“Our Country is the World—Our Countrymen are Mankind” was the motto that adorned the Liberator’s masthead from 1831 to 1865. As Garrison’s adoption of Thomas Paine’s slogan indicated, abolitionists, especially Garrisonians, developed a transnational appeal seeking to harness progressive international forces against slavery. Abolitionists did not just articulate a civic nationalism of liberal democratic values or a naïve celebration of Anglo-American virtue. While they supported other radical movements of the mid-nineteenth century, abolitionists insisted that they rid themselves of racial parochialism. They posited an alternative notion of universal human rights, one that had its origins in Enlightenment thought but went beyond its typical articulation in the West, which excluded or rested on the oppression of disfranchised groups.1

Emancipation, in this understanding, included not only the abolition of slavery but also the liberation of all oppressed people. Abolitionists were never single-issue agitators. They linked the abolition of slavery with the plight of Native Americans, labor, and immigrants, holding no truck with nativism or racism. Contrary to conventional historical wisdom, they developed an incipient critique of capitalism that linked the emancipation of the slaves with that of all laboring people. Rather than acting as stalking horses for imperialism, American abolitionists, informed by their long struggle for racial equality and against the civilizationist discourse of colonization, developed an early response to it. As the movement matured, it remained ideologically consistent, sympathizing with labor and communitarian movements, the radical side of the revolutions in Europe, and the emergence of anti-imperialism in Ireland and India. Far from reinforcing the sanctity of bourgeois society, the nation-state, and empire, abolition bolstered radical internationalism.2


Black abolitionists insisted that their struggle receive an international hearing. They acted as abolition’s ambassadors, creating a cordon sanitaire around southern slavery. Touring Britain and Europe became a rite of passage for many, who experienced their trips abroad as “liberating sojourns” away from the all-encompassing pall of American racism. At the same time, their criticism of Western racism played out on a global stage.3

African Americans invented a popular transnational antislavery tradition, the annual celebration of British emancipation, the first of August, though they were hardly naïve or uncritical celebrants of Britain. In 1834 David Lee Child’s speech on the historical origins of British emancipation first marked the occasion. But African Americans regularly observed West India Day, reviving black emancipation commemorations of the abolition of the slave trade and northern slavery. In 1836 a committee of New York’s black abolitionists, Cornish, Wright, Van Rensselaer, Sipkins, and Thomas Downing, arranged the first mass celebration of August First. In his address Cornish criticized the “weak and foolish” aspects of British abolition, namely, slaveholder compensation and the apprenticeship system, but noted that while eight hundred thousand slaves in the West Indies were free, over two million remained enslaved in the United States. He laid out an international agenda for black abolitionism, saying, “We will fill every continent and island with the story of the WRONGS done to our brethren.” That year black Philadelphians celebrated the anniversary with the active participation of women. After the abolition of apprenticeship, Garrison addressed a record all-black meeting of nearly four thousand at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York. In Philadelphia, William Douglass delivered a First of August address to a black audience. Pennington in his West India address in Newark in 1839 argued that the month of August would henceforth be associated with black freedom rather than with Augustus Caesar. Black abolitionists in Boston, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Poughkeepsie, Lynn, Albany, Buffalo, Troy, Dayton, and Cincinnati, as well as Wilmington, where Abraham Shadd delivered an “appropriate and excellent address,” celebrated West India Day.4

In 1842 John Collins suggested antislavery picnics to mark August First as a recruiting tool for the movement. Rev. Jehiel Beman, who had parted company with Garrisonians, insisted that the day belonged to colored men. Samuel J. May promoted annual interracial mass celebrations on August First, and by the 1850s the MASS hosted a yearly event in Abington, as did other abolition societies in New England. Remond, Nell, Rock, and the fugitive slave abolitionist William Wells Brown, besides Garrison and Phillips, were the star speakers at these gatherings. Abolitionists did not use this opportunity to advocate the peaceful, orderly, legal abolition of slavery or praise Britain uncritically. Phillips pointed out that the British government had to be bullied by abolitionists into legislating emancipation. As a former slave himself, Wells Brown warranted he would not advocate nonresistance to the slaves. The First of August addresses invoked Haiti in the same breadth as West Indian emancipation. As Rock put it, he was more proud of Haiti since England was generous to the planters but left the slaves to “test the charities of an unfriendly world.” In 1858 the guest of honor at the annual MASS antislavery picnic was the West Indian Baptist minister Rev. Henry Bleby. His speech eulogized the slave rebel Sam Sharpe as a “perfect model man” executed in “cold blood” by colonial authorities. Emancipation had not ruined the slaves, he remarked, but compensation had ruined the planters.5

West India Day remained a predominantly black celebration, thousands gathering to observe it even in small towns like Urbana, Brooklyn, Harrisburg, and Canandaigua, Medina, Geneva, Lockport, among others in upstate New York. Accompanied by antislavery fairs and bazaars, dance, music, and food, the First of August celebrations became more and more popular and plebeian. The mass celebrations demonstrated the depth of abolitionism in black communities across class lines. In his address of 1854 in Columbus, Ohio, William J. Watkins said that African Americans shall not esteem the Fourth of July orators of slaveholding America. And while they could not “sing the Funeral Requiem of Slavery in this Land of Liberty,” they could rejoice over abolition in the world. Two years later Pennington, in his First of August address in Hartford, advocated “the reasonableness of the abolition of slavery at the South, a legitimate inference from the success of British Emancipation.” All-black gatherings continued in Boston and Providence. First of August celebrations spread to émigré and fugitive slave communities in Canada, changing from loyalist demonstrations to more radical affairs. Bibb excoriated discrimination in the new homeland as “second hand imitations” of the slaveholding Republic rather than simply sing paeans to the British. In 1859 black Baltimoreans and expatriates in Liberia celebrated the First of August. So engrained was this tradition that when slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia in 1862, the black community chose to celebrate on August 1. During the war, abolitionists used the occasion of West India Day to demand emancipation.6

Throughout the antebellum period black abolitionists traveled to Europe to make their case against American slavery as ambassadors of the movement. Nathaniel Paul and Robert Purvis, who went armed with Garrison’s letters of introduction, conducted lecture tours in Britain in the 1830s. McCune Smith, studying medicine at Glasgow, made a name for himself delivering abolitionist speeches before the Glasgow Emancipation Society (GES). Remond’s successful one-year tour of the British Isles after the London World Antislavery Convention of 1840 made black speakers a mainstay of the British abolitionist lecture circuit. News of Remond’s speeches denouncing American racism and asking the Irish not to emigrate to such a despotic country filled the abolitionist press. Like Paul, Remond, whose visit coincided with that of R. R. Gurley of the ACS, was an effective lecturer against colonization. So were Birney and Stanton, lecturing under the auspices of the British and Foreign ASS, which was allied with the AFASS and opposed Collins’s fund-raising trip for the AASS.7

Black abolitionists abroad usually steered clear of factional divisions. Pennington undertook two successful lecture tours of England, his first coinciding with that of Tappan, Leavitt, and Phelps, all of whom were attending the second World Antislavery Convention in London in 1843. Pennington attended as a delegate of both the Connecticut ASS and his Union Missionary Society and church. He drew attention to Jim Crow and introduced the British to the unique concerns of African Americans. He read out loud the address of the national black convention and provided a comprehensive history of the growth of black churches and institutions. Despite incurring criticism for starting a new society in Glasgow, Pennington read from the Liberator to highlight racial discrimination and referred to Garrison’s Thoughts against colonization. He argued that American slavery was not a domestic question but one that affected all humankind. In a rousing speech on a resolution condemning the British government’s shipping of indentured labor from Africa and India at the annual meeting of the British and Foreign ASS, he affirmed, “What I gain anywhere and everywhere, I gain for every manacled slave in America, and for every benighted African in the world.”

Pennington’s triumph set the stage for his tour of Europe in 1849. As a mark of his growing international celebrity, Pennington published his narrative in London. His erudite lectures condemned slavery as robbery, murder, and rapine and racism as a gross violation of Christian precepts. Pennington met the pacifist and abolitionist Friedrich Wilhelm Carove of the University of Heidelberg at the Paris peace congress, from whom he deliberately sought an honorary doctorate of divinity “as a recognition not for himself, as for his color, which represented by him, and which is so deeply disdained in America.” Carove appended Pennington’s considerable body of published work to his petition, and he became the first African American to receive the honor. “Germany,” Pennington responded, “stands high in our affections, not only on account of her literary fame, but because of the fidelity her sons in America have shown to the cause of human liberty,” complimenting German immigrants for their free soil sentiments. When Carove died two years later, the AFASS, of whose executive committee Pennington was a member, held a memorial service.8

Despite receiving international acclaim, black abolitionists described the racial indignities they were subjected to during their travels abroad. In 1837 an American ship captain had refused cabin accommodations to McCune Smith on his return to New York from Glasgow. Purvis got the better of a slaveholder who had objected to traveling with a black man on the way to England. The same man unknowingly invited the light-skinned Purvis to share his table on the return journey. Remond was unable to purchase a ticket for his transatlantic voyage without the intervention of his traveling companion, William Adam. He and Adam were forced to give up their berths in a shared cabin, confined to steerage, and constantly harassed by the crew. Remond’s sister Caroline Remond Putnam was forced to give up her first-class cabin in a British Cunard steamer, a line that was known to discriminate against blacks. Ward recounted his journey to Canada: American ships had given him a cabin passage, but a British liner compelled him to travel on the deck, leading him to say, “The boast of Englishmen of their freedom from social negrophobia, is about as empty as the Yankee boast of democracy.” When America’s most famous fugitive, Frederick Douglass, traveled to Britain, he and James Buffum were forced to travel steerage in the Cambria, illustrating, he said, American customs on a “British steamer, under the British flag.” Douglass delivered a fiery indictment of slavery accompanied by the abolitionist Hutchinson family singers, arousing the ire of slaveholders, who threatened him. A few, like Nancy Prince and David Dorr, who wrote travel memoirs, noted the lack of a rigid color line in Europe.

African Americans were denied passports and declared noncitizens by the U.S. government in the wake of the Dred Scott decision of 1857. They were forced to travel at their own peril unless, like Dorr, they accompanied their masters as slaves. The antislavery secretary of state of Massachusetts John Gorham Palfrey issued certificates for blacks, and at times the federal government issued them on a case-by-case basis. Purvis was one of the few who obtained a passport through the intervention of Robert Vaux of the PAS. In 1859 Sarah Parker Remond managed to secure a passport, but the American legation in London refused to stamp a visa for her visit to Paris.9

Black abolitionists sought to undo the legacy of the Middle Passage, the object of their travels being distinct from that of the American elite on European Grand Tours. As Ward put it, “God helping me wherever I shall be, at home, abroad, on land or sea, in public or private walks, as a man, a Christian, especially as a black man, my labours must be anti-slavery labours, because mine must be an anti-slavery life.” His narrative, published in Britain, contained a systematic condemnation of racism in the Anglo-American world. He alluded to the scores of fugitive slaves and black abolitionists who had won international renown and argued for the continued need to battle proslavery racists and British “colonists.” In Ireland he commented on the deplorable condition of the Irish and lamented that immigrants became “negro haters” even though they shared a history of extreme oppression with African Americans. Ward, however, fashioned himself as an imperial subject, dedicating his narrative to the Duchess of Sutherland and inadvertently commending a proslavery missionary society patronized by Lord Shaftesbury.10

Black abolitionists found England to be far from a racial paradise. Raising funds for his congregation at home, Crummell, in his correspondence with John Jay II, agonized over his decision to study in Cambridge. Eventually Crummell identified the cause of his own education with that of the race. In Cambridge one of Crummell’s professors referred to his children as black pickaninnies, and an Irish maid called his wife a black devil. In a careful exegesis of Genesis, Crummell argued that “the negro race” was not biblically cursed to slavery. Only with the rise of modern racial slavery, “anti-negro” and proslavery ideas dominated European literature. The reality of racism in supposedly enlightened Britain helped Crummell decide to migrate to Liberia.11

