political alliance that contributed to the development of the brand of antislavery politics represented by the Republican Party.

Keywords: Abolitionism, Antislavery, Labor Reform, Utopian, Owenites, Fourierism, Associationism, Nashoba, New Harmony, Republicans

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Peter Wirzbicki

Black Transcendentalism: William Cooper Nell, the Adelphic Union, and the Black Abolitionist Intellectual Tradition

This article explores the thought of the black abolitionist William C. Nell and a literary and intellectual club that he led, Boston’s Adelphic Union. It demonstrates that Nell and the Adelphic Union were in contact with New England Transcendentalists, exploring the consequences for their thought and activism. It argues that looking at Nell’s abolitionism through the lens of his interaction with Transcendentalism helps us understand the roots of the “Elevation,” impulse. The deep intellectual roots of the Elevation ideology demonstrates the ways that black abolitionists engaged with canonical antebellum thought. 

Keywords: Black abolitionism, Boston, Transcendentalism, Adelphic Union, William C. Nell, Elevation

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Corey Brooks

Reconsidering Politics in the Study of American Abolitionists

This review essay analyzes recent historiography of American abolitionism with especial attention to the importance of formal politics. Considering expansive syntheses, cutting-edge monographs, and recent journal articles, this essay reviews a wide range of influential scholarship on the American antislavery movement published in the last five years. First describing twentieth-century historiographical developments that misinterpreted or downplayed political abolitionists, this essay then discusses new studies emphasizing politics and policy. This essay also highlights recent work that is beginning to expand the actors, geography, and chronology of the political history of American abolitionism. By reframing abolitionism as a political movement, this essay argues, we will gain clearer understandings of both antislavery activism and of the broader political history of the Civil War Era. 

Keywords: abolitionism, abolitionist movement, antislavery movement, political abolitionists, political history, historiography

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