Black abolitionists made antiracism a part of their mission abroad, especially as black face minstrelsy and the pseudoscience of race made racism popular and intellectually respectable in Britain. In 1848 Wilson Armistead of the Leeds ASS dedicated his mammoth A Tribute to the Negro to “JAMES W. C. PENNINGTON, FREDERICK DOUGLASS, ALEXANDER CRUMMELL, AND MANY OTHER NOBLE EXAMPLES OF ELEVATED HUMANITY IN THE NEGRO.” Part one of the book deconstructed scientific racism, and part two contained short biographies of eminent blacks from Wheatley to Garnet as well as abolitionist indictments of slavery. Douglass, who was critical of the superimposed smile on his face in the book, nonetheless praised its contents. The same year Armistead published a book on Liberia in which he reprinted Garnet’s Troy speech on the condition and destiny of the colored race. Armistead presented this book to the Boston Anti-Slavery Bazaar, revealing the transatlantic circulation of abolitionist antiracist ideology and the seminal role of African Americans in its construction.12

While in England, the fugitive slave abolitionist William Wells Brown criticized the famous essayist Thomas Carlyle, who was much admired on both sides of the Atlantic, for his crude racism and opposition to West Indian emancipation. Carlyle’s satirical “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question” (1849) was republished as a popular pamphlet, “Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question,” supporting Governor Eyre for his brutal suppression of the Morant Bay rebellion in Jamaica in 1865. Wells Brown critiqued Carlyle’s “laborious article in favor of the reestablishment of the lash of slavery,” saying that he existed “not by sympathy but by antipathy.” He highlighted Carlyle’s contradictions: his concern for Irish farmers and the British working poor, but Jamaicans should be whipped into working. Wells Brown, who initially was for emigration to the West Indies, now opposed it as a second servitude. Notwithstanding his own success as an author, he discouraged African Americans from coming to England to lead lives of poverty and obscurity. His The Black Man (1863) a prosopography of black abolitionists, rebels, and writers was a “full-scale retort” to the race science of his times.13

As John Brown, a Georgia runaway, found out, riding the abolitionist lecture circuit and living as a black person in England, where most joined the swelling ranks of the urban working poor, were two entirely different propositions. After being unable to find work and noting, “There is prejudice against colour in England,” Brown started lecturing under the auspices of the British and Foreign ASS and published his narrative with the help of its energetic new secretary, Louis Alexis Chamerovzow, in 1855. Hitting just the right notes for a British audience, Brown recounted the story of a black British sailor arrested in Georgia under the state’s Negro Seamen’s Act and the murder of a Scotsman by his master because he angered local slaveholders by offering wages to slaves. When the price of cotton rises in England, Brown observed, the slaves feel its effects immediately, being driven harder. Besides numerous tortures inflicted on him and his fellow slaves, Brown told of how his body had been used by his master, a doctor, in gruesome medical experiments testing the endurance of darker skinned people to heat to find a cure for sunburns.14 He exposed the horrific reality that undergirded the discourse of racial science.

In 1853 William G. Allen published his exposé of racism, The American Prejudice Against Colour, in London, calling himself a refugee from this form of “American despotism.” A frequent contributor to the Liberator, Allen edited Garnet’s short-lived National Watchman in Troy and worked at the law offices of Loring before becoming a professor of Greek and rhetoric at New York Central College. Allen’s marriage to a white student, Mary King, caused an uproar. Both fled to Britain, narrowly escaping a lynch mob led by town leaders. Allen’s book challenged “American caste and skin-deep democracy” and contained an account of the episode in which he paid tribute to King’s “moral heroism.” King’s family was deeply divided, her father initially and her sister supporting her while her brothers and stepmother were opposed. Allen resigned his position, and the college, an abolitionist experiment in interracial education, closed down amidst charges of racial amalgamation. He appended his narrative, his birth as a free man in Norfolk, Virginia, the shutting down of his school after Turner’s revolt, and his upbringing at the federal Fort Monroe to his book. Allen pointed out that even some abolitionists opposed his marriage, yet he complimented Samuel Porter and his wife, who helped him escape the mob, Gerrit Smith, on whose recommendation he studied at Oneida, and his teacher there, Beriah Green. Porter was fired from his teaching job for his troubles. Allen’s interracial romance became the subject of one of Louisa May Alcott’s stories.

In England, Allen gave a lecture called “American Slavery and the Prejudice Against Color” and a lecture entitled “History, Literature and Destiny of the African Race,” which was popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The genius of the American nation, he claimed, like Garnet earlier, lay in the intermingling of the races. On the other hand, he pointed out that Banneker was of pure African blood, as was the successful opera singer Elizabeth Greenfield. Refuting Samuel Morton, Allen maintained that the greatness of Egypt belonged to the African race. When McCune Smith, writing as Communipaw, took Allen to task for speaking about different races when there was but one race of man, Allen replied that he was forced to adopt the language of ethnology, the contemporary science of humankind, even when refuting it. After living as an impoverished schoolteacher in England, he blamed his failure on “a spirit not supposed to usually exist among Englishmen” and contemplated migrating to Liberia.15

On the eve of the Civil War, the most effective black abolitionist in Britain was Sarah Parker Remond, who launched her career in 1856 as an agent for the AASS, accompanying her brother on a lecture tour. Denied admission to Salem high school, she, like her sisters, studied in a black school in Newport. In 1858 Remond left for Britain accompanied by May. Thousands attended her speeches, which condemned slavery, racism, the exploitation of slave women, and the partiality of the conservative British press for southern secessionists. As she put it, “The negroes and their descendants, whether enslaved or free, desire and need the moral support of Great Britain.” In 1861 Garnet, Day, and the Boston clergyman John Sella Martin joined her to make the abolitionist case against recognizing the Confederacy. Remond was active in the London Emancipation Society and the Freedmen’s Aid Society during the war. British women abolitionists presented her with an inscribed watch as a token of their regard and in recognition of her work. She attended college in Britain and medical school in Florence, marrying at the age of fifty-two. Remond practiced medicine in Italy, joined there by her sisters, until she died in 1894.16 By that time, many black abolitionists had helped internationalize the fight against slavery and racism.


In its early years the abolition movement had garnered more sympathy from the working classes than from the better sort. In New York City the only editor to condemn anti-abolition violence was William Leggett of the New York Evening Post, known for his championing of workingmen’s rights. Labor leaders and land reformers like Thomas Skidmore and George Henry Evans were antislavery. Evans was the only editor besides Garrison to defend Nat Turner’s rebellion and the Haitian Revolution. He vindicated abolitionists’ right to be heard, though he had little in common with the city’s evangelical abolitionists, led by the Tappans. The labor and abolition movements shared a discourse of oppression: working-class reformers adopted the term wage slavery to describe the abysmal conditions of workers, as slavery remained the benchmark of oppression. In 1835 the AASS reported that the “honest, hard working, clear headed free laborers of the North” had yet to fully support abolition, but it was optimistic about a future alliance. Working-class activists involved in the ten-hour-a-day movement in New England adopted the language of reform. The enslavement of labor represented its degradation in the eyes of most working-class leaders, even those not sympathetic to abolition.

Less known is the fact that abolitionists sympathized with the plight of labor. As the president of the NYASS, William Jay contrasted the voluntary nature of free labor to that of slave labor. But he denounced the criminal prosecution of labor unions, comparing it to the widespread toleration of anti-abolition violence. He noted, “Journeymen mechanics are indicted and punished for violations of law utterly insignificant in their character and tendency compared to the outrages committed last year.” Nathaniel P. Rogers wrote about the oppressions of the factory system and argued that abolition asserted “the dignity and freedom of Labor.” Rev. Moses Thacher asked, “Is there a manufactory in New England, whose walls are not built up on the sighs, tears, and groans of bondage?” Henry C. Wright assailed northern “great merchants” for their anti-abolitionist, proslavery stance and said that the Panic of 1837 was a just punishment for their economic ties with southern slaveholders. Burleigh contended that the slaveholding aristocracy could not enslave the northern laborer even though the northern mercantile aristocracy may kowtow to them. William Dexter Wilson averred that both slaves and free labor were “subject to the will of the monied few.”17

In critiquing slavery, abolitionists did not legitimize wage labor, however much historians have speculated on the theoretical implications of their arguments. Rather, they drew a connection between the oppression of slaves and that of the wageworker. The RIASS argued for the enfranchisement of colored as well as white laborers. It pointed out that the proslavery position could be just as “easily applied to white laborers as to colored ones,” exposing its undemocratic essence: “‘Bleached or unbleached’—white or colored—the laboring man is pronounced a ‘dangerous element of the body politic. . . .’ The laboring classes of mankind are incapable of self government, and ought to be under the control of their superiors!” As David Root of the NHASS put it, “Let our laboring men, our mechanics, the operatives in our factories, the free yeomanry of New England think of that, and ponder it in their hearts.” Isaac Stearns, who apologized for his lack of education, explained that abolitionists “do not believe in giving to the rich who have defrauded the poor, and then sending the poor, empty away, who have earned all these riches.” In the view of Rogers, abolition was a movement on behalf of human labor since labor everywhere was disrespected and degraded. One Philadelphia abolitionist contended that “the abolition of slavery, in our country, is indispensably necessary to make labor respectable, and the working man respected—as well as insure to those who toil and sweat their just reward.” The second annual report of the NHASS claimed that slaveholders despised the “white menial” as much as they did the slave. According to Green, the manual laborer was always subject to “varying degrees of oppression” until he is reduced to slavery. “Hence the multiplied injuries which have fallen so heavy on him. Hence the reduce of his wages from one degree to another, till at length, in the case of millions, fraud and violence strip him of his all, blot his name from the record of mankind, and, putting a yoke upon his neck drive him away to toil with the cattle. Here you find the slave.”18

Garrison, whose anticapitalism is vastly underestimated, acknowledged that labor had many legitimate grievances but sanguinely noted that in a republican society an “industrious artisan” would always be “held in better estimation than a wealthy idler.” He soon realized that this was an overly optimistic assessment of workingmen’s position in the slaveholding Republic. In announcing his approval of the ten-hour-a-day movement, he cited “the exorbitant exaction of labor and time,” the neglect of children’s education, the “severe regulations” of the factory system and how “rich capitalists . . . grind the face of the poor.” In a hint to workingmen, Garrison published an extract reflecting that both the labor and antislavery movements represented the fight between aristocracy and democracy. On his departure to England, he wrote a heartfelt critique of financial capitalism: “I am writing in Wall Street, where the money-changers congregate, and where affluence and beggary are seen side by side, but acknowledging no relationship by creation, and at mutual enmity with each other. It is rightly named—Wall Street—for those who habitually occupy it in quest of riches at the expense of mankind, are walled in from the sympathies of human nature, and their hearts are as fleshless and hard as the paving-stones on which they tread, or the granite and marble buildings which they have erected and dedicated to their idol Gain.” While attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention, Garrison argued that the British working class was “grievously oppressed” and abolitionists “are sympathetic with the oppressed as well as the enslaved throughout the world.” Although he wrote that poverty was not slavery, Garrison highlighted the abuse of women and children in British industries, “a Manchester factory girl” who was a “rich man’s slave” and the landless English peasant. He even reprinted “The Workingman’s Appeal” from the Jacksonian anti-abolitionist newspaper the Washington Globe.

Ideological affinity but political separation marked the abolition and early labor movements. Some working-class leaders such as Seth Luther and John Pickering held implausibly that their condition was worse than that of slaves, while others, like Theophilus Fisk and Ely Moore, issued racist denunciations of abolition. In his review essay of Carlyle’s Chartism, “The Laboring Classes,” Orestes Brownson, the Transcendentalist labor activist, pronounced slavery less oppressive than free labor, though he claimed to be “heartily opposed to it as any modern abolitionist can be.” In 1838 Brownson wrote to Garrison that he advocated the abolitionists’ right to freedom of speech and press but that he was against slavery of all kinds, including that of the poor. The two men debated amicably over which cause should be given priority. Brownson decided that both promoted “universal emancipation,” and Garrison lauded his refutation of Calhoun’s notion that slavery was the best solution to the conflict between labor and capital. In the 1840s Evans’s the Workingmen’s Advocate compared the oppression of northern labor to that of slaves, calling for the abolition of “wage slavery” before “chattel slavery.” In response, Garrison reversed the order, and Edmund Quincy asserted that anyone who saw wage slavery as worse than chattel slavery was an enemy of abolition.

Garrison was respectful of labor critics, such as William West, publishing their letters and articles in his paper. He debated Charles M’ewan, a Scottish Chartist who identified himself as a white slave and took Garrison to task for distinguishing between slavery and wage labor. Garrison praised the letter’s manly spirit and reiterated his opposition to slavery as well as to workers’ oppression. The Chartists represented a just cause, but he disagreed with M’ewan’s censure of abolitionists. A few years later Garrison debated the labor leader James Mitchell, who accused Irish abolitionists such as James Haughton of feeling “extra sympathy” for Africans and ignoring the misery of the working poor. Garrison defended Haughton, whom he quoted as saying that those who sympathized with slaves but not with the poor are hypocrites and that “we should be diligent in laboring for the abatement of the evils that afflict our own poor.” He added that the greater hypocrite was one who pretends sympathy for the English poor and ignores African slaves. Men such as Carlyle, Garrison wrote, did not care for either the slave or the working poor. William J. Willicott, too, responded that Mitchell was mistaken, as abolitionists were for the abolition of all oppression.

During his visit to England the socialist-minded Collins cemented the alliance between abolitionists and Chartists, who presented an address to him signed by M’ewan himself. The address challenged the notion that British workers were indifferent to the plight of “our colored and enslaved brethren” and condemned slavery as the “climax of human wretchedness.” It also scolded American workers for their coolness to abolition and called on them to join the abolitionists. The British, Collins noted, exercised “that same prejudice against poverty” as the Americans did in the matter of color. He called it a “dangerous species of slavery,” as it was “subtle and intangible.” Other abolitionists reprehended the condition of workers. William I. Bowditch condemned the “heartless, soul-destroying competition” that gave rise to wage slavery. Even the Tappanite wing of the movement held that God’s wrath was visited on nations that “oppress the poor and the hireling in his wages,” though the AFASS steered clear of linking abolition to other causes and was particularly critical of Collins’s radicalism.19

Garrison and his allies tried to build an internationalist vision for abolition. While they sympathized with protests against the protectionist Corn Laws in Britain that led to high food prices, aggravated famine in Ireland, and benefited the landed elite, Garrisonians espoused a transnational abolitionism through an alliance with labor and radical reform. Just as labor leaders in Britain were skeptical of the free trade doctrines of the anti–Corn Law leaders, Garrison was suspicious of the laissez-faire proclivities of slaveholding politicians like George McDuffie and Calhoun. He published letters by Chartists like the anonymous Sophia as well as Wendell Phillips’s favorable assessment of British Chartism. Harriet Martineau opposed government regulation but supported the Chartist movement and believed in workers’ cooperatives, leading Robert Owen to attempt to convert her to socialism. Joseph Sturge forged an alliance with the Chartists and backed their fight for suffrage. Even militant Chartists like Feargus O’Connor, who was critical of Sturge, worked for his failed candidacy for Parliament. Though allied with the British and Foreign ASS, Sturge’s activism resembled the Garrisonian approach to abolition.

During his third visit to England Garrison gave organizational form to the abolitionist alliance with the Chartists. He, Wright, Douglass, Thompson, and William Lovett and Henry Vincent of the London Workingmen’s Association founded the Anti-Slavery League in Britain in 1846, modeled after Richard Cobden’s and John Bright’s Anti–Corn Law League. Vincent identified the cause of labor with that of abolition, and Garrison declared himself to be a workingman who was one with the Chartists. Commending Lovett and Vincent “for pleading the cause of starving operatives,” Garrison wrote, “such men I honor and revere.” The league was a radical alliance unlike the conservative reformism of the World Temperance Convention and the Evangelical Alliance, which rescinded its antislavery report at Americans’ insistence. Garrison realized that his association with “unpopular reformatory movements” alienated the “good society folks” from abolition, but, he concluded, “the cause of my enslaved countrymen cannot possibly be injured by my advocacy of the rights of all men, or by my opposition to all tyranny.” The genteel John Estlin deplored his attempts to appeal to the lower classes. But the British Garrisonians William Henry Ashurst, Elizabeth Pease, William Smeal of the GES, and Richard Webb, Haughton, and Richard Allen in Ireland bolstered Garrison’s endeavor to establish transnational networks of radical protest. (Webb had written to Garrison about Vincent early on.) They became regular contributors to the Liberator, drawing telling parallels between oppressed workers, starving Irish peasants, and slaves. Ashurst and Pease, a “superior woman” as Garrison described her (he named his second daughter after her), were ardent supporters of the Chartist movement. Most American abolitionists were supportive of the Chartists and their goal, universal suffrage for workingmen. The political abolitionist Gamaliel Bailey, though, thought abolition was more important than Chartism, as the former fought for natural rights, the latter for conventional ones.20

Black abolitionists deconstructed one of the mainstays of proslavery ideology, the idea that the condition of American slaves was better than that of the European working classes. As Pennington pointed out, it was not material conditions but the commodification of human beings that defined slavery. To African Americans comparing the condition of slaves and the working classes was like comparing apples and oranges. They deeply resented those who used the labor question to shore up the proslavery argument. An infuriated Powell responded that workers were neither “chattels personal” nor subject to “corporeal punishment.” Allen, informing Sumner of his involvement in educational and penal reform, wrote, “The blows which Englishmen strike at American Slavery are really best parried by the references which Americans make to the poverty and uneducated state of what are termed the lower classes in this country.” Black abolitionists, however, were not unsympathetic to the laboring poor. Remond, Douglass, and Wells Brown remarked on the utter wretchedness of starving Irish peasants, and the British working classes flocked to hear African Americans in far greater numbers than white abolitionists. Sarah Parker Remond saw an identity of interest: the slaves constituted the working class of the South. She wrote, “The free operatives of Britain are, in reality, brought into almost personal relations with slaves in their daily toil. They manufacture the material which the slaves have produced.” During the Civil War, according to the American apostle of “pure and simple unionism” Samuel Gompers, English Tories and cotton manufacturers openly sympathized with the Confederacy, but British workers influenced by the spirit of Chartism and revolution identified with the Union and abolitionists, despite the fact that they faced “hunger and want” owing to the cotton famine brought on by the blockade.21

Long before contemporary historians did, abolitionists drew attention to the connection between the growth of capitalism and slavery and the central place of slave-labor-grown cotton in the national and global political economy. Sen. Thomas Morris of Ohio condemned the unholy alliance between the Slave Power and the money power, while Sumner upbraided the textile mill owners of New England, the “lords of the loom,” and southern slaveholders, the “lords of the lash.” Radical political abolitionists such as William Goodell and Gerrit Smith were critical of the rise of capitalism and connected it to their battle against racial slavery. Goodell was a staunch critic of market society and the aristocracy of wealth, reasoning that white workers were threatened with enslavement if slavery was not abolished. He indicted the system of paying the hireling inadequate wages and condemned slavery as “LABOR WITHOUT WAGES.” Rogers, refuting the proslavery ideologues William Harper and Thomas R. Dew, made a similar argument. In his Democracy of Christianity, Goodell contrasted the egalitarianism of primitive Christians with the economic inequalities of capitalism, anticipating the social gospel movement of the twentieth century. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the proslavery theorist George Fitzhugh used Goodell’s criticisms of labor exploitation in the North to defend slavery.

Goodell and Smith supported land reform as a way to address the systemic inequalities of capitalism. In 1844 Evans’s National Reform Association (NRA) brought together utopian socialists, former Chartists, and labor activists with the slogan “Vote yourself a farm.” Evans sanctioned abolition, women’s rights, and Indians’ rights, whose land, he noted, had been robbed by monopolists. His ideas built on a radical tradition going back to Paine’s Agrarian Justice (1796) and his early rival Skidmore’s The Rights of Man to Property (1829). Smith, a land magnate, was a convert to Evans’s crusade against land monopoly and pronounced himself an agrarian. Smith refused to concede Evans’s argument that wage slavery was a worse species of oppression than chattel slavery, though he responded sympathetically to Evans’s call for uniting abolition with the cause of labor and land reform. In 1846 Smith deeded thousands of acres not just to blacks but also to the landless and poor, men and women. Most of the Smith grantees sold their lands for payment of taxes, but his experiment in land redistribution was unique. In 1848 Evans’s Industrial Congress nominated Smith, a Liberty Party man, for the presidency even though he declined the honor. Evans’s NRA also opposed the annexation of Texas and the extension of slavery. Elected to Congress in 1850 on the Liberty ticket, Smith championed the distributing of public lands to the landless. After the war the abolitionist journalist James Redpath and Garrison’s son, William Lloyd Garrison Jr., became leading advocates of Henry George’s single-tax plan for land redistribution. George, whose radicalism was inspired by the abolitionist crusade, wrote to Sarah Mifflin Gay in 1880 suggesting that, as the daughter of Sydney Howard Gay, she could put the abolitionist imprimatur on his program.22

Political abolitionists such as Elizur Wright backed land reform and the demands of labor, paving the way for the rise of free soilism. Wright’s encounter with the British working poor and his own economic straits made him sympathetic to the condition of labor. As the editor of the Chronotype and later the Commonwealth in Boston, Wright supported abolition, labor, and women’s rights. Smith, Goodell, and Wright formed the Liberty League in 1847, which combined abolition with economic and labor reform. In Massachusetts, Wright, with other Libertyites and Free Soilers, formed viable alliances with labor at the local and state levels, and the NRA endorsed Liberty Party candidates. Even Lewis Tappan admonished George Alexander of the British and Foreign ASS that the “rich would be better off if half or two-thirds of their wealth were distributed among their poor fellow men.” He recommended “sub-divisions of landed property” and cultivation of small farms to achieve more “equality in property.”

In New York Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, combined antislavery with labor reform, becoming a leading proponent of land redistribution and utopian socialism. Early on, Greeley had called for the abolition of slavery in all its forms and, to the ire of abolitionists, advocated the settling of blacks in separate townships. Having the largest circulation in the nation, the Tribune became a mainstream outlet for northern reformism, forging connections with labor and partisan politics. Greeley was an advocate of what one might call today social democracy. He criticized untrammeled competition and individualism, which reduced workers to “abject want.” The anti-rent rebellion in New York along with the NRA brought together land reformers like Evans and Greeley, an undertaking that culminated in the Republican Party’s homestead platform. Land reformers and abolitionists also supported the homestead exemption for debtors. During Reconstruction, Greeley renounced his pro-labor, antislavery politics, becoming the presidential candidate of Liberal Republicans and Democrats, that is, of laissez-faire principles and white supremacy. Before the war, though, he popularized antislavery and labor reform. By the end of the 1840s workingmen’s conventions and labor reform associations made opposition to the Mexican War and the extension of slavery one of labor’s goals.23

Rejecting electoral politics, Garrisonians were more interested in utopian communities, most founded in the wake of the Panic of 1837 and inspired by early socialist thinkers such as Owen, Fourier, and Saint-Simon. The connection between abolition and communitarianism went back to the days of Frances Wright and Robert Dale Owen, freethinkers who supported abolition, workingmen’s rights, and women’s equality. The antebellum communitarian movement inspired by Fourierism complemented abolitionists’ “come outer” philosophy of rejecting corrupt institutions, the state and church, as well as those built on precedents set by separatist religious communities such as the Shakers and Rappites. Garrison’s conservative critics accused him of harboring radical “no government” as well as “no property” theories. In England, Collins reported that Garrison was “considered of the Owen school.” In an editorial on “social reorganization” sympathetically evoking Owen and Fourier, Garrison commended the idea of cooperative associations personified in the abolitionist Northampton Association for Education and Industry led by his brother-in-law George Benson, William Adam, David Mack, and E. D. Hudson. He also lauded his fellow nonresistant Adin Ballou’s Hopedale community, which, like Northampton, was founded in 1842, the transcendentalist community at George Ripley’s Brook Farm, and Collins’s journal the Communitist, which advocated communal ownership of property.

Remond, Douglass, and Kelley butted heads with Collins for airing “no-property” views and deflecting attention from slavery at abolition meetings, but Garrison was rather fond of him. In 1843 Collins left abolition for the utopian socialist community in Skaneateles. Two years later his Laboring Man’s Reform Association joined Evans’s NRA. Quincy was disappointed when Collins did not return to abolition after the failure of his communitarian project but instead joined the Whig Party and moved to California. Garrison expressed reservations at Collins’s conversion to Owen’s morally “absurd and dangerous” doctrine that absolved men of individual responsibility by making them mere creatures of their circumstances, an argument based on necessity that slaveholders often deployed. But he did not renounce the principle of social cooperation. He published a series of letters by Albert Brisbane, the leading American advocate and translator of Fourierism and Saint-Simonianism. Brisbane’s most prominent convert was Greeley, for whose newspaper he wrote. Brisbane also influenced Ripley, and Brook Farm became Fourierist in 1843. His American Union of Associationists, like nearly all nineteenth-century radical movements, modeled its organization and lecturing system after abolition and invited abolitionists to attend their national convention. Some Fourierists accused abolitionists of prioritizing abolition over reforming capitalism. But as Karl Marx’s criticism of utopian socialism makes clear, Fourierism was not necessarily more radical than abolitionism.24

Garrison was also critical of the otherworldly aspects of communitarians even though he was influenced by Ballou’s nonresistance and John Humphrey Noyes’s “Bible communism.” He predicted that their success or failure hinged on the conduct of their members rather than on the larger society, as some of them experimented with social and sexual arrangements and fell victim to their leaders’ misdoings. Many of these communities combined aspects of capitalism with cooperative principles like Owen’s new model factory in Lanark, Scotland. Ballou’s Hopedale community was based on principles of “Practical Christian Socialism” that he claimed were superior to all others, as they sought to strike a balance between “the Scylla of threatening Communism” and the “Charybdis of selfish, unscrupulous Individualism.” Ironically, Ballou’s experiment in Christian Socialism was eventually replaced by a ubiquitous symbol of Gilded Age rapacious capitalism, a company town led by the Draper family. Similarly, the Oneida community, which was founded on the perfectionist doctrines of Noyes in 1848 and its many offshoots, ended up as a joint-stock company. Noyes’s ideas on “male continence” and “complex marriage” proved to be controversial, and after the war he fled to Canada to escape prosecution for statutory rape. Noyes wrote a history of American Socialisms, but Oneida came to be known for its manufacturing success, particularly its silverware, rather than for its communitarian principles.

Other utopian communities were associated with abolition. The Transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott’s short-lived vegetarian community Fruitlands, founded in 1843, barely survived a year with its peculiar dietary and work restrictions. The founders of Brook Farm modified their commitment to Transcendentalism and radical individualism with the communal values of Fourierism. “Social transcendentalists” such as William Henry Channing, Alcott, and Ripley were abolitionists. Unlike his famous uncle, Channing led an activist life as an advocate of Christian socialism, abolition, and women’s rights. The Northampton Association combined Garrisonian nonresistance and abolitionism with Fourierism and ideas of cooperative labor. Many abolitionists saw communities based on principles of cooperation as a way to criticize slavery and inequality and were attracted to their experiments with health, social arrangements, the role of women, property, and labor. Weld and the Grimkés joined Marcus Spring’s utopian society at Raritan Bay Union, New Jersey, where they ran a school at Eagleswood based on Fourier’s educational principles. Elizur Wright also promoted Fourierist urban cooperatives as a solution to the woes of labor.

The abolitionist Northampton Association alone had prominent black members, and its radicalism on challenging race, gender, and class hierarchies made it the butt of conservative evangelical criticism. After the collapse of the Kingdom of Mathias, Sojourner Truth joined it. Ruggles spent his last years there as a “hydropathic” doctor and treated many, including Garrison, with his water cure. The fugitive slaves Basil Dorsey and Stephen C. Rush were also longtime members. The association experimented in communal living and developed an incipient critique of capitalism and the wage system. Though the association struggled, Garrison noted that the success of the experiment would cheer friends of universal reform. With its demise in 1846, the attempt to marry abolitionism with communitarianism came to an end. Unlike Oneida, Northampton was not economically successful and, as happened at Hopedale, a factory village replaced it.25

African Americans also created independent landowning communities, a counterpart to white communitarianism. One of the oldest black communities in New York was Seneca Village, founded in 1825 and razed in 1857 to make room for Central Park. This predominantly black community, which came to include German and Irish immigrants, boasted of churches, including the AME Zion, and colored schools. Composed mainly of working-class property holders, it was home to the black abolitionists James Gloucester and Charles Ray. Weeksville, founded in 1835 by the black Brooklynites James Weeks, Sylvanus Smith, Henry C. Thompson, and George Hogarth, was also a site of independent black activism, home to black newspapers, churches, schools, and abolitionism. In 1847 Morel moved to Weeksville, becoming a teacher and principal in its colored schools and continuing his work in the black conventions and antislavery societies. In Ohio free blacks and fugitive slaves founded the “freedom town” of Brooklyn in 1830, later known as Lovejoy after the dead abolitionist. It survived as a black majority, multiracial town well into the twentieth century.

Abolitionists helped found independent black communities. The Lane rebel Augustus Wattles started an agricultural community in Carthagena, Ohio, in 1835, where he built a manual labor school called Emlen Institute after a Quaker benefactor. In 1846 mobs dispersed John Randolph’s emancipated slaves, who were deeded land and attracted to Wattles’s school, illustrating the threats to such experiments. In 1836 Robert Rose founded a black community in Silver Lakes, Pennsylvania, but it was short-lived. A year earlier Free Frank, who purchased his own and his family’s freedom, established the town of New Philadelphia in Illinois. Black communities such as Timbucto, consisting of black settlers on Smith’s land grants, Weeksville, Seneca Village, Carthagena, and New Philadelphia made landownership, education, and economic and social independence a pathway to citizenship. These black settlements, predecessors of all black towns at the turn of the century, challenge simplistic dualisms of separation and integration. They sought political rights as well as economic autonomy.26

The sectional crisis over slavery did not divert either the communitarian or labor movements from their goals since there was considerable cross-fertilization of ideas and organizing between abolition and them. Garrisonian support for communitarian principles and Chartism and political abolitionists’ and free soilers’ championing of the cause of labor and land reform should lead to a reevaluation of the perception that abolitionists were moralistic, bourgeois individualists. With good reason, conservative critics of Garrison and Dale Owen lumped them together as “degraded infidels.” Anarchistic communes, Modern Times in Long Island, founded by the former Owenite Josiah Warren, and the “free love” advocate and abolitionist feminist Stephen Pearl Andrews supplanted older communitarian experiments. By then most labor leaders agreed with abolitionists that slaveholders’ supposed solution to the plight of labor, its enslavement, was an insult. Proslavery ideologues like James Henry Hammond, known for the letters he wrote to Clarkson in 1844, in which he compared the condition of the English working class unfavorably with that of slaves, best articulated this argument in his famous “Cotton is King” speech of 1858. The northern working classes, like southern slaves, Hammond maintained, constituted the dangerous “mudsill,” or lowest class, of society, and only an intersectional alliance of the propertied ruling classes could keep both in check. Garrison gave the speech pride of place in his “Refuge of Oppression” column. The platform of the antislavery Republican Party rested on evoking the dignity of free labor against an idle, corrupt slaveholding aristocracy and keeping slavery out of the west. It should come as no surprise that during the Civil War, most workers cast their lot against slavery.

In the 1850s abolitionists began raising the cause of labor in antislavery meetings with increasing frequency. At the NEAS convention, Channing, a socialist-abolitionist, argued, “Logically, I have never been able to separate the Anti Slavery movement from all those directed to raise Laboruniversally.” Though he still disagreed with those labor leaders who felt that the elevation of free labor must precede abolition, he felt that abolitionists must make a greater effort to convince workers of this doctrine. Garrison added that labor should also remove the “foul spirit of caste,” or racism, from its midst. Stephen Foster and Parker Pillsbury, the New Hampshire abolitionists who were Roger’s protégés and heirs to his ideological radicalism, supported Channing’s call for “interlinking” the two movements. Pillsbury, who had worked as a teamster, strongly upheld the labor movement and referred to the working classes as the “bone and sinew of the nation.” Garrison approvingly published resolutions from a workingmen’s meeting that condemned the “despotic attitude of the slave power of the South and the domineering ascendancy of a Monied Oligarchy in the North as equally hostile” to labor and to “the preservation of popular rights.” He was one of the friendly editors who supported a journeymen printers’ strike against wage reductions in Boston. The antislavery Republican political economist from North Carolina Daniel R. Goodloe voiced his support of a shoemakers’ strike in 1860 in the National Era. But like another antislavery North Carolinian, Hinton R. Helper, Goodloe opposed Radical Reconstruction.

Congruity rather than conflict characterized the relationship between abolition and the early labor movement in the age of the Civil War. Henry C. Wright characterized the war as the “Rebellion of Capital against labor” and as “an effort of slave-driving capitalists to enslave the labor of the entire nation . . . white as well as black.” After the war both Phillips and Garrison backed the machinist Ira Steward’s eight-hour-a-day movement. Phillips joined the labor movement, and Steward came from an abolitionist family. Smith recommended that they should fight for a six-hour day, and Garrison, who sent a contribution to the Eight Hour League, admonished that it should not give any “countenance to the spirit of complexional caste in regard to any of the working classes.” The NASS, the official organ of the AASS, joined the National Labor Union and the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) in supporting the eight-hour-a-day movement.27 Labor movements after the war saw themselves as heirs of the abolition movement.


Mass immigration and refugees from the revolutions of 1848 shaped the labor question in the abolition movement. Garrison tried to replicate his alliance with the Chartists and Irish nationalists at home. He publicized a call by D. S. Grandin to form a Workingmen’s Protective Union, a cooperative, and Lovett’s speech calling slavery a link in the chain of labor oppression. He gave working-class voices access to his paper, publishing letters from a mechanic who condemned the “love of gain” and another from Grandin advocating land reform. In 1845 he, Phillips, and Channing attended a meeting of the revived New England Workingmen’s Association and reported on it sympathetically, noting its support of abolition. These efforts were eclipsed by Michael Walsh, the Irish labor leader, who sought an alliance with the Calhounite wing of the Democratic Party. Walsh launched an unprovoked attack on Douglass in his newspaper, calling him a “semi-baboon” and “impertinent black vagabond” and criticizing his relationship with English women as an illustration of “practical amalgamation.” Garrison bemoaned the fact that a man like Walsh was at the head of New York’s working classes, denouncing his over-the-top racism as “malevolent conduct” and loathsome dabbling in “Subterranean [a pun on the title of his newspaper] pollution.” Walsh’s “vitriolic anticapitalism” was matched by his equally vitriolic racism.

The incorporation of most of the urban immigrant working class into the southern-leaning Democratic Party, which was staunchly anti-abolitionist, alienated them from abolition and instigated mob violence. The local party boss Capt. Isaiah Rynders and Walsh had led a meeting in opposition to the Wilmot Proviso of 1846, the attempt by northern Democrats to restrict the expansion of slavery, upholding the idea of noninterference in slavery and threatening opponents with violence. In 1850 John Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald wrote a series of race-baiting articles condemning abolitionists as disunionists, Douglass as a black man, Garrison as a mulatto man, and Phillips as white “merely from blood.” That year Rynders, who had lived in South Carolina, led a mob to disrupt the annual meeting of the AASS in New York. Garrison, Douglass, and Ward were more than a match for Rynders and a Professor Grant, a scientific racist. Grant described black people as belonging to a “monkey tribe.” Greeley wryly reported that the audience was convinced that if anyone was a “dull orangutan” it was Grant and that if anybody was “the first cousin of a very vicious monkey” it was Rynders. But Rynders’s mob forced the AASS to abandon New York for abolitionist-friendly Syracuse to hold its annual meeting. Rynders contended that the condition of northern labor was worse than that of southern slaves, who, he testified from personal experience, were treated with greater humanity. As a U.S. marshal in the 1850s he was zealous in implementing the Fugitive Slave Law and lax with the laws against the African slave trade.28

While immigrants’ hostility to abolition was the result of a process of Americanization through which they sought to accrue the benefits of “whiteness” and hypernationalism or demonstrate loyalty to their adopted country, abolitionists deplored nativism in principle and appealed to immigrants to join their cause. The evangelical abolitionists George Bourne and Elijah Lovejoy were critics of the Catholic Church, but Garrison, whose mother was of Irish descent, early on condemned the burning of the Catholic convent in Charlestown in 1834, published a series of numbers on the “starving” Irish, and the anti-abolitionist William Cobbett’s impressions of Ireland. Abolitionist efforts to woo the Irish failed, but not because of a lack of effort or a failure to address the conditions faced by impoverished Irish immigrants. John Rankin reported an incident in which Irish workers were whipped like slaves in the South, and the abolitionist state legislator George Bradburn of Massachusetts repeatedly drew attention to the dismal conditions faced by Irish immigrants. Amasa Walker complained that while abolitionists sympathized with “the oppressed and half paid operatives of England” and the “half starved peasantry of Ireland,” they had no sympathy for America’s two million black slaves. Evincing a Garrisonian horror at the misdeeds of the U.S. government, including its treatment of Native Americans, Jonathan Walker issued a special appeal to them. He wrote, “The chain that you have been helping to secure upon the limbs of the southern chattel slaves, has its other end fastened upon your own.”29

Abolitionists sought to recruit working-class immigrants. Garrison criticized British rule in Ireland as the root of all its sufferings. In the 1840s he made a concerted effort to court the Irish by favoring the repeal of the British union with Ireland. Whether Garrison got his ideas on disunion from the Irish Repeal movement or not, he clearly sought to link the oppression of the Irish with that of black Americans. He elicited the services of Irish abolitionists and the great Irish nationalist Daniel O’Connell, who had befriended him in 1833. On his return to the United States in 1841, Remond brought with him an “Address from the People of Ireland, to their Countrymen and Countrywomen in America,” composed by Irish abolitionists and signed by O’Connell, Father Theobald Mathew, a temperance advocate, and sixty thousand others, urging Irish immigrants to “UNITE WITH THE ABOLITIONISTS.” Garrison thought it a “noble effusion of Irish love and sympathy.”

Abolitionists publicized the Irish Appeal in mass meetings in Boston and Philadelphia, but Irish American leaders, especially those associated with the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church, such as Bishop John Hughes, challenged its veracity and condemned it, ironically, as “foreign interference.” The Appeal did little to ease competitive tensions between immigrants and blacks in northern cities over jobs and housing. Unlike most blacks, though, Irish immigrants had the right to vote, which most did for the increasingly proslavery Democratic Party as the Whigs were closely associated with evangelical Protestantism. In an open letter James Canning Fuller urged the Irish to live up to their heritage of hating slavery and loving liberty. Garrison, after the Cincinnati and Philadelphia riots of 1841–42, censured those who had incited immigrants in a “murderous assault” and taught them to hate “a more unfortunate class than themselves without a cause.” Irish American Repealers tried to distance O’Connell from abolitionists because as a devout Catholic he deplored Garrison’s unorthodox religious views. Garrison responded that his beliefs on the Sabbath were no different from those of Quaker abolitionists like Webb and Sturge, whom O’Connell admired.

But O’Connell refused to renounce abolition. When O’Connell expressed reservations about Gerrit Smith’s call for a slave rebellion, Smith defended his views as well as Garrison’s anti-Sabbath views. In reply, O’Connell reiterated his firm support of peaceful abolition, leading to the dissolution of a repeal association in South Carolina. Garrison commended his “masterly reply,” censuring the Cincinnati Repeal Association for its proslavery views and the actions of the Philadelphia mob. Refuting Reverend McGarahan of Mobile, Alabama, O’Connell declared that he hated slavery in all forms, and while he welcomed American support he would not countenance any justification of slavery. Smith immediately dispatched a donation of a hundred dollars to the Irish Repeal Association, and he donated generously to Irish famine relief. Garrison praised O’Connell’s “scorching rebuke” of proslavery repealers. A race-baiting, anti-abolition speech by Robert Tyler, a slaveholder and the son of President John Tyler, before the Irish Repeal Association of Philadelphia, over which he presided, angered abolitionists. The Philadelphia repeal association, according to McKim, was anti-abolitionist and proslavery. Eventually, a new organization split off from it. The Cincinnati Repeal Association included prominent Democratic politicians, such as the former vice president from Kentucky, Richard M. Johnson (known for his common-law marriages to enslaved women). Salmon Chase, the antislavery lawyer and politician, led a meeting of the friends of liberty, O’Connell, and repeal to counteract the proslavery association. The Irish abolitionists Haughton and Allen lauded O’Connell and Garrison for linking Irish Repeal with abolition, unlike their “unfortunate countrymen” in the United States who chose the slaveholding Tyler to lead their national repeal convention. As O’Connell famously wrote to them, “It was not in Ireland you learned this cruelty.” After his release from prison by the British government and on the eve of his death, O’Connell condemned the annexation of Texas, further alienating Irish Americans in an expansionist Democratic Party. Even he could not counteract the conservative influence of the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party on the slavery question. Garrison’s eulogy on O’Connell was also a eulogy on his unsuccessful efforts to recruit Irish immigrants for the abolition movement.

Rather than being mired in the nineteenth-century discourse of romantic nationalism and despite most immigrants’ coolness to abolition, an internationalist perspective made abolitionists strong critics of nativism as another species of prejudice. In a blistering editorial of 1844 on the rise of the Native American Party, Garrison scathed nativism as an antirepublican and tyrannical strain that must be “discountenanced by every friend of human brotherhood.” Nativism, he believed, was akin to the spirit of slavery and racial caste, and in turning their backs on antislavery Irish immigrants were reaping the “whirlwind.” But Garrison’s connection to Ireland did not falter. He distinguished the Irish in Ireland from the “recreant Irish” in America, who had adopted the oppressive ways of their new country. He published reports on the Irish famine by Allen and Webb and pressed every town in the United States to vote for giving assistance to its victims. Webb disdained the narrow love of nation but eventually supported repeal, alluding to his countrymen as the “white niggers” of the British Isles. The final nail in the coffin of Garrison’s dream of converting the Irish to abolition was Father Mathew’s visit to the United States in 1849. Mathew refused to endorse abolition despite repeated appeals from Garrison. His reluctance was a backsliding on the slavery question since he had signed the Irish Appeal. Garrison was reduced to reprinting O’Connell’s views to counteract his silence. Mathew’s prime allegiance to the church and temperance and his desire not to alienate Irish Americans squelched whatever antislavery sentiments he had.30

On the Irish question, domestic failure crowned international success for abolitionists. In the 1850s John Mitchel, the exiled Irish leader, became an ardent defender of slavery, contending that blacks were inferior by nature. Abolitionists marveled at the fact that a man banished by the British government and forced to work like a slave in a penal colony in Tasmania should become a champion of American slavery. To Henry C. Wright, Mitchel only proved the narrowness of all nationalisms that sought liberty for themselves and slavery for others. Unlike O’Connell’s and Haughton’s love of all humankind, Mitchel’s patriotism was shallow, Wright said, and Ireland was well rid of him. Purvis pointedly contrasted a black association formed by him to promote Irish Repeal to the racist Mitchel, “the braggart traitor to liberty.” Abolitionists like Purvis and James Redpath remained strong supporters of Irish independence until their death. Mitchel, who published the Citizen with Thomas Francis Meagher in New York, responded to Haughton’s plea for abolition with a proslavery diatribe. Owning, breeding, and selling slaves was not a crime, and he wished he had a plantation in Alabama “stocked with healthy negroes.” Mitchel’s brand of pro-slavery apologetics was too much for even some of his countrymen, who wrote him a public letter expressing their “mortification and disgust” at his conduct. Mitchel moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he published the Southern Citizen, which recommended the reopening of the African slave trade. The Tribune reported that the advocate of Irish emancipation had become a slaveholder and secessionist. Mitchel’s sons fought for the Confederacy, and he returned to Ireland after the war.

Immigrants’ hostility to abolition and black equality set the stage for the deadly New York City Draft Riots during the Civil War, when predominantly Irish mobs mercilessly attacked African Americans and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum, venting their anger against not just conscription but also emancipation. Legitimate grievances of the urban immigrant working class paled before this ugly demonstration of visceral racism. Over a hundred blacks were murdered, eleven men lynched, homes destroyed, and the black population was dealt a blow from which it would not recover for a long time. In the postwar era, radical Irish nationalists like the Fenians, labor leaders, and land leagues found common cause with abolitionists and land reformers like Henry George, finally realizing the abolitionist dream of a progressive alliance with Irish working-class immigrants at home. One of George’s chief allies was the Irish nationalist and labor reformer Patrick Ford, who had worked for Garrison and fought in the Union army. He renamed his newspaper in 1878, the Irish World and American Industrial Liberator.31


The European revolutions of 1848 for representative government and national liberation helped internationalize social movements like abolition. In the 1830s, when Americans bolstered the Greeks and Poles in their quest for freedom from the Ottoman and Russian empires, abolitionists pointed to their hypocrisy in shedding tears for freedom struggles all over the world but being blind to the sufferings of slaves at home. Nonetheless, abolitionists sympathized with international movements for freedom, black abolitionists adopting the Byronic slogan “Hereditary bondsmen, know ye not who would be free, themselves must strike a blow,” from Childe Harold, as their own. George Gordon, Lord Byron, had fought for Greek independence and written his poem for that cause. Whittier referred to slaves as the “Greeks of America,” noting that Colonel Miller of Vermont, who had fought against the Turks, was also an abolitionist. The most famous abolitionist graduate of the Greek and Polish wars of independence was the physician Samuel Gridley Howe, whose reformism included the treatment of the blind, deaf, insane, and disabled and whose revolutionary sympathies translated into support for John Brown. David Lee Child, who had fought for the liberation of Spain from France, became an abolitionist. Garrison connected slavery to the oppression of British India, Greeks, Poles, and the Irish Catholics, viewing all these causes as embodying the fight for freedom. European “friends of liberty” looked up to the American Republic, Henry C. Wright wrote in 1846 from England, but that example was tainted by the existence of slavery.32

Abolitionist appeals to a revolutionary tradition were rarely confined to the American Revolution. They viewed the revolutions of 1848, which produced radical democratic, socialist, and feminist ideas, as kindred movements. The antislavery actions and words of European revolutionaries won high praise from abolitionists. In 1847 the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini wrote for the Liberty Bell, as did the French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher. Maria Chapman, who was living in France at this time, reported on the activities of the feminist Jeanne Deroin. She also corresponded with the Russian exile and opponent of serfdom Nicholas Tourgueneff, to whom she sent abolitionist newspapers and literature. When the Second Republic in France abolished slavery in 1848, mainly at Schoelcher’s instigation, Garrison convened a special meeting of the AASS at Faneuil Hall to congratulate the French Republic, which was attended by Garrisonians, Libertyites such as Elizur Wright and Henry I. Bowditch, and free soilers like Sumner. Besides Margaret Fuller, others, including the antislavery poet and writer James Russell Lowell, a correspondent for the NASS, wrote in praise of the revolutions in prose and poetry.33

Abolitionists and free soilers identified the despotic Slave Power of the United States with European forces of reaction and their own battle against slavery with European revolutionary struggles. Most American conservatives typically balked at the “red republicanism” of the revolutions in 1848. Slaveholders like Calhoun, who rejoiced at the failure of the Chartists, moved unsuccessfully to table resolutions in the Senate congratulating the French on the formation of their republic, especially after the Free Soil senator from Maine John P. Hale added abolition as one reason to congratulate the French. Brownson, who had metamorphosed from a radical labor reformer to a conservative Catholic, denounced the revolutionaries in his Quarterly Review. Sumner noted the opposition of the northern propertied classes to the revolutions, and the proslavery New York Herald commended the brutal suppression of the Paris workers. Schoelcher fled France after Louis Napoleon’s coup and, refusing amnesty, returned only with the establishment of the Third Republic.

Southern proslavery writers saw abolition as akin to the dangerous -isms of the revolutions, Fourierism, socialism, communism, “free lovism,” feminism, “bloomerism,” agrarianism, and “Proudhonism.” Fitzhugh said, “We treat the Abolitionists and Socialists as identical, because they are notoriously the same people, employing the same arguments and bent on the same schemes. Abolition is the first step in Socialism; the former proposes to abolish negro slavery, the latter all kinds of slavery—religion, government, marriage, families, property—nay, human nature itself.” Jefferson Davis argued that socialists were correspondents of American abolitionists, the latter wanting to abolish slave property, the former all property. While historians have detected similarities between the proslavery argument and the socialist criticism of capitalism, contemporaries saw them as opposites. According to the Carolinian senator James Chesnut, red republicanism in America had merely “blacked its face.”34

The overthrow of the French Republic, documented by Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, and Mazzini’s Roman Republic and the dispersal of the Frankfurt Parliament and Viennese radicals may have reenforced a sense of American exceptionalism. But for abolitionists, socialists, feminists, and other assorted radicals it threw into sharp contrast the nineteenth-century vogue of narrow nationalism versus universal human values and rights they advocated for disfranchised sections of the nation. When the Hungarian patriot Louis [Lajos] Kossuth toured the United States in 1851–52 in search of arms and financial support, abolitionists fully expected him to tie the cause of Hungarian liberty to that of abolition. But Kossuth, not wanting to alienate slaveholders who occupied a prominent place in government, was, Garrison said, “deaf and dumb” on slavery. To Phillips, he was a “mere Hungarian exile” who had “sacrificed the cause of liberty itself.” According to Henry C. Wright, Kossuth had sacrificed humanity on the altar of nationalism. Smith observed that Kossuth, absorbed in the wrongs of his country, had forgotten the deeper wrongs of others and was just a nationalist, not a philanthropist. The antislavery Mazzini was a better representative of the spirit of 1848, he opined.

In the 1850s Mazzini cemented his reputation among abolitionists by writing public letters against slavery. Garrison published a pamphlet on Mazzini, whom he met in 1846 in England and with whom he formed a lasting friendship, and on the German naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt’s rebuke of a proslavery southerner for editing out his antislavery opinions from his work and his chiding of Americans for going backward on the slavery question earned him high praise from abolitionists. At his behest, Prussia declared slaves who landed in its territory free in 1857. The NASS dedicated two issues to Humboldt on his death. Garrison compared Mazzini’s cosmopolitan love of humanity with Kossuth’s narrow patriotism. In his Letter to Louis Kossuth (1852), Garrison wrote that it was easy to reprehend European despotism in America and American slavery in Europe, but the true test was to uphold “principles of justice and humanity” on both sides of the Atlantic. He held up for Kossuth Europeans who had been true to the cause of humanity. American revolutionaries such as Washington, Jefferson, and Henry, whom Kossuth admired, Garrison argued, had sacrificed much for the liberty of their country, but they were slaveholders who drew “their sustenance, in part, from the unrequited toil, the tears and blood of their plundered vassals.” The real revolutionaries, he said, were slaves, “and where has there appeared a more heroic spirit than that of NATHANIEL TURNER, the unfortunate but indomitable slave leader in the Southampton insurrection?”35

Other abolitionists tried to appropriate Kossuth’s revolutionary credentials for their cause. The AFASS sent a flattering letter to Kossuth, forcing Tappan to defend himself from Garrison’s barbs. The MASS denounced the free soiler Horace Mann’s defense of Kossuth. In a speech on slavery in Congress, Mann likened Kossuth’s plight to that of fugitive slaves and avowed that only proslavery northerners and southerners had been critical of the Hungarian. Bailey’s the National Era praised Kossuth and defended him from southern and conservative attacks, but when he refused to commit himself on slavery, the paper was disappointed in his display of “a little too much reserve.” William Jay defended Kossuth for not wanting to denounce a country in which he was a guest. But, echoing the peace committee in London led by Sturge, he was alarmed at the military demonstrations at Kossuth’s reception. As president of the American Peace Society, he opposed arming the Hungarians. Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and his paper, the New York Independent, however, welcomed Kossuth, presenting him with lead shot from the Battles of Bunker Hill and New Orleans. In Congress, Sumner and Seward defended Kossuth from the criticism of southerners. When Hale sought to amend a resolution welcoming Kossuth by Sen. Henry Foote of Mississippi to imply he was averse to slavery, Foote exploded in rage. Kossuth complained of his “cold reception” in the South, and the city of Richmond retracted its invitation to him. Congress’s welcoming resolution for Kossuth solicited six nays in the Senate and sixteen in the House, all cast by southerners.

The Garrisonian critique of Kossuth, though, had some effect. In an antislavery meeting in Cincinnati consisting of Garrisonians, Liberty Party men, and free soilers, black abolitionists passed a resolution rebuking Kossuth’s conduct. When the abolitionist lawyer John Joliffe called for reconsideration of the resolution, John Mercer Langston chided Kossuth for preaching liberty in Europe and property in Kentucky, for riding two horses, and for linking the cause of liberty with men whose hands were “dripping with the blood” of over three million “oppressed men and women.” William G. Allen and Henry Crozier disowned the AFASS address to Kossuth, which included the names of African Americans on its executive committee, Pennington and Cornish. Ward criticized a Liberty Party paper for lionizing Kossuth. McCune Smith had hoped that Kossuth would deliver “telling blows” against slavery but commented that African Americans had not been invited to meet him. Douglass argued that only fugitive slaves could have real sympathy for Kossuth, a fugitive himself, and initially commended him for abolishing serfdom. But if Kossuth took the “blood stained gold” of slaveholding America to liberate Hungary, he wrote, the slaves’ curses would follow. The AASS’s address to Kossuth stated that his “honors and laudations” had been purchased at too great a price. It predicted that he would not receive any help from what Douglass called “our slave-hunting, slave-extending” country.

Kossuth’s very presence supported the cause of liberty wrote J.T. in Frederick Douglass’ Paper. But his doctrine of nonintervention in the domestic affairs of another country did not serve his own cause well, as J. R. Johnson of Syracuse pointed out. When it came to soliciting aid from America, Kossuth evoked the principles of 1776 rather than noninterference. And when Kossuth pronounced himself in favor of Irish independence, Douglass angrily pointed out that he broke his rule of nonintervention only when it suited him. Other black leaders used the symbolism of the European revolutions to support their own struggle against the tyranny of slavery, imbuing their fight with revolutionary and transnational meaning. J.T., the one consistent black booster of the Hungarian, contended that Kossuth represented the forces of freedom, while regretting his silence on slavery. Kossuth’s visit, he wrote, bolstered political antislavery and encouraged German Americans in particular to leave the Democratic Party and vote for the remnant of the Free Soil Party, the “Free Democracy.”36

The emigration of German Forty-Eighters, refugees from the German republican revolution after the collapse of the Frankfurt Parliament, had an impact on the politics of abolition and free soil. Some of these freethinking, radical German émigrés joined existing radical movements, the labor movement, land reform, and abolition while others became free soilers. Though some German, especially Catholic, immigrants voted Democratic, like their Irish counterparts, after the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, many of them, especially urban workers and intellectuals, defected to the newly formed antislavery Republican Party. The Forty-Eighters formed alliances with abolitionists and brought a substantial section of the German immigrant population into the Republican Party. Antislavery Whigs like Seward and Lincoln repudiated nativism, and the Republican Party formally rejected the Know-Nothing platform in large part so as to not alienate their German supporters. The German radicals Adolf Douai, Friedrich Kapp, and Karl Heinzen published German-language free soil newspapers in Texas, Missouri, and Kentucky, until they were forced to leave. In the North, August Willich in Cincinnati, Fritz and Mathilde Anneke in Milwaukee, and Heinzen in Boston formed alliances with the abolitionists Moncure Conway, Peter Clark, Sherman and Mary Booth, and Phillips.

Radical freethinking Germans like the feminist Anneke and the socialists Willich and Heinzen, a close ally of Phillips in the war years, emerged as staunch abolitionists. In 1859 Willich presided over a German meeting organized by his Arbeiterverein (workers’ association) to pay tribute to John Brown. Clark also addressed the meeting. After being hounded out of Lexington, Kentucky, Heinzen published the German Die Pionier in Boston. He asked Garrison to condemn an impending nativist amendment in Massachusetts that would make immigrants wait for two years before voting, scaled down considerably from the initial twenty-one- and fourteen-year bans but barring, he noted, men like Mazzini and Humboldt from the polls. Assuring Garrison of German support for abolition, he asked “the noble advocate of black rights” to say a word on behalf of the “rights of the immigrated.” Garrison denounced the injustice of the nativist amendment, characterizing it as the last “expiring effort” of nativism that Republicans in the rest of the country had censured. Bailey had ridiculed the “proscriptive principles” of the Know-Nothing Party, going so far as to suggest that it was a proslavery plot to defeat the Republican Party and deflect attention from the slavery issue. The prominent Republicans Chase, Lincoln, Seward, and Sumner repudiated the amendment. The Liberty and Free Soil parties had opposed nativist restrictions on principle. Garrison welcomed the German turn toward free soilism and against the “slave oligarchy.” He criticized European immigrants who denounced tyranny but had no sympathy for slaves. Germans, in his opinion, had passed the test.

While the Catholic Church exercised a conservative influence on the slavery issue among immigrants, radical institutions like the socialist Turnvereins were decidedly antislavery. A convention of German exiles in 1854 and the national Turnerbund the subsequent year came out strongly against slavery. The German Turners often came to the rescue of African Americans and abolitionists against mob attacks before and during the war. Douglass, who was close to the radical German journalist Ottilie Assing, claimed, “A German has only to be a German to be utterly opposed to slavery.” He commended “those noble and high-minded men, most of whom, swept over by the tide of revolution in 1849, have become our active allies in the struggle against oppression and prejudice.” McCune Smith noted, “The German immigrants are for the most part, a liberty-loving, caste despising people.” The British and Foreign ASS even promoted German immigration to Texas to establish an antislavery population there.

German Texans would pay with their lives for their unionism during the Civil War. Many supported black suffrage and citizenship after it. Some of them, such as Carl Schurz and Francis Lieber, who had migrated before 1848 and lived in South Carolina, became well-known Republicans. Lieber, who became a professor at Columbia University, wrote Lincoln’s war code that justified emancipation and racial equality. Schurz, who rallied German Americans to the Republican Party, wrote an exposé of southern atrocities during Reconstruction but eventually joined the Liberal Republican movement. Conservative rural German opposition to abolition and black rights, German dockworkers who joined the Irish in the Cincinnati race riot of 1862, and, ten years later, attacks on blacks and Douglass over the alleged rape of a German girl by a black man in Rochester qualify the simple notion that Germans were naturally antislavery and immune to the lures of racism in their adopted country. In the 1870s, when Germany was united by Otto von Bismarck’s blood and iron policies, German immigrants reflected the conservative nationalism of policies back home. Like the North and the Republican Party, most of them moved ideologically away from antislavery.37

In the antebellum period, however, German immigrants had an antislavery reputation, thanks to the influence of the Forty-Eighters. The radical Forty-Eighters connected abolition to the labor movement. Willich promoted “the material and literary interests of the working classes against capitalism” and abolitionism in his Cincinnati Republikaner. According to him, without attacking the enslavement of black labor, white workers could not “have even set foot on the battlefield for the advancement of human rights.” In turn, the Ohio black convention had expressed solidarity with Hungarian and German socialists. In New York, Joseph Wedemeyer’s American Worker’s League, founded in 1853, explicitly repudiated racial discrimination and supported the Republican Party. Both Willich and Wedemeyer were former associates of Marx and served in the Union army. Willich’s ally, the black abolitionist and educator Peter Clark, briefly joined the Workingmen’s, later the Socialist Labor Party, after the war. From a young age Clark was exposed to the principles of Fourierism and utopian socialism. Clark’s socialism and admiration of Thomas Paine, for which he was fired from his job, were strengthened by his interaction with German socialists and freethinkers.

Marx, the premier socialist of the day, and his collaborator Engels were recruited by Charles Dana, a Fourierist, to become the London correspondents for Greeley’s Tribune from 1852 to 1862. Their articles ranged from the opium wars in China, British imperialism in India, and the aftermath of the European revolutions to the labor and slavery questions in the Anglo-American world. Marx argued that land reform promoted communism and clearly viewed abolition as a species of labor reform. He became an ardent supporter of the Union cause during the war. Marx saw abolition as a necessary precondition for the emancipation of the working class in the United States, writing in Das Kapital, “Labor cannot emancipate itself in white skin where in the black it is branded.” He composed a laudatory letter to Lincoln on behalf of the IWA and had a keen appreciation of the abolitionists Garrison, Smith, and Phillips, one of whose speeches he conveyed virtually verbatim, for having suffered for thirty years in the cause of the emancipation of slave labor.

After the war, an abolitionist–labor alliance found organizational expression briefly under Marxist auspices. Former abolitionists, Chartists, Owenites, utopian socialists, followers of Proudhon, labor, and “free love” advocates like Andrews and Victoria Woodhull joined the First International, begun with Marx’s formation of the IWA in 1864 in London. Despite Marx’s criticism of utopian socialism in contrast to his own brand of allegedly scientific socialism, many of these reformers were the first converts to Marxism. Abolitionists such as Richard Hinton, a follower of John Brown who led a black regiment during the Civil War, and William West, who had brought up the plight of wage slaves in the pages of the Liberator before the war, were prominent in the First International, which earned the support of Sumner and Phillips. Andrews translated and Woodhull published Marx’s Communist Manifesto (1848) in the United States for the first time in her newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly. While most denounced the Paris Commune of 1871, the NASS and the abolitionist Theodore Tilton’s the Independent praised it. After the suppression of the commune, the IWA, now headquartered in New York, held a huge demonstration in sympathy that included an all-black Skidmore guard named after Thomas Skidmore. A black militia elected Tennessee Claflin, Woodhull’s sister, as an officer. A radical gadfly, Woodhull supported labor rights and women’s rights, experimented with spiritualism, and ran the first female brokerage firm on Wall Street with the help of Cornelius Vanderbilt, her sister’s lover. She was eventually expelled from the First International by German Americans, who wanted to prioritize workers’ participation, and arrested for violating obscenity laws in exposing the affair between Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and Tilton’s wife. Marx not only dismissed her unconventional ideas on marriage and sexuality as a distraction but also voiced his skepticism about her dabbling in spiritualism and banking.

The attempt to form a progressive political platform under the IWA’s auspices failed, but it is reductionist to accuse either German Marxists, many of whom were exiles from the revolution in 1848, of doctrinaire thinking, or American reformers, who advocated for the working class, of bourgeois reformism. Both sides had initially found enough common ground in the First International, and in the end both would face defeat. Counterrevolution soon followed the fall of Reconstruction, unleashing a massive reaction against the rights of African Americans and the working class during the age of capital in the United States, the Gilded Age. Some, like Hinton, moved on to Debsian socialism, or the American socialist party led by Eugene V. Debs.38 For at least a few years the revolutionary ferment in Europe that exiled Marx to London and the international to New York drew socialists into the orbit of American radicalism, of which abolition had been the centerpiece.


Despite being enamored of the tactics and success of British abolition, American abolitionists, especially Garrisonians, were staunch critics of British imperialism. The contrary view that hypocritical abolitionists were early supporters of European imperialism owes its origins to the defenders of slavery. Slaveholders were hardly shedding tears at the plight of British India or the use of indentured, or coolie, labor. The South Carolinian secessionist John Townsend reminded the British that the civilizing and subjection of an inferior race were goals they shared. In the 1850s expansionist-minded southern planters, dreaming of their own slaveholding empire that would encompass the Caribbean and Central and South America, led filibustering expeditions to Nicaragua and Cuba and debated plans to reopen the long-abolished African slave trade. Slaveholders, not their abolitionist critics, were the real champions of imperialism. The British and Foreign ASS passed resolutions against the new slave trade in indentured servants and coupled it with the revival of the African slave trade. It also condemned indentured servitude and the use of unfree labor in the British Empire. Nor were abolitionists uncritical exponents of wage over slave labor. One British Garrisonian warned, “The English manufacturer cares less for the tears of the negro than for the rise of prices in the cotton market;—he sees insurrection in an abolition pamphlet & waits with philosophic composure till supplies from free labor will enable him to be humane without any sacrifice.”39

Abolitionists had long distinguished their ideas from the imperialist logic of the ACS. Colonizationists greeted Buxton’s founding of the African Civilization Society in London in 1840 to replace the slave trade with “legitimate commerce” and work for the civilization of Africa as essentially their program. But British abolitionists, despite Gurley’s strenuous efforts, held themselves aloof from colonization. Buxton insisted he was not interested in encouraging black colonization or “extend[ing] the British Empire.” Joseph Tracy, the secretary of the Massachusetts Colonization Society, linked the conversion of Africa with ending the slave trade, slavery, polygamy, and, more imaginatively, cannibalism and human sacrifices and called on “civilized men of African descent” to colonize the continent. Edward Everett, in an address before the ACS, said that the “proud white man . . . all daring Anglo-Saxon” cannot civilize central Africa, as they had India. British Garrisonians and Sturge, who was wary of Buxton because of his compromise on compensation and apprenticeship, opposed the African Civilization Society’s disastrous Niger expedition as an imperialist one.40

Crummell and Garnet, who were in favor of the African Civilization Society’s efforts to encourage the growth of “free cotton” in Africa, joined it to their efforts to revive the free produce movement. Crummell delivered a eulogy on Clarkson on the eve of his departure to England in 1846 that lauded the ethical progress of civilization epitomized by abolitionists. In one of his first speeches at the annual meeting of the British and Foreign ASS, Crummell recommended that the British stop their “immense consumption of slave-grown produce,” particularly cotton and sugar. Garnet, who lectured with his old friend when he arrived in England in 1850, held up slave shackles, announcing that they were manufactured in the British iron heartland of Birmingham. Sarah Parker Remond declared that the profitability of the global cotton trade must be replaced by emancipation and a desirable and lasting prosperity for all. Crummell developed an incipient nationalist critique of European imperialism. Although in favor of commerce and Christianization, he noted that England was far more adept at exploiting the natural “resources of foreign lands to her own good” and that he was “not satisfied” that “Africa should make other men wealthy and not ourselves.” Crummell was convinced black emigrants would undo the “history of rapine and murder, and wide-spread devastation” of western Africa by the slave trade.41

Garnet, who repeated Crummell’s message of an economic embargo against slavery, lectured in Britain on behalf of the free produce movement. Understanding full well that capitalists had only commercial motives in promoting the production of free labor cotton, he maintained that it would still benefit the abolition cause. The skeptical Douglass critiqued Garnet’s reasoning. Garnet complained to Ward, “I am annoyed to see anyone who, like you and I, has tasted the bitter cup of slavery, withholding his influence and talents from this good cause.” Garnet did not return home but in 1852 became the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland’s first black missionary to Jamaica. His wife, Julia Garnet, and children, whose travel to England was financed by Smith and British abolitionists, accompanied him. Garnet was eager to prove the superiority of free labor over slave in the West Indies, but he was also interested in establishing black economic independence. He was impressed by instances of black landownership in Jamaica and highly critical of the exploitation of black labor by planters. In a letter to Chamerovzow, Garnet wrote that black Jamaicans were “superiors in morality” to whites. He noted the preference of black workers for tilling their own provision grounds and planters’ opposition to black landownership and determination to keep them as wageworkers. He concluded, “The emancipated people use their liberty with more moderation and propriety than their former masters exercise government over them.” Ward also proposed establishing plantations to experiment in growing free labor sugar and cotton. In 1855 he left for Jamaica, where he was deeded fifty acres of land by a Quaker abolitionist. Ward deplored the exploitation of Jamaicans but opposed what he called the mulatto leadership of the Morant Bay rebellion, writing a pamphlet condemning it. He died in poverty in 1866.42

Before Ward and Garnet, Pennington traveled to Jamaica in 1846 and stayed there for two years. He formed the Jamaican Hamic Association to promote contact between African Americans and Jamaicans in a global fight against slavery and racism. To Tappan and Phelps, Pennington described Jamaica as a wonderful, ripe field for an abolitionist mission. The AMA established a Jamaican Mission, which owed its origins to Phelps’s West India Mission. It sent abolitionists like Loren Thompson, who was converted to abolition at a young age by Rev. Lemuel Haynes and had studied at Oberlin, to work with freedpeople in Jamaica. To Phelps and Thompson, landownership was the essential precondition for black freedom and equality. The AMA missionaries opened schools for and employed black Jamaicans but complained that their work was severely handicapped by the opposition of local landowners who, determined to keep them as cheap laborers, refused to sell land to black people. While the missionaries’ puritanical attitudes toward alcohol, sexuality, gender, and native religious practices like Obeah and Myalism did not help, they were leery of colonial authorities, especially after the violent suppression of the Morant Bay rebellion, when the government evicted black Jamaicans from abandoned lands. AMA missionaries believed in Christianization but also took issue with the entrenched political and economic inequalities of postemancipation Jamaica. After the Civil War they devoted themselves to the uplift and education of freedpeople nearer home.43

To a much greater extent and in an ideologically more consistent fashion than proslavery writers, abolitionists opposed British imperialism. In 1839 Joseph Pease, the father of Elizabeth Pease, founded the British India Society. Its original purpose was to combat slavery in India, but it soon became a critic of the “accumulated wrongs inflicted” on the Indian people by British rule. British Garrisonians such as William Adam and Thompson, both of whom had stayed in India, were prescient critics of imperialism. They joined the British India Society, which included Indians like Dwarkanath Tagore, the father of the Nobel Prize–winning nationalist author Rabindranath Tagore. Adam was also a close associate of the crusading Indian social reformer and nationalist Raja Rammohun Roy and introduced him to Unitarianism. Estlin provided medical care to Roy before his death. He sent locks of Roy’s hair to the Boston antislavery bazaar to sell, just as British abolitionists had earlier sent to the Americans locks of hair from Wilberforce and Clarkson. The personal relationships between abolitionists and early Indian nationalists bore testimony to the anti-imperialism of the movement.

Garrison published Adam’s and Thompson’s speeches criticizing British rule in India, proceedings of the British India Society that condemned colonial misgovernment and slavery in India, and their correspondence with such Indian reformers as Ram Gopal Ghose. Garrison surmised that Indians had been “ground to the dust” by “British exactions.” Writing from Dublin, Henry C. Wright agreed: “The history of England in India is one of systematic plunder and murder”; he prayed for the annihilation of the British Empire. He wrote that the “landed and titled and monied aristocracy” of Britain was little better than the “lords of the cowskin” in Mississippi plantations. Tappan admired Thompson’s speeches on British India and wished that his cause would prosper. In England, Garrison and Remond gave speeches to the British India Society and linked the cause of the American slave with the oppressed millions of India. At a society meeting in 1841 presided over by Adam, Webb alluded to the dreadful famines caused by British government policy, which forced Indian farmers to grow cash crops such as cotton instead of food. Later that year the society deplored the ousting of the Rajah of Sattara by the British. British abolitionists elected Dwarkanath as an honorary member of the GES.

Thompson in particular was associated with the Indian cause. He recommended that abolitionists should turn their attention to the Indian subjects of British rule after the abolition of American slavery. Thompson had left the East India Company (EIC) forces in disgust, was an agent for the deposed Rajah and the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah, who was executed after the Great Revolt of 1857. In his speech on Dwarkanath’s induction, Thompson insisted that Indian reformers like him and Roy, rather than the colonial government, were responsible for the abolition of sati, or widow burning, and slavery in India. Nearly seventy years before Mahatma Gandhi led the famous Dandi march against it, he gave a brilliant lecture lambasting the salt monopoly instituted by the British government. Thompson complained that he was virtually the only Englishman to publicly impeach the EIC for its crimes against the Indian people. On Thompson’s second abolition tour of the United States, Garrison introduced him as one who had exposed British injustice and tyranny in India as well as the horrors of slavery.

Abolitionists adopted an anticolonial discourse that took up the cause of subject peoples all over the world. O’Connell, who linked the oppression of India with that of Ireland, accused the British government of spreading misery and affliction among Indian masses, thereby deconstructing the imperialist logic that the British were the saviors of the Indian masses against their tyrannical native rulers. Elizabeth Pease criticized Dwarkanath even for accepting a medal from the EIC, the de facto ruling authority in British India before it became a royal colony. In 1842 Adam moved to America and taught at Harvard as a professor of Oriental languages and society. Illustrating the transnational radicalism of abolition, he gave a remarkable speech in which he criticized the British government for compensating West Indian slaveholders, for disfranchising the British working class represented by the Chartists, and for oppressing the masses of Ireland and India. In a letter to Elizabeth Pease, Angelina Grimké Weld wrote, “What a curse have civilized nations invariably been to the barbarians among whom they have settled, what a hissing and a by word must we be among the heathen! Look not only at India but the World.” She went on to list the extermination of native populations in the Americas, the enslavement of Africans, and imperialism in Asia as examples. Sarah Grimké also predicted, “Signal judgment would ere long be poured out on Eu. and Am.” for the crimes of slavery and imperialism.44

When the Indian revolt broke out in 1857, starting as a mutiny by sepoys (soldiers) and ending as a mass uprising of Indian rulers and their subjects against British rule, Garrison was horrified at the “calls for vengeance” in Britain. Abolitionists and slaveholders viewed the revolt through the lens of slave rebellion, and British stories of native cruelty and repressive measures smacked of slaveholders’ fears. In a letter Garrison published prominently in the Liberator, Haughton wrote that he was sickened by the cry for “Blood Blood Blood” in the British press and held that it was sheer hypocrisy for the British to condemn alleged Indian atrocities: “And is Britain guiltless of such atrocities she now thirsts to avenge?” He concluded, “Our rule in India is one continued war against her people” and the sooner “we leave her people to govern themselves,” the better. To Garrison, it was a mockery “for a people to subjugate nations, rob them, apply physical tortures, and goad them to insurrection, and then go over the solemn farce of Fast days and prayers.” Notwithstanding his theory of Asiatic despotism and British imperialism as a progressive force of destruction, Marx, in his Tribune article, criticized the British for annexing the independent principality of Awadh “violently . . . in open infraction of the acknowledged treaties.” It would be left to Lenin to develop a systematic critique of European imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism.45

Like the early Quaker abolitionists, second-wave abolitionists opposed the wars and militarism that accompanied Western imperialism. While Garrisonians espoused nonresistance, other abolitionists and antislavery people were active in the mainstream peace movement. The American Peace Society (APS) was founded in 1828 when William Ladd brought together a number of state peace societies. William Ellery Channing and May were admirers of Rev. Noah Worcester, whose opposition to the War of 1812 led to the formation of the Massachusetts Peace Society in 1815. Anglo-American abolitionists, however, internationalized the movement. In 1843, at Sturge’s suggestion, they convened the first general peace convention in London, in which Scoble, Leavitt, and Tappan participated. Tappan offered a resolution condemning Britain’s involvement in opium trafficking in China, and Ladd proposed a Congress of Nations to settle national disputes, anticipating by nearly a century the League of Nations and the United Nations.

Abolitionists viewed slavery as a state of undeclared war against African Americans and joined the international peace movement. The American peace reformer Elihu Burritt organized a peace congress in Brussels in 1848, and a year later he convened the Second Peace Congress in Paris, attended by Pennington and Wells Brown. To the discomfort of conservative pacifists, Pennington seconded Brown’s notion that slavery was an “element of war.” In 1850 Pennington attended the Frankfurt peace congress with Garnet, their color creating a sensation. Their visit led to the formation of a German ASS. Garnet traveled to Bavaria, Prussia, and France with Sturge, lecturing for peace and free labor. Sturge convened the last peace congress in London in 1851. In the decade following, the Crimean War, the Taiping rebellion in China, and the Great Revolt in India dealt a deathblow to the first international movement for peace.

While the peace movement collapsed, earlier opposition to the Mexican War (1846–48) as a land grab for slavery had married the cause of peace with that of antislavery. Abolitionists and their radical antislavery allies concentrated on combating slaveholding militarism and imperialism in the United States. Sumner’s brilliant speech before the APS in 1849 was considered far too radical by most of its members, many of whom, for example, Frelinghuysen, were colonizationists. Garrisonian nonresistants considered the APS too mainstream. By the early 1850s antislavery politicians such as Sumner and Robert Rantoul as well as the abolitionists Ellis Gray Loring, Samuel Fessenden, and Gerrit Smith were officers of the APS. Its president was William Jay, who was succeeded by Smith. The Civil War permanently divided abolitionists such as Garrison, Sumner, and Tappan and pacifists like Burritt, Ballou, and Joseph Blanchard. Abolitionists viewed the war not as overthrowing their peace principles but as an opportunity to put an end to the violence of slavery as well as to slaveholders’ expansionist adventurism in Central America and the Caribbean. Pacifists like Ballou, who opposed the war, would nevertheless assist contraband slaves during it.46

However much the British government used the moral capital of abolition to justify its imperial goals, radical abolitionists would deprecate both the theory and practice of imperialism. Abolitionists linked their denunciation of racism and persecution of people defined as nonwhite. In England, Thompson was involved in the Aborigines Protection Society, organized to protest the exploitation of indigenous people in Australia and the British colonies and before whom O’Connell gave an address. Thompson’s son-in-law Frederick William Chesson became the society’s secretary. The society also protested the use of Indian and Chinese coolie labor in various parts of the British Empire. Alfred Webb, the son of the Irish abolitionist, was elected honorary president of the Indian National Congress in 1894. Webb credited Garrisonian universalism for his anti-imperialist views. In 1898 William Lloyd Garrison Jr. helped found the Anti-Imperialist League, which adopted his father’s abolitionist slogan. American abolitionism also became the prototype for international abolition, inspiring a comparable movement in Brazil. The abolition of slavery in Cuba and Puerto Rico came about with the demise of the Spanish Empire, just as it had in earlier Spanish colonies a generation ago. If European nations moved from empires of slavery to the “Scramble for Africa,” abolitionists and their descendants remained critics of imperialism.47

In the United States, abolitionists had criticized settler colonialism from the start and drew attention to the plight of Native Americans. Benjamin Lundy, like most early Quaker abolitionists, had denounced the “slaveholding, land-jobbing, and Indian exterminating” character of the American Republic. Many evangelical abolitionists honed their skills in protest against Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policies. Since the very first issue of the Liberator, Garrison had written of the Cherokees forcibly removed from Georgia. He censured paternalistic missionaries and colonizationists like Lyman Beecher, who were against Indian removal but advocated the colonization of African Americans, and argued that African colonization was based on the same principle of removal. In their opposition to colonization, abolitionists also drew attention to the genocidal nature of the European conquest of the New World. Critiquing the missionary purpose of the ACS, Elizur Wright pointed to attempts to Christianize Indians that had resulted in the extermination of native cultures. The principle of colonization, Garrison observed, evoking the history of American colonists and the British in India, does not lead to “a very warm friendship” between colonists and natives.

Abolitionists and their allies were strong opponents of Indian dispossession. In 1838 David Lee Child denounced “the atrocious plot” of southern slaveholders and the U.S. government to deprive Indians of their lands and expand slavery. Antislavery politicians such as John Quincy Adams and Joshua Giddings opposed the Second Seminole War in 1835 as proslavery and anti-Indian. Tappan observed caustically in the midst of the Amistad trials, when Spanish authorities demanded extradition of the African rebels on the basis of treaties signed between Spain and the United States, that the American government was known to honor all treaties except when they were made with Native American nations. Before the war, Tappan’s AMA, which was critical of slaveholding and the abusive missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Indian territories, had a small missionary presence among the Ojibwe Indians. During the Sand Creek massacre of Cheyennes and Arapahoes in 1864, Capt. Silas Soule, an abolitionist whose younger brother was named after Garrison, exposed the crime of his commanding officer John Chivington, a devout Methodist minister who was not “a committed abolitionist.”

After the Civil War, abolitionists criticized the attempt to use the newly empowered nation-state to despoil rather than guarantee Indian rights. Before the war, the plight of “the disappearing Indian” had populated abolitionist literature from Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok (1824) to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha (1855). Indian resistance to European encroachment also acted as a model for many radical abolitionists’ defiance of slavery. Lydia Maria Child and Phillips became staunch advocates of Native Americans even though both visualized the eventual incorporation of Indian nations into American society. On the other hand, southern slaveholding politicians from Jackson to Calhoun supported the idea of racial separation and the creation of a separate Indian territory, or reservations. Complicating matters further was the adoption of the southern institution of racial slavery by civilized southern Indian nations like the Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws, who would end up fighting for the Confederacy and opposing emancipation. Many leading abolitionists during Reconstruction, however, connected the cause of the former slaves with that of the Plains Indians. In 1867 Lydia Maria Child published An Appeal for the Indians, modeled after her pamphlet of 1833 on behalf of African Americans. Cora Daniels Tappan suggested at the twenty-sixth meeting of the AASS after the Civil War that abolitionists form a society protesting exterminating wars against Indians. In his speech of 1880 before Congress, Blanche K. Bruce, one of the first black senators from Mississippi during Reconstruction, called for a reversal of federal policy toward Native Americans, so as “not to exterminate them but to perpetuate them on this continent.” He criticized the government, Indian agents, and the army as well as missionaries for trampling on Indian rights. Bruce’s notion of Indians as equal citizens had abolitionist roots. He envisioned a relationship of equality rather than conquest between the newly empowered state and Indian nations.48

More than any of their contemporaries, abolitionists waged a principled battle against racially restrictive notions of democracy. Garrison reprimanded Sen. James Blaine’s attempt to pass a Chinese exclusion bill just before his death in 1879 and warned Republicans of introducing another species of racial proscription into the country under the guise of antislavery. When Blaine defended the prohibition of coolie labor and maligned Chinese culture, Garrison wrote an extended reply. “The Chinese are our fellow-men,” he said, and they have the right to follow their customs, culture, and religion. Confucius, he schooled Blaine, who had trumpeted the superiority of Christian “Anglo Saxon freemen” peopling the west, had preceded Christ in advocating the Golden Rule. Abolitionists like Phillips, Sumner, Douglass, and Garrison parted company again with the labor movement over the issue of race, rejecting racist calls for the exclusion of the Chinese. Phillips argued that the Chinese must be allowed to immigrate freely and that no racial exceptions should be made for coercing labor. Nor did abolitionists justify the use of coolie labor, seeing it as a new species of slavery. Men and women of antislavery convictions spearheaded the fight against various kinds of unfree labor and servitude in the west.49

Abolition expanded rather than contracted radical horizons. Abolitionists for the most part challenged rather than shored up the status quo. From women’s rights, the abolition of capital punishment, the peace movement, and immigrants’ and workingmen’s rights to the rights of native populations trampled by European settlers and imperialism, abolitionists contributed to a variety of causes. Garrisonians like Phillips, William H. Channing, Theodore Parker, and Lydia Maria Child bolstered Charles Spear’s movement to abolish capital punishment, and abolitionists in Massachusetts led petition campaigns against it. In 1843–44, at the height of the campaign, abolitionists sent over forty petitions to the General Court requesting the abolition of capital punishment in the Commonwealth. Garrison excoriated “hangman clergymen” who supported the death penalty and the inhumane notion of retributive justice. He even developed an incipient critique of the criminalization of blackness.50

Abolitionist ideas on racial inequality are a starting point in an interracial discourse of democratic radicalism in the modern world, their concerns relentlessly internationalist and eclectic. The struggle against slavery did not normalize or rationalize other forms of injustice but gave birth to diverse radical passions. It was the eclipse rather than the triumph of the abolitionist mentalité after the fall of Reconstruction that led to the most egregious crimes against humanity at home and abroad.

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